Tag 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.
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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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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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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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The Sun, the Land, and the Rubber

My family and I are on the move! We’ve started our drive across the country to my parents’ new home of Longmeadow, MA with all our possessions (and pets) in tow. Thus my posting will be limited, being on the road.

Today we made it to Reno, NV after getting a late start, aka frantic packing and shoving packed items into the truck. Tomorrow my dad and I have set the goal of Rock Springs, Wyoming, an 11 hour drive away. Goodness.

Story of the day: got caught in traffic due to flying pig parts. Not a joke.

Peace from the road!

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Pack, Unpack, Pack

As my last post mentioned, my parents and I are picking up and moving to Massachusetts in exactly a week. We’re driving across the country in an SUV and a moving truck. My dad’s driving the truck, and my mom and I will be in the Tahoe with our 3 pets (one very big lab and 2 very ornery cats). We’re doing the drive across the country (from Clovis, CA to Springfield, MA) in 4 days. That means driving for approximately 12 hours a day. Across very flat land, by and large.

At least I get to knock off another 10 states on my “places I’ve been” list.

That isn’t what I wanted to talk about, though. I want to talk about stuff. More precisely, the amount of stuff a person has.

My summer, mostly, has been comprised of packing up my parents’ house. My mom, bless her, has been running herself ragged with real estate transactions and my dad has been in Massachusetts at his new job since the beginning of July.

Since 2008, my parents have had to move twice (I was not there for either moves). I’ve had to move 6 times personally, but all of my worldly-but-not-worldly-enough-to-have-in-DC possessions moved around with my parents. So really, if a person is defined by the objects they own, I’ve moved 7 times in the past 4 years. In a week, I will move again. And then two weeks after that, I’ll move once more.

Needless to say, stuff has been on my mind quite a bit. My parents have had years and years to accumulate the stuff they own. And since, for many years, I had few possessions of my own, their stuff was my stuff. It defined me and helped me form my idea of what a house should have in it, how things go together, what is necessary for ‘living’. Now that for the past few years I have lived without my parents and accumulated my own stuff, my thoughts on what stuff is to a person and how a person is reflected by the stuff the own has changed again.

I sold pretty much everything I owned when I left DC to come back here for the summer, and eventually head to Cairo. When I was selling my stuff (or donating it or throwing it out, depending on what it was), I kept thinking, “Whoa. I have a lot of stuff!” (So much kitchen stuff! Worth it.) Then I came home and have for the past month been packing up this house and realized, no, I did not have a lot of stuff.

And now I am moving abroad. The amount of stuff I have once again is going to be reduced. I can bring 90 lbs of my life with me, at most, to move to Cairo. That includes everything: clothes, shoes, toiletries, books, photos, electronics, pens, notebooks, jewelry, accessories, all the various little things that make up my life. I am not a materialistic person; I don’t buy things just to buy things. But I can’t detach myself completely from the sentimentality of stuff.

My parents will keep whatever I don’t bring to Cairo with me (about 75% of all I own, in other words). In those boxes of mine will be silly things, like my crazy hats, and what once were practical things, like the sundresses I love to wear in the summer. There will be notes from friends and heavy woolen winter coats. My art supplies and shoes that wouldn’t survive Cairo’s streets. A lot of this things were easy to say, “You cannot come with me.” Then you get down to what you really want to bring. Then you cut down again. And again. It gets harder and harder. I haven’t even had to pack yet for Cairo, not really, and I know I will have to make choices soon on things I love but just can’t fit into my suitcase – my house on little wheels.

I packed up everything I owned at the beginning of the summer. I unpacked it when I arrived in California, got rid of some things I didn’t need. A month later, I began packing it all up again, once again getting rid of things I don’t need. When we arrive in Massachusetts, I will take all my boxes, unpack them to pick out the things to take with me to Cairo, and then repack them. I’m not getting rid of them, they’ll have a home in my parents’ house, but it is about the same, isn’t it? I won’t see them for a long time. They’ll lose meaning. Out of sight, out of mind.

I, for a very foreseeable future, will not have a lot of stuff to my name. It is invigorating, knowing I can pack up my life in a few bags and just head out. It is also a little sad. Stuff doesn’t define me anymore, I must define myself, but they certainly add focus. Very soon, I will have to determine which bits of that focus must be moved to the side. Those that stay have to last me awhile.

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