One of the biology classes had a field trip to Ayn Souhkna today. That is a blink on the road along the Gulf of Suez, leading to Hergadah. There were 9 students, an instructor (colleague from AUC), another instructor, our department custodian (a great cook), Jack and myself. We left Cairo at oh-dark-thirty and were at the spot before 10am.
Initially it was a bit overcast and breezy, but as we geared up for snorkling (YES – this was a biology class field trip! Snorkling in the Red Sea!!) the clouds began to move off and the temp went up. We were in the water for about an hour. I was acting as a cat-herder, trying to keep buddy groups together in rather rough conditions, pointing students toward the coral reef patches that they needed to observe and doing a bit of playing for/by myself.
THIS WAS MY FIRST RED SEA EXPERIENCE!!! Since I began diving in 19mumblemumblemumble, the Red Sea has been equivalent to Mecca for diving. This spot was a humble beginning, however I was able to snorkel above a LIVING coral reef. This was hard, reef-building coral! I saw tropical fish, 2 species of urchins, many types of corals – it was wonderful!
The hour in the water was spectacular, and VERY draining. Excitement and responsibility, as well as “challenging” surf conditions, made it an exhausting hour. I was actually amazed that I could be soooo tired after an hour in the water. After the first of what was scheduled to be two snorkles, we came out of the water to fresh, hot bbq chicken, stuffed peppers, eggplant and zucchini, and salad. Life is soo good.
Suffice to say, a day at the beach, snorkling, seeing living coral patches – even with the difficult conditions – was an amazing outing! We never made it back in for the second snorkel due to conditions, and that was OK with me.
I think I’ll sleep (and dream) well tonite.
This is half tongue-in-cheek and half honest. The first few days of November have been REALLY COLD for Cairo. It has been breezy, and the daytime high temp has only reached 15 or 16C!!! For all the Metric-phobic, that is 59 to 61F. Yes, I can hear all of you remarking, “She’s GOT to be joking!” but it is true. I was forced to pull out a sweater and/or a scarf to wrap around my shoulders during the DAY!
Luckily, the daytime temp has rebounded to a reasonable 24C/75F with evening temps in the mid-teens (C). Pleasant during the day, and cool at night. Life is good.
Yes…as many of your astute comments have questioned…we went to Morocco via central Spain. As I’d said, we were on a tour that was sponsored by the Student Programs and Housing office. We were on a tour designed for the undergraduate students. (Read: CHEAP) In order to be cheap, you end up with the most circuitous flight arrangements! So our flight went from Cairo to Barcelona to Madrid (multi-hour layover) to Casablanca. We left Cairo at 12:30AM and arrived in Casablanca at noon local time (2pm Cairo time) – 14 hours of travel time. OUCH. Oh well, it is cheap.
We had a longer-than-planned stop in Barcelona, caused by our smarmy^H^H^H travel agent. Apparently he had messed up two of the tickets, so decided to deplane in Barcelona WITHOUT HIS LUGGAGE. Imagine airport security – Egyptian man and his wife get off a plane without their luggage at a stop that is not their destination. Kinda fishy?! Well, they searched the whole plane, trying to identify the owners of each piece of hand luggage, before we could go on to Madrid. The unfortunate part of this story is that one of the students was asleep during the search. Because she was sleeping, she did not claim her carryon bag, so it was confiscated in Barcelona. This bag contained EVERYTHING she was bringing!
When we FINALLY made it to Madrid, the best part of the layover was BREAKFAST (shown here with my mascot).
Jack and I got a chance to enjoy our favorite food on the planet: jamon bocadillos! These are crispy small baguettes filled with pieces of serrano jamon, sometimes Manchego cheese and a little olive oil. Khalas! That’s all! YUMMY!!! We practically lived on these during our trip to Spain. Bocadillos, fresh OJ, really good coffee and we were feeling good!
The flight to Casablanca was uneventful. The woman whose bag had been taken in Barcelona had to file a lost bag claim, but we got out of the airport with minimal chaos.
Casablanca, for the most part, was a disappointment. Everyone knows the name from the movie, but the city is a modern, planned, business center. It is neither lovely nor romantic. We had a “tour” of the city – saw the Corniche (seaside drive) and the Hassan II mosque (3rd largest mosque in the world, largest in Africa) and were pretty much done with Casablanca. Jack and I decided not to go for the dinner (arranged by the tour) and to strike out on our own. We found a FANTASTIC traditional Moroccan place (see Jack’s pics) near the hotel for pretty cheap but tasty Moroccan food.
In the morning, we were getting ready to head for Rabat, when we found out from the students about their dinner. Apparently they went to an italian restaurant (remember, we are in Morocco) AND were charged $20 (yes, that is US dollars!) per person for it. Jack’s and my Moroccan tagine and couscous dinner cost less than $20 TOTAL! We also found out that we all had to PAY EXTRA for the city tour of the previous day! AND the travel agent was asking it to be paid in AMERICAN DOLLARS. Spidey senses were tingling – this is not Kosher!!!
Rabat was fun. The Kasbah was beautiful, and Jack and I abandoned the tour about mid-day. The travel agent was not happy about this and warned us of “all the dangers in Rabat” before, begrudgingly, agreeing to our departure. (Not that his agreement was necessary in the first place… ) The rest of our day in Rabat was, although not overly spectacular, OURS. We wandered, ate street food, watched people, took pictures, laughed too loud and enjoyed ourselves. We got back to Casablanca on the train, for less than the “bus tour” cost.
We wakened the third day to cold rain in Casablanca. Not that it mattered, we had a 4 hour bus ride to Marrakech to look forward to!
Imagine, for a moment, you have moved to a new place, one that you know little about, you don’t understand the language or the customs. You have been informed that all deliveries etc. must be escorted to your apartment by security. There is a knock on your door, and when you open it, there is an older man of indeterminate age, in a loose turban and questionably clean galabayya insisting, “Issmee Ibrahim!” (“I am Ibrahim!”) He is smiling and friendly, but you are left wondering, “Who the HELL is Ibrahim?”
This happened to us about the 2nd or 3rd day we were in Cairo. We eventually learned who the hell Ibrahim was. Apparently he has some “agreement” with the Hostel and some of the other AUC living units in Zamalek to be the unofficial “go-fer”. Ibrahim can bring you cases of water, wine, beer, soda, toilet paper, paper towels….you name it. He comes by the apartments about weekly to “take orders”.
We were skeptical, at first, about this old man who wanted us to pay him in advance for goods that we were not sure would ever arrive, nor did we know where they came from. (I must say, we are HAPPIER not knowing…nudge, nudge, wink, wink) We asked our neighbors and were heartily reassured that Ibrahim is legit and can LITERALLY get you ANYTHING YOU WANT, for a price. As Murphy’s Law would have it, of course, once we’d decided that we wanted to use Ibrahim’s services, we didn’t see him for 3 or 4 weeks!!
We’ve now “ordered” (very successfully, I might add) from Ibrahim. It seems that whatever we want, he tries to convince us that we NEED 2box…3box…more boxes, what about Wine? Beer? Toilet paper? You must need other things….
So we’ve taken to referring to him as “Mumkin Man”. The arabic work “mumkin” means “maybe” or “perhaps”. As we negotiate with Ibrahim, he tells us, “I bring mumkin Saturday, mumkin Friday, mumkin Sunday…” The interesting thing is that, if he delivers and we are not here, he just piles it all on our doorstep and goes away. He is confident that he will catch you sometime and you will pay him anything owed at that time.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.