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The end of the road…

March 2, 2011

… the kiwis have landed in New Zealand! The trip is finished, fertig, finito. We have to admit we were a bit nervous that we had to fly Qantas to get from Singapore via Sydney to Auckland, but we are pleased to say we made it without losing an engine and without any emergency stops along the way. Thumbs up for the Cadbury Drinking Chocolate and ice creams you get!

A great 10 months, with lots of ups and the odd down. We’ve actually been back for two weeks but have been too busy getting over our jetlag, and trying to sort our lives out again. The culture shock was almost bigger than when we touched down in our first country, Bolivia!

We’ve collected some stats about the trip, enjoy:

Facts&Figures:

Number of months travelled: 10
Number of countries visited: 13
Number of passports stamps and stickers: 35 (Rob), 32 (Manny)
Number of airports used: 22
Number of flights: 23
Number of airlines used: 12
Number of hours in the air: 107 (4,5 days)
Number of missed flights: 2
Number of times we thanked God for our travel agent Curtis: countless

Best&Worst:

Worst airline used: Iberia
Best airplane food: Kuwait Airways (for the food) and Qantas (for the ice cream)
Worst airport: Kathmandu, Nepal
Best accommodation:  Sheraton Hotel, Kuwait City (courtesy of Kuwait Airways)
Best hostel: Sam’s VIP (San Gil, Colombia)
Worst hostel: Kampala Backpackers (Kampala, Uganda)
Best busses: Peru
Worst roads: Bolivia
Friendliest locals: Colombia
Worst food hygiene standards: Bolivia
Worst touts: Cairo
Worst fellow travellers: British Gap Year Students and Asian Girls
Worst public toilet: Mbarara, Uganda
Best experience overall: Mt. Everest Base Camp & Kala Pattar (Nepal)

Misc Stats:

Highest point reached: Kala Pattar (Nepal): 5554m above sea level
Most disgusting city: Kathmandu, Nepal
Scariest experience: Flying from Kathmandu to Lukla (why: type Lukla airport into youtube)
Number of accidents involved: 2
Number of times Manny had to stop the bus to go to pee: 1
Most stray dogs: Kathmandu, Nepal
Average number of hours travelled on a Bolivian bus between toilet stops: 7
Funniest local gesture: the Nepalese half-head wobble
Number of nights sleep was only remotely possible with the use of earplugs: countless
Number of times sworn that this was the last night in a dorm: countless

Health&Co:

Number of tropical deseases caught: 2 (both Manny)
Number of blood tests: 4
Number of IV drips: 1
Number of times the hostel owner came to check whether we are still alive after food poisoning: 2
Number of days without eating anything while sick: 4 (Manny)
Longest consecutive time without a shower: 5 days (Bolivian altiplano)
Number of showers within one month (!) in the Nepalese Himalayas: 4
Most showers per day: 6 (Cartagena, Colombia)
Number of times we were thankful for rabies shots & co: countless
Number of visits to pharmacies to top up diarrhea pills: countless

Thanks everyone for reading our humble weblog!

over and out.

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The final countdown…

February 10, 2011

Fluffy towels, safe food, flushing toilets, a good night’s sleep – in two days these and many more creature comforts will be reality! We are currently in our last country; Singapore! On Friday, we catch a plane home and then our 10 month round the world trip will come to an end.

At the Marina.

They say the two biggest hobbies of Singaporeans are eating and shopping. The Kiwis tried to adapt the local lifestyle, although shopping here isn’t as great as we thought. Orchard Road, the main shopping street, is basically just one high end mall after the other.  We prefer the markets and stalls of Bangkok, especially because there isn’t a great haggling culture here in Singapore.

Shopping frenzy at Orchard Road.

We are, however, eating very well here. We are staying in Little India and with the help of our British room mate Andy we found this great hawker centre. In the evening, when the temperature drops to ‘bearable’, the streets and sidewalks fill with people, almost all of them Indians and Bangladeshis on 2year work contracts. Manny sticks out like a sore thumb, though, as the locals here all men, there’s hardly any women to be seen. Anyways, back to the food. All the locals here eat at the hawker centre, which is basically like a food court with seats in the middle and little food stalls around it. We’ve had some fantastic Indian food here! For lunch we often grab Sushi (cheap here!) from a mall on Orchard Road.

At McD.

There’s no ‘sights’ as such in Singapore, as you’d be used to from Europe. There are, however, quite distinct neighbourhoods. There’s Little India, the colonial district, the CBD, Kampong Glam (the Malay area), and – of course – China Town. We also checked out the Botanic Gardens, Fort Canning Park and the marina at night, which was quite nice.

Chinatown.

The Singapore Dollar is exactly 1:1 to the Kiwi Dollar, which makes things quite deer for us. On top of that, Singapore is the most expensive place (apart from Austria) we’ve visited on this trip. That’s why we are unwillingly subjected to staying in a dorm once again. We’ve stopped staying dorms in August for a very good reason: Some people are *****. Last night Rob didn’t get any sleep because the girl in the bunk above  him kept moving round and round, which feels like a minor earth quake in these flimsy steel frame bunks. This morning Manny got woken at 7am by a girl who doesn’t even stay in our room. She was looking for her friend, mistook her for Manny, woke her and shone a torch right in her face just to find out that wasn’t who she was looking for.

At the Singapore Flyer.

Apart from that, Singapore has a nice feel to it, although at the end of the day it’s just a big city.

to be continued…

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Happy Chinese New Year!

February 4, 2011

We’re now in Melaka, 2 hours south of KL. The bus ride was short and uneventful. The touts here are funny. We arrived at the temporary KL bus station (aka ‘tent city’, as the real one is being renovated) in a shuttle bus from Chinatown and as soon as we stopped and the door opened touts surrounded the bus and stood right in front of the door, almost jumping onto the bus, yelling out their destinations. A simple “Thanks, we already have a ticket” made them disappear. Easy as pies!

Waiting for the bus, KL.

It took us ages to find a place to stay in Melaka as 2 and 3 February is Chinese New Years and almost all places charge double for their rooms these two nights! Uff! We walked round town for quite a while but most of the places were already booked out. Manny then set up camp on the side of the road guarding the bags while Rob set off in the quest of finding a room. In the end the owner of the first hostel we went to rang his friend as he has just opened his own place. Ken, a Malay Chinese, owns this really nice place where we are staying now and he was even helpful enough to help us carry our bags:

Ken and his way of carrying bags.

Rob was joking that it would be funny if his last name was Lee (as in Ken Lee). We dumped our bags, and grabbed a business card of the hostel so we would find our way back when we go out for food. We did not believe our eyes when we looked at the card and it said Ken Lee, owner. We were in tears!

Chinese New Year was somewhat less exciting than we thought. During the two days leading up to it the streets of Chinatown were beautifully decorated, but deserted. The biggest problem, however, was that virtually everything is closed. We were hard pressed to find a money changer, but even more a pain in the neck was the fact that we couldn’t find any food for almost three days! All places here are Chinese owned and they’re of course off to celebrate. Sometimes we had to roam the streets for an hour to find something edible – frog legs don’t count.

Decorations in China Town.

What we did find, however, was the most awesome little cafe. Instead of a counter, they had a bright orange VW bus parked inside the cafe which was done up to serve coffe and milkshakes. Brilliant! We took heaps of photos and talked to Albert, the Malay Chinese owner (the cafe only opened 5 days ago!) for a good hour. It cost him around USD 20,000 to buy and convert the van. What a brilliant job he has done, he has designed everything himself! When the van isn’t parked inside the cafe, Albert drives around town and sells coffees on the streets. We can definitely see ourselves doing this one day!

Mods cafe - very cool!

New Year’s itself was nice, with quite a big market and heaps of people in the streets. There was crackers and a small fireworks at midnight, nothing too spectacular.

Chinese New Year night market

We also walked across the river into the colonial part of town. Google can explain Melaka’s history better than us, but basically this medium sized city (which is now listed as UNESCO world heritage) has been under Malay, British, Portuguese, Dutch and again British rule (not necessarily in that order, though). There’s also a model of a portuguese ship that doubles as a museum.

The tackiest trishaws ever!

Downtown Melaka.

Today the next shock: Because it is Chinese New Year’s, hell is loose and everyone is travelling. We wanted to take the bus to Singapore (4hours) on Saturday, but they’re all full! There’s 3 bus companies and they all go every hour from 8am to 9pm and they are ALL (!) booked out on Saturday, Sunday and Monday! We have now purchased a ticket to Johor Bahru, which lies basically on the border, but is still in Malaysia, for tomorrow. Apparently from there it’s easy to hop across. We’ll see.

to be continued…

Model of a Portuguese ship.

 

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The final stretch…

January 31, 2011

The end is near! We have safely landed in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, for our last leg of the trip: We fly home from Singapore on 11 February 2011. The flight on AirAsia from Krabi was uneventful, but with us that’s a good thing.

The Airport in KL has a proper terminal (KLIA, Kuala Lumpur international airport) and the cheapie cheapie one, LCC-T (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) which is near the real one, but not quite there. Only the real terminal has train connections, so we took the bus. We were told it leaves every 5 minutes – yeah right – we had to wait 45 min. When the bus finally rolled in, we still couldn’t go, though, because Rob promised some other traveller to watch her bags while she went to grab some food from KFC. So now here was the bus, we were here, but she wasn’t. Grml. Manny wanted to go, Rob wanted to stay, so Manny went to the bus-organiser-ticket-clipboard-lady and convinced her to wait. Finally that girl showed up and we were on our way.

Nick Heidfeld's F1 car in the foyer of the Petronas Towers.

 

We made an attempt of booking a room in a hostel in Chinatown, but the guy at reception said he never received any email. So at 9pm we were on the streets, looking for a place to stay. We found one not long after and are very happy with this place, although the rooms are only shoebox-sized.

Our mini-room.

We went to see the Petronas Towers, wandered through Chinatown and the main shopping street, the central market, checked out some malls and the park in the City Centre… but it’s been raining a lot so we spent a good deal of time in the hostel.The rain did not prevent us, however, from finding a few bargains. Malaysians seem to be very nice people, we’re having a good time so far.

The Petronas Towers.

The main tourist street in Chinatown, Petaling Street. Not that interesting at all actually.

And also, it’s Chinese New Years, and being in China Town this means there’s lots of little parades around and all the shops are nicely decorated.

Chinese New Year Parade

Dragons dancing in front of a Chinese restaurant.

We’ve also sampled some of the local street food. To be correct, it’s not street food as such, it’s kind of outdoor restaurants. Come evening time, all these temporary kitchens appear on the footpaths, which makes for quite a funny sight in the rain.

Outdoor restaurants.

We sampled some claypot rice with chicken the other day and fried pork noodles yesterday. The lady next to us ordered a frog stir fry so while we were waiting for our food, Manny was fascinated by watching this dish being prepared. There was two see-through plastic containers on a little table, one containing big crabs, the other one yellow frogs, all of them alive. Once the order came in, the chef grabbed a frog out of the container, and violently smacked its head against the metal leg of the table. It was killed within nanoseconds. The frog was washed, and then had its legs chopped off. The body went into the nearest bin, the legs into the wok. Manny was vigilant to make sure the frog legs didn’t end up in our bowls…

Yummy Clay pot chicken rice

Tomorrow we’re off to Melaka, two hours down the road.

to be continued…

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Beached as…

January 28, 2011

The Kiwis were in need of some serious R&R. So we looked into Ko Phi Phi, but crossed it off our list because it’s too built up and too expensive. Then we looked into Ko Lanta, next to Phi Phi, but crossed that off our list as well because.. well because it just didn’t sound like it was what we were looking for. So in the end, we went to the other side of the narrow strip of land that is southern Thailand and spent a week on Ko Phagnan. Now, this island, which sits right next to famous Ko Samui, is known in backpacker circles all around the world for it’s monthly Full Moon Partys, which have been going since the 80s. Basically, the Full Moon Party is 50,000+ scummy backpackers, drunk and drugged up partying on a beach on the southern end of the island. Yeah, nah. We made sure we steered well clear of it and arrived two days after the party.

The pool and our beach front bungalow in the background.

View from the deck of our beach front bungalow.

Manny found a promising-looking resort on  Haad Khuad, or Bottle Beach, in the far north of Ko Phagnan. The resort actually had a swimming pool (including a waterfall!) as well, and a beachfront bungalow was a bargain for 550 Baht a night (13 EU or NZD23).  We split our stay between this one and the garden bungalow, which were right behind the beach front ones but only cost 8 EU or NZD15. The beach was gorgeous, and there were only four resorts, and all of them very very quiet. No drunks, no party, no earplugs needed at night. Just what we needed.

Manny's favourite spot.

Bottle Beach, Ko Phagnan

One of the main reasons for Bottle Beach being so quiet is the fact that it is pretty remote. There’s Thai versions of Taxis on Ko Phangan, the Songhtaos, which are basically pick ups with two benches at the back. They go to certain little towns scattered across the island, but where we were, there was no town, so you had to get the resort to come pick you up. To get to Bottle Beach, however, you need a hard core 4WD, a regular Songhtao can’t make it. We got bumped around like crazy, which was fun, but on the back of the 4WD there’s nothing to hold on to, which made the ride even more fun. The road was, of course, unsealed, very steep at times, lined with coconut trees… just beautiful.

Rob in a Songhtao

Nothing to hold on to on the 4WD!

Arriving in that old school ferry on the left. On the way back we had a modern catamaran.

Anyways, although it rained a good few times, we had a nice stay there and got time to chill out a bit after the stressful last few months. Manny got another Thai Massage and reckoned Rob should take a course to learn how to do it…. 🙂

Full body Thai massage... hhmmm...

Dinner time!

We then headed back to Krabi to catch a flight down into Malaysia. Getting to Krabi usually involves a 2hour ferry crossing and a 2hour bus trip, but our trip ended up being a full day ordeal. Basically, this is what happened: Our 4WD that took us to the ferry terminal left over an hour late, then we got held up by a concrete mixer, and only just made the ferry. We pulled up at the pier at 11:55, just time enough to sprint to the ferry. The crossing (in a high speed catamaran) was ok. Then, instead of taking a 2hour direct bus to Krabi (hotels and travel agents sell boat/bus kombi tickets, so one waits for the other), they put us on a different bus going to Surat Thani, the next bigger town an hour in the opposite direction. There, we had to wait 45mins for our bus, which ended up being a 1,5 hour wait. Instead of the tourist bus we should’ve been on, they put us on a piece of shit local bus that stops all the time, locals just flag it down along the road no matter where. It’s 180km from Surat Thani to Krabi, and it took us 4 hours. Lastly, we were told we’ll be dropped off at the pier in downtown Krabi, but the bus pulled into a tiny bus station out of town, in the middle of palm trees and fields. Some of us just refused to get off, the driver didn’t speak any English and the ‘station master’ barked and yelled at us we have to get off here. We said, no, this is not where we supposed to be, and just stayed on the bus. The driver rolled the bus forward, turned around and parked it, stopped the engine, turned off the light, left the bus and went home. Guess we lost that argument. Took a while for us to figure out where we are, in the pitch black, we ended up being 6km out of town and had to pay for a tuk tuk to get us into town. Grml.

Now we’re in Kuala Lumpur and so far, everything’s good 🙂

to be continued…

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Fried Kiwis

January 20, 2011

After our whole flight disaster we weren’t quite ready yet for another one, but only 3 days after arriving in BKK the kiwis found themselves on another airplane!

The couple of days in BKK passed quickly, as we mainly spent them with shopping 🙂 We bought a whole heap of stuff at MBK Centre, it’s so cheap, it would almost be rude not to! Half of Tuesday was spent at the nearest post office, getting rid of excess stuff: We sent another 17kg box home to NZ, one birthday parcel to Manny’s mum in Austria, one birthday parcel to Rob’s sister in Canada, a postcard and a letter. We literally occupied half of the floor space in the small post office and fitting everything into the big box was a bit like a game of tetris.

Yesterday Wednesday we then boarded an Air Asia flight bound for Krabi! Krabi is a small tourist town on the Andaman Sea in the South of Thailand. It is the gateway to the famous islands of Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta. We’re not going there, though. Instead, we did a day trip to Railay down the coast. Railay is famous for its stunning cliff formations that you will know from Thailand holiday brochures and posters. To get there, we had to take a Songthaou (although it’s probably not spelled like that) to the next town of Ao Nang, around 25min away. From there we took what they call a longtail boat (basically a long wooden boat with a canvas roof) around 10min to Railay. The beach was beautiful, but a bit noisy because of the constant longtail traffic.

 

After a while there we walked across the narrow land to a different beach (forgot its name though) next to a cave. It only takes around 5 minutes and there was heaps of monkeys on the side of the trail! Having learned her lesson in Uganda, Manny refrained from poking them this time round.

Railay is also famous for its brilliant rock climbing, and there was heaps of climbers at the end of the beach and all over the cliffs.

 

We basically spent the day with what you do on a beach: Relaxing, reading, swimming and sunbathing. The latter, however, proved a bit too much for our winter-adjusted bodies and we – especially Manny – look very much fried now. Not good. Lunch was fun, as there are a few longtails anchored along the beach that serve as restaurants. They literally cook the food on the boats while you stand calf-deep in the ocean waiting for it. Yummy!

Tomorrow we’re off to Ko Phangan!

to be continued…

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Airports, Airlines… we’re done with it!

January 17, 2011

OK, we’ll try to keep this short, otherwise this following story will take up 10 pages:

Long story short, we missed our flight from Cairo to Bangkok. At 1am, from our cellphone at Cairo airport, we rang our travel agent back home in NZ. Curtiiiiiis, we’re in the shit, can you bail us out?? In the end, it was cheaper to book a whole new flight than to pay the rebooking fee plus fare difference of Egypt Air. We were then booked on a Kuwait Airways flight (it was the cheapest… in case you wonder) from Cairo to Bangkok with a 5 hour layover in Kuwait City. At 2am, we went back to our hostel for a few hours sleep, but went back to the airport at 11am. As soon as we got there, though, the next shock: Our flight was delayed until 8pm! We were of course worried that this delay will make us miss the connecting flight, so we went to talk to Kuwait Air staff. Their office, however, was closed and they only showed up 4 hours before departure. The lady said Kuwait knows that we’re coming and will wait for us. Worst case, they’ll delay the BKK flight to make sure all passengers are on board. Cairo airport is one big mess, staff are standing around smoking and nothing is happening. We bumped into an American who was also on our flight, ex military, and he had to bribe the security to let us through in order to proceed to check in. What a mess. Oh and one more peculiarity about this airport. There’s signs up, as at every airport. We needed a forex, and followed the sign that pointed upstairs, but upstairs was only food places. So downstairs again to the info desk to ask for a forex, and the man pointed to the left. I said, on that sign here it says upstairs. He cracked up laughing, looking at me in disbelief, and said, yeah, that’s 4 years old. Well, how on earth should we know?

Cairo Airport, 1am. Rob on the phone to Curtis.

Come boarding time (7pm), we were told that the plane hasn’t even arrived yet! When it was finally time for boarding, at 9pm, they shoved us into two busses and… nothing. We were on the bus for 22minutes until we were finally shuttled to the plane. Long story short, we spent 11hours at Cairo airport – which is a smoking airport!! Where else are you allowed to smoke on airports? Even Entebbe, Nairobi and Kathmandu were smoke-free! Grrr..

Right, so instead of 3.20pm, or then 8pm we finally left Cairo at 10pm. We talked to the cabin crew about our connecting flight and they reassured us they will wait for us. 2hours later we touched down in Kuwait and made a quick dash to the Kuwait Airways transfer desk. The lady took a look at our boarding passes, shrugged her shoulders and said: The flight is gone!

We could not believe it and within minutes there was a huge crowd at the transfer desk, and we can tell you, that was one angry mob. People yelling everywhere, one poor little Indian man complained that he just lost 2 days of his 7 day holiday in Thailand. In the end, we got a visa (normally costing US15), transport in a Chevy Limo to the Sheraton Hotel, a room in the 10th floor, three meals plus transport back to the airport the next day. They better take care of everything!

We spent our 24 hours in Kuwait with eating (we probably don’t have to mention how awesome the food was), sleeping, having lots of showers and Manny went for a stroll through town. Not much going on, though, although it looks very impressive at night.

When we went back out to the airport, we went straight to the transfer desk, as we’ve been told the day before. They checked their paperwork and made sure our bags were re-tagged. There was five  Kuwait Airways flights on the board, and 3 of them were rescheduled or delayed. One was rescheduled from 5pm to 5am! Manny asked the transfer lady whether our flight will leave on time, and she said, yes, of course! Not quite believing her, we grinned, and Manny said: It better, because believe me, you do not want to see me again tonight! Rob cracked up laughing, and the lady just looked confused and reassured us we will leave on time. Whatever.

Of course we did NOT leave on time, but at least we were “only” one hour late. So all in all, 4 of 5 Kuwait Airways flights that evening were delayed, some of them significantly. What a shit airline! Ground staff is unfriendly, customer service is Zero. The only good thing about this airline was the delicious food!

Why the hell is there a phone next to the loo??

Kuwait City.

Believe it or not, we have made it to Bangkok! Only 2 days late….

We spent the first two days shopping, getting bits and pieces together and posting stuff home before we hit the islands.

Shopping spree at Bangkok's MBK Centre... Thank god postage is cheap here!

to be continued…

 

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Cruising Cairo

January 13, 2011

Yesterday the two Kiwis piled into a taxi with an Aussie and a Vietnamese/American and went cruising for the day! We met Terry and Bao at our hostel and decided we all chip in to hire a taxi for a day to take us the pyramids further out of Cairo: Saqqara, Dashur and Memphis. This whole area has been declared UNESCO world heritage in 1979.

I’d like to take the time to briefly tell you guys about Terry: Terry is 50 and will over the next four months ride his pushbike from Cairo to Cape Town! He and 70 riders have signed up with Tour d’Afrique who provide mechanics, cooks and support. Each of the riders rides for a specific charity, and Terry is rising money for an organisation in Australia that puts blind people up with Tandem bikes,  so they can go out and about as well. This is his blog, follow him on his adventure http://terrywall.blogspot.com Despite being an Aussie, Terry is actually a very nice guy and we had great fun together, despite the fact that he always referred to Rob as the sheep shagger. We wish you all the best, man!

Anyways, the four of us clambered in Shemi’s taxi at around 11 and headed for Saqqara. We won’t bore you with historical details (because we don’t know them), but basically Saqqara (also spelled Sakkara) was an ancient burial ground and is famous for the step pyramid of Djoser (also spelled Zoser) and was built around 2600BC. (Almost as old as Terry.)

At the Step Pyramid in Saqqara.

Local with his camel at Saqqara.

You can’t go inside, but there’s a few little buildings and ruins scattered over the grounds. In perfect weather we strolled around a bit and enjoyed the emptiness compared to frantic Giza. We met some locals (a police man and some random dude) who led us into a little chamber full of hieroglyphs.

Very busy police officer.

 

Manny's new friend.

Hieroglyphs at Saqqara.

 

As we left quite late, our tummies were rumbling at 1pm when we left Saqqara. Shemi said there’s a little restaurant just down the road, that sounded good to us but the backpacker’s alarm bells were ringing loudly when we pulled into the car park. Tourist busses, musicians, a lady baking pita for photo opps…. this didn’t seem right. We were seated, tablecloths and all, and the waiter said there’s no menu to choose from, but they’ve got typical Egyptian food with pita, and barbecued chicken and meat. It’s 60 Pounds per person. We all looked at him in disbelief, and repeated that three times just in case we got it wrong. But we didn’t, it really was that expensive. (7EU/NZD15). We’re in Egypt, man, and this is local food, so it should be cheap as! Of course it wasn’t because it’s a tourist restaurant 1km from the pyramid, so we stood up and walked out. Instead, we grabbed some munchies at a local dairy. Shemi was giggling, back in the car he said, yeah, this is a bit pricey, isn’t it?

Local lady baking Pita bread.

Rob buying lunch at a local road side stall.

Next up we went to Dashur (40km south of Cairo), which is famous for the red pyramid. Your ticket (60 Pounds) actually includes the entrance into the pyramid itself and because we haven’t done this before (at Giza you have to pay an extra 100 pounds on top of the 60 entrance fee to climb into the pyramid – plus there’s a limited number of tickets sold each day) we were quite excited. It was very narrow and very steep, even little Manny had to crouch over quite a bit to get down the shaft. The further down we got the hotter it got and we were soon sweating. The shaft leads you to a burial chamber, but there’s nothing in there anymore. Although there wasn’t anything to see, it was still pretty cool to climb around in a 4500 year old pyramid.

In front of the Red Pyramid.

Down into the Red Pyramid.

In the same area is the bent pyramid, but you can’t go to it as there’s no road (who needs a road if you have a 4WD?) and apparently it’s a tad unstable.

The bent pyramid.

Last on our list was Memphis, which used to be Egypt’s capital back in the day, 3000 years ago during the Old Kingdom. Humming the song, Terry and Rob tried to think of who first sung the song Walking in Memphis – Marc Cohn, 1991. There’s no pyramids there, but a fallen over statue of King Ramses II. They basically built a shelter around it and you can go upstairs and look down to him.

The fallen over statue of Ramses II at Memphis.

The statue must've been lying face down in the sand because it's very well preserved.

Shemi then invited us for a cup of typical Egyptian mint tea and this was just the perfect wind down after a busy but highly enjoyable sightseeing day.

Terry, Shemi, Bao and Rob, waiting for their mint tea.

to be continued…

 

 

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Cairo: My nasal passages will never be the same again…

January 11, 2011

Cairo gets to you. This city is everywhere. There’s 22 million people and 4 million cars, and they all need to go somewhere. Well, the cars (mostly Ladas older than us) often don’t go anywhere because of the constant traffic jams. If they do go somewhere, it’s zigzag, honking their horn at everything that moves, not indicating, not stopping for anything or anyone (especially not for tourists wanting to cross the road)

The streets surrounding the market are frantic.

Cairo gets to you. It’s loud, stinky, unbelievably smoggy, and so in-your-face. After a day out, Cairo is in your ears, in your lungs, on your skin and coming down your nose (as black snot). At the same time, it’s kinda cool here, it’s very un-european, there’s no Starbucks & Co, just the odd McDonalds. It’s obviously a very male dominated culture, we’d say around 80% of the people on the streets are men. There’s this picture you have in your mind of men dressed in robes sitting at cafe tables on the sidewalk drinking mint tea and smoking sheesha, and that’s exactly how it is.

The oldest coffee house in Cairo, in Khan Al Khalili.

Yesterday we went to see the Egyptian Museum. There’s a security check with bag x-ray when you enter the compound, another one when you get closer to the building, then you buy your ticket, then you queue to leave your bag and camera there (we read about that before and didn’t even bring one, there’s no way in hell we’d leave it there!!) and then you show your ticket and then you get x-rayed again. Thank god there weren’t many people, otherwise this process could take its sweet time.

The narrow streets of Khan Al Khalili. The photos don't really do it justice.

Lonely Planet reckons you need a least two full days to see everything. Bullshit, we did everything in three hours! In saying that, we are no history buffs or Egyptology experts (we can hardly spell this word) plus lots of the exhibits didn’t have any signs or explanations to them. We did, however, pay an extra EGP 100, 22NZD each (in addition to the EGP 60 general admission) to see the Royal Mummy Room. Don’t know about you guys, but we’ve never seen a 4000 year old mummy before! Or any mummy, for that matter.

Between the two of us, Jackie and I bought 8 shawls off this guy. Haggle your heart out!

We also checked out Tut Enk Amun’s sarcophagus and mask. All in all, it was pretty interesting, even for not-Egypt fans. It’s just amazing to think that these things have been around for thousands of years, and the mummies were shockingly well preserved. There’s even an animal mummy room with mummified crocs and monkeys!

One of the many spice stalls at Khan Al Khalili.

We also went to check out Khan Al Khalili, the biggest market in Cairo. The maps in the LP are useless and we had a hard time finding it. At one point we ended up in a maze of little alleyways with absolutely NO other other foreigners (or even women) around. Just all these local dudes looking at us, probably wondering what the hell we’re doing. Thank god we then spotted another tourist on the big intersection so we just tucked on to her. Jackie from Australia has been here for two weeks and knew her way around. Thanks again Jackie for saving two very lost Kiwis! We spent the arvo with her looking through stuff and haggling for pashmina shawls. Good fun!

Today we went again, this time with a bunch of guys from our hostel. The market sells everything, and although it does have a tourist section, most of the market is frequented by locals who do their normal shopping here. There’s the bathroom stalls, there’s cheap underwear, clothes, tools… The souvenirs are all horribly tacky, just cheap Chinese made shit, basically.

We got home completely exhausted, it’s just so in your face…

to be continued…

 

 

 

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Walking like an Egyptian…

January 9, 2011

It’s always a bit of a weird feeling standing in front of something epic, in front of something, that has changed the world, in front of something, you have known for years through books and television documentaries. It was like that when we watched the sunrise over Machu Picchu, and it was like that when we sat at a breathtaking 5,554m to gaze at the snowdrift of Mount Everest.

Today was just one of those moments, when we stood on the sandy grounds of the Pyramids of Giza, the sphinx on the left, the Cheops pyramid on the right.

We were taken there by a driver who was organised by our hostel. As we’re staying for 5 nights, we qualified for a free tour to Giza – which meant that we got the transport for free and the driver waited there for us. We were supposed to leave at 8.30 and at 8.20 the guy at reception asked us whether we’re waiting for anything.

Erm, yes, for our tour.

Where to?

To the pyramids.

With us?

Yes.

When?

Now.

Are you sure?

Yes.

Did we talk about this?

Yes, last night.

And gone he was, hectically making phone calls trying to organise a driver within reasonable time. We left 45min late, but we don’t expect things to run smoothly in these countries anyways. Our driver, Mohammed, was nice and friendly, and thank god we didn’t have anyone jump into the cab trying to sell us tours, as it often happens. We’ve read and heard of so many horror stories about the touts there that we expected the worst. It was bad, but not that bad. The scams and tricks were all the same, and it wasn’t too difficult to get rid of these guys. Mostly, a friendly “la shukran” (no thank you) did the trick. Only a handful were so persistent and annoying they had to be yelled at.

When we say we got a free tour we mean we got a free tour. Mohammed dropped us off and would wait there until we come back, maximum three hours later. We walked round the block from the car park to what we thought was the entrance, but it turned out this was only the entrance to the sound and light show. We walked down the road to the left, then down the road to the right, and we could  not find the bloody ticket office! A ticket is 60 Egyptian Pounds, which is around NZD 14 or 7 Euro. Not too bad for the only still existing Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We asked a tourist where the ticket office is and followed her directions, still nothing. This is THE place to go in all of Egypt, how difficult can it be to find the ticket office?? It must be pretty obvious??

We found a security dude at a gate and walked over to him. He wanted to see our tickets to let us in so we explained we don’t have a ticket yet, because we can’t find the ticket booth and asked him where we can buy our tickets. He looked at us, opened his gate and said we have to go to the grey building up that way, to the right. Shukran very  much, we said, and took off into the direction of this grey building right next to one of the pyramids. As we were walking past the sphinx we stopped to gaze at it for a bit. Our eyes wondered across the whole area and we realised that we were actually inside the compound! And we don’t have a ticket! So we just decided to walk around until we get asked for one. Which never happened. We honestly never planned on doing this and didn’t do it on purpose but it was quite a nice surprise 🙂

Back to the pyramids. The sphinx was impressive. Many people think she had her nose blown off by Napoleon but this just a legend. The truth is that her nose was destroyed in 1378, by a Sufi fanatic by the name of Muhammad Sa’im al-Dahr. He was not happy with the lifelike representation of a human face  as it was something that was forbidden by Islam. So apparantly he tried to blow her up with explosives but kind of only got the nose. Or so the story goes.

Behind the sphinx there are three pyramides. The smallest one, Mycerinus, on the very left, the best preserved one, Chepren, in the middle, and the probably best known one, Cheops, on the right. In between is a car park, full with tourist busses, which of course doesn’t do the area any good. The pyramids are absolutely massive and one of course wonders how the hell they built them.

The compound is abound with touts. First of all, there’s touts on camels and on horses. They ride up close to you and try to sell you a ride on their poor animal. Needless to say many of them, especially the horses, look a bit shabby and bony. Then there’s the hakwers trying to sell you tacky souvenirs, then there’s five year olds trying to sell you postcards, then there’s security and police offering to take a photo of you and then demanding money for it, and, our favourites, there’s the real friendly ones who give you a gift and welcome you to their country. They have a bag full of the typical headwear, a white cloth with a black band. They put it on your head, whether you want it or not (Manny only managed to escape by sprinting away, waving her hands above her head) and then insist on you taking a photo with him. Of course we didn’t, because then they make you pay. Instead, we took the head thing off and handed it back over to him. This makes him go all sulky, as it’s a gift for you, you should have it, he’s happy you’re visiting his country, bla bla bla. You’re all baffled, of course, nothing in life is free, especially not at one of the world’s major tourist sites (OK, we got in for free, but that was by accident). You keep it because he insists. Just as you make the first step to leave, he demands a tip. And there we go….

All in all we enjoyed our visit simply because it’s an impressive site. On the other hand it’s kinda sad what circus the locals make. This, of course, is not a modern phenomenon and the history of touts and hawkers at the pyramids is a long one. It would just be more enjoyable if you could actually walk through in peace without being hassled every 10 metres.

to be continued…