Saturday, February 28, 2009


After a welcome sleep in we made our way to Kampala, Uganda's bustling capital.

Like Rome, Kampala is nestled between 7 hills and is the thriving commercial heart beat of Uganda.

On our way into the City, the traffic increased and for much of the journey it was stop/start/stop/start. The only interesting things we saw were the people out the window. Hawkers were walking through the traffic selling a range on unusal wares which included electric squash rackets used presumably to zap mosquitoes, rain coats (in Africa??), jumper leads, blow up raindeers, coffee tables and colourful baseball caps.

The City seems a hub of activity, people walk confidently and with purpose as if they are on a mission to somewhere.

The hills are dotted with some medium rise buildings, mostly square comprised of a mix of pastel and glass in a style reminisent of the wonderful late 1980's.

Billboards promoting Ugandan goods, banks, phone companies and fast food outlets line the roads.

The traffic is brutal, nmotorcyles seem to be in the majority here and are used as the local taxi, mini vans also dominate and they are usually white in coloure with blue piping stripes. The windshields are often embossed with a slogans like 'god is great' or 'all praise the lord' and sometimes there are colourful painted slogans on the side of the road in bright painted letters you might see 'Power belongs to the people' prayed across a government building.

There is a faint burning smell in the air- probably a mix of charcol and timber.

As for my bus mates-it is clear that allegences are being formed- friendships are devloping and i have to admit there have been times where i have felt a little left out.

.... But solitude is a wonderful thing. My problems, noteably my own personal insecurities (am i funny enough?, kind enough? patient enouhg?, helpful enough?) are amplyied here... it is almost as though a trip to Africa provides you with a mirror to view yourself.

I have also noted as the days have passed that because i am a bona fide book worm, somwhere in my life i have turned into a know it all.... it is a quality that i sometimes deplore in myself... i am trying to keep quiet more than i would at home or with friends beacuse no one likes someone who has read a book about everything!

In the afternoon at our campsite, i did a spot of hand washing and settled into the pool.

Whilst there I met 2 Pakastani UN Peace Keepers who were on leave from working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They prooved facinating and interesting pool companions. After plesentries were exchanged and we had spoken about the one thing that can unify 2 Pakistani troops and an Australian girl in depth... CRICKET, we begun a discussion about their service... i had read bits and pieces (there I go again) on the conflict but was keen to get a first hand impression of the situation.

Both men spoke humbily about their jobs and spoke openly about the reasons that they thought they were there.... i wont go into too many details except to say that the DRC is the 5th richest country in the world in terms of natural resources but it still one of the poorest nations of earth... that thought makes me want to vomit.

I could say any number of things i have read on the topic but instead i will close with this... such corruption, nepotism, oppression and brutality is EVIL.... full stop.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Day 4- The long road to Jinja (Uganda)

Day four saw us make our way across our first boarder crossing- leaving the comforts of Kenya for neighbouring Uganda. To be honest i did not know a lot about Uganda as we made our way there- except of course about their terrible dictator Idi Amin.

I read in the guide book that Churchill called it the Pearl of Africa when he first visited and i hoped that sentiment was still true.

It took less than 1 hour for Uganda to give me a small green stamp of approval. as soon as we arrived i noticed the roads deteriorate- red, dusty and dangerous is how i would best describe them.

I also noticed a change in the people- the children here are beyond excited to see us pass and sometimes they look like they are going to pee their pants as they wave their arms uncontrollably yelling hello Muzunte (meaning hello whitey!!). Their enthusiasm is welcome and whilst i try and wave back to everyone, my arm does get sore... i cant even imagine how the queen does it- it probably takes year to perfect it.

I also notice that the people here look more active than those in Kenya... it seems that the rural people here are usually on their way somewhere (on foot or on bike) and less inclined just to sit under the shade of a tree watching the hours pass.

The terrain here is also greener and more lush than the parts of Kenya i visited and similar to Northern NSW (My second home).

We make camp early at one of Jinja's most happening youth hostels and my tent is replaced with a dorm room.

For dinner we cook fish and whilst i am keen to go out and explore the night life i am exhausted and tucked up in bed by 9:00pm.

Day 3- What it looks like from the plane.

We woke painfully early at 6:00am- the stars still hung to their existence in the black sky overhead.

I have been nominated alarm clock holder- a dangerous job for anyone who knows me well knows of my love of slumber.

As soon as we woke we were off to meet Sam our guide from the day before who was going to take us on a sun rise cruise over the lake so we could get up close and personal with some crocs and hungry hippos.

The fear that had consumed me the night before was left somewhere in the night time .... instead it became clear to me that i just don't love animals as much as my fellow travel companions.Their faces light up as we spotted a family of hippos bathing near by whilst i kinda sit there and think 'gee they're big... hope they don't get any closer'. Mel's face was beaming, Steve looked like a kid in a candy store and Tweetie looked amazed... I wanted their excitement but i just could not fabricate it.

Steve picked up on my nonchalance and said 'you don't like animals much do you?' and i was honest in my reply 'I prefer people' and its true... my face lights up when a child smiles at me, when kids run to the side of the road to see our truck pass.

needless to say- the sunrise on the lake was majestic- the water looked as still and clear as glass and the sun lite up the sky in a kaleidoscope of colours- turning the clouds first into lilac marsh mellows, then pink and finally gold.

I am brought back to earth when Sam our guide says 'your fear of hippos is probably like my fear of flying, 'Kateria, please tell me what is it you see when you are in a plane' i answered as best i could... 'Sam, you see clouds, colours and shapes... not scary' and he replied 'like the hippo Katerina, not scary!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hungry Hippos- Day Two

Another day, another African animal.

Breakfast was delicious- Julius treated us to some of the most yummy fried eggs i had ever tasted. We we up early and had eaten, packed the camp site and on the road by 8:00am on our way to Lake Barlingo.

On route we stopped at the Equator. The invisible line passed straight across our strech of road in an unremarkable part of rural Kenya.

At the equator, ladies ran from the bushes and their tin huts to try and sell us their wares (something that looked like an egg in a wooden bowl looked popular). Somehow i broke free of the scrum athat had surrounded me for long enough to take in the surrounds- i thought a lot and felt extremely hot- it was pushing 40 degrees here in the shade (well it felt like it).

Back on the bus we drove on and at each village kids ran out of their houses to wave and smile at us as we passed. The kids smiles light up their faces as a full moon might a darkened sky. The kids here are beautiful, iridescent and seem affectionate.

At Lake Birango we visited a reptile refuge where i held both a python (it was enormous) and a boa constrictor, i hated the feeling of them on my skin especially as they moved and when my patience and calmness ceased to exist i almost screamed 'get them off me now, please!'.

Later that night as we packing up from dinner two hippos decided to graze a few metres from our tents... i was scarred- Hippos are responsible for more deaths in Africa than any other animal. The other members of our group thought that u was b3eing silly by my fear of Hioppos is (i believe) completely rationale. The are massive, perhaps the size of two full grown cows and can weigh up to 3 tonn.

The campsite is very pretty, resting on the banks of a lake home not only to the Hippos but also to a variety of crocodile (that i was also keen not to get to know too well).

In the trees, birds chirp and flock around us hopeful i might drop some tasty crumbs,it is a bird watches paradise. Colourful kingfishers, herons, finches crowd us and for a second it is easy to image a heaven looking like this.

In the afternoon we visit a Patock tribe located deep into the countryside. We drive for about 1 hour from the camp down a dusty road and it seems to get hotter and hotter as every minute passes.

In the village one man lives with his two wives, parents and twelve children. It is a society where the men seem to have it good. Their job is look after and count the animals as well as hunting dinner. Whilst the women are responsible for building the marital home, raising the children, cooking food, make beer for the man and play seem stress.

The men here buy their wives from their perspective father in laws for an average of 3 cows and 10 goats a piece.

Women have little choice in these unions and are circumcised at the age of 10/11 when they are first put on reserve for a particular gent.

It feels like an ancient culture, the women dress with large beaded collars to signal their marital status and in their ear are large wholes the size of twenty cent pieces as well as large gold hoop earrings.

The children are beautiful- all big eyes and toothy grins... they are fascinated by me and one of the wives holds my hands and asks me to burse one of her babies.

The child looks about 2 or 3 and has sleepy eyes and a gentle nature. Comfortable in my arms i say a silent prayer to an unknown god that the child will survive infancy and grow into a beautiful Young girl.

The children of the tribe are dressed in rags and i wish i had not left some old unwanted cloths in Nairobi as they could have been of use here.

The village provides a shocking experience- it was a sad place for me to visit and half of me wants to cry (the bit that believes in colonialism). I want to wash the people, bring them foods to cook, tare down their huts made of cow dung and sticks and give them something more durable in this harsh heat.

The other half of me remembers that these people have to stay the way they are- they have to do things there way- difficulties and harshness aside... i can not place my values and virtues up on them.

I wonder if the imperialist thoughts on my mind exist only to make me feel better? I am reminded by a book i read recently that 'no body can fix Africa except for Africans themselves' ad looking at the tribe i see that. I am not sure that the Potock tribe need 'fixing' per say but it is clear that these people are poor and a few luxury's like a well, clean cloths, toys for the kids would not go astray here. Am i wrong in thinking like this? Am i just another cultural imperialist? Am i like the people who went on the slum tour in Nairobi- a poverty voyerist?

I wish i knew the answers to these questions- i hope i don't forget i ever felt them or thought them... especially when consumerism takes over again like it is bound too.

NOTE- this was written a few days ago... internet access in Africa is VERY limited- i will update everytime i can... ps spelling is terriable- will try and proof and check things going forward but...i hope you get the gist and can read it.



Day 1- Welcome to Africa

Steve and I (a guy i met at the Wildebeest Camp) arranged to share a cab to our Safari meeting point.

Steve would be accompanying me to Cape Town- from Bendigo he was a Diesel Mechanic (very handy in Africa) and seemed every bit like a good Aussie bloke should.

In the foyer of the Heron Hotel (where our safari left from) we met Iona (from now on called Tweedie), a pretty 18 year old Scottish gap year student and Mel, a 34 year old Queenslander (who had relocated to Melbourne) who now lived in Melbourne.

I was surprised that this would be the team- until we got to Entebbe where we would pick up 13 more people.

After a brief chat with Julius our Ugandan team leader we were off in the largest truck/bus i had every seen outside Dulles airport.

We wasted no time getting to know each other and we chatted all the way to the outskirts of town. It felt good to be leaving Nairobi- i was keen to get into the country side and watch life pass me by.

AS the bus made its way down the old and battered African highway, Steve pointed out a man on the side of the road selling grave stones- soon it seemed we were passing numerous funeral parlours and the reality of the aid epidemic in Africa came home to me- the funeral business in frica is good business and big business if the highway out of Nairobi was any means to judge.

After a few hours on the road we entered the rift valley, the largest valley in all of Africa, one which stretches itself all the way to Morocco in its north west corner.

At our photo stop we were surrounded by the usual touts you'd expect anywhere in the world crys of 'free to look' and 'you need Masai blanket' were ignored by me, instead i was just content to look at the scenery which was beautiful. Long steaches of vivid colour all blurred into one and it looked almost like an old landscape painting... one i had seen before but could not put my finger on.

We were back in our bus in no time- outside i noticed us pass numerous gum trees and suddendly i did not feel too far from home despite being in the Kenyan country side.

AS we approached Nakuru we saw our first animals- ZEbras grazing beside the road... and lots of them too. I was pretty excited i hads not imagined seeing such a beautiful animal just wandering on the side of the road kinda like kangaroos might in rural Australia.

Next we saw some angry looking baboons, ape like but scary looking.

We stopped in town for supplies and loaded the truck/bus with fresh fruit, veggies, pasta, rice, meat, sauces, canned food, eggs, bread, spreads and anything we thought we might like.

We were accosted to gangs of market stall workers who followed us around town trying to persuade us to buy their wares for presents, souvenirs etc with their sales pitches failing they tried the old favourite 'if not today, maybe tomorrow'... i love that one.

As we waited for the bus to come back and collect us we were stared at by some street children who seemed full of joy. Each would make eye contact with us, smile before getting shy and bashful and hiding their face in their arms only to repeate the exact same thing dozens more times. Each time inching a little closer until e were almost touching.

They were laughing too and i could not stop myself- their smiles and their looks were contagious... the laughter of children always is.

We made camp around 5:00pm- Tweedie and I were destined roommates (well tent mates) and together we put our tent us with ease.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Wildebeest Camp

Having 2 days to spend in Nairobi was a luxury I did not really want. I had read up on the City in a number of guide books and utilised the trusty british travel advice website and decided that it actually was a City i had no interest to see.

Conscious of the description that the grumpy and slightly annoying Paul Theroux gave the City- well all big cities according to him are actually just big slums- i really had no desire to leave the safety of the nicest hotel i have stayed in on my trip to date.

The Wildebeest Camp is a lovely art deco mansion kitted out with antique furniture set in lush tropical gardens. My room is located up the grand staircase and overlooks some hibiscus and birds of paradise trees. With a four poster bed, gorgeous linen and mosquito net it feels like i have stepped onto the Antiques Roadshow.

At the Camp I have met some lovely girls- Sophie an English medic with the Flying Doctors out here for 1 month working all around East Africa. She is an incredible individual. Just yesterday she flew into Somalia to lift out a UN worker who had been shot in Mogadishu. I find her incredibly brave, likable and totally devoid of pretension.

I also met Rachel an English aid worker on her way to the Tanzanian/Democratic Republic of Congo boarder to teach and Mara a German PHD student here to compile information on the perception of HIV in young people. The girls are inspirational, friendly and provided me with a wonderful welcome to Kenya.

Today keen to venture out of the compound for the second time Sophie (the medic) and I went for a drive in her borrowed land cruiser. First we went to a Butterfly Museum recommended by the Lonely Planet. Unfortunatley the museum had closed more than 5 years before. Next stop was the Karen Blixen Museum and House, Karen for those of you not in the know was the author who wrote Out of Africa, a tale/memoir made famous by Meryl Streep and the handsome Robert Redford. Her house is stunning (although really overpriced like lots of things here), a single story bungalow with high ceilings and left as she had it in the 1930s. After taking a quick tour of the house and gardens we headed to a fair trade bead factory. The workshop was established in the 1980's to allow single mothers to obtain an income.

I had never seen how beads were made and the process was interesting and the clay beads so stunning I just had to buy some.

Some people at the camp when on a tour of the Kibera slums this morning but i opted out for 'ethical' reasons... i have thought about this all day and hope i made the right decision. I could not fathom why i would want to visit poor people and watch them like watching a TV show....but this is Africa and I am here and so many people are poor... is just being here like watching the show anyway??? The sticky point for me is that proceeds of the tour go to the community and by not going on principal am I not contributing to the betterment of the society???

I have also thought a lot about NGO's and forgein aid (paul theroux talks a lot about this too) and the more I think about it the more I realise that nothing is just plain black and white here.

I am off on my trip tomorrow morning and not sure when i will post again- hopefully soon.

Lots of love

Your KP


Friday, February 20, 2009


With the next adventure about to begin, I left the comfort of my Egyptian family and departed for the airport. My driver tuned into Nile FM and we listened to classic rock tunes the whole way- my heart lifted when Survivor's 'Eye of the Tiger' came on, surely it was a good sign.

The airport had changed dramatically since I was in transit in Cairo in 2001, the terminal is new, and as you'd expect for a large metropolis, gone is the feeling of being in a dusty tin shed in the middle of desert.

I was anxious and easily irritable at departure, I seem to get that way when i am afraid... my patience was thin and i was not a nice person to be around.

As we boarded the plane, I was surprised with how many westerners there were on the flight- there were some people from Melbourne, old people, young families and even some other girls on their lonesome... that gave me comfort... I was not the only crazy one on the midnight flight into Nirobbery.

Once we touched down in Kenya I woke up, I must have fallen asleep somewhere over the Sudan.

I passed through passport control with ease and could spot at 50 paces the sign with my name. My driver was called Charlie- a stocky African with the widest and whitest smile I had ever seen- he could light up a room. He drove at speed down the dark roads- there were no street lights and I could only see the shadow of some low rise buildings as we passed.

At 4:40am with out a room to check into, I was told I could sleep outside under the pergola, first I took out my beloved whistle (a present from Ra) and tried to stay awake to fight off the boogie man, it was useless I was in lala land in 5 minutes... surfacing round lunch time (now).

I went out of the compound to get some lunch and whilst I only walked a few blocks it is so different from anywhere I have ever been it will take some getting used too.

The road outside my hotel is made of dirt and to enter you have to pass through a security check point- there are two guards in uniforms with guns watching the gate.

The people at my hotel are excellent, it is owned by an Australian couple (no one can ever escape them when you are on the road).

I plan to spend the next day here in the compound- I am pretty wary about leaving (aside from a quick trip to the shops down the road).I start my safari on Sunday.

Please don't worry about me too much (especially dad), I am in good spirits (happy and healthy now) and I am a tough little cookie.


Cairo- Part 2

Back in relative safety and comfort of my Cairo hotel, I retold the story of the meltdown in Alex to much merriment and laughing... things alays seem so much better after the fact.

I was probably a little harsh in my descriptions of Alex- think a dirty, smelly, souless, Gold Coast and you'd be half way there. Founded by Alexander the Great, with one of the world's largest libraries it is listed as a must see on a visit to Egypt... so i will let you be the judge.

The night I go back to Cairo I went out to my favourite resteraunt- Abu Tareks, famous for it Koshary dish- a mix of spagetti, maceroni, onion, chick peas and lentis with a tomatoe sauce- delicious.

In Cairo I made some great friends, the owners of the hotel were amazing and felt like my Egyptian family. We bonded over late night tea and endless games of backgammon- it felt like a home away from home.

Over the next few days, I wandered aimlessly. I walked the Islamic quarter, a labrinth comprising ancient mosques and narrow souques. It felt like time had stopped there. Donkeys pulled carts of homewares, women dressed in the full hijab and men sat on the pavement at tiled cafes smoking shisha.

I visted the Citadel, the large bazaar, got my eyebrows threaded and prepared for safari. It was a lazy time full of lazy days- long sleep ins, lots of reading- 3 trashy novels from the hostel in as many days.

It leads me to now as I sit at Cairo Airport on my way to Nairobi and the thought it is called nirobbery is in my head, as I sit here I take stock of my emotions- I am scared, highly strung but ready too.


The end of Alexandria

So after securing a taxi me and the driver set off in search on the Union Hotel, sans Lonely Planet (I had managed to loose mine), I had copied the address from the Lonely Planet owned by my hotel in Cairo.

I was keen for a change of scene and hoped that I would have a good time. After about 20 mins my driver stopped outside the Mecure Hotel and demanded 20 Egyptian pounds to take me to the correct address- seemed that he had deliberately driven past my hotel as some way of increasing the lengh of the journey and fare. Wise to his tricks, head strong and having none of it i decided to get out and walk- we were already ont he correct street it was only 300 or so houses away.

I set off on foot- back the same way we had just driven. The road that I walked down Corniche was adjacent to the sea, 12 lanes wide, 22 ilometres long and with impossible traffic. The buildings that fringed it were old dusty high rises similar to Cairo except that the overlooked the Med.

I glanced over at the swell and it was up, it was blowing a gale and cold too- perhaps only 10 degrees. I was determined not to give up even though i was walking with my 24 kilo ruck sack.

Things got worse when the rain came, i sought shelter under an alcove and despised myself for rejecting the taxi driver.

From where i stood Alexandria looked grim, it was dirty and as run down as Cairo but with out the charm.

As i approached tha address that i had copied after more than 1 hour of walking i started feeling sick again and added my own decoration to Alex's street.

Finally as i thought things could not get any worse I discovered that the hotel had gone Missing in Action. The address that I had so carfully copied down was that of the grimiest high rise building i had ever seen. The situation was useless- tired, annoyed, sick and grumpy i hailed a cab back to the station and brought a ticket on the next train back to my beloved Cairo... seems there a some places you just can't ever leave.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No one said it would be easy.

Not sure what I had done but for a moment this morning I was convinced that the gods were conspiring to made sure that I stayed in Cairo.

After getting up with ample time to spare, I only just made my train to Alexandria (Alex).

As luck would have it- i managed to flag the slowest, Sunday driving cabbie in all of Cairo. Before taking me to the station he decided to give me a tour- 1st he showed me the Egyptian Museum, then the Hilton hotel and finally I demanded out when we approached the main square. I tried to promt him along the entire drive with cries of yella yella (lets go, lets go) but they fell on deaf ears.

I was angry, my nostrils flared as i was convinced that iw as going to miss the tulipi express train.

With my backpack on i ran for dear life keen to leave the city and knowing that if i missed the train i would probably not attempt to leave again because clearly it was proving too difficult a task (i did not catch my train earlier in the week to Aswan on account of illness).

Once at the station, i found my platform with ease and by the time i had sat down we were off. Still breathless from the run i was excited to be going somewhere new.

As the carriage made its ay out of the platform i made eyes at the window and took in Cairo's metropolis.

The cities high rise apartments stood before me, painted shades of orange, peach, tan and grey. High into the sky went the tower blocks, each decorated uniquely by the colourful washing drying on the balconies.

As the apartment buildings dwindled, they gave way to a low rise, more industrial landscape of factories, the odd mosque and more half finished apartment buildings.

Finally we were in the countryside, urban sprawl replaced with green fields dotted by palm trees and eucalyptus.

Growing used to the new landscape i was surprised when little satellite towns sprung up... mostly they consisted of 50-100 unfinished medium rise unfinished red brick apartment buildings surrounded by lush green fields.

As the train speed along, i thought back to the night before .. I had spoken with a man at my hostel who told me that in Cairo everything is forbidden but everything is allowed too- he was referring to the large number of prostitutes in Cairo and the growing gay scene. In a country where sexuality is hidden and unspoken it was interesting to hear. He mentioned that it was commend for older female travelers to visit Egypt as sex tourists- Germans mainly and i was shocked.

The train was soon in Alexandria- it is only 200 kilometres from Cairo and as i got off i felt ready for my next adventure.


Just when i thought i had broken the gods curse things went from bad to worse. Unable to find a taxi who wanted to take me to the address of the hostel i had copied from the lonely planet for a reasonable fare i was beginning to feel stressed from the touts at the train station.

With the help of a very friendly Egyptian lady my spirits brightened when i managed to get a cabbie who assured me he knew where we were going.


Note in the end i am ok but it does go from bad to worse...and then finally back to good again.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Pyramids

I awoke early and headed out to Giza to see the pyramids in a taxi. I was preparing to be disappointed, expected to be but I was in for a surprise.

My driver talked incessantly the whole way and whilst he was perfectly pleasant i wished i could be impolite and cease the chatting. I was not feeling well, my body ached and my arm was still really sore.

I was fascinated looking at the enormity of the city as we drove ... it seems to go on forever. I thought it was interesting that there seemed to be hundreds of unfinished high rise apartment buildings on the way...partly lived in but with windows and doors missing on some floors ...the result of the credit crunch perhaps? I asked my driver who told me that the government only taxes the owners when a building is completed and so to avoid tax people live in half finished dwellings....bizarre.

My first glimpse of the pyramids came from the highway and I was inspired, they seemed to rise out of the dessert and they are truly are massive.

I was captivated and wanted more.

On entry, i managed to avoid a few touts ad tricksters and was in. I could not help thinking that they are the first building i have ever seen that is better in the flesh than in photos. They are majestic and it is easy to see why they attract so many visitors each year and have done for the last 4500 years. I was struck by their size- one of them is almost 150 metres tall with stones bigger than i am.

I cant even begin to explain how wonderful they are... but will say this.... Go there and see them for yourself... you will not be disappointed...they live up to the hype and then some.

It is strange how the sit on the edge of the desert but still in the middle of the city ...

After my trip to Giza I was feeling really unwell for the first time on my trip. I decided not to take my night train to Aswan as planned, forgoing my 25 USD ticket...I was annoyed at myself for being so unwell but I had a fever and was worried I might have caught something nasty... malaria or dengue fever were top of my list. I contemplated going to the hospital but decided i would assess things in the morning. And so i slept.. could of got a gold medal for my efforts as i woke up more than 18 hours later in a cold sweet.

I feel better now, not 100% better but well enough to leave the hotel and walk around a little. I spent the day in the Coptic Christan quarter and loved the gorgeous old buildings of old Cairo. I visited some Churches and saw where king Herod escaped too. I have now canned the idea of going to Luxor and instead am off to Alexandria for 3 days before i head to Kenya. I thought some time by the sea my do me good.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

And he said you ...Walk like an Eqyptian

The plane touched down in Cairo and I was not sure if I was ready for the adventure that was waiting for me.

On the ground I purchased my Egyptian visa easily before getting in the line for passport control. It seemed I had picked the wrong one (as I always do) and the people in front of me were screaming and raising their voices about something. Eventually i got to the front and I was greeted by a very strange looking man...had I stepped onto the set of Frankenstein instead of the tarmac at Cairo Airport?

The man who stood before me was tall, very tall, with deep dark sunken eyes. Most disturbing was the horrible open wound in the middle of his forehead- a gaping whole, with skin upturned and peeling away to reveal a massive egg shaped bump. I could not concentrate. It took me a while to work out that the wound on his head was probably and most likely a result of a particularly vigorous call to prayer session.

Soon after i was meet my Mustafa- the 26 year old owner of my hotel. Mustafa was keen to start some chit chat with me and we talked all the way to center of town. As he drove i watched the road and said silent prayers for our lives- the traffic was insane and it was 1:00am. Whilst there appears to be marked lanes on the roads- cars seem to ignore them and weave in and out and then to the center to try and fit 3 lanes in a space built only for 2.

When i was not hanging on for dear life, Mustafa used the time to give me a free Arabic lesson but i quickly discovered (as most foreigners do) that there is just not enough phelm in my throat to pronounce the words correctly.

In the morning, i ate breakfast (half a stale bread roll with jam)and set off in search of cash and the Egyptian museum. Being a Friday, the streets were almost empty and i discovered that in the Arabic world Friday is thought of like a western Saturday and everything is closed, deserted.

After a while of walking, I noticed a large group of men sitting on a rather large outdoor carpet praying in unison with some loud speakers (apparently the mosques are so full on Saturdays that lots of people pray outside), aside from that the streets were quiet and a perfect place to take in the City.

With my map in hand i set upon navigation to check i was walking in the right direction and stumbled across my first middle eastern problem- nearly all the street signs are in Arabic making it impossible to navigate with out asking someone what the street sign actually says...

Out of the distance, i noticed a large, imposing colonial style building painted a shocking shade of what was once gleaming bright pink- muted to a more subdued garish shade- it was the Egyptian museum.

After getting eyed up by what seemed like 1000 police who waved, smiled, hissed and probably called me rude names i was in.

Inside this once grand building I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the collection-objects are everywhere. The building dwarfs me and i don't know where to start first.

The tiles are old worn grey lino and the display cases look if they were built 100 years ago (they probably were)- the state of the building is depressing and i wish i had with me a magic wand to brighten the place up.

There are few signs to follow so i decide to stalk an American tour group until i start getting funny looks... i replaced them with another group and then decided just to wader aimlessly and look at what catched my eyes.

I noticed a couple of cabinets with 3000 year old mummies in them that have broken glass sides which have been replaced with polystyrene. Thankfully the decay of the building does not detract from the collection of some of the worlds most valuable artifacts. To give you an idea of size, they say that if you spent 1 minute looking at every piece in the museum it would take you 9 months.

With only a few hours before museum fatigue would set in- i made sure I saw what was buried in Tuten Karmen's tomb and the mummies (which are really creepy).

Next stop, a wander through Cairo's streets. Walking around I felt small, anyone would. The city is enormous- bigger than big. When I arrived Mustafa said there were 25 million people living in the city (although a quick google search says there are only about 15 million but i did find out it is the densest populated place in the world). There are an infinite number of cars, people and the noise level is unbelievable- a car honking symphony is the cities sound track.

It seems as though the whole city is in muted colour- a palette of browns, khaki and burnt orange colour everything and it feels as though the city is in desperate need of a good wash. Everything is dusty, old, dirty and colourless. The streets here are rammed with people- men mainly stand on corners in groups or drive around. Men must out number the women here by 100 to 1 out on the streets and my auburn hair insures i am in the minority.

The roads are full to the brim with cars- often there are so many that stand still that it looks like a car park. Crossing the road feels dangerous- slow purposely and with intent is my strategy. Sometimes i shadow a Cairene and walk closely to them.One man commented on my style... 'you walk like an Egyptian' and the song stuck in my head for most of the day.

Arabic music can be heard sometimes above the car horns and the smell of the shisha wafts above me, at other times all you Can smell is rubbish and piss.

As i walk, my eyes are down cast- i dress devoid of sexuality and look like a prude... my hair is tied back in a bun, i wear an over sized shapeless shirt and baggy long pants.

I caught the metro in the ladies carriage and am amazed at how people(women) push and shove to get in... i am also amazed at the fashion- men women and children are all dressed like it is a UK winters day, scarves, gloves and winter coats are in Vogue even though it is pushing 25 degrees. I am sweltering.

For lunch i stop at a popular kebab house and watch a women in a burka style outfit eat... i catch myself staring and remind myself that it is rude... but it is fascinating. It appears to be a delicate procedure- first she cuts up her food into the tiniest bite sized chunk imaginable before turning her head slightly and lifting her veil so quickly with out showing any skin- it is elegant and you could blink and miss it.

I get frustrated when at the train station people push in front of me to out fox me...they crowd me and talk about me. I hate feeling claustrophobic and this city certainly is at times... the suffocation makes me want to cry but i don't. Instead i lift my down cast eyes and walk tall ... for a second.

Hot tired and with a sore arm (see London entry... that i will write below)- i find the hotel and head there for some quiet time... it takes me 10 minutes walking up and down the street to locate. Everything looks the same and it feels like there are thousands of people all on the street at the same time.

I chat to Mustafa and arrange to go to the pyramids... i also tell him that i want to see some belly dancing and he arranges for his young brother Karem to accompany me- i am unsure why this happens but it is nice to be in the company of a local... i try and teach him some English. He is pleasant, generous and nice. He also ensures i catch the right cab home.

Before the belly dancers come on we are warmed up by some Sufi dancers (if you call what Sufi's do dancing). the first to get up is a midget and it is weird. Dressed in a white shirt with large over sized skirts he stands and spins and makes his skirt go up... the crowd love it but i an indifferent.

Next we have a taller Sufi dancer who fans and lifts his skirt high above his head. He lifts his skirt right off his body and spins it as if it were pizza dough.

Finally the star belly dancer gets onto the stage, she is dressed to kill in a lethal jeweled bikini top and skirt with the highest split i have ever seen. She moves gracefully and the men ogle her, i ogle her. It seems that you cant help looking at her. I wonder if her parents know what she does for a living? Is it acceptable here or is she thought of like a stripper?


Friday, February 13, 2009


36 hours in London was never going to be enough time... with a list as long as my arm of things to do...I did not know where to start.

I made a plan and set off early, managing to achieve most of my goals by lunch time- new trainers (as mine got wreaked on the volcano), new bras (seemed ridiculous that i only had two black ones with me in Mexico), a restock of medicine (zantac for my temperamental stomach) and a stock up of toiletries (was not sure what would be available in Africa).

I caught up with my dear friend Warren for lunch (so nice to see him)and stopped by my hairdresser to try and do something with my blonde tresses (my hair faded to gold on the beach in Mexico).

I arranged a very small farewell party at my old favourite pub and was delighted with the turn ended up at 5:00am in Mayfair with me falling out of a club... (literally fell over as it was very cold and my ballet shoe flats with out grip slipped on the black ice that had formed... not knowing it at the time i managed to get a severe bruise on my left bicep... and my arm is still sore!)

Thursday was a wipe out... i was so hung over i did not do much but pack, feel sorry for myself (my head hurt) and head to the airport.

As soon as i was on board i fell asleep only to wake 30 mins from Cairo.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Mayflower

With time on my side an Ra safely back in Sydney, I decided to head to Peurto Escondito (PE), a small beach resort located on Mexico's Pacific coast about 500 or so kilometres south of Accupulco.

Famed for being the home of Mexico's surfing culture, the beach has monster swell, the fastest breaking waves in the world, as well as a few bars and numerous backpackers hostels which house surfers from all over the globe, desperate to have a crack at the giant surf.

I chose to stay at The Mayflower on the recommendation of Ra's entourage in Guatemala. The Mayflower is a small popular hostel of about 40 beds near the fising port and main street, 10 mins from the real surfers paradise.

With plans to stay a few days, I ended up spending 10 days at the Mayflower, and Mexican life became routine... i would wake and eat either scrambled eggs or hot cakes (depending on my mood), spend a few hours at the beach, read my book (finished two in a week.... Paul Theroux's 'Dark Star Safari'... he is excellent but an arrogant git and a lovey book called 'Purple Hibiscus'... both in preparation for AFRICA), sleep in the hammock, read some more and maybe take another swim before an afternoon nap and getting ready to hit Puerto's nightlife... which consisted of a couple of surfy bars where thongs (the footware) were considered tre chic, frequented in the main by Mayflower guests.

Life in PE was nice an extremly relaxing after 7 weeks on the road...a town with long sunsets and an endless array of stars with plenty of beach to enjoy them on.

Whist i was there, i avoided writing my blog, not for lack of interest but life seemed so simple, plain and boring that i did not want to let you down... it felt like i escaped from the world... i did however keep writing in my little journal... just never felt to share the thoughts.

To enjoy my days (in between beach and hammock), i spent a lot of time talking to the guests of The Mayflower and below is an introducion to some of the characters, simple vingettes that allowed 10 days to pass with out my even noticing.

In no particular order of relevence or interest ... here goes.

First, there is Avian, the sleazy 27 year old Israeli who rubbed me up the wrong way the instant i met him by denyng that Egypt is a part of Africa, amazed with his geograpy educaton (or lack there of as Israel boarders Egypt) he was determined to spend an entire week telling me that i was wrong thinking that is neighbouring country could be in an area widely known as North Africa because they played soccer in the Asian league. It is for this reason that Avian thought it would be wise to ridicule my education for the entire week with taunts of.... here is the girl who thinks Egypt is a part of Africa... it was infurating me. In between Avian would try and flirt with me and spend as much time as possiable near me... always forcing me to make some excuse to leave... hard in a beach town where all there is is the Hammock, internet, sand and surf.

Next there was Nicko the handsome swiss guy who smiled a lot. Tall, dark haired and muscular Nicko had a large Che Guevera tatoo on his left shoulder. Nicko struck me as being interesting and i was keen to talk to him and hear of his adventures...unfortunatley language was a massive barrier... his english poor and my spanish worse. I did find out that he was planning to spend a month living with people of the Zapista movement in Chapis ( a rebel group that gained prominence in the 1990s... google them for more info) as some sort of human shield.... (was ot sure that things were so bad there that they needed swiss protection). Nicko was a permentant fixture of The Mayflower and an exceptional cook.... lucky for me i must have smiled at the right moment as i managed to get a few meals cooked by him.

Next there was Matt, an almost albino english man who had been on the road for 10 months, of which two were spent at the Mayflower picking up girls, drinking and learning to surf in his spare time. Whilst i was at the Mayflower it felt like i was at Matt's house, he made it is point to welcome everyone and give some good advice... ie the beach is dodgy after dark, on Mondays go to X bar, last week someone got mugged at X etc etc. Matt's motives were travel were unclear, i think half of the reason was because he hated the UK so much he would do anything to avoid the place... which is fair enough.

And then there was Carl, the Canadian nutter from Vancover who beieved in UFO's, connecting with stars and talking to aliens. At first glance Carl seemed liked your everyday individual (aside from harry high pant trousers).. it was not until he started talking that the strange stuff dribbled out...slowly and in a soft voice meant to convince you...perhaps thats how Hubbard got his converts...

Which brings me to Brandon, an oakie from Oklahoma. Brandon was one of the most interesting people I have met on my trip so far. 6 foot 5, lanky and aged 28, he had quite a few unusual stories to tell. First there was the one about his time as a figher pilot in the airforce (never met one of those before).. he nickname was goose... dissapointing, as i thought he had mavrick written all over him, before his career was wreaked by a near fatal attack (is that what you call it...) of Crohns disease and he was discharged before ever entering battle. Next there was the time he spent living and working in Antartica and finally if that is not interesting enough... there was the time he decided to walk across america... Brandon was the type of person i wanted to talk to, certain somewhere in his story i would get the script for my novel... it was almost too unbelieviable.

Finally there were Kelly and Jordan, English friends travelling together ( I am sure he fancied the pants of her). Kelly and I hit it off immediatly and within a few days we were spending all our time together... Kelly is a soul food friend, one i hope to have forever. With a mutual love of partying and lazing on the beach our routines merged slowly into one and we would gossip for hours... (me talking code columbo), kelly talking about the boyfriend she had left behind and Jordan... did i think he liked her... clearly YES... it was great to have a girl to chat too. I think that is because girls tend to travel in tight knitted groups making them almost inpentrable for an outsider.

i will continue this post... lap top has no battery...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Life's a beach...

Dramatic coastlines, yellow sand and big surf were my first impressions as my fokker 100 flew over the town (i almost said city but it is tiny, teeny weeny). With low cloud cover_ fluffy marshmellow shaped clouds hovered about the shore and the plane just bounced along,every now and then hitting an air pocket.

Palm trees and tin huts dot the inland hills and it feels a million miles from the mania that is MC.

The airport is more like a landing strip than anything else, situated in a tropical paradise, the terminal is small, more like an air conditioned shed in the middle of heaven.

The light is blinding and the humidity fells well over 100% if that is possiable. I am soaked through even before i get into my taxi. My diver seemed like a particular jolly individual, smiley, chatty and we grin all the way to The Mayflower my digs for the week (or two) that i will stay in Peurto Escondito.