Monday, June 2, 2014

Cairo and Nuweiba

20130516_121053_7D_IMG_23330

We returned to Cairo for a day before continuing on to the Sinai, and while we were there, we saw some some of Cairo’s newer monuments—relatively young stuff, less than a thousand years old.  We visited the Citadel and the Alabaster Mosque; the Citadel was built by Saladin in the 1100’s, and the mosque was built in the 1800’s.

20130516_111950_G12_IMG_6715
20130516_112225_G12_IMG_6717

It’s an impressive fortress, and the grounds were extensive and beautiful.

20130516_112837_7D_IMG_23315
20130516_113013_G12_IMG_6720
20130516_121018_7D_IMG_23328

The Alabaster Mosque has been converted to a museum (there is an active mosque adjacent to it) which meant we were able to take pictures inside.  The sinuous array of suspended lights hung just overhead was striking against the high, multi-domed ceiling.

20130516_121101_G12_IMG_6734
20130516_121303_G12_IMG_6736
20130516_121828_7D_IMG_23343
20130516_123448_G12_IMG_6739

Two young women asked if they could have their picture taken with our group; this was to be a refrain in Cairo. There was something about them that was infectious--their giggling, their brightly colored clothes and scarves. They had a confidence that groups of young girls do; a flock of chittering birds in flight.

20130516_123629_G12_IMG_6741


We drove into the central market, registered with the police, and were assigned a plain-clothes body guard.  We didn’t notice until much later that he was armed; his pistol wasn’t obvious, but it wasn’t fully concealed either.  This was a new measure for us, but we didn’t feel that worried—probably in part because we hadn’t noticed the gun yet.  We ate lunch on the edge of a plaza, and watched the chaos while we waited.  Our bodyguard was helpful in the respect that he kept some of the hawkers away while we ate. The constant bombardment was understandably getting to some of our group at this point, just in the volume of selling and it's omnipresence. If we were in public, someone was trying to sell us something. This in addition to all of the places we went to specifically buy things, like perfume oils, papyrus art, and statuary. 

20130516_134328_7D_IMG_23370

We saw several bread hawkers walking around with enormous loads of bread balanced on their heads. They weren't selling to us, but it was fascinating to watch them. 

While the bodyguard was good at chasing off children trying to sell us packs of kleenex, he wasn't as successful with the myriad of stray cats that live in and around the market. Under our table, there was a very scruffy cat, which some of us surreptitiously fed when the waiters weren’t chasing it off with sticks, and a bevy of other kittens.

20130516_141320_310HS_IMG_7907
20130516_144935_7D_IMG_23390
20130516_145758_7D_IMG_23406

After lunch we ran the gauntlet into the market--the first 200 yards of stalls were lined with vendors trying to grab our attention. After that, when we got further into the depths of the market, it was much quieter. The portion of the market that we walked through was partially covered, and the archways between sections were very intricate.

20130516_145806_7D_IMG_23407
20130516_145712_7D_IMG_23401
20130516_145737_7D_IMG_23404
20130516_145701_7D_IMG_23400
20130516_145843_7D_IMG_23408
20130516_150313_7D_IMG_23415
20130516_151151_7D_IMG_23419

A few of us returned to our meeting point (back at the restaurant) early, Cat and RJ among them.  A group of girls asked if they could have their pictures taken with Cat, and soon they were laughing and bickering about whose turn it was.  We were all fairly amused, but eventually the waiters took pity on us and chased the girls off—at least not with sticks, like the poor cat, which had also moved on by now.

20130516_152918_7D_IMG_23433

After we regrouped, a street vendor selling a fermented licorice juice wandered by, and Mudi bought a glass (which is rinsed out between uses) and several of us tried it.  David didn’t think it tasted much like licorice, but it wasn’t bad either.  The vendor poured from a large urn he carried, and held the glass as low as possible to get a frothy head on it.

20130516_142807_7D_IMG_23377
20130516_153802_7D_IMG_23441
20130516_154508_7D_IMG_23446

We got back on our mini-bus, navigated some crowds and traffic, and headed back towards our hotel.  From an overpass, we could see that the market sprawled much further than the relatively small area we covered. 

20130516_223724_310HS_IMG_7910

That night, on our way to buy snacks for the long drive the next day, we remembered to take a picture of the KFC where we had eaten earlier, on our first visit to Cairo.  Neither of us is a fan of KFC, or fast food in general, and we normally wouldn’t have given it a second thought, except that we’d heard about this particular restaurant.  It exclusively employs deaf and/or mute workers, and they had developed an efficient way to take orders.  They had a printed menu on the counter, and the man behind the counter pointed to his mouth and ears, then demonstrated pointing at items on the menu.  We each pointed at our selection, and then he clarified; did we want hot sauce (fanning himself), large or small drinks (distance between his hands), what type (point to the logo for soft drinks) etc.  He was full of smiles, and so were we.  The food was ok, though not as good as any of our other meals in Egpyt, but the experience made it worth it.  We bumped into Cat & RJ there, and sat with them and talked about travel.  We didn’t even think about taking video of the ordering process, but another deaf patron did that for us.  And of course An Idiot Abroad had no qualms filming Karl there, where he fulfills his wise fool role.

20130517_113816_SGP4_2013-05-17 11.38.16

Bright and early the next morning we headed out from Cairo to cross the Sinai peninsula.  We first drove under the Suez canal, which was a neat experience (we are just entering the tunnel above). On the far side of the Sinai we were to stay a couple of nights at a resort in Nuweiba, snorkeling and relaxing before crossing the Red Sea on a ferry and continuing our trip over to Jordan.

20130517_143742_G12_IMG_6745

The original purpose of our trip across the Sinai was to visit Mt. Sinai and St. Catherine's Monastery, but in the time between when we booked the trip and when we got to Egypt, the isolated road up to the monastery had become a safety concern, with incidents of kidnappings of tourists by Bedouins in the intervening months. So our trip to the site of the Burning Bush turned into a military escorted convoy of vehicles across the vast wasteland of the Sinai desert.  Instead of visiting the very remote monastery, we'd spend an extra day in Nuweiba, just relaxing.  This particular day was a transit day, but we had snacks, reading material, headphones, and well...plenty to look at.  The female portion of our group (the majority) felt the Egyptian army men were very handsome.

20130517_152052_G12_IMG_6748
20130517_162648_G12_IMG_6751

Our convoy stopped a couple of times for bathroom breaks, in places where a bathroom was just about all you could see for miles. After waiting for the convoy to regroup and take off after the second bio break of the day, we had both bonded as a group and gotten a tiny bit punchy. We stole this recording from our friend April, but we both wish we had gotten our driver's video.

video

Finally, after we exhausted the Convoy Bus Dance Party mix, we settled down just in time to see the Red Sea.

20130517_174043_7D_IMG_23458


We arrived at our resort in Nuweiba at dusk, and just had enough light to capture the oddity of a camel on the beach.  The lights on the distant shore are Aqaba in Jordan, and Eilat in Israel.

We spent the next couple of nights and one full day, enjoying the pool table...

20130517_214215_310HS_IMG_7913

and some excellent games of foosball in the evenings.

20130517_220316_310HS_IMG_7915

On our day off from any tour obligations, we spent time snorkeling and kayaking in the Red Sea, sitting in a shaded gazebo with the local dog, chatting with each other and enjoying a variety of food and drink.

20130518_114316_7D_IMG_23473

Late in the afternoon, instigated by Mudi, some people got up a friendly game of non-competitive volleyball which left quite a few players with bruised forearms that lasted throughout the rest of our trip through Jordan. Everyone was having so much fun that they played much longer than they probably should have.

20130518_170735_SGP4_2013-05-18 17.07.35

Some sneaky folks managed to give Lana a bit of a birthday celebration, after a crappy actual birthday in which there was a power outage in Luxor. They were incredibly sweet, to a person, and Lana was very moved.

20130518_204653_310HS_IMG_7926
20130518_211108_310HS_IMG_7927

It was our last night with Mudi, as the next morning he would deliver us to the ferry which would take us across the Red Sea to Aqaba, where we would meet our Jordanian guide. All us girls let Mudi teach us how to salsa dance, and we ate cake and danced the night away. We couldn't have asked for a more fun last night in Egypt than our final night in Nuweiba.

20130519_000032_310HS_IMG_7944

Mudi had explained that normally he wasn't able to escort us through customs and on to the ferry, but that he'd managed to grease a few wheels and would be able to take us through in the morning.

20130519_124452_DSC00950

After navigating customs and immigration, we were immensely grateful that he did. Nothing was in English, there was no rhyme or reason, and when we cleared customs and entered the waiting room for the ferry, we found that every bench inside was occupied by a variety of truck drivers and other men sprawled fully out snoring (the ferry chiefly transports semi trucks full of commercial goods between Egypt and Jordan, bypassing the more tricky land connection through Israel). If they weren't snoring, they were staring at us pretty intensely, so we were very glad when Mudi walked us through and outside to another waiting area, where we weren't a featured zoo exhibit.

After waiting a while, we were herded onto a bus just ahead of a heard of sweaty, smelly truck drivers, where it was approximately 900 degrees. David and Dell's expressions just about say it all about this part of our journey. The bus shuttled us to the dock where the ferry was moored.  Again, there was no information about what to do with our luggage.  Thankfully Mudi came with us, talked to the ferry staff, and then showed us where the shipping container was that was dedicated to luggage for the few tourists to use this route, and that would be an easy to find it again when we got to Aqaba.  We were already very attached to Mudi, but his aid in getting us on that ferry made it hard for us to leave him behind. But we all said our heartfelt goodbyes.

20130519_134036_310HS_IMG_7951

Finally, finally, our time in Egypt was over, and we were on our way to Aqaba, Jordan in a ferry filled with our little group and several hundred truck drivers.  The end of our time in Egypt was true to the heart of our experience there--exhilarating, sweaty, chaotic and definitely an adventure.

20130519_182427_310HS_IMG_7952