Trying to get a vacation as well as a free trip back to work this year, I worked out a dope deal where I pieced together a flight to Spain, and then a flight from Morocco to Sudan, paid for by work, while I would travel in between on my own for a few weeks. Unfortunately I had to also work on a summer school graduate class, which resulted in me having to work on assignments each day and having to constantly look for wifi and electrical outlets, but I was able to have a fabulous vacation, finish my class, and get back to work in time for the school year to begin. Success!
I fulfilled a life-long dream this summer by going to Egypt and really taking some time to enjoy its wonders. As soon as school ended for summer break, I hopped onto a flight from Khartoum to Cairo, then on to Luxor. I spent a week in Luxor and Aswan, staying with my friend Joy at her house in Luxor..the blue ribbon of the Nile, the green palm trees, and the golden desert beyond was just like every description I’ve ever read in books. I visited tombs, temples, and funerary complexes such as Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, the Ramesseum, and of course the architectural marvel of Abu Simbel, down on Lake Nasser. They were all amazing and I could hardly keep myself from snapping a picture every two feet.
After a week of visiting southern Egypt, I flew up to Cairo and arrived at the same time as Ken, a friend of mine who was just as excited about coming to Egypt as I was. We walked around the city for two days, visiting perfume shops and of course the Egyptian Museum. I wanted to see and touch every one of their 200,000 artifacts but in reality we only made it through a half day visit. We boated around the Nile and got crazy lost in the city, thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We hired a car and visited the pyramids- Saqqara, Dzoser, the Bent, the Red, and of course Giza and the Sphinx. It was a magical day and I couldn’t believe I was really there.
Ready to leave the city, Ken and I headed to the Western Desert for a night of camping, bedouin style. We met up with a group of other travelers, loaded up a jeep, and spun around the desert for a while. We slept under the stars with rugs and carpets beneath us and rugs as walls to block out the wind, gazing at a fire and feeding scraps from our dinner to the desert foxes who came over to check us out.
The day Ken left, Chris arrived from Sudan, and the three of us went to Alexandria. We walked around the western harbor and imagined the city in the days of the Ptolemies. Ken left that evening and Chris and I went scuba diving the next morning. We stood on top of the tumbled granite blocks from the famed Lighthouse at Alexandria and swam among the amphorae spilled overboard from Roman and Greek ships. We saw the ruins of what they believe was Cleopatra’s palace and looked at the Pharoanic, Greek, and Roman columns left in the sea.
After Chris left, I flew to Sharm El Sheikh and grabbed a ride up to Dahab, scuba capital and basic beach bum hang around of the Sinai. Two days of soaking up the sun and the relaxed atmosphere of Dahab by day, sitting in hookah lounges at the edge of the water by night, had me in a great state of mind. I took an overnight trip to St. Katherine’s monastery, built around the famous burning bush, and hiked up Mt. Sinai in the middle of the night to be there at dawn. It was quite a trip and it took two more days of laying around Dahab to sufficiently recover.
My vacation time almost over, I had just enough time to fit in a two day trip to Petra to see the awesome carved rock canyon. I felt just like Indiana Jones as I walked down the narrow path, watching it slowly open up to the chiseled features of The Treasury, an amazing facade carved by the Nabateans around the time of Christ. The natural colors of pigmentation running through the rock combined with the detailed carvings make for a sight not to be forgotten.
By the time I returned to Cairo and prepared for my flights back to Sudan, Dubai, and finally Texas, I was ready to go home and spend some time with my family. However, I loved every minute I was in Egypt and it was a trip I will never forget.
Hello, everyone! I am in transiting through Dubai and feeling a lot better after getting some sleep. For some unknown reason, I can’t seem to sleep on planes, even after taking sleeping pills. So this flight was pretty bad for me. It was fourteen hours. The first five weren’t so bad and the last five weren’t so bad, but the four in the middle just about killed me. Only me and about four others were awake and we kept congregating in the back to talk and kill time. On the plus side I did get to watch 4 different movies, 5 episodes of 30Rock, and 5 episodes of 2 and a Half Men. Comedy really helps on long flights!
Wow, what an amazing three weeks spent traveling around southern Africa! It felt so great going to the airport to leave Angola. Once again, I had good luck getting through the Luanda airport and soon I was heading towards Johannesburg. Once there, I spent only one night, and immediately grabbed a bus to Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. From Gaborone went to Francistown, and decided to stop there for the night as well (and had to share the last hotel room with a guy from my bus!). Finally, the next day, I bused from Francistown to the Botswana/ Zimbabwe border. Without too much trouble, I was able to hitchhike from the border crossing into the little town of Victoria Falls, where my adventures were to begin (a huge thank you to the border guard, who very kindly waited until just the right vehicle came along- a Wild Horizons employee- to help me find a ride).
When I checked into my hostel in Vic Falls, ahead of me were two girls, Sonja and Steffani. They were from Germany and just arriving as well. We wound up going out for a walk to check out the town, and we signed up to go rafting together the next day, which was AWESOME! Definitely worth the money and a great adventure activity. That night, Sonja and Steffani and I, plus Rob and Dave, two other guys from our rafting adventure, headed up to the Wild Horizons office to watch the dvd of our rafting trip. After the viewing, two of the Zimbabweans who work for Wild Horizons, Victor and Future, took us to get some wine and beers and then we went up to the “Hippo Pool”, which technically was closed (due to the likelihood of hippos being there at night), but the moon was full and we were dying to see the falls up close and we had a lot of fun.
The next day we ventured over to the actual Victoria Falls National Park, and got to see the falls in all their glory. Pretty impressive. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get the full scope from a picture, it’s so massive! While at the park I ran into Morton and Jasper, two Danish guys who were leaving the next day. We made plans to travel to Botswana together the next morning. That night we all went over to another hostel for some wood-fired pizzas and drank at their bar there. The hostel and restaurant owners all have to shop for food in Botswana, because the grocery stores in Zimbabwe are so bare, due to inflation. I brought a pack full of dried noodles to keep me fed for the few days I was here, and I wound up giving the rest of it to the cleaner at the hostel when I left. I also gave my old Teva sandals to Victor, our rafting guide, and he gave me a Zambezi-god stone necklace. I was also able to secure a Zimbabwean hundred million dollar bill so now I’m a millionaire!!
After a couple of taxi rides and some nice people who gave us lifts, Morton and Jasper and I made it over to Botswana, where we stayed a night at Chobe River National Park. We camped in luxury tents, which make camping pretty damn nice, and it was there that I met Henrietta, who as luck had it, was going to the Okavanga Delta the next day (as was I). The four of us went on a sunset river cruise that night and watched all the wild animals such as elephants, hippos, and buffaloes that came down to the river to drink.
Henrietta and I had to suffer through a really, really, long bus ride to get to the Okavanga Delta the next day. At that point, I was pretty damn tired of busing, so I made arrangements to stay in Maun (gateway to the delta) a few extra days and take a flight straight from there to Jo’Burg later in the week when Chris was flying to meet me. Henrietta and I stayed in the delta for three days, and for two days we took a mokoro safari into the interior parts, which was really cool. Mokoros are these flat-bottomed canoes that are poled through the shallow delta waters. The hostel we stayed at gave us tents and cookware, and we got a guide, and we went and spent a night camping way out there. The next morning we got up early and our guide took us on a bush hike and we saw tons of animals, like zebras, giraffes, elephants, wildebeest, etc. Definitely fun, although we both got bad sunburns from riding around in the mokoro!
Finally my last day in Botswana, and I flew back to Jo’Burg via Gaborone. Much faster this time! I arrived soon after Chris did, and we grabbed a rental car and headed toward our hotel. The next morning, we drove to Hazyview, which is a small town outside of Kruger National Park. We based ourselves from there for the next few days. That’s where our hot air balloon ride was. We really enjoyed the ride- although the best part was the landing! At the last minute the winds changed and we ended up landing on a tree, then bumping down to another tree, then landing on the ground. Then it took over 3 hours to get the balloon and the basket onto the trailer and get us out of the area we landed in. Not the best landing our pilot had ever made but it was pretty fun!
After the balloon ride, we were all pretty hungry, and we got to have a champagne brunch with our pilot at a lodge. Then Chris and I spent the rest of the day driving around Kruger National Park. Still no lion sightings though!
We spent a day going to Swaziland, which was really interesting, as it is an independent country inside of South Africa. They have a king there, who has 13 wives! And his father had 70 wives! It’s a very pretty little country, full of valleys and hills and small mountains. We visited a candle making factory and a glass factory and watched the workers and bought souvenirs. When we got back to our hotel, we had a fabulous buffet dinner. Yum.
After Swaziland, we drove over to Lesotho, another country inside South Africa. They have a king also. We stayed in this little mountain lodge that reminded us both of staying at Monica and Andy’s mountain house. There we sat on the porch at night, drinking Cape wines and looking at the amazingly bright stars. The weather at night was nice and crisp and cool, but warm during the day. We spent one day going on a pony trek around the area, and then later hiked up to the top of a hill where you can see pterodactyl footprints. Again, a very picturesque country to visit.
Finally, it was time for Chris to go back to work and for me to go home and look for work. After enduring a 22 hour plane ride, I arrived back home the day after Thanksgiving. In the last week, my sister had gone into premature labor and delivered Nicholas Paul, my new nephew! He’s still in the NICU, but he’s doing fine, and I’ve been able to go up and see him and hold him. He should be able to come home from the hospital in two or three weeks.
It was a great vacation and I definitely recommend some backpacking around Southern Africa for anyone who is interested- there is tons to see and it’s pretty cheap. And you’ll meet a lot of really friendly travellers!
Desperate to leave Angola for a while, I bought a plane ticket to Lisbon. I figured I could practice my Portuguese a bit, while also visiting one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Below is a perfect ten-day itinerary for visiting Portugal for the first time.
A city in the north of Portugal, where port wine was created. The city of Porto is pretty small and very fun to walk around. The River Douro runs alongside the city, with a beautiful steel bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel’s. On the other side of the river, numerous port houses store casks of port and offer tours and tastings.
The capital of Portugal. Home of the giant Christ statue, a fort overlooking the city, some wonderful parks, a couple of museums, and a very nice sculpture garden. Not a huge city, so it’s nice to explore on foot. On the weekends, the Bairro Alto area is the happening spot to hang out at night. I spent my time there sightseeing the Cristo Rei statue, the Castelo de Sao Jorge, and the Gulbenkian museum.
A town on the southwestern coast, Lagos was great to just relax for a couple of days and walk around the town, and enjoy the beach. I stayed in a hostel here and found the vibe super welcoming and relaxing.
My favorite part of the trip. I spent the last 4 days in this UNESCO World Heritage town and loved every minute. On one day, I rented a bike so that I could bike to some of the farther away attractions, such as the monastery. Definitely my favorite part of Portugal so far.
Things to do in Sintra:
Capuchin Monastery– a really beautiful, tiny monastery built by monks who took literally the line in the Bible “the doorway to heaven is low and narrow”. They built their rooms only 4 feet high with tiny doors. The monastery is surrounded by some beautiful grounds.
Pena National Palace and Park– one of the best examples of a restored castle or palace that I have ever seen- and I’ve been to a lot! The castle grounds were amazing, and they have restored a several of the inside rooms to tour through. A nice bike ride from the city of Sintra.
Quinta de Regaleira– a truely bizarre palace and grounds. Once the home of royalty, the property was bought in early 1900’s for restoration, and the owner turned over all the plans to an Italian opera set designer to go wild with. Together they turned the palace and gardens into their idea of the entire cosmology, ranging from the garden of Eden, to Dante’s world, to Olympus, etc. You can spend an entire day here and not get bored. Words can’t really describe this place, you really have to look at the pictures.