Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sunrise Hike on Mt. Sinai

On Tuesday night we departed the hotel at 10:30 PM. The drive to Mt. Sinai is approximately 3 hours. A few of the group did manage to get some sleep but I did not. We passed through several tourist police checkpoints where they boarded the bus. The lights came on the bus and we had to be awake to show them our passports. I would just about have closed my eyes when we would come to the next one. At 1:30 AM we approached the last "rest stop" (Meaning last chance for flush toilets). Also we pick up our Mountain Guide for the hike.

By about 1:45 AM we had reached the destination and exited the bus. Immediately you noticed how much colder it was than just that morning when we had been at the beach! And there were quite a lot of people. Everyone was in line and eventually we started to shuffle our way along the path. It is really dark here and we each have a flashlight to guide our way - basically to try and avoid the camel poop along the trail. After about 30 minutes we reached the camel station. Our guide directs us in groups of 2 to a Beduoin who takes us to a camel. I am with Sheridan (our youngest in the group at 9). Once we are on our camels we start to ascend the mountain. It is really dark but after awhile I can make out the long line of camels heading up the mountain. If feels like I'm in Star Wars. The camels sound like the Tauntauns and the it looks like where Luke was from - Tatooine?. Plus the camels sound like the sand people.

It takes about 90 minutes on camel to reach the base. It is also as high as the camels can climb. The time is 4:00 AM. Our guide tells us we have 15 minutes to rest before we need to start the climb. We all hundle in the little shop trying to get warm because the temperature has dropped even more and the wind is strong. At 4:15 AM we depart - again shuffling along the trail with the flashlights but we quickly come to the steps. It is 750 steps up to the top of the mountain. The climb is difficult and we're all moving slowly because we are so exhausted. But we do arrive to the top for the sunrise. There are more stores at the top.

Our group watches the sun come up, waits a few minutes, takes some pictures, and is ready to start back down. We descend the same steps we climbed up but now it is a mass exodus as everyone is going at the same time. Half the group hiked down, the others took camels. (I was on a camel at Sheridan's request). For future hikers, the rule of thumb is "camel up, hike down". Trust me, the camel down is not so easy on the bottom.

We arrive back to St. Catherine's Monastary at the base around 7:30 AM. After visiting what turned out to be the worst bathroom of the trip, we are reunited with our guide, Saher. She gives us our box breakfasts. While we are eating she informs us that we will have "free time" until 9AM when the monastary opens for visitors. This turns out to be more than our over-tired, exhausted, freezing group. After being awake for more than 28 hours we are ready to head back to our beautiful hotel & beach. Only one person wanted to wait and out and unfortunately for her, it was a majority rule. We headed back to the bus and drove down to Sharm. We arrived back at the hotel at 11:00 AM.

The rest of the day was free to relax at the pool and beach - trying to catch up on sleep and recover from an experience none of us is quick to forget!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sharm al Sheikh

We left the hotel at 5AM today and flew to Sharm. When we arrived we went out on a glass bottom boat out to the Red Sea. We went snorkeling and saw so much. Lots of corals, picasso fish, parrotfish, zebrafish, tigerfish...
It was actually cold at first jumping in but then it was fine.
Tonight is the big hike on Mt. SInai. We leave hotel at 10:30 tonight.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Cairo: INSIDE The Great Pyramid!

(Another crazy keyboard!) Cairo was so busy. The traffic is really bad. Everyone told me but still it was a lot worse than I imagined. They make 3 lanes into 6 and it is rush hour all the time. The local people cross the street in the middle of traffic. Passing one car and standing in the middle of the road for the next one to pass. Just like a real life game of Frogger.

The first offical morning of the trip we started right out with the Great Pyramid. We left the hotel at 7:30 AM and were there by 7:40 AM. Couldn't get our tickets until 8:00 AM but we stood in line because only the first 150 people in the morning and afternoon can actually enter. And they will only sell to the actual person because they are afraid that the tickets would be sold on the black market otherwise.

To go inside the pyramid at first it is like going into a cave. But as you move further you have to go up this ramp where it is not tall enough to stand up straight so you are arched over. This one goes on for awhile and you come out to an opening where you can stand up straight only for a minute and you then have another ramp. The end is a long low wall that you crawl under. You come out to this room where you can stand up and it was the tomb. Coming back out was a lot worse because now it was getting really crowded and hot. That same way in is the way out so now we are sharing it with two way traffic. It was not as bad as I thought though but still I was happy to get to the outside. Especially after being stuck inside for about 5 min while a handicapped woman came up. Really! The lights stayed on for me, which was nice. But I still wore my headlamp. (Thanks Aimee!)

Next we went on a camel ride in the desert. Followed by the Solar Boat Museum and the Sphinx. We went to a papyrus making demonstrations which was really interesting. After lunch we went to Memphis and Sakkara. It was a long day but really amazing.

The next day was the Egyptian Museum and the Citadel. After we had lunch )the best meal yet -- calamari stew. Then we went to the bazaar and shopping for jewelry.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Arriving in Egypt

Arrival to Cairo 1:05AM. Exit plane to bus, which takes us to the main terminal. Immediately upon entering the building I am greeted by the first 2 (of many!) Mohammeds I will meet. They give me my visa and direct me to the customs line. As I am waiting in line, they wait for my bag… which ends up being the last one to come out of the conveyer belt (50 minutes after the plane landed).

We depart the airport at 2:00 AM and head to the hotel. It is about a 45 minute drive since the traffic is “light” (relatively speaking). We pass a lot of buildings with the word “MISR” which I learn is the Arabic word for Egypt. Cairo is huge. It is the largest city in all of Africa and the Middle East. The population is 12 million people and there are civilizations dating back 6,000 years ago.

By the time I am checked into the hotel and in my room it is after 3AM. I’m completely exhausted but sit out on the balcony for a few minutes looking at the view. You can barely make out the shadows of the pyramids in the darkness. And it is completely silent right now, which I don’t imagine will last long in Cairo.

Thankfully I don’t have an early start Saturday and I am able to sleep in. When I wake up and look outside it’s incredible. I am in Cairo looking at the Great Pyramid from my hotel balcony! The hotel I am staying in – the Mena House - is gorgeous. It was an old hunting lodge that was enlarged to host the princess of France in 1869 when she visited for the opening of the Suez Canal.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Amsterdam Layover

Did I really just leave yesterday?

We landed in Amsterdam local time was just after 10:00 AM. I left the airport and took the train into the city. Found my way to the central area and then took the tram to the museum. Walked around that part of the city. Found a Hard Rock - used its bathroom. Bought a stupid T-shirt because it is soooooooo hot and I didn't bring one in my back pack. Took the train back to the central part of the city.

I'm starting to find my way around. I've come across a lot of coffee shops. (They don't sell coffee there.) For coffee you have to go to the cafes. I haven't been able to get internet on my phone. Hope Egypt works better. The internet cafe is in the basement of a store. It's crazy. And the steps are about 8" high but only about 4" wide. I don't know how all the Europeans in their fancy shoes do it.

There are so many outdoor restaurants here - and they are all packed. The weather is incredible. And there are canals interspersed with the streets.
Everyone here rides bicycles. I took a picture of the "parking lot" for the train. It's full of bikes.

Though I'm managing just fine I'm not entirely sure what I'm doing. For example, I bought a round train ticket at a machine at the airport for the train. But nobody ever punched it and I didn't have to show it to anyone. Then I paid cash for the tram but thought it was one way. When I got on the next one to come back the guy said I was all set. So confusing! But oh well! Oh and a local guy told me not to cross any streets if the crosswalk says not to go. They ticket you on the spot for 60 Euros. I haven't seen a single person not wait for the crosswalk to turn green.

Ok. That's it for now. It is after 4PM here. I am completely exhausted! I slept maybe an hour on the plane. Making my way back to the airport. The plane boards 90 minutes before take off. Not sure what that's all about!

Next stop = Cairo!!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Egyptian Adventure

Well here I am about to embark on another adventure!!
Heading to Cairo but have a 10 hour layover in Amsterdam first. Stay tuned....