Monday 26 November 2007

A day in Istanbul (Day 15)

There was almost a three hour wait in front of us when we arrived to the Cairo airport. Our plane to Istanbul was scheduled for 2:30 AM.
When we finally landed in Turkey it was around 5 o'clock in the morning.
Wandering around airports, waiting for airplains always seems to tire me out. This time it was no different. Regardless of that, we have decided to take a day-trip to the center of Istanbul. Our other option was to wait at the airport for our flight to Ljubljana - more then six hours later.
Our last-time experience with prices on this same airport was not very pleasant (you can read more about that in this post). So with no real alternatives available we changed some of our money into Turkish Lira and caught a train to the city center.

The transport took quite a while. Once we got to the city center it was only time for a few things. First we went to see the Blue Mosque (a.k.a. Sultan Ahmed Mosque).

On our way to the mosque we went by Sultanahmet Square where stands one of the many obelisks that were taken from Egypt. If you ask me those things should be left in Egypt in the first place. I have been ranting about that before (you can read it in this post).

The Blue Mosque is one of two Turkish mosques with six minarets. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.
We were quite impressed with its size and simple beauty.

By the time we were done with the mosque we were getting quite hungry. It was a perfect time to try a local stew called Chorba (or Çorba). It is a kind of lentil soup.
The first course of many meals in Turkey starts with some kind of soup and this is the most common one. Lentil soup is very healthy and is not prepared with heavy saturated fats. Because of its health benefits many Turkish babies/children grow up eating lentil soups.
So we had a delicious bowl of Çorba with hot crusty bread fresh out of the oven. Drizzly some lemon over and you have yourself a hardy meal for only a couple of Euros!

With our tummies full we went for a short stroll around the city center. Before we caught a train back to the airport we couldn't resist buying some Turkish souvenirs.

Our flight home went by as planned and around 5 PM we landed in Slovenia. The Egyptian adventure was over and has left us pretty much exhausted. On one hand it felt nice to be back home again, but on the other hand it was soon gonna be all work and boring routine again - I was missing Egypt already.
After getting to our flat we had a thorough shower and went strait to bed.

M. and I both slept like dead for the next 15 hours.


Friday 23 November 2007

Diving without a licence (Day 14)

Our last day in Egypt began (like the rest of them) with a clear blue sky and hot, hot sun above us.

The bigger part of our group wanted to take it easy by the hotel pool and enjoy a cocktail or two. M. and I have decided that we'll have enough time to rest when we get back home.
We have been quite busy these 14 days but we wanted to make the most of what was left of our time in Egypt. Who knows when (if ever) we'll be back again.

Not so long ago we were thinking of getting a PADI OWD diving license but in the end decided not to do it at that time. Since we didn't have a license we had to find some kind of an alternative. We didn't know it until then but you can get a taste of diving even without a license. It is called Introduction dive.
After some research we chose one of local diving agencies. They charged us €35 per person with transport and equipment included.

The vehicle that picked us up was not in a very good shape but we didn't mind it. After all it was the diving experience we were interested in.

When we arrived to the diving site we first had some paperwork to fill and equipment to try. Our instructor took us to the beach, where we listened to some theory. After a quarter of an hour we were ready for some hands on experience.
Another fifteen minutes of practice in waist deep water and we were swimming away for the real thing. Those few exercises help you learn a few basic things like emptying your mask underwater. It also helps your instructor to decide how deep can he take you.
I guess we did quite well because he took us under 10 meters. The dive itself took about a half an hour and we saw some serious fish. Among others there were some lionfish and parrotfish swimming around. We even saw a tuna.
Unfortunately we didn't take our camera with us that day. So no photos of me wearing all that diving equipment. I'm sure both of my readers will be really disappointed.

We really enjoyed it and have decided that if/when we decide to move on with our PADI license we will come back to Red Sea to do it. It's quite an alternative compared to learning in a swimming pool back at home. And most likely it would be even cheaper.

After returning to the hotel we had just enough time to grab a meal. We had a delicious portion of squids by the beach.
We didn't have much time to grab our bags from the hotel and stuff them into a minibus. Before we knew it we were looking at Dahab in our rear-view mirror.

About an hour into the desert we stopped at a police checkpoint. After a routine passport check our guide has realized that his documents were left at the Dahab hotel.
If we liked it or not we had to wait at a nearby cafe until the documents were delivered.

After a few cups of tea we were back on our way. This time we had no trouble passing through the checkpoint and into the desert.

Our driver was pushing the pedal to the metal. He didn't mind the traffic much and was overtaking everything and all the time. In one of such situations when there was also a car coming the opposite way, a loud bang could be heard. The driver somehow managed to maneuver the minibus to the edge of the road.
It was our rear right tyre.

My first thought was: 'Do we have a spare?' It wouldn't be very funny to be left in the middle of the desert with a flat tyre when you have a plane to catch.
At that time we were still more then 500 kilometers away from Cairo and at the same time our eventual replace ride was many hours away.

Fortunately we had a spare and soon enough the blown-to-shreds tyre was replaced and we were on our way again.

The rest of our trip went by without any further incidents. It was past midnight when we arrived to Cairo airport.


Tuesday 20 November 2007

Snorkeling at Blue Hole (Day 13)

A quick tour of our latest accommodation in Dahab revealed that this was the best hotel so far. It was really something completely different compared to the first one in Cairo. It even had a pool. The water inside the pool had a suspiciously greenish tone to it but we enjoyed a swim anyway.

Undeniably president Hosni Mubarak is a very important figure in Egypt (he has been the not-so-democratically-elected president of the country since 1981). You can see his image on almost every corner and Dahab is no exception. He is always waving and smiling at people passing by.

Early in the morning our guide arranged a ride to take us to the famous Blue Hole. It is one of the top diving sites in the world. The Blue Hole is just that - a very large hole over 200 m in diameter and dropping to over 80 m.
Obviously when snorkeling you shouldn't dive that deep. We didn't mind because there were just so many fish of all sizes and colors swimming around just below the surface. The coral reef begins at a depth of half a meter. We enjoyed every one of many trips to the water that day.

Judging by the stone and metal plates on a nearby rocky wall all of the divers don't settle for a reasonable depth. So once in a while the Red sea decides to chew somebody up and then after a while it spits him out or swallows him forever.

The time between snorkeling was mostly spent relaxing and enjoying delicious local drinks. We mostly drank freshly squeezed fruit juices and cocktails.
I also tried a few games of backgammon. It seems like almost everybody plays backgammon in Egypt. If you ask a bartender at any Egyptian bar for the board and pieces, you have a pretty good chance he'll give them to you. Free of charge of course.

Since most of the day was spent snorkeling, we were quite exhausted when we got back to our hotel.
In the evening we decided to taste some of the stuff we saw underwater. We went to one of many restaurants lined up by the sea. It was quite expensive but in the end - worth it.

Slowly we were starting to realize that we had just another day of Egypt left.


Friday 16 November 2007

A story about a boy and a dolphin (Day 12)

For the second night in a row we had a chance to sleep under the stars, just a step away from the sea.

What's better then a swim in the sea first thing in the morning? And it is Red Sea I'm talking about!
In my book hardly anything can top that. Well, I can actually think of a few things, but this is not that kind of a blog...

Anyway, some twenty meters into the sea there was a lonely coral rock and a bunch of fish of all colors around it. It was at a depth of around three meters, so I could get real close. Not too close though - there was a Lionfish swimming around and I didn't want to push my luck. There was no sign of dolphins though.

After breakfast I went for a stroll around the little village of Nuweiba.
Just outside the camp there was a sign standing by the road. I could tell it was standing there for some years. It had a faded inscription on it saying:

Dolphin dreams - Swim with wild dolphins

When I asked our guide about it he told me a story about a mute Bedouin boy who became friends with a wild dolphin.

The dolphin kept returning to the same spot every day. When the word about the unusual friendship got around, they were famous. More and more people started coming to Nuweiba to see it with their own eyes and also to swim with the dolphin.

It didn't take long for some people to see a business opportunity in this. So soon enough visitors were charged to swim with the dolphin.
Unfortunately money usually comes together with greed. In this case it was no different. Some people just couldn't get enough and started quarreling.

From that point on, there are two versions of the story (one sadder then the other):

  • The first version says that in one of those quarrels someone really lost his temper. He simply took his rifle and shot the poor dolphin.

  • By the second version the dolphin supposedly sensed the quarrels and problems emerging because of him. He simply swam away and never came back again.

You can decide for yourself which one of those two options seemes more plausible.

The only dolphin we saw when staying in Nuweiba was a wooden one by the sea. It is supposed to remind people of the ruined friendship between a boy and a dolphin.

After breakfast we left it all behind and headed into the desert once again.

We had another canyon on our itinerary. By my opinion this one was the most spectacular of them all. It is a colorful canyon, also called Rainbow Canyon. Those colorful patterns were nothing short of spectacular.

Among other interesting things we saw a huge desert lizard. Well it seemed huge through my European eyes. It was about a meter long and really fat.

When Abdullah our Bedouin guide saw it, he jumped after it. The lizard just had enough time to hide into a deep hole under a rock.
This didn't stop Abdullah. He tried hard to dig it out, but after ten minutes or so gave it up.
Lizards of that kind are supposedly a Bedouin delicacy. I'm not sure if he wasn't just teasing us and only wanted to dig it up for us to take a closer look at it.

At the only time I could take a photo of it, M. had my photo camera. However she successfully took photos of another much smaller but just as interesting desert lizard.

Like those other canyons we saw, this one also had a few tight places to squeeze through. It was fun. Well at least for some of us.

After gathering some sand in many different colors we left the desert and headed for Dahab.


Friday 9 November 2007

Return to the desert (Day 11)

In the morning there was no need for an alarm clock. There was not a person among us that could still sleep 20 minutes after sunrise. The temperature rose for 10 degrees almost instantly after sunrise.

We have spent the night under the stars, tucked into our sleeping bags. Because there was nothing between the stars and us I was a bit worried about the dew. Of course there was no sign of it. The temperature dropped just below 30 degrees Celsius during the night.

After a morning swim in the sea and a breakfast we were ready for the desert again.

The guides took us to another canyon - quite different from one the day before. In spite of that it was just as interesting.

A planned short stop at a Bedouin settlement took a bit longer then expected. It was because of a broken down jeep. We tried to communicate with the locals in the meantime. They were of course hoping to make a business deal or two. We weren't to excited about their goods but spending quite some time with them took its tool.

I watched children as they were playing and running around with not a worry on their mind. They didn't even have shoes but it didn't seemed like they missed them. I guess they can have a much richer childhood compared to average European children. They looked like an Egyptian version of Gypsy children.

After a long wait the jeep was ready and we had to rearrange our plans again. This was happening all the time and I was glad I didn't have to worry about it. Our guide Matjaz did the best he could to adjust the plans to wishes of The one above and to our wishes.

A lunch break followed. Our cook prepared a simple yet delicious meal for us at the Green Eye Oasis. We were supposed to spend the night there by the original plan but since the dispute between the government and some Bedouin clans hasn't been resolved yet, we had to head for the beach again.

On the way back to Nuweiba we stopped at some strange buildings called Nawamis. Despite the fact they are made of stone, they stay comfortably cool inside even during midday. That's because of the air between individual layers of stone.
The sunset was not far away and the light was just perfect for taking photos. I took the opportunity to take a photo of the whole bunch of our Bedouin companions: two jeep drivers, our chef and Abdullah the guide.

When we reached Nuweiba it was already dark. This didn't stop us from taking a swim. While swimming we noticed a strange thing. Whenever we waved our hands underwater it resulted in sparks flying all around. It was like swimming in a sea full of fireflies! I have heard of this thing before, but haven't seen it in person until this night. It is a kind of phosphorescent algae that causes this.

We chatted long into the night before falling asleep.


Thursday 8 November 2007

Egyptian locusts

I have already mentioned the locust harassment that occurred close to a desert well (check the previous post for details). The Bedouins told us that some little animals are always gathering around the nearby plant called the apple of Sodom.

I took many photos. These two turned out the best and I decided to post them. As you can see there were two different kinds of locusts posing for me.

I have never seen this kind before. However I think there could be some strange correlation with the fact that this was my first time to Egypt.


Monday 5 November 2007

Into the Sinai desert (Day 10)

This was my first true desert experience (I'm not counting the camel ride in Aswan a few days before).

If your read my previous post carefully, you should guess that our first desert stop was at a desert canyon.

The desert canyon we visited is in fact one of many wadis of Sinai desert. A wadi is a dry riverbed that is occasionally (once or twice a year during the rainy season) filled with water.

Some parts of it were so narrow that we literally had to squeeze through. And it was a tight squeeze!

In one of the wider parts of the canyon stands a strange rock formation. Abdullah - our Bedouin guide told us what it was:
a fossilized coral reef - once underwater, today in the middle of the desert.

The guides also took us to one of the larger sand dunes in the area. We even tried jumping from the top of a nearby cliff. It was more then a 5 meter jump into the sand. The landing was surprisingly soft.
Those of us who gathered the courage and tried the jump, enjoyed it pretty much and repeated it a few times before moving on.

We also made a stop at a desert well. Our all-terrain Toyota needed it badly. Still today camels drink from the well. So did our Toyota. I'm not sure whether it was the heat or simply the state of the vehicle, but it needed a water refill every half an hour.

Not far away from the well stood a plant called Apple of Sodom. It had apple-like fruits growing on it. Its fruits may look pretty, after days in the desert perhaps even tasty, but are unfortunately poisonous. The tree was full of locusts. There were at least two kinds of them. I was harassing them until we moved on.

The sun was just above the horizon when we reached a tourist camp in a small beach town of Nuweiba. It seemed like we were the only guests. After settling in we decided to take a swim. It felt so good after a day in the scorching desert heat.

I didn't realize it until then, but we had quite a full day behind us:
sunrise at 2288 meters above sea level, lunch in the desert and swimming in the Red sea at sunset for grand finale.

When was the last time you had a day like that?!

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