Saturday, May 28, 2005


Bosra - Damascus - Palmyra - Hama - Apamea - Qala'at Marqab - Crac de Chevaliers - Beehive Houses - Qasr-ibn-Wardan - Rassafeh - Qal-aat-Jaabar - Euphrates River - Serjilla - Al Bara - Ruweiha - Jerada - Aleppo

Salaam alaykum!

"So, do you all go to school and learn kung fu?" (thinking I’m from Japan as all middle easterners do)

- Jordan food isn't exactly inspirational. Basically the only foods you can get is either a Falafel (mashed fried chickpeas) or schwarma (chicken or beef or "mystery meat" roasted rotating on large skewers) sandwich. Or you can try the Bedouin speciality of “Mensaf”. which is basically boiled sheep or goat meat pieces piled on top of a
huge platter of rice. A hot yogurt soup is poured steaming hot on top of all this, and sprinkled with nuts and herbs. Guests of honour usually get the whole goats head, especially the eyes or tongue!

- Got a pack of playing cards featuring the 52 most wanted Iraqis that that US were handing out to soldiers (the one with Saddam as the ace of spades). Also picked up some cool Iraqi money with Saddam on it!


Caught a bus from Irbid to the Jordan border town of Ramtha, where the friendly bus driver took me by the arm and led me to the service taxi office (which you catch to go through the border into Syria). Here I was treated to free tea and coffee while I waited for 3 other people to fill the taxi with before we could leave (it took 2 hours).
Finally, we took off to the border, where we had to pay departure tax. Then I was in duty-free land....

No turning back now. If I get rejected at the Syrian side then I have to re-enter Jordan again with a new visa, and then work out how to get to Israel from there. The official law is that if your country does not have a Syrian embassy, you can get your visa at the border. Australia DOES have one, but there have been reports of Aussies
getting in anyway, and all the locals told me it would be ok.

So, took a deep breath, and walked into the Arrivals/Visa office.

I tried every trick in the book. I smiled, tried to speak in Arabic, and mentioned my family was from Vietnam*. It worked. After a quick word to the superior officer, they asked me to get 30US worth of Syrian pounds from the exchange office on the Syrian side for the visa. In other words, they let me into Syria WITHOUT a visa, to get
money, then come back to pay for the visa and re-enter with it.

So, after filling in a short form (which I didn't even need to complete - which is a far contrast from other people who get asked for all sorts of details, permission letters etc), I got my visa and I was in! Hurrah!

*Telling people I’m Vietnamese instead of Australian elicits a more welcoming response and more favours, particularly overlooking the fact that I’m not a student when I present them my youth card. This is because Vietnam defeated the Americans in the Vietnam war which they are happy to hear about.


Forget Axis of Evil, the threat of Terrorists and a nation of people wanting to destroy America - Syria is nothing like the way it is depicted in our often biased media. In fact, Syria is one of the most friendliest and hospitable places in the middle east if not the world. These people welcome you with open arms and bend over backwards to make your stay a pleasant one. Yep, Syria is definitely on my list of favourite countries along with Portugal and Morocco.

One thing I noticed in Syria - these people are fanatical on adding lights and all sorts of adornments on their cars. It is very common to see taxis driving past with neon flashing lights all over it. Also, trucks reversing (as with Jordan) do not make the standard beeping noise. No, they play this musical tune which is the same everywhere that really gets into your head and is really annoying after awhile, but you can't help and laugh at the same time when you
witness a macho guy in a big truck reversing to this happy cheerful tune!

Not Basra as in Iraq - Bosra, which is almost a black basalt version of the pink pale limestone roman ruins of Jeresh. What also made Bosra striking was the huge complete amphitheatre, modified into a fortress with huge walls enclosing it and citadels - one which used to contain a hostel but is now unfortunately closed.

I was lucky to get here from the border as I had no other Syrian money to pay for the bus to Bosra, but one friendly guy I met on the street offered to exchange a Jordan Dinar for 75 Syrian pounds (which is the correct exchange I found later on, so he didn't even try to rip me off). What a great group of people.

I then caught a luxury bus to Damascus. Luxury buses are quite cheap despite the name, and they serve free ice cold water and sweets as well!

Damascus is awesome! With a stunning labyrinth of covered souks snaking around the Great mosque with it's amazing nature influenced mosaics, the cheap greasy schwarmas and felafel stands amongst delicious ice drinks, ice creams and pastries (no one makes desserts as good as the Arabs), and a general chilled out environment, Damascus is definitely one of my favourite cities. Met up with Richard, an American who I have ended up travelling through Syria with. We explored Damascus and chilled out with a group of locals checking out the beautiful girls walking past their antiquities shop.

Palmyra is a spectacular ruined city in a desert, featuring a huge temple dedicated to Baal, a series of colonnades, a well preserved amphitheatre, a scattering of pyramid shaped funerary tombs and a stunning Arab castle perched high up on a steep hill overlooking the ruins, which was a great place to witness the sunset. Palmyra is a great place to get good quality dates, and also dodgy fake student cards (which Richard bought as Student cards get 90% off entrance fees!)

We caught a dodgy local bus to Hama, which is a chilled out little town famous for its gigantic wooden water wheels on the river, very picturesque though they make a sound similar to a cross between a lawn mower and a vacuum cleaner. Hama was where we stayed while we negotiated 3 days of tours for $62US each! Not a bad price to see half of Syria....

Day 1 tour was with a driver driving us around in a '74 Mercedes. He took us to Apamea, which is one of the dead cities in Syria. A dead city is one which was suddenly abandoned and left to ruin after a earthquake or unknown circumstances. A great place to pretend to be Indiana Jones and climb over the ruins. Amongst the ruins you would
find Bedouins who have modified some of the ruins into homes for themselves and their goats. Apamea is quite a stunning dead city in a picturesque location amongst red poppy flowers and wheat fields with mountains in the background.

A drive through these mountains took us to Qala'at Margab, which is a small castle on a hill with overgrown vegetation crawling over it's ruins. More driving through the mountains which the driver pointed out stuff
to us in Arabic, to which with our limited knowledge could only reply "Khamila" (beautiful), "hellowa" (pretty), "kwayis" (good), and "muntaz" (excellent). Which is pretty much how I’d describe Syria.

We ended up at Crac des Chevaliers, the most complete and spectacular medieval castle I have been to. This place is huge, and all the vaulted passageways, dark tunnels, towers and battlements that you would imagine in a castle. It even had a secret tunnel which we sneaked into when no one was looking. It was fun exploring this castle perched high up on a hill overlooking the town below and the green valleys and mountains with fig and apple trees growing on them.

Day 2 tour was with a driver driving us around in a 51' Pontiac. He took us into the desert, starting off with the famous beehive houses. These houses are cone shaped mud brick houses which look like beehives and are inhabited by Bedouins. Next was to Qasr-ibn-Wardan, which was a striped Byzantine castle of basalt and brick in the middle of a plain. The ruins taking a rather desolate beautiful surrealistic Dali-like appearance.

Then to Rassafeh, a stunning dead city in that it is really in the middle of nowhere in the desert, consisting of a wall surrounding what is now mounds of dirt hiding collapsed ruins, in the centre a ruined church and palace the only thing standing in the desolate landscape. Very picturesque indeed.

Finally, we made it to the Euphrates river, which is what I’ve always wanted to see since it is the beginning of Mesopotamia, i.e cradle of civilisation. We visited Qal-at-Jaabar which is a citadel overlooking the turquoise coloured Euphrates. A class of school kids on camp found me more interesting than the citadel themselves, swamping me and getting me to pose in photos with them. Clearly they've never seen an Asian before or something - I felt like such a celebrity!

Afterwards, we swam in the cool crystal clear waters of the Euphrates, which was what we needed after a long day in the desert.

Day 3 tour was in an ordinary taxi. Oh well, can't have it all.
Anyway, we spent the day touring other dead cities. First was Serjilla, which was an eerie grey ghost town, very cool. Then we saw the pyramid tombs of Al bara. Ruweiha was next, set in a lunar like landscape. And finally Jerada, a red Byzantine city overgrown with thistles.

We ended up being dropped off in Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, which is where I am now...

I'm gonna hang out a few days here, then head along the coast back to Damascus, into Jordan, and then go into Israel. After that I fly to Turkey...
Stay tuned..

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Wadi Rum – Petra – Karak – Amman – Madaba - Mt Nebo – Jeresh - Irbid

Hi all,


-Egypt has some good beer - Not surprising since they invented the stuff!. Their beers are Stella (not Stella Artois), and Sakkara.

-Egyptians like to offer you presents, then ask for money in return. It's a dishonest way of trying to sell you something. In fact I got fed up with the dishonesty of Egyptians who try to rip you off and charge outrageous prices. Heres a difference - When a Jordanian tells you an outrageous price, he is always joking - When an Egyptian tells you an outrageous price, they actually mean it!

-Although I never witnessed a belly dance, I did get to see a Sufi dance in Cairo, which consists of a person (usually a women) brightly dressed, with layers of coloured stiff cloth disks (usually 3 tied to their waist like a skirt. They would spin around in a circle non stop for almost an hour, leaving a whirl of colours to the sound of musicians playing their instruments. At certain periods in the dance, the Sufi dancer would loosen the topmost disk and spin it up over their body over their head, adding to the effect, before discarding it. The dance ends when all disks are removed. It is definitely something one must go see.


To get to Jordan from Egypt, I had to catch the slow ferry across the red sea from Nuweiba to Aqaba. On the way I talked to an Iraqi from Tikrit on holiday, who told me that with the war in Iraq, things are good and things are bad, but at least things are better than before. I suppose even though the reasons for going to war were suspicious and illegal, luckily for the US the result has come out in the positive. But does the end justify the means?

Anyway, getting a visa into Jordan was a bit odd. On the ferry we had to fill in a green form and hand it in with our card to the visa desk. The officer would then rip your card in two pieces and hand you one half back, telling you to pick up your passport at Aqaba port once we arrive.

Having an Australian passport is useful because while other nationalities got crosschecked and baggage searched, all I got was a smile, a "welcome to Jordan" and an automatic wave though!

So, having arrived in Aqaba (to which stands the largest flag I have ever seen, must be at least 20m wide on a flag pole the width of a small office building - probably just to make their point clear that this is Jordan?), I went to Wadi Rum.


Wadi Rum is a national park, a wilderness of desert sands with huge jebels AKA rock pillars and formations shaped by the sands, wind and water (when it was under water a billion so years ago), creating fantastic rock formations with ripples, bridges and mushroom shapes - narrow at the base and wide a the top. The colours of the sands and rocks would change colour throughout the day, turning from blue to yellow in the morning, to a soft orange to red at sunset.

It was unfortunate that during my visit I had come down with a nasty stomach bug called Giardiasis. It was also unfortunate that it had reached it's worst when I was 7km away from camp after walking down to check out a beautiful canyon. Luckily there was a Bedouin tent nearby. I quickly made my way up to the tent to find a couple Bedouins, and asked them if they could take me by their jeep to the medical center nearby.

I was taken to the medical center, which was shut as the doctor had decided to go for a walk. So after a bit of driving around the streets we finally found him sitting in a shop talking with the owner.

The doctor was a gentle old man, with a deep slow voice and looked like Count Dooku from Star Wars Attack of the Clones (forgive my movie reference). After administering me a can of 7UP (good for the stomach he said), we drove down together to the medical center where he gave me an injection (for my fever), rehydration tablets and a prescription.

The driver of the Jeep, who was a local Bedouin called Eid, offered that I stay with him and his family for a few days to recover after seeing the doctor. I gratefully accepted.

The Jordan government provides free education and housing for the Bedouins, though not all accept it, preferring their old ways. Some however, such as Eid, amalgamate both. Eid has a house but with a large Bedouin tent of goat hair and plastic lining for reinforcement in the front yard. Here the family congregate around a campfire talking and relaxing - they use the houses mainly to sleep and store equipment. Upon arrival I was directed to the left inside the entrance - this area being the traditional guest area, where I had luckily read up on and knew that I could not venture into the other family or womens areas of the tent. Not that I had plans to, as I was quite happy to stay in bed recovering, while the family (30 in all) went about their normal life around me, tending the goats, going to school, talking and watching cable TV. I enjoyed my stay there talking to the kids, teaching each other English and arabic and showing them origami. My prescription (and money) I had given to a minibus driver to pick up for me in Aqaba, which I received later that day. It's such a nice contrast being among friendly hospitable people after the hassling in Egypt! The only annoying thing was sleeping outside where mosquitos would swam like war planes above me, seeking out and dive bombing into exposed areas of my body when I was asleep.

I was soon strong enough to leave. So I sadly farewelled my Bedouin family and left for Petra...


Petra is an amazing place. A whole city carved into the valley walls of pink, purple, black, white and yellow stone, with heaps of amazing views and walking trails around the valleys and mountains. Entering via a long narrow canyon, you emerge into the famous Treasury - a temple with it's pillars, pediments, ornaments all carved from the pink cliff face. People might recognise it as the Temple of the Holy Grail from the movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". Continuing along, huge royal tombs follow into the valley, also carved into the cliff faces, as well as houses and shops, all leading up a mountain to the monastery at the top (which is also carved in the rock) amongst spectacular views. As the day goes on the sun continually changes the colour and the effect of the stone city, which makes it look different every time you walk past the same place.

It was amusing having good humoured vendors walking by you pointing to their donkeys (or camels or horses) and yelling out "taxi?"

Stayed at a hotel called Cleo..(sigh)..PETRA (yeah I know such a tacky name), with a Swedish guy called Jacob who I’m travelling through Jordan with. Nice guy but I’m feeling a little uncomfortable about it because I’m not used to travelling with someone else and compromising all the time. But it does make things cheaper, since we both pay less for a double room than a single each, and can also share costs of taxis etc...


Next stop was Karak, which was a bit of an adventure to get to. We caught a service taxi to a town near Karak (as public transport is minimal in Jordan), where we were told we could catch a bus the rest of the way to our destination. Where we were dropped off was actually in the middle of the desert along the highway near a turnoff to Karak. We were told to hail any bus (or in fact any vehicle) that came that way which would offer to drive us to Karak. In other words we found ourselves unexpectedly hitching. We finally found a van that would transport us (and two police officers who were also hitching) and we made it to Karak.

Karak is a crusader desert castle nestled 900m above sea level. It boasts spectacular views, and also contains many dark rooms and tunnels, mostly underground, which you can explore with a flashlight. It became more interesting when a sandstorm covered the sky with a yellow haze which blocked the sun and bathed everything in an yellow hue, which made everything eerie and quiet, and changed any ordinary and mundane thing like the falling of leaves into a mysterious and alien experience.


The problem with buses in Jordan is that there is no fixed time for buses to leave and arrive. They will leave once the bus is completely full. Because we did not know this beforehand, we ended up waiting on the bus for 2 hours before it finally left the bus station at Karak to get to Amman (which only took 1 hour)!

Anyway, Amman is the capital of Jordan, a spread out heaving mass of dusty concrete blocks upon 7 hills. There are actually two sides to Amman: The central downtown poorer conservative Islamic areas, and the more affluent modern liberal areas where a plethora of chic European bars, cafes, clubs abound; where girls don't wear the traditional head coverings and veils.

Amman (and in fact most cities in Jordan) have pictures of their royal family members plastered all over the city walls and hanging in peoples homes and cafes. it seems the people of Jordan are proud of their royal family. Could you imagine people in England hanging pictures of Charles and Camilla* in their homes?

*Interesting thought: the sound of the name "Camilla" sounds like the arabic word for "beautiful"!!


Did a day trip to Madaba, which has some pretty spectacular mosaics, the most famous being a map of the whole holy land, spread out on the floor of one of the churches.

Also went to Mt Nebo, which is the mountain that Moses is said to have looked over at the promised land (Israel), and also died on (though no grave exists). The views from Mt Nebo of Israel is stunning as you can see the whole Jordan valley, dead sea and beyond into the lands of Israel. Moses must have been impressed.

Jeresh is a remarkable place. an astonishingly well preserved photogenic roman ruin, with a colonnade of columns scattered all over the place, many still standing, to enclose a large forum in the shape of an oval; huge temples dedicated to various gods still imposing themselves over the town; and the best persevered amphitheatre I’ve ever seen...

I'm currently staying in Irbid, which is Jordan’s second largest city and a heaving university town. This town is near the border crossings to both Syria and Israel. What I hope to do tomorrow is cross into the border of Syria, applying for my visa there. Although I have no recommendation letter or prearranged visas, I've been told my chances are dependant on the moods of the border guards, who might be nice enough to let me in anyway.
But, failing that, I will simply go into Israel instead. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow...

Monday, May 9, 2005


Cairo - Giza - Sakkara - Memphis - Aswan - Abu Simbel - Kom Ombo - Edfu - Luxor - Karnak - Valley of the Kings/Queens - Dahab - Mt Sinai

Salaama! Kef Halak? Fursa Sai'da! (Arabic for hello, how are you, pleased to meet you)

Sorry if this email sounds stilted and disjointed - I’m trying to cram as much as I can in as short an email in as short a time as possible!

My arrival in Cairo at 2am in the morning did not go as smoothly as one hoped (but whenever I enter a new country I always initially seem to have bad luck). The taxi driver mistakenly took me to the wrong street in the north of the city, and I mistakenly thought I was in the right place till I found myself in a dark alley. Eventually I worked out my way to the right hostel, (Dahab Hotel), which is up 7 flights of stairs, or a antiquated creaky elevator of scraps of metal and wires that looked like it's about to fall apart (the security guard had to hold part of the electronics together to get it moving!). In fact it did break down a couple of times during my stay there (thankfully with no one in it)

Cairo is quite a large city, with a Islamic quarter to the right containing a famous souk (but nothing compares to the souks in morocco), some extraordinary Islamic mosques (one I went in resembled something like a Persian palace with the huge marbled courtyard, minarets and domes), the Coptic Catholic quarter with beautiful churches - the first time I’ve seen a church with Islamic designs, built before the Islam religion existed (Coptic, which predates Islam and existing predominantly in Egypt, is an older version of Christian Orthodox, and different in that it believes Jesus was completely divine with no human element whatsoever). Cairo is also full of crazy traffic where there are always near death experiences and near accidents (some encountered by me personally), but surprisingly I haven't actually seen an accident...

Went to the Egyptian museum which contains pretty much most of the relics, mummies and stuff that were found in the tombs and pyramids. Saw the famed mask of Tutankamen, a stunning death mask of gold, as well as his 5 gold sarcophaguses (one inside the other) and 5 gold containers (one inside the other, the smallest containing the sarcophaguses. Obviously the dude was paranoid about being robbed or something I guess ) Also saw heaps of cool things like huge statues of Gods and Pharaohs, mini pyramids, alabaster jars where they keep the pharaoh's innards, and mummified animals such as crocodiles!

(Of course, there is still the terrorist threat lurking in the shadows. There is lots of police around, places south of Luxor you need a police escort to go anywhere. In fact two days after I went to the museum I heard that there was a terrorist attack at the museum resulting in two tourists getting shot.)

Shared a taxi for a day with some Israeli friends at the hostel to see the Pyramids and other places. There are quite alot of Israelis at the hostel, all of them unusually nice (I’ve been told Israelis are horrible people), and all pretending to be from somewhere else because they fear reprisal by the Arabs. One of them pretended to be South African, but was surprised when the hustler started talking to him in Afrikaans! It's amazing the languages they learn to speak to tourists...

Anyway, having been slightly disappointed in the size of other monuments (Piza, Stonehenge, Colosseum), I was bracing myself for being disappointed with the Pyramids. But, seeing them emerge from the distance overlooking the town I felt a sense of awe. The Pyramids were as alien, dramatic and surreal as I was hoping them to be. I went into the Great Pyramid of Khufu, which involved going up a narrow tunnel sloping upwards into the Kings chamber.

I had always wanted to go into the Kings Chamber since I was little, so I was overwhelmed with a great sense of awe and achievement knowing that I was finally there! It seemed the Pyramids knew it - as I was lucky to have the whole chamber to myself for a minute, to contemplate it's simplistic beauty, before it was overrun by the constant French and Spanish tourists (grr, but the gals are stunning ) and their chatter which echoed off the walls.

Anyway, the Kings Chamber is just a simple rectangular chamber of black walls of massive stone blocks - it's incredible to comprend how they got it up there, and on top of that, the joints are so straight and perfectly connected, it's no wonder people have alien conspiracy theories... In the end of the chamber is the huge black sarcophagus of the king, but of course the mummy and all the treasures have been stolen or put in a museum.

Next we went to Saqqara, where the oldest stone monument in existence stands - the step pyramid of Zoser. It's amazing how all these pyramids (for there are probably hundreds scattered about) are still standing after 5000 years! And it's amazing to be standing in front of it also!

Memphis is the original capital of Egypt, though there is nothing to see there apart from the open museum of statues and other monuments...

Went to Aswan via overnight train on a second class seat (the recommended first class was booked out). It wasn't that bad as people say it is though, it's actually quite clean and comfortable. The local people were nice enough also, I tried to learn some arabic from them. Kwayyis!

Aswan is a small town south of Egypt with picturesque feluccas (a type of boat with curved sail used on the Nile) sailing around the islands in the middle of the Nile, and young Nubian dark skinned boys paddling in tiny boats singing out loud in their beautiful voices. In the islands are the Nubian villages, the original inhabitants of Aswan and south. The villages are all mud bricked houses and walls, where kids and black goats roam free, old women smile at you from their houses, and I met the village elder, a very educated guy, where we had a good chat about life and history. The Nubians claim to be the real cradle of civilisation, inventing astronomy and chemistry, before moving up into Egypt and the middle east to Mesopotamia, currently Iraq. The Nubians are simple happy relaxed poor people on a quiet island surrounded by the dust, hustle and bustle of modern touristique Aswan.

Went on a convoy of minibuses escorted by police to Abu Simbel, a great temple south near the border of Sudan. The temples are impressive, great statues and hieroglyphics, many retaining their original colours. What makes the temple more amazing was that it was recently cut up, moved and rebuilt 20m up the valley from it's original location, because the original location is now filled with water from the Aswan Dam.

Also went to Phillae temple, which was also moved, onto an island in the middle of the dam, a picturesque island reminiscent of a Mediterranean island.

Saw the high dam itself, the source of electricity and all the trouble of moving temples and covering original Nubian settlements, but despite it's worldwide fame as a technological masterpiece, it's not very impressive.

Went on a Felucca trip up the Nile from Aswan to Kom Ombo with some friends which involved a day of floating, relaxing, swimming in the Nile, eating, and then sleeping on the boat under the stars. Quite a fantastic experience!

Kom Ombo is a temple dedicated to the local crocodile and falcon gods. Next, I stopped at Edfu is a grandeur temple dedicated to Osiris, with heavily Greek influenced architecture. Apart from that it's just temples, and I was pretty much templed out by this stage...

Arrived in Luxor, aka touristville. Visited the spectacular Karnak Temple. Actually 3 temples in the one location, with an avenue of sphinxes, a massive ruined hall with nearly 100 columns towering in the sky, definitely a temple above the others. But I preferred the smaller Luxor temple, with a nicer preserved avenue of sphinxes leading to the temple entrance. Visiting it at night when it's illuminated is extremely beautiful. Though when I was there the power suddenly cut out and I was left standing in front of a eerily bathed moonlit temple with the wind howling in the sand and trees, which added to the feeling of desolation and wonder, knowing how these temples have withstood the test of time and still remain standing after everything around it has turned to dust..

Ventured into the Valley of the Kings, a valley of dust and sand and tombs amongst mountains, where I saw the well preserved tombs of Rameses IV, I and IX, the colourful paint on the tombs which shows how the carvings and hieroglyphics are supposed to look like, not like the sand coloured plain ones we're used to seeing. Same with the Valley of the Queens, though I was very disappointed to learn that Queen Nefertiri's tomb - the best preserved and most famous tomb in the valley after Tutankamen (which is actually quite ordinary) was closed permanently! This was the prime reason for me visiting the valley in the first place. But never mind. Also saw the massive Temple of Hatshepsut carved into the mountain face, Hatshepsut being is the only pharaoh that was a woman (go girl power - though she dressed up as a man by wearing a beard).

From Luxor I went by overnight bus to Dahab, which was 15 hours of gruelling being woken up every hour so they can check our tickets or our passports at the frequent police checks.

Dahab. What a chilled out place. Dahab is a coastal town on the Red Sea in the Sinai Peninsula famous for its snorkelling and lounging about. If you want a place where you can sleep, eat, chill out on the beach all day or swim or snorkel or dive in the nearby coral reefs all for under 5 pounds a day, this is the place to be (Cheryl, forget the Bahamas - come here instead! ).

Went to Mt Sinai with a couple of people at midnight, to climb the popular strenuous walk up the mountain to the top to watch the sunrise. It is bitterly cold up there (0 temperatures plus wind chill), and I did not enjoy myself as I had just come down with a bit of a fever that night. Bad timing indeed. Still, I resolved to see it, so, feeling cold, weak and tired, I finally reached the top (2580m). The sunrise? It was nice, though the bitter cold, me being ill, and the crowds of people coming to see it sort of ruined the effect for me. The walk back down the 3000+ steps wasn't pleasant either in my condition. But these steps of penitence were built by one monk, so if he can build it with his limited resources, then I have no right to complain walking down them!

We quickly visited St Catherine’s monastery, which contains the burning bush that Moses talked to God from. Though there is no burning bush there but an old tree surrounded by a brick wall, on a site claimed to be where the burning bush was found. Hmmm. Must have burnt down I suppose.

Tried snorkelling for the first time. The first time was disastrous, because it was early morning, cold, windy, and heaps of jellyfish abound! But the second time was amazing, in a better location with the sun high up, I snorkelled past beautiful coloured reefs with beautiful coloured fish swimming about. Also some larger fish deep down and in the distance.

I thought I’d try to learn to dive as it is very cheap here compared to other places in the world to do so ($30US for introductory session). I was given a good brief on the equipment, the safety stuff etc, then put on the suit and practised in the water before venturing to the reef and below. But I found that having no experience at diving, I couldn't get used to breathing through the mouthpiece and being under so much water that I started to panic. So, disappointly, I decided to give it up and go back to shore.
It wasn't a complete failure though. I learnt heaps about diving, and I definitely want to try it again. And, even though I didn't succeed at it, I’m happy to know that at least I tried, which is better than not doing it at all and regretting it.

Some thoughts on Egypt:

- Egypt is very cheap! You can easily live on less than 5 British pounds a day! In fact you never see any coins because the currency is so poor (but they do exist somewhere)

- Oil is cheaper than water! (1 litre of each would cost about 7-10 British pence)

- Kushary is an Egyptian staple of rice, noodles, beans and onions mixed together, with tomato and chill sauce on top. It's very cheap (20 British pence), quite filling and delicious, and less likely to make you sick. Basically I lived off the stuff.

- Hustlers and touts can be quite aggressive and unpleasant here. There is a lot of lying and broken promises with what is offered and you actually receive, and more than once I’ve made the point of complaining quite vocally! And then they expect a tip! People here are also less hospitable than their neighbours. However, I was told by a local who thought the same way that sadly enough, Egypt never used to be like this. 20 years ago it used to be quite pleasant, friendly, like the other Arab nations. But tourism and money has changed the people to what they are like today. I sincerely hope that, as tourism increases in the ever developing Arab nations. that it will not go the same way.

There's more I can say about Egypt, but I’m out of time, and you're probably asleep reading this by now.
So, tomorrow I head of to Jordan, and I’m considering going into Israel instead of flying directly to Turkey...shall keep you posted...