November 2007

Cup of Soup

Thu, Nov 1, 2007

Egypt Day 1 - Cairo

You, my loyal readers, may have guessed from yesterday's log that Cairo is a noisy place. That's not quite true. In reality, it is a blistering cacophony. 20 million people - many of them crazy drivers - do not make for a peacefully quiet place. Also note that Egypt is largely a Muslim country. Muslims have set times of the day at which they are supposed to pray. Those times are announced by the mosques. Those announcements are made over loudspeaker. Very loud speakers, indeed. And, the first call to prayer in a day is at 4:45 AM.

I awoke in the morning to a blaring indecipherable noise, and instinctively reached for the alarm clock, wondering why I had set it when I had no time-sensitive events planned. I also wondered why it seemed I had set it so early. Further, I wondered why the alarm sounded like an old man gargling into a karaoke machine.

Slapping the device did nothing. I opened my eyes to see the clock reading quarter to five in the morning. I then realised that the sound was coming from outside. A moment later, I recalled reading about early morning calls to prayer, and guessed that this must be it. It still, however, sounded like an old man gargling through a karaoke machine. He blared on for two sessions over the next 20 minutes in what couldn't really be called a sing-song voice, because - despite his attempts - he wasn't musical. It wouldn't have been so bad if he had a pleasant voice and the sound system didn't distort terribly. But, as it was, the gargling kept me up, and despite the jet lag, I found it difficult to return to sleep again afterward.

When late morning came around, I got some breakfast and then went on a random walkabout. Considering the lost-in-a-phone-booth incident from my last trip (a great story to tell, but not so great to experience), I figured it would be good to orient myself with my surroundings. I picked a direction, walked down the street a few blocks, made a random turn, and then walked a few more blocks. Every now and then I would encounter what looked like a landmark, and I would check my guide to determine where I was. I repeated the process until my feet hurt too much and needed to go back for a rest. My explorations took me over most of downtown Cairo, and I was rather surprised with the area I covered. Over the course of my wanderings, I learned several things about Cairo.

Firstly, no one would claim that Cairo is a "nice" city. It's polluted, crowded, noisy, and generally pretty filthy. The sidewalks are in a constant state is disrepair, everything is covered in dirt, even the new buildings look run down and crumbling, and the air is so think of pollutants that it really is hard to breathe. Part of my walk took me across the Nile, and I thought I might pass out from the onslaught of fumes coming from the cars passing me by on the bridge. I think the people here smoke shisha to get a breath of fresh air.

Secondly, the pedestrians in Cairo are just as crazy as the drivers. They are foolishly fearless, stepping out onto busy streets as drivers swerve and halt (if they're lucky) around them. With the thickness of the traffic, however, that really is the only way to do it. If you stand and wait for an opening in traffic, you'll be there until the next revolution. It actually didn't take terribly long to get the hang of being a Cairene pedestrian. All you need to do is make amends for all your wrongdoings in life and then step onto the street with the air and purpose of a person whose meaningful destiny it is to reach the other side, much like the chicken in the age-old joke. Better than the chicken, actually. Nuts to the chicken. You are Cairene. You are entitled to the other side, and you shall take it. That's what walking in Cairo is about. That, and remembering that the curbs are a good foot and a half high so you don't trip over them.

Cairo oddity the third is that shops in Cairo tend to be bunched together. Up and down the street on which my hotel lay, there appear to be nothing but hardware stores. Generators spill out onto the sidewalk from every storefront. Around the corner, they all sell satellite TV receivers. Around the next corner, clothing shops with their crammed displays of child-sized mannequins. The next street is entirely populated with Shisha bars. It's a wonder these shops stay in business. It would send the ghost of Jane Jacobs into tears.

The fourth thing was that the people on TV were very different from the people on the street. The Arab equivalent of MTV was on in a cafe where I had stopped for lunch, and it was full of women singing songs that failed entirely to match the audio being played. They were in various modes of scant dress; a far cry from the conservative look of the people outside. In that respect, I guess, their television is very much the same as ours.

Finally, the tourist is a rather obvious species here. In places like Toronto, or New York, or Sydney, the population is so diverse that it's difficult to pick out a tourist unless they're wearing a Hawaiian shirt and have a big fat camera hanging around their neck. In places like Paris, Florence, or Venice, the tourists are so numerous it seems more difficult to pick out the locals. In a place like Cairo, where most people tend to come through only on their way to the pyramids or down to Luxor, the tourist is less common and sticks out like George Bush among a group of smart people. Out of the hundred or so people walking down a street at any given time, the 99 dark-haired, dark-skinned people are the locals. The awestruck-looking blonde not wearing the hijab is the tourist.

Myself, I'm not sure how much I stood out. I tried to use my camera as sparingly as possible to avoid drawing attention, and my Iberian complexion made a few people mistake me for Arab. I'm certain, however, that the big "Canada" patch on my backpack gave me away. The warnings that the guidebooks give you about merchants trying to draw you in are completely true. A man who ran a perfume shop stopped me from crossing a particularly busy street, claiming a football game created too many crowds and I shouldn't go that way. He asked me where I was from (though he obviously had already seen the patch) and claimed he had a cousin in Canada. He said the Canadians were very friendly, that I should meet his brother, and when I return to Egypt I should get him a hat. Knowing his ploy, but curious nonetheless, I told him my name was Fred and that I was travelling on my own because my girlfriend was busy working. He led me to his shop and showed me pictures of people who were supposedly famous and who had supposedly shopped there. He said he wanted to give me a "gift", and this I knew as the keyword to cut and run, especially when he said the bottle would cost thousands of Egyptian pounds oversees, but only a hundred or so here. I told him that I really had to go, said that I would tell his cousin how nice he had been, and then dashed out before he could try to put anything into my hand. I had survived my first merchant attack, but I expected there would be many more.

I met a few from my tour group at the hotel that afternoon, and then met the rest of the group in the evening. We got the introductory speech from our tour leader, Hoda, who said we must be surprised that an Egyptian woman was leading the group. My first thought was "Why would I be surprised?", but a few more days among Egyptian culture would make that statement clear. With a group of 11 travellers, I immediately noted one difference from the Contiki tours I had previously taken. Before we had reached our dinner location several blocks away, I had managed to talk to everyone in our group. After three weeks on the big 35-person tours, there would still be members to whom I hadn't spoken a word. The group was rather diverse - two couples, two people travelling with their respective mothers, and then three single voyagers. The nature of this tour, however, guaranteed that they would all be the adventurous type, and so it looked like it would be a fun little group.

Following dinner, a few us stayed at the hotel bar for a few drinks, where we tried out the local beer. Since most of Egypt is Muslim - who don't drink alcohol - the pickings were slim, and the beer not that great. While we were there, however, we met a local Coptic who took great interest in our upcoming adventure, and enjoyed telling us about the country and his religion. He even handed out pictures of the Coptic Pope; we were wondering if he was going to hand out religious tracts next. As we left to rest up for tomorrow, he said he would meet us here again at the end of our tour to see how it went. As far as I'm concerned at this point, that's a long time from now.

Fri, Nov 2, 2007

Egypt Day 2 - Cairo, Giza

This morning we made the short drive out to Giza to see the pyramids. Apparently, Friday is the equivalent of the Sabbath for Muslims, so traffic was surprisingly light. The pyramids really aren't very far from the city at all, and it took no more than twenty minutes to get there. Prior to our arrival, we got the expected warning about people asking for tips and expecting money for doing as little as looking at their camel. We entered well-prepared.

In the West, we've always heard about "The Wonders of the World", and the majesty that are the pyramids, but one always wonders what they are like when seen in person. Would they really be that impressive, or just a big pile of rocks?

Well, they are.

Their height, by today's standards, don't compare to the skyscrapers that surround us on a daily basis. But, consider that the Great Pyramid was the world's tallest structure for about 3000 years, and it should give you an idea of its immensity. Also consider when it was built, how it might have been built, and what it must have looked like in its pristine state, and you are left wondering how such a thing could possibly have been done.

The really big impression, though, is the weight of it all. Sure, it's tall. Yeah, it's big. Yeah, it's made of lots and lots of rocks. You can see all that in pictures. What pictures don't seem to convey, though, is that when you look at the pyramid stretching way up above you, and way out to either side of you, and you can touch one of the tens of thousands of massive boulders that make up the thing, you get a sense of the incredible mass and weight of it all. It's as if it has it's own pull of gravity.

It stands simple, but solid; immovable. A masterpiece of complexity in its construction, yet simplistic in its beauty.

We were able to climb inside the Great Pyramid - a dark narrow shaft into the heart of the structure - which would be a nightmare for any claustrophobe. It was rather surreal to stand inside the storied structure where a 3000-year-old king was buried. It was also very very hot.

We moved on to a distant plateau that provided a panoramic view of all three pyramids, and much like other touristy spots like Pisa, it was hilarious to see people posing in ridiculous ways, attempting to create interesting and tacky photos.

We then moved to the other end of the complex to see the Valley Temple of Khafre and his Sphinx. Cramming lots of tourists through a little walkway tends to create some tension, and we witnessed a bit of shoving among some people trying to weasel their way ahead. Once inside, more silly photographs ensued. Seeing the size of the Sphinx - carved from one gigantic boulder - it's a wonder that it was buried up to it's neck for so many hundreds of years. It wasn't until 1925 that it was finally unearthed in its entirety.

Our Giza visit complete, we stopped for lunch at a place that is one of the larger fast-food chains in Egypt. It was here that we noticed how advantageous the exchange rate is. A falafel is a simple, yet satisfying food, a pair being good enough for a meal, perhaps a third if you are particularly hungry. One falafel costs 1 Egyptian pound. That's about 20 cents Canadian. A full, satisfying meal for 40 or 60 cents. That wouldn't get you soggy fries back home.

Our next stop took us to the Egyptian Museum, and its massive collection of artifacts. During our hour-and-a-half tour, we were shown priceless piece after piece, from tiny remnants of mummies' jewellery, to gigantic statues of former kings. Of course, we finished with the treasures of Tutankhamen, his golden mask and hordes of possessions. I couldn't get that old Steve Martin song out of my head.

Unfortunately, with the heat, pollution, and dehydration, I felt nauseous and nearly faint, and had to abandon the museum for liquids. Another oddity of the exchange rate struck me. Back home in Ontario, which seems to be entirely composed of lakes of various shapes and sizes, a 1L bottle of water will run you about 2 dollars. In Egypt - in the desert, where water is scarce - the same will cost 2 pounds. 5 times cheaper, though it's obviously so much more difficult to acquire. On the way back, some kid tried to steal it. Considering my dehydrated state, I protected by 40-cent prize assertively.

I made the walk back through the city to the hotel for a third time, becoming quite accustomed to the surroundings. In the evening, we boarded a sleeper train that would take us to Aswan. Nick, Nik, and I checked out the club car for a beer, which was served by a man who looked like he hadn't seen daylight since disco was popular. That also looked like the time around which the club car was designed, with its tacky decor and faded colours.

We retired to bed, and I still didn't sleep well. With the train jerking to and fro all night, and various parts of the room rattling, it was no wonder. At least there wasn't a mosque blaring at us at quarter to five in the morning.

Sat, Nov 3, 2007

Egypt Day 3 - Aswan

We arrived in Aswan in the morning, and the difference from Cairo was immediately evident. Far less crowded, far less noisy, far less polluted. A breath of fresh air, literally.

Our first excursion was to the Nobles' Tombs across the Nile. We got to see 3000-year-old carvings and paintings, and our guides happily allowed us to touch them and take pictures, which we found quite surprising. Not that we don't appreciate the opportunity, but I would expect they would still want those paintings to be viewable in another thousand years, and that's not really the way to preserve them. Our guides were quite funny, though. They cracked jokes quite often, and one of them offered several marriage proposals to Kristina, offering herds of camels as dowry. Grant seemed to take it in stride, though I wonder if he was thinking of buying a few camels of his own, just in case.

We checked in to the hotel where I fought off sleep, and then head across the street for lunch with a few of the others. I tried a Turkish coffee, which is rather like a concentrated espresso, thick and powdery.

Before evening, we crossed the river again to Elephantine Island to visit a Nubian Village. JJ - the man who organised this excursion and who would be renting us our felucca in a couple of days - invited us into his home, served us tea, and showed us photos of his wedding. A guide told us about the village and its history, and led us back onto the boat for a tour of its shores, including the ancient relics that surrounded it. It was a quaint little excursion, and what seemed like the first bit of pure local culture we got to experience.

We then went out to the desert for a camel ride, which no trip to Egypt would be complete without. While most people tended to have an amusing time with their large beasts, I, however, was paired with an animal that must have filed several grievances with the camel union. He was a malcontented and disenchanted creature. He did not seem pleased in the least to have a human on his back, and kept reaching backward and kicking at something, which was probably me. Of course, every time he did this, I felt like I was going to fall off, and the thought of falling six feet to the ground and being trampled by a grumpy camel was not a pleasant one.

We agreed to disagree, the camel and I, and after seeing the sun set over the desert we headed back. We returned to the village, where we were treated to a tasty home-cooked Nubian meal. The villagers offered some hats to sell, and henna paintings for the girls. They ended the meal with a song and dance, the boys singing and playing drums, while the little girls invited us all to dance. It was a wonderfully charming scene.

The event ended at only 7:30, but it felt much later. We would have an early start to tomorrow, so those of us who could sleep hit the sack early.

Sun, Nov 4, 2007

Egypt Day 4 - Aswan, Abu Simbel

Last night was my first nearly-full night's sleep since I arrived in Egypt. Odd that it was from 8:00 to 3:00, though.

We arose very very early for the ride to Abu Simbel. It would be a 3-hour drive down south, about 40km away from Sudan. The unusual bit about the trip (aside from the departure time) was that it was made by police convoy; a big long line of busses and vans carrying hundreds of tourists all led by two cops in a beaten up pickup truck. I know that the setup was designed for "our safety" in the unlikely event of some sort of attack, but I think it has the opposite effect. All it does is create one big moving target. If someone wanted to attack tourists, they know exactly where they are, when they're leaving, and where they're going. And they're all bunched up together in one easy to hit group. Not exactly comforting.

Furthering the "illusion" of security was the entrance to every temple and attraction we would visit. They all had metal detectors, supposedly with the intention of preventing people from carrying guns or other weapons inside, but in most cases, these devices were off. Even if they were on and they beeped when you walked through, you would stop, expecting two or three guards to give you a rigourous search, but you would turn to find them lazily waving you onward. If they checked your bags, they would merely give a less-than-cursory glance at whatever was lying on top and then let you through. The tourist police tend to do as little as possible. They must be unionised.

This excursion also revealed the first illness in the group, as poor Jessica remained behind locked up in her room, hugging her pillow, and cursing whatever it is that's in Egyptian water that wreaks havoc on Westerners' digestive systems.

We barrelled down the highway, leaving lots of emptiness behind. The landscape was completely different to me. On a drive like this back home, I would expect to see kilometres of forests and fields, a few outcroppings of rocks, lakes, and more forests. Here, there was nothing but endless sand; a barren desert. At certain parts of the road there were even sand drifts spilling onto the lane in much the same way that we would see snow drifts back home. Quite surreal.

We arrived at Abu Simbel, which is home to the self-dedicated temple of Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari. It is simply massive. Huge statues, storeys high, of Ramesses and the Egyptian gods, flank the entrance of the temple within the cliff side. There were endless sculptures of Ramesses and his triumphs and his placement among the gods. He definitely had an ego.

Just as astounding was the fact that this wasn't the original location of the temple. When the Aswan High Dam was built, the Nile flooded a large portion of the country up-river, creating Lake Nasser. As the Lake waters rose, it became clear that the temple would be flooded and submerged, so a tremendous amount of effort was made to carefully carve up the temple, move it, and reconstruct it exactly as it was higher up the hillside so that the marvellous structure can still be enjoyed today.

Following the view, we had a spot of "lunch" (it was something like 9:00 in the morning, so it's not really lunch), and needing to get lots of cheesy souvenirs for the folks back home, I checked out the market.

I never thought I'd survive. As soon as you enter, hordes of merchants surround you asking you to go into their shop. "Free to look!" "Come and see!" "No hassle!"

I think their definition of "no hassle" means they won't lock you to a table, though I'm sure they would like to. Dozens of them would stand in my way, asking me where I'm from. Anytime I replied "Canada", they invariably said "Canada Dry!". It got rather tiresome. The country really isn't that dry. Many of the merchants even grabbed my arm to lead me inside. I got dizzy from twisting away. I had to dash out, overloaded with calls and yells and people shoving stuffed camels in my face.

We began the drive back to Aswan, making a couple of stops along the way. We first stopped at the High Dam, which prevented the annual flooding of the Nile downstream, allowing for much greater development in Cairo and in the Delta, but it also created Lake Nasser, flooding dozens of Nubian villages, and leaving many ancient temples submerged underwater. We visited Philae, which was one of the temples moved to higher ground, though this one was done after it was already submerged.

We returned to Aswan where we went for a second lunch. I ran into Jessica, who was thankfully feeling much better at this point. We then went to visit the local market, and I must say I'm very glad we don't shop back home the way people do over here. I am no good at haggling; I don't like it. I don't like to be pushed around, but like a stereotypical Canadian, I tend to be too gentle to push back.

Hoda introduced us to a friend of hers at a coffee shop, and he introduced us to shisha. A few people tried out the flavoured smoke, though the after-effects didn't sit so well with Kristina.

We went for dinner on a floating restaurant, and then returned to the hotel, where I would have my best sleep yet; a good 10 hours or so, which my body needed a great deal.

Mon, Nov 5, 2007

Egypt Day 5 - Aswan, River Nile

We awoke in the morning to find that the power was out in the hotel. Perhaps it was a warm-up for our next adventure, as we were to board a felucca for a pleasant two-day sail up the Nile. We boarded the boat, which was covered in one large mattress and had a big canopy overhead to block out the Sun. It was the perfect spot to just lay back and relax for a couple of days.

We lazed the day away with plenty of conversation, a few naps, and some games of cards, including a game we renamed "Egyptian Felucca Poker". I won one game with an awesome lay-down hand, that prompted a rule change so it could no longer be done. Asherif, one of our sailors, attempted to teach some of us to use the rudder, as they crisscrossed the boat up the river. Several people stepped up to try and had a visibly difficult time moving the thing, while Asherif would simply lean back, say "No problem!", and push the thing around as if he had been doing it for 29 years, which he had.

Of course, lying on a felucca in the middle of the River Nile with no plumbing is not a good place for the Egyptian water to start messing with your system. Unfortunately, this is precisely when it hit Grant, and he spent most of the sail lying on his back grumbling and fighting off a fever.

By sunset, we docked at the shore next to another Intrepid tour's boat, set up the toilet tent (which got rather rank in no time at all), enjoyed a hearty meal, and cracked into our beer rations. Following dinner, a few of us foraged for wood and grass for a fire, wondering how, exactly, you forage in a desert. We enjoyed the evening with some Nubian song and dance, with a few Australian, Canadian, and Austrian songs tossed in the mix for good measure. There was one song that sounded like "Oh My Lady" that got repeated several times, with various modifications. I got particular praise for my ability to shake it, and got awarded the abstract Booty Prize for causing excitement.

Only about half of our group were up for the party, along with the entire group from the other boat, but we still out-partied them by a long shot. The others still on the boat would later tell us it sounded like a big bunch of white people with no rhythm trying to dance. We rule.

Tue, Nov 6, 2007

Egypt Day 6 - River Nile, Daraw

I didn't sleep too much during the night, as the air was a bit chilly, the pillows rock hard, and the odd snore being thrown about as 14 people slept out in the open. I also found that the Egyptian water curse was starting to hit me, and I have to agree that a felucca is not a good place for it.

As we prepared to set sail again, it was evident that quite a bit of work was being done in the surrounding area, as trucks were dumping loads of rocks around us, and a fire broke out not too far away. We recovered the toilet tent before it went up in flames and went on our way.

Progress was slow, as the wind was calm. We stopped for lunch at a little beach, and we were disappointed to find that people had left trash about. We eventually reached Daraw, and went into town to visit the camel and livestock market. It was a very busy place, as cows were being trucked to and fro, goats and sheep were being led about and examined, and donkeys pulled carts, weaving among the trucks and buggies. It was tough for some to see the way the animals were treated - front legs tied and dragged about - but such is the way it is in a poor town where these animals are bred for food.

We went into town to have a look about, and it was a crowded, smelly, and dirty little place. Seeing shops hanging fly-covered meat out in the open - tails still attached - made me decide to shy away from the meat here. We encountered a group of school kids, who enjoyed practicing their minimal English with us, and we were amused to find that one of the few phrases they knew was "Fuck you!" Oh, the things you learn on TV.

When we docked at sunset, we enjoyed another meal and continued our beer rations. A few people had bought more than they could finish, so I decided to be a gentleman and "help" rid them of their excess. I had brought my iPod Touch with me on the trip, and this led to inadvertently introducing the group to Charlie the Unicorn. I, and other fans alike, will be quite pleased to know that he spread like wildfire. Before long, others were asking to see what the fuss was about, and soon all were muttering about Candy Mountain and shunning non-believers. I've done a good thing.

A few friends of our sailors were in the area, and they brought out the shisha pipe for more smoky apple enjoyment. Asherif, Nick, Nik, Jessica, and I spent a fun late night trying to finish of the beer stash and enjoying some rowdy games of Fuzzy Duck. We laughed the night away shouting uproariously at every slip-up of "duzzy fuck", as silly drunkards are wont to do. When we finally retired for the night, we realised there was a loud wedding party across the river, but I still managed to sleep through most of it, except for a quick - and really really rank - toilet stop. The sail is nice, but it will also be nice to get indoor plumbing again.

Wed, Nov 7, 2007

Egypt Day 7 - Luxor

We arose early in the morning, but with no wind, we didn't get very far. Our sailors had to paddle the rest of the way to Kom-Ombo. Once there, we said good-bye to our skilled seafarers and went to visit the temple. It was a rather large temple, only part of which was still standing. Unfortunately, the most memorable part of the temple was nearly the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my entire life.

As we left the temple, the Egyptian water was having another attack on my digestive system. Kristina and I scavenged to find a toilet. Eventually, we found them, and I walked into the Men's room. The place was quite unkept. It was filthy, and - unsurprisingly - smelled awful. No matter; this was urgent. I entered a stall, but then had the faint idea that perhaps I should try it out first, just in case. A pull of the handle proved that the toilet was not in working order. I tried the others and found the same. Thinking there must be another - working - toilet elsewhere, I ran out to search.

At least, that's what I tried to do, but I discovered that the door leaving the room had no handle. I reached under the bottom of the door and pulled, but it was latched. I tried to find something on the door to pull to get it open, but no luck. Our group would be going to Luxor via another police convoy and we could not be late. I did not want to be left behind in Kom-Ombo, digestive system gurgling, locked in a filthy disused lavatory. (My fellow Guide fans will be disappointed to know that I did not think of putting up a sign reading "Beware of the leopard". I just wasn't thinking clearly.) Holding off panic, I gave the door a few swift kicks, hoping it would jar loose, or at least that someone would hear and set me free. I briefly looked around for a window. I gave the door another few sturdy kicks, and to my immense gratitude, it was open by a rather surprised looking man. He quickly directed me to the operating toilets, and I left the nightmare behind.

Apparently, Kristina had a somewhat similar experience. After finding the working toilets, she too got locked in and was halfway out a window before someone opened the door. It was attended by a deaf man, who could not hear her hammering and yelling for help.

We boarded the bus, and joined the convoy to Edfu, our next temple stop. At this point, we were hot and hungry, and getting a little overloaded with temples. I was impressed with this one, however, particularly the detail with which most of the wall carvings were made. The images were raised relief, meaning the artists had chiseled away everything around the images and glyphs, rather than chiseling the glyphs themselves.

I bought an incredibly expensive tube of Pringles, popped some Pepto to ease my gurgling system, and we then set off to Luxor. The main street in Luxor by the Nile was quite nice, with it's flanking row of cruise ships, but the rest of the town was much like the others: dirty, crumbling, and with the distinct smell of donkey. Meeting Hoda's friend again, we went for dinner at a pleasant restaurant, taking the public ferry across the river. We were staying at the Little Garden Hotel, but we were amused with some of the other establishments around town, including Happy Land Hotel, and Shady Hotel. That one was made even more shady by the fact that the "D" was placed backwards. Kind of glad we weren't staying there.

Thu, Nov 8, 2007

Egypt Day 8 - Luxor

Today was a big day. Today was the day to wait for. Today was the most memorable part of the trip. At least, if you asked Matt, that's what he would say.

Today was the day of the donkey ride.

We were taken to the Colossi of Memnon, a pair of 18-metre statues of Amenhotep III, guardians of what used to be the largest temple in Egypt. From there, we each got a donkey and rode as they took us up the hillside toward the Valley of the Kings. Matt, it should be known, has an unhealthy obsession with donkeys, a fact that he made clear with us from the very start of the tour. He just finds them unbearably funny, from their looks to their sounds, so this little ride was quite the treat for him.

After the frightening trip on the camel a few days earlier, I was quite pleased to find that my new donkey friend was much more agreeable. Aside from his frequent stops to smell other donkeys' poop, he happily trotted along the way up the mountain, knowing precisely where to go, having made this trip countless numbers of times before. I didn't know the name of my donkey, so I decided to name him Caractacus. The only unpleasant part of the ride was when Caractacus became a bit impatient getting through a crowd of his brethren, and passing too closely to another, I got my knee right into a donkey's butt. Ew.

Matt was laughing the whole way up.

We reached the Valley of the Kings and got to see the tombs of Ramesses I, Ramesses III, and Thutmos I. I was astonished at the vibrant detail and colour of the tombs. The paintings and carvings were magnificent. Truly worth the trip.

Our guide - Ahmed - then took us to the temple at Habu, where he described the meanings of many of the depicted scenes carved on the walls, including Egyptian numbers and military victories. He also described methods for counting prisoners of war as depicted in further carvings, including cutting off hands and penises. Noxious.

We then visited an alabaster shop and a papyrus shop, where we were shown some basics of their trades. Finally, it was a place where I could do my souvenir shopping without getting hassled, so I did it all there. They offered free welcome drinks, and then left us to browse as we wished. Thankfully, nobody mentioned Canada Dry.

Ahmed then took us to his house, where his wife made us one of the best meals we enjoyed on the entire trip. There was a heated discussion over lunch concerning sexist issues in Egypt. Hoda is rather progressive for an Egyptian, and it was clear that Ahmed enjoyed pushing her buttons with his Archie-Bunker-like comments. Nevertheless, it was still rather shocking for the rest of us to see that women are still treated the way they are here.

We returned to Luxor in the afternoon, and - deciding that we wanted a bit of comfort - Kristina, Grant, Carrie, and I booked some time at the pool of a cruise ship. We got there to find that it was a bit small, but still good to wade in. Kristina had this vision of sitting by the pool with a cocktail in her hand, and prodded the bar to see how they could make that happen.

Sadly, it was not to be. First, she couldn't find the bartender. After tracking him down, it seemed he had no idea what a cocktail was. After pointing at items on the drinks menu, we collectively ordered a daiquiri and a couple of pina coladas. He finally went off (presumably to get help) and returned with some glasses. What we got were drinks were almost, but not quite, entirely unlike cocktails.

Kristina's daiquiri, rather than being a crushed-ice concoction, was a burnt-orange liquid that vaguely resembled mango juice. Our pina coladas looked like rotten milk. They also smelled like rotten milk. And, they tasted like rotten milk.

The pool-stay being partly a bust, we hoped for better when we returned for dinner. To our relief, we were presented with a sumptuous buffet. Fine veggies, fresh fruit, and heaps and heaps of meat. Oh, glorious meat!

Somewhat surprisingly, the ship was entirely passengered by Germans. The waiters would initially speak to us in German, until we responded in English. Fortunately, Nik was with us to translate. The waiters even sang "Happy Birthday" to one of the passengers in German (as well as that familiar "Oh My Lady" song again), and they felt the need to show us all the cake.

On our way back, the discussion somehow led to physical challenges, like holding textbooks straight out in front of you, and doing chairless sits that goalies tend to practice, which we all felt compelled to try. Nik and I finished off the evening by having some of the warm leftover wine from the felucca before turning in for the night.

Fri, Nov 9, 2007

Egypt Day 9 - Luxor, Hurghada

This morning we were rejoined by Ahmed as he guided us through Karnak, the largest ancient religious site in the world. The complex is huge, with its avenue of sphinxes, pylons, and hypostyle hall. Obelisks of various height and condition were scattered about the complex. Statues of kings and gods littered the site. Naturally, there were tourists doing silly touristy things, like walking circles around the scarab, which was supposed to grant wishes. One of the most impressive things about the complex, however, was the vast collection of structures that weren't there. Exiting the main precinct of the temple, one is presented with fields and fields of stone pieces. Portions of columns here, pieces of statues there, chunks of wall yonder. All of it sorted in some way, but none of it identified as a specific part of any particular structure. Seeing this vast collection of puzzle pieces gave a great indication of the vastness of the complex, and the complexity of work involved in restoring it.

Following the visit, we returned to Luxor and took a stroll into town to increase the falafel content in our blood streams. Hoda managed to get our check-out time from the hotel extended, which gave us an extra hour's free time in the afternoon. I decided to use the time to walk downtown to visit Luxor Temple. I got a discount upon entry, presumably because the ticket agent couldn't - or was too lazy to - make proper change.

I wandered around the smaller companion to Karnak, greeted the numerous schoolchildren that wanted to practice their minimal English, and denied them when they asked for free tips. It must have been prayer time when I left, because I could hear activity from several nearby mosques as I walked back. Though I don't know what they were saying over the various public address systems, I distinctly heard one of them say "Kandahar" and "America". Hmm... I wonder what he was talking about.

I returned to the hotel where we boarded our bus for yet another police-escorted moving-target convoy, this time to Hurghada. Along the way, we paused at a rest stop, which seemed to be populated with people who made their money by getting it from tourists for nothing. A man who ran a shop had an aquarium with a couple of baby Nile crocodiles, and would try to charge anyone who looked at them. Hosts of children approached carrying baby goats and sheep, asking for tips, as if nature's cuteness was not something that should ever be free.

The long drive was made entertaining - though in a pitiful way - by our driver. Hoda sat up front in the passenger seat next to him, and as the only one on the bus that spoke Arabic, she got talked at by him the whole way. He talked on and on and on. He apparently told her his life story, about why he was upset with the government, about why he was upset with his children, pretty much about how miserable his life has become. The rest of us didn't really know what was going on, but we knew that he was doing almost all of the talking - very loudly - while Hoda spent most of the time nodding automatically in a daze reminiscent of high school.

Matt couldn't contain his laughter because he thought the guy sounded like a donkey.

We wouldn't be staying in Hurghada long; merely a night stop so we can catch the ferry to Sinai in the morning. As we approached, we entered the Red Sea resort area. Endless numbers of fancy resorts passed us by. Glittering lights, extravagant designs. Everything looked like it cost an especially pretty penny. Hoda made sure to warn us that our accommodations were nothing like this, so don't the wrong impression; there's a reason why we don't stay here very long.

She wasn't kidding. The place was adequate, but a little grimy. The shower had no stall - just a head sticking out of the wall, which would get the entire bathroom flooded. The Betty Boop carpets suggested the place's age. Reception had a half-hidden picture of Barbie on the wall, and as I wondered why they would have such a picture, it struck me that it appeared that Barbie had her hand down her pants. Ahem.

Also, a mouse ran about the lobby.

We head off to dinner at a nearby restaurant, and discussed everything from football to the common roots of Islam and Christianity, but mostly of the awful wait service. After what seemed like an hour after we had ordered, plates started to arrive, but most of them weren't dishes we had asked for. If we weren't so hungry, it would have been rather comical.

Following dinner, Kris, Grant, the Americans, and I went to the Peanut Bar (A bar! At last!) across the street for a few drinks. And some peanuts, of course. As it wasn't Wednesday, we missed their karaoke night. The discussion centred largely around the differences in rights - particularly women's rights - here in Egypt, compared to the developed countries we all called home. We still find it surprising how limited a woman's opportunities are here, and what is expected of them. We decided that we wanted to adopt Hoda; take her back with us so that she can see the world from which all of her clients come. Authorities tend to frown upon stuffing people in backpacks, though, so I'm not sure there's much that we can do.

Sat, Nov 10, 2007

Egypt Day 10 - Hurghada, Nuweiba

Morning arrived and we headed off to the port to catch the ferry that would take us to the Sinai peninsula, where we waited. And waited. And waited some more. A large crowd was gathering around the gates, including what looked like a party of Orthodox priests. When finally we boarded, we scrambled to find seats, and began the long blast across the sea, boat rocking to and fro.

Amenities on the 3-hour ride were few. Con-Air was playing on monitors at the front of the boat, with Chinese subtitles, but the audio was far too low to hear. Following that was a Van Damme movie that I really didn't pay attention to.

The water splashed by.

When the ferry finally arrived at Sharm el-Sheik on the Asian part of Egypt, we disembarked and hopped on the van that would take us the rest of the way to Nuweiba. The landscape was a much rockier desert than the African portion, and we stared at the huge outcrops of jagged rock that the road twisted around.

By late afternoon, we had passed through Nuweiba and arrived at Sawa Camp. It was a minimalist resort, with some huts, seat cushions, a fridge for our beer, fruit cocktails, a beach, the Red Sea, and the mountains of Saudi Arabia on the horizon. This would be our home for the next two days.

Yeah, I think I can handle this.

Unfortunately, it seemed my camera, however, could not. Something had started to go wonky with the lens motor, and it sounded like gears were slipping. It would still operate - sort of - if I shook it, forcing the lens into its proper position, but it's days were numbered. Pretty poor timing. If it had broken at home, it wouldn't be such a big deal, but vacation is the time I really need it.

I went for a quick snorkel, remembered what salt water tastes like, and then went back to the lounging area to play a bit of pool. The table was in rough shape, but that was OK; it added to the character of the matches. We played, drank beer, and generally chilled-out for the evening. After a week of exploring here and there, walking through temples, and riding through desert, it was nice to get just a bit of pure relaxation.

Sun, Nov 11, 2007

Egypt Day 11 - Nuweiba

I awoke at 6:00, just in time to peek outside and watch the sunrise over the mountains of Saudi Arabia. Ooo, pretty.

I spent most of the morning lying about the beach, napping, reading, napping again, and then having a good snooze after that. Early in the afternoon, we had a guided snorkel of the nearby reef. Countless numbers of fish of various flashy colours swam about us, and underwater plant life bloomed in fanciful ways. Several bikinis swam by, which is always a good thing. At one point, Matt started shouting something that couldn't be heard with his snorkel still in his mouth, but looking at where he was pointing, we could see a big fat fish. I was making use of my waterproof camera bag to take pictures, but having borrowed Nick's camera with broken LCD display, it was hard to tell precisely what pictures I was getting. The return swim took us through what seemed to be colony of sea urchin, their long spikes sticking out in threatening fashion. I was sure to steer clear.

Following the snorkel, we returned to the beach to laze around some more and do a bit of reading. I thoroughly enjoyed a brunch beer (it wasn't quite early enough anymore to call it a breakfast beer), and let the Sun do its magic on the pastier parts of me.

That afternoon I went for a SCUBA dive along with Kris, Grant, Nick, and another fellow from another Intrepid tour that was staying at Sawa Camp at the same time we were. Having dived part of the Great Barrier Reef before, I was looking forward to seeing the wide world of underwater again, this time in nice weather with sunny skies. I saw tons of incredibly colourful fish, large schools of them swimming around us, a strange flowery plant that would vanish when you came close to it, and even a pair of clown fish hanging out their anemone.

After the four of us had finished our dives, we were discussing how enjoyable it was when we noticed the fifth in our excursion had just popped above water, seemingly having trouble. Turns out that diving was not a good idea for him, as he and underwater just wouldn't cooperate. So, while we in the cool group all enjoyed the adventure, the other decided that dry land was where he really belonged.

We returned to camp for more beer and had a nice big candlelit Bedouin dinner. And, more beer.

We spent the evening sitting around together as a group, chatting the night away. This was when the size of our group again struck me as perfect. Everyone was huddled together, all sharing in one conversation. In a group any larger, there would have been cliques breaking off doing their own thing.

With the clock ever increasingly becoming the movement of the Sun rather than the movement of little gears on our wrists, it was becoming harder to stay up late. We eventually retired for another quiet night in paradise.

Mon, Nov 12, 2007

Egypt Day 12 - Nuweiba, St Katherine

I awoke at about 6:00 this morning to again see the sunrise. Yesterday, Jessica had asked to be woken up to see it, as she had missed it the day before. Of course, people will often say such things during the day, but tend to feel very different when the time actually comes and they are lifted from their slumber at such an early hour. I am, however, a man of my word, so twice I went up to her hut, rapped on the door, and shouted things like "Good morning, sunshine!!!" and then ran away.

We enjoyed our final morning on the beach, and then departed for our drive through the mountains to St Katherine. Through much of Upper Egypt, we had to travel by convoy, apparently because of the possible danger tourists could face. I expected that in Sinai - a chunk of land that has always been held by Egypt, but on which Israel would love to get extend their grasp - there would be much more, and even tighter security. However, there was next to none. Aside from the same setups of tourist police here and there, and a couple of passport checks, the security was less.

We visited St Katherine's monastery, which is one of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. It is housed around the well where Moses had met his would-be wife. The church was dusty and old, as expected, but beautifully decorated. It's library was full of a vast collection of relics; paintings, books, and scrolls from the 11th and 12th centuries, even a few texts from the 7th century. The monastery also contained "the burning bush", which obviously wasn't the actual burning bush, but supposedly a descendant of the one through which Moses spoke to God. In all likelihood, however, it's just another bush.

We then went to our hotel and, starving, rushed to our buffet lunch. We were rather surprised that such a large and delectable meal was prepared just for us, but really, we just had great timing. As we were finishing up, hordes of people arrived, all swarming toward the buffet.

We then returned to the monastery to start our climb of Mount Sinai. The guys - being men - all decided we would walk the whole way up the mountain, while the girls decided they would take camels. After my experience riding the camel last time, walking seemed a much safer choice to me. I created a video documentary of our trek as we made various stops, gauging our fatigue, and tracking our progress. Matt quickly realised he had made the wrong choice as he discovered he was not as fit as he had believed. I tried to pace myself properly, taking soft steps to reduce impact, and trying not to follow Nick, whose strides are nearly twice as long as mine.

We eventually reached the end of the camel path, the climb being a good workout, and awaited the arrival of the girls on their camels. (Fortunately, we got there before they did, and was spared their laughter.) We then started the 750-step climb up the Stairs of Repentance to the summit, and I was kinda sorry for doing it. That was one heck of a workout. However, I was the first one to the summit! Woo! I rule! Ow, a cramp...

The other group at Sawa Camp had previously done this climb, and they related their torturous experience to us. Most of them regretted doing the walk, it being far too rough for them, and they did not make it in time to see the sunset. Knowing that, we left an hour earlier than they did, but still reached the summit with two hours to spare, and all of us made it to the top without too much trouble. Even Matt, who was exhausted, made it up and was fine after a little rest. Thus, we just reaffirmed that - like the bonfire night next to the felucca - we rule, and the other group were a bunch of pansies.

We chatted and waited around for the Sun to set over the mountains. At this point, my camera bit the dust for good. It was locked with the lens closed, and the motor was no longer able to open it, so with two more days left in the tour, I would get no more pictures. At least I was able to finish the documentary.

We watched the sunset and then made the climb down, which, in a way, was worse than the climb up. Walking down hill is rough on the joints, particularly on slippery loose rock. Add to that the fact that every now and then a camel would surprisingly come barrelling at you from behind in the dark, and it made for a few tense moments. We returned to the hotel starving (again) and rushed for a well earned dinner. It was much busier than at lunch, though, and the dining seemed to be full of old, fat, Greek people. Odd. One of the especially large ones refused to stay in her seat and squeezed behind me at least a half-dozen times going to and fro for no discernable reason.

Still exhausted we hit the sack early. I was hoping this would be one of my best sleeps, finally having a cushy mattress, but it seemed to be misshapen or slanted, and I woke up a few times during the chilly night.

Tue, Nov 13, 2007

Egypt Day 13 - St Katherine, Cairo

I arose this morning and headed to breakfast, intent on eating as much as I possibly could, knowing that we had a very long drive to Cairo ahead of us today. Along with our group, many of the old, fat Greeks were getting their morning munchies as well. At the buffet table, I exchanged pleasantries with a twenty-something year-old girl who appeared to be travelling with her father. I noted that she must have felt awfully out of place here. She was the only - and I mean only - young person in the place, outside of our group.

Most of the day was spent on the bus, chatting, dozing, listening to music, and watching the desert go by. Fortunately, we had a larger bus for today's commute, so that everyone had plenty of space to stretch out. Just to reaffirm that we were in the Middle East, we passed a few oil rigs and a refinery along the way. As we approached Suez, we passed a complex that had a rather scary logo. It consisted of a tank, centred among various implements of destruction: a rifle, missile, rocket, and other such exploding devices. I'm guessing it was a military base, but in any case, it didn't look friendly.

We passed under the heavily guarded Suez Canal back onto the African continent, and continued toward Cairo. Gradually, the surroundings became more and more city-like, and the familiar bustle and traffic mayhem hit us once again. When we returned to our original hotel, we went out - as has become our custom - on a trek for falafels. Hoda led us to a falafel joint, where it became quite an exercise to place an order. It would seem that Egyptians don't believe in queues; it was a mob at the register, and people squeezed and pushed to make their way to the front. We managed to work our group up, which kept the other beasts at bay, but when I was the only one left, there was a sudden swamp of hands and elbows and bills waving about my face, and people reached over me to place their orders first. It was kinda creepy.

We had a bit of time to relax before we rejoined and hopped onto a bus that would take us to the Nile for a cruise dinner. Before we left, we started a pool, guessing how many near misses we would experience in traffic. Nik won, as he was the only one to wager an actual hit, which we did with a solid thud.

The cruise ship was rather extravagant, with statues and fountains strewn upon its deck, and the food was tasty to match. Hoda revealed to us that she had just been approved to work for Intrepid in China, so hearty congratulations were in order; she was finally going to able to do some travelling of her own.

Following the meal, we were treated to a pair of singers, belting out some tunes that must have been popular, as Hoda knew the words to them all. Following that act, the belly dancer appeared, which is who we were anxious to see. At least, the guys were anxious.

She was very sparkly. Also really hot.

She did her dance, which was a good show, and tried to get someone to come up to join her. After much prodding around the room, Kristina finally took the plunge and shook her stuff. Being an avid dancer herself, she put on a good show. The next dancer was a man doing a tanoura dance. He dressed in a very colourful outfit and spun around in circles constantly for at least ten minutes. He tossed various drum-like objects and spun his colourful robe around him in dizzying fashion. We were amazed that he was able to walk away after he way done. I would have collapsed from the dizziness within moments.

Following his impressive performance, the belly dancer returned, with vocal accompaniment. She once again prodded for a volunteer, and finding success at our table last time, approached us again. After a bit of prodding regarding my booty prize from several days ago, I decided to give it a shot. This would likely be my only opportunity to become a belly-dancer, so why not take advantage of it, and blame it on the scotch later? Also, the prospect of that hottie shaking her various sparkly parts in front of me couldn't possibly be a bad thing.

Much to everyone's surprise - particularly mine - I was a huge hit. Whoops and whistles abound as my award-winning derriere moved in ways it was not meant to do, but was glad of the opportunity to do it. It took several attempts to escape and reclaim my seat, where cheers and laughter were persistent from the group. Even other diners approached me to tell me what a good dancer I was.

Yep, I'm awesome. I know.

Wed, Nov 14, 2007

Egypt Day 14 - Cairo

This morning's excursion took us to Old Cairo to visit the Monastery of St Simon. Along the way, we passed through an area known as "The City of the Dead". It is a community composed of a set of cemeteries, where many of the city's terribly poor live. It was a creepy and depressing site. Following that, we passed through the aptly named "Garbage City", which many of Cairo's poor Coptics live. Most of them make their living by being the city's garbage collectors. Residents pay them a few pounds to pick up their garbage, and they will bring it home to sort and recycle. I had never seen poverty on such a large scale before, where all homes were full of trash, and children played in garbage. It was a shock to see in person.

We arrived at the monastery, which is a beautiful church carved out of the side of a mountain, though the smell of Garbage City wafted it's way through. The monastery is built in the mountain where St Simon the Tanner's miracle took place. A Muslim Caliph had challenged the Coptic Pope to prove the "faith can move mountains" scripture to justify the Christian religion. The Coptic Pope, along with St Simon and other followers, prayed in front of the mountain, and an earthquake shattered it. The monastery commemorates that miracle. It is full of exquisite mosaics explaining the miracle, as well as carvings depicting the nativity.

There is also a large engraving of Mary and Jesus on the ceiling of the church, which the Coptics claim fell out of the rock, and was not carved by man. Expecting a set of vague shapes, we were surprised to find a very detailed engraving. Such detail made this second "miracle" rather difficult to believe. Isn't one miracle enough for a church; do they have to invent a second, unbelievable one?

(Researching the monastery later, I found that the engraving was "revised" in 1994. Perhaps, then, it was originally a more vague depiction, which was then later touched up to add detail. That would make it a bit more plausible.)

Our next stop was to a recycling centre, one of the Intrepid-sponsored initiatives aimed at improving the lives of the city's poor. The centre puts many women to work recycling paper and fabrics, and creating numerous products to be sold, thus helping the people find work, and helping the environment in a place where it desperately needs it.

Our next stop was to the old Citadel, and the Mosque of Mohammed Ali. Within, we viewed some of the exquisite architecture, the gifts of King Louis (a broken clock and a working chandelier, traded for an obelisk), and got a brief lesson in Islam, bringing back several memories of my grade 11 World Religions class. Throughout our stay, hordes of children surrounded us to listen, curious to see the tourists and hear English in use.

Following lunch, we wandered the Khan el-Kalini market, with its hundreds of shops and hosts of aggressive merchants. Having already purchased all of my trinkets, I strictly played observer as Jessica tried to buy scarves in bulk, and Nik attempted to get some trinkets and a Nubian drum. Haggling certainly is an art, one at which I would not have much success. Nik bought a drum for 75 pounds (down from the initially stated 450), just to find another merchant that would have sold it for 50. He decided to get another at a different shop, and bargained a price down to 45.

Our shopping complete, we caught a taxi back to the hotel. The taxis are small, and invariably banged up. Jessica should have sat in the middle, as she spent much of the trip covering her eyes and leaning away from the door as cars weaved around the little vehicles leaving inches to spare. When we returned (in one piece, thankfully), we met Hoda in the lobby. Nik decided to ask her how much she would have paid for a drum, wondering if his 70- and 45-pound prices were OK.

"Maximum?" she responded. "35."


The rest of the afternoon was free, so we decided to relax. Jessica went off to watch some bad American movies, as there was a Saudi Arabian channel available that seemed to show nothing but. She definitely hit the jackpot on that one this evening, because they were showing "Tapeheads". Wow, it was terrible. I couldn't finish it, and read my book instead.

We gathered for our final group dinner, and walked to a restaurant for koushari, which Hoda decided to make her treat as a parting gift to us. We then went to a coffee shop for some drinks, and for a few people, a final opportunity to hit the shisha pipe again.

We returned to the hotel, and so began the inevitable "all good things must come to an end" routine. Parting good-byes were made, as some people retired for their early departure home in the morning. A group of us went to the bar for a last round of drinks.

Half expecting it, but still half surprised, our Coptic friend from our first nnight was, indeed, there at the bar to see how our trip had gone. We told him of the wonderful time we had, and the adventures we experienced. I was to leave at 1:00 AM for my middle-of-the-night flight out, and so was well prepared to stay up. However, we had our drinks, and one by one, people made their tearful farewells. Eventually, only Nick, Jessica, and I remained, and then we sweet-sorrowly parted as well, bringing our Egyptian tour to a close.

Thu, Nov 15, 2007


With no time to sleep, and all packed and ready to go, I stayed up and read for an hour, occasionally fighting to keep my eyes open, until it was time to meet the transfer to take me back to the airport.

I have described the traffic in Cairo numerous times throughout this travelogue, but it seemed only fitting to save the best experience for last. It may have been the middle of the night, but a city of 20 million will never stop, and always be busy. My driver spent most of the 20-minute drive to the airport barrelling down the roads at 80 kph or more, seamlessly weaving around cars, narrowly missing medians and pedestrians, constantly flashing his lights at other cars to get out of the way, and then weaving around them before they had a chance to react. Add to that the fact that he was talking on his mobile phone for the whole trip.

With my life flashing in front of my eyes so many times I couldn't count, there was no choice but to sit back and enjoy the ride.

I'm quite certain the driver had no idea why I was laughing so hard.

We arrived at the airport alive, and I thankfully confirmed that this time, my flights were not cancelled. On the downside, however, I had the middle seat for the 5-hour flight to Amsterdam. And, there was a really fat guy sitting next to me. Ugh.

I arrived at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, and I have to agree, every other airport in the world can learn a lot of lessons from this place. It's well run, the directions are clear, it's nowhere near a waterfront, and every 10 minutes a train leaves for the 15-minute ride to the city centre. It's a wonderful thing, and further proof that Toronto's Island Airport should be razed and flagged in the history books as a terrible, terrible mistake.

I had a 5-hour stopover in Amsterdam, so I would only have about 2 hours or so to explore the city. Since it was 9:00 in the morning, I doubted too much would be up and running. As required for any tourist's first visit to Amsterdam, I went to see what the Red Light District was like, not expecting to see much so early in the bright. To my surprise, several red lights were on, though they were staffed by some rather large and unattractive people. As I walked past the numerous porn shops, clubs advertising sex shows, and coffee shops, I imagined what it must be like in the evening, lights reflecting on the canals, streets full a gaping tourists, and hungry... uh... "customers".

Outside of the district, I found - in my brief scan - that Amsterdam seemed like a very livable city. The first thing I saw when I left the train station was a multi-level parking structure just for bicycles. Every road seemed to have a bike lane on it, and I certainly saw more people riding bikes than driving cars. Europeans can sometimes seem weird to those across the pond, but in some cases they do things so much better than we do. It really did make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, despite the chilly air.

Feet throbbing and time running out, I caught the train back to the airport and caught my flight back home. I was pleased that I was assigned an aisle seat so that I could stretch out, but the man sitting next me had a foot injury, so I traded my seat with his, figuring he needed it more than I.

The flight was uneventful, and I returned to the T-dot in the afternoon, local time. I quickly got through customs, and found my brother-in-law, who was picking me up. We stepped outside, and I felt something strike me. A few somethings. I looked up at the sky, overcast with dark clouds, as my desert-adjusted face got splattered with droplets.

"Hey, rain!" I said. "I remember that!"

Thu, Nov 22, 2007

Mother Nature

Mother nature must be making up for the fact that I've been in the desert for a few weeks. It's been raining almost constantly since I returned.

Just to drive home the point, today it has been snowing. Can't wait to see the accident reports, as the annual forget-how-to-drive-in-snow disease hits all the motorists, as it tends to do upon the year's first snowfall.

Wed, Nov 28, 2007

Christmas Season

Hooray for egg nog!!

Archive Index
(C) 2000-2007 David Faria