Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Middle EastI have no idea how they are going to resolve all the current upheaval here in Egypt. Almost everyone I spoke to while inside the country suggested that strong leadership was needed, although nobody had a decent answer for who or what that might be.

This diagram of many of the conflicting power struggles in the Middle East might give you some idea of what a conundrum the situation is. Given there has rarely been peace in this region for much of human history, I’m afraid I will not be holding my breath on a solution being found.

WP_20131130_006Despite this and all the hawkers making a play on your wallet I would like to see more of this country once things are more settled.

The towering minarets of the mosques and temples, Luxor and other areas rich in monuments from ancient Egypt, and all the wildlife available could easily tempt me back in future. However I only had a few days available to visit Egypt and it is time to move on once more.

union-jackIt will be my last flight of these adventures. The flight home.

I will be landing back on British soil at midday today after which you can contact me for ever after on +44-7775-746861.


tahrir-squareIt is my last day in Cairo and I have decided to check out the museum in the city centre, which is a must for anybody interested in history. It is the large pink building in the top right of this picture and is just off Tahrir Square, which has been the centre of most of the large scale demonstrations over the last year in Egypt.

Friday is the holy day in Islamic culture and as a consequence it is the day that supporters of ousted President Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood choose to make their voices heard each week.

Tanks in front of museum 2All of which means that there will almost certainly be the weekly unrest here later today, and as a consequence all the entrances to the square have been blocked by armoured cars and tanks to prevent anything untoward entering the area.

Discovering this I am in two minds about going in at all, but it is the only way to get to the museum so I strolled up to one of the check points.

egyptian-museumAll the members of the army on guard are looking a tad edgy and everyone is checking out the surfer in board shorts as I approached the officer in charge.

He spoke English, which was a result, and I explained that I wanted to see the museum and all the Egyptolgy exhibits inside. I could tell that he didn’t think me being in this neighbourhood was a particularly good idea, but I explained it was my only chance to see the museum and that I was not planning on sticking around for long.

Swiss_Army_KnifeReluctantly he agreed to allow me to enter the square but insisted that he check my back pack to make sure that I was not planning on any mischief.

No problem I thought until he went through my bag, in which I had forgotten I had left my trusted Swiss Army penknife! Pulling it out of the bag he was less than impressed, and I’m thinking there may be trouble ahead!

WP_20131129_011As a consequence I was surprised that he then let me into Tahrir Square, which was deserted as you can see, but more so that he let me keep hold of my knife for the visit!

The square itself was eerily quiet with the shops all boarded up and barely a soul in sight, so I took a few pictures of the scene and all the military vehicles before strolling on to the museum. (As an aside I should tell you the square descended into rioting later, with tears gas, stone throwing and baton charges carrying on well into the night.)

Tuthankhamun_Egyptian_MuseumOnce at the museum I was delighted to discover that there was nobody else there. It is one of the world’s foremost exhibits of ancient culture and I enjoyed walking peacefully around the two floors of artifacts which are as much as 6,000 year old.

Most impressive of the exhibits was the one for the boy king Tutankhamun. I would show some pictures of all the impressive chariots, jewellery, weaponry, boats, stone carvings, etc but you are not allowed to take cameras into the building. 

This is a stock image of Tutankhamun’s burial mask, which will give you a flavour of how it looked. It gave me a few ideas about what I might do with my beard. However I think I will probably pass on sporting a similar vulture and cobra headdress. (Whilst at the museum I discovered they were the respective symbols of the Upper and Lower kingdoms of Egypt, which had been united under the pharaohs.)

Human ChainIt was all very impressive and I could see that you would have had plenty of work as a stonemason in ancient Egypt, but the reality was that with all the recent upheaval the museum looked a bit unloved and dirty.

It actually had a number of items looted during the Arab Spring uprising, but upon hearing this and fearing for their culture the Egyptian people themselves formed a human chain around the building refusing to let anybody in or out until the museum was properly secured.

Tank 2Having strolled around the museum for a couple of hours I thought it was a good idea to be on my way before the inevitable trouble started.

Thanking the very polite gentlemen in armoured cars and tanks, I strolled through the soldiers and police checkpoints before starting the short walk across the Nile back to the safety of my hotel.


SphynxAfter a short drive we arrived in Giza home of the great pyramids and also to the Sphynx, which guards the causeway leading up to them. As the main tourist destination it is hawker central, and even Ashraf told me to trust nobody here, so I kept my wits about me. Our car is surrounded before we had even stopped!

There are nine pyramids located here. Three large ones that are roughly in line with one and other, and three smaller ones at both ends of the line.

WP_20131128_102You can see them all fairly well from the car park but I am introduced to another friend of Ashraf’s who is willing to rent me a camel so I can ride out into the dessert for a more majestic vista of the scene.

This allows me to enjoy the highlight of an already illustrious haggling career, when I successfully knock down the price of a camel from a Bedouin local. This experience alone makes the trip to Egypt worthwhile, but we will call it another scoring draw. (Rob 4 Vendors 2)

Lawrence-of-arabia-posterI’m not sure flip flops are the best footwear for camel riding, and staying on board when the animal gets up from the floor to its hooves could be described as an achievement in itself. However with images from David Lean’s film masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia firmly in mind I struck out into the sand and rocks wobbling along on top of the grumpy animal.

I discovered whilst in Giza that the pyramids were built in the dessert deliberately as a result of the beliefs of the time, which centred around the Nile being the giver of life to all in the area. Dawn and life under the sun started in the east, whilst sunsets were always west of the river so the appropriate place for tombs would also be there.

WP_20131128_126You see Robert of Arabia here, about to set off from Egypt on a quest to win control of Damascus in the spirit of T.E. Lawrence himself.

It is quite hot here even though it is well into the winter, and I can’t imagine what it must be like under the heat of the sun during the middle of the summer.

restingAs for the pyramids themselves, they are smaller than you probably imagined. You can see how easily I was able to take a rest leaning on them here.

They were very impressive and after missing all the historic sites in the Americas it is good to final take in some pyramids on my route.

stoneIt is fantastic to see the last remaining monuments from the seven wonders of the ancient world, even if they are just a pile of old rocks.

The manpower required to move the millions of stones needed to make the pyramids is breathtaking. Especially when you consider that they weigh a minimum of two tonnes and that some travelled from as far as Southern Sudan.

presentsAt the end of a very busy day and just when I thought I was away from the area, I got caught off guard and a little tired by the last of Ashraf’s friends on our way back to the hotel. Far too easily I was talked into making a couple of purchases that in all honesty I had no interest in making before being marched into the shop.

However I can’t say anything more because they are presents to give upon my return home and I want to keep the surprise, but it left the final score for the day as Rob 4 Vendors 4. Haggling was the winner!


cyperus papyrusPapyrus is a thin paper-like material produced from the pith of the Cyperus papyrus plant, which used to grow abundantly along the banks of the Nile. It is known to have been used at least as far back as the First Dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

Mahmood and Ashraf take me to see how it is produced and to offer another friend’s business a chance to flog me some stuff.

blank papyrusThe manufacturing process is surprisingly simple. You cut off the green from the stem of the plant and then place several other pith alongside it. Another layer is added perpendicular to this and the whole lot is then placed into a press, squeezing all the moisture out.

The resulting material looks as in this picture and is quite flexible as well as durable.

The duration of the time spent in the press correlates positively with the darkness of the papyrus produced, so the longer it is squeezed the darker it becomes.

WP_20131129_040I did part with some money here to buy a scroll which had a version of Tutankhamun’s mask painted on it.

However honours were even because after a healthy amount or haggling this bookmark of my name in heiroglyphics was thrown in to sweeten the deal.

I am a tad cynical about the authenticity of heiroglyphs denoting Pharaoh Robert inside the cartouche shape, but will run with it all the same.

A score draw so Rob 3 vendors 1.


The-MummyHaving seen far too many movies from Hammer horrors to The Mummy, with Indiana Jones and Lara Croft in between, one could be forgiven for expecting to need at least a sword when visiting some of the ancient sites just outside of Cairo.

However I was more challenged by all the local hawkers at the sites I saw. Due to the lack of tourists the ratio is distinctly in their favour, and at all the tombs, pyramids and museums I was bobbing and weaving all day long to keep my wallet in my pocket and even just get a little bit of space to myself to take in some of the sights. I managed to do that successfully here leaving the score at Rob 2 Vendors 0.

WP_20131128_027First up was visiting the museum at Mit Rahina close to the ancient city of Memphis.

There was no sign of Elvis but plenty of artifacts relating to another king, Ramesses II. I am told that there are more than his fair share of artifact in part because he had a habit of cutting out the names of other pharaohs and installing his own instead!

WP_20131128_054Next I travelled to see the oldest of all the 140 pyramids discovered so far, which is stepped and more like those in central america than the stereotypical image one would have of an Egyptian one.

It is nearly five thousand years old, and after all that time you would think that they would have finished building it by now! However there is a chance I suppose that the wooden scaffolding may actually be for maintenance purposes.

WP_20131128_049I also get my first glance at hieroglyphics whilst in this large site. The first that I learn to decipher in one of the underground tombs is the cartouche that you see here.

The oval with a horizontal line at one end indicates that the text enclosed is a royal name, and in this instance denotes the Pharaoh Titi.

The scale of the enterprise to mark the the thousands of pictures on all the buildings and adjoining temples is staggering. I could only imagine how annoyed a stone mason might have been had they got through the whole of a limestone block to make a mistake at the end or worse still crack the whole block!


WP_20131128_035I have organised a tour of the local sights and will be shown around by my driver Mahmood and my guide Ashraf. They clearly get paid for dragging tourists to establishments during their tours, but are an entertaining couple to spend the day with.

I enjoyed listening to them argue the merits of both sides of the current political situation. Mahmood is in favour of removed President Mohammed Morsi, whereas Ashraf (and the majority of the rest of Egyptians from what I can gather) is happy about the actions of armed forces chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi earlier this year in response to mass demonstrations.

Carpet weavingI didn’t offer much on the topic because I didn’t want to get dragged into a day long argument and was bound to say the wrong thing to one of them. As a result I was glad when we reached the carpet “school” in Saqqara, south west of the city, which you see above.

It is the first opportunity for one of their contacts to try and sell me some stuff I hadn’t realised I needed, but I also get a tour of the factory where speciality carpets are hand made using cotton, wool, camel hair and most expensively silk.

WP_20131128_038The use of children to make the products is inevitable because quality is measured by the number of knotted threads per square centimetre, and their nimble little fingers are far better at tying small silk knots than somebody with bear paws such as my own would be.

I am treated to tea to keep me in the shop longer while a variety of them are thrown at my feet. Thankfully having sold my flat to come on this trip I am homeless and it is an argument they cannot around no matter how hard they try.

Rob 1 Vendors 0


WP_20131128_175There are undoubtedly being a few issues being ironed out in Egypt at the moment, and that this has lead to violence is well documented. Understandably this has had a major impact on tourism here, with the majority of travellers looking to avoid getting caught up in any escalation of the political disputes.

The situation has actually worked in my favour because the desperate hotels have slashed all their prices so the limited number of guests will stay in their building. The result of which is me having a luxury room at the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah for the duration of my stay for only a little more than I was spending on motels in the USA. I didn’t take them up on the option of a personal butler though, although it was exceedingly tempting!

WP_20131128_009As ever I didn’t do much other than freshen up after all my travelling yesterday, so this morning was my first chance to check this place out.

I enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the restaurant which is set on the banks of the Nile. It is warm and peaceful watching it flow by.

WP_20131128_015The only thing I need to watch out for is the local birds who have realised they are onto a good thing here.

As soon as my back is turned by going inside for some more fruit they are on my table trying to steal my croissants. The cheek! Buy your own breakfast!
RowingWhilst enjoying the food and a cup or two of coffee I am also surprised to see so many rowing boats gliding across the top of the river in the early morning sun.

I am sure it is a perfect training environment but in light of all the recent bad press it seems so contrary to everything I had expected here.


Cairo-taxisI hadn’t even collected my luggage at Cairo International before I was cheekily offered a cab. A polite refusal was not easily accepted, but eventually taken. Then as soon as I set one foot outside of arrivals I am pounced on by about twenty dodgy guys who wanted to give me a lift in their personal cars.

All were brushed off eventually and I found a quiet spot to compose myself before approaching the legitimate rank to start round three.

Taxi FailAbout a dozen guys wanted to get involved as soon as I got close and took turns trying and then failing to get my surfboard in their respective saloon cars through the side doors.

I eventually found a hatchback that could accommodate my board by inserting it from the back, and having loaded my gear was then faced by all of them wanting tips for helping me. At this point I just laughed at the request, which was followed by all of them doing the same thing because they were just taking liberties and seeing if they could get away with it!

trafficThe taxi ride from the airport was testament as to how crazy the traffic is here in Cairo. It is as mental as it was in Hanoi, but with cars instead of mopeds.

I am handed my driver’s phone on the way to my hotel so his boss can give me the hard sell about taking tours with him. Getting off the phone then proves easier said than done, and is only successful after I take a contact number suggesting I might ring back.

WP_20131129_046I had a few preconceptions about what I might find upon arriving in Cairo and some of these were correct, however many of my ideas have already been challenged considerably.

Possibly the last thing I was expecting to see upon arrival was people playing croquet at the sports club located below the balcony of my hotel room. It is not the only thing I see however, because from my vantage point I have a fantastic view of the city.

Cairo_CitadelThe video camera on my phone can’t quite pick out the Saladin Citadel up on the hills in the distance on the far side of the Nile in the footage. It was fortified in the twelfth century by the Ayyubid ruler Salah al-Din (Saladin) to protect it from the Crusaders, and in particular his British sparring partner Richard the Lionheart.

I am delighted my eagle eyes can view it clearly from here though, because I didn’t think I would get to see it due to my limited time here.


uae-flagOn my way to Africa I had to change planes in Abu Dhabi, which is the capital of the UAE. It will be the last time I set foot in Asia on this trip.

It is a is a federation of seven emirates, each of which is governed by a hereditary emir. The constituent emirates are Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain.

Abu_Dhabi_International_AirportI only saw the inside of the departures lounge in Abu Dhabi International Airport, which is the funky scene you see here.

However I cannot really add anything more than that about the state given my limited exposure.


map_of_egyptIn order to break up the journey from Sri Lanka to the UK I decided to stop in Egypt just over a year ago when booking my ticket. There is a distinct lack of surf here but with over 6,000 years of recorded history and all the current upheaval it is bound to be an interesting place to visit.

Any country whose neighbours are Israel, Libya, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan should certainly be eventful.

Sahara_bigI have seen the western end of the Sahara dessert previously so thought checking out the eastern side would neatly bookend my North African experiences.

I am only visiting Cairo because my time in Egypt is limited, so will just be skirting along the edges off it this time. However that is probably for the best because my last visit to the Sahara resulted in digging a Peugeot out of a sand dune and getting nibbled by jackals!

Egyptian ProtestorsA bit like the Korean peninsular all we really see in the news about Egypt of late is negative press so I am keen to make my own mind up about the country whilst here.

There are so many things to see and do here, but of course I need to be mindful that there are quite a few unhappy people at the moment and I don’t really want my trip to fall at the final hurdle. However I also have not lived this year in fear, and don’t intend to start now so will not be holding back as usual.