Felucca

February 25, 2009

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.


The Pilgrimage

February 21, 2009

Yesterday, we set out on a hike through the desert near the city of Aswan. After taking a ferry across the Nile, we started walking near the Tombs of the Nobles, ancient Egyptian tombs from 2000 BC. We hiked up to a citadel high on a hilltop, then headed cross-country to an abandoned Christian monastery.

The monastery of St. Simeon was built in the 10th century. From this monastery, monks traveled south to Nubia (current day Sudan), hoping to convert the Nubians to Christianity. It was destroyed about 900 years ago, but was later used by Muslims as a stopping point on their way from Africa to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia.

Our trek started well, with much hand holding, picture taking, etc.

The return trek was harder, and the sun hotter.

Things were looking bleak…

Just then, out of the desert sands, two young Nubians appeared on camels. They offered us a ride, and although our situation left us in weak bargaining position, Patrick negotiated a lower fee.

Diane white-knuckeled her camel saddle.

Patrick stayed astride his saddle expertly, even when it released unexpectedly from his camel, and both he and the driver came crashing down on the desert sand.

You don’t know how tall a camel is, until you fall off one onto your shoulder. It is far better to be on a camel, than laying beneath one (have you smelled their breath?)

After re-saddling the wicked beast,

whose name was Caroline,

we were once again headed across the desert.

With the assistance of our desert rescuers and their furry friends,

we made it out of the desert, in time to enjoy much needed refreshment from a boat on the banks of the Nile.

P.S. Diane has taken a liking to an Egyptian beer called ‘Stella’, which has been brewed in Egypt for over 100 years. It goes particularly well with Aswan “targen” (tar-jen), braised dishes of meat or vegetables cooked in clay pots.


Observations from Egypt

February 19, 2009
  • Every hotel room is a smoking room.
  • Even the straight men hold hands.
  • People here dress better than we do.
  • People are generally very friendly. Most don’t have the language skills to carry on a conversation with us, but you can tell that they want to.
  • Everyone says “welcome”. The trick is to figure out which ones are using it to try and sell you something.
  • Their follow-up to our response of “Canada” after their question “Where are you from?” is invariably “Canada Dry” and a big smile. A soda pop seems to be our most recognizable cultural contribution to Egypt.
  • Most retail shops are open 6 days a week, from 8 AM to midnight. Even businesses that aren’t open late at home like barbers, toy stores, etc.
  • Everyone seems to stay up late, even the children.
  • There don’t appear to be any noise bylaws.
  • Headlights at night are a signaling device, and not for lighting the roadway.
  • Traffic regulations are irrelevant, and the car horn is an essential part of the drive train.
  • Crossing the street is like russian roulette. The cars have the right of way, and will not stop even if you’re directly in their path. It’s like the game frogger, but with your life. The 3 techniques seem to be: 1) Cross at an angle, facing the traffic. 2) Walk behind some Egyptians, and use them like a human shield. 3) Close your eyes, and put your faith in Allah.
  • Children go to school from Saturday to Wednesday.
  • Friday is a work holiday if you’re Muslim, and Sunday is if you’re Christian.
  • There are lots of police in all tourist areas to protect the tourists, and therefore the tourist trade, which is over one-fifth of Egypt’s economy. It would be foolhardy to hurt or steal from a tourist here, but it is good business practice to separate them from their money in any way possible.
  • Baksheesh (or tips) grease the wheels of Egyptian society, for locals and tourists alike.
  • No building is ever finished. The upper floors are always in a continual state of expansion.
  • Egypt is a Muslim country. There are mosques everywhere, with prayers called from the loudspeakers 5 times a day.
  • Some tourists are either totally clueless or totally disrespectful, like the girl who wore the micro-skirt, see-through tank top, and black bra to the pyramids.

One Night in Cairo

February 16, 2009

We arrived at Cairo airport from London at about midnight. We cleared immigration on the 2nd try, after we went were sent back to buy a Visa stamp. Fortunately, it was $15US each, rather than the $25 we expected. Upon exit from the arrival terminal, we were fully expecting to be swarmed by airport “touts”, and had spent time on the plane discussing our strategy. The best approach seemed to be to push through the wall of men offering help with a taxi or hotel, and negotiate closer to the street. The guide book said 35 Egyptian pounds (E£35) was a good negotiated rate for a taxi to the airport, but this may have been only from the city to the airport. After negotiating with several guys, an impromptu auction arose, with Patrick talking to a group of men all at once. Eventually Patrick got a guy to agree to E£45.

He walked us away from the airport and down a long tunnel, which was a bit worrisome. We got to his small car, and Patrick got his first request for baksheesh (alms or a tip) from a nearby taxi driver, which was declined, because this other fella hadn’t done anything for us. Diane rode with our packs in the back seat. Why? Because it is easier to exit the cab for the agreed upon fare if you bags aren’t held hostage in the locked trunk. The car didn’t move for about 3 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, but I think it was because it may have been prayer time, as a chant came across the car radio.

Exiting the airport, the driver wanted Patrick to pay the E£5 airport fee, and he wouldn’t until the driver agreed that his remaining fee would now only be E£40. A bit of shouting ensued, but he was under pressure because we were blocking the toll booth. He reluctantly agreed, but it didn’t seem like he was committed to it, or very happy about it. He drove us to town, but didn’t know where the hotel was. After talking to a number of cab drivers (some while both cab were in motion) and a couple of street police offers, we made it to a huge locked gate on a very dark and dusty street with a painted sign that said “African Hotel” illuminated by a single incandescent bulb. Diane stayed in the car, which we couldn’t afford to lose until we confirmed that we could get in, while Patrick checked the gate. There was an old man on a cot inside the gate, who rose slowly, almost painfully, to unlock the chain that held the very old heavy cast iron gates closed.

We walked down a large hallway into what was once a grand old colonial building, with sparse lighting illuminating pealing paint. We climbed 3 flights of wide stone stairs, following small signs that said “Africa”. On the 3rd floor, we found a small, dimly lit room with a desk, and a helpful young Egyptian. He had our name already written in a book, from our online reservation done in London the night before, the technological advancement of which was in stark contrast to the environment we now found ourselves in.

We were shown to a huge room, with 15 foot ceilings, high door ways, and 3 beds. You could tell this was once a beautiful old building. It still was, if you could see through the dirt and the many layers of cracking paint. The old floorboards flexed so much when Diane walked on them, she was worried she might fall through. The sheets seemed cleaned based on the sniff test, and we locked ourselves into the room using an old-fashioned key from the inside of the room.

At this point, Diane was stressed almost to her limit, and it took some time for her calm down. Patrick laid out our sleeping sheets (individual sleeping bag liners made of silk), into which we put our money belts and ourselves for safekeeping. Diane clung to Patrick as loud noises outside made sleep difficult.

We wrote this the following morning, so we obviously survived our first night in Cairo. It was an exhilarating introduction to one of the world’s great cities.


Jolly Old England

February 11, 2009

We’ll enough about our preparations…

We spent our first day in London with Natasha Koroluk, Patrick’s cousin’s daughter (first cousin once removed). She was a terrific host, who met us at the airport, got us to our hotel, and led us around for the first day. This helped to familiarize us with ‘the tube’ (London’s subway), british money, etc.

We’ve been in London for 3 ½ days, and things are going really well. Patrick read somewhere that a travel blog should not be an exhaustive description of all the things you’ve done, so here’s a short list, followed by some totally disconnected observations.
· Trafalgar Square
· British Museum
· Tate Modern
· National Galllery
· The Tower Bridge
· St. Paul’s Cathedral
· The Tower of London
· Westminster Abbey
· London Theatre – the musical “We will rock you”.

It reads like a Top 10 (well a top 9 so far) of London’s tourist attractions, and we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. In particular, St. Paul’s, The Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey are truly amazing. The history is so tangible, we can feel it. It seems more alive, more within our grasp. For example, today at Westminster Abbey, we saw the grave of Charles Dickens. On it were flesh flowers, with a card that read “On your 197th birthday, from the more than 100 living descendants of Charles Dickens”. How cool is that! Unfortunately we were not able to take pictures inside the church to share with you. Although Westminster was truly amazing it was also a bit creepy with all the people buried in the cathedral. Diane isn’t fond of walking of graves, but they’re everywhere, so you can’t help it.

When we were walking to the National Gallery, we saw a red helicopter circling low. As we approached, we saw people running. Diane, of course, wanted to head the other way, whereas Patrick wanted to get closer and see what it was about. Patrick was thinking “Oh, isn’t this exciting”, and Diane was thinking “Oh my god, is this a terrorist attack?”. It turned out that it was a medical emergency, and that Trafalgar square is actually an alternate landing place for medical transports.

At the British Museum, we spent time in the Egyptian wing, which has impressive examples of Egyptian artifacts, which were ‘obtained’ by England during the days of the British Empire. We hoped to learn a bit about what we’ll be seeing next week in Egypt.

There is a legend at the Tower of London, that if the “Blacka Chickens’ (aka Ravens) ever leave the tower, that the monarchy will break down (http://www.historic-uk.com/DestinationsUK/TowerRavens.htm).

Here is Patrick working on his jet lag at the Tate Modern.


The weather has been very cool, averaging a few degrees above zero (Celcius) during the day time, with a mix of rain, cloud, and a few bits of sun. With a wind chill of a few degrees, our safari clothes (when worn all at once) are just cutting it. Unfortuntely, the cathedrals are only a few degrees warmer than outside. After a day of viewing today, we just needed to sit in front of a big fire at the pub, have a couple of pints to warm up, and post this note. Diane must have been really cold, as she needed 2 ½ pints!

The English national team is playing Spain tonight, and the game is just getting underway. The pub is filling up with ‘football’ fans, and we’re looking forward to a great game. David Beckham may be playing. If so, he will have tied for the greatest number of games played for England!

And for you Anglophiles, here’s one more picture (Diane in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral)

Patrick and Diane


Preparation — Diane’s Perspective

February 11, 2009

To say the last month has been stressful would be a bit of an understatement. As Patrick already told you in his blog post, things have been a bit crazy for us. He has worked extremely hard getting things ready for our trip, finalizing stuff for his parents’ estates, etc. Yes, we’ve done lots of shopping which under any different circumstances, I would say would be terrific. However, with a list that measures as long as the height of Kilimanjaro (4 miles), I don’t think that even Paris Hilton could go the distance. One list after another and I thought that I might lose my mind. After organizing, sorting and reviewing several times it was afternoon on Saturday (departure day) and we were finally ready to start packing. I must say that even I was a bit impressed with our ability to get everything into two 38 litre packs. This really was due to Patrick’s attention to detail and endless lists, but boy oh boy it was a tough process for me. You will need to check back with me in a few months to see how I am faring with only one pair of shoes, a pair of sandals, and limited clothing.

Patrick and I had lots of help from family and friends in preparing for our world adventure. I want to tell you all again how much we appreciate your support along the way. Even my precious Skyler thought he should test out my new down North Face jacket for comfort and warmth. I think he thought that it would pass the test. What do you think?

Patrick and I also tested out our stuff by washing and wearing it several times to make sure that everything fit right and would be appropriate for our trip.

Waxing our boots with the use of Kevin’s hot air gun worked great and hopefully this will keep the rain/snow out when we climb Kili.

But by far for me, the most challenging part of preparing for this trip was saying goodbye to family and friends. The goodbye parties were greatly appreciated and we both feel extremely privileged to have such great family and friends. We love you all and will miss you.

I know that we are blessed to have an opportunity to embark on such a fabulous adventure and we are both looking forward to sharing our experiences with you. I am sure that I will be feeling home sick much sooner than later so please feel free to post your comments and send email.

Until next time, lots of love,
Diane


Preparation

February 9, 2009

By Patrick

The last few months have been extremely busy and stressful for me. Getting ready for this trip, in addition to the many other things going on in my life, has been exhausting. It has been the most sustained period of intensity and hard work I’ve ever experienced. The last month especially has been a whirlwind –- my father’s memorial; my parents’ estates; setting up our lives so they run on auto-pilot while we’re away; planning, shopping, and packing for our trip; gathering information from other travelers and connections; and good-byes with family and friends. I’ve been running on about 5-6 hours of sleep a night for the last month, and busy every other minute. There are bags on the bags under my eyes!

In order to have any chance of making it, I tracked the key activities on a spreadsheet. Here are the final stats:
· Completed – 219
· Canceled – 41
· Do when we return – 26
· Ask Diane’s sister Shelly to complete – 5
· Do while traveling – 6

Perhaps the most frustrating and tiring was the shopping for our travel items. After about the 20th trip, even Diane said that she was tired of shopping! I’m pretty sure that this has never happened before.

And what did we pack you ask? Well, I have a list of that also, of course, but I won’t bore you with it. Here are pictures of everything we brought – before and after packing.

Before….

And presto, chango, ala kazamm… after!


Our packs are about 18 pounds each when configured for flight, and easily passed the carry-on test.

The time spent planning, shopping, and packing was all to achieve our goal of having the smallest packs possible. Benefits include:
· easier to carry, especially in the heat
· the ability to walk and carry our packs ourselves, rather than needing transport or assistance
· no checked baggage means no lost bags during flights, and no need to wait for bags in airports
· no risk of losing bags off bus roofs or by theft while in transport
· the ability to carry our bags while visiting attractions en-route between locations, if necessary.
Anyhow, I’m so glad that all the prep is done and that we’re finally on the road. I’ll probably need a week or 2 to recover, but I’m confident that it will all have been worth it in the end.

Thanks to everyone who supported us over the last few months. Your assistance is greatly appreciated, and helped to make our trip possible.

Patrick