Category Archives: Africa

Things we like about travel

In addition to the challenges associated with extended travel, there are a lot of terrific things also. We want to highlight some of these also, in case they’re not obvious from our stories, to keep things in perspective. So here they are in no particular order…

  • Spectacular locations – From the deserts of Jordan and the forests of Uganda to the plains of the Serengeti and the peaks of the Himalayas.
  • Amazing experiences – Many of these we’ve recounted in the blog, and others we’ll share when we return.
  • Meeting other travelers – We’ve met some interesting people along the way and made some friends.
  • Meeting local people – Opportunities for this are more limited than we’d like. We try to find opportunities for this whenever possible, like eating in the restaurants where locals eat, traveling on local transport, etc.
  • Interacting with the children – Diane has a lot of fun playing with local children who generally haven’t been conditioned to fear strangers like in North America.

  • Continuous summer – Since we’re traveling in hot countries, it’s always warm, except when we deliberately go to colder places. A by-product of this is that we spend more time outside in nature.
  • Accomplishment – We’re doing some things that we’ve wanted to do for a long time and achieving the things we choose for ourselves on this journey, all while overcoming the challenges associated with traveling independently in the Third World.
  • Learning about and experiencing rich and diverse cultures – We’ve learned a lot about the countries and the people where we’ve traveled, including their customs and religions, and also about the homelands of some other travelers.
  • The food – tasting the different cuisines, especially in India.

  • Things are so interesting – Every day is a new adventure. Even if we haven’t planned anything, every day is interesting. Just wandering the streets is usually fascinating.
  • Time to read, reflect, and plan – finding time for these can sometimes be difficult when things get busy at home. Although these should be a priority in our lives, they tend to get displaced with more urgent things.
  • The cost of things compared to Canada – We have the opportunity to see and do some amazing things at prices which, although high by local standards, are cheap by Canadian norms. Rooms in India are basic, but typically about $10 Canadian (C) per night. Food is also cheaper, and even a nice meal with seafood and beer costs about $10C for both of us. If we eat local food, the quality of which is generally very good in India, in a local restaurant, it can be as little as $2C for both of us.
  • Cheap beer – About $2-3C for 2 bottles, and we’ve heard it’s even cheaper in South-East Asia!
  • Life seems less complicated – We rely only on the possessions we carry on our backs. As a result, it’s not difficult to choose what to wear each day. There are very few commitments to keep, so we have great flexibility on how we spend our time.
  • No commuting – our day starts wherever we happen to be.
  • We walk every day – except when we choose not to.
  • We waste a lot less time watching television
  • Awareness – we’re more aware of our surroundings, and we take delight in the small things.
  • Being together – To be honest, before leaving home, we weren’t sure how we would handle being together 24×7. We’re pleased to say that things are going very well. We still have disagreements, but no more frequently than we did at home. We are closer now than before we left.
  • There is no grass to cut and someone else washes the dishes!

Doha First Class

On our flight from London to Mumbai on Qatar Airways, we had a short stopover in Doha, the capital city of Qatar. The airport is basically a transfer station for those flying elsewhere, but it had an amazing duty free shop selling both the full suite of luxury goods, and curiously, large bags of powdered milk which were a hot seller.

On the second leg of our journey, after some delays in check-in, we were given a complementary upgrade to first class, much to our surprise. Many others in line with us didn’t receive this. We wondered whether it was because we were only white people in economy. After an eternity spent in a bus waiting to board the plane in the evening heat, and being delivered to the rear entrance of the plane (when we were sitting in the very first row), we finally made it to our seats. Neither of us had flown first class before, and we were pleasantly surprised.

After selecting our before dinner cocktails (a bloody mary and a martini), we reviewed the menu to select our appetizers and entrées. We both had the trout pate, which was presented with a variety of accoutrements. Patrick had the fish and Diane the chicken. The meals were served by course on hot white china plates, with real metal cutlery (can’t first class passengers be hijackers too?), with a fine selection of mid-2000 vintage French wines.

After his second martini, Patrick was really enjoying himself. Especially the large screen individual audio visual system with a remote control and active headphones (which counteract any ambient noise by playing compensating frequencies). Unfortunately Diane’s screen wouldn’t work, but we both enjoyed the adjustable powered seats that had at least fifteen separate adjustments on a separate remote control.

Regrettably, this was only a three hour flight, the shorter portion of our journey from London, but it was a great way to get to India.

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai is in the center of the Sinai Peninsula, in eastern Egypt, which is located between Cairo and Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. It is a famous mountain for many historical reasons, and is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Mt. Sinai is about 7000 feet high, similar to the tip of Blackcomb mountain.

We wanted to climb the mountain at night, to see the sunrise from the top. After spending the day wandering the beaches of Dahab, we left at 11 PM on a minibus with about ten other people who were crazy enough to do the same. They included a family of three from Mauritius, a couple of guys from Japan, one from Korea, two women from somewhere in Europe, and an Egyptian dentist.

We arrived at the trail head at about 1 AM. It was pitch black and bitterly cold. We brought every piece of clothing we had with us, each bringing two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, two shirts, our fleece jackets, windbreakers, fleece hats, and gloves. Diane also brought a sweater. Collectively, they weren’t enough.

Our group had a Bedouin guide, who led us up the wide smooth trail in complete darkness. We were constantly adjusting layers as the group wound its way up into the darkness.

Some tourists choose to accept the offers of local Bedouins, and ride their camels up the trail. The temperature was close to freezing, and sitting still for any length of time seemed unimaginable. Camels have large soft padded feet, and are virtually silent in the darkness. Their approach is heralded only by their strong smell, and the occasional grunt or fart, at which point we hugged the cliff to give them passage.

The Egyptian dentist was in trouble almost from the beginning, having difficulty keeping up with the group. Within 30 minutes, the European girls had taken his pack and shared its contents between them. He spoke good English and Arabic, and was able to communicate with the guide, who spoke no English. As the incline steepened, he began to fall behind, In the darkness, we heard frequent cries of complaint in Arabic, imploring the guide to slow down. Diane and I had no trouble with the pace, and Diane’s sprained ankle was not a problem.

About half way up, the ground was covered with snow. Our trail runners held up well, but weren’t really the best footwear for the conditions. We hiked upwards through the snow, passing tea houses along the way.

The last twenty minutes to the summit are composed of 750 stone steps. These are the uppermost of 3700 stone steps making up an alternate trail, which comes up from the other side of the mountain. These Steps of Repentance were built by single monk as an act of redemption. We were the first party to reach this point. The steps were steep, and were covered with ice and snow. We still had about an hour before sunrise, and the guide recommended that we stop at the last tea house to wait, not only to try to stay warm, but perhaps to let another group break trail.

The tea house was built into the cliff face, consisting of rock walls and a wood and tarp roof, with stones on top. It was dark and cramped, lit by a single kerosene lamp. We squeeze in, and huddled together for warmth. Egyptian tea, for which Egyptians pay less than 1 Egyptian Pound in the cities, was available for 10 Egyptian Pounds (an exorbitant price, but more understandable given that both the water and fuel to heat it had to be carried up the mountain by the proprietor). Diane and I rented a blanket for 20 Egyptian Pounds (about $5 Canadian), which was highway robbery, but necessary given that we were no longer moving to stay warm.


After about thirty minutes, we climbed the last three minutes to the summit, as the sky was colouring. On the summit was an old church, made of rock on the exposed summit. We shared the sunrise with several other groups, who had each made the climb during the night. The majority were religious groups, making their pilgrimages to this holy site. The Russians sang as the sun rose.


After about an hour on the summit, we hiked down past St. Katherine’s monastery, probably the oldest continually operating Christian site.  The Roman empress Helena had a shrine built here in 330 AD, near the bush where they believed that God spoke to Moses.

The next day, on the bus to the departure point of the ferry for Aqaba, we met an Australian who had made the climb a couple of days before. Near the start of the steps, he pulled his calf, and was unsure if he would be able to complete the climb. Luckily there was also a doctor climbing near by, who diagnosed it was a calf pull, and not an Achilles tear. She gave him 2 pain killers, and said that he could continue if he could stand the pain. He made it to the top, and on the way down, he road a camel as soon as he reached the part of the trail that they could traverse. On the bus, he told us that both he and Moses had climbed Mt. Sinai, and that they both received 2 tablets!

Felucca

We’re writing this after dark from the cushions where we will sleep on the deck of our felucca. A felucca is an Egyptian sailboat, which have been used on the Nile for thousands of years.

Our felucca is only 20 years old, but it has a new sail, and a good crew.

Today was our second day on the felucca, sailing from Aswan down the Nile to Daraw, a village within driving distance of Luxor.

We arranged the felucca by talking to locals near the harbour. Our first two attempts at negotiation failed, one due to a high price, and the second due to Diane’s bad feeling about the captain. On the 3rd try, we found a good captain, and negotiated a reasonable price. After inspecting his boat, we made arrangements to return after dinner, to meet the other crew member and go shopping for food in the local market.


The captain’s name is Hamedi. He is 32 years old, and is due to be married within the year. He comes from a village on the Nile near Aswan. He is Muslim, and prays every time we stop the felucca. He is one of 11 brothers and his 84 year old father has dementia. He speaks very little English.


The other crew member, who is also the cook, is named Saeed. He is 55 years old. He was born is Sudan, and first came to Egypt down the Nile from Sudan when he was 9 years old. As a boy, he worked driving camels from Sudan to Abu Simbal, near Aswan. The camels traveled in the desert in the night, so as not be distracted by the greenery of the Nile, and to avoid the snakes and scorpions. Each trip took 30 days, and they navigated using the stars. Saeed speaks some English, but never went to school, and cannot read or write. Saeed has 3 children – 2 boys and a girl, who recently gave him his first grandchild, a girl. Saeed’s wife died when his son was 6 years old. She was recovering from some sort of abdominal surgery, and aggravated her injury when rescuing her son from the Nile.

Both Hamedi and Saeed are smokers, who smoke cigarettes laced with marijuana and hashish. They have spent their whole lives working on the Nile, and take good care of us. In fact, the last 2 days have been very relaxing. Hamedi sails, and Saeed cooks. He makes us Sudanese food, which includes vegetables, rice, bread, lentils, and perhaps some meat. For breakfast today, he made us eggs, and with our bread we had jam and some sort of cheese resembling cream cheese.


Our felucca is named Sendbad. I think it’s supposed to be Sinbad, after the famous sailor and adventurer. It is about 7 meters long, with a draft of 1.5 meters. It has a large triangular sail, and a keel which can be lifted up in shallow water. The rudder is large and made of wood.


We sleep on some boards spread between the 2 sides of the felucca, which are covered with cushions. They provided Diane and I with two blankets, by special request, which we use one on top of the other for extra warmth. There is a canopy, which is closed on 3 sides, made of an old sail. There are no mosquito nets, but there is no malaria in Egypt, and there are surprisingly few bugs.

The total distance we’re traveling is not great, about 35 kilometers, but feluccas only go about 15 to 20 kilometers per day. We are traveling the whole way with the current but against the wind, which requires tacking from one side of the Nile to the other, and provides us with great opportunities to view things along the banks. This morning Patrick steered the felucca, until he was relieved of command by Hamedi, probably for going too slow.


The Nile is a busy river. In addition to the many feluccas, there is the occasional ferry, or dredge, or rowboat with a fisherman. There is a steady stream of cruise ships, which travel between Luxor and Aswan. The clog the waterfront in Aswan, up to 100 ships at a time, blocking the view of the Nile, and running the engines all night long for power. As a result, the riverfront restaurants of Aswan are not what they used to be when Agatha Christy wrote “Death on the Nile” here.

The last two days have been very relaxing. We spend our time reading, eating, drinking Stella, and taking small walking excursions on the shore. Tonight, we sat around a fire on the shore, before returning to the felucca to write this and head to bed. It is said that a trip to Egypt is not complete unless you have traveled on the Nile. It is one of the world’s great rivers, and has been a terrific experience for us.