By , April 11, 2013 4:08 pm
Surprise! We're home!  Not in Bulgaria, silly... in Saskamoose-a-bush, Canada, the land of ice and snow. Okay, maybe you've already been surprised. Probably because we've already been home for three weeks as any astute Facebook follower would know. If you didn't know, don't feel bad. It just means we get to surprise you now. Surprise!

How long are you home for?

Ah, right to it. The first question everyone asks. We're going to be home for a while, but not forever. Our rough plan/dream is to go to Bhutan where Ashley will teach math for a year and I'll either work online or, more likely, go hiking every day and work on my photography. It can always use a bit of work but unfortunately doesn't pay so well.

Where the heck is Bhutan? 

This is the second most common question we get.  Bhutan is a small country located in the Himalayas. It's south of Tibet, east of Nepal, and north of India and Bangladesh. Aside from its premium geographic location, the kingdom is most well known for its so called "happiness legislation". Basically what they've done is given up on the traditional measure of GDP employed by most of the world to determine how well the country is doing, and instead have decided to use the measure of happiness. I have no idea how they measure it, but they do. Government policies are thus made with the goal of increasing national happiness, which has had some interesting results. The most relevant to would-be travellers like us is their restrictive travel visa. It turns out that cultural preservation makes the Bhutanese happy, while being surrounded by throngs of foreign tourists does not. Travel visas are limited in number, short on time, restrictive on movement, and are very very expensive. Which is why for years, Ashley and I had written Bhutan off as a dream travel destination that we would likely never see. Until now... What we've found is a volunteer job opportunity that Ashley is qualified for. Applications open in May. Successful applicants are announced in September. If she's accepted (fingers crossed), we'll be moving to Bhutan in January 2014! If not... we'll do something else. Probably something like teaching English abroad.
Map of Bhutan

Map of Bhutan

Whoa, January! Is Traveled Earth shutting down until January? What will I read on Fridays?

Don't worry... we're not going anywhere. We've got a back log of, oh geeze, like two months of stories from our time in Thailand and Cambodia. I'm working really hard on getting our photos ready to publish, I promise. By that time, this ice ball we call Canada should have thawed a bit, school will be out (relevant as Ashley is working as a substitute teacher right now), and we'll be travelling Canada. We currently have a poll on our facebook page. You can help us decide which way to head out (East or West) by voting and sharing the poll with your friends. After our brief (2 month) cross country tour we'll be headed home for some more work until the cold sets in. Having skipped two winters, and finding this spring quite unbearably cold, I've got a pretty good feeling we'll be re-locating someplace warm a few months before our scheduled arrival in Bhutan.

Phew, I can live with that. So how's home?

It's good and bad in ways, but mostly it's just a little weird. It feels so familiar and yet so different from what we're used to.  It's been great meeting up with family and friends. We surprised both of our parents (we told them we were coming home in mid April and showed up without warning at the end of March). Their reactions were priceless. We've rekindled our love of board games. We're cooking up a storm now that we have not only a kitchen, but a whole array of seasonings and spices.  Ashley's even started watching a little TV and movies again (I haven't gotten there yet, but probably will soon). Price shock has been hard. Rental rates in this city are unaffordable for us at $1,000+ a month for a single room apartment. A single restaurant meal for one person costs more than what we are accustomed to spending for the two of us during a whole day. It's also impossible for us to get by using only public transport. To get to work on time, Ashley needs a car. To visit my parents we need a car (there are no buses). So we bought a car.
Toyota Echo - The newest member fo the Family

Toyota Echo - The newest member of the Family

As you can tell from the picture above, it's been cold. It was 38 °C the day we left Bangkok, and -14°C when we arrived back in Saskatchewan. That's a big difference.  We knew the weather would be iffy coming home this early, but a windchill of -27°C on April 9?  Come on! Some other odds and ends:
  • Vegetables/fruits are expensive and taste terrible here. We've always known that. Everything is picked green and trucked long distances. At least in the fall we can hit up farmer markets.
  • It's nice being able to control what we eat again. Having a full kitchen is bliss. It's been a glut of whole grains and beans. My bread starter is almost done, so fresh bread should be on the table soon.
  • It's weird not seeing/hearing chickens. Especially in the morning. I miss them. The factory eggs they sell in our stores are the most flavourless, sickly, pale food items we've seen since we left home (maybe the zero calorie peanut butter we saw in Florida was worse). Fortunately, we found a source of free-range eggs.

News from Bulgaria.

We got some bad news from Bulgaria this week. Our car has been stripped. They removed the LPG kit, broke the rear window, and stole the tires. And no, we don't have insurance. It was a $500 car.
Broken rear window - no rims

Broken rear window - no rims

Missing LPG kit

Missing LPG kit

Our house was also broken into. We didn't really have much in there, maybe $100 worth of tools which I'm sure are now gone. That's pretty sad news for us. Not so much because of what was stolen/damaged, but because our dream has been squashed. Our plan for the house was to visit it over the next several years and slowly improve it and the yard when we had money. Our goal was to only move there full time once we could afford to do it. But now, we've come to realize that any improvements we could make, like installing new appliances, toilets, cupboards and the like would most likely end up as somebody else's improvements in somebody else's house when we're away. Not sure what we'll end up doing with the place now, but if you're looking for your own house in Bulgaria we're open to offers... If you missed our Bulgarian House Saga, you can read more on it here and here.

Back to the regular schedule.

That's our real-time update for now. Stay tuned for posts on S.E. Asia. Our final trip stats and reflections will be published after that.
By , April 7, 2013 10:59 am
Oh, Egypt! How I wanted to fall in love with you! And how I really, really didn't! I'm guessing you figured out by now that Egypt wasn't one of our favourite countries. In fact, when attempting to rank the countries we've traveled, we'd start by throwing it on the bottom.  So far on the bottom that you'd need a good pair of binoculars to find it. Despite this fact, however, I don't regret our time there for a second.  If I had to do it all over again knowing what I know now, I probably would (though I'd strongly consider a guided tour).  When travelling, you're going to get some great experiences and some not so great experiences. Egypt just had a disproportionate amount of the not so great ones. But the sights were amazing, we met some great people, and we learned a thing or two about dealing with touts and negotiating for, well, everything. Honestly, I did manage to fall in love with the sights and history of Egypt... I just couldn't get past all the hassle, harassment, and frustration of the relentless a-holes. Thus I can't give the country as a whole a thumbs up.

Karnak Temple

Egypt Summary:

Length of Stay: 24 days Average Cost per Day for Two People (excluding international transportation): $ 62.26 CAD  [without the 3 night White Desert Tour, this cost would drop to $39.76 CAD per day - but we're glad we splurged!] Cities Visited: 5 Distance Traveled: 4189 km in 9 automobiles, 5 trains and 5 boats Days Sick: 0 Number of Items Lost: No items, just our patience and maybe our sanity Biggest Tourist Traps: Egypt Exchange Rate: $1 CAD = 6 Egyptian pounds

View from our Cairo hotel balcony

Our Route:

Map of Our Egypt Route

Our Egypt Route

Cairo - White Desert (Bahariya Oasis, Black Desert) - Cairo - Alexandria - Aswan (Abu Simbel, Elephantine Island) - Luxor [via the Nile] - Cairo

Highlights:

  • Hands down, the amazing FOOD!!!!
  • Riding camels by day, sleeping under the incredible starry sky by night in the White Desert
  • The people of Alexandria
  • Abu Simbel temples (especially the interior)
  • Gliding down the Nile on a felucca

The Nile, just outside Aswan

Lowlights:

  • The scammers, hustlers, and pushy touts in the tourist areas
  • Dodging traffic
  • General lack of infrastructure makes identifying scams that much tougher
  • The overwhelming lack of hope about the future (most Egyptians we talked with believe the revolution was stolen, things are worse now than before, and they can't foresee any positive change)
  • Constantly being treated as a walking ATM
  • Constantly being treated as a sexual object
  • See this previous post

Highway rest stop

Surprises:

  • The general apathy of the people towards the constitutional referendum that was taking place when we arrived
  • Just how overblown the media makes the situation look with their coverage of the protests
  • The scammers, hustlers, and pushy touts in the tourist areas (as in just how many and how pushy they can be)
  • How good, cheap, and healthy the food was and how easy it was to eat vegetarian
  • Having locals ask to have their picture taken with me (I would expect this in rural China, maybe, but not from a hotel maid in Alexandria)

Karnak Temple

Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes you should just pay the little bit extra to hire a driver/guide/horse because it will give you hours of peace you won't otherwise find
  • Tourism is not always easy and locals don't always appreciate foreigners

Lunch before White Desert Tour

Egypt Journal - Where/How Did We Spend Our Time?

Cairo (4 nights) National Museum, Pyramids, Tahrir Square, Islamic Cairo, Coptic Christian Cairo White Desert (3 nights) Camel safari with jeep escort, camping under the stars Cairo (1 night) This was just a stopover on our way to Alexandria Alexandria (3 nights) This sidetrip was originally planned because we had to wait to take the night train from Cairo to Aswan, but it became our favourite Egyptian city Aswan (3 nights + 1 on train en route to Aswan) Day trips to Abu Simbel temples, Philae temple, Elephantine Island Nile (2 nights) Sleeping, eating, and cruising on a felucca Luxor (4 nights) Valley of the Kings, Karnak temple, Luxor temple Cairo (3 nights + 1 in airport en route to Bangkok) Tired of the hassles, we mostly caught up on blogging in our hostel while waiting for our flight out

Smoking at the gas pumps

By , April 2, 2013 9:19 am
Luxor is full of Ancient Egyptian sites. Really, really full. There's so much ancient stuff here that it would take weeks (months?) to see it all just one time. Historically, the ancients built their city of Thebes (later Luxor) on the eastern bank of the Nile. To the ancients, the East was the side of the living, while the West was the side of the dead. On the West we find the great mortuary temples and the tombs. On the east, the temples that were used for day to day worship.

Typical luxor street Roof tops - unfinished to avoid paying the steep construction tax

The East Bank

Karnak Temple

Entry was 65£ Egyptian per person ($11 CAD). It's massively impressive, as in really big and full of cool stuff. It houses many obelisks, many more statues, covered temples, a huge columned hall, carved walls, and even an artificial lake. Just about every surface was originally covered with detailed carvings and hieroglyphics. Original colour can still be seen in many places where the stone managed to avoid direct sunlight. Unfortunately, almost everything you see has been badly damaged at one point or another. The temple is mostly a recreation made from a conglomerate of concrete and the original stones that managed to survive the ages. The good news is that the restoration was very well done. I think, given the options of displaying a field of crumbled blocks or a rebuilt temple like they have today, they made the right choice. One interesting thing that holds true for just about all of the temples in Egypt was the presence of official scammers/beggars. These guys would wear a uniform and sport a set of keys. Invariably, they would come after you while you were off by yourself. They'd usually signal you to stay quiet and beckon you over to a locked door. Pretending that he'd be in trouble if he were caught, he'd look all around while getting you to hide behind some blocks. Finally he'd quickly unlock the door and usher you inside. Nothing more than charades designed to squeeze a bit more money from the unwary tourist. We found that if we clearly said "La Baksheesh" (no tips) up front, we would still get the "secret" tour but wouldn't have to part with our cash after it was done.

Karnak Temple Karnak Temple Kissing by the butts (in one of those "secret tour" areas Obelisk A classic shot Rams Playing with Sepia

Luxor Temple

Luxor Temple is the smaller of the two and is highly accessible. By this I mean that there are no "block out fences", and the temple complex is surrounded by roads. This meant that we were free to walk completely around the perimeter and get a surprisingly good glimpse of the temple without paying the steep entrance fee. Unfortunately, it's located at a hot-spot for horse and carriage drivers. If you want to "enjoy" seeing the temple, you are probably best off to purchase a ticket, get off the street, and view it from inside.

Luxor Temple Luxor Temple

The West Bank

Our original plan was to spend a few days renting bicycles and try to see as many of the West Bank sites as we could. I still think this would be a reasonably good way to see the West Bank, but we didn't get the chance to try. Instead, we relented into taking a tour. It was paid for by the hotel we had booked our felucca tour through in Aswan. They did this because we threatened to go to the tourist police and complain about how our felucca tour abruptly ended leaving us stranded in the wrong city, without taking us to the two temple sites that were on the itinerary. Thus, our tour was free, but we did have to pay our own entrance fees which amounted to 150£ each ($25 CAD). The tour included an English guide, transportation to the Colossi of Memnon, the mortuary temple of Hatchepsut, the Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu Temple, and a mandatory shopping stop. Unlike the East Bank sites, the West Bank sites are in a very good state of preservation. I rate the tour quite highly, but it could be improved quite a bit by exchanging the hour long shopping stop for a lunch break.

Valley of the Kings

Not all the tombs are officially opened. Supposedly, the humidity from the breath of visitors causes damage to the decorated stuccoes. To solve the problem, the tombs are on a steady rotation giving them time to recuperate. On any given day, only a half dozen tombs are open to the public. Interestingly, the entry ticket does not give you free run of the tombs. Your ticket only buys you entrance into three tombs. The three tombs that we saw were very interesting, and totally worth seeing. The tombs were constructed for the duration of the pharaoh's reign. Thus, you could tell how long the pharaoh had ruled for by measuring the length of his tomb. And they were long. Even the shorter tombs that we were in didn't seem short. The walls and ceilings were covered in smooth white stucco which was covered from floor to ceiling by various paintings and writings. The artwork had a general theme. According to our guide they depicted scenes and prayers from the Book of the Dead which would help guide the deceased pharaoh during the first few days of the afterlife. The tombs were also very similar. After seeing three of the tombs, I didn't feel like I really needed to see a fourth, so the ticketing scheme seems to be okay in my opinion. Besides, there's always the not-so-secret system of bribery if you want to see more tombs. We didn't pay any bribes, so we don't know exactly what the prices are, but we saw a lot of money changing hands between the tomb guards at the entrance and the throngs of tourists entering. Here's a basic run down of what you can get with a bribe:
  • Entry into a tomb after you've used up your three entrances
  • Permission to take photos (normally cameras are not allowed inside the complex)
  • Entry into one of the sealed, not-for-the-public, undergoing-restoration tombs
  • Permission to chisel off a large piece of painted plaster from the tomb wall as a take home memento. Crocodile paintings seemed to be especially popular.

Hatchepsut (a.k.a. "Hot Chicken Soup" Temple)

This three story complex was used as a stage for Verdi's opera Aida in modern times. That all came to an end after a terrorist attack in 1997. Gunmen stormed the complex and shot and killed at least 70 people. Since then, there hasn't been much trouble.

Hatshepsut Temple Hatshepsut Temple

Medinet Habu

This was my favourite temple near Luxor. It was unique, having very deep carvings. And, there were very few tourists to get in the way of photos.

Medinet Habu - Deep carvings Medinet Habu

Colossi of Memnon

A quick photo stop.

Colossi Colossi

By , March 27, 2013 10:30 am
The Southern Stretch of the Nile between Aswan and Luxor is filled with the single sailed, wind-powered craft called feluccas. They are silent, graceful, and a joy to watch. Most carry tourists like us, but we've also seen them loaded with various freight like live cattle. They are a working ship that's still very much in use today.

The graceful felucca

Of course there are also a large number of ships much bigger than the felucca. Loud ships that spew thick black clouds of smelly exhaust. These, naturally are called luxury cruise ships. Their numbers are not to be underestimated. Regardless of your chosen method of transportation, one thing is for certain. No trip to Egypt is complete without spending at least a little time afloat on the waters of the Nile. At least that's the way we looked at it. And, as you can probably tell from my description above, we chose to indulge our river-faring ways aboard a felucca and left the more expensive cruise ships to everyone else.

Two of many luxury cruise ships

We booked a group tour through our hotel for 250£ Egyptian each (about $42 CAD) . The itinerary had us mingling with a boat full of other tourists as we set sail northward from Aswan over the course of three days. After breakfast on the third day, we were to meet up with our land-based transportation and make our way to the temples of Edfu and Kom Ombo. Afterwards we would complete our journey by land to Luxor where we would be dropped off at the hotel of our choosing. But, we were in Egypt so that's not really how the tour went. Since we've written about this already, I'm not going to re-hash it. If you missed our negative piece on Egypt, here's the link. Aside from the tour not going entirely as planned, and us feeling a little bit "taken", the time on the river was quite enjoyable. We cruised for about 6 hours a day, gently drifting from one bank, tacking, and drifting back. Except when the cruise ships were passing, it was quiet, calm, peaceful, and relaxing. This carried on until the sun went down, giving us a nightly sunset display that we watched from the deck of the felucca. After dark, the captain and first mate would glide the ship over to the river bank and tie us off for the night. We wrapped ourselves up in a couple of blankets and slept on the deck in the same place where we'd been seated most of the day.

Sunset on the Nile

Sunset on the Nile

A Few Thoughts

  • The food was quite tasty. As advertised, it was mostly vegetarian (tuna salad was part of one lunch), which is exactly what we were after.
  • There is no bathroom on board. We regularly spent 4 hours sailing without shore break, which meant holding everything for at least 4 hours. Of course we could have relieved ourselves at anytime - somewhat publicly over the side of the boat - but it never came to that.  Of course, this meant no showers for the duration of the trip.
  • The deck of the felucca was covered with a thin mattress and a number of pillows. It was comfortable enough, and we spent most of the day sprawled in the same spots.
  • Above the deck was a cloth sun covering that seemed to keep the sun off of us well enough, though not 100% of the time. Neither of us sunburned.
  • It was cold at night, but there were plenty of blankets on board to make this a non-issue.
  • We had no trouble with mosquitoes or other bugs. We've since heard from other people that have done the same trip that the mosquitoes on their tour were terrible. Either we were lucky, or they were unlucky. It's hard to say.
  • The staff didn't speak more than two words of English. Not that they needed to.

Lunch

Shore Stop

Enjoying the sailing

By , March 24, 2013 9:45 am
During our Abu Simbel tour, we had the privilege of meeting a totally crazy (in a mostly good way) traveller from North Korea who spent most of the tour ensuring that we knew it would cost a mere pound to take a ferry to Elephantine Island from Aswan. He only knew a few words of English, but we had several in-depth "conversations" with him (is it actually a conversation when you can't get a word in edgewise?) that inevitably included him curling his arms into an elephant "trunk", swinging them around, and shouting "ELLY-FONT!!! ELLY-FONT!!!" loud enough for everyone in the vicinity to stop what they were doing and watch. He was the kind of guy that complete strangers either made an effort to keep a 20-foot distance from as they feared for their safety or, more commonly, crowded around to hear (and watch) his stories. The "elly-font" cry and dance also seemed to be his prime negotiation tactic with local vendors. And from what we saw, it worked. Not being able to get his "elly-font" chant out of our heads and more than ready to escape the touts in Aswan, we took the ferry over to Elephantine Island and spent an afternoon there. Not being a crazy North Korean, we had to pay more than a pound for the ferry... but talked our way down to two pounds each. (According to our hotel owner, North Koreans are the only foreigners that get local pricing - mostly because they are so crazy that no one wants to deal with trying to rip them off.) As it turns out, the island certainly wasn't a safe haven from scammers - we were quickly ushered into a house to "tour" a bunch of kitschy crap (all for sale, of course) occupying every nook and cranny. It ended with the owner opening up a metal drum with a poor, dead-looking crocodile crammed inside. It had no space to move and barely blinked when the man poked it with a stick. We had no interest in seeing it in the first place and felt really bad for the poor creature, but the man figured we owed him money for showing us. We quickly made our exit and made no further attempt to talk to anyone else on the island. It was quite scenic, however, and we did manage to snap quite a few photos that make it look like a lovely place to visit.

Despite what this guy thinks, there's a lot more to see on the island than a brick wall

Elly-font!  Elly-font!

By , March 21, 2013 9:20 am
Aswan is located in the south of Egypt and is probably best known for it's proximity to the famous temples of Abu Simbel. More or less, that's why we made the journey this far south, so naturally we booked ourselves transportation out to see them. As Ashley's already discussed in her post describing why we didn't like Egypt, this tour made the esteemed list entitled "tours that did not deliver what we paid for". This could go without saying, as all of our tours in Egypt managed to make the list.

The Tour

Despite the proximity, Abu Simbel is still a 3 hour mini-van ride southward towards the Sudan border. Though I have no evidence to support it, I get the impression that this isn't the safest drive to make on your own. That impression comes from the precautions taken. To put it simply, every tour operator providing transportation to Abu Simbel from Aswan, of which there are many, first sends their vehicles to a common meeting point in Aswan. Once everyone has arrived, an enormous caravan is formed. Probably close to 50 vans and buses hit the road at the exact same time and drive straight to Abu Simbel. The only stops made are for the multiple military checkpoints. Even then, the drivers are careful to keep the caravan together. Two hours after arriving at the exotic location of Abu Simbel, the whole caravan saddles up again and heads as a group back towards Aswan. This affair only happens one time per day. Knowing this, we felt more or less resigned to booking a tour to get to Abu Simbel.  We booked a transportation-only tour for 100£ Egyptian each (Approximately $17 CAD) through our hotel. The tour was to leave from the hotel at 4:30AM, give us two hours at Abu Simbel, take us to the High Dam for 1 hour, Philae Temple for 1  hour, then the Unfinished Obelisk for 1 hour, before dropping us off back at our hotel.. Or, at least it was supposed to.

Abu Simbel

I can honestly say that Abu Simbel was my absolute favourite ancient Egyptian anything that I saw in Egypt. We received the full two hours that we were promised at the site, and it was about the right amount of time. Although I only have photos taken from outside (which looks impressive in itself), the inside was really what made it so amazing.  No cameras are permitted inside the temple in an effort to protect the colouring on the walls. There are two temple complexes here, both of which you can wander around inside freely. Despite the fact that everyone visiting Abu Simbel arrives and leaves at the exact same time, the temples were large enough that they never really felt that crowded. The inside walls are adorned with coloured hieroglyphs depicting various scenes from wars to warship (hmm, alphabetically, that's actually a fairly small range, but it seemed diverse...). The columns are carved to resemble human figures, and everything is in a really exceptional state of preservation. Another thing making Abu Simbel appear even more impressive is the fact that it has been moved from its original location. Before the Nile was dammed, and Lake Nasser was flooded, the temple used to lie lower in the valley. Wanting to preserve this fantastic historical site from flooding and destruction, the international community came to the rescue and helped orchestrate the careful dissection, transportation, and re-assembly of the temple in its current location. The process was exceedingly manual. About 10,000 individual blocks were cut using handsaws. Each block was identified, measured, transported, and re-assembled after a series of painstakingly accurate measurements. The end result is that we couldn't tell that the thing had ever been moved. It was reassembled perfectly, or near enough as to not matter. Entrance 95£ ($16 CAD)

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel

The High Dam

Back at Aswan, the tour continued with a 10 minute view of the High Dam. As already explained, we opted not to see it.

Philae Temple

This temple was also impressive, though not quite as impressive as Abu Simbel. Again, it was not in its original position. It was moved onto the island where it resides today to protect it from higher water levels. This island location left us thoroughly frustrated between the time we purchased entry tickets (boat not included) for 50£ per person and managed to get a private boat captain to take us over to the island for another 10£ (a total of about $10 CAD each).

Philae Temple

Carvings inside Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Philae Temple

Unfinished Obelisk

Although officially a part of the transportation tour, it was not part of the tour. Neither was the ride back to out hotel, but that's just the way things go in Egypt.
By , March 18, 2013 8:12 am
The White Desert was our favourite place in Egypt. And it's not even because there were no vendors, touts, scammers, or hustlers about - although that fact certainly helped increase its status in our minds. It was the gorgeous landscape that we had all to ourselves. The only other travelers were met at common lunch stops. The peace and calm were inviting. And sleeping under the stars was unforgettable. Mike wanted to do two things in Egypt. See the pyramids and ride camels. And not at the same time. He wanted to really ride camels... as in a camel safari across the desert. Although technically possible, we found the safaris that crossed the sand sea to be both time and cost prohibitive. So we toned it back a bit. For us, the best tour we could find still came with a hefty price tag - $300 USD per person for 4 days and 3 nights. It was a lot of money, but it had camels and was a private tour (there are group tours available, but there were honestly no other tourists while we were there that were interested in more than a two day, single night tour so there was no one to group up with). Anxious to get away from the touristy bits of Cairo, we talked ourselves into it. The first day of the tour started at our Cairo hotel. We were driven to the bus station and put on a local bus out to Bahariya Oasis. We drove through miles of desert, with a rest stop halfway, at what seemed to be an industrial work camp. When we arrived at the Oasis, we were relieved to find that someone was there to meet us (we had no ticket or receipt for the tour, so we had taken a huge leap of faith by paying up front in Cairo and hoping we would get all that was promised... we didn't even know the safari company's name!).

Rest stop in the desert

We were driven to the edge of the oasis where the safari company was based. They fed us lunch, introduced us to our driver and guide for the next three days, and squeezed a little extra money out of us by making us pay for our drinking water which was supposed to be included. We climbed in the jeep with Tamr and drove off to the Black Desert where we got to snap pictures until we were satisfied we'd seen enough. Then, we drove to Crystal Mountain for more photos, before driving on to the camel camp.

Tamr, our jeep, and another tour jeep

Black Desert

Crystal Mountain

Crystal Mountain

Desert

At the camel camp, we were informed that our camel guide was MIA. After a few phone calls, Tamr arranged for our guide to meet us later that night at our camp. We were supposed to spend about an hour riding the camels that night, but it wasn't going to happen. Our consolation prize was some sugar-saturated Bedouin tea at the camel camp.

Camel camp

Preparing the tea

We then drove to our camp for the night (which was really just an inviting bit of desert... there aren't actually defined campsites here). Tamr set up camp while we took sunset photos. He cooked us a delicious vegetarian supper (with chicken for himself... he couldn't understand why we wouldn't eat chicken. He was pretty sure it was a vegetable) and made a campfire for us to keep warm while the night chill started creeping in. When we were ready for bed, he turned our meal cushions into mattresses and made our bed - he even tucked us in!!!

Setting up camp

Sunset, Day #1

Ready for supper

Campfire

In the morning, we went for a quick walk while Tamr prepared our breakfast. Our camel guide (Mohammed) showed up with two camels. He only spoke a few words of English, so he silently led us around for the next few days. I had kind of pictured us riding and maneouvering the camels ourselves, but it was more like him walking ahead and leading them on a rope. I tried to get introduced to my camel, but she had no name... so there weren't really any introductions to be had.

Desert beetle

Scenery during our morning walk

Our camels!!!

Getting ready to go

Been to the desert on a camel with no name...

View from my camel

Camel riding "like an Egyptian"

Mohammed

We spent hours looking for different shapes in the strange rock formations

More cool rock formations

One of the few English words Mohammed knew: "chicken"

We spent about two hours on the camels before lunch and two hours on them afterwards. Lunch was a lengthy affair, which was welcome on Day 2 as a sandstorm blew in and we had to wait it out before we could leave our lunch tent. Let me just say... two hours on a camel is painful. The ride itself is actually fairly smooth, but camels are a lot wider than they look. It's really hard on your hips and legs to straddle something that wide for that long. At the end of Day 3, I got off my camel and actually couldn't walk. I just stood there, telling my legs to move... but nothing happened. If nothing else, it gave everyone besides me a good laugh. On the final morning, we helped Tamr clean up camp and climbed into the jeep to return to the Oasis. We stopped at some hot and cold springs on the way. As I described before, they were nothing like what I was imagining. Upon returning to the Oasis, we hopped on probably the most uncomfortable bus I've been on (the seat in front of me was broken, so the Korean guy in it was essentially using my knees to keep himself upright) and returned to Cairo. It was hard to leave the desert behind.

Lunch break

Sand storm is letting up

Rabbit rock

Sunset, Day #2

Enjoying the camel ride

Camp #2

Camp #2

Sunset, Day #2

Sunset, Day #2

Me and the camels. We may be in the desert, but as soon as the sun starts dropping it gets cold fast!

All tuckered out

Tamr's friend, the fox... eyeing up Mike's shoes for supper

Rhino rock

Camel teeth are sexy!

The "brakes"

Oasis lunch stop

After two days of walking without any food or water, one camel drank for about 5 seconds and the other wanted none of it

Harsh landscape... we felt bad for the camels' feet

Tree

White desert

Goodbye camels with no names!

Making sand angels (this was a few days before Christmas)

Sunset, Day #3

Sunset, Day #3

Sunset, Day #3