Author Archives: arlenekeith

Desert Bliss at Wadi Rum

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We have spent the last few days hiking in the desert around Wadi Rum. What a place! Unique, colourful, towering cliffs with astounding formations, coupled with vast expanses of soft, red sand unlike anything I have experienced. The sand was tough to hike through with our heavy packs but I can feel my body resetting to a better place and that makes me happy. As does the silence and solitude.

Starting out
Desert boot camp
A warm fire on a cold night
A caravan of camels

Our first morning I was sorting out breakfast when I saw Gord running across the sand with the tent bouncing along in front of him just out of reach. When the wind blows in the desert there is nothing to stop it and when a lightweight tent has nothing in it, it blows away fast. Happily he rescued it with both of them none the worse for wear. He returned out of breath and looking forward to his coffee. Our water drops did not work out as it was too cost prohibitive. We can each carry three days worth so we will do three day stints and then move on. All this to say that he allocates a portion of his precious water to his morning caffeine hit. So when he accidentally spilled it before his first sip it was a Greek tragedy doubled. “Son of a bitch” he muttered sadly.

beautiful little desert flower

T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawerence of Arabia, spent a lot of time here during the Second World War. It’s also where Dune, The Martian and Aladdin, Star Wars, among other movies, were filmed. It’s no wonder. The landscape feels otherworldly!

Getting to Jordan

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As expected, getting to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was quite a ride. Figuratively and literally! The ferry from Hurghada to Sharm el Sheihk was canceled, so we booked a flight instead from Luxor to Sharm el Sheikh. When that was also cancelled we settled in for a 24 hour bus ride (with about 4 inches of leg room) across the Sinai Peninsula. There were checkpoints every couple of hours, day and night; sometimes just to check everybody’s ID, sometimes for the full drill when everybody had to get off the bus, drag our luggage from the storage area below, stand in a row with our open bags in front of us while a stern official with a very big gun walked down the line checking IDs and rummaging through luggage. The guys sitting in front of us were detained and the bus carried on without them. Yep – quite a ride!

The Sinai peninsula
You can see the colours of the hieroglyphs in the colours of the stone in the Sinai.
Sinai peninsula

To get our PCR test before leaving Egypt, we were given a phone number of a man named Waleed and told to communicate with him by WhatsApp. He said he would come to our hostel in Dehab. We waited for him on the street corner (which seemed suspect) and in due time he arrived, we led him to our room, he did the swab, and we gave him our cash. It felt like a drug deal! But he assured us that he was with the government and sure enough the next morning he WhatsApp’d us with our negative results and our government issued QR code..

We also needed to fill out and submit an online application before being issued a QR entry code for Jordan. On the form the only way to enter our date of birth was to scroll back from January 2022. That’s 60 years of scrolling, month by month! Who does that – the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, that’s who! I was almost there (more than once) when the glitchy form kicked me back to 2022. The young men at the front desk of our poshy hotel helped us upload, download and reload until the wretched form was finally submitted! Sometimes it takes a village..

We needed a place with a proper copier and reliable internet so we enjoyed our last night in Egypt here
I love middle eastern food. Grilled veggies with tahini sauce and falafels

Armed with printed out documents and QR codes coming out the wazoo, we bought our ferry tickets. Our papers were checked approximately 11 different times, we received another PCR test on board the boat, we said goodbye to Egypt and set sail for Aqaba.

On the Red Sea heading for Jordan

The Arabian desert is one of the driest deserts in the world. What people do is prearrange to have a load of water dropped at a gps coordinate. We are trying to get some water drops organized as there is no water source for the first two sections of the trail (which represents approximately 200 kilometres). Tomorrow we are finally leaving souvenir stalls, tourist attractions, civilization, and all creature comforts behind. I am so ready! And I’m super excited to sleep in my new tent!

The 650 km Jordan Trail is unmarked and we will be following Gord‘s electronic trail app to find our way. The trail is divided into eight sections with each section taking us approximately a week of hiking. We will be slow and that’s OK. I doubt we will get it finished and that’s ok too. The terrain is challenging. We will take one step at a time for as long as we can and add our humble footprints along the paths where travellers and traders have wandered as far back as the Old Testament. I wonder how Moses got his water!

Looking at Eilat, Israel across an inlet of the Red Sea from Aqaba. Eilat is where Jen and I began our hike across Israel in 2015. Such treasured memories!

Welcome to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings

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At 247 acres the Karnak temple is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. It was built over a span of 2000 years through the Middle Kingdom (c 2034 – 1650 BC) to the Roman period (c 30 BC – 306 AD) by multiple kings.

I am sitting in our hostel in Luxor listening to the evening prayers being broadcast far and wide. I have grown accustomed to it and find the voices soothing. I hear dogs barking and children playing. I smell wood smoke and hear the crackling of a fire in the street below where neighbours have gathered for warmth as they smoke, sip tea and visit for the evening. The sounds of fast speaking Arabic punctuated with laughter drifts up through the open window slats of our room. People in general seem happy here, in what ancient times was called, Thebes. We often hear smiling children shouting “welcome to Luxor” as we pass by. We have been awed by its sights and I feel incredibly grateful to be here.

The forecourt of the temple was a privileged place of contact between the god and the population who had limited access to the temple. The rams heads represent power,strength and fertility.
The Great Hypostyle hall has 134 columns reaching a height of 15 – 24 metres. It was impossible to get the scope of it in pictures.
The Goddess Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that every Egyptian was expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honour and truth in matters that involve family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods.
Riding to the Valley of the Kings

The west side of the Nile was called the city of death (because the sun sets in the west) and is where all the ancient tombs are. We took the ferry across, rented bicycles for the day and rode a 25 kilometre round trip to the Hatshepsut Temple, the Valley of the Queens, and the Valley of the Kings, which is a grouping of 62 royal tombs (our tickets allowed us into 4 of them). As soon as a Pharaoh came into power he started building the tunnel into what would be his burial chamber where he would be entombed with all of his riches. The belief was that it helped them on their journey to the afterlife. We hired an Egyptologist to guide us through and didn’t regret it. Learning what some of the symbols meant and how to piece together bits of the stories, ceremonies and gods depicted was fascinating. We were blown away by all of it!

A closed tomb entrance in the valley of the kings.
The first tomb we saw was Ramses IX. It was 72 meters long and had recently reopened after being closed for ten years.
A close up of what the walls were chock full of. The colours were made from crushed coloured stone and mixed with egg. None have been repaired or touched in any way.
The walls all along the corridor/tunnel leading down into the tombs were covered in exquisite hieroglyphs and artwork of rituals, gods and ceremony’s.
Even the ceilings were covered.
Walking down into the tomb of Ramses III. He had a 33 year reign, 8 wives (one of whom killed him) and 40 children.
The hieroglyphs and depictions weren’t just painted. Many were carved right into the stone.
Hatshepsut Temple
Street Falafels are a staple

We are off now to start making our way to Jordan.

Nile River Cruise

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When David, of David’s hostel, where we stayed in Aswan booked us a three-day, two-night Nile cruise for $100 each I was expecting that we would be sleeping under a tarp and rowing during the day. And that was still OK with me! But when we boarded the ship I found a five-star all inclusive! Food galore and a fancy room to boot. It was too chilly to swim in the pool but we savoured our time doing nothing more strenuous than watching banana plantations drift by from comfortable loungers on the sundeck and going back and forth to the sumptuous buffet!

from our room
Trail food rations are going to be a shock once we get to Jordan. 😥
scenery along the Nile.
When we went through some locks, vendors rowed fast to keep up while trying to sell their wares. They would throw up packages four decks above. Their aim was perfect!
Sunset over the Nile from the ship

Welcome to Luxor!

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At 247 acres the Karnak temple is one of the largest religious complexes in the world. It was built over a span of 2000 years through the Middle Kingdom (c 2034 – 1650 BC) to the Roman period (c 30 BC – 306 AD) by multiple kings.

I am sitting in our hostel in Luxor listening to the evening prayers being broadcast far and wide. I have grown accustomed to it and find the voices soothing. I hear dogs barking and children playing. I smell wood smoke and hear the crackling of a fire in the street below where neighbours have gathered for warmth as they smoke, sip tea and visit for the evening. The sounds of fast speaking Arabic punctuated with laughter drifts up through the open window slats of our room. People in general seem happy here, in what ancient times was called, Thebes. We often hear smiling children shouting “welcome to Luxor” as we pass by. We have been awed by its sights and I feel incredibly grateful to be here.

The forecourt of the temple was a privileged place of contact between the god and the population who had limited access to the temple. The rams heads represent power,strength and fertility.
The Great Hypostyle hall has 134 columns reaching a height of 15 – 24 metres. It was impossible to get the scope of it in pictures.
The Goddess Maat represents the ethical and moral principle that every Egyptian was expected to follow throughout their daily lives. They were expected to act with honour and truth in matters that involve family, the community, the nation, the environment, and the gods.
Riding to the Valley of the Kings

The west side of the Nile was called the city of death (because the sun sets in the west) and is where all the ancient tombs are. We took the ferry across, rented bicycles for the day and rode a 25 kilometre round trip to the Hatshepsut Temple, the Valley of the Queens, and the Valley of the Kings, which is a grouping of 62 royal tombs (our tickets allowed us into 4 of them). As soon as a Pharaoh came into power he started building the tunnel into what would be his burial chamber where he would be entombed with all of his riches. The belief was that it helped them on their journey to the afterlife. We hired an Egyptologist to guide us through and didn’t regret it. Learning what some of the symbols meant and how to piece together bits of the stories, ceremonies and gods depicted was fascinating. We were blown away by all of it!

A closed tomb entrance in the valley of the kings.
The first tomb we saw was Ramses IX. It was 72 meters long and had recently reopened after being closed for ten years.
A close up of what the walls were chock full of. The colours were made from crushed coloured stone and mixed with egg. None have been repaired or touched in any way.
The walls all along the corridor/tunnel leading down into the tombs were covered in exquisite hieroglyphs and artwork of rituals, gods and ceremony’s.
Even the ceilings were covered.
Walking down into the tomb of Ramses III. He had a 33 year reign, 8 wives (one of whom killed him) and 40 children.
The hieroglyphs and depictions weren’t just painted. Many were carved right into the stone.
Hatshepsut Temple
Street Falafels are a staple

We are off now to start making our way to Jordan.

Adventures in Aswan

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From early Egyptian times a tiny island in the Nile River has been a sacred place. It’s ancient name is Pilak (meaning ‘end’or ‘remote place’. We took a boat out to the island to visit the Philae temple, a great religious centre roughly between 400BC and 400AD. I especially enjoyed it because, aside from its astounding beauty, it was a temple complex dedicated to the powerful goddess Isis and she is, hands-down, my favourite deity. She is the goddess of motherhood, fertility, healing, magic, death and rebirth. Talk about a kick-ass goddess! She was the wife of Osiris (god of agriculture and the afterlife) and mother of Horus (the falcon God of protection). She was one of ancient Egypt‘s most important goddesses and a great role model for women. In 1979 the Philae Temple was designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Isis is on the left

The Nubians are an individualistic group of people with their own language and culture who lived alongside early Egyptian’s in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. They had settlements dating back to the early Neolithic age 7000 years ago. We set our sights on hiking to a Nubian village 20 km. south of Aswan along the west side of the Nile. Some young arrivals to our hostel joined us for the adventure. Along the way we visited ancient tombs, passed the ruins of a Norman fortress, got lost and took a short cut across beautiful (and exceptionally soft) desert sand, and stumbled on forgotten and deserted tombs with actual mummy’s in them.

Heading into the tombs
In the ancient tombs
In the tombs
An old Norman fortress
The hike
The hike
We stumbled across many of these holes which we suspected were tombs. I crouched down and went half way in one and saw mummy’s. One of our young travelling friends went all the way in and took this picture.
Stopping for a lunch break
Nubian village. The people and the colours looked more west African than Egyptian

We are heading out this morning for a 3-day Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. Super excited!!

Street food

The Pyramids

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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

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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

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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!

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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.