Monthly Archives: November 2011

Illegal Alien – Al Fujairah, United Arab Emirates

After Muscat, we didn’t have far to go to hit our next port in the United Arab Emirates. I decided to make an early night of it but for some reason, I wasn’t too thrilled about this next port. We were not scheduled to go there to begin with and it didn’t really look like there was much to do or see when researching it.

I woke up still on the fence about whether or not to get off the ship. I had a light breakfast of oatmeal, muesli and fruit then finished it off with a cup of tea. As I peered out at the ultra boring port we had just land, I realized this was not the place for me. I was speaking to one of staff in the corridor down from my room when the hotel director passed by regretfully informing me I wasn’t allowed to get off the ship. What?! Not allowed, I thought? Surely it had to be a joke. Eddie has quite a sense of humor so I assumed that he was pulling my leg.

I called down to the office and sure enough, I was informed that none of the 11 Canadians onboard were legally allowed off the ship. We don’t have visa clearance and could be faced with a hefty fine if we were caught. The front desk was careful in their wording letting me know that technically they couldn’t let me off the ship, but they couldn’t really keep me on it either. I live for these kinds of loopholes. Naturally, I took the challenge.

When I went through the security gate, the guard swiped my card and a big red flashing note came up. He was about to say something and I interrupted him with a secretive “I know” my eyebrows raised dramatically. Amused by my secret-agentness, he winked with a nod then looked the other way while I scurried down the gangplank. I was hella impressed with the whole operation…it was fun to indulge my surreptitious side knowing it was really not hurting anyone. I could almost hear the Mission Impossible theme in the background of my brain.

There really wasn’t anything here that stood out to me so I fell back on my ol’standby activities. Supermarket tourist! The cabbie drove through the clean but almost deserted streets dropping me off at a “mall”. There were lots of stores in a row so plenty of exploring to keep me busy for at least a couple of hours. I went through all the aisles of the supermarket inspecting weird and wonderful products including some “Armella” which is like a Nutella knockoff. Clearly.
When I tired of the supermarket, I discovered the second level which had clothing and small appliances. Its much like Superstore back home which is a one stop shop. There were not too many people out shopping this day save for a few burka clad ladies and their husbands in tow. Not many children, I’m afraid. Not prime people watching that is for sure.

Since there were no kids, the small indoor amusement park was abandoned except for a few dreary staff lazing around near their stations. I had fun jumping on and off the rides for photo ops but even my silly energy barely stirred them from their slumber. They seemed bored out of their tree. Are there ever any kids in there?

Next I hit the wedding gown store and learned that these intricately jeweled dresses averaged 4000 UAE. Great! I thought to myself…if and when I ever need one of these things, this is where I shall come. Then I learned that was just to rent the thing. The shopkeeper snootily corrected herself informing me it is 45,000 ($11000 CAD) to buy. Oh. Nevermind.

There were some sweets to be had but nothing really stood out and all the shops began to look the same. I didn’t really need anything so back to the ship I went. I really felt I had completed my stint as an emissary of freedom. It was a bit ironic that in the paper that I picked up there was an article on the front page about the “diplomatic spat” between Canada and UAE. “Last December, the UAE Embassy announced Canadian citizens would no longer receive free tourist visas and would instead pay up to $1,000 Canadian dollars to enter the country.” Apparently Sheik Abdallah has come to his senses and is softening his hard stance on us harmless Canucks. Anyway, it’s not like I will be rushing back to Fujairah anytime soon unless I’m on my way to Dubai.

Grateful for rebelliousness.

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Souks and Mosques – Muscat, Oman

I woke up quite excited to see Muscat and after eating breakfast, met with my friends to go. We wandered off this ship past all the tour buses and made our way out of the port. It was really hot and the first thing I noticed was the sidewalk. It was shiny and polish what seemed like marble. It was so clean you could almost eat off it. In fact, as I look around, I found that the whole city was like this.

The buildings were white as if they had just been bleached and you would be hard pressed to find a piece of trash in the gutters. I wondered if they had erected the hundreds of flags which lined all the road ways for their National holiday which was just a few days previous. In any case, I will not forget the Omani flag any time soon.

The people were dressed very traditionally and I didn’t see anyone in jeans and tee shirts. We decided to head to the Grand Mosque first thing so that we could spend time in the market with no time pressure. Lee negotiated a great cab which did turn out too good to be true since Mr. Cabdriver had NO idea where he was going. When we passed the Opera House for the second time, I knew we were going in circles this modern yet still quite traditional city. How could he not know where the Grand Mosque was? Or did he really not understand us even though we had a map? Perhaps its better to negotiate a flat rate than by the hour.

In the end, we stopped at a gas station where a very friendly local helped us and translated to our frustrated driver. When we pulled into the parking area, I realized this was like no other mosque I had been to. It wasn’t just grand, it was spectacular.

The marble walkway was polished so shiny I had to put my shades on. The whole place looked like it had just been built last month. We were all very excited to explore when we were stopped short by the guard. Apparently there are no tourists allowed unless between 8-11 and 5-7. It was just past noon. My heart sank.

We tried to bargain with guard but he wasn’t having it. He asked if we were Muslim. We all said no. I kept on and finally he asked me again and I …gulp…said yes. I was dressed appropriately and it was somewhat believable. I just ducked in for a peek but didn’t get far at all before my conscience got the better of me. This was the first time I ever felt really upset not be able to see something. I was right there! But I guess I would have to come back another trip. I will the feeling I got from the place was a deep solemn spirituality. It was even more impressive than when I went to the Vatican City. Now imagine if I had gone inside…

Regretfully I turned back and joined the others. We piled back into the cab and made our way back to the market. Here I had loads of fun trying on abayas and negotiating with shopkeepers. There were clothing, trinkets, perfumes, tailors, fabric of every kind, shoes, and even some little barber shops. I was in awe of the colors and the organization of it all. The stores had tons of merchandise but it was all arranged so neatly. The sellers were mostly of Indian descent and I realized a lot of their wares were as well. I told myself I would only allow myself to buy an abaya as the rest of it I would find in India probably much cheaper.

After eating a bit of lunch, the shops closed up for a couple hours. Lee and I watched the boats in the harbor. The was one very large yacht/ship that we deduced was the Sultans. I wondered what it would be like to have such a lavish lifestyle.

When the shops opened again, the place really got hopping. More of the locals came out and there were a lot of fully covered women now. They were either in small groups or with a man but never alone. I didn’t see that at all. I was shy to interact with them but on all the occasions that I did, they were friendly and curious. I didn’t find anyone who spoke English so our communication was limited to a few smiles and nods.

I finally bought the abaya that I wanted and got it for $28 complete with veil. Its jet black and has lovely embroidery on the front panel and cuffs. It was unique and I knew that it would be wearable, unlike some of the much more intricate and flashy ones. I don’t think I could pull those off.

The sun was going down so Lee and I hopped on one of the tour buses that had lots of extra space. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if we missed the ship but I didn’t want to navigate my own way to the neighboring United Arab Emirates. It’s a good thing too…because we found out the next morning, we Canadians were not actually supposed to be there. But…since when has that stopped me?

Grateful for hazy boundaries.

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Sweet upgrade – Arabian Sea

I have been definitely making friends onboard. Lots of sweet adoptable grandparents and great grandparents to be had. I am collecting them like treasured shells on a beach. Each one is unique and quirky in just the right way. I love how old people don’t fake anything. They don’t feel that need to “try” so hard either. Even if it isn’t completely true, it doesn’t really matter because they believe it anyway. Its true for them and they don’t care what anyone else thinks.

Perhaps my favorite thing about their perspective is how precious they know every moment is. I can feel them deeply present with me. I see that they don’t waste their energy and am honored when they bestow their attention on me.

I love finding them doing cute and funny things. I find them in the hallways staring at the floor then when they notice me there the suddenly find a picture on the wall to look at. One sweet lady announced triumphantly in at the tea station that she was having a thought. Then she looked at me embarrassed realizing she had said that out loud. I played along not missing a beat, “Quick, you’d better catch it then! Don’t let it get away!” and we both laughed.

Old people can be so eccentric and their sense of humor is so much like mine…ridiculous and silliness abounds on this ship. I do feel right at home.

Turns out they had to do some refinishing in my stateroom so I got moved. I was extremely lucky to have been given a suite a couple floors higher! I have a bathtub and windows looking to the sea as well as enough room to have quite a little party. I made good use of the tub by luxuriating in the lavender bath salts they gave me. I plumped up some pillows in the window sill and perched myself to watch the sunset. Its much quieter on this floor since there are not so many guests here. Needless to say, I am sleeping quite a bit better.

My participation at the gym has dropped off. I guess I got sick of doing laundry everyday. Bad excuse, I know. There is just so much to do, so little time. I am pretty sure I will be getting my share of excercise once I get to India.

My painting classes are going swimmingly. To date I have completed a man sitting on a donkey, a mosque in the night, some mountains and clouds, a tigerfish, an old fishing town and a really bad flower which my teacher won’t even look at. He said the flower was rushed and not my best work. That was an understatement. I am really glad David is honest with me. Anyway, it makes his praise much more credible.

Grateful for luxury.

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Just a taste – Salalah, Oman

When we finally got into the port of Salalah, it was already past 230pm. We didn’t get off the ship until close to 330pm and that meant we had less than two hours to explore. This is NOT sufficient time in any place much less one that you have to taxi to from the container port area. Anyway, we made the best of it. We were all just so happy to get off the ship having been stuck on it for a week already.

We had a nice group of about 15 and tried to co-ordinate into taxis after piling into the shuttle bus which drove us out to a long line of about 30 waiting identical cabs. It turned out the taxis had some kind of “system” which would charge us a ridiculous $80 as opposed to the $30 I knew it should be. I refused to participate in such highway robbery and even though it was hot, I decided to walk. I knew there had to be a better way. Lee felt the same way and six others joined us. The rest stayed behind and got dinged for their laziness and/or fear of the unknown. We didn’t have to walk out the cement wall but 2 minutes and voila, two waiting taxis with sweet reasonable drivers willing to take us for the price we asked for.

Salalah (I love saying it) is a sleepy coastal town bordering the Indian Ocean. We stopped by the Sultans Palace but he wasn’t home so we didn’t see much. The grounds were pristine and kept perfectly. One thing I am noticing about Oman is how much cleaner, wealthier and calmer it feels than nearby Egypt.

We knew we didn’t have much time, so we went to the Souk (market). There were several rows of stores selling fabrics to perfumes to curved daggers (khanjar) to traditional Omani garb. I was interested for about 20 minutes then realized that every store sold exactly the same stuff.

After smelling some burning frankincense and feeling a bunch of scarves I decided to explore some of the side streets. I discovered a bunch of little boys kicking a soccer ball around while a couple old men leaned against the cement wall watching lackadaisically.

The Omani men wear long white gowns called a dishdasha and fitted patterned caps on their head. Someetimes they wear a scarf wrapped around the cap turban style. The women are more dramatic typically covered head to toe in black. The silky flowing black “abaya” looks elegant and mysterious. Some cover up just their hair and neck while others cover their whole face leaving only slits to see. I was wearing my head covering that I had received in Jordan but I still felt underdressed compared to the norm here.

I jumped in a car and went for a ride around the town and learned there really was nothing else to see in such a short time. I ducked into a supermarket and marveled at the many different choices of rice, spice and everything nice. Its more or less the same stuff we have back in canada but with a few more ethnic varieties.

Next since there was a bit more time left before we had to go back to the ship, I found a tailor who makes abayas. I was amazed at the level of work that goes into producing one of these lovely dresses. He sews the fabric then adorns it with tiny jewels…hundreds of them. The prices ranged from $30 to $450. I almost bought one (a simple black and white one) but decided to hold off until Muscat where I wouldn’t be under time pressure.

We all piled back into the cab sped back to our waiting ship. I half listened to the others but couldn’t take my eyes off the setting sun. It was stunning with the palms silhouette and the mountains just beyond. I liked the flavor of this country so far and began to really look forward to the next stop.

Grateful for honest taxis.

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Retirement ship – Gulf of Aden

This morning I was feeling quite low and I couldn’t really put my finger on why. I still don’t really know but dark cloud seems to have lifted. I had my normal breakfast then I forced myself to the gym. It was extra quiet today so Rosemary and I got to have a real heart to heart. I asked her the question I always ask of older marrieds and her answer was the same.

The secret to a good marriage is good communication.

After the gym I showered and by now it was time for lunch. I found my way to the dining room and got through most of my meal when Lee showed up. He has been in choir practice for the past week and I guess tomorrow is their big show. I waited for him to catch up and we both had dessert together. He had a strawberry creamy flan and a coffee cake which was much more like tiramisu than anything else. I opted for the stuffed baked apple replacing the custard with yogurt to make it a tad healthier. It was so yummy I decided to see if they could save one for my supper dessert. I didn’t want to seem too demanding so I turned on my charm full blast and thought of how I could word this right. Before I even got the request out of my mouth, our mind reading waiter guessed what I wanted! These guys are serious about their service.

That is one really amazing thing about this particular ship. The level of care that I have witnessed has been something very unique. I have been observing closely and have been so impressed with some of the incidents I have seen. On more than one occasion I have seen staff asking the more golden oldies if they had eaten yet. Ofcourse I inferred this was because staff wanted to shut down the kitchen or clean up the buffet table. Only after I saw the elders bewildered eyes trying to remember, did I realize that this was necessary for some who may forget or miss meals if not prompted. I also saw a young waiter gently (and very diplomatically) guiding a lost and confused 95 year old back to her chair after she walked right past her table coming back from the washrooms. The predominantly Filipino staff remember favorites and preferences when their guests don’t and care just as nurses would in a retirement home. It’s a very safe and comfortable environment.

This is a close knit crowd and many of the guest have been on this ship before, many many times. Almost every one of them (and these are serious seasoned travelers, not typical circle cruisers) cite this as being their favorite ship. I now see why.

Grateful for elder care.

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Evading Pirates – Bab-el-Mandeb strait aka. Gate of Grief

Over the past few days we have gone in and out of Pirate territory. It was an interesting and somewhat exciting experience to have experienced. We practiced what to do when the captain calls a Code Purple, which means we have a pirate problem. Other precautions taken were the barbed wire wrapped around ladders and other areas which otherwise may be easy to scale. There were also several beefy and well armed men on 24 hour watch posted around the ship. All the portholes and windows were bolted shut and curtains were all drawn. Passengers were forbidden to go outside after dark and there was a special lecture to give us facts about this very real problem affecting the seas around Somalia.

Things were quite subdued around the ship for about 30 hours when we went through the worst of it. I was moved by how many passengers also took on some pirate watching hours (albeit informal), we all feel protective of our ship and each other. The mood was much more serious as we plowed through the inky blue ocean at full speed, passing by the dozen or so captured ships still waiting ransom.

It’s true that it is highly unlikely we would be targeted as we have no oil or cargo they could use as leverage. Just a bunch of feisty old people who were not going to give up their ship without a good fight. In any case, we were approached a couple of times but the flare shot and the burley armed men showed those no-gooders that we meant businesses. They promptly left.

Yesterday we seemed past it all but then the ship was forced to divert to avoid one more cluster of suspicious boats. It meant that we were late today for our first stop in Oman but guess its better to err on the side of caution. As light-hearted as I have been about the whole thing, pirates are no laughing matter and are quite a serious problem indeed. I am grateful we were not affected and truly feel for those who have been. These pirates are not a kind bunch and not nearly as good-looking as Johnny Depp.

Lee got sick a few days ago and was quarantined to his cabin for 48 hours. He was not the only one either…there is a threat of norovirus and its deadly serious on a ship like this. While he was indisposed, I spent time making new friends, painting donkeys from Yemen and eating dinner with nearby tables who felt sorry for me. I finished my book, started a new one and also caught up on my writing. Every now and then I would call Lee to see if he was still alive and he would give me a graphic detailed rundown of his bathroom antics. No matter how many times I reminded him that he was oversharing, he was determined to give me TMI.

I tried to go to a lecture the other day but I got bored out of my mind and left half way through. There are several programs going on: genealogy, Middle Eastern studies, Environmental talks and Antique Roadshow stuff. Here are a few of the titles we have had to choose from:

-Records of Life and Death & Counting the People
-The impact of Chinese culture on 18th century Europe in particular porcelain and the attempt of the western world to emulate
– Tales from my Half Century exploring the underwater world & Sea Monsters: Imaginary or Real?
-In search of Sinbad
-Highlanders of the Tropics – The tea planters of Ceylon
– Stories of General Gordon, Freya Stark, Wilfred Thesiger, & Gertrude Bell….

and the only one I am really interested in: Where do Nomads fit in the 21 century? by Malcolm Hunter

The watercolor painting class has turned out to be a real highlight for me. Now I am not sure if this is because I have become the teachers pet/pest (oh do I love to tread the fine line) or if it’s because this is a medium I haven’t delved into yet. Most of all it must be the hilarious interaction between my other classmates (half of who can’t hear and half of who can’t remember directions for more than 8 seconds) and the poor determined teacher. It really is more entertaining than any comedy show I have ever seen. Lets be honest: Old people are funny!

I really enjoy the two hours every afternoon where I challenge my perfectionistic tendencies and allow accomplished artist David Page to steal my paintbrush (he calls it teaching) and ruin my almost masterpiece. Well, I guess it always ends up looking better by the time he is done with it but that is a real stressful two minutes. My inner control freak won’t let go of the paintbrush and is horrified by the disaster he is making in my paintbox. I try to keep calm when the 70 year old artist keeps reminding me emphatically (or asking me? I never know with those Brits): “Does it Mattah? No! It just doesn’t mattah.” He must repeat his mantra 50 times an hour, all the while dripping paint on the ground absentmindedly. Mr Page is an eccentric mess and I am crazy about him. His sweetheart wife of almost 50 years Rosemary and I work out on the treadmills together daily. She matches him perfectly and I am just as fond of her.

Just when I thought David had enough of me heckling him in class and calling him out as any good Teachers Pest would do, he shocked me by inviting me for a drink with him and his wife. I learned that between the three of us, our combined sense of humor could keep us laughing for years to come. I am becoming quite attached to my onboard adopted Grandparents. I do intend to keep them if they’ll let me.

Grateful for painting outside the lines.

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On the sea again – Safaga, Egypt

I am on the ocean now. I am actually really relieved to have left Egypt…it was really wearing me down. The constant filth, dishonesty, and scam artists. Don’t get me wrong. There is alot of beauty there too…its just that I seemed to have a hard time focusing on that. I did meet some really great people who were of great support and help. But of a country of millions, I could count them on one hand.

Now I am on the sea again, where I love to be. I’m enamored by the anonymity of the blue wavelettes as far as the eye can see. The gentle sway from side to side, this is the smallest (20,000 tons) oldest (built just five years before I was built) cruiseship I have been on. I am surprised to admit that I am really loving it. I thought for sure I would find it a challenge with limited dated facilites as I am used to the biggest newest ships in all the fleets.

The mv Discovery is the sister ship to the Pacific Princess aka. “The Love Boat” which was used as the set for a TV series back in the 80s. I do remember watching this show as a kid and find it still brings me back to a time when things were simpler, yet somehow classier. There are less than half the maximum passenger capacity onboard right now and I can really feel it. With only three hundred guests, the whole ship feels more intimate. I have been trying to keep to myself a bit so I can focus on writing and recreational reading but I just keep meeting such darned nice people.

Lee and I are probably the youngest passengers onboard save for a couple of young lads from Oregon who are here with their parents. They sit at the table next to us and are quite well traveled, not to mention kind enough to invite me to eat with them when Lee is not around.

The average age would be around 65 i would guess so you can imagine the collective wisdom around me. I am quite enjoying hearing stories of how couples have met especially when they both have different versions. I am amazed by the amount of adventure travel experience these oldies have but i guess that is par for the course on a unique itinerary like this one.

So now I have come through England, Egypt, Jordan and a brief moment in Israel…I think I have learned more over the past two weeks than I have in years. I guess though it has been difficult, I can be grateful for the expedited growth. I am on the ship entering Pirate territory now. We are actually having a passenger pirate prevention plan drill today. We will hit Eritrea tomorrow then sail through the most dangerous waters on the way to Oman. Its very unlikely but I have scoped out the ship for tiny cubbyholes that I could hide in, just in case. Never hurts to be prepared, right?

Grateful for Code Purple.

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Sumptious seafood – Hurghada, Egypt

We landed in Hurghada which is just on the other side of the water from the tip of the sinai peninsula. The flight was only a half hour and they gave us a mango juice box on the flight. lee was sitting in business class and got banana bread too. when we were out of the airport, we dealt with the cab situation which was another nightmare. The driver tried to make us pay double of what we had agreed to. But I blew up and the guy backed down. I was like, SERIOUSLY! You picked the wrong day to mess with me! NO WAY you are getting another cent. Not this time! He really didn’t look like he knew what had hit him.

Next we went met up with some couchsurfers and made it an early night. Lee was getting sicker and it seemed best that he rest, even though it was Friday night. I visited a bit with Shady, one of the guys we were staying with and ended up getting a really good history lesson. It really is better to get the stories from the place of origin. I found it gripping and interesting to listen to a locals view/opionions/recollections rather than the dry boring books that try to teach the same lessons. Plus, it somehow felt more accurate.

The next morning, Karim and Shady had already left for work when I woke up. I drank up my left over mango yogurt drink and readied for the day. First I handed in my laundry downstairs to the young boys in the laundrymat. They counted the pieces while I gently informed the 10 year old who was smoking cigarettes that this was not a good idea. I told him it would stunt his growth. He kind of seemed to understand but I don’t know if it made a difference. I think better was that I wouldn’t accept a cigarette with him, no matter how many times or kinds he offered.

Next I found a good coffee shop that had wifi and rice pudding. I sipped tea and caught up on my emails and writing. It will be several weeks before I have a decent connection so I wanted to get all my administrative stuff taken care of. I am mostly free from work but every now an then there are things to do. It is a bit of a stress not to be out of communication/connection. As I manage my own property, there are some things that need to be put into place just in case something comes up while I am MIA.

I gobbled up a rice pudding (8 egyptian pounds) with fresh fruit and nuts on top. It was such delicious breakfast, that I ordered another and called it lunch. After a couple hours, I couldn’t stand the smoke anymore (it seems EVERYONE smokes here inside and out) and decided to go shopping.

I wheeled and dealed finally ending up with a couple long tops/dresses and a pair of awesome silver shoes. I know. Silver shoes. They look like bowling shoes from outer space but I love them. They say they are Nike but obviously they are not since they only cost $20. Anyway I really needed a new pair of kicks because its time to retire the well loved falling apart ones I am wearing now. Did I tell you how much I hate shoe shopping? I was tickled pink to find a pair that was not only comfortable, affordable and unique. The dresses were (50 pounds = 8 dollars) necessary since I packed ultra light up until now and needed a couple dressy things to wear on the ship. I was pleased at how versatile and feminine they were as well they were not like anything I would find in canada.

After grabbing a quick snack, we headed back to the flat where Karim and Shady were waiting to hang out with us. We ended up going for what was by far one of the best seafood dinners I have ever tasted. The soup was so deep in flavor and the spices complemented the delicate fish, prawns and calamari just perfectly. We had an eating competition and I still don’t know who won. I suspect we all did as we waddled out with very full bellies.

Next we drove down to the marina and walked up and down . We played “that yacht is mine” and then decided to have drinks in one of the waterfront bars. The chairs were bean bags and the lighting very chic. I tried to show them my black light tattoo without making it too obvious to the other patrons. After a drink and a tequila competition, we made our way home with the intention of napping before going back out again. Apparently there was a cabaret they wanted us to see but we all ended up too tired to make it. They guys really wanted us to stay another night but it just wasn’t a good idea. I really didn’t want to mess with missing the ship and not getting out of Egypt. After what happened in Sharm we didn’t want to take any chances with government or border officials. So even though our ship didn’t technically leave until Monday, we decided to board when they opened the gangway on Sunday, just to be sure. But I will say, one of the nicest words a friend can say is “stay”.

After the hour long taxi ride south to the port town of Safaga, I was very eager to get through the next gauntlet of officials. I braced myself when we pulled up in the taxi but it was all for naught. The lazy border men barely looked at Lee’s passport and didn’t even bother with mine, before waving us onto the ship. Really? It couldn’t be this easy. Surely some would come running after us at any moment, yelling something angry in Arabic. But no. We just walked up the gangplank onto our shiny clean ship. We were check in by some British accented crew and shown to the cabin. I was so unbelievably relieved. I let out a huge (perhaps too loud) sigh and felt my whole body relax.

Grateful for relief.

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Corruption and Bribery – Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt

I woke at 730am to say goodbye to Nader before catching a taxi to the Sharm El-Sheikh airport. We were catching an 11am flight to Hurghada and since it was domestic, we had more than enough time. We weren’t checking any luggage, had two hours to space, and had pre-bought our Egyptian Visa stamp. Things should go smoothly right? Wrong.

We were fine all the way up to the ticket counter where Lee did not have a copy of his e-ticket anywhere. But the bigger problem was that apparently our Visa stamp was not good enough. Egypt Air called the authorities and the immigration guys also got involved. What it came down to was that we needed to pay some one to “guarantee” us because we had been to Israel. None of it made any sense to me. It still doesn’t. What I do understand is that we basically had to pay an illegal bribe to government officials. I asked them if that was what was happening and they said yes.

The whole thing had me absolutely fuming. Actually I was beyond angry. After Lee paid them off (600 pounds), I went through the whole gamut of feelings from rage to sadness to disappointment to pity to the acceptance of the fact that this is the first country I want to blacklist. I was pretty much hysterical about the whole thing because I felt trapped and imprisoned. Don’t threaten my freedom. I realize this is a major trigger for me.

As I sat on the plane, tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt discriminated against and beaten. I tried to work through my red hot anger that burned in the pit of my stomach. One of the airline employees who was trying to help me pled with me to “be angry in your head, but don’t keep anger in your heart”. I knew these were wise words. Still I had a really hard time managing this strong reaction to such injustice. I turned my focus to some little kids. I was able to bring myself to a place of compassion and love when I put myself in their energy field. The anger was replaced with concern for all those who are affected daily by this type of sinister corruption. All those innocent people who cannot leave. Those who do not have the choice.

Grateful for justice.

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Close call with Death – Taba, Egypt

Lee and I navigated the crossings but not without a few bumps and bruises. First Lee didn’t have enough JDs to pay to leave, then our taxi driver in Israel turned out to be a thieving jerk forcing us to get into another much kinder cab but not before almost getting separated in the scuffle. Next after a long but not excessive line out of Israel, we suffered a very rude Egyptian border official. He refused to answer any questions and just angrily waved us away so he could read his newspaper. I wanted to get our $15 Visa validated but refused to talk to us.

Next we had to negotiate taxi to Dahab which as anyone who endures the Taba border knows is a real nightmare. I first got a ride for $100 but by the end he had raised the price to $200 plus departure fees as well as enduring some very uncomfortable bickering and empty threats from the “mafia”. I was fine with that as we also threw a curveball by making him pick up a couple Americans we met in the line previous who I had instructed to wait at the end of the road.

In any case, we were on our way to Dahab and I just started feeling a bit relaxed when death approached. I was fooling around with my camera which had just decided to break all of a sudden. I heard the rest of the car yelling which prompted me to look up just in time for the main event. A double decker tour bus was barreling toward us at such an accelerated speed I could have sworn that was it was a runaway train. It took but a millisecond to register that the massive chunk of metal could not move back into its own lane due to a line of several cars which for reasons beyond me were not registering the gravity of the situation and making room for the bus. It was horrifying to say the least. Were we really playing chicken with this 50 foot behemoth?

Since we were on a curve around a mountainside, there was nowhere for us to go with the guardrail keep us tucked tightly in our lane. And at just the critical moment when we had to somehow fit the width of three vehicles accross the barely two lane mountainside highway, a very unlucky pile of rocks (construction left overs??) about a meter high turned up dead ahead. So now not only was the bus coming for us, there was an insurmountable obstacle in our way.

The situation was really unbelievable and the blood curdling screams only lasted a few seconds. Our driver did the best he could not to flip the car as we ramped over the rocks and scraped past the bus at breakneck speed. It was the longest 8 seconds in my life.

Afterwards, it took us all a good twenty minutes to recover from the shock. The driver was sweating bullets and almost in tears. I got the impression that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to him every day. We finally got to Dahab and reunited with Nader again. We visited over our favorite chicken meal and the best mango drink I have ever tasted. It was literally just several mangos blended up leaving some juicy sweet chunks through out the thick pulpy goodness. After grabbing some sweets for dessert, we checked into bed early. I was surprised to be able to sleep after all that sugar!

Grateful for narrow escapes.

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