A Travellerspoint blog

The Journey Home

Back To Perth

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Well there it was, exactly 11 months of travelling, over 115000 km's, 75+ cities, 18 different coutries and countless friends along the way. An amazing period of time that is simply as good as life could possibly be, atleast for me.

I had the opportunity to visit some of the places I had wanted to go since I was a little kid and some places I had never really had in my mind to go but was glad that I went there. Obviously nobody can love every place that they visit and I was no different having a few places that I just didn't enjoy for one reason or another. Thankfully the great thing about travelling is that for every place you don't quite like you find atleast three that you absolutely love. I certainly can't complain as the trip was everything I hoped it would be and in so many ways so much more.

So what does one do when he comes back from spending so much time overseas you may well ask? Well for me it was simple catch up with my family, re-introduce myself to my 6 month old niece and get my fill of cricket and footy. This combined with catching up with friends and seeing how much life has and hasn't moved on kept me entertained.

However, with both my love and quest for travelling not quite satiated I decided a month at home would be enough and that a return to South America was in my near future. I said before I left that South America would be hard for me to leave, even knowing that I would love it didn't really prepare me for how much it would captivate me. Now,if I could be anywhere in the world it would be in South America, so having the luxury of both time and money I continued my edict to do as I really wanted and ventured back, with no real agenda but the knowledge that no matter how long I was there it wouldn't be long enough.

Posted by rhinoc 19:13 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

In the Footsteps of Indy


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With one last country and one last wonder in mind I commenced my lightning trip to Jordan, with only two days here it will be barely enough time to see Petra let alone see anymore of the country. However it was Petra that both put and kept Jordan on my radar all this time with the spectacular rock carved buildings and scenery even used as the back drop to scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Firstly the journey to Jordan from Egypt is a mission in itself that relies heavily on good planning, timeliness and an unquantifiable amount of luck. With the few buses on offer I needed to get a bus (1.5 hours) that would arrive such that I could buy a ticket in the currency of the day for a ferry (1.5 hours) that would then leave at an undisclosed time, all the while hopefully finding some people to share a taxi with to Petra (2.5 hours) since buses finish about midday. Sound complicated? It's hard to imagine that Indy had more difficulty in getting here!

Initially my luck was in with a simple inquiry about the bus to the border being answered with an offer of a minibus for twice the price but ready to leave from my hotel and drop me at the ticket office - a nice start. Arriving at the ticket office at midday was easy and with yet more luck on my side I purchased my ticket in American dollars - so far so good. I then inquired about the departure time of the ferry and was told "after 2pm", with a look suggesting that he thought this was a definite time. I then met some people that were going to Jordan but not Petra (close). Arriving at the ferry building I waltzed through customs and was now officially out of Egypt, even managing to find some people headed my way - today was going like clockwork.

Needless to say it all fell apart and not only did 2pm disappear but with it 3pm and 4pm as well with the ferry finally boarding at 4:30pm and leaving at 5pm. The journey took us a little over an hour and was comfortable, with the overpriced meal a necessity after a long day without lunch. passports were surrendered on board and collected at shore with tourists processed separately and with a level of efficiency.

Departing the port building it became immediately apparent that we had left Egypt with everything more civilised, cleaner and overall nicer here. With this however came the price inflation, however we did manage to get a taxi for the price we wanted to pay but the two hour ride was still more expensive that anything I had done in Egypt. Indeed it was twice the price of my overnight train from Cairo to Aswan - a journey of 13 hours! The car was however nice and the driver keen to stop along the road for a coffee break and let us chat to some of the locals.

At first glance here the people here are much friendlier here and want to talk to you about where you are from and why you are here without the mention of "backsheesh". This provides a very tranquil feel that is consolidated by everything including the traffic. We arrived in Wadi Mousa, my home for exploring Petra finding a nice enough place to stay and a tremendous feed. The town is quite small and relies almost solely on tourism but is yet unspoilt with the possible exception of the over zealous taxi drivers.

The next day it was off to take in Petra, utilising a free lift from the hotel to the ticket office. It was here that I encountered the only 15 minutes of frustration that I felt at Petra. The government has tainted itself slightly by adding a ridiculously overpriced horse ride ($18) for the 1km journey from the ticket office to the entrance annoying taking the ticket price to $50. As you labour slowly at the whim of your "guide" you pass signs suggesting that this is dedicated to looking after and providing healthy horses and donkeys for less wealthy communities. I hope this is the case as then it was not a total waste of my money. Thankfully here is where the frustration stop and the spectacle begins.

Dismounting you are left to wander for 1200m through a stunning erosion carver narrow gorge that could serve as an attraction in itself. The 80m high walls serve to focus your attention allowing you to fully appreciate the vibrat palette of earth colours on display. With your attention now focused the gorge then gives up a few hints as to what lays at the end in the form of small carvings in the rock. Turning the final corner however you breath is taken as firstly the corner and then slowly the whole treasury comes into view already heavy with shadows at 9am (the sun abandons the treasury at 10am such is its location). Firstly you take in the magnificent size of the facade before noticing its remarkable attention to detail, complete with precise lines and columns before finally marveling at its remarkable state of preservation - the last one no doubt owing to its protection by the gorge. A spectacular sight and worthy of mentions alongside Iquazu, Tikal and the other amazing places that I have been fortunate enough to visit.

The remainder of the site is also quite nice and takes in a road with many more facades covered in rocks that are nice but not quite as well preserved as the treasury. The road then leads to the 900+ stairs that lead the way to the monastery, the second most famous building here and one that is very impressive. The sheer size of these buildings is something that you cannot help but wonder at. The columned road (built by the romans ofcourse) also present gives way to the great temple, one of the few temples with an inbuilt theatre. The stadium here is quite well preserved and is impressive holding up to 40,000 people.

The background for this wonder is also some gorgeous desert and mountain scenery that can be taken in by hiking amongst the many goat trails on offer. The second day I spent following a large percentage of these trails, trails that led to many more less visited tombs and an old crusader fortress among other things. I also took the opportunity to view the site from the sky climbing three of the mountains on display including the "great place of sacrifice". This was at the highest point of Petra and is complete with sacrifice benches and basins. The mountains provided some incredible views and it is quite remarkable that the stadium, temple and facades seem so small from your viewpoint after being astounded by how big they were the day before.

With as much of Petra as there was to see seen, it was time to head off and prepare for my journey back to Egypt. With just 2.5 days left I am hoping to cross the border with little drama and make my way to one final destination Alexandria before I fly home.

Posted by rhinoc 12:09 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Drifting Slowly Down the Nile

Aswan to Luxor

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It was now time to visit perhaps my most anticipated place in Egypt the mighty narcissistic temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel (a train and convoy ride away from my current location) whilst also taking in the engineering disaster that was the Nasser dam causing the temple to be moved. I met a few Australians on the train down which made things a little easier because negotiating with 4 people is a lot easier than doing so for one. The hotel we found was not the best but it was usable with a leaky bathroom providing a flooded entry every day. Most people spend only long enough in Aswan to see the temple and then leave straight away but I decided to stay there for a couple of days and try and arrange a felucca trip back to Luxor.

Aswan is an unusual city and there are really only two roads in the city that run parallel to each other, one that runs along the Nile and the other containing the market street. The others merely provide access between the two. The markets here are a lot less aggressive than those in either Cairo or Luxor with the guys prepared to have fun and enjoy themselves as well as making the sale. After a couple of days here it was also nice as they recognized us and were not trying to sell us anything as much as just greet us, making for a lot more relaxed shopping environment and as a result things were actually purchased. However this is Egypt and every day we would get screwed over on at least one meal – very hard to avoid.

The trip out to Abu Simbel involves an early start, joining the 3:30am convoy to near the Sudan border, something that inexplicably started with a 2:30am wake up from the hotel staff but at least they had packed our breakfast. The trip to the temple was reasonably uneventful with nothing more than a few passport checks and some crazy driving but we made it all in one piece. The temple is incredible firstly for the fact that it was built to honour both the sun god and the pharaoh himself but alongside a temple to honour his favourite wife Nefetari also. The temple was also moved due to the Nasser dam because of a potential flooding issue and as with anything else as they took it apart and then subsequently put it back together there was a few bricks left over!

The inside is really quite amazing and extravagant even for Egyptian standards but it’s fitting for the Ramses II, who whilst possibly not as well known as Tutankhamen was a far greater pharaoh and arguably the greatest of them all. He ruled for 70+ years and united the upper and lower kingdoms before extending the empire, twice taking on the mighty Hittites at Kadesh before signing a peace treaty. It is fitting that his temples stand alone in the south and are still one of the must see attractions in Egypt despite their geographical inconvenience. The six giant statues of himself 25m high are an imposing entrance to his temple along with the 4 statues of himself and two of his wife on the smaller temple dedicated to her. Since everyone leaves in a convoy (another ridiculous Egyptian rule restricting independent travel) it is completely impossible to avoid tourists here and getting an empty photo is a pipe dream – but still it is for the picturesque view of the temple and its location over the Nasser dam for which you come.

After taking in the mighty temple it was time to work out my exit strategy and after some haggling on the river shore I arranged a felucca ride that would take me back to Luxor over two days. The journey also included visits to both Kom Ombo and Edfu which despite their difficulty to reach are supposedly quite remarkable.

The felucca ride as it turned out was not quite the great experience (and very different to the product that was pitched) that I hoped it would be although it did produce some great stories. The guys that I shared the boat with were good guys including a Swiss guy that the Canadian and myself started to teach how to speak “non textbook” English and his use and timing of these provided some of the highlights. In between a little (a very little) sailing and conversation there wasn’t much to do except lay down relax and enjoy the view – very peaceful atleast despite an early wake up at 5am one morning by a wave that soaked the boat. Now for the bad bits, firstly the sailing portion of the ride was actually greatly exaggerated and in the two days we sailed for about 4 hours moving little more than 15km, quite depressing really when after 2 days you can still see your starting point. Secondly the crew we had were not greatest and did nothing more than the bare minimum and seemed quite uninterested after finding out we were more interested in the sailing rather than any of the over priced side tours they were willing to offer.
Returning to Luxor I decided to take one more look at the Valley of the Kings, taking in three different tombs. This time I decided to hire a bike and make a day of it with my friends from the felucca. The second visit there was well worth it taking in some of the less touristy tombs and also the most impressive, with the Ramses V/VI the most impressive one of them all and well worth the extra money spent. Between that and a couple nights spent taking in a couple of lazy bars made for a relaxing few days in Luxor, and is a great way to get away from the hectic day to day hassles that Egypt can bring.

I started my last week on this trip in the backpackers paradise of Dahab a cheap place to sleep and a supposedly without the hassles of Cairo or Luxor. Dahab is a really great place to relax and almost not Egypt with its laid back feel, perfect for anyone that becomes tired of the hassles that the other tourist places in Egypt bring. Here there is little to do if you don’t dive, which I have well and truly run out of time for with the only other options being an excursion out to mount Sinai and some traditional loafing on the beach. With only a couple of days here before moving on to Jordan I opted to laze on the beach for a while taking a midday dip to cool down and relax at night with a beer and a sheesha in one of the many beach side restaurants. With the African cup on at the moment every night here is lively especially if Egypt are playing and win and last night a 4-0 win over their traditional rivals Algeria provided for much partying well into the night. It is quite strange to see people partying quite heavily without the presence of any alcohol. This is the type of environment that sucks backpackers in for months at a time and I met a lot of people that were finding it very difficult to leave.

Posted by rhinoc 13:26 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Valley of the Kings


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After the long ride here on a very slow and painful train ride I finally arrived in Luxor, home to the temple of Luxor, Karnak and the Valley of the Kings. As far as antiquities go it is hard to argue that Luxor didn’t win the jackpot, this was however the site of the famous ancient city of Thebes. Sadly with this bounty comes also the ever presence of both touts and tour groups in spades both of which test even the best travelers patience.

The township actually surrounds the Luxor temple which has been influenced by the pharaohs, Romans and Muslims alike. The temple was first built during the new kingdom by Hatchesput, the first female pharaoh, as a tribute to the god Amun, king of the gods. Later great leaders such as Amenhotep III, Ramses II and Alexander the great all left their mark producing this Egyptian/Greek/Roman temple that is now complete with a mosque in the very centre. The temple has also been used in such movies as the “Spy Who Loved Me” and “the Mummy” series. The entrance to the temple itself is marked by a giant obelisk and contains among other things a colossus of Ramses II as well as a giant corridor demarcated by some incredibly imposing roman columns. These also provide an amazing spectacle when lit up at night.

As you leave the Luxor temple you walk down a road lined by sphinx statues that lead the way to the nearby Karnak temple. As you walk along, its best to imagine the great Opet festival where the statue of Amun made its way along this very road.

Karnak another in honour of the god Amun was started during the middle kingdom and changed by everyone that conquered the area right through until emperor Constantine. The centerpiece of Karnak, the mighty Hypostle hall is incredible with over 100 giant columns placed together providing an incredible spectacle. As you walk through it is impossible not to feel dwarfed by the sheer size of the temple and it makes you wonder how they managed to achieve all of this over 4000 years ago. The complex also contains two giant obelisks which are impressive again for their sheer size (and makes me wish I could read hieroglyphs). The complex also contains the great gate of Ptolemy and the sacred lake.

The next day it was off to see the centerpiece of Luxor’s antiquities, the Valley of the Kings. Apparently this was chosen as a resting place after they decided that the pyramids were too easily identified as a source of treasure and thus the pharaohs sought somewhere they could be buried, still near a natural pyramid (mountain) and keep their treasure. Here the centerpiece should undoubtedly be the tomb of Tutankhamen discovered in 1922 by Harold Carter largely intact. However most of the tomb now resides in the Cairo museum and owing to his relative unimportance as a pharaoh (only 18 years) the tomb is on the less impressive side (this doesn’t stop them from charging more than the entry fee for the one tomb though). Here the entrance fee allows you access to only three tombs that however do allow you to get a good feel for the resting place that the valley provided. Egyptian beliefs are complicated but basically the pharaoh is buried with the things he needs in the afterlife. The tombs are then decorated with the story of who he is and the details of the journey he must now take so that when he wakes up and has forgotten everything he can get himself up to speed (presumably in forgetting everything he still remembers how to read!). The tombs show case how deep and complicated some of the tombs were (depending on how long the pharaoh lived) and also some of the engineering mistakes made when tombs ran into other previous tombs,

Next it was off to see the valley of the queens located on the other side of the mountain, which was originally started by Ramses II to honour his favourite wife Nefertari, This tomb is also said to be the most impressive tomb here containing original hieroglyphs that are not see anywhere else here. True to form this is closed to public viewing – unbelievable. The remaining tombs remain quite small and largely unimpressive.

Next it was off to the temple of Hatshepsut, the first three leveled temple in Egypt and was built by the first female pharaoh of Egypt. The temple is introduced by a large ramp that takes you up to the multi layered columned entrance to the grand temple which is in impressive condition given its age and recent history. The way home featured a quick stop in at the colossus of Memnon which now stands alone as two giant statues whilst providing a nice overview of the valley.

Sadly only the colossus and Hatshepsut temples allow you to take photos so basically you leave only with memories. The plethora of tourist police are apparently not only there to collect backsheesh for pointing out any god they know but also to fine anyone seen with a camera 1000 egyptian pounds.

The final destination for me here was the little visited Greco-roman temple at Dendera, supposedly one of the best preserved ruins in the country. The main temple is dedicated to the Hathor, goddess of pleasure and wife of Horus. The main temple which still remains intact is simply enormous and greets you with six giant columns that bear the (now defaced) portraits of Hathor. The walls and roof inside contain such detailed hieroglyphics that are so well preserved that it is quite easy to make out who is who and we spent a great deal of time trying to decode the scenes from the little Egyptology that we knew. The temple also contains various paintings of the goddess Nut, who is responsible for swallowing the sun at night and then giving birth to it again the next day. This combined with an astrological star chart and various depictions of the astrological symbols give the temple a unique feel, as does the very special paintings depicting the great Cleopatra. Most amazingly for me however is that contained within the wall carvings lie hundreds of cartouches set aside for the current rulers name that are left blank indicating the political instability at the time. The complex also contains a temple dedicated to Isis, the goddess of motherhood and a sacred lake that is now filled with palm trees. In the background lies a mud brick wall that looks very Roman if one relies solely on the arch design.

Posted by rhinoc 00:29 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

The Wonder of the Ancient World


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For this blog I really need to start off by telling the story of my journey from Turkey to Cairo, a seemingly easy task that somehow turned into a bit of a mission. It all started so well with the hour long trip from my hostel in Istanbul to the airport going off without a hitch arriving the standard two hours early only to find that my flight had already been delayed by half an hour. No major dramas I though as I settled into a coffee and poached some Wi-Fi, surfing away I slowly watched my flight drift out to 3 hours delayed! Meaning that I would be arriving once again in the dark something I am not a big fan of.

After finally arriving in Cairo I had to pay for my visa, this shouldn’t have been a problem with an ATM right there. Sure enough that ATM was offline at the time and my remaining Turkish Lira couldn’t be exchanged. This left me with having to talk my way into Egypt and then back out again just to pay the visa this as you can imagine did not come without a price. After finally getting my visa and entering the country I went looking for the bus that the old testament (Lonely Planet) recommended to get me to my hostel. Sure enough there was no bus and after an hour I gave up and tried to find the least dodgiest cab driver possible, after a couple of near misses due to communication issues I found one I thought was a good bet – wrong. Despite assuring me that he knew where he was going and he was going to use the meter he had to stop and ask for directions killing the meter in the process, telling me we will work it out. After getting directions we work it out to a price I am ok with then he starts to drive again only to hit the curb and blow a tyre (I swear you can’t make this up). Finally after getting this fixed he gets lost looking for my hostel at which point I give up get him to let me out (at which point he demands more money) and make the 10 minute walk there with no further hassles – you cannot imagine how glad I was to get out of that cab! Still I made it. [After 4 days in Cairo I have half a dozen stories of dodgy cabs so I thought I would go with the original but if you want more just flick me an email]

The next day it was off to check out the Egyptian museum, which is both the best and worst example for museums around the world. In the best case scenario it has a massive range of artefacts and some are nothing short of amazing however it is also housed with little organization making it a little difficult to work through. There are seemingly endless examples of sarcophagi and burial coffins as well as statues from the colossal down to the minute each decorated with amazing detail in every possible location. The main highlights would have to be that taken from the most recently discovered tomb of Tutankhamen, which includes the gold headdress and the gold layered coffins in which he was buried – each having a thicker layer of gold the closer to the pharaoh. There is also plenty of weapons, tools and statues of gods that were placed in the tomb to help in his journey into the afterlife. Also in the museum is an ancient peace treaty signed between the Greeks and the Egyptians which I found quite amazing but other people seemed uninterested – I’ll let you decide. The stone treaty signed by the two great civilizations is analogous to the famous Rosetta stone in that the agreement is written in hieroglyphs, demotic script and ancient greek allowing the translation and discovery of hieroglyphs.

The second day it was off to the labyrinth bazaar here in the Islamic part of town. It was quite interesting to wander around the little market stalls little more than a metre apart making it very difficult to walk through without being hassled. I even managed to get dragged into a perfume shop with the guy insisting I buy some, when I asked him what he expected me to buy and he shrugged his shoulders and let me go – a tad annoying. Outside of the hassling its not too bad if you can deal with it although the quality of goods for sale is not quite what it was in Istanbul. The ever present mosques add a sense of decoration and authenticity to the area.

Today it was off to visit the big one, the only remaining wonder of the world from ancient times – the pyramids of Giza. As you approach them it is easy to be confused as the northern part is completely surrounded by the slum suburb of Giza, including pizza huts and KFC’s outside the entrance the remaining sides however give way to endless deserts populated only by camel trains. Despite this once you walk in it is impossible not to be amazed at the pyramids that dominate everything in front of you, even the sphinx. The three pyramids, one baby and two massive ones are simply magnificent. The baby one still is incredibly big and dwarfs you in size putting into perspective just how the other two really are. The smaller one also has a large chuck missing where they tried to destroy and after 8 long years they gave up acknowledging their complete failure to destroy and indeed make any real impression on it. Despite being hassled constantly by the camel touts and reminding them we were there to see the pyramids it was still an incredible day, for something I have wanted to see for so long it was great to finally be here.

After enjoying the pyramids during the day we decided to head back and watch the laser show that is projected over the pyramids and is featured in a james bond movie. Despite our best attempts Cairo traffic and taxi driver incompetence stopped us from getting there in time for the English show. There is however some advantage to visiting with three girls and we managed to bribe our way onto the roof of the pizza hut (sadly selling myself out here) but we got to watch both the French and German shows from the roof and get some pretty good photos. It was also quite a sight to see them all lit up and different time contrasting against an almost perfectly plain back drop of the desert.

The fourth day was spent going back in pyramid design history visiting the step pyramid of Djoser the first successful attempt at a long lasting pyramid. Based mainly on a step design this is slightly less impressive than the great pyramids but impressive in its own right given its place in history. The most disappointing part however is that they are now renovating it and with what they have done so far its almost a given that there will be little preserved of the original pyramid. But on the plus side maybe Elouise can one day visit the great step pyramid of 2010!
Despite having quite possibly the most well known site in the world on its doorstep Cairo is not really that nicer place to visit and seems to struggle with its own lack of identity. Everything and anything exists simply to profit from tourists from the ever present touts to the completely pointless tourist police who seem to be there only to stop you doing what you shouldn’t until you have paid your backsheesh! With the pyramids seen its not off to see Luxor, the modern day city built on the ruins of the great ancient city of Thebes. Standing in the way is what promises to be a long overnight train ride.

Posted by rhinoc 12:49 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

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