March 2011
  • Day36

    Day 35: Homeward Bound

    April 9, 2011 in the United Arab Emirates ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C

    Last day! Had a group breakfast in the morning before several people had to depart for their flights. My flight wasn't until late afternoon, so I hung around for a bit before heading down to Tahrir Square with a couple of the remaining group members. We just wanted to have a quick look at the dregs from yesterday's protest of which there was plenty - banners, signs, effigies, barbed wire barricades, burnt-out busses and lots of rubbish on the ground.

    A couple of news crews but mostly just middle-class Egyptians rubber-necking and taking selfies. A few people were standing on a bus with a megaphone chanting to a small crowd, so we steered clear of there. Afterwards the others headed back into the adjacent Egyptian Museum, and I headed back to the hotel. Used the internet for a bit, wrote a bit and then headed to the airport many hours early to wait for my flight.

    Arrived in Dubai around midnight local time, where I thankfully had been given a free hotel room for my 10-hour layover. Unfortunately by the time you factor in immigration, customs, getting to the hotel, breakfast, getting back from the hotel, emigration, security and check-in, you only end up getting a few hours of actual sleep. It could've been worse though, I could've been sleeping in the airport with all the migrant workers and people from third-world countries who can't afford hotel layovers!

    Flight back to Sydney was uneventful I think, as I can't remember much of it. Arrived back in Sydney early morning, met by Dad and he drove me back home to Pyrmont. And thus ended our African odyssey!
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  • Day35

    Day 34: Back to Cairo

    April 8, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Another long day of travelling today. We packed up our 4WDs and set off from the deserts north-east towards Cairo. Finally arrived mid-afternoon to find that downtown around Tahrir Square was jam-packed with an enormous protest. We had been travelling around not long after the first phase of the revolution had ended (President Mubarak had stepped down and fled the country, but the political turmoil and rise of extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood was yet to come).

    Since it was a Friday and regular Friday prayers had finished for the day, the people flooded onto the streets to air their grievances and utilise their new freedom of speech. We drove nearby and had a look, but decided not to join in! I contended myself with flying an Egyptian flag out of the window as we drove towards the hotel, which Mohamed assured me would be completely fine.

    As an aside, everywhere we went in Egypt was generally free of tourists. Due to the revolution most people had cancelled their tours, and this trip was actually the first one Intrepid had run since it had kicked off in January. But we never once felt threatened or unsafe - people's grievances were with the government, not with foreigners, and we were generally left alone. Though I remember one conversation with a tearful lady who showed me photos of her sons who had both been killed by government forces in the uprising. She pleaded with me to go home and tell my friends and family that Egypt was a safe place, and that everyone was welcome. Tourism is the majority of the Egyptian economy, and without the tourist dollar a lot of people go hungry.

    We didn't venture out far in the evening, only having dinner at a nearby felafel roll place, given that the protests and demonstrations in the Square were only 700-800 metres away (in the map above, follow Ramses Street southwest to the Museum and that's where the square is; the X marks our hotel). As it was our last night together, we all went to a nearby tea & shisha place where we drank tea, smoked shisha and played backgammon for a while. The group was pretty great and had no real conflicts thankfully!

    A bit of noise around midnight and the riot police moved in and dispersed the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets. Also saw a pair of Apache attack helicopters buzzing around, noses pointed low and ready to go which was a bit of a thrill!
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  • Day34

    Day 33: Black Desert, White Desert

    April 7, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Off we went again, southwest into the deserts. First stop was the Black Desert, where there are black-pebbled mountains sticking out of the yellow sands. Very odd sight, and we put in some sweat to climb a small one near to the road.

    Had lunch at a small oasis village that I can't recall the name of (it may not have even had a name), then headed into the White Desert. Here there are crazy white rocks in all sorts of odd shapes sticking out of the sand, apparently formed by wind erosion. One in the shape of a mushroom, and others in the shapes of rabbits and ducks were the highlights.

    Tried some sandboarding but it didn't quite work as we were all a bit too heavy and would get bogged in the sand. And besides, there are no chairlifts back up the hills!

    Beautiful desert sunset out here as well.

    Originally we were supposed to camp out under the stars but we didn't for reasons I've long since forgotten. Instead we drove back to the oasis where we'd had lunch, had dinner and slept there after taking some great time-lapse photos of the stars.
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  • Day33

    Day 32: Southwest to Bawiti

    April 6, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    Long day of driving today, as we drove south from Alexandria, past the outskirts of western Cairo, and then southwest into the deserts that make up most of Egypt. Arrived into the town of Bawiti near Bahariya Oasis in the late afternoon, didn't have much time for sight-seeing unfortunately though we managed to find a nearby store selling beers and had a few sundowners on the rooftop. Unfortunately the hotel managers found this incredibly offensive (they were strict Muslims and would've stopped us bringing in alcohol if they'd noticed), so we got in a bit of trouble. Whoops :(Read more

  • Day32

    Day 31: El Alamein

    April 5, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Took an unscheduled day trip west today with a couple of the group members, to the WW2 battlefield at El Alamein. This area is well known to Australians as many diggers died here fighting in the North Africa campaign against Rommel and his Afrika Korps. There's a large, well-done military museum and a Commonwealth cemetery as well which we spent a few hours looking around. Not sure what the rest of the group did during this time.

    Back to Alexandria in the afternoon where I walked the promenade again and visited the Library. It's not the famous Library of Alexandria from antiquity, that burned down a couple of thousand years ago, but it's supposedly on or near the same spot. Big impressive building with lots of students around.

    Visited a supermarket in the evening to stock up on provisions, as tomorrow we were heading west into the desert!
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  • Day31

    Day 30: North to Alexandria

    April 4, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    We arrived back in Cairo late morning after our overnight train from Luxor. Hopped onto the minibus which took us many hours north to Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast, arriving in the late afternoon.

    Our hotel was right on the waterfront, where there's a long promenade around a bay. It almost felt like being in Europe, Nice or Naples or somewhere like that. It's also a bit different demography-wise, since the large student population means attitudes are a little more liberal than in Cairo and the south - not as many women in hijabs, for example.

    Went out for a brief walk along the promenade but there wasn't much to see, plus it was a little cold and wind-swept so I retreated to my room and probably wrote several diary entries. Went out for dinner with the group to a reasonable restaurant.
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  • Day30

    Day 29: Ballooning & Karnak Temple

    April 3, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    Super early start this morning, as we did a hot air balloon ride over the city at dawn! Amazing experience and very smooth - I was expecting it to feel unstable or perhaps even a little unsafe, but it's honestly like riding an elevator! We drifted eastwards over the Nile and then over the city proper, eventually landing in a small field - the captain joked whether we wanted an American landing (smooth), or an Egyptian landing (plonk)! Thankfully it was pretty smooth.

    The rest of the day was spent at Karnak Temple, which is the largest and best-preserved of all the ancient temples. It's absolutely enormous, and still in pretty good shape which is nice! But at this point it had been several straight days of ancient temples, and as beautiful and amazing as they are, it was definitely time for a break. Which was exactly what we were getting!

    Late in the evening we boarded an overnight train bound for Cairo, where we would pick up a minibus to Alexandria the following morning.
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  • Day29

    Day 28: Valley of the Kings

    April 2, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    Early start again to visit one of the highlights of Egypt, the Valley of the Kings. This is where all the ancient pharoahs were buried, hidden away in giant crypts dug into the desert. Luxor was the ancient capital (aka Memphis), and this was their burial ground. I actually didn't take any photos, since photography inside the temples isn't permitted, and outside isn't actually very interesting (just cave-style doorways, essentially). Inside was beautiful though, the colours of the paintings are incredible and it's difficult to believe they've been preserved so perfectly for several thousand years.

    We visited the tomb of Tutankhamun, but it's surprisingly small compared to many others. Later on we also visited the giant temple of Queen Hapshepsut built into a nearby cliff.
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  • Day28

    Day 27: Northwards to Luxor

    April 1, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    So this is where it gets awkward. This was a hand-written diary and I was often one or two days behind with writing, and being constantly busy in Egypt meant I eventually fell way behind. Yesterday's entry was the last one I actually wrote on the trip, so from here to the end it's basically reconstructed from memory, the Intrepid tour itinerary, and the dates on my photos.

    We sailed a little bit on the felucca in the morning, but eventually met up with a van for the remaining 3.5 hour drive north to Luxor. It's a larger city than Aswan but with some major sights. On the way we stopped at Edfu Temple with a huge still-standing facade, then later in the afternoon once we arrived in Luxor we visited Luxor Temple, one of the best-preserved temples from antiquity.
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  • Day27

    Day 26: Felucca Cruising & Camping

    March 31, 2011 in Egypt ⋅ 🌫 4 °C

    Speeding through my diary now since I've fallen slightly behind and am currently sitting at Cairo airport on my way home. We did hardly anything today on the felucca, just lots of dozing, reading, chatting and playing backgammon. Didn't actually travel that far up the river on account of the wind, but just sailing casually was very pleasant.

    Late in the afternoon we docked at a small island and set up our camp for the night. Ate and slept on the felucca, but were entertained by our Nubian crew singing and drumming while dancing around a bonfire.
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