Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Me And You And A Boatful Of Brits, On The Red Sea, Egypt

Me and you and a boat full of Brits was the theme for yesterdays outing here in Egypt. When the homeowners hooked us up with some of their friends who do a regular boat trip on the Red Sea we knew we were in.  These folks hire the WHOLE boat plus staff for an all-day outing that includes snorkeling at two different locations,  use of their snorkel equipment, a buffet lunch and some relaxing time on the beach all for around $11 each. And also included was a van that picked us up at our front door to take us to the marina in Hurghada, a 30-minute ride from here where our adventures began.

Another Boat Like The One We Are On

The boat was large with plenty of room to spread out. The lower deck featured a kitchen, bathrooms, and sitting area. Upstairs was a larger area with seats, a sun deck and the drivers seat from where the boat was being controlled. Free coffee and water were available throughout the day.

A Barefoot Egyptian In The Drivers Seat

Terry Among The Brits

Our first stop was off an island where we would follow our guide down into the water to see the marine life below. After gearing up with our snorkels, masks and flippers we made our way down the ladder into the warm, clear water of the Red Sea. With fish in hand our guide temped the local fish enticing them to swarm around us for our viewing enjoyment. He even grabbed my hand at one point allowing me to feed the school of fish that was circling around us.

Our Guide Feeding The Fish
Clyde Feeding The Fish

After the fish feeding frenzy we followed our guide to a coral reef where we viewed a rainbow of colorful coral along with a mix of different types of fish going in and out of it. Back onto the boat we moved to yet another location where the water was rather choppy but the coral was plentiful. There we followed our guide for quite a distance as he pointed out various types of coral along the way.

Underwater World

A while later we were back on the boat again enjoying a buffet lunch of salads, chicken, fish, beef, pasta, rice and other stuff to fill our tummies. Lastly our boat docked at a golden sandy beach where we enjoyed some floating in the water as we chatted with our British mates. 

Smaller Boat Used To Get Us To The Beach

We made our way back to our temporary home in El Gouna by 5pm, just in time to take out our furry friends for their evening walk. Another day of enjoying life in Egypt, near Hurghada on the Red Sea.....along the gringo trail.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Extending Our Visas And More.....

Visitors to Egypt are issued a "visa on arrival" stamp at the airport that allows them to remain in the country for 30 days. This was an easy process of paying $25 to a jovial, singing man in a small airport bank who applied the large stamp to our passports. But what if a visitor wants to stay longer than 30 days?

When we first discussed this house sit with the homeowners we questioned this, since they had planned a holiday for five weeks and asked us if we could stay that long? We were fine with staying that long as long as we could renew the visa. Soon after we chatted with them they made a trip into Hurghada to the visa office to find out for us. They found out that we were allowed to extend it for six months.

Since our visa was set to expire yesterday (September 14th) we made the trek into the city on Wednesday to begin the process. A taxi driver offered to take us, wait one hour for us and drive us back here, about a 45 minute journey each way for the price of 450 LE (Egyptian pounds). This translates to $25.50, way to much for us so instead we decided to take a bus. Right here in El Gouna, the resort, we were able to pick up a public bus for the 45-minute ride into the city for the low price of just 56 cents each. Since we really weren't quite sure where to get off Clyde asked the driver to let us know when to get off, which he did. He pointed us in the general direction and off we went.

The problem, however, is that ALL of the signs on the government buildings are written in Arabic so we really had no idea which one to go into. Eventually we noticed white folks that looked like European tourists leaving the building and assumed it must be the right place.

The Visa Office, Hurghada, Egypt

Upon entering we had to walk through a scanner, metal detector along with having our bags searched, a very common practice here. The guard looked at Clyde's camera and reminded him that NO photos were allowed inside the building, although we have no idea why?

We entered a room full of people, some were standing in lines while Egyptians were sitting. There were women with their heads wrapped wearing long dresses and men dressed in robes. White looking people stood in lines holding paperwork in their hands along with their passports, so we assumed that we needed to follow suit. There was really no order to this mess and eventually we figured out that we needed to get forms to fill out, step out of line, fill in the paperwork and then resume our place in the queue. When we finally made our way to the clerk behind the window, a woman with her head wrapped wearing a long garment, she took our paperwork along with our passport and sent us to another window to pay. Clyde paid our 1140 LE (about $65 for both) and back we went to the first window to show the receipts. We were told to return the following day after 1pm to pick up our passports with our new visa stamp.

So yesterday once again we made the long trek by bus into the city and walked over to the visa office. This process was fast and just a matter of picking up our passports, the only TWO US Passports that were sitting there on the desk. Our new visa stamps allow us to remain in Egypt for up to 6 months, although we will only be here another 5 or 6 weeks.

Original Visa Stamp Plus Another Nearby

Before leaving Hurghada we had to find an Etisalat store to add more minutes to our Egyptian cell phone sim card. For only around $7 we added plenty of data to our phones, something we do in every country we visit.

We hopped on a bus headed back to El Gouna. Upon entering the resort security guards entered the bus and checked ID's on some of the Egyptians. Many of them are coming into the resort headed to work. But the resort DOES offer housing to many locals that do work here so some could have been going home.

As the uniformed security guard passed by us on the bus he stopped and asked, "do you live here?" Clyde said "no we are just visiting." The man looked at us with a smirk and asked, "do you have any bombs?" Clyde smugly answered by saying, "no, not today." Security checkpoints are just a part of life in Egypt, as we have seen in many other countries we have visited.

Part of our life on the road around the world involves stopping along the way to see dentists and doctors for routine checkups. The last time we had our teeth cleaned we were in Wales and saw a dental hygienist much like we would in the US.  Since we were past due for cleanings we made appointments with a German dentist here in El Gouna for cleanings. Semi retired from Germany the gray haired gentleman was dressed in white shorts, a white short sleeved sport shirt and flip flops. Unlike any other dentist we have met along the way I went first into the office for my cleaning. I was shocked at what came out of his mouth and he proceeded to tell me that I did NOT need my teeth cleaned because I have NO plaque. He explained that plaque can be seen on the teeth and because he saw none, there was nothing to clean. Strange I thought since I have been going in for dental cleanings most of my life and have NEVER heard an American dentist or hygienist say such a thing.  I always was told that I have little to no plaque, but never did anyone refuse to do the cleaning anyway. But this German guy DID tell me that my expensive bridgework needs to be replaced, a point that I argued but did not win. But surely I will get a second opinion before spending tons of money replacing something that's not broken and will not have it done here as prices were a big high. The cost for each dental cleaning was $137 but I ended up paying less since my teeth did not need the cleaning after all. This is the most we've paid in all of our travels but then this IS a ritzy, resort and probably would have cost less elsewhere in Egypt.

Entrance to Hospital/Clinic

Atrium at Hospital/Clinic

Afterwards we stopped for lunch in the downtown area of El Gouna. But the only restaurant that was open for lunch was Zomba, the cheap Egyptian food place where we ate a few days ago. I enjoyed a plate of shawarma chicken, slow cooked meat with onions, peppers, and spices served with rice. It was really tasty. Clyde had his usual Koshari served alongside home made flat bread and hummus, for another cheap, good meal.

Terry's Shawarma Chicken

Another productive day in the crazy, bustling city of Hurghada, Egypt.....along the gringo trail.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Almost A Free Lunch In Egypt....

28 cents for lunch.....really, we are not making this stuff up but things are really that cheap here in Egypt.

Here we are in El Gouna, the premier, luxury resort on the Red Sea near the city of Hurghada. We are surrounded by huge, custom built homes many of which cost over a million US dollars, enjoying the lavish lifestyle for free as house and pet sitters.

Will The Big Boy

Sights Around El Gouna

Tuk Tuk Taxi's Are Cheap

We noticed on the kitchen countertop of the house a few brochures including restaurants, and touristy things to do nearby so we had to sneak a peek. One in particular caught our eye....a restaurant called, "Zomba," who's slogan is, "Egyptian food made right," so we browsed through the menu.

The first section on the menu features Egyptian plates as follows: Classic fool (also spelled ful) is a local dish of fava beans, spices and vegetables for 05.00 LE (Egyptian pounds) translated to US dollars that is 28 cents.

Fool With Spicy Sausage

Wow....we thought so we kept on looking down the menu. Another Egyptian staple is something called Koshari (also spelled kushari and various other ways). This typical meal consists of pasta (usually two types), rice, chick peas (or garbanzo beans), brown lentils and is served with tomato sauce or a garlic sauce. Classic koshari at this restaurant goes for 10.00 LE (which translates to 56 cents). Over the past month we have sampled Koshari at several restaurants and it's really tasty, always served with hot, Egyptian flat bread and is always cheap.

A Heaping Pile Of Koshari For Clyde

So yesterday Clyde, my big spender of a husband took me out to lunch at Zomba. Since I had not tried "fool" yet I ordered a plate of fool with spicy sausage added for a total cost of $1.24. Clyde ordered koshari with shawarma chicken (shawarma is a way of slow cooking meat) for a total cost of just $1.98. We added a side order of hummus for just $1.13 and a liter and a half bottle of water for 68 cents. We were given a basket of HOT, freshly, baked flat bread to dip into our hummus....yum! The total for this splurge of lunch came to a whopping $5.04!

Fresh Baked Bread And Hummus

Everything that this restaurant sells is cheap and they even offer home delivery for FREE. But it's NOT just this restaurant that is cheap, they all are here. Even the famous Nathan's hot dog chain is here in El Gouna where one can buy a hot dog for around $1.40 or a burger for $1.70 for that good old American food fix. But for us we'll stay with the local food since it's cheap, tasty and healthy.

Here's Clyde Hard At Work House Sitting

We have been in Egypt for a full month today and are still loving this place. However, we entered the country on a 30 day tourist visa that expires today, so yesterday we made the trek into Hurghada to the visa office to request an extension. An interesting experience that is not over yet. We had to leave our passports behind and go pick them up this afternoon with our new visas, so full story to follow later. Another day of heat, sunshine, sand, furry friends and loving life in Egypt.....along the gringo trail.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

A Dream Location.....El Gouna, Egypt.....

After nearly four weeks of visiting Egypt's ancient sites we have moved into the modern, tourist resort of El Gouna.  Built in 1989 the resort town is situated along the Red Sea, 12 miles north of the city of Hurghada. A maze of man-made lagoons (el gounas) set the theme of this development along with several golf courses, 18 hotels, restaurants, shops, a hospital, clinics, marinas, schools and even a downtown area. El Gouna is a dream come true for lovers of watersports like snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, kitesurfing, waterskiing and parasailing. Sandy beaches lead into the crystal, clear waters of the Red Sea that offers just the right temperature for cooling off from the hot summer sun.

Will The Big Boy

Tee Tee The Female

It was six months ago when I stumbled upon the first ever house sit I'd seen in Egypt and jumped at the opportunity. We arrived yesterday and were welcomed in by the English homeowners. It was over ten years ago now that this courageous couple decided to jump into the unknown and move here with their seven year old son for a new way of life.  While living abroad has come with its challenges they have grown to love it here and have no plans to go back to the cold, damp United Kingdom anytime soon.

Our Backyard View....Pool And Lagoon

Back Of The Villa

Front Of Villa

Our temporary home is a modern Mediterranean-styled villa with three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a large outdoor entertaining area. The infinity pool overlooks a lagoon that leads out to the Red Sea. Set against a backdrop of mountains, desert and water the stunning view is something we surely will not get tired of. And the home comes complete with the company of some new furry friends who are just waiting for belly rubs. Tee Tee and Will are Egyptian Baladi's (desert dogs) that were once strays before they found their forever home. And there are several cats that live outdoors along with Mouse, the cat, who is allowed inside to interact with the dogs.

Found This Beach In Hurghada
Called Dream Beach

Easy Access Into The Water

Warm, Tranquil, Clear Water Of The Red Sea
It's Called The Red Sea Because Of Algae From The Bottom That Rises Once A Year
And Turns The Water A Reddish Brown

Stay tuned for plenty of photos, stories and adventures from this gorgeous home that we have temporarily adopted as our own, in El Gouna, Egypt.....along the gringo trail.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Life On The Red Sea Of Egypt......

Since conditions in our Luxor villa turned out to be less than perfect we decided to move on to better horizons. While the house itself was spacious and decent, the neighborhood surrounding it was a poor farming community. And while we certainly are used to living among locals in the country after being in Panama, this was far worse. Looking down from the balconies of the house we could see directly into mud huts through loose, straw roofs that were just laying on top. There we saw cows, chickens and piles of poop to go along with them. And where there is poop there are flies and since the house had no screens, we either had to keep it open and live with flies or close it up despite the 112 degree temperatures. We found ourselves spending much of the day in one of the bedrooms with the air conditioner on playing on our computers.

This Cow Pen was along side our fence,
The stench and flies were terrible!

And one of the main reasons that we booked the villa was because it offered a private swimming pool in the yard. But immediately upon arrival we noticed that the pool was green and muddy looking with a thick layer of oil on top. The manager of the property and his brother the pool guy blamed the condition of the pool on the last renters that used too much sun screen. But whatever the cause the poor pool guy who surely never owned a pool of his own seemed to have absolutely no idea how to fix the problem.

The villa was cheap because it was located on the West Bank of the Nile river, far away from any of the tourist attractions on the other side. While this was ok with us since we had already seen most of the tourist sites and were just looking for a place to relax, we were stuck at the house with no transportation. The manager of the property was at our beckon call to take us to buy groceries or anything else that we needed but we really hated to rely on him for everything.

Being world travelers we have shopped in grocery stores through Europe, Thailand, Latin American countries and more but Egypt was way more difficult. I enjoy visiting new grocery stores to see what they carry and what prices are like. As soon as we entered the small store a local man attached himself to us, pushing the cart and grabbing everything out of our hands that we picked up. We smiled and thanked him trying to persuade him to go away, but he would not take no for an answer. So as we tried to figure out just what each of the products were the man followed along trying to help or more typically looking for a tip.

So on Thursday of last week Clyde made arrangements for an apartment In Hurghada near the Red Sea and driver to get us from Luxor to Hurghada, a 4-5 hour drive. To our surprise the driver called Clyde back explaining that he needed to fill out, "permission to travel" paperwork because we are Americans. And he would NOT be allowed to pick us up from a private home, but instead we would have to be in a hotel. Now this put a damper in our plans to get out of the villa in Luxor and with the paperwork and us moving from the villa to a hotel it would take a few more days. Yikes....

Clyde decided to call our guide and friend Hatem that we used throughout our Nile cruise to see if he had any other ideas. He suggested that IF he call a driver who had already transported us there would be no need for new paperwork and we could proceed as planned. So he arranged for a driver that we had already met to pick us up the next morning on the other side of the Nile to take us to Hurghada.

Our next morning began early with a ride from the manager of the villa to the river. There instead of the National Ferry boat we opted to pay for a private boat, since we had luggage to get us across the river. We made the short ride across the river on a spacious boat with all of our stuff. But with other boats in the way on the dock the boat had to stop out in the river forcing us to climb up and over THREE other boats, over a steel beam and up three flights of stairs before we landed on the street. Fortunately there were plenty of men and boys around looking for money that were all too willing to transport our luggage.

A while later our driver showed up and we made the long, boring ride through stark desert scenery over to Upper Egypt. Here we are staying in a one bedroom apartment, complete with a kitchen and balconies that overlook the pool. The first day we arrived we met and chatted with a young English woman who was here with her Egyptian boyfriend and his family. But since they left yesterday since then we have been surrounded by NO other gringo's, just Egyptian tourists.

And while we have no problem being around Egyptians there is that one little thing about the women.....they go into pools and the sea FULLY covered from head to toe in clothing. These poor women do NOT wear bathing suits or even shorts but instead wear gowns that drag in the water while their heads are wrapped up too. In the hotel pool I AM wearing a one-piece bathing suit to go into the pool or sit in the lounge chairs but our trip to the beach today was different.

Where We Are Now

Yes, they are in full robes and scarves

Today we took a walk down the street, along the sea past hotels with private beaches to find a public beach. We paid a small entry fee of about 50 cents each, then paid another few pounds to rent chairs and an umbrella to enjoy the sights. There was NOT another white couple on the beach, just Egyptian families having fun in the sun, kids playing in the sea and EVERY woman was covered from head to toe. While I REALLY wanted to take a dip in the tranquil, clear waters of the Red Sea I could not bare to take off my shorts and tank top to be the only female in a bathing suit surrounded by conservative, Egyptian women.  Instead we decided to leave and take a taxi back to our hotel to cool off in the swimming pool.

Egyptian Beach Wear

Even the local tourists
like camel rides!

Really Amazing

Sitting In The Sand Too

Hurghada is a city of about 300,000 people full of beachfront resorts, some very pricey for European tourists while others are simple and geared toward Egyptian tourists from Cairo. One of the largest resorts near Hurghada is El Gouna, a city within itself where we are going next week for our five week house sit.

Yesterday we took a taxi to Senzo Mall, a modern mall full of European expats and tourists. There we enjoyed shopping in a large, modern grocery store where we went searching for hair dye among other things. But since all Egyptians have dark hair there was little in the way of blonde or brown hair dye. We opted for a light brown which really covered up our sun lightened hair making us look rather different. But soon enough the strong Egyptian sun will lighten our darkened hair once again making us stand out as gringo's.....along the gringo trail.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Temple Of Dendera....Off The Beaten Path

Off the beaten path about an hour from the city of Luxor, is the Temple of Hathor at Dendera. Built in 1st century BC it is one of the best preserved temples in all of Egypt. Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra II had the temple built and later Romans Emperors continued to decorate it in honor of the goddess Hathor. The complex covers some 40,000 square meters and is surrounded by a thick mud wall.

Dendera Temple Complex

Currently The Temple Is Being Cleaned So Wherever The Paint Colors Are More Vivid It Has Already Been Cleaned, A Long Painstaking Process

Cleopatra had a palace on the grounds that included 29 rooms, 10 bathrooms and even a swimming pool that was posh enough for the Queen. Hathor temple is the only one with more than one level, but the upper level was closed off some years back when an American jumped off the roof. We were even allowed to crawl down into the crypt to explore the creepy tunnels of the underground world.

Cleopatra's Swimming Pool

The Ruins of Cleopatra's Palace

This is the parking lot of this place
we are the ONLY car there

As our driver made his way out of the temple complex we passed by a police security checkpoint commonly seen throughout Egypt. The policeman and military officers chatted with the driver and guide inquiring about who they had in the back seat. When we were touring Cairo our guide there said it was much easier to tell the police that we were from Canada, as less questions would be asked. But this time we heard the driver say the word, "American," to which the police officer looked perplexed and repeated the word. The officer waved to a car behind us allowing them to pass by but kept our car on the side of the road. Clyde asked our guide, "what's going on, " and when he answered, "I don't know," we began to worry.

Our Police Escort

But a few minutes later our car was allowed to proceed, as we followed behind a pick up truck with two policeman in the back. They were each holding rifles that were pointed out the window, again a common sight here, but why were WE following in this manner?

Still concerned Clyde questioned our guide again. "Are Americans considered to be trouble and not liked in Egypt," he asked? Our guide said, "no, just the opposite." He went onto explain that we were being given a police escort to protect us, because if something happened to Americans travelling through Egypt it might hurt relations between Egypt and the US. So in other words we were being treated as royalty.

We followed the police into the nearby city of Qena where we stopped for lunch at a famous restaurant. That was the last we saw of the police as we walked into the restaurant for our meal. Our meal choices were either chicken or pigeon (yes pigeon, the bird). Each meal came with tahini and bread, salad, rice, lentil soup, cooked vegetables, a bottle of water and even pudding for dessert. It was all very tasty but messy, but not to worry since there was a hand washing station nearby.

Lunch Is Served

Salad, Served With Fresh Lime As Dressing, Rice, Lentil Soup, Flat Bread, Water, Tahini For Dipping, Cooked Vegetables To Start

Yep!  That's a pigeon! Clyde's Lunch It Was Stuffed With Rice

With full tummies we relaxed on the long ride back to Luxor in the back seat of the car. Since we are renting a house on the West Bank of the Nile we were dropped off at the National Ferryboat dock. In the midst of hundreds of robe, clad Muslims we paid our 1 Egyptian Pound (equal to 57 cents) and boarded the large ferry with plenty of bench seats. The ride across the Nile takes about ten minutes and from there we were picked up by the manager of our house with a car.

Ferry Boat To Get Across The River, Price Is 1 Egyptian Pound (57 cents each)

Another day of temple hopping, police escorts, usual tastes and ferry rides across the Nile.....along the gringo trail.