Sunday, April 25, 2010

Let's Call It A Vacation, Shall We?

Days 6, 7 & 8: Dahab

Last time we left off, I told you that our unbelievably long day in Giza wasn’t over after the Nile dinner. It was long from over. We needed to get on a bus that evening to get to the Red Sea. When we got back to the apartment we literally ran to our rooms, stuffed relevant stuff in a bag and ran to the curb to meet the taxis. It was stressful and a little exciting but mostly stressful. We arrived just on time for our 11pm bus to find out that we were wrong and it was actually a 12:30am bus so we were a little early. We also bought the last 7 tickets for the bus so guess where we sat? In the very back row. So no reclining seats and barely any leg space for about 9 hours. On the bright side, when the sun came up the view was spectacular. There were rocky deserts on one side and the Red Sea on the other. Too bad everyone almost everyone slept through it (or attempted to).

When we arrived in Dahab, however, it was all worth it.

The water was incredibly blue, the weather was perfect and the beaches, while too rocky to enjoy completely, were beautiful. Also, Saudi Arabia is off in the distance.

It was appropriate that the first thing we did was eat breakfast. The restaurants in Dahab are all basically the same but they have a certain charm. It must be because sitting on the ground to eat is very appealing to me.

The only problem with eating on the ground is that the wild cats that roam the area can and will steal your food if you don’t watch them. Anne lost some toast to a cat. This cat I believe:

All of our meals were like this. The waiters are also very active. They are like salesmen and will give you a deal on their food if you seem unwilling to eat at their establishment.
We ate a lot of fish, squid and shrimp thanks to these deals. After eating, we did a little shopping around for diving masters. After discovering a decent place we took the rest of the day off to rest for the diving we’d be doing the next day.

The next morning we headed out to a National Park in the Red Sea for our diving. It was about 30 minutes away from Dahab. Here’s a little map showing the region.

You can’t see where the dive spot is, but you can see everything else.
Because none of us had a diving license (or whatever it is we need) we had to go down with our dive masters. It was fun though. The very first sensation of breathing underwater is unreal and seeing the fish down there at their eye level as opposed to through a pair of goggles on top of them is amazing. You can see how psyched we were to do this.

But all good things come to an end. There was some snorkeling after and I took some pictures of the beach itself but soon we needed to get back to the hotel. This would be our last night on the beach. We had a great dinner with a very animated head waiter. We also met up with some of Dawn’s friends who were in the area. We left about midday the next day after breakfast. The bus drove us along the northern coast of the little peninsula we were on. 9 hours and several hundred terrible camel puns later (those armed guards at border totally were wearing “CAMEL-FLAUGE”) and we were back at Dawn’s apartment building where we needed to pack. I won’t share the trip back because, for all intents and purposes, it was the same trip to Egypt backwards. On one hand we got to go to most of Northern Egypt’s sites and we got to swim in the Red Sea. On the other hand, we were dead tired and we needed another vacation. Good times.

Pictures of the days

Quad bikes were also one of the activities that you could do at the beach. It seemed pretty popular.

This horse followed me around for a little. I guess it got separated from it’s group.

Sunset from the roof of our hotel.

My last picture of the beach.

And that’s it, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve got no more to tell you about Egypt, and to be frank writing about it was a chore at times. But have no fear; my next post will most definitely be about Bulgaria. In fact, it’ll be about the football (or soccer for you savages) league that I’m helping with. I would also like to mention that all of my photos are in the public gallery. They've been there since I've gotten back but I didn't feel like telling you guys.

That was Egypt. Thank god that’s over now.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Day 5: Giza

The pyramids are huge.

I mean, really big.

They are really really really big.

Just looking at pictures of them won’t even begin to illustrate how enormous they are.

Eventually, you can’t even see the top of the damn things.

If you look at them at a distance you can sort of see the scale.

That guy on the left wasn't with us…

So why the hell did they only make 3 foot tall doors into the pyramids? (I don’t have a picture of that but I need you to take my word that it’s like a 50 yard downhill squat to the second Pyramid’s sarcophagus room.)

Our 5th day in Egypt was our long-awaited trip to the locations which everyone thinks about when they hear the name “Egypt”. The Great Pyramids of Giza are literally on the edge of Cairo. If you look out into the distance on a clear day you can see them looming over the city. On the way back from Alexandria, the Pyramids were lit up for a light show but we didn’t notice them because they were so big. True story. The largest blocks at the base reached my chest and weighed around 15 tons (that’s metric tons for those of you trying to imagine it) and the smallest ones at the top were still 2 tons. As if standing under these giant structures wasn’t surreal enough, everything around it seems fantastical. Cairo is a pretty modern city but once we pulled up to the ticket booths in front of the pyramids, the entire atmosphere changed. There were dozens of tour groups there, there were vendors selling some cheap crap and there were so many camels. Everywhere you looked was a camel. It was a freaking camel-copia of camels. Even the security/police personnel were riding camels.

I have never seen anything as bizarre as a camel chase. Seriously, the security (who were riding on camels) were chasing after unlicensed vendors (who were also riding on camels).

A man in hot pursuit of 3 other camel riders.

After the pyramids, we got in on the camel fun as well. It was odd getting on them because when they are waiting for people, they’re lying on the ground.


Then they stand up straight and you get the very intense feeling of the opposite of dropping. I won’t say raising, however, because that would imply a camel is like an elevator. No, I’ll go with “the opposite of dropping”. They also stand almost 6 ft when on all fours so you get the sensation of being really high up there.

I’m on a camel, motherf-----!

They are also very unpredictable. Either that or they hate getting petted. This guy here:

was almost putting his head in my lap so I gave him a little scritch on the head. As thanks he spit at me. Twice. The first time he missed (I’d like to think that I agilely dodged out of the way), but the second time felt like a spritz of something unpleasant had hit my arm. He’ll rue that day. It was a fun diversion though and riding a camel over sand dunes is pretty awesome. It was like a super slow but really bumpy (and organic) roller coaster.

Our next stop was the Sphinx. In contrast to the size of the pyramids, the Sphinx was something of a let down. Don’t get me wrong. The Sphinx is pretty big too, but under the shadow of the second pyramid it’s tiny.

That doesn’t matter, though because the profile of the Sphinx is outstanding.

After lunch we proceeded to look at more pyramids. We saw the first pyramid ever built, The Step Pyramid, and the surrounding temples and tombs.

Not much more to say about that except that I was rather surprised at the amount of excavation and restoration going on at the two sites. After that we visited two little shops. The first was a papyrus making store where they taught us how people made papyrus in the past and how it’s made now (Fact: the method hasn’t changed significantly). There was a lot of soaking, pounding and rolling. You could do it at home if you had papyrus growing in your yard. Next we visited a perfume store. The man there put on a pretty hard sell, including being mean to the guys and extremely courteous to the ladies, which created a bit of a rift in the duration of the presentation. As a quick aside, my most embarrassing moment happened here: I was tricked into smelling the arm of a Canadian. I’ll not say more on the event.

After this we had the final part of the tour: a dinner cruise down The Nile River. We spent two hours going up and down the river and it was a beautiful, clear night.

The food wasn’t bad but the real treat was the belly dancer and Whirling Dervish that performed during the meal. They were both really good and made for some half-decent pictures.

After dinner we were hanging out on deck. One of the men who were working at the helm offered to let us take some photos “steering” the ship. Albeit shameless, we went down to take some shots.

We sail the ocean blue, and our saucy ship’s a beauty.

We soon docked back where we started and the tour was officially over. But hold on… The day was far from finished. We had one last thing that needed to be done. I’ll you more about it next time. For now, just take my word that it was not as fun as the rest of the day.

Pictures of the day!

Damn you, camel. Damn you and your funny-looking face.

Just posing for an album cover.

You can see both reparations and excavations being made.

His performance was hypnotizing.

This was my vacation and it was coming to an end.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Copts and Robbers!

Day 3 and 4: Downtown and Coptic Cairo’s

As-Salamu ‘Alaykum!

For this entry, I want to discuss the next two days at one time. Neither day was particularly eventful but this makes the Pyramids entry a lot quicker to get to.

In Egypt, the weekends are recognized as Friday and Saturday so when we went into town on Sunday morning, we anticipated that everything would be bustling as normal. It wasn’t the case unfortunately as many of the stores were closed. As it turns out, Easter Sunday still has some weight on whether or not a bagel shop is open. Go figure. Regardless, we were waiting outside of it because today we were meeting a very special person.

Many of you may know that I went to boarding school. Many of you may also know that Dawn went to the same school as I did. Well today we were meeting a 3rd alumna from the same year: Zoe. Easily one of the geniuses of our class, Zoe was in Egypt for a fellowship as well as working for an NGO. She was super busy all the time from what it sounds like but she was also to be our tour guide for the day. Thanks, Zoe!

Zoe took us all around the downtown area of Cairo and showed us the nicer side of the Nile. It was also great catching up with her again. Here we are:

We got to see her apartment and meet her roommate. She also showed us around her neighborhood and got us acquainted with the metro system. Cool fact: the metro system has cars that are only for women. She also provided me with the only real regret of the entire trip. I regret not filming her cross the street. Egyptian drivers are crazy and it can be terrifying doing something as simple as crossing the road but Zoe seems like she has developed the ability to do just that while blindfolded. It was amazing. It was graceful with a touch of terror. As I said earlier, it was a comparatively short day so we bid her farewell and headed home before long.

The next day, however, we spent in the Egyptian Museum and the Coptic Cairo area. The museum is a sprawling building with artifacts from hundreds of tombs and temples. There are statues, gold and mummies scattered throughout the display cases placed in (assumedly) chronological order. I should also mention that the tour we got was somewhat boring. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, there were no areas to just sit around and take a break, and the tour guide was knowledgeable but no fun at all. The only truly interesting thing I saw there was the Mask of Tutankhamun. It was gold and shiny and harkened back to a time when I was super interested in mummies. Unfortunately, that interest has waned since to the point where I am definitely not willing to put out an extra 100 Egyptian pounds (approx. 20 USD) to see the mummies in the museum. I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer, not a doctor!

Our next stop was to the area of the city called Coptic Cairo which is basically the old Christian area. The Copts were the Christians in the 6th c. Egypt. Lots of old churches and synagogues are in the area that date back to those times. There’s not much to say about the area. It’s… nice?

It could’ve been a pic of the day but Anna had to go and ruin it.

One of the last remaining walls from ancient Egyptian times.

We had one final stop to make. It was the end of the tour but we had a couple hours before we needed to give the bus back so we asked them to take us to the Cairo marketplace. This area is crazy. There are hundreds of vendors and they were all selling some variation of the same crap. It is, however, a great place for bargain hunters if you can get around the damn ripoffs that they all start you at. It's absolutely criminal. It’s also a great place to take pictures.

This is apparently a normal day in the market.

We ended the day with something different. It was an apple-tobacco flavored hooka, or shisha as they call them in Egypt. It was nice.

So it was a good day, but it was admittedly one of the least interesting days of our time there. But in retrospect, the low-key two days we had were what we needed because the next day would be our busiest.

Pictures of the day!

This is Zoe again. We were all having lunch at a restaurant she recommended. Good times.

There were so many people in the market.

You guy’s have seen this picture already but I really like it.

Next post I'll be talking about the Great Pyramids and how freaking awesome it was. Until then I've got tests to grade.

This is a vacation but we don’t have to end everyday unable to stand up.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alexandria, A Town I Vaguely Knew

Day 2: Alexandria

As-Salamu 'Alaykum!

From here on in, these entries are going to be pretty summarized. We saw so many things and I may or may not remember everything. I’ll try to give a one line summary of each spot but there are certainly a few places that will be discussed.

So it’s day 2 of our time in Egypt and it starts earlier than one would expect after such a long couple days of travel. The bus arrived at 7am and we were off on an all-day tour of Alexandria.

For a little background, the Macedonian emperor Alexander the Great conquered Egypt some time ago (think back in the thousands of years) and founded Alexandria as his personal corner of the region. He was smart about it, though, and created a sort of amalgamation of the Egyptian and Greek pantheons that would keep everyone happy. To quote our tour guide, “The way to the heart of the Egyptian people is through their religion.” I mention this because Alexandria’s architecture and artifacts are all inspired in the style of the Greek (and later the Romans). This little summary is super condensed and probably wrong so don’t take my word for it. I’m too lazy to get on Wikipedia to do the research. This was all told to us by amazing tour guide: Aheem. He was both animated and knowledgeable. It was a lot of fun.

Anyways, after driving for about 2 hours, we got to our halfway point in the middle of nowhere. It’s a little tourist trap that had stores, a playground and something which claimed to be a zoo. But the real highlight was the little bread store that sold super cheap and delicious bread.

After a couple more hours we arrived in Alexandria. Our first stop was a large tomb discovered by a horse. After the horse’s leg fell through the ceiling they found that there was a huge collection of mummified bodies. I believe the number is around 400 nooks with bodies in them.

Next we found ourselves at a massive column called Pompey’s Pillar. I don’t remember the reason why it was built but I recall something about his namesake doing something important. That’s probably obvious from the name, however. There were also a few sphinxes there. The Egyptians believed that the sphinxes were the most powerful creatures. They had the strength of a lion and the wisdom of man.

Our next stop was a Roman style theatre. They found it buried under a ton of sand. This is supposed to be one of around 100 theatres in Alexandria but they’ve only found a handful of them. At the site there were also artifacts that were drawn out of the Mediterranean Sea. There was a huge earthquake in Alexandria a few centuries ago and a large portion collapsed into the water, including the remains of the Library of Alexandria (more on that in a minute).

Soon it was lunchtime. This meal made me realize two things: I really missed seafood and I may never eat decent seafood again till I get back to America. It was a fried fish and some calamari. Squid is a pretty common seafood here so you can get it in almost any restaurant that serves fish. Egyptians also eat a lot of Middle Eastern food (not surprisingly) so their staple appetizers include pitas and hummus, baba ganoush and eggplants. It was outstanding.

Our next quick stop was a place called the citadel. I don’t really remember what the deal was with the Citadel but it was a really nice day and we were right on the sea. Sorry about that.

Then we visited the Library of Alexandria. The original Library was razed by Julius Caesar but in 2002 they decided to create a new one. It is one of the most amazing libraries I’ve ever been to. There are over one million volumes in their stacks and they have around 370 digital stations for the sake of research. There are also 3 museums underneath it as well as a conference hall across their courtyard. The library itself has a unique construction. The outer walls are etched with words from almost every written language still in existence.

The library’s reading room is a series of staggered steps.

The windows were constructed with the intent preventing any direct sunlight from entereing.

They have a 5 petabyte (that’s 5000 terabytes or 5 million gigabytes) hard drive solely dedicated to holding a 10 year screenshot of the internet from 1997 to 2007. The stacks are lit by lamps built directly into the bookshelves.

I’d never seen a more modern, beautiful, and surprisingly elegant library in my life.

Our final stop for the day was a little more relaxing than the previous stops. We went to the palace gardens of one of the last rulers of Egypt. It was nice but I’m not really sure why we stopped there other than to look at the Mediterranean. Carolyn and Anna had to touch the water though so we partook in what I wouldn’t call (yet some may think otherwise) trespassing. Finally, we took one final picture in front of the main palace and called it a very very very long day.

And that, my friends, was our first full day in Egypt. To finish off this post I want to indulge in some narcissism. As many of you may know, I tend to take a ton of pictures whenever I take out my camera. It’s a fun hobby and recently I’ve taken to even liking some of the photos I’ve taken. So for at least these entries about Egypt I’ll be showing you my pictures of the day:

We were leaving an underground gallery underneath Pompey’s Pillar.

Pompey’s pillar provided some pretty good photo ops.

This is a vacation and we’re not going to take a break until it’s over, dammit.