Saturday, January 23, 2010

Giza + Sinai

Hola Amigos,

The Meesh and I are still holding it down in Cairo. It is a lovely day here. A lovely day to blog.

Giza:
As you may have noticed from our snazzy new title photo, we made a visit to the pyramids of Giza earlier this week. It was day of highs and lows. The pyramids are only about 15 minutes away from where we are staying in Cairo and are visible from the highway, which is quite strange. One difficult thing about the pyramids is that the "hagglers" are on camels, which allow them to follow you more quickly. It is also intimidating to have a slobbery, hump backed mammal right at your eye line when being yelled at. We managed to escape most of the mayhem by wandering to the desert side of the pyramids. This was a high point. Seeing the pyramids un-obstructed by hoards of tourists, tour buses, camels drivers, and camel buses was really nice.

Not knowing where the Sphinx was, we flagged down a horse and "carriage". The driver was really nice and we made small talk about Obama and such. As we were nearing the Sphinx, our horse tripped, hit its face on the ground, and crumbled beneath our cart. This was a huge low point. Our driver fell off (we think he broke his arm), and we leapt off the cart as it was on its end. Tons of people immediately rushed over to help out as the horse was stuck under the cart. Thankfully, everything ended well, with the horse being freed (after around 20 minutes) and more importantly without any apparent injury. We were both really shook up afterwards and totally confused by what had just happened.

To finish our morning at Giza, we went inside the great pyramid. There are a few winding hallways and tunnels that you can crawl through and up. It was a cool experience to be inside the largest pyramid in the world, but we know that there's a lot more to see that they have blocked/roped off... Egypt is holding out. We had planned on going to some other pyramid sights, but felt that Giza had provided enough memories for one day.




Sinai:
After recouping from Giza, we set off on a bus to the Sinai Peninsula. The roads to St. Catherine (Mt. Sinai) had mostly been washed out by a flood (the largest in 16 years) and were closed until the day of our journey. It was entertaining and a bit disconcerting to watch our bus driver pick and choose which rocks to drive over and which "puddles" to drive through. We arrived in the evening and my, oh my, was it freezing! There's not much in St. Catherine, save for a few restaurants, Mt. Sinai, a beautiful monastery, and a hostel here and there. Because it was so dark, we had no idea of the incredible landscape. We could only make out the faint, shadowy, edges of the jagged, steep mountains that surround the town. Our hostel was appropriately called, "Moon land".

It is recommended to hike up Mt. Sinai in the middle of the night, so you can watch the sunrise from the summit. We began our trek at 2:30 am and set off to tackle the beast. Walking along the unlit road to the base of the mountain is quite eerie. We could barely make out the shapes of bedouins in white cloaks walking their gurgling camels towards us. I had begun not feeling well before leaving for St. Catherine, but figured that we should give it a go anyway. Starting at 3:00 am, our bedouin guide, Emmit, used his cell phone as a flashlight to help guide us up the 6 km trail to the top of Mt. Sinai.

Michelle was a champ and walked with authority all the way to the top. I, on the other hand, faded really quickly. I caved in and saddled up on a camel which made me feel better health wise, but far worse in other ways. 1. Riding a camel is very uncomfortable. 2. My camel walked diagonally up the trail, so that its rump was constantly hanging over the edge of the mountain.

It began snowing about half way up. Thankfully, there are warming huts complete with blankets, tea, and Snickers at various points along the trail. As we neared the top, it was still incredibly cloudy and all of the local bedouins announced that we wouldn't even be able to see the sunrise. Lo and behold, at the summit, the clouds opened up beautifully and shone in the most vibrant sunrise either of us have ever seen. It was so bright, that we had a quick debate as to whether there were active volcanoes nearby. It was a beautiful moment, and made the trek up more than worth it.
video





We only have a few more days here with our gracious and lovely friends (Emilee and Andrew), before we say goodbye to Africa and hello to Turkey! Tomorrow we plan on catching the Vikings clinch a Super Bowl berth under the courage, tenacity, and beauty of Favre.

Love you all, and we leave you with some fun photos of hanging out in Cairo.



Friday, January 15, 2010

Aloha

Dear friends and family,

My how time flies! We have much to catch up on, and will do our darndest to fill you in.

Massai Mara:
On New Years Eve, we made our way to the Massai Mara for a safari. We were greeted by Jared (the manager) with a cold glass of lemonade and a damp cloth for our foreheads. Perfect start. The "tents" we stayed in were more of a mini resort. We had running water, hot (bucket) showers, a mint on our pillows and a view that opened up to water buffaloes grazing the plains. The camp isn't fenced in at all so animals freely roam during the day and night. One lady opened up her tent to a lioness, while another couple had some things stolen by monkeys that had broken into their tent.


Anywho, on our first game drive, it was nearing sundown and we happened upon a suspicious group of lionesses and some nervous antelope. Shortly thereafter, one of the lionesses broke off from the pact and went full Usain Bolt after the antelope. Our jeep gunned it, and we found ourselves only meters away from the catch. It was a bit of a bittersweet moment. Seeing a kill is quite rare, and seeing it all so close was quite exciting.


To make everything even more awesome, we drove out into an open plain for champaign, appetizers, and the sunset. Moments later, Massai warriors appeared and began performing their tribal dancing, chanting, and jumping. It was quite the cool experience.


Other highlights included seeing a 3 month old cheetah cub, a jackal catch and then release an antelope, and eating lots of good food.





Diani Beach:
A few days after returning from the safari, we took a 16 hour train to Diani Beach. The train is infamous within Kenya and was quite an experience itself. The tracks go through slums, cities, and the countryside. Children and their mothers would run along the train waving and yelling, "How are you?".



Diani Beach is a small beach town right along the Indian Ocean. Our first day there, we met an awesome couple from Sweden and spent the next number of days with them. Very lazy days that mostly included going to the beach and watching the Office at night. The downside of Diani Beach is that the "beach boys" (the guys who try and sell you everything!) often blocked our view of the water. Sometimes they would just sit in front of us and wink and blow kisses at Michelle when I wasn't looking. In terms of hassling/selling they were easily the most obnoxious we came across. I developed different methods of dealing with them including building sand castles and trying to sell them to a persistent beach boy and waving my finger furiously while yelling no as belligerently as possible. One of them said to me after a long ordeal of me refusing his services, "Your heart is like Russia. Cold and Hard.". It was perhaps the quote of the trip thus far.



After Diani Beach, it was off and up to Egypt!

Cairo:
We've now been in Cairo for a few days and love it. We are staying with some good friends from college and they have been awesome with showing us around and taking good care of us. The people here are easily the nicest and most hospitable of anywhere we've been. With that said, I've never heard more car honking, seen so much dust, or eaten with my hands so much. It's also still a bit eerie to hear the call to prayer over loudspeakers throughout the city 5 times a day. We've spent a lot of time in markets and at mosques, and will likely make our way to Giza in the next few days to see some pyramids and the Sphinx.





On a side note, one of our friends has a connection at the American embassy, which means we get to watch the Vikings this Sunday night! While my purple shirt is a bit dirty from not having been washed for close to a month now, I will wear it with pride as Favre dismantles the Cowboys.

We love hearing from you back home, so please keep writing when you have a chance!

Love you all.