Yes, we got home last night, after 36 hours of transit time... airports and flights and more airports. Iain and I both had our longest flight ever from Reunion to Paris: 11.4 hours! (just slightly longer than the direct flight from Hawaii to Toronto).. strange to think of the world measuring in flight times. But there it is.
There will be more photos posted in the next few days, since I'm now home and have access to my great computer.. so the downloads will begin! Keep your eyes on this page for changes!... I may post more photos into each section too, so scrolling down might be worth the effort! :)
Well, we've been island hopping for a few days now, and there are interesting similarities and differences between them. Reunion was lovely. A mixture of Swiss alpine meadows, Bolivian highland volcanic landscapes, and Newfoundland scrubb trees, as well as a forest of tall ferns taken right out of Jurassic Park! The island belongs to France, is a member of the EEC, and is very modern and well-kept.
Mauritius is just 1 night's sail or 1 hour flight away, but very different. Mauritius is 54% hindu, -with a strong Indian influence. We visited a Hindu festival (Christmas day!) and a tamil group were having a street festival/parade as we drove by. The culture is so completely different from Reunion, which is owned by France and so close you can see Mauritius from the top of the volcanoes Reunion.
Iain and I both thought we could live in Reunion. It felt quite comfortable, both in climate and culture.
Both these islands are much cooler than Madagascar, although in similar latitudes. Madagascar was flat, at the North end where we were, and scorching hot. It was also poor like Africa. The children were selling shells and cloth along the sandy roads, as well as charging to let you photograph a chameleon.
(photos to follow when I get them downloaded.. computer is overloaded with images at present!)
Another amazing stop on our trip... 2 days in Madagascar, one in Nosey Be, (Meaning Big Island), and the 2nd in Diego Suarez, a town at the north end of Madagascar itself. In Nosey Be, we visited a Ylang Ylang forest and flower production centre, as well as a botanical gardens. Wonder of wonders, we got to hold chameleons and lemurs and boa constrictors!
Today, we visited Diego Suarez and got a private taxi to see Baobab trees and a drive through the countryside. Madagascar feels very much like Africa, although we've never been to Africa. It's as hot as we can stand, and Iain didn't even want to swim at the beach since the heat is so intense!
Well, we've had a lovely 3-day visit to the Seychelles islands. There are 115 islands in total, but we only visited one. It was as lovely as expected, although very hot.. and it's still only their spring. It's about 35 degrees, and will get up to a possible 60 or 65 by March!
The beaches were pristine white, the turquoise water bathtub warm, and the jungle vegetation really interesting. We tasted cinnamon straight from the tree, and lemon grass plants, made into tea. The jungle is everywhere, and we drove through it as our guide pointed out trees like 'ylang ylang' and cinnamon, and rubber and avocado and lime, mango and breadfruit, and other exotic things. The palm varieties were just as exotic, -coconut and wild pineapple, cocoa de mer, and cocoa (chocolate), as well as tea.
Highlights of the 3 days were feeding and bonding with the giant land tortoises, -they live to be over 300 years old- and they loved having their necks stroked, so we stayed with them for hours. Then yesterday I was alone in the jungle above the botanical gardens, and saw one of the huge fruit bats (They live by day and night), and it was just gorging itself on a giant ugly fruit. (I think).. so I got some great shots as well as some videos of both favourite events!
We're back at sea now, en route to Madagascar. By the looks of the images we've seen, it's a very poor island, and will be a step down from the nice village on the Seychelles.
Salalah was a peaceful city on the coast of Oman. We were only there for the day, but we saw a few mosques, temples, the sultan's palace (one of 8), and the Frankincense museum, as well as an archaeological site still being dug..(I insisted that they include this for Iain -it was extra usually- since he's on this trip to get archaeological experiences, if nothing else!.. we got our wish.. they took us around in the golf cart to see all the ruins being worked on! (Photos of that are on the other card.. will download tomorrow)..
We had a lovely time at the market in the afternoon.. no heavy sales pressure like Egypt met us with.. We bought frankincense and hats and some antique silver beads.. I wanted to stay longer, since it was a comfortable country.. but this is winter there.. 35 degrees. In summer it can get as high as 65C!
We're now heading farther south through the Indian ocean. It's a nice rolling ocean, peaceful enough, with the odd wave that rolls deeper than the last, but nothing too disturbing! If it stays like this we're in goo
Well we survived the first set of 4 days at sea.. nothing much to report on that, except that the cruise ship doesn't have a no smoking poilcy enforced, so we were struggling with that problem.. until last night! .. after a few days of whining and complaining, they suddenly offered Iain and I an upper cabin wtih balcony and jacuzzi bath tub!.. We had to pay an upgrade fee of 150 euros each for it.. but we're not suffering! The smoke was horrible when we were sleeping.. now we have the door open all night.. and Iain's taking baths daily! (the photo is only half the cabin.. Iain's bed and the couch are to the right) :)..
Obviously a long post.. Egypt deserves it! :)
Our second stop in Egypt was Luxor, connecting with the town of Safaga, a small port town on the Red Sea. We set off in our excursion bus at 7am, and drove 3.5 hours west, through the mountainous desert. Gradually the land became greener, and we knew the Nile was close. I'd expected Luxor to be a large open area with ancient ruins along either side of the Nile, -which in some ways it is, but the modern city has developed around the Nile shores, and ancient ruins are basically stranded in the middle of a thriving centre of activity. I was surprised at how history has been lumped in with modern buildings.
The 2 giant statues of Ramses II are just standing alone in the middle of a field of weeds, beside a parking lot, with a small rope fence around them. So casual.
In the morning we visited the Valley of the Kings, but, alas, they no longer allow ANY cameras at the site, since people have used flashes and are fading the painted images inside the tombs, so now, they have banned all cameras. We were swarmed by masses of boys and youth trying to sell us trinkets and post cards. Our whole bus was overwhelmed with them by the end of the morning. They have had almost no tourism recently due to the political activities in Egypt, so their sale pitches were all the more intense since it's their livelihood. I used the experience as a chance to practice my Arabic, and a boy and I exchanged language lessons for a few minutes, which was a nice 'cultural exchange' for me!
The afternoon segment of the trip was the real highlight though: The Temple of Karnak. This has always been what interested me most about Egypt. The temple is certainly the most impressive, and I was in heaven, as was Iain of course!
We wandered away from the lecturing tour guide and spent some time wandering away from the tourists, to immerse ourselves in Real History. Karnak is full of different eras of massive pillars decorated with an assortment of different painted images and carved hieroglyphics. There are also some massive obelisks, each carved out of one solid block of granite! We wandered all the way through the temple, and had a bit of an adventure with a fake police official (wearing full uniform including a rifle!) but my instincts warned me that he wasn't to be trusted -especially when he suddenly expected us to pay him money because he pointed out a few good photo spots!
Anyway, it was fast and furious, just 2 whirlwind days in Egypt, but we got a taste of the country and can return again when the political situation is under control. The only signs of 'political unrest' we noticed by the way, were masses of banners posted along roads, etc. en route to Luxor.
Now we are in the '4 days at sea' stage of the journey, en route to Oman... And we're about to pass through “pirate country”. We've noticed a few changes on the cruise ship: An armed guard posted on either side of the ship, 24 hours a day-toting binoculars and bullet proof vests- as well as 4 stuffed life-sized figures of 'Costa Captains' posted at the 4 top corners of the ship, as decoys, should any pirates be looking to take a first shot at us!
I suspect it's all for show, so that the cruisers feel safe. We also received a bed time notice the other night about 'going to our muster stations' should any pirates suddenly attempt to attack us...
Anyway, it all adds to the adventure. Over and out, until we reach Oman, home of Sinbad the Sailor and the Queen of Sheba, as well as frankincense forests!
Our first stop in Egypt was Sharm Elsheikh, which was a small touristy town, and we went on an excursion to see Unesco World Heritage site where the desert meets the Red Sea. Our drive took us around the desert for an hour or two, seeing stone landforms, and then a massive split where an earthquake split open the earth in the 1960's. Iain was fascinated and wanted to go diving in the 40 metre deep cavern filled with ocean water! The Red Sea is blue, clear, and beautiful, by the way!
Eventually our tour ended beside the sea, and we swam in the underwater world of one of the best coral reefs on the planet. It was beautiful but I'm afraid I can't show you any photos, since Iain accidentally lost his new camera in the depths of the ocean! (That's his 2nd camera in a major body of water, right Elaine?)
Today we sailed through the Suez Canal. It took a whole day, but not because it's such a long water way. We started into the canal at about 7am. The sides of the canal were flat and uninteresting. Here and there we saw a few buildings, but for the most part, it was a very poor looking area with undecorated buildings.
Then, just after breakfast, the ship stopped. We hear at first that the cargo ship in front of us had got stuck in the sand, so we were all excited at this unexpected 'adventure'. But no, the actual reason for the stop was that the canal is only 1 ship width wide (since it was built before today's massive cargo ships were built). This means that there is only 1 lane of traffic able to pass through the canal at a time. The ships coming from the South got to go first. We sat in the canal, looking out over the desert until 5pm this evening. Finally we were given the thumbs up, and as the sun set over the sand dunes (very lovely!) we sat in the hot tub on the top deck and watched the world slide by again.
Tomorrow, swimming in the Red Sea!
Yesterday we visited the Holy Land. -Quite fitting at Christmas, and a definite bonus, since we were originally scheduled to go to Cairo! Jerusalem is an amazing city. The off-white historical buildings glow with a golden light, and Iain and I both fell in love with it. He even commented last night that he might like to go back there one day, to live.
It certainly is a city of 'living history'. The tiny streets with their heavy stone slabs in the market place are the ones Jesus walked through when he dragged his cross up the hill. The 12 stations of the cross are market on the marketplace walls, as you walk through. The chapels and religious iconography everywhere mark the details of the life of Christ at every turn. Iain said he still didn't believe in Jesus, but he certainly looked intrigued when we entered the tomb where Jesus' body is believed to have been laid to rest (and risen from the dead shortly after).
We visited the Wailing Wall last, which was strangely commercial and full of crowds of public on-lookers and people praying. I had expected it to be silent, or filled with the whisper of prayers, but instead it was a busy town square with visiting Israeli army troops, crowds of laughing children and tourists taking photos.
Jerusalem is certainly impressive, with it's relics and temples at every corner, and it's a strange place poised in preparedness for the 2nd coming of Christ. Even the dead beneath their tombstones are all lined up waiting to be the first to enter the holy city by the golden gate, as the Bible tells will happen.
For me though, the city felt almost too perfect. 2000+ year old buildings, and they were all so clean and well-maintained, with almost no signs of destruction or damage. It was hard to feel a sense of the history of the place. The tourism (certainly not helped by the fact that we were on a 'cattle-herded' excursion, rather than free to discover the place on our own) made it feel more like a museum than a city. Perhaps that's what Jerusalem is though, a living museum of major world religions? And perhaps that's why no one wants to give up their ownership of the place.
Hilary Slater: I write in the morning before I get out of bed. I write in the evening when the world is quiet. I write at Starbucks, where I can escape the household interruptions. But most of all I write in November, when NaNoWriMo inspires me!