Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Return to Dahab, Egypt

Hi friends! 

Hope you are all having a wunderbar week so far :)

I ended up getting a ride back to Dahab with the diving guys after our diving trip to Hurhada over the weekend. I mentioned it before, but weekends here are Friday and Saturday, so it is already mid-week for us here. 

Not that it really matter for me these days - I tend to lose track of the days. Which, if you have never experienced this before, is probably the most amazing feeling ever. 

I can officially say with confidence that I would not - I repeat NOT - recommend making the drive from Hurghada to Cairo to Sinai all in one go. 

It took us about 7 hours to get back to Katameya, where my mom lives. We had to drop some people off in Ma'adi beforehand, and got stuck at a couple of check points. I have gotten used to multiplying the time that you expect something to take by two...

Anyway, I ran in and packed my bag - I've gotten very fast at doing this - and grabbed some snacks and then off we went. 

Falafel sandwich. My fav. 

My compadres for the trip included the driver, Mohammed, one of the owners of the diving center* we go through, Bassem, and George, who heard that we were driving back to Dahab and met us on the side of the highway at about midnight. Too funny. 

*Note: if ever you are thinking of doing any diving in Dahab, Ras Mohammed or Sharm (they can also hook you up with boat diving in Hurghada or Alexandria) def check out Aventure Spot diving center in Dahab ( - they are the bestest! 

Anyway, the drive itself was a bit crazy. I have only ever made the trip with a van-load of other foreigners, but I was riding solo this time (although obviously in good hands). 

We stopped at a random restaurant area just before the tunnel going under the Suez to wait for Bassem's brother, Abdu, who had dropped off the American teachers. We took tea and had sandwiches - a white hotdog bun with a couple of slices of Egyptian cheese (not to be confused with Canadian cheese - it all tastes a bit funky to me here, but I felt rude to say no). 

Once the drivers had eaten their full and had a couple of teas, we headed towards the tunnel. They said that the next check point would determine whether we would make good time to Dahab or not. We stopped at the check point and the driver turned on the van's lights inside to show that I was there. He spoke to the soldier out the window and all I understood was 'Canadian'. 

We pulled up and a group of soldiers, wielding huge guns, opened the sliding doors. One of the guys started to go through my purse, taking everything out one by one and checking to make sure I wasn't carrying anything - alcohol, drugs or guns. Once he was satisfied I had nothing, he said something to the guys and they laughed and closed the door. I asked what he said: mthey said you take care of this girl, and we said don't worry we will and slammed the door'. 

Oh boy. 

We went on and had to stop every half hour at a check point, so it was a sleepless night for me. It went smoothly though, and we arrived in Dahab at around 8am - a good amount of time considering they had to explain why I was there every time. 

Needless to say, I had a loooong nap  once we arrived. I'm staying at the diving studios at a cute little apartment with a kitchen. 

Looking forward to a week of relaxing by the Red Sea :) 

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Diving in Hurghada, Egypt

Hello friends! Well, as promised, I am trying to keep up with my travel posts better than I have over the past couple of weeks in Cairo. 

Although, not going to lie, I'm already a bit behind ;) 

We decided to go diving in Hurghada with some of the teachers from my Momsters school to avoid the weekend in Cairo - there were rumours of big things happening to celebrate the anniversary of the fall of Mubarak on January 25th. 

So Emily and I packed our bathing suits and took the long van ride to the Red Sea. The ride actually only took us 5 hours - we had good luck with all of the check points along the way. 

The van coming from the American school didn't have our luck, unfortunately. They got in just after midnight after a gruelling 7 hour ride after getting stuck in traffic in Cairo - 'the jam'. 

Sunset on the Red Sea 

We got up bright and early on Friday to set out on the boat for 3 dives. We saw tons of moray eels, really nice reefs and tons of fish. We saw a HUGE Napoleon fish - about 4 feet long, for reals. 

After diving, the whole group went out for dinner at a Thai place - I can't remember the name of it for the life of me, but it was near the marina beside the spa where you put your feet in tanks and little fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. For reals. I don't make this stuff up! 

It was a great group of people, so we hung out for a bit and got totally ripped off on our shisha - they charged 30le instead of the regular 10le (a little over $4 instead of $1 - I know, poor us) and then a small group of us went to the bar near our diving apartments before calling it a night pretty early since we had another 7am wake up call. 

After grabbing our morning jolt of caffeine at Costa Coffee, a chain here that makes a mean cappuccino - none of that instant Nescafé stuff - we went back for another full day of diving. 

You guys...I think I might be addicted. Diving is amazing. 

I can't get enough of it, floating around in an underwater world that only the certified are able to see and enjoy ;) I'm thinking of doing my advanced course soon so that I can do more advanced dives like deep ones in underwater caves and wreck dives...sounds so cool!! 

We were all pretty pooped by the end of the day, but still had the drive back to Cairo to do that night so it was no nonsense - we packed up all the scuba gear and packed ourselves back into the vans. 

That's another thing that I love about diving: everyone needs to set up their own gear and switch their tanks. Makes me feel like I know what I'm doing ;) 

We heard news about a couple of bombs that had gone off the day before, and the American teachers heard about shots being fired where they live in Cairo so we were a bit nervous, but we all arrived home safe and sound. Our drivers knew what areas to avoid, thankfully. 

We made a pit stop along the way and watched the news, which showed huge demonstrations in different areas of Cairo - there were seriously thousands of people in Tahrir square - and other towns around Egypt. One of our guides turned to me and said "today, I am proud to be Egyptian. Even though people are bombing each other, my people still go out in the streets to celebrate this day. Makes me too happy"

Well said, my friend. 

Unfortunately, there were many deaths in the aftermath of these celebrations, but people were still able to celebrate. I am happy that everyone I know in Egypt stayed safe, el ham del Allah, thanks be to God. Hopefully all will stay safe for everyone in Egypt with the upcoming elections, insha'Allah - God willing. 

My Arabic is picking up, little by little ;) 

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Tagamo, Egypt: Update

Hi friends!

Well, I am almost all up to date with my blog posts – hurrah!! I have been hanging out for exactly a week in Katameya, which is an area in Tagamo which is located between Ma’adi and the Cairo airport.

Katameya is a much quieter area compared to where my Momster was living in Ma’adi, and there are not as many expats either.

Which means we are a bit of an anomaly wherever we go – grocery shopping, walking down the street, talking to our new landlady (who only knows how to say ‘sit’ in English) – it’s all an adventure(!!)

I was a bit sad to be leaving the hustle and bustle of Ma’adi, where you have access to everything you want either in walking distance or after a $1 taxi ride, but I have really enjoyed my time in Tagamo so far. We are close to Seven Stars Mall, where there are a bunch of market stalls selling falafel, koshary, fruits and veggies.

 Loves it!

We are starting to get acquainted with the area, which is good since it is a nightmare trying to explain where we live to taxi or delivery men. I’m getting very good with Arabic directions ;)

Yameen = right, shamell = left, alatool = straight, hanakoyse = here is good (let me out!)

I (not so secretly) wish that I knew more Arabic, but I’m picking up some good vocab as I go along in daily life here. Makes everything much easier(!!)

Anywho, here is a whole medley of things/places that I have been to recently:

Katameya Heights Golf Course

We went for a tour at the Katameya Heights Golf Course, which my Momster wants to join. And for obvious reasons: it is seriously the nicest Golf Course I have ever seen. It should really be called a resort – it’s like a little piece of finely manicured heaven.

The facilities are state-of-the-art, the club house is decked out, and the restaurants surround a beautiful in-ground pool.

Fingers crossed she gets a membership before I leave Egypt – I wouldn’t mind hanging out here, living the high life, for a bit ;)

6th October City

A friend of ours, who helped my Mom and Sherri find their apartment, took me to 6th October City, which is essentially like Tagamo only on the other side of the old part of Cairo. It is an up-and-coming area, and has tons of new development happening. We went to a sweet restaurant, which had the most attentive shisha guys ever – I think they switched our coals every five minutes.

At one point, the power went off, which hasn’t happened as often as I assumed that it would. These things happen ;)

Mo’otem (Mountain)

After dinner, we went to the most amazing look-out in Mo’otem, which (I think) means mountain. It is a mountain area that overlooks the old part of Cairo, Ring Road, Corniche along the Nile River, Ma’adi on the other side of the Nile, and Tagamo off to the left, and then Giza (as in the Pyramids of Giza) and 6th October City straight ahead.

It was a bit too hazy out, so we weren’t able to see the pyramids – they supposedly have an awesome light show on them at night. We hung out for a bit and order some fresh lemon – an amazing drink that I am a little bit obsessed with, which is kind of like fresh lemonade back home only with about double the amount of sugar. All of a sudden, we saw fireworks go off to the right. I asked if this happened often, but he said that he had never seen them from up here before – he grew up in Mo’otem, so I believed him.

We ended up seeing 7 separate shows of fireworks go off within the span of about half an hour, it was so cool! It was a Friday, which is like our Saturday back home (weekends here are Friday and Saturday as opposed to Saturday and Sunday), so it was probably for wedding celebrations. I guess it has become a big thing ever since the revolution, when everyone started setting of fireworks for every occasion. We usually hear mini fireworks go off at night randomly. The sound always scares me.

Ma’adi Visits

We went back to Ma’adi last weekend with my little sister Emily, who was studying at a friends’ place there, so my Momster and I went along for the ride.

We had lunch at a cute little restaurant called Pistachio on Road 84, and then went grocery shopping on Road 7.

It’s so strange: it seems so natural now to be walking around Ma’adi, even on Road 7, where not a lot of expats go. I remember the first time that I went walking around with my Mom and found it so overwhelming – now it is just kind of like second nature to be constantly looking around to make sure a car isn’t coming down the street the wrong way, I know my Arabic numbers now so I can haggle a bit better with the people selling things on the street, and I guess I have gotten a bit more used to everyone staring at me like I have five heads ;)

City Stars Mall & VIP Cinema

I went to City Stars Mall, and was completely blown away. It is pretty much the craziest mall that I’ve ever seen – it is completely made out of white marble, and is GINORMOUS. For serious. There are a ridiculous amount of shop in that place. It’s so big that it has two phases.

I ended up going to an amazingly delicious Lebanese restaurant. I don’t remember the name (I know, I’m the worst) but it was right across from the VIP cinema in City Stars Mall. If ever you are in the area, hit it up!

Turns out some Egyptians love going to the movie theatre at 1am. Personally, I think it’s a bit crazy to go to a movie at that time, but I’ll try anything once ;)

So, after spending an eternity at the Lebanese restaurant with a feast fit for kings (we took the leftovers to go, which we then gave to someone on the street – it’s what most people do here if they can afford to do it) and then a cute little shisha café, we went over to the VIP cinema.

Guys. They have to introduce this to Canada. I mean really. It was the best movie experience I have ever had in my entire life.

It is a smaller cinema filled with legit lazy boys, which recline almost into a beautifully comfortable bed, with personal side tables. There are about 10 rows with 4 lazy boys on either side of the aisle. And there is a bell boy with a flashlight who leads you to your seat.

To make everything that much better, there is intermission. For serious. Smartest thing ever! You can go out to use the loo, fill-up on popcorn, have a smoke break (inside the cinema, I might add*). It’s pure genius. I saw ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, which was actually a very funny movie.

The strangest thing about the whole experience was coming out of the movie theater at about 3:30 in the morning – it was ghost town. Wish I had my camera on me, it was so surreal!

*Note: I have noticed that quite a lot of people smoke cigarettes in Egypt, from what I’ve seen at least. Generally people don’t smoke inside, but I have seen a few people light up wherever they want – inside restaurants, in the airport, in the mall, in the lobby of the cinema…makes me appreciate the smoking bylaws back at home.

Overall, I have been loving life in Katameya – enjoying getting to know a new area of New Cairo, meeting new people, trying new things. I’m just getting my overnight pack together for this weekend – my little sister Emily and I are heading to Hurghada for a diving excursion, so excited!!

I will try not to go so long without posting anything again, it takes a while to catch myself up! Slow and steady wins the race ;)

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Moving Day in Egypt: Katameya Bound!

Today was moving day in Egypt.

Well, for us, at least.

We got up at about 5am to send Katie off at the airport. The poor girl had my luck – I had a feeling she would. She ended up getting super sick on the plane, so they bumped her up to first class. Then she missed her connecting flight by about 5 minutes in London, so she was delayed by about a day in getting home. She arrived safe and sound (and with her luggage, I might add). I’m starting to think that our family shouldn’t be let into airports haha.

Afterwards, we packed up all of our stuff – which is much easier here since we have been renting furnished apartments (or ‘flats’ as they call them here). We were quite the spectacle with all of our stuff out on the curb waiting for the minivan to move us.

As soon as our driver arrived, we loaded the van up – on the roof and inside – and my Mom said goodbye to her Bowab, who is kind of like the doorman and fix-it-all. Cutest man ever, will definitely miss his smiling face!

My mom and her Bowab, the doorman

We made the  trip to Katameya, unloaded all of our stuff, and then went back for Sherri’s stuff. Somehow she had more stuff than we did combined (although, granted, she did have a lot of plants…). It was an adventure, but somehow we managed to get it all stuffed in the van minus one palm tree.

Momsters new place 

That night, we set up the Christmas lights and enjoyed the new balcony. We’re all a bit pooped, but ready to get to know a new area!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Katie’s Last Day in Egypt

It was Katie’s last day in Egypt.

Le sad face.

I am going to miss her times a thousand. She has been my main partner in crime here.

Now I’ll just have to rely on rat #2 ;)

Juuuust kidding, love you Emsies!

Lunch at Grand Café on the Nile River

We have already done all of the big things that there are to do in and around Cairo: we’ve seen the pyramids, gone on a felucca ride, been to the markets and a couple different areas in old Cairo, so we decided to just kind of take it easy for Katie’s last day here.

We went to Corniche, the road that runs along the Nile River, and ended up going for lunch and Grand Café which overlooks the Nile.

We had a delicious lunch – we are a bit obsessed with the Greek salads here – and enjoyed some shisha as the felucca’s drifted by. The perfect way to spend the afternoon :)

Referendum on the New Constitution

Today also happened to be the first day of voting on the new constitution in Egypt. There is a bit of controversy around the vote since it is essentially voting on whether or not people agree with the military removing Morsi from power and naming the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

The entire country has been bombarded with media supporting the ‘YES!’ to the referendum on the New Constitution. I have heard a lot of people talk about the referendum, and it seem like no two people think the same way: some are avid supporters of the YES vote, mostly people who just  want their lives to go back to ‘normal’ or how it was pre-revolution, others said they obstained from voting since they didn’t think that their vote would make a difference or because they didn’t think that it was a fair referendum, and barely anyone would vote NO – I heard that military had been given ‘shoot when needed’ orders, since a NO vote was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Anyway, like ridiculous tourists, we decided to go out for a nice dinner with a bunch of people in order to send Katie off in style. Our taxi driver had no idea where he was going, and ended up dropping us off at one of the polling stations in Ma’adi. We got out of the taxi and thought that there was a lot of commotion going on and then I spotted the polling station. We started moving pretty quickly in the opposite direction, just in case anything started to happen.

We found someone who spoke English and asked what was going on, and whether it was okay for us to be walking around. The lady said “You know, its election night in Egypt, so there is just a lot of commotion today. It is not safe to be on the street.” We kind of freaked out a bit and asked her if we should just give up our search for the restaurant and grab a taxi home, and whether she thought it was safe for us. “Pfft this is Ma’adi. No worries”

That made us feel much better ;)

Dinner at Bau Khao

After a couple of wrong turns, we ended up finding our destination: Bau Khao, arguably one of the best Korean restaurants in Ma’adi.

I had the spicy ginger chicken with rice. So delicious.

Definitely check it out if you are in the area!