Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Day 1) 2022
The morning of November 10 found us docked in Dar es Salaam, the largest city (more than 6 million) and commercial hub of Tanzania and until 1974 its capital as well. After leaving Safaga we had 8 consecutive sea days as we sailed around the Horn of Africa To Tanzania. Not much happens on sea days , which is a large part of their charm, with a lot of time to marvel at how incredibly much water is in the ocean (this was the Indian Ocean) and watch the sunsets. There was good weather and not-so-good weather, some hot days and some not quite so hot days, and plenty of time to walk around the ship. One night we ate with all of our tablemates in the Pinnacle Grill where they were having a one night pop-up of Rudy’s Sel de Mer (a seafood restaurant on some of the bigger ships). It was pretty good, but no better in our opinion than the usual fare at the Pinnacle.
Dar es Salaam was added to our itinerary about 6 weeks before sailing as a replacement for the Seychelles. This was OK for us because we had been to the Seychelles but had never been to Tanzania. Dar es Salaam means “haven of peace” in Arabic. It was founded in the 1860’s by the Sultan of Zanzibar on the site of a fishing village called Mzizima, which had been there for a very long time. But when the Sultan died the project was abandoned and it fell into obscurity. It became the administrative capital of German East Africa in 1896. The British captured it in 1916 during WWI and renamed the area Tanganyika Territory. Dar (as it is often called) remained the administrative center. Tanganyika won independence in 1961 and in 1964 it merged with Zanzibar to form Tanzania. Dar es Salaam continued as the capital of the new nation until 1973 when the more centrally located city of Dodoma became the capital, but many government offices still remain in Dar es Salaam.
Dar es Salaam is not a major cruise ship destination and it lacks a cruise terminal. It has a large commercial port and cruise ships can be docked anywhere there is space. Our arrival was greeted by dancers in indigenous dress with painted faces, including several on stilts. This sort of welcome on the dock is always a nice way to begin a visit.
We spent this day on an excursion to visit the highlights of the city. There were about six 12 passenger vans on this tour & it appeared they had overcommitted. It took quite a while to get people sorted into all the vans. Then we all drove to the Botanical Gardens, which was not on our itinerary (for good reason, since it appears its plants and trees are mostly imported rather than Tanzanian). We spent close to half an hour sitting on the bus in the driveway of the Botanical Garden while all the guides from the different buses had a conference about conducting the excursion, something you would think they would have done before picking up the paying passengers. Maybe some of the guides were last minute hires, who knows? It was not an auspicious start.
The guides finally reboarded the buses and we drove to the neighboring National Museum of Tanzania, established in 1934 and open since 1940. We were first gathered on benches in an outdoor spot under a large tree for a lengthy introduction to the museum and outline of Tanzanian history. Then we accompanied our guides into the museum buildings, which housed a variety of photos and eclectic artifacts, from cars that belonged to former presidents to 19th century carved wood colonial furniture to paintings and sculpture to (most interesting) skulls and bones of prehistoric hominids unearthed by the Leakeys (some original and some reproductions).
Our next visit was to the Makumbusho Village Museum, a branch of the National Museum. Established in 1967, this is an open air museum displaying traditional huts from 16 Tanzanian ethnic groups along with some agricultural flora and fauna. This is a small sampling of the more than 100 ethnic groups in the country, speaking some 120 or more languages (Swahili is the primary language and used to communicate between different language groups). Some of the huts are round and some square or oblong, one is even underground, most with thatched roofs and either wood or mud and dung walls. A baobab tree was growing on the grounds as well as some flowers.
We visited the Mwenge Carvings Market, which we had been told by several sources was a working craftsmen’s cooperative where we could watch wood being sculpted and purchase the artists’ creations. Instead it was just an open grass square surrounded by open fronted shops. Some of the shops had wood masks and sculptures for sale but we saw neither craftsmen nor spaces for craftsmen to work. Very disappointing.
From there we went to visit an area crowded with Tinga Tinga painting vendors, some of whom may also be artists. This is a distinctive East African style of painting originated by Edward Saidi Tingting in Dar es Salaam. Traditionally these paintings were done with bicycle paint on masonite which makes for brightly colored pictures with African motifs. Many visitors really liked them but they were not to our taste. As at many places we stopped throughout Africa individuals were there on foot trying to sell small jewelry or souvenirs.
Our last stop was at the Slipway shopping center. This was a nice collection of shops and restaurants by Msasani Bay on the Indian Ocean. We sat at an outside table with our friends Mel and Karen and had beer and delicious french fries. We could see the bay from our table.
Heading back to the port we crossed the new Tanzanite Bridge. It is not made of Tanzanite (a gemstone found only in Tanzania), that’s just its name. Opened in February, just 9 months before our visit, the bridge is about half a mile long with an unusual cable construction. It was built and largely funded by the South Koreans. We crossed it a couple of times today and once on day 2. The local people seem to be very proud of it.
Returning to the ship (through a startlingly persistent traffic jam) we passed, but did not stop for, two of the local landmarks, The Azania Front Lutheran Church, built by Germans in 1898, serves as a cathedral for the local diocese. Askari was the name given to African soldiers serving the colonial powers in East Africa. While there were Askari serving in the German military in this area, the Askari Monument was erected by the British in 1927 to honor the Askari that fought for the British during World War I. Unfortunately, our van did not get close enough as we passed for a clear picture of the monument.
After dinner we walked out onto the aft deck for a picture of the harbor at night. We think the tall building is the Tanzania Port Authority Tower, built in 2016, which is the tallest in the country. On the dock itself was a vast sea of cars, presumably offloaded from cargo ships for sale in Tanzania.
Safaga (Luxor), Egypt 2022
On November 1 we arrived at Safaga, a port town on the west bank of the Red Sea. This is the nearest port to Luxor, the ancient Egyptian capital on the banks of the Nile. While Luxor is a can’t miss visit (and we didn’t), it is a long 3 hour bus ride through the desert each way. Rick observed that it would have been more convenient for tourists if the Egyptians had thought to build Luxor closer to the coast!
Security in this area was very tight. After boarding the bus we drove about 100 yards to a building where we all had to get off and go through a passport check and a metal detector before reboarding and leaving the port. Our bus was also required to stop a number of times at police and military checkpoints between Safaga and Luxor. Other than that the 3 hour trip was uneventful, mostly through barren deserts until we got closer to Luxor where we began to see villages and agricultural fields. Donkey carts seemed to be the prevalent form of agricultural equipment.
Luxor is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back thousands of years. Known to the ancients as Thebes, it was the capital of Egypt during the New Kingdom, from the 16th to the 4th centuries BCE. Today it is a city with a population of more than 420,000, but the antiquities are mostly clustered in an area along the river bank. As an aside, the Egyptians provide delightfully colorful tickets for these attractions.
Our first stop was at the Temple of Karnak, the largest religious temple ever built. It was dedicated to the main local god, Amun, who later became the primary Egyptian god under the name of Amun-Ra. Begun near the beginning of the 2d millennium BCE. some 30 pharaohs contributed to its construction over the centuries until after Alexander’s conquest in the 4th century BCE. The temple ended up mostly buried by sand until excavation began in the mid-19th century.
We approached the temple entrance along a path lined on both sides by sphinxes with the body of a lion and head of a ram (the symbol of Amun-Ra), each with a statue of Ramses II between its paws (though many of them are damaged). Both the wall and the open gate are very tall and impressive.
The large court inside the entrance contains the one remaining column from a large pavilion built by the Kushite pharaoh Taharka. There is also a huge statue of Ramses II with a small Nefertiti standing between his legs. Behind the statue is a large pile of stones, which might be what is left of the dismantled temple to the sun god Aten built by the heretic monotheist pharaoh Akhenaten and dismantled by his son, Tutankhamen. Off to the right is a long wall with a row of columns shaped like papyrus with closed buds. In front of it is a long row of ram’s head sphinxes. The horns on these sphinxes are larger and rounder than the ones outside the entrance; until informed differently we thought they were elephants, as the small Ramses statues under their noses looked from a distance like a trunk.
The central structure at Karnak is the Hypostyle Hall, today including 134 massive columns covering 50,000 square feet. You may have seen Roger Moore as James Bond running through it in The Spy who Loved Me, or a giant stone block being pushed off one of its columns in Death on the Nile. The columns are arranged in 16 rows, with the 12 most central central columns standing 69 ft tall and the rest 33 ft. The tall columns have open papyrus flower capitols, while the shorter ones have capitals shaped like closed papyrus flowers. Their diameter is almost 10 ft. The columns are mostly covered in relief carvings, many with color still intact.
Built by Seti I some 3300 years ago, this was originally a roofed temple. The shorter columns at the sides were topped with clerestory windows reaching to the height of the tall columns. This was necessary to let some light into the otherwise dark enclosed space. The windows had vertical grids and some are still there today (after restoration).
The roof was supported by huge stone architraves or beams set on top of the columns. Each weighs about 70 tons and many are brightly painted on the underside. It is thought that these stones were brought to the top on temporary ramps of sand and stone.
We saw three obelisks at Karnak. Two were near each other and dated to the 16th and 15th centuries BCE: One set up by Thutmose I on the right and by his daughter, the pharaoh Hatshepsut on the left. Hatshepsut actually erected two obelisks here but one fell down during an ancient earthquake and broke into pieces. Fragments of it are in museums in Boston and in Europe, but the top third of the obelisk was restored and erected again on a new base just 6 months before we visited. We saw it near the sacred lake.
As you could see on many of the pictures above, throughout the complex many walls were covered with relief carvings, often with color. Here is a small sample.
So after a much too short and hurried visit (about an hour or so) we left Karnak to drive to our scheduled lunch aboard a felucca (sailboat) on the Nile.
A felucca is a traditional Egyptian wooden sailboat long used on the Nile river. Our boarding was rather disorganized and walking over other boats to reach ours was a little iffy, especially for older people and those who are movement challenged. But the crews were very helpful and everybody made it to the tables set up on the deck for the tasty meal.
We did not have time to visit Luxor Temple, a 14th century BCE temple built on the banks of the Nile. Smaller than Karnak, it is equally as impressive and perhaps better preserved. We did, however, board our felucca near the temple. Its entrance is similar to the one at Karnak but there are giant statues of Ramses II and an obelisk in front of it. There were originally two obelisks flanking the entry way but the second one is now in the Place de la Concorde in Paris. A row of large columns and more statues of Ramses II were on the side by the river where we boarded.
We saw many other feluccas on the river while we ate. We also had a full length view of Luxor Temple including its long rows of pillars and the towers of the Abu Haggag Mosque just beyond the entryway. This part of the Temple was converted to a church in 395 CE and then to a still operating mosque in 640.
We had a nice view of the Winter Palace Hotel, built in 1905 and host to many well known visitors. Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile in her room at this hotel. On the other side of the river were some exclusive looking houses, some with verandas on the roof that must give a wonderful view of the river and the temples beyond. Several fairly large Nile river cruise boats were tied up on the east bank, looking larger than we would have expected.
After lunch we disembarked the felucca on the West bank, opposite from where we boarded. Then we boarded the bus and drove to the Valley of the Kings. After the age of pyramids Egyptian pharaohs adopted a new strategy for avoiding grave robbers. Instead of large, easily identified tombs they began having themselves buried in a barren and remote valley on the west side of the Nile, the direction associated with death by the Egyptians because this is where the sun sets. These new tombs were dug deep into the existing mountains with no markings observable from the surface. Yet virtually all of these tombs were robbed, starting in ancient times not long after they were built. Indeed, some of the workers who built the tombs were among the first robbers.
This gravesite was in use for some 500 years beginning in the 16th century BCE. More than 60 tombs or chambers have been unearthed to date but only about 20 once contained pharaohs’ mummies, the rest being used for other royals and nobles or as work or storage units. Some of these tombs were open to the public in ancient times as evidenced by more than 2,000 instances of graffiti mostly in Latin and Greek, the oldest so far dated to 278 BCE.
A visit to the Valley of the Kings begins at the visitor center where you buy a ticket for the shuttle ride to the tombs and can also buy souvenirs. Photography was prohibited in the Valley of the Kings until just a few years ago when they began to allow it for a fee. To our pleasant surprise, by the time we arrived they had eliminated the fee and photography was freely allowed.
We visited three tombs in the Valley of the Kings, and we were very lucky that our guide was able to help us time our entry to each to avoid the large crowds that often entered a tomb together. The first one was Tutankhamen. He was a rather obscure pharaoh who died in his teens but has become the most famous in modern times. His tomb was discovered to great international acclaim by English archaeologist Howard Carter in November, 1922. In fact, the day of our visit was the 100th anniversary of the start of the dig that unearthed the entrance to the tomb just three days later. Although ancient robbers had been in the tomb most of it was still intact, yielding a vast store of artifacts, many covered in gold. This treasure will soon be viewable, we understand, in the new museum being built near Cairo. Much of it toured several US museums from 1976 to 1979, when we saw it.
Like many of these tombs, there is a long steep walk down from the surface. King Tut’s mummy is displayed in the first chamber, its face open to view but enclosed in an environmentally controlled glass case. A short further walk, happily level, took us to the chamber where his outer sarcophagus sits. It is surrounded by vividly painted walls in Egyptian motifs. Effectively lighted, this is most impressive (as are all the tombs we visited). We guess that the paint on the walls of these tombs was of no use to tomb robbers.
Next we visited the tomb of Rameses I, built in the late 14th century BCE and discovered in 1817. While Tutankhamen’s tomb is painted with a golden background this one has a gray one. Rameses I only ruled for about 2 years, after serving in high office for a number of years before, so there was less time than usual to prepare his tomb and it is one of the smaller ones. There are two steep staircases to get there, separated by a corridor, and the room itself contains the pharaoh’s sarcophagus. His mummy is, at last report, residing in a museum at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. A wooden structure has been built around the sarcophagus to reinforce the ceiling. You can see from the pictures that the tomb was not crowded while we were there but when we tried to leave there was a very large group of French tourists walking down filling both sides of the stairway. We had to wait for them to clear a narrow path for us to climb up.
After climbing those steep stairways Mary’s leg was hurting so only Rick visited the tomb of Rameses IV. Rameses IV ascended the throne in middle age after his father was assassinated and lived for only about 6 more years, dying in 1150 BCE. His tomb has been open since antiquity and contains many Coptic and Greek graffiti (although Rick didn’t see them). During the early 19th century part of it was used as lodging for some visitors to the Valley of the Kings and it was finally excavated in the first two decades of the 20th century. A large white quartzite sarcophagus sits in the tomb, and it would originally have held a couple of wooden ones nested inside each other, but the pharaoh’s mummy is now in the new museum in Cairo. Unlike the other two tombs we visited this one has painted ceilings as well as walls. Some of the ceilings are curved and the walls of the corridor are covered with carved and painted hieroglyphics. The staircases to enter and exit the tomb were not nearly as steep or as long as those in the other two tombs.
Outside the tomb was a large open area with a restroom and a shuttle bus stop. As we took the shuttle back and boarded our bus the sun was coming down. We were supposed to visit Hatshepsut’s mortuary temple and see the Colossi of Memnon, but we were running out of time because the sun was setting and the sites were closing. Our guide managed to talk the reluctant guards at Hatshepsut’s temple to let us have a quick photo stop, but we weren’t allowed to leave the bus (the guards wanted to go home). Hatshepsut was a female pharaoh (she sometimes wore a fake beard to emphasize she was pharaoh and not just queen) who died in 1158 BCE. Her impressive pillared mortuary temple built in three receding tiers under a dramatic cliff is considered one of the great works of ancient architecture. We drove past the Colossi without stopping, but night was falling and they were on the other side of the bus so we only have a blurry picture.
We drove by the Colossi at speed because it was getting late and we had a three hour drive through the night to reach the ship before it departed at midnight. We made it back in time but the ride seemed even longer at night after a very full day in Luxor. At least we would have several days at sea to recover as we sailed around the Horn of Africa to our next port.
Our conclusion from all this is that Luxor is a wonderful place to visit, full of history and beauty and culture. But a one day stop including six hours of driving through the desert just isn’t enough. To really see what’s at Luxor would take at least two or three days, not counting the commute. We hope one day we will be able to do that, but probably not from a cruise ship.
Aqaba, Jordan (Day 2) – Petra 2022
Happy Halloween in Jordan! After a restful night and an early breakfast at the Petra Moon we headed down just after daybreak on October 31 to the Petra welcome center where you obtain entry tickets. Petra, of course, is an ancient city whose building facades are carved into the rocky cliffs on the other side of a narrow canyon of reddish rock. In the Bible this area is called Edom but Petra was actually built somewhat later by a civilization called the Nabateans. The Romans conquered them and after they left it slowly deteriorated into a backwater inhabited by some Bedouins. It was “rediscovered” by Europeans in the 19th century. You have seen it in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade and may have read about it in Agatha Christie’s Appointment with Death, which was partially set here. This is a unique and beautiful place to visit. We have been here once before and you can read more about it here:
Petra can get very crowded with tourists during the day but because we spent the night here we were able to get a very early start, before the day visitors arrived. From the welcome center it is about a mile’s walk to the entry to the Siq, a deep and narrow canyon, probably created by an earthquake and wind and water erosion. Even before reaching the Siq we encountered Nabatean carved stones and caves. The road to the Siq has been upgraded since our last visit and divided to permit horses to pass on a separate path. Although Petra can get very hot, in the early morning it was actually chilly (another advantage of starting early).
We were very lucky in having with us our guide, Mamoun Nawafleh, who was born and raised in Wadi Musa and has spent some 30 years studying Petra, about which he has published several books with another to be published soon. His father and grandfather have been among the top administrators of the site and Mamoun is currently a college astronomy teacher. Although there seem to be no definitive contemporary records, Petra’s buildings have traditionally been interpreted as mostly tombs and temples. But Mamoud has concluded that many of the building facades and cliffside carvings were actually used for scientific purposes, such as astronomy, weather prediction and measurement of time and seasons. For example, he explained why he believes the building below that we encountered on our walk to the Siq was actually a scientific post (the pointed stones on top operate as sundials) rather than a temple or tomb. Obviously we lack the expertise to evaluate his theories, but Mamoun explained the basis for his interpretations of many of these items and he was very articulate and convincing in his presentation of his theories, which are entirely different from what we have encountered before. Sadly, by the time I am writing this I can no longer recall most of the details of his explanations so you will have to take my word for it that his theories are elegant and convincing.
The Siq was quite beautiful in the early morning with the sun lighting the tops of the walls and the lower part still in shade.
As we walked through the Siq we encountered man made carvings, some looking like buildings and some like decorations, including a well worn depiction of a camel driver with, I think, a camel whose legs are gone but feet are still there (Mamoun had different interpretations of these artifacts but I don’t remember them well enough to explain them).
The Nabateans were innovative engineers. Their city was situated at the bottom of a steep canyon which made it susceptible to flooding. At the entry to the Siq they built a dam and channels to divert flood waters away from the Siq where it would do no harm (below right). Since their city was in a desert sources of water were essential. They built a long aqueduct into one wall of the Siq to bring water from the top down to the people in the city who needed it (below left).
As one approaches the end of the Siq the Treasury, the most famous building in Petra (where Indiana Jones found the holy grail), begins to come into view between the walls of the canyon. This is a very dramatic moment.
Carved into the rockface of a cliff, the facade of the Treasury is elaborate and impressive. It has a small chamber inside, nothing like what Indiana Jones found there. This building was not a “treasury” at all; many say it was a tomb but Mamoun identified a number of astronomical and weather related items in the facade including relief images that represent constellations. It later became known as the “Treasury” after a legend arose that the stone ball at the top contained a vast treasure, some say left there by the Egyptian pharaoh when chasing the Israelites. Since the Bible says the pharaoh never made it through the sea to what is now Jordan that seems pretty anomalous, and it is hard to envision the pharaoh taking his treasure with him to chase down his slaves in any event. Nonetheless, you can still see the holes made by gunfire in attempts to unlock this supposed treasure over the years.
One thing we noticed that was different from our last visit 4.5 years ago (and not in a good way) was the proliferation of souvenir stands throughout the grounds, often in front of buildings you might want to photograph. There were a few of these in 2018, but not nearly as many or as obstructive. The souvenirs seemed pretty generic and they, or some like them, were available for purchase at the gift shops at the welcome center where you wouldn’t have to carry them around the site and back up the steep hill. Since almost all the visitors walked by the shops at the welcome center on their way into Petra it was hard to understand how all these vendors actually make a living down here.
From the Treasury we walked down the hill to the rest of the town. We passed more building facades carved into the cliffs and saw a number of them higher on a hillside across the valley. In several places donkeys and horses were waiting for visitors to buy a ride up or down the hill.
Further down the openings in the rock looked more like caves than buildings. We understand that during the time Petra was “lost” Bedouins lived in these caves. Beyond that was a vast open space thought to have been full of houses of some kind. Mamoun led some of our party beyond that area to some more facades built in a hillside about half a mile away but we were already pretty tired and had the return ascent still to look forward to, with a deadline of 2:00 to meet the bus back to the ship. So we decided to turn back instead.
On our way back up the hill we had a nice view of the old theater, carved out of the rock in the 1st century CE. We understand that most of the original is still intact, with a Roman upgrade to the stage area and some more modern finishing to the seats. We also passed again the monolithic stone carvings we had seen on the way down.
Arriving back at the Treasury we found one of the most important changes since our last visit, this one a very welcome improvement. It used to be that the only way to ascend the hill to the welcome center without a 2 mile uphill slog was to rent either a horse or a horse cart. These were quire expensive (more than $100 for the horse cart plus a very substantial expected tip, if memory serves) and they weren’t always readily available for folks who had walked (rather than ridden) down the Siq. We had read that the horse carts had been replaced by large golf carts at a much more reasonable price, but it was our impression that these could only be engaged round trip, down the Siq and then back up again when you were finished. The last part was not (or no longer) true, though, for we were able to hop onto the back of one of several waiting golf carts, which took us to the welcome center without wear and tear on our legs. We sat on the back facing where we had come. We took a few pictures as we drove up the hill, one-handed because we had to hang onto the cart to keep from slipping off the back.
We all stopped for a much needed drink at a cafe in the welcome center; some had beer and others had a very refreshing green local drink with lime and mint in it. We had a buffet lunch at the old Petra Moon hotel (not far from the new Petra Moon where we had slept), then drove back to the port.
As evening approached we were able to take some pictures from the ship of Aqaba (with the big flag pole) and also of the Israeli city of Eilat on the other side of the bay, looking almost like an extension of Aqaba. Close, but you would have to cross a difficult international border to get there.
Aqaba, Jordan (Day 1)–Wadi Rum 2022
We arrived in the port of Aqaba, Jordan, early in the morning of October 30 for an overnight stay. This seaport on the Red Sea is Jordan’s only sea outlet. If you have seen Lawrence of Arabia you probably know that one of the key moments in the Arab uprising against the Turks during World War I was the capture of this town. It was a much smaller town then and because it was backed by a large desert all of its guns were pointed toward the sea, from which any attack was expected to come. But the Arabs and Lawrence instead endured a punishing trek across the desert from Wadi Rum to attack from the land side & took the town easily. Wadi Rum, from which this attack originated, was where we were going today. Actually, we were on an overnight excursion in which the first day would be spent in Wadi Rum and the second in the ancient city of Petra. This was our second visit to Aqaba and to Wadi Rum & Petra, although in our first visit we explored both areas in a single exhausting day; you can read a lot more about Wadi Rum there:
Our excursion met on the ship then we rode in a bus to Wadi Rum. Flying above Aqaba as we left town was a Jordanian flag on a skyscraper sized flagpole that is one of the largest in the world. The drive to Wadi Rum took us through some rugged mountains and past some small hardscrabble villages.
Wadi Rum is run by Bedouins; only they can drive you through in an open deck truck & no outside guides are permitted. Therefore, at the entrance to the area we had to leave our bus and climb into the back of an open bed truck that had bench seats for three people along each side. The step up to the truck bed was quite tall; one of our Bedouin guides found a concrete block to carry with us that could be put on the ground to serve as a step up (still pretty challenging for some folks). Leaving the entrance we drove out across the desert, past beautiful mountains and rock formations.
Wadi Rum has been inhabited for more than 10,000 years, during which it has been a crossroads for camel caravans. There are some 25,000 petroglyphs in the area, many dating back that far. We stopped at one of the petroglyph sites. It is an interesting feeling, receiving a communication set down by someone living thousands of years in the past.
This area was also a camel gathering place. A number of folks leading camels stopped here, apparently for a rest since they weren’t trying to sell camel rides. They kept coming and going while we were there.
One thing new since our last visit was a series of tent camps in the desert. We saw nothing like that in 2018. They must have been built by entrepreneurial Bedouins. They look like interesting places to spend a night or two.
We drove past a guy sandboarding in the desert, pulled by a truck. It looked like fun.
A couple of other stops took us to beautiful mountain and desert vistas.
We stopped in the shadow of a mountain where our guides built a fire and prepared tea. On a mountain across from us someone spotted some climbers about two thirds of the way up a stone mountain. We found out later that climbing these mountains is a popular activity (for some folks). Despite looking carefully through the camera zoom lens at the spot where we were told the climbers were, Rick was not able to see them (old eyes, I guess). But he took some pictures of that area anyway and when we got home and enlarged them two climbers turned out to be in there. Better yet, Robert got individual pictures of two of the climbers moving up the rocky face.
Our last stop in the desert was at a very large gift shop (yes, in the middle of the desert). We didn’t buy anything, but it was impressive enough just that it was being operated out there.
At this point we were driven to a large geodesic dome set up as a buffet restaurant where we had lunch. It was a good lunch and a better view.
After lunch we all piled back into the bus for the approximately 2 hour drive to Wadi Musa, the town at the entrance to Petra. Musa is Arabic for Moses and this town was named after a spring that they say is where Moses made water flow from a rock for his thirsty people by hitting the rock with his walking stick. On the way there we stopped at a large gift shop/cafeteria sitting on top of a cliff for a rest stop. The bathrooms were down a couple of flights of steps and the wall across from them had a very large picture window with a pretty spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and desert. Their sign said it is the best view in Jordan (or maybe it said in the world). We don’t know about that, but it was pretty good. Unfortunately there was some fog that obscured the view somewhat.
As mentioned above, Wadi Musa (Moses’s Valley) is supposed to be where Moses got water for his thirsty people from a rock (and got in trouble with God, but that’s another story). Moses’s brother Aaron is said to have died not far away (I’m not sure whether before or after the water incident) and there is a shrine commemorating him on top of a nearby mountain that we drove past, although quite a distance away. On the way there we passed shepherds herding sheep and goats.
Wadi Musa is built on a steep hill leading up from Petra. We entered on one side and had to drive around the town near the top of the hill to find our hotel. This was the newly opened Petra Moon Luxury Hotel and while we probably wouldn’t describe it as “Luxury” it was more than adequate. It was the end of a very long and rewarding day and we were glad to get to bed after our buffet dinner, since we had to leave early in the morning for our walk down into Petra.
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt 2022
October 29 found us in Sharm el Sheikh, a resort town at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea. We had booked a long excursion to St Catherine’s Monastery, several hours by bus each way into the central Sinai desert. This is the oldest functioning Christian monastery in the world, in part because it is fortified, established in 565 by order of Roman Emperor Justinian I. It sits at the foot of Mt Sinai on the spot where Moses is supposed to have seen the burning bush (a claimed descendant of which can still be seen there) and contains the oldest continuously operating library in the world, among other treasures. So you can see why this sounded interesting, but upon learning that the monastery usually closes to visitors by noon and being told that our stop in port was barely enough for the round trip bus ride we decided to back out. From what we heard it was a long and difficult bus ride with only about 45 minutes at the monastery and the scheduled restaurant meal and tour of a Bedouin town was cancelled for lack of time. So we were glad we cancelled.
We signed up instead for a HAL excursion to see the highlights of Sharm el Sheikh along with our friends and tablemates Peggy & Kay. Until the last few decades there was nothing here but sand, water and a camp occasionally used by local fishermen. The Israelis built a settlement called Ofira during their occupation of the Sinai Peninsula betweem the Six Day War in 1967 until the Egyptian Israeli peace agreement of 1979. They built a hotel and a barracks for their troops, which was pointed out to us as the oldest building in town.
A natural diving and snorkeling wonderland with 25 coral reefs and more than 1,000 species of fish, the town really took off as a vacation hub after its repatriation to Egypt. From 1982 to 2,000 it went from 3 resorts to more than 90, and from 16,000 nights of vacation bookings to more than 5 million. With a current population around 70,000+ there was quite a bit of visible building activity still going on during our visit. Sharm el Sheikh is also a favorite site for international conferences; the COP27 international climate conference was to begin here the week after our visit. So there is plenty of hustle and bustle. But its quick development to serve the international tourist trade has left it with an ambiance that is something of a cross between Las Vegas and Disney World.
After it was returned to Egypt after the peace accords with the Israelis, Sharm el Sheik was designated by the government “The Peace City.” The first stop on our city tour was to the Peace Icon Memorial, one of the largest metal artworks in the world, measuring more than 125 ft tall. It depicts a lotus flower holding up eight wings with the world above. Across the street from the parking lot is a gilded metal sculpture of a group of camels relaxing on the sidewalk. Nearby were some palm trees . . . and some not palm trees (cell towers)>
Our next visit was to a Coptic church. The Coptics are the Egyptian branch of the Greek Orthodox Church and we had never visited one of their churches before. As with everything in Sharm el Sheikh, of course, this church is not very old although we don’t know when it was built. The outside is a smooth beige in what appears to be concrete, with Greek crosses atop the domed roof and towers.There was a sculpture of a lion wearing a crown near the front entrance.
A large domed porch covered the church’s main entrance, the walls of which were covered with paintings.
The inside of the church is filled with elaborate decoration, wall and ceiling art as well as chandeliers and other objects.
We stopped by a large bay called Ras Um Sid, which is supposed to be one of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the area. We didn’t see much happening there (I guess it was mostly under the water), but there were people swimming in what looked like a private beach for a resort hotel. The water here was very blue and clear, relatively shallow well out into the bay.
We saw two large mosques in Sharm el Sheikh. Al Mustafa Mosque is the older (2008) and larger (236 ft minarets) of the two, but unfortunately we did not get anywhere close to it.
We walked by the second, the Al Sahaba Mosque, which looks more like something from Disney World, with lots of carefully designed and rendered decorative details, than from the desert. It was opened in 2017 and is the second biggest mosque in Sharm el Sheik. Unfortunately it was closed so we couldn’t see the inside (not clear to us whether it is ever open to non-Muslim visitors).
The mosque is situated next to the old market, a neighborhood with several streets of vendors and restaurants. Most of the vendors had their wares displayed on the sidewalk and there was even a souvenir shop next to the mosque. Some kind of event was being prepared in the park in front of the mosque, which included a camel made entirely from used soda cans.
Back on the ship, a group picture was made of the Table 65 inmates, a compatible and fun set of table mates. And as we left Sharm el Sheikh we were favored with a dramatic sunset.