September 27, 2012

TIA - This is Africa

We're halfway through our Egypt trip and overall it's been amazing. But as all exotic travels go, it hasn't been without its share of challenges. There's a saying mostly used in East Africa in reaction to the pitfalls: TIA, or this is Africa. It feels applicable to our situation here as well:

Day 1 - After arriving at 3am and falling asleep (passing out) at 4am, we decided to be troopers and visit the Pyramids at Giza. And I'm so glad we did.

Afterward we went to the Egyptian Museum. It was incredible but I was in such a jet lagged haze at the end I felt like climbing into a sarcophagus with a mummy. But we rallied and stopped at the Khalili Bazaar where men said colorful things to us such as, "for you, I'd kill my wife." I guess it was a compliment!

That night we sat on the hotel terrace where I had my first shisha experience. Shisha is a flavored tobacco smoked from a hookah. We had apple and I was hooked. We also sampled some Egyptian wine.

Day 2 - We had to fly to Sharm el Sheik, but stopped at a papyrus institute on the way. Papyrus is a paper-like substance made from the stems of a plant. We each bought three depicting traditional Egyptian stories. Then we flew to Sharm and spent the evening relaxing at the shisha cafe at our resort. It was a nice hotel, but the other bars were typical resort places with a bad lounge singer and horrible drinks. We preferred the outdoor Bedouin style set up, but paid with hundreds of mosquito bites.

Then our first challenge occurred. When we got back to our room it had been invaded by small bugs. Literally everywhere. We had to be moved, which took forever, and we had the creepy crawlies so the day didn't end until 2am.

Day 3 - After a bug-free night we slept late and spent the day on the Red Sea. It was so beautiful, the entire shore is lined with coral reefs.

We snorkeled, relaxed and drank the local beer. It was a pretty great day.

Then challenge #2 happened...

Day 3 - Day 3 actually began at 9pm on Day 2 for the long journey to Mount Sinai. We were picked up in a tiny van holding 15 people and filled with horrible fumes. We drove to a gas station with wild dogs roaming the parking lot and were told our cars would get us there and take us in the armed convoy due to recent kidnappings on the Sinai. We were relieved that a different mode of transport was coming until the same tiny van, minus the fumes at least, pulled up. We ended up crammed in the backseat where a man was half sitting on me. We stopped after 40 minutes at another gas station and were stuck there for an hour because they ran out of gas. Yes, completely out of gas. We waited as a truck with a huge hose pumped gas into the ground while everyone stood around smoking cigarettes.

After we finally fueled up without blowing up (thankfully) we had another hour plus on the road with a crazy driver before arriving at the mountain around 12:30am. This is when challenge #3 struck. My stomach was not feeling well and I was sure I had eaten something bad. Sharm is notorious for stomach woes. And I had a mountain to climb. I hoped for the best and we set out in the dark at 1:15am for the climb to the top.

Walking up in the dark was surreal. Thousands of people make this trip so there are flashlights everywhere but it's still in total darkness. You can rent a camel and a Bedouin will lead you up but we wanted to walk. There are little areas to rest and buy snacks along the way so our group would stop and wait for the slower people before pressing on. The final stretch to the top is 790 "steps" made of layered stones. With all the breaks it took more than 4 hours. Without a group we could have done it in 3, but we were still in time to see the sunrise.

The journey was definitely worth the hassle. The views were incredible and the mountain has so much history as the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments. The landscape looks like something from another planet, just reddish rock and no vegetation. We were tired from being up all night but energized by the experience.

I decided to get a camel for the descent, not because I was feeling lazy, but because I didn't want to regret not doing it. When am I ever going to have the chance to ride a camel down a famous mountain? So I hopped on for the 1.5 hour ride and loved every bumpy minute of it.

After a tour of St. Catherine's monastery we had another bumpy, crazy 2-hour ride back to the hotel. By then we were both definitely sick and had to buy the local medicine. We napped and managed to stay up until about 10 after being awake nearly 30 hours. Not sleeping for 30 hours seems to be a trend on this trip!

Day 4, Today - This whole day has been challenge #4. Our stomachs were improving but still not 100% and we had a morning flight to Luxor connecting through Cairo. The flight was delayed and we should have missed the connection, but that flight was also delayed so we thought it was our lucky day until an Egypt Air agent stopped us and made us wait so long that we were unable to make it. They claimed we weren't confirmed even though we had a printed confirmation and ultimately asked us to buy new tickets. We repeatedly refused and they finally issued new tickets for the next flight - at 4:45 and it was only 12:30. Not only was the delay incredibly boring, but we missed our Valley of the Kings tour and wasted a full day of vacation.

We're just now boarding the flight to Luxor to start our Nile cruise and hopefully this is the last challenge of the day. Our stomachs are feeling better and the boat deck bar is mere hours away!

1 comment:

  1. wow! i am impressed that you are making the trip at all (planning to such locations intimidates me as it is). sounds like quite the adventure and hope you continue to be safe!



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