Saturday, March 28, 2009

The weather's great; wish you were here!

Dear Friends and Family,

I really wanted send you all a postcard from Egypt. Honestly, the pictures that Tracey and I took are much better than the ol' gift shop variety! So, take a deep breath and get ready for this very long photo-driven blog.
Sarah, Tracey and I arrived in Sharm el Sheikh around 6:00 am, Sunday morning. We had been traveling since 2:00 pm, Saturday afternoon. We took a four hour nap, swam laps, ate lunch and then.... hit the beach!
Tracey and I raced back to our room because we had left our snorkel gear there. The coral reef attached to our hotel was amazing! We saw coral more brightly hued than any I saw in Hawaii. I especially fell in love with the purple coral. The fish were abundant and large. My favorite was large and brown with turquoise patterning. (If you want to do some decorating, a coral reef is a great place to start for inspiration!) Tracey spotted an iridescent torpedo looking fish. That was a fascinating one too. All week long we were literally swimming through schools of fish. Very appropriate for three teachers!
I think that it is mandatory for hotels in Sharm el Sheikh to come stocked with very cute, young, single men. These two boys took us out Sunday night, and showed us around Nama Bay. I quickly clued in that they were really sweet talking harmless goons. They were good to get to know, though, because they kept our supply of ice cream coming!

The next day was pretty much like the first. We swam laps, ate, and enjoyed the beach to our hearts' content. The only exception was that we met up with Ahmed, our tour leader who met us at the airport, to plan a Wednesday excursion. We planned a desert safari (more about that later) and Ahmed invited us out to Nama Bay. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe and danced until the wee small hours. Two Swedes, who we had met at the beach, happened to be there too. They were two econ majors set to graduate this spring.

Tracey with our first Ahmed, the tour leader. (Everyone was either named Ahmed or Muhammad. And no need for Jeff Dunham jokes Matthew, Ryan and Stephen!)
Happiness is open water! Sarah and I were working on our synchronized swimming routine. Do you know how many people asked if the two of us are sisters? I don't know either. I lost track. The funniest incidents were at the airport. Every single official asked and we just showed them our passports with smiles on our faces. Chances are a Canadian and an American are NOT sisters.
Sarah rented her snorkel equipment from this guy. She had Tracey and I come back with her so we could see "hot snorkel guy." I still have know idea how I ended up taking a picture with him. Lucky me!

The sun sets over Sharm el Sheikh. Ahhhhhh. It's beautiful. Sarah took this picture perched in our hammocks.
Sarah's favorite restaurant in Tirana is the Lebanese 1,001 Nights. We had Lebanese at our hotel, though I think we all agreed that it wasn't as good as the Lebanese we get in Tirana. What made this experience fun was the goofy outfits we dressed up in. Don't we look adorable in the fez hats? We made this an earlier night since our desert excursion was set to begin at 6:30 in the morning.
My fabulously funny friends! (Don't you love a good alliteration?)

Wednesday was the best. Our excursion plans were to take a desert safari in a jeep, go on a camel ride, snorkel in the Blue Hole, and eat a Baudoin lunch. That is what we planned on doing... We met up with another jeep full of Italian tourists. The two jeeps caravaned to a passport control area that led to the desert. The guard looked at my passport and said, "You are American." I know that. I didn't need to be told. Fifteen minutes passed. The tour guide came back and told us that we couldn't go on because this excursion was listed as Italian. No special arrangements had been made for one American and two Canadians. The American and Canadian governments will not allow their citizens to go out into the Egyptian desert without extra security. Sooooo, we asked to be taken to Ras Muhammad, the underwater national park. It was the luckiest mistake imaginable!
Here we are with our tour guide, preparing to board the boat. He was one lucky stiff too. Instead of heading to the hot sandy desert, he spent the day catching rays with three girls. It's the Egyptian man's dream (or so they say).

The boat made three stops. The first stop was sort of exciting. We saw a giant angel fish and fire coral. The boat was in motion so we had to grab hold of a rope in order to make it back safely. The other stops were great too!
The Red Sea cliffs! It's amazing being in a location of one of the most spectacular Bible stories. I'm really jealous of the Israelites who crossed the Red Sea on dry land and probably got to see all sorts of beautiful fish!
Here we are suited up for our last stop! We should have gone out earlier. Sarah found a string ray that was camouflaged to look like the sand of the sea. There was a sunken box with treasure inside (or so I told myself!). One of the other guides came out with us. He was totally cool and knew a lot about fish.
After 3 stops, sun and a tasty lunch, we returned to port. Another noteworthy point: I met a family from Scotland living in Baku, one of the towns that QSI wanted to send me to. They had 3 lovely girls and they all seemed to have so much fun together. It was refreshing to be around a close family.

Thursday was our last day in Sharm el Sheikh. We spent the last morning in the pool doing our morning laps and on the beach. Ahmed dropped us off at the airport and then stayed with us for a coffee (I had fresh strawberry juice.... yummy!). Then, we were off to Cairo!
We met up with our Cairo tour guide, also called Ahmed, Friday morning. We told him we needed to extend the day because we weren't scheduled to be at the airport until 1:30 am. He happily obliged and the result was literally "Cairo in a Day." Our first stop was the pyramids. We were given so much ancient Egyptian history! I loved it. Tracey, Sarah and I sat around in the Istanbul airport taking notes on all we had learned in Cairo.
Tracey pointed out that this picture can certainly make you appreciate the magnitude of the limestone. The ancient Egyptians floated the limestone up from the Nile once a year when the Nile flooded. I had learned that at one time or another, but being there and touching the limestone is different from textbook learning.

The three of us went inside the smaller pyramid, the pyramid built for the son of the dynasty's founder. It was narrow, dark and suffocating. I don't know how people could have worked inside.
After our visit inside the pyramids, we went to ride camels! I was a little nervous, at first. It wasn't being around the camels, it was being around the men leading the camels. Luckily, Ahmed negotiated everything beautifully. I really liked our guides and felt so safe on the camel.
My camel and I bonded so when the guided asked who wanted to run with their camel, I quickly volunteered. Exhilarating! I loved the thrill of racing along. Next time I want to ride an Arabian horse.
I think I was riding Snoopy. Isn't he cute? He was the best camel of all. I even learned how to "drive" him. I made him stop, go right, left and forward.
Matthew said to hug a camel for him, so I did!
I thought that all camels were as friendly as Snoopy, so when I went to pet this one, I had a shock. This one lunged out and tried to bite my shoulder. That's why I moved far away from this angry animal.
The three pyramids... the three girls. We rode camels through a sand storm as you can sort of see. My hair was caked with layers of sand. Gross.
The Sphinx! The reason his nose was broken off was to prove that he wasn't a god and not worthy of worship.

After the pyramids and Sphinx, we went to a paprys shop and loaded up on art. I got two amazing pieces that I can't wait to frame for my apartment. We went and had lunch on the Nile and then set out for Muhammed Ali's mosque.
Becase the mosque wasn't on the original itinerary, we didn't come prepared with long pants. We learned all about this mosque. It has four different names: The Blue Mosque (because it was modeled after the Blue Mosque in Turkey), The Citadel Mosque, Muhammed Ali's Mosque (who was actually Albanian and was made king of Egypt during the early 1900s. He kissed up to the Sultan in Turkey. Apparently he is the father of modern Cairo and very well respected), and The Alabaster Mosque.
After the mosque, we went to the museum, which was cool. We really rushed through it, though. Next time, I want to properly take my time. Then, we headed off to the Nile for a short and cold boat ride.
Tracey and I freezing on board. Brrrrrr.
We went to the oldest bazarre in Egypt, which was the site of the resent Egyptian explosion. It probably was the safest place to be because of all the extra security! Ahmed's friend, Nana, met us there and we went off for a Boudian dinner under the stars.
Here we are, freezing again, but prepared to enjoy yummy food! The bar-b-que was great and the conversation was awesome. Nana was the first Egyptian girl that we had hung out with. She and Ahmed had gone to college together, so she didn't put up with any of his ego (which was rather large).
They gave us the fire pit which we warmed our hands over. Then, they made tea for us over the stones. By that time, we were ready to head to the hotel to wait for the airport pick up.

Thanks for reading along as I relived the Egyptian holiday. I really did spend a great amount of time thinking about family and friends and wishing that you were along for the ride!


Herbalist said...

If you knew the history of the red fez I don't think you would have been posing for pictures while wearing them. Here is a snippet of what they symbolize.

"The name "De Fez" refers to the Moroccan city of Fez. When the first Muslims raided the town, they killed so many Christians and Jews that the streets ran red with their blood. Celebrating death while shouting Allahu Akbar, the Muslim mujahideen dipped their hats in the blood of their victims, staining them red."

If you don't believe me, look it up.

Nicole said...

Wow Holly!!! It looks like you had an amazing time!

Andrea said...

Holly with a camel. Holly in beautiful ocean blue water, Holly with a fez hat! Holly with a hot snorkel guy!!! Holly having fun- LOVED the post! :) Take care, we miss you!!!!

Melinda aka Passionfruit said...

OMG! you rock! what a fabuloso time you had in Eygpt! I was there at age 16, but never even imagined one could have that much you have an extra beaded beanie thingy that I could have, kinda like having corn rows without the work! I am familiar with the beautiful clothing that you had to wear to see the mosques, I have a photo of myself in full "mosque visiting garb". Did you see Aladdin cruise by on a magic carpet?

Chris S. said...

Thanks, Holly, for the great post! Many of us are living vicariously through you, you know.

Michelle (aka mybelle101) said...

WOW, Holly! I absolutely {{love}} reading about all of your adventures! Thanks for taking the time to write it all I *really* want to visit Egypt (yet another place to add to my travel wish-list!)...maybe you can come with me and be my tour guide! ;)

Vanest said...

Holly-I SO enjoyed your pics and descriptions of the Egypt trip! My mouth dropped open when I saw the Red Sea cliffs...amazing! I loved the history and other tidbits you added along the way and I LOVE that you included a dress-up picture of the three of you at the Lebanese guys are awesome! And I have to see those beautiful fish someday...thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Holly-saw your folks on easter and they told me about your blog. Great pics. I didn't know you were a diver. When you are back home you can get a job on an urchin boat.