Thursday, September 20, 2007
Gross Lizards and Scary Ass Monkeys in Malaysia
Check out the rest of our Malaysia photos at our photo website.
When Troy and I started planning our trip two years ago I was basically in charge of choosing the destinations. Troy was up for anything so for the most part he didn't care where we went. For some reason I chose Malaysia as a destination. I remember hearing faint rumblings that it was a good place to go for diving. A few weeks before we were to head here I started reading my guide book and I kind of started to panic. I realized that Malaysia was not a great destination for diving and I thought "How am I going to tell Troy that I am dragging him to this country where the diving is blah and is not known as the most exciting country in Asia!" While in Egypt we ran into a group from Singapore and I asked their suggestions of where to go. They said Redang Island. I thought it was as good a suggestion as any I have had - which was none - so as soon as I could I booked us accommodations and diving. It was at this point that I told Troy not to expect too much. He gives me a questioning look "So why did you choose Malaysia if it's not good for diving?" I respond with "Dude, it was two years ago that I chose this place. I honestly can't remember why but we're stuck with it."
But there were two good things about Malaysia,
Redang IslandSo off we went to Redang Island and we have to say we were pleasantly surprised and had a great time. The diving was not the best but was better then we expected. Water was warm, visibility not so good, saw more turtles in a few dives then we've seen in the past 30 dives, a few sharks and a lot of colorful nudibranchs (sea slugs) which is our favorite thing to find. We stayed at a very small diving hotel which we became very fond and very protective of. Whenever new guests showed up we gave them a look that said "What are you doing at OUR hotel?"
Tioman IslandAfter Redang Island we headed back south to Tioman Island. We were told the diving was just as good as at Redang but these people failed to tell us the water would be colder and the visibility even worse. Once again the diving was not fabulous but we found some unusual nudibranchs and many more turtles. Two days of our diving were spent helping the local dive shop collect Crown of Thorns which eat and destroy the coral (which is not a good thing). COT's are part of the starfish family so they are round have about 8-10 arms and are roughly the size of a giant dinner plate. They are also covered with poisonous spines so if you get poked by one, it is not pleasant. Since they have suctions on the bottom of them they have to be pried off the reef so we were given these evil BBQ tools to use in collecting them. As soon as you get them off the reef, they immediately curl into a tight ball which you can bat around like a ping pong ball. The next trick is to get them in the bag without using your partner (Troy in this case) as a backboard. Over two days and 35 divers we collected 1155 COT's. In case you're wondering, no, you can't chop them up to kill them; that only multiplies them. So once they are back on shore a deep hole is dug in the beach and they are buried. This is the best and cheapest way to get rid of them.
Tioman Island was not as nice as Redang but it grew on us. The dive shop and dive instructors were great - in fact, it was the best group of dive instructors I have ever come across abroad. Tioman also had more wildlife that were not scared of people such as big, ugly monkeys. While in Hong Kong we came across a lot of monkeys while hiking so we were used to them. But one afternoon, I'm sitting outside our bungalow minding my own business when something on my right catches my eye. As soon as I turn and look, this monkey comes running towards me, screaming and screeching his head off. This of course scares the piss out of me and I jump up in my chair, screaming an screeching my head off. He runs a few feet a way from me and stands there staring at me. I refuse to get down until either the monkey leaves or Troy comes and rescues me. He immediately sticks his head out the door wondering what the racket is and starts laughing upon seeing me standing on my chair having a staring contest with this monkey.
Then there are the giant monitor lizards that live in the muddy stream that backs up to all the hotel rooms. They range in size from babies that are one foot long to adults that are well over six feet in length. They are one of those animals that are so gross they are fascinating to watch. About 5am one morning a tiny little kitten shows up on our doorstep and won't stop mowing (animal lovers may not like this story... can you tell what is about to come?) When we finally get up there is this tiny, sick kitten right at our doorstep. It can barely stand, when it tries it falls over, one eye is bulging out of it's head like Marty Feldman and looks like it is about to die. We stand there looking at this helpless thing not knowing what we can do to help it. But we finally leave for a day of diving hoping that when we get back it will be gone and not dead on our doorstep. We then proceed to ask the guys at our hotel restaurant and the dive staff what we should do about the kitten, how we can help it. We all get the same response. "Feed it to the lizards!" What??? We can't do that!!! But then we get the argument that it will die a slow, horrible death and that it's survival of the fittest and wouldn't you rather put it out of it's misery? So Troy and I are looking at each other thinking that we might have a horrible task on hand when we return in the afternoon. Luckily when we got back the kitten was gone had found it's mom so we were not faced with a most unpleasant task of feeding a tiny kitten to a lizard. (Would you serve red or white wine with kitten meat??? Sorry, bad joke!)
Next up is a month in Indonesia. Yes, we know they have had recent earthquakes but they are always having earthquakes (not a very comforting thought, I know). But it's one of the world's best diving destinations and natural disasters won't keep us away!
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
My Husband, The Sheesha Addict
Troy has the rest of our Egypt photos uploaded that you can view at our photo website.
We are happy to say that we made it through three weeks in Egypt safely and without getting sick. We got a little poopy at times but we met people that were sick and down and out for four days. So we counted ourselves lucky. Like I stated in our last blog, we never felt threatened or our safety jeopardized from the locals. Where we ran into problems was from foreigners visiting Egypt. For instance, we did a side trip to Mount Moses (more on that later) and in the van was a couple from Manchester, England and two Serbians. When the big Serbian dude found out who was in the van with him he says to the guide "You know why you never meet Serbian tourists? It is because we are poor, we have nothing, because England and America came and bombed and destroyed our country, leaving us with nothing!" The four of us are looking at each other with wide eyes asking "What is he talking about? What did we do?" He said this in a joking manner but you could sense the underlying anger and he continually made jabs to this effect the rest of our time together. Then there was the English guy in Sharm El Sheikh that we booked our diving with. When we told him about our year travels he asked if we were going to the Bikini Atolls for diving (a small group of islands in the South Pacific). When we told him no, he said "Oh, that's right, you've already been there when you tested your nuclear bombs!" I turn to Troy and ask "Did you test nuclear bombs without telling me? Is that what that mystery charge on the Visa was for?"
After leaving Aswan we needed to get to Hurghada, which is where we were getting our boat for a week of diving on the Red Sea. Up to this point we had found independent travel in Egypt was difficult, not like in Costa Rica where we could hop on any bus and go anywhere we wanted freely. Foreigners cannot hire taxis to go to certain destinations, roads are closed to us and most routes require convoys. Since we were not traveling with a group, our only choice to get to Hurghada was by public bus. Getting a bus ticket turned out to be incredibly frustrating. We were told the bus fills up days before departure and we were not going to be in Aswan early enough to buy the ticket ourselves and no one was willing to help us get the ticket. There were a few times I was on the verge of tears because all we wanted was a stupid bus ticket and we couldn't get it figured out and we felt everyone was trying to screw us telling us too many different things. After a few stress filled days everything worked out ok and we got to Hurghada with no problems.
Now, the bus ride itself was a whole other story. The journey was 10 hours in a piece of shit bus that was dirty and had to be hot wired to be started. The driver also had a brick by the gas pedal that I guess was his cruise control and at any given moment I thought for sure the bus door was going to fly off because it was barely hanging on by a few screws. But the worst thing about the drive was there was no air conditioning!!!!!!!!!!! Like my uncle would say, "There is no air conditioning, but at least it's a 10 hour ride!" Along all of our travels through Egypt there have been countless security checkpoints. Most of them are jokes and the bus or taxi driver only gets stopped if the security guard wants a bottle water, cigarette or tissue from the driver. On our bus ride to Hurghada, there was only one time the guards actually got on the bus and scrutinized passengers. As this particular guard was getting off the bus, he notices me and Troy and asks us our nationality. Upon hearing the response of "American" he gives us the suspicious eye, gets off the bus and starts talking to his colleagues motioning to us repeatedly. I don't know what this was all about but after a few minutes of this, he finally waved the bus on.
Red SeaUpon reaching our dive boat in Hurghada we found we were going to spend a week with a fun group of Swiss, Russians and Italians on a beautiful 100' yacht. We have several friends in Hong Kong that raved about the diving in the Red Sea and it definitely lived up to its reputation. The visibility was absolutely incredible and the coral growth was nothing like we have ever seen before. The only downside is we like to look for small critters on the coral and they were either very difficult to find or just not there. An area in the Red Sea known for Hammerheads is the Brother Islands. There were Hammerheads but we saw only 12-14 of them. I know most people would be over whelmed and excited by seeing this number of Hammers, but problem is that we were just in Cocos Island where we saw 100's of them. So at the Brothers when our guide would get so excited by seeing one Hammer far off in the distance, it was difficult for me and Troy to not yawn and say "whatever"! The Brother Islands is one place where we experienced the strongest current ever. On the surface of the water, instead of the water having the calm, small ocean waves, you could see the surface of the water running like a river. There was one dive where we needed to get over the edge of the reef and out of the current. We were using all our strength pulling ourselves along the rock that at one point we could no longer move forward against the current. I then lost my grip and away I went. So needless to say, this was a bust dive. But it was a great week of diving with great people.
Sharm El Sheikh and Mount MosesNext up was a week in Sharm El Sheikh which is a very resorty beach town on the Red Sea. To get here we took a ferry from Hurghada, which is just a mess of a town. Once again, there were no signs to direct us to the right boat so we had to trust that we would get on the boat heading to Sharm El Sheikh and not to Saudi Arabia (I'm not joking about this!) All around Egypt I was very diligent in how I dressed - keeping my knees and shoulders covered because of the Muslim culture. But in Sharm, it didn't matter. Western women would walk down the street in their tiny mini skirts and skimpy bathing tops. Most of you reading this are probably thinking "What does it matter, it's the beach." And I agree with that, but this is still Egypt with a high population of Muslims. So it was not uncommon to see a western women in her tiny, tiny bikini on the beach ten feet from a Muslim women completely covered head to toe in her black burka.
While in Sharm we planned on doing some more diving and to also go to Mt. Sinai or more commonly called Moses Mountain. It is revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews, who all believe this is where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. At the base of the mountain is St. Katherine’s Monastery founded in 330 AD and is considered one of the oldest functioning monastic communities in the world. It's chapel is one of early Christianity's only surviving church. It is also built around what is believed to be the burning bush. Considering all the religious implications of this area, it's kind of funny that I am the one who wanted to go here, since I am the least religious person out of the two of us. At the end of the day, Troy was not too happy that I dragged him here. The trip started out by being picked up at our hotel at 10:30pm (getting scolded by the Serbian) then driving for three hours to the base of the mountain where we started our two hour climb up to the top of Mt. Sinai. We both thought there would be a lot of pilgrims making the trek but it was nothing but tourists. I also don't know what some of the women who went thought they were going to be doing. They were dressed in white linen pants, short mini skirts and heels. Stupid women. Our climb up in the dark was a little difficult even though we had flashlights. Not only were there 100's and 100's of people on the trail, but we had to dodge camels and their poop. Once on the top, we found the best spot possible to watch the sunrise, which was absolutely beautiful. Even though we were disappointed there were not more pilgrims it was interesting to see all in the same area Christian priests, Greek Orthodox bishops and groups of Muslims singing their morning prayers.
Great Pyramids, Saqqara and DashurWe were to spend our last few days in Egypt in Cairo and the surrounding sights. Our first day was to see the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. Although I had read about this, I wasn't prepared to see the pyramids right smack in the middle of Cairo. We're in our taxi, driving down the road and on our right is vendors, small shopping malls and on our left are the pyramids. "Holy cow, there they are!" They are definitely cool to see in person although the Sphinx is much smaller then I imagined. One good thing about being in Egypt in August is there are very few tourists. So we did not have to share this ancient wonder of the world with thousands of other people. In the same day we went to Saqqara and Dashur. At Saqqara is the Step Pyramid built in 2650BC and is the world's earliest stone monument. Previous tombs had been built with perishable materials, such as mud and brick. But pharaoh, Zoser had his architect, Imhotep, built his tomb from hewn stone which from this flowed Egypt's other architectural feats including the Great Pyramids.
At Dashur, there were originally 11 pyramids that stretched over a distance of 3.5km. Today, only the Red Pyramid and Bent Pyramid remains. The Bent Pyramid derived it's name from it's odd shape. When the builders started experimenting, they started with a 54 degree angle. When stress and instability started showing, they changed the angle to 43 degrees. This pyramid is now in a militarized zone so we were only able to admire it from afar. The Red Pyramid is the world's oldest true pyramid and derives it's name from the red tones of the limestone. Upon arrival, Troy and I were the only visitors to Dashur. Our taxi looked so lonely sitting in the vast parking lot all alone. The bored guards and their camel, Antonio, were immediately there to greet us and to take us on a "tour" around the pyramid grounds. Our ticket could get us into the Red Pyramid but the guards said the lights were off and would be on in 5 minutes. Whether or not we wanted it, they showed us around to obvious things, telling us information that I could get from our guide book while expecting money from us. After they got their money from us, they took off while we made the steep climb to the pyramids entrance only to find out that the lights were not off, the generator was broken. Or so we were told. I think they didn't want to turn the lights on because it was just the two of us and there was no guide with us to argue.
CairoIn Cairo is a place called the City of the Dead. No, it's not a violent video game but an actual cemetery where the poor and homeless of Cairo live. Centuries ago when the cemetery was first built, it was the tradition for extra rooms to be built so relatives could have picnics and even stay over night with their dead ancestors. The first floor was where the bodies were kept and the second floor was the extra room for the visiting relative. The homeless saw these extra rooms as free accommodation. No one knows the exact number of people living here, some say 50,000, others say 10 times that amount. Today, it is literally a city with schools, post office and police station. Wandering through the City of the Dead, unless you knew what you were driving through you would never guess it was a cemetery. It just looked like any other walled city only the decorations on the walls and doors were more ornate.
Our second to last stop in Cairo was Khan Al Khalili which was a huge market both for locals and tourists alike. It was crazy, crowded and we were constantly jumping out of the way to avoid being ran over. My arm was almost pulled out of it's socket numerous times from Troy pulling me left and right to get me out of the way. On the edge of this market were several large mosques. At 1pm on Friday is the Muslims big prayer, kind of like Sunday church for Christians. So Troy and I found a nice spot in a cafe to have lunch, watch the prayer and for Troy to smoke numerous sheesha's (tobacco water pipe). Sheesha's is Troys new favorite thing and he was always on the look out for any cafe that served them. I had overdosed on sheesha's in Sharm El Sheikh so I was having no part of them anymore. Watching the Muslims Friday prayer was interesting: from the blind Muslim in our cafe singing his prayers, to the hundreds of Muslims bowing, prostrating and praying, the cafe staff stealing the table cloths for their prayer mat, to watching three women fight over who got the best prayer mat. "Come on ladies, this is suppose to be a peaceful thing." Troy's quote of the day "Sitting at a street cafe in Cairo is so much more interesting then in Paris!"
The last thing we visited was the Egyptian Museum. This was by far the worst museum we have ever been in. It was old, dirty, looked like it had not been painted in 30 years and the labels for exhibits were typed up 50 years ago. There was no map to the museum and no audio guide. If you wanted a guide you had to hire one. There were hieroglyphic tablets, mummies, and statues stacked in piles everywhere. There were things stacked so high above us we couldn't see what they were. It's like they have too much stuff that they don't know what to do with it. There were broken windows, machinery in the middle of the aisle, scaffolding and just crap everywhere. Oh, and there was no air conditioning except for in two tiny little rooms. But we did get to see King Tut's death mask and all of this tombs treasures which made up for the no air conditioning.
We liked Egypt but it was nice to get out of there and have a two day layover in London where we did not have to step over piles of trash, stare at miles and miles of brown, drab desert and to be able to sit down to a meal and not worry if it's going to make us sick.
Next stop, two weeks in Malaysia.