Archive for Africa

2016 Japan Sakura Trip Day 10 – Kyoto

Day 10 – 5 Apr – Tue

Today itinerary : Fushimi Inari-taisha

We started the day with lunch at Kyoto station area. Jevriel was in a very cranky mood and made a scene in the restaurant. He was throwing food and splashing the wall and table. It was really embarrassing and infuriating.  Fushimi Inari is walking distance from Inari station, which is easily accessible from Kyoto station. Fushimi Inari is famous for the thousands over bright orange Tori gates. This place is definitely worth a visit but not with a kid at the age of Jevriel. It is a 233m climb and having a kid like Jevriel means I have to carry him when we ascend. It was tough and at half point, we decided to turn back and I sprang my ankle on the way down.

Amber did some shopping at Kyoto station and we headed back to the apartment by dinner time, making this a rather short day. I took the laundry for another wash and had my usual Nihonshu. In fact I have been drinking every meal since their alcohol is cheaper than Singapore. Beer typically range from ¥300 to ¥600 (SGD $4 to $8), while Nihonshu (Japanese Sake) goes for ¥500 to ¥700 (SGD $6.50 to $9). That’s like half the price of liquor in Singapore.

I passed by my favourite Ramen restaurant on my way to the apartment, and decided to have one last blast since we would be leaving Kyoto tomorrow. I ordered a big bowl of Ramen plus around round of Japanese Sake (supper at 10pm) – Shiok sia! 🙂

Review on our Egypt trip in 2010

Egypt is usually categorised under exotic travels. It might not be on the top of your holiday wish list but it can surely find a place in the something-different list.  In my opinion, it is a country worth visiting at least once in your lifetime. Pyramids and camels are the first things whenever Egypt is mentioned. However I assured you that they have more things that just these two. It is a country with more than 5000 years of history, considered one of the richest in the world, and definitely one of the best preserved.

The country is kind of “divided” over two continents; Sinai sitting on Asia and the rest of Egypt sitting on Africa, with the Gulf of Suez sitting in between. Studies have shown that Egypt used to be a single piece of land. Platonic movement caused the spilt and appearance of the Gulf of Suez. This theory was reaffirmed as they found corals dated millions of years back in the Gulf of Aqaba, but only thousands of years back in Gulf of Suez. Anyway the main places of intersts are in Cairo (the capital), Alexandria (which I didn’t get to see), Aswan, Luxor, and Sinai. I am sure that there are other places of interests that my tour did not covered, such as the Sahara Dessert. Some of the places could be off-tourist attractions and you are likely only to experience on a free-an-easy backpacking trip. Thus I am in no position to comment on those areas.

I will touch on the experience from these places and what you could expect from Egypt. However I would not be covering areas such as visa requirements, transportations, pricing of tour packages etc.


Before the tour

First of all, you need to decide if you are travelling on a tour package or a free-an-easy trip. You will definitely benefit from having a tour guide. The most interesting part of Egypt lies in their ancient Egyptian history, which date back to the Kings and Pyramids eras. Most of the preserved temples have cravings on the walls and pillars. Unless you have spent more than 5 years studying those symbols, you will not be able to make any sense out from those cravings. This is where the guide comes in with their comprehensive history lessons. A good guide will also protect you from being cheated by vendors.


Places of interests

Your itinerary should be pretty fixed should you travel with a tour. If you are going free-an-easy and without a tour guide, I would recommend you spending time on the highlights. There are too many temples in Egypt to cover, and they look almost the same after you have seen a few. Unless you are somebody who has deep passion in studying their ancient history, I would suggest that you visit only a few interesting ones. Philae Temple (Aswan) is a small temple sitting on an island. Edfu Temple (Edfu) is the most well preserved temple. Karnak Temple (Luxor) is the biggest temple. The Valley of the Kings (Luxor) is worth a go only if you are visiting the Cairo Museum. Reason being that everything in the tombs has been shifted and placed in the Museum, thus it won’t be complete to just visit the tombs.

A visit to any Red Sea resort is a must. This should also be one of the places you spend your time while you are over in Sinai area. Many beautiful resorts can be found in Sharm El Sheikh. Since you are in Sinai, you would most likely not want to miss the climb up Mt Sinai. Refer to my Mt Sinai Guide for climbing this mountain.


Weather

Egypt is a land of sand so you should expect the humidity to be extremely low. It is a great thing for people who hate to perspire, but rather a concern for those who have dry lips. A lip balm is one of the necessary items for this country. The best time to visit is during its cooling season from December to February. Temperature in cities like Cairo and Alexandria can range from 10 ~ 20⁰C for the day. Aswan and Luxor being nearer to the Equator will thus experience warmer temperature from 20 ~ 38⁰C. If you are travelling outside the cooling season, be prepared that the day can hit more than 45⁰C.


Food

I can’t give a universal comment since we all have different taste buds. As much as Asians or Singaporeans are concern, I would say that get used to their food and bring along some snacks. People who love Indian and Mediterranean cuisine should have lesser problems than those with Chinese or Europeans taste buds. I can’t comment on the safety issue of food since all my meals were arranged by the tour, which have factor in the quality control. You need plenty of water to go around, and the best choice would be bottles of mineral waters. Bear in mind that their tap water is in no drinking condition.


Shopping and Money matters

Both USD and EGP are accepted in Egypt. Their money changers do not accept SGD, and likewise our money changers do not have EGP. So for Singaporeans, you have to bring USD as the middle currency.

It is a golden rule to bargain when buying most things, but you have to accept the fact that a tourist will never get the same pricing as the locals. Obviously places with fixed prices such as hotels and restaurants do not require bargaining. I am referring to buying anything from the streets, especially those vendors selling souvenirs. You can use the 50/70 formula. Whatever price you are quoted, slash 70%. They would most likely declined and ask for something higher. You could then try a 60% slash and hopefully you get the stuff. Should they still decline, you can choose to walk away and they will most likely call you back for the offer. In the event that you really like the item, try to get at least a 50% discount. Paying anything more than that range will grant you entry into the “chai tao” list.

There are some basic items that you will definitely need, such as water. I experienced vendor quoting me EGP15 (USD3 or SGD3.75) for a bottle of 1.5l mineral water. The cheapest price I could go down was EGP2 (USD0.40 or SGD0.50). Locals will be able to purchase water at an even cheaper price. So you could imagine how much they jacked up the pricing. Soft drinks such as Coke will start from EGP15 and all the way to EGP30 (SGD7.50). The cheapest packet of cigarette I gotten was for EGP6 (SGD1.50) and the most expensive same packet at EGP30. The amazing part was I bought a lighter for EGP8 (SGD2), which is damn freaking expensive and could only be used less than 10 times.

Entry for places of interests normally cost between EGP30 to EGP60.


People and Languages

People in Aswan are generally friendlier and more sincere. People in Luxor are scheming and greedy. Overall Egyptians are pretty nice people. The above does not apply to their vendors that target tourists. Those vendors have given me quite a bad experience and caused me to be jaded over their presence. You will understand if you read my entire Egypt travel log. Safety is a concern when travelling the streets during night time, especially for women.

Most Egyptians understand English. The vendors are good with English and Japanese. Tour guides can be speaking of all languages. I strongly recommend travelling Egypt with a guide. You can consider my guide, Mr Khaled Afifi, whom can be contact at (+2) 010 68 65 201 or khaledafifi2004@yahoo.com


Photography

If possible, you would want to travel with a SLR. A compact camera is light and easy, but you will be having limitations with bokeh for portraits, and wide angles for landscape. Every tourist is holding a camera, either a compact or SLR. Thus it is not a concern if you are flashing your expensive body and lenses.

I bought with me a Canon 5D II, 17-40L, and 24-70L. For the first few days I was mounting mostly the 17-40 as I wanted wide angles. In fact 17mm is not really wide for some perspective. I would recommend going for 14mm. I found the 24-70 on my body for most of the days, even though 24mm is not wide for most cases. Changing of lenses has to be done with extreme care. The air is filled with such tiny sand dust that is invisible to naked eyes. Never ever leave your sensor on while changing lenses. Doing that calls for suicide. I changed lenses only in the rooms and inside air-conditioned vehicles. Yet I realised that the dust amount on my sensor has increased at least 2 times. After the trip, my camera body was desperately in need for a service by Canon. Do bring along a tripod for low lighting scene.

One more thing to take note. Never ever take a photograph of Egyptian military or security posts. That is highly prohibited and you can get into some serious trouble for doing that. Also don’t try camera-phone in places like The Valley of the Kings. One of my group mate had to bribe his way out when he was caught.


Places I enjoyed

Most likely I would not visit Egypt again. Not that I hated it but rather I have seen most of it. If I do go again, it would be for the Red Sea. The days I spent in the Reef Resort were the best experience I gotten from Egypt. My friends would know that I am a nature lover, and I hate holiday trips to cities such as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. Therefore the snorkelling in Red Sea, trekking thru Colour Canyon, and Dinner in the Dessert are really stuffs that make me happy. However my most memorial experience would be Mt Sinai. Read my travel log for Day 9 and you will know why.


Necessary items

  • Common medicine and first aid plasters
  • Sunblock & Lip Balm
  • Sunglasses and Hat
  • Camera
  • Light clothings and some cold weather wear
  • Swimwear and Underwater equipments


 

With that I wish that you have benefits from the brief introduction of Egypt. I hope that you would put this in your wish list if you have yet to visit Egypt.

Cheers! 🙂


2010 Egypt Day 1 – Cairo / Giza Pyramids

We boarded the SQ around 18 Mar 2010, 10pm. It was a 13 hours flight to Cairo, capital of Egypt. Upon arrival, we were walking into a blowing wind of 11⁰C at their 5am local time. After boarding the coach, we headed for a local coffee shop (they spelled it as cofe shop) recommended by our tour guide, Mr Khaled Afifi. We ordered some Egyptian coffee and Sheesha. After the warm up, we headed to The Great Pyramids of Giza, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World (or rather the first and only one we have seen in our life). According to history, these three Great Pyramids were built by Cheops (the father), Chephron (the son), and Mycerinus (the grandson). They were completed around 2650 BC, which make it almost nearing to 5000 years of existence. There are many “friendly locals” who will strike a conversation with any foreigner. Some might offer to take a picture for you. They will not run away with your camera, but will definitely demand a tipping before you can touch your camera again. Others might be selling some postcards, souvenirs, ornaments etc. These locals start the conversation with English, and I even heard a few speaking Japanese! Next we were on the camel, which is hell lot of fun for me, but hell lot of pain for Amber. It is a different kind of experience compare to riding a horse (I fell when riding a horse). Well the camel we were riding is kind of bigger size than the rest, and I could imagine how painful it will be should we slip and fall. The tour on Giza would not be completed without viewing the Great Sphinx (father of terror). The Great Sphinx is symbolic for the Egyptian in a way, but I could no longer remember what Khaled told us.

Khaled then brought us to a shop that sells Essence, a natural type of perfume with no chemicals. It is said to be made from different type of flowers over Egypt. What is interesting is the way the Egyptian tries to market these Essence. They have a list of 10+ Essence that are made according to the smell of brands such as Hugo Boss, Channel, Calvin K, Gucci etc. We bought a small bottle of Essence for our mother, which cost EGP100 (SGD25). The next destination was Cairo Egyptian Museum. This place holds the treasures of King Tut. No camera is allowed in the museum as they claim that flashlight would degrade the colour of those treasures. I tried to hide my camera in the bag but still could not get pass the security. The museum provides a safe keeping area for the cameras but I just refuse to part with my gears. I heard rumours that things got mixed up due to the large crowd. So Amber went in with the group while I hang around the entrance, getting my tan under the sun. I later hear from her that there are statues of all the Kings of Egypt, 4500 treasures of King Tut, and mummies (which I wanted to touch). Amber told me that one of the treasures is a condom of King Tut. I nearly flipped when I heard that it was made of cloth with a string attached. I was thinking what on hell could you protect with cloth, plus I can imagine that it must be painful for the female to get rub by those cloth (not silk, mind you).

Before checking into our hotel, we visited another shop that made papers from papyrus plants. It takes around 14 days to produce one sheet of paper. The process involves cutting of the papyrus plant, smashing the stalk, soaking them into water for 7 days, following by crushing them under stones for another 7 days, with drying them under the sun as the last step. Amazingly such papers are of great flexibility and toughness. You could apply lot of strength yet not being able to tear it. You could soak it in the water again, and squeezing it dry to be reuse. As of all cultural tour, the people end up trying to sell those paintings to us. A small piece of a A4 size cost like SGD100, and a big piece like the size of a door cost around SGD1,000. Of course we politely say thank you and walked up our coach.

We were dead tired when we checked into our hotel. The day ended with an early rest as we need to wake up at 1am for a domestic flight to Aswan.