Tuesday, November 29, 2005

back in Sharm... again.

In Alexandria, I spent some time with Kristen, one of my classmates from my first month in Egypt. She is back in Alex to do some teaching. After a couple of days there, I went to Cairo to meet Ehab. He and a friend picked me up at my hotel (Caio Hotel). I went there because I know that I am welcome there any time, and I can sit around there as long as I like. We went to the University to a little shopping mall to walk around and then eat. After that, we picked up my bags and Ehab and I went to his home.
It took a while to get to Ehab's home. He lives in a small village called Tabloha, near Tanta, somewhere between Alexandria and Cairo. There were goats, cows and gamoosa (water buffalo) tied up here and there along the roads, and were led home at the end of the day. Donkeys and donkey carts were everywhere.
I stayed in his home and every day we went around visiting his relatives and friends. We also went into Tanta one day to watch a movie and to another town to drive the bumper cars (at which I kick butt).
I am now back in Sharm el-Sheik for a week. I have been here a few days already, but was sick in bed. What a way to spend the time when the beach and the sun are right there. I am okay now, though.
I'll have to update this a little later. things to do, people to see, food to eat.

Friday, November 18, 2005

life in Egypt.

Mohammed did get to take his vacation, as the other guy managed to find his way back to Sharm. Mohammed's home is in a small city to the West of Alexandria. He has a wonderful family that I will remember forever. His mother, father and three brothers, as well as his aunts, and cousins that kept stopping by. They fed me too much though. Everywhere we went, it was "Eat!" "Eat!" "Eat!" If I stayed there much longer, I would have to buy a whole new wardrobe. The food, for the most part, was excellent. There were a few things, though, that I knew that I would not like and so turned down, even though they still kept insisting that I eat more. (Things in the meat department that kind of turn my stomach to think about, that are normal here.)
I met many of Mohammed's friends. Ahmed, Waleed, Mmdoaa, Masaood, Atteia, Ahmed, Mohammed, Romy, etc. He has so many friends and so had a few problems. A lot of his friends were upset that he couldn't spend more time sitting with them and talking with them. He didn't even get to see many of his friends.
Every day we went to Alexandria for a few hours to walk around or such. One day, I went with Mohammed (in the cap), Masaood (in the white shirt), Mmdoaa (beside Mohammed), Ahmed (infront of Mohammed) and Atteia. We walked around for a while and spent some time watching the traffic of the Corniche and the Mediteranean sea. Later, we went to a movie... an Egyptian comedy that , of course, was in Arabic. I barely understood anything that was going on, but the guys couldn't stop laughing the entire time.

Another day, Mohammed (with me), Masaood (middle), Mohammed and I went to Montaaza, the old summer palace in Alex (you can see it behind Mohammed and I). The guys are standing on the bridge at Montaaza. I had been there before, when it was warmer (during my course), to go swimming. This time, we walked around the huge park to enjoy the scenery and take a lot of pictures. A very beautiful place.

One night, I also went into Alex with Mohammed (on the left) and Waleed. We wandered around along the Corniche and then went to see the Citadel/Fort Qaitbey. The Citadel stands where the Great Lighthouse used the stand. Materials from the Lighthouse were used to build the Citadel.

The whole situation of me visiting Mohammed's home was very unusual. Guys (people) here don't take people, especially girls, home. There are no foreigners in Mohammed's town, so I really stood out. I guess when he told his mom he was going home for a vacation, she asked him what he was going to bring for her. He told her that he was bringing something very sweet. I guess there were many questions going around the town, as everyone knows everyone. "Who is that girl?" "Why is she here?" "Where is she staying?" Mohammed said that everyone there loves and knows him and his family so there are no problems.
Today I got to try sugar cane. I knew that they made drinks from it at the juice places here, but I had never tried it. Mohammed's brothers just took chunks of it, chewed on it, and then spit it out. I did smaller pieces. It is very sweet. When you chew on it, the juices come out and then you spit out the rest of it.
I drink too much tea here. The biggest problem with that is that here, they load it with sugar. In a small cup, they will put up to 4 heaping teaspoons, sometimes more. They think it is strange if you want less than 3. In different cities, the cup sizes are very different. In Alex, they use very tall glasses. In Cairo, the glasses are about half of the ones in Alex. In Siwa, they drink tea from very small shot glasses.
Mohammed is now on his way back to Sharm and I am in Alex. I have some things I have to do here, and then tomorrow I will head to Cairo for a night or two. Ehab, my other friend from Sharm will have his holiday when Mohammed gets back and will then meet me in Cairo to take me to his home.
Another adventure.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Back in Sharm

I am in Sharm el-Sheik again... but will leave tomorrow.
I enjoyed the rest of my time in Nuweiba very much. I was the only guest my second and last day/night there. I got to know some of the people there fairly well in the 2 days. They have an excellent chef, Eid. He is, I think, 25 years old and has been cooking for many years. We had a good chat my last evening. I sat around with a couple of the guys in the back while they smoked their sheeshas.
Everyone here seems to be obsessed with either sheeshas or cigarettes. So many Egyptian men have REALLY bad teeth... black, gross, etc. I think it is a combination of the smoking, drinking tea with TONS of sugar, and not cleaning their teeth.
I am staying at a nice hotel here, downtown Naama Bay, the Kahramana Hotel. I got a fairly good deal on the rate because Ahmed, from Nuweiba, has a cousin/friend (Adel) that lives here and has contacts... he knows the manager or such of the hotel.
Today I spent the entire day lounging on the beach in the sun. It felt so nice. I have been spending my evenings in Sharm at a little Beduin cafe along the strip, with my friends Ehab (21) and Mohammed (22). I met them when I was here a few weeks ago. I have kept in contact with them. They are some of my favorite people that I have met in Egypt. I have such a great time when I am with them. I am supposed to go to both of their homes to meet their families in the next week... unless problems persist. I am supposed to go to Alex with Mohammed tomorrow. He is from a town/city near Alex. He has been planning on this vacation for a while, but another guy that works there was on vacation in Cairo and lost his money (and bags?). Mohammed is supposed to wait until the other guy is back, which seems to be a big problem. After a few days in Alex, Mohammed comes back to Sharm, and then Ehab gets his vacation. He lives in a town/city near Cairo.
In the cafe, there are no chairs. You sit on cushions and lean against palm trunks that are covered with blankets. They serve drinks and sheeshas. While I am there, the guys keep bringing me things: drinks (tea, juice, cola, etc) and snacks (chips and such) and if I am hungry, food appears. So far, I have not had to pay for a meal. It is quite nice. (I could probably have had full board at the hotel if I talked to the manager, as Adel suggested, but I wasn't planning on sitting around the hotel all day.)
I am going to meet a guy from the hotel in a bit. He works in the restaurant. I seem to meet a lot of people that love to talk to me, because I know that little bit of Arabic. I saw Essam on my way back from taking a long walk along the boardwalk. We talked for a short time before I went to meet my guys. This morning he asked me if he could go with me on my walk, or sit down for coffee. Many men here are creepy and expect certain things to happen, but my intuition seems to work quite well. I am very careful. It is nice, though, to talk to people. Because I am travelling along, I get a bit bored at times. After that, I will be back at my cafe.
It is very hot here during the day but then at night it gets very cold. Sitting in the cafe and watching people go by is very interesting. I see a lot of interesting things. Even at night, many people walk by still in their shorts and bikini tops/T-shirts/etc and seem to be unaffected by the temperature. On the other hand, there are people around in long sleeve shirts and sweaters and jackets. There was even one guy, an Egyptian that was working for one of the shops, wearing a down-filled parka. When I am walking, I am comfortable with a sweater on, but when I am sitting, I have 2 sweaters on and still feel very cold. I am not sure what the actual temperature is.
InshaAllah I will be on a bus to Alex in the morning.

Monday, November 07, 2005


I am in Nuweiba now. Nuweiba is a SMALL town on the coast of the Sinai.
The bus ride was about 8 hours long and I was frozen the entire way. There was a problem with the bus and cold air from outside was blowing in around the side door, making everyone on the bus cold. I was sitting beside a guy from Jordan. He let me know what was going on (where we were, why we stopped, etc.). A lot of the people on the bus were going to Jordan.
Nuweiba is very spread out. The whole area seems a bit deserted. Not many people are around here. I am not even sure if there are any other guests in the hotel tonight. It is late now and I have not seen anyone else around.
Earlier today, when I went for a swim in the pool, I met an (African) American woman (retired doctor) that is living in Jordan but is staying here for a few weeks. She has been living abroad for over 6 years and has lived in many Arab countries. A very interesting woman to talk to. She is staying in one of the camps (little huts on the beach) and is the only one staying there.
It is getting into winter here, so it is a bit cooler than normal, and gets quite cold at night.
During the day, especially around lunch time, my hotel gets a bit busy, as some tour groups stop here for a buffet lunch and a dip in the pool. There are coral reefs not far off shore. I am not sure, though, if I can find a snorkle set here. There are supposedly dolphins around. There was a famous one that was always around Nuweiba (friends with a blind man that lived here) but I heard that she died a while ago. Apparently, though, one of her children still shows up every once in a while.
Because I the only one around, I have personal service. I am here full board, so my meals are all included. They ask me what I want and then make it. The manager here, Ahmed, is very nice and is making sure that I get everything that I want.
Ahmed was supposed to meet me at the bus station when I arrived, but I didn't see him anywhere. I waited for a while and then phoned. He said that he was on the way. I felt very uncomfortable waiting at the bus station. There were people everywhere (mostly men), waiting for another bus, all watching me. Ahmed arrived about 45 minutes after I arrived. The car from the hotel got a flat tire and so he had to walk almost the entire way (it took him almost an hour) before he found a taxi. Because it is the slow season and there are not many people around, there are very few taxis. Poor Ahmed.
I can see Saudi Arabia (mountains) across the Gulf of Aqaba.
Tomorrow I will probably just sit around by the pool and relax in the sun.
Check out Eid the chef's blog: http://www.lovesinai.blogspot.com/

Sunday, November 06, 2005

in transit

I am back in Cairo for a day. The rest of my trip to the south was great. From Aswan, I was on a felucca for 2 days and nights. A felucca is an Egyptian sailboat. For the first day and night, there were 6 passengers and then the 3 people from France got off. The remaining passengers were Mike and Milan. Mike is an American working in Iraq (keeping the generators on a base running). Milan is a student from Germany. He is living in Cairo for 3 months, doing an international studies project- he is interviewing Germans that are living/working here in Egypt. They were great company for my time on the boat and in Luxor.
The crew on the felucca couldn't have been better. Captains Ahmed and Khaled (Captain Bebo)and co-Captain Ghad (an 11 year old boy) were awesome. They joked around and made the atmosphere fun and comfortable. The felucca zigzagged along the Nile, downstream to the North. The first night, after we stopped and ate, Khaled started playing a bin (until a drum somehow appeared-from another felucca maybe) and singing. Apparently, during the summer, when tourism is down, he plays and sings at weddings.
The second night, we invited a honeymooning couple from the felucca next to us to join us for dinner. Jack is from Kenya and Solange is from Malta. The 5 of us were fast friends and spent quite a bit of time together that day and in Luxor.
There was drumming and singing the second night, too, only around a fire on a small beachy area across from Komombo, our destination. The crew from our felucca and 2 others all joined in. After a while, there was a bit of a problem. Some guy from the village above (Mustafa) showed up. We were told that on previous occasions, he had caused a lot of problems, harrassing the foreign women. The crew from the 3 boats didn't respond well to his presence and there was a lot of yelling and big sticks were in hand. The guy ended up jumping into the Nile and swimming away, only to return above us a little later, to taunt the guys. Magnoon.
Being on a felucca was great, but very cold. It is getting into winter here. Down that end of the Nile in Egypt, it is still very hot during the day, but at night it gets quite cold. And the breeze along the river is not exactly warm. It was a good thing that I had a sleeping bag with me, as they only had a few blankets.
The next day, we went to the temple at Komombo and then the one in Edfu. I don't have all of my info at the moment so I am not sure which temples are where. After checking into our hotels (both Milan and I were at the Shady Hotel on Television Street) in Luxor, we went the the temples of Karnak and the temple of Luxor, both in Luxor.
That was a lot to pack into one day. I don't remember much of what the guide said.
Later that evening, the 5 of us sat around on the roof of Mike's hotel (the Arabesque) drinking wine. A great way to end the day. That was the last we saw of Jack and Solange.
The next day was the tour of the West Bank- The Valley of the Kings, The Valley of the Queens and the funerary temple of Hatshepsut. We went into 3 tombs in the V of the Kings, and 2 in the V of the Queens. King Tut's tomb was not one of them, because there is nothing much to see and it is an extra 70 EP to get in.
The 3 of us had lunch/dinner at Murphy's Irish Pub in Luxor. Fantastic burgers!!! Just what we were all wanting. They left that evening, in their separate ways.
I spent one more night in Luxor and the next morning was in a convoy to Abydos and Dendara. I had my own private minivan, though. An odd feeling after being on crowded minibuses to go everywhere else. There were only a few people going there, so in the temples, I could easily see most parts free of tourists (a rarity anywhere else). The temple of Hathor in Dendara was amazing, complete with pillars, a crypt and a dark, winding staircase up to the roof. On the roof, a guard took me into a couple of rooms that were locked up, so that I could see more. He didn't speak much English but was able to get across what I was looking at, for the most part. He was showing me pictures that were on the walls (the more important ones). I was surprised that he wasn't pushy or anything, as most people are (they all just want baksheesh/tips). He was kind and when I did offer him a small tip (I didn't have much change to give), he was slow to take it. He was just full of smiles the whole time.
I spent last night on a train back to Cairo (10 hours). I was lucky and had all three seats to myself. Tonight I get on a bus for Nuweiba, in the Sinai. My friends at the Ciao hotel here in Cairo got me a great deal at their branch (a resort hotel) in Nuweiba... a deal for Laura only. They are the ones that arranged my trip to Aswan and Luxor. I found out that I really am getting good deals, because the agent in Luxor told me not to tell ANYONE what I was paying because I was getting too good a deal. All because I am me. :P