Luxoriffic Luxor

Hello Dear Readers!

As is surprising to no one, I’m currently in an airport waiting to start the very long journey to Hong Kong. I’ve got a few things left to tell you guys about Egypt though, so buckle in. Today we’re going to talk about Luxor, where Joni and I spent a whirlwind 2 nights before heading back up to Cairo.

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The gorgeous view from our hotel room.

Now, when I vacation I do it either one of two ways. In one, I get up at the crack of dawn with a full day of activities planned and very little sleep involved. In the other, I arrive to a hotel and literally do not move until check-out, whenever that is.

This was the first type.

So it was that Joni and I rose for the fourth day in a row at 3am, dreaming longingly of sleeping in until 6. Alas, our hot air balloon ride was due for the sunrise, which is ludicrously early in the Middle East.

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We need sleep!

It was so cool!

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We soared over the entirety of Luxor, catching glimpses of the Valley of the Kings (King Tut’s tomb!), the Valley of the Queens, Hatshepsut’s Temple, and throughout it all, the Nile winding its way through the ancient city.

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For those of you who don’t know, Luxor is considered one of the best places to go see ancient history, much better than Cairo, and has some of the best preserved tombs in the world.

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So it was that after the hot air balloon ride we met up with our private guide, who spent the entire day showing us around.

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Ok, so. You guys know that Egypt is cheap, right? I’ve spoken about it enough that it should be old news by now. So when the tourism office at the Valley of the Kings wanted to charge us $15 for the ability to take photos, I flatly declined. I mean come on, our guide for the entire day was only $20. I didn’t need no stinking photos.

Or so I thought. I really underestimated how cool the tombs were- definitely photo worthy. And once we got down there, I saw all kinds of people taking photos. So I thought to myself, “hey, I’m gonna do it anyway. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Well, boys and girls, the worst that can happen is that one of the guards can seize your phone, demand you open it, scroll through your photos, and then try to shake you down for a bribe in order not to report you to the photo police.

I pretended not to understand him and Joni and I ran like hell out of the tomb, afraid that he was chasing us. We stuck to postcards after that.

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Behold! The Offending Photos!
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They aren’t even any good. 

But it was cool!

-Carissa “Lawless” Rawson

The Pyramids Round Two

Hello Dear Readers!

It’s been an atrociously busy last month, with no end in sight. In a little over a week I head for Vietnam, with a two day stopover in Hong Kong (Disneyland Hong Kong! Dim Sum!). Harrison and I will be spending a total of two weeks in Vietnam, with the first week at a beach resort and the second in Ho Chi Minh, the capital city.

But I digress. First I need to finish telling you guys about Egypt.

Ahh. Egypt. Land of smog and noise and traffic and history and beauty. The locals have written volumes about their love-hate relationship with Cairo, and I have to say after living there for six weeks I completely agree.

Hence, when I got back from my week in Israel, I was dreading the return to the city. Life is so difficult there compared to anywhere else. But Joni was coming to visit so I needed to get back there and get going.

I’ve got to tell you, coming back there and going full tourist was a better experience than just living there. (As I would imagine is true for any city). All told, Joni spent five days with me in Egypt, and we saw many things, including the Pyramids.

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Here we go again

You guys remember my Pyramid story, right? Well I knew she couldn’t fly all the way from California and not see them, so I reluctantly returned to the scene of the disaster, prepared for the worst. Luckily, in the two weeks since I had last been, the Egyptian government banned solicitors from historic sites in an effort to boost tourism. I thought it was a farce, until we showed up and the aptly named “tourist police” were parked all around the area, ensuring no wayward hawkers made their way past the barriers.

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Practically empty

It made for a much more pleasant experience. And no, we didn’t go inside. You literally could not pay me to go back in there. But we did ride camels, and I had a nice dicker with the camel owner over the ride in Arabic, which Joni thought was impressive and in reality consisted of about the same five words repeated in Arabic over and over again. (No! 15 guinea! No more! I’m not paying!)

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We also went down to the Sphinx, which I managed to miss the first time around, so I’m glad I got the chance to see it. While there we found a tour guide who took the best photos- enjoy!

-Carissa “Where Do I Even Live?” Rawson

Flying the Sinai

Hello Dear Readers!

Finals are over, all my papers are turned in (with the exception of my dissertation, which isn’t due until August), and my time in Edinburgh has come to a close.

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It’s bittersweet, but mostly bitter. I don’t feel like I’ve had enough time here, but time moves forward and there’s nothing I can do but go along.

Enough of the moping, though. I haven’t finished telling you guys about Egypt- which was certainly one of the most interesting experiences of my life. After our classes ended we had an extra two weeks in the country itself for…um…studying…purposes. Obviously I took this to mean it was an excellent time to travel.

Now, Harrison and I haven’t seen much of each other recently as we’ve both been extremely busy. So once I knew I had a week off, I thought “Hey! I’ll make the short jump from Cairo to Tel Aviv and go visit him for a week! How hard can it be?”

Well, the answer is: really hard.

In case you guys aren’t up to date on your world politics, even though Egypt and Israel are at “peace” they still reeeeeally hate each other and make it as difficult as possible to connect between the two countries.

This goes for air travel as well as land crossings, so when I attempted to find a direct flight between Cairo and Tel Aviv, I was met with a big fat zero. Honestly, I tried everything I could, but none of my trusty sites served me and in the end I was forced to conclude that I’d need to fly to Turkey first and connect down to Tel Aviv, with a total journey time of around 16 hours each way to make it some three hundred miles.

And then. In a dark, empty, corner of the internet I found mention of a flight. Of an airline, kinda sketchy and secret, with no website and only a hotmail email address with which to contact them. Legend went that they operated once daily a direct flight form Cairo to Tel Aviv and vice versa.

I emailed them and was met with silence. So I had Harrison call their Tel Aviv office (yay for speaking Hebrew!) and they informed him that the only way I would be able to purchase a ticket was in person, in Cairo, in cash.

So when I got to Cairo I rolled up to Egyptair’s office, the parent airline that had purchased this small, secret airline (Air Sinai), and which sells the tickets for this flight. Of course, since they own the only flight in town the ticket price was exorbitant. And yes, I had to pay in cash. I enlisted the help of my friend Shahnaz and together we crept into the Egyptair flight office clutching a wad of bills the size of a baseball.

When I informed the flight agent I wanted a ticket to Tel Aviv, her eyebrows nearly flew off her head, but she let me purchase it and sent me on my way with a paper ticket. (Did anyone know they still made those?)

The morning of my flight I made my way to the Cairo airport, where the flight board registered one flight to Tel Aviv with no specific airline attached. I made my way to the ticket counter, waaaay in a back corner, and stood in line for an hour waiting to check in as the one harried ticket agent attempted to deal with every single person on the flight.

And the plane.

Well, you know that they hate each other. And you know that the Sinai is generally regarded as a lawless wasteland. And maybe I hadn’t mentioned this yet, but the plane flew directly through the Sinai on its route to Tel Aviv.

So it was that I boarded an unmarked plane parked at the wrong end of the airport and flew through the ungovernable anarchy of the Sinai Desert. Twice.

And I made it!

-Carissa “I’m Only Brave Until I’m Stupid” Rawson

Nicosia- The Last Divided Capital

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m back in Scotland now, and will be for the next two weeks while I take my final exams. Egypt was a great experience, but I will admit that I almost cried when we landed back in the western world. Home.

So, I’m here for two weeks and then I’m off back to California for another few weeks. After that…a trip to Vietnam! I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go (hence not having said anything), but things have just gotten finalized so I’ll be spending a couple weeks there before interning in the Middle East over the rest of the summer. I’m really looking forward to it, and have some awesome things planned.

But! Before we get onto that, I have a few other things to tell you guys about.

Mid-April Harrison and I met up in Cyprus, which was great because we hadn’t seen each other since the Maldives in January. (Way too long, in my opinion). We stayed in Nicosia, which bills itself as “the last divided capital,” because the city (and Cyprus itself) is fought over between Turkey and Greece. Thus, the city has a gigantic wall going down the middle of it, and one half is Greek, while the other is Turkish. This makes for some really interesting border control experiences (though neither side will stamp your passport, which is really too bad).

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The “border”

Since we only had a weekend in Cyprus, we crammed in as many things as possible. And that included a visit with Eleana and Cameron, two of my classmates (who weren’t in Egypt), who just happened to be vacationing in Cyprus the days that we were there. So we met up, drank entirely more than was sensible, and had a blast.

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Least blurry photo of the night

Around 2am, Harrison and I ended up in a cab for the hour long ride to our hotel and fell asleep halfway through. Luckily, we made it, and I said a quick prayer for my wallet as I remembered how much things cost outside of Egypt.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you guys about our first day in Cyprus, which was super long and included a trip to a Turkish hammam, whirling dervishes, dinner at a microbrewery, and backgammon over shisha.

See you guys soon!

-Carissa “I Can’t Help It I Love Travel” Rawson

The Pyramids: Part One

Dear Friends,

Oh my dear dear friends.

A few weeks ago we went to the pyramids. I mean, living in Cairo that’s obviously something you need to check off the list, right? My friend Carlos had been before, and from his grim expression whenever he spoke of the pyramids, I was a little bit apprehensive.

My dear friends. You have no idea.

It took us roughly twice as long as usual to actually get to the pyramids, because the president of Portugal happened to be visiting and they shut down the roads entirely. Four of us were in a cab, sweating as our driver chain smoked and the meter ran in the parking lot of cars. It was an auspicious start, I’ll tell you that much.

But we made it there safely, bought our tickets, and, with bated breath, wended our way up to the Great Pyramid of Giza.

It’s breathtaking, it really is. The sheer size of it is mind-boggling, and when you walk up, the ancient stones above you looming large, you can’t help but be filled with awe.

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We had bought tickets to go inside to have a look around the Great Gallery. “Be careful,” they warned us, “it’s a bit of a climb.”

And yes, yes it was.

Let me lay the scene for you here.

It’s Cairo, mid-April, and a group of eight of us have just purchased our tickets to go inside. We make our way up the ancient stones, where a roughly hewn opening has been cut into the wall.

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Just inside, it’s cooler, as the rock shades the sun and a nice cross breeze drifts into the mouth of the pyramid.

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“This is lovely,” you think, snapping a photo before making your way deeper into the pyramid.

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So excited!

Inside, an angry young Arab man is yelling at a line of tourists, insisting that the narrow path above is a two-way walkway. You look up, eyeing it, and wonder how small people must have been when they built it. It’s not simply narrow, no. It’s barely more than a tunnel, and people are bent over in half, crab walking up a steep incline as they attempt to avoid elbowing each other.

“Here goes nothing,” you mutter, lining up with your friends as you begin to climb. You soon realize you are becoming very well acquainted with your friend’s behind, as the angle of the hike has forced your head to become roughly level with his ass. You feel a moment of pity for the girl behind you, whom you’ve only just met and who is currently suffering the intense view of your sweaty Thailand pants.

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It’s getting hotter now, and humid, as the sweat of hundreds of people begins to condense on the walls of the pyramid. The air is rank with body odor, and you simply pray that your deodorant lasts the length of the climb. Harsh fluorescent lights from the eighties cast unforgiving glows on the people you pass, who prove, indeed, that it is a two way path. Several times you encounter men simply lying on the floor, for whom the walkway is too narrow for them to fit. They are waiting for the flow of people to ebb, so they can stagger down in relative peace. Little do they know that the stream of tourists is only intensifying, and you wonder how long they have before their sweating gives them dehydration.

On and on and on you climb, it’s a millennia of hiking, you with your back bowed and your contacts blurring and your breath coming in short, stuttered pants, punctuated with coughing as you inhale more of the fetid air.

Finally. Finally. You come to it.

The Great Gallery.

Tomb of Kings.

Ancient wonder of the world.

Home of history.

It is roughly the size of your bedroom back home, and empty save for a small stone coffin, devoid of markings, which sits in the back corner.

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Behold the glory.

You’re bent over, hands on your knees, attempting to regain your breath as you look around. “Is there more?” You ask aloud, and from the grimaces on the faces of the people around you, you know there isn’t.

Still, at least I’ve had the experience.

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So. Much. Regret.

-Carissa “You Can’t Pay Me To Go Back In There” Rawson

Ancient Alexandria

Hello Dear Readers!

My very first weekend in Cairo the university had set up an organized tour all the way up to Alexandria. I appreciated this for a multitude of reasons, not the least because transportation in Egypt is a nightmare.

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We started with lunch on the Nile

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It was a pretty good weekend overall, though definitely guided as we were shuffled from place to place:

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The catacombs, in which we explored ancient tombs covered with Roman-influenced hieroglyphics:

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Pompey’s Pillar, which is the largest freestanding pillar in the world:

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We also visited the new library of Alexandria, which was built in homage to the ancient library that was burned way back when:

 

 

The Citadel:

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Montazah’s Gardens:

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And last but not least, Starbucks, because I may be international but I’m still basic at heart. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of it, but I’m sure you guys get the picture.

 

The tour was great, entirely in Arabic, and the food was good. Best part? It was free! The transportation, guide, food, entry tickets, and hotel were all given to us for the low cost of nothing. I call that a win.

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-Carissa “Um Excuse Me Where is the Starbucks” Rawson

The Scotland Diaries: Part 2

Hello Dear Readers!

Joni and I squeezed a ton of activities into her visit. My last post focused on Edinburgh and the things we did while there (we did approximately all the things). However, we also spent two days on a tour of the Highlands, which are absolutely stunning, and an entire day on an Outlander tour.

Now, I think it’s difficult to overstate how much we love Outlander.

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We love it this much

It’s a lot.

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Our guide took us to a bunch of random, gorgeous places. She was so cool all I want is to be her friend.

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At the Three Sisters in Glencoe

Standing stones! (No, she wasn’t sucked in)

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-Carissa

The Scotland Diaries: Part 1

Hello Dear Readers!

To say I’ve been overwhelmed here in Cairo is…an understatement. The amount of coursework we’re doing is *intensive*, to put it lightly. So I haven’t had much time to write.

But! I do have tons of photos from Joni’s (of Italy fame) visit to Scotland in the beginning of March. (I know, I’m way behind the times). I hope you guys enjoy!

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Joni tried (and liked!) haggis

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We visited Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, and my school

 We did it up proper with a whisky tasting

I even took her to poutine, which as a Canadian should be her favorite dish. (If my sources are correct)

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Last but not least, we enjoyed a very fancy afternoon tea at the Dome, which was exactly as posh as it sounds.

Tomorrow, more photos!

 

-Carissa

Hello From Cairo!

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m writing to you from the middle of downtown Cairo, where I’ll be living for the next six weeks!

I know I mentioned this before, so none of you should be surprised. I’m studying here in order to improve my Arabic, and so far it’s been great! And by great I mean really really hard but also effective. Granted, I’ve only been here for three days so far, so we’ll see what lies ahead.

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The view from my balcony

Apologies for the lack of pictures thus far. The inside of a classroom isn’t all that exciting.

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Ooooh, Tahrir Square

See you soon!

-Carissa “نور” Rawson

Swimming With Whale Sharks

Hello Dear Readers!

Today I want to tell you about our day spent snorkeling with whale sharks. For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are absolutely massive, and the Maldives happens to be a hot spot for them. We spent most of our time snorkeling on the house reef (or eating. There was a lot of eating.), so ended up only doing this one excursion. Plus, as you can imagine, it was obscenely expensive.

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Heading to catch our speedboat

So what did it entail? Well, to be honest, it was pretty cool. We hopped into a speedboat with about six other people and a guide and sped away from the resort. It was about an hour long ride to our whale shark spotting destination, so we settled down and enjoyed the breeze, the waves, and the islands we were passing. Probably the coolest part was that in our wake, thousands of flying fish skipped away from us. Have you ever seen a flying fish? I hadn’t but they’re really cool, and watching them soar across the water, like skipping stones, was really neat.

The way shark spotting works is that you get to the hotspot and your guide literally climbs up on top of the boat, searching for enormous shadows in the water.

Unfortunately for us, there didn’t seem to be any sharks around. We spent hours trawling the water, slowly, searching for these guys. And it’s not like you can miss them, right? The problem is that whale sharks don’t normally swim so close to the surface, and they can (and do) dive right down and stay there.

They’d told us that the young males were the ones who usually swam up near the surface, but we had no luck.

So. One guy.

One guy had a drone. Brand new, top of the line, really cool. So he volunteered to fire up the ol’ drone and see if he could spot any whale sharks from high up. A cool idea, in theory.

He sent it up, and away we went, following after it as he searched. See, the problem though, was that drones can only fly for about twenty minutes at a time. Twenty minutes pass and we slow down, coming to a stop as he attempted to land it.

I mentioned we were in a speedboat, right? And that his drone was new, brand new?

Yeah. So there he goes, trying several times to lower it to the deck, only for it to- finally- hit the edge of the boat and *splash* right into the water.

And no, it didn’t float. Immediate panic ensues and he runs to grab a diving mask. He jumps in and flails around, while the guide leaps into the water- and- I kid you not, just dives.

It’d had time to sink by now, so I don’t know how far down she went. But she was under there for a while. A long while. I began to wonder if she was dead or simply lost, but then- miracle of miracles- up she popped from the depths, drone in hand.

You guys, this woman freedived into the Indian Ocean to find a lost drone. I can’t even find my goggles in a swimming pool.

The jury’s still out if he ever got it working again, since it wasn’t waterproof, but he did mutter angrily that it was a $1200 waste of money.

Shortly thereafter, we started to make our way back, disappointed at not finding any whale sharks- when- to our immense joy, we ran into a boat that had found one.

And once you find one, you gotta jump in ASAP because they don’t stay at the surface for very long. So in we went, flippers on, choking on saltwater and swimming furiously after this guy.

I’m going to take a moment now to thank my parents for all the swimming lessons they forced me to take, because I managed to stay in the front of the group and get an uninterrupted view. It was incredible.

Our guide had a GoPro with her. Take a look at the video below.

-Carissa “This Is Why I Don’t Have a Drone” Rawson