Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What a week!! II

So my week long excursion through the desert of Egypt began near Nuweiba. Ras Shitan to be precise, in a small camp run by local Sinai Bedouin. What makes this camp unique, is that it has yet to be touched by the over-commercialized tourist oriented world that lies just a few kilometres down the road. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the border-resort town of Taba, our little camping haven was absolutely beautiful, and perfectly peaceful. It provides the ideal reprieve for anyone looking to clear their mind.

We arrived early in the morning, having battled the roads throughout the night. Check points however, were made quite easy considering the size of the German Shepard that we brought with us...who really looks nasty, but couldn't hurt a fly. Of course the guards at each check point were too mesmerized by the size of the teeth and the bark to notice much else... I digress... Anyhow, pulling into our camping grounds, I'm struck by the simplicity of everything. Our huts were not much more than wooden reeds strung together, with more reeds forming a simple roof over the top. (Thank God it doesn't rain in Egypt...I can't imagine what they would do hahaha – quiiiiiiick! Our huts are floating away!!!!!!!!). There is no electricity in any of the camping huts; electricity instead is limited to the main hut, where you can sit and listen to live music until 1-2 am (when the owners shut those lights off too), and order food from the main hut's restaurant, offering traditional Bedouin styled meals as well as Egyptian staples.

Our first night was marked by the tabla, a traditional drum, singing, camp-fires and a great deal of food and tea. Vigorous games of Scrabble ensued, resulting in quite the Scrabble rivalry. Endless entertainment need I say. Once the lights in the main hut have been extinguished, the night sky is astounding. You truly forget how awe-inspiring the star filled sky can really be when you're limited to a speckling of 10 of the brightest night starts in Cairo's skies. With minimal light pollution in Ras Shitan, you can truly admire the heavens, and next time I'm definitely bringing a telescope.

Loads of food...

The days are spent relaxing by the water, reading a good book, drinking more tea (spot a pattern here? lol), and sleeping. The complete isolation from the world outside is compensated for by the friendly atmosphere within the camp itself, where mingling and chatting reign in the main hut. It was truly an amazing experience, but after three days of “roughing” it on the beach, I was ready for a real shower. As let me tell you, as “earthy” as I may try to be, there's certain things that I cannot do. And showering next to a hole in the floor one of those things. Can anybody really feel clean after that?!!?!?

That would be my only gripe about our entire camping experience. However – if you venture out to camp on the beach – remember to bring your own bed sheets lol. And whatever you do...unless you want a good hour long work out, don't try and park your car next to the huts :-p. Thank God for the Bedouin expertise with desert driving, we were too remote for a tow-truck, I can't imagine what we would have done without them – and of course the power of manly brawn. But, we got the car out, and got a few great snapshots along the way too! (By we of course – I mean they – while the girls stood by and observed hehe).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What a week!!

So it's been a little while since I've updated, mostly because I've been jetsetting around Egypt. I have decided to split this into three postings, rather than bombard you with one long rant ;).

Eid al-Fitr (a three day holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan) was last week. As is customary, Caireans fled the city in droves. Not me though, I spent the first two days of Eid in Cairo. And it's incredible how different the city feels when empty. Running from one end of Maadi to the next can take upwards of 20 minutes (if not longer) during peak traffic times, yet I was whisked from my house to Road 9 in under 10 minutes. Most store fronts are empty, having closed for the holiday. Vendors are not flooding the streets as they usually do, and it finally allows you the time to sit and truly appreciate the beauty of Cairo for what it is, without the distraction of noise, pollution, and traffic bombarding your every sense.

After two days of quiet Cairo, I was ready to get out and about. Our timing was perfect, not only did we get to enjoy the quiet of Cairo, but we left late enough to avoid the crowds and rush in the resort areas of Egypt - thereby also avoiding traffic. Our choice of destination? Nuweiba, near the border of Egypt and Israel. An area that stretches along the beach front in the mountainous Sinai Peninsula. Standing on the shores of Egypt, to your left you can see Israel and Jordan, in front of you lies Saudi Arabia, separated by a small stretch of water that's maybe 4 km wide. It's a phenomenal site to see, and one of the more peaceful areas I have ever been too.

The Sinai Peninsula has a reputation of being extremely dangerous to travel through. Our trip thankfully, was hallmarked by no more than Bedouin encampments and lone camels striding along the road. We were actually forced at one point to come to a complete stop as our path was blocked by a procession of camels crossing. Only in Egypt...only in Egypt. "STOP the car! Don't hit the wild camel!!!"

No joke, THIS was our roadblock

For anybody that has never entered into the desert before, the Sinai can be a breathtaking experience. The sand stretches for miles, to be met by towering mountains that separate desert from sea. You can't help but marvel at the Bedouin's who have made this rough terrain home, and know the desert inside and out. We met some of the nicest Bedouins at our camping grounds near Nuweiba, who were more than happy to share with you their famous Bedouin tea (really, I don't know what is different about it, other than the fact that it's doused in sugar hehe), their traditional Bedouin jewelry (of course I had to get some), and tell you stories about their life and their family living, eating, and breathing the desert. It is truly and unforgettable experience, and combine it with the peace and serenity of camping near Nuweiba, and you can't go wrong!!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A taste of Egypt

Ramadan is coming to an end, and the Eid feasting holiday is about to begin. But to experience the end of Ramadan to its fullest, I've been a busy little bee over the past few days. From sunset falukas on the nile, to Khan el-Khalili at night, to Sufi dancing, it's been an amazingly hectic week, to be topped off by a delicious dinner tonight at the famous Abu Sid restaurant.

The Khan el Khalili (a bazaar in Cairo popular with tourists, where you can find almost any knick knack from Egypt you could possibly ever want) is an experience even when it's not Ramadan. Walking through the tight alleyways bursting over with shops and stands selling everything from necklaces, rings, wallets, food, juice, among others, you're constantly met with cries of "Please! let me show you my shop!" Should you choose to enter the shops, prepare yourself for bartering, and any attempts possible to sell their products. "You look like a Spice Girl! you are so beautiful, you must buy zis scarf!" For you my friend, i'll give you a special price. It's a high energy atmosphere at the best of times, but during Ramadan there's just that little bit of extra flavour added.

During the day in Ramadan, the Khan is pretty much limited to tourists and a spattering of locals. Come night time however, the place explodes into colour and life. Everywhere you look there are fanous lit (traditional laterns for Ramadan), glittering lights are strung everywhere, vendors walk around trying to sell anything imaginable. I found hours of entertainment with a spinning whirling top, that when turned on would flash colours, pull the bottom string and send it flying into the air. Needless to say, I was not the only one playing with this...i'll call it whirling helicopter thingie...and the open area in the front of the Khan was turned into a duck and dive zone, with all these "thingies" flying around. On more than one occassion my friends and I were forced to rush over to someone, humbly ask for our "thingie" back, and apologize profusely for having "beaned" them in the head. lol.

Moving further into the Khan, my friends and I took refuge in a small sheisha shop. As the shops began to close around 1 am, chairs materialised out of nowhere, and our small quaint "quiet" shop, turned into a human traffic jam corner with everybody scrambling to find a place to eat their Sa7our (final meal before the fast starts again, usually eaten around 3 am). Fol, Tameya, Beef, Kofta, Schawerma, smells wafted in from every direction, excitement levels rose, and more vendors appeared selling bits and bobs of anything you could hope to find at an amusement park. It was with a full belly, and satisfied smile that I walked out of the Khan. And it is an experience that I would recommend to anyone.

Two nights later, it was off to Sufi dancing. Held in the Beit al-Ghoreya near the entrance to the Khan el-Khalili twice weekly, it was an unforgettable experience. My friend Sunje and I braved the crowded streets, and began the hunt for the entrance into al-Ghoreya. We obviously looked slighlty discomboblulated, as within 10 minutes, an extremely kind older lady came over to us. I couldn't have asked for a better example of Egyptian hospitality. "Are you looking for the Sufi dancing?" Why yes, we are in fact! "You must ask! Come with me! I shall show you the way." Sunje and I were in for a treat. She was there with her sister, granddaughters, cousins, aunts, essentially the entire family. They had managed to reserve four rows right in front of the stage, you couldn't have asked for better seating. The fact that it is a free show requires that to actually get a seat, you should be at least 30 minutes early. Sunje and I in true Egyptian style, were there 10 minutes prior to showtime. Had we not run into this woman, we would have ended up sitting on the cold stone floor (course however, I don't think we would have been complaining once the show started).

Sufi Musicians in Traditional Garb

The architecture upon walking into the Beit al-Ghoreya is absolutely striking. Tall high vaulted ceilings are surrounded by stone walls and adornments that could have been plucked out of the Middle Ages. And this is just the breathtaking building. Once the show had started, Sunje and I were left speechless. The dancers enter the stage, playing solo's on the variety of instruments that they play. My favourite has always been the tambourine man, and this show did not disappoint. His fingers moved in a flurry of symbols, and his eyes captivated the audience, leaving you spellbound. Once the actual dancers entered the stage, I could not stop smiling. Not only were they all evidently having a blast, the Sufi dancer in the middle danced and whirled for no less than 20 minutes, spinning and flying around in a trace-like state of colours, drums and music. Should you ever be given the opportunity to see this show, don't miss it!

Whirling Darawish!

Lets hope dinner tonight proves to be as eventful and exciting, of course, with my group of friends this is essentially guaranteed! Good eating and good entertainment!

*Edit* Abu Sid is pretty good, the prices are a little high but the food is ok. Not the best Egyptian food, but the location and the ambiance is very enjoyable.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Interactive Journalism...

The World Wide Web has become synonymous with research and a source of information. It has impacted the spread of knowledge, and expanded and increased global communication. The Internet has equally impacted Journalism, and has revolutionized how people read and are exposed to media events from around the world.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Internet is the cross cultural information highway that it has created. Individuals from around the world can meet in one local median to discuss and exchange ideas. In comparison to newspapers, the Internet is not restricted by printing overhead costs. Unlike many print publications that are suffering due to the current economic crisis, many online news outlets are watching their business expand and grow. Undoubtedly one of the more impressive impacts that the Internet has had on journalism is the voice that readers have now been given.

Online blogging, social networking sites, interactive news-forums have all given users a means with which they can be heard. Readers are given a greater opportunity to impact the news that they want to read. Global communication channels have opened up to smaller societies and cultures throughout the world, allowing greater access to what may have once been deemed obscure news. Journalists themselves have commented on this change in Journalism, as seen in a report published by the Online News Association and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism . “A solid majority of those [Journalists] surveyed (57%) say the Internet is “changing the fundamental values of journalism.” The biggest changes, the respondents said, were a loosening of standards (45%), more outside voices (31%) and an increased emphasis on speed (25%).”

While users now have a greater say in what they want to see reported, has it affected the integrity of Journalism? The need to be the first to break a story will push many to quick, aloof writing, and often times this leads to mis-reporting, or just downright stupid mistakes that are allowed to slide through in the “heat of the moment” (check out the Iraq has vanished blog – even the bigger news outlets are not immune to this). It also seems that with the increasing number of users who are logging into news sites on a daily basis, we have created a culture of “enlightened,” or at least those who consider themselves such. I laugh out loud at some of the comments that people leave on blogs, or have your says, where blatant stupidity has also accessed this information superhighway. Sure, Internet research has facilitated the access to information, but this really does not mean that you should advertise the fact that you still know nothing. :p But hey, what can I say, I’m just as much of an Internet junkie, and I’m sure that I’ve had my moments in blogs… “suz….really, what were you thinking?” hehe. And this, is my thought of the day.

Me working hard!