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    Happy trails

    October 29th, 2006 by mary

    This morning our big, yellow, 16 ton semi truck converted to transport 24 tourists and 2 guides showed up. It’s surprisingly spacy and has all kinds of hideaway compartments, an area to lay down for naps, and a “beach” on top to tan. They’re going to break us in slowly with a 6hr drive today. We still have to form our cooking teams and learn the rest of everyone’s names. We’re the only Americans on board with most others from the UK, Ireland, Germany, and 1 Aussie that we know of. Good thing english is the language of choice here… but I’m afraid we’re both unconsciously converting to the queen’s english. Oy!

    Tonight we’re be camping in the Sahara desert and doing everything for the first time. No more internet tho for a few days so we’ll try to keep up the blogs as much as possible.

    Wish us luck, we’ll need it.

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    End of our Freedom for a while

    October 29th, 2006 by steve

    Yesterday was the end of our vacation. Today we started our safari truck trek through northern Africa. It was obvious already that our lives are no longer our own. Here’s the basic trek:
    We leave Cairo tomorrow morning for the Western Desert and then head South, crossing into Sudan around Nov 14th. I expect we’ll have email twice more before then. After that, I can only hope that we get a little bandwidth in Khartoum and Addis Ababa before we roll into Kenya.

    We’re following the trip until it reaches Nairobi around Dec 24th and then we’ll hang out on our own for 6 weeks in Kenya and Tanzania before rejoining a different truck to finish the trip to Capetown.

    Speaking of the truck, here’s our new home:
    We’ll try to keep in touch, but I think we’ll probably not get many photos up for quite some time. But who knows… The way we post, you probably won’t even notice :)

    In the meantime, you can check out the itinerary and more about the truck at:

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    NOW we are ready for Africa

    October 28th, 2006 by mary

    Sure, malaria pills might be enough for some people but when you’ve had over 150 bites more than once you need something with a little more oomph! That’s where the hand held bug zapper comes in. It was a thing of beauty to see it hidden in the pile of crap displayed in a store window on a busy street in Cairo. It looks like a toy tennis racquet but has a metal mesh and runs on two AA batteries. The store was kind enough to show us how well it worked…I was overjoyed when I saw the sparks fly. Genius!

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    The big 3-2 at the pyramids

    October 28th, 2006 by mary

    There’s not much more you can ask for than to spend a birthday at the pyramids in Giza. We walked around the pyramids taking photos, paying baksheesh to climb on the smaller of the 3 (we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to climb a pyramid), and braved the stuffy interior to crawl into the big and 2nd big ones. The interiors were very simple, and short. Not only were the walkways 3 feet high so you had to crouch almost the entire time, but the endings were bare rectangular rooms with a single empty quartzite looking sarcophagus. The only real interesting part was in the big pyramid where there was a tall, narrow passageway that reached 30’ over your head.

    I did find one opening above the path that wasn’t blocked off. I climbed into the shaft which went up a level and found a dark dusty space behind a ladder to the generator. With nowhere to go I jumped back down to a group of stunned tourists wondering why people were falling from the ceiling. But that was about it for excitement. Before we left Giza we stopped to see the Solar Barque and of course took more photos of the Sphinx, which is much smaller in person.

    The Pyramids are the only remaining ancient wonders of the world and were amazing but it was much different than I expected. For example it isn’t out in the middle of the desert but rather in a suburb of Cairo. I bet you could get a great shot of the pyramids and sphinx from the Pizza Hut across the street.

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    Narrowly escaping the Cairo museum

    October 28th, 2006 by mary

    We thought the Cairo museum was supposed to be one of the great museums of the world. You’re in the land of civilization, Mesopotamia, the fertile crescent, everything here is thousands of years BC. The place was packed, not just with tour groups but with wall to wall artifacts, as if they had too many objects and not enough room. It was completely cluttered. None of it was organized and only a small percentage had any descriptions. Some areas looked like store rooms and there wasn’t enough floor space to walk. There were signs posting no touching or photos on all the walls but the ugly tourists were using the statuary as footrests, coasters, and armrests. They would knock on the statues to make sure it was real granite or wood. Even the guides were laying their hands on the lids of the sarcophagi with his troops following the example. It was disgusting. None of the museum guards or crew seemed to care as people blatantly used the exhibits as furniture. The whole situation was so vexing.

    There was so much to see and we did our best to enjoy it. Our favorite was the treasures of Tutankhamen. They had all five of his gold gilded tombs, the 3 golden sarcophagi, and all the funerary objects such as beds, canopic jars (where they put the mummy’s innards), statues, furniture, and jewelry. It was unbelievable the quality and quantity of gold and previous stones he had wrapped up with him. His famous gold burial mask was incredible. The mummy exhibit was neat but once you’ve seen one, the rest all start to look the same. We had seen a few people take pictures inside so we got a little brave with taking some discreet video. Right as the museum was closing for Ramadan Steve got caught using the camera at the papyrus exhibit by one of the guards. We managed to give the guard the slip, quickly swapped bags, separated, then regrouped outside.

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    The 30th Day of Ramadan

    October 24th, 2006 by steve

    This song went on too long. But it’s finally over and it ended with a bang. We’re in Cairo now for the final night of Ramadan and the streets are just a zoo at night. Everyone is out shopping, eating and crowding the streets. It is literally like New Years Eve in Times Square. The shops are covered in balloons and festive paper in preparation for the three or four days of partying that take place at the end of Ramadan.
    How did we celebrate? The same way we started Ramadan: with a Big Mac and a coke…and a chocolate sundae.

    We learned a good travel lesson here. The Middle East isn’t so bad during Ramadan. Everyone still does their best to get things done, even if it means they need to stop in the middle of the day for a nap. We never had a real problem. But these few days of partying are causing all kinds of trouble. Shops and museums are closed most of the time and even our hotel is barely staffed while everyone either parties or sleeps. I hope they don’t close the door on the pyramids for us tomorrow!

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    Transported to Thebes

    October 24th, 2006 by steve

    After the mobs at Luxor’s west bank we expected Karnak to be another valley of buses. We hoped our lesson the day before would hold true so we went to the entrance around lunchtime and were well pleased. Bus after bus drove past us on their way out to fill their hungry bellies. Karnak was empty. This was the city Thebes, the epicenter of the Egyptian dynasties during the reign of pharaohs dating back to 3000 BC. The scale of the temples, monuments, and statues were grandiose. It seemed every available wall, column, ceiling, and obelisk were covered in hieroglyphs. There likenesses of the deities Amun-Ra (the god of gods), Orisis, Anubis, Horus, and Hathor as well pharaohs such as Rameses, Thutmos, and Hatshepsut surrounded us. Amazingly, some still retained their original painted color high above tourists’ reach. Somehow we found ourselves in a temple off the tourist path and it was the most intact and best preserved that we had seen, eerily so. The carvings were crisp and alive as if it escaped the thousands of years of wear that other monuments had suffered. We felt as if we were transported to ancient Egypt, far away from any other living thing where only the shadows stirred. There was an overwhelming feeling like the hieroglyphs were going to walk out of the walls. I practically jumped when I came around a row of columns and nearly ran into a statue of Hatshepsut. That temple was undisputedly the highlight of our Egyptian experience thus far. As we walked back to the mapped attractions we saw the waves of tourists crashing amongst the main thoroughfare and it brought us back to reality.

    – Mary

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    Biking Luxor’s West Bank

    October 24th, 2006 by steve

    After a torturous 18 hour bus ride from Dahab to Luxor, we were ready to stretch our legs. Luxor is the place to do it. Across the Nile from our hotel sprawl out temples and tombs and colossi. Needing the exercise, we ferried across the river and rented clunker bicycles.We’ve driven cars and ridden bicycles in some pretty crazy places, but I think that Egypt is possibly the scariest road scene I’ve experienced. And here we are riding down crummy roads in farmland dodging horse drawn carts, kids begging for money, giant tour buses, and goats. This is what we call fun. Well, fun until Mary pointed out a cool bird to me and lost her balance instead of watching the road… But it was a pretty bird.
    After cruising through the Colossi of Memnon and the Temple of Hebu, we headed out for the Valley of the Kings to see the tombs of the pharoahs. Ancient history is nice, but diving a couple hundred yards into a little hole in the side of a hill is way more fun.
    I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but the tombs are generally square tunnels cut downwards into the side of the mountain leading to a room with the sarcophagus. Most have carvings or paintings covering the walls of the tunnel. Some go way into the mountain, some don’t. A couple had “well rooms” that suddenly drop 20 feet down apparently as a trap to tomb raiders. There is nothing left in any of the tombs beyond the huge granite sarcophagi left in a couple. Everything of interest has been stolen for museum collections. Even though we heard it was quite boring, we went to see King Tut’s tomb. It’s small and boring.
    There are all kinds of rules about no touching, no pictures, no video and so on. But there is a very well established practice in Egypt called “baksheesh”, which means some combination of the words “tip”, “gimme money” and “bribe”. With a little baksheesh, you can do just about anything you want in Egypt. Sometimes it makes sense to do it, and sometimes it is just a pain to have a guy following you around asking for it. It is just a little sad that the guardian of a priceless ancient artifact will let you abuse it for less than a dollar and nobody cares. In protest, we took most of our photos the old fashioned way: we snuck them.
    Almost as interesting as the tombs was how predictable the tour groups are. We showed up at about 12:15 and the valley was overflowing with tour groups. By 12:30, they were ALL gone. We had the whole place to ourselves and other people like us until 2:00 when the big groups all showed up again.

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    What the heck is that!? or Diving the Red Sea

    October 24th, 2006 by steve

    We had a great time diving the Red Sea in both Jordan and Egypt. The coral is in pretty good shape and there is a variety of life that we haven’t seen before. Check out the pictures of Aqaba, Jordan and Dahab, Egypt on the website for some of the really cool stuff we saw. By the fourth dive, we had seen so much that when Mary pointed out a group of rare (to us) lionfish, I just waved my hand and swam on. Picture here is a Red Sea Walkman. The wings open when it’s real angry. Ooops.

    Saudi Arabia is considered the holiest of the holy lands in Islam and non-Muslims are not terribly welcome. We wanted to check it out, though, so we did a dive called the “Saudi Border”. It’s a wall dive that starts almost directly off the border checkpoint between Jordan and Saudi. Now we can’t say for sure that we made it across the line, but it was close enough. Lots of lionfish on this dive.

    We did a couple wrecks, one of them a WWII British cargo ship that was full of tanks, trucks and motorcycles when it was sunk by a German bomb south of the Suez Canal.

    We did a dive at the southernmost tip of the Sinai penninsula where warm and cold currents from the deep come together and draw some of the bigger fish out of hiding. After we passed a regular old blue spotted stingray, we came across a handful of gigantic eels. The biggest was at least 7′ long and had a neck that seemed about 1′ across at the widest. It was an absolute monster with a big gash along its body from some battle that we were lucky enough to miss. These are so big that they are just not afraid of anything – three of them actually came out of their rocks and free swam for us.

    Our final dive was at night in Dahab. There’s a lot of plankton in the water that glow when you disturb them. We must have spent 15 minutes on that dive just dancing and moving around to watch the phosphorescent trail of plankton that looked like fairy dust. In between, we saw some interesting night action. It turns out that parrotfish spend half an hour every night to build a protective cocoon with their saliva before they sleep. How cool is that?
    OK, so I forgot to rotate and zoom this picture, but look close and you’ll see a thin white membrane around the fish. kinda gross, actually.

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    Steve’s Soft Side

    October 24th, 2006 by steve

    Wadi Rum in Jordan is inaccurately known as the land of Lawrence of Arabia, a famous English officer turned author who traveled thru and wrote about southern Jordan. It is, however, where the movie was filmed. The land is rose and golden sand interrupted by hills of sandstone that stick out of the sandy sea like marshmallows in rocky road ice cream. Here we finally rolled down a sand dune, only to realize there were no showers at the Bedouin tent we were sleeping at for the next two nights. The first day was spent bumping about in a 4×4 through the various terrain, taking in the sites, napping after lunch, and climbing on top of rock bridges. It was a full moon so the valleys were lit with gray shadows which made it a little easier to sleep in the great wide open given the animals echoing all around us. The second day was spent on camel back. These dromedaries were a taller than the ones in Morocco but their humps were a tad smaller. Through a series of unfortunate incidences Steve ended up being unbalanced on the saddle and therefore wore himself out by the end of the first hour on a five hour trek. By the sounds he made and the agonizing expressions on his face I don’t know how he managed to stay on the hump. The guide tried padding his saddle more but Steve’s built-in cushioning was getting a good beating. Nothing could be done to improve his situation, it was only getting exponentially worse. In the end Steve caught a ride back to camp in a 4×4 and the guide decided “maybe he is very soft.” I nodded in agreement and urged my camel back to running pace.


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