Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pyramids to Polar Bears September - October 2008

We left home on September 2nd to travel to Cairo via Singapore. We arrived in Cairo and bought our visas for $15US each. They did not want to see our passports at that point – we just had to peel the back off the visa and stick it in our passports! We could have been anyone! We passed through immigration without a hitch … but no-one wanted to know anything about what we might be bringing in! A far cry from customs in Australia!!!
A representative from our tour company met us and we were taken to our hotel by mini-bus. The traffic was quite chaotic so we were very pleased not to be driving. We drove along a freeway through dense city housing. Much of it was very poor looking, BUT every place (both rich and poor) had satellite dishes up on the roof. There must have been thousands of them. However, considering the population is about 16 million, there were probably millions of them in all! Parking could only be described as “parking by Braille”!!!!
The hotel we had been booked into as part of our trip was the Marriott – a far cry from our usual accommodation standards!!! However, we were not complaining!!! It was luxurious, and the gardens which we could see from our room were beautiful! Here is a photo of the garden and restaurant area at night!
We had a free day before our tour started so we spent the day wandering about the city near our hotel. Sadly the overwhelming thing was the dirt and the litter. The streets were filthy and litter was everywhere. Traffic was frightening, and we decided that pedestrian crossings were only a mere decoration on the roadways!!!! Crossing the roads was a life-threatening experience!!! On the bridge across the Nile, there were 3 lanes in each direction, but there could be 5 vehicles abreast at any time!!!! Mini-buses loaded with people would disgorge the passengers in the middle of a roundabout – not necessarily beside the footpath!!!!
On September 5th we joined our tour and met Sameh (Sammy) our delightful tour leader – a fully qualified Egyptologist. We headed out to the Sinai Peninsular where it was dry and sandy – in true desert style! We passed under the Suez Canal but only saw a ship far off in the distance. Our destination was St. Catherine’s “Resort” located near Mt. Sinai.

We stopped to take photos of camels we saw wandering along the road. Later, we had cups of tea in a Bedouin Tent!
A few people climbed Mt Sinai in the early hours of the morning and joined the 300 or so others who had made the journey! Peter and I slept instead!
The next day we visited St. Catherine’s Monastery where Moses’ Burning Bush is reputedly growing! Here are pictures of the bush, the bone house, and the monastery.

After a monk dies, the body is buried in a specified area until the soft tissue is all gone. Then the bones are placed in this bone house. Skulls are all together as you see, and the other bones were nearby! The reason is that the ground is very rocky and therefore unsuitable for large grave sites. The practice is still carried out today.
Peter was required to wear this "attractive" cover to hide his legs.

Our next major stop was Alexandria – on the Mediterranean… reputedly the most beautiful city in Egypt. Again we stayed in a luxurious hotel with a magnificent view out the ocean! We went to the museum which houses copies of much of what is found in the Cairo Museum … but at this one we were allowed to take photos! We also visited the site of some Roman ruins. We had an interesting drive in our bus through a packed market place – our bus driver really impressed us with his driving as he only had inches to spare on either side!!! This picture was taken through the bus window.

On the way back into Cairo, we saw quite a few shanty towns – sad to see how some people have to live.

Once back in Cairo, we visited the Alabaster Mosque, where I had to wear the "attractive" outfit - green this time!!!!

A highlight of our tour was a visit to the Pyramids & Sphinx of Giza to see them all lit at night time. They are located right on the edge of the city of Cairo. Very close.

We flew from Cairo to Luxor with an airline called "Memphis Air". Not to be recommended!!!! We landed so hard at Luxor, I would not have been surprised if there had been craters in the runway from the force of the impact! Even the cockpit door flew open!
The next 7 days and nights we spent on a cruise ship "Giselle" on the waters of the Nile. It was very relaxing and I'm happy to say - air-conditioned!!!! As most days were in the 40's, that was a real blessing!!!!
The Nile was quite wide with beautifully lush river banks. Even though it rarely rains in Egypt, the Nile provides a continuous supply of water for irrigation.
Each day we went out from the ship to view some of the many temples to be seen in Egypt. After a while they all begin to look similar, but they are nonetheless, very impressive.

Temple of Hathor, near Dendara. It is over 2,000 years old.

The size of the temple is, in itself, impressive.

Temple of Luxor - built 1300BC - 1500 BC.

Temple of Luxor - Avenue of the Sphinx.

Al-Deir-Al-Bahari Temple ...not far from the Valley of the Kings.

The Valley of the Kings was our next stop. It is not much to look at really, but it's desolation and lack of vegetaion certainly leaves an impression on one. It was however very exciting to be able to go inside a few of the tombs. The narrow corridors were very stuffy and hot, but one cannot help be impressed by the sheer effort it must have taken to dig the tombs into the rocky countryside. Some of the corridors leading to the burial chamber(s) were up to 100m long. We were not allowed to take photographs inside, but here is a photo of the "Valley" itself.

Temple of Karnak - Avenue of Ram-Headed Sphinx.

The next temple we visited was the Temple of Edfu, built for the falcon-headed God, Horus. Building began in 267BC and continued for 200 years.

It was astonishing to see examples of original artwork on the undersides of the cross-sections. Hard to believe that it exists after all this time!

At sunset we visited Kom-Ombo Temple - it was right on the river, and the sunset was beautiful. The moon had risen as well.

One evening on the ship, we had an occasion during which we were encouraged to dress up in "traditional" dress. Peter and I chose to dress in these costumes known as "galabeas".

Philae Temple was interesting because it had been relocated when the Aswan Dam was built. Had it remained on the original site, it would have been flooded! It was moved about 200 metres. It is now located on an island in the middle of the dam!
While in Aswan, we visited a granite quarry to view the "Unfinished Obelisk". How they managed to extract such stuctures from the rock is beyond me! I can understand the top and sides, but how do they get the underneath section out?
A trip on the Nile would not be complete(apparently) without a trip on a traditional sail boat called a felucca. I was not thrilled - it was hot and slow ... but we did it anyway!!!

From the felucca, we were transferred to a motor boat to go and visit a Nubian Village. The Nubian people all had to be relocated when their homeland was flooded to create the Aswan Dam.
Their houses have some solid roofing, but some areas have palm fronds - it rains so rarely, that it is not a problem. Crocodiles do not exist below the dam, but a Nubian household has small ones as pets to keep away evil spirits. This one peed down Peter's back!!!
Our last major destination was to the Pyramids & Sphinx - this time by day! We were able to go inside one of them - it was hot and stuffy, but fantastic!!!

We only spent 3 days in Germany so Peter could traverse the Kiel Canal. It connects the North Sea to the Baltic and goes from Kiel to Brunsbuettel. It was delightful to be in cooler weather and to be able to drink the water and eat salads without concern!

My favourite country apart from Australia!!!
We spent time with lots of friends in Ontario which was fabulous. The countryside was really beautiful because during the time we were there it was the "fall" and the colours were truly spectacular! We travelled as far north in Ontario as Sudbury and came back south again via Manitoulin Island which is in Lake Huron. ....... After three and a half weeks in Ontario, we flew to Manitoba. Our main plan there was to fly north from Winnipeg to a place up on Hudson Bay called Churchill. From here we joined a tour which took us out onto the tundra to see the polar bears. The bears were all hanging around the shore waiting for the sea ice to form so they could begin hunting for ring seals. These poor bears had not eaten for 6-7 months during the summer. They do not sleep during their hibernation - they have what's called a "walking hibernation". They do not do anything strenuous during that time ... except mate perhaps!!! The females were already in dirt dens waiting for the snow to cover them completely, after which time their cubs would be born.
We spent our time travelling on the tundra in a "tundra buggy" which kept us off the ground and safe from the bears. It contained a large heater, a toilet and seats of course!!!!

While out on the tundra we saw lots of animals... bears of course, and arctic & red foxes, snowy owls, arctic hares, and ptarmigan (birds). We even saw a mother bear with twins!

We went home via Vancouver where we spent 3 days. We arrived home on October 28th!!! What a great trip!