Morocco Part 2

Day 102: June 22, 2018

I stayed up a bit too late reading then woke up around 3:30 am from a bad dream. We woke up at 7:30 am and went down for breakfast. We had boiled eggs, crepes, bread and fresh orange juice. The waiter always had a smile on his face and he had been nice enough to arrange to bring the food up to our room when Danny was sick. We all paid into a tipping kitty at the beginning of the trip, but we tipped him a bit more.

At 9:00 am we boarded the bus and drove through the desert passing small oasis towns. We drove passed the largest silver mine in Africa. It uses water from a local village which has caused drought for the residents. They come to the main road quite often to protest. The company was previously owned by the French, but is now owned by the royal family. The company’s representative claims they employ many villagers, who say this is not true.

The previous king had an absolute monarchy and ruled until 1999. There were two coup d’états, one in 1971 and one in 1972. Due to this, 39 military officials were placed in a secret prison with cells only 1 m x 1 m. They spent 18 years inside with only five surviving. An American woman married to one of the prisoners came looking for her husband. After 20 years she found a local who told her where she could see a guard tower. She saw it and was sure her husband was there. With the help of the American government, the prisoners were freed. The current king ordered reconciliation payments to the families. Moroccan prisons have change, but are still not a place you want to be due to overcrowding.

We stopped in the Valley of Roses where 800 tons of rose petals are harvested every April. They are used to make rose water and put in cosmetics. There were some vendors selling different jewellery. Moroccans are very superstitious, especially the women. Babies, pregnant women and brides are adorned with jewellery shaped like a hand which is the Hand of Fatima, who was the daughter of the prophet Mohammed. It is believed to defend against the evil eye. In small villages there are still witch doctors. People go to them for revenge mostly. The witch doctor will make odd requests like take a piece of glass from a car accident, bring me the underwear of the person you want to curse or collect the dead skin from the person you want revenge on.

We saw Cinema Studio Atlas, a film studio set up in the desert that has been operating since 1957. It has produced such films as Gladiator, The Mummy and Black Hawk Down were filmed there. We stopped for lunch nearby. Danny and I shared a very nice Moroccan soup (harira) and a Margherita pizza. We continued driving to our hotel right near Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We rested for a bit then met up at 6:30 pm to walk over to the kasbah or fortress. It held a community’s important goods and the chief lived inside. There were 35 tribes in Morocco before the French arrived. This kasbah was built in the 18th century and had a collective granary at the top. It was an important stop for caravans travelling from Sudan to Marrakech to trade. There are currently only 4 or 5 families living inside. Most have moved to more modern homes. A lady on our way up invited us inside her home. We saw how they lit the fireplace under the bath for heat. We also saw how they grind grains. We walked up to their terrace which had a very nice view.

View over Ait Ben Haddou

We continued our walk to the top for a view of the houses below and the Atlas Mountains. Yassine said that not much money is put into preserving the site.

View to the Atlas Mountains from Ait Ben Haddou

We visited a local artist who was making paintings of Ait Ben Haddou and the desert. He used sugar and tea for a dark colour, saffron for yellow and indigo for blue. It didn’t look that great until he burned it slightly and the colours popped out.

We walked back to the hotel and had a tajine cooking class. Everything was prepared and all we had to do was throw it in the tajine. Chicken with red onions was added first. Then 1/2 tsp each of garlic, pepper, salt, cumin, sweet paprika, turmeric, ginger and parsley. Then two dashes of olive oil were placed on top. It was cooked on low for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through and adding a bit of water. Then we added the veggies: potatoes, carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and olives. We added five tablespoons of water around and then let it cook for 45 minutes more. Our tajines turned out pretty well and we very much enjoyed eating them.

Our tajines
Day 103: June 23, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast: crepes, bread and boiled eggs. Danny’s stomach wasn’t feeling very good again. We hopped on the bus and drove through the high Atlas Mountains. We went through the highest driveable mountains pass in Africa at 2,260 m.

High Atlas Mountains

We stopped at an argan oil cooperative where many women work. They are typically divorcees and single mothers. In society, they are looked down on. Families disown them as they have brought shame to the family. The child from a single mother is unable to get a birth certificate without the father there. A German association is helping to legally go after the fathers so the children can get documentation. Many of the children end up as street children or in child labour as they are unable to go to school. Child labour is illegal in Morocco.

Many babies are kidnaped for use by professional beggars or treasure hunters. There are over 300,000 professional beggars in Morocco. In the 10th-13th centuries people buried their treasures. It is believed they are protected by spirits. To protect you from the supernatural you need to bring a baby. You cut the hand of the baby to decode the spell to find the buried treasure. It is illegal in Morocco, but still done. Metal detectors are also illegal.

The argan tree is native to the Atlantic Ocean region of Morocco. At the cooperative, we saw the women cracking the nuts with rocks. We were able to taste the roasted nut which had a very odd after taste. Another woman was grinding the nuts into paste. We tasted the oil, nut butter and honey made from the argan.

2D69053C-96A3-42F2-B550-412B992FFAD3
Argan oil production

We continued our drive into Marrakech and arrived at our hotel. We had lunch across the street. I had spinach ravioli. Mmm.

We then drove to the Marrakech kasbah. Our first stop was the Saadian tombs which hosts 170 tombs for the royal family. There are three rooms: one for the sultans, one for his wives and one for their children. People are placed in the tombs on their sides facing Mecca. The Saadian family ruled for three centuries. In 1659, the Alaouite dynasty took over of which the current king is a part.

Saadian tombs

We moved on to the Jewish quarter established in the 16th century. Jews originally settled in Fez, but when it became overcrowded a Jewish quarter was created in Marrakech.

We walked on to Palace Bahia which was built in 1894 by a grand vizier of the sultan, who named it after his favourite wife. His favourite wife had given him his first son. The palace is sometimes still used by relatives of the current king. We visited the administrative section first. The palace is of Moorish design: ceilings of painted cedar wood, stucco walls and tile floors. At that time, there were no chairs just mats and rugs. People would lounge so the roofs were very ornate.

A roof in Palace Bahia

Next was the family section with four rooms: one for each of his official wives. They would all have been of high birth and were married for life. A separate courtyard had eight rooms for the unofficial wives. They needed to be very beautiful: young (12-20 years old) and obese. They were for fun and pleasure. In Southern Morocco it is still believed a larger woman is more beautiful. Some families force feed their daughters for marriage. If they have money, they may send their daughter to a fattening farm. The daily diet would include two cups of butter, twenty litres of milk and two kilograms of couscous.

Courtyard of Palace Bahia

The next section was the private apartment, where there was food, belly dancing, music and sex with a different wife every night. Outside, five unichs would be waiting on a wooden platform. Four would sit and one would march, deliberately noisy, so the master would know they were awake and ready to serve him.

Our tour ended in the main square of Marrakech where there were many vendors, snake charmers and men with monkeys. It was a very large square with restaurants all around.

We were given free time so we walked into the medina. Danny and I walked in a straight line to ensure we didn’t get lost. It kept going forever. I bartered for some leather shoes. Some vendors didn’t like my low balling and just walked away. The prices went up to 380 Durhams. I paid 100 Durhams and I think I overpaid a bit. The market was much more chill than the ones in Egypt. In Egypt, the vendors would follow you and were just generally annoying. In Morocco, they mostly left you alone.

We met some others from our group and went on a horse carriage ride around town. It was nice, but we mostly just saw hotels. We took a taxi back to the hotel from the main square.

Danny wasn’t feeling well so he had a nap before we met everyone for supper at 8:00 pm. We walked about 10 minutes to a fancy restaurant. The food took a long time and we were getting very tired. Danny and I shared a pizza and salad although he didn’t eat much. We got back to the hotel and said our goodbyes. We weren’t as tight with this group as the one in Egypt, but we really enjoyed them. We went to bed right away to be ready for an early wake up.

Day 104: June 24, 2018

We woke up at 4:15 am for our taxi ride to the airport at 4:45 am. Yassine was nice enough to arrange the ride. It only took 15 minutes. We checked in then went through security. The domestic portion was very small.

There was only time for a 20 minute nap on the 45 minute flight from Marrakech to Casablanca. We had a two hour layover then boarded another 45 minute flight to Tanger. We were told to fill out a landing card even though we came domestically then the officers were confused.

We got through the airport and went outside. There was no one really hassling us for a cab as it seemed there was a set price to get to certain places. Our driver wasn’t sure where we were going, but others helped him figure it out based on our map. I had remembered to download an offline map and pin our Airbnb location in GoogleMaps.

We arrived at the location and the driver let us use his phone to call our host. The number didn’t seem to work so we told him he could leave us there. We went into a restaurant and used their wifi to message the host. We were freaking out a bit because the address only said the road name and the phone number wasn’t working. The host replied, but then we couldn’t find her. Finally we found the apartment and Danny got the keys.

We relaxed a bit then went walking to where GoogleMaps said there was a supermarket. It may have been closed or may not have existed. We did find a small store to buy water, yogurt and bananas.

Walking around as a minority is different. I’m not sure if we were looked at because I had no scarf on my head or if it was just because we were the only white people there. All the other places in Morocco I didn’t notice it that much, but we were usually with a group and in more touristy areas. I had also read not great things about the safety of Tanger so I think I was more on edge as well. Being glanced at does make you feel uncomfortable even when nothing is meant by it.

We went to a cafe for supper, but the waiter didn’t speak English and my French is not very good. We ordered orange juice, but they didn’t seem to have food. We walked back to the place we had used wifi to message our host and ordered pizzas which were all right. We went back to our Airbnb and I FaceTimed a friend before bed.

Our Airbnb host had recommended a cab driver to take us to the port in the morning. Danny sent him a message on WhatsApp and he sent voice recordings back which were cute. He said to speak instead. I guess his reading and writing of English weren’t too great, but his speaking and listening were better. He agreed to pick us up at at 6:00 am Moroccan time to drive us to the port to catch our ferry to Spain. Danny confirmed, “6:00 sharp.” And he replied, “Yes, 6:00 Moroccan time”. Danny got off the phone concerned that Moroccan time was similar to Nepali time. We will see what happens.

Day 105: June 25, 2018

We haven’t been feeling so great the last couple of days. Both of us are feeling homesick. Being somewhere different, then being on tour with only restaurant food is tiring. We are looking forward to cooking our own food and relaxing a bit. We knew this portion of the trip would be draining as the tours were fast paced and the cultures very different. It was all exciting, but I’m looking forward to being somewhere more familiar. We are starting to wonder how we will do in Asia and if we will get tired there.

We were up at 5:15 am to pack and eat a small breakfast. We were outside ten minutes early and our driver showed up five minutes early. When he arrived he said, “6:00 am” and we said, “Yes, 6:00 Moroccan time” and laughed.

He drove us along the coast and pointed out the fancy hotels and best places for coffee. He was quite chatty on the 50 minute drive to Tanger Med. He offered us a couple of items for free, but we just said no. He was very nice.

At the departures we were pointed in the right direction by random people which was very helpful. We had booked a 9:00 am ferry, but it wasn’t leaving until 9:30 am. It wasn’t busy at all at the port. We went through security and customs and were still two hours early. We sat in the waiting hall. A kitty came in and sat behind us. Danny played with her using his broken phone cord. Every time the cleaning lady appeared the kitty would run back outside. Obviously they had a history.

Danny playing with the kitty at Tanger Med

Around 9:00 am we boarded a bus and were driven to the ferry. We could see large ships being loaded with freight. We sat for a bit inside the ferry and had I napped until we left at 9:30 am. We went outside to say goodbye to Africa. The ferry only took euros so we weren’t able to use the rest of our durhams. We stood at the back of the ferry and I actually had to put my sweater on for the first time in a month.

Saying goodbye to Africa

It was very foggy over Tanger. We started to see Europe and were in the middle of the two continents which was pretty cool. It’s crazy how close they are at that point. There were lots of ships. We docked in Algeciras which was even busier than Tanger. My dad would have loved watching all the ships.

Arrived in Europe

It took awhile to get through customs. We arrived at 11:30 am Moroccan time, but quickly realized that Spain is an hour ahead. This may have been why the taxi driver kept repeating, “6:00 am Moroccan time”. This also meant we might not make it to pick up our rental car before the place closed at 1:00 pm. We tried calling, but there was no answer. At 12:50 pm we started our 15 minute walk to the car rental place. Luckily, we got there and someone had delayed the lady from leaving. We were able to get our car and be on our way.

We followed GoogleMaps to a grocery store, but parked in front of a market. We bought meat and veggies there. I squeezed a fig at one of the booths and was scolded. I ended up buying two because I felt guilty. We messaged our Airbnb host, but weren’t able to check in until 4:30 pm. We drove out to the beach and walked for a bit toward Gibraltar then sat on the beach.

Our host’s daughter met us and we took our things to our room. We had major trouble booking a place near Gibraltar. We were cancelled on twice. We ended up booking a shared place in the Spanish town next to Gibraltar. We usually book the entire place to ourselves because we aren’t very social.

We drove to go into Gibraltar, but ended up in a parking lot. I wasn’t sure where to go and I knew Danny was going to ask so I threw the paper and said, “I can’t do this”. I was just overwhelmed and so overtired. We sat while I calmed down.

We drove to a place to eat, but nothing was open until 7:00 pm. We found one place opening at 6:30 pm so we waited outside for 15 minutes. The staff showed up and we were let in. They were super quick with our food which was awesome. It was delicious Indian food. We drove back to our Airbnb and booked the rest of the places to stay in Spain then went to sleep.

We loved learning about the good and bad of Morocco. The architecture was very beautiful and the food was spectacular. We are excited to be back in Europe to more familiarity. Danny has planned a road trip through Spain to Portugal and then back into Spain to end in Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls.

M

Morocco Part 1

Day 97: June 17, 2018

We woke up at 2:30 am to catch our flight from Cairo to Casablanca. We ate the fruit in our room and leftover buns from the train. I FaceTimed my family who was having a family dinner. It was really nice to see them all and it made me wish that I was there. It was only a short chat as our shuttle to the airport was right there. It was a quick five minute free ride, but we tipped.

We went through the first bag scan. A guy kind of helped us through the first bag scan then expected a tip which we didn’t give. Last night when I checked in I noticed we were business class so we were able to use the separate line to drop our bags. We were given a ticket with “Daniel +1” marked on it for the business lounge. It had Danny’s name even though the tickets were in my name….

Another guy put our tags on our bags then expected a tip which again we didn’t give. We went through another bag scan then got our passport stamps. Next was the actual security check. We went through and walked very timidly to the business lounge. There was a space with couches and a bunch of food at a buffet. I asked how much for the buffet and he said, “All free”. I think my eyes went super wide. There were sandwiches, salads and pastries. Juice, water, soda, coffee and tea. I may have overdone it.

We went to the gate and sat waiting. They called business class and we jumped to the beginning of the line. On the plane, our seats were in the second row, two seats per row and so much leg room. We were given a fancy blanket and pillow then juice while we waited on the runway. We had a bag filled with toiletries and even slippers. Our lunch had a real table cloth and napkin. There was little salt and pepper shakers. Then later we were given free tablets and fancy headphones to watch movies. After a comfy nap we were given some snacks.

I looked up the price for the flight later and the business class was double the price of economy at $600 per seat. When we got off the plane there was lots of room to get your bag down and no one was pushing you. Sometimes on planes you feel like cattle, but business class is different. Seats like this will likely not come to us again so we soaked it in.

We had to wait quite a while in the line for customs, but then our bags were sitting waiting for us. We found our transfer driver. We were told to ask him who he was picking up before telling him our names which he did. We arrived at the hotel and were given tea and cookies as a welcome. We came up to our room and soaked in the wifi.

We went up the street to an ATM and found a grocery store to pick up some snacks. On the way back, we stopped at a cafe. The waitress spoke little English and we speak little French, but we understood there was no meals and only drinks. I had a tea and Danny had a banana juice. Then we shared a dessert. Casablanca felt much calmer than Cairo and more Westernized.

Back at the hotel, we looked into how I will get to Frankfurt from Spain in July. Then we went downstairs for the welcome meeting. We met our CEO, Yassine, and the others. There are lots of people from Canada which is cool.

We went for supper up the road. I had lamb couscous and the flavours in it were really amazing. Danny had seafood pastilla, a phyllo pastry pie. We watched the Switzerland vs. Brazil game of the World Cup and chatted about our travels.

DD31FB0D-5C7C-4A4B-80A0-DCC849458FBB
Lamb couscous

We all walked back together to the hotel. All of sudden behind us we heard a girl scream once then twice. The German girl with us had her bag stolen out of her hands by two guys on a motorcycle. I thought I saw her spin out of the corner of my eye and thought she had been hit. Her and her boyfriend had all of their stuff in it: money, credit cards, passports and her cell phone. They were devastated and rightly so. We all stood in shock not knowing what to do or how to help. It made us all feel sick. We were feeling so safe and even more so in a group, but you never know when something like that could happen. It could have happened back home as well, but it’s much more devastating as a tourist. I wanted to hug them or do something.

We came back to our room still in shock and feeling upset. It was a big reminder to us that we need to be more vigilant. Our passports are currently worth a lot with the visas we have inside. Losing them would ruin a lot of our plans. I’m not sure what I would do if I was them. It’s an awful spot to be in and could easily have happened to any of us.

Day 98: June 18, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel. Lots of carbs, even cookies, then half cooked omelettes. We left Casablanca and drove to Volubilis, a Roman ruin. Along the way we passed many olive and cork trees. Morocco is the third largest producer of cork. There are also lots of truffles growing at the bottom of trees. Dogs are used to sniff them out. The farm land is 70% wheat and barley.

Yassine told us about a book he had read about Moulay Ismail who developed piracy in the Mediterranean in the 17th century. This led to over one million white slaves in Morocco.

For 44 years, Morocco was under French “protection” until their independence in 1956. The current sultan, Mohammed’s family has been ruling since 1666 and is part of the Arab dynasty. He has put in place many social reforms including: women obtaining inheritance rights and the end to underage marriage. As part of the new constitution in 2011, the prime minister is elected rather than appointed. There are 37 political parties in Morocco.

There is a move to privatize the education system. The public schools are overcrowded with 50 students per class. Government officials are given full pensions after a five year term.

The Koran says that drinking alcohol is haram or not allowed (halal means allowed). Morocco is not as religiously strict as other Muslim countries, however, a Muslim won’t be given a receipt if they purchase alcohol. Morocco was the only African Muslim country not invaded by the Ottomans.

We met our guide at Volubilis and he showed us around the 42 hectare site. It was established in the 2nd century AD. The first house we saw was 1,000 square meters and an olive oil merchant lived there. The dining room had a mosaic of Orpheus, the god of music. Fireplaces were built under the baths to provide heating. Another floor mosaic showed Orpheus with a lyre in the tree of life surrounded by African animals.

17351D0F-C987-40B1-8E70-2B173A11B644
Mosaic of Orpheus and the tree of life, Volubilis

The next mosaic was a pool with Neptune in the middle and fish around. The houses had communal toilets where families would sit together. There was also a reconstructed olive press. As we walked, you could see the storks atop the ruins.

E99D49AF-D467-47AE-8972-E32E4D22135B.jpeg
Storks at Volubilis

Next was a temple for Zeus, Hera and Athena with an altar used for animal sacrifice. The basilica hosted the court of justice and was the political centre. There was a mosaic with a man riding a donkey backwards who was a Roman acrobat.

87802B17-E47A-4BCA-9FCE-897C6F748B1E
Mosaic of a Roman acrobat, Volubilis

We saw the washing machine, then an aqueduct that brought spring water mixed with human urine to wash clothes. We saw an atrium with a fountain, a cistern and jacuzzi, then an aquarium.

FB0157BF-987C-491A-AD1F-46A69798F1AB
Jacuzzi, Volubilis

In another house there was a mosaic with twelve Hercules. The ruins were very similar to others we have seen, but I found the expanse of it quite amazing, especially when now it is in the middle of nowhere.

We returned to the bus and stopped for lunch at an association of women that is sponsored by GAdventures. We had tajine for lunch. Tajine is a dish named after the clay pot it is cooked in. I ate way too much, but the chicken was so delicious.

Following lunch, we had an Arabic lesson. We were taught that their language has only consonants and no vowels. She showed us how to spell our names. Sounds in my name don’t exist in Arabic, but below are the closest Arabic sounds. It was definitely the highlight of the day.

12781F5F-4D52-4EFB-8DC8-340B0ABAD056
Kind of my name in Arabic

We drove into Fez and relaxed for a bit. We had a drink in the bar, but it was too smoky. Smoking was outlawed inside in Morocco in 1996, but no one enforces it. We came back to the room and went to bed. We were so full from lunch that we skipped supper.

Day 99: June 19, 2018

We were able to sleep in this morning and had breakfast at 8:00 am. The buffet breakfasts mean that I eat way too much. We got onto the bus and drove to the Jewish part of Fez called the mellah. Our first stop was Dar al-Makhzen, the Royal Palace built in the 14th century. It shows the Moorish influence in Morocco. Jews that came from Spain brought Moorish life including tile work.

F2F01186-8B78-4F29-A5A6-8EB9A62B0659
Dar al-Makhzen, Fez

Fez was founded in 808 AD by a descendant of the prophet Mohammed. We drove up to a fort and were able to look out at the Fez Medina. We were told of the oldest university founded by Fatima al-Fihri in 859 AD.

4B8E004B-E134-416F-A90E-47C10FD7EB69.jpeg
Panoramic view of Fez

We visited a place where they make pottery. We saw how they mixed the clay, molded it, placed it in the kiln, painted it and then sauldered on decoration. The paint colour changes when fired. I bought a vase that will take up way too much room in my bag.

22603035-EB77-4939-A5F0-F15B0CA00F20
Woman painting pottery, Fez

We entered the Medina through the food section which is closest to the gates for bringing the food inside. Inside we saw a large camel head which showed where you could buy camel meat. We visited a mausoleum for Idris II, the founder of Fez, which was quite beautiful inside.

Mausoleum of Idris II, Fez

We stopped for lunch nearby. There were Moroccan salads and I had lamb which was very yummy. For dessert there was watermelon and another delicious melon.

After lunch we went to a place where they weave fabrics and saw a large loom at work. They use agave silk made from the agave plant. The people at the shop kept trying to sell us things, but we weren’t interested.

Next we visited Chouara Tannery, which is almost one thousand years old. We were given sprigs of mint to offset the smell of the tannery. They call the smell Chanel No. 5. It wasn’t as bad as I expected. In the tannery, they use pigeon poop collected by the locals. It has ammonia in it to break down the hides. The red colour is from poppy, the blue from indigo, the yellow from saffron, the orange from henna, the brown from cedar wood and the green from mint. There were tons of shops selling leather products.

Chouara Tannery, Fez

After, we headed back to the bus. It was getting quite hot. We got back to the hotel and went to the massages we had booked. I had to get naked right in front of the masseuse then put on a little cloth thong. It was a very oily massage and the stones were very hot.

After our massages, Danny went up to the room and I went downstairs for my hammam. A hammam is a public bath. Naked again, I got into the steam room. It wasn’t crippingly hot, but I was pouring sweat. The lady came and took me to a marble seat outside. She shampooed my hair while I sat there. It made me feel like a princess. Next she took me over to a marble bed and exfoliated me with a mitt. Then she massaged with some soap. The other lady was done with her client so also came over and soaped me. She was moving over my stomach and said, “Bebe.” And I said, “No, I hope not.” It might have just been a food baby from the big lunch. Next they rinsed me off then I got into the jacuzzi. She came over and put her hand out in a claw shape so I did that with my hand. She started laughing. Finally I understood that I was supposed to sink more in the water then the jets hit my back. She massaged my feet for a bit. It was like being cared for by your mom when you were a child.

Next I got out and sat on the seat again. She applied a scrub then rinsed me off. I was able to have a shower then she brought over a towel and robe. I was told to sit and relax. Eventually I got dressed and went back to the room much more relaxed.

We went for supper to a cafe with the group to watch the Egypt vs. Russian World Cup game. We had Moroccan salad and a cheese crepe. We walked back to the hotel and packed up to leave tomorrow.

Day 100: June 20, 2018

Early morning. Up at 5:30 am to leave at 7:00 am. I tried not to indulge so much at breakfast, but I mean pancakes! We had a 10 hour drive to the Sahara. We drove through the Atlas Mountains and stopped in a town ranked the second cleanest in the world.

Further on, we stopped on the side of the road in the mountains to see a Berber family. There are 16,000 people living as nomads in the mountains. The mountains are dominated by the Berbers, who are non-Arab speaking people. This was a term used by the French to describe barbarians. The correct word is Amazigh. They dominate Northern Africa and typically have lighter skin. It is believed that they emigrated from Europe. In 2012, their language was recognized as an official language of Morocco. Although, people still cannot name their children Berber names.

Home of a Berber family, Atlas Mountains

The family we visited consisted of ten people. As we walked up the lady said to Yassine in Berber, “I haven’t seen you in awhile”. It is interesting the relationships that tour guides build. Yassine told us that not all GAdventures tour guides stop there.

The family works for a farmer to take care of the sheep. They are paid 5%. They spend half the year in the mountains then move to the lowlands in the winter. We saw their home that is heated with propane and wood. They are only allowed to cut trees at certain times of the year. They had a solar panel to provide light inside. We saw their oven outside where they make 5-6 loaves a bread a day.

Berber woman making bread, Atlas Mountains

We had bought groceries for a picnic lunch the day before. We had dried bread with cheese, tomato and cucumber. The Morocco vs. Portugal World Cup game was on in the restaurant and it was packed with locals.

We continued driving and stopped to look at an oasis of date palm trees in the dessert. There are 350 different types of dates with 18 varieties found in Morocco.

Date palm oasis, Morocco

We continued our drive to the Sahara. Then drove off the main road to a hotel right on the edge of some dunes. There was a locker room where we left our stuff. We went for a swim in the pool which was very refreshing in 36 degree heat. We changed to get ready for our camel ride into the desert at 6:30 pm. We only took small day packs.

Camel in the Sahara

The sun was still out, but it wasn’t as hot as I was expecting. We received a lesson on how to tie our scarves around our heads. My camel was quite uncomfortable as I kept sliding to the right. We road about 1.25 hours into the desert to a small camp. The dunes reminded me of Namibia and you couldn’t take a bad picture of them.

Danny riding a camel in the Sahara

We arrived and were super sore from sitting for so long. My back hurt as well. As we walked into the camp, Yassine told us to climb the dune behind the camp to watch the sunset. Danny went straight up the hill which was the hard way as the sand kept slipping. We reached the top of a small dune and I was dead. Danny kept going, but I sat there resting with some others. Yassine yelled for us to go higher. So I climbed up a bit more. Everyone else stopped, but by then I was determined to make it to the top. After every ten steps I had to stop because my legs were killing me. For every two steps you take you slide back half a step in the sand. When I reached the top I was parched so Danny came over with water and I finished the climb. We sat with the German couple and watched the sun go down.

Sunset in the Sahara

We climbed back down to everyone else then back to our camp. There were olives and nuts to snack on. We brought out our wine as well. We sat chatting with the group until the food came out. There was bread and beef tajine (beef, potatoes, carrots and zucchini). It was very tasty. Our hosts brought out some drums and played some songs while we danced. Danny even tried the drums for a bit.

Danny trying out the drums

We tried some free styling as a group which was pretty fun. At around midnight we got our mattresses and pulled them out to the sand. We laid down and fell asleep under the stars.

Day 101: June 21, 2018

I actually got a bit chilly during the night so I was glad that Danny had brought out two blankets. We had gone to sleep with none.

Our bed in the Sahara

I was up at 6:00 am and climbed a smaller dune to watch the sun come up. It was very peaceful. Danny came up then some others and we watched the sunrise.

Sunrise in the Sahara

Back in camp I did some yoga to prepare for the camel ride back and we were given some tea. We hopped back on the camels at 7:00 am and returned to the hotel.

Camels are very photogenic

Danny was not feeling well on the camel on the way back. When we arrived he puked everything up. We had some breakfast in the hotel and then showered. Danny was still not feeling well.

We drove about 30 minutes on the bus and Danny puked into a bag. Then we pulled over not too long after and another guy had to puke. Danny sat with his head between his legs for the rest of the drive.

We arrived in Todra at our hotel. Quite a few people weren’t feeling well. We are thinking it may have been a bit of heat stroke. Danny stayed in the room and I brought him up some rice. We had an omlette cooked in a tajine with bread and melon for dessert. It was very tasty.

Sick Danny

We had some free time so I called my parents. At 5:30 pm we left for a walk through an oasis where local farmers grow crops. Danny stayed and napped. The oasis is 40 km long. We saw many date palm trees. Many were burned to kill the insects that destroy the trees. They hand pollinate the trees in March and April then hand pick the dates. They obtain 60-80 kilos of dates per tree.

Date palm trees, Todra

We saw their irrigation channels which use spring water.

Irrigation channels, Todra

They had many alfalfa crops that are used to feed their animals. They change the crops based on the four seasons. They were just starting tomatoes and carrots. Stones were used to separate the field between families. There were olive, almond, walnut, fig, pomegranate and apricot trees along our walk. The root of the walnut tree is used to clean teeth. We passed some houses that were abandoned 30 years ago.

Abandoned houses, Todra

We also saw some donkeys and egrets. The farmers grow the food for self consumption.

Donkey, Todra

The area we walked through was just a huge garden. With all the trees, it was quite cool. I wanted to stay there and keep walking around. It felt very peaceful.

Farmer’s crops, Todra

Our bus met us and we thanked the farmer for the tour. We drove to Todra Gorge which is 25 km long. We walked along the narrowest portion for about 10 minutes. Parts of the gorge are 4 km wide. There is lots of rock climbing to be done there. A river runs at the base and many family and friends were there enjoying a meal along the river bank.

Todra Gorge

Back at the hotel, Danny was feeling a bit better, but tired and feverish. I went down for supper and the waiter brought Danny’s up to the room for him. We chatted at supper and when I came back up, Danny was asleep. Now bed time for me.

Our camel ride through the Sahara and night under the stars was definitely a highlight of our trip through Morocco so far. We are excited to see what else Morocco has to offer.

M

Egypt Part 2

Day 94: June 14, 2018

The sun and the noise in the kitchen woke us up around 5:30 am. I had a really good sleep, although I did wake up once slightly cold and the blankets were too far away. I cuddled into Danny and fell back to sleep.

We had breakfast on the support boat of our felukkas: fried eggs, buns with cheese spread and fig jam and yogurt. We packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the felukkas. The support boat took us across the Nile to a bus that was waiting. Sem Sem told us the bad news that his cousin had passed away that evening and he was working on getting back to Cairo. Funerals in their culture happen right away. He was arranging a different guide to meet us to take over.

We drove 45 minutes to Kom Ombo Temple. The people of the area had two gods, Sobek and Horus. Sobek is the god of fertility and water. He had the head of the crocodile. The people of the area decided they didn’t like him as their god so they switched to only Horus. The offerings to Horus were flowers and fruit. The Sobek priests weren’t happy and decided to have a battle. The temple of Horus ended up being destroyed. It was then decided no more agriculture for Horus, only mining for Sobek. The Supreme God then came and asked why the people weren’t using their fertile land. He told them the solution was to split the temple in half and Kom Ombo Temple was created

Kom Ombo temple was a daily life temple. It was built during the Ptolemaic dynasty (180-47 BC). The columns were damaged by age and floods. The engraving at the front of the temple shows King Ptolemy VI being perfumed by Horus at Thoth with drops of life and prosperity.

62C3D023-4253-4947-84D7-762EA1410E74
Front of Kom Ombo Temple

An inside engraving shows the goddess of war, Sekmet, who has a lioness head (lioness’ are better hunters and more aggressive).

79864B5C-67E2-4FAC-B573-C3A27B4404EC
Engraving showing Sekmet

There was an engraving of three lions showing the three season: inundation, plantation and harvest. To the left of that there are the different days of the year listed with the ritual that must be performed on that day.

5AD9B6FB-01AC-49D2-9CAB-9C88D63E7BB2
Engraving showing three season and daily rituals

In the below engraving, the woman with a chair over her head is Isis. There is a birthing chair beneath her. She is showing the ideal position for birth.

7A54ECEE-C450-4995-9C97-EBFE9AC26EB5
Engraving with Isis near the middle

Next there was an engraving showing the first documentation of medical tools: glass flasks (for cupping), papyrus, scissors (for Caesareans), needles, spoons, tweezers, scale, hooks, thick needles (used to kill nerves after surgeries to stop the pain) and saws (to cut bones during surgery).

841CA73E-FC32-4AF0-B090-DF6881CD7B85
First documentation of medical tools

There was a hole with a spiral staircase which was a nilometer to measure the height of the flood. We all walked around for a bit taking pictures. Then walked through the crocodile museum with mummified crocodiles.

2E109BAA-E6F0-4860-A306-C350805145C9
Inside Kom Ombo Temple

Back in the bus for a 3.5 hour drive to Luxor. We arrived and ordered food in the restaurant hotel then went to our rooms. I ordered a steak sandwich, but it was a hot dog bun with minced beef and mustard. Danny ate most of it.

Danny started a game of chess and I FaceTimed my mommy. At 2:30 pm we met to go to Karnak Temple. We met our new guide, Albert. We gave Sem Sem hugs good bye and he caught a taxi back to Cairo.

Albert told us how Luxor was the ancient city of Thebes and the capital of Egypt from 1550-1050 BC. Luxor means palaces as the people who arrived thought the temples were palaces. There is an avenue of sphinx connecting Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple. The avenue was excavated from 2008-2010 as it used to be covered by houses.

Avenue of Spinx

We arrived at Karnak Temple and Albert showed us a diorama to give an overview of the whole site. The gates were made of sandstone and the connecting walls were made of mud. Each king added to the temple. The first building was in 3500 BC. The Temple of Ramses is from the 11th century BC. There are many images of Amun who was the god of Luxor. He is depicted as a ram headed man or a man with two feathers on his head. The sphinx that lead into the temple had ram heads. Mut, the wife of Amun, is also shown inside.

DA366A0F-D07E-4959-BE4B-980F69F0981F
Entry to Karnak Temple

In the Great Hypostyle Hall there are 134 columns representing the papyrus flower. It was build by King Seti I (1313-1292 BC) and completed by his son King Ramses II (1292-1225 BC).

10B74FB2-30E1-4EE6-9873-548E3BA59649
Great Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple

A smaller obelisk inside was from 1500 BC and was built by Thutmosis. The larger obelisk was built by Hateshepsut. It is the largest in the world at 30 m. The granite for the obelisk was transported from Aswan along the Nile. They placed it on a barge on land then waited for the flood.

A08E049C-1FE5-4A01-BBFF-E6CDE49095F0
Hatshepsut’s Obelisk

A smaller temple within Karnak is for Ramses III. His statue shows his foot forward depicting an live king. The statue with arms crossed is Ramses II. The double crown is for the north and south. Between the legs is a statue of his daughter.

51D3A5D7-670B-43AF-89F4-DBFE12775AB8
Statue of Ramses II

Merenptah succeeded Ramses II. He was the 14th son. The first 13 sons died during the king’s life. A statue by Ramses II shows Amun and Mut, the god of Luxor and his wife.C6E71551-00A1-4735-8053-FE65A646C797We were shown the names of the kings indicated by birth and coronation names. The disc and duck means sa rah or son of rah.

3C4AF180-3208-4DCD-B313-CF8620F35FA8
Column showing a king’s name

There are pictures of the great warrior king, Thutmosis III, smiting his enemies in front of Amun. On another relief there is a list of cities that Thutmosis III conquered.

DCC182BC-9EE4-46CA-A1A2-D5004CEE4590
Thutmosis III

We saw the altar where wooden doors were opened in the morning and offerings were given. No human sacrifices occurred in Ancient Egypt.

In another location figures of Hatshepsut were erased by Thutmosis III, her stepson. Everything used to be coloured, but only some remains.

804CC24B-635A-41AC-A498-50175DD6F146
Engraving with Hatshepsut removed

The extent of Karnak Temple was incredible. Around thirty pharaohs built on to the temple.

We came back to the hotel for a bit and chilled before heading for supper up the road. Danny had a camel burger for supper and I had a stuffed pigeon. The pigeon did not have much meat on it and was stuffed with basic rice. I would not suggest it to anyone. It was nice sitting and chatting with everyone.

After supper some of us went to an ATM with Albert. Danny and my cards didn’t work so we all walked to a different one. We were getting very sweaty on the walk. Our card finally worked at the third ATM. On the way back to the hotel, we squeezed into one of the public transport vans which was pretty exciting.

We got back to the hotel and Danny finished his chess game. He returned victorious and we went to sleep.

Day 95: June 15, 2018

We woke up at 5:30 am and had breakfast in the hotel. There were actual omelettes and other things, although the omelettes weren’t cooked through. We left for the Valley of the Kings around 6:30 am. It is the location of many tombs of kings mostly from the New Kingdom period (13th-2nd century BC) of Egypt. The king would start building a tomb and a temple at their coronation and construction would end at their death. There are 62 discovered and numbered tombs in the valley. Between 2005-2018, two more tombs were found that have not yet been numbered. There are presumed to be many more tombs yet to be discovered.

In the period before the pyramids, kings were buried in the sand in the position of a fetus. Then mud brick benches on top of a burial bed called a mustaba were used. The 3rd dynasty was the first royal tomb. It started as a mustaba, but stone was used instead of mud brick. Six mustabas were built on top of one another to form a stepped pyramid. In the 4th dynasty, Khufu, built the Great Pyramid.

In the New Kingdom, it was decided that pyramids were too visible so hidden tombs were created in the Valley of the Kings. It had a natural pyramid to point them to heaven. The entrances to the tombs were blocked by stones and covered by sand. The belief that workers were killed after the tomb was finished was not true. There was a worker’s village found 4 km south.

42E8C7A5-11BB-4E4B-A4AF-AAD4932AA139
Valley of the Kings

Funeral temples were built near the Nile, however, most were destroyed because they were on the flood plan. The Valley of the Queens is 5 km south.

Reliefs inside the tombs date to the New Kingdom. They show the journey to the afterlife. Lots of images show boats which were the way to the afterlife. It was believed that the sun crosses the sky by a boat as well.

The journey to the afterlife was not easy. There were twelve sections for the twelve hours of night. Many enemies would try to stop your journey. The form of a snake would guard every section and you needed a password to pass.

3FB65729-2F3C-4034-8459-62C96546E764
Inside a tomb (Photo courtesy of Qingxia Liang)

There were also depictions of the sky goddess, Nut. She bends to rest her hands on earth and swallows the sun.

05C9503B-00A6-4654-AC51-91914B3A53F2.jpeg
Depiction of Nut on a ceiling of a tomb (Photo courtesy of Qingxia Liang)

The tombs were guarded day and night and the work was completed secretly. They depended on silver mirrors to get light into the tombs and burned sesame oil for light. All the tombs we saw were over 80 m in length.

All of the tombs were robbed except for King Tut’s. The first robbery occurred during the New Kingdom. The second robbery occurred at the end of the Ramses period. In the 4th century AD, coptic monks hid inside the tombs to avoid persecution by the Christians. They left some inscriptions on the walls.

We visited the tombs of Merenptah, Tutankamun, Ramses VI, Ramses IX and Ramses IV. They were all different sizes. It was incredible how the walls were filled with pictures and hieroglyphics everywhere. There were so many colours remaining on the images.

F0191F86-D56D-45A6-BB5D-CEC7CBD5D92E
Inside a tomb (Photo courtesy of Qingxia Liang)

King Tutankhamun (Tut) died when he was 18 years old. His was the only intact tomb. It was found in 1992 by accident. It had been hidden underneath Ramses VI’s tomb. Tut’s tomb was the most interesting because the relief behind the tomb was very bright. His mummy was also in the tomb. It was a very small tomb, but well preserved. We paid 80 EGP extra to go in his tomb. The guy inside was actually helpful as well and pointed out different things and described them. Other guys in the tourist spots point things out to take pictures of and then expect a tip.

We all went in the tombs as a group as only one of us bought a photo ticket. She was kind enough to share her pictures. It was interesting that we all stuck together. Usually, we just want to go off and be by ourselves. We aren’t sure if we have really been missing the socialization or we really like the group, probably both.

We left Karnak and went to the other side of the desert mountain where the Temple of Hatshepsut was located. She ascended to the throne as regent when her husband died. When it came time to hand the throne to her husband’s son, Thutmosis III, she created a story with a priest that she was the daughter of the god Amun. She ruled for 20 years. She had depicted herself in the form of a man with a false beard. It is unknown what happened to her. Thutmosis III destroyed many of her figures after he came to power.

0E9D21D1-C8AB-4769-B95F-22E0FD0B86FD
Temple of Hatshepsut

The Temple of Hatshepsut was built in 1480 BC. There was a temple beside it that was 500 years older, but it is now in ruins. Hatshepsut completed an expedition to Punt (modern day Somalia) and brought palm trees back to place in front of her temple.

In front of every pillar was a statue of Hatshepsut. There were plans to link the temple to her tomb in the Valley of the Kings by a tunnel through the mountain. She died before it was started.

E7430733-08EC-40E6-A308-CA7AFB7ECC7B
Statue of Hatshepsut

It was boiling hot there and there wasn’t much shade. The workers there making sure you didn’t touch anything would lift the ropes so you could see a room that was ribboned off. They would expect a tip though. This got pretty annoying because they would keep asking. We just wanted to see the temple.

A9918E09-155D-4774-B3C6-F80ADFDF9359
Image in a side temple at Hatshepsut Temple

On the way back, we saw the Colossi of Memnon which were statues for Amunhotep III. They were huge, 18 m in height and weighing approximately 720 tons each.

2BD3CA5E-C9BC-4E4E-AF26-F9FCFE489424
Colossi of Memnon

We drove back to Luxor and went to an Irish pub for lunch. It took an hour and a half to get food, but we were used to that from our last couple of trips. I had fish and chips which was really good. We played a game of pool while the Egypt vs. Ecuador World Cup game was on.

We had cake to celebrate one guy’s birthday. They played Happy Birthday in the restaurant over the speakers and we sang along.

After lunch we went back to the hotel. We said goodbye to one of our new friends who was leaving early. We went up to the pool and got in a game of chicken. Then we tossed the frisbee for a bit and played piggy in the middle. After a week together we were very comfortable jumping on each other to win the disc. We sat and chatted for a bit then went to shower.

At 6:30 pm we walked down the street to Luxor Temple. It was constructed around 1400 BC. The sun was just going down and the lights were shining on the temple. It was incredible. It was also the feast day of Ramadan so tons of locals were visiting the temple.

0D5BD85D-1B8B-4DF6-A091-4B7ECA0292CD
Luxor Temple

Danny saw a couple of young guys looking at him with their phones out and so he said, “Do you want me to take a picture of you?”. They kind of understood picture so nodded. Danny then took their phone and took a picture of the group of boys. They shook their heads no. I then said, “Danny, they want a picture with you.” He then pointed at himself and they nodded yes. So Danny took a selfie with them. Another boy came up to another guy on our tour and wanted a selfie. There was then a group of young guys around waiting for a selfie with him. Danny missed his opportunity at fame and the other guy really embraced it.

Danny had a few more selfies and I joined in to a couple. They never asked us girls, maybe because it would be inappropriate in their culture. We think they were amazed at seeing white people. With the revolution only seven years ago and the decline in tourism they may not have seen white people before. They also could have been from the villages and were only in town for the festival.

B0935D57-DA9F-4A8C-B7D4-9825E13F8D3C
Danny feeling famous

The temple was quite large and so beautiful at night. The statues lit up were amazing.

5DCEE224-63C8-437B-9C20-F89171872788
Statue outside Luxor Temple

We entered the courtyard and a boy, about 16 years old, came up and asked a girl in our group, “What is your name?” She replied and then he asked, “Where are you from?” She replied, “Canada”. He then said “Thank you,” and walked away with his family. His mom smiled back at us. I realized after that those are the basic phrases you learn in a new language and he was likely testing his English which was really cool. There was no one trying to sell you anything in the temple. There was just locals visiting which made it feel very calm and safe. This was perhaps my favourite experience in Egypt.98FE32BA-AEB9-45E0-A73D-6C62B4BE54B3We exited the temple and walked over to some carnival rides. There was a guy standing on a swing and he was almost looping around. Quite a few teenagers were staring at us and some cops came by and shooed them away. We felt a bit bad so we left and walked over to the market. The market was a bit exhausting. I stopped at the pharmacy for some feminine hygiene products. I got some pads for 20 EGP ($1.50). I asked for tampons, but they were 100 EGP ($7.50 CAD).

We went to the same restaurant as the night before. Danny and I shared chicken tajine. We went back to the hotel after and got our bags ready to catch our over night train to Cairo.

At the train station we sat chatting with the others. Danny and another guy played a game of chess. We boarded the train around 11:00 pm. We were given a supper of chicken fingers and fries then they made our seats into beds. We went to bed right away as we had a very long and eventful day.

Day 96: June 16, 2018

I slept very well on the train this time. I had my ear plugs and face mask which probably helped. I woke up at 5:30 am and read while Danny slept some more. We had breakfast around 7:30 am. Lots of bread.

We stood in the hallway chatting with the others. We arrived in Cairo around 9:30 am. Our guide, Albert, made sure everyone got taxis and we hugged everyone goodbye. We stuffed into a taxi with Albert and two of the other girls. The driver had to strap his trunk closed. We sat three to the back and three to the front.

We arrived at our original hotel in Cairo. Danny took out cash and I stored our bags. The girls were asking about the train to Alexandria so Albert offered to help them get there and get their tickets. We all hopped in a taxi again and they dropped us off at the Egyptian Museum on the way to the main train station.

We bought tickets to enter the museum and mummy room and another ticket to take pictures inside. The museum had a lot of stuff we felt like we had already seen, but it was interesting reading what things were as we could piece together who the different people were.

Exploring the Egyptian Museum

The mummy room had about twelve mummies of kings we had heard about the whole trip. It was very creepy seeing the mummies. I asked Danny how he would feel having his body displayed 3,000 years later. We both agreed we wouldn’t want that. Regardless, it was very interesting to see how well preserved they were after 3,000 years. There were hair and eyebrows on some.

On the second floor of the museum we went very quickly. We saw the room with King Tut’s treasures including his gold mask.

We left the museum and a guy right outside asked if we wanted a cab. He said, “100 EGP”. We said, “40.” He said “80” then we said “40”. He said, “No, ” so we walked out to the Main Street. Another guy came up and we said where we were going and he wasn’t sure where it was so asked a friend. He then said, “50 EGP, ” so we agreed as we had paid that to get there.

As we were driving the driver said, “50 for you and 50 for you.” Danny said, “No, 50 for both.” The driver replied, “No, 50 each.” Danny then said, “Okay, then we are getting out and started to open the door. The driver said, “Okay. Okay, 50 each. 20 for parking.” Danny said, “No,” and opened the door again. The driver then said, “Okay, 50”.

He dropped us on the main street rather than in front of the hotel, but we didn’t complain. We bought some water on the walk back then had lunch in the hotel. I had fattoush salad and samosa. It was really good.

We enjoyed the wifi then got our bags. We called an Uber to take us to our hotel near the airport. The Uber was way easier and way less hassle. We only paid 60 EGP to get 30 minutes. On the drive we saw a family packed into a car: three kids in the trunk with their legs hanging out. Danny asked if we could ride like that and the driver laughed and said, “No, they’re crazy.”

Cairo traffic

We arrived at the hotel and checked in. It was a fancier place which was nice although there was smoking on our floor. We were too late to have our laundry done and the prices were insane anyways: 30 EGP for one shirt. We got out our laundry soap and filled the sink. Hopefully our clothes will dry by the time we leave. We didn’t have a balcony so we had to lie the clothes near the window to get some sun.

We enjoyed the wifi and I FaceTimed my parents and posted a bunch of things to FaceBook. I had a shower to rinse off the train and sweat. The hotel we stayed in had a couple of restaurants and a casino. We went to an Italian restaurant and had pizza. I also had a strawberry juice which have been really good here, basically puréed strawberry. We went back to the room and Danny called his parents. We went to bed right after knowing we had to wake up super early for our flight.

We have learned so much history in Egypt. There was so much I didn’t know and I had so many false ideas. I loved visiting all the temples and tombs. They were amazing. I was glad that we did a tour because our guides provided so much information and it also made me feel much safer to be with a group. I never felt unsafe in Egypt, but there were lots of times I felt uncomfortable. The markets were definitely not somewhere we wanted to spend a lot of time. Tomorrow morning we fly to Casablanca for our next GAdventures tour in Morocco. We are excited to see what awaits.

M

Egypt Part 1

Day 89: June 9, 2018

Up at 5:00 am for our flight. Luckily our clothes were mostly all dry from washing them the night before. We drove fifteen minutes to the airport and dropped off the rental car. We dropped our bags and went through security. Some of the check-in desks had huge lines. I wonder if they were tour groups with all the people dropped off at once.

On our flight to Athens we received cookies and a drink. I like to highlight this since it is rare to receive anything nowadays on a flight. The flights with Aegean were not super cheap though so maybe we paid a lot for those cookies and a drink.

In Athens we grabbed our bags, but had to wait an hour to check in. I went up to McDonald’s hoping to get an English breakfast tea, but it was just a regular tea. We checked in and went through security. I did some yoga on the other side. I remember watching a girl doing yoga in the airport when we were in China and thinking she looked funny. People probably thought the same about me. When you are travelling you stretch wherever.

We ate at a pub and Danny had lasagna while I had a stuffed pepper/tomato. Neither were amazing. On our EgyptAir flight we received an unexpected lunch and beverage. It was only about a two hour flight.

We arrived in Cairo and right before immigration there was a man with a board with our names. He checked our landing cards and e-visas. We stood in line and he said that it was usually much busier. We got through no problem and collected our bags. We would have been able to get through the airport quite easily by ourselves, but were worried about bartering for a taxi.

We met our driver and our transfer guy explained some things about Cairo to us. Our hotel was located in Giza, on the opposite side of the Nile from Cairo. People living in Giza still say that they live in Cairo. The population of Cairo is 20 million. The population of Egypt is 100 million.

We drove about 25 minutes to our hotel. We checked in and were taken to our room. This culture is already much different than Greece. It is a tipping culture so we tipped the driver and the bell hop. We were told later that in Cairo, a hotel concierge would make about 160 USD/month.

In the hotel room we discussed how we were super excited about actually being in Egypt. It is somewhere I had always seen in pictures, but never actually even dreamed I would be. We chilled for a bit then asked the front desk where we could find water. They replied that they could send some up. We also asked about an ATM and they said there was one on the next street.

Before we went out I wasn’t sure if I should be wearing a head scarf or not. I had read that it’s polite to wear one, but we saw lots of women around Cairo without. I put one over my head and we went out.

We weren’t sure what “next street” meant so we walked up the road a bit. Everyone we asked along them kept pointing us further up. At a gas station they pointed across the street to a large bank building. We crossed the street at the cross walk. It was very similar to crossing the street in Nepal. You walk lane by lane behind a vehicle and hope you don’t get hit.

In front of the bank we noticed a man following us. We were looking for the bank’s ATM and he started chatting to us, asking where we were from. We were vague in our answers. We said we were going to the ATM, to which he replied, “This one isn’t an international ATM. I’ll show you where one is.” He was friendly and showed us an ATM, a market and a cheap place to eat. Then, what we were waiting for, he showed us to his shop. He explained that the paintings in his shop are on papyrus and how you would pay 40 USD for one at the Great Pyramids. From him, they would only be 10 USD. His friend brought us tea which was very tasty. We flipped through trying not to be rude. He made us pick out the ones we liked. In retrospect, I was too off guard. Danny was on guard and turning him down. He said a price for the four that I had picked out as the best. Danny said, “We only want one”. He then said, “Okay, two for 450 EGP”, and Danny said, “No, just the one.” We agreed to 250 EGP for one and Danny gave him 300 EGP and waited for 50 EGP in change, but he said he didn’t have change. The man said, “Two for 300 EGP”. Danny said, “No.” The man called his friend over to get the 50 EGP change. He opened his wallet and said, “I don’t have 50 EGP”. I said, “Just forget it. 300 EGP for two”. I don’t like the arguing and was worried it would escalate. Danny was upset because we were being taken advantage. It is frustrating when you think someone is just being nice, but they’re really just trying to sell you something. The 300 EGP equates to about 20 CAD so we did get ripped off a bit.

As we were leaving, the man’s friend brought out perfumes for us to buy. They were actually nice smelling, but we said no and walked out. We picked up some money at the ATM then walked back to the hotel.

At 6:00 pm we met our GAdventures group and our CEO, Sem Sem, in the hotel restaurant. The CEO is what GAdventures calls the tour leader. The group has a total of thirteen people: two other Canadian girls, a couple for New Zealand, an Australian guy, two British guys, a South Korean guy, a Chinese girl, a Danish girl and a German girl. The smaller group seems like it will be nice.

Sem Sem told us a couple of things about Egypt. About 90% of the population is Muslim. The country is not governed by Sharia law which takes its laws from the Quran. Egypt is a democracy.

In 2010, there were 17 million tourists that visited Egypt. In 2017, there were 3 million tourists which was the highest number since the revolution. I had read about the huge decline of tourists visiting the Pyramids and the article I read said the time to go to Egypt was now.

We were told about the additional sites we could see so that we could take out more cash for them. The tour was called “Egypt on a Shoestring” so it’s more bare bones and then you pay for any additional sites you want to see. It’s nice to have the option to make it cheaper, but you usually want to do all the add-ones anyways.

We ordered supper and then a couple of us went up the street to an ATM. The Canadians cards didn’t work on it. We went back to the hotel, thinking our food would be ready, but it took a lot more time. We had baked chicken and fries. I had a guava juice which was more like guava purée.

After supper, our guide said he would take the Canadians to another ATM. We had to take out 2,000 EGP four times to get enough. It was nice chatting with the other Canadians. Our humour is the same and it is easier to find things to talk about. We went back to our rooms and went to bed.

Day 90: June 10, 2018

Breakfast in the hotel and then we hopped on the bus. We drove about 15 minutes to the Pyramids of Giza. On the edge of the city before the Pyramids were a bunch of half-built brick buildings. They were put up after many homes were destroyed in an earthquake in 1992. Most of the exteriors were only half built so that the residents would only need to pay half of the taxes. Many people from villages around Cairo will rent a room in the buildings while they are working in Cairo. They will only have the necessities: a mattress and small stove.

As we were driving up to the Pyramids of Giza I got super excited. My heart rate went up and I was bouncing. The Pyramids were something you only saw in pictures; I never thought I would actually see them.

There are 117 pyramids in Egypt. The shape of the pyramid was to take people to the after life, pointing to the heavens. Ancient Egyptians believed you would live the same life you lead on Earth in the after life, but the after life had no end.

The Pyramids were tombs for one person: a king or a queen. The first person to write about the Pyramids was a Greek in the 4th century BC. He described them as being very white with carvings and inscriptions everywhere.

The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and last of the ancient wonders of the world. The largest pyramid was built by Pharaoh Khufu in 2500 BC. It was initially 146 m in height, but lost a 9 m solid gold pyramid cap. Gold was used as it represents something as divine as Ra. Ra, god of the sun, had his body made of gold. There was nothing taller than the Great Pyramid for 4,000 years.

0D00C1D9-FB68-48CB-979E-A57CFB3E1F1C
Merai standing on the Great Pyramid

More than 10,000 workers would have helped to build it. Workers tombs were found nearby with their names listed. Their names include the names of Egyptian Gods showing that the workers were Egyptians. They also found a half squashed worker that was mummified. This shows that the workers were not slaves as the Pharaoh cared enough about the workers to entomb and mummify them.

The Great Pyramid consisted of 2.3 million blocks, each with an average weight of 2.5 tons. The burial chamber ceiling had blocks exceeding 20 tons. There are many different theories on how the Pyramids were built. The one theory that our guide thinks is the best is the use of straight ramps for the base, then spiral ramps for the roof.

The main entrance was below the triangle in the below picture. A giant piece of granite was in the hole so if a tomb raider tried to jump inside they would hit their head. We were able to climb through a different entrance that was created by tomb raiders. We climbed up along planks to reach the tomb. It was only a dark room (about 10 m x 5 m), but you could see where the body would have laid. The climb up was very hot. We were quite sweaty by the time we got out.

76616AAB-2E1E-40D5-9A78-63ACEFF58AC1
Danny outside the Great Pyramid

We took some pictures outside. There were a couple of other tour groups there, but it wasn’t too busy.

We drove up to a viewpoint where you could see all three large pyramids. The second largest was built by and for Khufu’s son: Pharaoh Khafre. His pyramid was smaller to not overshadow his father’s, but it was built on higher ground. The third pyramid was built by and for Khufu’s grandson: Pharaoh Menkaure. There were also smaller pyramids around the area for the queens. Some people on our group took a camel ride back to the third pyramid. We took the bus back and took some more pictures. Sem Sem told us when he was a kid you could climb all the way up the Pyramids.

25F318AF-ED8A-4EC7-9F1D-BBF37484C8A0
Pyramids!

We moved on to the Valley Temple which was used for ceremonies. It was the first building made of granite. The granite was brought from Aswan and cut using a chisel and hammer made of hematite. Wood would then be put between the cuts and water added. The water would expand and crack the rock. The quarry would be connected to the Nile river using canals to bring the granite to Cairo.

Purification was the first ritual completed after death. Lotus flower oils, representing love and eternity, would be rubbed over the body. Almond oil would be rubbed on the palms to make soft hands for greeting the other Gods in the after life.

Mummification would then take place. A 12 cm cut to the left abdomen would be used to take out the liver, lungs, stomach and intestine. They would be mummified separately to prevent the body from rotting. A crack would be made at the back of the skull and the brain would be pushed until it rested against the forehead. The eyes would roll back until only the white would show. The nose would be broken, then cleaned and the brain pulled out through the nostrils. The body was covered with layers of resin and linen. The resin caused the linen to be black; mummy means black. Later they learned to bleach the linen white. The mummies teeth were so white because fibres from the branches of lemon trees and soda salt were used to clean the teeth.

The process would take 70 days: 30 days of preparation and 40 days of mummification. The son would become the king 70 days after his father died.

The final judgement in the afterlife would put the heart on a scale next to a feather representing good and justice.

Next we saw the Sphinx. It was much, much smaller than I imagined, but it was cool to see. The Sphinx is the biggest ancient statue and was the creation of the architect. It has the body of a lion to represent strength and the head of a man to represent intelligence and wisdom. The large ears are so that it can hear all the prayers. There are three theories to what happened to the nose: Theory 1 – Napoleon took it which was a British rumour to make Egyptians hate the French, Theory 2 – Sa’im al-Dahl took the nose, Theory 3 – Age broke it off.

FB29355D-D6DC-4BD8-84CD-8DC6723F766B
Sphinx

We loaded on to the bus and drove to the market in Cairo. We had lots of free time to walk around. It got a bit exhausting as everyone wants you to come in their store and some follow you asking questions. Some say, “I only want your money”. Others say, “Where you from? The moon?”.

We finally decided we would go to the cafe where Sem Sem said he would be waiting. We thought it was one way, but every street we took that way dead ended. We must’ve gone up the same route three times. Sem Sem had said to remember the tower where we drove in. We were aiming for it, but then started doubting it was the right one as there were others that were very similar. The panic started to set in a bit. We were thinking what do we do? Google Maps doesn’t work on our phones. We can’t call anyone. Will the locals try to scam us if we ask for help? We don’t even remember the name of the square we want to get to!

Finally, we saw some other tourists coming along a major route. We decided to walk that way and we might find where the bus came in. Thankfully, it was the right place! We walked to the cafe and I ordered a strawberry juice. It was just strawberry purée which was amazing. We shared a dessert of couscous with hot milk, icing sugar, nuts and coconut. We sat and chilled in there for awhile avoiding the heat outside.

From there we drove to a grocery store to pick up snacks for the overnight train. Then we drove to the train station. We were quite early so we all ended up sitting around playing British Cards Against Humanity. It was pretty fun although most of us didn’t understand the British humour.

The train was a bit late, but we were ready when it arrived. Danny and I were in Room 1/2. The room was quite small and old. It had a small sink and window. We were brought supper in our cabin: chicken, rice, veggies, chickpeas, a bun and cake. I really liked the rice. The attendant then took our trays and made the seats into bunk beds. At least the sheets were clean.

40826E8A-16F2-474B-BF8C-04EF9F1FA0FB
Danny enjoying supper on the overnight train to Aswan
Day 91: June 11, 2018

Neither of us slept very well on the train. At the corners you would wake up because you would roll slightly. When another train would pass I felt like I was on the train at the end of Anastasia that was out of control. I wondered if it was a dream or real life in between sleep.

We were roused by a knock at the door and breakfast was brought to us. It was lots of rolls and some feta. We packed up our stuff and got dressed.

We arrived in Aswan in Southern Egypt around 8:30 am. We were led to a bus that took us to our hotel. The room is old looking, but the sheets are clean and the air conditioner is working. We were given some free time. Most of us went across the road to another hotel to use the pool. We threw the frisbee around for a bit then ordered lunch. The temperature peaked up to 48 degrees. We couldn’t stay out of the pool very long even in the shade. There was a shallow end of the pool that was in the shade in the afternoon that we lounged in.

7DC025BD-521E-46C7-868E-A85AF4C38681
Pool time in Aswan

We went back to the hotel and got more cash from the ATM then had showers in our room. At 5:30 pm we met the group and took a boat along the Nile. We saw a brown building that was the palace of the last king of Egypt: King Farouk. It is now a hotel.

We saw Elephantine Island where monuments showing the history of Egypt were located. Along the stone walls we could see some marks that would show the level of the flood. This was a nilometer. It was used to determine the amount of taxes the area would pay: low water = low taxes, high water = high taxes. The water level would directly impact the crops.

Next we visited a Nubian village of 4,500 people. The Nubians moved into Egypt from the South Sahara in the time of Ancient Egypt: 2700 BC. In 1900 BC when the Egyptians wanted to build an empire they trained Nubians to be archers. During that time, there was intermarriage between Egyptians and Nubians. The Nubians soon felt they should be independent and there were many revolts. After Alexander the Great, the two groups united against a common enemy: the Greeks.

In the 1950s, President Nasser wanted to build a dam and chose to flood the area where Nubians lived to affect less people overall. The Nubians were promised land and houses, but were given them in the middle of the desert. They were used to living beside the water. Many Nubians left for Sudan or moved west. There are now twenty Nubian communities in Egypt. The 1973 war brought the Egyptians and Nubians together again.

Nubians are Muslims, but they were the last to convert to Islam. Nubians mostly work in tourism because of their hospitality. There are also Nubians in agriculture and fishing. They have managed to keep their culture alive. A Nubian man can marry a non-Nubian woman, but his family would not be happy. A Nubian woman cannot marry a non-Nubian man or she would be disowned.

We walked to watch the sunset, then a Nubian man, Mohammed, led us to his house for supper. We sat on the rooftop and were brought hibiscus juice made by boiling the hibiscus flower. Then we were brought puréed bean soup and bread. Then rice, chicken, French fries, eggplant, white beans, phyllo pastry with minced meat (almost tasted like pizza). Then we were brought very hot tea.

4FC397B6-705B-4966-989E-B06497B86D50
Sunset on the Nile

One of the women offered to do henna and I got a little elephant for Elephantine Island. We got in the boat to go back then walked back to the hotel for sleep.

Day 92: June 12, 2018

Early early morning: up at 3:00 am to leave at 3:45 am for Abu Simbel which are two temples on the western bank of Lake Nasser. We all fell asleep on the 3.5 hour drive. We were given breakfast in a box that we ate right before we arrived.

In Egypt, once you have a child, your name becomes, “Father of ‘first born daughter/son’s name'”. Abu means father of and Simbel was the son’s given name. The entire area is called Abu Simbel.

We walked down to the temples and Sem Sem showed us where the temples were originally located. They were relocated as they were going to be under water, due to the dam construction. It took four years to relocate the 10,000 pieces.

127D351F-D574-4019-A32A-376E113FB64F
Previous location of the temples is now underwater

The temples were built in Nubian land, but not by Nubians. They were built by King Ramses II, one for him and one for his favourite wife, Nefertari. He had many other wives for political reasons.

In 1530 BC, Ramses II moved towards Turkey. He built the temple at Abu Simbel to show the Nubians in the area his strength and to bring Egyptians there to settle. High priests acted as doctors, royal scribes acted as teachers and the temple acted as religion for the people. Who wouldn’t want to live there once the temple was built?

FA7C9271-3C56-448A-9A54-C2A528F76D81
Abu Simbel’s Temples (King’s on the left, Queen’s on the right)

The hyroglifics across the top of the King’s temple display names, titles and wishes for the king. An earthquake during Ramses II’s rule destroyed the second statue of the temple and he died before it was fixed. The statues show Ramses from young and smiling to old and with less of a smile: showing he was not as pure as in his youth and had made some mistakes.

1A71DD76-69EB-484D-B9A7-2F17FDC8C62D
King Ramses II’s Temple

A straight beard shows a living king while a curved beard shows a dead king or God. Between the legs of the statues are his wives and daughters. The bird head with the sun above is the God, Ra-Horakhty.

Many of the paintings inside the King’s temple show a famous battle (Battle of Kaddish) between Ramses II and Muwatalli II. They all shows Ramses II’s power and strength. In one painting there is a lion. The Ancient Egyptians taught dogs, jackals, leopards and lions to attack anyone not wearing their troop’s colours.

We entered the Queen’s temple first and saw all of the paintings that were etched into the walls. They were hard to see close up, but farther away you could take in the whole scene. We walked back and entered the King’s temple It was larger and had statues as well as paintings.

It was already super hot at 9:00 am. We went back to the cafe near the parking lot and waited for the rest of the group. I bought us Kit Kat ice cream cones. Danny gave me 70 EGP to pay and went I went to pay the guy said they were 90 EGP. I countered with, “I only have 70 EGP”. He replied, “Okay, 70 and you take a picture with me”. I said okay and we took a selfie in front of the Coke cooler. Then he said, “How ’bout a kiss?” Then he pointed to his cheek. I said, “No, I’m a married woman,” and walked away with all his friends laughing.

We road in the bus back to Aswan. It was basically desert the whole way. We napped for a bit along the way. In Aswan, we went to a restaurant beside the river. They opened just for us as they were closed for Ramadan. I had a margherita pizza and Danny had a four seasons pizza. When they came out they looked exactly the same. It is unknown if the different pizza types were lost in translation or if they didn’t have the right ingredients.

After lunch, we went back to the A/C in our room. It was 43 degrees outside which is way too hot. The wind blows, but it’s like a hair dryer right in your face. It burns your eyes.

We met the group at 6:30 pm and Sem Sem showed us some places for supper. We all walked together through the market. None of us were really looking for anything. At the end, we walked back to the first restaurant we were shown. We sat at two tables each with six people. We chatted about our jobs which was a little depressing as many of us were at points where we are unsure of our next move. I had lamb with rice and some sort of veggie in tomato sauce. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and then went to bed.

Day 93: June 13, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast downstairs: yogurt, cheese spread, fig jam, banana, beans and buns. Our A/C in the room stopped working in the night so we woke up pretty hot. We did end up sleeping in until 9:00 am.

At 10:30 am we got on the bus and went to the river. We were split into two groups. I was on the boat with all the guys. We took of our shoes and boarded the felukkas. We set sail on the Nile with our two Nubian sailors: Eid and Ahmed.

Felukka on the Nile

We had all been a bit nervous that it would be hot on the felukka, but there was a nice cool breeze from the river. We started our ride with a card game then we met up with the support boat which had a bathroom and bar. We then played Cards Against Humanity. We stopped for lunch on the support boat: mashed potatoes, feta and canned tuna. The feta in the potatoes was really good. We returned to our felukka and did some reading and napping. The felukka had a large mattress area in the middle that we occupied.

Our set up on the felukka

Danny got to help pull the ropes a couple of times. We parked on a sandy beach and everyone except a couple of us ran up the sandy hill to the top and then back down to stick their feet in the water. The sand was burning hot. Some of the guys had blisters on their feet later.We were able to get out and swim for a bit, but not too far from shore as the current was quite strong. In the afternoon the sun was a bit lower so it hit us more. We were a bit hotter, but it was nothing like being in Aswan.

C9056D5B-9511-44D5-B884-0C40AF6B9CC9
Swimming in the Nile with our felukka behind us

Near the end of our ride two of the guys went to the front to take some Titanic pictures. Then one climbed the mast a bit. He made it what we thought was pretty far until one of the other guys came over and doubled his speed and height. Then we all sat at the front of the boat and listened to some tunes. We decided to take a group picture that turned out with us looking like a band.

Band picture

We arrived at the pump house where the support boat was hooked up to the electricity. We had supper there: chicken, rice, veggies, orzo soup and pita-like bread. The food in Egypt has been good, but nothing jaw dropping. The other boat was playing a word guessing game so we played Hidden 31 with beer cans for lives. Danny ended up winning. We all went to bed around 11:30 pm. I was worried I wouldn’t sleep as all the boys were snorers so I took out my ear plugs. We slept aboard the felukkas with sheets covering us.

What an amazing couple of days it has been in Egypt. We have already seen so much. The Pyramids were a big highlight as they would be for anyone and we loved the chilling on the felukka. We know a lot less about the places we are seeing on the second half of our trip in Egypt so we are hoping they will be just as incredible.

M