October 2004 Archives
I started this entry on Friday but never finished it. Right now we're waiting to get picked up and taken to the camp. We're still adjusting to the heat and other differences, but we're fine and excited to get to the camp, meet people, and stay in one place for a month!
Our first full day in Ghana--we're still in that "where are we?" kind of fog, but doing well. We changed hotels this morning since the one we finally found last night was too expensive. (We didn't even consider the possibility of hotels actually being full--we haven't experienced that anywhere yet and didn't expect it here either.) This afternoon the clouds rolled in really quickly and it poured for about an hour--the sound was nice to take a nap to.
But back to Cairo now...
On our way to the museum Tuesday morning a guy tried to stop us saying that the museum was closed for Ramadan and invited us to "wait" at his papyrus factory. The scenario was straight out of our guidebook, and we kindly declined. Once inside the museum we decided on the PDA electronic guide to help make sense of what we were seeing. It was fun to use, but a little disappointing except in the Mummy room where it gave a lot of details about each mummy. The Tutankhamen exhibit was also very impressive, but the ground level seemed more like a warehouse then a museum.
That afternoon we headed out into Islamic Cairo and the bazaar area. It was about 4:30, getting close to sunset. The streets were full and loud--people selling bread, juice and tea and bringing out huge trays of food to rows of tables set out on the street. Others just spread out carpets on the pavement by their shop. As it got closer to sunset the anticipation in the air grew as people sat staring at their food. Finally, the call sounded and then complete silence. The streets cleared of everbody except for the white tourists. After about 20 minutes the bussle returned, but this time with a sense of relief or satisfaction.
We decided to do the pyramids without a tour, and to take the bus instead of a taxi. I have to admit I felt a bit anxious about it at first, after reading in tour books and other people's accounts (like this blog entry I found) about all the hassles, bargaining, and scams that can be involved with this. But we'd been studying up on our arabic numbers, knew which bus to take, and I felt excited as we set out.
As we were crossing the street to the bus station, a guy greeted us and told us he was just getting off from work and headed back home to Giza. We talked with him some more as we headed to the buses. He told us it was much faster and cheaper to take a mini bus (like the tro-tros here) instead of the big bus we had planned to take. We hesitated for a moment, but then decided to go for it (just based on a good feeling I guess). We paid the pound fare for the two of us (less than 20 cents) and continued our conversation with Hamedy. We felt perfectly safe but alternated a few times between trust and doubt in terms of what his intentions were. He and Michael talked casually about computers (Hamedy was studying computer programming), but Michael froze up a bit when Hamedy started talking about the special "Egyptian Viagra" perfume. I think he got the hint that we weren't interested, and the conversation went back in a different direction.
Hamedy insisted on paying when we had to switch mini buses. He then said he wanted to invite us to his house to meet his wife and drink some tea, then he would show us the entrance to the pyramids and tell us what he knew. We felt safe and decided to just go for it. We sat at in his living room for about an hour, drinking tea and discussing the pyramids, politics, religion and other things. We told him we wanted to do a camel ride around the pyramids so he walked us over to an area away from the entrance where horse and camel guides hung out, told us the price that he as an Egyptian would pay, and said he'd help us bargain a bit. In the middle of discussing this with Hamedy, Adel and his two camels came walking down the street as if on cue (I later found out Michael was a little suspicious of how easy and well-timed this seemed). But with his laid back, joking personality, Adel quickly put us at ease.
We agreed on a price of 180 pounds ($30) for the both of us for two hours. After saying our goodbyes to Hamedy (truly just a friendly person!), we hopped on our camels and were off (but not before Michael accidently kicked my camel in the head as he was trying to get on!). By entering the pyramids from the back with Adel (who had to slip the guards a bit of an "unoffical entrance fee") we got to avoid the bus loads of tourists, the KFC and Pizza Hut right at the entrance, and all the hawkers trying to sell little plastic pyramids. Coming in from the desert side felt pretty magical--we could see the pyramids peeking up from behind the little dunes, the vast desert surrounding us, and the huge city sprawled under a cloud of smog to the other side.
Adel was a great guide--he explained some of the history of the pyramids and how they were built. We also got to chat with him about changes in the Bedouin lifestyle. At one point he told us that Bedouin people traditionally honeymoon for 1 year--maybe we're Bedouin at heart!
In a happy daze, we said goodbye to Adel and explored the pyramids closer by foot. We ran into lots of people offering us horse rides, camel rides, and cold drinks, but suddenly we actually enjoyed these exchanges. We found that when we smile and maybe joke a bit it all becomes relaxed and fun. We met another camel guide named Jamal who offered Michael 6,000 camels for me. After a bit of deliberation he decided to keep me.
On the bus ride back into the city we practiced reading arabic numbers off of license plates and talked about how lucky and happy we felt about our pyramid experience--none of it would have happened if we'd taken the "easy" way in a tour or taxi. We felt a kind of release, like we'd been opened up to Egypt and its culture.
We rested up a bit at the hotel before we set out for a night of the opposite--an easy night of playing tourist on a dinner cruise on the nile. It was all set up through our hotel, so we hopped in taxis with 3 Belgians and Sam, who works at Luna. We got a good table right by the band and they started up shortly after we got there. The first performance was excellent--the guy whirled around for about 30 minutes doing different kinds of tricks with his skirt and scarves, a bit like a whirling dervish maybe. Then came the belly dancer and her two male sidekicks. This show ended up being a bit humorous--it looked like they were just making it up as they went, and the belly dancer was chewing gum and kept pulling down her skirt. We had fun though--the dinner was pretty good (though we equally enjoyed Kushari dinner the previous night for about $1.50) and we got to talk to Sam a bit. He's married to a woman from Hong Kong and might be there when we're in China so hopefully we can meet up!
Our study of arabic numbers payed off when we spotted the right bus to the airport from across the square and were able to run and hop on. We had good and relatively empty flight to Accra and met four Canadian nursing students who've been working in Accra and were able to give us some good tips for the city.
(it says posted by Michael, but actually it's Megan--don't know how to change that right now!)
A very short update to let everyone know that we've arrived safely in Ghana. First impressions: it's hot! and it's humid! The rainy season's supposed to be over in September but, as we've been told, global warming is making it last longer this year.
It's really strange to be in a whole new culture after only three days in Cairo. We're both happy that we'll be in one country for the next month.
We meant to do a Cairo update this morning but we ran out of time (and we're both really tired tonight) so we'll write a new update and upload additional photos in the next few days.
Well, we've arrived safe and sound in Cairo after a 1 hour delay with our plane. It appears some parts fell off and they had to go back to the terminal and tape them back on. But seriously, all we understood from the captain was something about a technical problem and going back to retrieve something. When a panicking passenger behind us asked a flight attendant what was wrong the conversation went something like this:
Panicking Woman: "What is the problem?"
Flight Attendant: "ehhh..."
Woman: "A technical problem?"
Attendant: "ehhhh......yes....We go back now...and....ehhhh....make plane safe."
But we still really enjoyed the flight because the plane was basically empty, they served good food and the flight attendants were friendly.
Upon landing, they stopped me at Immagration for some reason and we waited about 20 minutes before they called us back and asked me if I was really who I said I was. Thankfully, they ended up letting us through.
Some of our first impressions of Cairo:
- People hanging out of buses and running to jump on them without the bus stopping
- Lots and lots of honking and crazy traffic
- Red lights and traffic signals mean nothing
- We're learning the art of dodging cars as we dash across the street
- It's hard to tell who's just being friendly and who's being friendly to get something out of us
- Everyone is happy to see the sun go down because they can finally eat something (it's Ramadan)
We found a great place to stay called Hotel Luna. It's clean, comfortable and cheap. Tomorrow we're planning to go to the Egyptian Museum and Wednesday we'll do the pyramids.
Sorry that it's been a while--compared to Thessaloniki Athens seems to be lacking good, cheap internet cafes. Otherwise we're really impressed with the city and are enjoying it here. But let me catch up a bit first...
Our time on George and Jen's farm was great. We finished pruning their 70 olive trees and then spent 3 days bundling and clearing the branches (sometimes we feel like we must be the slowest Wwoofers around). We also learned the right way to cut and pick basil (and the reason why our basil plants always died on us). Jen used the basil and the walnuts we gathered to make several batches of pesto, and sent us off with a jar of it when we left on Wednesday--yum! Monday was a beautiful sunny day (after several cloudy, wet days) so that night we helped Jen make bread and pizzas in their outdoor wood oven, and finished off her delicious homemade vegan apple pie.
Tuesday we took a trip to ancient Olympia, about one and a half hours away from Amaliada. The modern town of Olympia is completely centered around tourism and seemed deserted at this time of the year. The ancient site is beautiful though. It's shaded by big olive trees and provided the perfect setting for a picnic and for just sitting back and imagining what it once must have been like there. We both thought it would have been great to see more of it reconstructed, like here in Athens. The museums there were really impressive too. One displayed and explained some of the ancient Olympic sport artifacts and the other housed the statues from the temples and buildings. It also showed a model of what the lost gold and ivory statue of Zeus (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) would have looked like--it must have been amazing.
Wednesday we took the train back around the coast past Patras to Dhiakofto. From here an old rack-and-pinion railway makes it's way through the Vouraikos gorge to the town of Kalavryta. The ride was beautiful and lots of fun--it felt like an amusement park ride. We took lots of pictures but none of them really capture the experience--the tunnels, bridges, the rock of the mountain only a few centimeters away...
We rode it all the way up to Kalavryta, which is a beautiful town with a sad history. During WWII the German occupiers massacred the entire male population--1436 men and boys--and burned the town. We both could feel the heavy sadness in the atmosphere, it even affected our sleep and dreams. But we found the people there very friendly and still enjoyed our stay up in the mountains. The next morning we took the train back down about halfway to the picturesque little village of Zakhlorou and hiked up to the nearby monastery of Mega Spileou ("Great Cave" because it's actually built into the side of the cliff).
Intercity trains in Greece have assigned seats and we got stuck in the smoking section for our ride from Dhiakofto to Athens. But we survived the thick clouds of smoke somehow, took a ride on the sparkly clean Athens metro, and were greeted at our hotel by a 80's rocker guy with a toupee. We spent yesterday taking care of errands (bank, post office, laundry, etc...) Most of our time was spent in line, or more exactly taking numbers, waiting for our number to be called, finding out we pushed the wrong button for the wrong set of numbers, taking new numbers, waiting again, going back to fill out forms we didn't know we had to fill out, etc... Basically we learned that taking care of this kind of stuff is a hassle(hoff) anywhere you are.
Today we watched and shopped at the outdoor markets in the morning. We were inspired at Jen and George's to make sure that we're eating healthy while on the road so we bought lots of fruits, veggies, and nuts. This afternoon we joined the other tourists and did the Acropolis. Again, it was amazing to be surrounded by so much history. My mind is still struggling to really comprehend how old all these ruins are. We also realized again that we don't make very good tourists. Dealing with the crowds (and this is nothing now, I can't imagine what it must be like in the summer!) and taking in all the sites left us exhausted and yearning to return to the Greek Athens down below.
Tonight is our latenight internet night (it's lots cheaper after midnight). Right now we're at our first stop--Easy Internet Cafe convienently located right above 'Everest', the Greek chain with yummy spanokopites (spinach pies). Here I can type this up without paying for internet time, then were off to the next cafe where we can (hopefully) upload some photos.
Monday afternoon is our flight to Cairo, we'll try to update again from there sometime.
Thanks again for all the comments--we love reading them and it makes us feel connected to all of you!
P.S. We may be biased, but we think our nephew Ethan makes a great lion.
We left Lamia on Monday; it was the first place in our trip that we felt happy to leave because it was just too noisy and neither of us felt in the mood to be there. The guy at the front desk of our hotel was really nice though, he helped us figure out bus times and, as we were leaving, asked us "Bush or Kerry?". He was very happy to hear us both say "Kerry!"
Our two and half hour bus ride from Lamia gave us a great tour of the Greek countryside with plenty of cliffs and mountains rising steeply from the sea, rows and rows of olive trees, watermelon patches and the smell of burning leaves as farmers cleared their fields after the summer harvest. Our bus ride took us over the beautiful new (and earthquake-proof) Rio-Antirio Bridge that connects western Greece and the Peloponnese.
We were dropped off in Patras and, after a short train ride, we arrived in Amaliada. Now, all we had to do was find the farm where we would be WWOOFing for the next week. We'd been trying to call the owners, Jennifer and George, all day but kept getting the frustratingly-vague "The subscriber you dialed is currently not available" message. We wandered around the town's main square for a few minutes, looking completely lost and ended up asking for directions at an "American Fitness" workout club. Everyone stopped what they were doing to stare at the two foreigners with their huge backpacks. They ended up being very friendly though and had a long discussion in Greek about the best way to go and we were lead out the door by the main fitness instructor to the street we were looking for. We finally figured out that the address we had couldn't be the actual farm's address since we were standing in the middle of the city. We found an older gentleman washing his car in front of the house with the address we were looking for. It turned out he was George's father and he called a taxi for us. The taxi drove us up the long gravel driveway to the farmhouse where we met Jennifer, George and their nine month old baby Elli.
For the past three wonderful days we've been picking walnuts, black berries and pruning olive trees. We both love climbing the trees and discovering the unique personality of each one. Don't worry, we're not working too hard. We're done by one o'clock to enjoy one of Jennifer's tasty, healthy lunches (with plenty of homemade wine!)
We tried uploading pictures again, but no dice. We'll have to wait until Athens or for a decent internet connection.
We arrived this evening in Lamia (just off the main rail line between Athens and Larissa) after 3 beautiful days in Zagora on Mount Pilio Peninsula. We found a beautiful room (room 2 on their website) there with a balcony overlooking the ocean. The room even had a TV and we ended up watching some strange Canadian show about a vampire Cop who went undercover into a cult. But no, we didn't spend all of our time in front of the TV. The area is full of gorgeous orchards (though government studies only give them until the year 2020 to survive because of depleted soil and overuse of pesticides--no wonder there's no Wwoofing here!).
There are old cobbled paths called Kalderimia that wind between the orchards and link the villages. Originally (pre-automobile age) these were the only connections between villages, and they are now starting to be restored and marked as hiking trails. We read in our guidebook that "You'll see yellow metal directional placards with a black walking-man logo--occasionally helpful, more often anything from vague to useless". We soon found out the truth to this as we attempted to hike from Zagora down to Horefto on the coast. On the way down we completely missed a turnoff that there was no sign for and ended up walking the rest of the way partly on the street and partly through people's olive groves.
At the bottom we passed the yellow sign showing the way back up to Zagora so we thought we'd be all set for the way home, but we were wrong. After several wrong turns because there were no signs in sight, fighting our way through thorny bushes, jumping at hissing noises that we thought were snakes but turned out to be water hoses, and thinking we were going to have to spend the night at an abandoned old house, we finally made it back to Zagora just as it turned completely dark. The next day we decided to try the whole thing again in the daylight. This time we found some of the yellow signs (or at least traces of them) that we'd missed the day before. Stay tuned for our Waliking Man series of pictures (unfortunately uploading won't work from here, plus it's super noisy here and we're hungry!)
Today we look the long and scenic way back to Volos by bus, and then another bus to Lamia (actually just to the highway exit to Lamia--that was interesting!) Now we're off to find some good food!
We decided to spend another day and night here partly because we were still trying to figue out wwoofing stuff and where to go next, and partly just because we weren't ready to leave! We had a nice day of sight-seeing today (with plenty of coffee/tea/juice/frappe breaks of course--we found the student area where everything is a lot more affordable).
Thessaloniki has an amazing mix of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments and ruins, often all mixed together at one sight. We saw some beautiful 4th and 5th century mosaics at the Rotonda and Osios Dhavid and then headed all the way up to the Heptapyrgion fortress.
I don't think we'll always be updating pictures and travelogue this often, it's just that we've needed to keep emailing wwoofing hosts because no one seemed to have room for us or we weren't hearing back from them. We finally have a place to go though and are very excited. It's in Amaliada on the Western coast of the Peloponnese, 1 hour from Patras. We'll start on Monday. Until then we've decided to visit the Mount Pilio peninsula near Volos, we'll head there tomorrow.
(I also have time to write because we found an affordable internet cafe that we like--Michael especially, he's busy playing computer games right now.)
We got on the bus in Dubrovnik with Michael feeling sick from his day-long fasting experiment and not really knowing what to expect from our trip (15 hours we were told) or our destination of Skopje. We had done a bit of background reading on Macedonia (mainly from the US state department website and Bootsnall) where we learned that after some internal armed conflicts in 2001, it's now basically a safe place. We also read about the ongoing squabble they are having with Greece over their name and flag (Greece feels that it owns the rights to the name, because part of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia is now a province of the same name within Greek borders).
We were lucky that the bus wasn't full so we got to stretch out. Michael felt better after a short nap, and we were able enjoy the ride. It was exciting being the only tourists and foreigners on the bus and not knowing exactly where we were going or what was going on. We stopped at the border to Montenegro for a while and were disappointed that we were the only ones not to get stamps in our passports. Our next stop was maybe an hour later and at first we thought it was just a coffee/smoking/bathroom break but then figured out that we would be crossing the bay by ferry (this was close to Herceg Novi or something like that). After that we mostly slept (except for sliding out of the seats from sudden breaking by the driver). I think we passed through Pec, or at least I remember hearing the name in my half sleep. I woke up for the sunrise over the hills somewhere in Kosovo. We stopped again at the Kosovo-Macedonian border and then it was just a short ride into Skopje. We got there ahead of schedule (around 7:30 AM instead of 10AM) thanks to our speedy bus driver.
We arrived at the bus station (just a bunch of busses in a parking lot really) without a clue so we accepted the offer from a taxi driver to take us to the train station. When we told him we were headed to Greece he tried to convince us to get a ride with his friends to the border. We thought maybe the train station was a better idea. The station turned out to be a completely dismal introduction to Skopje--very dark, dirty and we couldn't even find where to buy tickets at first. But we did, and with the help of a very friendly lady behind the counter we got our tickets to Thessaloniki (Deutsche Bahn was right down to the minute) and also found a place to store our luggage for the day. No one could tell us where to get any information or maps of Skopje but they pointed us in the direction of the center and we set out. We found our way to the old part of the city, which felt very Eastern, with markets, a bazaar area and lots of Turkish people. We exchanged 10 Euros into denars which easily lasted us the whole day and bought us: 4 cappucinos, 40 minutes of internet, a little brush that we've been looking for to clean our Chacos, cheese bureks, spinach pies and sweet pastries, yummy chocolates that we bought from a Willy Wonka-ish candy store, bread and mineral water for our train ride, and luggage storage!
We crossed the footbridge over the river (Vardar I think) and it was like crossing into another world--big buildings, sidewalk cafes (and internet cafes), chic young people. The contrast was really interesting.
After roaming around both parts of the city, we found our way back to the dreary train station that afternoon. We had a nice chat with a Macedonian mechanical engineer who helped fill in some of the many large gaps in our knowledge of the area. We stopped for a long time at the Macedonia-Macedonia (Greek Macedonia!) border and this time they collected our passports and we had to get off the train to get them back from the police station. A bit of a pain, but it was worth it since we finally got ours stamped!
I never like to arrive in a new place late at night, but we both felt Thessaloniki's friendly vibe as soon as we stepped off the train and immediately felt at ease. We found a hotel from the ripped out pages of Lonely Planet's "Mediteranean Europe" book (thanks Mama and David--we found it at Henni's) and passed out for a good night's sleep.
We spent today exploring Thessaloniki--it's a great city, very lively and lots of students. The only thing that was a bit disappointing this morning was realizing how expensive most things are here compared to Croatia and Skopje. We wanted to get a cappucino but realized we'd be paying about 5 times what we paid there.
We're spending another night here and then tomorrow we'll figure out where to go next (we're still waiting to hear from Wwoofing people).
We finally had a chance to upload some photos. They're not all up yet because we couldn't rotate the vertical photos the way we needed to. We've uploaded a good overview of our trip through Croatia from Zagreb up to Hvar (no Dubrovnik photos yet).
We've decided to take the overland route to Greece. There's a bus that leaves from Dubrovnik to Skopje, Macedonia at 7PM this evening, then two trains a day from there to Thessaloniki, Greece (or at least that's what Deutsche Bahn says!). More from Greece!
Two days turned to three then four then five--we loved it there! We spent our days reading on the rocks in the sun, swimming in the clear waters and eating "Sea Fruit" Spaghetti at our favorite restaurant, 'Moli Onte'. Our host Dobrila drew us in the first evening with her genuine friendliness and we kept coming back. The last night we could tell she was feeling a bit under the weather so I offered her an EmergenC. At the end of the evening she came out we a plastic water bottle filled with their special house wine to take with us on our ferry ride to Dubrovnik (people just keep taking care of us that way!) Thank you Dobrila and we hope you're feeling better.
Our trip on the ferry was beautiful (except for the loud Americans who were difficult to ignore--it's hard to decide who was worse--them or the loud group of Austrians the day before who we could still hear all the way across the bay during our hike!)
We've decided to skip Turkey (too little time) and head right to Greece. We're going to try to do some more Wwoofing there. We're in the process of figuring out the best way to get there. More later...