Sunday, December 27, 2009

Back in Japan

I am back in Japan now! The 4 weeks in Egypt (with side trips to Petra, Jordan and Jerusalem/Bethlehem) was fantastic. As soon as I get a chance I will put a few of the photos on my website:

Friday, December 25, 2009

Coptic Cairo

Merry Christmas!

Since it is Christmas Day I thought I would tell you about where I went today here in Cairo. I went to Coptic Cairo. Actually, it was my third time to go since it is easy with a subway station right there. Don't need to walk for 2+ hours through the maze of Cairo or haggle with a taxi driver. Just hop on the subway for 1 Egyptian pound (US$0.18) and in less than 10 minutes I am there.

When Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus fled to Egypt to escape persecution one of the places they stayed was in a cave here. Now it is under the Church of St. Sergius, built in the 4th century. From inside the church you can look down into the cavern.

Also, in Coptic Cairo there is the Ben Ezra Synagogue which occupies the shell of a 4th century Christian church. It is said that this is the spot where the prophet Jeremiah gathered the Jews in the 6th century BC after Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the Jerusalem temple. The adjacent spring is believed to be where the pharaoh's daughter found Moses in the reeds, and where Mary drew water to wash Jesus.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wandering in Cairo

Today I was walking around Cairo and several guys wanted me to take their photo. This happens sometimes in Egypt. In other countries it is not unusual for children to want their photo taken, but here it is even adults, sometimes. On the other hand, there are even more who react angrily if they even see a camera. Afterwards they wanted a photo with me. The friendliest guy used my digicam to take this photo. Unfortunately, he is not in it since he took the photo, but I have a photo of him and the others from my DSLR. No one could speak English, but they were fun and since I was lost and looking for the Al-Azhar Mosque they pointed me in the general direction.

I love just wandering around and getting lost in big cities. I have done it many times in Tokyo, in Bangkok, Paris, London, Rome, Saigon, Vienna, Munich, Budapest, Athens, Quito, Marrakech, Tangier, etc. and now Cairo too!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pyramids, Sphinx, and a Camel

This morning I went to Coptic Cairo again (was there a few weeks ago) and then in the afternoon I took a taxi (after going through the traditional bargaining about the price) to Giza to see the Pyramids and the Sphinx again (for late afternoon light instead of morning light a few weeks ago). This time I rode a camel around for over an hour and waited for the sunset with the Bedouin camel driver from the Sinai way out in the back of the Pyramids in the desert sand and drank Bedouin tea. Can you guess his name? :-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Your name is Mohammed? You don't say?"

Soon after arriving in Egypt I had already met a surprising number of men named Mohammed. I commented on this to one. He laughed and said it is like John in America. Well, I assure you it is not. :-) I would say that well more than half of the men I have met were named Mohammed. If you don't know someone's name or have forgotten it you are pretty darn safe in using Mohammed. You will probably be right. :-)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Musing about what is next in Egypt

I left Dahab yesterday by bus and 9 hours later in the evening got to Cairo. I still have until 12/26 in Egypt and although after my first 5 days in Cairo I was ready to leave the city I have been looking forward to getting back here for the last couple of days. I don't know if I will stay here the whole time until my flight back to Japan on 12/26, but I might. There is still a lot here that I want to see that I didn't when I first was here a few weeks ago.

I may also try to get up to Alexandria for one night or even just do it on a long day trip. The train is something like 2 hours so being able to just leave my backpack here at the Cairo hotel and not need to find a place to stay in Alexandria looks attractive to me at this point. Especially since my Lonely Planet book's description of Alexandria make it sound just mildly interesting. Although the city has an amazing history the book says most of the evidence of that history is long gone except for what you can find in the museum. Still, I would like to visit even if just for a day.

Dahab was a good place to recharge my batteries, which get quickly depleted in other parts of Egypt. :) Although I was there a week I also went on a 2 day trip to Petra from there and a 1.5 day trip to Jerusulem/Bethlehem from there so much of the week I was not actually in Dahab.

Aya, back in Japan, is quite ready to leave there since it is cold and she hates cold weather. I really want to spend at least another week in Tokyo though to see some good friends that I have not seen since the last time I spent an extended time there (3 months) in 2007. I hope she can hold on a bit more. :) I told her that if she can then we may consider flying down to Thailand from Japan so she can warm up. I am not really ready to head back to the States yet. If we did that then it might give me a chance to go back to Laos for awhile -- I was last there in 1998 using film.

Back in Cairo

This morning I left Dahab in the Sinai and after about 9 hours on the bus I arrived in Cairo. The hotel I called yesterday and made a reservation for tonight turned out to *not* have a room available when I arrived (about 8:00 PM). Fortunately, they had a guy walk with me to their affiliated hotel 5 minutes away and they had a room. Room looked fine and got checked in, went out and got some dinner, and now back using the free wifi. :-)

Today on the bus sat next to a young woman from England and we had a long and interesting talk. She got off at Taba so later I got to talking to another young woman from Honduras.

Here is a photo at the hotel in Dahab just before I took the bus to go to Cairo this morning. The 2 guys worked at the hotel and they were great. The 2 little boys are from Nigeria. They were there with their parents and the father used my camera to take this photo.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Petra, Jordan

I just got back from a fantastic 2 day trip to Petra, Jordan. Met a young Irish woman named Ann who had just finished 2 years of working in Tanzania and was slowly making her way home to Ireland. Spent much of the first day exploring Petra with her before she left that evening. Also, met a very nice English couple living in Scotland named Steve and Ruth. We spent much of the second day together. Petra was awesome!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


I got back from the quick 27 hour trip to Jerusalem and Bethlehem about midnight last night. Although quick I still had the chance to spend some time walking around in old Jerusalem (Wailing Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulcher -- Golgatha, Tomb of Jesus, etc.) and also walked around some in Bethlehem (Church of the Nativity -- Birthplace of Jesus, manger, etc.). I may go on a 2 day trip to Petra, Jordan tomorrow. Since Dahab is so close I think it's a good opportunity to do both.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Going to Jerusalem

Leaving Dahab tonight about 10:00 PM for a quick trip to Jerusalem and will be back in Dahab about 25-26 hours later -- driving all night tonight. The opportunity came up and I don't know if I will ever be this close again so I am going! Got up at 6:00 AM today so it looks like 40+ hours with no sleep. About 6:10 PM now.

Small incident on the way to Dahab

A couple of days ago when I met the guy with the van outside the Sharm El-Sheikh airport who I rode with to Dahab there was one more small incident that I didn't mention. A bit of background first. As some of you probably know there were 3 suicide bombers here in Dahab in 2006 who killed 23 and injured dozens. In Sharm El-Sheikh in 2005 3 bombs exploded and killed 88 and injured over 200. In 1997 there was also the terrorist attack in Luxor which killed 62 and injured 12.

Anyway, back to the ride to Dahab. After we had left Sharm El-Sheikh and were out on the desert highway we passed a couple of men in their 20s standing beside the road. The driver stopped and asked me if it was okay to pick these guys up so they could ride with us. He said they were police. Hmm, no uniforms. Why do they need a ride to Dahab? Of course, although it seemed a bit strange he did ask me and most likely there was nothing more to it than what he said, but I decided to say no. After all, I don't want to turn into another Daniel Pearl. I also made a joke that if they were willing to each pay 1/3 the cost then I might say okay. :-) The two guys were talking in Arabic to my driver through the open window and I guess he told them I didn't want them to share the ride. They gave me a dirty look and we drove off. Right after we started driving again my driver said that they just wanted a ride to the police checkpoint that was ahead. I could see it maybe 600-700 meters down the road. Maybe they were police, but everyone else there, I noticed, had uniforms on. I am not sure why they wanted a ride to get somewhere they could walk in 5-8 minutes. It was about 8:30 AM and not hot at all. I guess they just continued waiting there until they got a ride. :-)

Incidentally, not far from my hotel here in Dahab there is a foot bridge on the concrete walkway right next to the ocean that goes the full length of the central part of Dahab. There are many open air restaurants, dive shops, small hotels, etc. The foot bridge is in the most central location. I noticed that on both ends of the bridge the concrete appears to have been sort of blasted in an area about a meter circumference and then many pockmarks radiating away from it. I haven't asked but I am pretty sure this is where the suicide bombers did their dirty work. It looks exactly what one would expect if a bomb loaded with bolts, ball bearings, etc. was to explode there and the place that has the most people hanging around.

Anyway, it was probably nothing more than what the driver said and I am not a scaredy-cat, but at the same time it is good to use some common sense. Of course, between the two extremes of them just being police who wanted a 30-40 second car ride and being terrorists looking to kidnap a foreigner there are other possibilities such as two friends of the driver who would try to put the hard sell on me to go to some shop, hotel, etc. :-)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In Dahab now!

I got up very early this morning and with my backpack I walked in the dark to the Luxor train station about 8 minutes away to find a taxi. It was so early that I thought it was the one place I would probably find one. No problem! Got to the Luxor airport and the flight to Sharm El-Sheikh with departure and arrival exactly on time!

Outside the Sharm El-Sheikh airport I found a man with a van who lives in Dahab and he offered me a ride there for about the same as a taxi to the bus station + bus ticket to Dahab. It was 1000% better because I didn't have to wait a couple of hours at the bus station and he took me right to the door of the hotel in Dahab instead of ending up at the Dahab bus station and needing another taxi. It was illegal so when we arrived he asked me to slip him the money very discreetly so no policemen would see it. :-)

No room available but they asked me to wait a couple of hours because someone would probably check out by noon -- and someone did. Got a large room with an enormous patio/balcony about 30 meters from the ocean. The ocean and brown desert mountains of Saudi Arabia in plain view across the Gulf of Aqaba (part of Red Sea). Now that I have been here all day I realize I am paying a bit too much for this room but I just told them I would stay 2 nights and then I can move if I want. Can't believe they are screwing me with the US$23 price per night. :-) Probably US$17-18 is more realistic here for this room. Lots of places to eat here and many backpackers. Very comfortable place to hang out for a few days.

Having a beer next to the ocean right now. :-)

Friday, December 11, 2009


This morning I bought a plane ticket from Luxor to Sharm El-Sheikh for early tomorrow morning. Then I hope to catch a bus to Dahab in the Sinai. In the afternoon I took the ferry to the west bank of the Nile and then hired a driver to take me to a few places. Went to the Ramesseum Temple and Medinet Habu Temple -- both something like 3300 years old. Fantastic! Darn, got to leave the hotel by 5:30 AM tomorrow to catch the flight.

The famous sonnet Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley was inspired by the Ramesseum Temple of Ramses II:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I left Aswan 3 days ago and have been in Luxor. Went over to the west side of the Nile yesterday and visited the Valley of the Kings, Deir al-Bahri (Temple of Hatshepsut), Valley of the Queens, and Colossi of Memnon. This morning I walked and walked through the streets of Luxor to the Temple of Karnak. Of course, everything was amazing! I didn't like the hotel I was staying at so this morning I moved to a much cooler place.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Elephantine Island

Yesterday morning Davis moved on so Kazuko-san and I took the ferry from Aswan over to Elephantine Island to take a look at the two Nubian villages there. While walking around a very nice Nubian man named Mustaffa came up to us. He was proud of the villages and walked with us for a long time telling us about them and introducing us to some of the people. After 2 hours we took the ferry back and had a fantastic lunch overlooking the Nile which was full of feluccas! Then Kazuko-san took the train later in the afternoon to continue her travels. I plan to move on to Luxor today.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Great Temple of Ramses II

Got up at 2:50 AM this morning to start the long slog to Abu Simbel to see the Great Temple of Ramses II and Temple of Hathor. The Ramses II temple was the most awe inspiring place I have ever been to! The entrance with the 4 colossal statues and then the interior with more huge statues and the bas reliefs on the walls, the heiroglyphics, and the atmosphere were spectacular!

Later in the day also took a boat to Agilkia Island to see Philea, the Temple of Isis -- wonderful. Then Kazuko-san, Davis, and I (they are the two solitary travellers I met yesterday) had a combination breakfast, lunch, and early dinner about 4:00 (our first meal since eating yesterday about 3:30 PM). We had some very good fiteer and the place had aircon so we could relax. 24 hours without food had given all of us headaches. Feel fine now!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Felucca on the Nile

13 hours after leaving Cairo on the all-night sleeper train last night I arrived in Aswan this morning. Got out of the station and promptly met a young Japanese woman looking for a taxi in the bedlam. Coincidentally we were going to the same hotel so we shared the taxi. Got there and met a young Australian guy and the 3 of us spent the day together.

The day ended with a 2 hour ride on a felucca (traditional Egyptian sailboat) on the Nile River ending just after an absolutely gorgeous sunset!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

King Tut

Here is Steve Martin in 1979 singing his humorous song King Tut (on Saturday Night Live -- I saw it live at the time). In 1979 the “The Treasures of Tutankhamun” (King Tut) exhibition from the Egyptian Museum was touring the U.S. at several big cities. I was a college student in Texas at the time and wanted to go, but the nearest place was far away in Chicago. King Tut was a bit of a mania at the time with magazine covers, TV shows, etc. Steve Martin decided to poke a little fun. Finally exactly 30 years later I saw the King Tut exhibit today at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. :-)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Going to Aswan

This morning I moved to another hotel in a different part of Cairo. As expected, when I arrived the taxi driver demanded more money than what we had agreed to before I got in. No problem, I just said no and got out, short and sweet, no arguing. :-) I booked a sleeper car for the 12+ hour ride to Aswan for tomorrow night and then spent the afternoon in the awesome Egyptian Museum.

Pyramids and the Sphinx

Went to Giza this morning to see the amazing pyramids and the Sphinx. Fantastic, but the aggressive touts who swarm all over you everywhere are just a royal pain in the butt and almost make you wish you had never come to Egypt. :-) Also, went to Saqqara to see the step pyramid -- the first pyramid and the oldest stone monument in the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I am in Egypt now!

I left Japan on 11/29 and flew to Cairo for 4 weeks of travel on my own in Egypt. As usual, no plans or itinerary. At the moment I am staying around the old Islamic Cairo so it is cool to walk around there with my camera. I will be travelling to other parts of Egypt too. Of course, after I get back to Japan I will prepare some photos and put them on my website. I don't get back to Japan until after Christmas though.