A Travellerspoint blog

The Majestic Wadi Rum

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View Egypt, Jordan, Syria & Turkey 2007-08 on shinenyc's travel map.

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After a week of pampering myself in Dehab next to the Red Sea, I'm back in my favorite landscape - mountains. A different tribe of Bedouin people inhabit in this area for hundreds of years. Although most had moved into stone buildings in the rum village, a small no. of families still live in tents in the vast desert land.

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For three days, I hiked and scrambled (easy climbing) along the many jebels (mountain in arabic) and wadi (valley) enjoying breathtaking views of this land. At nights, we enjoyed simple but delicious meals cooked by our guide, Mohammad and Simone, then spend the night chatting next to the fire, star-gaze or simply take in the 'silence'. I even spend a few moments with the desert foxes when I gave them our leftover rice and chicken - Bedouin style!

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For the next few days, I spent time learning to take care of camels. I learned milking, herding (following them through the vast desert floor for hours making sure they do not wander too far while they feed themselves with desert plants), and even witness a few mating sessions.

No word can ever describe my feeling towards the majestic Wadi Rum desert in the south of Jordan. A lifetime will not be enough to explore this land. This will remain permanently inscripted in my memory, just as the Bedouin engravings on the mountains - forever.

Posted by shinenyc 14:25 Archived in Jordan Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sinai & Dehab - the Land & the Sea

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After a visit at Komombo Temple dedicated to Sobek and Edfu Temple dedicated to Horus, an overnight train took all of us back from Luxor to Cairo. We then headed east cross the Suez Canal, one that had caused plenty conflicts between Egyptians and Israeli, to the Sinai Peninsula. We arrived at a hostel close to Mt Sinai after sunset and prepared for our hike early next morning.

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According to Bedouin tradition, Mt Sinai is where God gave laws to the Israelites. Pilgrims from all countries start making their way up to the summit for sunrise every morning around 2-3 am. Couple of us could not resist the temptation of camels. The hike, however for most of us took about 2.5 hours. Sunrise painted the surrounding mountain range with an bright orange tint. I made a few prayers next to the mosque and the chapel at the summit (2285m). However, "Moses' cave" where Moses is supposed to have waited to receive the Ten Commandments, is closed to the public. I hiked down with couple others using the 3,750 "Steps of penitence" route. We passed a few more bilical referencee sites including the Elijah Hollow and saw the majestic St. Catherine Monastery from above. Despite of sleep deficiency, I thoroughly enjoyed this great hike. Fortunately, my knees did not complain much afterwards.

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From our hostel, we drove straight to Dehab, a relaxed budget resort town on the coast of the Red Sea. After two weeks of desert and constant doses of ancient Egyptian history, we all welcomed the sea breeze, beaches and adventure sports here. I had my first delicious seafood dinner, shared by many felines under the tables.

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Normally, I would not try quad biking in tropical area where natural ecosystems can be easily disturbed by the fuel and noise from the bikes. But quad biking in the desert is in fact quite thrilling. With helmets without visors, we were all covered with sand afterwards. We drove along valleys and small dunes around 50mph until a young canadian girl who was following too close to the bike in front of her, braked and flipped. Fortunately, she lived to tell her story with only a few scratches on her rips and arms.

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Some says the coral reef here rivals the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I had to check it out for myself. I started off with some snorkeling. After a few high praises from others from my group who did some diving, I decided to take my first PADI (Professional Association of Diver International) scuba diving lesson. Never a water sport person, I suddenly braved with courage from nowhere, studied a few chapters of theories, accompanied by a great instructor from the UK, finished the few confined and open water dives and received a certificate in a matter of 2 days. What is a few mouthfuls of super salty Red Sea water compared to the views of corals and fishes ain this amazing underwater world.

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Dehab is not an easy place to say goodbye.

Posted by shinenyc 03:31 Archived in Egypt Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Pharaoh Land

Luxor & Aswan

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After four days in the Western desert, we arrived in Luxor, badly needed a good shower. After a bit of freshening up, we galloped our way to the Karnak Temple, one of Egypt greatest temple complexes, with horse carriages. With 2000 years of history inscripted on the walls, it will take our guides a lifetime to explain everything. Fortunately, he chose the most important scenes only. Among all structures in Karnak Temple, the Obelisk built by Queen Hatshepsut, a one-piece of granite few stories high, stood out to be the most breathtaking.

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That evening, we had dinner on a rooftop at a family restaurant on the west bank of the Nile. We took the opportunity to celebrate the birthday of Rachel, followed by Sufi dancing with a traditional Egyptian band.

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Before sunrise the following morning, we crossed the Nile and arrived at the hot air balloon location. The bright fire creates silhouettes of balloons against the dark sky. We practiced our safety procedures and started the ascend. Sunrise is always memorizing, especially when you are high above ground. Great visibility allowed us to see the Valley of the King and Queen clearly, with farms surrounded by mud brick houses below. After 45 min, we 'evacuated' a few cows and landed on a farm grazed by villagers who stared at us as if we were extraterrestials.

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Riding into the Valley of the King on donkeys is definitely one of my highlight. Matt was matched with Willy, one of the troublemaker donkey. True to its reputations, Matt had more than a bumpy ride with the uncontrollable Willy. The valley of the King is where pharaohs from the New Kingdom built their tombs. We entered the tombs of Ramses IV, V, I(mummy in Cairo museum) and King Tut (with mummy in glass case). All were elaborately-decorated tombs with ancient colors still remained on the walls. Word simply cannot describe my respect to these great timeless leaders of Egypt.

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After a short break visiting a local alabaster factory, I couldn't resist but to visit the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the only true woman pharaoh in Egyptian history. This mighty temple is only one of many that was built strategically along the mountain in the West Bank. After a short stay in Luxor, we headed our way to Aswan, the third largest city in Egypt, after Cairo and Alexandria. We made an afternoon visit and enjoyed beautiful sunset at the Philae Temple on Agilika Island dedicated to goddess Isis. That evening, we enjoyed a family dinner on a simple island where the nubians reside.

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After a terrorist attack 10 years ago in this area, security became very tight all over Egypt and checkpoints are everywhere. A convoy of tour buses led by military police lined up at 4am the next morning from Aswan to Abu Simbel, one of the greatest and many temple theatened by the rising Nile water. Situated along the man-made Lake Nasser (created by the building of the High Dam in the 70s), Abu Simbel was relocated block by block and is a symbol of eternity for Ramses II and one of his most beloved Nubian wives, Nefeteti. Reading the stories on the wall is truly a humble experience for all who make their visit every day.

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We arrived back in Aswan around 3pm and immediately jumped into a felucca, a traditional Nile sailboat, our accomodation for the next 3 nights. With no toilet or engine, only a shade awning, the felucca sail slowly down the Nile. For 3 days, we relaxed on the mattresses, ate, read, talked, played cards etc.

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Most of us, coming from totally different worlds, had quite a hard time to adjust. Fortunately, we all got used to watching life pass by along the Nile and enjoying the nightly bonfire with our Nubian crews.

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Posted by shinenyc 02:08 Archived in Egypt Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Beduoin Desert

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The second portion of my tour takes us into the vast Western Desert. 95% of Egypt is desert, with a few oasis in between north and south. We met our Beduoin crew early in the morning and packed our bags on top of a few Jeeps in relatively decent conditions (as compared to the ones in Uyuni, Bolivia). Driving into the suburbs of Cairo, we can see parches of brand new 2-3 stories complexes complete with landscaped gardens and mosques. It is an encouragment by the government to relocate the population out of Cairo. With real estate prices rises in these neighborhood, it is only a matter of time that the portion of these desert close of Cairo will be sprung with life.

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After 6 hours of driving with rocky flat land and occasionally reception towers in sight, we finally arrived at the White Desert. True to its name, iceberg-like limestone pillar structures resulted from thousands of years of errosions protrude all over this landscape resembling the Bolivia Salt Flat or even Antarctica surface.

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The Beduoin crew parked our jeep strategically in a 'E' shape, put up wind shield, unload our backpacks and set up an area for kitchen within 15 minutes while we were still in owe with this landscape. We talked, ate and sang our night away around the bonfire. We learned Beduoin songs and were given Arabic names by 'Foxy', the leader of our crew. I was given the name 'Yasmin'. Before long, we all creeped into our sleeping bags for our desert dreams.

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With a tall nose, dark narrow face and cunning smile, Foxy is truly an amazing character, the personification of a desert fox. His limited knowledge of English did not prevent him to completely merge himself into our conservations and games. The interaction between him and his crew is a comedy show by itself.

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We stayed at a Beduoin 'camp' the following two days closed to Dakhla. During our stay, we visited a local school with only a few students in each classroom. Both the teachers and students are very curious about my originality. I returned the curiosity and kindness with a few notebooks, crayons and biscuits.

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Before dinner, our group also ride the camels into the desert for sunset.
Dinner at the Beduoin camp are simple and delicious, with vegetable or lentil soup, mixed vegetable, beef stew or grilled chicken. Breakfast consists of omelette, fette bread and of course, broiled eggs.

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From Dakhla, we moved on to another oasis in the Western desert. We visited an artist gallery in a mud brick building decorated with amazing limestone, metal sculptures and paintings. Over lunch at a local family restaurant, I fed the family goats and cats before helping the Beduoin chef to prepare tuna salad for our group.

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That night, we spent in a open valley between massive cones of colorful sandstone. After dinner, I lay down and searched the sky for shooting stars. After another night of great bonfire laughters with the Beduoins, I rised early to enjoy a very spiritual moment - sunrise.

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After breakfast, we packed up and drove back into the main desert road. The Beduoin crews dropped us off at a roadside cafe around 100 km from Luxor. Our bonds over the last few days were so strong that everyone of us honestly had a hard time saying goodbye to all our new Beduoins friends. The hospitality of these desert tribes are truly legendary. They are the real essence of our desert experience.

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Posted by shinenyc 08:39 Archived in Egypt Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Cairo Wonders

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What's better than being introduced to the extreme chaotic traffic pattern of Cairo on your first night in town? New York's notorious yellow cabs or even Ho Chi Minh City's massive motorbikes traffic is nothing compared to the old Fiats from the 70s. Cairo is the largest city in the middle east, with over 15 million people. My hostel had arranged me to be picked up by a designated taxi driver so I don't need to hassle on prices after a long flight. Flying through roads and highways, apparently lanes and signals are completely irrelevant to Cairo drivers. A bit of cultural adjustment later, I arrived safely at my hostel located in a building with possible one of the oldest open elevator in this world.

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My first stop on the next day is the Cairo museum, one of the greatest museums in the world. It allows one to enter into a world of fascinating ancient history that deserves much more time and respect than most tourists can afford. Massive crowds of tourists and young school children poured into this treasure box. It took much of my patience to navigate through ruins, which aren't labeled that well, from the old, middle and new kingdoms among these crowds.

A few blocks away, tourists are replaced by locals in Al Khalili market, the world largest outdoor market. Anything and everything from 'made-in-china' products to antique lighting, hardware and jewellries can be found here. Although I was a little apprehensive about taking photos with my massive camera in between layers of local shoppers, I snapped a few shots and true to my instinct, some street vendors were not too happy about my inconsiderate attempt (even though the camera is opted for the entire street scene).

I met my tour group later this evening and we headed out to the Three Great Pyramids the next morning. These 6000-year-old structures are located in the outskirts of Giza where poor people had converted large farmland into mud or brick apartment buildings with unfinished top floor. These unfinished brick buildings is one way for lower class Egyptian farmers to avoid heavy taxation and allow future expansion for family members. Nevertheless, the sight of these pyramids is breathtaking. We crawled into the burial chamber of Pharaoh Khufu and took turns to lay inside his empty tomb. On weekends, these massive structures and the history behind them brought many local school children. To my surprise, I was constantly mocked by school girls for photos and conversations. For a brief moment, it seems that my mere presence had striked more interest to them than the ancient history laying into the tombs of these great pyramids.

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Early next morning, a few of us chose to visit a unique neighborhood here called 'City of the Dead'. Over the years, the underprivilaged have built their houses between thousands of graves and even tombs from past sultans. While the 'City of the Dead' represents the poorest in Cairo, modern neighborhoods Zamalek and Garden City is the epitome of modern Egyptians living in fancy highrises driving luxury vehicles.

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Next, we visited Islamic Cairo, where many mosques are located. Ironically, military police are also visible everywhere here, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, the equivalent of Saturdays and Sundays in the western calendar. Praying is separated by café breaks at times.

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After some shopping at the bazaar, a few of us sipped Turkish coffee and smoked Sheesha at Fishwar, a historic café decorated with exquisite antiques. The abundance of tea/sheesha cafes here proved that in this part of the world, tea culture dominates coffee, which also explain the absense of Starbucks.

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My last destination in Cairo is the Giza Zoo. With entrance fee of only 1 LE ($0.2), families and children packed the zoo on this Friday. The variety of animals here are quite impressive. While dogs such as Doberman are caged as zoo animals, cats roamed freely everywhere. While we walked aimlessly around the zoo, a few guides offered us photo opportunities of some very precious animals, for a small fee.

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Cairo is truly a city of wonders, both ancient and modern. A few days of explorations only left me with an intense thirst for more. I only hope to come back for more.

Posted by shinenyc 03:45 Archived in Egypt Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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