All right, so, when last I left you we were on the small, peaceful island of Ko Phayam.
It was time to go. But, going is never simple. Even though you have to deal with taxis or shuttles and security, flying is way easier than traveling by land. When you want to fly, you go online, book a ticket, and show up at the appropriate time, and it is pretty straight forward from there. But, when you travel by land, you never really know what you're gonna get. For example, we bought a high speed boat ride from the island of Ko Phayam to the mainland in Ranong. Simple. It left on time, and took us to where we expected. But, then we had to contend with taxi drivers who would rather be shot down for their inflated rate, than actually work. We walked a bit before finding a local transport who told us he'd take us to the bus station. He gave us the same price as all the locals that were jammed in the back of the truck with us, so that was nice. He dropped us across the street from the turn to the bus station, perfect. But, on our way to the bus station someone stopped us and showed us the bus to Khao Lak, which was where we were going. Now, I know that busses in Thailand make multiple stops and that your destination may not be the destination of the bus. Either way, the guy told us that the bus was going all the way to Khao Lak. I'd blame it on being lost in translation, but he spoke English quite well enough, and even pointed at the destination line on our ticket and said, "Khao Lak." Hours later we found that the actual translation of the Thai words on our ticket said, "Takuapa" which was, obviously, not Khao Lak. Though we were quite disturbed, we couldn't reasonably become angry with the driver, because he had nothing to do with the swindle. And, really, it's our fault for not proceeding all the way to the ticket counter. But, when you're in another country you never know if the customs are different, so you try to go with the flow.
After another bus ride we made it to Khao Lak. We wandered around the main road, wishing the google map would give us an actual destination to look for. The locals pointed us in a variety of different directions, and we were finally successful, and found the Swiss Guesthouse. It seems like a new building, and we could be the first to use the room we are staying in. There is still plastic covering light switches and when I turned on the AC it had the 'I've never been used, plastic-y' smell. And, we're back in shump-ville. Though the entire bathroom floor becomes flooded, and you have to wipe down the seat later, this is a deluxe shump, and has some touches that make it work. First of all, the bathroom is clean. Then, there is a soap dish/shelf. The hot water works and there is sufficient water pressure. But, the item of noteworthiness is the cover for the toilet paper, which actually works. I was quite impressed to find that the paper was completely dry after the two of us took showers. Very nice...
There were a few reasons why we decided to stop in Khao Lak. The biggest determinant was that it is about midway between Ranong and Phuket. We needed to break up the bus ride. It's quite uncomfortable sitting on a bus for 3 hours, and 5-6 sounds unbearable. Also, the driving is quite scary and that needs to be spread out as well. We chose Khao Lak in particular, because it is said to be a good starting off point for a variety of day trips. For tomorrow we have a tour of the Kao Sok National Forest where we will take a jaunt through the jungle and float down a river on a bamboo raft. Sounds good. It is, also, a good jumping off point for diving and kayak trips to some interesting land formations, but after weighing our options we decided against those, but don't worry, they will happen in a different location of our trip. We wanted to see if Khao Lak was a place we could enjoy aside from the day trips, so we made our way down to the beach. Quite a walk from our hotel and quite touristy on the way. We found a super touristy market area with more cheap souvenir shops than I could handle and the beach at the end of the road was not all that impressive. So, this will be a jumping off point.
The next morning, after booking our day trip, we took a long walk to grab some lunch at a restaurant recommended by the guy at our hotel. Ten Star had okay noodles, and really delicious Tom Ka Gai soup. After lunch we went next-door to get foot massages at Phuping Beauty Salon. We didn't notice the name until we left, which is good, because we might not have been able to enter with a straight face if we had noticed the sign beforehand. (for those who don't know, ph is not like our F sound. PH is pronounced as a plain old P)
Afterwards, we made our way over to a little mini market to grab an ice cream bar. Seth is partial to the Magnum ice cream bars and decided on one of those. I found a lychee flavored popsicle and it was delicious. After a little more walking our cold treats were gone and there was another market right in front of us, so we went in to find another cold treat. Once again, Seth decided on a Magnum ice cream bar, and I found a popsicle with a bit of an interesting flavor profile. It was really tasty even though the pictures lead me to believe my popsicle was comprised of jackfruit, corn, and green beans. I'll be buying that one again! I love finding odd things at the market.
India is like a roller coaster ride. You start off on the ground and you slowly make your way up to the top of the coaster, and then, in an instant, you are plummeting to the earth once again. We slowly made our way to enjoying our time in Jaisalmer, despite it's drawbacks, and then we were slapped in the face by Jodhpur. No matter how many guide books you read, they will never prepare you for what you are getting yourself into. If you are a westerner, you can not read a Lonely Planet blurb, or a comment from Fodors, and get an accurate picture of the town/city you are about to visit. For example, Lonely Planet describes Jodhpur as thus:
"The Blue City really is blue! Inside is a tangle of winding, glittering, medieval streets, which never seem to lead where you expect them to, scented by incense, roses, and sewers with shops and bazaars selling everything from trumpets and temple decorations to snuff and saris."
Though they mentioned the sewers, and I expected such smells from my experience thus far, I was expecting nice smells as well. And, sadly, there wasn't anything I found to be glittery about Jodhpur. And to top it off, it wasn't really blue. If you go on reading it talks about a bustling hub of merchants selling their wares throughout the winding streets that branch out from the clock tower. It's just not how they describe it. Though we spent a decent amount of time wandering the maze of streets and stalls, I smelled no incense, but maybe their roses really smell like poo, poo, poo, poo (think Cee Lo), because in India, that's the overwhelming scent wherever you are. And for that matter, I'm not surprised. There's cows wherever you turn, dogs, some places have monkeys, and even the residents urinate and defecate in the streets. Once again, I understand that this is a different culture, and a different way of living, but when everything is covered in shit (literally) it makes simple things very difficult. And here's the thing, I end up looking like an ass sometimes. The Indian people, as a whole, are genuinely nice people. Because of our celebrity status (as white people), people want to say hello to us, take photos of us, and shake our hands. So, I have two choices, don't shake their hand and I'm an ass, or shake their hand and deem that hand dead and unusable until I get back to the hotel where I can wash my hands with soap. I'm a bad person? I don't think so. First of all, for the most part, this is how I live in the states as well. But here, they don't use toilet paper (so guess what they use) and even if they did wash their hands, the likelihood is that they used the tap water to wash them, which if I ingest accidentally, I can land myself in an Indian hospital bed. So, if we're heading back to the hotel, I'll usually shake a hand or two and put mine out of commission. Otherwise, I'll be the bitch.
So, obviously, we weren't big fans of Jodhpur. It was congested, loud, and really smelly. Though we went to a sweet shop and bought some almond paste like sweets that were covered with silver leaf. To be honest, I think it was aluminum foil. But they were kinda tasty, aside from the metallic aftertaste. And to be fair, we did enjoy our audio tour of the Mehrangarh Fort. It was quite informative, and the fort had some interesting artifacts and architectural points. I will say this about India, they know how to get people through a fort. So far, there is a single path through every fort we've visited. This way you know you don't miss anything and you really can't get lost. It's nice.
We left Jodhpur and made our way through thick sheets of rain down bumpy rural roads, making our way to the small town of Ghanerao. This place was not in our guidebook, the tour company didn't give us any info on it, and our driver doesn't speak English, so we didn't know what to expect. But, it turned out that it didn't matter. It was pouring buckets of rain until the sun went down. Luckily we were staying in a castle, and we were the only patrons for the evening. So Seth and I listened to our audiobook (The Stand, by Stephen King) and watched the rain. While the day idled by, they offered us lunch and then dinner in the dining hall. Silly us, we assumed that they were offering because it was included, but we ended up paying generously for our meals (in more ways than one. Forget Delhi Belly, we had the Rajasthan Runs). Anyhow, we were able to explore the property as we liked and found some interesting abandoned rooms, and a rooftop with a nice view. When it stopped raining briefly before sundown, we went up to check it out. We were disappointed, because it looked like Ghanerao would have been a nice little town to walk around and there was a lot of green space close by. Oh well, blame it on the rain (ya, I know).
On the way to Udaipur the next morning we were going to stop in Ranakpur to see one of India's biggest and most important Jain Temple complexes. But, we were a bit early, so we were let out of the car a wiles away to walk a bit and take in the scenery. It was nice to walk, and the area was beautifully lush and green with overflowing streams cutting through the grasses. Mountains in the near distance were covered in greenery with the occasional rock face jutting out for good measure. Eventually we came across some children, who followed us for a while down the road until they got bored and two other children took their place. Eventually we ran into some monkeys and we hurriedly got back in the car. They were big. Real big. There were, also, some large elaborately plumed peacocks, but we weren't scared of those. And, of course, there were cows. (Just assume that no matter where we are or what we are doing, if we're in India, there are cows. Lots of cows.)
The Ranakpur temples were very nice, but I think we're getting Jain Temple'd out. The big one was really nice though. There were elaborate carvings in the ceilings, and a tree that grew inside. It was an impressively large temple and the setting was beautiful, in deep greenery. Oh, I almost forgot to mention. The temple complex was covered in monkeys. Cool, right? No, scary. Maybe if they were tiny little monkeys the size of guinea pigs it might be cute, but these suckers were, at full size, pushing 50 pounds, and many of them were full size, and they have big fangs that they like to show you. They were quite menacing. And they filled the trees and we had to walk under them. Ooh, bad news. But, we made it out unscathed. Safe, for now...
Udaipur turned out to be the peak of our up. See how we slowly made our way back up to the top of the coaster after our low in Jodhpur? In Udaipur we stayed in a home stay. The woman of the house, Hemant, was full of stories and good recommendations around the city. Our favorite area turned out to be the Jagdish Temple area. The temple sits high above the shops on streets that spiral outward towards and away from Lake Pichola. At night the temple is lit up with lights of different hues, making it quite a sight, magical even. Though there were cows, they weren't as plentiful as in other places, probably because of the plethora of motorcycles and auto rickshaws that plow through the streets unheedingly. The streets had less 'surprises' for us to step in and the smells weren't as strong. We ended up making some good purchases, such as some Damascus knives that Seth had custom made. And though we visited the City Palace, it was not as amazing of a spectacle as people had made it out to be. It seemed to have been stripped of many of it's artifacts and there were paintings and photographs in their place. Something I found quite comical were the almost life-size picture cut outs of past maharajas 'sitting' in their thrones. We ate dinner at Ambrai, because we were told that the view was unbeatable, which it was, but the food was mediocre. The food the night before, at Lal Bagh near our home stay, was way better and had live music. Here is an mp3. But the view was quite pretty. It was set on the lake and you could see the Lake palace, Jagniwas Island, and the City Palace all lit up on the still water.
We made our way to Chittorgarh to see the fort and some more Jain Temples. We ended up getting 'chased' out of the fort (where there wasn't much to see anyhow) by some of those monkeys I was talking about. It's not good when they lean forward from higher ground and bare their teeth. We made for the hills, or the temples. They were pretty neat, one was a large tower structure, but we were tired of walking barefoot around muddy temples that were all starting to look the same. So, we hopped back in the car (with our recently very moody and disagreeable driver BTW) and set off for Bundi.
Bundi was a small town with a lot of monkeys, mosquitoes, and bats (and, of course, cows, dogs, and pigs. But, these are a given). The monkeys are bandits, scaring away groups of small children and stealing peoples' vegetables before knocking the baskets over to roll on the ground, some finding their fate in the 'ditch'. We were intimidated off our hotel's rooftop by them, and decided to eat dinner (our first flavorless dinner) indoors because of them (and the mosquitoes). The bats, apparently, live in the fort that is perched on the mountain just above the town. At about 6:40pm they fly out from the windows by the thousands creating dark moving clouds that stretch into the dusk.
This morning we left Bundi for Pushkar. Pushkar is a holy city that surrounds Pushkar Lake, which is said to have purifying effects. Pilgrims make their way to this holy lake constantly, and devout Hindus are supposed to make their way to this lake at least once in their lifetime. So the road to Pushkar is lined with throngs of people, some rolling on their bellies, making their way to the ghats (bathing temples) which appear to simply be steps that lead down to the water. Though an interesting and enticing ritual, especially in the intense humid heat, there's no way I could or would partake. (I needn't explain why) We walked through the Sadar Bazaar, which is simply the streets surrounding part of the lake, packed with shops. We're told that loose gems are good to buy here, but we don't know enough to decide whether we're buying the real deal. And, we'd check for tips on the internet, but we haven't had access for days. We're thinking that our hotels advertise that they have wifi to add to the draw (and the price), but they don't actually have it. I'm really hoping that's not really the case. After dodging motorcycles, bicycles, rickshaws, cows, and their doo doo, we made our way back to our hotel. Tomorrow we're off to Jaipur, the pink city.
We made it to Stone Town in Zanzibar and to our hotel. Though it is an island, Stone Town has the least island vibe Seth or I have ever been to. It feels like a busy, dirty city. Though our hotel was pretty, they caused us more problems than it was worth. When we did our laundry they burnt a hole in my shirt, they charged us more for our second night without notifying us, and they didn't follow through with helping us out with a transfer to the north of the island. Zenji Hotel in Stone Town sucks. Don't give them your money.
The spice tour was nice. We roamed through a plantation and were able to smell and taste a variety of local spices such as lemon grass and cinnamon, but the spice Zanzibar is known for is clove. The clove flower had a very sweet, spicy smell.
We then made our way to the north of the island. As I mentioned before, the hotel guy did not follow through with getting us a good price on a ride to compensate for the damaged shirt. 40 dollars is way too much for the ride. After being swindled a few times trying to find a ride, we finally managed to get a ride to the north for a reasonable price.
But, apparently there are two hotels with very similar names. We were taken to the Baraka Beach Bungalows while we needed to go to the Baraka Aquarium Bungalows. Hmm… So we had a delicious lunch of lobster coconut curry before heading to our actual hotel. The place is fine, but it wasn't quite as nice as the hotel we were initially dropped off at. But the Aquarium Bungalows will do. And it was clean and did have hot water, so… How can I complain. Once we made our way down the beach I felt better. This is my first white sand beach. It's quite beautiful. The fine white sand makes the water glow a bright turquoise. It's really quite lovely.
I'll give you two chances to guess where we've been. Wait… No I won't. If you can't tell from the pictures, then you've been locked in a closet your whole life (and if that's the case, I'm impressed you've found our blog). We've spent the past 6 days in Cairo, Egypt. It was a spur of the moment plan. We got the idea one day, did a lot of research, and booked a package deal the next afternoon.
We begin our journey at the airport. It's not too much of a surprise, but we stood out a bit. Aside from our height, we are much fairer than most of the people in the airport (despite our attempts to become as brown as possible on the beach). Similarly, Egypt's majority is Muslim, so about 95% of the women wear a head scarf, if not fully covered. There were women ranging from wearing western clothes and a head scarf, all the way to women completely covered, except for their eyes. Some women even wore gloves and their dresses dragged on the floor. Then, we ended up waiting a long while for our bags. It turns out that we arrived in time for the breaking of the fast. See, it's Ramadan right now, so Muslims are fasting, but break the fast at about 7pm. So, our escort implied that the people who were handling our luggage might have stopped to take a break to have a bite to eat. All around us people were breaking open boxes to break the fast. Although we really wanted to leave the airport, it was interesting to people watch.
We were walked to an air conditioned van to be driven to our hotel in the city. The ride was described to a "T" by our coordinator, Mohammed, "Like Playstation!" Exactly. Our driver, also Mohammed, weaved in and out of the cars, honking at anyone who got in his way, and even those who stayed away (as a warning, perhaps). Nonetheless, we made it to our hotel unscathed.
Our hotel is right by the Nile River, the Pyramisa Hotel Casino. Though it is very nice, it seems as if it used to be super chic and fancy. After discussing tour plans with Mohammed, we found our way up to our room. Room? No, SUITE! I'm pretty sure that this hotel room is bigger than our apartment in LA, but that's not saying too much. Anyhow, it is comprised of a bedroom with a big bed, a living room, a 'kitchen' and a bathroom. But, a real bathroom. I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but on the Greek islands we dealt with plumbing where you can not put toilet paper in the toilet, but have a trash can for it, and I know I mentioned all the shower situations. Anyhow, normal toilet, actual shower, central air conditioning (not barely functioning wall unit), real big bed, and a TV, a functioning one. Nice.
We walked around the hotel a bit and found a store with jewelry and essential oils, aka perfume. We didn't have any Egyptian money yet and were just expecting to look, but the man in the shop insisted we take a bottle and pay him later, when we got money. He said he could trust us, because we were Americans, not Russians. Alright, we were a bit nervous, but we figured that since it was in the hotel, we would be ok.
After a good night's sleep, we made our way to the included breakfast. It turns out that the included breakfast is a real buffet breakfast, with things you'd find in the US and things that were more intriguing. My omelet consisted of eggs and some spices mixed in. It turned out to be pretty good, a different flavor. There were different types of soft cheeses rolled in spices (cumin, fennel, and chill), a savory pastry with an array of sauces (honey, oil, cheese, and tahini), but there were also tons of breads, cakes, and pastries. Seth went straight for the chocolate cake. Chocolate cake, it has all the things you need! Eggs, milk, flour, it's the perfect breakfast food! (if you can recognize my reference I'll be impressed)
Following breakfast we met up with our tour guide for the day, Wa'al (sp?). He turned out to be lovely, a very informative, genial man. Our first stop was the piece du resistance! We went to the Giza Desert to see the pyramids!! Oh man. It was an experience we will not forget. I mean, it's the pyramids! Everybody learns about ancient Egypt in school, but who actually travels to Egypt and sees, touches, and climbs about the pyramids! Well, apparently, we do! They were massive. And, there are more than the three you see in all the pictures. There were 9 in total in Giza. After walking around the largest pyramid (the name escapes me) we made our way into one of the smaller pyramids to see where the burial chamber was like. It was hot and stuffy all the way down there in the middle of the pyramid. Something that intrigued us were all the wild dogs that live in the shady crevices of the pyramid. It was kinda cool to watch the dogs bounding up the blocks of the pyramid.
After taking our time with pictures, and turning down a million and a half requests to buy chachkies, we then went to what they call the panorama spot, where we could see the pyramids amidst the desert without the view being marred by the nearby city. And it is nearby. I know that I envisioned the pyramids to be deep in the middle of a vast desert. The desert quite possibly may be vast, but the pyramids are no longer deep within the desert. The city of Cairo almost reaches the desert. Anyhow, we made it to this panorama spot to see the unmarred view, but for another reason yet. We were on a mission to haggle a deal to ride a camel alongside the pyramids. The first offer was, I think something like 600 Egyptian Pounds. No way. We gave the man our price, but when he refused we walked away. The next man had a higher price of 900EP per person, on one camel. Bigger no way. Luckily I have Seth, and he can haggle. We ended up paying 300EP which got us each a camel, then we gave the man a 50EP tip at the end. And we were able to take tons of pictures. It was pretty amazing. My word of the day was, "awesome!".
After the pyramids of Giza we made our way to the Great Sphinx. Though it was not as large as I had expected, it was still quite a sight to see. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the Great Sphinx, I was greatly disappointed by our American franchises. Just outside the gates of the Great Sphinx were Pizza Hut, McDonalds, and KFC. It cheapened the experience. Similarly, I want to give a firm kick in the butt to any American who enters one of those, or those type, of places in a foreign country. If that's where you choose to eat when traveling, you probably deserve the coronary problems that follow. That's my rant for the day.
After that, we went to a papyrus factory where we were given a brief tutorial on how papyrus, the ancient Egyptian paper, was made. I remember making papyrus in middle school in Ms. Garratt's class (Shout out to my ER peeps!). Anyhow, we looked for a while before deciding on some prints that suited us.
We, then went for lunch on the Nile River. There was a restaurant called Imperial that was included in our tour. It was nothing special, but it was nice to be out of the sun, with some cool water.
For our final destination we made our way to the Kahn al Kalili market. This is a maze of winding streets crowded with shops. It also happens to be rife with pickpockets and scams. I was already a bit nervous to visit this market, but when our guide offered to meet us in an hour at a meeting point, I nearly ran for the van. But, that was unnecessary, because Wa'el reluctantly entered the labyrinth with us. We probably spent about forty five minutes to an hour walking through the jam packed streets, passing stalls with sweet smelling sugars, head scarfs, metal works, and more. Because the breaking of the fast was nearing, the streets were becoming more and more congested. Little cars filled with pre packed boxes of food continuously squeezed their way through the throngs of people. We made our way out to the square alongside the market, where people were setting up tables and food carts for the upcoming meal. We, then, bid Wa'el good bye and held on tight for the Playstation ride home.
When we got back to the hotel we washed the day's sand and sweat from our bodies before heading down to the perfume shop to pay 'our friend'. It turned out that he wasn't there, but 'his friend' was there. And, he was a bit confused about the price we were paying for what we were telling him we bought. It sounded like we had paid a price for 6 bottles in a box, when we only purchased one. From the guy's reaction and confusion we decided that we were given the 'American price'. We'll know better next time.
After that it was time to check out the hookah cafe. We sat and smoked mint and apple shisha, a sweet, sticky pipe tobacco that when smoked creates thick white clouds of smoke. Our hookah was a traditional three foot tall tapped metal water pipe that cools the smoke before it hits your mouth. Our charcoal boy came violently swinging a metal basket full of hot coals like an altar boy in a catholic church.
The television was on and we watched a few intriguing music videos. For the most part they all had a story line. I obviously couldn't understand the Arabic words, but I understood that one song was describing a man's love for his wife. It started out with him wooing her, taking her on their first date, and ended with his daughter running to embrace him, followed by an embrace by this woman. I, also, noted a theme in the commercials that were airing. They were all like mini musicals. Once again, I couldn't understand the Arabic, but there would be a group of people dancing and singing around washing machines, before a logo/brand name would pop up on the screen, and I can only guess that they were singing an ode to the washing machine. Real interesting. Our waiters walked over the the television and changed the channel, the show that came on that was quite disturbing. It was somewhat like Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd, except it was not a funny joke. At least to us it wasn't. I'm not sure what they intended, but we were the only white people in the restaurant and we were front and center in relation to the TV. In this prank there were about 4 masked gunmen that overtook a bus in the desert. They blindfolded the two women who were the butt of their joke, screamed in their faces, hand cuffed them, shot realistic guns, and had them on their knees. Not my idea of a funny joke, and I don't think these screaming crying women thought it was too funny, either. But, before we could see the end of this 'lovely' show, two men turned off the tube and sat down in front of it, to play a guitar like instrument, a tambourine, and sing. Much better.
Later, more to rid ourselves of the tobacco feeling than out of hunger, we had an evening snack. We both ordered lentil soup, which was good garnished with key limes and salt, and we shared some grape leaves which were also good. But, once again, we were pleasantly surprised. Almost in an instant the area by the lounge in which we were eating was filled with smartly dressed people. It turns out there was a wedding going on. At least we're pretty sure it was a wedding. We talked to Mohammed and though confused by a wedding during Ramadan, what we described to him was a wedding. Anyhow, it began with bagpipes, which we thought was odd, but is apparently quite common. Then, that was replaced by drums, tambourines, and a piercing, 'nasal' horn that led the music. There was dancing in a circle around the couple, and eventually movement to another location. It definitely was not a wedding ceremony, but we think that it was the celebration after the consummation of the marriage. Once again, we can't be sure, but this is how it appeared. Once the loud music migrated elsewhere we, ourselves, migrated off to bed.
We woke up in the morning, and headed down to our breakfast buffet. Much more of the same, but we noticed olives. I've finally found an olive I truly don't care for. Seth compared it to an olive that tastes like gunpowder. Why he knows what gunpowder tastes like is still a concern, but either way, I didn't even eat a whole olive. Just one bite was enough. But, once again the chocolate cake was good. I like the one with dates and chocolate on the inside and coconut on the outside. Fruit!
We, then, made our way to the pyramids that date to before the famous Pyramids of Giza. The first pyramids are in Sakkara, and the oldest and first pyramid is known as the step pyramid. It is the burial site for King Zoser, but his remains were never found. But, the star of this site was not the king, it was Imhotep, the architect for the burial site. He is the one who designed the first pyramid, and if you think about it, gave Egypt it's world renowned icons. So, thank you Imhotep, they are amazing. Especially on camelback.
After checking out the Sakkara complex and the museum, we made our way to a carpet factory. Though we had high hopes of gifting small silk carpets to our family and friends back home, those hopes were squelched when we found out that it was a 'school for children to learn how to make carpets' (aka child labor). Boo. I know that it is a different country with different cultural values and the like, but I can't get behind that. The boys we saw working on the carpets ranged from probably 5 through 14. I understand that it is a different way of life, but a child's place is not in a factory. (I understand that these are my views and other's may be different. Tough crap, it's my blog) If the rugs were not made by children, we might have bought some of the likely overpriced rugs, because they were quite pretty.
We then headed off to Memphis, to a sacred burial ground. We didn't see much of burials, but there were some really nice statues. Our guide, Heidi, said that UNESCO stopped funding the projects so exploration halted. The statues we did see, of King Ramses, were pretty impressive though.
After that we went to a perfume oil shop where we were given a very brief explanation on the process before being led to smell some essential oils. Though we found some we liked, they were being sold for 'American prices' as well. But, they were 8 times more than what we paid for our little bottle at the hotel. Our overpriced hotel bottle was 80 EP and this place was selling the same bottle for 200EP. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
When we got back to the hotel we paid our perfume shop friend a little visit. He was so happy to see us. He immediately ushered us in to sit and have some tea. He made us some hibiscus tea before talking business. He wanted to sell us more, so we told him about our visit to the shop earlier in the day and he ended up cutting us a deal. We checked the internet and decided that we would not pay more than 30EP for the smallest bottle. And, we were supposed to ask for a smaller bottle after he showed us his 'smallest bottle'. Man, I love the internet. We purchased 4 of the actual smallest bottles (we were going to buy 6 but he ran out of small bottles) for 25 EP each, plus a 20 for him. This is how it works in Egypt. Everyone needs a bit for themselves. It's a different culture here. You just have to know what you're dealing with. After this seemingly honest talk with the shop keeper, we wonder about the prices of all the shops we've been taken to. I'm not so sure about this 'government regulated' stuff that we've been told, and we're pretty sure that the tour company, the tour guides, or our driver get a kickback when we buy something. Either way, we like our papyrus paintings, and the shop keeper said that since they have signatures then they are higher quality. The more you know...
Our tour representative organized a Nile River dinner cruise for us. He told us that the price that our tour company offered was really high, and that he had a friend who could get us less expensive tickets. So, he met us at the corner by our hotel to pick us up with his friend. But, then he asked for the money for the cruise. 666 Egyptian Pounds. We were already catching on to the fluid price charts here in Egypt, so we did a bit of questioning. He assured us that it was a really nice boat, and that this was a very good price. But, since we hadn't anticipated that high a price, we didn't have enough to cover the entire bill. He told us we could pay him the rest later. When we got to the dock, he had us wait while he went and bought the tickets. That was it, we knew we were getting ripped. He told us that when his friend drove us back to the hotel we could get the rest of the money for the tickets and give it to him. Obviously, this meant that the tickets were paid for and he was pocketing the rest of the money. But, we still hadn't seen any price signs and hadn't seen the boat, so maybe we weren't getting too bad of a deal.
Seth's quote, "This is the most depressing boat I've ever been on, and I've been on a lot of boats" sums it up quite nicely. Though everyone kept reminding us that it was a 5 star boat, with 5 star food, and 5 star entertainment, we were not convinced. Then again, I don't know who was giving out the stars. The food was pretty bad, aside from the baba ganoush, and you had to pay extra for drinks, even water. I don't know of any 5 star anything where you have to pay for your water. The kicker, we were 2 of about 20 or less passengers on the boat, all of whom were tourists, on a boat that could have easily fit 1,000 people. It's like going to a party and no one's there. Lovely. Oh, and then there was the entertainment. The first act was a couple singing to karaoke tunes. The woman was pretty good, but I have no idea why they were singing all old American pop songs. You've never heard Patsy Cline's Crazy until you've heard it on a felucca floating down the Nile. And the man, I really don't know why he bothered. He was reading the words, but I don't think he could read English, or even knew the songs. My Way was hummed, poorly, except for the word Way. And then there were two poor examples of belly dancing (I've seen belly dancing in the south of Spain that could blow these women out of the water), and one was accompanied by some people in a horse costume that would 'nuzzle' people's heads while a photographer took pictures to sell to you later. The best part about the boat was the last act. This guy in 3 layers of wide skirts came onto the 'stage' and began spinning. And he ended up spinning for at least 10 minutes straight. He spun and did things with his skirt, including taking pieces off and spinning them over his head, and the 'crowd' (I use that word lightly).
The main problem about being on a boat excursion of any kind is that you are stuck. You can't just leave if you are done. Although, in this case it might have been possible, since we didn't exactly take a cruse down the Nile as the name implied. We kind of just paced back in forth in front of the dock for about 2 hours. And man that was a long 2 hours.
When we got off the boat, we were a little bit nervous, because Mohammed was not going to be the one to pick us up, his friend who drove us there was to pick us up, and we couldn't remember what he or his car looked like. But, since there was not a crowd of people exiting the boat, we were able to find him amongst the 15 other tourists that disembarked with us. That evening we did an internet search to find out actual prices for the nile cruise we took. It turns out that it costs 150 EP per person. So, we paid over double the listed price. Once again, the shiesty nature of the culture prevailed. It's really left a bad taste in our mouths. At no time have I felt a threat to my physical safety (unless you count the reckless nature of the traffic here), but I am constantly worried that my wallet is under attack. It's too bad. When we were in Greece, our couch surfing host made a very interesting statement, " The new Greeks don't deserve their country." I feel this is the case for Egypt as well. It is the cradle of civilization, rife with amazing natural wonders, and the people have made it difficult for the world to share in it's wonder.
Heidi began our next day by inquiring about our boat tour from the night before (good job at remembering, 2 points!). We gave her the honest answer, telling her about our price research. We also gave her our account of the perfume shenanigans. She made it sound like the tours of the factories (aka carpets and perfume) were an extra that could be done if time permitted. She said she didn't know the prices of the places, but began telling us of the different classes in Egypt and the price discrepancies. She told us that for the most part, there is no fixed price in Egypt. Ya, that's difficult.
We made our way to see some Islamic Mosques. If I'm being completely honest, the mosques I've seen in Spain and Turkey have been much prettier, and way more impressive. The Islamic museum was interesting, but so hot that it was hard to concentrate. We, then, made our way to the Coptic area of Cairo. We thought it was curious that it was blocked off by a gate and some guards. We, also, found many guards inside. Though her answer was unclear to us (I think she may have left out some explanations that may be implicit to Egyptians, so she didn't realize we wouldn't understand right away) what I got from her response was that the area had groups of people in it that the majority may not necessarily want in Cairo. The Coptic Church seems to be the Egyptian branch of the Orthodox church. Her descriptions of the religion were similar and she pointed out similarities. Also, the art displayed was if not the same, dam near similar to the art of the Greek Orthodox Church. This makes sense because the Greeks inhabited Egypt for some time. Anyhow, we were in the Coptic center of Cairo and we felt much more at ease in this area than any other area we had been in Cairo. The people smiled at us and said hello, we weren't hassled to enter stores, and even their museum was more pleasant. Something we've noticed is that the state of the museums are not up to par with any other museums we've been in. The Cairo Museum, filled with mummies and ancient artifacts from the start of civilization, was hot, muggy, unorganized, and not properly secured in most cases. This Coptic Museum was like, what we would call, a normal museum. All items were properly displayed and numbered with explanations, there were little thermometers in the clean glass cases to regulate the temperature, and the whole place was properly air conditioned. If any artifacts are going to last through to the next few centuries it will be those in the Coptic Museum.
We visited a few of the churches in the area, but what surprised me was the Jewish Temple. We entered and it was pretty neat to see that the Jewish people were still represented in Egypt after so much persecution. And, for the most part, it was in tact and quite pretty.
Though our tour was complete, Heidi offered to escort us to Felfela Restaurant for lunch. We really wanted to experience Egyptian food outside of our hotel. It was pretty good. We ordered grilled meat with rice, felafel, and beans with an egg on top. It was all pretty good, but the felafel was the best. It was very nice of Heidi to accompany us there. She then took us to find a taxi. I can now say that I've walked the streets of Cairo. Because you have to walk in the street to find a taxi, and that's like walking though a nascar race track. Cairo Street Crossing should be an extreme sport. The taxi driver made our list of people we like in Cairo. The cab we found already had a woman in it so we shared the taxi. That was nice. And though the price for getting from point A to point B would have normally been 20EP he only accepted 10 of the 25 we were trying to give him. That was nice, and much appreciated. I am sending good Karma vibes to you sir!
We bid our farewells to Heidi and head up to our room. We turned our bath tub into a washing machine and hung clothes from anything we could. We turned our room into a clothes drying Christmas Tree. I wish I took a picture.
We have nothing planned for the day. We were going to either do a cooking class with Mohammed's friend or hire a car to take us around Cairo for the day, but after all the 'deals' we've been encountering, we decided against both. We spent the day relaxing, reading and catching up on things that needed to be done. In the evening we went for a walk to find a dinner spot recommended by the concierge. After being turned away and sent towards the Chilis (yes, they have a Chillis) we found a spot with a buffet where the locals were breaking their fast. That was pretty neat. What we noticed that they get there right as the buffet opens and pound the food and escape to the deck for shisha and tea. We had a variety of Egyptian cuisine,but we're pretty sure our entree selections consisted of mainly sauces and dips, the US equivalent would be eating mounds of salsa, butter, and ranch dressing, with a few veggies and a piece of bread of course. We head back to the hotel in the still sweltering heat, hit the showers and went to bed.
We truly enjoyed the sights of Egypt. The pyramids were amazing. We have some qualms, but that's for another post.
The rental car in Pula didn't exist. We walked around for at least an hour, with our packs, and it was hot, searching for our promised vehicle, to no avail! We ended up giving up and grabbing some lunch. We picked up a tip about a place that was good and not touristy. I think it was called Kantina, but I thought it was pretty good. I ordered the octopus salad and the calamari. Delicious.
We, then, caught a taxi to the airport, because that's where they keep their rental car places. We found the place we had made a reservation and they had no knowledge of our booking, and no cars to lend. Lovely. But, we found a car. A little Volkswagon Up, in red.
With the help of Serena, our British English Garmin guide, we made our way to Grabovac, a small town outside of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Because we used the Garmin, it calculated a route through the Croatian countryside. It was stunning. I think that a car is the best way to see Croatia. But, amidst the beauty I became saddened. There were many homes and buildings that were abandoned, and both the homes and buildings that were abandoned and those being lived in, had holes from bullets. Though Croatia has rebuilt much of their country since their war in the 90's, there are still ways in which the tragedy can be viewed. I felt sad as we drove past homes with people on porches and bullet holes in the sides of the homes. I am lucky that I live in the US where we don't have wars on our soil. I can't imagine what it's like, and I hope I never have to experience that.
The next morning we head off to the national park. Plitvice Lakes is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, if not the most beautiful. The crystal clear, turquoise water flows from falls into pools that house petrified logs and a single type of fish (we think some type of carp). It is amazing that a place like this exists.
From Plitvice Lakes we went in search of the Cerovacke Caves near Gracac. It turns out that Gracac is a very small town. And, in the middle of the day it is empty. We did a round through the town in search of a place to stay, but couldn't find one. We head over to the caves to see what the deal was over there, and the nice girl who worked there knew of someone who rented out rooms. We headed over to Apartman Ana, in a little residential area. Well, just about all of Gracac is residential. I think there were two industrial sites, one I think was a trash processing plant, and the other had something to do with fish. Both were very small. Anyhow, a man and his daughter met us and the daughter spoke English pretty well. The father was super smiley, but spoke little English, which was fine, because we speak very little Croatian. Anyhow, the girl asked where we were from and was very surprised to hear that we were from the United States. She said that they had never had anyone from the US before. Then she was shocked to hear that we were from Los Angeles, and asked what brought us to Croatia. When we told her that we heard that Croatia was beautiful, she was in awe that people from Los Angeles spoke of Croatia. It's amazing how we see Croatia as this beautiful gem yet to be discovered completely by the US, while she is clueless as to why someone from Los Angeles would want to visit her country. It was an interesting exchange, and to see her point of view.
We walked down the street to have a beer. Ojusko seems to be the beer of choice. Most bars and cafes have awnings adorned with the Ojusko sign. We ended up grabbing the dice and playing a round of Farkle. For those of you who don't know the game, it is a game of chance played with dice. That's the short explanation. We drank a lot of beer and eventually Seth won. So, Sloane and I had to take care of the bill. I think it came to about $3 american each. Not bad for 6 large beers.
We eventually made our way to the recommended restaurant where we ordered the massive meat plate. We had no idea it would be as massive as it turned out to be, and the meat was piled atop a mound of french fries. It was so good, but way too much!
After dinner Seth and I went for a walk. As we were walking I suddenly heard a little, "mew!" I stopped, and I heard it again. A kitten! The momma was probably moving the kittens to a new location and we found this one when momma was away. So cute! We pet the kitten for a bit then began to walk away. But, the kitten started mewing and following us! We had to put her back and Seth scared her so she would stay in the bushes and not leave the spot where the momma had left her.
That night we enjoyed the free internet, talked with some family, and went to bed. We didn't sleep too long before we were woken up by tons of dogs barking. That was nice.
The next morning we made our way to the Cerovack Caves, also a UNESCO world heritage sight. The caves were cold and pretty impressive. They were bigger than we had expected.
After the caves we asked Selena (aka Magellan) how to get to Skradin, to see the waterfalls in Krka National Park. Once again, we drove through windy streets to get there, passing through towns that once were and fields that once grew. Skradin is a bustling little tourist town that feeds into Krka National Park. We had a nasty little meal of fake risotto, then hung out to finish the Serious Eats blog post. Seth took a liking to the ice cream shop around the corner from the hotel. He ended up ordering 6 scoops of ice cream that day.
That evening Seth and I went for a little walk around Skradin. We went to the top of the little hill to see the fortress. It allowed us to view the entire little town and the lake and bridge beyond. It was a pretty view at night.
The next morning we hopped on a boat down the river to visit the Roski Slap, which I think means waterfall. It was pretty and we were allowed to swim in the water just beyond the falls. Unfortunately, the weather was not too hot, and the water was a bit crisp. So our time in the water was brief. We stood in the sun to dry (we didn't bring towels) then went for a walk. It was pretty, but I think because we had been to Plitvice a few days before, we were not that impressed.
We made our way back to town so Seth, and Sloane, could get more ice cream, then made our way to Split, Croatia's second largest city. We were not too happy to enter a big city. I think we're going to try to stick to smaller towns throughout our journey. They are much more pleasant. Seth did a great job at navigating throughout Croatia, and did not falter while entering the city. Good job Seth! We found our overpriced, crap hostel and took a walk to the city center. It was crowded, a bit smelly at times, and overpriced. We wanted to find a cheap meal, so we found a chain called Popej, pronounced Popeye and they had a cutout of his likeness. It was horrible. Weird version of kebab, but really bad. I do not recommend.
Then, we bought our ferry tickets to Vis, a small island off Split before Seth and I made our way to the airport to drop off the rental car. That was a pain. Apparently, somewhere along the way someone had opened their car door into our wheel well and made a ity bitty dent. So we got to pay 150 euros for that, lovely.
This morning we woke up and made our way down to the docks to catch our ferry to Vis. Vis is an island that, supposedly, was forbidden to foreigners for about 4 decades. It is out of the way and not very touristy. It is known for it's beaches and diving. Seth and I hope to find a dive shop to check out some scuttled ships and airplanes.