Alright, I know what your thinking. We are very sorry (sorry indeed) that we have neglected our blog management duties for so long. There is much to write about since the last time you read about us. I guess I´ll begin in Zanzibar, Tanzania. We both loved being there. It´s an island about 25 miles east of the Tanzanian coast in the Indian Ocean. The water was an amazing menthol blue like you see on the Hall´s commercials. Tanzania was very different from Kenya in many ways but foremost in my mind was the way people lived their daily lives. I think in general, Kenyans work harder and try to please visitors more. At any rate, we spent a good deal of time in a little town on the north side of Zanzibar called Nungwei. There is a smaller settlement a little south of there called Kendwa Rocks. We ended up staying at a great place called White Sands. The owner was a Belgian expatriot named Jon (say Yon)and his German Sheppard, Jackel. We happened to run into a great family from Manchester, England. Ren, Annette, and their kids Jack, and Georgia. I have to say, I really had a great time with those kids. We sailed on Arab Dhows and dove in the clear water on the reef just offsore. It´s the kind of place you can lose yourself and forget about the rest of the world. I guess that´s why there are so many expat´s running around over there.
Zanzibar was part of the roaming range of the Massai peoples and eventually the island was discovered by sailors from Oman and Yeman. The Arabs settled here and began cultivating spices. So when you hear about the spice islands, you know someone is talking about the archipelago of islands just off the Tanzanian coast. Stone Town, or better know as Zanzibar Town, is the main port town. It is named Stone Town because of the limestone buildings that practically occupy all available space in the medina and leave just enough space to walk between them, thanks to the Portugese merchants that came later. You could walk for days and never walk the same streets on purpose.
We arrived to Zanzibar by ferry from Dar es Salaam and left by plane to Mombassa, Kenya. We instantly hopped a cab to Melindi. The ride was cheap and took about an hour. Melindi is an Italian settlement on the coast. It was largely unremarkable, except to say we spent too much time there. From Melindi, we took a terrifying flight on probably the first ATR ever manufactured, to Lamu Island. With our wing tip skimming the waters surface on final and holding our breaths until we slammed onto the runway, we still managed to enjoy a great view of the island´s surroundings. Lamu is situated on the northern coast of Kenya only 45 kilometers away from Samolia. We stayed on the Indian Ocean side of the island in another town called Shella. Lamu and Shella are very Muslim, much like all of coastal Kenya and Tanzania, and it´s common to see women dressed all in black with thier faces behind a black veil. All you can see are their eyes, hands, and 3 inch heels. The morning wake up call for prayer in the Muslim world is at 04:45, sharp. And I must say, some of the gentlemen calling others to pray are not the world´s best singers! (Especially that early) Despite what a lot of people think, the Muslim world does not shut down 5 times a day for prayer. Maybe in Saudi and Iran and some other Ìslamic States, but everyone is pretty much like you and I. They get up, get the kids to school, go to work, go to market, etc... I really enjoyed our time in Lamu. It´s the kind of place you can leave your room unlocked while your away. You have to worry about the tourists robbing your room before you think about the locals robbing it. We stayed at a new inn. It was actually an addition to a family´s home. All the architecture there is Arabic in style, with tile work everywhere. You have to take off your shoes before you go in out of respect. The owner, Omar took good care of us. In Lamu, it´s easy to lose yourself, much like Zanzibar but much easier! We stayed way too long there, but I have no regrets. I don´t think I have read so many trash novels in my life. Outside of fishing, eating, drinking, and sleeping all day, reading poses a good alternative. I had a chance to sail a dhow again there after we went fishing on the reef. The crew was so stoned that I thought we might end up in Somalia instead of Lamu. After we washed ashore, the guys cleaned our fish, or someone´s fish, and cooked it and we sat on the beach drinking beer and eating our catch. There is a lot of Arab and Massai history in Lamu. It was told to us that Lamu was again part of the wandering range of the Massai and was also settled by the Omani Arabs and again later exploited by the Portuguese. Shella people lived north of Lamu and occasionally made war with each other. As time passed, the Shella wells went dry and they were forced to make peace with the people of Lamu. The then sultan of the stone medina of Lamu gave the Shella people land on the Ocean side of the island. It was unprotected to the weather and almost entirely sand dunes. In addition, the Shella people had a great mosque that they worshipped in the old neighborhood. They were forced to dismantle it and rebuild it in Lamu town. As a provision of their "peace offering" to the Lamu people, they were allowed to worship there anytime they wanted, except.... they could not wear their footwear inside of Lamu walls. That way, a Lamu citizen would know you were the outsider and were treated as so. In the end, the Shella people made out the best because Italian tourists saw the potential there and developed Shella as a resort getaway.
From Lamu, we went with an armed escort back to Mombassa. From Mombassa, we took an "express" safari through Tsavo National Park. We passed through at about 120 kilometers per hour and saw most of the big 5 animals in under 6 hours and we never had to leave our airconditioned bus! Sammy and Joseph were nice enough to meet us at the bus stop and take us to the airport in Nairobi and we were off for London.
We managed to take off on time, and land on time thanks to British Airways. However, Iberia Air had "technical" problems and we were delayed nearly as long at Heath Row as our flight from Nairobi. Do yourself a favor, NEVER fly with Iberia. Well, we finally made our flight to Barcelona and found it a lovely city. If you go there, check out a hotel called Gat Xino. It´s right off Las Ramblas and it´s super clean and really in the middle of it all. Barcelona, Gadi, La Sagrada Familia (amazing Gadi designed cathedral), the Ham and Cheese conference (very serious about their ham and cheese there), and of course football (Chelsea vs. Barcelona, mayhem!!).
After 10 great days in Barcelona, and fulfilling our daily intake of red wine, we flew to Cairo, Egypt, with Iberia, again. The guys at work will appreciate this, the airfield in Cairo is built about 30 feet higher than the ramp. So the airplanes must take a series of switchbacks to get to the ramp or the big dip straight down. Never get in a taxi in Cairo unless you have a signed and sworn statement in the drivers blood with promise of his firstborn about an agreed price. I cant recall how many times the price changed enroute on us. We met up with a driver named Hosam. He was great. He took us all around Giza (pyramids), Cairo, Memphis, the National Museum, and introduced us to the wonderful world of kushari (Egyptian fastfood).
From there we hopped a train south along the Nile and ended up in Luxor. Luxor is the famous as the original site of Thebes, the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Temple of Hatchipsup (site of Egypt´s worst tourist massacre in the late 1980´s), and most remarkable of all- The Luxor Temple (far more impressive than many Greek and Roman ruins). We continued south along the Nile again to Aswan. Aswan is just downstream of the Aswan high dam built around the late 1950´s to supply Lower Egypt with water. It created Lake Nasar and subsiquently nearly flooded Abu Simbel, an ancient temple erected by Ramses II. UNESCO helped move it to higher ground before the chambers were flooded. Abu Simbel is about 10 kilometers north of Sudan. Neededless to say, you really cant travel around Egypt with out security clearances or an armed convoy. Egypt was probably the hardest place I have travelled simply because you are hasseled all the time. If you are out of your hotel, you are being hassled. Unless there is some monumental archelogical discovery that rocks the modern world, I really think I´ll never return to the Nile Valley.
Back in Luxor we jumped on a plane to Sharm el Shiek. If you can imagine Disney World and the town of Celebration in the Middle East, but with no women working there, you have a good idea of what Sharm el Shiek is all about. The Bin Laden´s and the Prince of Bahrain are neighbors and both have giant mansions along the coast. The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aquaba converge here with Saudi Arabia looking on in the near distance. I can imagine the place being one of astounding beauty within a surreal setting before being developed. That is long gone however. I think that perhaps the reefs there are probably the best I have ever seen though. The local dive companies realise the potential there and have set permanent moorings instead of anchoring and damaging the reef. They really take good care of their natural resources in Sharm and at the same time they really exploit them heavily as well. It´s a fine balance they maintain. Never the less, it is maintained for the time being.
Trying to leave Sahrm was like that movie with Bill Murray, Groundhog Day. We kept trying to leave to St. Catherines Monestary but we were thwarted by swindling taxi drivers again and again. Then it was the weather. Apparently, it has not rained in that part of Sinai in over 10 years. Of course, it rains while we´re there and the road washes out. Finally, we get under way and take the bus up to the Monestary. We stayed two amazing nights at the Monestary. This is suposedly the place were Moses led the exiles and recieved the 10 Commandments atop Mt. Sinai. The monestary is supposedly built around the site of the original Burning Bush. We walked up Mt. Sinai (the 3500 Steps of Repentance) and took in amazing views of Mt. St. Catherine (were it just snowed the day before) and the Siani Peninsula. We took the camel trail down and then Mac broke the news to me that we would be climbing the mountain, again, at 3 am!!! So, the next morning, up we went. After wading through the mobs of Asian tourists in the pale light of our headlamps, and guys trying to sell us rocks, (Rocks! Like I had enough to carry, let alone rocks! On top of the mountain!) we had a lovely sunrise atop the mountain. Most memorable perhaps being a Japanese tourist. A middle aged gentleman sitting quietly away from the others in his tour group, trying to be courteous. As the sun started to rise, everyone went so silent you could her only the wind. He stood up in an excited semi- crouched position with his camera grasped in one hand and his binocculars in the other and exclaimed in his best English "AAAAAA, IT´S COMING UP!!!" No kidding buddy. Mac thought it was cute.
After we left St. Catherines, we headed for the coast of the Gulf of Aquaba to catch a ferry to Aquaba, Jordan. We finally managed to get tickets and clear customs and get onto the ferry. We sat with an American tour group and a guy named Porky from Jupiter, Florida. It was nice to catch up on the news from home, and I hardly noticed the ferry ride north between Saudi and Sinai. Towards the end, I managed to corner another traveller about my age. He was an Austrailian named Andre. He was travelling with his soon to be wife, Kimmy. They are both officers in the Australian Navy and they are also travelling on a similar ticket for a year. They were huddled up with two Royal Air Force (RAF) Officers who recently graduated and were enjoying a few weeks of R&R, in the Middle East?!?! Turns out their names are Nick and Steve. We all decided to hang out together for a while to help differ some of the costs. Well, I have to say, they are some of the finest travel companions anyone could hope for. And the Nick and Steve Show gave us hours of entertainment. We hired a car in Aquaba, and drove north to the Wadi Rum Desert. This is the desert were Lawrence of Arabia lived and was later filmed. We rode around in the back of a 4 wheel drive and I must admit, it is one of the most impressive landscapes I´ve seen. Giant sandstone walls and great expanses of empty space occupy the area. It had not rained or snowed in 10 years, and we encountered a sand storm and hail! Not much fun in the back of an open truck. We camped in tents that night and moved on the next morning to Petra.
According to tradition, in ca. 1200 BCE, the Petra area (but not necessarily the site itself) was populated by Edomites and the area was known as Edom ("red"). Before the Israelite incursions, the Edomites controlled the trade routes from Arabia in the south to Damascus in the north. Little is known about the Edomites at Petra itself, but as a people they were known for their wisdom, their writing, their textile industry, the excellence and fineness of their ceramics, and their skilled metal working.
The next chapter belongs to the Persian period, and it is thought that during this time the Nabataeans migrated into Edom, forcing the Edomites to move into southern Palestine. But little is known about Petra proper until about 312 BC by which time the Nabataeans, one of many Arab tribes, occupied it and made it the capital of their kingdom. At this time, during the Hellenistic rule of the Seleucids, and later, the Ptolemies, the whole area flourished with increased trade and the establishment of new towns such as Philadelphia (Rabbath 'Ammon, modern Amman) and Gerasa (modern Jerash). Infighting between the Seleucids and Ptolemies allowed the Nabataeans to gain control over the caravan routes between Arabia and Syria. Although there were struggles between the Jewish Maccabeans and the Seleucid overlords, Nabataean trade continued.
With Nabataean rule, Petra became the center for a spice trade that extended from Arabia to Aqaba and Petra, and onward either to Gaza in the northwest, or to the north through Amman to Bostra, Damascus, and finally on to Palmyra and the Syrian Desert. Nabataean Classical monuments reflect the international character of the Nabataean economy through their combination of native tradition and the classical spirit.
The Romans later occupied Petra and as history progressed, bloody battles ensued to occupy the area between the Arabs and the Jews, and the Crusader Christains and the Arabs.
When the Hashimites later came to rule, borders were erected and currently the historical sites of Jordan are protected for all religions and ethnicities to enjoy.
As a side note, you may have seen the Treasury of Petra in the closing scenes of Indian Jones and the Last Crusade. Incidentally, it´s just a façade, the inside is about as big as the inside of a modern church and completly empty.
From Petra, we let Nick and Steve head back to Britain for duty, and the remaining four of us trekked north to some great crusader castles and to the Dead Sea. In Amman, we parted with Kim and Andre and took a bus to Tel Aviv, Isreal
Tel Aviv is a lot like Miami Beach. We pulled in just in time for Passover. This threw a wrench into the works because EVERYTHING comes to a screaching halt at sunset and lasted for seven days. We managed to make it to Jerusalem before sunset, and after the sun set, the bustling streets were vacant. It was creepy, like a ghost town. We had to stock up on food for ourselves before the stores closed and we could not buy nor consume ANY bread products containing yeast. I will never eat motso again. Everything had motso. It was like Bubba from Forest Gump describing all the shrimp dishes his mother could prepare only imagine him saying motso....... even motso pizza. Someone said to us that we arrived in Isreal for the "Bombing Season". After hearing that, it was easy to see why everyone was so on edge all the time. Some dont talk about it, some talk only about it. It was hard to know where to be, literally. Jerusalem was amazing. Imagine a walled city divided into quadrants. Arab, Christain, Jewish, and Armanian. There are no dividers between the quadrants of the medina, just walkways. They all coexist there peacefully. After Passover, turns out we were just in time for Muslims Holy Day, Friday. So their shops were all closed. Then, for the weekend we were just in time for Non Greek Easter! Always a party in Jerusalem! We walked the stations of the Cross, stopped at the Western (Wailing) Wall, walked around the Temple Mount, and layed eyes only on the Temple. One of Islam´s pilgrimage sites. It´s supposedly where Mohammed took his night journey to heaven to be with Allah. Picture if you can, a giant fortress surrounded on 4 sides by high walls. The Muslim temple way up on top, and armed soldiers everywhere. The western facing wall is sacred to Jews because it is the last remaining original wall of King Soloman´s Temple. The Muslims who occupied the city threw the Jews out, tore down Soloman´s Temple and erected a mosque over the sacred rock that Mohammed departed from. Only recently in modern history have Jews been allowed to pray at the Wall.
From Jerusalem, we went to Haifa by bus. We hired a car and drove around the Golan Heights, stolen from Syria in the late 1970´s and patrolled by UN Peacekeepers. We travelled north to the Lebanese border and east to the Syrian border all inside Isreal. It´s beautiful country but treacherous from all the unexploded landmines and inexperienced Israli children cum warriors. We enjoyed the countryside and the history of the region, but we both couldnt wait to hop that big old jet airliner to Greece!
Ah, Greece! Steve, Dave, and Andre, we have a ******* emergency here!
Oh yea, we were just in time for Greek Easter! We met up with her brother Dave and her Mom in Athens and stayed with Dave´s friends Petros, Vaso, and little Stela. We need to say thank you to that family very much for your hospitality and warmth. Thank you. After Uncle Dave and Aunt Polly showed up, we left for the small island south of Athens in the Aegean Sea. Dave has done extensive archological work in this area and was an amazing organizer, host, Conlin cat herder, and all around glue that kept it together for the rest of us. Hats off to you, Thank You. Hydra is an amazing little island. You can take day walks everyday of your life and never be bored there. Steve, Louise, Maddy, and Taft showed up a week into it to complete the gathering. Polly and Dave chartered a sailboat for a few days that was some of the best sailing I have done, thanks to you both. By the way, I think Maddy and Taft have salt water in their veins, good job sailing you guys!! Then Kim and Andre showed up from Jordan!
Then it was on to Madrid to see my Mom and Dad who flew in to hang out with us for two weeks. We hired a car and we were off to see what Spain has to offer. After a few snags with hotels, we worked out the kinks and we had a great time wandering around. We hit, Madrid, Cordoba, Granada, Gibraltar, Tarifa, and Sevilla. Perhaps we had too much Sherry in Jerez, but we had such a great time with them. The sites in Spain are very picturesque. I think what I will always remember the most was the fun we shared just bouncing around the country and hanging out. Thanks so much for coming to see us. It has been a long time since Mac and I have hung out with Mom and Dad, and it really was great that they pushed hard and made it over. Hats off to you guys too.
After Mom and Dad left, we spent some more time in Tarifa were the wind blows a steady 30 knots, always. It´s the windsurfing capitol of Europe. Tarifa got it´s name from the pirates that patrolled the area charging a "tarrif" to pass through the Straits of Gibraltar.
We decided to put off Morocco for a week or two to go explore Portugal. So far, it has been my favorite country. I really like Portugal and the Portuguese, and their food! We have had nothing but warm welcomes and giant helpings of really good local fare and great wine. We stayed in Baja the first night and ran into a Canadian expatriot named Carl. He was an interesting study. He is a proffessional photographer and sells his prints locally. Anyway, he showed us where to go and what to do. The second night, we stayed in Montseraz. Portugal is number 6 in the world as wine producing goes and Monteraz is right in the middle of it. Apparently, Portugals wine is mostly consumed before export so that is why there is little exported in the first place. We had two great days there exploring the countryside and drinking the wine. After that we trekked on to Manteigas. It´s a mountain town in the Estrella Naturale Parque. I almost didny leave here, it was so nice. Then on to Lisbon, and south to Costa del Luz the a quick left along the Algarves coast. The nicest part of that coast was a town called Sagres. It rivaled Mantegas in beauty. It had amazing cliffs over 45 meters tall and the sea was always unsettled. It is a great place for surfing and may be the best in Europe. I didnt want to leave there either. We finally ended up in Morocco and having only spent 4 days here so far, I think I might need to start a new chapter. Mac keeps saying that photos are going to be posted, but we have heard her say that before.................