August 6 - September 17, 2011
I left Khartoum with four days until I had to catch the weekly boat to Egypt. Sudan doesn’t have a lot of “sights” but there are some old ruins. On my way to the border I checked out some pyramids in Begrawiya and Karima.
Ramadan food. This was some kind of bread with a thick sauce. It’s sort of like baby food. I guess so it’s easy to digest after not eating all day.
The tire on my bus pretty much exploded. This was normal though. I don’t know if it’s the heat or what but the side of the road was littered with blown out tires.
Karima Pyramids. They’re tiny in comparison to Egyptian pyramids but still nice.
On the boat to Egypt there were two other guys backpacking, Ricardo from Portugal and Vytaly from Russia. We hung out for the 16 hour trip. I was able to get an Egyptian visa on arrival at the port in Aswan which was good news although the guy overcharged us for them and threatened not to give them to us when we complained.
Ricardo and Vytaly
Aswan was a really nice city. I knew Egypt was going to be a lot more developed than most of the places I’d been but I was surprised. There was a nice promenade along the Nile, there were nice cars and our first hotel was great. Vytaly, Ricardo and I stayed on the top floor of a hotel overlooking the Nile with a clean working bathroom, nice beds with duvets, air conditioning and even a mini fridge for $8 each a night. It was paradise after sleeping in dirty, hot, mosquito filled public dorms in Sudan.
A shop in Aswan
The view from the hotel
The first night we went for a boat trip in a traditional sailboat, a felucca. The next day Vytaly and I got up at 3AM to catch the “bus convoy” to Abu Simbel, a really famous tomb 3 hours from Aswan. Ricardo caught a train to Cairo to meet his girlfriend.
Abu Simbel. It’s really funny because we passed Abu Simbel in the boat about 4 hours into the 16 hour trip. But the only way to get there was to take the boat all the way to Aswan then get up at 3AM and backtrack with a bus.
Inside the Abu Simbel tomb
Next Vytaly and I caught a train north to Luxor, where we spent a couple days. We took bikes to the other side of the Nile to see a bunch of tombs including The Valley of the Kings. The second day we went to Karnak Temple the ruins of a huge ancient temple. Also while we were in Luxor we found out that there was a place that issues student cards. We were able to make fake university timetables and got cards. This ended up saving us at least $50 because the sites in Egypt are expensive and students get half price. That night we caught a 16 hour overnight bus to Dahab on the coast of the Sinai Peninsula.
On my bike
A temple near the tombs
Guys fighting. It was funny, Egyptians are always yelling and getting in arguments but during ramadan it was constant.
We arrived in Dahab early in the morning. I was a bit disappointed with it. It’s supposed to be a laid back beach town with lots of backpackers. I still found it really touristy with plenty of annoying people trying to sell crap. The worst thing though is that there is no beach! The whole waterfront is restaurants. I still think Kendwa beach in Zanzibar (Tanzania) was the best beach I’ve been to. The great thing about Dahab though was that it was a great place to get scuba diving certificates. It’s really cheap and the water is really clear. I signed up for the 3 day beginner “Open Water” course for $250US with the option to do the 2 day Advanced Open Water course for $150 afterwards and I would get 2 free bonus dives.
View from our room
The Dahab waterfront
The 2nd day in Dahab I met up with Maurice, one of the guys I travelled with in Ethiopia. We decided that after Dahab we would travel together to Jordan and Israel for a week or two.
I started my scuba course and things were fine but after diving there was a bit of pressure in my ears and I couldn’t hear so well. By the end of the second day I could hardly hear at all and I had a headache. That night I woke up in the middle of the night with an intense headache and a ton of pressure in my ears. I couldn’t sleep for the rest of the night. I had to pull out of my course. The scuba school I used was Egyptian owned. The owner of the scuba school kept telling me it was nothing and I would be fine. I think mostly they just wanted to make sure I finished the course so I would pay.
After a day it didn’t get any better. I had to take painkillers just to sleep and get through the day. My scuba instructor said to go to the hospital and that the expense would be covered by the school. The doctor checked me for like 5 minutes then said I had fluid in my ear and prescribed decongestants. Then I guess there was a mix up and they said I had to pay the bill for 50 euros! I said no way because my instructor said the school would pay. After a bunch of phone calls my instructor said he would pay but refused to let me have the prescription unless I paid. I told him he could keep the prescription I wasn’t going to pay. This kind of thing is normal for Egypt.
Me after my last dive. You can see I’m really pale but I didn't realize I had a problem.
I spent the day popping painkillers and researching my ear problem on the internet. Vytaly took a bus towards Cairo. He was flying out in 3 days. I figured out what I had and realized that I definitely needed decongestants. I was hopeful that I would have my problem under control and could get back to my course. That night though before I was able to buy the drugs Maurice and I went on the night tour bus 3 hours away to climb the famous Mount Sinai and see St Catherine’s Monastery. The problem was that my ears were really sensitive to any changes in elevation. By the time the bus arrived to the base of the mountain it felt like my eardrums were going to explode. My head was pounding and my ears were ringing like crazy. I realized there was no way I would be able to climb any higher. I left the group we were with and walked down to the parking lot where we would be picked up. I had to wait 8 hours for the group to be back. I took painkillers but it was still really bad. I started spitting up some weird yellow phlegm. Fortunately I was able to sleep for a bit.
I finally bought and started taking the decongestants but it was obvious now I had a problem that wasn’t going to get better soon. I decided to go to Israel and Jordan with Maurice and hope that when I got back to Egypt I would be better and could finish the course. The school agreed that if I didn’t finish the course they would only charge me $200US for what I had done but I wouldn’t get a certificate so it would kind of be a waste. I was worried too because if my ears didn’t get better I wouldn’t be able to fly and my flight to Canada was in 3 weeks!
The only way to go directly to Jordan from Egypt was a ferry. It cost $85 and was only 3 hours long. I wish now that we had entered via Israel. It would have meant paying a $30 exit tax for Israel but it still would have been a lot cheaper. When we arrived at the port in Jordan we were a bit stuck. We wanted to get to Petra but there was no public transport and we didn’t want to stay in the town. It was expensive to sleep and we would lose a day. Fortunately there were two German girls also going to Petra. We got a taxi to take us all for $50.
Petra is an ancient city carved in rock. It was recently declared one of the 7 wonders of the world. As a result the government decided to raise the entrance fee to $75! It is an interesting place but $75 is outrageous. Maurice and I tried to sneak in but there was a guy with a car following us who we were pretty sure was some sort of a secret policeman so we just paid.
The next day we went to the Wadi Rum Desert. This was where Lawrence of Arabia lived. We organized a tour from our hostel in Petra. It cost $50 for a day tour and an overnight in the desert with supper plus a $5 park fee. Jordan was really getting expensive. The tour was ok but I would say the best plan would be to just arrive and walk around on your own. With the 4X4 we saw some far off sights but they weren’t that impressive.
Bedouin style dinner. They bury the cooker in the sand.
The next day we took buses to the capital city Amman. It was a bit of a pain because all the taxi drivers lied to us saying there were no buses and then when the buses arrived they tried to overcharge us. We made it though.
In Amman we made 2 day trips. One day to the Dead Sea for a quick swim and one day to Jerash, an ancient Roman city.
Amman, I think that flagpole is supposed to be the tallest in the world. Jordanians are very proud people.
It really is pretty cool to swim in the Dead Sea. You really float but the salt really burns if it gets in your eyes or nose and tastes awful if it gets in your mouth. There is a developed beach where you can swim but it costs $20 to enter so we just walked about 500 meters past and swam for free.
Finally we caught a taxi to the border with Israel.
Jordan was alright. There were some nice things to see and it’s easy to travel around. It was definitely a bit more expensive though. One funny thing about Jordan is how much they worship their king and royal family. There are pictures everywhere of him and his family. I always find it strange that people don’t have a problem with their tax money being used so their leader can post his face everywhere. I’m glad I went to Jordan because after visiting North Sudan, Egypt and Jordan I’ve had a taste of the middle east and now I know I don’t really have the need to see the other countries. I got a feel for the culture and I’m just not that interested. I would almost say it felt a bit dull sometimes. They say the people in these countries are really hospitable but I’m not sure I felt it. People would shout “welcome to Egypt” or even invite me for tea but it always seemed like it wasn’t from the heart like they were doing it to get something in return. The guys like to think they are really charming but it just gives me the vibe of a used car salesmen. Something that became really overwhelming too is Islam. In muslim countries religion is everywhere all the time. It’s part of every aspect of their life. They pray all the time, mosques are everywhere and half the channels on TV are something to do with religion. Even in their daily speech I swear they must say allah a thousand times a day. For a non-religious person it was a bit much.
The king of Jordan.
Crossing the border to Israel wasn’t so difficult just a bit expensive because there was a $12 exit tax for Jordan and we were forced to take a bus between the border posts that cost another $7 because I had to pay for my luggage even though I took my bags on the bus! Also, I didn’t have any Jordanian money left so they forced me to change US$ at a horrible rate. On the Israeli side the border guards asked a lot of questions. I had an old visa for Iran in my passport that concerned them a bit but all in all it was pretty painless and we were through fairly easily. After getting butchered at the only exchange office on the Israeli side we caught a bus to Jerusalem.
By this time I was out of medication, my ears were still really pressured and I could still barely hear. Also, I was really exhausted. I would have to take naps every afternoon. I decided to go to Tel Aviv to get to a hospital. Tel Aviv is a really modern city and should probably have some of the best quality medical services in the middle east. I had to leave Maurice in Jerusalem because he was planning to make Tel Aviv his last stop in Israel. The bill at Tel Aviv Hospital was $300! I’m still hoping my insurance will cover it. I saw a doctor and they sent me to an ear specialist. Basically they said I had no serious concerns and that it would only take a bit more time. They prescribed me some antibiotics because there was still fluid in my ear and it was possible I could get an infection. It was good news as long as my ear did get better.
I arranged to stay with a couchsurfer in Tel Aviv, Schmuel. He was a great guy. He fed me dinner when I got to his house and I had a really nice bedroom all to myself.
Schmuel and me eating
I just spent one day looking around Tel Aviv. I walked around town and of course there are really nice beaches to visit. After 2 nights at Schmuel’s I grabbed a bus back to Jerusalem.
Tel Aviv Coast
While I was in Tel Aviv there was a big protest for social rights. A whole bunch of people were camped out on one of the streets.
In Jerusalem I spent a couple days wandering in and around the walled city. The walled city is divided into quarters with a section for each of the major religions. There are important holy sites for all the religions spread around the area. I’m not religious at all but it was still interesting.
The Western Wall. This is what remains of one of the ancient Temples the Jews built on the temple mount.
This is the mosque that is now on the temple mount. This is supposed to be the place Mohammad ascended to heaven.
Entrance to The Tomb of Mary
For a half day I made a trip to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Bethlehem is in the west bank which is Palestinian territory.
The Church of the Nativity
This is part of the wall that seperates Israel from the west bank. On the Palestinian side people graffiti the wall.
I tried to go from Jerusalem back to Dahab in Egypt all in one day but I got a bit of a late start so I only made it to the border town Eilat which is a really touristic beach town. It was a bit crazy because 2 weeks before terrorists shot up buses on the road from Jerusalem to Eilat.
I really liked Israel. It was really modern and a nice change of pace from Africa and the middle east. It was a bit expensive especially Tel Aviv. Jordan was actually cheap in comparison. Even just a small falafel would cost $2. The food was good though. I really loved the hummus. It was so fresh.
Before I came to Israel I really didn’t know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I still don’t. But I would have to say visiting the country has made me sort of pro-Israeli. Regardless of the politics or the religion all I know is that the Israelis seemed to be nicer people. Palestinians just seemed to be more rude. Whenever someone cut in front of me in line or knocked into me walking it always seemed to be a palestinian. A lot of the time when I was buying something from a Palestinian shop they would try to overcharge me. When I walked in new town in Jerusalem, which is mostly Israeli, I could relax no one would bother me or shout something disrespectful, the kids were more well-mannered and it was really clean. After a year and a half in Africa and the middle east I forgot that it can be like that.
So I made it back to Dahab. My ears were definitely better but I still couldn’t hear well. I was going to try to finish diving but I didn’t know how my ears would manage. I decided that first I would go on the Mount Sinai tour again to make sure I saw it unless my ears got messed up again and I wouldn’t be able to.
View from Mount Sinai
St Catherine's Monastery
I bought some more decongestants before my first dive. It’s supposed to be dangerous to take them while diving but I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get the same problem again.
Fortunately the first dive went fine and then I did my last 2 dives without a problem and was able to get my first certificate. It seemed as though my ears were used to diving and I would be fine so I signed up for the advanced course. I kept taking the decongestants though just to be sure.
I finished the advanced course no problem. It was pretty fun. I can’t say I was so impressed with the diving in Dahab though. The water is really clear and there are some crazy landscapes but to be honest there wasn’t that many fish, which is the main reason I want to scuba dive. I talked to some other experienced divers and they agreed. It sounds like Thailand has a lot more fish to see.
By this time I had less than a week until my flight so I had to get moving. A couple hours after my last dive I caught an overnight bus to Alexandria then caught the next bus to Siwa an Oasis town in the middle of the desert in the far west of the country. The total trip from Dahab to Siwa was 24 hours.
The long desert road
Siwa Oasis. We drove for hours through nothing but desert then suddenly there is a huge patch of palm trees.
I only stayed in Siwa one day but it was really great. I rented a bike to go to some springs and swim. The water was crystal clear. Then I went on a 4X4 tour into the desert. It was really fun. I’d been to a few deserts but this was my favourite. You could look 360 degrees and see nothing but sand.
A spring in the middle of the desert
A hot spring in the desert
Driving through the desert with the 4X4 was great. The guy would drive really fast and go over some super steep dunes.
I caught another overnight bus to my last stop Cairo. I had officially completed “Cape to Cairo”. I only had 3 days left so right away I headed to the Egyptian Museum. It was really huge and had everything you could imagine related to ancient Egypt. I probably spent about 5 hours. Unfortunately pictures aren’t allowed.
While I was in Cairo I stayed with Yoann a French friend I met travelling 5 years ago. He was working in Cairo and had a spare bed.
Yoann and me
The next day I spent hanging around Islamic Cairo, the traditional part of Cairo with tons of Mosques. After I met up with another friend, Stuart, the Scottish guy I’d met in Uganda who was studying drumming. He’d been in Cairo 6 months and had already become really good at playing Egyptian drums.
A Cairo street
Inside a mosque. I came in the morning. I guess anyone is allowed to sleep there which is cool.
I think it was fitting that I spent my last day at the Great Pyramids. I didn’t have such high hopes for them but I was impressed they really are big. I was surprised though at the Great Pyramids site there are only 3 big pyramids, the Sphinx and 6 small pyramids. I thought there was a whole bunch.
I found it interesting I guess Cairo is the most conservative part of Egypt. Usually big cities are more liberal. Religion is huge in Cairo. Mosques are everywhere. I guess the government offers a lot of incentives like if a building has a mosque in it then they don’t have to pay electricity. Anywhere there is a church built in Cairo a mosque is built right next to it. The neighborhood where I was staying with my friend was really rich and modern. But even there there was a really conservative islamic primary school and my friend says they teach the kids to hate christians and that it’s ok to throw rocks at the churches. Egypt has a 5-10% christian minority.
As for the situation in Egypt since the riots. I can say it is safe now although my friend Stuart said that in the 2 months after the riots it was a bit chaotic. There were basically no police in the city center at night. He said he felt a bit on edge and once a guy tried to mug him with a knife. There are still a lot less tourists now which was nice for me. Apparently to see some of the tombs before you would have to wait in line for as much as an hour and when you got inside you would hardly be able to move there would be so many people. Also, because there was less tourists it was nice because we could negotiate everything because business was low. In Dahab meals at the restaurants on the water were like $10 in the menu but we would negotiate to pay $3.50 and they would include a drink, a starter, soup, dessert, tea and shisha at the end.
This was some government building people burned out in the riots. It was funny because it was right beside the National Museum where everyone would exit so all the tourists would see it.
Here’s us enjoying a bargain meal.
All along my trip people warned me about how annoying people selling stuff in Egypt were. It was true everybody seemed to just be trying to get my money. I could barely walk more than two minutes without someone shouting at me to buy something and often Egyptians get mad and aggressive when you decline as if you’re obligated to buy their crap. I must say though I think other places on my trip were a lot worse. At least in Egypt if you keep walking they would eventually give up and if you argue with them they will actually hear what you have to say and argue back. In places like north Ethiopia they would follow for hours if they could and they were 100% focused on getting my money. They would just ignore anything I said to them.
This was a torn up poster of Mubarak the president that was kicked out during the riots. I found it a bit hypocritical though for some Egyptians to be calling him selfish and deceitful when they’re ripping people off and lying to get money.
Definitely travelling as a girl (especially alone) in the middle east and especially Egypt can really be a hassle. I guess it’s against islam for a guy to have sex before marriage but apparently if a women isn’t muslim then anything goes. Guys will constantly stare at foreign girls and shout dirty stuff to them and girls told me they often grab at them in crowded places.
Anyway my friend in Cairo lived near to the airport so it was easy to get there on my last day. It was a nice feeling getting on the plane home. It had been a long trip. It seemed like I would never make it all the way to Egypt but I did.
On the way to the airport
When I arrived in Calgary I must have looked pretty ragged because they pulled me aside and thoroughly checked my bags. They used a machine and said my bag tested for methamphetamines. I assured them I did not have any drugs and eventually they let me go.
It’s hard to believe it took me almost a year and a half to do this trip. I’m really glad I did it, it was a great adventure but it was definitely a bit too long. I don’t know if I will be travelling again anytime soon but definitely I won’t travel for longer than 5 months again unless I’m staying in one place for most of the time. It got a bit exhausting this trip. Also, until now mostly I’ve travelled places just because it was somewhere I hadn’t been. But now I’ve visited a bit of each of the continents so I have a feel for them. If I travel again it will be for a specific reason, because I really want to visit somewhere, for work etc.
I’ve been a bit lazy since I got home. Watching a lot of TV and eating a lot. I’m staying with my parents while I find a place. I’m not quite sure of my plans now that I’m back but I’m definitely glad I’m back.