Ain Sokhna, Egypt: Beach Thursday video and naughty Arab lesson

It is Beach Thursday and I have a video that will teach you something naughty ūüėČ I didn’t even dare to post it on my Travel the Middle East site! See it until the end, as the lesson is on the last half of the Ain Sokhna video:

Beach time! Naughty Arab lesson found at 1:55

Yes, I just taught you the middle finger or Arab sign language for “f**k you.” You know, travel brings many things with it. I can’t just paint a pink picture on my blog every single time. Keepin’ it real! ūüėČ

About Ain Sokhna, Egypt

Literally meaning “hot spring” in Arabic, Ain Sokhna is located in the Eastern Desert and happens to be the highest peak there (Wikipedia). It is a popular beach spot, but mostly to Egyptians. In fact, I didn’t even see one other foreigner during my visit, except for the fellow Couchsurfers that were with us. As I was told by my host Moussa, the resort we stayed at is of mostly middle-class Egyptians.

Photo time!

For your entertainment, photos of the grounds. Enjoy! (Note: Yes, I know I blatantly ignored all rules in regard to how to dress in Egypt¬†or any conservative country, but I was told by Moussa this was a safe spot to wear my tank top. And, as a Latina, feeling ubber liberated, I so did…!)

Ain Sokhna beach, Egypt

Me at Ain Sokhna beach. The sandy part

Ain Sokhna sandy beach, Egypt

Ain Sokhna sandy beach teni (again)

Sokhna mountains

Barren mountains, too! This is from the rooftop of Moussa’s apartment, with his cousin and fellow traveler Jaimie (Aussie)

Sokhna resort view

Ain Sokhna resort view from our friend’s flat

Sokhna hookah

Hookah time! We went to a café/resort on the road from Ain Sokhna to Cairo

Have you been to any off-the-beaten-path spots in Egypt?

My 2011-2012 BHAGs: Curacao, Bonaire, NOLA, Egypt, Cambodia, AUS!?

BHAG = Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Thanks for the inspiration, BootsnAll! You have just made me realize what’s my real last name ūüėČ

Alo! I’m super excited to share some great news on this lovely Travel Tuesday night with ya! ūüėÄ As you already know, I’ll be visiting Curacao for the first time in November. However, what you didn’t know yet is that I’ve added Bonaire to the mix! After speaking to other travel bloggers that have been to the ABC’s (Aruba/Bonaire/Curacao), I was told that it is wise if I were to spend 2-3 days on each instead of the whole time in just one of them. And since I’m trying to visit all countries in the world…this would be a perfect opportunity to cross off two at once ūüėÄ after some debate, I decided to stay longer in Bonaire (3 days), as I wanted to visit the least crowded island with the most¬†unspoiled¬†nature for better diving/snorkeling. Then, I will fly back to Curacao and stay for 2 days to soak in the night life and possibly cycle around instead of renting a car *fingers crossed* I’m excited to have a taste of the Dutch Caribbean! Oh and in case you were wondering why I have left Aruba out? I already visited back in 2002 ūüėČ

Aruba Natural Bridge

Aruba's Natural Bridge, which collapsed in 2005 - I went there just 3 yrs earlier!

Now, how the HECK were¬†NOLA, Egypt, Cambodia, Thailand, and even AUSTRALIA thrown to the mix!? Let me begin by saying that they are not all on a one-way RTW ticket (although that would have been pretty epic)…

French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans at night (Photo: Falkue at de.wikipedia)

NOLA, aka New Orleans, aka the “Big Easy” was an impulse buy from yours truly during a ridiculously-beautiful AA sale – snatched a RT ticket, direct flights, TPA-NOLA for just US$160 including taxes (I know, I’m a¬†baller). I’m excited because the first and only time I’ve been to NOLA was to volunteer and help victims affected by Hurricane Katrina. Meaning? That time I got to be a part of something big for people, now this time I will be part of celebrating their recovery, BIG, with them! ūüėČ shall be a blast! This is happening on a long weekend in December, by the way.

And now, I shall describe the biggest event of this post. Band, drum roll please! *drum roll*

Hint: Plans A & C

Hint: This shall involve Plans A & C

Hint: Plan B

Hint: This shall be Plan B

My Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) for 2012 is to work, live, travel throughout the Middle East again or hit SE Asia for the first time in my life!

*rings cowbell loudly* YES!!!!!!!!!!!

Omg, you have no idea how excited I am, my fingertips just keep doing a happy dance across the keyboard every time I type about that! Soooo! What’s the plan you must be wondering!? Since I basically have it all planned out from Plan A to C to D, I’ll tell you all about it on a tentative timeline I’ve outlined below!

 Nov РDec 2011 * Curacao & Bonaire (Dutch Caribbean); Miami & Tampa FL (USA)

Dec 2011 * New Orleans, NOLA, the Big Easy

New Year’s 2012 * long weekend where? Hmm…Tampa? Canada? Miami? Times Square/NYC again?

Jan – April 2012…

Plan A: Apply for jobs at US Embassies around the world, preferably in the Middle East, most preferably in Egypt. I want to improve my Arabic, get ready for a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Arabic, Track II at U of Maryland (close to DC!), studying abroad in Egypt again for the 2nd year of my degree (!!!)

Plan B?¬†If by Feb-March I got no promising job offers on my table, start looking for jobs in Australia as well! I got a contact (if you wish to be named, you’re welcome to move forward mister!) that will help me find a job in the tourism industry there. Tour guide? Interpreter? Both? We shall see! ūüėÄ

Plan C: Really I got one? Indeed ūüėÄ apply to become a flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline, preferably Emirates or Qatar Airways. Travel the world while having a base in the Middle East and improve my Arabic in the process? Why not!?

Plan D (aka worst case scenario): Stay in Tampa FL a bit longer, until any plan from above happens. because you know, Maria Alexandra makes things happen!

La Isla del Encanto, Puerto Rico

A beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico

April – Aug 2012 *¬†If either plan A, B or C from above happens, I’ll move back to La Isla Del Encanto, Puerto Rico (HOME!) and live with my family for a few months. It’ll be wonderful, because my first nephew is coming to this world in Feb 2012, so he will get some serious fun time with Titi Maria¬†before she jets off to live in another remote country! (I wish he was old enough to teach him how to Skype already…)

Worst case scenario: Still in Tampa FL, job searching (aka still working on Plans A, B & C from above)

Aug 2012

Plan A: Living (and working) in Egypt again!

Plan B: Last week of Aug, head to Southeast Asia, travel through Thailand (for the first time!) for a couple of days, then head to Cambodia to volunteer on a house build through Habitat for Humanity. Afterward, tubing (and much else) in Laos. And “finally”? Travel job in eastern coast of AUSTRALIA!

Plan C: Become a reincarnated PanAm dream (umm, flight attendant) for Emirates or Qatar Airways, living in the Persian Gulf, but FLYING often around the world!

Sept 2012 * living and traveling either throughout the Middle East, Asia and/or the South Pacific!

And…what if all of the above fails due to some major mystery of the universe? Well, I’ll just stay right here, in Tampa FL, working as a translator and social media manager, still searching and waiting until a promising opportunity crosses my path. I know God has a plan for me, and while I do possess the gift of free will, He also helps me by guiding me in the path that best suits my abilities and all the love and talents I have to give and share with others. I’m such a people person, got so much love and great plans to share and spread around the world, I know what will make me wake up ecstatic every morning will show up eventually ūüôā

Until then? I got my timeline to work on! And…

My pool in Tampa, FL
…a great view + pool at my apartment complex to enjoy in Tampa Bay, FL

This post may have been a little tedious for some of you to read, but I am the kind of person that needs to write (errm, type) plans out in order to focus, tackle, and WIN. I’m absent, scattered minded, so time lines like this one have previously helped me achieve some of my biggest life goals. And so this shall be my proclamation, my inspiration–the sticky note I will read every day until my wildest dreams¬†come true!

MOREOVER, I am challenging YOU right now to proclaim your own. Write down your dreams, travel plans, BIG GOALS for the next year already!¬†Come join me, let’s take this journey together!

In response to 30 Days of Indie Travel, Prompt # 1:
What travel goals do you hope to accomplish this year?

Travel bucket list photos: White Desert, Egypt (moon on Earth!)

Since I’m too busy enjoying the Puerto Rican sun (*wink*), I’m just going to feature one thing for Travel Bucket List Wednesday this week: The White Desert in Egypt. The amazing moon-like landscape is something you can’t believe from pictures–you gotta see it on your own! And so I did, crossing yet another awesome item off my travel bucket list, in the fall of 2008. Below, some awesome pictures to get you excited about making YOUR own travel bucket list a reality. Cheers!

* White Desert in Egypt – check!

white desert Egypt

Me (left) and Marine (right) exploring the White Desert

travel bucket list white desert Egypt

Margo (left), me (center) and Marine (right) seeking shade from the hot desert sun under a MUSHROOM!

Climbed to the top!

View FROM the top, at the moon on Earth - the White Desert in Egypt! ūüėČ

[click here for more amazing photography of the White Desert]

What’s on your travel bucket list? What have you crossed off already?

My travel bucket list: The R-rated version

Whether you call it a bucket list, or travel bucket list, or things to do before I die; or if you simply call them dreams or goals: Everybody has one of those ‚Äúlists,‚ÄĚ either written on paper, on a computer, in their mind, or in their heart. My bucket list has always involved traveling, and so I have called it the travel bucket list, and this shall be part 3! (click for part 1 and part 2). It contains my written dreams and goals yet to accomplish. Yet, in the past few years, I‚Äôve been lucky enough to cross some ‚Äúitems‚ÄĚ out! And so here, for the first time ever, I make it openly public!

For Travel bucket list Wednesday this week, I have decided to give the usual list a little twist: And turn it R-rated. So anyone under 18, please stop reading. Mmkay?

Today you will learn a lot about me…intimately. I won’t get into details, but I am a quite sensual being (being a Latina just makes matters worse by default, naturally). And so ladies and gentlemen, I present you with my R-rated travel bucket list, aka all the crazy places I want to make love abroad (or anything somewhat sexual) whilst traveling. In no particular order (warning: Most are likely illegal, lol):

* On top of the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Great Pyramid travel bucket list

by Alex lbh (Creative Commons)

Ahhh, I’m still disappointed in myself for not making this one a reality when I lived in Egypt. I had a possible candidate, but he chickened out last minute, scared sh**less that he was going to be thrown into Egyptian prison for the rest of his life. I guess he forgot about the ancient art of…bribing. Hey, don’t get me wrong–I’m not talking ill of Egyptians. But hey, everyone knows bribes happen everywhere, and if to cross this one off that’s what it takes, I won’t lie, I might take the plunge or so to speak. This item, by the way, joined my R-rated travel bucket list when one of my good friends in Egypt completed the feat. Indeed, after a diplomatic party at the foot of the pyramids, in full dress (and her diplomat partner in full tux and all), a la James Bond style, they stumbled all over the place, distracting the guards and tricking them into thinking they were just drunk. Then, they waited for the party to be over and the complex to be closed. And so, in the pitch dark, they climbed the Great Pyramid of Giza and, you know it, once at the top they made sweet love to each other. They took several pictures of before and after- including some of the gorgeous Egyptian sunrise from the top of the only Ancient Wonder of the World standing. I have never envied someone so much in my entire life. But some day, oh some day, it will be ME! =D

* With a diplomat…better yet, inside the actual Embassy (anywhere)!

Embassy travel bucket list

by Foma, Wiki Commons

Another¬†one of my half-crossed-off items. Indeed, I had the privilege to join the high ranks of government (or so to speak haha!) with a handsome New Zealand diplomat toward the end of my year living and studying in Egypt (what a closure!). Unfortunately, though, I wasn’t able to do it inside the Embassy…but, it remains on my list. Who knows: I think I want to be greedy next time and want to have the Ambassador instead =D (I told you I was trouble! lol)

* Inside a fairy chimney in Cappadocia, Turkey

Capadoccia travel bucket list

by Cybedu, Wiki Commons

This one should not be hard to cross off at all. The most charming hotels in the region of Cappadocia are carved into the rock, nestled inside those fairy chimneys from above, so this shall be a quite easy feat and (thankfully) all legal and “sane” =) Now thinking about it, this will be part of that 40-day Turkish delight itinerary I’ve previously mentioned on my travel bucket list…! Yay for making the epic Turkey trip even more epic!

* During a hot air balloon ride

hot air balloon travel bucket list

Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor.com

Speaking of Cappadocia…hot air balloon rides are quite popular there. Which got me thinking…and now I want to do it inside a hot air balloon, too. Now that is a thrill ride right there!

* On an helicopter while flying over the Grand Canyon, USA

Grand Canyon travel bucket list

Grand Canyon from helicopter - Brian Snelson, Creative Commons

I just made up this travel bucket list item (I’m not kidding either). I guess I’m just so, ahh, inspired this morning (lol!). I don’t know how feasible this would be, considering how small helicopters probably are, but I guess if I pay enough and bring a blanket this shouldn’t be too hard. And with the breathtaking views of the Grand Canyon just below us…talk about after glow!

* While camping (not so legally) inside the Great Wall of China

Great Wall travel bucket list

Camping inside the Great Wall - Jodi Ettenberg, LegalNomads.com

Thanks, Jodi Ettenberg (Legal Nomads) for this travel bucket list idea! OK, she most likely did not do it while there, but she did camp inside the Great Wall of China and I remember dreaming of doing this ever since I read it on her blog a couple of years back. And so I thought, dang, how awesome it would be to romantically make love while watching the sunrise at the Great Wall of China!? Oh yeah, I’m taking the word epic to a whole new level (I realize I viciously overuse this word, but I don’t care! =D)

* Samba dance in full attire (aka half naked) on the biggest parade of Carnaval in Brazil

travel bucket list Brazil carnaval

Brazilian samba dancer, Flickr Commons

Ok, I realize this might not be so R-rated, but to some folks, it can be. And with the Latina power I hold within (hey, my hips don’t lie), this would probably be one of the funnest (and sensual) times I could ever have. Something about wearing that barely-there outfit after days of tanning my olive skin under the hot Brazilian sun sounds sexy as heck. And I’m sure I’ll probably cross any other item off this R-rated travel bucket list with (any?) guy that sees me cross of this one. LOL!!!! *wink*

* At the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

travel bucket list Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon in Iceland - Sindre Jacobsen, Flikr Commons

A ton of you probably hate me right now and think I’m gross. But hey, it was more of a tease, lasting about 5 minutes due to a strong guilt trip and consideration from us (the other party shall remain unnamed lol). So no, the “deed” wasn’t finished (not even close!), but I guess we were just in it for those few minutes for the thrill and the bragging rights. I know, I’m bad

And that shall be it for my travel bucket list, the R-rated version! It is now an official series: Every Wednesday post will be about my never-ending, ever-long travel bucket list. Until next time!

What’s on your R-rated travel bucket list (bahaha)? What have you crossed off already?

My travel bucket list, part 2 (photo essay)

Whether you call it a bucket list, or travel bucket list, or things to do before I die; or if you simply call them dreams or goals:¬†Everybody has one of those “lists,” either written on paper, on a computer, in their mind, or in their heart. My bucket list has always¬†involved¬†traveling, and so I have called it the travel bucket list, and this shall be part 2! (click here for part 1). It contains my written dreams and goals yet to accomplish. However, in the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to cross some “items” out! And so here, for the first time ever, I make it openly public! Btw, all crossed-off items on this entry are clickable! So if you wish to hear more details and tales about each experience on this travel bucket list, click on any bullet point (opens in new window, btw)! So I present you with items on part 2, in no particular order:

* Get diving certification aka PADI certified

my travel bucket list, diving in Egypt Red Sea

Elacatinus evelynae cleaning my teeth! @Canyon Gardens

After many years of hesitation I finally crossed this item off my bucket list in spring 2009. Diving in Egypt was definitely one of the highlights of my year living there. Nothing rivals the Red Sea and its vast beauty! Lucky me, I got to dive some of the top diving sites in the world as part of my PADI certifications: Open Water and Advanced! In less than 2 weeks and for under $600 US dollars, I got both PADI certifications, paid for accommodation and meals. Still can’t believe it!

* The Great Migration in Tanzania, hot air balloon in Kenya, Big 5 in South Africa..etc etc

my travel bucket list, Great Migration

Great Migration, Masai Mara from the air by T. R. Shankar Raman

At a very young age, I “digitally witnessed” the Great Migration from my living room in Puerto Rico thanks to National Geographic. But now that I am old enough, I wish to witness it LIVE through an African Safari. I wish to do a full-blown safari in Tanzania, while seeing the great Migration up from the air in Kenya on a hot air balloon ride. Also, I wish to go down south to the highly-acclaimed South African reserves and see the Big 5 down there on a different season. And, most importantly, kiss a giraffe, pet a tiger, etc. etc…can’t wait to do all this!

* Take a break and chill at Lake Malawi

my travel bucket list, Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi beach by JackyR, Wiki Commons

Continuing with my African dreams, after I do all of the above in one single trip, I’m sure I’ll be tired as heck. Thus, chilling around Lake Malawi will be the perfect break. According to a RTW Guidebook I read several years ago, this spot is up there with Dahab, Egypt (which happens to be my favorite spot on Earth) on chillaxation and guilty of trapping travelers for weeks to an end. Oh yes please, trap me. Seduce me. I’m so down

* Paragliding in Fethiye, Turkey

my travel bucket list, Fethiye paragliding

Paragliding in Fethiye, Turkey by turkeyholidaytours.com

OK, I’ll admit it: I don’t have the balls to do hangliding. Really, I think I would die. But gliding through the heavens was still a dream of mine, and as I looked for alternatives, I found paragliding! Yay for adding some risk to my travel bucket list! =D Don’t know what makes me feel safer about this, but I’m down! And Fethiye, Turkey seems to be the beautiful, perfect spot for the feat. Ahhh, one day!

* Make the 40-day Turkish itinerary I wrote down 3 years ago a reality…

my travel bucket list, epic Turkey trip

Turkey map by Thomas Steiner, Wiki Commons

Speaking of Turkish delights…I was supposed to go on a 40-day Turkish Odyssey, couchsurfing and road tripping throughout the entire country, circumnavigating it from west to east and back (and note: I planned all by myself for months) back in 2008. What happened, you may ask? Well, I was engaged and studying abroad for a year, so I thought, what most *delightful* surprise than to go visit my fiance for Christmas, when he’s not expecting to see me until June? Bought the flight from Egypt to America in October. Come December, exactly 10 days before my surprise flight–and fiance breaks up with me. Yeah, talk about major OUCH. Still, low and behold, I got my travel bucket list itinerary and months of research saved for when I finally go for the Turkish invasion!

* Dive submerged ancient sites, especially in Italy and Alexandria, Egypt

travel bucket list, diving Alexandria Egypt ancient ruins

Underwater ruins in Alexandria, Egypt by dailyscubadiving.com

So back to the water indeed. I love it, reason why my mom called me “little fishie” when I was young. Grew up in a Caribbean island, kind of expected! So yeah, another diving item on my travel bucket list is to wander through submerged ancient cities and sites. Mix water with history and I’ll get so wet without thinking about it twice (literally)

And that shall be it for my travel bucket list, part DOS! I think I’ll make it habitual and every Wednesday post will be about my travel bucket list. What do you think? =)

What’s on your travel bucket list? What have you crossed off already?

How I offended a hijabi in Egypt

Hijabi in Cairo Egypt

Hijabi in Islamic Cairo by Nick Leonard (Jungle Boy, Flickr)

So today is all about cultural misunderstandings! Ahhhh, who doesn’t love those blushing, awkward, unforgettable moments by which we learn about a place the hard way? Indeed.

It was in Egypt, when I thought I was in fact “culturally safe.” You know, several months later, after you think you have learned all the¬†tricks¬†and chuckle or shake your head when newbies aka tourists commit “the [cultural] atrocities.” Yeah, that! It was toward the end of my second semester studying in Egypt, around the 8-month mark. I was taking the school bus to the American University in Cairo’s new campus in Katameya as usual. This morning however, I forgot to do a little plucking to the eyebrows as I was running late. So, when the bus arrived, I sat on the most discreet, dark corner of the mini bus. I then kind of hid behind the front seat, and started the beauty ritual.

I was almost done at this point, around 5 minutes later, when I just felt a pair of eyes piercing me. You know what I’m talking about: When you just¬†feel a glare, when someone is downright¬†staring at you.As I finished brushing my eyebrows a bit with my fingers, my eyes met an evidently-angry hijabi. This, my friends, is a woman that is veiled. Well, she looked like she could be my grandmother, but meaner and a bit younger, which made her even scarier. Literally, I feared for my life. I was so embarrassed, as if I would have been stopped dead in the middle of the red carpet by a famous ET commentator saying “omg honey, no offense, but that’s like a hideous dress!” yeah, right there in front of the spotlight, when you¬†thought you were the last Coca Cola of the desert, when you think you are “It”

After the hijabi thought she had punished me enough with her¬†eternal, one-to-two-minute stare, she said to me, in a very firm, offended tone: “You should¬†not be doing that here. That’s private and intimate and it’s offending.” Then, after punishing me with another good 30-second mean glare, she slowly,¬†painstakingly turned over to the front again.

And so I learned my lesson: Plucking your eyebrows or doing anything you normally do in your house is considered offensive and too intimate to do outside of it to a hijabi (or at least that Egyptian lady). Basically, it is almost like the American equivalent of changing your shirt in public: No woman, it is not ok to show your bra and change your top in public, even though it does look like a bikini top. Still, it isn’t the beach (although I recognize some guys might defer). Remember buddies: We¬†never know it all!

What’s been your most embarrassing cultural mishap?

Egypt and the Middle East: My POV

The Middle East: My POV

Philae Temple - Aswan, Egypt

Egypt and the Middle East: My POV. I remember the initial fascination I felt seeing a picture of Nefertiti in a history book when I was in fourth grade. Across the years, that interest morphed into a fascination with Egyptian culture. In 2008, I finally got to visit Egypt, and my interest was thrown into modernity. Seeing no Nefertitis outside of the Egyptian museum, my interest in Egypt matured in the same way as Egyptian history did: From antiquity, it grew into something more complex and contemporary, with a deeper understanding of the political, economic, cultural and social issues that affect the country.

Of course, it was not all Nefertiti! In addition to living in Egypt, I wandered extensively throughout the Arab world and studied abroad in Morocco as well. Follow me on my new venture & read more about my experiences living and traveling throughout the Middle East. TravelTheMiddleEast.com is my new niche site, where I will post anecdotes, insights, tips & guides about all things Middle Eastern (or Arab for that matter). Hope you enjoy it!

What’s your Middle East POV? Do you plan to visit the region?

Pyramids of Giza: A sandstorm of disappointments

Disclaimer: I am, in no means, through this post discrediting the Pyramids of Giza, a masterpiece of the ancient world, as its architecture & history are beyond amazing. This article is simply portraying my opinion & POV of my (3) visits, taking into consideration the high expectations that I had before hand. You should still go, even if for the bucket list’s sake, but please be aware of what you will likely encounter…

I went once. Nothing. Went twice, worse. Went one last time…and had more fun taking silly shots by the Sphinx. Unfortunately, each visit tot the Pyramids of Giza was more of a sandstorm of disappointments than the tear-jerking Kodak moment I dreamed about since I was 8. Perhaps that’s why I went 3 times. Those extra visits were my desperate pleads; hopes to change my mind.

What the heck? Indeed, this thought crossed my mind several times prior, during, and after each visit. What happened? You may ask. Well, keep reading & get ready for some spoilers.

[You may click on any picture to enlarge]

The First Visit

At the time, I was Couchsurfing at the Mena House Oberoi (talk about class! Haha), having my own bed overlooking the pyramids–probably the most (&/or only) magical moment with the site. I remember I couldn’t wait to visit. So after settling in, off were my host & I to the infamous Pyramids…

Mena House Oberoi - pyramid view room

As I approached the entrance gate of the Pyramids of Giza site, I was confused. ¬†The city is right there. No magical, eerie feeling of the pyramids in the middle of the desert. As I kept walking toward the Pyramid of Cheops and looked at the city skyline…wait, I couldn’t because I was immediately hassled to buy postcards by a dozen kids, to ride a camel and/or horse for about 10 minutes for way too much money (by Egyptian¬†standards). I couldn’t even have my alone time to reflect on how disappointed I was with the fact that the pyramids are in the middle of the city. Sure, when you look at the other pyramids you can see the vast desert in the background, but while on the site you simply feel as if the pyramids of Giza were obstructing the city life instead of the other way around. It was weird…

Then I looked up – the vast Great Pyramid covering the scorching sun above me. “Cool” I thought to myself. And that was it. I kept looking around, walking, studying my surroundings…I was baffled. I even felt wrong for¬†being¬†so…disappointed (that still hurts to say).

the expensive photo op

After having no choice but to take pictures, my host and I began snapping away. Then, things went from bad to worse: I “accidentally snapped” a man that happened to be riding his camel right in front of my camera. The man stopped and demanded money. “You took my picture,” he said. I was like, umm, sir, you rode your camel in front of my camera, I didn’t mean to disturb you. He insisted, “you took my picture. 50 pounds” (or something along those lines). I couldn’t believe it. My host, trying to avoid any kind of confrontation, at least tried to haggle with the guy and ended up paying something around 30 pounds. Unbelievable. Why were these Egyptians acting that way? I had met others in Cairo before I ventured out to the Pyramids of Giza and they were the kindest, most generous people. Why were these Egyptians at the site trying so hard to change my perception of their people? Fortunately, I’m not that¬†judgmental. Still, the experience was sad, annoying, and even a little¬†infuriating. I disliked the fact that that’s the image of Egyptians that most tourists take away with them. I was as angry as any other Egyptian would have been.

The Second Visit

I was kind lured into this one. I was hanging out with potential roommates & they were going to visit the pyramids of Giza for the first time–guided tour and all. I decided to go again, this time with more people and a¬†knowledgeable¬†Egyptian guide by our side, hoping that my¬†perception¬†would change *buzzer* wrong again. If anything, the second visit exacerbated my POV (is that even correct grammar?). Indeed, I sighed in lament…

Tour was “great” overall, by a tourist’s standard. Driving around the pyramids in an A/C van surely made the experience more comfortable than the first time, when I felt I would drop dead at any second (desert heat is way more miserable than you can imagine). However,¬†the guide will take you to several shops so you can buy something (aka: Commission!). Worse yet, I felt¬†pushed to do so. Honestly, I would have rather skipped all those shops, spend more time on the sites and leave more tip instead. But nope. And it gets worse!!

don't be fooled

The camel or horse ride. Please please pleeease: DO NOT DO IT!! I repeat: DON’T DO IT AT THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA AT LEAST!! Not only is it overpriced, but they ask for baksheesh (tip) on top of that and threaten to leave you in the middle of the desert (ok, quite a hike from the site) if you don’t shell out! Besides, the actual ride is so short for the 100 pounds which btw, by Egyptian standards, is financial rape. Seriously, at this point I wanted to cry and scream “where are the kind, honest, REAL Egyptians!? I know they are out here somewhere!”

Back to the guide: She was very knowlegable, yes. She inf act answered many, many of our questions which was wonderful. But I just wouldn’t do it again. Personally? Go to Couchsurfing, grab find an independent Egyptologist (spelling?), pay a decent rate (go to Tripadvisor.com for guidance), and skip all that camel ride and shops BS. Trust me, your experience will be way more enjoyable.

Oh! And I almost forget to tell you! Make sure you ask beforehand the way to “the panorama” — from where you can see all 6 pyramids. THAT is a perk. In fact, I must admit, maybe I felt a few butterflies when I took in that particular view.

The Third Visit

Yes, one more time. I went independently again, this time with a friend of mine from Arabic class and some friends of hers that were visiting from Spain. This was by the end of my year there, so my Arabic was at the¬†intermediate¬†level at this point. Boy,was that a difference! I have been told many times I even look Egyptian or Lebanese–which I totally took advantage off. When people came to hassle, I kindly looked at them and was like “please, these are my friends. I live here. We are not interested in buying anything. I’ll take care of them. Thank you very much” with the sweetest-yet-firm, most convincing face possible. It worked–to the T. As of, no one bothered us. Whoa! There we go! You no tourist? You my friend with Egyptian then? Okie we won’t bother you no problem o_O nevertheless, the magic of the pyramids of Giza had worn out by then so my crew & I decided to harass the Sphinx instead

Must Go? What to do (aka travel tips)

Many of you must go & understandably so. Here are some quick tips:

1. I would personally recommend getting a really good guide of the Pyramids of Giza so you can go around on your own. Go to Amazon & read reviews to make sure you get a quality one. You could also simply read about the pyramids’ history beforehand, then take a map of the site so you are able to get around the site once there.

2. Hire a private guide if you really want a¬†knowledgeable¬†(yet trustworthy) local with you. Shop around, make sure you are not taken into shops you don’t want to visit, etc. Best way to find out rates & recommended guides is to checkout the¬†Cairo forums of Tripadvisor.com I planned most of my other trips even as far as Aswan & Luxor there and independent travel is def. the way to go.

3. Do yourself a favor and learn a few key phrases in Arabic. Grab a phrasebook, visit a forum of Arabic speakers. Doesn’t have to be elaborate, but mastering a few words such as “no thank you, I’m ok on my own” will go a long way, especially if you speak in a firm, confident manner.

4. Blend in. Yes, that means no Hawaiian shirts & khaki shorts 9and women: Cover your shoulders and knees!). Neutral colors are favored, long trousers, no-brand shirts, etc. Google pictures of Egyptian people. Try to dress like them. I know, if you are blonde you might think “what’s the difference?” but the fact you are respecting the culture and trying to blend in will not go unnoticed (in a good way)

5. If visiting independently, there is a bus from Ramses Square (I believe–double check on that) that you can take to the Pyramids of Giza which drops you off right by the Mena House Oberoi Hotel, which is just a few meters off the main gate of the site. Ask “Ila Haram Giza? Feen?” (means “To Giza pyramids? Where?”) and people will point you in the right direction. Ride only costs 1.50 pounds (as of 2008–don’t think it has gone up by much). Trust me, 1.50 vs a 20-30 pound cab ride is a big difference in Egypt, sp if you are a budget traveler like me. You will love having the extra money in order to take extra side trips to other less-traveled sites of Egypt such as the White Desert, Siwa on the west and Ras Shytan, Dahab and other little gems in the Sinai (just to name a few!)

Ras Abu Gallum trail

6. Want to ride a camel? Visit the Sinai peninsula and book a tour to Ras Abu Gallum reserve from Dahab instead. About 1.5 hours EACH way on a camel should sure write that off your bucket list. Plus, you get a Bedouin lunch & few hours snorkeling as added bonuses. Sounds like a better deal than at the pyramids, huh? Because it is!

Stay tuned for more entries on how to see all the amazing historical (and natural) sights around Egypt like a local.

Did you visit the Pyramids of Giza? Post comment of your experience!

Long-term travel & college: My digital scrapbook

Hey guys! Last night (and errm, today) I spent several hours working on a digital scrapbook, as a Shutterfly promo I got through Tripadvisor to get $30 off a photobook was about to expire. So! Since I’m very proud of the product (and can’t spend any more energy in front of a computer typing), here it is! It basically summarizes (some of) the most memorable moments of my 5.5-year college stretch. You may ask, how did I manage to travel extensively while pursuing so many degrees? The short answer: Study abroad, low-cost airlines & Couchsurfing! I plan to write an entry about the specific steps I took in order to be successful both in school & in life later on.

Part 2 (including trips to Israel, Spain & Iceland) coming soon!

Click here to enlarge the digital scrapbook