Use technology to make travel easier

passport travel document tips help adviceTravelling is either a treat or a chore, depending on your perspective. Whichever way you look at it, you can make it easier on yourself by taking a few seconds, and using technology, to keep yourself organized. Our travel hacks will also help you if your documents or other important info is lost or stolen.

Travel Tips- Snap and save documents to the cloud

It’s just a fact of life that when we travel things get forgotten or misplaced. Make replacing things like a lost passport or ID easier by taking a photo of it with your smartphone and uploading it to the cloud. Even if your phone goes missing you’ll still be able to download what you need. Same goes for plane tickets, boarding passes, reservation codes and hotel info.

Travel Tips – Make a digital itinerary

Keep names, addresses and attraction info (even directions or map snaps) at your fingertips by putting it all in one place on your phone (then back it too up to the cloud). This is particularly helpful in places where you don’t want to worry about roaming charges but there’s no Wi-Fi.

Travel Tips –Download directions

maps download google maps offline use how toGoogle maps has a great feature that will allow you to search, download and save directions to your phone or device, even if you’re not connected. This can be a lifesaver and a time saver. Here’s how to do it.

Travel Tips – No need to pack a flashlight

Most phones today have flashlight functions, but if yours doesn’t, download one of many free flashlight apps. Having some light can help you find a dropped pen on a dark plane, or help you navigate the sticky lock on your Airbnb rental.

Travel Tips –Verify your rental car

Before you get in and drive away, snap photos of all sides of your rental car, as well as the rental agreement (including the emergency roadside help number) as well as the license plate number. That way no one can claim you did damage when you didn’t. Having the license number on hand can make parking or hotel valet easier too. You can also snap a photo of you parking spot if you’re prone to forgetting, or you’re in an unfamiliar area.

Travel Tips –Use your phone as a diary or log book

Yes, it takes photographs and video but today’s smartphones are also perfect places to create and save a digital scrapbook. Snap pictures of new favourite beer, wine or local liquour labels, record menus, and take notes or even use voice dictation to save your thoughts.

If you’re taking a tour with multiple stops or a ‘city-a-day’ itinerary, it’s also handy to take snaps of your hotel and room number, or the hotel’s business card, in case you forget.

There are any number of ways you can use technology to make travel easier and safer.  Post yours in comments below, or read some top Packing Tips from our friends at ContinentalDrifters.ca 

Pure Camping Genius; Camp Caddy kitchen on wheels

campcaddy 6 As a camper who’s also a cook, I refuse to make hotdogs when we’re out in the woods.  We have 2 large bins of kitchen gear, plus a stove, and we use it all.  It’s definitely a pain in the neck to carry all that stuff back and forth.  But now, a pair of Albertans have come up with what I think is a genius way to run your camp kitchen; the Camp Caddy.

The couple has invented a kitchen on wheels; it comes with cupboard space, tabletop, racks for hanging towels, a slot for your campstove, and even pop up legs so you’re not scratching around at dirt level.

campcaddy 4

The genius of this isn’t just in what it holds, it’s that it’s pop up and pop down, and it fits in your trunk.  I’d love to try it to see how much gear it will truly store, but even if I still had to lug one other bin along, being able to pull up the telescoping handle and pulling this one into place makes so much sense.  It’s one of those ideas that makes you wonder “why didn’t I think of that?”

camp kitchen1

Check out the Camp Caddy Kickstarter Campaign, and check out their video below. They’re about $200, and there’s a price break if you pledge to buy 2!  Camp Caddy says it will ship in May 2015 if their campaign is funded.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Travel: Peru’s Lake Titicaca, the Highest Navigable Lake in the World

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Lake Titicaca, Peru – The boat bobbed along the water’s edge, sidling up to the dock at Amantani Island in southern Peru.  For three hours we’d skimmed across the black water of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, after leaving port in Puno. We were here to spend 24 hours living as the Peruvians do;  staying with a local family; an opportunity to experience life far removed from tourist hotels and fancy restaurants. Life on Amantani Island hasn’t changed much since it was settled.  It’s largely an agricultural existence; ancient terraces cut into the mountainside hundreds of years ago are still farmed today.  We can clearly see those shady steps as the boat pulls in, and several locals dressed in traditionally colourful clothes grasp ropes flung into the air to tie up our boat. We’d been warned the altitude here could be a problem; causing headaches, dizziness,  and sapping our energy.  Within minutes we found the warnings were true.  What looked like a short and simple climb from the water’s edge up to our meeting spot was actually excruciating.  The hike took about 5 minutes, but by the time we arrived at the top, our legs burned and it was impossible to catch our breath. Clustered in a group at the top of the cliff were a dozen young women.  All wore the traditional coloured skirt, beautifully embroidered white blouse and black head scarf of the Amantani people.

Two Tourists and a local.  Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence
Two Tourists and a local. Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence

The women peered out at us from under their scarves, giggling and whispering,  wondering which of us would be in their care for the day and night. Our guide read our names from a list and introduced each of us to our temporary “mama”. These families have been here for centuries, and speak the native language Quechua, though most understand Spanish too. I am introduced to Norma and she shyly shakes hands.  The formal, Western greeting seems odd when delivered by someone who still wears the clothes of their ancestors.  Pointing up the mountain, she gives a hint of how far I’ll have to walk to get to our new home. Pack strapped tightly to my back, we begin trudging up the hills, and within minutes we’re panting again.  Norma, having lived on this mountain island all her life walks easily, and her feet seem to hardly touch the ground.  Smiling, she offers to carry the bags of fruit and pasta I’ve brought, which are gifts for her and her family. I grudgingly have to let her, and even loaded down, she makes the climb look easy. The pathway we’re using is virtually the island’s highway.  It’s narrow and uneven– laid with ancient stones hacked from the soil.  Every few minutes we pass someone Norma greets with a smile and the traditional Quechua greeting, “Alillanchu!”

Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence
Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence

The walk takes nearly half an hour and by the time we clamber up some dirt and stone steps into Norma’s yard, I’m exhausted.  I take a moment to breathe, and take in the homestead. It sits high on the side of a mountain, and the view is stunning.  I can see the rest of the island spread out before me, and the oceanic expanse of the lake glimmers in the distance.  The “house” is actually a complex of buildings spread across a flat section of the mountain.  There are four main buildings, all made of mud bricks with corrugated tin roofs, and there’s an outhouse in front. An elderly woman is crouched on a rock in the yard, surrounded by a rooster and a scattering of chickens.  Two children, a boy and a girl, peer around the corner, and watch curiously as I’m led up a wooden staircase on the first building, and into my room.  The inside is quite cute, and in stark contrast to the muddy straw exterior.  The walls have been smoothed and painted bright pink, there are three single beds, covered with warm blankets and children’s sheets.  Sheer gauzy curtains hang in the windows.  I’m instructed to relax before lunch, and  lay down for a nap immiediately. Lunch gives  a chance to really see how the Peruvians live.  I’m brought to the kitchen, which is a small, dark, cramped room with rough mud walls and a dirt floor.  The homes here, as in much of Peru, are not heated, so this is the warmest place in the house, and thus fine for a visitor.  The heat comes from the fire burning inside a small clay stove which sits at one end of the kitchen.

Andean clay stove.  Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence
Andean clay stove. Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence
Lake Titicaca Vista
Views of Lake Titicaca. Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence

The stove is circular, a bit bigger than a beachball, and has two round openings on top, which easily balance the round clay pots the food is prepared in.  A stack of wood is heaped in the corner, and another older woman feeds small pieces into it.  There is a pipe which vents the smoke to the outside, but black soot is still streaked up the wall and onto the ceiling. The woman is Norma’s mother. She’s crouched on a slice of log, tending to the steaming pots.  Other log stools line the room.  We’d been told that our accommodations, depending on the family, could be rustic, or the family may have taken pains to make us comfortable, by supplying more western comforts.  Sure enough, a table made of planks has been set up at the opposite end of the small room, and a plank bench is wedged behind it . The small boy, and teenage girl join us, but several of the stools are vacant.  I ask about the family, as hot soup is ladled out. They explain, in a travellers combination of Spanish, broken English, the odd Quechua word, and some hand gestures that most of the family is out working in the fields, a job they do from sunup to sunset.  The ladies mind the children and take care of the animals and the home.  Norma’s father, and two brothers will join us for dinner. Our soup is quinoa, a tiny, that very typical Andean grain, mixed with vegetables and a delicious broth. The soup is followed by a plate of rice, potatoes and a small bit of meat, with chunks of white, squeaky cheese. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMuch of the rest of the meal is eaten in silence, since it seems the family doesn’t want to disturb me or seem rude by asking lots of questions.  That makes me wonder if I should cut out the questions for fear of being rude myself.  Fortunately, internal etiquette debates are ended, as the time has arrived for an afternoon of hiking this island.  Norma gives me a knitted woolen hat with ear flaps and long strings to tie up under the chin.  As I arrive at a meeting point I see all the others in our group with similar hats, in different colours.  The hat is typical of this region, but now the reason for our wearing them now becomes clear—it’s the only way our mamas (accustomed to several tourists every week) can remember which of us belongs at their house.     Again we set off uphill.  Bundled back in the comfort of a tourist group, we  climb towards Pachatata, or “Father Earth” mountain—one of two sacred peaks on this island.  On top, surrounded by a stone and wooden fence is a sacred temple which is only opened once a year during a ritual to ask the gods to ensure a good harvest.  There are no cars on this remote island, meaning all farming and industrial work is done by hand.  Looking up at the layers of terraced fame land hacked from the earth, it seems what’s been done here is monumental. We climb slowly, muscles burning, breath shallow, sweat soaking our bodies.  We stop every ten minutes to rest, and get a chance to enjoy the stunning vistas of the massive lake.  We arrive on top in time to see the sunset.  And as the light begins to fade, our guide encourages us to pick up a stone and carry it three times around the temple, for good luck. By the time we begin heading back down towards our homes it’s dark.  The hardscrabble pathway of loose rocks and rough earth is dangerous by day, but by night it seems strangely easier to navigate.  There is no tripping, no sliding—our footing seems to have solidified under the growing moonlight. Back at village level, Norma picks out her hand-knitted hat at a distance and returns me home for dinner Dinner is roasted guinea pig, veggies, rice, and a potato and quinoa stew that’s simple but very delicious.   I’ve brought a stack of postcards of my hometown of Vancouver for just this occasion, and I pull them out so they can understand where I’ve come from.  The family patriarch is in absolute awe of the Lion’s Gate Bridge.  He lives in a place where bridges are built by hand and with timbers hewn from logs near home.  This structure is as tall as Pachatata, and forged with iron.  He just sits and stares at it. Everyone has questions about such a place; how many people live in Canada? Do I have a husband? Do I work? What does my house look like? I answer questions long into the evening, and ask them many as well. By the time I head for my cotton-stuffed mattress with woven covers, I’m exhausted with talk.  Tired, and full, rest comes too easily.  And I only have a moment of looking forward to tomorrow, before I slip into sleep. Author: Erin Lawrence

Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence
Photo Copyright: Erin Lawrence

 

Travel Blog: The Las Vegas Neon Museum

IMG_0656Maybe you’re not the gambling type and now you’re wondering how you can while away the hours in America’s capital of sun, fun, and sin.    That was my predicament, when a Google search turned up this unique and fascinating find in Fabulous Las Vegas.

The Neon Museum has one of the largest collections of its kind of old casino, club and venue signs, many dating back to the city’s heyday.  Most of the 150 signs are exhibited in “The Boneyard”.

Our tour guide wound us through this small but jam-packed fenced off area and shared stories for several of the signs.  Some are rusting and decrepit.  Others are being gently refurbished. The signs have, for the most part been donated; either by businesses like the big casinos, or by sign companies that built or maintained them.

The visitor’s centre has recently been updated, by the donation, and renovation of it’s gorgeous shell-shaped mid-century modern La Concha Motel Lobby building. The building was moved from its original location to the museum grounds in 2006, where it’s only recently been opened.

IMG_0768
IMG_0722IMG_0763IMG_0752IMG_0737IMG_0670IMG_0659IMG_0693IMG_0711IMG_0667

Travel Blog: Madrid Tapas Trail

20130815-123902.jpgThis post is a re-blog from a tripadvisor.com article, with some additions of our own experience, There’s no author listed, so I can’t give credit to the great writing and easy to follow directions.  All I can say is if you’re heading to Madrid, check this little tapas trail out !  It was a perfect way to experience the spots the locals enjoy. At the bottom, I also added a few of our favourite places, including a paella spot and the best churros place in town.

There are hundreds of Tapas bars in Madrid and many continue the tradition of giving free Tapas.

To keep it simple  Tapas is a small plate of usually tasty food that can be purchased or in many Spanish bars given free with the purchase of an alcoholic drink. It is generally believed this tradition began in the Granada region of Spain which  spread across the country with many bars trying to entice custom by outdoing each other with better and bigger Tapas.

Don’t be put off trying these bars, it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak Spanish, remember eye contact, smile and say hello ‘HOLA’ take your place or seat at the bar order your drink and your halfway there, within a few moments you will normally be presented with a free Tapa the choice is usually determined by the bar, but some occasionally offer a choice, at which you can smile and point.

Listed are six bars below all are within easy walking distance of Puerto del Sol they have put them in a easy to follow route commencing junction Puerto del Sol and Calle Mayor. Also a further two wildcards if you get the time or are nearby them.

Naviego, Calle Mayor, 18.

Starting at the West side of Sol walk up Calle Mayor keeping on the Right side of the pavement and after 50 yards you will come to  Naviego which  is a traditional bar frequented by locals and not lots of tourists. The price of drinks here is very good and the Vino Blanco refreshing, they also sell Cider ( Sidre) which is quite potent. The bar staff were friendly and the Tapas given free were very good and varied between Chorizo and fried Potatoes, Bread with sardines, very large Olives and Prawns, all of which were very tasty.  Only garlic potatoes free some days, so not always top tapas!

Erin’s note on Naviego: The atmosphere was a bit lacking. Think lineoleum, spartan and flourescent-light-bright. But the tapas were very yummy; we really enjoyed a nice salty potato and chorizo tapa with our beer.

Mesón Gregorio III, Calle Bordadores, 5.

Continue walking west along Calle Mayor for approx 100yards and you will see a Bordadores on a the Right hand side, this street is on a slope, just follow it down for approx. 25 yards and you will see Mesón Gregorio III on the Left side of the street next to El Neru another local bar you may wish to visit. Mesón Gregorio III is another local haunt full of the little old Spanish men in their crisply ironed shirts standing at the bar or playing and enthusiastic game of cards. The customers and staff were very friendly and accommodating, the selection of Tapas ranging from small plate of cooked lamb and bread, Potato salad and Croquettes. The cost of drinks again very reasonable and the house wine which they keep in square open topped carafes is very good.

Erin’s Note on Meson Gregorio III:  Small, with a large L-shaped bar on the right side.  Filled with boisterous loud older gentlemen.  I saw one man order what looked to be pink wine from an unlabelled bottle under the bar and asked him what he was drinking.  A rose, as it turns out.  The bartender kindly offered me up the same and it was delicious.  We were served yummy breaded/fried mussels bienville/Rockefeller style.  The filling may have been  a queso manchego roux.  it was super good…. creamy & crispy.  we liked it so much we went back Wednesday, but it was closed.

Meson Gregorio.
Meson Gregorio.
Amazing mussels at Meson Gregorio
Amazing mussels at Meson Gregorio
Wines at the ready.
Wines at the ready.

La Panera, Calle del Arenal, 19.

 After leaving Mesón Gregorio continue down the street  turning left onto Calle Arenal walk approx 50 yards and on the left hand side you will see La Panera, another traditional bar in a modern street. The prices of drinks are reasonable and the staff friendly and a Tapas were produced within seconds of ordering a drink. The Tapas here were tasty and well presented ranging from Sausage and Bread selection and a salad and potatoes.

El Escarpin, Calle de las Hileras, 17.

When you leave La Panera walk back in the direction you came but on the opposite side of the Calle Arenal you will see Calle de las Hileras walk a few yards up this street which is on a slope and you will see El Escarpín on the Left, up a few steps.

This bar is very popular and you will see locals drinking the Cider from bottles which they hold up at shoulder  level and pour into their glass held at hip level in order to get air into the drink, and they don’t spill much well early on the night anyway.

The bar staff were very busy but provided a good service and the Tapas were quite large the first being a plate of cooked local sausage.

Erin’s note on Escarpin:  A very busy, and very cool cider bar.  we watched as the bartender poured out a bottle of sidre by holding it over his head.  he didn’t miss a drop!  The sidre comes flat (which the locals were all drinking, and comes by the large bottle) and sparking, which is on tap.  That’s what we had, as we weren’t sure we could finish a full bottle.  The tapas we had were one of my Spain faves; ensalada Rusia, as well as a tuna and tomato empanada.

Ensaladilla Rusia.. a Spain fave.
Ensaladilla Rusia.. a Spain fave.

Mareas Vivas, Calle de Veneras, 3.

 Once out of El Escarpín walk up the street and Calle de Veneras is to the Left then up to the Right, this is when a little map printed from the Internet comes in useful.

This bar was the busiest and had a few tourists as well as locals probably because of its proximity to Calle Gran Via. Nevertheless well priced drinks and good Tapas.

Erin’s note on Mareas Vivas: It was just ok.  It was a bit hard to find; we had to ask a nearby bar for directions.  it had only locals inside, and the small bar  was filled up, so we grabbed a seat at a small corner table.   Out tapa was seared or baked ham and potatoes in a clay dish,  plus wee sausage in blanket   Tasty, but not blow us away tasty.

Mareas Vivas.
Mareas Vivas.

20130815-124443.jpgRincón de Roque, Calle de San Martín, 3.

 Calle san Martin runs parallel to Calle de la Hillaras and only a short walk through the nearby streets. This bar was not as busy as the others but how busy sometimes depends on the time of your visit, the Spanish go out much later than most. The drinks prices were reasonable with free Tapas provided.

The bars listed above are all within a easy walk of each other and provide a nice introduction into Tapas trails.

Erin’s note on Rincon de Roque : when we arrived, it was practically closing at 11pm. We ordered beer, but no tapas were served with drinks – first time that’s happened in all of Madrid.   Minimal service or interest in us.  Our least favourite of the lot and the only bar I would not recommend or return to.

Two wildcards for those that get a taste;

Matador, Calle de la Cruz, 39.

 This should be on any list, and is the best place to end a tapas trail. This bar is only a short walk from Metro Sevilla and Puerto del Sol, small dark bar that has everything Matador inside with posters etc. truly a locals bar. The prices for drinks here were very good and the Tapas probably the most generous.

Erin’s Note on El matador :  FUN!  Great service from our punk waiter who was only one of 2 staff in the small bar. Tasty  cheese and salami tapa.  We enjoyed more than a few canas of beer here as it was one of the only places open really late.  Liked it so much we bought one of their fun T-shirts.     .  Definite late night joint with  lots of locals at 1am  on a Wednesday.20130815-123808.jpg

El Rincón Abulense, Calle del Caballero de Gracia, 18

A modern bar in a street that runs parallel to Calle Alcalá and Calle Gran Vía, lots of locals the drinks was reasonable and Tapas given were good portions.

Remember there are hundreds of bars in the centre of Madrid so be adventurous and visit some that take your fancy. Remember the best ones are frequented by locals and will usually be busy, just squeeze in smile and you will find a space at the bar.

Previous entries prior to updating with my recommendations. (Erin’s note: we did NOT try these, so I can’t vouch for them)

1. Restaurante José Luis

Calle Serrano, 89. Madrid, 28006

Tel: 915-630-958

Web: www.joseluis.es

2. Restaurante Jose Luis

Rafael Salgado, 11

Tel: 914-575-036

Original Link to the Trip Advisor article.
Some other notes from Erin on bars & restaurants I enjoyed:

La Barraca:   After exhaustive research on best paella in Madrid, I decided this was the place.  (IN truth I had decided Restaurante Amayra was the place, but they were closed for several weeks in August when we visited, so this was my second choice.) It was to be a birthday celebration for 2, so we made a reservation on e-mail and had no difficulty.
On arrival, we were seated quickly and staff was attentive. The food was delicious. I had high expectations for my paella (having lived in Spain twice previously) and this restaurant lived up to its reputation. It was hot fresh, filled with seafood and the rice was the perfect texture, and tasted wonderfully of saffron and spices. It was also nicely served by the waiter, who presented it, ladled out the portions for us and topped up our wine.
I’d say the clientelle was a half and half mix of both Spaniards and tourists; to me that says a lot. We had a yummy flan for dessert that was nicely flavoured and just the right texture and firmness; not too sweet! I highly recommend La Barraca.

 Bar Cock; If you’re looking for a cool place for a cocktail after your paella at La Barraca, head across the street to this lounge.  Friendly staff, cold beer, groovy tunes.  we were served olives and chips with our beers.  Not gourmet, but it was a nice place to chill.  Plus they had free wifi.
Torre del Oro Bar: Located in the Plaza Mayor, but don’t hold that against it! Loaded up with bullfighting photos, trophy heads and memorabilia, this place was fun.  Warning, some of the photos on the wall show very horrifyingly graphic injuries sustained in bullfights.  Not for the squeamish!  The staff were loud, boisterous and chatty and gave us a great education on bullfighting and other spanish topics. The bean salad we were served with our beers was tasty.
Chocolate con Churros at San Gines.
Chocolate con Churros at San Gines.

Chocolateria San  Gines: The internet told me this was THE PLACE for authentic chocolate con churros (Spanish hot chocolate with crispy fried donuts. We got in just before a large group. Seating is limited, so bear that in mind or get yours to go.  The churros were fresh!  We could see a man in the back making them to order.  The chocolate is thick, rich velvety and hot.. more like a melted chocolate bar than the traditional watery hot chocolate we drink in North America. You dip the churros in the chocolate and then drink what’s left.  I found it much too thick and rich to drink down… but it was a great breakfast treat.  Address: Paradizo de San Gines, 5

Most of our meals in Spain were tapas.  Wander into any bar, order up a few small plates from the glass case displays and experiment, and it’s hard to go wrong.  I think we ate just one “full meal” in Madrid; the aforementioned paella, but grazing on tapas whenever the mood struck us was fun and a delicious way to try new things.

20130815-123847.jpg

Travel Blog: Adventures & Explosions in Egypt and Jordan

Great Pyramid, Egypt
Great Pyramid, Egypt

With the situation in Egypt this week, it’s been reminding me of the trip I took there (and to Jordan) many years ago.  I had a great time, met lovely, friendly people and really immersed myself in the history and culture.  I kept a travel journal in the form of e-mails home.  Here they are for the first time ever.

Amman, Jordan:  Well, I made it. Looks like several of the keys on this arabic keyboard are sticky or just plain useless, so bear with me on the grammatical formalities here.
It was an exceedingly long trip. Made longer by the unscheduled stop in BEIRUT. Turns out a flight got cancelled so they decided to load everyone on my flight and make an extra stop. I got in at 6am local time on Saturday. I had a big nap then decided to venture out. Except when I woke at noon it was raining. Not just raining (in the desert, mind you), but call-in-the-ark raining. Did I mention this is the desert? The streets ran like rivers. Actual rivers. I wondered why the desk clerk at my hotel was laughing when I went out. He knew what was coming.
No one speaks English. Even those that say they speak English. Even many people in hotels. Kinda funny. I was looking for a restaurant and asked for directions in a hotel and the guy couldn’t help me. Couldn’t even find his own hotel on my map, at least not that he could communicate.

I love the people of Jordan & Egypt.
I love the people of Jordan & Egypt.

I managed to buy myself fresh squeezed-in -the-street juice, but have been largely unsuccessful finding a restaurant. Good thing I’m not hungry yet. Though I did pass a bbq chicken place…. Chicken!
I was also going to head over to a much recommended Turkish bath I read about in the guidebook, but since no one can read maps, I can’t read Arabic, and the streets are actually not labelled, this is proving difficult.
I’m actually giggling to myself right now, so amusing is this place…and me in it. It’s a bit of a trip to be so incommunicado. Good to be out of the old comfort zone once in a while.

Next Entry

Petra was amazing. We got up before dawn so we could be the first ones into Petra, and we were. For awhile we were the only people there at all. It was peaceful and quiet and so stunning. We walked down through a giant canyon called the Siq (sick). It’s hundreds of feet high, and used to be prone to flash flooding. But after a flood swept away a whole group of tourists, they dammed it. Dammit is right.

Peering through the siq to the Treasury.  Petra, Jordan
Peering through the siq to the Treasury. Petra, Jordan

The walk is about 20 minutes at a slow pace, and at that time of day the rock is pinky-coral. It’s sandstone so very soft, and in many places it’s pitted and pocked. Caves are everywhere. Many Bedoin used to live here.
Soon we came to the narrowest part of the Siq, and through this small fissure, you can just make out the treasury, the best preserved and most lavish building of Petra’s remains. It’s easily 6-8 stories tall, and cut right from the side of the gorge by the Nabatean people. The detail is amazing; corinthian columns, roman friezes, carved figures of women dancing. It was sooo cool. We sat there just looking at it as bedoin nomads came into the canyon on camel, donkey and horse (sometimes even in pickup trucks!) and began to set up shops. Many of them wear traditional clothing; headscarves, long shirts and pants, but just as many wear western clothing like jeans and t-shirts.
We spent most of the day in Petra, just wandering around, looking into caves that look like thieir insides are smeared with candlewax.

Crazy striped rocks, twisted from years of movement.
Crazy striped rocks, twisted from years of movement.

The rock here is fascinating, it’s a million shades of pink, peach, orange and cocoa. But the patterns are unforgettable; swirled like waves and fingerprints. It’s easy to see how this place can be captivating.

RSCN0633
There’s also so much more to Petra than just the famous treasury. Entire streets with elaborate facades scraped from the rock, homes and even an entire 3000 seat theatre. There’s also a lot of Roman ruins here too, as they came in and took the city, then set up shop here. There’s a Byzantene church, temples and tombs all ready to be explored.
Another highlight was climbing one of the mountains here to see the monastery building at the top–a place once reserved only for priests.
It’s several hundred metres up from the gorge floor via a series of stone steps and gravel cuts. With the sun beating down and the wind rustling the few trees here it was quite peaceful.

Monastery, Petra.
Monastery, Petra.

At the top, the building the Nabateans teased from the rock was even larger than the ones before–it’s the only thing here and its presence feels like it’s the biggest thing for miles–it totally overpowers you. I stood on what felt like the top of the world and looked around to see the Jordanian desert, and Israel beyond.

Afloat in the Dead Sea.
Afloat in the Dead Sea.

The day before we swam in the Dead Sea, and that was something! You couldn’t sink if you tried…just bob on toplike flotsam and the water tingles; almost like it might feel if you bathed in ginger ale. But the water is horrible to the taste and burns any tiny cuts or bites. If you’ve just shaved it can be very painful.

RSCN0466The water is super warm but it leaves a kind of oily feel on your skin. I covered myself head to toe with the mud from the bottom, as it’s supposed to be theraputic. It burns a bit, but once it was washed off it felt amazing. My skin was really soft.
Last night was spent camping in the desert of Wadi Rum with Bedoin nomads. Our tent was simple camel hair blankets fashioned into large tents with cots inside. The air was warm even at night and I was more than cozy in my sleeping bag.
We were treated to a bedonin feast for dinner then our drivers and the bedoin took up a drum, tamborine and some kind of guitar and played music for us around a fire. This morning we rode camels through the desert.

Camel ride.  Not very easy to do!
Camel ride. Not very easy to do!

In the morning tomorrow, Friday, we’ll take the hydrofoil across the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea to Dahab, Egypt.

Beautiful Dahab, Egypt
Beautiful Dahab, Egypt

Dahab Egypt. It’s the first city we’ve been to here since crossing this morning. Despite dire warnings about the hours of hassle and bureaucracy, we crossed without incident from Jordan. I have to say Dahab is stunning, though it really sneaks up on you. From the road it’s all dirt and dust and crumbling half-finished buildings. I was unimpressed. But I walked out the back of the hotel and instantly my feet hit sand. The town is spread across a large cresent beach here, and it’s just packed with restaurants, small hotels, stores and dive shops. Though we arrived after dark, the lights were bright and inviting. Our group went right away to a beautiful seafood place so close to the Red Sea, I could almost use the water to rinse my hands. And since we sit on cushions on the floor here, that was very nearly possible.
Though it’s low season here there are still a few tourists. Those who are here are stretched out across pillow-couches, sipping mango juice and lazily smoking the sheesha pipes. This place has quite the hippy feel.
Already Egypt is so much cheaper than Jordan. I can’t wait to shop in Cairo…I have so many things I’d like to bring home. The only thing I bought in Jordan was a Pashmina in Petra because things were so pricey. So I’m looking forward to spending my travellers cheques. Tomorrow we go snorkelling in a famous spot here for divers known as Blue Hole. I guess there’s a Blue Hole in Belize too…so I’ll take notes for later comparison. The following day we rise at 2am for a 2 hour climb of Mt Sinai to watch the sunrise. Not looking forward to the wake up call, but the experience is supposed to be surreal…even for the Athiests.

Mt Sinai at dawn.
Mt Sinai at dawn.
Dawn over Sinai.
Dawn over Sinai.

Aswan, Egypt:  We arrived by gruelling 13 hour overnight train journey. It was reasonably comfortable–the seats were big. I had taken a sleeping pill and prepped for a good 8 hours when something strange woke me up. I preface this all by saying it really was not as bad as it’ll sound.
I had a sleep mask on and my contacts out but I knew something was wrong. I pulled the mask off and the train car was full of smoke. Something acrid was burning my nostrils. I put on my glasses, ready to make a major dash for it, but I look and all the other foreigners in the car are just sitting there, like this was normal. Since they had been largely awake and I was asleep, I figured they knew something I didn’t, so I sat, but stuffed my stuff into my pack. All of a sudden all these rail guys go running through our carriage to the adjoining one. They opened the door and smoke pours in. Crazy. But again, they don’t seem too alarmed. Someone comes back and asks for anyone who’s a doctor or nurse, and one of our group was. She went off…in the meantime the smoke is clearing, and everything seems ok, though by now the train had come to a sudden halt.
Then a guy comes out to tell us something has exploded on the train. I was ready to jump off, but he goes on to say that it was something in the electrical lights overhead. I looked into the car, and I can see scorched light casings. So I figured he wasn’t shitting us for appearances (ie tourists’)sake.
When the panel blew it shattered one of the overhead luggage racks which (duh!) is made of thick glass. That rained down on one Aussie girl, and cut her up pretty bad. An ambulance and the cops show up, she and her boyfriend are taken to the hospital. We sat there for two hours, while they unhooked the blow-up car and took it away. Then it was as if nothing had happened. ‘Sweet tea? Coca-cola?”
I asked about the victim today, I guess she’s ok…many stitches, and the couple has returned to Cairo for improved treatment.

See…told you it wasn’t so bad. Just a bit freaky.

DSCN0931Aswan is ok. It’s right on the Nile so it’s picturesque. A bit small, but it has a nice market, though I can’t tell you how tired I am today of being hassled by shopkeepers. At EVERY shop, “Hello, Allo, bonjour, vegates….” and so on. Then, “are you looking for a scarf/shirt/alabaster/hat/rug” and if there’s no bite there, “Where are you from? Austrailia/America/Canada/Finland?” Until they hit on something. Once they know it’s Canada I get “Canada Dry, Never Dry!” or “Oh Canada!”, or my personal fave. “My wife is Canadian!” Then there is a long conversation about “where is your husband? You want Egyptian husband?” It’s charming at first, then weary, then just plain annoying.

Yesterday was the best. We went to the Giza pyramids in the morning then the Egyptian museum in the afternoon.
The pyramids are amazing. Really amazing. As the bus is driving along through traffic-choked Cairo, all of a sudden between the buildings, a quick glimpse of something… then it’s covered by another highrise. Then another quick peep, until suddenly there they are, filling my field of view. Cairo has grown so much that, literally, one second you’re in the city, the next, pyramidial desert. It’s really surreal, and doesn’t look at all right.

DSCN0786
These pyramids are massive. I mean I knew they’d be big, but they’re really imposing. And beautiful. So precisely perfect, all smooth edges and towering lines at a distance. I had to just sit there and marvel for a while. Up close, it’s just the opposite. The wear and tear and punishing desert wind have eroded their beauty, and they look like just a big pile of rocks. I chose to ponder them from further afield.
DSCN0804And the Sphinx. Soo cool. This massive figure at rest in the sand, lion’s body regal in repose, handsome face relaxed as it watches the city creep ever closer. It’s amazing to think that this site has been here for 5000 years.
OK, I’ve typed myself out. I’m gonna go meet the group for dinner. Early tomorrow, we’re going on a 3 hour drive to Abu Simbel, the massive temples and statues that were actually cut from the rock and moved to avoid the rising Nile after they put up the Aswan Dam. Then in the afternoon and tomorrow night, we’ll be on a Felucca boat, cruising the Nile.

Aboard the felucca.
Aboard the felucca.

At least I’ll have plenty of water to put out any fires.

 

Have a favourite Egypt memory?  Share it in comments!

RSCN0922

 

 

 

RSCN0902