Categories
Egypt

Luxor – Temple town

Luxor has got to be the town in Egypt with the most temples, so we decided to visit a few. We stayed on the East bank of Luxor, so we were near most of the markets and restaurants, as well as within walking distance of temples. The main temple in Luxor is of course the Luxor temple, which is rather beautiful and a great place to watch the sunset. The temple is lit up with lights as soon as it gets dark, and this gives the temple a magical appearance which is pretty awesome.

We visited Karnak temple, which is the largest temple in Egypt, which consisted of a few statues, but a lot of the complex was ancient ruins. We ventured across to the West bank by ferry, and caught a taxi to visit some of the other historical attractions such as the Valley of the Kings, Medinet Habu, and Queen Hatshepsut Temple.

At the Valley of the Kings there are many tombs that one can visits, not all are open at the same time, and the ticket entitles you to visit 3 tombs, so we chose Thutmose III, Tausert, and Rameses IV. The tombs were really interesting and beautiful but unfortunately the only down side was that you were not allowed to take any pictures or video at all. The tombs had beautiful paintings and hieroglyphics on the walls, and were otherwise empty as everything else has already been taken to the Cairo museum or stolen by grave robbers.

On one of the days we had in Luxor, we made the long journey to visit two well preserved temples some distance away. We hired a driver to take us to Abydos and Dandara temple, which ended up being a round trip of 8 hours. The trip was much longer than anticipated due to the many police check points, but we had to wait a few times for a police escort in hot spot areas. The police escort generally was a pickup truck with armed men wearing balaclavas and bullet proof vests, driving in front and behind our vehicle.

The Egyptian government cannot afford any more bad publicity with tourist attacks and is really not taking any chances. We enjoyed our time in Luxor, apart from the noisy Souk street which was directly below our accommodation, and the 4:30am mosque wake-up call every morning.

Categories
Egypt

Egypt – Aswan

We traveled from Cairo to Aswan on the Sleeper train that ran through the night to arrive at 9am in Aswan. The Airbnb accommodation we booked was on Elaphantine Island, which is an island in the middle of the Nile river, which we needed to take a ferry to reach. The ferry ride is only 5 minutes long, and there is a ferry every 10minutes. The island is home to the Nubian village, and it is away from the hustle and busle of Aswan.

Aswan was a lot hotter than Cairo, and the temperature peaked at 41 degrees celcius on the day we arrived. It was nice to see water again, as Giza was a dust bowl. Aswan was a lot less dusty and had a lot more trees and greenery.

Aswan was a bit more conservative than Cairo, and almost all the locals were wearing traditional clothes, and on the ferry the men and women were separated with their own sitting areas, so we were not allowed to sit next to each other. We did not know this would be a problem, so the ferry driver had to tell us to please move seats to the appropriate areas.

While in Aswan we visited the Aswan botanical garden, which is on another island in the Nile river. We took a boat from Elaphantine island to the gardens, which were interesting, but very small. Another attraction in the area is Philae temple, which we decided to visit. We were approached by two German travelers who wanted to share a boat with us to save on costs, as a boat is needed to get to the temple, which is also on its own island. The boat that took the four of us was ridiculously small for the job, but we made it anyway.

What was interesting about Philae temple was that it had been relocated about 800 down river to where it stands today. Due to the building of the Aswan High dam, the temple would have been flooded, so it was moved piece by piece to the new location. Apart from the two German travelers we met, we didnt see any other foreigners while we were in Aswan, and we really stood out while walking through the markets.

Again we were bombarded by touts trying to get us to take a felucca ride on the Nile, buy sarongs and souvenirs at every turn. Even the taxi drivers would drive slowly next to us for minutes trying to persuade us not to walk and to use their taxi instead. Because we stood out from the locals, everyone would stop to ask us where we were from, and when we replied ‘South Africa’, they would respond by exclaiming ‘Bafana! Bafana!’

followed by a confused look and the question ‘But you are not black?!’. It actually amazed us by how many Egyptian people did not know where South Africa was, and that we are from the same continent.

We found Aswan to be quite a dirty town, full of garbage and random street fires made by people trying to burn their refuse. There were so many old battered cars from the 80s driving around, and lot of half built and broken buildings everywhere.

We really enjoyed the tranquility of staying on Elaphantine island, and looked forward to getting home each day, as there are not cars, or people that harass you, just the beauty of the Nile river flowing by, and the farm animals roaming the narrow paths.

It was in the markets in Aswan that we discovered the local street food pita breads with their various fillings that we could buy for almost nothing. We also discovered that the local cheeses and halva was amazing and really cheap compared to Cape Town. We ended up gorging ourselves on cheeses, halva and other local foods for the time we were in Asan.

On one of the days we decided to do a 6 hour round trip by car to visit Abu Simbel temple, which is close to the border of Sudan. We got a driver to take us on the journey, and had to provide our passports the night before so that he could get security clearance. We were not sure what exactly that was about at first, until we started our drive to the temple. We passed through multiple police check points, where our passports were checked and the driver had to produce identification and licencing, while the car was searched. This was our first taste of the police/military presence in Egypt to combat terrorism.

On the journey to the temple, we stopped at a small rest stop in the middle of the desert, and the owner of the had a baby crocodile that he had rescued that he showed us. That is proof that there are crocodiles in the Nile river, something to consider when you swim in the Nile!

Because we went with our own driver, we arrived about 2 hours after all the tour buses that try to arrive at Abu Simbel at sunrise. This meant that we totally avoided the crowds, and we were the only ones there.

Temple was amazing, and had also been relocated about 1km to higher ground piece by piece over a number of years, in order to avoid the rising water of the Nile from the Aswan High dam.

After 4 days in Aswan, our next destination was Luxor, so we booked a Felucca boat to take us half way there, so that we could experience traveling on the Nile like the ancient Egyptians did. We started at 8am and it sailed zig zagging down the Nile river towards Luxor. As the sun set, we anchored on the banks of the Nile and slept under the stars. It would have been great if the felucca had a bathroom, instead of just using a random bush along the banks of the Nile river. In the morning after breakfast we continue our journey to Luxor. The felucca dropped us at a pickup point, and a car took us the rest of the journey, stopping at two temples (Kom Ombo and Edfu) along the way for us to explore.

It was at these temples that we experienced the worst harassment by touts we have ever experienced. The combination of desperation for money, and not having any concept of personal space, while not wanting to take ‘no’ for an answer was a very uncomfortable experience.

The rest of the drive to Luxor was interesting to see the desert landscape along the Nile river, and we found it funny to see so many grown men riding donkeys for transportation, just like in the bible stories.

 

 

 

Categories
bali Ubud

Discovering Ubud

If you visit Bali, you will almost always visit Ubud, which is quite a bit of a tourist trap. The streets are pretty narrow, and congested with scooters that dont seem to follow any rules of the road at all, as well as droves of tourists on the pavements going in and out of all the sidewalk shops.

The streets are lined with loads of temples, curio and souvenir shops, massage parlors, and there are tons of local and western restaurants which are usually full of tourists. If you are trying to save money, the local warungs were much better value for money than western restaurants, just DO NOT order western food, at a local restaurant.

The problem with the warungs is that the local chefs and staff most of the time have zero idea of what western food should look or taste like. So do yourself a favour if you are at a local restaurant, and eat local food, its pretty good, and really cheap!

Ubud has quite a few great restaurants serving Western dishes that we found excellent, one of our favourites was Bali budah, which had a great selection of vegetarian food, smoothies and juices.

Another one we were blown away by was Kismet, which was an excellent experience from start to finish, the decor and service was top notch, and the food was reall really good! The cherry on the top was that they also accepted bitcoin for payment!

Nightlife in Ubud is quite lively, and there are plenty of shisha lounges, bars, and night clubs that go on until all hours of the morning. We  unfortunately found most cocktails to be expensive, and taste disgusting! The only thing that seemed reasonably priced and tasty was the Bintang beer, which was excellent!

On one of the days we met friends and went on a hike through the jungle to get to a lovely river and waterfall. The walk took most of the day, and we almost got lost as the waterfall is not on any tourist map.

Looking for more exciting things to do in ubud besides eating and shopping, we decided to take a full day tour with BaliHaiBike, which was amazing!

They collected us in the morning and took us to Tegallalang rice terraces, followed by a tour of a coffee plantation where we sampled a variety of coffee and teas, and I tried the coffee luwak (civet pooh coffee). Next we went breakfast at a restaurant overlooking Mount Batur, and active volcano, and Batur lake. After we had eaten, we were given our bikes and cycled down the mountain through the traditional villages, rice fields, and jungle.

We made stops in a traditional village, at Kehen temple, Kintamani temple and the water temple, before ending at the BaliHai restaurant for dinner. After our dinner we were returned to our accommodation at around 6pm.

Our first accommodation in Ubud was Kabera bungalow, which we chose because it was great value for money, and came highly recommended on Booking.com. The accommodation was in the perfect location for us because it was positioned down an alley off the top of Monkey forest road, so within walking distance to plenty of great restaurants as well as some attractions.

Kabera was actually the cheapest accommodation we could find that had private bathroom, and the bonus was that it included breakfast every day. The breakfast every morning was awesome, a flask of hot water with tea and coffee making supplies, a delicious fruit salad, and toast with fried eggs. Just what you need to get the day started 🙂

We decided to take a walk along Campuhan Ridge, which is a free and easy nature trek not far from the center of Ubud. We walked the route and then had a drink at the restaurant on the other side, before making our way back along the same route. This walk is highly recommended if you are a nature lover and would like to see some of the surrounding countryside and interesting insects along the route.

Although we found Ubud to be a bit cooler than Sanur, it is still really hot and humid most of the time, and there are sometimes thunder storms, which we found to be amazing! The thunder and lightning was so loud and really fun to experience, and the rain drops were so fat and heavy that we were drenched in about a minute of being caught in the rain on the way back from Campuhan Ridge.

We went to visit Kajeng street, also known as ‘signature street’, we found loads of hand imprints, quotes, signatures, pictures and messages that have been written into the concrete on the ground. The story goes that if you make a donation you are able to create your message and leave your mark in the street. Some of the messages were pretty old, going back many years.

We decided to take a break from the busy Ubud center, and stay 2 nights in the rice fields just outside of Ubud in a ‘Bamboo Birds Nest’.

The ‘nest’ is a two story bamboo house resembling a birds nest, that you access by climbing up the bamboo ladder. There is no door, just a double bed with bedding, mosquito net, and light with power point at the top. At the bottom of the nest was the bathroom which was really basic, a ‘squatty potty’ toilet, and the shower was a barrel of water with a coconut ladle scoop! We really felt like we were one with nature 🙂

The accommodation was pretty quiet and isolated, the main house had an open plan kitchen and bar that served meals, and a decent WiFi connection for communication. The main house also had a great view of the rice fields, and had an awesome swing hanging from two palm trees, allowing you to swing over the rice fields.

Being right in the middle of a rice field, which were filled with loads of dragon flies by day, and come alive at night with lots of bright green fireflies, and combined with the sounds of nature, amazing sunrises and sunsets, it was amazing.  After a couple of days we went back to Ubud, so that we could continue exploring the area.

The Monkey Forest is one of the main tourist attractions in Ubud. It is a really beautiful monkey sanctuary. The only problem with the Monkey forest is that they encourage the feeding of the monkeys by selling food to tourists to give to the monkeys. This has the caused the monkeys to become rather aggressive and they regularly attack visitors, or steal their belongings.

We knew how aggressive they were beforehand, so were prepared, but it was fun to watch other tourists being robbed.

The forest itself is cool and shaded, and really beautiful with lots of awesomely weird statues everywhere.

Dengue fever in Ubud

A day or so after arriving back in Ubud, I started feeling ill, and as someone who generally does not ever get sick, or even need to see a doctor, I knew something was not quite right. It was bad enough that I started to look up symptoms online and decided that I might need to take a blood test for dengue fever.

Having no idea where to go, I again turned to the internet and found http://www.ubudcare.com/

Ubud Care tested my blood and confirmed that I did indeed have Dengue Fever and needed to stay in bed and drink lots of water. I went for daily blood tests and chekups at the clinic until I was well. They were kind enough to collect me every day in their ambulance 🙂

Bed ridden for 9 days, changed accommodation to Alamanda accommodation, which had a mosquito net, and a rooftop swimming pool for cooling off in the heat.

Alamanda accommodation was another budget accommodation that included a good breakfast to start the day. The home-stay was nice and shaded with lots of plants and trees, so was cool during the day.