Wednesday, July 3, 2013

38 Days in Egypt - Travel Egypt - Egyptian Travel Blog - Visiting Egypt on a Budget - Egypt off the Beaten Path - Cairo Dahab Luxor Siwa Alexandria Red Sea Sinai Peninsula

A video of our experience in Egypt. 

Welcome to 38 Days in Egypt: A Travelogue

My wife and I created this blog to create a travelogue of our visit in Egypt.  We wanted to have a way to remember the journey and share it with others who were interested in what Egypt is like.

We also built this site to show that, although Egypt is seen to many as a dangerous place to visit, that tourists have little to worry about when visiting Egypt.  Overall, for tourists, the country is quite safe.  The military and police to go extraordinary lengths to make sure that tourists are out of harms way.  There are huge penalties in place for assaulting a tourist and locals are very warm and caring for those.  While there is a great amount of hassle to tourists in Egypt, salespeople will generally help you out in the end, even if you do not purchase items from them.  As far as countries that I have visited, both of us would say that the people of Egypt have been some of the most friendly in the world.

Lastly, I created this website to help others who are visiting Egypt.  While there are a lot of good guidebooks available.  We used the The Rough Guide to Egypt and found that it was very helpful.  With that being said, sometimes guides do not have enough space to tell everything, and I wanted to answer some of the questions and show some of the places that the guide books do not have room to go into in great detail.  I would recommend this book, however, if you are planning on visiting Egypt. 

As students, we did not go to Egypt with a large budget.  One reason we visited Egypt was due to the low cost of traveling at the current time.  Egypt is considered a bargain right now, and flight prices from the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are at an all time low.  Also, the Egyptian Pound (LE or EGP) is at a very favorable exchange rate at the moment.  With that being said, Egypt can still be a very expensive country to visit.  There are touts and unforeseen expenses here, just as there is anywhere.  As this blog was geared towards the budget traveler, I have taken the time to review hotels and hostels in various cities that cost around $10 a night and under. 

This blog is still a work in progress, and I have a lot to add in the coming weeks.  Thank you for reading. 

Here are some recent updates to this blog.  This post will stay on top for the time being so that readers can see what has been updated.

1.  Video of The Catacombs in Alexandria: July 3, 2013
2.  Video of the Blue Hole: July 3, 2013
3.  Map of our Travels: July 3, 2013
4.  Review of Sindbad Camp in Dahab: July 7, 2013

Interested in seeing where we are traveling now? Check out "Travels with Sephie."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30th Protests in Cairo and Last Day in Egypt

Last night's protest was quite lively, to say the least.  We are on the side opposite of the building to the right of this picture, so as you can imagine, we can hear a lot of what is going on.  Throughout the evening, we could see at least one helicopter flying overhead, while below thousands marched along the streets.  We posted a video as well as some pictures of when we went out for dinner.

The video has gained quite a few views since being posted, and has gotten the attention of a news outfit in London, who has asked if they could use it.  I am not sure if they will, but we did grant them permission.

Later in the night, we heard fireworks and other loud banging sounds, which we suspect may have been gunfire.  Other noises included chanting and horns.  People rode scooters with the Egyptian flag on the streets below our 7th floor hostel room.  In alleyways, people gathered for tea and sheesha, in between protesting.  Then, around midnight, everything suddenly went quiet.  There were no sounds at all.  It was strange.

Upon awakening, there is little noise at all outside.  In fact, it sounds just the same as when we arrived in Cairo, over a month ago.  A big part of me is sad to leave -- as we leave tonight.  I have really enjoyed my time here, and at times I forgot I was just a traveler here.  I have gotten very used to Egypt, and that's one reason I enjoy taking such long trips -- I begin to feel as a local and feel at home in these places.  The longer I stay somewhere, the harder it is to leave.  I wonder when I will be back in Egypt.  It could be many years, or it could be never.  Perhaps that is what makes it hard to leave as well.

Tonight we will be going to the Cairo Airport and flying to Amsterdam before heading to New York.  It has been a great trip.  There will be more blog posts coming, including The Temple of Luxor, the Train from Luxor to Cairo, the Khan al-Khalili Market, more hotel and hostel reviews, and a few others.  This blog will also become an information source for those who are looking to travel to Egypt in the future.

Thank you for reading.

Egypt Revolution March to Tahrir Square, June 30, 2013

Pictures of the March

Anti-Obama banner

Revolution Day

We are currently three blocks away from Tahrir Square, but have only been by there via taxi last night.  We can hear what is going on from our room, which faces in that direction.

For those who are interested, there is a site here that is running live coverage of the protests:

I will post more on this in the future.

Live Streaming of Tahrir Square Protests in Cairo Egypt
Watch live streaming video from ontveglive at

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Luxor Bazaar - Egypt Shopping - Egyptian Bazaars - Prices in Luxor - Luxor Guide - What to do in Luxor Egypt

While in Luxor, we went to the market at least a couple of times. I thought therefore, that it was appropriate to have an entire post devoted to the market itself.

The Luxor Bazaar is located near the Luxor Temple in the central area of the city.  The market is much smaller than the market in Cairo, but it is still a decent size, with many shops inside.  However, I found that the vendors here are more ruthless about getting you into their shops than in Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo.  Also, I should note that the prices here are also much higher.

Outside of the market is a small falafel stand where you can buy cheap sandwiches for 2 LE each.  This is a good idea if you are hungry.  They sell falafel, fuul (sometimes spelled "foul" but pronounced as fool), mashed potatoes, and eggplant.  All of these are vegetarian.

Vendors in the Luxor Bazaar

Shawl and Scarf Vendor:  While in the market we stopped at a scarf and shawl vendor, who sold us a couple of shawls.  An intricate and very pretty shawl cost us 25 LE, originally quoted at 35 LE.  Some were quoted at 45 LE.  This all depends on the quality, and there are many to choose from.  We went back later on and purchased 3 more for 60 LE total.  One was quoted at 15, and the others were similar to the first one we purchased at 25 LE the day before.

Spice Vendor:  Why we stopped at a spice vendor inside of the tourist market instead of stopping at one where the locals shop is a question that I later asked myself.  This guy was quite a character though, and was very pushy with selling us spices.  He really wanted us to buy coriander and cumin, both of which we have ample supply of home.  He also wanted us to buy Saffron, which is really Safflower in Egypt.  He said that the ground saffron (which looked and smelled like Tumeric) was from Iran (implying that it was better than wherever we get ours).  We told him over and over we didn't want it, but he packaged it up and began to weigh it for us.  We were firm and did not purchase it.  We did, however, purchase some mango tea, for 10 LE for about an ounce.

The spice man said that all spices were sold by the gram, and that the mango tea was 50 Piastres per gram.  We doubted this, and he filled a small bag and tried to sell it to us for 35 LE.  We said no and he said "fine, 20."  We said "no" and he filled it with more tea.  We said "10" and he said, "fine, 10" but started emptying the tea back into the container.  We acted like we were going to walk away due to this tactic, but he stopped emptying it really quickly and we purchased the small bag for 10 LE.  We were probably ripped off here.  Lesson: don't buy spices in a tourist market when the locals buy them for much cheaper outside in non-tourist markets.

Egyptian textile pattern
Textile Thief:  This was where we were ripped off the worst.  We wanted to purchase an Egyptian/Arabian style textile fabric.  It has colorful designs on it.  Anyway, we were immediately quoted 380 LE for four meters.  This comes out to be around $50.  We told him "no" and that we were thinking closer to 20 LE per meter.  He said "are you JOKING?" in a tone which made him seem offended.  We said "no, in the US, we buy thicker and more intricate fabric than this for around the same price."  As we drank the tea he gave us, we haggled further.  He went down to 280 and then to 200, but we still did not budge.  Eventually, we said 30 LE a meter, which was still too high (we should have never went near that number).  As we finished our tea and were about to leave, he went down to 30 for 3 meters.  At this point, Beverly did not want to buy it and said "let's just go."  But, I had agreed on 30 and was compelled to stick with the offer I made, as is the custom here.  We purchased this fabric for 90 LE total (close to $14) and left.  We later found similar fabric in Cairo for 8.5 LE a meter without haggling.

Egyptian-style Shirt (Kurti) Salesman:  Beverly was interested in buying a shirt with silk designs on the outside, and the shopkeeper quoted us, before entering the shop, 10 pounds (not sure if he meant Egyptian or British).  This got Beverly into the store.  She found a burgundy shirt that she liked with silk embroidery near the neck and she asked if it was 10 LE.  He said, "no, this one is 690 LE."  That's over $100 for a shirt that was, honestly, worth only a few dollars.  We were stunned.  After haggling for a while, we got the price down to $4 US dollars and 10 LE.  We still think we were overcharged.  The idea of paying $100 for such a thing was more than ludicrous.

Conclusion:  The Luxor market is a fun place to visit, but be prepared to haggle hardcore.  You will probably be overcharged and you will literally be pulled into shops.  I found that prices here are originally quoted much higher than in Cairo, and you will still probably pay more after haggling.  In a future post, I will talk about the Khan al-Khalili market in Cairo and the prices for goods that we paid there.

Also, there are many characters in the market.  One man yelled "buy one get one freeeeee!!!" as we were leaving.  Others will say "everyone inside 1 pound."  This is clearly not true, and I try to stay away from places that make such claims.  In fact, I found myself often going into the stores where we were not pulled into.  I know better than to go into a store where one tries to physically get you to go in.  Sometimes you are blocked from leaving stores until you buy or say "no" a few hundred times.  When shopping you can not take it too seriously, as it can really bother some people after a while.  I have heard stories of people crying because it is all too much.  The best advice is to be prepared and realize that these people make a living off of what they do, and many probably don't make that much money as some do not own the shops themselves, but merely help run them.

As of the time of this writing, the exchange rate is between 6.5 to 7 LE to the dollar, although vendors will quote you 7.5 LE to the dollar.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Going from Dahab to Luxor Egypt via Bus - Local Transportation - Getting Around Egypt

The central square of Luxor, near the Luxor Temple.
After spending around a week and a half in Dahab, we decided that we would like to see Luxor before leaving Egypt.  We purchased a ticket through King Safari Dahab Tours, as we did not want to bother with getting a taxi to and from the bus station in order to purchase a ticket.  The bus station is not in the same area of Dahab as the hotels are.  In fact, it is in a separate and more quiet residential area that is separated from the tourist area.  There is an extra commission for getting the ticket through a tour agency, but they also gave us a ride to the bus station right before the bus left.

The bus only had a few people on it when it left the station.  There were a couple of other tourists with us, a pair of Asian girls, and they were the only other tourists we had ridden a bus with in Egypt on our entire journey.  The ride itself was pretty nice.  I was very sad to leave Sinai and had gotten pretty attached to spending time in Dahab.  At first I was not sure of what I thought of it, but as the days went on, it began to feel like a type of home in many ways.  After visiting the Blue Hole a couple of times, we did not want to leave, but we realized that it was time to move on if we wanted to see Luxor, which we did.

The bus route took us south to Sharm el Sheikh, where the bus filled with more passengers, and then north to El Tor.  It was around El Tor that the sun was setting.  It was a spectacular sight over the water to the west.  Far in the distance the flames from refineries danced with the reds of the sun's descent.  Shortly after we were both asleep and awoke a couple hours later to a military personnel telling us to get off the bus.  Dazedly,we gathered ourselves and realized that nobody else was on the bus.

As we stepped outside, we saw that everyone was gathering their luggage and putting it in a line.  We took our bags from under the bus and put them near the front.  At this point a dog was used to sniff the bags for contraband.  The guards took an extra look in our bags and checked our passports before we continued across (under) the Suez canal and towards the city of Suez.

It took a while to get through Suez, as it was quite busy at this time of night.  Even though it was midnight, the city was well alive (more so than when we passed through in the middle of the day on the way to Sinai).  We stopped at the bus station to pick up some more passengers, which filled up the bus.  There we used the restrooms, which had seen much better days.  In Egypt, most bus stations and other places charge 2 LE for the restroom.  This usually pays for an attendant to clean them (which is done at some places better than others).  Here, there was no charge, thus you can imagine what the restrooms may have looked like.

As we passed through Suez, we witnessed huge lines at the gas stations due to restrictions and shortages on gas.  This is one reason why many Egyptians are quite upset.  Leaving Suez, we made our way south on the side opposite of Sinai along the Red Sea.  This is where we both fell asleep again, to wake up the next day outside of Hurghada, a popular tourist resort town on the Red Sea.

After Hurghada, we made our way through the Red Sea mountains towards Luxor.  This is where the journey really slowed down.  The route through the mountains is windy and some parts of the road are not paved.  There is a lot of traffic as well.  We made a stop at a rest area here for a few minutes before heading to the town of Qena, which is on the Nile, north of Luxor.  We spent much time in Qena, as the bus had to be refueled.  Many passengers disembarked here and we made our way through the backstreets of the city, which was much larger than I expected it to be.  After about an hour here we were off to Luxor.

Along the Nile
It took another hour or so to get to Luxor.  Our bus left Dahab at 4:00 pm and arrived in Luxor at 11:00 am.   It was a journey of about 19 hours.

I will talk more about Luxor in a future post, but for now I will say that it was by far the hassle capital of Egypt.  Immediately, before even getting off the bus, a hotel tout got on the bus and tried to get us to go to a specific hotel.  We told him we already had a place booked and he tried to still get us to go to his.  We said no thanks and he helped us get a taxi upon exiting the bus.  We were probably overcharged for the ride, and I am sure the tout got some of it, but we were just happy to be in Luxor after such a long bus ride.  The bus let us off in the main city, even though the guide book states that the bus leaves you near the airport.  We paid 20 LE for the taxi, but it really should have been no more than 10 LE.  

We went to the Fontana hotel, which has air conditioning and full bathtubs, which is rare with budget hotels in Egypt.  We met the owner's son when we arrived and he told us about the city and about the hotel.  He said that he had just finished studying in Cairo but was sent home due to the revolution that was to happen on the 30th of June.  We told him that we would be in Cairo on this date.  We drank tea and then went to our room.  At first we were told it would be 95 LE, per night, for the room with the bath, but later he realized that he was mistaken and it was 75 LE.  Even with that said, on Hostelworld, the room is quoted at 60 LE with bathroom and 50 LE for a room with shared bath.  All rooms have A/C.  So, keep that in mind if you stay at the Fontana, in Luxor.

Later, after showering and resting for a while, we made our way back downstairs and were offered a tour of The Valley of the Kings, The Colossi of Memnon, the Temple of Hatsheput, and the Hebu Temple.  The price that we were quoted was 380 LE per person, which was quite high.  We told him that we were students with ISIC cards, and he said 280 would be the price.  We still thought this was high, and we told him we would think about it.   We discussed it, and eventually we said 200 LE would work.  We should have went lower, as the guide book states that the cost is between 140-200 LE for students.  Obviously we got it at the high end.  We asked him where some good food was and he pointed us to a Koshary restaurant a few blocks away.  We made our way to the restaurant and both got a bowl of Koshary for 10 LE total (one small and one medium).

Luxor alleyways
After getting Koshary, we went back to our room to rest and later on headed back out to see the Temple and Luxor market around sunset.  This is where we began to realize the hassle that Luxor entails.  Earlier I wrote about the Pyramids of Giza and the touts and camel guides that constantly harass tourists.  The entire downtown area of Luxor is like this, and possibly worse.

The Fontana hotel is in an area called Television street, which is where many of the local businesses and apartment buildings are located.  This area is pretty much hassle free, even though it is loaded with people.  It is when you get to the train station, where the road makes a junction towards the Luxor Temple and the tourist bazaar that the hassle begins.  We went to see if we could get a train ticket and were unable to for Friday, as the trains were all sold out.  In Luxor, there are only four trains a day heading towards Cairo that tourists can ride.  These trains have armed guards on them.  We were told the next train we could take would be on a Saturday.  We wanted to be in Cairo before the weekend, so we figured that we would maybe take a bus.  After leaving the train station, we made our way to Luxor temple.  

The Luxor train station
Upon getting close to the temple we were approached by a man that operated a caleche, which is a horse drawn carriage.  These men are as stubborn as the camel touts at Giza.  They will not take "no" for an answer.  Many will follow you and block your way from crossing the street for as long as possible.  There are dozens of these caleche operators near the Temple, and with few tourists, we were the target of pretty much every single one of them.

When one would eventually leave, another would take his place.  Sometimes two would be asking us at the same time.  One of the drivers was a young boy, perhaps 10 years of age.  We spent nearly 20 minutes with one man who wanted to take us to a Egyptian market that was around for "one day only."  As we spent more days in Luxor, we would realize that this market was around for "just one day" every day, just as we suspected.

Luxor Temple
When one says "no" to the caleche drivers, the operator will say "do you know how much?"  They then quote about 5-10 LE.  If you say "no" again, they continue to tell you how much it is or lower it a bit.  It is quite an annoyance, but one that the Luxor visitor must get used to.  If you walk along the Nile, you get approached by both the caleche driver and the felucca boatmen.  The felucca is an Egyptian sailboat that travels along the Nile.  Being harassed by everyone is quite annoying to be honest.

We eventually ate some dinner at a falafel stand and got some juice, which came out to be around 10-15 LE total for two sandwiches and two glasses of juice.  We then went into the Luxor bazaar, which was pretty empty of tourists.  That made us a huge target.  At first, we were not bothered too much, but upon reaching the end and turning back, many shop owners converged on us.  We will write a post about the market itself later, so I will leave it at that for now.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel, as it was getting late.  Overall, it was a very long and eventful day. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Egypt Budget Travel Blog - Changing Our Plans - Dahab to Luxor by Bus

It was a hard start to the day. Josh woke up early and was plagued with thoughts of everything that we have to do upon our arrival back home. The shower drains were all plugged up, so we couldn't shower. Then, when coming back to the room, he hit his head (for the hundredth time) on the very low doorway. From there we decided to go get breakfast at shells, where we have been for a while now because they have a special, but arrived too early. They were not yet open. We went back to our room for a bit and tried to soothe ourselves with thoughts of our return to the Blue Hole to snorkel later in the morning.

We were finally able to get breakfast, get our things and head out. It was another still day and we wondered if the cooling breeze would ever return to Dahab. We were excited to be going back to the Blue Hole and shortly after we arrived and got settled, we dove in and became a part of that dazzling underwater world. We found the great spot that we had found the first time and spent a bit of time there watching the fish and admiring the rainbow colored coral. We saw so many different kinds of fish. It was amazing! There were all different colors and patterns, shapes and sizes. This has to be the best place, by far, that we have ever snorkeled and I wish we could go back again and again!

The day was much improving. We had planned on just spending the day there since we had already decided that we would be spending a few more days in Dahab before heading over to Cairo on the 27th. We had wanted to go to Luxor, but it is further and we figured that it would be an expensive hassle. Especially with still not feeling very well.

One of the guys that worked at the restaurant area that we were hanging out in came up and was quite chatty. He was very surprised for some reason that we did not speak Hebrew. After talking for a bit he asked, “You are Jewish, right?” We laughed and said that perhaps we were, that our families come from all over and that it is a possibility. He said that we must be part Jewish because he could always tell. It's funny because, even though that is the first time that I have been asked, Josh has been asked a few times if he is Jewish. Who knows? What was funny was that they man kept saying that it was ok, like we would be offended to find out from a stranger that we were in fact Jewish. We talked about our trip and some other things. He asked us if we were planning on staying in Dahab for the 30th. We asked what the significance was of that date and he said, “Oh, it's going to be a big revolution on that day. You probably don't want to be in Cairo. They are going to shut down the tunnel that goes under the Suez Canal, so you will have to fly out of Sinai to get back.” We looked at each other. This was quite news to us. We had to change our plans then and there. We were very glad that he mentioned it to us because otherwise this all would have probably taken us quite by surprise. He checked with a friend who worked with the canal or something and came back to let us know that the plan was to close the tunnel on the night of the 27th. So much for our plans. We didn't want to be in Cairo for the rest of the week, since it is hot, loud, and makes our allergies go crazy, so we decided very quickly to make the trip to Luxor afterall.

We went out to snorkel one last time since we were having to cut our day short in order to get back and get our bus tickets. (We also ended up finally buying three bracelets from three different girls. They are quite pretty and were 5LE each.) Josh had also decided that he did want to take a camel ride afterall, so we enjoyed what time we could spare and then headed back in to town. We bought our tickets through the safari company that we have been going through for our outings while here and also booked a sunset camel ride to the lagoon. The man gave us a good deal and we were excited, and a little nervous for the upcoming ride. We had just enough time to return to our room, get ready, grab a snack and head back out.

We were met with a young man who was to lead us to the camels and be our guide for the two hour jaunt. The safari outfits here offer different camel safaris that can last up to a couple days, but we wanted to play it safe and keep our riding time to a minimum, knowing that we would have to pay for it later with sore backsides. This trip was about two hours, and was really quite long enough. Once camel was white and one was tan. The white one was bigger and looked like it could be a bit of a handful. It met us with quite a noise when we arrived. Josh decided to take that one, for my sake. Getting on the camels wasn't difficult as they lay down while you mount. However, staying on while the camel climbs back up is another story. With one hand I held on to the back ridge and with another I held on to the front horn of the saddle. We both made it and were on our way! The guide had the Josh's camel tied to mine by a rope and led mine by another rope.

The ride was a bit different than I had expected. We had to take the main road part of the way to the lagoon
and it was very interesting to be riding a camel with cars driving around us. The camels didn't really seem to mind, however, and we went on our way. After we got about two thirds through our trip we turned off onto a dirt road and that was much better. At that point the guide handed me the camels rope! I didn't really know what to expect. Luckly, the camels were old hats when it came to the route and did fine on it's own. I was literally just along for the ride.

I came to the realization that camels are very curious. They like to look all around and see what is going on. They also get distracted by what and who they see and have to be brought back around by the clicking noises of the guide. I've also concluded that camels are day dreamers. As they look around they seem to get lost in their own little worlds. They get kind of a lost day dreamer look in their eyes and slow down as they walk. Again, the guide's clicks and tap would bring them back down to Earth.

There were a few times when the camels thought that it would be a good idea to grab a snack on the run. There were a few trees that must have looks extra tasty, for nothing could deter them from making a little sidetrip to grab a mouthful. This really wasn't too much of a problem for me, but Josh ended up in the trees a few times since he is tall and so is his camel. As soon as I looked back and was assured that he was fine, I couldn't help but burst out in laughter. It really was the funniest thing to see.

We stayed at the lagoon for about fifteen minutes and then headed back. Our backsides were in fact already beginning to complain. We had already decided on having dinner at a Thai restaurant called “Blue House,” on the way back and so asked to be let off at the bridge instead of going all the way back to the safari office. The guide was fine with that and after giving him a tip, he wished us a good night, climbed up on the camel that I had been riding and off he went. We, meanwhile, limped across the road and made our way to get some dinner. Unfortunately, we found that the restaurant is closed on Mondays. We were disappointed as we had this dinner planned since the night before. One the walk back up we were stopped by someone at another of the restaurants on the corniche and offered a 30% with their card as well as a free starter. It looked like a nice place and the menu looked good, so we decided to eat there.

The restaurant was called “Green Garden,” and the set up was quite nice. We were given a table right on the water to watch the sunset over Saudi Arabia. The service was great and the food was good. There was only a couple problems. Firstly, the waiter misunderstood Josh's order and instead of bringing him oven potatoes, we was brought apple moussaka. It wouldn't have been a problem if the moussaka wasn't actually mostly onions. He said that it was ok, but I felt bad and so asked about it. The waiter was quick to make the correction, but we finally guessed that they did not actually have the potatoes that night since has brought was appeared to be a potato moussaka. He liked it quite a bit, but was getting full of the starter and the sides by then. Also, it was very had to eat because he had a demon cat tormenting him. This thing started out all nice and loving, but once the food was brought, kept climbing into his lap and securing itself by its claws to his legs whenever I tried to move it down. While there it kept trying to steal food from his plate and yowling at us. It was quite scary. I did my best to keep moving it, but mostly Josh had to get it to move by throwing his french fries under the table. That only kept it away for a minute however and he was back again. When Josh had enough of that as he could take and was quite full, we decided to save time and go up to the counter to pay our bill. Right as we left the table, that demon cat jumped up and started eating out of his dish. It was too funny, but still a bit annoying. When we went to pay the waiter begged us to stay and have some complimentary Bedouin tea, so we went ahead and accepted. Once the food was gone so was the cat and we were able to enjoy our tea as we watched the full moon rise huge and orange over the water. It was very beautiful and, after everything, a very nice end to a very full day.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Review of Sindbad Camp in Dahab, Egypt - Cheap Accommodation in the Bohemian Seaside City of Dahab


A short video that shows the grounds of Sindbad Camp:

Sindbad Camp is one of the most well regarded budget accommodations in Dahab, Egypt.  It is easy to see why.  First, it is very hard to beat Sindbad's location, which is right along the corniche of Dahab and a short walk to the central tourist area of Dahab.   Sindbad's prices are hard to beat as well.  The prices listed on the sign out front were discounted while we were there due to there not being many tourists in Egypt.

Sindbad Camp price list
There are a few different types of rooms at Sindbad.  There are a couple of rooms with bathrooms inside.  These are located across from the restaurant and are facing the water.  These rooms are more expensive than the other rooms, which share facilities.  There are quite a few rooms that face the sea, and some smaller rooms that do not face the sea.   The rooms themselves either have two twin beds or a double bed.  Most of the rooms have mosquito nets, a table, lamp (ours did not have a bulb).  Some rooms have some additional shelves.  You may want to take a look at a few of the rooms when you check in.  Some have a window and others have light that comes in through openings in the walls above.  Each room is painted differently and has its unique character.  Keep in mind that this is an old beach camp and is not supposed to be fancy.  If you come with that in mind, you may just find Sindbad Camp charming.

Sindbad camp is very laid back.  We were not bothered with offers for tours while staying.  There is a room with cushions and pillows for relaxing in.   There are also a pair of hammocks out in front of the sea view rooms.   Sindbad has bikes for rent as well for those who want to ride around and see what Dahab truly has to offer.  There is a small library area with books (mostly in German) as well as games (Chess and Dominoes).  There is also a minibar area with Coke and water for sale for 5 LE each.  A block away, however, you can get soda for 3 LE and water for less. 

In front of the sea view rooms.
The common area at Sindbad camp.
Sindbad Camp, Dahab, Egypt.
There is a small restaurant at Sindbad with prices that are cheaper than the prices at the waterfront restaurants in Dahab along the beach.  However, there are still better values to be found, especially if you wander off the main strip and visit the small Egyptian style restaurants that are around the city.  Portion sizes at Sindbad Camp are large and the food is comparable in quality to what you find along the waterfront. 

A typical room at Sindbad Camp
The only negatives are that Sindbad Camp is starting to show its age, but this hardly matters if you are looking for a cheap place to stay.  The rooms are no frills rooms.  There is neither a TV, air conditioner, nor is there room service.  However, there is wireless internet and hot water in the showers.  With that said, the showers can be iffy at times.  In the week and a half we spent at Sindbad, there were some pipe problems that caused minor flooding in the showers.  This was taken care of rather quickly.  In fact, we noticed that the cleaning service constantly is mopping and cleaning the restrooms and common areas and Sindbad is, overall, clean as a result.

Overall, Sindbad camp is a good deal and worth checking out if you are in Dahab.  As said on the website: "it is not the most luxurious place," nor does it try to be.  The prices are some of the lowest you will find in the area, and you will find that those who run the camp are friendly, honest, and helpful.   If you want a place to stay that is located right on the waterfront, is cheap, and is right in the middle of the action of Dahab, then you have come to the right place.

How to get to Sindbad Camp:  If you are arriving by bus, take a taxi from the bus station (this should cost you 5 to 10 LE.  You may have to haggle somewhat) to either the camp (if the driver knows where it is), or to the lighthouse, which is next to Sindbad Camp.  There are signs from here that will point you the way.

Looking out toward the sea

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Spending time in Dahab - What to do while in Dahab - Hippie Egypt - Egypt Budget Guide

The days here in Dahab have passed by quickly.  Sometimes I feel lazy here, not doing much with my time.  Perhaps that is why I have not posted too much since getting to Dahab.  But, we will soon be leaving, and with that, we are both very sad.

At first, I did not know what to think of Dahab.  It seemed more developed and commercial than other places we had been to.  Furthermore, there was more hassle going on here than in Siwa or St. Catherine's.  Walking down the waterfront one is bombarded with offers to enter a restaurant and/or shop in one of the stores.  In fact, we have found that prices in Dahab are higher than other areas of Egypt, and the prices for souvenirs is much higher than in Siwa.

But, perhaps the reality is that Dahab is not hurting as bad as other areas of Egypt are.  Tourism is very much present here, even if it is not as high as before the revolution.  Prices here are higher because the people who do come have money.  Many will not venture to the African part of Egypt.  Many visitors to Dahab, we have found, are repeat visitors.  They come back year after year, as flights to this area of the world are cheap from places in Europe.  How much is a flight to this part of the world from the United States?  $850 and up, especially if you are flying from the west coast.

Although I was not found of Dahab at first, the reality is that it has grown on me.  I do not want to leave.  I have found a liking for this dry stretch of beach, full of vendors and loud waiters who try to lure me into their establishments.  I will miss seeing the sun rising over the water every morning as I make my way to the shower.  I will miss looking up at the stars and at the moon every night, or having ice cream as we walk along the moonlit water.  I will miss seeing Saudi Arabia in the distance and hearing the sounds coming from the mosques throughout the day.

Dahab is unlike any other place I have been.  It is like a Bedouin Cancun.  It's a place where girls will stop at nothing until you buy their bracelets, and if you don't, you will be labeled a liar.  It is a place where the food is as diverse as the people.  A place where people who pretend to be hippies and hippies pretend to be people.  I like it like that though.

This may be our final night in Dahab.  We may head to Luxor.  Or we may stay here.  We are not sure yet.  We would love to have more time to decide, yet time is something that we are running out of.  The bus from Dahab to Luxor is 125 EGP we have been told.

On an unrelated note, my Puerto Rico blog hit 10,000 views.

Girls selling bracelets in Dahab

Bedouin "bracelet girls" on the back of a truck.

You will see them everywhere.  From the restaurant where you eat, to the sidewalks leading along the waterfront.  They are also at popular sites, such as the Blue Hole.  These girls sell their colorful bracelets to the tourists that oftentimes buy one.  Their tactics are sometimes questionable; sometimes they are beyond pushy.  And if you say no, they will make sure you "promise" to buy one later.

I was immediately curious as to what these girls are really peddling.  Are the bracelets really made by machine, or are they a front for something insidious?  Perhaps these girls are being forced to work by an all powerful merchant headmaster?  I did not know.  I have heard stories of children being forced to beg for money in some areas of the world, and immediately I felt uneasy at the idea of supporting child labor and possible slavery.

I looked around online, and found nothing that stated that these girls were anything but sellers of handmade bracelets.  Perhaps they are working for their parents, but I realize that one can not blame their parents.  The income level in Egypt is much lower than we are used to.  Survival for many is not as easy as many of us tourists are used to.  Therefore, I could come up with no reason to not support them, even if their sales tactics leave a bad taste in one's mouth.

Case in point, immediately after arriving in Dahab, I found my arm being quickly wrapped by a bracelet by a young girl.  I had yet to see these sales people and had no idea what was going on.  Beverly was able to unwrap me and we gave the the girl a "no thanks" and let her be on her way.

Later, a girl came up to us and asked us to buy.  We said "no thanks" and she kept saying "maybe later?"  We said "maybe" and she left.  A while back she came back and said "buy a bracelet" and we said, "not right now."  She was a little pushier than most, yet we were firm.  Eventually, as we made our way into a tourist agency building, she said what I thought was "later."  I said "yep" and Beverly told me that she didn't say later, but instead said "liar."  I guess I am a liar, even though I said "maybe later" not "I will buy from you later."

In all honesty, the girls add a little flavor to this part of Egypt, and they are fun to watch.  They will sneak into restaurants and try to sell to those who are eating.  Sometimes the waiters will try to chase them out.  Some of the waiters are nice than others about doing so.  Sadly, they these girls are seen as pests to many, but they are just trying to make a living.

Many people buy a bracelet and they usually charge 5 to 10 EGP for one.  The girls themselves usually travel in packs, and work from the morning hours to late in the evening.  They are hard workers, working more than many adults in the United States or Europe work.

For a little more information on this aspect of Dahab, please visit this site which talks about one of the bracelet selling girls.

The Red Sea's "Blue Hole"

The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole is a very popular diving and snorkeling site about 10-15 minutes by jeep north of Dahab.  We had actually originally read about the Blue Hole a year or two before planning our visit to Egypt, and we were intrigued by it.  There are a few so-called "Blue Holes" in the world, one of which is in Belize, and another is in Australia.  When we found out that we had the opportunity to see the one in Egypt in person, we knew it was not to be missed.

Many tour agencies have specials in Dahab where they will take you out to the Blue Hole for a day and let you snorkel for as long as you want before returning.  Sadly, we waited towards the end of our stay in Dahab to do this and really wish we would have done it sooner, as we would have went back a couple times.

Right now, the special is 25 EGP per person for a trip by jeep to the Blue Hole, with snorkeling gear included.  We were not sure what to expect as far as changing rooms or restrooms, but thought a couple of hours at the Blue Hole would be good.  So we purchased a trip from King Safari Dahab, the same agency that booked our trip to Israel with.

It was about 10 am when we left by Jeep from Dahab.  The driver picked us up and took us north, through the town where herds of goats walked the streets, and further north where the sea meets the desert.  We drove along the rocky shores and saw many camels sitting and others carrying tourists towards the popular diving areas that line the coast.  Before reaching the Blue Hole, there is a diving area called "The Canyons" where there are some canyons made out of coral.  Just a bit further is the Blue Hole, which is surrounded by many small restaurants and shops.  In fact, it is worth noting that the area around the Blue Hole is like a small village of its own.  I don't believe that anyone lives there, but there is a lot going on, and the restaurant areas provide a nice open air place to sit and relax while not in the water.

We were brought to a place called Sinbad's.  The person who was running the shop was very nice, and gave us an area in which we could sit on some pillows and mattresses, as is the custom here, and he set us up with some snorkeling equipment and fins.  He told us a little about the Blue Hole and said that there was another site up north he would show us, called "The Bells."  We set our things aside and got our gear and went out into the water.

A short video of the Blue Hole:

The water was somewhat cold, but it was comfortable enough.  The Blue Hole itself is quite large, but not huge.  It is very deep, however, and other than at the sides, you can not see the bottom.  The area was quite busy with people, but there was enough room to be alone.  After about half an hour of snorkeling, we got out.  Our masks were not fitting quite right, so we decided to get replacements, which were both much better.  We rested and ate some fries, and then went back into the water.  We expected the prices to be much higher, but they were comparable to places in Dahab.

Sinbad's Restaurant

When we got back into the water, Beverly showed me an area that is to the south east, towards where the Blue Hole meets the sea.  Here there were hundreds of small fish and a few larger ones.  The coral here is also very pretty with many types of plant life.  We spent a while looking at it and enjoying the scenery before we went back to the restaurant area to enjoy the view and rest for a while.  Overall, we spent about five hours at the Blue Hole and are considering going back one more time before leaving.  I would recommend everyone who visits and who is interested to go to the Blue Hole as soon as possible when they get to Dahab.  It is a very nice place to spend a day, and there is nothing as refreshing as the cool water when the heat gets unbearable.

Also, worth mentioning: The same girls who sell bracelets all over town make their way to the Blue Hole and will try to sell them there as well.  They get around by jumping on the backs of trucks and jeeps and making their way from place to place.  I will probably write a post about these girls in the future, as they are everywhere here.

Also, it should be noted that The Blue Hole is notorious as being one of the most dangerous diving sites in the world.  According to Wikipedia:

The Blue Hole is notorious for the number of diving fatalities which have occurred there, earning it the sobriquet "World's Most Dangerous Dive Site" and the nickname "Diver's Cemetery". The site is signposted by a sign that says "Blue hole: Easy entry". Accidents are frequently caused when divers attempt to find the tunnel through the reef (known as "The Arch") connecting the Blue Hole and open water at about 52 m depth. This is beyond the PADI maximum advanced recreational diving limit of 40 metres and the effect of nitrogen narcosis is significant at this depth. Divers who miss the tunnel sometimes continue descending, hoping to find the tunnel farther down and become increasingly narcosed.

How do you get to the Blue Hole From Dahab?

To reach Egypt's Blue Hole from Dahab, travel north from Dahab along the coast.  You will pass by a couple of hotels along the water before the road becomes gravel.  There is a checkpoint on the way, so, if traveling on your own, bring your passport. 

You can also reach the Blue Hole via tour from Dahab or Sharm el sheikh.  Many tour companies in Dahab are currently offering cheap excursions to the Blue Hole.  Some can be found as little as 25 LE.  These often include snorkeling gear.  Many allow you spend as much time as you like at the Blue Hole.

Are there bathrooms and changing rooms at the Blue Hole in Dahab?

Yes.  There are bathrooms at the far north of the restaurants at the end of the road right in front of the Blue Hole.  There are also showers here as well.  The cost to use the restrooms is 2 LE.

Is the Blue Hole in Dahab worth visiting?

The Blue Hole is a very popular dive site and is considered one of the best areas to snorkel in around Dahab.  Even if you do not snorkel or dive, you can swim around the Blue Hole.  The hole itself is very deep, and if you are snorkeling, you will not be able to see the bottom.  I recommend visiting the area, as the swimming here is far better than in downtown Dahab. 

Can you rent a life jacket or wet suit at the Blue Hole in Dahab?

Yes, restaurants that rent snorkeling gear, such as Sinbads, right in front of the Blue Hole, rent life jackets and wetsuits.

How warm is the water near Dahab and the Blue Hole?

The water is not as warm as tropical areas of the world, but in the summer, the water is pleasant (sometimes a bit on the cool side).  With that being said, it will be a lot cooler in the winter and spring and you may need a wetsuit to swim.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Israel / Palestine: Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and The Dead Sea.

It would take a night on the bus to get to Jerusalem from Dahab, but we decided that the opportunity to see the Holy Land was worth the cost. We left Dahab at 8:00 pm on June 17 and made our way to the junction that leads to Taba to the north and Sharm el Sheik to the south. There we would be joining with another bus to take us to the border at Taba.

We had heard that you have to walk a considerable distance over the 'no man's land' that exists between Taba and the Israeli border town of Eilat. However, there was not too much walking. What did take a great amount of time was passing through immigration, both exiting Egypt and entering Israel. Overall, this process took about two hours, which required us to stand in multiple lines and have multiple people checking our passports. Many questions were asked of us on the Israeli side, such as what we are going to Israel for, if it was our first time, profession, etc.

After passing through security, we got on another bus and headed towards Jerusalem. It was now around midnight and we were forced to sit at the back of the bus due to the bus being split up into two groups. At the front were the Russians, which comprised most of the group. The cost for the tour in Russian is $60, while the trip in English costed us $90 after a discount was given. The reason for the disparity in prices, we were told by two separate individuals, is that the Russians buy more souvenirs. We were told that we could take the tour with a Russian guide if we wanted, and we had thought about it and almost did it, but after thinking about the information on the sites, we figured that the extra money for the English guide was worth it. Looking back, it was.

It was hard to get a lot of sleep, and morning came early. We were passing along the Dead Sea when the sun was rising, and the sun peeking over the mountains in the distance was a nice sight. However, we continued to fall in and out of consciousness as we made our way to Jerusalem.

We finally reached Jerusalem around 6 am and our guide began to get some information on us, asking where we were from. Many of the English group, 21 in total, were from the EU. We were the only tourists in the group from the United States, and the guide said it was rare for him to have Americans in the group.

We entered the city, which is a city of hills, full of very old buildings and temples. It is a very beautiful city, much more beautiful than I had expected it to be. It is a lot greener than I expected it to be, especially since the surrounding area is still very dry desert. The guide began to tell us about each of the temples and churches which were below us, such as the Church of Mary and the Dome of the Rock. However, at this began, there were some problems. Both the Russian group and the English group's guides were using microphone headsets. The Russian's guide's headset was wired through the bus speakers, which connected to the back of the bus where we were sitting. The English guide's headset used a regular speaker. The Russian groups guide was not happy about the noise of the English guide's speaker, and the Russians seemed to want him to quiet it down. And, some of the English speakers were annoyed at the Russian guide's voice being projected throughout the entire bus. There was not much that could be done about it.

The English guide tried to keep his voice down after a while, but it was still annoying others it seemed. At one point it seemed that the Russian guide was trying to annoy him and he eventually didn't care what they thought.

At the beginning of the tour we drove to a viewpoint where the sun was rising over the city. It was very cool out at this point, and we were assured that it would be getting a lot hotter. After a few minutes here, we all got back on the bus and drove to Bethlehem. He talked a little about modern Israel and the 'war' with Palestine, and some of the history. There is a wall being constructed in Israel/Palestine and our guide talked about this quite a bit. Much of his talk was very political, and it seemed that he sided with the Palestinians. We stopped at a gift shop after driving around the city and got out to do some shopping and have tea.

This is where we really understood that the Russians tend to buy more than the other group of English speakers. Many people took baskets and loaded up with things. Beverly got a thimble for her collection and a couple postcards. Others either bought things or just looked around. It was nice to stretch. We left the gift shop after a while and went outside to rest and get a couple of pictures of the valley below. Then we got back on the bus and headed to the Church of the Nativity, which is also in Bethlehem. This is where Jesus was born.

The bus was parked in a parking garage, and we walked through some of the old city of Bethlehem before reaching the church. It is a very large church and there is a very small door that you must kneel down to go through. You can see where there were once larger arches at the church entrance.

The birthplace of Jesus.
Inside, the church is very ornate. It has been remodeled many times. The place where Jesus was born is below in a grotto. On this day, there was a mass going on, so we were not able to go down and see the manger where he was born, but we did get to look in. It was quite something to be there, at the spot where he was born. The church, obviously, had been built around the stables that once existed there, and the building itself is quite ornate and it is incredibly old.

There was another section that we did not get to see because of the mass. That is the area where the bones and remains of the babies killed by Herod are laid to rest underground. It would have been very interesting to see that, but perhaps if we return one day, we can see it then.

Next we went out to the old city of Bethlehem again and many people stopped for falafel and others bought some things at the markets there. Beverly purchased a couple shirts with an Arabic style pattern. They are quite pretty. Many of the shops accept multiple types of money, including US Dollars, Euros, and Egyptian Pounds. Many people were using US Dollars, which was interesting.

After this part, we headed to get an “early” lunch. It was only 8:30 am, so lunch was indeed early. We believe that this is probably the norm for the tour, however, because everything was ready and the set up was quite elaborate. The lunch itself was pretty good. There were many vegetarian options, with salads, breads, and much Israeli, Palestinian and Middle Eastern food.

We spent about half an hour for lunch before heading back to Jerusalem, which is very close to Bethlehem. When we arrived, our guide talked more about the wall that was being built and about the checkpoint that we had to pass through. Since we did not look Palestinian, we were able to pass through without being stopped. We went through a very long tunnel and then emerged back in Jerusalem.

The old city of Jerusalem
Palestinian / Israeli food
Here we would spend a few hours in the old city and spend a lot of time at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The old city is very interesting to walk through and is full of different stone walled pathways and shops. There are many areas that are numbered, called "Stations of the Cross," depicting spots where Jesus walked through when he carried the cross. The route is called Via Dolorosa.

We made our way to the Church and were taken to a very large building that is in a huge domed part of the church. This is where Jesus was said to be buried when he died and where he rose from the dead. There was a huge line gathered and it took about half an hour to get to go inside the small room where people would stop to pray. We were allowed about 15 seconds to see it before the next group went in. Inside there are two rooms, the second room is through a small opening and there is an alter-like area made where people kneel. After leaving, we walked through other areas of this massive church, which also houses the stone where Jesus' body was washed after he died and where the rock that was slid in front of his tomb is held. Overall, the church itself was very interesting, but I think that many of the artifacts, such as the rock in front of Jesus' tomb were made too ornate

The tomb of Jesus Christ.

After being in the tomb, we made our way though much of the old city. There were people selling juice, but much of what we saw in Jerusalem is much more expensive than Egypt, so we were careful with what we spent. We eventually reached the area where Jesus fell and touched an area of the wall to hold himself up. This part is very popular for people to touch, so we took some pictures and then continued on towards the Western Wall, which is also known as the Wailing Wall.

The Wailing Wall is the most sacred place for Jewish people in Israel. It is where the Temple of Solomon was destroyed twice. The temple has never been rebuilt a third time due to the proximity of other religious buildings, such as the Dome of the Rock, that exist on that site. At this particular time there was an important government member of another country on site and many news cameras were filming him as he went to pray at the wailing wall. The wall is divided into an area for men and an area for women. Here, people write their prayer down and stick it into the cracks of the wall.

I went to the wall to take some pictures and to stand near it. Many people were very somber as they prayed. This area was packed full of people as well. I noticed one note was open and it said “please help me and my son to get along better.” I thought it was a very touching prayer, especially in a day and age where I know many people who are not getting along and refuse to speak to each other.  It is interesting how children are so quick to forgive siblings but once we hit adults, we feel the need to prove our all-important sense of self-pride.  Of course, that is an issue for another blog, and not this one. We did not have much time at the wall, but we enjoyed what we did have. By this point in the day it was incredibly hot and standing out in the sun was brutal. After the wall we said goodbye to our tour guide who told us a little about the Dead Sea. We would be going there for about an hour (we were told an hour, but it was actually about fifteen minutes longer) to swim.

The Dead Sea is at the lowest point on the Earth's continents. The sea itself is comprised of an incredible percentage of salt which makes it near impossible to not float. When swimming in the Dead Sea, one must lay on their back and not swim on their chest, due to the salt getting in people's eyes, making their legs float and their faces to be downward, and causing many people to drown. It was very hot by the time we reached the Dead Sea and the water itself was very warm, almost hot. After swimming, we went back to the bus and headed back towards Egypt.

The bus ride back was very long and it was about 6:30 pm when we reached the Egyptian border. We crossed quicker than before. One of the passport control people was impressed that we were American. It is interesting that there are so few Americans here, and much fewer crossing into Israel. It was about 10 pm when we reached Dahab and our hotel, and we were exhausted. We had slept very little in the last 36 or so hours before we went. I tend to think that much of it is unneeded and may even distract from the significance of each piece.

The Dead Sea
Although Israel/Palestine is said to be somewhat dangerous (just how dangerous is left up to debate), we were glad to have seen it. The amount of history there is mind boggling, and the religious significance of the sites, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, is incredible. We wish we would have had the chance to see some more of the Muslim holy parts, such as going closer to the Dome of the Rock, but overall, we were very happy with the tour and were glad we took the chance to do it. It was something that we did not expect to do, and purchased on the spur of the moment. It was worth it.

Authors Note:  I do not take sides with this post, and understand that Israel and Palestine are both countries that claim this land.  I post merely as an observer.