Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cross Egypt Challenge - October 26 and 27, 2015

Cross Egypt Challenge October 26 and 27, 2015

October 26 – The Marriott in Hurghada was beautiful and quite posh.  Our king size bed was covered in luxurious Egyptian cotton linens and it was screaming my name!  It continued to rain off and on that night and I didn’t think our jeans would get dry on the balcony so we managed to get our jeans dried by the hotel laundry at normal laundry rates, but back to us in two hours.  I dreaded the thought of putting on wet, clammy jeans and riding all day, so I was thrilled we got the wet clothes sorted out and dried.

Dinner and bed, in that order with nothing in between :-)

We were up early for breakfast, gathered our stuff and headed out to the scooters.  There were huge puddles of water everywhere.  Apparently, the rain we rode through yesterday and continued through the night was the most rain this region has had in such a short time in something like 5 years! So, they needed the rain but I was hoping for a clear day of riding.  Fortunately, as we saddled up, the weather was clear.  After getting our morning fuel, we braved several water crossings as we left Hurghada under police escort.  By now, our group was getting pretty good at formation, staying together and passing hand signals down the line.  Our exit was uneventful, however, again we were the subject of the day as anyone who saw us pulled out their cell phones and took photos and movies!

Our first water crossing, directly in front of our hotel!  The puddles were surprisingly large and deep.  Fortunately, we all made it through the obstacles without issue!

Today was a ride day with our goal being Luxor.  We continued along the Red Sea for a period of time and then turned inland as we entered the Eastern Desert.  So far, the terrain has been rock and sand with almost no vegetation.  However, as we entered the East Desert, the landscape changed and we saw rugged mountains and the road surprised us with an occasional curve or two.  We were motoring along very well as a group and had very little accordion effect going on.  Well, at least from my perspective, but then, I was rider 3 or 5 and was near the front of the group J

 My little scooter, Number 11 :-)  Most of the time I have the throttle fully wicked!
 Here were are taking a break in the mountain area.  Still no vegetation but lots of very wicked looking rock mountains.

 Yup, another picture of guys doing what guys do.

We made a fuel stop that was efficient but of course we lingered over coffee, snacks and chit chat.  For this particular fuel stop, we pulled off the road onto a side road.  But first, we had to cross over a rather large sand pile (that was interesting on a scooter!) and when we exited, they put down some narrow metal grates, (marshal matt), across more sand that were needed to cross in order to get back on the main road.  I was glad that everyone made it over the sand without incident! 

I’m feeling more and more confident on the scooter and rather enjoyed our bit of off-road scootering!

We encountered several checkpoints that are staffed with armed guards.  Of course, they were expecting us because the organizers had done their job well.  At one checkpoint we were held up for a bit as they let traffic through.  I took the opportunity to snap a few pictures.

 Roadside cafe, Egypt style!

 Checkpoints all have armed guards.
 Yes, that is what you think it is :-)
Another roadside cafe at the checkpoint.

Lunch was served alongside the road.  This time, the organizers were quick to set up the ladies loo much to the relief of the ladies!    Lunch was delicious but don’t ask me what it was.  Some sort of flakey, sweet flatbread served with molasses along with a freshly prepared fruit salad, juice, water and a sweet croissant with chocolate and hazelnut filling.  Yummy!

Always loud, loud, loud music at lunch.  Here was the source :-)
Aha!  The ladies loo was set up in time for lunch break, yippee!!
Lunch on the road.

Just outside of Luxor we made a quick third fuel stop.  We didn’t linger here but moved on toward our goal.  We had police escort to our hotel.

Well, a tiny error occurred and we made a wrong turn at a round-about, but that was quickly realized and we all made a big u-turn.  Hahahaha, imagine the sight of 70 scooters, a bunch of support vehicles, our big luggage truck and the gas tanker all making a u-turn.  We definitely had an audience of locals as were got turned around and headed in the proper direction.  Funny!

We pulled into a lovely, long drive to the Mercure Hotel along the Nile.  Our lodging for the next 3 nights!  Our room key was given to us and we gathered our luggage and went in search of our room.  The Mercure was once a Grand Old Dame but sadly she needs some attention to regain her glory.  The grounds are beautiful and she sits along the River Nile.

We didn’t have much time to chill as we had a tour within an hour of our arrival.  After a quick shower, we boarded the bus for the Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple Sound and Light Show.  Luxor was first and is smaller but no less fantastic than Karnak.

 The entrance to Luxor Temple.

 An almost full moon was spectacularly framed by an opening in the Luxor Temple.

 I tried :-)

Karnak was next on our agenda and following a quick bus ride, we were there.  It is a huge temple and we had electronic translators so we could hear the story in English.  I think we’ll go back to Karnak on our day off and see it in the daylight.  Although I enjoyed the Sound & Light Show, I really couldn’t see much beyond the spotlights in certain areas of the temple so I think a return trip is in order.  (Thus, no photos.)

Finally, we re-boarded the bus to return to our hotel, have a late dinner and hit the bed.  It was close to 10:30 pm before we got to bed and we had a 3:30 am wake up call the next morning for a balloon ride!  Whew – an early morning for a long day of scootering with a long tour and late dinner – I was exhausted.  Bed looked wonderful!

October 27, 2015

Oh my heck!!!! It was 3:45 am and time to get up and out the door to the bus for our hot air balloon ride.  I’ve never been in a hot air balloon and I was very apprehensive.  As a matter of fact, Eric had to talk me into signing up for this event.  I’m afraid of heights!  I can’t even climb the ladder to change a light bulb and I was going to take a balloon ride???  Yikes!!  With sleepy eyes we boarded the bus along with a pretty good number of other riders.  A short trip later, we stepped off the bus and made our way carefully onto a boat to cross the Nile and then back on a bus for a quick ride into a large dirt field where many balloons were filling up with hot air.  These were not your average recreational balloons, but much larger versions of the same technology.  These were built to take 16-20 passengers at a time in large baskets with four passenger sections and a central area for the pilot and propane tanks/burners.

 The spots in this photo are bugs!  Hundreds of tiny little specks that quickly met their demise as the burners on the balloons were lit.
 Some of the balloons slowly taking off from the launch area.

 It was such a beautiful sight from the ground.  However, what awaited me from the air was even more spectacular.

 We are starting to rise into the early morning sky.

 Getting higher and higher.  This photo gives you a good perspective of the fertile Nile farmland and the stark, dry, harsh desert.

 The Temple of Hatshepsut.
 Some of the many ancient Egyptian sites.

 The beautiful River Nile.
 Bountiful crops.
 A series of balloons.
 Selfie #1 :-)
Selfie #2 (better)

It was exciting and as I watched people load into the baskets and balloons lift off I was both filled with awe and fear.  After a few photos, it was our turn to climb into the basket.  Climbing in was easy (out was difficult!).  And then, there I was, inside the balloon basket next to the burner but thankfully shielded by a piece of metal.  Those outside the metal were getting some serious heat.  I was just fine!

Ever so slowly the big silk balloon began to fill and our basket gently swayed.  We were still tethered to the ground so I wasn’t terrified.  Our pilot then climbed into the basket and introduced himself.  He gave a brief safety speech and told us what to expect upon landing.  Okay, I was good so far.  With a few more bursts of hot flame, the pilot instructed the ground crew to loosen our tether and we were free….and…. floating up, up, up.  Yippee!!!!!!!  I was so excited and awestruck that I forgot to be afraid.  It was serene and silent – beautiful.  We climbed higher and higher and people on the ground became smaller and smaller.

We continued to ascend and our pilot caused the balloon to rotate so everyone could get views from all sides.  It was amazing.  And then, the sun began to peak out from the horizon.  Just a speck at first, then growing into an orange, red hot ball sparkling light on the River Nile.  Oh, swoon, how romantic, how special.  Snapping pictures at every turn, I was rather overwhelmed at the beauty and serenity.  On one side was the Nile and its lush fields of crops, while on the other side was the very stark, dry desert.  The views of The Valley of the Kings, Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, the Colossus, and many, many tombs in the desert was spectacular.  Our pilot took us up high, high, high and then let us drift down low, low, low.  It was wonderful in every way possible.  We took tons of pictures and then….just let the marvelous glow of the moment wash over us.

Finally, it was time to land and our pilot was indeed an expert.  We didn’t even feel a bump.  We just gently set down on the earth.  The ground crew quickly secured the balloon and we climbed out of the basket.  That was hard, hahahahah. Yes, I think I would do a hot air balloon ride again!!

Here are a bunch of photos, from our balloon ride, some good and some not so good.  With my lack of internet access and time to upload pictures, I thought I'd just post most everything. 

 An oasis in the desert!
The Colossus statues leading to the Valley of the Kings.

 A farmer harvesting his corn crop by hand.
A view of our balloon basket.

 The sun just starting to rise.
 Getting bigger.

Back on the bus and again crossing the Nile in a boat to board a bus taking us back to our hotel just in time for breakfast.

Today was jam packed with events!  After lunch, we boarded a bus yet again, this time heading for the Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut (which we had seen from the balloon).  Luxor is the hotspot for Egyptian antiquities, temples, palaces and archeological digs.  At the Valley of the Kings we had a tour guide to explain everything to us.  Although there are many, many tombs located there, we only had time to view three.  Simply fantastic.  Unlike the Pyramids of Giza, the tombs here still retain a lot of their original decorations.  We weren’t allowed to take any photos here as they don’t want flashes to damage the scenes.  Suffice it to say it was over the top awesome.  There have been a million or more different interpretations of the hieroglyphs but that didn’t matter.  Just looking at the detailed, highly skilled workmanship was reward enough.  To know that these tombs were decorated by the kings that occupied them added another dimension.  I had so many questions but with our large group and limited time I wasn’t able to ask or get answers.  That’s okay, I have the internet!

We made a brief stop at an alabaster shop to see how the alabaster is carved and to purchase souvenirs.  Eric stayed on the air conditioned bus and I poked around but didn’t buy anything.  I was fortunate enough to have visited Egypt in 2001 and have plenty of Egyptian art scattered about our home.

Then we were off to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.  What a magnificent structure.  A group of Polish artisans and workers are meticulously restoring this temple.  Only fragments are original.  We made the long, long, long climb to the top story and browsed around the temple.  Finishing our tour with a well deserved ice cream before once again boarding the bus back to the hotel.

Then we were off to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.  What a magnificent structure.  A group of Polish artisans and workers are meticulously restoring this temple.  Only fragments are original.  We made the long, long, long climb to the top story and browsed around the temple.  Finishing our tour with a well deserved ice cream before once again boarding the bus back to the hotel.

A late lunch and a nap were in order for the rest of the afternoon.  Dinner again at the hotel.  Although a Halloween Party was scheduled after dinner, Eric and I begged off.  We needed sleep!
The entire group is finally in a routine of up early, fuel, scoot, fuel, scoot, fuel, lunch, scoot, hotel, activities….We’re riding together much better and I’m feeling more confident on the scooter.  We do have a few mavericks who refuse to follow instruction and that becomes annoying.  And, frankly, I’ve been concerned a time or two about safety because of shenanigans of a few. 

However, I'm going to focus on the positive for now.  Every journey will have it's negative moments and this adventure is no different.  I can get past the negatives and will always remember the positives!

They're calling us for yet another event so I'm off for now!  Cheers everyone :-)

PS - I'll check later, but if some of the pictures don't post well, I'll redo and let you know :-)