Author Archives: arlenekeith

The Pyramids

Standard

The three sites we especially wanted to see in the Cairo area were the pyramids of Giza (of course), Saqqara, and Memphis. They were all quite a distance away and tricky to get to by public transportation. We were able to hire a car and a driver for the whole day to take us to all three for $25 each (not including entrance fees). Driving in Cairo was reminiscent of India, but the wider streets of the city centre made even more space for the horn-tooting traffic and people to zigzag in all directions. One would be hard pressed to find a car with no dings and dents. It’s like they drive by feel and sound here. Fortunately our driver was cheerful, competent and helpful.

Giza Pyramids
Sphinx at the Giza pyramids
The Sphinx
Temple at Giza pyramids
Giza

We also wanted to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Memphis. It was Egypt’s capital during the old kingdom (2686 to 2181 BC) and was once a cosmopolitan city with temples and palaces. You can still see the remnants of the city it was.

One of the many ancient statues of Ramses 11 (1279 – 1213 BC 19th dynasty). He is regarded as one of the greatest and most powerful pharaohs in Egyptian history. He reigned for 66 years, had wives, 90 children, built cities, fought multiple wars and achieved one of the world earliest peace treaties.

Saqqara is one of Egypt’s most important archeological sites and served as the main necropolis to the city of Memphis. This step Pyramid in Saqqara is Egypt oldest known pyramid (of the 109 discovered pyramids) and is considered the first large scale stone construction. It was an important phase in the royal tomb conception towards a full pyramid shape. Vendors greeted us selling their wares as their predecessors did 2000 years ago when people came to visit their ancestors and to leave offerings. It was a surreal day full of extraordinary history and I couldn’t believe I was actually there!

Step pyramid at Saqqara
Inside the tomb
Detailed hieroglyphs on the walls
I looked through a hole in a wall and this is what I saw
Serpent heads on another tomb in the foreground.

The plan after Cairo was to take the bus northwest to Alexandria. The original library is long gone but I still loved the thought of spending a day at ‘the library of Alexandria’. But that meant travelling to and spending time in another big city. While Cairo has been good to us, my window for city dwelling is small and it was closing fast. Since Gord was OK either way, we decided to head south to Luxor and more warmth. After 11 hours on the night train we hit Luxor at 3:30AM. We were too tired (we hadn’t slept) and cold (it was 6 degrees on the unheated train and our warm clothes were not accessible) to get off. We decided to stay put and continued on south to the town of Aswan. When we arrived at 7am it wasn’t any warmer but at least it was daylight. We have found another great little hostel for $11 per night which also includes breakfast. As we are almost the only ones here we literally have our own little apartment. People have been very friendly. Egypt is in a bizarre cold snap but we have been warmly welcomed everywhere we have gone.

The Grand Egyptian Museum

Standard

The new Grand Egyptian Museum is laid out representing the three kingdoms of ancient Egypt – old, middle and new, and upper and lower Egypt, combining 32 dynasties. Room after room, row after row of coffins, statues, sarcophagus’, and artifacts, many dating back almost 5000 years. It was incredible!

All the papyrus and hieroglyphs were in their original state. No touch ups or repair of any kind. No-one knows how 5000 year old papyrus has preserved so well

Many of the statues have black crystal and ivory in the centre of the eye and oxidized copper around the edges. It looked like the eyes were following us. This guy was especially freaky looking. Talk about supporting a supernatural-ish type of civilization.

Mummification (a process of preserving the body) was only done for pharaohs, royalty, rich people, scribes and priests. It was done using salt from the western desert, henna and other ingredients that were kept secret to maintain the exclusivity of it (call it job security). The body was laid out on a stone slab, cut from left to right (to avoid cutting into the liver). The intestines, liver, stomach and lungs were removed, washed, treated and wrapped in linens and placed in a special (often alabaster pot) and put outside of the coffin. The brain was also removed by inserting a rod up through the nose, mashing up the brain and extracting it back through the nose. It was also placed in a pot and put beside the coffin. The heart was removed, washed and placed back inside the body (because it needed to go with the body for their journey to the afterlife). The belief was that a person‘s heart was judged to see where they would go for the afterlife. After 70 days the body was ready for burial.

Statue of a scribe. (I love that scribes were part of the mummy club)
Papyrus and hieroglyphs of the heart being judged.
The alabaster jars where the internal organs were kept
Slab that the body was mummified on

King Tutankhamen’s tomb is the only tomb to be found completely intact. It had over 5000 priceless artefacts in it. The poundage of pure gold entombed with him must’ve been astronomical. His sarcophagus had three gold coffins inside, the innermost one alone weighing 240 pounds of solid gold. The mask covering his face was 22 pounds of pure gold. He was around nine when he became king and he died when he was 19. As both of his children died, he was the last of his dynasty. A contributing factor may have been because his parents were brother and sister and he himself married his half-sister. Different time different rules it seems.

King Tut’s throne of solid gold
The pure gold building to hold the alabaster pots containing King Tut’s internal organs.

Many of the statues are carved in black basalt, pink granite, or a stone called diorite. Diorites strength is equal to the diamond and it’s harder than granite. This statue shows Horus, the God of protection (the falcon), who always stays hidden behind the head

One of the Kings and Horus carved in diorite
So much to absorb

The robbers of the tomb of Thuya and Yuya (King Tut’s grandparents) removed the linens covering their faces so their coffins were open. In respect for the dead, they were the only opened coffins in the museum.

I wanted to post more pictures but had trouble uploading them. Tomorrow we are off to the pyramids.

Eat like an Egyptian

Standard

We arrived in Egypt to the cacophony of horns, traffic and the regularly broadcast Islamic calls to prayer. It was all music to my ears. We spent our first day recovering from 36 actual travel hours and enjoyed the balcony of our downtown Cairo hostel room. We sipped tea, ate fresh oranges, fresh baklava and feasted on aromatic Egyptian street food of fried fresh flatbread, spices, sauces and meat (I inhaled it before thinking to take a picture). We will enjoy it while we can.

Our hostel

The balcony beside us has a pigeon coop
Got 1/2 a kilo of fresh oranges for 50 cents
The breakfast included in our $17 hostel room

And we’re off!

Standard

They say to focus on the journey, not the destination, but what happens when just reaching the departure point of a journey becomes a journey of its own? As I write I’m about to board a flight destined for Egypt. But getting here during covidtimes was its own adventure. Ironically, the first hurdle had nothing to do with covid. In the days leading up to our flight, one of my teeth had become exponentially more painful. Now granted, my superpower is that I can ignore some fairly significant discomfort, but my addled brain finally processed that I needed to deal with this, and pronto. Cue up last night’s emergency root canal. The relief (both physical and psychological — thank goodness it didn’t happen next week!) was extreme. Nice to know that my angels are still on the job. 

As the time got closer to leaving I was often asked if everything was set. When it comes to travel during covid, everything is up in the air (except people) and nothing is ‘set’. I have kept a flexible mind and realized that plans could change at any point until we were checked in for the long haul.  As it turns out, we were unable to check in online as our lab done PCR covid test didn’t have a QR code on it.  A few days before I left, my daughter Sabrina sent me a text saying she would be suspending all cynicism and praying to the sacred goddess of health and travel logistics until I set foot in Egypt. But here we are – checked in and boarding shortly. We are Cairo-bound! Etihad Airways, the airline we are flying with, has extensive boarding requirements and at least on the flight I am not exaggerating when I say that I believe we will be safer than going to the grocery store! 

At the best of times there are a lot of boxes to check before leaving a house and a life for three months to wander. When you carry everything on your back packing is an adventure in itself and usually I am a stickler about pack weight. But this time I have been throwing extra drugs in every time I pass my pack as if I had donkey carrying it for me. But it’s  possible that at some point we may be sick or stranded and I’ve tried to pack accordingly. 

Adventures by nature are risky. In fact the definition of adventure  is “ a bold usually risky undertaking: a hazardous action with uncertain outcomes”. And this one sure qualifies. But even when a trip is not smooth sailing I still bask in the experience. Admittedly, if I am laying covid sick in a tent there may not be a lot of basking but it will still be an adventure. And I’m ready for an adventure! 

I’ll post when I can! About ready to board so better sign off. 

Winter travels 2022

Standard

The destination was decided many moons ago and by last summer the flight was already booked. But here we are, 2 1/2 weeks from d-day, and again covid is complicating the situation.

On Jan 11th, a week after receiving my booster shot, the plan is that Gord and I will be on a plane heading for Cairo. We will spend a few weeks in Egypt seeing the sights and limbering up our legs before taking a ferry across the Red Sea to Jordan. From there we will hike approximately  500 kilometers of the Jordan trail through wild desert beauty into Petra. Unless of course we lose our way and miss the water holes in which case we will wander aimlessly until we perish. Wow, that sounds dark. It sounded way funnier in my mind.

Hopefully we will also be able to get into Israel, one of my favorite places in the world. I have wonderful memories there of Jen and I hiking the Israel National Trail in 2015. But at the moment their borders are closed to foreign nationals.

Between covid tests, and border restrictions that change with the tides, the logistics of this three-month trip will be a “take a deep double-masked breath and roll with the quarantines” kind of adventure. As usual I will blog everything from the exquisite to the free fall, as well as a potential change of destination at the last minute.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a hope that the new year brings brighter days.

Oh Baby!

Standard


It has been eight months since my last post! My life is the same and yet completely changed.  

Instead of traversing the Mexican mountains last winter I worked daily on a book that I am writing full of blueberry recipes and farm life stories. I hope to have it finished and published by next summer. My daughter Sabrina, who is a talented and accomplished writer and editor is editing it for me. We are super excited about it! More on that in a few months. 

My life is still full of blueberries, although this year not quite as full.  The late frost combined with gazillions of gross Gypsy moth caterpillars decimated my plants and blooms and, even with intervention, resulted in a 70% loss of berries. But we dealt with the disappointment and moved on. At least we had some good rain in July and are hoping for a stellar crop next year.  

What is new and life changing is the arrival of my first grandchild, Cadia. I even look at my house through a different lens – my big, old, rambling farmhouse now feels like a perfect grandmothers house. Due on my 60th birthday, she made her grand entrance a week and a half later on July 29th – and she is a beauty! My son Colin and his partner Sharlie are great parents and love her to pieces! As all parents know, having a baby changes your life and you experience a depth of emotion previously unknown. What I never would have guessed is that you love a grandchild as much as you love your own kids! Who knew! Well, I guess all grandparents knew…and now I do too.

I’m thrilled to introduce my granddaughter, Cadia.

Proud Gran
Beautiful new mama

Very happy daddy
Excited auntie Sabrina
Hesitant uncle Max
Sweet baby Cade

Winter update

Standard

The week after I didn’t go to Mexico I decided to spend the winter on Vancouver Island. I packed up my little Honda fit with my sleeping bag, warmest clothes and enough food to last a month or so and set off. My plan was to take my time and hike my way across Canada and the West Coast. Three days out, more lockdowns kicked in, and B C was also talking about closing its border to tourists. I had to take a good hard look at what I was doing. I’m not in a financial position to winter in Canada without working unless I’m rough camping. And while that’s my thing, the way things were going, I could get stuck between hither and yon in the winter. In the end, I turned around and headed back home. Even so, I’m glad I went. I never really wanted to winter camp again but it certainly scratched my adventure inch, and I had some beautiful hikes in northern Ontario. But I have finally accepted, and made my peace with, what other people have long since accepted; this is not the year to travel.

So it will be a season of winter-land walking, cozy writing in front of the fire, and working. And feeling especially grateful for my wise and wonderful children who impress me every day.

Northern Ontario
Fit-camper

In a world gone mad…

Standard

At the eleventh hour I have changed my plans. For the last little while I have struggled with conflicting emotions about my scheduled trip to Mexico, which was due to start tomorrow. I wasn’t particularly unsettled by a fear of going to Mexico itself, or of getting seriously sick. But the apprehension of family and friends, a feeling that I was taking off to do my thing against all guidance, and concerns about getting back into Canada were three factors that all played a part of my inner conflict. What finally tipped the scales was a letter from one of my children last night, which stating the worries and fears that they all felt.

And so, I will go on a different, as yet undetermined, adventure somewhere in Canada. It won’t be as warm as Mexico, and it may not be wildly exciting to the naked eye but I will keep you posted. Thank you for sticking by me!

Winter 2021

Standard

I like New Years Eve. I always have. I like reflecting back on the past year, taking stock of where I am, setting new goals and looking to what’s ahead. 2020 has been a bit of a poopstorm and I feel incredibly grateful that me and mine have stayed afloat. Hopefully a comfortable normal will prevail in 2021 and the year will not be so wacky.

Traditional retirement is not in my stars. My retirement plan consists of my blueberry farm and the three winter months when I pack up my tent and sleeping bag and head for parts unknown. I need that time to recharge. It’s also, coincidentally, the time when my rambling old farmhouse is inhospitable to all living things except mice and squirrels. I swear it’s easier and cheaper to heat a cardboard box. 

I do not frequent hotels, restaurants, stores, bars or basically anywhere populated when I travel. I get groceries, but everyone needs to eat wherever they are. And so I have decided to continue with my plan to go to Mexico for the winter. I feel it is necessary for my mental health. I will either be solo hiking in the mountains, hunkered down in my tent on some quiet shore, or possibly even renting a little casa where I will spend my time writing. I am flying into Cancun on January 7th and finding a bus from the airport to Campeche. From there, I will start walking.

My mother was my age when she was diagnosed with an aggressive terminal brain tumour, which killed her ten months later. I knew that she was young but I didn’t realize how young. The impact on me of how, in the space of a breath life can be over, was absolute. My profound takeaway was don’t wait to live the life that nourishes you.  The following winter was the first time (but not the last) that I pulled my three kids out of school for an epic two-month adventure. 

My particular style of isolated wandering outside of first world countries requires the acceptance of a higher risk factor than conventional travel. The threat of disease ridden bug bites, spider bites, animal and venomous snake encounters, challenging weather, injury and illness is a reality. If I am in a town I  am ultra-aware of who and what is around me and where I am. Especially when I am alone. I am well versed in being constantly mindful of my safety. This year I will also be vigilant about distancing and masking for myself and for the safety of others. 

Yep, 2020 has been a year for the history books. I’m not one for burning books but even I’d be willing to throw a few recent pages in the fire. But for better or worse, we are making history and that’s something extraordinary.

My goals for 2021 are simple. I will stay kind in the face of judgement and try not to judge others. I will step outside of my own troubles and give more service to those around me. I will live true to who I am. I will forgive myself when I make mistakes. Wherever 2021 takes me and whatever it brings, I will try to move forward with an unwavering spirit and a peaceful heart. And I wish the same for you. Have a safe, happy holiday season.

Savour the Moments

Standard

I have just returned from 12 days in Alberta visiting my daughter Sabrina and her husband Ben. Sabrina and I canoed down the stunning Maligne River, we hiked up glorious mountain trials and looked down on glaciers, we camped out, we slept in, we ate great food, and frequently laughed until we hurt. It was an amazing trip that I will cherish.

During the canoe trip we met a lady who very recently lost her mother suddenly and unexpectedly. By the campfire we listened to stories of adventures that she shared with her mother. I was painfully aware of how bittersweet it must have been for her to watch Sabrina and I. Wiping away tears, she implored us to savour every moment together. And I do. I really, truly do.