Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa
October 1st – 3rd 2010

I landed in Jo’burg with a sense of caution about the city. Apparently, daylight muggings are not uncommon, especially if you walk into the wrong areas. The hostel I stayed at was called ‘Gandhi Backpackers’ and is actually a house built in the late 1800s. It was very charming looking, in a classic sort of way. It was in a suburb of Jo’burg called Kensington. I started feeling ill that afternoon and thought maybe it was because I didn’t get much sleep since my flight from Cape Town was at 6 am and I had to wake up at 3:30 am. I started feeling weaker and weaker and then paranoia struck me. Maybe I have malaria! Please God, no malaria… I didn’t take any malaria pills nor did I use much insect repellent in Cape Town because there’s supposed to be no malaria in South Africa… I had lost some fluids (try to imagine how) that day so I walked to the nearby supermarket to try to get some Gatorade (no Gatorade, just Lucozade). Remember I mentioned daylight muggings? Well, I was feeling stressed out from a combination of my illness and paranoia about my surroundings. In my mind, every person that was on the street from the hostel to the supermarket was a potential mugger.I was scared as I was carrying a decent sum of money on me. But of course, nothing happened. And from that point, I hid most of my cash inside my left sock and my cards in my right sock.

I popped an Advil every few hours to suppress the fever. I was feeling nauseous and had the runs earlier. According to ‘malaria symptoms’ on Google, the above are some of the symptoms. By this point, I wished I had taken those stupid malaria pills. Nightmares, be damned. The Advil helped me get through the night (save when I went to pee in the bathroom and almost threw up) but the next day was no better. My body was feeling weak. It was a Saturday and I went in search of a clinic (this isn’t the USA so my chances of finding a clinic open even for half a day were slim). I managed to hail one of the many minibus taxis at the corner of the street. Minibus taxis are old junky vans that are usually filled with many other people going the same direction. The driver will drop people off at certain locations. It dropped us all off at Eastgate Mall, one of the biggest shopping malls in Jo’burg. From there, I had to walk to find the clinic. (Daylight muggings alert!). It looked a lot closer on the map than it was. I must’ve walked 30 minutes before I came across the clinic. It was closed and I was feeling too weak to walk back then so I parked myself in the local library and rested. That placed was old and empty. I guess people don’t read on Saturdays. The area around the clinic had lots of rich people as most cars there were BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis. Walked back to Eastgate Mall later and tried walking around but after a while, took a minibus taxi back to the hostel. Took a long nap. The past two days, I’ve been trying to stay hydrated and eating some Weetabix and drinking some canned soup. Otherwise, no appetite.

The next day, I woke up feeling 60%. Went for my Soweto Bicycle Tour where a few of us rode around Soweto, one of the most famous townships in South Africa and where Nelson Mandela used to live. (His old house now is a museum, filled with tourists). Got to see the poorer side of Jo’burg, even go inside a ‘hostel’ there, which is a temporary residence for people who came to try to earn some money to send back to their respective real homes. The space was so small and it looked so run down, it felt depressing. It was fun to see the kids so excited to see us tourists. They would run to us to hold our hands, get us to carry them, hug us… It was one of the highlights for me. We also sat in a run-down shack to drink some local brewed ‘beer’ with the locals. It’s made of bread, yeast, and ‘sogum’ (sp?). It’s like diluted glue-milk in a bowl which we all took a sip out of in turns. Wasn’t much taste to it and alcohol content was around 2% but some of the locals must’ve drunk a ton because they were acting drunk and had bloodshot eyes. Anyway, that was an interesting moment too. I carelessly forgot to bring my camera so one of the girls on the tour told me she’d send a few via email but I have yet to hear from her.

I barely made it back to the Soweto hostel. Over the course of the 4-hour bike trip, my illness was coming back to beat me up. When I finally got back to Gandhi Backpackers, I took another Advil and another nap. I still wasn’t sure what I had. Then one of my hostel-mates suggested I may have food poisoning. I Googled the symptoms, it was the same as malaria. (You’d be surprised how many things out there have common symptoms). So maybe it *was* food poisoning. I felt relieved and hoped this was the case. The next day, I was feeling even better. And as I type this, I am completely fine now but I’m using insect repellent all the time.

No pics from Jo’burg!

Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
September 26th to 30th 2010

Cape Town is just stunning. There’s so much to see and so much to do. If I had to create a ‘Top 5’ list right now, it would be there.

It was cold and rainy the first day I was there. It was also a Sunday so almost everything was closed. I took a walk to Long Street and parked myself in a restaurant that was showing the Bolton/Man Utd game. Chilled at the hostel the rest of the day while making plans for the next 4 days.

Next day, went to the Waterfront and then Robben Island. Tickets had been sold out online but I was lucky enough to snag one at the ticket office. Got to see Nelson Mandela’s prison cell. Not much else to see there but view from the island was beautiful. Spent quite a bit of time in a store in the Waterfront debating on what kind of socks I wanted to get.

(A view from Robben Island. No wonder Mandela didn’t leave for 27 years!)

(Hotel Mandela)

(The great heroes of South Africa…and Legoman giving the thumbs up)

Woke up at 4:30 am the next morning to get ready to go to Gansbaii, the great white shark capital of the world. A shuttle came to pick me and 5 others up (a group of Israelis) and we traveled 2 hours along the beautiful coast. The driver made a couple of stops to show us some good whale-watching spots (I think we saw one or two Southern Right Whales). In Gansbaii, the fun began.

After some breakfast and a briefing session, the boat (named ‘Shark Fever’) took us about 7 km out from the coast. The waters were choppy and I was told we could get seasick. I thought I wouldn’t have problems with it but I was wrong. The moment they anchored the boat, I started feeling very nauseous. While we put on our wetsuits, the crew started chumming the waters to attract the great whites. They then lowered the cage into the water. We were told the waiting time could range from a few minutes to a few hours. We were parked near a known ‘shark-highway’. The great whites started showing up after 10 minutes.

I was part of the first group to get into the cage. The water was freezing and I was constantly shivering. I wasn’t as nauseous in the water as I was on the boat. One of the crew would throw a huge chunk of bait on a hook (tuna?) into the water while another crew member used a decoy fake seal as another lure for the sharks. Every time a great white would come after the bait or decoy, the crew members would tell us which direction to look. With our masks on, we would hold our breath and go underwater and observe the great whites. They looked a lot bigger in the water than they did from above. After about 15 minutes, we would rotate with another group of people. Observing on the deck was fun too and I got to take some pictures. But I was constantly nauseous and fought hard not to throw up. Sometimes, the sharks would realize they weren’t going to be fed so they left and the crew would have to re-chum to attract them again. It was so much fun to see the great whites up close while underwater in the cage. I only wish I had an underwater camera but sadly, my photos from the deck didn’t do the experience justice.

(Look ma, I caught me a fish!)

(Look, I haven’t lost my thumb yet!)

(All you can eat seals)

After a few hours, the boat captain took us to Dyer Island to check out the seal colony. We were near Shark Alley, where Discovery Channel shoots their ‘Shark Week’ episodes. Shark Alley was like a buffet line for great whites, so they like hanging out there, waiting for their meal to go swimming. Dyer Island stank real bad. Amidst the stink, I was eating sandwiches and drinking soda to prevent myself from throwing up due to seasickness. It’s a weird concept but it worked for me. After everything, we went back to shore and watched a video of the day’s happenings, while drinking hot soup and eating more sandwiches.

The next day, I went to climb Table Mountain with some guys from the hostel. We took a taxi to the foot of the mountain and were greeted by a long line of tourists waiting to take the cable car up to the top. Of course, we wanted the pain of having to climb up 1100 meters so we walked 20 minutes to the start of one of the popular trails. On the way there, we met some Norwegians who drove from Trondheim in Norway all the way to Cape Town. That sounded absolutely insane. I don’t know how people do that.

The climb was as brutal as I thought it was going to be. The other three guys were in better shape than me (they were constantly yammering away about their former rugby training) and I told them to go ahead without me. I preferred to hike at my own pace, and stop for a rest when I feel like it. So of course, they sped away. I caught up with them at the top so I guess they must’ve slowed down quite a bit toward the end. The view from the top of Table Mountain was gorgeous. You could not only see Cape Town but the cities and landscapes next to it. We were all too tired to climb down so we took the cable car down. Our climb up took 2 hours, the cable car down took 5 minutes.

(View from top of Table Mountain)

Spent the next day on a bus that was taking the scenic route around Cape Town. Visited Kirstenbosch Gardens, which was absolutely beautiful and a great place to picnic. Anyone who loves flowers would love that place.

Spent my nights at the hostel bar eating some great pizza (they have their own little brick oven) and watching lots of European soccer games. While other people were boozing and socializing, I was in my own little world. It was a lot of fun.

Oh Cape Town, you are so beautiful.

Cape Town, South Africa Pics

Casablanca, Morocco

Casablanca/Rabat, Morocco
September 22nd, 23rd, 24th 2010

I once watched the movie ‘Casablanca’ and still recall a shot from the movie, a picture of a river beside an old looking town. I did not see that in Casablanca. It’s all modern now.

My days were spent getting lost once in the medina alleyways (and not returning again), finding a good fresh-fried begne joint, sitting in the park during the late evenings to people watch, walking to find the Hassan II mosque (it was a long walk! Didn’t help that I went in the wrong direction for a while), taking the 1-hour train to Rabat and finding a great couscous joint there. Not much to see sights-wise in Casablanca and Rabat, just passing time until my flight to Cape Town.

I wrote this entry real short because at this moment, I still haven’t posted any of my other Morocco entries and they all have better stories than this.

Go on…you know you want to see food pics!

Casa-Rabat Pics

Marrakesh, Morocco

Marrakesh, Morocco
September 20th, 21st 2010

Why do I do this to myself?

It was extremely cramped. There was no air circulation. The A/C, when working, blew out lukewarm to warm air. It smelled very funky. There were hardly any toilet breaks. (Toward the end, I was holding my pee in so long it hurt so to take my mind off the discomfort, I watched Hard Knocks on my mp3 player). And the driving was terrible. I almost threw up a few times and it took me all my willpower not to (I had a bag ready in front of me JIC). I don’t know if we were traveling at slightly higher altitude or it was just the very windy roads but it was nauseating.

I could’ve picked a shorter leg of my journey to ‘brave the waters of serious local transportation’ (see Fes entry), maybe from Marrakesh to Casablanca (4 hours)? Why did I pick the absolute longest leg of my journey to do it? I seriously think I am a masochist. But I told myself to man up. If the locals could do it, so could I. Next time, don’t drink anything before getting on the bus. Next time, pack snacks. Next time, don’t pick a seat in the farthest corner of the bus, where you are closed off from all angles.

After enduring everything, while enjoying the beautiful landscapes, we arrive at a rest stop where we had 45 minutes to relieve ourselves and get something to eat. The lamb tagine was spectacular. Fresh air, stretched legs, good food, and empty bladder. I felt like a new man! Come on, bring on another 9 hours in that bus! Ok, just kidding. I tried to converse with some locals I sat to next to the bus, but they just smiled at me because they had no idea what I was trying to say or sign to them.

Another 2 hours or so, and I arrived in Marrakesh. Good thing my neighbors woke me up (they knew I was going to Marrakesh) because this wasn’t the final stop and I could’ve ended up God knows where. It was 12:00 am. It was dark and I didn’t know where the heck I was. The map in my Lonely Planet guidebook had no street names. Not that I could find street names due to lack of, as well as darkness, even with streetlamps.

I walked slowly toward what I was told is the direction of the medina. Or was it Djemaa El F’na? Either way, that’s where I needed to go. A teenager saw me, walked up to me, and asked where I’d like to go. At this point, I could’ve said, ‘No thanks, I’m taking a petit taxi to where I need to go’ but no, I said ‘Riad 02 Hotel’. He offered to take me there and I accepted. I knew he was a faux guide and I knew I had to tip him at the end. It was 12:20 am, we were in an area where there weren’t that many people, the streets were almost empty, and it was dark. What could possibly go wrong?

We started walking and chatting a little bit, mostly because I felt slightly nervous. His English was pretty good. His name was Kareem (are they all named Mohammed or Kareem?). He was 15. He liked Real Madrid and I told him I went to watch a game at Barnabeu. His favorite player was Cristiano Ronaldo and his hairstyle was similar.

Kareem then took me off the main road (if you could call it that) and we began to make our way into the small, dark alleyways. I grew more and more nervous, walked slightly behind Kareem and constantly looked over my shoulder, especially when I saw a few random guys around, and a few followed us. They eventually turned off into another alleyway and we were alone again. Kareem kept assuring me ‘No problem, no problem’ when I stopped walking because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to follow him anymore. Scooters sometimes rode past us. We came to a tunnel that was so damned dark that I was convinced that was the place I was going to get mugged by a group of guys. I stopped and turned around and looked at a guy who was following us. He looked at me and knew what I was thinking so he assured me ‘No problem, no problem’ and ushered me on, trying to tell me he wasn’t a bad guy. I took yet another leap of faith and continued following Kareem until we eventually reached a small door which had a sign on top saying ‘Riad 02’. Apparently this place charged USD$50 a night but it didn’t look it. I expected a small, nice looking hotel but this was hidden away in a dark alley. I was a bit relieved to find it but I didn’t let up yet. Kareem knocked on the door and rang the bell but there was no answer. We tried for 5 minutes until I told Kareem that it was late and that no one was going to help me. As we walked away, the door opened and a man stuck his head out. He told me there were no rooms available so I thanked him and we walked away. I told Kareem I wanted to head toward the taxis. At that point, I was so lost in the maze that I needed his help to get out. He asked me how much I was going to give him. I offered him ‘10’ and he asked ’10 Euros?’ and I replied ‘No, 10 Dirhams’. He laughed it off, saying it was the equivalent of 1 Euro. Demanding fucker. He said 10 Euros was an acceptable price and I said ‘Let’s talk when we get to the taxis’. I obviously wasn’t going to offer him anything close but I needed to get to the taxis first. After a while, we heard the sound of a car and Kareem knew it was a taxi. We found one dropping some Westerners off and I offered the driver 20 Dirhams to get me to Djemaa El F’na, a bit over market value but whatever. Then Kareem started asking for his money and I handed him 30 Dirhams. He looked shocked, continually saying that ‘It’s nothing!’ and eventually asked for 50 Dirhams. I kept saying ‘No, I don’t have anymore, that’s it, I have to give the rest to the taxi driver’ and we went on for a few minutes, much to the annoyance of the waiting taxi driver. In the end, Kareem gave in, said ‘Welcome!’ in a gracious tone and I triumphantly got into the taxi. I didn’t really win. I could’ve chosen to get into a taxi in the first place, saving myself 30 Dirhams and all that nerve-wrecking moments but no, I am an adrenaline junkie of sorts. Or an idiot. Did I want to get mugged? Did I want to feel nervous and scared? Did I want to do all this so I could tell my readers about my experiences walking through those dark, quiet, maze of alleyways? Maybe. But what price would or could I have paid for the experience? All I know is, I won’t be doing anything like that ever again.

Found Hotel CTM, which was listed in my book. Good location, quite cheap but boy, what a dump, especially the bathroom but what I pay for is what I get. It was 1 am, the Djemaa El F’na was bustling with activity but I chose to lie in bed, in wait for a fresh start the next day.

I had initially wanted to spend 3 nights in Marrakesh but from the looks of things, I think 2 nights is plenty. I bought my ticket at the train station (holy crap, it’s a nice looking station, thank you Frenchies), checked emails, walked around the souqs (outdoor markets), and bought some stuff. I was mainly waiting for dusk to arrive, when the main square becomes filled with stalls selling all kinds of foods and when street performers are out in full force.

(Spice man)

(Djemaa El F’na at night)

I started off with a cheap option, something a lot of locals seem to eat because that’s what they can afford; an egg sandwich. A man will turn a piece of Moroccan bread into a pocket. Then he spread cream cheese, put a hard-boiled egg in there, cut/mashed it up with his knife, put a whole potato, mashed that up, and added some salt/pepper mix, hot sauce, and onions. Pretty good stuff and surprisingly, quite filling. I walked past other stalls, all selling different kinds of foods they throw on the grill on demand. One stall had sheep’s head, brain, and tongue on display. These foods were featured on Bizarre Foods (on Travel Channel) and I just had to try it out. So I sat down next to a few locals, no doubt enjoying their bizarre foods, watched the chef chop up some brain and some tongue, dish out a little curry sauce on top of it, and I ate it with a piece of bread. It wasn’t bad at all. The brain had the texture of yogurt, didn’t have much taste, and the tongue looked like pieces of beef. Baaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Tasty looking or what?)

(Sheep tongue and brain)

I was pretty stuffed so after being hassled by street performers for taking pictures, I went to rest in my room. (They asked for 10 Dirhams, I offered 1, they said no, I told them I’d rather delete the picture, and they usually let it go for 1 Dirham. It worked every time.) After an hour, I went back to the square and scoured the place for more foods. Ate a bowl of harira, which reminded me a lot of one of the Campbell soups, and drank a glass of piping hot mint tea that had so much mint. After this, I was stuffed. I really wanted to eat other foods but I just couldn’t.

I could not sleep that night. The room was hot and stuffy and I was sweating a lot. I guess I could have counted sheep. (Get it?!) The next day, I hung around until my train left for Casablanca at 1 pm.

Marrakesh, Morocco Pics

Fes, Morocco

Fes, Morocco
September 18th, 19th 2010

After exchanging emails and saying goodbye to Yumi, I left to catch my 10 am bus to Fes. Instead of allowing us to load our bags directly into the baggage compartment of the bus, they made us pay 5 dH (dirhams, USD$1 = 8.5 dH) to check our bags in and they would load it for us. As one of the Canadian tourists I met there said, ‘Boy, they get us one way or another don’t they?’ But then again, this was common practice in Egypt and also parts of Eastern Europe, although they usually tag our bags and receive payment at the bus itself, instead of funneling them through a separate room.

The 6-hour journey took us through the towns of Tetouan and Chefchaouen, some popular tourist stops but I decided to skip those towns due to time. I have to be in Casablanca to catch a flight to Cape Town (South Africa) on the 25th. The plan was 2 nights in Fes, 3 nights in Marrakesh, and 2 nights in Casablanca.

Sat beside a Moroccan man who was very nice. He apparently spoke Arabic and German, but no French. Most Moroccans speak Arabic and French so his was an interesting case.

The journey on the bus allowed us to see a lot of Moroccan landscapes. What surprised me was how mountainous the regions we passed through were. The mix of colors was amazing as well. A couple different hues of brown, yellow, green splashed onto a canvas. I wish I had a better vocabulary to describe it all. Pictures say a thousand words but on a bus, it wasn’t easy taking pictures. The reflections from the window don’t help at all.

One thing I told myself before getting to Morocco was to ‘just let it be’. By that, I mean that I should just accept what prices people tell me their product and services are. I don’t mean I should be a pushover and overpay greatly if I know how much it should roughly be. I just mean that I shouldn’t go around stressing out at getting the best possible prices. If I do that, I lose my focus on enjoying everything else around me. In Egypt, I had spent a lot of time feeling stressed because I felt like I was constantly being cheated. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t but I had no point of reference. I automatically felt that way because the culture and reputation of the country made me feel it. I am a tourist; I will be a target to be cheated by people trying to make a living. I try to remind myself of that last fact; that these people are just trying to make a living. But it remains a fact; no one likes being cheated.

To sum my feelings up, I will ask about the prices. If it’s a little more than what I think I should be paying but I want it, then I will go for it. If it’s severely overpriced, I will just say no and move on. If I have no point of reference, I will have to think about it for a bit, how much do I really want it then and there?

Once at the bus station, I take a taxi service to the medina (the Islamic version of Old Towns in Europe, it’s really a town square). It’s packed with people watching street performers. There is also some sort of fair going on. I am initially lost but some guy offered to take me to where I wanted to go, Hotel Lamrani, a budget hotel. (Hostelworld, the website which I usually book accommodation through, has very few, if any, listings for hostels in Morocco, mostly because there probably aren’t any. All the website lists are overpriced hotels. So I look at my Lonely Planet guidebook for listings for recommended hotels, choose the cheapest ones, then go look for them upon arrival. If there is space, great. If not, go look for another one. If I run out of options from the book, which are few to begin with, I just walk around and find a random hotel, inquire about prices, check out rooms, then decide if I want to stay there or not.) Of course, he works for another hotel so he first tries to get me to stay at his hotel but I decline. Then he continues to take me to Lamrani. It’s just inside the Blue Gates, past a plethora of street hawkers and restaurants selling Moroccan foods. There is space, a triple-bed room but the hotel owner, ‘grumpy’ Mohammed (words from Lonely Planet), a man probably in his 60s or 70s, kindly charges me for a single. It’s nothing fancy, just a room with some old beds, a table, a sink and a window. The showers and toilet are communal but right next to my room.

I go take a walk that first night, intending to find a particular restaurant but there are too many small alleyways with no signs intertwining and I immediately get lost. I ask for directions from a teenager standing around and he hands me off to a kid, whom I immediately recognize as a faux guide. I know if he leads me to the place, I’ll have to tip him. I felt like a cheap bastard that night so I declined and set off on my own. The kid constantly followed me around trying to convince me to use his services. I continue declining nicely until one point I turn around and warn him to stop following me or I will call the police, a lie of course. The kid then starts yelling at me in Arabic, something about ‘Japon’, ‘shit’, and ‘fuck you’. I am amused but worry slightly that he’ll go find some thugs to find me and beat me up. A random guy, Kareem, apparently who owns one of the many shops on Taala Seghira (one of the two main alleyways), offers to take me to the restaurant but we find it is closed. He takes me to an alternative, which looked high class, had no one eating in it, and charged exorbitant prices. I declined eating there and Kareem kept asking me why. I mentioned that I though he was taking me to a friends’ place to get a commission. He immediately became angry and told me he felt insulted I would accuse him of such a thing. He told me to find my own way back but I told him I was sorry, and that my suspicions are due to my experiences in Egypt. He eventually accepts my apology and we shake hands and part from there on good terms. I eat at a random restaurant near my hotel and head to bed, despite the night being relatively early. I was tired from my bus ride, and also felt I needed to get away from the crowded night streets and regroup. What a night! All night long, I could hear the sounds of the streets within my walls but the melatonin soon kicked in and I was dreaming strange things.

The next day was spent exploring the areas within the walls of Fes, checking out a couple of the main sights. A lot of interesting places were off-limits to tourists and non-Muslims (like mosques) so there really wasn’t much to look at. For me, Morocco was a place I visited to walk the streets, smell the smells, hear the sounds, taste the food, and see how the people lived, not to visit any tourist sights, because unlike Europe, there aren’t many, at least which interested me.

(Beautiful woodwork, was tempted to buy a chess set)

(Coffee shop, Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid)

Let’s talk food. I had b’sara, ‘a garlic and butterbean soup topped with a dash of olive oil, eaten with a hunk of bread, a favorite breakfast food amongst the locals’. Lonely Planet gets the credit for the description as I would have no clue what it actually was. I actually sat at a table, in a cramped little space, eating with a bunch of locals so that was fun. I sampled different street foods ranging from sweets to fruit to different breads, one of them being very similar to roti canai (Malaysians know what this is) but eaten with Nutella or honey. I had tagine (of course), pastilla (a Fes creation, basically chicken, almonds, veggies and other things all stuffed inside layers of pastry, topped with sprinkles of cinnamon and powdered sugar, so delicious and filling despite its deceiving size), sweet mint tea (why take drugs when you can have mint tea?), and the best chicken couscous I’ve had so far, all at a restaurant called ‘Thaami’, spread over a couple of meals of course. All the local restaurant workers and shopkeepers constantly try to draw tourists into their establishments by waving their menus or wares in front of your face as you pass, and that’s really how I ended up eating there and liking it.

(Having b’sara with the locals)

(Pastilla, a Fes specialty, so good)

(Couscous with chicken)

Sometimes I cannot believe how different a country can be when it’s in a different continent and only separated by 2 hours on a ferry.

I booked a ticket to Marrakesh at the main bus station. Had to use all kinds of sign language and even writing down some Arabic numbers to try to get the ticket-guy to understand what I wanted. I didn’t book a CTM bus ticket (run by Eurolines, a bit more pricey but also nicer) because I decided I wanted to brave the waters of serious local transportation. This is the cheapest option for locals, so I knew discomfort was imminent but I must like pain. Oh boy…9 hours.

Fes, Morroco Pics

Tangier, Morocco

Tangier, Morocco
September 17th 2010

On the bus to Algeciras, the port city where I would take a ferry to Tangier, I sat beside a Japanese girl named Yumi. Before anyone says anything, she wasn’t my type. She has been traveling around the world for 6 months so we had that in common (4 months for me). She was friendly and going the same direction so we teamed up for Tangier. In my mind, I didn’t want to go beyond Tangier with anyone. She probably didn’t either, judging from the conversation we had on how long we each planned to stay in Tangier and where we would be going next and for how long. It’s as if we were scouting and picking each other for information so we could plan on not running into each other after Tangier. It’s not that we hated each other; it’s just that I’m sure we both enjoyed our freedoms as a solo traveler. If I’ve never mentioned this before, I much prefer to travel solo. If I travel with someone, I have to compromise and think of the other person. Yeah, selfish, I know. But I’m not traveling with good friends or family, I’m traveling with total strangers, so that contributes to my discomfort traveling with others. It would be different in the other cases.

Getting on the ferry was simple enough; buy a ticket from one the many counters, get past a passport check point, wait, get on ferry, fill up a customs form, get off ferry, wait for free shuttle to Tangier city, get on bus and arrive.

That evening, we were walking around and saw a street food truck that had many locals surrounding it. We checked it out and everyone was eating escargots (small snails) in broth. So, we shared a bowl. They gave us toothpicks to pick out the escargot from their shells, and they were so tasty. The broth was spicy but delicious. I think this was my first time having escargots so it was a good experience.

We found a place selling tagine and couscous so we sat down and feasted. It was 9 pm. I only had a very light breakfast earlier in the day and Yumi had only had a snack bar so we were starving. Needless to say, our stomachs made us over-order. I had one chicken tagine and one chicken couscous while she had the same. We shared a plate of salad and we both had mint tea, a Moroccan favorite, which was downright fantastic. Hot, minty, and sweet would be how I would describe it. The tagine and couscous was fantastic as well and I just managed to finish mine but Yumi couldn’t get through half her couscous and we had a good laugh about how we were pigs.

Tangier, Morocco Pics

South Africa…and beyond.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be flying out to Cape Town, South Africa. It’ll take 22 hours as I have to fly to Abu Dhabi first, then down to Johannesburg before reaching Cape Town. It takes the same amount of time flying from Texas to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). At least no overly-long layovers, as the longest is about 2 hours.

I don’t know what to expect. In my head, I feel things will be more challenging from here on out. I started out in Western Europe, like being on a bike with training wheels, with an adult holding onto me. Then I went to Eastern Europe. The adult let me ride on my own but I was still on training wheels. Then I went to Turkey, and Egypt, and much later, Morocco. One wheel was removed and I had to learn how to balance myself although I could lean one way and still be all right.

Southern Africa (I’m thinking of starting in Cape Town and making my way up to the Serengeti in Tanzania and Victoria Falls in Zambia), then India+Nepal will feel like the training wheels are going to come off and I will have to balance myself. I will probably fall a few times but I’ll just have to lick my wounds, get back on the bike and keep on riding. But I’m sure it’ll all turn out ok, and that I will find it easier than I initially thought it would be.

Catch you all in ‘real’ Africa!

Quick update

In Fes, Morocco at the moment. No internet at the places I’ve been staying in so far so here I am in, in a cybercafe, posting an update. Will post blog entries when I can find a place where I can get internet on my netbook, where all my writing and pictures are stored.

Got in to Tangier a few nights ago by ferry from Algeciras. In Fes now. Going to Marrakesh tomorrow (9 hours on the bus!)

I am in good health, in good spirits, filling my belly with Moroccan foods. Hope everyone out there is fine as well.

MAN UTD 3-2 LIVERPOOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dahab, Egypt

Dahab, Egypt
August 6th, 7th, 8th 2010

Took a 3-hour train back from Aswan to Luxor and stayed a night because I couldn’t possibly catch the next bus to Dahab. However, I found out that the Luxor-Dahab bus was sold out and my other alternative was to take the bus to Suez and then buy a ticket there to Dahab.

After an 8 hour journey, I arrive in Suez at 5:30 am or so. The bus station is dumpy. There’s a coffee shop open to serve the night bus customers stopping by. A boy is preparing ingredients to sell falafel sandwiches at a nearby stand. Flies are buzzing around and he doesn’t pay any attention to those which land on the food. I park myself outside the coffee shop and notice that Batman (with Van Kilmer and Chris O’ Donnell) was playing, and in English! A nice way to kill a few hours until my 8 am bus to Dahab. I finish watching the movie around 7, head over to buy a ticket, and am told that the next bus to Dahab is actually at 11 am. Oh, I was mad. The past two hours have been an eternity at this station and I will have to spend another four? I had no choice. I was feeling irrational at the same time and bought a felafel sandwich. The guy crushed the falafel inside the sandwich with his bare hands. And I ate it. Hope the guy washed his hands! I didn’t have any dinner last night, and now I would have to wait until evening time to get any food. I might as well play Egyptian roulette. I can’t imagine there being any health inspectors around this part of town.

Time passed very slowly. At 10, I got back in “line” (imaginary) for the ticket and was told the bus would be late. I ended up getting the ticket around 11, boarded the bus around 11:30 am. Now, to face another 7 hours to Dahab…

Dahab is a pretty little seaside town. I put my stuff down and went to check out the sea. That evening, there was hardly any wind so the sea was dead calm. The sun was almost done setting so there was a beautiful pinkish orange color in the sky. There’s a slight mist but I could make out land across the far side of the sea…was it Jordan? The tide was low and some people ventured out pretty far to play in the waters.

My room at the Penguin Village had no A/C and it was extremely hot and stuffy inside, perfect conditions for a sleepless night. I was so tired I managed to knock off a few hours before succumbing to the heat. I woke up around 5 am, figured I’d take a shower and head to the sea to watch the sun rise. There was a cat, lying lazily on the table facing the shore. Egyptian cat beach bum.

(Cat chilling by the beach)

A little side note, please don’t get too repulsed as I think it’s quite funny. The toilets flush levers were broken so people had to manually open the toilet tops and pull the mechanism that triggered the flush. But a lot of people didn’t seem to know that so when pressing the button didn’t work, they left their kids swimming in the pool to surprise the next person. And there were signs that said “Please don’t throw toilet paper into toilets, throw them into bin.” WTF? Good thing I’m a rebel.

I spent the day doing a refresher course for Open Water diving, having already been certified in Austin two years back. It was just me and my dive instructor Tamer. We went out to the Lighthouse, one of many popular diving/snorkelling spots along the shore. I have no talent for diving, so Tamer had to deal with my lack of buoyancy control skills. It’s one of the most important diving skills to have as having good control means you don’t start destroying corals by swimming into them. And equalizing pressure, oh God. Never mind, I will work on everything when I get back to the States because I love diving.

Most humans see life on land. It’s definitely refreshing to see life under and over land, by diving and climbing mountains. The corals and sea life were spectacular. I recommend everyone to learn to dive. Ok, maybe I just want to encourage my friends out there to get certified so we can all go diving together. Diving isn’t an individual activity, you ALWAYS have to have a dive buddy.

After that morning dive, I decided to do an afternoon one. A small group of us headed out to Moray Gardens, about 30 minutes drive out. Again, spectacular sea life. We got to see a school of young barracudas, among everything else which I can’t name. I was disappointed we did not have time to go farther east as one of my dive buddies said that he was told by people there were whales (or was it whale sharks?) sighted there. I am hoping that during my lifetime, I will get to be in the water with a gentle giant whale shark.

(Moray Gardens)

I spent the evening watching the sun set. I decided I wasn’t going to sleep in my room that night. The restaurant attached to my hostel had an open air roof with plenty of giant cushions so that night, I slept under the stars, going to sleep as the warm breeze constantly blew and the waves washing onto the shore sounded like God’s lullaby.

(Top right side is where I slept)

Next day, went snorkelling at Blue Hole. It’s a massive deep blue hole (what gave that away??) surrounded by coral reef. Wasn’t that impressive to be honest, despite the hype. Was fun though, but after an hour, I was ready to go back. That night, I packed my fleece, some water, biscuits, and headed out with the group to Mt Sinai. We set off around 11 pm, arrived around 1 am, met our Bedouin guide (a tall, thin, skinny guy named Hamuda) who would guide us up the dark slopes.

Trekking in the dark is quite fun as you can’t see how much is ahead of you and get overwhelmed. Looking up at the sky, I saw countless stars. Bedoiuns would gather at random spots along the way up trying to sell camel rides to tiring trekkers. I think it’s a cop out. I personally like to earn my way to the top, on my own two feet. I understand some trekkers are old or out-of-shape but I don’t care. There are 80 year old men who earn their way up Mt Everest (30000 ft). What’s 7500 ft on a mountain catered for tourists?

Anyway, after several pit stops, lots of hiking and conquering the 750 steps to the top, we reach the summit around 4:30 am. Some people brought their sleeping bags. I sat in crouching position under a small rock cave and took a 30 minute nap. The sun was supposed to rise around 6:10 am so I made sure I was ready for it. And it’s quite something to watch a sunrise from a mountain top. Not just the sunrise itself but how it begins to color the surrounding landscape.

(Prior to sunrise)

(Some people enjoying the sunrise)

(Me and a random Bedouin guide)

(One of several pit stops located on Mt Sinai)

We headed down around 7 am. Everyone had two choices : Head down the way we came or head down 3750 steps (built by some crazy monk a long time ago) to St Catherine’s monastery. I chose the 3750 steps (750 down the way we came, then 3000 more). What a grueling 3750 steps they were but there were some great views to be had. We walked in small canyons and between rocky cliffs/hills until we finally reached the bottom around 9 am. I went into the monastery just to check out the “burning bush” from the Bible. Very unimpressive. It’s just a massive hanging plant in a blocked off portion of the monastery. Yawn. Snapped a picture, got out of there.

(Climbing down the 3750 steps route)

The bus from Dahab to Cairo was at 3:30 pm. Another 8 hours on a cold, stuffy, ugly-colored bus blaring horrible Arabic music and movies. Fun times.

Random Pictures:

(I ate this for at least 4-5 meals, just so good)

Aswan/Abu Simbel, Egypt

Aswan, Egypt
August 3rd 2010

Took the morning train from Luxor to Aswan. Journey was about 3 hours, after a train delay. Travelled with Shannon, an American girl I met from the West Bank tour in Luxor. Seemed like a pretty cool person. Did not have accomodation and was hoping to get a room upon arrival. Was lucky to get accomodation at first choice hostel (Keylaney). It was quite a long walk down the souk street under the hot sun and blazing Aswan temperature to get the the hostel.

(Mustafa in front of his home and place of business)

(Some kids who were curious of us tourists)

(Nubian women chatting with each other)

(Felucca on the Nile)

(A local Nubian pick-up soccer game)

Took a short ferry ride across the Nile to the Nubian Elephantine Island. Interesting to see life in a Nubian village. Everyone was greeting us and saying “Welcome to Nubia”. The Nubians like to discern themselves from Egypt I guess. Met a guy named Mustafa, who ran a hotel on that island. He invited Shannon and I in for some tea. I was hesitant but Shannon looked like she wanted to go in so I did as well. It was a nice home. He lived in one room, and any tourists wanting to stay rented the other. He also did felucca tours. As we were drinking some great tea, which helped my headache, I was getting ready for him to make a sales pitch. To my surprise, he didn’t. He was showing us pictures of the tourists he had taken in and around, their testimonies in his notebooks, his face in a Japanese magazine (some Japanese did a story on Elephantine and he was features in the story). But not once did he try to do a sales pitch. He gave us his business card, that was it. It had his name and website, tasteful and professional. I was surprised that this man knew Western business practice. He said websites were the way to go these days. I was impressed to say the least. At least this man knew how to move forward, unlike many Egyptian business owners.

(The kind man who helped us out)

We tried to find our way back to the ferry dock via a different route but got lost instead. As it was getting late, we sought the help of a man parking his felucca and he graciously helped us for no charge to cross the river. I tried offering a tip but he flat out refused. It’s always nice to find people who want to help you out just to help you out, which is quite rare in this country.

The main reason I went to Aswan was to visit Abu Simbel. I was contemplating skipping it but the Abu Simbel temple was apparently the “most striking temple” in Egypt. I was in the general area already, might as well travel another 3 hours to Aswan, and another 3 hours day-trip to Abu Simbel. Woke up at 2:45 am to get ready for the 3:30 am minivan. After meeting the rest of the convoy (yes, we had to travel with a group of other buses/minivans, and headed/backed by police cars), we journeyed 3 hours across what was mostly vast empty desert to Abu Simbel. I was stuffed into the rear corner and had trouble sleeping, unlike most of my van-mates. How do they do it…

(Abu Simbel Temple front entrance)

The temple itself was indeed pretty impressive looking. It was built into the side of a massive hill. Outside were several massive statues of the great Ramses II. Again, with no guide, hieroglyphics could only be appreciated for what they were, cool drawings. I’m sure archaelogists who knew what it all meant would appreciate it even further since they can understand the stories. The Temple of Hathor, right next to Abu Simbel temple, was also pretty “striking”. But the coolest part about the area? Lake Nasser. At least I think it was Lake Nasser. Massive body of water behind the temple, so blue and serene.

Decided to take the evening train back to Luxor, stay the night there, and leave the next evening for a long journey to Dahab (22 hour bus ride anyone? FML).