In the time we've been in Europe the longest trip we've been on was four days when we went to Croatia for Ryan's birthday and when we traveled with my Mom (I still plan to post about that... hopefully). So I've decided that our trip to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan can rightfully be called the "big kahuna" of trips because we were gone for 11 days. And I just sort of doubt we'll be able to round up that many days off again for another trip, so most likely this trip was our "big" trip while we are here. Oh what a trip it was... would you like to hear about it? Okay, I'm going to do my best to tell you everything while not writing a novel.
We went to work on June 28th. As soon as we were done with work we ran some errands, returned to the Abrams to pack, and by 7:15 we were on the road to the airport. We bought our tickets at the beginning of April and I don't think either of us could believe that three months had passed and we were actually leaving on this epic adventure.
We parked the car at a lot that thank goodness was super reasonably priced and they shuttled us directly to where we needed to be to check in. I made it through passport control and security easily and I had no idea what was taking Ryan such a long time at the area they look inside his backpack. Finally he emerged and the hold up was from the woman making him suck every last drop of water out of his camelback, the apparatus that hold water in his backpack with a hose that comes our the pack so he can drink it while walking. She had never seen anything like it and as she pulled it out of his backpack with all the tubing and everything apparently she was giving it quite an odd look. And the two of them had to work together trying to squeeze all the water out of the hose... I guess they are very strict in Germany about no liquids. Anyway that is the only "excitment" from our departure from Germany. Once we were both through we shared a sandwich and a beer before boarding a bus which delivered us to the plane. I wish I could report we got a lot of rest since our flight left Munich at 11:15pm and arrived in Tel Aviv at 4 am (which equates to 3 am our time) but the plan was full of very talkative and wide awake Israelis who apparently were very excited to get home. So sleep was minimal and the flight felt a lot longer than 3.5 hours. But we made it safe and sound and were thankful everything went so smoothly.
From the airport we took a train to downtown Tel Aviv. We then walked a couple blocks to the New Central Bus Station and wanted to take the 6:30 bus to Eilat Israel on the southern most tip of the country, which borders Egypt. Unfortunately that bus was already full, so we had to get tickets for the 8 o'clock one. No big deal. While we waited we shared a container of fruit. There are stands all over with lots of fresh fruit cut up that you just tell them what you want in what size of container and then pay based on the size of container. It was so delicious. We also each had a pastry that we bought from a really nice man who randomly used to live in Portland. He ran a restaurant on NW 23rd Ave which is one of Ryan and my favorite places in Portland with a plethora of fabulous restaurants and some of the cutest (and most expensive) boutique shops. It was fun talking to him. He was a big fan of the US. He said that our countries helps Israel A LOT and so most Israelis really love Americans. He also shared his opinion that if Israel wasn't fighting other countries they'd probably just all kill each other. Of course that is just his opinion, but it was interesting to hear him say that.
Our bus was right on time and at first wasn't all that full, but along the way we picked up many people and it ended up packed by the end of our journey. I'm glad we took the bus even though it was about six hours. It gave us the opportunity to see the Negev dessert. The Negev makes up a large part of Israel, but not necessarily and area I planned to explore. Now we can say that we saw it. We stopped for bathroom breaks several times. The first stop Ryan and I shared a icy slushy thing that was mint lemonade with real mint chopped up in it. It was so good. We craved it for the rest of our trip, but sadly never found it again.
We arrived at the Eilat bus station and we fairly hungry, so we each had our first falafel of Israel. It was good, but little did I know then later on I would have the best falafel ever! We took a bus from the central station to the border. We crossed from Eilat, Israel to Taba, Egypt. The crossing process all went smoothly. When we were in Taba right before getting our passports stamped a man approached us and explained that if we planned to go to Cairo (which we did) we needed a different Visa than for the Sinai. I knew this because for just the Sinai penninsula you can get a free Visa, but for the rest of Egypt you must pay $15 for a Visa and you can get this at the airport. Since we were planning to fly from the Sinai to Cairo I thought we could just get it there. Unfortunately we learned here at the border that you can only buy the Visa at the airport if you are flying in from abroad, not a domestic flight. "Luckily" for us this man could arrange for a "travel agent" to cross with us and somehow get us this other Visa that they typically do not give out at this border. I don't really understand how this all worked, but I do know that we had a pay quite a bit on top of the $15 Visa price to get our special stamp that allowed us to travel to Cairo. But we made it through, had our full Egypt Visa and all was well. From there this "travel agent" roped us into taking a cab he arranged for us, but because we weren't willing to pay the price he wanted we shared the cab with another couple and split the price so it wasn't so bad.
The other couple are from Sweden, but have been living in Jerusalem. They have been working with a Christian organization doing something for the Palestinians. The woman will soon be an ordained Lutheran minister. They were super nice and I really enjoyed talking to them. Interestingly also they are from Malmo, Sweden and that is the only place in Sweden Ryan and I have been to. Such a coincidence. We left them at an awesome looking place called Basata. It was a "resort" of sort, but where they'd be sleeping was just huts that here open toward the Sea. They'd be sleeping on mats on the sand I think and eating fresh fish. It sounded divine. Someday I'd love to go back and stay there.
We were headed to Dahab further down the Sinai coast. It was about a two hour drive from the border. On the way we stopped in Nuweiba to try and buy our ferry tickets for Saturday, but there were closed for sales until 8pm and it was about 4pm. We did learn that there would only be a slow ferry on Saturday and from my research that wasn't great news, but it was what it was. So we headed on to Dahab in our cab.
As soon as we arrived in Dahab and checked into our hotel we put on our suits and headed to the water. It felt incredible. And now we could say we've swam in the Red Sea... the very sea the Moses parted for God's people to walk across on dry land to the promised land. Our swim didn't last too long though because we had to get ready for dinner.
There is a website called couchsurfing.org. You can create a profile and search for other people all over the world who are willing to let you stay with them for free wherever you may be traveling. I think it is a really awesome idea (of course while being very careful in who you stay with or who you may allow to stay with you). I thought it would be great to incorporate couch surfing in our trip so I contacted quite a few people. The person in Dahab said he had other people staying with him when we'd be there, but offered to meet us for dinner. So that is what we did.
We met our new friend Nader for dinner at a place he recommended called the Funny Mummy. It was SO good. Ryan and I shared a seafood plater for two and each had fresh squeezed juice. The Funny Mummy, along with many other restaurants in Dahab, are right along the waters edge and the seating is all on the ground on pillows with low tables. This is Bedouin style, which are the indigenous people in the area. Nader is from Cairo, but loved to dive and has moved to Dahab where he works at a dive shop. I've read over and over and from talking to Nader is sounds very true that people will come for a few days to Dahab and end up staying for a week, a month, or even years because it is just so wonderful. Life is very laid back and is is gorgeous. And the waters off the Sinai have some of the best scuba diving in the world. As we chatted with Nader we told him we were planning to climb Mt. Sinai. He told us the monastery at the bottom would be closed the next day and if we wanted to go on the sunrise hike we better do it tonight. He also offered to call a friend who could offer us a better price than what we were going to pay through our hotel. So in a matter of minutes we had arranged to be picked up between 11 and 11:15pm on our first night in Egypt to climb a mountain.
After dinner Nader showed us where a grocery store was to pick up some food for our hike and we thanked him and said good bye. We were so glad though to have had the opportunity to meet him and it was so kind of him to help us arrange our hike. Back at the hotel I worked on booking our flight to Cairo while Ryan just went to his bed and crashed until I had to wake him up.
We slept off and on from Dahab to Mt. Sinai. We were in a van with maybe 8 or so other tourists. We came to the entrance to the National Park and everyone (except Ryan and I) had to buy a park pass for $3. I guess our pass was included in what we paid for the trip or something, but I thought it was really interesting that the pass was in USD and not Egyptian Pounds.
A little further along we stopped on the road and a Bedouin man jumped in our van. He ended up being our guide up the mountain.
I guess if I am separating this post by days I have to start a new day since on our drive we did cross from the 29th to the 30th. We finally arrived where we would start our hike. I think it was a couple hours from Dahab all together. So in the dark of night we started our trek slowly up the mountain. Our guide was Musa, which is how they say Moses, so that is interesting since they also call Mt. Sinai Moses' mountain or Mt. Musa. He walked very slow and steady to be sure we all stayed together. Two vans worth of hikers had joined into one group but there were buses full of people all hiking up to see the sunrise. Along the way, the entire way, there were people offering camels for "a good price" they'd say. But I don't think anyone from our group ended up taking a camel up. We were walking up the camel path, but were told we'd come back down 3,000 stairs. We stopped several times to sit down and have buy something to drink if we wanted it. The hike was really not that difficult though because the path winds upward very gradually and none of it is too steep and our pace was really nice and slow. At about 4:30 I think we were almost at the summit. Here there were five shops selling food, drink, souvenirs and renting mats and blankets for the summit which is pretty chilly from the wind in the morning. We waited here for about half and hour and I think most of us fell asleep sitting in one of the shops that Musa led us into. At 5 we all headed up to the summit to ensure we had a great place to watch the sunrise. There really were a ton of people up there. One of my favorite groups were some Asians who were all singing Praise songs and had what I believe was a mini sermon after the sun rose. There was also a huge group of men I think possibly Italian that had some sort of a service on top of the mount. It was chilly up there and finally I understood why they told us to bring warm clothes, which I gladly pulled out and layered up with at this point. About 5:30 the sun started to peak out over the horizon. It was pretty special watching it come up. After it was up we waited an hour to head back down so that the crowd thinned out. At the top there is a mosque and a chapel, so we walked around checking those things out. At 6:30 our group gathered just below the summit at the shops again and we headed down the mountain. We moved much faster on the way down. And there literally were 3,000 stairs that we descended. They were a little awkward though and Ryan and I didn't love how it felt on our knees. Because we were making such great time Musa had us stop and sit for just a little bit were we had a great view down into a valley where St. Catherine's monastery is. After our rest here we finished our descent. At 9 St. Catherine's opened and we went in for just about half and hour. There is hardly anything to see. We saw what they tell everyone is "the burning bush." It was different that I would have expected mostly because it is not on the ground it is a bush you would walk under. Whether or not it is actually the burning bush I don't know. They didn't give me any facts to prove that it was the bush. The cool thing to me was knowing that I was such a holy place and I had climbed the same mountain as Moses. Ryan and I were discussing the fact that God gave Moses the 10 commandments on Mt. Sinai and they were on stone tablets. You'll just have to trust us that you would not want to transport stone tablets back down the mountain. I guarantee next time we read of hear that Bible story it will great a whole new imagery for us. Other than the bush the monastery didn't really have anything. We walked through the sanctuary and that was all there was to see. They had a museum you could pay to go in but we had to interest and limited time. On the way back to Dahab in the van we slept as much as we could, but it was definitely broken sleep.
Oh one other random encounter on our hike was that one of the girls from our van was from Dubois, WY. It is her opinion that Cody, WY is going to be the next Jackson Hole as far as tourist destinations go. Ryan and I think she is crazy and that there is not a place in Wyoming that will ever replace Jackson as a tourist destination. She was sort of off her rocker I think.
Back in Dahab we went to find our about going to the Blue Hole, the best known place for snorkeling in the area. We had told our hotel when we arrived we wanted to do it in the morning and also that we wanted to have their breakfast. But after we arranged our Mt. Sinai trip we told an employee that we wouldn't be there for either, but hoped to go snorkeling when we got back. He said it was all fine. Then when we went to ask about snorkeling that afternoon the woman, who I think was the owner, told us they wouldn't refund what we paid for breakfast because they had gone and bought the food and prepared it and that someone came to pick us up for snorkeling in the morning because they didn't know we had gone to Mt. Sinai. Thankfully she ended up understanding that it was the fault of her employee who did not relay our message and we ended up getting reimbursed for breakfast and also had someone come pick us up right away fro snorkeling. But I wouldn't say she was super accommodating with the whole thing. We sort of had to fight her a bit. Welcome to Egypt I guess. We also asked her to arrange for a taxi to drive us to Sharm el Sheik the following morning at 5 where we were flying from to Cairo.
Our ride to the Blue Hole was in the back of a very beat up jeep. The road sort of disappeared not long into the drive, but yet the driver was steering as if he were following some sort of a path. I guess it is just something locals know about. It was a crazy ride to say the least, all part of the Egyptian experience.
Snorkeling was fun. The Blue Hole is something like 100 meter deep. All around the edge is coral with tons of tropical fish. The view from above would show a deep blue circle with aqua colored water all around it. We just swam around the circle looking at the fish. Ryan had his under water camera and took lots of pictures. They had a dock, that is the same type of material as the Forbes' jetdock and we sat and layed on that for awhile.
When we were done we went to find our driver, but he was gone and his brother was there to take us back. So peculiar how everything works in this country. So we got in the back of the brothers jeep and followed the same path back that was really just dirt, but somehow they seemed to know there the road was supposed to be.
Back at the hotel we each took showers and changed and headed to the water. We walked all over town. There are people selling this EVERYWHERE and they all try to get you to come into their shops. And there are people standing by the sea side restaurants trying to lure you in by offering you deals. The best offer we got (although we didn't eat there) was free welcome drink, free Bedouin tea, free starter, free desert, free hooka, and 30% off your entree. We kept telling them all we weren't ready to eat yet. I did get some pants I really liked and paid 35 Egyptian pounds fro them. That is something between $6 and $7. But you do have to work to get the price something is actually worth because at first he told me the pants cost 150 Egyptian Pounds. That would be about $26. And I know that they wouldn't have sold them to me for what they did if they still weren't making money on them.
The night before we had been given flier about massages. And they were super cheap. So we decided to go back and each have a massage. It was definitely not like any massage I've ever had in the States. The room I went into wasn't all that nice. The table Ryan laid on didn't even have a hole for his face to go into. I thought the massage was pretty good. I appreciated how firm she massaged and worked on knots that I had. But the masseuses phone kept vibrating, she answered it a couple times, and I think she was texting some. Not to mention she came into the room before I was under the towel and left the door open while I was partially undressed until I asked her to close it. When they asked when we each came out of our rooms how it was I told them about her phone and they acted shocked and promised that it would never happen again. I probably wouldn't ever go there again to find out if they work on their professionalism, but for what it cost I guess it was still not an awful deal. And Ryan didn't have any complaints other than the no hole in the table.
After the massage we did go eat. We chose a place that gave us 20% off our entrees, free appetizer, free dessert, and we talked them into free drinks since the place next door offered us all that other free stuff. The food was good and we were way more full than I wanted to be when we got up to leave, but I still liked our meal at the Funny Mummy better the night before.
After dinner we could barely keep our eyes open long enough to get back to the hotel, so our plans to go have a drink at another restaurant on the water or walk around were canceled.
We got up at 4:45 and were outside at 5 waiting for our cab that the hotel had arranged. We waited, we waited... it did not come. Ryan went and found security and asked them and they ended up calling someone who normally worked during the day. We don't know if the cab was just late or if it didn't get arranged like it was suppose to but it wasn't until 5:45 that the cab showed up. It was about an hour to the airport and our flight left at 7:30. Thankfully we did make it in time. And I think they told the cab they had to rush because the entire drive there was a beeping sound that we decided was the car saying it was going faster than the speed limit, but then the driver just turned music on and up to try and cover it up.
The flight was great because it was just about an hour and if we had taken a bus it would have been 10 hours. So much better to fly. And really not very expensive either. It seems like you can get cheap domestic flights in the middle east. At least the flights we took were.
We arrived in Cairo and right away we had people offering us taxis and even limousine (I don't know if that meant what it does to us). But we said we wanted to take the bus because it was cheap. Thankfully a very nice woman at information gave us just what we needed to find the bus and get downtown. When we got off the bus a nice man helped us get a cab and we got dropped of near where we were staying. Oh yes, and where we were staying in Cairo was with a couple I found on couch surfing, Noelia and Pepe who are Spanish but currently live in Egypt for Noelia's short term job. So after asking several people on the street for directions we found the place. And after trying to look up Arabic in our travel book to communicate with an old woman in the building a couple other people walked by who could translate and we were put in the elevator and sent to the 12th floor to where our hosts lived. Pepe greeted us warmly at the door with a kiss on each cheek European style... I just love doing that. They had a great apartment and it was much larger than I expected, but Pepe said that was the normal size of places in the city. We set down or luggage, had some cold water, chatted briefly, and then Pepe recommended we get going to ensure we could do everything we wanted in our one day in Cairo. So we left and hailed a cab to the Giza pyramids. These are the most famous pyramids that you see in movies... such as Aladdin... with the three big pyramids, a few small, and the famous sphynx.
The thing that surprised me the most was how you never leave the city before arriving at the pyramids. I tried to take pictures to capture the fact that the only thin dividing the ancient from the present was a fence. Also the Sphinx is much much smaller than I expected it to be. My thoughts of it probably came from Aladdin and Jasmin flying by on their magic carpet. I need to re watch the movie now that I've been to Giza.
So while we were in our cab (it is about 20-30 minutes from the city to the pyramids) a guy from the street came and jumped in with us. He was nice, spoke English, liked Americans (as everyone said they did). He said he wanted to help us see the pyramids like and Egyptian not a tourist and had the taxi take us to an area away from the main entrance. Ryan was expecting it to be expensive to see the pyramids, I never thought about it and sort of thought it was just in the middle of the dessert and it would be free other than transportation to get there. Wrong! So this new "friend" of ours who makes falafel for a living and is married with a 8 month old son took us to a man who arranged tours of the historical site. If we went in on our own we would have to buy separate tickets for whatever we wanted to do from basic entry to going in the pyramids, into the sphinx, walk up the pyramid... I don't even know what all. After sitting in this man's shop for quite awhile we agreed on a price (in USD) that we were willing to pay and it would include a guide, riding on camels, seeing all the pyramids, sphinx, going into the sphinx, and falafel lunch at the end. After we were squared away our random "friend" from the taxi said good bye and got back in the cab to go home to his family. I still am sort of confused on the whole thing.
So as soon as we were up on our camels (and being on a camel as it stands up and sits down is very odd) we were told we can tip our guide at the end based on how we like the trip. Okay whatever we though. We'll give him something. We like tips so we like to tip people when we think it is appropriate.
We entered the site and rode up to a spot where we took lots of pictures with the pyramids including ones with it looked like we were holding them or sitting on them and just crazy things like that. I was a little frustrated here because I tried to ask questions and our guide wasn't understanding and kept answering by saying things he'd already told us. Ryan and I kept trying to rephrase our questions and he just didn't get it so eventually we gave up.
We rode closer to the pyramids. On the way we stopped, the guide who was riding with Ryan got off and went over and broke us off pieces of stone that were left over from the construction of one of the pyramids. I am guessing you aren't supposed to do that, but then again I feel like Egypt is based on doing things you aren't supposed to do. I'm pretty sure the tickets we got in with get reused day in and day out and our guide paid off security as we rode by for I don't know what. Egypt is a pretty corrupt place and definitely felt like a third world country, something I wasn't really expecting. We rode down through some tombs or something. It is where all the pyramid builders lived but then they all get buried there too because the Kings wanted everything just as it was when they were alive so that when they came back it was all the same. Their beliefs are very interesting. And then we ended up at the Sphinx. Our guide couldn't enter with us but we went in and got some good close up pictures. We opted not to take any of the funny shots kissing the sphinx or picking it's nonexistent nose, things like that. After we were done we walked back to our guide and mounted our camels again for our guide to walk us out. Before we left the gate he stopped and said maybe if we wanted to give him a tip we would want to do it now before we were around people. Whatever I though, okay. Ryan and I had thought we'd give him 50 Egyptian pound, roughly $10 for our 2 hour tour. But then he said to us that normally people give 125 pounds EACH. If we gave a total of 250 pounds that would have been nearly $50. But because he made me feel bad for only giving 50 I gave 70. He looked at it and asked if this was just for me and I said it was for both us us. They in a disgusted voice he said this is like $10. So I informed him it was more than that and he muttered something like it was maybe $12. I couldn't believe the ungratefulness. On this trip everywhere but particularily in Egypt I got so fed up with people seeing us and knowing we must be either Europeans or Americans and therefore we must be rich. First of all I am far from rich, second of all $12 is more than I make in and hour at work, third you should be grateful not tell me how much to tip you and definitely not make me feel bad for not giving more, and lastly I don' care how much the pounds equate to in USD because news flash we weren't in the US so it really doesn't matter how much I'm giving the guy in USD. If you can't tell I'm still fired up about the whole thing. I just couldn't believe the nerve of this guy. If I had it to do over again I think I'd pretend I was going to give him more and ask for what I have him back and then once I had my money back tell him that if he couldn't be grateful he wasn't getting anything. Then we could see if he started singing a different tune. Goodness!
After all that we exited the site and went back to the shop where we first started. We went inside expecting our lunch but it wasn't there yet. Then our guide said for us to come next door for another part of our tour. It was another shop where they had us sit down and started what we knew was a sales pitch for Egyptian oils. According to them all perfume companies first came to them for their scents, but now they are all mass produced with an alcohol base. But you could virtually tell them any name brand scent you want and they can mix it with their oils which are all natural and have no alcohol. They were really pushing the lotus flower oil which is some type of a cure all. Rub it on your stomach if you are nauseous or your head if it hurts or behind your ears for stress or anything under the sun. Then he asked what we wanted to smell and we said we didn't know because we were definitely not interested. He gathered our disinterest I guess and said okay lets go back to the other place and you can see papyrus. This was where we started and I was expecting another spiel on the papyrus paintings but thankfully our lunch arrived and they left us in the back to eat. And they never tried to sell us anything more probably because they realized we weren't going to buy anything. Oh and I wasn't really a fan of the falafel, it was fine, but nothing special, in fact probably at the bottom of the totem pole of falfels that I have had. There were also pitas with what seemed like refried beans in them but it is something that is called fool. It was... fine as well.
We were planning on taking the bus to the Egyptian museum, but a man came and told us we better take a cab because traffic would be very bad at this time of day and we might not make it to the museum in time. So whether or not that was totally accurate we did take a taxi because the thing is with Egypt is that for the two of us to go the 20-30 minutes from Giza to downtown Cairo it was 35 pounds, just over $6... so when we were talking about saving money it wouldn't have been anything extreme.
We arrived at the museum bought our tickets and went in. When you enter you have to put your bag through a security belt and walk through a metal detector yourself. We got very accustomed to these type of scenarios on our trip. You are also not allowed to bring cameras into the museum. They have a place you have to check them into by the front gate and then they search your bag for them to be sure you don't have them.
Once we cleared all the checks I had to go to the bathroom. Ryan and I had been warned by a friend who traveled to Egypt that many bathrooms charge you for toilet paper, so we carried it with us all the time. This bathroom had some guys standing outside so I showed them I had paper and he told me it still cost 1 pound, so I gave it to him. When I came out of the bathroom Ryan asked why I paid the guy and I said I had to. He then pointed to a sign that said tipping was prohibited. Ryan had seen me pay and went to ask they guy why he made me pay because of what the sign said. He told Ryan I wanted to. BS I wanted to. First he took advantage of me and then he lied to Ryan. I don't often see Ryan get angry about anything, but oh my gosh he was mad at this time. He held himself back from going back and giving the guy a piece of his mind. One pound is probably about 15 cents so that isn't what mattered it was the principle. I share this story because this is what Egypt is like. And this is what made us grow so tired of Egypt, but mostly just Cairo because we didn't necessarily feel taken advantage of in Dahab... or at least to the same extent.
After the bathroom situation we started to explore the museum. Nothing is in the pyramids, it has all been removed and is now in this museum. We probably spent at least 2 hours in the museum and after awhile we realized we were seeing a lot of the same things. We saw SO much jewelry and even thousands of individual beads. There were coffins made out of stone and pottery and statues. It was cooler to see it all at first, but after awhile we were just tired and had to sit down a couple times just to let our feet have a break. My favorite part of the museum though was the room that was separate from the rest of the museum designated for Tutankhamen. Partially I liked it because I've heard the most about this king. Partially I liked it because there was a good assortment of things to look at. And partially I liked it because the room had air conditioning. The only things that weren't there were King Tuts mummy and maybe one or two other key things which they've left in his tomb which is south down the Nile in Luxor. IF I ever go back to Egypt I'd like to visit Luxor.
After I'd dragged us through the whole museum... I made Ryan at least walk into every area with me even just because I figure we'll never be there again although I don't think b the end either of us did much looking around.... we headed outside to look for a bank to exchange some more dollars for pounds. Unfortunately all the banks were closed. We have also NEVER been able to withdraw money from ANY of EITHER of our credit or debit card accounts from an ATM. I think we must be ignorant as to something because I can't imagine as to why this never works. As we were walking down the main road a man stopped us to tell us the Egyptian museum was across the street. I think he thought we were looking for it, but we thanked him and said we had already been there. Then he asked what we were looking for and we said a place to exchange money. He said all the banks were closed, but he knew a place that did it on the black market and said to follow him. As we followed Ryan kept asking what their exchange rate was, but all that the man was talking about was someone he knew in the States or how much he liked Americans. Blah blah blah they all say the same thing. Eventually we reached his shop and went in. He sat us down and asked if we wanted tea or coke. We tried to refuse, but he insisted it was Egyptian hospitality. I didn't know if it was rude to refuse so I said tea and Ryan said coke just because he wanted something cold. So the man disappeared to get it and another man... older than dirt I think... started telling us about his oils. He rubbed the lotus oil on our hands and started talking about other oils that cure all kinds of things. He asked Ryan if he was interested in an oil that was an aphrodisiac and asked me if I wanted an oil that would promote fertility. The answer to both of those was a big fat NO! We just wanted to exchange money. He started telling us prices. One gram was 2 pounds. Ryan asked how much a gram was and the man said it was about one drop. What? We told him over and over we didn't want any oils. He kept showing us bottles smaller and smaller and even offered to sell us half of the smallest bottle. It would make a great gift. Something special from Egypt. NO! We didn't want it! Finally Ryan said we just want to exchange money and asked what the rate was. He said 5 pounds per dollar. That was horrible. The bank gives 5.68 pounds per dollar. Finally we had to rudely just walk out. It was ridiculous.
We kept walking down the street and were drawn into another shop. They were offering 5.5 pounds per dollar and again it wasn't worth it to us no matter how few pounds we had left. After we walked out of that store another man stopped us. He told us he had a brother who lived in Germany. He used to live in the US and he partied there when he was our age. On and on he went. Nice enough, very chatty. Then he started talking about wanting us to take his business card. We thought okay fine. So we went into the shop... mistake. Then he wanted to get us drinks... "Egyptian hospitality." Here we go again. His friend, colleague, brother, I don't know who made papyrus and painted on it was in the shop. We were surrounded by art. He started talking to us about the art and then handed us an order form. We said we weren't interested, gave back the form, but they weren't ready for us to leave yet. I don't even want to know how long we ended up staying in there. The man who drew us into the shop started talking about how much his brother sells these for in Germany but he wouldn't tell us the numbers he punched them into a calculator and showed us. We didn't care how much people paid in Germany. Then he said we could have one for free, but we weren't willing to take a painting for free. After awhile I did say there were a couple I liked so they took them off the wall and started wrapping them up and says prices for them in dollars. I'll jump to the end of this story and tell you I did end up taking the two paintings of King Tut home. But instead of paying the exorbitant amount he first said I paid $30 US for both paintings. Ryan and I have been acquiring art in various cities we've visited and this is the cheapest we've gotten a painting for, so I think it was worth it. And that is how I started to bargain. I decided what it was worth to me and I didn't pay any more, but I also didn't try to get things for next to nothing if I actually wanted it and it was worth something like $15 to me. So we know have two papyrus paintings. And right before we left we go the useful tip that in the Hilton hotel right across from the Nile they had a 24 hour currency exchange bank. So we headed there to exchange enough money for all our transportation the rest of the time we'd be in Egypt. Even entering the hotel we had to go through security. And the Hilton gave us the exchange rate we deserved.
From the Hilton we walked to the Nile. As we walked along the river the sun was setting and it was pretty cool to see. We walked across the bridge that took us to the area we were staying, but then we didn't know how to get the rest of the way so we hailed a cab. At first he said it would cost 20 pounds when I knew the ride would be about a minute and we shouldn't pay more than 5. So after walking away and saying we weren't interested he called us back and accepted our 5 pounds. Sure enough a minute later he dropped us off and we found our way into Noelia and Pepe's. This was our first time meeting Noelia and she was so nice and so pretty. They are a fantastic couple. We sat and talked for a couple hours in their living room. Then at about 10 they were heading to a friend's house for dinner and invited us along. Although Ryan was already falling asleep we decided to go. Their friend lived only a few blocks away. There were four other Spaniards I think, one guy from Mexico and later their friend from Italy showed up who was preparing the meal. We sat and chatted for a long time at their friends house. Sometimes they would all be speaking Spanish and I had no idea what was going on but I didn't care. It sounded cool and I just thought the whole experience of being there was awesome. It took awhile for the Italian guy to get there and then he still had to make the sauce for the pasta so it wasn't until midnight we sat down to eat. Ryan had been sleeping sitting next to me on the couch for awhile in the living room. So after we ate we didn't wait long to leave. The spaghetti was really really good though. Noelia and Pepe gave us their house key so we could go back without them and go to sleep.. so nice and really trusting of them... I guess we made an okay first impression. :)
Ryan passed out right away when we got back... no surprise. I stayed up a bit to check email and other travel info for our trip. I woke him up just enough to ask if he had set an alarm and he hadn't, so I set his iPod to go off at 5am so we could catch a cab to the airport. When the alarm went off only a few hours later Ryan started freaking out and I had NO idea why. Our flight left at 7:15 and we had plenty of time, but we hurried out of the house and to the main street nearby. The first cab was way to expensive but it didn't take long to agree on a price with the second driver we talked to. I think we both slept off and on while we rode to the airport.
At the airport we hurried through security and then Ryan said something about it being 6:45. I couldn't believe it took that long to get to the airport. And then everything clicked for me. Ryan hadn't set his iPod to Egypt time which is one hour ahead of Germany time. So when I set the alarm for 5 it didn't go off until 6 Egypt time. And Ryan saw that on his watch and freaked out but I had no idea why he was freaking out.
We sort of cut in front of the long line and quickly found out that we had missed the cut off time for checking in for our flight. We were sent to speak with someone further along the counter. He too told us we would not be able to leave at 7:15 but said we could get on the 8am flight. This was the closest I was to getting really upset on our whole trip because I knew that by not being on the first flight we wouldn't make the bus from Sharm to Nuweiba where we needed to catch the ferry to Jordan. But Ryan calmed me down and we decided it could be a lot worse and went to wait at our gate.
Next came the pain in the butt part of trying to bargain for a taxi to Nuweiba which is about 2 hours north. It took awhile but we got a cab for 250... more than we wanted to pay but I don't know if we could have gotten it for less. The bus would have cost 20 or 25 I think per person, so the cab was a lot more but again we are talking pounds. So 250 is $44 and I don't think there is anywhere in the states you could get a private taxi for that much for a 2 hour drive.
When we arrived in Nuweiba we didn't have enough Egyptian pounds to pay the driver, but on Ryan's iPod he has an application that converts different currencies so we knew exactly how many dollars it would take on top of our pounds to be the amount we had agreed upon. And yet when we gave him the dollars he was insisting we give him more. Then eventually he started saying "backsheesh" which somehow Ryan knew meant tip and we were telling him no we were not giving him "backsheesh" we paid him what we agreed upon which we knew was more than the normal fare for Egypt because everything in Egypt is dirt cheap and gas cost the equivalent of 68 cents per gallon. Eventually we realized we would never get anywhere with this man who barely spoke a word of English if even a word so we just walked away and he got back in his car and drove away. At least that was the last Egyptian taxi driver we had to deal with.
We bought our tickets, in US dollars by the way, and we did have to buy them for the slow ferry because they said that was all that was running. Then we walked to where we thought we'd be boarding the boat. We went through security and then walked into a warehouseish building that turned out to be a passport control point we had to go through. We waited in line for a long time and then the passport checker guys got up and left. It was time for midday prayer and so they all just left. That is an interesting part of being in a Muslim country. And we heard the call to prayer 5 times a day including the one sometime around 4 or 5 in the morning. But when the guys left all the locals got out of line, so we moved right to the front for whenever they came back. A man came up in line behind us who was obviously a tourist just like us, so I explained to him what was going on. His name is Mark, he is from Madison Wisconsin, he works for General Mills, and he became our friend and travel buddy. There was also another tourist name Raea who is half Swedish, half Jordanian, lives in Sweden, has been in Egypt for at least a month, and his headed to Jordan for awhile where her family still has a flat. It was nice to see these people, especially after I realized I was the only female in the place. I was the minority of minorities sort of since everyone was either Egyptian or Jordanian and all men.
When the guys came back we all made it through security and then entered a really bad waiting area. I knew we should expect to wait a long time. We heard that the boat often didn't leave until hours past the scheduled time of 3. The benches were some of the worst constructed and most uncomfortable thing I've ever sat on. But we sat and we sat and we sat. And I talked and I talked and I talked... or so Mark thought anyway. :) At one point he turned to Ryan and asked if I ever stop. But for everyone who has spent much time around Ryan they know he doesn't say a whole lot. So when I get around new people I like to engage in conversation. Later in the afternoon a tour group full of Australians, a couple American and maybe a couple European showed up and I sat and talked with a nice woman named Kelly for awhile because she has recently become very interested in nutrition and tried to avoid animal products just like me. Then she and I had a whole lot of questions for Mark about General Mills. Over all from what Mark says I would not classify GM as the devil of food companies, they are making strides to be environmentally, socially, and health conscious which was good to hear. But personally I think they still have a ways to go. Just like virtually ever food company. But GM is definitely better than some.
There isn't a ton to tell about this day because all we did was sit.. and talk... and sit... and sit and sit and sit. There was also only a squatty potty in the ground (the style of the East) and it was the grossest bathroom I'd ever seen so I did everything I could not to eat or drink and have to use it, but eventually I just had to go. Thankfully we had toilet paper because they did not. And to go I have to take everything off because otherwise I know from experience I will pee all over my clothes. Yuck I'm glad that experience is over.
Oh yes I almost forgot this part. We found out from the tour group that they bought tickets for the fast ferry. The ferry we were told would not run on Saturday. So we asked someone and found out that for $10 more we could wait for the fast boat. Everything I read said the fast boat was SO MUCH better. So we decided to wait. The slow boat finally came and boarded which took hours. And we kept waiting... and waiting... and waiting.
I think around 10pm we walked outside to get on a bus to take us a 30 second drive to the ferry. I was shocked that it was actually a really nice boat with really nice seats. It was much nicer than the ferries I am used to that run in the San Juans at home. We arrived in Aqaba about midnight, which brings us to the next day.
Mark was planning to go to Petra just like Ryan and I, so we asked if he wanted to share a taxi with us. We wanted to get to Petra that night instead of staying in Aqaba so we could explore early in the morning. I'd read that early is better before all the tour groups come.
The first man who offered us a taxi was standing inside the gate. We don't know how he got there but when we rounded the corner there were a crazy number of yelling men trying to get our attention for a ride. So instead of entering that mess I turned to this first man and asked how much to Petra. The amount he said was 30 Jordanian Dinar less than the experienced tour guide thought we'd get it for that I asked on the boat. So we said take us to Petra. I think it was a huge blessing that situation went the way it did.
Before we left Aqaba Mark told our driver, Ali, that if he needed coffee he'd buy it for him since it was so late at night. But I guess Ali took that to mean we wanted coffee. So he drove us to a place and bought us all drinks (Ryan and I had tea). Then we drove the 2 hours to Petra. There was one point that there was a detour and Ali somehow got the police to let us through. It was because of a rock slide that had not been cleaned up, but there was enough room to get one car around it. I think he saved us a lot of time by this. Ali also asked if we had a place to stay. We didn't have a reservation, but had a name of a place and new they let people sleep on the roof for a really cheap price so that was our plan. He didn't think it would be open though. When we arrived to Petra he just took us to a hotel that had beds on the roof and was open. He was the best cam driver I've ever had in my whole life. We paid 5 JD which is about $7 each for our mattress on the roof. I was expecting an open air roof, but it was actually full enclosed. The three of us got ready for bed and went to sleep fast since it was after 2am.
Petra opened at 6 in the morning, but Ryan and I wanted a little more sleep so instead of getting there right at 6 we woke up at 6. We paid the 2 JD for breakfast which was pita bread, hummus, jam, and coffee. It was delicious.
Mark got up to and decided he would come to Petra early with us. It was probably a 15 minute walk down the hill from Wadi Musa to the gate of Petra. For people who do not know what Petra is I can't give you a good explanation. A long time ago during the time of Jesus a civilization started building their town into the sandstone. Then as time went on things started getting really elaborate and some of it is left for us to see today. And it wasn't discovered until 1812 by a man from Switzerland. Like I said I can't say a lot about it, but it is really cool and I'd recommend you look it up on the internet. BBC says it is one of the 40 places to see before you die. And it has been added to the list of the 7 NEW wonders of the world.
We arrived about 7. You walk in and the first thing you come to a canyon, I guess I would call it. It is really cool.. and really tall (coming from the girl who has never been to the Grand Canyon keep in mind). And my favorite part was that down at wait level they carved into the stone canals of sort of collect and carry rain water.
When you emerge from the canyon you are facing the Treasury. This is the number one thing to see in Petra. It was so beautiful, so elaborate, and just blows your mind to think of people carving this out of the sand stone and actually using it as a part of their everyday life. We took lots of pictures of it, but I actually like the pictures we took on our way back out better because then the entire thing was in the sun instead of partially in the shade when we first saw it.
We continued on and were hounded by little boys to buy necklaces. I bought one and I actually like it, so that is okay. We saw more tombs than I can count. We saw an amphitheater. We hiked up a bit at got to go inside some of the bigger tombs (I think they were tombs). Mark wanted a necklace and a woman up here was selling them. He wanted one with all smaller beads though not the large ones that seemed prevalent... he wanted something suitable for a man. So the woman said she'd make him one and we could come back. He did pay a pretty penny for it but that was nice of her. We kept walking and saw a old street (we had to use our imagination) with columns lining it. We did not go all the way up to the Monastery which is the 2nd must see sit of Petra. It is a long walk or you can pay for a donkey or camel, but we didn't want to. Petra is in Indiana Jones if any of you have seen that. I have not. I guess the Monastery is in the movie. On our way back out we went to get Mark's necklace and she had made three for him to choose from. We all agreed we liked a certain one best and it was really cool. The woman insisted she wanted me to be in a picture too that he asked to take with her.. it was funny but maybe it was because I was wearing my necklace too even though I didn't buy it from her.
We probably left the gate of Petra at 11:15 and it must have been at least 120 degrees. I wanted to tell everyone just coming in to turn around and come back the next morning. I cannot tell you how glad I was we got up to go early.
We got back to the hotel. I got on the internet quickly and Ryan and Mark went upstairs to shower... I'm actually not sure if they did. Our taxi driver had told us the night before he could take us back. He stayed the night at a friend's house. So he arrived around 12 and probably about 12:20 we left Wadi Musa bound for the Aqaba border where we were going to cross into Israel. On the way we once again stopped for drinks and Ali bought them along with a cookie-cracker thing for each of us. What a nice guy.
We had to cross one check point where they searched our bags and then let Ali drive us a little further to the next point where we officially left Jordan. We gave him literally all the Dinar we had between the three of us which was more than the amount he said he'd drive us for. Mark asked if that was okay and he said whatever we wished. But we sort of sensed that he was hoping for a better tip I think. He was a great driver. So Mark pulled out some Euros he had and handed that to him and he seemed very happy with that. I thought it was such a drastic change to hear Ali say "whatever you wish" compared to all the people in Egypt more of less spitting at what we gave them, telling us it was nothing, and almost demanding more. I don't mind tipping someone who is humble like Ali.
Walking out of Jordan was no problem and walking into Israel wasn't too bad. In Israel there were three stations we had to pass. First was the passport check where they thoroughly examined our passports and us. Second we sent our things through a belt and then they searched them all. Third we went up to a window with our passport for our stamp and the woman grilled us with questions. And last we showed a man we had been to all three stations.
From there we got a taxi. Ryan and I were going to the airport because we decided to fly to Tel Aviv instead of take the bus like the way down. When we first got off our flight from Munich and were waiting for the train to go to the bus station we'd met a nice couple returning from a trip to Paris. They told us about an airline that had really cheap flight to and from Tel Aviv and Eilat. I'd been trying to book online, but it was not letting me input my information, so we were arriving very early at the airport to buy our tickets. Mark on the other hand needed to just go from this border to the border with Egypt, the one we'd crossed a few days before, because on Monday (it was Saturday) he had a flight home out of Cairo.
So we got in the cab and said to the airport first. He wasn't a great cab driver. He would not tell us what it should cost for getting all the way to the border. He said he'd driven it before, but couldn't remember how much it could cost. He wouldn't even give us a ball park. We needed to know because we were exchanging New Israel Shekel for Euros with Mark so he could pay the driver without having to exchange money and we already had shekels from when we first arrived. The driver also wouldn't give us control of the windows. Weird. So when we got the the airport Mark got out too because he said he didn't want to ride with this guy anymore and he'd get a new cab. Also when we all got out the driver started hitting buttons and said he charged for each of our bags on top of the distance. Ugh.
We all got out and went into the airport. I went up to the ticket counter to esquire about our flight. Unfortunately because it was the day off the good price was no longer available. It was $96 per ticket instead of $60. I told her I tried to book online and it wouldn't let me. She said I should have called. I said I didn't have a phone. She said I should have asked to use my hotels phone. I didn't say anymore but I was thinking that I didn't really think anywhere in Egypt or Jordan would let me borrow their phone to call Israel. But I did find out that we could fly earlier that we were planning to leave for the same price and we could fly to a small airport int he city of Tel Aviv instead of the International airport we flew into that was further outside the city.
I took all this information back to Ryan. Then Mark said to leave my bag with Ryan and follow him. I didn't know why. I thought maybe he wanted to go argue with the woman about the price. As we walked toward the counter he said, "wait we'll need Ryan's passport too" so we went and got Ryan and all our stuff. Mark walked us to the ticket counter and said he was paying for our flight. We both tried to refuse. This was much much too generous. But he insisted and told us that he is used to getting what he wants. :) And he did it. He bought our tickets. What a blessing. And oh how generous a gift. My goodness. I don't think he will ever know how much we appreciated his gift. He said he wanted to thank us for traveling with him. There was no need for this, but it was very nice. And we gave him what should have been enough shekels to pay his cab to get to the border. After the tickets were bought we exchanged contact information and said our good byes.
From there we had to go to a security check before they actually handed us our tickets. First a guy took our passports and asked us a few questions. Then he walked away and a woman came back. She started grilling us with questions. And when they look at your passport they really really analyze it. And then they analyze you. And because I smile in my passport photo they asked me to smile. And you stare into their eyes and it feels like they are trying to see into your soul. Then that woman walked away and came back with another woman. She was the security supervisor. She wanted to know why someone that we'd only known for 24 hours bought our tickets. She didn't like my response that he was a very nice man. And what I said sometimes people who have more money than other people in American like to share it and do nice things for other people her response was, "I've been to America and met rich people who never bought me anything." What should I say... sorry... or well maybe if you didn't seem so harsh they would. Anyway it was a lot of questions. They wanted to know our relationship. How long we'd been dating. If we lived together. How often we see each other. Where we going in Israel... not a rough idea... exactly what we planned to see. EVENTUALLY it ended and they sent us to have our bags searched. They used a wand and rubbed it all over the inside and outside of our things and then rubbed it on a machine checking for residue from explosives I think. And when that ended we were allowed to get our tickets. We went through the metal detectors and such and proceeded to our gate. After a brief stop to buy a sandwich and a drink to share.
The flight went off without a hitch and in less than an hour we were on the ground in Tel Aviv. We collected our bags and found the bus stop. Because it was Saturday it was Shabbat. Now we had to get used to being in a primarily Jewish country with their culture. So a nice girl at the same stop told us we should take the mini bus because very few of the city buses run on Shabbat. So we got on with her and got off when the driver told us to and waited for another mini bus as we'd been instructed. A mini buss is like a large van and is sort of a mix between a bus and a taxi that might be around the price of a bus or a little more but sometimes gets you places faster. We ended up taking them a fair number of places in Israel. They will wait to fill the bus before leaving. We took them on some of our longer drives. So we eventually made it to the main bus station which was where we wanted to go because that was where I had as a starting point for my walking directions to our hostel. We again didn't have a reservation, but I saw online they had space. My friend Ari, from home, was in town and I checked her hostel but it didn't show availability but this place looked alright so off we walked.
It probably took 20 or 30 minutes to get there and they did have room. Randomly another girl in the room was from SeaTac. She said Seattle and I was said I was from Washington too so where was she really from. I'm used to people saying Seattle but really meaning a whole bunch of surrounding town that I know of but most people don't. She goes to Harvard in Boston, which is sort of funny because Ryan's cousin Christian goes to college in Boston and is from Seattle and they are both the same age. Just a connection I made.
We showered and did a little stuff online and then went down stairs the the restaurant that was part of our hostel. It was Indian. We just didn't want to search for anything else. I'd say the food was mediocre, but we were hungry and at the end of eating we were very full so the food did what we needed it to for the night. Eva the SeaTac girl and another guy from Holland in our room and a couple others were all watching the World Cup game at a bar on the roof and invited us to come up but Ryan and I were so exhausted we just couldn't muster the energy. We just went to bed looking forward to a chill day on Sunday hanging out with Ari.