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The start of the long trip


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THE START OF THE LONG TRIP:
London is big

The tangle of tube lines and directions is even bigger.
I left plenty of time to get the train from where I kissed goodbye to my friends.
Of course I was rushing up the escalator and asking every person I passed was I in the correct terminal. Unfortunately many did not know which terminal egyptair flew from – it’s not like my usual monthly trip to London from Dublin – too difficult to get lost.

Of course once I set down in the airport I ran to the Burger King and stuffed my eager face with big burgers, floppy chips and tonnes of tomato sauce – as I had been doing for the previous 2 months in Dublin, swallowed down with copious amounts of beers –Sure I wouldn’t be seeing either foodstuffs for months – twas all to be bananas from now on – maybe if I was feeling risque I’d try the local delicacies: rice, felafel and lemonade
Naturally I was late for check in. I have learned this technique from my previous work meetings, fear of wasting time waiting around and… relationships. When you’re young and in love and eager you turn up early – you booked the hairdresser for the morning – your friends to come around and choose the clothes 2 hours before and the shower, defuzz, cream, bath foam etc…
As you get older (and more cynical I think my acquaintances not to mention dates would agree) you turn up later – that way you look as if you don’t give a shit if your potential love thing is late – and you have the breezy air that everything is dandy with you – and sure if they’re late – you were too – and if they’re on time – at least you didn’t have to stand there waiting for them – and if they’re not there – you weren’t really that bothered – look how late you were, and you do a big couldn’t give a shit shrug anyway in case their friend is wastching from the doorway 3 doors down – he looks as if he is observing you… paranoia.
Yes a skill you definitely learn in Ireland cos undoubtedly you’d be waiting in the pouring rain and your checks would be flecked with red broken veins and you’d be flustered and ready to hit the head of him when he finally does arrive. It is just impossible to look up sweetly into his eyes and say ‘ no its fine, I was just looking at the lovely birds flitting around the flower beds – I do so love the outdoors’ whe your saturated and pissed off and pissed on and just want the stupid bastard to buy you a double vodka – and a beer so you have something to throw at him.
No tis better all round if the lady turns up late. However this can become a problem when you have to meet your girl friends. The trouble is – and it has happened and god help us when it ripples into 15 years later. You turn up 10 minutes late the first time – so they turn up 15 the next – then you go 20 – then they go 25 - > At this time Deridre – a good friend whom I do not get to see much – not infrequently you see – quite frequently but for only small amounts of time due to the fact that we are now averaging 3 hours late – we always meet in a pub for obvious reasons. It was time I left Ireland. The pubs close at 11.30 and I was losing drinking time.
Peering over towelled-headed Arabs at our check in it was not difficult to spot Andrea – a fellow blonde Caucasian female. She had cut all her blond Danielle Steel hair off and had it neatly tied up in a ponytail – a sign of greasiness to come. She wore the clean flashy combats, which we all had – but in various shades, sparkling new boots and the almighty fleece. We hugged and nervously turned towards the desk and presented our tickets and full brimming rucksacks to the beautiful tanned hostess.
The plane was huge. Hollywood’s films and books depict Ireland as a quaint backward place. It is true we do not have the though traffic to necessitate large aircraft’s and anyway we are only a stones throw away from that pulsing polluted hub of London from where we can go anywhere in the world. Now I fancied myself as having travelled quite a bit, all over Europe including Eastern Europe, and America. But this plane was huge. There were Televisions on the bottom and on the front so we could see a captains eye view of the runway and then the land below when we were safely airborne – an expense which is not necessary in my view but which entertained us immensely. Our fellow Arab passengers took it quite coolly and did not respond to our ohs and ahs of awe struck technology!@!
We met Aisling and Niall at a crowded Cairo airport late on Saturday night after or early Sunday morning depending on what clock you go by. Ais said a teary good bye to Niall we went into the 'luxurious' accommodation booked for us that night - ie. we had a room to ourselves.
On this leg we met our first ‘mishap’. Andrea got in the front of the cab as Niall had told the driver to take care of his girls. He did so of course in a macho fashion after he had his hands and arms flailing about trying to bargain down the Price of the cab. Ais looked on proudly as ‘the man’ haggled with a knowing smile – he’s done this before and I am getting used to it – you know one must bargain profusely all the time – not only because they try to rip you off but because this haggling and energy effort is an integral and extremely vital part of the travelling culture. Anyway – in we got slamming bockety doors shut after saving a whole 5p on our journey. Andrea and myself didn't think the 30 minutes shouting was worth the effort –apparently we would come to enjoy this pastime. And we did – sometimes.

I absolutely hated my first night in Cairo – the first night of the big trip. I remember sitting on the toilet watching a huge upside down cockroach wriggling to get upright. I crushed it with my heavy boot which did not manage to drown the clattering crunch of the exoskeleton. No toilet roll of course and my thighs were shaking from this hovering position. I tried to sooth myself by saying at least it was a western toilet not a hole in the ground. But what is the good of that when it is so filthy that you can’t sit on the bloody thing!

I wandered down the kippy hallway back to our three-bedded room. It was hot and heavy and mosquitoes buzzed and hovered all night. I just wanted to go home and spent the night thinking of excuses for going home. I could get my parents to lie and say someone in the family was sick – I wouldn’t lose face- but I might lose a journey of a lifetime. But I hated it and I didn’t see how things could improve. Sure – I’d see the pyramids and the many wonders of the world – I could lie on barren beaches and meet interesting people.

INCLUDE MORE HERE But I would still have to sleep in flea ridden beds, and eat crappy food, and journey in collapsing cages – and those activities would take up at least 60% of each day!! I was miserable, thoroughly wretched

The following day we booked into a nearby hostel a place overrun by Japanese. We saw very few western travellers in Cairo which didn’t help the homesickness and the promise of meeting loads of interesting people. Anyone we met couldn’t speak english so what the hell were we to do!

Our first chore was to dump some of our baggage to decrease the weight which was quite painful

but necessary. In retrospect I dumped all the things I would lament the loss of in the future but Ais had been taught by ‘ the man’ and was like a German schoolteacher standing over us. The bubblebath went, the hairdryer, curler, epilady and vanity case (only joking) just some t-shirts, mossy nets, rain jackets,,,,, all those things that every manual tells you you’ll need. Herr Fuhrer herself though told us that they were not necessary – and from her 2 weeks experience and lessons from ‘the man’ we would not be needing them. Andrea did as was told. I kept my anorak and net for the time being – but the vesty tshirts, skirts and trousers went into the bin.
OUR FIRST RACE
The Egyptians are extremely nice people. We ventured out into the noise, pollution, overcrowding scary city streets of Cairo. Every few steps we take down the street we were hailed by "Welcome in Egypt" accompanied by big grins. It was so obvious we were foreign not, only because of our fair skin, blond hair, western clothes, but mainly cos we were the only females hazarding the sidewalk’s
The men are very helpful and we have no problem finding things - in fact people can be too helpful. The three of us learned important Arabic words from our friendly hostel host. People stare queerl6y at us as we squint our eyes and play games, trying to decipher the alphabet by using passing number plates on cars for practice. Men seem to go wild for three girls on the side of the street jumping up and down screeching no – that’s a 5 – it is like a triangle, the dot is the zero – think of the year dot to remember, or nothing, the end fullstop….. and the six is a backward seven, and the seven is a backward 3. Do people find our alphabet funny and weird – where did it come from- roman times wasn’t it? And where did the Arabic one stem from. This is the type of thought and conversation that you get into when travelling. Questions, questions, questions, wondering wondering as you wander round the country. Everything is potentially interesting and has a past and a history and a reason. You revert to childhood consciousness of asking questions about everything and asking ‘ mammy, where does pepper come from?”
Everyone wanted to talk to us on the street. Boys would grin and ask silly things, grown men asked us where we were from and others used any vista possible to try to get us into their shop or their brother's shop or a cousins shop. Name anything you wanted and they knew someone who had a shop that sold just that. So we did not find it odd when an older gentleman approached us and said 'You must be very sad". How do we take this. No, we're not sad, we like it here / no we do like our western lives and female liberties although sometimes I think the traditional woman stays at home and male is the breadwinner is not such a bad thing (some of my friends would gasp in horror). You must be sad because Diana is dead. Who is Diana? - You must be mistaken we are not travelling with any Diana. Your princess!!! No, not our princess we're Irish not part of the UK, but yes that would upset us, a great lady. This was a very good ploy to get our attention. Did we believe him? No, not at all, But he would take us to his shop (funny that) we were wondering how that managed to fit into the equation… and show us the newspaper in English. So off we toddled - an adventure if nothing else would be in store for us, or another free lemonade paid for only in our energy in saying repeatedly after samples of perfume on every free area of naked skin (which was not much I assure you) that we were POOR students, no money, would love to but poor, very poor, bye now. So we sat down in our third perfumery of the day (they all happened to be individual sellers to the body shop in our country). The guy asked his aide to go a fetch a newspaper. The famous three sat and waited, and waited, would we like to see some samples while we waited? No thankyou - are you sure, yes thankyou. So he paced up and down and sprayed samples in the air - to noone in particular but hey if we had liked the smell only $5 a jar. The boy came back 20 minutes later flustered - - all the English papers in the city were sold out. He got a good Arabic one with photos. Sure enough there was a car wreck and an insert of Diana. We were not familiar with the dodi connection but soon copped on to why the Egyptians w4re so interested in the accident. We walked home to the hostel with our heads down -
When you are a little girls you want to play princesses, you want to grow up to be a princess and wear all those lovely clothes. But somehow somewhere down the line the new rue is that princesses become unhappy, they die in car crashes and have terribly depressed lives

Monday 1 September

Last time I had:……. baked potatoes and real irish butthher….. one week

Everyone wants to show us something - be it a perfumery, a glass shop, a silver shop,

papyrus making (the woven canvass for the Egyptian paintings). There is always 'no obligation to buy' and it is rude to refuse a hospitable offer of a drink (tea, coke, 7UP..) so we have learned the skill of saying that we are either meeting an Egyptian friend who is showing us around or

that it looks great but we are poor students etc. We have even been brought to the

same shop by 2 different people... they all act as salesmen and give 10% of any sale to the owner of the shop. However one man can be a perfume salesman, a travel guide and a load of other things at the same time - depending on what you are looking for or at least they have a brother or a friend in the business.
Transportation is an amazing phenomenon. There is no such thing as adhering to traffic lights - although they do exist at some junctions but are usually subterfuged by a spatted police man. Traffic lanes do not exist - don't be fooled by the white painted lines on the ground. Wherever you can go - you go - and if that means the other side of the road tha's more fun for the toursits to gawk at.

It is obligatory to beep your horn at least once every 10 seconds, sometimes at other vehicles - other times just to keep yourself company. One person told us that a bus driver had2 different sounding horns - one for company and one for actually/beeping at the other traffic. He also has a whistle - so he opened the windows and doors of the bus and blew the whistle out of the window because the other cars do not notice the horn!
Tuesday 2 September

We went to Ramses station to get tickets for Luxor and Aswan. Queuing was a joke. Not a very funny one though. The egyptians grin through brown stained and quite often gleeming gold teeth and point and nod you in the direction of the queue you hand signalled for. Trhis happens to be the longest one with the smelliest people and stained underarms which is the height you r nose reaches cos you are small. We were put into 4 different queues before getting to the right one. There is no such thing as a straight line, the rule is push till you get served even if you are at the back. The smell of stagnant armpits ads intrigue to insence and sweaty beaded foreheads bordered by turbans irritating.
Eventually we got the tickets E50 each for 2nd class. A cheap price but was it worth the stress - sorry the beauty of travelling. That afternoon we went to old Cairo and saw the hanging church, the convent, St. Serguis, the oldest church in Egypt where Mary, Joseph and Jesus went to hide from King Herod. We saw the old Coptic and Orthodox cemeteries also. It was quit odd there the further you got form the metro station the more it looked like what you'd image in war-torn middle eastern areas to look like - just a mass of sandy bleached rubble and dirt. With black hooded women pottering around and grizzly men with their feet up outside makeshift bunkered stalls which acted as retail outlets. The main historical area was small in circumference and as the old stooped lady holding her black cape shut scuttled past I expected her to look up and see Michael Palin with crooked teeth giggling and gurgling - must get Brian. Sure that is the only time I would have gotten to see any reference to this type of Egypt. Every time someone tries to make a film about anything to do with the bible it is herodded as blasphemy ( sorry about the pun)

Wednesday 3 September

THE PYRAMIDS

The journey to the pyramids at Giza - about 18km out of Cairo. took us 45 minutes on a microbus and cost a mere 50 piastres (about 10p). The area is completely different from the romantic imagery you catch on TV or from photos on coffee table books. From the motorway you can only see the tips of these triangular forms. As you walk around the tatty hotels their magnificance becomes apparent added to by the camel camps at the base. These camps are tatty, sandy and full of half chewed looking tents and corrugated iron shelters. The view is like a scene from a jesus in the desert film. Camles stride with their own personal graces led by robed men. We looked for Mohammed Abu Ashwa (with whom Aisling had previously got a 'good price'). After shrugging off many touts and guides we finally found him riding high on Charlie Brown - one of the tallest camels in the camp. We sat down in his shelter with 2 of his friends and had tea and Coke and a chat. 40 minutes later Ais and myself got up on Charlie Brown while Andrea got on a smaller (but still very high off the ground) Whiskey Soda. Off we rode into the desert, past a very poor village, by a cemetery and up to the pyramids. Aisling and myself were in front on Charlie Brown and when we were freed from Mohammed's grasp off we went riding into the dunes. Riding on a camel takes a bit of getting used to. Imagine riding a horse only every movement multiplied by 20 - and add a bit of height from the ground below. The atmosphere however dampened any fears. This is what we went travelling to do…….. When in the desert…… not as far as the gasp!- I-need-a-drink-thirst-thing. We settled for just riding the camels. Our camels halted on a high sand dune to the left of the 3 largest pyramids and to the right of the 6 smaller ones locating a view of the Sphinx.
This is the way to do it. Other tourists get a bus to another viewing site with about 150 other tourists - I daresay riding a camel was a bit more realistic than the tourist bus. As we were perched looking across at the green belt of the oasis on the other side of Giza, a man on a mule strutted painfully riding up the hill. The guy looked far too big for the mule, legs splayed out to either side bobbing up and down as the frustrated mule trudged up the rocky side (not every inch is sand) The mule was introduced to us as the faithful Merth E Des and his master sold us some cold water. We could not refuse the little buy - as mohammed had literally come to the mountain. Other mules muling around the vicinity later in the day included Kad I Lak, Must Anghhh and so on - quite amusing. Mohammed's old camel was called Travolta as he gave the cleft-chinned man himself a camel ride about 6 years ago. At the time other tourists had to point out the celebrity as he did not recognise him (lack of TV / cinema thing I supposed). John has what Mohammed describes as 'a good face'. A strong face - That's one way of putting it!
We rode back through fields, mango orchards and villages to Mohammed's house. We met his wife of 11 years (aged 27) and his 5 kids. However she looked happy and Mohammed is a nice man - but god the culture shock for us! Usually young women marry older men in my world for companionship or money - not to stay at home baking bread all day and washing clothes for the many children! She cooked 2 meals for us that day which were absolutely scrumptious. Mohammed had left us for a few minutes to ride the camel to the local shop/stall. He arrived back with a fresh chicken for our dinner. We laughed and chatted as best as we could on the roof while the fresh chicken was killed, defeathered and cooked for us. We ate on the roof of his house as the sun set to the left of the pyramids and listened to his stereo - blaring out his favourite tape - which included songs like the Macerena, Saturday Night, Coco Jamba (yes it is completely true)The neighbours had a good look at us too and one threw over a tape from an 'Irish man' when the found out what nationality we were ..... and we listened to DEF LEPPARD for a while, grinning. All the houses in the area look unfinished - the reason for this is that when a son gets married, if he cannot afford his own house another storey is built on top of the parents house and he and his new wife and family reside there and so on. So some houses were much taller than others and all had steel cables sticking from the roofs, just in case.

At 9.30 we said goodbye and had a trail of 10 kids running after our camels as we rode back through the villages to the pyramids to catch the end of the laser light show. We got the bus home and crashed out for the night.

Thursday 4 September

Every muscle in our bodies were aching - some we have never used before. We slept late and then took a walk to the GPO to buy stamps. The stalls in Islamic Cairo offered clothes, meat (including pigs heads, trotters, brains...), spices etc.. Of course deliberately we got lost on our way to the Citadel and ended up in a very old part - with extremely dirty streets and houses. We were a

bit scared. Actaully weird unfamiliar men grinning through brown -teeth if they had any at all, and loads of little kids hanging off you and grabbing your clothes and bags and stry wolf-like dogs biting at your heels was terrifying. But as I have said before the Egyptians are extremely honest and friendly so we eventually found our way - very thirsty and tired to the uphill trek to the Mohammed Ali Mosque in the Citadel. From here the view over the rooftops of Cairo was spectacular. We relaxed in the mosque to the sound of the chandeliers tinkling in the wind and the circles of lanterns encompassing the middle of the floor. We got home in a local packed bus with our noses pressed against the front window (always sit/stand beside the driver because of wandering hands), which was a lesson in Cairo traffic!!!
Friday 5 September

Today we were supposed to go on a 3 hour camel trek from Giza to the step pyramids at Saqqari.

However Andrea is feeling a little under the weather so we are going another day. Tomorrow we are off on our 17 hour train journey to Aswan, Luxor and Abu Simbel- all of which you will know from Indiana Jones and Agatha Christie. We are taking a felucca sailboat on a 3 day trip up the Nile from Aswan to Efdu. We are really looking forward to this
Saturday 6 September

We watched Lady Di's funeral on the hotel television - very sad, ate McDonald's and boarded the train to Aswan at 10pm that night.
Sunday 7 September

The guide book says allow anything from 12 to 17 hours for the train ride to Aswan - after a night of Spaniards singing on the train we finally got there at 11.30 am - not too bad. We followed some people we met on the train to the Nubian Oasis hotel where Captain Jamaica, famous over here, was awaiting our arrival - to sell us something of course - a felucca trip with him.

The Lonely Planet says that the view from the Terrace Bar at the Old Cataract Hotel is absolutely fabulous, so we set off in the general direction. After 30 minutes in a sweltering 35-40°C we were very cranky when we finally arrived. We plonked ourselves at the plush poolside bar, took a quick snap of the fantastic Nile, with sailboats, hanging trees, Elephantine island... but the hotel staff got to us pretty quickly to inform us that if we were not guests the cost of sitting would be - can't remember - far too much anyway. So we were walking away - still dying of thirst and we met a man! - He worked at the hotel, took us down to his felucca on the Nile where we had tea with himself and another Mohamed! and chatted and looked at his photo album taken by his friend, a famous Austrian artist - Liz ?? We learned about the history of the area - the visits from the previous Aga Khan and how since he died in 1957, his wife places a single red rose on his tomb every day that she is there, a task which the caretaker does when she is away, carrying on the way he wooed her back in Paris decades ago! We were then invited in to the Old Cataract Hotel where Agatha Christie stayed while writing 'Death on the Nile' and it is just as you would picture it - wealth in the Middle East, we had a freshly squeezed orange juice and air conditioning 'on the house' (or hotel?) and felt like beggars in a palace. That evening we got a boat to Elephantine island - so named because the rocks look like elephants bathing (there are also other explanations) and congregated with other backpackers in Captain Jamaica's garden and discussed the upcoming felucca trip up the Nile. We then all had dinner, walked through the wonderful souqs (street markets) and retired to bed - an early start awaiting us.
Monday 8 September
Got up at 3am and got onto the minibus at 4am for the 4 hour trip through the desert to Abu Simbel where the temple Ramsses II is situated on Lake Nasser. It is the famous one of the 4 statues in a sitting position guarding a fantastic temple with hieroglyphics etc. The journey back through the desert with mirages in 45°C was like an oven with a hairdryer in your face all the time.


Tuesday 6 September

Got up early and a convoy of 3 feluccas, 30 backpackers, headed off sailing up the Nile. RELAXING HEAVEN are the best words to describe the trip without an ounce of boredom. At night we had a bonfire on the beach and danced and sang along to drums while the sun went down - and long after. A felucca is a fibreglass boat with canvas draped in the middle - to lie the day away neath the beaming sun ( and in the shade of the sail if you are too hot). The sail boat meanders its tack up the nile while you lie or sit head rested on hand and suanter through thoughts and imaginations that lap in your mind as the soft waters lap against the bow of the boat creating a soothing sound suffocating the senses. Yes - peace - with the banks of the nile offering glimpses of herds, birds and all sorts of wildlife and the occasional bathing and playing children splashing in the silence.


Wednesday 10 September

Did much the same - some got into the Nile and swam but the potential diseases from the waters of the Nile caused some of us to stay dry and safe on the boat. Some venturous souls jumped off the back for a swim. They held the rope attached to the back of the rope for guidance. As Aislings turn came the wind picked up and the boat went faster and the strength needed to keep a firm grip on the rope was giving up - the water flushed against her shaking body and a malicious Captain Jamaica seemed to enjoy watching her in pain. Eventually she got in shaking from fear and the tension in her arms from trying to hold on. Again we watched the sunset and made little animals out of the stars and saw no less than 3 shooting stars (none of my wishes have come true, yet!)

Thursday 11 September

Got ashore and jeeped up to Edfu and Luxor where we booked into the Happyland hotel and drank a couple of local nasty beers.
Friday 12 September

Some of us set off for the Valley of the Kings, Queens etc... by minibus. Drunken promises the night before had hinted at hiring bicycles and surviving the heat. Debates as to the amount of travel involved, uphill, downhill, puncture likelihood, likelihood of getting ripped of, likelihood of falling down exhausted and exasperated of desperate thirst and general sense of unfitness. I awoke the next morning hoping everyone had slept off the idea and that the cranking headache would not enable them to keep balance getting out of bed let alone let them think of keeping it together on a bike in a strange land. Alas no - the hitleresque bodies decided it would be perfect in the 35Oc heat. But oh not me - I decided to go with the masses - the crows as it were - and together we hired a minibus. So while Aisling, Michelle and Eric decided to cycle (which they regretted later) we got an extra bit of sleep and called a minibus company.
The tombs were great but I have to say - not at the top of my list of favourite places so far. Firstly it costs to get into each individual tombs - tourist prices!. The heat is unbearable. As are the loads of tourist buses with fat middle-aged people being brought around by their guides shaking papyrus fans at their reddening rolling faces and wiping the beads of sweat from their foreheads and glasses with a crimpled handkerchief. There are many of them - you need to research and purchase a decent guide-book to give you the history and advice on which ones to go to. Some are more interesting that others - more to offer in terms of climbing down numerous stairs or creeping in between and behind large craters to get the opening or descending for ages to arrive in the claustrophobic tiny area. However the contents of these tombs leave a lot to be desired - in that there are often none. The hieroglyphics are fading and one needs a torch to look into the great stone tombs that are left - unfortunately with dangling spider and furry webs as their only inhabitants as the original contents have been brought to many rich museums around the world.
The heat did not help and most of the insides have been taken away to the museums.

So being Irish we bought Duty-Free spirits and drank to some of us splitting up the next day.
Saturday 13 September

Slept in and then walked to the Luxor Temple and then on to the Temple of Karnak - a huge and brilliant place. Amazingly large place…………<< describe>>. Boarded the coach to the Suez canal that night.
Sunday 14 September

Arrived in Suez at 3am and then got a minibus to Dahab. Arrived at the suez canal at night and therefore could not see this famous land / river mark. Mini bus tried to do us out of money - said their was no local bus - so a few of us chipped in together and hired a minibus.

On arrival we booked into the AusKi camp, slept and then explored Dahab. Dahab is another extremely relaxing and tie-dyed place, the cafés are but the sea and you just sit around all day on the cushions chatting and eating. We decided to stop here for a while and rest!!! at only 5Epunds (or 1 sterling) it was the obvious choice. Since this time we have learned that Dahab as we know it no longer exists. This could be a cultural debate. While it was a great place the drinking and lazing that went with it was not a characteristic of Egypt. Indeed Muslims don’t drink! So apparently since are departure ( and nothing to do with anything we did there) the cafes have lost their licenses to sell alcohol and other substances and the beach cafes and pillows that once lined the lapping Red Sea have been confiscated or burned ( no - probably just put in the rubbish bin - but that means they are ultimately burned or buried - so I am not bulshitting too much). And the place is now desolate! Pity - but I do think there is a valid argument and romanticism in Egypt remaining true to its culture and religion ad not being tainted by what westerners and others require.

Monday 15 September

Lazed again, swam.... We took jeeps to the Blue Hole to snorkel (diving is far too expensive and scary). It had fantastic coral life and huge colourful fish as well as schools of tiny blue and white glistening fish. ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. Andrea let out a yelp had bitten her - yeah right. So when my big white arse was up in the air in the water ( picture it) and I was ferociously trying to grip at loose coral to get out of the reef one of the blighters went for the meat on my thigh - a nibble more than a bite - but significant enough to give a fright and fall back into the water. One of my masks let in water which frightened me a lot as I was on the outer edge of the coral reef and started to panic. Nothing serious but the few minutes that I panicked were extremely terrifying - things flash through your head which make you panic more - and then as you gasp for breath and start to loose your strength you try to fight off the tears cos you cannot afford to waste the precious energy. Luckily a friend saw my struggle and came over to calm me down and swapped his mask with me and guided me back to the shore where I sat and regained my courage.
Andrea and myself were in the bright pink jeep with a character driving - off his head and the Aussie lads edging him to go faster and faster as we slalomed through the desert beach - scary - and we held tight!! The dude at the wheel ( and he was a dude - a big hunk of a kiwi guy - pity about the personality though) decided he would yell at the jeep ahead of us that he was going to catch them. They were far ahead and there was not a chance - or so it seemed. It was one of those - oh we're in a crazy mans jeep and in danger of being killed - but what a good story - crashed by the red sea in a jeep with crazy dudes playing chicken with another crowd by a coral reef. I know it may seem morbid but on many occasions while you are travelling in strange lands with foreign people and in bizarre situations and danger is in the air - you do think of how this weird and exciting experience would translate itself if it were to be told over a beer in the local pub in Ireland - it would sound so fantastically - and again you do wonder about going home in a wooden box. Morbid sense of adventure - but part of the human psychic.

We also took a diversion and snorkelled in the more dangerous Colour Canyon. This area has no cafes and only really the locals know about it. It is not nearly as colourful as the blue hole despite the name but the fish are definitely more bizarre- and dangerous as the lion and razor fish can apparently give one extremely nasty stings. To swim to the canyon one must first swim for about 8 minutes in very shallow water over coral and ocean life. Great exercise for the stomach as that had to be kept in so as not to burn ourselves off the coral and avoiding potentially dangerous fish.

We tried the shisha - or hubbly bubbly/water pipe in the restaurant that night.
Tuesday 16 September

Lazed again while the local girls plaited our hair and made us bracelets...<< describe the girls >>

Young - worldly wise,

Wednesday 17 September

Had a proper beef lasagne and scrumptious chocolate brownie in Cafe Juz, run by a Kiwi lady... then I got the 24 hour bug! I had races to the toilet every few minutes and was miserable in a foreign land with an illness - I just wanted my mother to come and tuck me in or offer me icecream while I rested on the couch, cool duvet over my corps and magazines and books on hand and the godly remote control in the other. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Thursday 18

Heard about the bomb in Cairo - but we are safe and far away. Still quite ill.
Friday 19 September

All better now. We got a shared taxi to Mount Sinai in the night - took a while because of security checks etc....

Got there and then Aisling decided that the foot of the huge mountain at 1am would be a good time to get the bug that I had. So we had a very difficult climb to the top - Paddy last was a suitable Irish nickname for us. Ais got a camel up some of the way to the final 700 steps (using the terms steps loosely - more like rocks going uphill). We got to the top at about 4am absolutely knackered - bedded down beside the Kiwi girls we had befriended.
Saturday 20 September

Awoke before sunrise along with hundreds of other tourists of all ages and nationalities and ages. The sun rise over miles of desert from where Moses received the 10 Commandments was spectacular and worth the climb (after the fact of course). Then we headed down the hill - 3,000 steps and very aching legs shaking all the way down to St Catherine's Monastery and the burning bush etc... we got into our taxis very tired and managed to snooze despite the glaring sun.


Sunday 21 September

Arrived back at Dahab, said goodbye and headed up to Nuweiba for the slow boat to Aqaba in Jordon - our 2nd country. We got through the long and tedious customs (but luckily, being female we have a special queue of our own!) and got on the boat at 12 midday. We sat on our little green patch of deck (the fast boat took 3 hours and was $45 whereas this was $30). The boat left the port 4 hours later!!! The journey was quite lopsided as the hundreds of Arabs decided to park themselves near us and just stare fascinated at us for the whole trip???? I had my head down at one stage and an empty bottle was thrown at me to get my attention to look over the side. And sure enough there was about 20 dolphins cheerfully jumping with the boat's direction - tremendous. The Arabs got as much excitement out of our whoops of WOW every few seconds. It was fantastic!

We got in late and got a taxi to the Petra Hotel where we bedded on the roof.

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