Although we read horror stories about delays and conditions of the boat, we decided to take our chances and buy ferry tickets from Jordan directly to Egypt. This means we bypass Israel completely, not having to worry about the implications of having their stamp in our passport and avoiding the headache of crossing three countries all in one day. We also went to get our Egyptian visas in advance in Aqaba and the embassy was closed for a holiday... what are the chances! So that essentially forced our hands towards the ferry in which we could get a full visa on arrival. Otherwise, we were only permitted to visit Sinai and would have to pay an exorbitant price for a full visa to get to the rest of Egypt (they make you pay for a letter of sponsorship by a local travel agency-not sure the reasoning behind this).
We got to the port 2 hours before departure and thank goodness we did because it was chaos and so unorganized. We lined up with what seemed like hundreds of Arabic men and were sent away aimlessly twice to pay for our Jordanian departure tax of 10JD ($20 CAD) elsewhere. After two failed attempts at finding the right person to pay, we finally asked a sales rep behind a different counter about the departure tax and he got his boss. The boss told us to follow him. He went right in to where we were originally denied twice in attempt to pay the tax and stamped the sales rep's forehead in front of us (aggressively but jokingly, we think) to tell him to get back to work! So, quickly we had our departure ticket stamped and once we were handed the receipts, 50 Jordanian men rammed the window like it was a Black Friday sale for electronics.
When we got to immigrations, no officers were working at any of the 15 empty tills... so we waited and waited... and waited. Until one officer sort of, kind of, maybe, slightly walked by behind the glass and I ran up with our passports and asked if he could help us. Again, Carter and I got our stamps and the 50 Jordanian men rammed the windows behind us once again. We then lined up in the third line, where our departure receipts were being scanned (there was probably 20 men before us) and you heard the machine scan and then make an “accepted” ring tone. The worker then goes to scan mine and nothing... the machine broke and chaos irrupted again. After 5 failed attempts and 30 mins, it was back up and working and we finally got onto the ferry. The ferry took off at 11:30pm (only a 30 min delay so we were happy).
Aside from myself and three local women, the rest of the boat were men. You could feel the testosterone in the room - there were 3 yelling matches, 1 physical altercation and lot of pushing and shoving to get their tea - all simultaneously going on. We were sent to the immigration booth on board and handed in our passports (I thought this was kind of a neat idea to save time at the actual border but of course, you read in our last blog how it was not totally sunshine and rainbows). In total, the ferry ride was 2.5 hours across and down the Red Sea to Nuweiba, Egypt.
The next day we just completely chilled. Our only goal in Egypt is to slow down; relax, enjoy and catch up on things like blogs, videos and everything everyone back at home (hopefully) looks forward to seeing. David’s Camp had a super cool beach front hang out spot that had wifi, sun, surf and shade... everything we could have ever asked for.
The next morning we woke up with the sunrise to catch the bus to Egypt’s hippy dive town of Dahab. We arrived at Full Moon Hotel and were so very pleasantly surprised. First off, the hotel itself was beautiful and so clean! Honestly, a rarity for us at our budget. The co-owner came out and offered us Egyptian tea and a snack, toured us around and we had a nice introductory chat about Dahab on the rooftop terrace. Our room was ready immediately even though we arrived super early and we got a nap in before exploring the beach town that afternoon. The town was interesting - it was an entire pedestrian strip that was geared toward tourists but because of the Arab Spring revolution that erupted in Egypt in 2011, tourism took a hard downturn and it left Dahab almost ghost-townish. It was only until later that night, that stores and restaurants really opened and the town became fairly lively. We got a coffee (a real coffee - hallelujah, also a rarity) at the coolest eclectic cafe right on the water called Why Not:
The owner was telling us that after the war, tourism (of course) dropped dramatically and because of this, everyone who was living in Dahab at the time, essentially locked up their store fronts and left because they could not survive without the money from tourism. Now, there are no real locals - just people who came from the bigger cities to run the few tourism businesses the are left. We also learned that Dahab was world famous for its scuba diving; it’s cheaper then Koh Tao which we were under the impression that Thailand was the cheapest in the world. Sinai also has 2/5 of the world's top dive sites! So naturally this fired up Carter to explore all the dive shops in town and compare prices.
We had an amazing falafel sandwich which is made differently than the ones in Jordan; instead of being made primarily out of chickpeas, it’s made from fava beans. It was delicious!!! We also had a great dinner at King Chicken - Swiss Chalet couldn't even compete with it. The only down side to King Chicken is that it had "resident" street cats, who would stare into the depths of your soul for your scrap chicken meat - one even jumped up onto the table!! The owner would occasionally run out with a broom and shoo them away; dinner & entertainment.
In the afternoon we shared a taxi to 3 Pools, a snorkelling hot spot. It was beautiful! Unfortunately, we got there only an hour before sunset and had such a short time to explore under the water. The Red Sea was such an unexpected mind-blower. The liveliness of the coral reef, the hundreds of different species of fish, we weren’t anticipating it at all. You casually see beautiful lion fish, be careful though they're deadly to the touch!!
Luckily (for us budget travellers), due to the downturn of tourism a lot of Egypt’s resorts are cheaper than normal. Carter still had some left over Marriott points and so we booked ourselves in at Sharm El Shiek's Marriott beach resort for two nights for FREE! So we made our way the 1.5 hour bus ride south to Sharm.
Note: we are loving Egypt so far! Already by day two, it’s exceeded our expectations (mainly because we didn’t have any major plans aside from visiting the pyramids). The local bus was the cleanest bus we have been on thus far of our travels, it left on time, it arrived on time. Everything we have grown NOT to expect in developing countries.
We arrived to Sharm to find it was a major resort destination. Huge resort chains lined the streets and we were dropped off at our Marriott to 5- star service. Again, we were brought right to our rooms even though we arrived early. We dropped our bags and ran out immediately to the beach and pool and ordered our pina colada and local brew. Backpackers turned luxe living baby, legit soaking up every minute.
After the beach, since we can’t actually afford the Marriott luxe life, we went grocery shopping across the street to avoid the expensive restaurants ($$$). We ate on the cheap (and in secrecy) in our room. We took full advantage of all the perks the Marriott has to offer - unreal wifi, desk space and an area to do videos, free tea, you name it - we’re taking advantage of it!
Side note: one of our cheap meals in Sharm was of course at McDonalds. This ended up being deemed "the best Big Mac in the WORLD" by Carter & his personal mission to find it.
After all of his research and walk-in inquiries to ALL the dive shops in Dahab, Carter has now decided he’s committed to doing his PADI Open Water at Sea Dancers Dive Center. So after our time at Marriott, we made our way back to Dahab to try our luck at scuba diving. I had major issues when I tried to scuba dive in Mexico as a teenager, so this was an activity I had written off, but the guys convinced me to try the discovery dive course to see if I could overcome them.
Our instructor was an Egyptian named Khaled. I truly think we lucked out with him; he was absolutely amazing. Such a great read on character, laid back enough but also super trained (and professional) at his job. We started with getting into the water first, mainly as a “discovery” dive, to see if my ears and I could handle equalization pressure. Khaled briefed us on the equipment, important hand signals to be able to communicate underwater, and our first few skills we must learn before submerging.
Then we suited up. This took a whole 45 minutes - the work it takes to get into a wetsuit & scuba gear is no joke!!! No kidding you have to be fit to dive... I worked up a sweat just squeezing my body into this damn thing. The whole process includes: securing your BCD to your air tank, checking your vest, the quality of air and air pressure of your tank, attaching the hoses where they need to be on said vest, getting into your wet suit, putting your boots on, putting on your weight belt and then buddy system'ing into your “kit” which is the BCD vest attached to your tank. Once you’re in all of this equipment you check your buddy for all safety and properly working/functioning parts using the acronym “Bruce Willis Ruins All Films”, you spit in your goggles, pick up your flippers and walk down the boardwalk to the beach entry site wearing a crazy amount of weight in the scorching hot sun.
Getting into the water is the best, most refreshing feeling. The first time (the first three for me really) it was such an odd sensation - I hadn’t worn a full wetsuit with boots included, really ever - so stepping into the 23 degree water felt like nothing. From sight, you know your stepping into the sea but between the warm water temperature and the suit, you just feel the wetness entering and surrounding your skin, nothing else. Once you are fully submerged, you can start to feel the water being cooler and rushing in, making its way through the entirety of your suit. It’s an amazing sensation. Once in the water, you inflate your BCD so you float (like wearing a life jacket) and buddy up to put on your mask and fins.
We practiced our skills... we ended up going to 8.9 metres for 28 minutes. My ears survived! Trying to get down on my own, rookie at buoyancy control and having no dive computer to gage my depth, I ran into equalization problems and was going up and down like a roller coaster which is very bad for divers. Khaled brought me up to the surface, made me equalize before even submerging, grabbed onto my BCD and took me down metre by metre, stopping and signalling me to equalize every step of the way. Before I knew it we were cruising at 9 metres!
Our first dive was super easy, relaxed and was essentially just to get comfortable with breathing and the proper use of our equipment. However, there are HUGE perks to getting certified somewhere exotic like the Red Sea. The coral life is SO rich and on our very first dive we saw an octopus!!!!! I thought I would be more scared of it but it’s an amazing thing to see these creatures in their natural habit, most of them are so calm and docile that you can’t help but to feel at ease and connected to them as your floating on by.
Our second day we went through our “homework” and was briefed on our second confined dive and skills that we’d be doing in the water. We got suited up and headed in. We learned how to clear our masks - which is probably the worst skill ever to do as the Red Sea is 1.4x more salty than any other ocean/sea (minus the Dead Sea, of course) so your eyes sting like mad. This is how I reacted when Khaled said we'd be doing more open mask drills for the next two days of the course:
For one of our dives, we went cruising the opposite way out from the dive centre and there was a whole under water obstacle course for beginner divers! We had to swim through hoops to practice our buoyancy, there were statues of horses and elephants as artificial coral reefs, and then we saw the most glorious absolutely beautifully massive wild sea turtle!!! It was munching on bottom sea grass before it gracefully glided up toward the surface for some air. It was my scuba diving dreams coming true!! On day two! Dead. Bye. I have dived and gone to heaven.
We ascended shortly after that as Carter is officially known as an AIR HOG and uses double the amount of air as I do (more of that to come). We watched chapter 4&5 videos and headed for our daily monster falafel sandwich at Yum Yum, our favourite joint in Dahab.
**OKAY I'm twice the size of you BRITT**
Our third day was a fairly easy - there were a lot of skills to learn but now we were comfortable in our gear, our abilities and in the water. This dive we saw a Napoleon fish, 2-3 metres long and THICK! It was the biggest fish we had ever seen!!! It swam above us and I swear it casted a shadow over us and the area of sea we were in. We wrote our final exam that day and decided to wait until the next morning to do our final open water dive. Khaled wanted to take us to a beautiful local dive spot “islands” as our final dive.
The next morning we got to Sea Dancers at 9am, packed our gear into our boxes and were driven to the islands. It was a beautiful spot even on top of the water. Looking into the sea you could see three or four different shades of blue, the sand bar was also visible from the shore and we were excited to get underneath the surface!
We walked in about 20 feet to the drop, put on our fins and mask and descended down. Immediately I was blown away, it looked as though Disney himself made an underwater amusement park with the most colourful corals and rides. I say rides because to get to the coral garden we had to go through our first cave! We descended down and out to the other side of the coral wall to a whole new set of coral reef and fish. Next, we came on top of a sand bank and saw a blue spotted sting ray skimming the bottom of the water! They are beautiful and so whimsical! The corals here were amazing.... we ended the dive up going up and out of another hole/cave and onto the sand bank of the shore. What an amazing way to end our certification!!
We are so incredibly grateful to the amazing staff at Sea Dancers. Steve, the manager who was so knowledgeable and helpful with information and logistics. Khaled, our instructor was the most unreal human; he was hilarious and made the whole using our brains thing fun but also was so attentive and careful to turn my bad scuba experience into a good and successful one. And then there was Ahmed, the silent killer - he was always there at the exact moment you needed him to help pick your tank up, do up straps properly, hang your suit when it was full of water and too heavy, or most importantly, to silently remind me to lay my tank on the floor before Khaled gave me shit for it! The rest of the staff and guests that were hanging out the four days we were there were unbelievably friendly and helpful as well. I can definitely see how people get into scuba diving and make it a way of life. It sucks you in with all it’s charm. We should know, I had to drag Carter out of Dahab and remind him that there’s these things in Egypt called the Great Pyramids that I’ve heard are quite old and pretty impressive to see.
Through Steve, we booked a day diving trip to Ras Mohammad, one of the top five dive spots in the world!!! It was just an hour back down south in Sharm el Sheik so we hulled our gear down to Anthias Dive centre.
We were picked up at 8am at our hotel and boarded Nelli, our diving yacht for the day. Now I can really see why people get sucked into dive life - wow. The full tanks lined the back of a MASSIVE yacht, our equipment was already aboard neatly below the tanks and we were told to go up to the sun deck with a coffee and tea to relax while we got to the first site.
Our first dive site in Ras Mohammad was known as Jack Fish Alley. If I thought Dahab had beautiful coral... holy frig, Ras Mohammad was the Godfather of coral. It was honestly a different planet down there. There were coral walls, coral islands, coral this-and-that everywhere. The hundreds of species of fish munching on, hiding in, and swimming about; there was so many my head was on a constant swivel looking around! Everything down to tiny fluorescent coloured snails all the way to 3m massive corbi fish.
Our second dive was at the famed Shark and Yolanda Reefs. Again, absolutely stunning!! This was the first time Carter and I had ever swam “the blue”; this is when there are absolutely no coral references and you’re just swimming across complete emptiness of blue. It is super trippy and I can one hundred percent see how a diver could get lost, disoriented and panic. There was a brief moment where I swam toward the coral wall to see the crazy looking fish and when I looked back around I couldn’t see our guide nor Carter. Just blue. Your heart definitely starts beating faster in that split second you feel the complete isolation in the epic vastness of the sea. I thought "oh shit... but they’ll find me" and I just kept swimming (like Dory in Finding Nemo) but not even 5 seconds later I see our guide's flipper in the corner of my eye. Apparently I had gone down past our allowed 18m and she was using her flipper to grab my attention. I was below them and that’s why I couldn’t see them. Oops!
Yolanda reef is named after the ship wreck that sank there years ago. Even moreso, known for the cargo they had to throw overboard to avoid sinking - hundreds of toilets and bathtubs. That have now made perfect coral reefs and homes for a variety of species of fish and aquatic life. How funny and cool does that sound?!? We wouldn't know... Carter "the air hog" got too low on air and we never made it to the toilets!
When we emerged, we waited for the boat to turn itself around and boarded to lunch being served. It was delicious and we sun whorshipped on the deck for the next hour. After lunch we had the option to go for a third dive. Carter took it, I sun bathed on the top deck... as we saw beluga dolphins!
After our dive day, we took a bus to Cairo, and again, it was a seemless and enjoyable experience. We got in fairly late around 9:30pm and was plopped right dead smack in the underpass of major highways that go through the city. First thing we learned is that sidewalks weren’t really a thing here - use the road and keep your head on a swivel to look out for cars in either direction. Without knowing it at the time, we had our first dinner at Karaz, a famous fast food restaurant in the city. We ate there several times after as it was delicious and cheap.
Our first morning we got up and headed directly across the street to the Cairo museum. It was a beautiful historic building built in 1902 being the first museum built in all of Egypt. However, not much has changed about the building since the original build, so it is incredibly jam packed with archeological finds. So much so, that it almost looks like an old souvenir shop with sycophants, statues, artifacts just unintentionally shoved places. Many of the objects don’t even have proper identification signs on them and most of the ones that do have it, were for sure written on a type writer back in the 30-60s.
I had the Lonely Planet book on my iPhone (thanks to our Australian friend Helena) and it had an entire section on the museum and the objects within. We tried to follow it for the first 10 minutes but we’re completely overwhelmed with the amount of artifacts that we could barely decipher which artifact LP was actually talking about. We roamed the museum for about an hour and a half; the most interesting portion was King Tutankhamun's exhibit which features his golden death mask, all of his exquisitely royal jewelry, and his sarcophagus. Unfortunately, we weren’t allow to take pictures in this room so you’ll just have to take our word for how spectacular the experience was in seeing these artifacts! We were exceptionally lucky to see King Tut's exhibit too because it's usually on loan to different museums around the world.
Next up was the Mummification Rooms in which we had to pay extra for... but for the biggest mummy preservation in the world, while we were in the mummy-motherland, why the heck not! The rooms were kept at exactly 22 degrees Celsius, with 15-20 mummies encased in thick glass coffins that were also kept at a very specific temperature based on their level of preservation. This was without a doubt the most surreal, mind bending, experience we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of and witness.
If the mummy had teeth, they were immaculate! The hair was still in tact, their nails and toe nails were identifiable... and they were THOUSANDS of years old!!! Through modern day science they’ve been able to identify what the believe the cause of death was even! The information given about each mummy was ten fold more descriptive and informative than those of the entire museum combined. My head still hurts from trying to take in how outrageously historic these bodies were and how they know so much about them thousands of years later!
There was a little boy in the room who started to cry and Carter and I had a little laugh about how incredibly creepy this would be for a little kid. So the dad took the boy out of the room (as you were supposed to be silent, respectful and not take pictures) and as the mom passed us we said to her “we would be scared too, don’t worry!” And she laughed and responded "oh, he wasn’t scared, he wanted to see more teeth in the mummies but I told him I couldn't do that for him!"
Disclaimer: we took these pictures before we realized you weren't allowed to take any, so were crossing our fingers each day that we're not cursed by a mummy or two!
The next morning we got up really early and made our way to Giza... to the Great Pyramids. We took a taxi and drove for about 30 minutes through city streets and when we were on a high pass of the highway, in the distance we saw our first brief glimpse of the top of the pyramids. The taxi dropped us off right at the main gate and as soon as we paid and went through security (there are security checks everywhere in Egypt), we were immediately at the Sphinx and a short walk from the great pyramid of Khafre. We arrived right at 8am so we were one of the first tourists to arrive (we would be alllllmost alone to take in the craziness of these pyramids, the history, the construction, the theories around them, for just over an hour.)
And then we started toward the Great Pyramid of Khufu and were blown away by the massive size of these stones, the mystery of construction and overall, history and preservation of these structures.
After we walked around one of the corners of the pyramid, we were hit with a wall of tour buses unloading all their passengers who were rushing to the entrance of the pyramid. So just as quickly as we decided to go in, we decided to forfeit the experience because of this. Once the masses arrive, the touts, carriages and camel riders awake as well. As you’re walking along trying to remotely grasp the insane amount of history that took place beneath your very feet, you hear “hello, hello miss. Horse back ride to the Panorama? You know how much?” And you have to say no, la shoukran (no thank you), or just simply ignore. And then again. And again. So much so, that we finally agreed to make our own path away from the pyramids to take all three of them in at once and get away from the nagging. We sat on a dirt road off the regular path where there were no other tourists and only the occasional brave tout would bother us. It was so surreal to see them just standing there so sturdy and massive, a unforgettably peaceful moment together.
We sat here for an hour (also mostly to take a break from the desert heat that hits you like a wall once it hits 10am). We headed back down and out of the “park” around 11am, got some local falafel wraps and Carter took part in the local Egyptian way of getting served...which is just forcing and pushing your way to the front and pushing your order ticket into the chef's hand before anyone else can... it is absolutely hilarious to witness. He was quite successful as most people were just staring at him and he’s tall enough to reach over the chaos much further than the average Arabian man.
We went for a quick visit to Alexandria which is a big city on the Mediterranean Sea. We walked around the city all day, but most importantly, visited Alexandria library which was one of the largest and most important libraries in the Ancient World.
We ended up at such a lovely seafood restaurant looking over Alexandria's harbour... however, these men were some of the "more casual" guests dining at this restaurant. So, you can only imagine how out of place Carter and I felt with our backpacking-hygiene and (what felt like) our ratty clothing.
We took a sleeper train to Luxor and once again, the experience was good. The seats are very roomy. The A/C was on and comfortable. The seats reclined and almost reached a horizontal bed. The only downside is that we were in Egypt and EVERYONE here smokes and usually they’re allowed to smoke anywhere - in hotel rooms, in restaurants, at their office desks - so they’re very lax about the “no smoking” signs. I spent the first hour holding my breath until they really turned on the A/C and cleared out the cabin with “fresher” air.
Our first day in Luxor, we visited the Karnak temples at sunset's golden hour. The restoration and conservation of the entire site was incredibly impressive. The most preserved coloumns and temples we have ever seen. The main hall had 134 columns standing with all the original engravings and paintings that withstood the test of time.
The next day was the Valley of the Kings... and if we thought the paintings and engravings of Karnak were something, it didn’t hold a light to those in every single tomb within the valley that we visited. Unfortunately it was 160 Egyptian pounds to enter and then they were charging 300 for photographs! So, being budget conscious we opted for the memory photos and store in our minds. (***After thought: as I was writing this and did the conversion of 160EP being only $11 I cannot believe how CHEAP we had become that we both full-heartedly agreed that 300EP was too much money to be able to capture the insanity that was Valley of the Kings!!!)
That night we sailed the Nile into the sunset on a traditional falluca sail boat for an hour. It was beautiful! The Nile is SO much more vast than we anticipated and has such a sense of calmness about it, especially at sunset.
The next morning we boarded a bus on our way to another Red Sea beach town of Hurghada.
We were absolutely spoiled in Hurghada courtesy of my mom. We spent two days at the Sunrise Resort with half board (breakfast and dinner buffet included). Thankfully, we met two super sweet Egyptians working at the resort; one at the buffet restaurant and the other at the beach bar. Both, for varying reasons, didn’t care we were only half board and served us an over-accommodating amount of alcohol! This is our friend at the adult-only beach bar:
It was literally the best two days of relaxation we had the whole trip which was a heaven sent as we were getting tired of ALWAYS bargaining, being hassled by taxis and travelling on the cheap. It was the break of crunching numbers and budget hunting that we needed. Also, not to mention the shower and scrub we very much so needed too! This time, we BOTH got to wear robes and slippers and act like royalty, not just the birthday boy.
They even took us to our room in a GOLF CART!!
One night as Carter crushed out the great wifi by FaceTiming with people, I laid in bed using three pillows, in a robe, watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians just because I COULD (and that it was the only English show that was on.)
From Hurghada we made our way back to Cairo for our flight to Morocco... but not before we saw our boy Hayden once more!! He had just arrived in Cairo that day, before he headed to Italy to reunite with his whole family after a year away. It was great to see him again and catch up on both our travel stories from the last time we were together. We compared thoughts, feelings and strange stories over sunset beers on the Nile.
Unfortunately, it was some sort of holiday in Egypt and all the beer stores and bars closed super early and we couldn’t find any more beer. This is probably a good thing since their reunion in Vietnam, a million dong went missing after their night out!
Carter Bender & Brittany Wilson left Toronto, Canada to travel the world. Where will they be next? Follow their #cbwtravels blog to find out!