Saturday, August 29, 2009


Like I've written earlier, leaving Morocco and our friends was sad, but we were ready for our next adventure. To get to Egypt required three flights. The first was from Tangier to Madrid, which was delayed a good two hours due to "technical difficulties." After EasyJet sent over a new plane from Lisbon, we took the short flight to Madrid where we took our second flight to Stuttgart, Germany. We didn't land in Germany til 11pm and our next flight wasn't til 9am so we found some semi-comfortable benches and called it a night. The next morning we awoke early, checked in, and waited for our final flight to Luxor, Egypt. The flight was full of tourists so we felt reassured that we weren't the only crazy people visiting Egypt in the middle of August. Of course when we landed in Luxor, out of a full plane, maybe 10 of us got off. The rest remained on board where they then flew to the "Cancun" of Egypt and the Red Sea. It was hot when we stepped off the plane, but it wasn't really that much worse than what we faced in Morocco, plus sometimes there was a nice breeze from the Nile. But anyways, we took a taxi to our hostel where we were greeted by the owner Mohamed, who quickly became one of our favorite people. We spent most of our nights in Luxor hanging out, talking to him about a wide array of topics. Politics, obviously, was one of the main topics of the night. One thing we both definitely agreed on was that people don't have an understanding of one another's cultures anymore, and that perhaps if we stopped and took the time to really learn and understand each other and our differences, there may not be as much conflict in the world. But what are the chances of that really happening?

Our time in Luxor was spent visiting all of the ancient historical sites. We visited Hatsheput's Temple, which was built for the sole purpose of her mummification. In a nutshell she married her brother, her brother was weak and sickly, died, she decides to portray herself as a man, rules as king, makes her step-son act as regent (he should have been King), and ultimately ends up being one of the two women to be buried in the Valley of the Queens. Her step-son/nephew ended up avenging his fathers death by defacing her in her temple and scratching off all the depictions of her face. But her temple was pretty cool and we had an awesome guide who told us a lot of information.

At the Valley of the Kings we visited four tombs: Ramses IV, Ramses IX, Ramses V & VI, and Ramses I. Cameras aren't allowed in any of the tombs, and for the Discovery Channel to videotape inside a tomb for a TV special, they had to pay 50,000L£. As you walk into the tombs, you can't help but be astonished. Somehow after 4000 plus years the paint on the walls and ceiling is still intact. Hieroglyphics adorn the walls, giving the dead Pharaoh instructions from the Egyptians book of the dead. The ceiling is painted blue with yellow stars depicting the night sky.

We took a 3 hour trip north to see Osiris's temple in Abydos. It's said that where the temple is built is where Osiris, the first man on earth, was "born", lived, and upon his death buried there. When he died he became the first human to be a god. Again we had a really good guide who explained what a lot of the hieroglyphics were saying and what the paintings were depicting. On our drive back to Luxor, we visited Dendara Temple, which is dedicated to the goddess of love, Hathor. The amazing part of this temple is that it is fully intact. It was built during the period when the Romans occupied Egypt and some of the walls have pictures of Caesar and Cleopatra etched into their sides. Archaeologists found this temple buried completely under sand which helped keep it so well preserved.

Since we were in Luxor, we obviously had to visit Luxor temple, which we got to do at night. The perks of going at night are a. much cooler outside and b. less tourists. The temples lit up with floodlights so you can still see everything, but it just gives it an ancient vibe, it's kind of hard to explain. Luxor is also home to Karnak temple which we visited during the day. Karnak Temple is huge, it takes up over 2km which means it took forever to build. Over ten Pharaohs worked on, all usually destroying something their predecessor had built. We spent a lot of time running around the columns just because it was shady and at 10am it was already 110 degrees. We visited the Luxor museum, which isn't very big, but still holds a lot of important pieces. There are some items from Tut's tomb, a couple mummies, and then your usual ancient Egyptian artifacts. And the museum was air conditioned so that was a HUGE plus.

But besides all of the ancient history that this country holds, Egypt itself is a pretty cool country. Although we are here during the hottest time of the year, we aren't surrounded by tourists. During the peak season, 50,000 people a day enter Luxor, eager to see all of the ancient sites. Luxor isn't even a big city, it can't even remotely be compared to Cairo, and with all of those tourists around, everyone says it's crazy.

The next part of our journey took us on an overnight train from Luxor to Cairo. From Cairo we went to Giza to see the pyramids. When people think of Egypt and the ancient Egyptians, the pyramids are usually what pops into mind. Naturally, if I were to run into you back home and you knew I went to Egypt, the first question you would ask: how were the pyramids? I would respond, well, cool, but overrated. You would probably stand there shocked and aghast that this is how I just referred to the only remaining ancient wonder of the world. Ask anyone who has went there and chances are you'll get a similar response. Maybe it's because the pyramids are surrounded by the smog covered city of Giza. Maybe it's because the pyramids and the Sphinx are kind of randomly located for ancient Egyptian times. Maybe it's because we went to Luxor first and saw everything there. I can't really pinpoint it. Don't get me wrong, standing along side one of these pyramids with your neck arched back, you can't help to be impressed with how no present day technology they were able to construct these huge monuments. My reaction is the same regarding the sphinx, it's cool but eh. Basically, I'm really glad I was able to see them, and I would recommend visiting them, but in no means was this the highlight of my Egypt trip.

We also went to the bazaar in Islamic Cairo. The bazaar sells everything. It's tons of stalls and small shops that sell everything from toys to kitchen appliances to souvenirs. We walked around and did a lot of bartering trying to get some good prices on souvenirs. It's a huge game that is sometimes fun, sometimes annoying. We made off fairly well so we were proud of ourselves. But no trip to Cairo is complete without visiting the Egyptian museum. The museum itself isn't that big, but if you were to spend a minute looking at each piece, you'd be there 9 months. Seriously, that's a fact and not an exaggeration. They pack a lot into this museum. Which means half the things aren't labeled and sometimes it feels like things are just thrown on top of each other. But they have almost everything from Tutankhamen's tomb, which is gold, gold, and more gold. There is a room on animal mummification which was really cool. The highlight of the museum has got to be the rooms of Royal Mummies. Home to eleven mummies such as Ramses II and Ramses V, whose chicken pox scars are still visible. It's hard to believe how intact the bodies were. You really have to hand it off to the ancient Egyptians, they sure knew how to mummify.

And now our story brings us to Dahab. Dahab is lazy. It's a vacation from a vacation. We've been here a week, and I can't believe how fast time flies when you aren't doing too much of anything. Life here isn't too exciting, it's just relaxing and calm. We swim, we snorkel, we read, and we eat. One can't find too many complaints with life here. There are hardly any tourists here, just other backpackers and hardcore divers. It's just a laid back atmosphere, which couldn't be more perfect for us. We're having a great time and loving every minute of it.

Until the next blog..


Sunday, August 23, 2009


New blog entry coming soon...

Until then, some new pictures in the album "Random Pictures..":


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Roadtrip III

*So I haven't had time to upload any of these onto a computer until now (sorry about the wait..) We are in Luxor, Egypt right now and being surrounded by all this history is humbling (more on that in a few days.) It might be easier to scroll down and read the post "Granada" first and make your way up since then it would be in chronological order...but that's just me ;) And I apologize for the typos as these were all typed on my iPod haha.

Our last stop along our roadtrip was Ifrane. Another long six hour drive from Merzouga, Ifrane is far different from the rest of Morocco. To begin with, it snows in Ifrane during the winter - and it snows quite a lot. The city, which is home to 100,000 people in the summer and only 5,000 in winter, was a lot like the decidious forest back at home. The trees help create lots of shade, even though we didn't really need it since the temperature didn't go past 21 degrees celcius when we were there. It was such a welcomed drastic change from the 45 degree temperatures of Merzouga. While we were there we visited our friends's university which was also one of TSS's partner universities, Al Akhawayan University. It is such a beautiful school and is in a great location, I'm jealous of my friends who get to go there. After Taha gave us a tour of his school, we headed to a park where went horseback riding. We walk over to this little fence and there's no one around. The foreigners looked around at each other wondering where the horses were when all of a sudden we look up and see a cloud of dust moving towards us. Nine horses, under the command of young boys, charge towards us. Each boy wanted you to pick his horse and I settled on what seemed like a happy chestnut. I love horses so I was really excited to ride through the forest. However, my horse wasn't as excited as I was. In fact, he didn't even want to move. To top things off one of my stirrups was higher than the other and the kid couldn't figure out how to fix it. So me and my horse were led by my kid in the back of the pack. I felt bad for the horses because the kids would walk up behind them and smack them with thick branches to make them run fast. The kids learned our friend Haitam wanted to go fast, so one of the kids snuck up behind him, grabbed a huge, thick branch and hit the horse so hard that the branch snapped in half. Needless to say, Haitam and his horse went really fast, and the rest of cringed feeling so bad for the poor horse. Me and my horse eventually caught up with the others and while we went at a slow pace, it still was enjoyable, and definiteley with our group of friends hilarious. We returned to Tangier and spent the last couple of days just relaxing and hanging out with our friends. I really did not want to leave Morocco. It was sad to say goodbye to both our boat friends and our new friends, but I know I will see them again soon, because we really can never stay apart for too long. If we hadn't already booked our flights to Egypt, I have a feeling we would have stayed longer. I really liked Morocco and I can't wait til the next time I get to go. If you haven't already gone to Morocco, I highly recommend it!

Roadtrip II

We left Agadir later than expected and ended up driving most of the time in the dark. We went up and over numerous mountains on narrow roads with few guard rails. Ouarzazate is known for the Atlas Corporation Studios which is where alot of Hollywood movies are made. Babel, Passion of the Christ, Kingdom ofHeaven, Alexander the Great, and Gladiator are some of the American known movies that were filmed there. There were also some French movies and a Canadian documentary on an explorer. We took a tour of the studios and visited the sets of the movies. It was wierd to think that what felt like the middle of nowhere was where a lot of Hollywood movies were made. Our guide was telling us how he's been able to be an extra in almost every movie filmed there and his roommate was part of the Moroccan family that helps Brad Pitt in Babel. One of the sets was a replication of theTemples of Karnak, so we took pictures to see how it compares to the real temple in Luxor. After the movie tour some of our group went out on ATVs in the desert for a two hour tour, but since it was 110F, I opted to go back to the hotel and go swimming in the pool. We left Ourzazate the next morning and headed to Merzouga, where we were going to go camping in the Sahara desert. A lot of our TSS friends who have come to Morocco have gone here as well and have taken some amazing pictures of the dunes. We were looking forward for our chance to do the same, but we had such an atypical experience. It all started during our drive to Merzouga. When we were within 60km, we started hitting a couple of sandstorms, but hoped that wouldn't affect us later on. We arrived at the place and were getting ready to go when a sandstorm blew in and caused our departure to be delayed. Mind you it's also 45 degrees Celcius out, which is 116 Fahrenheit. When it calmed down, we headed outside and got on our camels who would take us on an hour and a half camel ride to the oasis where we would camp. I named my camel Flower (he had a flower stuck in the hair on his neck)and while it took a few minutes to get used to, the ride was more comfortable than I had thought it would be. We were a half hour into the ride when one of friends felt like he was going to throw up, so we took a quick five minute break. Off in the distance you could see a windstorm and we kept our fingers crossed that it would stay away. We were back on our way and ten minutes later the sandstorm we had been hoping to escape finally caught up with us. A sandstorm in the dunes looks so cool; it's like the wind and sand are dancing all over the dunes, it's beautiful. Beautiful and painful. We were wearing ruzza's,which are headscarves, which protected our face, eyes, and mouth, but the rest of our body was fair game. Each piece of sand felt like a needle piercing your skin. Now imagine this except thousands of particles of sand being thrown at you. And then to add the icing on the cake, it started raining. In the desert. Which in itself is pretty rare. With the wind blowing as hard as it was, the rain was almost as painful as the sand. There was nothing else to do but to trek onwards. We battled intermittent storms for the rest of the ride and made it to the camp by dusk. There were already tents set up so we made our way to ours and had some tea. After tea we went to the kitchen tent to see how they were cooking dinner and then on the walk back to our tent, AJ stepped on an insect and got bit. His foot was burning from the bite, but the guides assured him it was just an insect and wasn't anything serious. Of course this hadn't ever happened to a tourist before, which seemed fitting to the day we were having. It was a full moon and we could see pretty well so we climbed to the top of one of the dunes to see the night view. The way the dunes were illuminated by the moon made the desert look surreal and dream-like. The camp was only 30km away from the Algerian border so from the dunes you could see the border and the lights of an Algerian city which was really cool. At night it was still pretty hot so we moved our matresses outside to sleep under the stars. It rained on us while we were sleeping but everyone was too tired to care. We woke up the next morning at 6:30 expecting to see an amazing sunrise, and found nothing but clouds, which seemed fitting for our adventure into the desert. The guides then said we might as well just head back to avoid the hot sun so we got back on our camels and trudged along backto the main place. Now after reading this, one might think I had a horrible time, which is quite the contrary. I had so much fun, even during the sandstorm we made the best of it and laughed about it right after. So if anyone ever goes to Morocco, they MUST go to the Sahara! It was a lot of fun and we didn't let anything get us down or bother us. And after all, if worse comes to worse at least you'll have one heck of a story to laugh about later.

Roadtrip I

We started our adventure bright and early Sunday morning and began our 3 hour drive to Casablanca, our first stop. When we arrived to the city we went to Hassam II's mosque. This mosque is the third largest mosque in the world. Hassan the second donated 1/3 of his personal wealth and took donations from the citizens of Morocco in order to begin construction of this mosque over water. The minaret is taller than the pyramids of Giza! We weren't allowed in, but from what we could see of the inside it's attention to detail couldn't be more intricate. This is where we picked up our friend Ryan, another TSSer who is living in Morocco right now for school. We didn't stay long in Casablanca because we had another 3 hour drive to Marrakech, so we loaded the cars back up and continued on our way. We arrived in Marrakech later that night and finally found the apartment we were going to be staying in. We stayed in Marrakech for two days. One day we went to our friend Laila's house, where her family prepared an amazing lunch for us. We spent another afternoon at the waterpark cooling off from the hot Moroccan sun. One night we went to Teatro, voted morocco's "best nightclub since 2004." We paid extra to get a couch and a table and it was in such a great spot...right against the speakers. Sitting on the couches felt like a really bumpy car ride with all of the vibrations pulsating through. However we didn't sit long, we spent most of the night dancing on the stage in true TSS style. Another night we went to the medina and explored there and had some amazing fresh squeezed orange juice. After Marrakech, we drove to Essaouira, which is known as the windy city, which we found to definitely be true. Located right on the Atlantic, Essaouira remains relatively cool. When we went out that night I had to wear my sweatshirt, which I didn't expect to ever happen. Our hotel was located within the medina, so were in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of the city. That night we went out to dinner and then took a walk along the beach at night. Here's a fun fact - off the coast of Essaouira, only a couple of kilometers away, is a little island that is home to a castle which inspired Jimi Hendrix to write the song "Castles in the Sand." Anyways, we only spent a night there and left the next afternoon to begin a 3 hour drive to Agadir. Agadir so far was the first city I felt like I wasn't in Morocco; a lot of cruise ships port here so it's more touristy. We arrived in the afternoon and met up with Taha's friend, who was a great host and showed us around the two days we were there, and went to our apartment. That night we went down to the marina where we had dinner and hung out at the beach. We also had entertainment courtesy of another tourist. As we are sitting on the beach, a girl sprints by wearing a thong bikini and dives right into the ocean. Naturally, this caught a lot of men's attention. As she came back out, she couldn't seem to find where she was originally sitting. People tried to point her in the right direction, but she just kept wandering farther and farther away. Whoever she was with, it appeared to be her brother, didn't really care that she was lost; he too just watched her roam around. Eventually she made it back. The next day we went back to the beach and spent the entire time playing in the waves. We had a lot of fun and emerged from the water to discover our skin was a lot redder than before. We had lunch and ate the best chicken tagine I've had yet. It was amazing and I really wish you could have all had some. After lunch, we departed on our way towards our next city!


We were welcomed into Morocco by our wonderful friend Taha, who picked us up from the ferry. We arrived around 10:30pm and went to Taha's house where his mom and brother greeted us with pastries and Moroccan cookies. We stayed there briefly and then went to Youssef's house, where we stayed for most of our time in Tangier. Youssef's mom had prepared a delicious meal of cous-cous and other typical Moroccan dishes. Everything was so good, we couldn't stop eating. We finished the meal with fresh fruit and then Taha and Youssef took us around the city at night pointing out all the different parts of the city. We spent most of our time in Tangier relaxing, going to the beach, exploring the medina (which is the "old city" in every city surrounded by protective walls) and hanging out with our boat friends. We took a day trip to Assilah which was a Spanish city and it's medina is famous for an art festival where every year artists come in and paint all over the walls. While we were there some artists were working on their projects and preparing for the festival. We went to Chefchaouen for 2 days to visit our friend Youssef's hometown. Chefchaouen is known as the blue and white city because all of the buildings are painted white and the doors are different shades of blue. This city is nestled within the mountains and is absolutely beautiful. It was pretty hot while we were there, 43 degrees Celsius. We also had the opportunity to go to a Moroccan wedding, which was really cool. This wedding was a split wedding so technically only women were allowed to go, so Brooke and I went with Youssef's mom, aunt, and cousins. Youssef and AJ were able to come later, but they had to stay upstairs on the balcony. It was a wedding unlike anything from back home and so much fun! There was lots of dancing, talking, and waiting for the bride's new outfits (she changes dresses at least 3 times and all are beautiful.)

Everyone keeps asking how I would describe Morocco to people at home, which is actually hard to do. Personally, it's how I pictured it to be, except that obviously isn't the same for everyone else. I would compare it to a mix of other cities that I've traveled to before, but what I've found here is that it isn't really about the different cities, it's about the people and the culture. American society is very individualistic (hard to believe I know), where as the Moroccan culture is collectivist, with a huge emphasis on family. It's such a different atmosphere and everyone makes you feel like you belong and have lived here all your life. I've also had some great discussions here, especially on politics and Obama. It's so intellectually stimulating to be able to have political discussions with people who aren't from the United States because they offer a unique perspective that isn't being formed by the American media; it's one of the things I miss most from the boat. There are a lot of international news channels here (BBC world news, CNN international, Fox news, AJeerzah international), that aren't as biased as they are back home. A lot of the people I've talked to aren't a big fan of Fox news, but I can't imagine why... But the food here is amazing and our friend's parents think we never eat enough and are always giving us more food. I probably have gained 10 pounds from Morocco alone. Chicken tagine is probably my favorite. It's cooked in this special dish with different vegetables and spices and the meat just falls right off the bone. It's so good and you eat it with bread; but really you can't go wrong with any of the food here, it's all that good. We are having a great time here so far and I can't wait for our roadtrip around the country!


So the last I left you all we had just arrived in Granada. Granada is such an exciting place to be (mainly for the history buffs out there). Sadly we were only there for 2 full days, which isn't enough time to do the city justice. Because of this, Granada has quickly climbed my list of cities to go back to. Granada has a history that focuses on the battle between the Moors and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Granada originally was a Moorish kingdom, and thus was Muslim. On their conquest of unifying Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella came in, battled the Moors, and destroyed much of the city. This victory gave the King and Queen la Alhambra, the castle that sits on top of a hill overlooking the city. We went there, but sadly didn't get to go in. It was high tourist season and all of the tickets were sold out for the days we were there (they only sell 7000 a day). It was quite a hike to la Alhambra, but the view from the top is picturesque, providing a 360 degree view of the Sierra Nevada mountains with the city resting below. Once Ferdinand and Isabella had taken over, they spent most of their time and money building a grand cathedral and burial spot. Inside the cathedral one of the walls is adorned with statues depicting important scenes from the bible, and of course statues of the king and queen themselves. Their tomb was made of white marble and was very ornate with detail. It was impressive, but what I found most interesting was their coffins. There are stairs that take you underneath where their coffins are laid. Their coffins were made of wood and were completely opposite of the grandeur of everything else from their reign. I was expecting something a bit more elaborate, but coffins aren't meant to be seen, which made me wonder; did they envision this? Thousands of people coming a day to see where their bodies were laid to rest? I certainly can't imagine that for myself, but then again I'm not a king or queen. Besides their tomb, there is a musuem which has some of their favorite paintings, their royal clothes, the crown and scepter, and some personal belongings like Isabella's rosary beads. Isabella and Ferdinand are such a big part of Spanish history that it was really cool to see that.

The city of Granada is lined with narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways. It's fun to wander through discovering cafes and family-owned shoppes. But my favorite part of Granada without a doubt is the free tapas. For anyone who has been to Spain, they know that Spain isn't exactly cheap and the euro still isn't American friendly. So when there's something free - you have to take advantage of it. Whenever you order any drink (soda, beer, wine, etc.) you get a freeplate of tapas. Order another drink, another plate of tapas. They are pretty generous portions considering and can easily be your dinner. We spent our evenings bar hopping trying all of the different tapas offered by the places. It was a lot of fun and really tasty. From Granada we took a 4 hour train ride to Algeciras, riding through sunflower fields and olive orchards. We were so excited and antsy to get to Morocco and see our friends. We hadn't seen Youssef since we left the boat and hadn't seen Taha since new years eve. Our ferry was scheduled to leave at 8:45, but we didn't end up setting sail until 45 minutes later. We sailed past Gibraltar and arrived in Morocco an hour and a half later. We stayed outside for most of the time, enjoying being back on the ocean.