Very easy boarding onto the very very big ship. It turned out that this ship "Voyager of the Sea" was relocating to New Zealand which is why it was so cheap for the 15 nights. Full of lots of old people, and very few young people if any, and hardly any kids so we thought it would probably be a quiet cruise. We basically just found our way around this arvy, and explored the ship a bit.
We were up earlyish and went straight to the gym for an hour on the treadmill, then into the spa. We had breakfast, then I found a seat on the deck and played with my iPad, either reading, trivial pursuit or solitaire and decided I could really enjoy these 2 weeks of doing almost nothing. Marty eventually found his way down to the deck, we had a light BBQ lunch, then back to the room for a break from the sun before going down for bingo. American bingo is quite different to all other bingo, and at $22 for one game we decided we probably wouldn't be doing that again. The major jackpot was $200 a bit weak for the cost. We found the sports deck, played some ping pong, mini golf, basketball, walked the track a bit then went and had a drink before dinner. Our first night we had dinner in the restaurant but decided that we didn't get enough choices of veggies and salads in the restaurant so opted for the buffet, which gave us heaps of choices, including flexible times.
We were quite tired after dinner so opted to just watch TV in our room.
Wednesday & Thursday 2&3/5/2012
We spent the early morning in the gym, tread milling it up for an hour, then the spa, then some sun, and some heavy reading, a bit of a walk around. We collected our passports which were already stamped with an Egypt stamp It was all a bit hard to take after all the months of traveling and sight seeing. I realized that if anything happened at home no one knew how to get in touch with us so took the plunge and bought an hour of Internet time for $35, a luxury we wouldn't be using much. On the Thursday we checked our emails to confirm that our tours were confirmed.
Marty had developed som blisters and sore feet so opted out of the treadmill this morning, and as we were meeting our tour guide at 8am, I got up at 5.30 and was first at the gym, did a great 50 min workout on the treadmill, showered and had breakfast quickly then joined the queue to get off the ship. I had booked a private tour for about 1/2 the price of the cruise excursions, and had read that because of political unrest in Cairo, certain components of the excursions had been cancelled. Of course those certain components were in our itinerary. We found our guide Mohammed Ali (not a joke, most men are called some version of Ali or Mohammed) who quickly explained that the problems in Cairo probably wouldn't start until after the 3rd call to prayer at midday, so he felt we would be ok to go to the Egyptian Cairo Museum, and we were so glad he did.
First we drove through Giza where the demonstrators were already getting set up. Mohammed tried to explain that they had what they called The People's Revolution January 2011, where the president was ousted, as the people wanted a proper republic with a president that was voted in by the people. But apparently it wasn't happening quickly enough, since the revolution unemployment had skyrocketed, people were getting poorer and poorer, and nothing seemed to be improving. Being a Muslim country they have Friday and Saturdays off, so Fridays are always the days when the demonstrations are worst.
Anyway he took us on a rush tour of about an hour, but showed us the most important parts, namely King Tuttenkarmens coffins, and famous head piece, and some of the most interesting stuff I have ever seen in a museum. We left the museum just as the call for prayers were starting so knew we had got away on time. All the time we were driving he was giving us information on the culture and history of Egypt with such passion and humor.
We then stopped on a bridge over the Nile and took some photos, then back to Giza to see the pyramids and sphinx. It was obvious every where how poor this country was, there was nothing cheerful or pleasant about the place, except Mohammed. We spent a good deal of time at the pyramids, I went inside one of the smaller ones into the tombs. All around were locals selling souvenirs, so I convinced Marty to buy one. But what was interesting was the horse and/or camel rides. I was tempted to do a camel ride because it had been years since I had ridden one, but it was incredibly hot, so I opted out of it. We then walked down to the sphinx and got the history of it. There were also 2 large holes where they found wooden ships that were left there for the kings/Pharaohs/gods for their next life. We had seen 2 original smaller versions of them in the museum.
We then had the 3 hour drive back, which would have been a good opportunity to rest, but the roads were atrocious, traffic was appalling, we struck a truck rollover which blocked the whole side of our road. We watched a tribe of men, some watching, some there to help, with a crappy old delivery truck that had hooked up a chain to the overturned truck along with another truck that had tried unsuccessfully, and at high speed drove forward and as the truck righted itself but then the pantec part of the truck just peeled off and landed back on the ground. The funny thing was the second truck that had helped took off at great speed as if he was in big trouble, which I am sure he was.
When we got back into Alexandria, we were confronted with a group of men trying to beat the s*** out of each other, an example of the volatility of the community in the difficult political times. We made it back to the ship in one piece at about 6pm, pretty tired but very happy with our day out. Early dinner and off to bed.
I got up early again and did my hours exercise, then after a shower and breakfast we met up with Mohammed again and did a tour of Alexandria, along with a full history and plenty of stories (he reckons Keanu Reeves is gay)! Nooooooooo
Unfortunately Mohammed told us that we had got out of Cairo just in time the day before, as the rioting had got really bad, several people had been badly injured and 3 people had been killed. Strange feeling, because we see it on TV all the time but to actually be in the place where it is happening is quite surreal.
We started at the Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa (the only catacombs outside of Europe), and how amazing, they combined Roman, Greek and Egyptian works throughout the 300+ tombs.
Then we drove the full length of the cosby which is 16 km long to the palace and gardens, which are unfortunately open to all people, but require fee to enter the gardens, and the palace is not used for anything. Mohammed didn't understand when I asked why it cost money to go into the gardens if it was for all people to use?????
Then we went to the Mosque, (it's getting to be a bit like ABC except it's ABM, Another Bloody Mosque). I had to enter in a separate entrance and get gowned up, as my knees, elbows and head were showing, but once fully covered was allowed into the main part of the mosque where Mohammed gave us a comprehensive explanation of the design of the mosque AND how to pray. Although I have been in several mosques, I really enjoyed this one as he gave us much more information.
We saw the Stanly bridge, the new library, designed by the same architect that built the Sydney Opera House, the fortress that was built to reach the huge lighthouse, then we were back at the ship ready to set sail for the Suez Canal.
I went to the gym for an hour this morning while Marty watched and photographed our trip through the Suez Canal. I could see it fine from my walking machine, what surprised me was that on the narrow sections, which was a lot of it there were houses all the way along. It was also manned with soldiers all the way along. We then had a late breakfast, bought a camera cleaning kit, and made our way to the Carmen restaurant to confirm that we could still use our booked table. We then checked our emails for about 1/2 hour, then off to watch leaving the Canal. Having had such a busy day we then had a nanny nap.
Dinner was a nice surprise, surf and turf, we had steak and lobster tail.
For the first time since we left home I slept all night, no idea why, maybe I was actually started to relax! An hour in the gym, breakfast then watched the ship dock in Aqaba, Jordan from our balcony. There was a large city on the other side of the harbor but we didn't know what it was. Our driver Karlid, found us on time and took us to the foreign exchange so we could get some Jordan Dinars, but Marty discovered that he hardly had enough money and we had stupidly left our credit card on the boat, but it turned out he had just enough with nothing to spare. Anyway we then went to the office and met Moufid, the tour company owner, who I think was a female, which seemed strange in this country.
Aqaba was certainly different, obviously a lot wealthier then Egypt, and cleaner. Karlid explained in very poor english that they King of Jordan had made Aqaba a free zone city (???) and had encouraged the rest of the world to come and do business in there. Apparently it had worked as it is currently the fastest growing city in Jordan with a lot of expats doing business there. He also explained that the city across the harbor was Israel!
And just behind the mountains was Saudi Arabia!
Karlid drove the 2 hours to Petra and on the way we saw the most amazing sites, the desert left us speechless, the mountains were just rock and NOTHING grew on them. But the most amazing things was the Bedouins, they camped in this area at this time of year because the weather is cooler, a comfortable 33deg, and there are whole sections of land that are set aside for them. We didn't even know Bedouins still existed.
The city of Petra is a spectacular city built by the Nabataeans, the Arab Bedouin tribes, more than 2000 years ago. It was created as a fortress city and it's elaborately carved buildings, temples and tombs are carved out of the solid rock on the side of the mountains. It was abandoned 1000 years ago and rediscovered again in 1812. It was made famous as the setting for the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade".
We paid a small fortune for the tickets, then headed off down the track, being hassled by young Jordanians trying to get us to ride a horse, camel, carriage, donkey. But having no money we were destined to walk. It was well worth the 3 km walk down to see the massive buildings carved into the mountain. But we weren't sure it was worth the walk 3 km back up.
Anyway we made it up having several stops on the way, as it was incredibly hot, I had my pashmina over my head, shoulders and arms with my Portugal hat over the top, I really looked a sight, but at least not getting sunburnt. We met up with our driver and made the 2 hour trek back to the ship. We were struck with the strangest event ever when we got to the gate to enter the port. When Karlid picked us up in the morning we were in a mini van, but we swapped to a normal Hyundai before traveling to Petra and we were in this car when we got back to the port. Even though he had all the paperwork proving he was a tour driver and we were passengers on the ship, they all, including the armed military guy refused to let us in. We were wondering how we were going to get around this problem, but if worst came to worst we would have had to walk the couple of kms to the ship.
However Karlid understood the stupidity of the port authority, so we drove back to the office and swapped into the mini van that we were in originally, drove back to the port and they let us through with smiles on their faces. I asked Karlid if there was something on the minivan identifying it as a tour vehicle, but he said no, it was just the stupidity of the authorities.
We had to be up early this morning as we were docking at Safaga, Egypt at 6 am and I had arranged a private tour for 7am. We met with our very tall young driver who couldn't speak English and led us to a medium size car, called his boss who explained that we would collect the guide at Luxor.
And off we went, at an average speed of 150 - 160 km / hour with the occasional 190 km/h and most of it either passing other cars or on the wrong side of the road. I was sitting in the back trying to avoid looking wondering which was worse, sitting in the front like Marty and knowing when you are going to die or sitting in the back and wondering when we were going to die.
But fortunately we made it to Luxor and met with our guide Alaa, (birth name Aladdin) who firstly took us to the "Valley of the Kings" where we went through 3 tombs, that really enlightened and thrilled us, it's amazing how intact these tombs are after 1500 years, including the colors. Alaa didn't recommend Tutankhamen's tomb as it was empty except for his mummy, and everything that was in it we had seen at the Egyptian museum in Cairo.
Alaa was going to take us to a alabaster carving shop, where we could see how they carve the stone, but we kindly refused as we knew that there would be a hard sell and as we still had some traveling to do we wouldn't be able to buy anything and always ended up being embarrassed. So our next stop was Hatshepsut Temple, this temple was carved from the sheer limestone cliffs of the Theban Mountains, and would have had beautiful reliefs of the Queen pharaoh except they had all been carved out by her half brother when he was released and killed the Queen and reclaimed his throne.
At this point I asked Alaa about the rainfall in Luxor as he talked about a lake at the temple, and was stunned to hear that it rains for 4-5 minutes every 15 - 18 years, in fact he couldn't remember the last time it had rained. All the water supply for the country comes from the Nile or from underground springs. And the Nile used to be 35 km wide but they built a dam in 1961 in Somalia that stopped the great floods but also reduced the Nile to about 500 m wide.
We had lunch at an egyptian restaurant, Marty was adventurous and had chicken and chips, and I tried koftas. Pretty ordinary but at least we tried it.
We then saw the Clossi of Memnon, two large faceless statues, carved out of 2 pieces of granite and transported from 300 km away. They were about 35m tall. Then to the Temples of Karnak, this was definitely the most impressive archeological site we had seen, it was built over a period of 1000 years and had some of the most intact structures and artwork and everything. We would have liked to have spent a lot more time wandering though the 65 columns and numerous statues, but it was about 40 degrees and we just couldn't take the heat.
The next event was supposed to be a horse carriage ride but Alaa advised us that most tourist don't like it as the horses are really smelly and the city is pretty grotty so we opted not to do the horse ride. And he was right because when we got to the dock to do the Nile cruise the horses and carriages were all lined up there and they really did smell.
We had a short (our choice) ride on the Nile, short because there had been a chronic shortage of fuel, particularly diesel since the revolution and we didn't want to use up the poor guys fuel on a river cruise where we could be on any river. At least we could say we had a river cruise on the Nile.
Luxor was I think in an even worse financial situation then Cairo, as it depended mainly on tourism and the archeological sites. Since the revolution tourism had reduced to 2% of its previous numbers. Alaa had studied for 8 years in archeology but since the revolution, the main financial supporters of the excavations, namely American Universities, had withdrawn their support and ALL excavation, restoration and maintenance of these historical sites had stopped. He also said that since taking up tour guiding, he only had work 2 - 3 days a month, and had a wife and 2 babies to support. The country really was in trouble.
Today was a nothing day, we spent most of the day sleeping and just watching TV, but we also had to do a "Safe Haven" drill as we were sailing through the Gulf of Aden and apparently it is renowned for pirates. We had special precautions to follow, eg to keep our curtains on our balconies closed and balcony lights off from sun down to sun up, and the ship was even stopping to collect firearms to protect the ship better if need be, pretty exciting stuff.
Thursday 10/05/2012 - Monday 14/05/2012
6 days at sea and we were ready to jump ship.