By , March 1, 2013 9:17 am

When we first realized we could fit a short trip to Egypt into our travel plans, we were a little nervous how our families would react. The post-revolution political situation was rocky at best and our parents typically start fretting about anywhere that sounds remotely dangerous (Mexico, Honduras, and Serbia – which sounds a lot like Syria – topped their list of “Are you sure it’s safe to be there?  Call us to let us know you’re still OK!” countries). But when we broke the news to them, they were excited for us. Apparently the images of deserts, camels, and pyramids won out over the revolutionary protests in their collective memories. Excellent.

Then, on November 22, Muburak decreed absolute powers for himself and the country broke out into a new round of protests, some violent. The country was making international headlines daily. We were inundated with concerned inquiries from family and friends and were even wondering ourselves whether our December 15 flight into Cairo would still be a good idea. We monitored the situation – things seemed under control and none of the disrest was associated with foreigners. We decided to stick with our plan. We did our best to reassure our parents that we would take it one day at a time and that we wouldn’t knowingly put ourselves in a sketchy situation.

We flew into Cairo on December 15 – the first day of their highly controversial (according to the media, anyways) constitutional referendum.

Our flight was delayed nearly two hours, and when we finally arrived at the Cairo airport, we were happy to see that the driver from our hotel was still waiting around to pick us up. He made sure we knew what a big deal it was that he waited and how tired he was, setting the guilt-ridden groundwork for a big tip. On the drive to our downtown hotel, which was located a few blocks from Tahrir Square, we didn’t notice any signs of protests or referendums. It seemed to be business as usual.

If you call complete traffic chaos usual, that is. As our driver informed us, there are no traffic regulations in Egypt. There are very few traffic lights and of those, very few actually work. Nor are they followed. The lines on the roads seem to be nothing more than decoration and it seems you gain the right of way by honking your horn the most. So there’s always a mind-shattering, convoluted symphony of horns. I can’t count the number of near collisions we were almost in and there was at least one pedestrian that came inches away from losing his kneecaps at the hands of our driver.

Arriving at our hotel, we saw burned out shells of cars littering the street.  Our hotel was on the 4th floor of a sketchy looking building – it was the kind of place that makes you think twice before getting out of the cab at night.

But it was fine.  Grungy, dirty, and smelly (I’m talking about both the city and our hotel here), but fine. As we explored the city of Cairo, we saw signs of the revolution and protests, but never once felt like we or our property were in danger.  We didn’t think twice about pulling out the SLR camera for a photo.  While everyone seemed to think that we were walking ATM machines and worked really hard to squeeze out our hard-earned cash, they attempted this through hustles and scams, not violence or threats.

Hotel lobby

Tahrir Square was still full of protestors camped out.  Things always seemed peaceful as we walked by, though it was quite dirty.  The nearby streets reeked of urine and other bodily odors, and you sometimes had to dodge human feces on the sidewalks.  Metro entrances in the area were often chained shut and equally filthy. Vendors surrounded the square selling flags and food.  We even walked through the square at night without problems.

Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square at night

Tahrir Square at night

As for the “big” referendum, most people we talked to didn’t think it was a big deal.  They either weren’t planning to vote or didn’t even know what we were talking about.

Most of them lamented about how things “used to be better” – before Morsi, before the revolution, before the tourists left.  They dreamed of a stable Egypt.  One where tourists weren’t afraid to come and spend their dollars.  One where they didn’t have to worry about how they could feed their families.

The general consensus was that the revolution was “stolen” from the people by the Muslim Brotherhood.  They said if you shave off Morsi’s beard, you just get Mubarak.  Same same, but different.  No one seemed optimistic about change.

Not once in Egypt did we feel unsafe. We came across concrete and barb wire street barricades, but they were easy to bypass on foot.  One day, when there was a call for a mass street protest in Cairo, we walked past street after street of military and riot police, fully decked out.  But they were sprawled on the sidewalks, laughing and drinking tea… obviously there in case things turned ugly, but there was no tension in the air.

Barbed wire blocking road to Tahrir Square

Street barricade

Street barricade

If you are thinking about traveling to Egypt, don’t let the imagined fear of the media and people thousands of kilometers away from the country prohibit you from planning it.  While you should still be smart and cautious, remember that most of what you see on the news is happening in a few, isolated locations (like Tahrir Square and the presidential palace).  It’s pretty easy to avoid them if you want.  Outside of those places, life is going on like normal for the majority of Egyptians.

Instead of letting a few images on the news rule your decision-making, find some travel forums or blogs of people that are actually IN the country.  This will give you a much clearer picture of what’s happening (or not happening, as the case may be).  Read government advisories, but take them with a grain of salt (they are typically overly pessimistic).  And monitor the latest news and political situations, remembering to read between the lines for the truth.  When in the country, ask your hotel clerks about places/times you should avoid.

While the touts and scammers might be enough to scare me away, the political and social situations are not.  After 3 1/2 weeks in post-revolution Egypt, I can honestly stay the scariest experience we had was playing human Frogger as we crossed busy Cairo streets.

By , February 24, 2013 9:57 am

Egypt has long been romanticized as a travel destination. Who didn’t grow up dreaming of seeing the Pyramids, sailing the Nile, or crossing the desert? Camels and souks, sand and hieroglyphics, tombs and the lush Nile banks… these are the images we associate with Egypt.

The Egypt we imagine…

It’s not until you start listening to actual travellers’ tales and doing a bit of research that you start to glimpse another side of Egypt. A dirtier, uglier, smellier side.

…the Egypt we get

In this newest instalment in our series of Egypt posts, we will attempt to give you our real experiences – the unromanticized, gritty, dirty reality that came our way. This post is going to focus on the lows – mostly because we want to get it all out there in one therapeutic, cleansing shot, saving you (and us) post after post of whining about the crappy parts of the experiences we had. For the highs, check out Mike’s Alexandria post and stay tuned for our upcoming Egypt posts.

Before we arrived, I really, REALLY wanted to like Egypt. Partly for all the bleary-eyed romantic reasons listed above, and partly because I had heard so much bad about it and wanted to prove the haters wrong. When we travel, we always aim to go slow and truly experience the country and its culture (rather than just check off a list of sights to see and move on). We had heard a lot of bad about Turkey too (usually from people who stick tightly to the tourist trail and thus the carpet/tea/spice vendors) and it turned out to be one of our favourite countries! I was sure that Egypt was just a little misunderstood.

The truth is this… I DID NOT like Egypt. In fact, I COULD NOT like Egypt.  I couldn’t wait for my flight out and it took a few weeks on the beaches of Thailand before I was clear-headed and mellow enough to even attempt this post. Here’s why:

The Touts

The Egyptian touts are the most annoying and relentless I’ve ever encountered, bar none. This, I believe from talking with other travllers, is especially true post-revolution. There are currently 10-20 time LESS tourists than there were before Muburak was ousted. But there are the same number of touts. The result is an endless barrage of salesmen desperately pitching their wares (horses, carriages, feluccas, head scarves, postcards, and everything else you can think of).

Does a sunset Nile walk sound nice? Think again. We tried this a few times in Luxor and Aswan. As soon as we got anywhere near the river, there was a carriage driver or a felucca captain launching into their pitch. A polite “No, thank you” would do nothing to assuage their verbal assault. A “la shokran” (that’s Arabic for “no thank you”) was similarly ignored. Many a tout followed us up to three blocks down the street, despite our repeated and futile attempts at clearly and politely turning them away. When they finally left (usually with an attempt to get us to promise we’d come back to them later), there was another waiting in the wings. Sometimes there was one on each side of us, wearing down any remnants of kindness or patience we had left. Romantic, right? This happens EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME, EVERY DAY.

I had to field the felucca conversation so Mike could snap this shot of the Nile in Luxor

One of the most annoying and frustrating parts of dealing with these touts (besides sheer frequency) was their insistence on “having a conversation” with you. Time and time again, we were asked our names, where we were from (to which they always bizarrely replied with “Canada Dry! Never die!” or, even stranger – “Welcome to Alaska!”), where we were going, how long we’ve been here, and so on. Going through this entire introduction 50 times a day gets old. Really old. Of course, any attempt to have an actual conversation with a tout is twisted into the sales pitch, so forget that.

At the pyramids, the touts actually had me in tears. Mike and I blew off the recommendation that we needed to get a driver to take us there and opted for public transport (that was a hassle in itself, as I’ll describe later). Before we even entered the gates, we were practically plowed over by camel and horse drivers trying to get us on their animals for a tour around the pyramids. We, of course, declined. And declined. And declined. We couldn’t find two seconds of peace and they just wouldn’t let up.

Finally, we sat down on a relatively quiet side of a pyramid to try to hide from them and get some peace. We wanted to look around and be amazed. We were at the pyramids, for crying out loud – something I’ve always dreamed of!

No more than 30 seconds after we sat down, a young boy (maybe 14 years old) came up and tried to sell us some trinkets. We weren’t interested, but he wouldn’t go away. He put head scarves on us, forced scarab beads into my hands (2 for us and 2 for our future kids), and continued to pester us. He actually went so far as to stick his hand into Mike’s pocket to confirm that he wasn’t carrying any money (in an attempt to rid ourselves of him, Mike told him he couldn’t buy anything because he had no money… which was true, since I was carrying it). I was so angry and frustrated at this point, tears welled up in my eyes and the kid made a hasty retreat. Not that it bought us any peace from all the others waiting to swoop in for the kill (oops, I mean sale).

We are smiling to keep from crying…

In Luxor, Mike wanted to price out some hibiscus tea that he enjoyed. We stopped at a spice and tea vendor, and had to smell and taste nearly every spice he had before we got him focused on the tea we were actually interested in. Mike repeatedly asked for the price, but the vendor wouldn’t be straight with us. He invited us to sit down and have tea, which we did (against my wishes, but so be it). He packaged up some tea, weighed it out and finally spit out an absolutely ridiculous price of 200 pounds for 100 grams. We had no idea what it should cost, but we knew this was waaaayyyy too much. We reminded him we were just pricing things out and had no intentions of buying anything that night (which we had told him a couple times already, as we weren’t even carrying money) and wished him a good night. He blocked our way from leaving, and after many attempts by us to go, he eventually came down to the still crazy price of 20 pounds for 100 grams. We again declined, and physically had to push past him to exit his stall.

Luxor tourist market… we almost didn’t escape!

I’m not sure that I’ve explained this well enough for you to get the full picture, so let’s try a little exercise. Close your eyes. Picture the most annoying salesman/tout/vendor/beggar/tuk-tuk driver you’ve ever encountered on your travels. Now picture hundreds of them… an endless line of them, if you will. Imagine yourself walking past that line day after day after day. That’s kind of what it’s like in Egypt.

The Hustlers

In Cairo, there were no carriage drivers or felucca captains to worry about. Touts were easily avoided by avoiding the tourist souks. There were, however, hustlers. We had been warned by our hotel management to avoid anyone that came up and asked where we were from. Invariably, they would have an uncle/aunt/cousin/pet hamster that lives there too. Then they would introduce themselves as a teacher or professor (someone to be universally trusted, you know). After establishing that they were familiar with your homeland and were upstanding citizens, the hustlers would try a gimmick to get you to follow them to a shop that sells perfume, papyrus, or some other item of useless tourist crap.

Despite the warnings, we were hustled again and again. We were led into the shops of the guy at the breakfast bean cart that just wanted to give us directions to the museum, the guy in the market who needed someone to write a postcard in English to his sister in Canada who just had a baby (why doesn’t his sister know Arab?), the guy smoking sheesha at a coffee shop that just wanted to show foreigners the kinder side of Egyptians (and get a token from Canada – “Can I have your watch?”), and the guy who “knew” where the bus station was and would be happy to guide us there (it looked an awful lot like a taxi stand, if you ask me). Time and time again, I would turn to Mike and say “We’re getting hustled” and time and time again he would say “I know…” but was too polite to stop the guy before we were at the shop and had been forced to look at oodles of the crap they had for sale.

The Scammers

Let’s assume, for a moment, that I actually had a desire to go on a one-hour horse and carriage ride around Aswan or Luxor. The price is right (it started at 200 pounds, but always came down to 15-20) so I hop in the carriage. By all accounts, the driver will then take me more or less directly to a special “only open on Tuesdays/Wednesdays/(insert the current day here)” market where their friend has a shop and together they will attempt to pressure me into a sale. Nice tour.

When it came time for our flights out of Cairo, we were more than happy to escape it all. But even at the airport we had to watch out for scammers. As we attempted to enter the international terminal (which requires going through  security/x-ray screening) a man tried to scam us into paying him to let us in. He wanted us to hand over our passports and boarding passes and pay him a fee. He had no uniform or name tag. We flatly refused, walked to the next entrance and found a security guard (who, to make life more interesting, also had no uniform or name tag) to let us in. After checking in, we went to find our gate to wait for the flight. Security is set up for each individual gate and it wouldn’t open until 45 minutes before the flight. Again, a man swooped right in to try to get us to bribe him to let us into the gate early.

The Relentlessness of It All – There’s (Almost) NO Escape!

As I already mentioned, the touts, hustlers, and scammers are lined up a dozen deep at all given times when you’re in the tourist areas. So the solution should be simple, right? Get out of the tourist areas. Easier said than done… In Luxor, fed up with the felucca captains and carriage drivers, we decided to turn right out of our hotel instead of left. This would take us into the residential areas instead of the temple or Nile areas. We had gone no more than a block before a group of kids wielding machetes blocked the street and told us that the road was closed to us and we couldn’t pass. Their mothers sat looking on. So much for escaping the tourist parts.

Even simple daily actions, like buying a bottle of water or a sandwich from a shop wears you out. We were in Egypt long enough to know the prices. In fact, grocery shop prices are set by the government to help combat inflation. A 1.5 L bottle of water should cost 3 pounds or $0.50. But often we would bring one up to the till and get charged more than that. A little negotiation, and we could almost always get it down to the actual price. But it’s exhausting to do this with every drink, sandwich, bag of dates, etc.

There are but a few means of escape… go camp out in the middle of the desert, sail down the Nile, or get lucky and find the untouristy streets of a city (we did successfully manage this when we walked to Old Cairo).

Ahhh, at last… peace and quiet!  You won’t find any touts out here.

The Misinformation

All we wanted to do was get from our hotel (near Tahrir Square) to the Pyramids. That’s it. EVERYONE who visits Cairo visits the pyramids, so it should be easy to figure out how, right? Everyone we asked told us something different. First, we were told to take the tourist bus that leaves from across the museum every 15 minutes. When we couldn’t find it, we asked around. Several different people told us to take several different buses from a bus station that was apparently several different directions from where we were standing. We couldn’t get a straight answer to save our lives. OK, we could… but it took about an hour. And we got off the bus, a guy managed to hustle us to the camel vendors instead of the pyramid entrance.

Wait… this isn’t the pyramids!

Rather than go through the hassle of returning via bus, we opted for the metro. But even then, we were directed away from metro stations, told to get on the wrong minibus (the metro station isn’t really within walking distance from the pyramids), and were charged too much for the ride.

You Won’t Ever Get What You Pay For (or Any Proof That You Paid For It)

We booked exactly four tours in Egypt (a lot for us) and we never once got what was promised.

The White Desert Tour

The first tour, to the White Desert, was the most expensive. We handed over our hard-earned cash to our hotel manager and got an “OK” in return – no receipt, no tickets… just a promise that we would get what we were, well, promised. This is more than a little unnerving, let me tell you. Especially when you get up the next morning and are handed a bus ticket to the oasis with no proof of which tour you’ve paid upfront for.

Things mostly worked out in this regard, though there were additional desert entrance fees that we charged on top of the all-inclusive price and we had to fork over extra for water that was promised to be included. Not a big deal.

We had booked a 4-day, 3-night desert tour complete with camels. We were supposed to be with the camels the first afternoon, and both full days after that. When we arrived at the Bedouin camel camp with our guide, we were told that our camel guide was not there. And he wouldn’t be arriving until late that night or early the next morning. So no camels that night (our consolation prize was some over-sugared Bedouin tea).

As for the 4 days, 3 nights promise?  The first day is spent largely getting from Cairo to the oasis, then driving by jeep to the camel camp.  The final day involved hopping in the jeep at 8 am in order to get back to the oasis to catch your bus back to Cairo (with a couple quick stops at the promised springs).  So that’s more like 2 days, 3 nights.  With three hour lunch breaks.

The final day of the tour was supposed to include hot and cold springs. I pictured pretty springs in an oasis where we could soak away the camel pains from our desert trek. Boy, was I wrong.  Instead, we got this…

… complete with random Egyptian guy passed out next to the trough, sleeping off something. Scenic.

The Full-Day Abu Simbel Tour

Our next foray into booking a tour came in Aswan. Abu Simbel was a must-see and really the only way to get there is through a tour (the buses and vans form a convey in the wee hours of the morning and travel down the highway together. There is no public transportation). We booked a full-day tour that was to include all transportation, 2 hours at Abu Simbel, 1 hour at the High Dam, 1 hour at Philae Temple, and 1 hour at the unfinished obelisk. Entrance fees were extra and we were given a ballpark idea of what they might be (which was about half of what they actually were… why lie about things that aren’t included anyways?).

The day started fine… Abu Simbel was incredible and we were given the promised two hours (which was actually just about right for once). Then things went downhill. When we arrived at the High Dam, we were told it would take about 10 minutes to see it. We weren’t willing to pay 30 pounds ($5 CAD) each for 10 minutes at a dam, so we sat at the ticket booth while the rest of the van saw it. They all came back disappointed – they literally just drove to viewpoint overlooking the dam. Later, we drove over the same dam.  For free.

Next was Philae Temple. The temple is on an island and when you go to buy a ticket, there are signs clearly stating that the cost of the boat is not included in the ticket price. We were debating whether the temple would be worth its fee, so we asked the ticket vendor how much a boat would cost. He told us he had no idea. Yeah right.

We decided to try our luck, bought our tickets, and went through the gate to try to haggle a fair price for the boat. The captains were charging ridiculous prices (surprise, surprise)… but we finally got one down to 10 pounds/person for our group of 8 people. The haggling and boat ride had already knocked 30 minutes off the hour our driver gave us, so we made a group decision that we would stay on the island for an hour before returning to our driver.

Swimming would probably be easier than haggling with the boat captains

The final stop was the unfinished obelisk. When we pulled up, the driver told us we had 10 minutes. We spoke up (because we actually wanted to see this one) and explained that we were promised an hour. He told us it was closing in 10 minutes, so there was nothing he could do. This was obviously an outright lie, since it was about 3:10 when we pulled up and most places don’t close at 3:20, even in Egypt. The hike up to the obelisk looked to take almost 10 minutes, so everyone in the van opted out.

As we drove away, the driver said that we each owed him 5 pounds. Outraged, we asked why. He said it was for his tip. Ha!  Again, everyone in the van declined. So he pulled over and told us all to get out. Luckily, we were only about 4 blocks from our hotel…though Mike and I were the only ones in the van that knew where we were when we got out.

The Aswan to Luxor (If I Can Even Call It That) Felucca Cruise

Next up in the list of fabulous tours was our felucca cruise down the Nile. We purposely timed it so we would spend New Year’s Eve on the boat and were looking forward to socializing with some new friends during the voyage. Our camel trip had been a private tour, so we were happy to do a group one here. We were promised a 3 day, 2 night cruise from Aswan to Luxor. We wouldn’t actually make it all the way to Luxor in that time, so the third day involved a bus that would pick us up, take us to Kom Ombo and Edfu temples while our stuff was locked up safely on the aforementioned bus, and then we would be dropped of at our hotel in Luxor.

To begin with, they were an hour late picking us up at our hotel. They walked us to the felucca, sat us down and told us to wait for the others. After almost an hour of waiting, our captain showed up (smoking what I can only describe as the biggest joint I have ever seen) and told us all the “others” had cancelled so it would just be me and Mike. OK, we’ll roll with it.

After all the delays, the first day of sailing was really only a few hours. That night, our captain Ahmed and his first mate Kushka (who spoke maybe 20 words of English between them and made no attempt to interact with us) had their own private New Year’s Eve’s Eve (as in the night before New Year’s Eve) party in their bunk as we fell asleep under the stars on the deck.

It must have been quite the bash (did I mention they got totally baked?), because they slept in until 11:30 the next morning. Finally, they came to and attended to our breakfast (we had been up since sunrise and I was ready to gnaw my arm off at this point). They were even quieter today as they tried to recover from last night’s bender.

Mike, contemplating whether or not he could sail the felucca

The next morning, they were up bright and early and we were met by another Egyptian man on shore. He was obviously brought in to translate and give us instructions. He told us there was a tuk-tuk driver ready to take us to the train station. I asked if our bus would be at the train station, since it was supposed to be included. The guys all argued with each other in Arabic and he explained that no, we would have to pay for a tuk-tuk to take us to the station so we could buy our own tickets to Luxor. We explained again what we paid for and had him call our hotel in Aswan (where we had booked the tour through).

Apparently, since we got a “private” tour, there would be no bus. They had already “lost” money on the trip and wouldn’t fork over anymore cash. After a lot of debate, and a few more phone calls to the hotel, we got them to agree that we wouldn’t have to pay for the tuk-tuk.  It would take us to Kom Ombo temple and wait for us for an hour,and then to the train station where we would have to purchase our own ticket. We couldn’t get anything more, so we took it.

As we started down the highway with our bags crowded in among us, I realized that we couldn’t trust the kid driving the tuk-tuk to watch our things (and no tip we gave him would be worth as much as our laptops) and we really didn’t want to lug any of our stuff through a temple.  Through sign language, we got him to understand that he should skip the temple and take us straight to the train station. Happy New Year!

Valley of the Kings Tour

Our final tour was to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. We weren’t actually going to book this one (we were going to rent bicycles and do it ourselves), but our Luxor hotel manager managed to help us sort out the Felucca problems with a well-placed threat about going to the tourist police – and then he negotiated a deal where our Aswan hotel would pay our Luxor hotel for a Valley of the Kings tour for us (just the tour fees, not the entrance fees… and of course the Luxor manager was getting something out of the deal).

I have to say, the tour delivered exactly what was promised (plus a little mandatory shopping stop at an alabaster store) – though it started a little rough.

We were supposed to go on the tour on Wednesday, but the hotel in Aswan hadn’t sent the money to the Luxor hotel by Tuesday night – so, we were told they would postpone it a day. This was no problem for us, as we had budgeted plenty of time in Luxor.

We stayed up late Tuesday night and were blissfully sleeping in on Wednesday, when there was a knock at our door at 7 am. Somewhere in my sleepy state, the man at the door managed to make me understand that things had changed again and the tour would be that day. We quickly threw on some clothes, grabbed our breakfast to go, and climbed into the tour van with the rest of the people (who were none too happy at our unintended tardiness).

Lack of Official Infrastructure

With all the misinformation, it was hard to know who to trust and what was legit. The lack of infrastructure didn’t help things here. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Pyramids of Giza themselves.

When we finally arrived at the pyramids, we were told to buy a ticket at the ticket counter. The “ticket counter” was a grey concrete building. There were no signs. Nothing to say it was associated with the pyramids. Nothing to say they were selling tickets. No indication of how much the tickets cost. No one wearing a uniform or name tag in sight.  We approached it with doubt, but the lady behind the counter had what looked like official tickets with a price printed on them, so we paid it and left.

The second we walked through the gate with our tickets, we were approached by an “official watchman” of the pyramids. He flashed a plastic card with his picture printed over an image of the pyramids and some Arabic on it. Then he asked us for our tickets (we wouldn’t hand them over). Unphased, he started leading us around. We clearly stated that we didn’t want a guide and if he wanted to show us around that was fine, but we wouldn’t be paying him anything for his services. He said that was fine, he was just happy to give us the tour.

He led us around for a while, forcing us (ok, he didn’t have a gun to our heads, but he was rather insistent) on taking a dozen cheesy tourist shots of us holding up the sphinx’s head with our fist and kissing it and so on…

While we had a lot of fun taking cheesy shots like this in Paris with the Eiffel Tower, for some reason (hmmm… wonder what that could be?), I just wasn’t feeling it this day…

He continued to rush ahead to the next thing and the next thing, and we had had enough. We thanked him for his time, but told him honestly that we would prefer to see things at our own pace with no one rushing us forward. He then asked for a tip. When we told him no and reminded him that we had already told him we didn’t want his services, he tried laying a huge guilt trip on us (“but if you don’t give me anything you’ll ruin my luck and my family’s luck for the rest of the year!”). We eventually escaped him.

Note:  This happens all the time at the temples.  Supposed “officials” will offer their services (and by “offer,” I mean start providing them without even asking) and then expect a tip.  Whether it’s a tour guide leading you around a site, someone inside ready to explain the carvings to you, or someone with the keys to all the off-limit – closed-for-renovation areas – there’s always someone there that wants your money.  This is why the very first words we learned in Arabic were “la baksheesh” or “no tips”.

Next, we thought we would go inside a pyramid. We went up to the “entrance” of the tunnel (again, no sign to indicate that is what is was). There were several men (mostly touts) sitting around. No uniforms of course. One of the touts that had just tried to sell us a camel ride tried to sell us tickets to enter the interior of the pyramid. He had to ask around to the others to produce these tickets.  This seemed sketchy, so we politely declined. Another man explained to us that there were no cameras allowed inside, so we would have to leave them outside with him. “Don’t worry,” he said, “It’s safe.” Ha! Yeah right! This sealed the deal for us and we skipped the inside tunnels.

The infrastructure, or lack thereof, at the pyramids was the story again and again throughout Egypt. “Official” anything was hard to find – policemen and security guards didn’t wear uniforms or name tags.  There were many security control stations, but everyone was just waved past the x-ray machines or, if we did put our things through them, no one looked to see.  “Metal detectors” at entrances seemed to be no more than glorified traffic counters with the words “metal detector” printed on them to aid in the deceit. Receipts for tours were non-existent.

“Security” at Karnak Temple in Luxor

Even something that should be straight-forward, like purchasing a train ticket, was difficult. We wanted to take the night train from Cairo to Aswan. Sleeper beds cost about $60 USD, first class seats are about $30 USD, and second class seats (for the locals) are about $12 USD. There was no way we were paying $120 for the two of us, so we tried to get ourselves the cheapest tickets.

We started at the sleeper train ticket counter in the Cairo train station, and were told to go to the regular ticket counter if we didn’t want beds. At that ticket counter, we were told to go to the sleeper train counter. When we insisted we wanted seats, we were told the train was full. What about the next day? Full. The next? Full. The next? Full. And so on. Finally, the man at the next counter over realized that we weren’t going anywhere without tickets. He came over, talked to the guy we were dealing with, and we finally got tickets (non-sleeper) for a train leaving in three nights. The price we were charged still didn’t match the price on the ticket, and when we questioned it we were told there were additional “taxes” we had to pay.

Sexual Harassment

Everywhere I went, I was subject to lewd comments, cat calls, and stares from Egyptian men. I heard a lot of “Hey baby”s and “Shakira!”s. (This was bizarre… I freely acknowledge that I don’t look anything like Shakira.  Maybe all it takes in Egypt is blonde hair?). And this was all with Mike by my side. If he walked more than five feet away from me, it got worse. After one day in Egypt, he declared that I wasn’t allowed to go out without him. And this didn’t hurt my feelings any.  Young men offered me food and Mike camels (in exchange for me, that is) and he was constantly told what a lucky man he was.

I always dressed respectfully.  I never left my hotel room wearing anything less than a high-necked, long-sleeve shirt (actually a thin wool zip-up sweater, since this was all I had) and full-length pants. Egypt is a conservative country and I don’t mind dressing by their standards. I did not wear a head-covering though, but I don’t expect this changed much reaction as there are many Egyptian women (mostly Coptic Christians) that don’t wear head-coverings either.

I spent metro rides staring at my feet to avoid the stares of all the men aboard. I wished I could crawl under a rock to hide when we had to ride the train from Kom Ombo to Luxor. The tickets were 3rd class and there were no seat assignments. We entered the first car and walked through about fifteen of them with the same story over and over. 95% of the passengers were male. As we walked by, Mike in front, they would put up their feet to block any empty seats from him and then lower them for me, gesturing that I should make him move on and sit with them by myself. All the while, I felt like every man there was mentally undressing me. It was the most uncomfortable I have ever felt while travelling and was grateful that I couldn’t understand the comments they made loudly in Arabic that got the whole car laughing. Finally, in one of the last cars, a plain-clothes police officer forced some guys to move and gave us their seats. He set his bags on the bench across from us so no one could harass me further.

From what I understand, my experiences were minor compared to some other female travelers in Egypt.

So With All This Bad, Should I Even Consider Traveling to Egypt???

Several people I have talked to since our time in Egypt have told me “If it’s that bad, I don’t think I’ll ever go.” I don’t want to you to walk away with that impression… there’s still a lot of good in Egypt.

While it was an absolute mind-f*** to try and backpack it, there is a way around it all. We have met a few travelers since we left that spent about a month in Egypt and loved it. Their secret? They booked a tour package.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that Mike and I are uniformly against tour packages. But Egypt is an exception… if you want to go, I really suggest you consider an organized tour. The guide can keep the hustlers and touts at bay, and since everything is included, there’s no haggling. Just make sure you research the tour company before you book.

The sights are really exceptional in Egypt and if you’ve ever dreamed of seeing the pyramids or walking through temples covered in hieroglyphics you won’t be disappointed by them.

The moments between all the frustration made our time in Egypt worthwhile.  We can honestly say that though we were more than happy to get the hell out of there and while we won’t be going back any time soon (except maybe to the Red Sea for diving), we are still happy we went.  What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, right?

By , February 17, 2013 8:15 am

After leaving Turkey, we spent three and half weeks in Egypt.

My mom always told me:

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

So, with that in mind…

Cairo graffiti

Pyramids of Giza

Camel safari in the White Desert

Montazah Palace Gardens, Alexandria

Abu Simbel Temple

Elephantine Island, Aswan

Felucca Cruise down the Nile




By , February 12, 2013 8:28 am

Tomb with Ephesus Library.  Just try to get a (nearly) people-free picture like this in the high season… I dare you.

For weeks now, we’ve been travelling along the western coast of Turkey and have been hitting ghost town after ghost town after ghost town.  (Note: This post was written in December, when we were still in Turkey).  As we walked the Lycian Way, we were surprised to find that even the largest centres (like Kalkan and Kaş) were virtually abandoned.  Almost all the restaurants were shut up for the season, hotels were closed down, and tumbleweeds were tumbling through the streets. While in Kaş, we were literally the only people in our building.  Olympos, where we spent 9 days R&Ring after the hike, had a population of approximately 11.  Pamukkale was a little busier, though most travelers were in and out in a single day as part of a tour. And the town of Selçuk (the base for exploring Ephesus) was similarly dead.  At least as far as the tourists go.

All of this off-season travel can be great… it means great rates at hotels, discounts and free tea at restaurants, “private” dorm rooms, and a break from the tourist throngs.

But there are a lot of downsides to off-season travel too.  Ferries are shut down, less restaurants mean less selection, “guaranteed everyday departure” buses don’t run everyday, regularly scheduled dolmuşes have you wait for a few hours until they get another client, and attractions are closed for renovations.

We REALLY wanted to fit a quick trip to the Greek island of Samos into our Turkish travels.  Samos is the birthplace of Pythagoras and since we’re both pretty big math nerds – me much more so than Mike – the visit would have meant a lot to us.  We were actually in the town of Kusadasi, which means we were only a few miles as the crow flies from Samos.  And yet no boats were running.  The only way to make the trip, from as far as we could tell, was to fly to Athens and then to Samos or wait for the New Year’s Eve boat/hotel package out to Samos. Neither of these were feasible options, so Pythagoras’ birthplace will have to wait for another trip.

We also wanted to visit the ruins of Aphrodisias, a 2.5 hour bus trip from Pamukkale.  Normally, there’s a return day trip offered everyday – but not in the winter.  They need at least 5 passengers to run the bus.  We could have pieced together the public transportation ourselves, but we decided the added time for transfers, hassle, and cost weren’t worth it.

So that brings us to Ephesus.  The Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, which I really wanted to see, was shut for renovations.  So was the Citadel of Ayasuluk (though this has been closed for restoration for a while… it’s not just an off-season thing).  As we were walking to the Ephesus ruins, one of the carpet shop owners called out to us to see why we were in Turkey in the winter because, as he says, “it’s much nicer in the summer.  Everyone else comes in the summer.”

Walking to the ruins

So was it worth the trip?


We had a great time exploring the large site of Ephesus.  The ruins were impressive and we had many parts of them to ourselves.  Though there were still a few tour bus cattle herding operations, the groups seemed to hit up the main sights and then quickly move on.  While I sat and gazed at the splendour of the Library of Celsus, I noticed several different groups arrive, snap their pictures, and move on.  At times, there were only about a dozen people in the Library area.



Marble street

Ancient toilets



Statue at Library

I drove Mike nuts taking pictures of all the cats at the ruins

Tile mosiac floor

We were also the only ones in the Terrace Houses exhibit (which have a separate entrance fee) and they were our favourite part of Ephesus. We were able to stare 2000-year-old aristocratic grandeur in the face, and it was every bit as glamorous as you would expect our modern day royalty to be used to. Walls were gilded in shining polished marble, floors were covered in detailed mosaics, and there were indoor pools, courtyards, plumbing and even heated flooring. It was a glimpse of something totally different than we got at any of the other ancient ruins we’ve visited.

Terrace Houses

Tiled floor mosiac in Terrace Houses

Remnants of ancient plumbing in the Terrace Houses

Terrace Houses


Ephesus is located about 3 km from Selçuk.  Don’t let the taxi drivers fool you… it’s an easy walk.  You can stop and check out the last remaining pillar of the Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World) on the way.  It’s not much to see, but there’s no entrance fee.

All that remains of the Temple of Artemis.

If walking isn’t really your thing, dolmuses leave the otogar every 45 minutes (perhaps more often in the busy season) and cost a few lira.  Entrance fee is 25 lira/person.  If you want to see the Terrace Houses within the site, you’ll have to fork over another 15 lira at its entrance.  [Note: We usually skip these extra admission attractions, but this time we decided it might just be worthwhile – and, in our frugal opinion, it was.]

If you didn’t get enough photos here, you can always check out our Ephesus photo gallery!

By , January 27, 2013 6:21 am

This is Part 4 of 4. Click for Part 1, for Part 2, for Part 3.

Day 11
Kalkan – 4 km before Saribelen
13 km (7hours)

Today’s trail was mostly uphill and fairly well-marked and well-defined.  As we climbed, we passed a shepherdess with her sheep and goats.  She had just stopped to sit on a rock and split open a pomegranate.  As we passed, she smiled, and held out a hand full of pomegranate seeds for each of us.  She obviously had very little and, like so many times before on this trail, her kindness and generosity surprised and moved us.

Sheep on the trail

As we crossed a yayla (a large, flat mountain plateau), someone called out to us.  Though we couldn’t understand her words, her tone and gestures made her meaning clear enough.  She didn’t want Mayhem (the dog that had adopted us for the better part of the trail and had been with us for over a week) anywhere near the yayla.  I think she was worried about Mayhem barking at or chasing her sheep.  She needn’t have worried – by this time, we had realized that although Mayhem loved to chase goats in the cliffs, she left them completely alone when there was a village or shepherd nearby.


Apple tree

We quickly crossed the yayla, so as not to upset the locals further with Mayhem’s presence.   We stopped in the village of Bezirgan at the edge of the yayla to restock with supplies.  We had only replenished our emergency and snack stops at Kalkan, counting on the store here for lunch and supper supplies (who wants to carry the extra weight all morning when you don’t have to?).  The store was closed as it was Friday prayer time, so we rested on some benches outside of the mosque, waiting for about half an hour for the prayers to finish.

When the mosque let out, it appeared all the men in the village headed straight to the store to buy their lunch.  We managed to snag the last few loaves of bread, then proceeded to ask for some Ayran and cheese located in the cooler.  The owner refused to sell them to us, telling us that they were “finished.”  We weren’t sure if the cooler didn’t work and thus they were rotten, or if they were past date, or if he just didn’t want to sell us the few supplies he had in this remote village.  So we made a lunch of the bread and supplemented it with some of the nuts and raisins we were carrying.


After the yayla, the trail made a steep descent through a valley.  Here, the scenery turned downright apocalyptic – the grass and road were littered with pieces of dismembered cows – skulls, leg bones, and ribs could all be seen (some with rotting flesh still attached).  There was even an entire hide lying in the middle of the road.  The stench was almost unbearable.

Cow graveyard?

At the bottom of the valley, after passing through some more scratchy brush like we had encountered back near Delikkemer, we found a good tent site and decided to call it quits a little early (about 3:15 pm).

Thorny bushes overgrowing the trail… ouch!

Our tent site for the night

We were past the bovine massacre and it really was quite the picturesque spot.  There was a farmhouse nearby, with a mama dog with four pups who didn’t take too kindly to Mayhem, but we figured it would do.  The sun was setting behind the surrounding mountains, and it was cold.  We had our toques and mitts on before we had even finished setting up camp.

We cooked up some soup noodles with cream of vegetable soup for flavouring, hoping to repeat our delicious bulgur wheat experiment.  Alas, all we got was soup flavoured dough balls.  Since we were low on supplies, we choked them back and crawled into our sleeping bags by 4:30 just to conserve what heat we had left.

Day 12
4 km before Saribelen – location near Stepping Stones
25 km (8 hours)

Last night was probably the most challenging night yet – more challenging than the wild pigs, the bubbling brook that sprang up beneath us as we slept, and the tent pole that broke during an intense electrical storm.  We were COLD all night, and the barks of Mayhem and the local dogs kept waking us up and reminding us of that fact.

My sleeping bag was rated to 10°C at the “comfort” level, though at the “extreme” it was supposed to be good to -8°C.  We figured it was pretty darn close to zero that night and even with a sleeping bag liner, there was nothing comfortable about it.

When I finally “woke” up, my feet were like ice and totally numb.  We broke camp as quickly as our frozen limbs would allow, making a breakfast of some more nuts and chocolate.  We were too cold even to stand around heating up some coffee or tea.

We walked briskly, trying to warm ourselves and after about an hour, felt pretty good.  We debated whether the time to quit  was upon us (we had originally decided to keep walking until it got too cold for us), but thought that maybe it was just a freakishly cold night and things would get better.  Besides, we should be able to make camp at lower elevations for the next few nights, so it should be warmer.

A chilly start to the morning

The Mediterranean, from a viewpoint

Lycian scenery

Checking out a lizard on a rock

We crossed a stream and the waymarkers became tough to follow, but we had learned enough from the six previous times we got lost to stick close to the last one we saw and search for the trail.

Mayhem, taking a break

When we arrived in the village of Gökceören, there was a group of locals sitting at some picnic tables and chatting.  We asked where the market was.  We were told there wasn’t one, but were invited to sit down and have some tea.  Since this was our last chance for food in the next 25 or so kilometres, we were a little worried – we had already started eating down our extra stocks after the last store wouldn’t sell us much.

As we waited for our tea, we asked if there was somewhere to buy bread – bread is a staple in Turkey, so we figured they had to have at least that.  We were pointed in the direction of the house a woman had disappeared into to make our tea, and Mike went in.  She gave him a loaf of bread and sent him back out.  We started eating the bread, and were soon delivered tea, a bowl of olives, and a bowl of homemade sheep’s cheese.  We dug in, happy to have something other than nuts to fuel our hike.  When we finished the loaf of bread, the woman ran inside and brought us another.  Everyone seemed very concerned that we get enough to eat and offered us a place to stay in the village.  We didn’t want to rely on their hospitality for all our meals, so we decided to press forward.  We thanked them and offered to pay for the food, but of course they refused.

After walking through the village, we realized we hadn’t come across a public water source.  We stopped at a house and asked where we could find water (with the help of our Turkish phrasebook).  The boy grabbed our water bottles and filled them up out of their outdoor tap for us.

Camp for the night

When we arrived at the night’s campsite, we were happy that it was much warmer than the previous afternoon.  We skipped supper, and went to bed early.


Checking out tomorrow’s route

Beautiful sunset

Day 13
Near Stepping Stones – Kaş
21 km (8 hours)

We woke up FREEZING cold – my toes were numb and, after rubbing some warmth into them, aching.  We looked at each other, acknowledging what we both had unilaterally decided in the night – the trek was over.  It was just too freaking cold at night for the warm weather gear we were carrying.

Foggy, cold morning

Mayhem takes in the view as she waits for us to break camp

We started walking with mitts and toque and slowly started to unthaw.  As we walked, we debated the merits of continuing the trek while staying in pansions each night.  We ultimately decided we wanted the whole experience (including camping in the solitude and beauty of the wilderness) and wouldn’t be satisfied spending $25-40 a night on accommodation.

We climbed up and up.  A little ways before Phellos, we lost track of the trail since it had been destroyed by a newly bulldozed road.  I climbed up a steep embankment and found the path where we expected it to be, then followed it back to a more reasonable location for Mike to climb up and join me.

Bulldozed road

When we stopped at a spring to fill up with water, Mayhem found what was probably her best meal of the trip – the ground nearby was littered with three different types of mostly fresh bread and meaty bones from some farmers’ discarded meal.  We stopped and rested until she had had her fill.  Since we still didn’t have much for food (we hadn’t been able to buy more than a few loaves of bread for the last 48 hours), our sustenance came from snacking on the remainder of our nuts, prunes, cookies and chocolate that we were carrying.

Filling our water bottles

Lycian Way sign markers

When we reached Phellos, we spent a little while poking around the ruins.

Sarcophagus at Phellos

Mike at the ruins

View from Phellos

Raised sarcophagus at Phellos

We walked through the village of Çukurbağ without incident, and carried on through some fields.  We thought we had lost the trail, but carried on in the direction we assumed was correct.  After quite some time, we found a waymarker – we were actually on the right path the whole time!  We reached the edge of the cliff, and started descending the steep trail to Kaş.  The climb down was bittersweet – we were happy to have the end of the cold nights in sight, but sad to be leaving the trail before the end.

View as we descended the cliff

Last bit of the trail for us, overlooking Kaş


We stopped about 20 minutes before reaching Kaş, and said our private goodbyes to Mayhem.  We knew this would be the end of the road for her, too, and weren’t sure what would happen with her when we got into town.

As we scrambled down the last bit of path, we found ourselves instantly thrown back in the real world on the shoulder of a busy highway.  A minivan quickly stopped and asked if we were looking for a pansion.  We said we were and they told us to hop in.  We were tired (we skipped a few breaks near the end so we wouldn’t lose the light climbing down the cliff) and were relieved to have a ride to downtown.  Easily the worst part of any long hike is having to walk a long distance through a town or city, on concrete and asphalt, at the end of a long day.

We climbed into the van and, as the family shut the door, realized that Mayhem couldn’t come with us.  We gave her a last look and, after the door had been slammed shut, looked at each other with a great sadness in our eyes.  Mayhem had been our constant companion and guardian for the past eleven days and just like that she was gone!  We felt terrible, but also knew it was for the best – if we had walked into town, she would hang around and wait for us and we’d just have to do the same thing when we left town on a bus.

Our pansion in Kaş

View from our pansion breakfast table

We had the entire hotel to ourselves (like I mentioned before, everywhere was a ghost town in the off season).  We spent the evening wandering through downtown, and then munching on burek, olives, and bananas for supper.

We spent the next day relaxing and sightseeing, exploring the ruins in Kaş (also known as Antiphellos).  The trek was done.

Theatre in Antiphellos

Me, sitting at the top of the theatre

Exploring the tombs

The sun sets on our Lycian Way experience

By , January 24, 2013 9:23 am

This is Part 3 of 4.  Click for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 4.

Day 8
Delikkemer – Delikkemer
20.5 km (8 hours, 45 minutes)

We started the day with a good hike. The new dog from yesterday was still following us, though even Mayhem seemed to keep her distance from him. We soon came across a flowing spring and filled up our water bottles. Typically, we tried to carry 3 L of water each. We filled took breaks to chug and fill up wherever we found a good source. As a note, we didn’t treat any of the water we drank and had no problems.

Good start to the day

Filling the water bottles at a spring

Hiking with “our” two dogs

The trail was easy to Patara, none of the scratchy brush we had dealt with the day before.  We did, however, encounter a farm with several aggressive dogs.  The three largest ones were particularly aggressive, but we needn’t worry – Mayhem and the other dog that was following us literally fought them off and kept them away from us. Mike threw a few stones too.

We passed a shepherd with his flock and, with a big smile, he handed us each an orange from his pocket.  Mayhem thanked him by barking at his sheep, but we got her out of there before she could do some serious chasing.

We met up again with the Turkish hiker just before the ruins.  He had decided he had enough of the trail and was ending his day and his trip in Kalkan.

There were no information signs at the ruins, but we still enjoyed spending a good hour or more roaming around them.  There was no entrance fee and the locals seemed to use parts of them for grazing their sheep and goats.




Patara theatre

We had been planning to stop in the village of Gelemiş to stock up on food, but decided that we had enough in reserve to make it through the night and to the town of Kalkan the next day.  This would save us about 6 km of walking.

On the walk back to Delikkemer (as I mentioned in the previous post, we were on an optional loop of the trail here), we passed a signpost for the trail that had a handwritten note taped to it.  The note warned of three big, vicious dogs that had attacked the writer.  These would be the same dogs we had encountered.  We again felt grateful to have our fearless Mayhem with us.  Our other defender gave up following us somewhere along the way. Again, Mike may have tossed some stones.

Olive harvest

Walking the Patara loop

Mayhem and me, taking a well-earned break

The road that was our trail

As we returned to Delikkemer, we realized we would be making camp there again for the night. We were very low on water – we had been conserving it all day as we hadn’t found a source since the morning. We stopped on the road before the trail branched back to the coast. I now had multiple blisters, especially on the backs of my heels and my baby toes. We decided that I should stay on the side of the road with our gear, while Mike hiked the loop back to the spring we filled up at earlier that morning.

I sat down and waited, digging a needle out of the first aid kit to start surgery on the embedded black thorns in my hand from my fall the day before. It started to rain – not a downpour, but not a drizzle either.  About five cars full of locals stopped to make sure I was okay on their way home from picking olives in the fields. After about 20 minutes, Mike returned empty handed. He couldn’t find the spring. We had thought it was closer than it was. We knew it had to be there (we had just been there that morning, for goodness sake), so I sent him back out a second time.

After another 20-30 minutes, a car stopped and Mike got out. He had been picked up by a man, Hameed, that wanted to help out. Hameed drove Mike to a gas station on the highway, thinking he was planning to hike there anyways. When Mike re-explained that he had to come back to me and our gear, where we were planning to camp for the night, Hameed apologized. It was obviously out of his way, but he swore it was his problem, not ours and drove Mike back to me. He told us he owned a restaurant called the Aubergine in Kalkan (the next town we would encounter) and that we should stop in for a free coffee on our way through.

We hiked down the trail until we found a great spot to camp (even better than our spot the night before) and cooked a delicious meal of bulgur wheat flavoured with cream of vegetable soup.

Back at Delikkemer

View from our campsite

View from our campsite

Day 9
Delikkemer – Kalkan
4 km (2 hours, 30 minutes)

We woke up in the middle of the night to a massive thunderstorm.  The lightning was blinding, even through the tent and closed eyelids.  To make matters more interesting, one of the tent poles snapped.  We waited out the storm and the sunrise, drifting in and out of sleep.

When it was finally time to get up, we crawled out of the tent to assess the damage.  Luckily, the storm had ended and the rain had stopped by this point.  Despite the broken pole, the tent kept everything more or less dry.  As we took down the tent, we examined the broken pole.  It had cracked lengthwise at the connection.  This had obviously happened at one of the other connections, since it was already patched with fibreglass when we got it.  The crack was about an inch-long and we didn’t dare use it again until we got it fixed for fear that it would damage the tent.

Puddle after the rainstorm

We had a few options for traversing the 4 km to Kalkan. We could risk injury on the sharp cliffs of the path we had inadvertently taken the day before yesterday.  We could risk a different sort of injury on the sharp brush back to Akbel and then hike along the highway.  We could risk the demoralization of hiking all the way along the highway that Hameed had driven Mike to the night before.  We could hitch a ride on the now empty road.  Or we could take the “magical ridgetop trail” that the locals use and Hameed had described to Mike the night before.

We decided on the the “magical ridgetop trail.”  Who wouldn’t?

What I didn’t know when we set out is this: A. it was supposed to be a ridgetop trail (Mike left this part out before we left, and will be relevant not so later in the story), B. Mike had once again failed to consult a map to see where Kalkan was located, and C. Mike didn’t know “exactly” (his words, not mine) where the path began.

After several false reassurances that he knew what he was doing, we started the hike.  We were smiling and joking, happy to have survived last night’s storm so unscathed (though we felt terrible for poor Mayhem, who was wet and shivering and looked miserable until we got moving).  We started out on the waymarked trail, before deviating at one of the “X’s” that indicate you’re heading the wrong way.  I asked Mike if he was sure he knew where he was going.  “Yeah, pretty sure,” was his response, “I mean, I don’t know exactly, but I’ve got the gist of it.”

Before long, the “trail” faded and became a faint path through the scrub.  Then it ceased all together.  This is when I learned that it was described to Mike as a ridgetop trail.  We were not on a ridge.  Nor were we on a trail.  I suggested turning back.  Mike wanted to stubbornly plow on.  “It’s gotta be here,” he said, as if in way of explanation. “I can see where I want to go, so I should be able to get there.”  Now if that isn’t some solid logic to hang your hat on.

The problem was this: he couldn’t actually see where he was going.  When we finally rounded a bend, there was no Kalkan where he expected Kalkan to be.  This was no surprise to me.  As I knew, and Mike was just learning, it was around yet another bend.

Meanwhile, the bush and brush got thicker and more treacherous.  At this point, I’m going to quote from the daily journal we kept on the trail.  We usually kept it in point form to get the main point down, but I was responsible for that day’s entry and I elaborated a little.  This will give you a pretty good idea of how I felt:

– “trail” quickly became treacherous, sharp, pointy path of pain through and into sharp trees, sharp bushes, sharp sticks, sharp rocks, sharp leaves, and sharp thorns

– eventually, Mike climbed [up the slope] to actually figure out where we were going

– Ashley cried.  Literally.

– Ashley fell.  Literally.  And cried again.  She cried out and cried.

– Mike failed to offer a hand on any of the difficult bits – until Ashley pointed this out at which point she refused to take his hand

– let it be known that had we not been married already, after this “adventure” she likely would have refused his hand

Okay – so it was a bit of a dramatic exaggeration.  We all know that even had we not been married, our relationship would have survived a little bushwhacking.  And although I did cry, I didn’t cry and cry.  But I was totally exhausted and exasperated from it all.

At this point, my blisters were “viciously sore” from the uneven ground we were navigating.  We came across a trail waymarker by surprise and the mood instantly lightened.  Until two minutes later when we realized we were following them the wrong way.  Doh!  This got us laughing.  I decided that I could either stew about the last hellish hour all day, or I could forgive Mike and move on.  I chose the latter.

We corrected our direction and the trail soon joined the road into Kalkan.  We walked up the incredibly steep hill, with every dog in town chasing us and Mayhem down the road.  Though we had only walked about 4 km in the last 2 1/2 hours, we both knew we were done for the day.  We found ourselves a pansion in our price range and had a refreshing shower.  Our pansion owner offered us a free coffee, and we sat on the balcony letting ourselves unwind.

Before we let the relaxation carry us away, we had some business to attend to.  We gave our pansion owner our laundry (included in the price), and set out to get some repairs done. Mayhem happily greeted us on the street, where she had been waiting ever so patiently.

First and foremost, we needed the tent pole repaired.  Second, Mike’s air mattress had been leaking since we got it.  When we borrowed our gear, we never bothered to check that everything was in working order.  His air mattress had a not-so-slow leak, and he was finding the flat mat on the ground a little cold and uncomfortable.

We went down to the harbour to see if anyone could do a fibreglass patch on the pole.  We were unsuccessful, but we did come across the Aubergine restaurant where Hameed welcomed us with a smile and a complimentary cappuccino.  We still were astounded by the hospitality of the Turks.  At home, you buy a cup of coffee for the guy that did you the favour.  Here, the guy that did you a favour buys you a cup of coffee.  Go figure.  The restaurant had a luxurious and peaceful atmosphere, and we blissfully enjoyed sipping our coffee and watching the sea while lounging on a comfortable patio couch.  We were worlds away from our hiking “adventure” of the morning.

After coffee, we managed to get the tent pole repaired with packing tape at a clothing store (the owner had asked what we were looking for and, not knowing where us to send us, helped us to the best of his ability.  He even gave us the roll of packing tape in case we needed more later).  The air mattress was a no go.  I offered to switch bed rolls with Mike for the next bit of the hike but, ever the gentleman, he declined.

We were getting hungry, so we hit up a supermarket and went a little splurge crazy.  I guess that’s why you should never go shopping hungry (especially after eating nothing more than bread, cheese, yogurt, nuts, and chocolate for a week).  We bought enough groceries to feed a family of six and went back to our pansion to prepare gnocchi in blue cheese sauce which we had with oodles of the veggies we missed while we were on the trail (a green salad, sliced beetroot, and olives).  We rounded it all out with some Turkish style doughnuts.


View from the balcony of our pansion

After this insanely large lunch, we lounged around in our hotel room, watching Battlestar Galactica on the iPhone.  Finally, we dragged our lazy butts outside to try and walk off the huge lunch.  Mayhem was, of course, waiting by the door.

Kalkan at night

We made it about two blocks before someone called down to us from a second story window.  He asked how our holiday was going and we explained that we had just spent the last week hiking the Lycian Way and were taking today to relax.  He introduced himself as Abdullah.  He was the owner of the Ephesus restaurant in the same building (which was shut for the season like so many other places) and he invited us up for a çay.

We didn’t see any reason to turn down his invitation, so we climbed the stairs into the restaurant.  The chairs were all stacked on the tables, but Abdullah quickly found us a cushioned couch to sit on and set about making some Turkish tea.  We sat and chatted for a while with Abdullah and his friend, and then he asked us to stay for supper.

We were still full from our lunch, but didn’t want to be impolite.  We told him we weren’t very hungry, but we’d stay for a little food.  Our being vegetarian threw him for a bit of a loop, but he eventually served up a huge meal of lentil soup, pasta, salad, and of course – the Turkish staple – white bread.  It started pouring rain, so we stayed and chatted into the night.  When we left, Mayhem was no where in sight.

Day 10Rest Day in Kalkan

We woke up intending to continue our hike, but when we gathered up our laundry we discovered it was all still wet.  We contemplated the prospect of hiking in damp socks and quickly decided against it (I suspect Mike would have pushed on anyways, but was happy to give me a rest day to help make up for the day before… maybe he read what I wrote in the journal).  My heels were still raw which helped set my resolve – rest day it was!

Sore heels

Our timing really couldn’t have been more perfect.  So far, we had avoided nearly all the rain of the rainy season during our daytime hiking hours.  This day turned out to be a little grey, dreary, and drizzly. We happily snuggled into our warm, dry bed, watched some more Battlestar, read our books, and let our bodies recover.

When we finally ventured out, Mayhem was nowhere to be found.  We figured she didn’t want to wait for us – she was a hiking dog, after all.  To be honest, we were more than a little depressed by her departure and each time we went out, we found ourselves looking for her.

Later that afternoon, as we left the pansion to head to the grocery store, there was Mayhem!  She wiggled and wriggled her whole body to say hello. On the way to the store she stuck close by our side, so happy to see us.  We bought her some real food at the store (she had to be tired of white bread and that one dead sheep by now).  We were happy to have her back!

This is Part 3 of 4.  Click for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 4.

By , January 19, 2013 3:24 pm

This is Part 2 of 4.  Click for Part 1, Part 3, or Part 4.

Day 5
Gavurağili – outskirts of Kumluova
15 km [+extra 8 km from getting lost] (8 hours)

We woke up, packed up our freshly laundered clothes, and indulged in a large Turkish breakfast of bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil, honey, butter, and jam. To our surprise, Mayhem was waiting outside the gate. Her whole body wagged hello and we shared some more bread with her. There was no denying it anymore… she had adopted us. We might as well feed her then. We felt really good as we set out walking.

It was supposed to be an easy walking day. There was one hill to climb at the beginning, then an equal descent. From there, it would be mostly flat.

Setting out on the trail

We lost the trail almost immediately after leaving, but realized that if we followed the road we were on, we should meet up with it at some point. So we carried on instead of doubling back in search of waymarkers. Sure enough, we eventually came across the trail and left the road on it. Something seemed wrong about the direction, but I ignored the gut feeling I had and we carried on.

As we climbed over and around rocks on the trail, we saw a young couple coming towards us. These were the first hikers we had seen on the trail since leaving Fethiye. We quickly questioned each other to find out where they were from (Sweden), where they started (Fethiye), how long they’ve been hiking the trail (2 weeks), and how far they planned to go (to Antalya if they could). We asked where they were aiming for today. They said Xanthos. Oh dear. That’s where we were headed. But we met each other headed in opposite directions.

After consulting the map (which we didn’t do when we met up with the trail in the first place), we realized we had got on the trail headed in the wrong direction. We should have known when we started climbing a hill again. We had been hiking for over two hours and the Swedish couple (who had camped about where we had started) had only been on the trail for about 45 minutes. We were almost back where we started the day! Argh.

Mike figured that if we carried on in the wrong direction and took the road we inadvertently took the first time, we would actually save ourselves some time (since the road was relatively easy walking and meandered less than the trail). So we said farewell to the Swedes and continued hiking in the wrong direction.

After quite some time of this, I started doubting Mike’s logic. I walked along, stewing about having to climb the hill for the third time… The more I walked, the  more sure I was that it would have been a hell of a lot quicker to follow the Swede’s in the correct direction.

Angry and frustrated, we eventually made our way back to the spot where left the road to take the trail the first time. About 100 m after that spot and around a bend, were the bright yellow junction markers of the Lycian Way that would have put us in the right direction. Double argh. We figured we lost about 2 hours or 8 km on the whole endeavour.

Pydnai ruins

Pydnai ruins

We got on the proper trail and went down into Pydnai ruins. Not surprisingly, we lost the trail in the ruins and wandered all over the overgrown area until we found the way out.  The trail turned into a rather dire, empty road – complete with a dead sheep.

Mayhem makes a meal out of Dolly

Later, at a break, we cheered up a little when the Swedish couple appeared. As it turns out, Mike was right about saving ourselves time by going backwards. We had actually gotten ahead of them.

The trail disappeared among some road construction, but we were able to ask the construction workers the direction to the Letoon ruins. We chatted with the Swedes while we walked. We arrived in Letoon and walked past the ruins, deciding not to pay the entrance since the site was quite visible from the trail.


Orange trees, bursting with fruit

Mike’s ankle started acting up and became sorer and sorer as we continued to walk. Eventually, upon reaching a field between Kinik and Kumluova he had had enough. We set up our camp. A Turkish woman appeared. Through our phrasebook and sign language, we managed to understand that her sheep were grazing in the field and she didn’t want us camping there with the dog. She suggested we go to Patara or Letoon for the night. We explained that we had just come from Letoon and were on foot, so we needed to camp where we were. She told us we could camp there for 5 lira and we agreed. I ran back to the tent to get the money, but as I was grabbing it she left with her sheep and didn’t return.

Day 6
Outskirts of Kumluova – valley past Înpinar Spring
12 km (8 hours)

It rained all night and we woke to the sound of a bubbling spring that wasn’t there the night before. It was quite loud and as we emerged from our sleepy state we realized our air mattresses were practically floating. The entire floor of the tent was covered in water. We quickly realized why – the stream we were hearing had appeared directly under our tent. What we thought was an old goat path that we set the tent up over was actually a waterway. We quickly jumped up and set about packing up our wet things.

Cold and a little wet, we snacked on a few bits of food while we started walking towards Kinik. There, we bought fresh bread and Aryan (a delicious, salty watered-down yogurt drink) and feasted on it at the Xanthos ruins just outside of town. We spent an hour or so exploring the ruins, while Mayhem played with a new canine friend she made at the entrance.

Xanthos ruins

Xanthos ruins

Some of the many, many greenhouses that call these parts home

Mayhem was never too far away

Xanthos ruins

Xanthos ruins

We couldn’t pick up the trail from the ruins, but knew that the road should get us where we were going. We met up with the trail before the next town, Çavdir, but lost it yet again at the graveyard on the way out of town.

The guidebook told us to turn left at the graveyard exit onto a wide, well-groomed path that rises alongside the graveyard wall. There was a narrow but distinctive trail to the left along the wall, so we followed that. We ended up in the adjacent field, with no trail and no waymarkers in sight. We spent two hours combing the field for signs of the trail until our morale was at an all-time low. We couldn’t find the path, nor the traces of the aqueduct that were supposed to be our “route finders for the next few hours.”

We finally decided to retrace our steps to the graveyard exit and search for the path there. That’s when Mike realized that “turn left” actually meant “go straight.” We found the trail, a wide road that did not follow the graveyard wall at all, but rather went straight away from it.

We trudged on, angry and frustrated at the loss of time and ambiguousness of the guide’s directions. There was still no sign of an aqueduct. After quite some time, we finally encountered the fabled aqueduct and our spirits lifted a little.

It really does exist!

As we followed it, we came across some wild pomegranate trees loaded with ripe fruit. They did not appear to be tended, as much of the fruit was falling to the ground and rotting, so we helped ourselves to a bagful of it. This treat lifted our morale further, and we carried on, much happier.

Pomegranate trees (not the wild ones we scavenged, but you get the picture

We found ourselves hiking on a steep hillside on top of the actual aqueduct, precariously balancing with our loaded packs and bag of heavy pomegranates while only a crumbling lip of rock kept us from sliding down the cliff.

Walking along the aqueduct… tread carefully!

We found a great, flat, grassy patch at about 2:30 pm that looked like paradise. I suggested we quit early and relax after a tough day. Mike disagreed, wanting to trudge on and gain some more ground after all the time lost earlier in the day. So we did.

Continuing to follow the aqueduct, which was running with spring water at this point, we kept hiking. On a particularly wet and slippery bit, I suggested to Mike that he hand the bag of pomegranates to me to have better control of his balance. He tossed it at me and I, of course, missed them – the fruits went rolling down the slope, into the aqueduct, and out of sight in the stream of water. We managed to salvage two and half of them. Again, our morale plummeted to a new all-time low. This wasn’t helped by the fact that we had once again lost the waymarkers.

We spent 30 minutes searching for the trail at the top of the valley. Once we crossed the valley, we spotted a tent on the terraced fields. We were surprised to see another hiker on the trail – there hadn’t been anyone since the Swedes. The tent’s Muslim occupant was engaged in prayer, so we quietly walked past so as not to disturb him. Just around a bend, we found our own “pseudo-paradise”… as in, “It’ll do”. I felt a little bad camping so close to the other hiker, but we were tired, it would be dark soon, and there was no telling where the next flat spot would be. We set up camp, well aware that despite spending all day hiking along running spring water, our water supplies were running low.

We survived a tough day… just barely

Day 7
Valley past Înpinar Spring – Delikkemer
15 km [+2 km from getting lost] (8 hours, 15 minutes)

Mayhem barked all night again. Now I was feeling really guilty about camping so close to the other hiker – he surely was on his own for some peace and quiet, not to listen to a dog yap all night.

We hiked down to the next village, Üzümlü, and restocked on groceries. We filled up our empty water bottles at a local water faucet. As we left the grocery store, we caught sight of the other hiker – he had caught a mini-bus into town and was having a cup of çay.

He asked if the dog was ours and after explaining how she had been following us for several days, we apologized for the noise she had made the night before. He told us no apology was necessary and that he wished he had a dog like that – apparently she was quite clever and had been barking to scare off the wild pigs around his tent! So we were right – she was protecting us all along.

As we hiked the trail, we got lost after crossing a stream. Learning our lessons from the times past, we only spent about 10 minutes searching before going back to our last known waymarker. We found the trail and continued into the village of Akbel.

Crossing the stream

In Akbel, we bought ourselves a can of beans, some Ayran, and some bread.  We found a comfortable picnic table outside of the local mosque to eat it. As we started eating, the Imam came over to us with a tray of hot tomato and bean soup and bulgur wheat. We thanked him greatly and enjoyed the warm meal.

Before we got out of town, we had picked up another dog. We tried to get him to leave, but he was having none of it. One dog was enough for us to take care of, so we did our best to ignore him.

The trail turned rough between Akbel and Delikkemer. In fact, it was lined with scratchy, thorny plants on either side. They were calf to knee-height and had grown over the trail enough that they scratched our legs with each step. I was wearing capris that ended just below the knee and Mike was in shorts.  We kept debating whether we should stop and change into pants, but we didn’t expect the scratchy shrubs to continue for very long. We were on a groomed hiking trail, after all. So we gritted our teeth and powered through them – for around two hours.

My calves and shins felt were red, raw, and scratched – they felt like they had been flayed. To help matters out, somewhere along the way I slipped on some wet rocks and found myself nursing a sore leg and arm.

When we got to Delikkemer, I had a migraine. I was too stubborn to quit early for the day though, so I convinced Mike (and myself) that we should press on. We snapped a few photographs of the siphonic water system there and trudged ever forward.

A once-sealed 2000-year-old siphonic pipe at Delikkemer

Mike and a few stones from the pipe

From Delikkemer, there is an optional loop that leads to the Patara ruins, or you can continue on towards the resort town of Kalkan. We wanted to see the ruins, so we thought we’d go as far as we could on the loop. Letting Mike take the lead, I settled in to follow with my head pounding. As we started out, he commented how well-marked the trail was here and how it was a nice treat. The shrubs on the trail continued to scratch up our legs.

With my now overwhelming headache, I was slow to think and move. I slipped on a rock and fell backwards. Luckily, I managed to stick a hand out to break my fall. Unluckily, there was a thorny bush directly under it. I sat there in shock, tears forming in my eyes, as I assessed the damage.

My hand started to throb almost instantly and I realized that each of the thorns had a hard, sharp, black tip that broke off if “attacked.” My hand had a few dozen of them embedded in the skin. I picked out all that I could, but there were still a dozen embedded so deeply I couldn’t reach them. I picked myself up and we carried on our way.

The type of plant I fell on

Consumed with my swelling and aching hand and throbbing head, I wasn’t really noticing the terrain around us. We came to some sharp, jagged rocks with deep chasms between them. The waymarkers continued here, so we started another precarious balancing act hopping from one to the next.

Finally, Mike stopped and questioned the trail – “How far does it continue like this?” he said. “This is downright dangerous.” Something about his comments clicked in my head.

I remembered reading about the trail between Delikkemer and Kalkan and how there is a precarious cliff path along the coast that you shouldn’t attempt with your rucksacks. The guide recommends sending your packs ahead by bus if you hope to attempt this part of the trail, or hike to the highway and hitch a ride to Kalkan. But we weren’t heading to Kalkan yet. We were supposed to be heading to Patara.

This is the problem with having one person do most of the map and guidebook reading in advance, and then having that same person be more or less mentally incapacitated by a migraine while the other person leads. Mike hadn’t looked at the map in a while and had little idea that the trail branched in three at Delikemmer (two branches of the Patara loop and one to Kalkan). He had just followed the only trail he saw, not thinking to search for another one.

If I had not had a headache, I would have been able to communicate this with him and would have realized instantly that we were following the wrong path (since it was along the coast) – but it was what it was. We were on the totally wrong path. We backtracked immediately, spending almost an hour getting back to Delikemmer, where we set up camp.

View from our camp

This is Part 2 of 4.  Click for Part 1, Part 3, or Part 4.