Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Orange is the new black

Random packing note...after finishing the first cycle of clothes I stuffed into my backpack, I realized that of the 5 short sleeve shirts I packed, I somehow managed to bring not 1, not 2, but 3 freaking orange shirts. This is in addition to the orange rain coat & orange hat I packed. Hell, even my damn ear plugs are orange. I'm thinking of picking up an orange banana hammock for the beach...preferably neon. And don't worry I'll post that picture for you if and when I do track down that speedo.
Maybe you guys can start wearing some orange bracelets (e.g the yellow "live strong" lance Armstrong) to bring awareness to my cause j/k...which I really don't have at this point besides simply wanting to travel the world. Something tells me that won't rally up to much simpathy or followers for that matter. I will contemplate a more socially conscious cause on my next 15 hour + bus ride. Surely I can come up with something good with that amount of time :)
BTW, would someone please kick the Cubs in the ass for me!

Crocodile Nile

After another battle of fending off the swarms of baksheesh (Egpytian term for tip, in other words give me some $ for standing here looking sad at you, you rich westerner) hunters, my new traveling buddies (a kiwi named Paul & his Spanish girlfriend Maria) & I finally arrived into Luxor. To my surprise it wasn't my back that was sore from the 11 hour overnight train ride (which is a great sign for my future overland travels), but my groin from the 3 hour camel ride 2 days prior. One of the many joys of exiting my 20's I suppose :)

I don't want to mis-lead you with the title, because I (fortunately or unfortunately) didn't have a dramatic run in with a massive croc while cruising the Nile (Steve Irwin style - RIP). In fact the only wild animal I've seen thus far in Africa has been a heard of cats that tend to convene on the temple sites.

Truth be told there really aren't any crocs in the Egpyt portion of the Nile. They have all have been "rounded up" and put on the southern portion the Lake Nasar Dam which leads into Sudan. At least that's what we were told while our Felucca Captain was attempting to persuade us to go for a dip. Crocs or not I opted out of taking a few laps in the Nile regardless of the 100+ temps. It might have been the worry of running into the one croc that slipped the round up sessions, or it might have been the fear of a much smaller and more deceptive creature known as a guinea worm that really prevented my plunge into the Nile. It was either that or a lovely case of schistosomiasis (AKA Bilharzia). I'll leave most the details of how these fun filled parasites work within the human body up your imagination (or feel free to do a quick google on these bad boys), but let's just say that a common point of entry involves one's urethra. Anyone up for a dip now?

Despite the lack of crocs sitings my overnight trip down the Nile from Aswan to Luxor was rather relaxing. In between drifting off to sleep, smoking the tobacco filled (for those of you concerned about a potential career ending drug test upon my return from Africa:) shisha (aka hookah) and just lying there in the sun sweating my ass off, the random memory of cruising down a slip-in-slide (which had the branded name of Crocodile Nile) popped into my head. After that memory came floating into my knoggin' I was sure to double check that it was actully tobacco that we were smoking. In fact most of my trip down the Nile to Southern Egypt was pretty sweet. Some of the highlights included...

- having lunch @ the owner of our hotel's house with his famil
- having his 4 kids (ages 5, 8, 15, 19) constantly laugh while pointing at me repeating the word "Shamsia, Shamsia" which I eventually was told referred to my hair and translates to "umbrella". I guess a haircut might in order.
- Touring the Valley of the Kings and Queens as well as the Temples of Karnack in Luxor.
- Discovering (not through sampling - thank you very much) the numerous forms of Viagra that the Egyptians have managed to create. The obvious pill form, spray, cream, tea, and last but certainly not least suppositories...the Viagra market is huge over here...hehe.
- Visiting a steroid induced version of Ramses II's tomb/statue in Abu Simbel. This cat definitely had to of had a complex of some sort.
- Hanging with a great crew of travelers at our hotels in both Luxor and Aswan!

I don't know if it was the 6 1/2 hours in a van packed with 25 people or the 3AM wake up call (for those of you who have experienced my morning habits know that this is an extremely painful for both me and anyone else who unfortunately encounters me:), but (and it pains me to admit to this) I began to suffer from temple fatigue. I know it sounds ridiculous, but my days of looking at a bunch a rocks with rivers, snakes, birds, tigers and feet (aka hieroglyphics) written them are numbered as are my days in Egypt as I am back in Cairo working through the logistics of traveling to Ethiopia. It's been great but I think its time to dig deeper into Africa.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Da' Pyramids

My tour of the Pyramids around Cairo, which included Giza, Saqqara & Memphis began with a 4AM wake up call - Ouch, I thought I was on vacation :) Besides listening to my camel constantly regurgitate his breakfast, the sun rise over Cairo and "The Great" Pyramids of Giza was breathtaking.
We (the guide & I) rode out into the Sahara for 40 min's, positioned ourselves on top of one of the 100 sand dunes, and watched the sun come up. It probably makes for a rather romantic setting if your not sitting there alone with an 18 year old Egyptian kid & a Camel eating his stomach bile :)
After having run the gauntlet of camel & horse hustlers, souvenir hawkers and would be guides we finally arrived at the pyramids. Regardless of the hundreds of tour buses, with loads and loads of camera wielding tourists(myself included) "The Great" Pyramids of Giza certainly weren't a let down. The grandeur of these things, not to mention the intricate level of detail that went into piecing together 2.3 million 2.5 ton blocks far out weights the obnoxious setting that they lie in. What the ancient Egyptians were able to accomplish was quite impressive, everything except the inbreeding and consequently, major deformities (can't win them all I guess)
I fortunately or unfortunately got a bit caught up in the moment and signed myself up for every tour, entrance fee, camel ride possible regardless of price (The Budget Police have already issued a warning to me on my spending habits). My favorite by far was scampering through tunnels inside the pyramid (again a bit pricey, but hell when is the next time I'm gonna be hanging out around Cairo).
After staring up at these massive objects, you start to understand why there are so many theories tying the elaborate construction of the pyramids to Aliens (from outer space you insensative jerks, lets not get into politics here...please, the elections aren't for another 1 1/2 years :)
Seriously, The Khufu Pyramid at Giza screams E.T., hell there a big neon banner hanging on the side with "I miss you Elliot" written on it, not to mention the signs pointing to the top of the pyramid that reads "Going home? This way". Come on, you do the math.

Anyway, it was a long budget imploding day, but "truly" (only my family will understand that one) a once in a life time experience!

A couple brief observations on Egypt:
- An "Omlette" with your free breakfast means 1 hard boiled egg...punks.
- Safetly in Egypt is a non issue (thus far, knock on wood), but pen theft has been out of control!
- I can kind of understand the lack of public interaction between male and females within the Muslim world, but the level of affection between males is down right creepy. Seriously, it's not OK to give your wife a hug in public, but you can rub give your buddy a rub down while walking down street? (not that there is anything wrong with that:) I'm not judging here, just observing.

I'm off on an overnight train to southern Egypt (or what they refer to as Upper Egypt) for a tour of the Valley of the Kings & Queens in Luxor as well as the gigantic statues of Ramses II in Abu Simbel. The weather has only been hovering between 105 and 110...thank goodness for baby powder :)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Walk like an Egyptian

Rumor also has it that one has to update these crazy technological wonders called "blogs" more than once a week in order to make them even somewhat interesting...so after slacking a bit upon initially arriving in Cairo I gave myself a "Stuart Smalley" pep talk (for those SNL fans of the early 90's) in front of the mirror today and promised myself to attempt to update this bad boy at least once every couple of days.

Thanks to those of you who endured the tear jerker in the first post (and even to those of you who wisely skipped most of the first post - I would have done the same:) I do owe a great to deal to those peop's that were mentioned in post 1 and the very least I could do is acknowledge what they have done for me. I certainly wouldn't be sitting here in a blistering hot internet cafe full of hookah smoke hammering away on this commodore 66 with a bad case of swamp ass had it not been for those folks... so cheers for that:)

I also wanted to thank those of who were kind enough to pass on comments or e-mails. I certainly appreciate the words of encouragement, suggestions and even the harassment from those of you who like to pitch me shit:)

One last bit of admin - a few good suggestions came through for me to provide my rough itinerary (I think a few of you have been talking to my mom) so here is my general plan of attack for my attempt at Cairo to Capetown after skimming through the guide book, random articles and searching the internet. Chances are I won't end up doing most of this, or any of it, but hell you never know...
Egypt - Spend a couple weeks seeing the sites such as the great pyramids of Giza, visit the Valley of the Kings & Queens in Luxor, The great temple of Abu Simbel, take a 2 night felucca(fancy Egyptian word for sail boat) trip along the Nile, ride some camels in the desert and then head over to the Sinai for some scuba diving in the Red Sea, swing by infamous backpacker haven - Dahab, & maybe cruise up Mt. Sinai before heading back to Cairo.
Ethiopia - check out the capital, Addis Ababa all the while being certain to steer clear of the many "working ladies" that like to approach nice white boys from Seattle (Thanks to Mike G. for passing on that head's up), explore the tombs and ruined palaces (i.e look at bunch of big old stones lying on the ground) of Aksum as well as Africa's Camelot - Gonder, do a little trekking in the Simien Mtns, visit the Blue Nile Falls & Lake Tana.
Kenya - try not to get mugged in the capital of Nairobi (commonly known as Nai-robbery), hit up my first safari in the Serengeti's Masi Mara reserve. Swing by the great rift valley (I'm starting to notice that a lot the main attractions in Africa that always begin with "The Great...". I think I'm gonna start implementing this tactic in my everyday encounters... And finish up my Kenya visit with a relaxed trip to Lamu which lies on the Indian Ocean.
Uganda - hang 10 with some Gorillas in the Biwindi National Park, swing by the Caribbean style - Ssese ilands in Lake Victoria, visit the Murchison Falls, and say hi to some crocs and hippos in the Queen Elizabeth national park.
Rwanda - Virunga Volcanoes to view the rare mountain gorillas of Parc National des Volcans & the monkeys of Nyungwe NP.
Tanzania - Hike at Ngorongoro Crater, dive off the Mafia Islands, hit up a little safari action to see the (guess what word is next) "Great" Wildebeast Migration in the Serengeti, & lastly after a little volunteer stint - soak up the sun and spices of Zanzibar Island.
Mozambique - Do a bit more diving in the Bazaruto islands, & log some more chill time in the back packer hangout of Tofo.
Malawi - a possible horse safari in the Nyika National Park and then its off to Cape Maclear.
Zambia - "The great" Victoria Falls! OK they don't use "the great" in front of this African attraction, but I'm sure they are great.
Namibia - Do some sandboarding in the adventure town of Swakopmund, then cruise the desert vast lands of the Skeleton Coast.
South Africa - Hit the wineries just north of Cape Town, visit Robin Islands which was Nelson Mandela's unfortunate home for many years, tour the shanty town of Elias Motsoaledi Settlement, and celebrate my journey of Cairo to Cape Town. I'll cruise up the coast and fly out of Johannesburg on Sept. 3...just in time to make it back to the states to watch the Cubs head into the playoffs & the Boilers start thier season off with some Wins :)

(Let's pretend I was actually on top of this whole blog deal and this post was done on Thursday night - May 17)

After finally settling into Cairo & switching hotels to a cheaper (you all know that I love to save a buck:), but more backpacker friendly option (i.e. crappy service, shared bathrooms, and mattresses that were built during the same era they lego'd together those pyramids) I am finally set to see some sites. Tomorrow's agenda includes a camel ride to catch the sunrise in the Sahara Desert overlooking The Great Pyramids of Giza. Tour the Pyramids of Giza, the schnoz-less Sphinx, Saqqara and Memphis and then head back to the hostel for a dinner cruise along the Nile.

Quick note on crossing the street - it is complete and utter chaos. Crosswalks, street lights and pedestrians don't matter. These fella's are humming along at a gentle 60 MPH regardless of what's in front of them (surprisingly I haven't seen 1 accident so props to thier skills -I guess?). Point is, I sat attempting to cross an average 2 lane street for 20 minutes as numerous locals played Frogger with the traffic (no shitting ya, just like the old Atari game). The straw that broke the camel's back was when an 80 year old gal went humming past me with no fear. I now wait for a crew of locals to cross the street and then go weaving through traffic with them (don't worry Mom - I'm being as careful as I possibly can) I guess The Bengals were onto something.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Journey begins...

Rumor has it that one’s trip really doesn't happen unless you write a blog about it (what happened to the days of intruding your friends, families and distant friends e-mail account with a lovely impersonal mass e-mail?) and after planning this son of a bitch for what felt like 20 years, but was actually only 2, I figured your god damn right I’m gonna write a blog, bad back and all:) So here we are in blogville, which I've creatively named after my arrival and destination cities, crafty eh?

(WARNING - For those of you who are just looking for cool/fun/interesting information regarding my trip – please respectfully skip this section and for those of you who have some time to kill, get the tissues ready :)

Speaking of that 2 years of mayhem that led up to this trip I’d like to throw out a few (OK ...a lot) shout outs to those who have honestly made this endeavor possible for me (I feel like I’m accepting an Oscar for Christ sake).
- My parents, although they have questioned my sanity on several occasions (and their own sanity for paying for my college education) have been very supportive in my extended sabbatical from “the real world”.
- The same goes for my brother, sister and sister in-law, who have allowed me to lean on them on several occasions especially when it came to family gift exchanges such as (don’t read this Mom) Mother’s Day, the (don’t read this Dad) upcoming Father’s Day etc. And have been very giving hosts when I’ve been passing through the windy city.
- The 30 or so Doc’s who have prodded (not the prostate exam sort of prod you sicko’s) at, inspected and attempted to (and in a few occasions actually did) help my ailing back. The most important (and of the few successful) of those being Jordan (paid sponsor - Proformance Rehab in Eastlake (206) 322-2842...j/k) who honestly didn’t give up on me regardless how shitty my attitude became (i.e. “What the hell do you mean I’ve ‘re-herniated’ my back, you’ve got to be F-ing kidding me!”)
- Torrie (K.U.–wana). It was my honor to serve for over 1 ½ years as her “Manny” (definition: part man, part nanny) for her little rug rats - Tilda-girl, Kramer - the 20lb thoroughbred of a feline and to the silent meow master, Tigger, may he/she (the gender thing is a long story) rest in peace.
- The spark plug who sorted through the chaos that my trip planning had become and helped finalized this adventure for me, major props to Ms. Natalie Collins. When I say finalize I guess that could also mean f-ing endless calls to the airlines with ridiculous hold times, non-stop support, and that trip to Maui 2 weeks before I left, wasn’t so bad either :) (see the above mentioned K.U.- wana for the other half of that going away present)
- Jimbob (yes, that’s his real name), the resident master of the shire (definition: his basement with 5ft 9inch ceilings) for which I lived for 6 months. JB helped see me through my financial woes (i.e. free rent) after I retired (without a true financial retirement) from corporate America.
- And to all of you who listened to me bitch, complain, whine and cry about my god-for-saken back for the past couple years this includes, but isn't limited to “everyone’s bud” Dustin Vanlue, the fuseloge of the landhawks-Jonathan Fussell, Kyle Ozzzzwald-who was instrumental in preventing me from sitting at home feeling sorry for myself on the w/e's , the chairmen of my “don’t pack so much shit” campaign & "don't just sit on your ass all the time" influence - Aaron Wiehe, humanity’s women of the year 5 years running – Ms. Amy Conner, the folks at Plymouth Poultry who were unbelievably supportive of my adventure to Africa (regardless of the number of complete meltdowns I had while working with them:), my good buddy Brian Marks, my boy Curtis who was there with numerous motivational speeches for me, my soon-to-be fellow Pac NW buddy - PJ, the Laoation lover – Pie, my hommies back in J-burg and last, but certainly not least my good friend and traveling buddy who continues to inspire me with his "I'm going to kick my brain tumor's ass" mentality as he battles on with his fight against the 3cm diameter tumor in his head - my thoughts are with you Dugan!
As you can see (for those of you that have made it thus far) I’ve had an endless, and life altering amount of assistance in my struggle (i.e scratching and f-ing clawing type of struggle) to get over my back injury and make this trip happen! There is no way I could possibly think about mentioning my trip without touching on the impact these people have had not only on this adventure, but also my life! Many, many, many thanks and now it's onto exploring Cairo!