Category Archives: Travel

Mountains and Deserts

I fail, once again, at posting. Apologies! So you get a two-in-one deal here: my trip to Mt. Sinai AND my trip to the Black and White Desert! And in a separate post, my mom’s visit to Egypt for the first two weeks of April.

A few weekends ago (okay so almost two months ago) I decided I wanted to spend 21 hours in a bus, breaking it up with climbing Mt. Sinai, supposedly the mountain where Moses got the Ten Commandments.

I did it through a tour group, which was all Egyptians and me. They all thought I was the crazy foreign girl, which is fine, I am. The drive to Sinai (which is a peninsular region in Eastern Egypt. Big deal, wars fought over it, borders Israel and the Gaza Strip, right next to Jordan and Saudi Arabic, Suez Canal is there, anyway) IS SO LONG. 10 hours on the way there. We left from Heliopolis an hour later than expected, and somehow or another, that meant instead of getting to Mt. Sinai at 1 in the morning, we got there at 4 in the morning. Part of it is to do with that fact that every three hours or so we had to stop the bus and soldiers at checkpoints would come and check everyone’s ID/passport.

Since we were climbing Mt. Sinai in order to watch the sunrise from the top, and we got there at 4 and it’s a 3 and a half hour hike and sunrise is around 5:30….yeah. Did not make the sunrise. Saw it from about halfway up the mountain. It was still incredibly beautiful, and hey, we only had to do half the hike in the dark. The hike was a bit strenuous, but it was really just a lot of walking uphill, not anything too serious. The kicker though is that the last part of the hike is 750 steps, the final part of 3,000+ steps called the Steps of Repentance (or something like that), the other way to get up the mountain. We made it to the top, and took in the gorgeous view, which included Mt. St. Catherine’s, the tallest mountain in Egypt.

I’m too lazy to upload photos (also internet is being spotty), so I’ve made my Facebook album of photos public – go browse through those, starting with this one.

We eventually mustered ourselves to go back down the mountain – which I practically flew down, I was tired and hungry. We had lunch at a hotel restaurant, then got back on the road around 2pm. It took us 11 hours to get back. ELEVEN. I cringe just remembering it. And at a certain point in the middle of the night, a checkpoint made all of us get off the bus with our bags to check to see if we had narcotics on us. Except they didn’t check my bag, just looked at me and motioned me back on the bus. Life in Egypt.

We get back to Heliopolis around 11:30 and hooray, one of the guys on the trip gives me a ride back to my flat on the other side of town.

The end.
______________________________________________________

On to the White Desert!

A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I, plus a group of other people we rounded up, so 15 total, took a one-night trek into the White Desert. Once again, too lazy to upload photos here, but album is public on Facebook and you should check it out.

The White Desert is so named because of chalk-limestone formations created back when the whole area was a shallow sea (think 500,000+ years ago). It’s quite an alien landscape, and indescribably beautiful.

A small caravan of two mini-buses picked up our group in Zamalek on an early Friday morning, driving us out to the desert. It took about 5 hours, through bleak landscape (most of the desert in Egypt is flat, rocky, and boring). We arrived in Bawiti, the oasis town on the edge of the Black Desert, and stopped at the International Hot Springs Hotel, through which we had arranged our desert safari. It is owned by a German and Japanese couple, who are awesome and the husband (Peter) is hilarious and very attentive. We had a lunch at the hotel, then loaded up into 4 SUVs with our guides, and our cooler full of alcohol in the back of one. We drove off into the desert, ready for adventures. Our first stop was Crystal Mountain, which is not much of a mountain and is not really made of crystal, but of calcite. However, it was quite interesting and fun to clamber about (once again check out the album on Facebook). We then drove off further into the White Desert, stopping at interesting chalk formations on our way to our campsite. As the sun began to set, we reached our site, and while our guides set up the Bedouin-style camp, we scampered about, exploring the landscape. Eventually, dinner was served, and it was DELICIOUS. Soup, vegetables, chicken, rice…so good. We ate with all the heavens laid out above us and only a few lamps and a fire to light our meals. Once we finished dinner, my friends and I grabbed beers and wandered off into the dark to sit, listen to music, chat, and occasionally just fall into silence when the overwhelming sense of humility from being in such a place quieted our minds and tongues. We had opted to not have a full tent for us built, but only walls supported by the SUVs, so that our final blanket was a ceiling of stars. To roll over and wake up in the night with that above you is comforting and terrifying. I could definitely get used to it.

I woke up early in the morning, and found Megan and Mugant had gotten up with the sunrise (I was a bit late for that, but I see it 5 times a week anyway thanks to my job). We decided the best way (by we I mean solely Mugant, he’s very inconsiderate) to wake everyone else up was to play music very loudly. Eventually, a lovely breakfast was served, we scampered a bit more as the guides packed up, and we headed on to the Black Desert. The Black Desert is primarily igneous (formed from lava or magma) mountains that formed a few million years ago in a large crevice in the earth. We reached one mountain, and while some climbed up to the very top, I stayed only halfway up and danced. After our mountain, we once more piled back in the SUVs and drove back to the hotel. We cleaned up a bit, thanked our guides and Peter, piled back into the mini-buses and headed back to Cairo.

It was a quick weekend trip, with quite a bit of travel, but the destination was worth it.

 

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Half a Year

Apologies for being quiet for almost a month! Life has been busy, to say the least. Busy in good ways and busy in bad.

But, I have now been in Cairo for 6 months! Half a year spent in this fascinating, frustrating place.

A few weekends ago I went Ain Sokhna (which means ‘Hot Eye’ in Arabic and refers to the hot springs in the mountains nearby) on the Red Sea with my friends Kate and Christine. As per usual with them, it was an experience.

We took the public bus to there. We assumed it would stop in the town of Ain Sokhna, we’d get off, get a cab and head to our hotel (the Romance, oooooh). Wrong on two counts: there is no ‘town’ of Ain Sokhna, just miles of resorts and you get off when you see your hotel pass. Which is why when we saw our hotel pass and realized we would need to get off, we told the bus driver. As he continues to drive and argue with us about how it is further up the road and we tell him no and he says yes, but he finally stops. About 2km after we’ve passed our hotel. At 10:30 at night. On a deserted desert road. With very few lights.

This is madness! No, this is Egypt.

This is madness! No, this is Egypt.

FINALLY, we're off to have some Romance!

FINALLY, we’re off to have some Romance!

We trek to our hotel and appear out of the desert like sandy brujas. The security guards were probably a bit freaked out. But we get checked in, and waiting for us in our room are some cold plates for dinner.

Yay, food.

Yay, food.

The next day, we head out to the beach. And because it is the off season, there are very few people at the resort (mostly pudding people). So we practically have the beach to ourselves. It was lovely, if a bit chilly. The water was nice, once you got used to it, and you could see sea urchins and fish in the water (Red Sea is a big diving area). We just relaxed, took naps, read, listened to music, and talked. On the beach. A good weekend.

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Getting back to Cairo? Well, we realized taking the bus was out (how the hell would we catch it). So we asked the concierge to get us a private car back to Cairo. This amounted to him calling one of his buddies, saying, “Hey want to make a quick 500LE?” And then his buddy coming to pick us up. The look on his face when he saw he was driving 3 American girls back to Cairo…well. We all piled into the back of the car very quickly. I got bitch seat, unfortunately, but that meant the entire time I was awake and going, “THIS IS THE WAY HOME YES IT IS AH.”

So the getting there and getting back was a bit stressful, but the being there? Very nice indeed.

The weekend after Kate, Christine and I threw an AMURRIKAH themed party at my flat. …Let’s just say it got weird. Fun, but weird.

Tomorrow’s post: My trip to Mt. Sinai and why my students are still awful.

Thursday’s post: My trip to the Black and White Deserts!

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Alexandria: Pardonnez mon français.

This past weekend some friends and I went to Alexandria.

Alexandria, famous ancient city know for Cleopatra, the great library of Alexandria, the lighthouse of Alexandria. Not that any of that still exists.

What does exist is this tale of misadventures on top of misadventures.

Wednesday I get a text from Kate saying, “Hey want to go to Alexandria this weekend?” I haven’t left Cairo since I’ve been here, so I said sure, I’d go for one night. We arrange to meet at the train station at 7:30 am Thursday (it’s Islamic New Year so everyone has off) to buy our tickets for the 8:15 train to Alex. I proceed to go to a Scandinavian music party that evening (don’t ask, because I don’t know either) with my roommate. We’re there until 3:30. We toddle home, I get up at 6, get ready, get to the train station. The girls (Kate and Christine) had already arrived and gone to purchase our tickets. Misadventure #1: The 8:15 train is booked. The next available train is at noon. Obviously, we purchase tickets for that train.

We are so happy about having to take a later train. Also I’ve another mosquito bite on my lip.

We head back to Kate and Christine’s apartment in Zamalek to get a few hours of shut eye before our train. In the meantime, the final part of our quintet, Sam and Charlie (other AUC interns) attempt to purchase their tickets for the train. The noon train is booked, the next available train is at 2. Fail, trains, fail.

Kate, Christine and I get on our train and head to Alexandria, hoorah! About an hour and a half into our two and a half hour journey, we realize, we don’t know where our hostel is. Kate has one idea, Christine has another, and I wasn’t really paying attention when I booked it. Misadventure #2: Finding our hostel. We attempt to call the numbers given to us, but no one answers. We have the street name but our maps don’t have the street on them. We eventually figure out it is near a famous hotel. Once we get to Alexandria, we hop into a cab and head to this famous hotel and find our hostel by luck.

Misadventure #3: The elevator has no shaft to it. Or door. There is the door attached to each floor, but between the top of the floor door (ha) and the ceiling, there’s nothing but air. We could simply jump out of the elevator is we wish. In other news, the elevator breaks down. A lot. In any case, we check into our rooms (then consolidate to one room) and head out into Alexandria. We get some sweet potatoes because we’re hungry and eat them while sitting on the Corniche looking out over the Mediterranean.

So delicious, sweet potatoes slow-cooked and bought off the street.

Christine and Kate along the Corniche.

We walked to the Bibliotheca Alexandria, also along the Corniche. The BA, opened in 2002, is a world-class library, museum and research institute meant to evoke the grand tradition of the great library of Alexandria, destroyed a thousand years ago. Since it was 1) a holiday and 2) already the late afternoon, the library wasn’t open, but we were planning to go the next day (Friday) anyway.

No idea what this is. But heck yes science!

We walked back to the hostel at this point. Somewhere along the way, a piece of glass got embedded into the bottom of my foot (misadventure #4). We picked up Charlie and Sam and walked to the Greek Club, a restaurant that was recommended by all the guidebooks as well as people some of us knew. Misadventure #5: The Greek Club was a big fat joke. Expensive (we were paying for the view), the service was unbelievably slow even by Egyptian standards and we were cold sitting outside. Not fun in the slightest. We finished up there and decided we all needed a drink. We walk back down along the Corniche to find Spitfire, a well-known dive bar in town. Well-known but not well-marked. We all have some beers and just relax for a bit. One of the mirrors in the place had a ton of passport photos and business cards stuck into the sides. I just so happened to have a passport photo on me.

My face shall forever grace the halls of this hallowed establishment.

Charlie, Christine and I were all tired, so we booked it back to the hostel. Misadventure #6: No idea how to make the water in the bathroom run. We eventually figure out you need to turn various knobs under the sink and by the toilet to make things happen. This is an issue for the rest of the trip.

Next morning, we wake up and decide we need to go to the train station and get our tickets now. Charlie, Sam and I would be leaving that day and Kate and Christine the next day. Kate is not feeling so well, so we leave her to rest at the hostel. At the station we find out, you guessed it, misadventure #7 that the 4:45 train that day back to Cairo was booked (it’s 10 in the morning. Come on!). Next train is at 6pm. Charlie, Sam and I book that train and Christine gets her tickets just fine (lesson learned). Our plan had been to walk to the Greco-Roman Museum from the train station and meet Kate there. Misadventure #8: We can’t even find the Greco-Roman Museum. We suspect it is or is near the Roman Theater, which are the ruins of a Roman theater (surprise!) but we’ve no idea. We can’t even get to the entrance of the Roman Theater.

Sam and I wondering what/where the heck.

We decide we don’t want to pay for it anyway so we walk back to the Corniche and go into a patisserie (bakery/sweet shop) near our hostel and get some morning cake and coffee.

Mmmm. Cake. (I don’t like sweets too much, so this is unusual)

Christine’s REALLY awesome coffee latte. Spidercoffee!

We discuss what to do next. Our plan had been: Greco-Roman Museum, lunch, Bibliotheca (which the guidebooks told us was open from 3-7 on Fridays), train. With coffee and tea obviously throughout. Since the first part of the plan was scraped, we needed to find someway to occupy our time. Since my two “must see things” on this visit to Alexandria were: library and some old shit (pardon my French), we decided to go to the catacombs (since one of my favorite things is cemeteries, catacombs fill so many interests) and Pompey’s Pillar, a misnomer-ed solitary pillar nearby.

Misadventure #9: We decide to take the tram. Alexandria has a rickety old tram system that supposedly takes you places. False. We get on the tram, thinking (from what the ticket guy tells us) we’re headed to the catacombs. Until he tells us to get off down the street from where we got on and take something else from there. We say screw that, and decide to catch a taxi.

Misadventure #10: All 5 of us. Let’s just say a bit of a tight fit.

Now realize, that means there is ANOTHER person in the back, taking the photo. Charlie got to be at the front.

We get to the catacombs. Which were WONDERFULOld, kinda creepy, dead people, all things I love.

Misadventure #11: Except when I stepped through a board and nearly twisted my ankle. And then stepped into a puddle and my shoes filled with water (and maybe oil or death or something, I don’t know Indiana Jones).

Where the dead rest! Or rested because they’s ain’t home no mo’.

Trying to get questionable water out of my shoes.

But hey we’re all still smiling!

We rumble on out of the catacombs and meander our way (read: get lost) to Pompey’s Pillar. It’s actually misnamed, it has nothing to do with Pompey. It was built in response to Diocletian’s (Roman emperor) crushing of an Alexandrian revolt in 297 AD (IT IS OLD). So basically a really big pillar to make fun of the Alexandrians for losing. It was also built on top of ruins of another site, the Serapeum, the daughter library to the great library.

It’s a big pillar.

Climbing over ancient stuff. Guards don’t care. This is Egypt.

Whoever carved that gave everyone monkey toes. Or maybe they really had ridiculously long toes.

We all pile back into a taxi (oh the joy) and head to the library. Our first thought was to grab a fish lunch, but we didn’t want hassle so we grabbed some fuul/koshari/schwarma and ate along the Corniche until 3, when the library was supposed to open.

Misadventure #12: Except the library is never open on Fridays, despite our guidebooks saying otherwise.

We mope about a bit, then rock-paper-scissors to decide what we do next. Back to the hostel! Charlie decides to take a nap and the rest of us walk to a cafe along the Corniche (good lord so much of this day is eating.)

But before we leave I briefly check my email – and I’d been offered a job at an American school! But more on that in my next post.

Misadventure #13: The cafe gets practically EVERYTHING wrong. We ask for 1 tea, 2 teas with milk, rice with milk (kinda like rice pudding) and a chicken schwarma. What comes out is 2 regular teas, a rice with milk AND ice cream AND fruit. We eventually get them sorted out (they were trying to bs us because we’re foreign. WELL LOOK WHO CAN READ ARABIC, SUCKERS.) but Sam and I have to scarf and run, since we need to grab our stuff, grab Charlie and run/walk to the train station. Which we do, it’s fine, we get home.

So, Alexandria really was just a slew of misadventures. But it wasn’t a bad time! It could have been awful but the crew I was traveling with were great. Next time, we’ll plan better. Or at all. Ha.

P.S. All pictures come from Kate or Christine. I didn’t take a single photo with my camera the whole trip. Whomp.

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When the Mummy’s got your Tummy…Write a Post

I apologize for not posting in the last 3 days since my arrival in Cairo. A number of not-that-great reasons are behind it, but right now, I have Mummy’s Tummy. Or, as we like to call it in the States in regards to Mexico, Montezuma’s Revenge. (Here it is also known as Pharaoh’s Revenge, Nile Piles, and the Cairo Two-Step) Meaning I am out of commission for doing anything tonight, in hopes of being well enough for tomorrow, which is very important.

Why? Because tomorrow I begin my CELTA course. The whole reason I’m here when I am, so yes, need to be well for tomorrow. But let’s talk about from touchdown on, and then get back to this sad, icky point. 

When I landed at the airport on September 12, I have been traveling for 17+ hours, was tired, smelly, disoriented and already wondering, “What in the world am I doing?” One step at a time is what. I got my visa, exchanged some cash, went through customs (“Where are you from?” “America.” “Go right through then.”), got my bags (they all arrived safely!), find the cab driver picking me up (arranged before hand), and head off into Cairo.

My goodness, I had forgotten how much sand is a part of life here. The buildings are sand-colored. The air is sand-colored. Even the clothes and people at times are sand-colored. And of course, there is sand. Everywhere. It doesn’t matter that Cairo is a sprawling metropolis, sand and dirt and dust are a part of the environment, a part of existence. If you don’t like being dirty, or having your surroundings be dirty, Cairo is not your dream city. 

We eventually, after getting lost a bit, arrive at my new home in Agouza. Matt, my British flatmate, was there to let me in. We chat a bit as I unpack (I promise, pictures of my room and apartment will follow). Alex, my Italian flatmate, gets home with his girlfriend, who is a British Egyptian and is returning the next day to England, where Alex will follow her in a month and we’ll get a new flatmate. Some other friends of Alex’s come over, and Matt kindly made me dinner, since obviously, I’ve nothing in the fridge. We watch Hunger Games, people order food, and as is the general way in Cairo, stay until 1 am. I’m beat at that point (beaten with a stick and a golf club, really), and crash in bed. 

Next morning, I get up super early: 7:45 (which is 1:45 am on the East Coast), planning to be productive. Instead, after 2 hours, I get the shakes and have to take a nap. I wake up early afternoon and decide I REALLY need to start my day, if only to get food. I walk from Agouza to Zamalek, my would-have-been old neighborhood, if the first time in Cairo worked. I walked to the Barclays, the bank I’ll be semi-using in Cairo, and walked to Alfa Market, a large supermarket. I bought my groceries, then caught a cab back – and was able to direct him in Arabic back to my apartment. Considering I didn’t have a smartphone telling how to get there or back, pretty impressive.

I made my first dinner that night, just a simply stir-fry of rice noodles, frozen veggies, and chow mein sauce. 

The next day (Friday, for those keeping track), was the first day of the weekend. Friday and Saturday are weekends here, by the way. I had planned on going to Carrefour, the French hypermarket (think Target or Walmart) with some branches in Cairo, to pick up some more goods. Instead, while trying to fix my web camera, I feel asleep. For 7 hours, and woke up around 1 am. Nutso. Went back to sleep, which brings me to….

Today! Got up. Made breakfast. Left for Carrefour, which is a good 20 minute drive away in Maadi, the expat neighborhood. Get into a taxi, realize 5 minutes into it, “I need a restroom, now.” Tell the driver this, he pulls over and says we have a flat…which we do. I can’t wait, so I get out and start walking to the Four Seasons, which I saw we had passed. I can’t make it that far, I go into an office building instead. Find a different taxi, continue my trip. My taxi driver doesn’t know where Carrefour is and has to pull over multiple times to ask for directions. We eventually get there, I get sick again, then go shopping, then get my phone taken care of, then go and buy Antinal – the Egyptian version of Cipro. Get in a taxi, get back to the apartment, am overcharge by the driver (whatever). 

And that brings me here. Chilling as I wait for the medicine to do its job. 

I should mention we have two cats in the apartment, Stella, a SUPER FAT tabby name after the Egyptian beer, and Bob, a white albino cat with beautiful blue eyes. They love to hang out in my room – and fight. And run around. And in general be a very cute nuisance. Pictures of them soon, I promise.

I do have more to say, but I’m getting too tired to write more. But tomorrow is CELTA – and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say about it after my first day.

Wish me luck in my health and luck in my program!

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Notes from the Airoad

If you’re reading this, it’s because I AM IN CAIRO! HOLY MINARETS! I’ll put up a post soon about my first hours in Masr, but for now, some observations from this journey half-way around the world:

Airports, perhaps to balance with planes being unnaturally cold, are uncharacteristically warm. So I go from sweating to cold to sweating. None of this is attractive.

At 5:30 in the morning, no one looks happy to be in an airport.

I miss home and my parents and my pets so much already. I haven’t had an all out breakdown and the only reason I think is because I’m trying to hold it in until I get to the apartment. Apologies to my flatmates if I become a hot emotional mess within 24 hours. Bring me juice boxes and koshari and I’ll cope better.

When thwarted by using WiFi in various airports, the experimental browser setting of my Kindle is wonderful.

The women on the bathroom signs in Germany have wider hips than the ones in the US.

I thought I was watching an ad for a Cirque du Soleil show. It was a commercial for a washer. I now want this washer.

No airport seats are comfortable. On the same vein, even if you get a whole row to yourself on an airplane, usually the seats are too narrow to realistically get comfortable lying down. Except for Emirates Air…that was just swank.

I am now going to judge how far I fly not by miles or hours but by number of meals served. I am currently at a snack, dinner, and a bigger snack. I’ll probably get lunch on the next flight.

For my CELTA program, I was a given a pre-course task that was supposed to take 20 hours. I did it in 2.5. Either I’m missing half the packet, I did it wrong, or hey maybe I’ll be wonderful at this teaching English thing.
Hope it is the last option.

Apparently, you aren’t allowed to have full water bottles in German airports either. How do I know? Because I had to go through security again to get to my gates…and the man said “You can’t have this” to my Alcatraz water bottle. So I drank it in front of him. Well, most of it, it was really full and he eventually said, “Good enough.” I proved it was not poison!

I used to play Mahjong on my computer all the time. I sucked Haven’t played in 2 or 3 years. First time playing on this computer? I win. I AM A GENIUS. Only reasonable conclusion. Nevermind lost second game it’s rigged anyway.

I’m so tired I want to gnaw on people’s faces. That’s not really true, I’ve just been doing bath salts lately. TOO OLD A JOKE?!

I’m so tired I’m using passe cultural references in stupid jokes.

 

And some photos of my first sight of Egypt after 21 months away:

My first sight of Egypt! The Mediterranean and the Nile Delta

My new home, Cairo, Egypt. Infinitely different from anything you can imagine.

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From Home to Home to Home, I’m Home.

We’ve finally made it to Longmeadow, Massachusetts, my parents’ new home! We got here on Saturday afternoon after a seemingly endless drive across the country.

The United States? The United States is VERY large. I could drive from Cairo to Casablanca and it would still be less that driving from Fresno, CA to Longmeadow, MA. I’ve no desire to do this drive again!

Thankfully, in just a bit over a week I will be in Egypt once again, and I will not have to be making any multi-day drives anywhere, inshallah. 

This new house for my parents, which is just a rental until they find a town/neighborhood/house they love and want to buy, is very small. My parents’ king size bed cannot even fit up the staircase to their room, so they are sleeping on my queen size mattress. Just the mattress, not even the box spring, because that can’t even get up the stairs. All that means I’m sleeping on an air mattress for the next week. 

Yesterday I went into Boston and hung out with two of my closest friends, Deepika and Arthur who had come up for Labor Day weekend. It was fantastic getting to see them – since I figured I would not see them for another year or two. It is so weird to think about, knowing I won’t see them face-to-face for such a long period of time. I am incredibly lucky to live in this digital age, where I can be in contact with my friends and family all the time.

Tomorrow I head to Long Island to go see another of my close friends, Sydney. She is, in a few short months, going to be doing the same thing as me almost: heading to Colombia to take the CELTA course then teach English and make connections. Her, my friend Alex in Argentina, and I are all on somewhat similar paths…and we’re all left-handed. No wonder we’re friends. 

Moving so much has really ingrained in me that
home is a mental concept. It is where my family and friends are, wherever that may be, for however
long I get to be with them. Home doesn’t have to be one place, but can be many places at once. It is where you lay your heart down at night, not where you lay your head. 

So starting very soon, although it really has already started, my heart will lay down in places around the globe each night. 

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