Tuesday, August 30, 2011

8-30-11 Nile Cruise

Our friends accompanied us on the Nile Cruise. We stopped along the way to buy some snacks and found that the little store also offered some fresh baked bread. They offered us an impromptu tour and gave us a sample. The baker was very proud that I said it was "zacky" delicious. We also saw a few horse/donkey drawn carts going down the street along with traffic. We arrived at the departure point and Rayan negotiated the price. This would be significantly harder to do if you don't speak Arabic, but it can be done they do speak some English. Be firm and if you don't like the price pretend to walk away, they will come after you and haggle some more. The price was for the entire boat regardless of how many ppl were on it and it included a nice lunch. The cruise has alot of small islands to stop over on and each one has something to offer tourist. There is an extra fee for each place you stop over at and an additional charge if you purchase any of the products on the islands as well, keep in mind their goal is to sell you products and even if you don't buy anything they want a tip for giving you their spiel. The price for this lovely day including lunch, taxis and all the extras was about 100.00 pp. It is more fun to go in a group, safer too and as an unmarried woman this also provided me with a female companion.

Our 1st stop was a lush tropical oasis with a small hive of honey bees and the friendly bee keeper was funny and informative and we got to see and taste fresh flavorful honey. His wife was busy baking pharaoh's bread , a bread once only served to royalty now being served to tourists. The bread was warm and flaky like phyllo dough and went really well with the honey. There were also fields of flowers there (probably for the bees) and the teenagers giving the tour will happily pick you a small bunch to take with you-they were very fragrant and lovely but they don't hold up well in the hot sun it will only cost you a few extra coins.

Next stop was my favorite, a horse drawn carriage ride followed by some horse back riding by the Nile and down the middle of the crowded street. Don't be alarmed the horses are used to the traffic and there is the child of the carriage driver running behind you with a crop yelling directions at the horse. There also appeared to be a festival going on as Ramadan ended yesterday and we got to ride past a carnival and concert venue. It was very bouncy and I kept yelling "Hollis" which means "enough", but the 11yo running behind the horse kept whacking him and making him run.

Lunch was grilled shrimp and fish and some fried fillets served with lots of bread and salad and sauces on the side. We sat on plastic chairs and tables directly overlooking the Nile. We found out that this island only serves drinks and someone had to go and get the food and bring it to us but it was definitely worth it. They even had a decent bathroom to use so I was a happy girl.

As it approached sunset we cruised by a bridge and some alcoves that were dam like to retain the water. Unfortunately there was a ton of garbage stuck in the alcoves and there was even a dead horse and a goat floating in it which I found disturbing and disgusting as this is supposed to be the water source for the city. Its always a good idea to drink bottled water and drinks and avoid ice cubes just in case and this confirms it.

Our day concludes with disembarking and waving goodbye to the crew of our Nile Cruise and we wearily but happily were driven back to our hotel by a taxi.

8-29-11 City of the (Un) Dead, Cairo

While driving thru the streets of Cairo, we drove past a very high walled area. I asked my friends what sort of place was it. I also saw alot of people hanging out outside the walls and it was around 2am so I thought maybe it was some happening place. As it turns out it was one of 5 graveyards in the city. Now these are not your ordinary graveyards found in the US. These are literally cities built for the dead so they can continue in their afterlife. It also happens to be home for transients and homeless people seeking refuge. Cairo is a very densely populated city and these graveyard cities also seem to be as well. I was appalled at first, thinking that people have to live among gravestones and in mausoleums. Now after thinking it over it seems like a good idea if you have no where else to live but not the ideal choice after all.  I wanted to take a drive thru the city but was cautioned against it especially this late in the evening. There are however some guided tours during the day if you are really interested in going. I just keep thinking it would be a great place for the next Rob Zombie film but that wouldn't be very respectful. This truly is a city within a city-dead and Un dead alike... its a beautiful, sorrowful, scary place. So if your looking for an adventure I would determinately say explore this place. I was happy driving by it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

8-29-11 Exploring Egypt like a local

Our Egyptian friends (brother and sister) came to pick us up at the hotel and take us exploring. We walked thru some lively streets, saw small tuk-tuks (motorized carts that hold 2-3 ppl) and took in the city lights. We decided to stop at an open air restaurant for dinner. I use the term restaurant loosely, It looked more like a street BBQ with tables set up around it, but our local friends claimed it was indeed a public restaurant that was popular. We ordered the kebab. shish taouk and chicken. Kebab is ground meat and spices on a stick (affectionately called turd on a stick), shish taouk is chunks of meat on a stick and the chicken was grilled/charred with spices. All of this was placed on a bed of greens and on top of that was a mound of potato chips then the meat was on top of that. This was served with side dishes of salad and some tahini sauce and bread and bottled water, followed by tea. I asked our friends if this was beef, they said yes. Rayan smiled and said yes also, after I ate it however he mentioned that their beef source was water buffalo and goat, they don't have many cows. If I would have known that I would not have tried it, but it was tasty just the color was a little on the grey side, like a turkey burger. Rayan also said the juicy hamburger at the hotel was water buffalo and well I devoured that in a new york minute so what can I say. After this we drove to the highest point of the city where there were patio tables places near the cliff and they had a guitar player and you could order soda, tea, coffee or a smoothie and smoke shisha and look out over the city lights of Cairo. It was very nice and relaxing and as we left I did see where they prepared our drinks, in a little makeshift hut with out running water albeit I didn't die from food poisoning didn't even get diarrhea. See the picture of me with our friends and the pensive look on my face, I wasn't sure about eating there.

8-29-11 Getting a room

Exhausted from our long journey we were ready for a hot shower, some decent food and a comfy bed. Unfortunately, we did not pre book a hotel and thought we would be there early enough to find and apartment in Nasr City. We did drive around for a few hours, alot of people are awake to pray and eat before dawn. Most of the apartments were dirty, old and not secure looking even though Nasr City is supposed to be a nice area. There was even a lady that was kind enough to show us a few apartments but in the end she asked us for money. By this time it was about 4am and I was tired, cranky and hungry and we did look at one more place and I was ready to settle for it. When the manager came to talk with us about the price and he looked at our passports he asked if we were married and did we have proof. We said we were because it was a 3 bed 2 bath apartment but he would not rent it to us without proof.We thanked him for his time and I said take me to the nearest nice hotel. This really blew our budget but I was happy to pay it. It was rated 5 star but you know its not even that when your in another country. It was clean and they let us have an early check in so off we went to our deluxe rooms. Yes rooms, we had to get 2 because you can't share a room with a person of the opposite sex if your not married or immediate family. I immediately called room service and ordered a big juicy burger and fries with a coke zero, ahh off to sleep.Sonesta Resort & Casino- Cairo

Sunday, August 28, 2011

8-28-11 Getting to Egypt by Ferry

This is the fast ferry that only takes an hour to get from Jordan to Egypt. The slow ferry takes 3 hours. Nothing here is ever on time and they want you there 2 hours ahead of time to get your documents in order. It took about 30 min to get the proper papers stamped and you have to pay a small departure fee of 5 JD. It was still Ramadan and there were not any food stations open just some stands for sundries and we managed to find chips and soda. Then we waited, and then we waited some more and the ferry was late by what seemed like a good hour and a half on top of the 2 hours we were already there, sitting in the heat with all kinds of stinky, dirty people seemed like an eternity.I will put the cost breakdown in the next post but no matter how cheap it was it was not worth the waiting and the eternal bus ride and the stinky, stinky people. Once on the ferry I thought it would be better, wrong again. Rayan kept telling me to be quiet because everytime I spoke people started to stare at me like I was a fresh piece of steak about to be fed to hungry lions and thank goodness he escorted me everywhere, even to the line for the bathroom. All of the women were covered head to toe and I stuck out like a sore thumb. Also, you leave your luggage as you get on-board and in the chaos it could be easily rifled through so take anything valuable out and carry it with you. It of course took longer to leave the port and longer to get to Nuweiba. I donned my shades, plugged in my ipod and tried to think of a happy place. Finally arrived in Nuweiba, I felt like I was dumped into the middle of an Indian Jones movie. There were huge luggage carts being pushed and pulled piled high with all sorts of things. We had to push our way thru the crowd and put everything on the belt to be xrayed then make our way out to even more chaos. There was a gate and we headed towards it, on the other side were hungry taxi drivers hollering for anyone to come over to them. DON"T go to them they rip you off. Thankfully someone directed us to the bus station but I didn't have my entry visa yet, so we walked the other way. Turns out you pay for the visa at the bank by the ATM then find your way to the passport office. They took my passport on the ferry and I had to go there to retrieve it with proof of my entry visa. All that walking and Rayan was lugging the heavy suitcase on a dirt road and he was fasting because of Ramadan and it was about 95 degrees in the shade. We finally purchased our bus tickets and found a spot to yes you guessed it wait some more. Then of course I had to use the bathroom and we found one but it was the dirtiest grossest excuse for a bathroom I have seen. I had no choice but to hurry up, hold my breath and leave as quickly as possible. I washed my hands with some bottled water we were carrying. You would need about a gallon of hand sanitizer with you so whats the use.
Rayan also had to stand in line with our gear to watch to make sure it made it onto the bus. People had so much stuff with them that a separate large truck was used to accommodate everything. The bus at least was air conditioned and not quite as stinky but it was a very L-O-N-G and bumpy ride. There were many check point charlies along the way. Armed guards stopping you and checking everyone's passport. The guards were so so young around 19 yrs old looking. At sunset we stopped on the side of the road so everyone could eat a snack if they brought one and the people beside us and behind us gave us a few dates and some cookies, we gave them some cans of soda. We did stop for a dinner break at a roadside cafe.There was an empty 18 wheeler parked there as well with a few bullet holes in it, the restaurant mgr said the people left their vehicle there because they were shot at and they didn't continue on. You could drive your car onto the ferry and drive but I would not say it would be to safe to do this.
The food was served fast and it was edible. Charred chicken, bread and some veggies and ice cold coca cola.Bathrooms were ok and a normal toilet with toilet paper. The women and children were segregated from the men and Rayan sat with us as well as one father that had a bunch of kids with him. I was glad to be seated there because the men do eye you in an unpleasant way and I don't blame the women for being covered from head to toe. The highlight was taking the tunnel under suez canal was brief but kinda kewl thing to do. 8 1/2 hours later we arrive at the bus station. Our gear was on the very top of the pile and first to be unloaded so that was a blessing. Rayan has a friend in Egypt and her brother is a taxi driver so he came to pick us up.
The price per person to get there was about 140 usd and to fly would be about double. Fly its worth every penny and takes half the time plus its an air conditioned, clean terminal with bathrooms and restaurants.