Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yeah! Back to Dahab.

When I left Jordan I said I would never be back to the Middle East. Never say never! Being able to take to the water in Dahab again.....what can I say - it must be a dream. Even caught up with good mate/colleague Mary. Back to Seaview - Mohmamed is always pleased to see us. Thanks to Rula who pointed all the good spots for snorkeling, I often think of her here.

El Alamein - taking my class to camp in a five star hotel!

Yes for history! School camp (camp, in a 5 star hotel?) heading to El Alamein. Luckily Jo was able to join us. Allied victory at El Alamein ended Axis hopes of occupying Egypt, controlling access to the Suez Canal, and gaining access to the Middle Eastern oil fields. The defeat at El Alamein marked the end of Axis expansion in Africa. The ANZACS were regarded as the best troops in the battle, they were sent in advance to clear the way for the main force.
Jo explained "I felt proud to see the fern as the NZ symbol on gravestones of the young soldiers who died there. It bought alump to my throat."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

al-Azhar Park

Linda and I went for a lookie see yesterday - covering an area of about 30 hectares, al-Azhar Park is the largest expanse of green in Cairo - perfect for a hot day, with temperatures up now - 38c on Thursday - the locals tell me this is unusual for this time of year. Established by the Aga Khan Trust For Culture in 1984, the park was built over the top of a huge pile of rubble that had been turned in to a rubbish tip. Hard to believe as al-Azhar Park is a peaceful oasis on the edge of the chaos of Islamic Cairo.
Paths meander through idyllic gardens, with many water features. We had a yummy lunch in a traditional style building in the grounds. Because al-Azhar Park is on a hill, you get amazing views all over Cairo. On a clear day (that would be a lucky day) you can even see the Pyramids.
As with much of Cairo, the best bit is people-watching: old men reminiscing on benches, children playing games happily, and daring young lovers holding hands as they stroll through their own little world. The 800 year-old Ayyubid wall surrounding some of the park has been partially restored.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Siwa on the edge of the Sahara Desert

After the exhausting lead up to the holiday, spending a week in Siwa, and Albabenshal Inn in particular, was paradise. Siwa is the only remaining spot in Egypt where people are Berbers and speak the Amazigh ancestral language.
We arrived at Albabenshal late in the afternoon after an longish journey from Cairo with some fun and games haggling a ride - the buying poer of five meant we arrive in relative comfort in our own van as the bus was full. It was such a relaxed atmosphere; we were welcomed with complimentary drinks. The hotel sits in the centre of Siwa Oasis, built into the mountain fortress. Each and every room is large and cool, on different levels. The dining experience is fantastic and the best part of staying here. We ate our meals on the roof terrace, what could be nicer in the company of friends overlooking Siwa fortress with the fire burning? The food came in generous helpings and was delicious. The waiters could not do enough to please us. Though I did request breakfast at 7am to which one replied 'Uh ah, 7am comes much too early!' The chicken, pita, olives, roasted vegetables, dips, soups, salads, deserts! jams, cheeses, etc. It is all heavenly. Ever heard of olive jam or pomegranate sauce?

We set off on bikes for Cleopatra's Pool; a bubbling clear water spring. Juices and swimming were welcome when we finally got there but getting lost was all part of the adventure. Views over the oasis showed us the huge expanse of turquoise waters, no wonder so many made this a destination to conquer. Enjoying chocolate turkish coffee on the streetside was really good with great hilarity watching the donkey eating the cabbages, followed by the chickens having their share and the pigeons getting on the act too.

Setting off on our two day safari - our man Nassa reserved in the beginning - well who wouldn't be..became our latest best friend within hours. Despite being told to dress up due to the culture, he swam in his boxers in the hot pool and did not seem to least bit thrown by our heathenly Western ways.

The Great Sand Sea is an endless expanse of sand dunes, covering some 70,000 square kilometres, a phenomenal grandeur of Sahara that continues well into Libya. It is a living desert as the dunes move, some of them tens of kilometres long, propelled by the wind, advancing as much as several dozen metres a year. In the middle of the desert we enjoyed lunch by a salty lake and swam in two springs in an area known as Beer Wahed: a hot one and a cold one. The hot spring is contained in a small pool, with bubbling natural hot water. The cold spring was a lovely big pond of fresh cold water. Nassar was an expert at desert driving. The dunes in the Desert are massive in some places, and getting across them in the LandCruiser meant descending some of them, at times exceeding a sixty percent grade, so it felt like a roller coaster drop. Some of us enjoyed that feeling more than others! Sand boarding was a hoot especially watching each others demise. In the Great Sand Sea we found that part of the Mediterranean Sea had flowed over this land many years ago, and lots of shells and fossilised coral remained in the sand. There was a feeling of complete isolation here and sleeping under the stars was totally enjoyable feeling - just me the gentle snoring and the grit. I shall cherish the moment forever. The trip to the desert including the skulls and bones, shells with chalky remains and the petrofied date palm plantation- some of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Thanks to Jo, she was the star who organised the trip and kept us entertained.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cairos Market

Had a blissful time wandering this market - not the touristy one. A stall holder bought Mary and I warm pita, falafel and salad with tahini dressing. Scrumptious. Cost - 25 cents.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Acclimatising to Cairo

Looking out on the chaos I can't helped but be charmed and thrilled to be here, despite the smog and bleeping horns of rude drivers. I enjoyed these views from the unique minaret of the Ibn Tulun Mosque - a geometric wonder built in 800 AD with a huge central square coutyard with a covered hall on each side and rows of columns. This is one of the largest mosques in the world and Cairos oldest.