18.04.2012 -1 °C
Chapter 7: An Appetite for Arabia
24.11.2011 - 24.11.2011 17 °C
Nice leisurely start this morning (which was good because I had a sleep in!) before I met up with our tour guide and my roomie Lisa! Apparently our tour was joining up with another group who were catching the boat from Nuweiba to Aqaba, which meant the three of us had to catch the public bus from Amman down to the Gulf of Aqaba and to the town of Aqaba.
The local bus is an interesting experience (although not as interesting as some I’ve had on this trip!!). It was a double decker coach that was chocker block full.. We had three of four seats (the four seats were facing each other) which was good but meant we had a tight fit with our hand luggage (this bus doesn’t have over head racks so all hand luggage had to go on the floor). I spent most of the five hour bus ride trying to sleep as I had a raging headache (thanks to a few too many the night before) and was seriously lacking in sleep. This meant poor old Lisa had to just sit miserably looking out the window with her iPod!
Inside our carriage we had mainly all ladies with small children which was fun because once I had woken up we were able to play with the kids.. Kids are such universal things.. no matter what language you speak, a smile and pull a funny face always gets them laughing which makes the mum happy and smiley! I probably shouldn’t have been surprised but all of the women sitting near me spoke English (the education system here is really good) so we were able to have a chat.
About half an hour before we arrived in Aqaba we had to stop at this border check point.. It was a pretty funny experience… We all had to get our passports checked (even though we are still in Jordan) and had to get all of our bags off the bus and put them thru a metal detector…. Now this was funny for two reasons… 1 we had to get our bags off the bus.. this isn’t funny but it is when you realise that the bags were stored in the back part of the bus, probably about 2m off the ground…. To get the bags out of the luggage compartment one of the male passengers had to crawl inside and hand out the bags to everyone.. the bus driver just stood there and watched!!! 2nd reason is that when we finally got them to the metal detector the dude who was supposed to be watching the screen wasn’t, so it was a total waste of time anyhow!!!!! To be honest I’m struggling with the whole point of the exercise.. apparently it is because Aqaba is near the disputed border of Israel and Egypt (which is UN controlled) so they take extra precautions in this part of the world…. Either way pretty amusing!
We finally made it into Aqaba late in the afternoon. Just enough time for us to dump our stuff and go find some lunch before the sun went down for the day! Lunch was a brief (and pretty ordinary) affair of Schawarma and Chips—probably the poorest I’ve had so far here in the Mid East before we both decided to explore the town a bit and take a look at the sites and sounds of Aqaba. Lonely Planet had given us fair warning that there wasn’t much to see in the town and I would say this is a gross understatement…. It took us less than half an hour to walk most of the town, dawdling along the ocean front to watch the sun set over Egypt! The highlight of our wander was to see THE Aqaba landmark, the second highest flag pole in the world…. Hmmm, this should give you an idea of what we thought of the rest of the town…….. After our brief tour we thought that it would be nice to stop in one of the ritzy hotels to have a cocktail by the pool so we stopped into the Movenpick to see what we could rustle up….. Not much, is the answer! The cocktail bar was a fairly sorry looking affair that reminded me of a 1920’s male cigar bar, so we thought it would be cheaper and far more pleasant to find a take away shop and have a drink in our hotel room. Therefore we spent the remainder of our night waiting for the rest of the tour group, having a party in our room! Eventually, we gave up on the rest of the group and just headed to bed…. What an exciting end to an exciting day!!! (Can’t you just hear the sarcasm… )---- In fairness, Aqaba was never going to be the reason for why I came to Jordan… tomorrow is Wadi Rum so here’s hoping it kills my expectations!!!!
23.11.2011 - 23.11.2011 21 °C
Well today was a pretty quiet day (although when you plan for it to be quiet what do you expect?)… My day started with my brekky upstairs in the FG bar (free of course) where I sat for a couple of hours uploading and updating my blog.
A couple of hours before lunch I decided to head up to the day spa and had the most delicious facial.. Avocado face mask.. do I need to say more and a very relaxing massage… Followed by half an hour in the steam room soaking up steam, aqua and mango juice… Aaah the serenity!
Lunch was late and was a steak sandwich before I packed my bag and headed straight for the airport for my 6pm flight to Amman. Driving to the airport I had plenty of time to reflect on my trip through Egypt and I came to the conclusion that once you get out of Cairo, Egypt is a pretty impressive country! For me, I’m sure the highlights of my trip are going to be the landscape of the Sinai Desert and the time I spent in Aswan amongst the Nubian peoples… Will this be a country I return to???? Hard question to answer—On one side, Cairo and the constant hassling is draining emotionally but on the flip side I would absolutely love to spend more time in Sinai and also to go to the other side of Egypt and spend time in the White and Black deserts of the Sahara…. Mmmm.. Anyway, a question for another day!
Luckily for me I arrived at the terminal early because the Cairo terminal is anything but clear…… After lining up on the wrong baggage check line (diplomats and pilots only) and then not filling in my exit card before immigration.. I finally made it thru to the terminal… Luckily the terminal was equipped with a decent coffee outlet so I spent my remaining hour and a bit reading my book and drinking a decent cup of coffee.
I got super lucky on my flight from Cairo to Amman because I sat next to this really nice Syrian guy named Muaz who regaled me with stories all the way until we touched down in Amman… It makes the time go so much quicker if you have someone to chat to on the plane doesn’t it? From the airport I headed straight into Amman to have dinner before heading for a well deserved night’s rest! Tour starts tomorrow with our first stop being Aqaba!
22.11.2011 - 22.11.2011 18 °C
Well I had a great day today.. no being cooped up in my room watching crappy movies, I was able to get out and about in Cairo thanks to our ex-guide Sam! Today was Koreena’s last day and she wasn’t keen to come out with us as she had a day spa appointment (which it turned out she missed because she wasn’t feeling well).
Sam took me out and about with first stop being back in the old part of Cairo (where I had been earlier with the tour group). My main reason for returning to this part of Cairo was so that I could go and buy some old style photographs that were taken back before the first world war (before Cairo became the metropolis it is today!) Rather than take a cab to get to the old part of town we caught the Cairo metro! Cairo has probably one of the world’s smallest metros but I guess anything is better than nothing! The metro only has two lines both of which go right thru the middle of town and thru Tahrir Square… Believe it or not, the authorities have not closed down the metro stop for Tahrir Square so this is the stop where we changed trains from our line to the other line to get to the old part of town! I have to admit that I was slightly apprehensive about getting off at the Tahrir Square stop but Sam didn’t seem concerned and we really had no reason to worry! Plenty of men were getting off at this stop (probably to join their brethren up stairs) so the actual platforms were quite empty! The surprising thing about the metro is the fact that women have the option to ride in their own carriages on the train!! (now considering how busy the train network here is it seems a little unfair.. however, men really do treat their women like special prizes that need to be looked after.. it is quite nice to see that a lot of our old western gallantry is very much alive and well here in the Mid East—unlike home!!)
We hopped off the metro at the old part of town and went a touring! I really had no plan as I just wanted to wander about freely and soak up the old world charm of Cairo (and do anything other than sit in my hotel room for another day!) We went for a walk into the Church of St George (this huge Romanesque round church that I didn’t go in the other day). It is a Greek Orthodox church and must have been something else at some stage in the past as it doesn’t resemble any GO church I’ve been in before! The church is octagonal in shape so that the altar piece is up one side of the room with the congregation to be seated in a semi circle.
We continued our wander and entered this ultra cool, one stop shop for Egyptian souvenirs.. We discovered everything from a replica of King Tut’s throne, thru to chess sets complete with pharaohs.. you name it and this souvenir store sells it!! A big warehouse of useless dust collecting crap! We finished our tour with me getting done buying some old photos.. Although, can you class it as getting done if it’s something you really want?? I think the answer to that question by the way is YES but who cares?
From Old Cairo, Sam took me across town to see the Kan al Khalilli bazaar. The bazaar is one of the oldest in the world and rivals the bazaar in Damascus and Istanbul as one of the oldest! Unlike the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul the Kan al Khalilli is an outside market place and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful Arabic architecture I have yet seen. Rather than spend time shopping for more useless stuff I don’t need, Sam took me to see some really beautiful buildings and mosques. In particular, we entered one of the oldest mosques in Cairo (albeit a non-working mosque) and saw some unforgettably beautiful stained glass windows and mosaics.. The mosque is so beautiful and I actually felt disappointed for people of the Islamic faith that they no longer worshipped in such beautiful surrounds!!
We also entered a traditional Egyptian house (now a museum) to see more beautiful architecture. It actually reminded me of one of the James Bond movies (a Roger Moore—can’t recall the name of the movie).. in one scene Bond enters this Sheeshah den come bar and has a fight with a goon who is thrown thru one of those beautiful wooden shutters?? If you remember you’ll understand what this building looked like! Heaps of small rooms partitioned and framed by beautiful timber shutters! Sam told me that this type of building is almost non-existent today and that the art to making the shutters has almost disappeared… Very sad!
We ended our jaunt around Cairo having some Shawarma for lunch (Egyptian Doner Kebab) before heading back to the hotel to say goodbye to Koreena before she heads out to the airport for her flight to Uganda… Another one of my travel buddies bites the dust! I also said good bye and thank you to Sam as I plan to spend tomorrow in the hotel doing my blog and catching up on some zzzs before I head to Amman for the start of my Jordanian and Israeli trip!
21.11.2011 - 21.11.2011 22 °C
Woke up this morning to discover that the riots had worsened and more people have died… This is disappointing because Koreena and I were hoping to go back into the old part of Cairo to take a look at the small back streets. We were advised by the hotel that it would not be a good idea to go outside (at least anywhere near Tahrir Square) so we resigned ourselves to a boring day of drinking cocktails by the pool (doesn’t sound so bad does it!)
To try and kill time we did a full tour of the hotel (found the pool deck and the day spa) which took us max 15mins… So because it wasn’t yet 10am (and probably shamefully early to start drinking cocktails) we went for a wander down the Nile river (away from Tahrir Square)… The wander was also not overly exciting.. The Nile isn’t the most picturesque of rivers in the world and is sadly lacking in parks to line it’s banks. We were also walking along a major road with the usual 2 lanes that are more like 4 lanes going each way with the noise of continually honking… Not the pleasant stroll either of us were looking for.. More because we desperately wanted excersise and pure boredom we stayed out wandering for well over an hour before we finally admitted defeat when our foot path completely ended with 3 rows of double parked cars and no way for us to get around! We retunred back to the Fairmont and wandered thru its ‘shopping mall’ which consisted of about 10 shops and a cinema. We thought the cinema would be a good distraction until we discovered that the only movies in English were kids movies and they didn’t start til after 2pm….. Damn….
Plan B swung into action, cocktails by the pool! We donned our swimmers and headed up for the pool deck and the Jacuzzi. By now the wind was really blowing up the top and the ‘hot tub’ was more like a ‘tepid tub’ so we only lasted less than 5mins before we were shivering and had totally admitted defeat! We headed back in to my room and watched the Librarian Part III on the TV before both deciding to have a snooze.
Luckily for us our ex-guide Sam had agreed to take us out to dinner so right on cue he picked us up from our hotel and took us outside it’s confining four walls to a steak restaurant in a good part of Cairo.. The dinner was pure heaven as I haven’t had a decent steak for ages!! We lingered over dinner before deciding to walk all the way back to our hotel (a good hour’s walk)… The walk back was brilliant because we got to see many parts of Cairo that we hadn’t seen yet. We stopped off at the Marriot hotel which is an old palace that has been done up and converted into a hotel.. really beautiful! Our walk also took us within a couple of hundred of meters to Tahrir Square and I was surprised to see that the violence and demonstrations is really confined just into the square… we could see the museum and could see some people but couldn’t see any issues! I managed to talk Sam into taking me back out again tomorrow to see the old part of Cairo so I it will be good to know that I don’t need to spend two more days cooped up in my hotel room!!