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Travelling Light

Hello one and all. Sorry for the delay in writing, but here are my latest tales...

My last few days in Dahab were spent mostly relaxing, with the odd dive thrown in for good measure. Mainly I was doing the relaxing thing though - sitting on the beach with a shisha, looking out across the Red Sea to Saudi, gazing up at the palm trees, swaying gently in the breeze. Nice!

Before we left we had a brain wave - we would only be in Cairo for two days, and would then be returning here to Dahab, so why not leave our big packs here, and take only our day packs and a change of clothes? Great idea...only of course we didn't come straight back, we did the rest of Egypt (well, Aswan, feluccas & Luxor - nine days more than we had bargained for) first, then came back! It's actually been a blessing in disguise, not having to lug them around everywhere, but as you can imagine, we've been handwashing like crazy every chance we've got!

One may have thought that taking the night bus to Cairo would provide an opportunity to sleep...but alas, no. Regular police checkpoints, stops preceded by unnecessary beeping of horns (they really do like beeping horns out here - it's like they think the cars won't work unless they do!), bright lights alternating with loud films (one crap English one, one crap Arabic one), and having less leg room than you would expect to get on a budget flight put paid to that idea!

Once we'd arrived & grabbed a couple of hours sleep, I headed out to the museum, which was amazing - a mind blowing array of stuff on display. I had received countless warnings about Cairo, so was prepared for the worse - but I actually didn't mind the place - probably because I had such low expectations. It's full of hustle, bustle, horns, pollution, & is basically just another big city, but I survived it - and only ended up in one perfume shop (people stop you constantly on the street, offering advice, directions, but say "first just let me get you a business card", then you get led into a perfume or papyrus shop for the hard sell)!

The next day we got up really early (before 7!!) and went to the nearby hotel where the people from the Istanbul-Cairo tour were being dropped off. It was really good to see them, and we caught up on all the gossip, and found out about the drunken antics that we'd missed out on. Then it was straight back round to our hotel with poor old Jade - who was our tour leader on both the last tour and this one - to meet the new group. They seem like a good bunch - let's hope so, anyway, as we've 18 weeks with most of them! Later that day we met up with some of our original crew, and had a goodbye drink, and a lovely evening.

The next day we did the obligatory tour of the pyramids, going inside one and seeing the Sphinx as well, an left that night for Aswan, catching the overnight train for the ten hour journey, which was surprisingly roomy. I awoke before six to see that light was creeping into the sky. Silhouetted palm trees near & far stood out against the horizon, bruised pink and yellow. Minarets dotted around, topped by slender crescents. Soon the huge golden orange disc of the sun started to haul itself into the sky, burning fiercely. Magical and well worth the train ride to see! In the dawns light we passed fields divided into narrow strips, which reminded me of Thailand, especially as some of them had been flooded like the paddy fields there, and were being pecked at by ibis.

Crops of banana trees, maize & sugar cane passed by, along with ones I couldn't identify. At the edges tethered donkeys, water buffalo, even camels grazed. As the sun rose higher and the morning drew on, workers in traditional dress tended their fields, some using makeshift plows. We chugged past mudbrick houses, roofed with sticks and straw - I guess when you come from Bedouin stock, you put a different emphasis on the permanence of your buildings than we do in the west.

We arrived at our destination around 1030, and spent the afternoon on a tour of the High Dam and Philae Temple. The next day we had an early start - and at 0400, I do mean early - and travelled in convoy the 260 km to Abu Simbel. Tourist buses in Egypt have to travel in convoy, with an armed guard due to the explosion of a tourist bus here a few years ago. The attack was carried out by Islamic fundamentalists, who objected to the fact that Egypt recognises Israel, and wanted to hit the government where it hurts - the tourist industry. The convoys now are, I think, more for show, and for the peace of mind of the Egyptian authorities. When you actually think of it, it makes less sense to group together a big bunch of tourist buses - if anyone did want to attack, then they'd get much more for there money this way!

The temple is fronted by four 20 metre statues of Ramses II carved into. Behind this facade is the temple itself, containing countless carvings on the walls. This and the adjacent temple to the god Isis were moved from there original places, which are now flooded by water from the High Dam. A mammoth task! The next day we were to board our feluccas, for three days and nights of floating on the Nile.

They were brilliant! They are small boats, around 15 metres long, with one large triangular sail. Boards are put across the seats around the edge of the inside, which leaves lots of room for lounging around on, as well as handy storage room for rucksacks (well, for those of us that have rucksacks, anyway!). They tack back and forth across the Nile, slowly making progress down river - we covered 50 miles in three days, so they're not a form of transport to use if you are in a hurry!

We had three boats between the whole group. Natalie was on Party Boat, the loudest boat, who also seemed to always come in last. Then there was Fast Boat, AKA Drinking Boat, who had normally cracked their first beer by half nine. I was on Lazy Boat, which was really cool - we just lazed around, having the occasional beer - sometimes even sitting up! On our first night aboard, we were all asleep before we docked for the night at 2130, and didn't even hear the other two boats partying on the beach! The second night we were still awake at 2230, as we pulled in to our resting place for the night - but we pretended to be asleep so we wouldn't get dragged off the boat. I fell asleep to the sound of drums that night! Last night we did actually alight for a while, and stood around the fire for ten minutes or so, but then we saw party boat, bringing up the rear as usual, so we made our excuses and left.

It wasn't all lying down though, we had to get up a couple of times, once for Kom-Ombo temple - which was empty of tourists, just the way I like my temples! Our other stop was at a camel market, which was brilliant! There were just an unbelievable amount of camels there, that had been walked for a month and a half through the desert from Sudan. They were milling around, one front leg doubled up & tied, so they can't run away - though they could still shift some when they want to. We saw some being branded too. Needless to say, I took lots of photos...

While I was on the feluccas, I came to the conclusion that I really do like lounging around doing nothing - I guess the signs have been there for years, really. So anyway, I have tentatively decided to spend a month on a beach, probably in Thailand, before I head off to Oz next year, so if anyone has any suggestions for nice, budget beaches/islands/accommodation, please let me know. Thank you. Now, back to the tale...

Unfortunately the next morning the time had come to leave our lazy home, and we were off by seven, and wandering around Edfu temple. An hour later we were in another convoy en route to Luxor, our base for Valley of the Kings. We stayed in a (by our standards) posh hotel, that even had a swimming pool!! We had yet another early start in the morning, so I had an early night - and lay there, swaying like I was still on the boat.

In the morning we crossed the Nile, and met up with the donkeys that were to be our steeds for the day. Fortunately they were all reasonably healthy looking, so we didn't feel too guilty about riding them - a lot of the animals over here are pretty skinny, and it is painful to see them being beaten to work harder. My donkey was a bit slow, and anally obsessed - it spent most of the time sniffing the other donkeys' bottoms or trying to eat poo - nice! We all trotted off down the road for a way, before cutting across the stony ground to Valley of the Queens. I'd really not expected it to be so pretty there, but with the limestone mountains all around, it was pretty impressive. We visited a couple of tombs there, one of which had amazingly colourful hieroglyphs.

Next we went on a mammoth ride up into the mountains - getting off our donkeys for the steep bits, up and down. We went along a path at the top of the ridge, and down into the awesome Valley of the Kings. We left the donkeys at the top, overlooking the valley, and scrambled down the rocks (no injuries, fortunately!), where we visited some more tombs. Our last stop was Queen Hatchepsut's Tomb, again in spectacular surroundings against a backdrop of mountains. Then tired & hot, we rode our poor old donkeys back to the river, through fields of sugar cane for some of the way, with the donkeys stopping suddenly on the way to grab a mouthful. That evening a few of us went to the sound and light show at Karnak Temple, which was really good. We were just about templed out, but this was a great and different way to see one. We were guided through the temple, while different sections were lit up and voices spoke of the way it used to be.

So on Wednesday 23/10 we left Luxor for the 16-hour journey back to Dahab. We boarded our Pullman coach at 1700, and I sat up front, above the driver - a seat which had the mixed blessings of slightly more leg room...but a better view of proceedings. After sunset the usual Egyptian night-time games had begun of driving without your lights on! They drive in darkness, and then flash (if) when they see another vehicle approaching - fuck knows why! Something to do with the fatalistic attitude of "inshallah", god willing. It's either a death wish thing or machismo, but makes for rather nailbiting journeys. Despite all this, a couple of breakdowns and regular police/passport checks, I still managed to clock up about six hours sleep in total - not bad going.

We arrived at Dahab bus station at 1100, and it was almost like coming home! We were met by a couple of the owners, who seemed as pleased to see us as we were them. Once we had our rooms sorted, and were reunited with our backpacks (yeah!) it was back to the old Dahab routine of lounging around & eating - it's good to be back. I had a dive this morning, and am to be picked up in an hour & transported to Sharm El Sheik where I will spend the night on a dive boat before diving the Thistlegorm - a boat that sunk during the war, and still has countless military vehicle on board - in the morning.

We fly out to Addis Ababa on the 29th - I think I probably mentioned that due to the impending war with Iraq, (is that still about to happen?) we are not going to risk driving through Sudan, who are traditionally allies of Iraq. It's a shame, but with two yanks and five Brits on board, I guess it's for the best. Bloody politics! When we get to the airport, we should pick up the truck - which I am really looking forward to - I can't wait to be driving alone with my head out of the window, watching the world go by again. Happy days.

Well until I write again (not sure what the internet access will be like in Ethiopia), good bye. Hope you are well, happy and enjoying life.


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