En route to Luxor: feluccas and temples

A day and night on the felucca was heavenly relaxation after a few intense days of temple-hopping – even if it was a bit of bush experience when nature called! The highlight was definitely dinner. We pulled up to shore at night and the felucca captain wrapped a blanket around the boat to keep out the wind and lit loads of candles as they laid out the food. Tres romantique! A bonfire on the shore followed, with lots of singing and drums, before we turned in for a chilly night under sleeping bags and blankets.

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We are in Egypt after all, so never too far from a temple! After waving goodbye to the felucca captain, we continued along the road to Luxor, stopping at Kom Ombo and Edfu temples along the way.

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When we reached Luxor, I was struck by how much more modern it feels – or at least how well it caters to tourists… but the hawkers here have been intense. Really, really intense. At Valley of the Kings, it wasn’t possible to move two steps without being surrounded. The tombs were as much an escape from the touts as anything else!

Ok, not really – the tombs were more amazing than I imagined. Actually, I’m not sure what I imagined, but not the colour and detail that I saw. We visited the tombs of Rameses 3, 4, 6 and 9. Rameses 6 topped them all, but each one had its own unique features. Shame we weren’t allowed to take any pictures! (note: the touts got me, and I bought some postcards instead of photos!)

Next we visited Queen Hachetsup’s (Hot Chicken Soup) temple. Finally, a female pharaoh doing it for the girls! This was high on the list as Lofty’s mum recommended it as a not-to-miss and we weren’t disappointed – well, except for one of the group who twisted his knee badly during a “jump” photo and had to be ambulanced away!

Luxor has a beautiful boardwalk by the Nile – a great place to sit, study (in Lofty’s case) or write (in mine) and watch the sun go down. Egypt has been a great source of inspiration and I’ve written loads since being away. Yay!

We capped off a brilliant day with a tour of Luxor temple at night. Gorgeous!

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Aswan Egypt: romance, majesty and culture

Aswan is just beautiful. The difference between here and Cairo is palpable: fewer cars, swaying palms, and our hotel is right on the banks of the Nile. It is also a lot hotter. Cairo was chilly most of the day, but Aswan is proper desert heat!

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The pace has been much more relaxing here. After a dip in the pool to shake off the train dust, we headed to the most romantic temple in Egypt, called Philae. It is situated on an island in Lake Nasser (it had to be moved after the dam flooded its original location) and is dedicated to the goddess of love and beauty – Isis. Wali, our guide, used the group members as actors to explain the relationship between the Egyptian gods. Lofty ended up as Horus – pictured in this temple as a big baby! Hehe. We had a couple of hours to explore the stunning temple, which felt really unique owing to its island setting. We also had the place pretty much to ourselves. Lack of tourism has really hit Egypt and its people hard, but for us it allows an unexpected peace amongst the normally bustling temples.

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A quick stroll through Aswan markets had us haggling for scarves and saffron, giving a few egyptian pounds to a persistent-but-charming Del Boy named Mohammed, but it was early to bed as we had a three am start to Abu Simbel. Where Philae was romantic and peaceful, Abu Simbel is majestic and awe-inspiring. In fact, as you come around the corner, the first temple you see is the temple dedicated to Ramses II’s wife, Nefeteri. There were many oohs and ahhs – until Ramses II himself’s temple came into view and all jaws dropped!

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The story of how they moved Abu Simbel is really fascinating, although a few people questioned why it the dam was built with such little regard for the safety or preservation of such ancient wonders. But modern life must go on – and without the high dam modern life in Egypt would be nigh on impossible. And so it was up to Unesco and the Egyptian people to ensure the temple could be restored in a different location.

We stopped off at the dam on the way home and after a chilled afternoon, we boarded a boat to a Nubian village, where we treated to a tour of a home – including their feisty pet crocs- and yummy traditional food.

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Tomorrow we are spending all day aboard a felucca, so more relaxation in store! It’s a hard Egyptian life…

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Egypt: pharaohs, perfume, pyramids and… Traffic.

Today we are in Aswan, after a long 14hr overnight train journey from Cairo. That’s now my third sleeper train journey in Africa (others being Nairobi to Mombassa and Harare to Vic Falls) and this was probably the nicest – although food was better in Kenya!

Our full day in Cairo had been hectic to say the least! After an early morning breakfast, we headed off toward the Egypt Museum. Cairo traffic (more on that later) meant we all had to hop off the bus for a quick stroll through the infamous Tahrir Square, where protestors were still camped out. The Egypt museum is just off the square, with the burnt out remains of the old regime’s offices looming behind.

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The Egypt museum definitely exceeded my expectations, and after gazing at all Tutankhamen’s tomb finery, I picked up a few ideas for my own khans in Oathbreaker! One of the most impressive items was a tiny statue of Cheops, the only visual representation of the great Pharaoh there is.

After lunch at Adelino’s perfume shop (and more delicious mint tea), we headed toward the Great Pyramids at Giza. After plenty of shots from a high viewpoint of the entire Giza complex, we all clambered aboard camels for a lift down to the third pyramid. It was a great ride, but not so long that it got really uncomfortable!

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We were luckily able to enter the third pyramid, which was quite eerie – even if there wasn’t that much to see inside. Just the thought of being in the tomb was enough to make my pulse race, and later standing next to the smallest pyramid of the three, you can’t help but be daunted by its massive size. Let alone its two big brothers.

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We watched the sunset over the Sphinx (no riddles were posed, much to my chagrin) and headed back to the hotel for showers and relax before our overnight train journey. At least, that was the plan. Cairo traffic had other ideas. In the event, we ended up racing along the platform at 8.01 (train was due to leave at 8), yelling at every train guard to let us on! Mercifully they took pity on us and we leapt on board, backpacks in tow, in the nick of time. Luck is on our side!

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First day in Egypt: traffic, pyramids, and the death of a pope

We have arrived in Cairo without any fuss, and our taxi driver whisks (weaves, ducks, nearly-sideswipes) us through the city to our hotel. My first impression is of dust-swept apartment blocks populated by millions of satellite dishes seemingly more numerous than pigeons, of towering minarets blasting out ‘Allah Ahkbar’, and of people. Lots and lots of people.

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We don’t have long to relax at our hotel before we’re introduced to the rest of the Oasis Overland group and swept off for our first taste of Egypt: a sound and light show at the Pyramids of Giza. Even though it’s dark there are a few squeals as the pyramids come into sight – and I’m not let down by how immense they feel.

The light show feels like something out of another era – I’m not sure whether that’s because it is narrated by the dulcet tones of Omar Sharif or because I’m sure lasers went out of fashion two decades ago, but although my brain feels too fried to take in what the guy from Lawrence of Arabia is telling me, I still feel awed by the sight. It is definitely a bit out-of-body to think that yesterday I was finishing up at work and today I’m staring at an ancient wonder of the world.

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On our transfer back, the news breaks about the death of the Egyptian Coptic pope, Pope Shenouda III. Our tour guide sends messages of condolence to his Christian friends. He worries a little more now about Security as the death of such a prominent religious figure could be destabilising. But we have only one day in Cairo, and the excitement is still high (if sobered).

Dinner is mixed grill at a local Syrian restaurant. Delicious – and only £8 for the two of us. Bargain. I could get used to this.

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This is maybe something that only my friend Sarah will understand (she and I travelled Africa for three months, alone and with oasis) but it feels amazing to be back in Africa – even if it’s very different from Kenya and Southern Africa. Just something about it still makes me feel at home, and I can’t wait to explore more.

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African Memories

We’ve arrived in Perth safe and sound. The weather is beautiful and we are enjoying a few nights in an apartment-style hotel (thanks Mum and Dad!!) while we plan the next few months of our adventure.

But what about the last few days in Africa? Jeffrey’s Bay is the South African surfing mecca, and true to form I had to try it. Ever since my sister’s first trip to Hawaii, I have been bombarded by stories of her surfing success — I aimed to equal it! I failed miserably (it is much harder than it looks!) but I did manage to stand on my own for a few glorious seconds.

After leaving Jeffrey’s Bay, we entered Lesotho where there was no internet, let alone a telephone (the campground we stayed at uses radios to keep in contact with the outside world). Lesotho is nicknamed “the Kingdom in the Sky” and for good reason. All around us spread amazing mountain views. We spent one night bush camping on the edge of a cliff and woke up the next morning being buffeted by strong winds. Sarah and I managed to keep our tent in one place, but some people weren’t so lucky! After securing (and in some cases, rescuing) the remaining tents, we hustled toward Malealea Lodge. The weather was sunny and beautiful, although there were some threatening clouds looming in the distance. The owner of the lodge encouraged us to go pony trekking that day, before the bad weather set in. Three of us (Katie, Leahanne and myself) took his advice and set off on a 6-hour trek through the Lesotho hills and mountains. Bad idea. Only half and hour into the ride and the rain came down in a fury. Closely following the rain? Hail stones the size of golf balls. It felt like we were under attack! The ponies, bless them, plodded on dutifully through the rain, somehow managing to keep their footing down the steep – and now very slick – hillsides as we descended into gorges and back up again.

By the end of it we were drenched but smiling. The views were still incredible, with the rain clouds casting an eerie grey mist over the landscapes. We managed to get our sunny tour of Lesotho the next day, when we hiked to a waterfall.
I’ve posted a taster of the photographs here, but the full pics are up on flickr (link is on the side of the page):
Pony Trekking in Lesotho

Pony Trekking, Lesotho

Hiking Lesotho

Hiking in Lesotho

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