Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Aside: Hotel Accomodations in a Nutshell

Here are the places I've stayed at, the good, the bad, and the ugly! don't know prices of all, but plenty of info nevertheless!

Mson's Scale:
1 = Equivalent to Sleeping Under a Bridge, with a Sleeping Bag
2 = Blah!
3 = Meh!
4 = Good
5 = Excellent

Happy City Hotel (Cairo)

Mson's Rating: 3
- Looks great on the outside, not so great inside. No shampoo, slanted rack below mirror, toilet looks very ghetto, shower is small.
- Had a small TV with unlimited p0rn... AC doesn't work (only fan mode). Has a bar fridge that can't keep freezies cold.

Note: This might be an unfair rating since it seems all hotels in Egypt only has a little small TV; bath tubs seem abnormally small. Toilet paper is always made of the 'on-rub-turns-grey' material.

Marhaba Hotel (Aswan)

Mson's Rating: 4
- Friendly and honest staff (though they didn't know english too well). Has an outdoor pool and table tennis table. Pool is run by a kid, for sure a swim at your own risk pool (no aids anywhere)
- Room is well equipped (no shampoo), but tons of towels and soap. Water heated by boiler that needs to be manually turned on initially.
- Carrier brand AC (very good) and has a bar fridge

Felucca (the Nite)

Mson's Rating: 3.5

- Sleeping in a felucca is a great experience; but DEFINITELY not for the weak or those prone to diarrhea. Be expected to have to hold it in if you wanna do a late night dump, since there are no toilets on board. Lots of mosquitoes at night (and maybe flies) remember to cover up and spray yourself with insect repellent.
- Natural AC at night (it gets a tad chilly, but nothing like camping in Algonquin in May)

Sleeper Train (...?)

Mson's Rating: 3.25

- 'First Class' car we had (every car was labelled first class actually); room has 2 beds, a sink and a mirror. A bit hard to move around once both beds are down, but if you just sleeping, it shouldn't matter right? Due to the bumpiness of the railway, ladder to top bed and others slightly loose items will rattle throughout the night; but still was able to fall asleep right away on both occasions. Very rejuvenating sleep!

Flobater Hotel (Luxor)

Mson's Rating: 2.5

- No AC in main hall, security sleeps in the afternoon (yes, lucky he's not one of those guards with an AK47), lights don't all work, AC in room, no shampoo.
- Two swimming pools --> very well advertised... thought it was a great jacuzzi or something; turns out its a 10m x 10m pool and a kiddie pool that isn't even on.
- Did have a balcony though, but no bar fridge.

Regency Hotel (Alexandria)

Mson's Rating: 3

- Very big room, but bathroom is pretty ghetto. Shower is smaller than the ones I had back at 134 Columbia...and it leaks... forming a puddle of water no matter how skillfully I shower. Never seen a washroom so flooded!
- Beds have a u-shape form to it... so either a very fat man slept on it, or they got some pretty nifty mattresses! It was a good sleep though (I spent the most on this bed compared to all other hotels thus far since I wasn't feeling well)
- Aside from the bathroom, the place is very nice though. Main dining room faces the Mediterranean, room is freshly painted.

Place @ St. Catherine's Monastery (Mt Sinai)

Mson's Rating: 1

- We traded a place with an outdoor pool the size of Cummer for this place!!! But what did we find? A place that had no AC, no TV, but mosquito infested. Lucky we were only there for 4 hours before the 2am hike. See the video for more details!
- On another note, the breakfast wasn't too great either... flies everywhere and all they had was bread and cold cuts and supposedly hot (but cold) potato with onion thing.

Dahab Resort (Dahab)

Mson's Rating: 4.25

- First bathroom that was actually decorated and matches the main room! The sink counter was decent, the shower was decent, and the room is humongous!
- Such a big difference than the St Cath's monastery guest house. TV is the biggest by far, and the place even has a balcony. AC is a given and shampoo (though in a really ghetto pack) was actually present.
- The surroundings also nicely done. Secluded from everything, its beach front has a coral reef... pretty good place. Guess that's why this is a 4 star resort.
- Only ghetto thing was they used a green patio table as the deck for this large room... completely clashing with the rest of the decor
- Also has a gym, as well as a sizable pool with water polo nets, and a pool table free for use.

Sara Inn [Hostel] (Cairo)

Mson's Rating: 2.75

- Can't really give it a 3 since it is a hostel. Common shower, but 35 EGP, so can't really say its bad at all.
- Bathroom and washroom is in the same room, with dividers. Pure V1 styles! Free Internet and mosquito free!

Desert Safari Hotel [Hostel] (Cairo)

Mson's Rating: 2.5

- Very friendly and helpful owner. Big room but not liking the food for mosquitoes concept. Free Internet, travellers are younger than Sara Inn.
- In general better than Sara Inn, if only there were less mosquitoes!

White Desert (Western Desert)

Mson's Rating: 3

- At the beginning, this place'd easily be a 1. Tons of flies everywhere and I mean EVERYWHERE...buzzzzzzzzz. But apparently flies go to bed as well; so once that happened, it was beautiful! Sleeping under the stars (no tent tarp overhead) just made me not want to sleep. Also the moon shines brightly in the sky later on in the night, making it even more nice! Wasn't too hot nor too cold, so it was perfect!
Only downs:
1) Tour guides
2) Dirty and dusty mats (ya, sooo ghetto), lucky I had long sleeves shirt and pants and a hood
3) Flies wake up in morning when sun rises
4) Foxes walk freely at night (slippers of driver got taken away)... looking at the sand, saw animal tracks (likely from the same fox) right next to where I slept. My smelly shoes must have scared it away!

Day 18: Homebound

Woke up at 5am and left the hostel for the airport. Driver kept falling asleep and saying he's sleepy; very particular fellow... couldn't speak english too well and had that spaced out look most of the time. The drive there wasn't too dangerous though! Since there are much less cars (they still drive right on the dotted lines though)

At Heathrow airport, I was at the duty free shop and tried some whiskeys. Green label, gold label, and 4 other whiskeys... heh heh.. oh and the new absolute pear vodka as well... :)

On the plane from Heathrow to Toronto, I pulled out my 'folder' aka my GRE book that I was going to read... last year! Anyway, flight attendant comes by and asks what I'm studying for since I was writing prolificly. Little did she know I was just writing up my blog so I don't forget my days in Egypt.

The other thing is that for some reason, the airplane meals tasted wonderful (both on British Airways and ACC)... must be a sign that I have been eating poorly the past 3 weeks!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Day 17: Back to Cairo (Again)

The bus back was extremely hot! Was sweating the whole way... swear I almost melted. I think this is a sign that I have stayed in Egypt long enough! (that or their summer season finally started and the heat is too much for my canadian blood to bear)

Running low on EGP (I was down to 10 EGP... and still had lunch and dinner to take care of)... so we decided to take the metro (subway) back to the hostel.

Price of metro: 1 EGP haha!

Once we returned to the hostel, we rested a bit (the elevator broke down, so with my full luggage, I went up 7 flights of stairs... yes, after that blistering hot bus ride). An hour or so later, we went for lu-ner (lunch and dinner). Since we are back in Cairo, this meant cheap filling food: Koshiri and Schwarma + pepsi = 8.75 EGP total.. wuhahaha!

So I survived this day w/ 10 EGP :). At the hostel, met 2 people from South Africa who are living in the UK, I LOVE British accents!... Loved talking with them and hearing them talk... hahaha

Day 17: Baharaya Oasis (Sunrise)

Continuing on with the White Desert stay...

So tour guide told us the sunrise was at 7am...lucky I woke up at 6:15am, because the sunrise was at 6:30am... so while the sun was rising, our driver and tour guide cont'd to sleep! How useful they are. The sunrise wasn't too spectacular though, maybe cuz I am all sunrised out, having seen it en route to Karnak, on the felucca, and on top of Mt Sinai. The white sand didn't really light up which I had been expecting....

To make it worse, the flies woke up, so me and my trusty sidekick unanimously decided to get the hell back to Cairo (so we don't have to wait until 3pm in the fly-infested hotel)... forget breakfast, let's head home! So with that, we woke the two sleepy heads up, told them we wanna head back... now apparently one of them lost their shoe to a fox who carried their shoe away at night. So what ended up happening was that me and my sidekick ended up packing up most of the sh*t with swollen face tour guide, while the driver scoured the desert for his shoe! (he didn't end up finding it)

Along the way back, we somehow ended up picking up some random guy at the checkpoint. No explanation why he ended up in our car, except the guy basically got a free ride to the village where the hotel was in...

So we woke them up, packed up tent, AND gave a ride to a hitchhiker... if I was an Egyptian, I would have gotten tons of tips!

Cutting our losses, we had to pay extra to get the morning bus, since the hotel owner had bought our 3pm ticket the day before (understandable since we changed our mind to leave for Cairo after the sunrise), but it was well worth it so we won't be forced to eat a 15 EGP lunch at the fly-infested inn facing that swollen faced tour guide.

So ends the Black and White Desert saga. Beautiful sky, but tons of flies!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Aside: Thoughts Under the Starry Sky

The last time I had seen anything even remotely close to this sight at the White Desert was back in OAC on the cruise (back then my eyes were alot better)... I remember falling asleep on the balcony back then, feeling the cool breeze and hearing the water splashing about. On this night at the White Desert, I remembered the thoughts I had back then and the chain of events that followed. Funny how I can always relate past events with current ones. Eerily my current path seem to be resembling my past yet again, but perhaps this is all in my imagination. But if I am right, then I am bound to fall again very soon...

'In the world where the only constant thing is change itself' (as a wise 'monkey' had told me a couple months back :) ), I must change or fall again. This trip to Egypt has shown me that though I may feel uneasy doing not well-defined things, I must tread confidently and be steadfast if I am to survive; let alone succeed. All I can hope for is for this uneasy feeling of the unfamiliar to eventually fade away into the background. Or rather, maybe I should enjoy feeling uneasy and continue facing new circumstances...

Anyhoo, from looking at these stars with my glasses on, perhaps I should start looking at the world fully, instead of only looking at half of what I can see. Some time ago, I remembered I stopped wanting to see everything I could, content to focus on only the things I needed to. But after looking at the sky tonight, maybe it's time I truly look once again, so that I can see the beauty of this world. Without my glasses, the sky looked beautiful. But with my glasses on, I was captivated and entranced by just how many stars there are that I hadn't seem to notice in the past. Perhaps inspiration and motivation will thrive when I open my eyes to see the world again...

...Open my eyes, look with my heart, and enjoy the process of change...
...Dream leaves those who wait, reality comes to those who chase...

Day 16 Part I: Baharaya Oasis

The tour w/ GAP has officially ended, and so begin our adventure to the Baharaya Oasis to see the Western Desert. A 5 hour bus ride later, we arrived and was picked up by the guy who we arranged to see the Black and White Desert with.

The Desert Home Hotel...lucky I wasn't staying there that night; the moment we talked in, we were immediately greeted by swarms of flies. Everywhere there were flies! The reception area, the dining area, the open area... my god! We couldn't wait of the tour to start... or so we thought.

Supposedly the hotel has been opened for 4 years, and this guy had ran tours to the Black and White Desert for 22 years. Obviously, the hotel isn't finished yet - since there is still exposed wires everywhere. Not many people seem to come to it either; I figured out from looking at the many keys on the counter that only 2 rooms had been rented out.

Now on to the tour. 600 EGP between 2 people... and in a nut shell, I wouldn't pay 100 EGP for it! At least not for the tour we got...

Key Points:
1) Our tour guide, Ramadan, was an immature kid who was the nephew of the owner. He had an infection because of his wisdom teeth, couldn't speak english too well, got excited at pics of fully clothed girls (as well as getting all giddy when he sees girl's clothing), smoked liked a chimney... now add to the fact that during the tour, he said absolutely nothing to us AND he fell asleep half way through in the car... if I didn't tell you he was the tour guide, you'd probably think he was a hitchhiker we picked up off the road...

Oh I guess he did talk... in Arabic to the driver, when he was awake that is...

2) Our driver: much more professional, but didn't speak any english. He seemed older and was clearly annoyed by the lack of professionalism from immature Ramadan; but he did nothing but drive... so can't say much else.

Oh, he also slept, when we were at our campsite, but that was ok since he did have to drive 3 hours. He smoked like a chimney as well...

3) Black Desert: Just black sand... nothing much to be wowed about. Actually saw some black sand en route to Abu Simbel

4) Break at some house: Rested 2+ hours after seeing the black desert. Lady there kept trying to make us buy a drink from them. Tour guide was off on his own talking to his fellow Egyptians... Biggest waste of time ever!

5) Crystal Mountain: Bits of crystals in the middle of the desert... Doesn't really sparkle all that much. Had these flies chasing after me after I took some rocks from there (I wonder if they are guard flies); these flies make a loud buzz sound, and have red eyes!

6) White Desert: White/chalk and weird rock formations. Slightly nice but I had expected alot more I guess. The famous 'mushroom and chicken' is just 2 rocks shaped like it because of the times... tons of other weird rock formations were there for the imagination.

The biggest turn-off were the horde of flies... they're even more persistent than the ones at the hotel! Who'd have thought, flies in the desert??? Just what do they live on? Lucky they go to sleep at night though.

Once the flies left, it was an amazing sight! Since it was the desert, there were no trees or obstacles blocking my view, so I had a panoramic view of the sky! It was also the first time I wore my glasses when looking at the stars, and it was marvellous! The sky was glimmering with them... without my glasses, I realized I'd only see half the amount of stars. But with my glasses on, it was like I was looking at the sky from a whole new perspective.

Some pics taken at the white desert:

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Day 15 Part II: At Hostel in Cairo

The tour with GAP has ended, but me and my trusty sidekick still hand one more destination to go to in Egypt.... the western desert.

Our bus is for next morning, so we had booked a hostel to stay at. This is my first time staying at a hostel... so its a nice and different experience. The added bonus was that the hostel was actually better than the place at St. Catherine's Monastery!

Also saw a shower and stall in the same room without dividers... What a concept! It was weird using it... I wonder what happens if someone pissed all over the floor, hrm...

New food:
Schwarma = lamb meat on a hot dog bun (4 EGP)... very very delicious!

Day 15 Part I: Return to Cairo

As all good things must come to an end, we left Dahab at 7am in the morning and started the 10 hour bus ride back to Cairo. We said our goodbyes and then went our separate ways. Met quite a few interesting people during this trip, and really do hope to stay in touch with a few of them. Little thoughts here and there about people and their personalities, but I will save that for another time once I've thought about it more. Coming to Egypt has definitely opened my eyes to a different world. Aside from all the jokes about being able to live like a king with just a couple hundred bucks CDN (btw, its only 200,000 EGP for a marriage here...this includes the apartment!), there is a great disparity it seems... here I am throwing out pens cuz they don't write well, while in Egypt, kids're asking for pens and pencils like they're diamonds! The cost of living is so different... 20 EGP can get me through an entire day...WOW! Makes me think of how wasteful I am in Canada...

Other comments
1) For a country who built structures to remind people to pray 5 times a day, they ain't too honest at all. Everytime you ask how much something is, they have to overprice it by at least 100%!!! Sure we're tourist (since I don't think they overprice to locals), but where's the integrity? As well, this hassling business... I personally find that I stay in the shops longer if they don't hover over me like a ghost. So less hassle, I'd probably have bought more... If I am right, I don't think they hassle the locals, so wouldn't they be wise not to hassle the tourists as well?

2) Hotel security: metal detectors beep, tourists goes through.. its like if you're a tourist, then they assume you don't have bombs and you are OK... (not to mention they sleep sometimes, like the one at Luxor)...
Also, don't worry about the Cairo airport, they don't turn on the metal detector in the mornings it seems... haha... I went right through the detector with my 'always beep' metal belt, but it didn't beep the morning I left from Cairo... the airport security were more focused on making sure my name is on some list, rather than checking me for metals etc... haha

3) Am I Japanese or Korean? Majority of hasslers assume I am this, got sooo annoying after awhile 'Japanese? Korean? Konichiwa, blah blah blah'

4) Tipping: Still very awkward for me... so hard to figure out what to tip. 0.25 EGP is too little it seems to go to the washrooms here (I got a cut-eye from the guy when I did that.. hee hee)... but seriously... when I don't get toilet paper and no service, just what am I tipping for? It's almost like I need to pay cover for the washroom (since you pay before you enter the washroom, not after you are done your business)...
Btw, Only paid for the W.C. (aka washroom) once this entire trip... rest of the time I just 'watered the desert' or used the hotel facilities... wuhahaha.. it's great to be a guy!

5) My bargaining skills improved: The key is to act like you want the item, then after hearing the price, you completely look and act disinterested and walk away. The more distance you put between them and you, the larger the initial price drop!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Day 14: AYCE&D at Dahab

Instead of going on an ATV safari ride for $30 USD. I decided yesterday that I'd go for the AYCE and Drink package at the resort for $22 USD. Supposedly if I drink 6 alcoholic beverages, it'd pay itself back (12 hours... 6 drinks, that's NOTHING :) ). So all day I chilled at the beach, and since this resort is right next to a coral reef, I also saw the reefs and the fishes as I swam in the Gulf of Aquba (connects to the Red Sea)

Today's activities included: swam twice, beach volleyball, table tennis, threw waterpolo ball around, worked out for 1/2 hour... what an active day! Don't think I've exercised this much in years!

Drinks for myself: 2 Rum n cokes (w/ extra rum), 1 Screwdriver (w/ extra vodka), 2 Cokes, 1 Sprite, 1 Fanta, tons of water and mango juice, 4 cups of beer, 1 glass of red wine, 1 glass of white wine

A very relaxing day after an active climb to the top of Mt. Sinai... pretty nice indeed!

Friday, May 4, 2007

Day 13 Part II: Dahab upon arrival

1st day at Dahab was not too eventful; apparently Muslims rests on Friday as well as Sunday! Also I was starting to run low on Egyptian pounds, and had to resort to less costly (and filling meals). For lunch, had a quarter chicken, soap, bread and rice for 15 EGP. The most weirdest thing was that there were 2 cats walking around the store and it would appear at the weirdest times. Surprised and made me jump the entire time!

At night, I had a calamari sandwich and that was pretty much the day. the room we're staying is the best by far (see the accommodations entry for details).

The other thing, the resort PURE non-Egyptians..haha! Even the spices used for the food doesn't taste Egyptian. Everything is priced in euros or USD and everyone at the resort are Europeans. Definitely we've reached the end of our tour!

Day 13 Part I: Morning at St. Cath Monastery

After coming back down the mountain, I was dead tired and dirty! Checked out the breakfast, but nothing much was there. So went back to my room and collapsed for an hour or so before visiting the actual monastery. Before walking in, our tour leader gave us a history of the monastery. Apparently this monastery was so sacred that kings dared not attack it. When Napoleon conquered Egypt, his army attacked and took down the walls of the monastery. Upon seeing the cross of the church, Napoleon immediately wrote a letter apologizing and withdrew his army, then told his army to rebuild the walls! And before that, when the crusade was happening, this place was never attacked either. Talk about respect! A place where throughout its lifetime, only barbarians tried to attack it... while kings swear to protect it; what an honor!

This place is considered a holy place for Christians, Muslims and some other religion (which I forgot). Located inside it is the 'burning bush', as well as where St. Catherine's body was reburied. St Catherine's story is also a pretty cool one. She had so much brains and beauty that she was able to convert all these smart people into Christians, and managed to p!ss off the ruler at the time because she was so smart! Overall, the history and story behind this monastery is amazing!

Inside, the temple is very beautiful! The chandeliers were made with the utmost detail and were very pretty. There were also paintings from the medieval? or middle-age? period...

After walking around the monastery, we set out for our last destination with GAP tour... Dahab, the resort city!

Day 12.5: Climb Up Mt Sinai

Waking up at 1:45am, we began climbing up Mt. Sinai at 2am so we could catch the sunrise at 6:30am. This mountain is the mountain where Moses received the 10 commandments, and also where St Catherine was buried. The hike itself wasn't too bad in my opinion; guess I was more fit than I thought! We originally began as a pack, but as we cont'd on, a few of us started to go ahead since it gets pretty cold if we went at the group's pace. In hindsight, if I had known the hike was this short, I could have waken up an hour later! (We were up at the top of the mountain for a full hour waiting)... The thing I found most hilarious was that shops were set up all alogn the mountain trail; what a way to commercialize a holy mountain.

Right before the summit of the mountain, there were a couple shops. In particular I managed to p!ss off the owner of the tea shop #5! lol! Here are all these Egyptinas trying to get us to buy stuff, and I finally managed to get one of them to refuse to sell me sh*t! Good job Mson!... haha... What did I do? Well, I just told him he is charging too much for hot chocolate (10 EGP), then he goes how its the mountains so he need to account for the donkey ride up and that his hot chocolate is made with real cocoa (typical Eygptian seller BS). Then I tell him that he stole hot chocolate from Canada and he should be giving me baksheesh (tip) for stealing the Canadian's idea! And well, he didn't take it too well, haha.

In Egypt, the locals ask for baksheesh for everything (going in toilets, asking for directions, talking to you, etc. etc.), here I am asking for some money for something they blatantly took from the colder countries; I mean, Eygpt and HOT chocolate??? That defies logic! Since he refused to give me baksheesh and I continued to pester him about how overpriced his stuff his, as well as how he blatantly stole our idea and not paying for it, I successfully p!ssed off the mercahnt and he wouldn't sell me anything after.. haha! The downside was that I wasn't able to sit inside his warm tea lounge place, but no biggie since I had my Canadian gear in my bag... 2 layers of fleece and a windbreaker --> enough to withstand the Egyptian cold! :) Plus being able to lie flat on the padded seats outside was soooo nice!

After a short rest, we went up to the very top and got a spot for the sunrise. Man it was nice! The 3rd sunrise I've seen and its by far the best. The sun shining through the clouds at first, then shining brightly above the clear blue sky... while the moon is also in clear view! Very worth it indeed! I now think I need a nicer camera, so I can capture the sun and the stars. This trip I played around with the manual option alot and got a few nice pics; but am still not able to capture what I saw. Maybe I need a better camera, and more knowledge of photography. Learning how to take better pics, this has officially made it onto my to-do list.

After the sunset, we proceeded downhill and my alabaster camels were on sale! :) Camels/Souvenirs on top of Mt Sinai, how meaningful! We took a different path down (the 3000 step path) than the way we went up (the camel trail), and it was a spectacular view. Hiking is great!

Oh, the other thing, hiking in the dark wasn't that bad this time around at all. Since there were no trees around, the moon lit up the sky and the path; so I was able to see clearly where I was going even without a flashlight. What a great experience!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Day 12: 12 hour Bus Ride to Mt Sinai

Leaving at 7am, we began our 12 hour bus ride to Mt Sinai! One hour in, one of the people on the tour realized they left their passport at the hotel... uh-oh! So with that, we stopped at a little shop while the tour leader and her went to retrieve it. During this time, I got to see a very dirty toilet and had to practice my long range shooting skills! I swear I was literally outside the stall when I took my aim! Anyway, also played a game of backgammon and won! My 2nd time playing, what good luck!

So after the passport was gotten, we cont'd our travel towards Mt Sinai, passing through the Suez Canal. Arriving at 8-9ish pm at the food place, I decided to gorge down on the food since 1) I have only eaten a pancake/crepe after my slight brush with sickness and 2) I needed to stock up my malnourished a55 for the climb tonight! For $5 USD, there was chicken, meat, macaroni, meat sauce, bread, and soup... supposedly. Hungry boy that I am, I was very disappointed and p!ssed off that the food was luke-warm and it seemed like we were eating leftovers. wtf!? I think this is the first time in my trip that I actually asked the tour leader in a harsher tone to tell the people here to heat up the goddam food. It's funny in a way, because the cooks first brought out new empty plates, then new bread, and then started refuelling the canisters, then heated up the food. Talk about stupidity! By the time we left, the food was still lukewarm and not hot at all. If only the food was hot, it'd be an awesome buffet at a very reasonable price. However, when the chicken and beef is cold, not to mention there was no soup, the buffet was crap.

The last part was that we ended up at a guest room right inside the St. Catherine's Monastery. Great idea at the time; wake up half an hour late, should include a good breakfast, less travelling time overall. However, to get these guest rooms, we gave up our reservation at a hotel where there was an outdoor pool that is bigger than Cummer's. The accommodations at the guest room: A place comparable to Yosemite camping cabins (refer to the 'accommodations blog' entry for more details). Lucky we were only there for 4 hours, since the climb's at 2am.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Aside: Thoughts in Alexandria

Thinking back on this trip after beating the locals at soccer. I just realized how nice this trip is. Perhaps it's cuz I had played soccer with my trusty sidekick for years, and that he is someone I have great respect for, but it's really nice to instinctively or intuitively know where he would put items that I forgot to ask where it would be. Take today for example, I went with the tour group to visit the sites while he went on his own. When coming back, I was wondering, hrm, where would he put the key and I had no doubt that it'd be at the front desk. Even though it seems like the obvious place to leave it, this is surprising because ever since I entered university, I've only experienced doubt after doubt after doubt in anything and everything I do. Wondering if I made the right choice, wondering if I said/acted/did the right things, etc, etc, etc; but just like today in soccer, the tour guideless experience, the location of the key, and for the most part of the trip, I had no doubt that things would work out; and it did. Perhaps it's time I begin trusting people more; since it seems like my lack of trust and faith in people has carried on long enough!

This trip has also made me realize how much I have changed. So impatient and condescending I've become! Whatever happened to the kind and patient boy who cared about people's feelings rather than the end result of a goal??? Something that needs to be corrected for sure!... and soon!

Day 11: 2nd Day at Alexandria

Today I was feeling alot better and feel like I am able to endure the day long tour of Alexandria. First stop was the Roman catacombs and I thought it was awesome. Felt like I was a character in Diablo! I have to say I enjoy Roman architecture more than Egyptian. There is just something about white columns that attracts me. As well, apparently they also bury the horses with famous generals in the catacombs!

After the catacombs, we went to Pompey's pillar and the Roman theater. And also went to the library of Alexandria. The story behind Pompey's pillar is pretty interesting. Apparently there used to be 400 pillars at the site (instead of just one). The other 399 pillars were moved from this site and placed at the bottom of the sea to prevent ships from getting close to Alexandria way back when there was a war.

The library of Alexandria is supposedly this super library back in the day (this super library burned down hundreds of years ago), so they built a new one in 2002. And well, it looks just like the Toronto Public Library! The most modern structure yet in Egypt! Almost felt like I was home. One interesting thought is that they could change the sloped ceiling from windows into solar panels. A guide had thought of the library had thought of this before, but they dismissed her idea as too costly... but I think it's definitely doable!

For lunch we had seafood for 60 EGP, not too good a price until I realized it's equivalent to $10 USD!!! We had salad, soup, shrimp, calamari, fresh fish and blood orange... not too shabby!

After lunch, we got stuck in traffic for 2 hours. Then went to play soccer with the locals on the beach. Result: 10 minutes, Team Canada 5, Team Egypt 0! We whipped those kids' butt good! haha! We got applause (and standing ovation...since there were no seats at the beach) from people who stopped to watch the game. lol!

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Day 10: First Day at Alexandria

Upon waking up, after after a late night to the W.C., I feel like sh*t! Damn that kedfa! So when we arrived at the hotel, all I did was pass out and sleep for the next 4 hours. Ended up the with only having an apple pancake and 3 tablets of immodium and this 'kill-all bacteria' antibiotic for intestines. Yum!

On the way to the hotel, I almost died 4 times! If you thought Cairo driving is crazy, wait till you visit Alexandria! Our cab driver smoked like a chimney, had those dying coughs the entire time, and missed checking his blind spot too many times to count. So glad I made it to the hotel in one piece...

At night I was feeling slightly better, so went to the local Alexandria market. Unlike the other bazaars, this one had 'no hassle' and was more normal in terms of a shopping experience. Ended up buying some Egyptian wine... I wonder how it'd taste like.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Day 9 Part III: Casualties of Gastro

Before me, this sickness I call 'gastro' has affected 6/15 people in our group already. I was the 8th (one other person got sick around when I did, so he's the 7th). In a way, I am lucky (knock on wood) because I only had the runs and wasn't vomiting. The other 2 before (#5 and 6) were not so lucky though. One's birthday was today and all he could do was hold on to his head. The other was vomiting uncontrollably and was actually taken to the hospital to get medication right before we boarded the sleeper train for the 2nd time.

There was actually a big fight between the driver and the tour leader because of it I believe. The driver wouldn't take the vomiting person on the bus and so the tour leader and her had to take a cab to the hospital, and then to the station. So what ended up happening was that the 13 of us had to find our way around the train station, and unload our own luggage. Everyone in the group were very understanding and pooled together and everything ran smoothly and everyone (including the one taken to the hospital) boarded the train bound for Cairo. Yay! However, with the birthday boy sick and this episode of our tour almost having been guideless in Alexandria, the birthday celebration was put off to another day.

Also, with 4 people is needless to say that the washroom on the train ran out of toilet paper very very quickly!

Day 9 Part II: Afternoon at Luxor

For lunch I had good ol' KFC... 3 piece chicken meal w/ 355 ml Pepsi for 22 EGP!!! Keep in mind that
1) falafels were 1 EGP for two
2) Pigeon dinner was 15 EGP
3) Tour leader has said that many engineers in Egypt make about 200 EGP per month...

This means that the KFC meal is 10% of an engineer's monthly salary! So I guess in Egypt, a fancy dinner date would be a trip to McDonalds, or KFC! So ladies, please don't complain if a guy takes you to KFC or McDonalds for your date... its expensive stuff!

After this expensive lunch, we went around a few stores to hunt for my alabaster camel... it turned out to be extremely hard to find. I was finally able to find one store that had it, and after some tough bargaining (I am starting to get good at this --> since I bargain just for the sake of bargaining, and have the 'I don't care look', which makes these sellers just plummet their price), I was gonna buy 4 of them but the guy only had one in stock. What a waste!

After the unsuccessful purchase, I went back to the hotel to take a nap. Collapsed for 2 hours and realized I might have gastro (ie. small sickness where it makes me go to the W.C. alot!)... oh no!

Note: W.C. = washroom

Day 9 Part I: Last Day at Luxor (Karnak and Luxor Temple)

Waking up early yet again to avoid the super hot weather at Luxor, we find ourselves at the Temple of Karnak at 7:30am. This temple is by far the largest in terms of area, and has lots of stuff to see. There're obelisks, shrines, statues, and a whole bunch of other stuff. The avenue of the Sphinxes was pretty cool as well. Supposedly there're 3 avenues, the major one being the 2km long path connecting Karnak temple to Luxor temple.

After Karnak temple, we proceeded to Luxor temple which was built for Ramses II. The thing that stood out about this temple was:
1) There used to be 2 obelisks in front of the temple, but now there's only one because hundreds of years ago, some Egyptian president gave France one of them as a gift! You hack a piece of rock (full of history and is a part of a temple), and ship it away... What was that guy thinking?

2) The Romans, when they took over Egypt, used Luxor temple as its own! How? Well, they just painted right over it! Talk about laziness!

I also learned a bit about how the historians restore these monuments and for 1 EGP, I was part of the action! Now I can say that I helped restore the Luxor temple to its previous glory! wuhahah!

After Karnak and Luxor temple, we headed back to the hotel after realizing that half the stores close on Sunday afternoon. That ends the morning of Day 9.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 8 Part III: Night in Luxor

After the camel ride, I met up with my trusty sidekick for dinner at Ali-baba restaurant. On the way, locals tried to get us on taxis or their store. Funniest is when this one guy found out we're looking for Ali-baba restaurant and told us that we're there, pointing to a restaurant clearly marked 'SIN BAID'... we're like 'we see the sign you know' and he kept saying 'tis the same, tis the same'. Even funnier was when the other people loitering on the street (there're tons in Egypt no matter where you go) joined in and also said that place was 'Ali-baba'. After looking at one another, we decided to just walk away; then one of the locals finally just told us that Ali-baba's around the corner.

The restaurant was patio style on the second floor and so had a very nice view. On the right side, there was a garden of some sort, and on the left was Luxor temple. Talk about prime location!

New Food:
Tagin Style Shamsauka w/ Meat = Egg, vegetable, broiled meat served in a black clay pot (30 EGP)
Basbossa = Crunchy version of the barbossa (8 EGP)
Stella = 500 ml local beer (7 EGP)

The Shamsauka w/ meat was delicious! On the way to the hotel from dinner, I found the exclamation mark and the no trumpet road signs. Still not sure what the '!' sign means but the 'no trumpet' sign I think means no honking. Egypt driving uses tons of honking to pass cars, to get customers for taxi, to warn people, etc etc. So I guess I was close to a hospital...

Day 8 Part II: Camel Ride

After Valley of the Kings, we went to get some local food. Today we found the Kedfa. Much, much better than these dam falafels that people seem to love (cuz you can get two for 1 EGP. First time I actually like eating liver. Then after chilling in the pool for an hour, and resting up in the AC room for another, I headed off for my camel ride.

Camel ride was soo fun and interesting. It was a special request by me so only me and the doctor of our group went. We were led by 2 local kids (I guess its their part-time job). My camel had 2 names... Casablanca for Italians and Bob Marley for English; not quite sure why. The kid's name was 'Humpty Dumpty'... The kid talked alot and wanted my camera! He kept saying how poor he was. At first, Humpty Dumpty seemed like a nice kid, keeping me interested and asking how I was doing etc. Everything was going good and then he started asking me about MP3 players and cameras and if I brought these things with them. As he cont'd on, I realized this 17 year old kid was trying to ask me for my camera to give to him as a tip! I was like wtf??? He goes on to say how cheap it is, blah, blah, blah, and how I can spare it and how he has a sister and brother who needs pens and sh*t... I got worried when he asked what was in my bag. I swear if I had hold him I actually had money, clothes, pens and camera, etc in my bag, he'd probably would have taken my bag and left me on the camel! Maybe I'm exagerating but lucky I thought of an excuse behind my excessively heavy bag (I had 3 L of water in it)... once I told him that, he left the bag alone. Thank god, cuz the part I didn't mention to him was that there was easily enough money in there for him to live at least half a year in Eygpt! Don't we all love half truths?

The actual camel riding experience was well worth it though. The route we took had great landscape and it seemed like I was riding through some local farmland of a rural village (which I probably was). Unleashed donkeys, and camels just lazily chewing away at grass or sugar cane, kids riding donkeys transporting sugar canes, litle kids waving at us saying 'halo', and all this while I am on a camel...What an awesome experience!

At the end of the camel ride, we had hisbiscus tea with the owner of the camels. The tea this time was hot and with 2 teaspoons of sugar, tasted like hot '82 Lafite'... the kiddy version. The taste was very different from the cold hisbicus tea I had at the Nubian village; maybe hisbisucs tea tastes different when its hot.

By the way, a tourist camel costs about $3000-$5000 EGP ($600-$1000 CDN)... can you imagine, I can actually afford a camel..even now. One day when I am rich, I will buy a camel for my backyard haha! Then get kids on the weekends and get them to pay to get a picture with a camel. $5 CDN for 5 minutes of photo, I'd only need 120 kids for the camel to pay hrm... I wonder what the import laws're for camels into North America (since the export laws in Egypt will not be a problem as the tour leader had told me it's definitely doable)... Ah the possibilities!

Today's food:
Kedfa = Liver Sandwich - slightly spicy chunks of liver w/ pita bread (2 EGP)... note: tastes just like meat.

Day 8 Part I: Valley of Kings aka Donkey Day

Having missed out on my camel ride experience at the pyramids, today I arranged for a camel ride around town. But before that, we visited the valley of the kings... travelling by donkeys! Yes... hee-hon! hee-hon!... I rode up the hills and rocks w/ my trusty donkey, and it was a blast! I must have rode on it for a total of 1 or 2 hrs... cantered w/the donkey (sometimes/mostly not of my free will) and it was sooo fun! Down the hill, up the hill, racing on the open road w/ other fellow donkey riders, it was great! And to think, later in the afternoon, I'd get to ride a camel as well!

But back to the Valley of the Kings, this was a tomb for Pharaohs in the middle kingdom days I believe (King Tut, Ramses III, etc.) We went to see 3 tombs and well, to me, they all looked the same. The more I go to these temples and tombs, the more I realize I should have learned more Egyptian history prior to coming over here. Our tour leader did give us some background info, but don't really remember too much :). This place had color this time (for the previous places, the color on the walls had already faded)... imagine all the paint they used... for the outside AND inside walls. These old Pharaohs sure valued their afterlife all right!...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Day 7: En route to Luxor

Waking up at 6:45am, I wake to realize our felucca had started sailing... luckily with us on it.. and even luckier that I didn't need to pee! Our first stop was the temple of Kom Ombu, which had a duality approach going on. One side of it was Roman, the other side was Egyptian. Also got to see a mummified crocodile. The temples are now all starting to look the same... if only I knew hieroglyphics and know more about Egyptian history!

After the first temple, we went to the 2nd temple called Edfu temple. Nothing much interesting there (probably because I am all templed out... haha).

So 2 temples and 2 hours later, we arrive in Luxor. At Luxor, I had falafel for lunch and then went to an Egyptian supermarket. The highlight was them giving me Halloween candy (chiclets) for change... Apparently this was a common thing, but it was funny nevertheless...

Also I now have drank 5 different brands of bottled water. These include:
Barak, Aquafina, Nestle, Daisyan, Heyatt.
Others include (as the days went on):
Nahl (Day 9), Schweppes (Day 10)

At nite, went to see the Luxor marketplace. I got annoyed with some shop selling guy cuz he kept touching my shoulder after I told him not to touch me. Since he cont'd, and knowing it will start a ruckus, I put my hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him HAHA! Then he goes how I shouldn't touch him in english blah blah blah and some Egyptian guys from other stores came up to me, but having shoved that annoying shop guy, I was satisfied and walked away with that guy just standing there. Yes yes, I could've gotten shot, but oh well, I am trying new strategies to avoid annoying hasslers. So far I've got
1) Ignore them and act like I dont know english
2) Tell them I will buy from them if they guess where I come from (they always think I am Japanese or Korean)
3) Smile and walk away
4) Tell them I am from some weird country (like Cambodia) when they ask where you are from
5) Pick an item in the store and tell them you will buy it for a ridicously low price (like 1 EGP)
6) Say no (doesn't work)

Tonite's new food:
Oum Ali = pastry made in the form of layers, with top layer consisting of coconut flakes and raisins (10 EGP)
Goubabash = honey cake-like thing (4 EGP)
Pigeon = Pigeon stuffed with rice (15 EGP)

Another thing about Luxor, the weather is sooo freaking hot that it takes about 2 hours for the weather completely dry our laundry. When you got Luxor, who needs a dryer???

Friday, April 27, 2007

Day 6: Felucca Day II

On the 2nd nite, we stopped at a farm-like place... very many cows, very many kids, very swampy, lots of sh*t lying around and very hot!... haha.. it really does not sound as bad as I have described it, it was actually a very nice view!

All in all the felucca was great... I was lucky in that we were on the quiet boat; on the other felucca, there were people w/ IPODs and speakers, blackberry... very hi-tech; whereas on ours, all we had were books and pillows :).
One thing I enjoy about this trip is the lack of being near technology. My goal is to not check emails for the entire trip, though the occasionally phone calling/messaging is acceptable :)...

So our boat worked out very well. We all enjoyed/relished our quiet time, and do talk from time to time. It was a very lazy sail up the Nile, a bit less flies'd be perfect! Whenever we weren't moving too fast, there'd be the odd fly here and there. But when the felucca's sailing, there are no flies or mosquitoes!...

The breeze is very nice! And let's not forget the great scenery all around! And knowing a little bit about the history of the Nile, and knowing that I am sailing on these very waters, what an unforgettable experience!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Day 5: Felucca Day I

So now begins my 2 day trip on a felucca up the the Nile to Kom Ombu. A felucca is a sailing boat and we'd eat and sleep on it. Washrooms you ask?...Ans: whenever we dock, the nearest lonely tree = guy's toilet; and the bushiest bush = ladies' room...

As we were w/ a young captin and his brother, he let us do crazy stuff like climb the mast... ARRRR MATIE! :) Some of the ppl were even crazy enough to swim in the Nile... I was almost about to, if it wasn't for our doctor onboard telling our boat about how the Nile has parasites that can crawl up and lay eggs in my balls!... so I decided to stay the hell away and was content to reamin on the boat and chillax...

The ride was very comfortable and I really enjoyed it (especially when the flies were not about). At nite it got a bit vicious thought since the mosquitos came out to play. I sustained a few bites (even w/ my DEET bug spray)...It wasn't too too bad, cuz the nite before, I think I had 16 bites at the top floor of the Aswan hotel where a couple of us were chilling w/ the tour leader)... 16 bites ALL on my feet, guess I should have wore socks!

Also borrowed a book to read (those self-help books)... very interesting read and a few thoughts came from this...

Aside: Arabic Vocab

Some essential words I learned:

salem = hello
shakran = thank you
maya = water
bikam = how much
aleufei = you're welcome
mi es Manson = my name is Manson
hamastacia ginas = 15 pounds
gateer = expensive
no mish Indie? = Do you think I am stupid? (direct translation: Do I look Indian)
chatta = hot sauce

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day 4: Abu Simbel and Aswan at Nite

All I can say is... WOW! This place is even better than the pyramids! Ramses II knew his sh*t... Two temples, one for him, one for his wife, both towering over the sky, both have paintings and hieroglyphic drawings covered EVERYWHERE!... Apparently we weren't allowed to take pics inside the temple, but I found out after I had already snapped a few...oops! Anyway, you just have to be there to see how amazing the temple looked...

Then in the afternoon, we went to see the unfinished obelisk and I almost bought a cheap galabaya ... haha.. the guy started telling me its 170 EGP and I was like wtf... started to walk away and after 10 minutes of this walking away and bargaining business, got it down to 35 EGP!... but by then, I lost interest... But what a discount... 170 becomes 35 EGP! lol!

At nite, we went to check out the marketplace and saw my galabaya... decided to see how low I can get the price.. and lo and behold.. its now valued at 28 EGP!... talk about deals!... (but I still didn't buy it :) )... haha

New food:
Falafel = some crunchy ball things with vegetables + special sauce inside a pita bread (1 EGP)
Kofta = beef sausage (4 EGP)
Hamaachi = meat sandwich (4 EGP)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Day 3: Aswan and Nubian Village

Arriving in Aswan, we checked in a very fancy hotel w/nice showers and a pool! Air conditioning was good, room was pretty big, washroom actually had more than 2 towels!!! Also did my first load of laundry :)

In the afternoon, we went on a felucca ride on the Nile around Aswan... Nothing special but was very relaxing!

Then at nite, we went to a Nubian village for dinner. It's a very nice experience and got to try some more local food, as well as see sort of how the Nubians lived. Even thought I found out later that the house we went to was a 'model home' (ie. not where the family who cooked us the dinner actually lived), we still saw their kids having fun, and also what a Nubian house looked like.

Also saw the 1st sunset and stars at the courtyard of the Nubian house. They are very pretty as always. On day I'll learn how to pick out the constellations!

New food:
Kofta = Beef Sausage, potato fries, rice + tomato sauce

Tomolo: waking up at 3am to go to Abu Simbel.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Day 2: Cairo and Giza

Official 1st day of tour...

1st destination: Giza and the Sphinx:
Very spectaculr and much better than photos. A bit disappointed that I couldn't go inside the pyramid. Reason: We went around all 3 sides of the pyramid, only to realize that the entrance to the inside on the pyramid was on the 4th side!.. So sadly, I could only take pics from the outside (since there was no time to go inside by the time we found the entrance). 2nd disappointment was the highly anticipated camel ride didn't happen :(... But still the pyramids were great! And the sphinx is sooo diffferent up close! Too bad the sphinx is a man.. haha!

Intermission: Lunch and Papyrus Place
Then after visiting the pyramids and the sphinx, we went for lunch at this really expensive restaurant for some buffet (70 EGP)... VERY not worth it (in Egypt, food can be bought at around 2 to 15 EGP... exchange rate is 1 USD:5.7 EGP).

Also went to papyrus place and saw how they made super paper! You can dip it in water, and all the ink goes off it. It can be twisted and not break... who needs e-paper when you got this stuff???

2nd Destination: Egyptian Musuem
At the Egyptian musuem, we saw 90,000 artifacts... and they were originals (ie. not replicas). I have to admit that this part of the trip was a bit hazy since I was sooo sleepy! I almost collapsed on the floor not once, but twice from the lack of sleep and exhaustion!!! The parts I remember seeing was great thought. King Tut, mummies, statues, all very cool! Can't believe they housed so many original artifacts here. The museum could work on how they present their material though. The place was poorly lit, and items were EVERYWHERE, didn't really wow me as much as I thought it could when its a museum with over 90,00 artifacts from 4000 years ago.

3rd Destination: Sleeper Train
And if this day wasn't crazy and packed enough, we boarded a sleeper train that night. First time on a train where I sleep overnite on! Surprisingly, the sleep was super there. The room was air conditioned, there were rattles here and there, but it was a very rejunvenating sleep! Tomorrow we will have left Cairo and have arrived in Aswan, a place famous for spices.

New food:
Koshiri = rice, lentos, macaroni + tomato sauce (1 EGP)
Tolgen = Macaroni with meat sauce (2 EGP)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day 1: Cairo @ Nite

Any logical person with a pounding headache would opt to go to sleep... But Soldier Mson, together w/ his sidekick who's been in Cairo for 2 days, decided to go for dinner and go see Khan el Khalili (a bazaar in Cairo). Met by crazy driving and pushy sales people, we ended up trying a meat dish and some chai!

Today's food:
Chai = Mint Lemon Tea.. Very good!
Papaganosh = grey stuff appetizer like thing that you dip your bread with

So by 12ish am Cairo time (aka 6pm hometime), we were back in the hotel. Hotel looked great on the outside, not so great inside.. haha.. funny thing is that these places requires you to put these room key/tag thing in a slot for the room to have electricity... so coming back from the bazaar, our room was scorching hot!

Invention #4: Ad-hoc AC
Method: Open the mini-fridge... and leave it open :)
Result: Slightly cooler room

So Mson completes his 1st 30 hour day... 36 if you count the time zone difference... but maybe cuz of the jet lag, I wasn't able to sleep and so I was still up at 3am ish..which means... 40 hr day... WOW!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Day 0: Done Done Done!

Exams're done! Last undergrad exam of my life completed at 2:30pm. In a few hours, I will be bound for Cairo to begin my 18 day grad trip :)

So on the plane, watched 4 movies and passed out at the French airport and on the plane to Egypt from France (amid an anooying kid who kept hitting my chair from behind).

2.5 hr exam, 8+5 hour flight, 3 hr stopover, Soldier Mson arrives in Cairo!

Important Observations about the Traffic at Cairo:
1) Traffic lights --> always yellow, never red or green
2) 2 lane traffic --> one car on the left and right of dotted line, and another one on the dotted
3) Cars continuously honk and tons of hand gestures are used to cut ppl off
4) The 'real' traffic lights are these guys in white uniforms who ask you for tips if you ask for directions
5) You ain't a true driver in Egypt if you don't drive on the dotted line at all times