Posted by: Eon | September 14, 2008

Back to Reality

Around the world in 365 days – yes, this is at a much more leisurely pace than Phileas Fogg. But hey, we were on holiday ;)! So what does a Round the World trip have to offer? How does one write about returning home after one year’s travelling around the world?

The last year was the greatest experience of our lives and yet, being back home, it feels like we never left…like the last year was a mere dream. Every now and again something small will remind us that it really did happen – WE TRAVELLED AROUND THE WORLD and survived to tell this story!

The first three months of our trip was like a very long Christmas day – everything is new and exciting and interesting. We charged into each day with so much energy and enthusiasm to make sure that we do not miss a thing. Then we started to realise that we have been on holiday for three months and that we had another nine months to go. It was only then that we started to take things slowly and really soak up the experience.
Closer to the end of our trip, we noticed that we had less patience with new cultures and the way things work in other countries than what we had earlier in our trip. We were craving a slick system, things that work like it’s supposed to and the familiar. There were many things that we did not look forward to when back in SA. For one, we did not look forward to getting back into the 9 to 5 ratrace. We knew we would also miss the freedom to just do whatever we wanted to – get up at anytime, go where we feel like, eat out all of the time, handing clothes in at a laundromat and having no responsibilities ;) But we knew that as soon as we returned home, we would miss all the things we encountered on our travels.

Looking back, there are a number of highlights. And even the memory of the lower moments puts a smile on our faces. Here are some of those moments that will be imprinted in our minds forever:

– 18 countries in 365 days… 1061 hours spent travelling (that is 44 24-hour days!)
– Realising that we have so much time at hand and that we can travel without any rush
– Meeting fellow travellers, and sometimes, life-long friends
– Experiencing temperatures from -20 to 48 degrees Celsius
– Hiking in the Himalayas for three weeks – Nepal
– Acting in a Bollywood Movie – India (Movie’s name is Coffee Shop – still looking for the DVD)
– Paragliding between snow-capped mountains – Nepal
– Zipping over forest canopies and sleeping in a 50 meter high tree-house on the Gibbon Experience – Laos
– Smoking a traditional sheesha pipe on the streets of Cairo
– Drinking an Indian chai tea on a packed train – India
– Doing various courses including cooking, massage and Spanish lessons
– Flying over the mystical Nazca lines – Peru
– Swooping down a massive sand dune on a sand board – Peru
– Swimming with sea lions and sharks – Galapagos Islands
– Diving in the Red Sea and floating on the Dead Sea
– Risking life and limb in taxis (much worse than SA, can you believe?)
– Lying on a hammock overlooking pearly white beeches – Philippines and Thailand
– Having our own private island – Palawan, Philippines
– Watching mud boil out of the earth – New Zealand
– Playing on endless salt flats at 5000m above sea level – Bolivia
– Seeing the biggest of the big: Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia, Iguaçu falls in Argentina/Brazil, Himalayas in Nepal, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia
– Standing in front of the mysterious Moai faces on the isolated Easter Islands
– Spending time in the Amazon Rainforest: searching for tarantulas (and finding them), eating live beetle larva, witnessing an eagle catch a squirrel monkey, fishing for piranhas and watching rivers dolphins play in the water
– Gorgeous foreign cuisine: Vietnamese iced coffee, Indian chai tea, Indian food in general especially dum aloo, pad thai in Thailand, Thai coconut curries, dal bhat in Nepal, fresh seafood in Philippines, Tim Tams in New Zealand, Argentinean steaks, the set lunches in South America (sometimes very dodgy, but always cheep and filling), pizza in the Himalayas, exotic foods from the Amazon (including live larva, water from a tree, and yucca bread), humus and babaganoush in Egypt, watermelon-shakes in Laos and snapper in banana leaf in Vietnam
– Learning about the sad history of Cambodia and its hopeful people
– Meeting the lovely people of Laos
– Having tailor-made suites made in Hoi Ann, Vietnam
– Seeing three of the Seven Wonders of the World – Taj Mahal (India), Machu Picchu (Peru) and Petra (Jordan). And the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), which should be on the list ;)
– Everything about India – the madness, the filth, the odours (good and bad), the people, the forts, the food and the chai!
– Our ‘van’ road trip through New Zealand
– The toilets all over Asia! Squatting is good for those thighs :)
– Trekking in Patagonia – Southern parts of Chile and Argentina
– Cycling from winery to winery in Maipu – Argentina
– The road trip around Salta with our rent-a-car, Gerben and Maaike – Argentina
– The amazing wildlife on the Galapagos Islands, including swimming with playful sea lions
– Witnessing the Tango on the streets of Buenos Aires – Argentina
– Overlooking the massive Iguaçu Waterfalls – borders of Argentina and Brazil
– The amazing temples, excruciating heat and horrible men of Egypt

The list is endless… I want to challenge you – go on your own round the world trip, go and make your own endless list of inspiring memories.

After much deliberation… Eon’s top10 photos. These are not necessarily the best ones, but they have a special meaning (and a whole story behind it):

Watch out for in the not too distant future…

Posted by: Eon | August 25, 2008

London – Mind the gap

London (25 – 31 August 2008)

If I could give a small bit of advice to anyone doing a round the world trip – make sure ALL of your website posts are up to date before returning back home. Family and friends kept us so busy with catching up and feeding us all the food we have longed for that we had no time to finish the final posts for the website :) Therefore, this final post on our trip is published a bit later than planned – rather late than never!

So we arrived in London for a quick visit to Melindi, a friend who I haven’t seen in almost two years. She moved to London a while before our trip started and I was super-excited to see her. As could be expected from London, the weather was miserable – grey skies and a cool breeze that seemed cold to our Egypt-adjusted bodies. We spent the first day in the comfort of Melindi’s home, where we got to meet her four all-girls roommates.

We had only one week to explore London and also catch up with some other friends who have moved to London from South Africa. So the following morning, we had a quick breakfast and set of to “do” the typical tourist attractions. As we walked out of the tube station, I saw Big Ben and pointed it out to Eon who was still in awe of the way of the London people. We walked over the bridge and then along the Thames River towards Tate Modern art gallery. This massive architectural masterpiece holds various artworks that kept us occupied for about two hours.

The next day we made our way to Buckingham Palace to witness the changing of the guard. From there we strolled through the St James’s Park towards Trafalgar Square. First up was the unimpressive Photography Gallery; Eon was very excited about this gallery and with the limited exhibition ended up being very disappointed. At least we then had some extra time and we decided to go to the National Gallery. I was amazed! We got to see all four of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. Some of the other big names included Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Rembrandt Van Rijn and Van Gogh.

The following day it was time to see the ever impressive St. Paul’s Cathedral. This massive cathedral dates from the 17th century. St Paul’s was used for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
We explored London during the day and Melindi entertained us in the evenings with various activities. One of these was an evening out at a Brazilian club where we learned to salsa. Melindi took a day’s leave to show us around the intriguing and not-so-touristy parts of London and they turned out to be the highlights of our London trip. She introduced us to Borough Market – Jamie Oliver’s shopping spot. I immediately fell in love with the market and its many stalls selling all kinds of delectable goodies. My favourites were the selection of fresh berries, the many, many different cheeses (even one called Drunk Cheese – cheese drenched in red wine) and the various different freshly baked breads. We bought some bread, cheese and pesto and had a little picnic on the lawn next to the market.

From here we went to Camden, the punk and Freaky Jason mecca. I walked around with my mouth wide open, staring at all the incredible hair styles – I could not help to wonder where they buy their hair gel from. Last on this days list was Primrose Hill – a beautiful little hill amongst the flatness of London that sports spectacular views of the city’s skyline. That evening we met up with a long lost friend of mine. He took us to a South African pub and spoiled us with some biltong and droë wors – Thanks Henk and Gerda!

Even before we started travelling a year ago, Eon wanted to buy a Nintendo Wii and on the Saturday morning in London, he decided to fulfil his dream. Of course, this new toy had to be tested out straight away, so Eon and the housemates jumped at the opportunity. After a quick test of the controls we were on our way to meet up with our two Irish friends that we met in China two years ago. Ursula and Ann flew to London from Ireland for the weekend to meet up with us and also for a bit of retail therapy.


London was all about and catching up with old friends and typical tourist attractions. One week was enough for the sightseeing, but not nearly enough for visiting our friends.

And that was it – an entire year has passed. As we were packing our bags to take our final flight back to SA, we nostalgically looked back on the year gone by. We had an absolutely fabulous time – and if we could do it all over again, I’ll start tomorrow. Okay, maybe in a month’s time, we first need to recharge our batteries back home :)

Posted by: Eon | August 25, 2008

Egypt Summary

Egypt Summary


We flew into Egypt from Argentina via Brazil and Spain. From here we made our way down to Aswan by train and did a short side trip to Abu Simbel. We took a felucca from Aswan northwards to Kom Ombo. From here it was a two hour taxi ride to Edfu and then another two hours to Luxor. From Luxor, we took a very long overnight bus to Dahab where we did some scuba diving. From Dahab, we took a bus to Nuweiba and then the ferry over to Jordan. On returning from Jordan, we travelled via Israel to get back to Nuweiba. From here we took a bus and taxi to get to St. Katherine’s. Lastly, we took a bus from St. Katherine’s to get back to Cairo from where we flew to London.

The weather was HOT!! It is definitely not recommended to visit Egypt in the summer months. It was too hot to do anything but lay in the air-conditioned hotel room, because you just do not have the energy to brave the heat outside. Therefore we attempted to do our sightseeing either early morning or early evening.

Egyptian Favourites:
–    The felucca trip – the river breeze was delightfully cool
–    The Karnak Temple at sunrise
–    The Pyramids of Giza
–    Smoking a sheesha on the street as the rest of Egypt passes by
–    The diving in the Red Sea
–    Just when we thought the Egyptian people were the unfriendliest people ever, someone would help us with something out of the blue to remind us that not all Egyptians are bad.

The ‘Not so Cools’:
–    The heat!!!
–    The incredible rudeness of Egyptian men
–    The scamming
–    The dirt
–    The poverty

I would list Egypt as our least favourite country on this trip. But it really have some great sights. If I could do this trip over again, I would go to Egypt again, but definitely not in the summertime.

Nuweiba and St. Katherine’s (14 – 19 August 2008)

C in the Red sea with Saudi Arabia in the backgroundNuweiba must be the saddest place I have been in a long time. In recent years there has been a number of terrorist attacks and bombings, and this lead to the downfall of this once bustling tourist town. All the shops are deserted and shop owners sit outside their shops and wait for clientele that does not exist; the supermarket’s shelves are empty and the restaurants are bare and rundown. We felt so sorry for the people there, but they were all hopeful that one day their town will be back to the way things were.

The hotel that the taxi driver took us to turned out to be okay. The owner was an old man with many stories to tell over a free cup of tea. We planned on staying only one day in Nuweiba before moving on to St Katherine’s, but ended up staying three days. We did absolutely nothing – in fact, we were so bored at one stage that we bought a very old tennis ball to play with in the sea.

Sometimes it is nice just to kick back and do nothing. Especially after a hellish trip like the one we had from Jordan to Egypt. And even though the hotel owner and his family asked us to stay longer, we decided to move on to St. Katherine’s.

The posing photographerSt. Katherine’s is a protected area that rises up from the desert into the Sinai mountains. The main attractions are the St. Katherine’s Monastery and of course, Mount Sinai. The monastery dates back to around 330 AD and is sacred to the world’s three monotheistic religions – Christians, Jews and Muslims. Our reason for visiting was mainly for the climb up to Mt Sinai for sunrise. This is something I have always wanted to do.

There was no direct bus to St. Katherine’s from Nuweiba, so we took the bus that went to Dahab and got off halfway to Dahab at a junction on the highway. And then we waited for a lift. Hitchhiking twice in one week?! This time we did not have the same luck as in Jordan and after two hours we decided to go with a passing taxi.

We stayed at Fox Camp with a group of biology students from the UK. It was quite interesting listening to their conversations about the traps they set for vermin and the plant samples of they collected. The camp was quite a distance from the centre of town, but we were able to join in the buffet meals prepared for the student group. There was a definite drop in temperature and it was blissful to walk to the internet café without melting away.

The following morning, we got up at 1:30am and started the hike up Mt Sinai. We were told that it was a three hour hike and that there would be so many other people, so we did not want to start too late and miss out on a good spot or even on sunrise all together. It was quite a climb and I could not believe how many people were up at that time of the morning to walk up this mountain. There were people from all walks of life – old and young; thin and fat; men and women; fit and unfit (me!!). And then, as with all other Egyptian site, there were a million camel touts shouting: “camel, madam?”  When the path became too rugged for the camels to continue, the touts improvised and would hand you their hand and ask: “Need any help?” What? Were they going to carry me up the mountain?!

Finally we were at the top! And it was very, very cold up there. We each had a jumper that helped a bit, but the cold was such a shock to my system – could I even remember what ‘cold’ felt like? And then we waited for sunrise…and waited…and waited. We did the climb in about two hours and we were nearly the first people to make it to the summit. We waited for two hours in the cold before the horizon started to change colour. At least we had a good spot, because as the dawn crept closer, more and more people appeared and everyone wanted a good view of the sunrise from Mt Sinai.

Sunrise from Mt SinaiThe sun rose over layers and layers of desert mountains and the horizon was lined with a spectrum of colours. As soon as the sun was out, the crowd started to disperse. We waited a while for most of the people to descent and then we started down the mountain. On the way down, we stopped at one of the many shai (tea) shops for a coffee and the owner invited us in and served us one coffee on the house because we could speak some Arabic- there’s just nothing like a hot cup of coffee on a cold an dearly morning.

By the time we reached the foot of the mountain, the temperature was already back to its Egyptian ways. Hard to imagine how cold it was just two hours earlier. We did a quick visit to the monastery that was swarming with tourists. The highlight was the Burning Bush – not burning anymore though, but still great to see. It was such a surreal feeling walking in the mountains that we have read about so many times in the Bible – walking up the mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments.

Back at the camp we spent the rest of the day catching up on the website and the following day it was time to head back to Cairo. The bus to Ciaro departed at 6:00am. The bus boy tried to charge us almost double the fee for the bus ticket, but he had a quick change of mind when he realised we understood Arabic numbers when we pointed to the price on the ticket and demanded to pay the correct amount. Seven hours later we arrived in the capital and headed back to Pension Roma, where we stayed the previous time.

I had forgotten how hot it was in that hotel with no air conditioning, and so we went searching for a different hotel the following morning. We settled on Hotel Ramses II: aircon (yeh!), cable TV (yeh!), breakfast, private bathroom (yeh!) and all this at the same price. Later it was quite apparent that we low price was due to the unhelpfulness and unfriendliness of the staff :)

We had six days to kill before we were off to London and there were a couple of sights on our to-see list. First up was Islamic Cairo, also known as Old Cairo. We decided to follow the guidebook’s recommendation and walk from Down Town to Old Cairo. It was a Friday afternoon, and supposed to be similar to a Sunday afternoon back home. But oh no! The traffic was hectic and the streets were streaming with pedestrians making their way either to or from the big Cairo market, situated in the heart of Old Cairo.

We pushed our way through the sea of people, dodging cars, bicycles, donkeys and carts. We were exhausted when we finally reached the market and so we slowed down our pace and started our way through the many little alleys packed with street stalls. They were selling anything from food and clothes to spices and souvenirs. We made a deliberate stop at a sheesha shop where Eon bought a beautiful waterpipe. And with his excellent bargaining skills (mostly faking to walk away), he managed to get the pipe at a dirt-cheap price. We bought some more souvenirs and then pushed our way back home.

The rest of our time in Cairo was spent roaming the city streets and just soaking in the last bit of our travels. It was time to head home, but first we had a short detour to London.

gallery for Nuweiba and St. Katherine’s:

2008 08 15 Nuweiba, Mt Sinai and Cairo
Up Mt Sinai
Chilling in Nuweiba
C in the Red sea with Saudi Arabia in the background
Just peeping over the horizon
How bizarre – being cold in Egypt
The walk down Mt Sinai to the monastery
The Burning Bush
C and the pelican
Sunrise from Mt Sinai
The posing photographer
Sheesha Stalls in Old Cairo
Old Cairo mosque
Old Cairo architecture
Chaos and dirt

Jordan (9 – 14 August 2008)

The classic Petra brochure shotWe were in Dahab, Egypt and wanted to go to St Katherine’s to climb Mt. Sinai. When we arrived at the bus station, there was no bus to St Katherine’s that day and no one could tell us when there would be a bus. So we decided to go to Jordan and took a bus to Nuweiba from where we could take the ferry into Jordan. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing.

We arrived in the dusty little port town of Nuweiba and after asking several people for directions, we finally found the ferry ticket office. We bought the already expensive tickets and opted for the ‘fast ferry’ for an additional $10. After all the customs checks, we entered the waiting area – a disgustingly dirty hall with wooden benches. It looked more like a concentration camp than a waiting area – complete with flies, dirty kids with flies crawling on their faces, people sleeping on the floor and trash scattered all over. And then we waited…and waited….and waited…The ferry was delayed by two hours.

The ferry was in no better condition and we were really grossed out. The dirt in between the seats was about three cm thick, most of the seats were broken, stained and torn and the place smelled funny. I did not want to touch anything, let alone have dinner. All of this would have been acceptable if we did not pay so much for the tickets. Two hours later, we arrived in Aqaba, Jordan. From the moment we arrived in Jordan, it was apparent that things were far more expensive here than in Egypt. So we bargained very hard for a taxi into town (only 6km) and still paid about 10 times more than one would pay in Egypt!

Due to the long ferry delay, we decided to spend the night in Aqaba and make our way to Wadi Musa the following morning. After a good night’s sleep in the cheapest place we could find, we took a minibus to Wadi Musa. Wadi Musa is a small town famous for one of the new Seven Wonders of the World – Petra. We stayed in Rose City Hotel – the manager proudly boasted about the cable TV and its 700 channels. Turned out more than half of them were porn channels and the only non-Arabic channel was BBC :) So much for the modesty of the Arabic community.

C on her way to PetraTo assure we beat the influx of tourist busses to Petra, we got up early and watched the sunrise over the mountains as we walked to the ancient Rose City. Petra is an ancient ruined city, hewn from towering rock walls. It is a city complex in itself with temples, theatres and tombs. And its vastness is incomprehensible. We entered through the Siq – a 1.2km long hallway that leads to the city. The Siq often narrows to only 2 meters in width and the walls tower up to 200 meters overhead.

As we made our way through the Siq, the anticipation built up as we looked around every corner for a glimpse of the Treasury. And finally there it was, peeping out from behind the enormous rocks. From here we made our way to the Theatre and then to the City Centre of Petra. We used our last energy to climb up to the Monastery, tucked away behind a mountain. And that was it for day one. We had no more water, no more energy and no more tolerance against the heat and the persistent camel touts.

E in the entrance of the Urn tombThe next day we returned to visit the Royal Tombs. These tombs were cut from solid rock in the mountains and we had to climb up the side of the cliff to start this exploration. We decided to take an alternative route back, rather than returning through the Siq (seeing that we’ve walked through it three times already). We walked around the mountain through which the Siq ran, and came across the most amazing scenery. The dried up river bed lead to a path eroded from the mountain. At places we had to climb over 2 meter high boulders and slide in between the rocks to make our way to the other side. The path was very narrow and the walls extremely high. We felt like children playing in a wonderland of mazes.

It is a pity that Petra is so big, because it is impossible to visit all the outskirts of the site. We had two days of exploration and managed to cover only a small bit of it. But it was still impressive and a memorable experience.

To try and stay within budget, we decide not to spend too much time in Jordan. But a visit to this area of the world would not be complete without a swim, or should I say float, in the Dead Sea. To get to the Dead Sea was another story. There were no direct buses and we had to go north to the capital, Amman, and then back south again to the Dead Sea.

For a ‘well developed’ country like Jordan, we were really disappointed in their public transport system. The bus to Amman was supposed to leave at 8:30. We arrived at the bus station at 8:00, by 9:00 a bus arrived and demanded an extra 2 Euro per piece of luggage from each tourist. When we refused, the driver chased all of us off the bus (locals included) and left without any passengers. The next bus arrived about half an hour later. By this time there were way too many people to fit onto the bus. After pushing and shoving, we did not make it on to the bus. As we waited on the sidewalk, all the passengers were chased off the bus (again!) and then they were all invited to get back on (again!). We jumped at the opportunity and this time had a successful scrum session and made it onto the bus. Three hours later, we arrived in Amman.

We had a cheap and quick lunch at the bus station and continued the long journey to the Dead Sea. This time we were on a real chicken bus with some locals. They dropped us off next to the highway and we had to walk another kilometre or so to get to the “Free Beach” – the only place where normal plebs can enjoy the strange phenomenon of floating on the Dead Sea for “FREE” (well, not really – they charged 7 Euro entrance). The rest of the coastline was covered with expensive resorts.

Perfect buoyancyThe Dead Sea (the lowest place on earth) was worth every bit of frustration of getting there. The beach itself is downright ugly with soil rather than sand and when I first walked into the water, I cringed at the lukewarm murky water. But then I went down and lifted my feet to get into the floating position and what happened next went beyond all logic! I popped up onto the surface with no effort. It was like being in outer space! I giggled like a little girl at the experience. When Eon finally put his camera away, he joined me in the craziness of it all. We just had to sample what the salty water (30% salt in the water) tastes like: I just licked a bit of water from my finger…and o my word!!! What a shock for the system – it really felt like an electric shock that shot through my body. And as they say… “when in Rome…” so we made our way to the muddy shore and lathered on the mineral rich mud. We have not had a spa treatment since we started travelling, so we were indulging in this luxury. It is predicted that the Dead Sea would be totally dried up in about 50 years – quite sad indeed!

After properly relaxing our muscles and minds, we had to make our way back to Amman. And the only way was to hitch hike – something I have never done before. I must have had beginners luck, because after about five minutes an SUV stopped to give us a lift. There were four young men in the car, and with my experience with Arabic men thus far, I was a bit apprehensive to get in. It was a toss up between a lift back to Amman and a little banter from the guys…Eon sat next to the two guys on the back seat and then I squeezed in next to Eon.

The four guys turned out to be very nice – three of them were from Saudi Arabia and the driver (who also seemed to be the only English speaker out of the lot) was from Kuwait. They were in Jordan for a couple of days on a short holiday and they stayed about 15km north of Amman. They invited us to their holiday home for tea and seeing that we had nothing better to do, we gladly accepted. And so it happened that we spent our evening with four Arabic guys. They were very interested in our travels, so we took them through all our pictures of the last year. After a nice dinner of bread, dips and cheeses, we bid our friends goodbye and took a taxi back to Amman. It just goes to show that sometimes, you need to submit and just go with the flow. This was a strange, unexpected and lovely experience.

The next morning, we started to make our way back to Egypt. We took a taxi to the bus station and had to wait for two hours until departure. We left Amman at 13:00 and arrived in Aqaba at 18:00. We were determined to find another way to get back to Egypt without taking that horrible ferry again. The planned route was to go north from Aqaba and drive through Israel (only about 15 km) and enter Egypt at Taba. If only it was as simple as it sounded!

We took a taxi from Aqaba to Eilat, the border town between Israel en Jordan. Have you ever heard about African time? Well, what we experienced in the Middle East was far worse? The taxi dropped us at the border where we exited Jordan after a series of queues to pay departure tax and have our passports stamped. Then we crossed into Israel…if you have been following our blog, you would know how many bad incidents we’ve had with this nationality. Okay, first up was the customs check. I put my bags through the scanner and walked through the metal detector, no problems. The bag check took a while because there was new staff in training. And then the nightmare began…I was asked to be searched in the little room in the back. They had absolutely no reason to search me, but they explained that it was for training purposes and that they were sorry for the inconvenience. Okay, so the girl (thanks goodness it was a girl!!) frisked me and then scanned the metal detector over my body. It beeped at my short’s zipper and my bra’s wire, so I had to strip down. How embarrassing!! I guess this is payback for all the nasty things I have said about the Israelis :)

Okay, after playing Springbok Nude Girl with the Israelis we went through another series of queues for stamps and searches and departure tax. Would you believe that we had to pay a huge amount for Israel departure tax even though we did not spend any time in the country?! Anyway – they made some more money off us with the super expensive taxi ride to the Egyptian border. And just when we thought we could relax on Egyptian soil, we had another setback…Eon had some Indian beadies in his bag and the Egyptian security guard thought it was some weird drug. We have been travelling with these harmless banana leaf cigarettes for months, to take home as souvenirs. Just about every guard on duty got involved. We kept telling them that it wasn’t drugs, but they stayed suspicious. Eventually, we told them to light one and taste that it has absolutely no effect. After they destroyed four of the six beadies, they finally let us go. By this time it was after 21:00 and we were exhausted. The last stretch was to get from Taba to Nuweiba, about a half an hour drive. We had to take a taxi to Nuweiba because there were no busses until the following morning. And we could not sleep in Taba; the only accommodation there started at $100 per night!

The taxi driver took us to his preferred hotel in Nuweiba, but we could not care less – all we wanted was a bed! In hindsight, we should rather have taken the dirty ferry!

Click on the image below to view the gallery for Jordan:

First glimpse of the ancient city

Posted by: Eon | August 2, 2008

Exploring the Red Sea – Dahab

Dahab (2 – 9 August 2008)
Okay, so it seems we just cannot escape the overnight buses. It took a nine hour overnight bus to get from Luxor to Dahab. Our backs are so messed up by now, that one more overnight bus might just do some permanent damage. We arrived in Dahab, looked at a couple of hostels and settled on Jasmine Hotel right on the beach. For an extra 10 Egyptian Pound, we even got a balcony with a sea view. We planned on having a cold beer on the balcony at sunset, but could not find any beer in this Muslim country, so we had to settle for a cold drink.

Dahab is the Egyptian version of a Thailand beach – just a lot warmer, filthier and without the beer :) Its main attraction is the snorkelling and dive spots in the Red Sea and the accommodation is much cheaper than its neighbour, Sharm el-Sheikh. Therefore it attracts more backpackers than the packaged tour groups. The Lonely Planet states that most people plan three or four days here and then end up staying over a week.

Our motivation to visit Dahab was purely the diving. Both Eon and I are Padi Open Water divers and we could not wait to get to the Red Sea to explore this underwater haven. We did some research on the prices of various companies and after very careful consideration (mostly financial considerations) decided to do our advanced diving certification. The course included a little bit of studying and homework, as well as five qualifying dives.

The first dive was on Peak Performance Buoyancy – during this dive we had our first view of the stunning soft coral in the Red Sea. The second dive was on Navigation – wow, I really suck at compass work! We had to swim in a perfect square, using only a compass and it took me a while to grasp this :)
Day 2 of the course was more relaxed. We started with a Deep Dive (30 meters) in the Canyon and did some pretty cool tricks underwater. We cracked open two eggs and played hand-tennis with them as the pressure kept the egg compressed. The second dive was a drift Dive in the Blue Hole – a gaping sinkhole that drops straight down to unfathomable depths. It was a little bit daunting with all the horror stories of fatal accidents in this spot – the sight has claimed several lives in recent years, mainly thrill seekers diving well beyond the sport-diving limit.

Our last dive was the one we were looking forward to the most – a night dive. So with torches in hand, we took to the dark depths of the Red Sea. And on completing this dive, we were now Advanced Divers! We found a shop that sold beer and we celebrated only a little bit. Drinking is really frowned upon in Egypt :)

Besides the diving, we did not do much. We used the week in Dahab for relaxing: reading, snorkelling or sleeping. I have to mention that the men in Dahab were more reserved than the men elsewhere in Egypt – there were hardly any comments or harassment. So this also added to the relaxing environment. It is no wonder people end up spending more time in Dahab than they have planned!

Gallery for Dahab:

Posted by: Eon | July 29, 2008

Luxor – Temples and Tombs

Luxor (29 July – 2 August 2008)

Great hypostyle hall - KarnakThe Hotel Oasis was the cheapest place we stayed at in all of Egypt, only 35 Egyptian Pound (R50) per night, including a breakfast of bread, cheese, pancakes, tea, fruit and Cornflakes (yummy!!!). And the hotel definitely made up for Luxor city, a noisy, dirty place with the most horrible of all Egyptian men.

After the long day of temples and a hot minibus ride (and terrible driver) we did not move from our hotel’s aircon room. Some days later, one of the staff noted that they noticed we did not leave the room on the first day and wondered if we were okay :)

My temper was really pushed to the limits the first time we set foot out of the hotel. The Luxor men are an awful species! Even though I was walking next to Eon, with a fake wedding ring as extra protection, the men still made hideous remarks. They proclaimed their everlasting love to me and if I did not respond the banter would turn ugly into sexual remarks and suggestions. I tried all sorts of things to prevent this: dress conservatively, wear a false wedding ring, avoid eye-contact and keep Eon very close by. Nothing seemed to work, but I found that when I wore shorts (my idea of shorts is only just above the knee) the harassment was a bit less. We think they might be embarrassed to be looking at a woman who exposes her knees, thinking: “how embarrassing!”

Besides the harassment, there were the relentless horse carts! They would just not take no for an answer. After following us for about 200 meters, one horse cart driver said he’ll drive us around for free as long as we go to the market with him (the whole commission thing again!). They just do not seem to understand that sometimes we really just want to walk.

Luxor has two main attractions: the Karnak temple on the East Bank and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens on the West Bank. Due to the extreme heat we decided to cover the sights over a number of days, starting with the Karnak temple before sunrise. We took a minibus to the temple, and on arrival, we thought that maybe the driver dropped us a t the wrong place. The temple was deserted…we were the only ones there! We had a great time walking around this massive and extraordinary complex of sanctuaries, kiosks, pylons and obelisks. Karnak use to be the most important place of worship during the New Kingdom. In total, the sight covers over 2 square km and was built by more than 81 000 workers nearly 2000 BC. Inside is a hypostyle hall, covering 5500sq metres – Enough space to contain both Rome’s St Peter’s and London’s St Paul’s.

Obelisks - KarnakIt was a mystical experience walking around the deserted temple while the sun rose over the ruins, casting reddish light on the hieroglyphics on the pillars and walls. The tourist busses only arrived by 9:00, when we made our way to the exit. It was a relaxing morning – no heat, no tourists, and no touts.

The sights on the West Bank were more scattered and we needed to either rent a taxi for the day or go with a group. We settled on the latter as it was cheaper than a private taxi and also included an English speaking guide. We arrived at the Valley of the Kings – a landscape with barren hills where the ancient pharaohs and their treasures were buried in spectacular tombs cut from the rock.

We reached the Valley of the Kings around 9:00 and the temperature was already searing. Our guide gave us a quick background to the tombs and we set off to investigate the inside of the first tomb, that of Ramses IV. Although this tomb was a small one (due to the pharaoh’s early untimely death) it was truly impressive. The walls were decorated with coloured carvings and hieroglyphics depicting pieces from the ‘book of death’ to guide the king in his afterlife. The colours are still bright and well preserved after 3500 years – Dulux can learn a thing or two from them!

The next tomb was that of Ramses III and lastly Ramses I. Before entering the tombs, our guide made it very clear that we were not to take any pictures inside the tombs. I tried to sneak in a photo in the last tomb on Eon’s convincing request and as luck would have it, we got aught out. The guard took my camera and told us that if he took it to the police we would have to pay a big fine. I told Eon in Afrikaans to pay the guy some money – bribing is quite a popular source of income in Egypt. But then the guard told us to go get our guide…I nearly had a heart attack – I felt like a scholar walking towards the headmaster’s office. Embarrassed, I told our guide what happened, but she smiled and said not to worry – we just need to pay the guy a little bit of money, about 20 Egyptian Pounds would do. I was so relieved, because I was on the point of paying him 10 times that amount. So I guess he shot himself in the foot by demanding to speak to our guide. And I learnt my lesson – ‘hoofmeisie’ will never attempt a stunt like that again :)

Only 63 Royal tombs have been excavated. No one is sure how many more there are but it’s quite a large number. Sadly all the expensive entrance feed goes to the government and not to any excavation projects. These are funded purely through donations – shame on you Egyptian government!

Hatshepsut - one of the hottest places on earthNext up was the Temple of Hatshepsut – one of the hottest places on earth, and we were there around noon. INSANE!! The temple was quite remarkable with its steep ramp leading to the main building. We tried to dodge the sun as best we could, but when we could no longer stand the heat, we fled to the aircon minibus.

Before heading back to Luxor, we stopped at the Valley of the Queens where we checked out three more tombs. By this time everyone was exhausted – I now know how a wilted flower must feel; well, I certainly looked like one :)

We spent another day or two in Luxor, just leisurely strolling around some of the other temples and watching the sunset over the Nile. It would have been perfect, maybe even romantic, if we could just ignore the countless annoying men!

gallery for Luxor:


Chantell and the Sheesha
Statue of Ramses II – Karnak
Great hypostyle hall – Karnak
C and the obelisk
Great court of Karnak temple
Obelisks – Karnak
Pharaoh – Karnak
Temple of Ptah – Karnak
Walk like an Egyptian
Tuthmosis III – Karnak
Papyrus shaped pillairs
Valley of the Kings
Hieroglyphics at temple of Hatshepsut
Staring at the desert – Hatshepsut
3000 year old paint
Hatshepsut – one of the hottest places on earth
Temple of Hatshepsut
Osirid statue – Hatshepsut
Eternal life symbol – Hatshepsut
Posted by: Eon | July 27, 2008

Cruising down the Nile

A story of love and hate: Felucca Trip, Kom Ombo and Edfu (27 – 29 July 2008)

Sailing with Captain RamadanAsk anyone who has been to Egypt – your trip is not complete if you did not cruise down the Nile River. Organising our trip was an easy and painless affair: we met with Captain Nemo, referred to us by the Aswan Tourist Information Centre; told him where we wanted to go and agreed on a price. Simple as that. So we were looking forward to three blissful days of floating down the Nile on a felucca.

A felucca is a traditional Egyptian sailing boat. Accept for swimming, it’s as close as one can get to the river.

On the day of departure, we met up with Captain Nemo who introduced us to the two captains who we would spend the following three days with. Captains Ramadan and Amada did not only have the task of managing the sailing down the river, but also had to cook for us. In the end they also turned out to be our personal onboard entertainment.

We set sail around 11:00 and it was immediately clear that this sailing business is purely recreational – if you need to get somewhere in a hurry, a felucca is NOT the right choice of transport. The river flowed in a South-North direction and the wind (only present from around 11:00am) was from the West, which meant that we had to sail diagonally across the river, from one side to the other and back. But the slow progress added to the tranquillity of the experience. Another addition to the peacefulness was the fact that there was not motor – no noise, only the sail flapping in the wind, water against the boat, the birds and here and there shouts from villages on the river bank. The scenery was strange, but beautiful: a massive river wrapped in palm trees and crops and a never-ending desert beyond the little bit of green.

Egyptian lunchThe felucca itself was big enough for eight people – there was a small area where the captains prepared our food and the rest of the deck was converted into a HUGE bed with big pillows. We spent the three days relaxing on the pillows, reading, swimming or stopping at some of the offshore villages to get a peak of the local life. Our captains prepared delicious local food including falafel, bread, salad, pasta and mouth-watering fruits. Before we left Aswan, we asked the captain to buy some beer for us, so we could enjoy a cold-one at sunset. Well, it was only kind of cold – Eon created a ‘beer cooling device’ with our laundry line that kept the beer in the river :)

On the first night, we stopped over at a village to enjoy dinner with captain Ramadan’s family. It was a simple affair, but we kind of felt like celebrities. Dinner was served under the stars on a grass mat. The children from all over the village came to see the foreigners. They all sat with wide eyes and watched us eat. One little boy, the youngest of the lot, were terrified of us. He was frantic every time I moved slightly closer to him and he lost it when I had to squeeze past him to go to the toilet – all to the other children’s delight!

The second night was also entertaining, but on a different level. Turned out that Captain Hamada loves riddles and he tried to catch us out with every new puzzle. He loved the riddles we challenged him with, laughing with delight when he finally gets the answer (we mostly had to give him the answers). He topped the night off with his ‘Egyptian’ puzzle – he tied Eon’s wrists together with one piece of string, hooked another piece of string through Eon’s ‘loop’ of string and arms and tied the ends to my wrists and said: “try to get separated from each other”. It was hilarious! We were climbing over each other, under each other, falling over, crawling on the floor, but we could not solve the puzzle. And the longer we tried, the louder the captains laughed. There was a simple solution, but I am not giving it away – we first have to entertain our friends and family with it back home.

We arrived in Kom Ombo on the last morning. A few more days would have been great, but we had to bid the felucca and the captains farewell. It was back to the heat, the endless, unbearable heat.

Kom Ombo EntranceKom Ombo’s claim to fame is its temple. So we did a quick visit to the temple, just in time to beat the millions of tourists on the massive luxury cruisers. The temple was not very impressive, but the hypostyle hall looked somewhat mysterious as the morning sun broke through the many pillars.

The captains organised a ‘lift’ to for us to Luxor – an ‘aircon’ minibus with some other people. We were told that we had to pay 40 Pounds per person if we were only four people, if there were more the price would drop. The driver turned out to be an absolute arse: when we asked about the price (because we were 14 passengers), he blew his top and threatened to take our luggage off his minibus. I told him to calm down and not to scream at me. That seemed to relax him a bit, but very soon after he was back to his obnoxious ways. I tried to ignore him, but Eon was livid when the driver did his little act of “take off their luggage” on Eon’s request for the aircon to be switched on. When the driver insisted that we pay him in full (even though we were not even halfway through the trip), Eon lost it, shoved the money into his face and told him: “You are a bad person! A very bad person!”

Court of offerings - EdfuIn the end, we did a two hour minibus ride to Edfu with no aircon and from Edfu another two hours to Luxor. Edfu’s Temple of Horus did not get the full respect and time it actually deserved, because we were so hot after the non-aircon minibus episode. The last thing we wanted to do was walk around in the 40+ degrees looking at another temple. We did a quick round of photo shoots and ran for a little shade.

Arriving in Luxor, the driver did his rounds to drop all the passengers off at their respective hotels. Of course, he did his best to convince some of the people to stay at specific hotels. Luckily for us, there was another couple who wanted to go to the same hotel as us – otherwise, we are sure the driver would have dropped us at the dumpster (he really hated us). Would you believe that he had the audacity to try and claim commission from our hotel, commission which we would have to pay?! No way!! We told the hotel owner that we refused to pay for it, loud enough for the driver to hear.

The hotel owner asked me to go with him to look at the room, not Eon because ‘he was not in a good enough mood to view the room’ (the owner’s words). A good observation, I’d say :) The room was okay and we decided to stay there because it was very cheap and the breakfast included Cornflakes!! What luxury….

Click on the image below to view the gallery for the Felucca Trip, Kom Ombo and Edfu:

Captain Chantell

Floating down the Nile
Captain Chantell
Sailing with Captain Ramadan
A different angle
Chantell in deNile ;)
Fishing with force
Water buffalo
Egyptian lunch
Beating the heat
Kom Ombo – Egyptain karate
Sand dune pitstop
Kom Ombo Entrance
Carvings on Kom Ombo pillars
Shedding some light
Sunset on the bank of the Nile
Our bed
Court of offerings – Edfu
Eon fleeing from the sun – Edfu
Temple of Horus
Posted by: Eon | July 24, 2008

Aswan: Heat and Temples

Aswan and Abu Simbel (24 – 27 July 2008)

Posing like a NubianBuying the train tickets from Cairo to Aswan was such a mission! First, we arrived at Cairo train station the day before departure just to be told that the tickets were sold out, but we could return the following morning a 7:00 to buy a ticket for the 7:40 train that same day – is it just me or does this make no sense at all? How could the tickets be sold out if we could buy them the next morning before departure? So after the big exodus to the train station and standing in the Egyptian version of a queue (a bundle of men pushing and shoving to get to the front) we had to go back to the hotel empty handed.

The following morning, we had to take the risk of checking out of the hotel and making the long journey back to the train station all in hope of getting two tickets to Aswan. When we arrived, there was already a ‘queue’ and our chances of getting tickets looked very slim. I asked the police officer at the entrance if all the people in the queue would get tickets onto the train. He looked at me as if I asked a million dollar question and then replied “probably not”. There was a man next to the officer who interrupted and I thought “here we go again – some kind of chat-up attempt”. He asked where we were going to and said to come with him. He pushed right in front of the group at the ticket counter, screamed something in Arabic to the man behind the glass and then we waited….next thing I new, he handed me two tickets to Aswan. Needless to say, we were not very popular with the rest of the crowd who gave us death looks. We wanted to give the Samaritan some baksheesh, but he refused and said with a big smile: “Welcome to Egypt!”

I always feel so ashamed when someone unexpectedly steps in and helps us like this. It is just so uncommon for the Egyptians to do something for nothing! We’ll never forget this guy.

So we were on the train to Aswan – first class tickets presented comfortable reclining seats to make the long journey slightly more bearable, especially since the advertised 12 hours turned into 14. The 10pm heat was overwhelming when we stepped out of the train at Aswan. We tried to make our way to Hostel Keylani, but got terribly lost in the labyrinth of alleys and walkways. We asked for directions and another Egyptian angel was willing to walk all the way with us to the hotel, and not wanting anything in return for his assistance. All sweaty and shiny, we collapsed on the bed in our air conditioned room. Aswan had to wait until morning.

Colossi of Ramses II and his kidOur plans for Aswan included two things – one, get to Abu Simbel to see the great temple of Ramses and two, to do a felucca trip up north to Luxor. Day one was set aside for pure relaxation, getting to know the area and gathering info on the felucca trip. We wandered around the souq with endless invitations into shops – the best line I heard was: “I pay you to look around in my shop”. It was clear that the people in Aswan were more caught up in the tourist web than in Cairo. The men were all making obscene remarks, telling Eon what a lucky man he was…just a pity that they said that to all men with a woman at their side regardless of what the woman looked like! One good thing about the souq was the little falafel sandwich eatery that sold these quick eats for a mere one Egyptian Pound (R1,50).

Road travel in Egypt is almost always in convoy. Apparently it is for the tourists’ safety due to recent unrest and terrorism. So the only way we could go to Abu Simbel was in convoy with a tour group – yes, we had to submit to those who spoil our photos when arriving in busloads at the sights :) We left at 3:30 am and arrived at Abu Simbel at 7:30 and even at this early hour, the sight was swarming with tourists and the temperature was already starting to flame up.

C and Abu SimbelThe temples of Abu Simbel are truly awesome. The bigger of the two, the Great Temple of Ramses II was rediscovered in 1817. The statues in the front of the temple (Colossi of Ramses II) stand 20 meters high as if guarding the entrance to the temple. And the inside of the temple is definitely worth guarding with its beautiful hypostyle halls and colourful wall paintings. Just next to Abu Simbel is the smaller Temple of Horus; just as impressive with the 10 meter high statues of Ramses and Nefertari.

From Abu Simbel, we escaped the heat by hopping onto the aircon bus and made our way to the very unimpressive High Dam. I just had to take a photo to commemorate the fact that we had to pay R12,00 for looking at a boring dam! Even an empty Vaal Dam is more imposing than this.

Giving him lifeNext up was Philae Island, set in the middle of the Nile River and covered with ancient Egyptian temples and ruins. By the time we reached the island, it was unbearably hot. We dragged ourselves around the Temple of Isis, trying to take in the magic of the buildings, but we were worn down by the heat and quickly retreated to the felucca to take us back to Aswan.

We did proper research in Aswan to find a reputable felucca captain to take us on board for about three days. The plan was to go north towards Luxor – our next destination. The Tourism Office referred us to Captain Nemo ;) and after talking to him, we were all set to depart the next day.

Click on the image below to view the gallery for Aswan and Abu Simbel:

Egyptian Monkey

Cairo (20 – 24 July 2008)

Chantell and the Sphinx with Pyramids in the backWe knew that Egypt would be a bit like India: a wild chaos that makes sense in its own way, touts trying to scam you in any way possible and the men harassing western woman with sexual remarks, stares and sometimes even touching and groping. But we were not concerned because now we knew how to deal with these matters. In fact, we grew to love India and we were looking forward to travelling through Egypt. The only thing that we were not totally prepared for was the heat. The heat factor took us by surprise – coming from South American winter into the desert summer was a huge shock to our systems. And this combined with serious jetlag, took us through a couple of days of severe tiredness during the day and sleeplessness at night.

But this did not render us incapable of getting to the Egyptian sights as soon as possible. We were like little children waiting to open their Christmas presents and could not wait to lay our sun scorched eyes upon the Pyramids. But before we could get to the exciting part, we had to get into the Egyptian way: a new language and alphabet, a new way of living, a new religion and with that a new culture. It was quite evident that the Muslim people take their religion very seriously and it is part of everything they do: dress, food, meal times, transport, business – everything. So the first day in Cairo, we forced our jet-lagged bodies out of bed and dragged ourselves into one of the small alleys for lunch and a wander about.

We were hit with a bad case of info overload: the streets were packed with people and traffic. The Egyptians are very clearly not the best drivers in the world, but this did not seem to bother the pedestrians who, without even looking, weaved their way through the traffic. If you had to wait for a gap to cross the street, you’ll never move an inch. Egypt is one of those countries that penetrates all of your senses: a mixture of smells from sheesha pipes and spices to delicious BBQ smoke and (definitely not so delicious) alleys smelling of urine; noise of traffic and prayers being blared out over speakers for the many daily prayers; people trying to lure you into their shops, selling whatever you can think of; women wearing the traditional dresses, covering them from head to toe with only a small sleet for the eyes to peer out at you (covered from head to toe in 38 degrees Celsius!!) and men sitting in the shade, smoking sheesha (waterpipe with apple tobacco).

That evening, after a small traditional dinner of falafel, salad, fuul, bread and soft cheese, we sat on a sidewalk with an Egyptian tea and sheesha and just watched the people go by. We love new experiences like these and we new that we would have a good time in Egypt.

We decided that it would be a good idea to visit the Egyptian Museum in Cairo before visiting any of the historic sights. We needed a solid foundation on the history of the Ancient Egyptian life as well as on more resent events. Little did we know that the museum was enormous and it had no aircon. We had to weave our way through big tour groups to get to the relics and artefacts mentioned in our guidebook. Some of the highlights included the Tutankhamen galleries, especially the solid gold mask; the collection of mummies; jewellery and ornaments dating back up to 3000 BC; impressive statues with in-laid eyes that make them look very real and the Narmer Palette indicating the birth of ancient Egyptian civilisation. It took us four hours to see the highlights of the museum and then we gave up when we started getting confused between all the terminology, dynasties and pharaohs.

Guarding the PyramidsWe had an early rise the next morning to avoid the heat and the crowds at the Pyramids. The day was off to a good start when we tracked down an honest and friendly taxi driver (a rare sight in Cairo). We could see his big smile in the rear view mirror while he gave out free info about the surrounding area. He charged us less than we were supposed to pay and dropped us at the more quiet entrance to the Pyramids.

What do I write about the only standing ancient Seven Wonder of the World? It was all so surreal – thinking back to the day at the Pyramids, it kind of feels like a wonderful dream. The Pyramids were built more or less 4000 years ago. The workers were not slaves as previously believed, but a highly organised workforce of Egyptian farmers who, during the annual flood season, were redeployed by the highly structured democracy to work on the Pharaoh’s tomb. According to “The Great Pyramid (146m originally, now 139m due to erosion) was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years, unsurpassed until the 160 meter tall spire of Lincoln Cathedral was completed c. 1300. The accuracy of the pyramid’s workmanship is such that the four sides of the base have a mean error of only 58 mm in length, and 1 minute in angle from a perfect square. The base is horizontal and flat to within 15 mm. The sides of the square are closely aligned to the four cardinal compass points to within 3 minutes of arc and is based not on magnetic north, but true north.” The mystery still stands – how did they do it?

WhereOur first glimpse of the structures were from over the famous Sphinx’s shoulder – it looked like I imagined it would look, but there was something hanging in the atmosphere, something mystical, that made the experience better than expected. After crawling into the very hot and humid middle-sized pyramid, we walked around the biggest of the Pyramids of Giza. There were many camel-men nagging us to take a photo of them or to go for a ride on their beasts, but we kindly refused. We had to pay some baksheesh (tips) to a policeman who offered to take a photo of Eon and I together – always a difficulty to get a pic of us together :)

The view of all the Pyramids of GizaTo top the day off, we bargained hard for a short horse ride to a viewpoint from where we could see a panorama of all the pyramids. I can still hear Eon’s laughs – turns out I am absolutely not one of those ‘naturals’ on a horse. So after loosing my hair scrunchy, nearly went flying into open air and re-aligning my intestines, we got the shot of the day. The things I do for Eon to get that perfect shot… :) Before heading home, we wanted to go back to the spot where we started, at the Sphinx, to take one last picture. Now all the millions of tourist busses had arrived and we had to fight our way through the crowds, where there was just about no one earlier that morning.

We decided to cover the rest of Cairo’s sights and souqs (markets) when we return from travelling through the rest of Egypt. But for now we were moving south to Aswan – the hottest place in all of Egypt.

Click on the image below to view the gallery for Cairo:

Sunrise at the Pyramids of Giza

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