The Best Way to Cruise the Nile: Part 3

After an incredibly restful sail & swim day, we were ready for more sightseeing. We had spent the night docked at the floodlit Temple of Gebel Silsileh and now it was time to see it up close.

Less impressive than the tombs of El Kab, I didn’t snap many photos, but I did have a love/hate relationship with the sand we climbed through to make it to another nearby temple – Horemheb’s.

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This tiny little temple was the smallest we’d come across so far, but the area all around had been one of the most productive quarries and there were carvings all along our walk.

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It was hard to make up my mind whether to pay more attention to the engravings on my right or the Nile River on my left, both offered impressive views:

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And the quarry was impressive in its own right. Larger than I had imagined, much of it was off limits and posted “No entry” signs for safety. But at one time, this quarry was filled with workers and well-known for its incredible sculptures – including the sphinxes that line the streets in Luxor.

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It was a great morning hike and by the time we came back to boat I was already sweating despite the cool winter air – that sun is no joke! And I don’t help matters by my refusal to wear a hat : ) Don’t worry, sunscreen also does the trick.

That afternoon we got to see an “unscheduled” sight on Nour El Nil‘s itinerary. Another cruise boat: The Sudan. A steam ship built between 1911-1921, it is perhaps most famous for it’s 1933 passenger, Agatha Christie, who writes Death on the Nile after her time there.

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The Best Way to Cruise the Nile: Part 2

My last post on Egypt focused on our cruise – traveling up the Nile with Nour El Nil. In this post, I want to focus on some of our stops along the way.

Our trip began in Esna, a merchant town 33 miles south of Luxor. While our luggage was being loaded onto our dahabiya – boat – we were dropped off at the Temple of Khnum. Located nine meters below street level, the location reminded me of Bet Giyorgis or the Church of St. George in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

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Because the roof is still intact, a lot more of the color remains on the walls than in the previous temples we visited in Luxor. Covered in bird excrement – the birds like having a roof as well – a dedicated crew is carefully cleaning the walls to reveal the colors beneath.

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Afterward, we went on a walk through the town, passing by vendors and shops, happily selling their wares.

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That night we docked again, in a small fishing village, and we got to know our fellow travellers, as well a local family. Dennis showed his brilliance by stuffing his roll in his pocket and pulling it out any time someone came by with another round of bread. The rest of us kept eating to remain polite and we nearly had to be rolled back to the boats.

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How to Batik in Accra

This weekend, six of us decided to try our hands at batiking. If you don’t know what that is, batik is the process of decorating cloth using wax and dye.

The word batik originates from the Javanese tik and means to dot. And the style was brought to Ghana by Dutch merchants.

To make our batik, we chose areas of the fabric to stamp with wax and then the cloth was dyed. The parts covered in wax resist the dye and stay the original color. You can repeat this process over and over, layering the dyes. The woman who taught us, makes some of the most beautiful designs. Our first tries were much simpler!

We arrived at Esther’s compound around 9:30 in the morning (an in-depth interview with Esther can be found here). We were greeted with cold water and warm hugs, as Esther showed us around. In the past year, she has built a complex for bathrooms, as well as a dedicated lean-to to protect visitors from the sun.

While Esther has been creating her own batiks for the last 20 years, she would happily spend her days running these workshops and teaching others the skill.

First, you start with the stamps:

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From traditional prints to animals to the artist formerly known as Prince, Esther has a lot to choose from. I’m not kidding when I say our first hour was spent looking through the stamps.

We also needed to decided if we wanted to start with a white canvas or if we wanted to dye our fabric first. You’re more likely to get what you have in mind if you stamp on white, but dying first often gives a more textured look to the fabric.

I couldn’t make up my mind, so I decided to do multiple prints. For 120 cedis (approx $30 USD) you get the tutorial, as well as your first two yards of fabric. Each yard of fabric thereafter is another 16 cedis (approx $4 USD). I decided to start with two designs, both requiring a pre-dye: one raspberry, the other charcoal.

While I puttered around, choosing my colors and my stamps, Chandler had already gotten started (that’s right, I convinced Chandler to come with us!). Unsurprisingly, he chose a simple stamp, with a simple pattern, on white cloth.

It looked like this:

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Over the next hour, my fabric sat in dye, before being rung out and dried in the yard. The process is quite straightforward. Mix the powdered dyes to get the right color and stir it in the water. Esther was quite clear – despite your best efforts, coloring rarely turns out exactly as planned. Something we were going to learn soon enough!

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The Best Way to Cruise the Nile: Part 1

Let’s rewind to spring 2014: Chandler and I wanted to travel somewhere for spring break…but we needed to be thrifty (upcoming wedding in July & our move to Accra just a few weeks after). However, we didn’t do much advanced planning and the only thing that really fit our budget was a Caribbean cruise.

And…I hated it.

I tried to keep an open mind, but it just wasn’t for me. The stops were interesting (Chichen Itza was incredible!), but the sea sickness, lack of space, and absence of decent vegetarian food made the trip less than spectacular.

So when Chandler mentioned a cruise on the Nile, I was even more skeptical. Which, of course, he had already taken into consideration. He had done his research and National Geographic had recently listed the 21 Best Cruises in the World and, wouldn’t you know, they had one on the list that took you up the Nile River in Egypt.

The photographs were stunning and we couldn’t find a bad review about the company: Nour El Nil. Despite it being pricier than our average vacation (plus we still had to pay for a week in Cairo and a week in Jordan!), we decided to book a week-long cruise on their most affordable boat – the Assouan.

At 1,100 euros a person, it was hard to deem it “affordable,” but after our last cruise, I wasn’t going to save a few hundred on a cruise that had likewise cut corners to save a few bucks as well.

Plus, the Assouan had something no other boat on the Nile could offer: intimacy. With only eight rooms onboard, we’d be sharing the space with a maximum of 14 other guests.

We were picked up at our hotel in Luxor on Monday, December 18th. As soon as we saw the boats, we knew we were not going to be let down:

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We’d been upgraded to the slightly larger El Nil, which holds up to 18 passengers, but were pleasantly surprised to find out we’d be sharing it with just six other people: An American couple from Seattle, a French & British couple from London, and Tunisian sisters from Paris.

And, for once in our lives, we were the least traveled people in the group! That alone made the trip worthwhile – hearing everyone’s stories and adding more trips to our bucket list. Many dinners were followed late into the night with wine, memories, and plans for future adventures.

Most days involved a stop at a historical temple or tomb, but even the scenery as we sailed our way up the Nile was spectacular. We had foolishly believed that so much of the river would be industrialized, but due to the Nile’s unpredictable flooding, very little was built within a mile of its shores.

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And what was built, usually added to the ambience. Whether it was ancient tombs or the more practical floating petrol stations:

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It was never too much time on the boat (which, anyway, is probably the most relaxing place I have ever been). Even on full sail days, we still stopped for some fun in the sun & Nile:

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“If you don’t care, fly Egyptair” – A day in Luxor

A few months ago, a colleague gave us this great line – “If you don’t care, fly Egpytair.”

We were debating the best way to travel over our holiday break. We needed to fly from Accra to Cairo, Cairo Luxor, Aswan to Cairo, Cairo to Amman, Amman to Cairo, Cairo to Accra. And while we could bookend our trip with flights on Emirates, it would add considerable travel time and money. Egyptair was the airline with the most direct flights and at $1,000 a person, the best deal around.

It was easy to see where the airline had cut costs…the planes were old, really old. They only looked suitable for domestic flights, despite the fact that four of our flights were international. Instead of private screens, one dropped down from the ceiling every four rows. I’ve flown on dozens of airlines and this was the most inedible food I have encountered. And lastly, they closed the shades and turned off the lights, even on our day flights…I’m convinced they did this to get out of serving us. Not a single beverage cart came by during our required four hour “nap time.”

Oh, and they schedule their connecting flights too closely to allow them time to transfer checked baggage.

Which is how we found ourselves in Luxor, at midnight, wandering the airport with a man named Muhammad, trying to find our suitcase.

While in Luxor, we stayed at the Sofitel’s Pavillon Winter Luxor and Muhammad was the hotel’s driver. And I can honestly say that without him, I’m not sure we would have ever gotten our suitcase back, but that’s a story for later in this post. For now, it was after midnight, our checked bag hadn’t come in, and we were exhausted. It was time for some much needed sleep.

“Do you want me to drive slow or fast?” Muhammad asked. What he meant was: Do you want me to drive the speed limit or can I drive like I’m in the Fast & Furious franchise. All I’ll say is we got to our hotel quickly.

The next day we were up at 6:00am to meet Naama our guide with Emo Tours. As a certified Egyptologist, Naama studied archeology and tourism at university in Cairo.

We started at Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple. Never meant to rule, she was named regent when her step-son inherited the throne at the age of two. Instead, she reined for 21-22 years, calling herself king and pharaoh – even going so far as to have herself depicted as a man in temples and art.

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When her step-son, Thutmose III, finally came to power, he was so enraged that he spent most of his rule defacing her temples and statues. Desiring to do all he could to make sure no one in history remembered her, his actions have ensured that everyone knows who she was.

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In fact, many modern scholars consider her one of the most successful pharaohs and Naama said that was because she was the only pharaoh of her dynasty (she began her rule in 1478 BC), who didn’t start any wars or military offences.

Despite the toppled statues and wall defacements, her temple is in much better shape than the one next door, which was brought down by an earthquake.

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And historians and archaeologists have worked hard to piece together what was left behind:

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Next we made our way around the corner and to the Valley of the Kings. This necropolis is home to 63 tombs that were built between 1539-1075 BC. Most famous is King Tutankhamun’s aka King Tut.

Photographs aren’t allowed inside unless you pay a special fee (costing more than the entry ticket!), so I declined and we explored sans lens. And if I’m being honest, the lack of camera wasn’t all that disappointing. Most of these tombs were found empty upon excavation and despite the surprisingly long tunnels, there’s not a lot to see. In fact, most of the artefacts that were found have been moved to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other museums around the world.

Rameses IV’s tomb has the best coloring, ironic because it was one of the most used tombs…the Greeks turned it into a hotel for a while.

Merenptah died earlier than expected and only the first half of his tomb was completed. Pharaohs were to be embalmed and buried within 70 days, so it was never finished.

The diggers of Rameses III nearly dug into a previous tomb before needing to reroute. Diggers were blindfolded so they couldn’t return and loot the tombs, so no one ever knew exactly where the previous pharaohs had been buried.

For me, the valley itself was more impressive than what was waiting for us underground. I was more than ready to head to our final destination on the west bank: the Colossi of Memnon.

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These statues were surprisingly large and came with a great story. The statues were found in pieces by a German group of archaeologists. They tried to reconstruct them, but did a pretty poor job with the one on the right and every morning, when the wind blew, it made a whistling sound. It reminded those who heard it of the legend of Agamemnon and thus the statues got their names.

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The Doors of Egypt

Something that surprised me about Egypt: How quickly I become obsessed with their doors.

Egypt feels like the land time forgot…everything dusty and broken down. Yet, their doors and the objects surrounding them were so often covered in weathered, but vibrant colors. I couldn’t stop snapping photos.

Chandler eventually asked me what I was taking so many photos of, and he rolled his eyes when I told him about my obsession with doors. He would say I have an obsession with photographing anything – and later he used my nearly 1,000 photos from our three weeks in Egypt and Jordan as proof.

I decided to use this vacation to really unplug – which means that while I brought my camera, I didn’t bring my laptop. And so my photos had to stay safe & sound, patiently waiting on my SD card until we got back to Accra.

Now that the new year has begun and we’re home sweet home, I find myself agreeing with my husband. I have an absurd number of photos to edit and organize.

Which is why my first post about our bucket list holiday is starting with photos of doors – they were easy to catalog!

And so, while this may not be the post you were expecting…nothing about the Pyramids or our week-long cruise on the Nile. No photos of the constantly changing and mesmerising colors of Petra or Wadi Rum. Those will come later. Today, you have doors.

My first set of doors were snapped in the small town of Esna, at the start of our cruise. And while I say small town, the bustling port had more to offer than I initially expected. Just 33 miles south of Luxor it is also home to the Temple of Khnum – but those photos will come later!

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

After spending years living in Eastern and Western Africa – where me and the local cuisine rarely see eye-to-eye – one of my favorite things about travel is the food. Amsterdam was no exception. And while I loved it for the international variety (only London surpasses it in quantity), I can happily say we enjoyed the Dutch pancakes so much we ate them twice : )

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Also, every cup of hot chocolate was divine – but you could have guessed that given our chocolate-scented bike ride.

I also couldn’t get enough of the architecture – Europe has something I can’t seem to find anywhere else: buildings I could stare at for hours. And in Amsterdam, I loved it all…from the traditional to the quirky.

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Something that all cities I love have in common is their green space. Between the canals and the parks, Amsterdam gave me the fresh air and outdoor space that I’ve been craving, being trapped inside our apartment in Accra.

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I know I already wrote about my love of Amsterdam museums, but no list of my favorite things would be complete without these beauties. Maybe next time we’ll make our way inside the Rijksmuseum.

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