Egypt: Round Two

Monaco

There’s only one thing to do when your Mum turns 50 and its been a quarter of a century since this photo was taken in Monaco…reunite on another holiday. March birthdays tend to limit hot destinations within reach of shorthaul flights in Europe, so Egypt was the natural choice. Despite having been to Sharm el Sheikh before it was easy breaking my vow of returning to destinations already visited thanks to the lure of off season diving in the Red Sea.

The only drawback about diving at this time is the water temperature, I was wearing a shorty over a long wetsuit and still managed to freeze. No amount of tea personally delivered to a cabana, whilst your wrapped in towels laying in the direct sun will warm your bones. The biggest thing to overcome after a long absence from diving was thew shock news that a swimmer had died from a shark attack nearby just days before. It was impossible to not take advantage of the lack of tourists and take some quiet dives. This culminated in a special boat trip on Mum’s birthday where my auntie bravely jumped in to the blue to see the reefs I had been raving about. It felt amazing to be back with the bubbles after over a year of drought since Honduras.

Despite being in the lap of luxury and with a busy set of dives on a week trip, I couldn’t resist the temptation to fly to Luxor to see the Valley of the Kings. The childhood travel explorer in me could not pass the opportunity given that I still use the hieroglyph bookmark my auntie brought back as souvenir 20 years ago. The sites were absolutely mind boggling, and given that there were hardly any tourists, having the time to fully explore with space around you was heaven. It still breaks my heart that Egypt has to prostitute itself to exploit its natural wonders with very little protection, knowing full well that future generations won’t have the privilege to see any of it. This makes me feel all the luckier to have such a golden chance.

Overall I’m certainly not one for all inclusive resort holidays, but certain life events call for this kind of treatment. Egypt’s tourist industry is on its knees, which is a crying shame given the millennia of fascinating cultural heritage it has to offer. Given the bonus of amazing dive sites and visibility, I’m sure I’ll be back again.

 

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Morocco: Marakkech & Tamraght. Surfing & Yoga

You know those times when you laugh so hard that your ribs ache and your cheeks hurt? Imagine that for seven straight days. It sounds exhausting but it was pure infectious week of medicine for the soul in Morocco. It’s not often that I recommend particular places to stay as I usually take the cheapest bed available and spend all of my time away from accommodation, however in these circumstances I cannot recommend these places highly enough.

It was an EXTREMELY impromptu last minute trip decided during a yoga studio afternoon tea party. Two wonderful friends are both primary school teachers, so we took advantage of their holidays. Weirdly we had been researching Tamraght individually for a surf and yoga holiday, the universe brought us together and we had the most hysterical week of exercise and laughter. There are truly hundreds of surf schools north of Agadir,but Surf Star Morocco is utterly unbeatable. The accommodation is awesome, we took a triple room and ended up with a huge apartment to ourselves. The rooftop has beautiful views for dawn and dusk yoga, and the food is out of this world. The team of people working at the camp feel like a giant extended family.  October is just at the start of the season and totally worth a trip if you book your flights in advance, don’t get caught out with last minute bookings!

If you’re thinking of giving surfing a try, be warned the waves are packed and you’ll be dodging other beginners all day long. I learned the hard way on day one and bit through my lip after kissing the board in a wave. I spent the rest of the week looking like Pete Burns. Most camps will have yoga teachers that take a day off so there will be a yoga free day, perfect either for day trips, or for me an opportunity to teach.

It was really hard leaving camp after a week of dysfunctional family life but a final night in a suite at the Riad Assouel in the heart of the Medina in Marrakech was calling. Normally hotel photos exaggerate beyond belief, but in this case no picture can show just how amazing this riad truly is, what’s more absolutely nothing can capture the beautiful fragrance. The painstakingly restored medieval architecture and carefully chosen furniture make you feel like Moroccan royalty. From the riad you can take a short walk to Le Jardin, prefect for dinner in the candlelit garden oasis.

I’ve spent years hoping to visit Morocco and this did not disappoint. A truly fabulous week spent with the very best company imaginable.

Egypt: Being smuggled across borders during the anniversary of the revolution

Egypt 147

One of the main perks of going to Egypt in January is that its off season, so very few tourists around. The week of the anniversary of the revolution is particularly cheap for obvious reasons. After only one year, people were nervous to see what would happen during the days surrounding January 25th, particularly in Cairo. This meant that I could get a very last minute trip to Sharm el Sheikh knowing it would be deserted.
My hotel was nearly empty as were the streets and beaches, so the snorkeling was out of this world. With very few people swimming the abundance of fish was even more extreme. For my first real experience of one of the world’s largest reefs, this got me instantly hooked. In one boat trip I saw more varieties of marine life than I have done in all other sites around the world combined. Learning how to free dive down also gave me the opportunity to see octopus. I even managed to spot huge rays, which gave me a huge new incentive to learn to dive.

Given that it was winter, the evenings came early so I had to take an obligatory trip to a bedouin camp to ride camels and star gaze. Being out in the mountains gave way to minimal light pollution, making the Milky Way stand out like a saw thumb. I decided to brave it up to Cairo knowing that the tourist sites would be as empty as they would ever be and jumped on a coach full of Russians. I had explicitly arranged to get my passport stamped en route before crossing the Sinai border into Africa. When the time came to approach border control, I was removed from my seat and put in a toilet under the stairs with my passport. Armed guards proceeded to check every single passenger. There was only one empty seat on board, mine. I could not lock the door because the toilet in use light would have alerted the guards. As a white western female alone in the desert without any Arabic to hand, I was dying of fear. My heart was beating our of my chest and it was the longest 5 minutes of my life.
The Egyptian Museum of Antiquities was mind blowing. I could have spent days in there alone, but the atmosphere was tense. Seeing the shell shocked buildings surrounding Tahrir Square on the way in was a blunt reminder that everything was still raw. The pyramids were spectacular at sunset. With so few people around, I knew how fortunate I was to see the site so empty. I’ve been fascinated with Egypt ever since my aunt gave me a papyrus bookmark painted with hieroglyphics as a child. It is still my bookmark to this day and it felt surreal seeing sites first hand were such fascinating civilizations thrived. It is unthinkable to imagine how advanced ancient cultures were in every aspect of life, yet many millennia on people are slaughtering one another in the streets. Cairo is a deeply fascinating city and I would love to return to explore further with the correct passport approval in hand.