My random ramblings.

Posts tagged “Egypt

Egypt – Part II

It was time for Sharm-el-Sheikh! We flew on a small plane – it must have been a 60-seater or something…I can’t remember, but it felt tiny! I’m not usually afraid of flying but this one made me a bit jittery as the plane felt so fragile. To make matters worse Bubbles turned to me, as we were flying over the desert, and asked “how come there’s turbulence when there are no clouds or wind?” Thanks, Bubbles – I felt a lot more confident after that! But this flight was nothing compared to the return flight. There was more turbulence and a lady fainted during the flight!

We arrived at the Sharm-el-Sheikh airport and another rep fetched us and sent us to our hotel. We went exploring around the beach resort after off-loading our luggage in our room. I’ve never been a fan of beach holidays but this was the point I started warming to the idea that I could enjoy beach holidays even though I didn’t like water activities. I got into the water but alas did not try reading a book while floating on the Red Sea!

The first evening, we took the hotel bus to town. We had dinner at an Egyptian restaurant and by now I was beginning to suss out Egyptian food: it is full of spices but isn’t hot like Indian food. We took a leisurely stroll around the shops and found a local tour agency that organised tours. We fancied a camel ride and a quad bike ride in the desert. I had especially been looking forward to riding a quad bike as I hadn’t been on one before. There was also a tour to the St Catherine monastery and I would have loved to go, except it started in the wee hours of the morning so you could be at the top of the mountain for sunrise. I love hiking, but not at some ungodly hour like 3 or 4am.

The next morning, I finally got into the pool! I clung to the edge and watched Bubbles enviously as he swam a few laps across the pool. Bubbles had also been planning on going snorkelling, so he borrowed snorkelling gear from the hotel and went snorkelling by the shore. Me, I just stood there and looked at all the fish by the shore – the water was so clean and clear! If you’re keen on snorkelling you might want to stay where we stayed – at the Hyatt – as apparently it boasts one of the best snorkelling spots. Boats from tour groups brought tourists to the Hyatt’s waters whereas we were right there!

That evening we went on a camel ride in the desert overlooking Mount Sinai. I tried hard to snap some photos but it was quite a bumpy ride, so nothing turned out well! Fortunately the camel herds stopped the camels every now and kindly offered to take photos of us on the camel. After nearly an hour, we returned to the base and climbed a hill to watch the sunset. It was picture perfect. Isn’t nature the best artist? Included within the package was a barbecue dinner with the Bedouin people. We must have missed the fine print as the BBQ dinner ended up being a pre-cooked meal transported to the desert by a group of men masquerading as Bedouins. Well, who can blame them for deserting the harsh conditions of desert life! They danced around a lit fire as the sun disappeared beneath the horizon.

Another morning and more lazing around the hotel resort. This was beginning to sound like the best holiday ever: being waited on hand and foot, great hotels and great food. We were also having the best of both worlds; starting our holiday with a city break and then ending it with a relaxing beach holiday. We only had two more nights and we wanted to relish it. Bubbles was planning to go snorkelling the next morning, properly this time. I thought I’d curl on a deck chair by the beach with a book. But before that we had our quad bike ride in the desert.

That evening we were picked up at the hotel again and taken to a yard near a desert. We were each given a quad bike and had a test ride around the yard. Bubbles wanted me to ride pillion but I wasn’t going to have that! This is just like a large tricycle, I thought! We were asked to bring a scarf and sunglasses to keep the desert sand away from our faces, so they tied a keffiyeh for us. We weren’t given helmets but I thought that should be fine since we were only going on the desert. After waiting around for a bit, we were finally on our way. The ride felt bumpier over the desert. Some of the people in our group went zooming past while I was trying to get comfortable with the bike. Not even five minutes after we rode out to the desert, we were veering off to a road. There was traffic going past us in the opposite direction. We weren’t briefed about this – I thought the whole ride was going to be on the desert. Only later did we find out they veered off the desert to avoid land mines. Great! Anyway, I didn’t like it one bit, it didn’t feel right as we weren’t even wearing a helmet. I slowed down contemplating if I should stop completely. The next series events happened in split-seconds. I stepped on the brakes but it felt like it wasn’t braking properly. Before I knew it, I was losing control of the bike and it was going towards the kerb. It went up the kerb, throwing me off and toppling over back on the road.

The next thing I remembered was someone asking me if I was okay. I had fallen on my head and was bleeding profusely. There were grazes all over my body. I was bundled up into a van and rushed to the hospital. I was not unconscious but I was suffering from shock and couldn’t remember what happened the next two hours. My wounds were cleaned and I was sent for a brain and ankle scan. Fortunately there wasn’t a concussion and I didn’t need hospitalization. But I had a second degree sprain on my right ankle which meant I couldn’t walk properly. My body was badly bruised. We had to get a taxi home as the tour organiser disappeared while we were at the hospital. I wish I could remember the name of the company so I could “name and shame” them on TripAdvisor, but I never got round to it and now it’s just been too long and I can’t remember which one it was.

Poor Bubbles was in worse shock than I as he had witnessed the whole accident from behind me. He spent the next day nursing me in the hotel, implementing the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) on me. No snorkelling, unfortunately! The hotel staff were fantastic – bringing ice and food and checking on us every now and then. I spent the whole day feeling sorry for myself and recuperating, and finally it was time for our flight back home the next day. The ground stewardess saw my condition and upgraded us to Premier, so it was a lovely flight apart from the fact I was in so much pain! Anyway, it was lesson learnt. Safety comes first even on holidays, especially when you have the sense of balance of an egg like I do.

Enjoy your holidays, but stay safe!

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Egypt – Part I

Egypt: it feels like it was aeons ago that my husband, Bubbles and I went on a holiday to Cairo and Sharm-el-Sheikh but I remember minute details of the trip like it was yesterday, for both good and bad reasons. The trip left an indelible mark on me, quite literally, as you’ll soon find out*.

This was our first trip that we booked our holiday via a travel agency. This covered the flights, hotel and airport transfers. We also organised a tour guide and driver, as even the most seasoned traveller would tell you that you need, at the very least, a driver to take you around Cairo. Do not attempt to travel on your own unless you are overly ambitious and adventurous…and brave! It is one thing trying to navigate your way on the labyrinthine roads of a foreign country, but quite another to dodge the local predators that lurk around tourist sites! Street vendors can be pretty aggressive at peddling their wares to you and there are lots of touts waiting to cheat an unsuspecting tourist.

I must say we felt very pampered from the moment we arrived in Cairo as the travel agency representative greeted us at the airport and sent us straight to the hotel. Until then, we were used to finding our own way to the hotel, checking in and doing everything ourselves. Our rep did all this while we lounged in the waiting area sipping on welcome drinks.

Since we had arrived in the evening, our tour was to only start the next day with our guide, Emad. We decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant. I’ve never mentioned this before, but each holiday we unintentionally end up spending on something on a whim that is an utter and complete waste of money. We learnt a big lesson after our first ever holiday together to Rome when we returned with a clay model of the Colloseum and gladiator figurines. A week later we wondered: why the hell did we buy these? Ever since then, we decided that we would only buy fridge magnets or the odd t-shirt, but somehow some wasteful expenditure deceptively creeps in in another form. On this holiday, it came a bit too early! Of course, it should come as no surprise that eating at a hotel restaurant will set you back at least double the amount of eating out. In fact, Bubbles warned me that it was going to be expensive, but drilling sense into me when I’m famished is akin to asking the Japanese to stop whaling: it won’t work! Anyway, we chose a restaurant that beckoned to us with the aroma of fried Indian spices and sweet sitar music. We ordered enough food to last us the whole trip. See, this is what happens when you order ‘under the influence’ (of hunger). Suffice to say, the food was nice, the ambience royal and the bill a whopping £50++ equivalent! It’s a lot to pay for an Indian meal in a hotel in Egypt, but I suppose the high price tag came with eating at Oberoi Hotel’s restaurant. So, we retreated to our room making a mental note to survive on beans on toast for a week after our holiday!

The next day, we started our tour of Cairo. Emad came bright and early to fetch us from the hotel. We headed to Cairo museum first as Emad said we would otherwise get caught in mid-day traffic jams. Cairo museum transported us thousands of years back in time, to an era when Egyptian civilisation was transfixed by the unknowns of the afterlife (not that any of us aren’t now) and centred their daily lives around preparing for this day. To this day, their mysterious practices are the subject of constant research. We soaked in all the facts about ancient Egypt as we traversed the halls of the museum. Every now and then I chanted “Imhotep! Imhotep!” (ala The Mummy) with my arms outstretched, which Bubbles found hilarious!

After the museum, Emad took us to Ibn Tulun mosque. It was a choice between the citadel and the mosque and disliking crowds, we chose the less popular mosque. On the way there, we went past graveyards by the roadside. One legacy the ancient Egyptians left behind is a penchant for building graveyards and we could see brick graveyards everywhere. These were nowhere near the grandiose “graves” once built for their rulers, but still quite significant nonetheless.

Ibn Tulun mosque’s claim to fame is that it is Cairo’s largest mosque in terms of land area. The James Bond flick “The Spy who Loved me” was also filmed there. We were given fabric shoes to cover our feet and I was given a floor-length green garb to put on. Emad explained the history of the mosque to us but after soaking in all the facts at the museum, I could absorb no more. If I were cartoonised, this is where you’d see doughnuts in my thought-bubble!

Finally came the moment we had been waiting for: time to go to the Pyramids of Giza! It was around 2pm and it was oppressively hot. We went to Egypt in the summer when it gets to around 40C at least. The heat was unbearable. The humid mid-day heat of Malaysia feels like a pleasant spring day in comparison! I can’t remember why we hadn’t decided to go there later in the evening, but I wish we had. I have to confess there is nothing beautiful about the pyramids. They are nothing but huge concrete slabs of stone. At one time they would have had an outer shell or casing stone made of polished white limestone and I suppose it would have looked more opulent, but most of them were removed  during the Islamic era. However, what makes this site awe-inspiring is the surrealism of standing in front of a four thousand year old structure that is the only standing ancient wonder of the world. It also remained the tallest in the world until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in 1300.

Not far away was the Sphinx with its face disfigured. During the Islamic era, the faces of statues were disfigured as Islam is against idol worship. We had to queue to be photographed with this ancient celebrity! By this time we could take the heat no more so we quickly took some obligatory photos for the “we were here” stamp on our trip and retreated to the van Emad was waiting in. Emad insisted we had to go to another side of the site so we could get some good photos of both pyramids. So there we were further exposed to the sun and I was pretty certain we were going to get a heat stroke any minute! As if that wasn’t bad enough, Emad made us pose for silly shots – like we were touching the tip of the pyramid -mortifying!

That was the end of our tour for the day. We spent the rest of the evening chilling by the hotel pool. Bubbles had a swim while I, with the aversion to (deep) water of a cat, glued my butt to the deck chair.

The next day we covered “Coptic Cairo” which is a part of old Cairo. It is believed that the Holy Family visited this area and stayed at the Saint Sergius and Bacchus Church (Abu Serga). I would highly recommend visiting this church and other places like the Hanging Church and Babylon Fortress, for they are so rich in history. Then we went to el-Khalili market, where we wandered around till we got lost. You see, the market encompasses a tourist section and a locals section and is such a maize you don’t know where one ends and the other starts. We didn’t want to expose our vulnerability of being lost (remember the predators I mentioned?) so we continued walking whilst trying to find familiar landmarks, but we couldn’t fool the locals that we were one of them, with backpacks and all. So a man approached us asking if we were lost and needed help finding our way. Thank God he was a decent man and gave us directions back to the main square, rather than harassing us with offers of being our guide!

Our stay in Cairo was drawing to an end. The next afternoon we had a flight to Sharm-el-Sheikh. I think the second part of our Egypt holiday deserves a separate post, so do pop back to my blog sometime soon to read that! (Better yet, please ‘follow’ my blog so you’ll be pinged when a new article is posted) 🙂

*to be continued in the next post!