2011
01.31

The situation in Egypt is escalating.  The call for a million people march is out for tomorrow.  Egypt Air has suspended inland flights for 24 hours and there is no website, no email, no phone that allows me to connect with anyone.  To say the least, this is agonizing.  So, I will take the lessons learned last year:  Take it step by step.  No use to predict what will happen.  I will fly – so the snow storm will stay away – to Frankfurt and then I will see what’s next. 

For now, I am glad I can distract myself with packing matters. 

Try it!  Pack for four months spanning winter to summer.  Pack equipment ranging from computer to cameras, converters, chargers, chords, batteries to external hard drives.  And don’t forget a few personal items such as sheets, shoes, or shawls.  Its a total nightmare since all this ideally should not amount to more than 48 pounds (or 22kg).    Impossible!   Well, at least it got my mind of the uncertainties ahead of me.   ET

2011
01.30

“Yes, we are flying into Cairo”, the Lufthansa (LH) operator assured me on the phone today, “but call back on Monday to be sure”.

This is a tough one.  I have found myself in difficult situations before, but I have not had to make a decision to walk or fly right into one.  I backed off Afghanistan last year because I understood that my being there would put several people into harms way, not only myself.  I also could not afford the $500 per day charge for an armored vehicle, an armed guide and a driver…  It seemed preposterous to go on an architectural mission  under these circumstances.  But some day, I really, really want to document the state of the Bamiyan Valley with the Buddhas the Taliban blew up in 2003.  And I know some day I will – when the time is right. 

But this is different.  Egyptians have been rioting for five straight days; tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands by now.  Centers of the riots are Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez.  There are still hundreds of tourists in Egypt – many of them quite happily floating up the Nile or sun-bathing at the Red Sea resorts.  Foreigners are not a target.  Yes, America now is pulling out their diplomats and is making an extra effort to evacuate those who feel unsafe.  Many people are worried in situations like this, even though the odds for real disaster are small.    When Nicola and I booked a flight to Karachi in Pakistan, we had no problem getting tickets within hours.  Everyone was leaving Karachi.   We were coming…  I would have missed so much if we had turned around.

Yes, LH has canceled some of its flights, but I found out that it was to observe the curfew.  Flights from Europe have continued and LH kept most of its flights going.   I called an agent today to inquire about my options.  No alternative flights are offered.  Curtesy changes provided by the airline extended only through the weekend.   If I rebook, I have to do this at my own expense.  I don’t yet see a need for it.  But I have mapped out three “back doors”.   If  flights continue to go to Cairo, I will assess the situation at my arrival.  If the hotel tells me that things are unsafe, I will book an inland flight and start my trip backwards skipping Cairo for the moment.   If flights to Egypt are canceled across the board, I will rebook to Istanbul and spend two months in Turkey.  And if I get stuck in Frankfurt, I will have have many ideas of what to do.    

As long as LH flies, I will fly.

2011
01.29

To go or not to go – that is the question:

I thought Egypt would be boring well, let’s say uneventful, when I planned this trip.  Iraq, Israel – you might expect things.  But Egypt?  And here it is – rioting for days and no end in sight.  US government warnings are pretty useless as a guideline for choosing travel destinations as I have noticed in the past.  At every “sneeze” somewhere, Americans are advised not to travel.  I have to look for different indicators to make my decision.

I am not suicidal – just in case you were questioning that.  But I am reminded of my time in Pakistan in December of 2007 after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.  Nicola and I, our driver and our guide, had just arrived in Lahore that day.  Minutes after we got home from visiting the famous fortress in Lahore spontaneous riots broke out right outside of the hotel we were staying at.  They followed almost immediately the announcement of Bhuto’s death on TV.  We were in a sensitive area since the People’s Party’s  headquarter was right next door to us.  Tires were burning and groups of men were gathering and shouting.  That night I saw them using iron bars angrily clubbing just about any car going by.  Friend or foe, it did not matter.  We were lucky that we were inside.  The next day the men seemed to be a bit less hostile and gathered to march off in more peaceful demonstrations.  The country was under a general strike for several days.  Gas stations had closed, stores did not open and people stayed home.  A cosmopolitan town such as Lahore, with millions of people, seemed like a ghost town.  It’s a long story, but even under these circumstances we managed to continue some sight seeing and eventually kept on traveling South to Karachi in Sindh, the home district of Bhuto where according to all news accounts riots were out of control.

If you were following the news then, you would have thought the entire country was burning and fighting and there was no escape.  But with 160 Million people and a country as large as Pakistan, there were only pockets of violence even in the major cities.  And if you were daring enough to venture out you were actually rather safe as long as you avoided the downtown areas where the riots were concentrated.  Most people went about their business quietly and behind closed doors.  If in Egypt 10, 000, even 50,000 people are rioting, than most of the country is still safe.

I decided to get an assessment from the horse’s mouth:  First I called the Egyptian embassy and asked if they anticipated any restrictions for foreign travellers to enter the country.  No.  Then I looked at international evacuation efforts:  Israel had pulled out several hundred Israelis out of Egypt.  No surprise.  But America had not made any such move yet.  That was encouraging.  And finally, I called the Pension Roma hotel.  Since their front desk operates with a land line, I got through to them without problems.  Internet and mobile phone services have been interrupted in all of Egypt for a few days by now.  I asked if the hotel was in a reasonably safe area.  Yes, it’s safe here, was the answer.  And then I asked what to do about the curfew.  I would arrive in the evening in Cairo, hours after the curfew, which had just today been moved from 6 PM to 4 PM.

“No problem.  Just call.  We will send a cab.  You will be fine, honey!”

Ok then.  I am not sure how a cab will be allowed to break the curfew, but I will be there.  Tuesday.

2011
01.28

 EGYPT: TENTATIVE ITINERARY

 There is a famous quote from the Dreigroschen opera by Bertold Brecht, the German playwright of the early 20th Century: 

  Ja, mach nur einen Plan
  sei nur ein großes Licht
  und mach dann noch ‘nen zweiten Plan
  gehn tun sie beide nicht
.

Roughly translated this means: 
Sure, make a plan, be a big shot.  Then make a second plan – but none of them will work!
 
That’s how I feel.  I spent so much time mapping out distances, choosing sites, deciding on possible roads and checking out available transportation and now there are riots in Cairo…  The first obstacle will be that I will arrive at 6:40 PM – one hour after the curfew that has just been imposed on the capital city.  Oh well – being flexible and going with the flow will be the order of the day once again.  Foreign travelers have not been restricted as of now.  I will put my trip into Ganesh’s hands.    Here is the plan I made.  Let’s see how close to this I will come:
 
30 Day Visa at Entry – 27 Overnights (27 days)
 
Time Frame: Tuesday, February 1 through Monday, February 28
In green: First choice Hotels. In red: UNESCO monuments and Must-See sites.
Flex days for illness, extra time for sites, for writing the blog, or unexpected delays.
 
Arrive in Cairo (3) by plane from Frankfurt (1) at 6:40 PM
Pension Roma Hotel
Historical Cairo(2+3) Mosques, Nilometer! (Island of Rodha), Museum, Coptic Sites
 
Transit Cairo to Abu Simbel (4) by plane (4)
Hotel Abu Simbel
Exploration of Abu Simbel (5)
Boat Excursion of Lake Nasser and visit of Amada/Wadi el Sebwa/Derr (6)
Flex Day (7)
 
Transit Abu Simbel to Aswan (5) by bus (8)
Hotel BabaDoul
Day trip to Philae and exploration of AswanSites (Dam, Quarry, Nilometer!) (9)
Day trip to Kalabsha/Qertassi/Talmis by bus/shared taxi (10)
Day trip to Kom Ombo (Nilometer!) by boat (out) and bus (back) (11)
Coptic Sites (12)
 
Transit from Aswan to Luxor (7) by bus (13)
West Bank Hotel
Visit of Luxor Temple and town (14)
Day trip to Karnak (15)
Excursion to Thebes (Valley of the Kings/Queens) (16)
Excursion toEdfu/Esna/El Kab by boat/bus (17)
Excursion to Abydos/Dendera by boat/bus (18)
Coptic Sites (19)
 
Transit from Luxor via Hurghada to Dahab-Sinai (3) by bus/ferry (20)
Bishbishi Garden Hotel
Day trip to St. Catherines (21)
Hiking trip up Mount Sinai (22)
Flex Day (23)
 
Transit from Dahab via Suez Canal to Cairo (3+) by bus (24)
Pension Roma
Day excursion to Saqqara and Memphis (25) by bus
Day excursion to Meidum and Dashur by bus (26)
Day excursion to Giza by bus (27)
Spend saved flex days in Cairo and Vicinity. Fill in missed Coptic Sites.
 
Missing: Amarna, Alexandria, Fayyum, Rosetta, Delta.

Transit from Cairo to Istanbul by plane (28), March 1, at 1:45 PM

2011
01.27

If I don’t watch out any better, I won’t be going anywhere!  I took a nice fall down our stairs today, but I am able to limp around again.  Three days for me to get in shape and three days for things in Egypt to calm down, or else!

Never a dull moment…

2011
01.26

MAP ISRAEL

Israel will be my last stop on this trip – it has to be.  Many of the countries I will have traveled to by then, this year and last,  would refuse my entry based solely on an Israeli stamp in my passport.  Israel to most of the Arab states is a country they consider to exist illegally or even a county non grata.  In the spirit of this whole trip – to learn not just about the ancient monuments or current politics, but the human experience, I hope to meet people of all walks of life:  Of various faiths, of different social classes, of opposing political view points.  I hope to understand their different world views and to expand my mind.  I admit that I fear the worst – to find fanatics and hardliners.  Let’s see…  ET

2011
01.25

MAP IRAQ

I didn’t think it would be possible to make it into Iraq as an individual traveler, but it is!  A chance encounter in Damascus last year put me in touch with a woman from England who travels during  retirement.  She told me about Hinterland Travels and Geoff Hann.  Geoff has traveled to Iraq for over 30years and has permission from the Iraqi government to take small groups of tourists to travel the country.  We will be heading all the way North to Mosul and all the way South to Basra.  We are scheduled to see about 80 % of what I would want to see in Iraq.  If I had my way I would take 6 weeks for a trip like this and travel with the locals, but we will have to be done in 16 days and will be taking our own bus.  Wow, what a whirlwind this will be!  ET

2011
01.24

MAP TURKEY

 

Turkey has the distinction of spanning two continents.  Spending time in Istanbul is a must.  But my focus this time will be to make a circle through the country going East.  I hope to reach some of the lesser visited sites, particularly some of  the UNESCO monuments and some of the monuments on the waiting list for UNESCO approval, in central and eastern Turkey before returning to Istanbul.  From Prehistoric villages, to Hittite cities, to natural wonders, to the glory of the Ottomans – this country has it all.  Going by bus will slow me down.  But then – the path is as much the goal as the sites themselves.  One month can not do justice to this vast and varied country but I know I will hear and see more than I can imagine now.   ET

2011
01.23

MAP EGYPT

 

If I had two months, I would make sure to reach some of the oasis in the middle of the desert.  But with one month at hand, the use of public ground transportation, and an obligation to bring back classroom material, I will first follow the established tourist route traveling in the Nile Valley.  I will then cross over to the Sinai peninsula to visit the monastery of St. Catherine and to climb mount Sinai where Moses, according to biblical record, received the tablets of law from God.  A few years ago, I turned back half way up, too exhausted to continue.  I am determined to reach the top this time!  I hope to explore a few off-the-beaten-path Coptic monasteries after Sinai.  If I can pull that off, I expect this to be the highlight of Egypt.  ET

2011
01.23

SYNOPSIS:

This is a reflection on my travel pantheon.  Skip this if you are an atheist or if you think that your religion is the one and only.

Life is a miracle in so many ways.  And for millennia people have created gods and religions to help them bridge the gap between what can be grasped and what remains unexplainable.   And quite regularly gods and religions have been tossed, condemned, buried, forgotten and replaced. 

I am not religious.  But I appreciate the miracle and the mysteries of life.  And I can relate to the desire to be comforted by god(s) or religion.  I appreciate the various attempts of religion as an expression of particular times and places more than anything.  I find many of them fascinating, a few of them appalling, and the occasional one despicable – particularly the ones that are used to rally people into acts of violence. 

But despite my distance to religion, I have always asked a few gods to join me on my trips.  I talk to them, pray to them, and acknowledge them as the higher power I cannot define any better.  They are my pantheon; preferably a nice multi-religious mix.  Some have come with me for a good long time and after all, you don’t have to believe in them to enjoy their company, right?

St. Christopher :

A picture of St. Christopher – the man who was asked to carry a child across the river – hung over my parents’ couch for many years.  The child turned out to be Christ and so heavy with the worries and the burdens of this world, that the muscular strong-man almost drowned under the weight of the child.   He was referred to as the Christ-Carrier or Christopher from then on out.  He supposedly died in the 3rd Century as a martyr but there are no historical records of him.  Most likely he was a composite of a pagan predecessor and folklore.  Forever, has he been evoked in protection by travelers, particularly in cases of storms and difficult weather.  My brother’s name is Christoph and so St. Christopher seemed always a good choice honoring the Christian upbringing I had and connecting to my family.  I hope that he will join me again.

Bhaiṣajyaguru:

Ever since I studied Buddhism and Buddhist art in graduate school, I have had two favorites:  Manjusri and Bhaisajyaguru.  Manjusri is the Bodhisattva (a being who has reached enlightenment but forgoes Nirvana in order to help mankind) of wisdom and knowledge who holds the book of knowledge in one hand and a sword with which he will cut through ignorance in the other; an obvious choice for any educator.  During most of my time at work he is my companion.  A wonderful wooden sculpture of him sits in my WCC office.  But when I am on the road, I turn to Bhaisajyaguru instead.  If you read the vows he made when he attained enlightenment, you will see why.  Of course, there is no historical evidence of any of the Bodhisattvas or Buddhas, with the one exception of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni.  Who needs it?   Buddhism is not about gods or faith – it is about a reflection of your needs on the road to enlightenment.  And much of Bhaisajyaguru’s vows reflect what I need and even more what many of the people need who I will encounter.  I don’t need to be reborn as a man though…  (see 8).  I told him that before.  I hope that he will be with me again on this trip.

  1. To illuminate the world with radiance, enabling anyone to become a Buddha.
  2. To awaken the minds of sentient beings through his light of lapis lazuli.
  3. To provide the sentient beings with whatever material needs they require.
  4. To correct heretical views and inspire beings toward the path of the Bodhisattva.
  5. To help beings follow moral precepts, even if they failed before.
  6. To heal beings born with deformities, illness or other physical sufferings.
  7. To help relieve the destitute and the sick.
  8. To help women who wish to be reborn as men achieve their desired rebirth.
  9. To help heal mental afflictions and delusions.
  10. To help the oppressed be free from suffering.
  11. To relieve those who suffer from terrible hunger and thirst.
  12. To help clothe those who are destitute and suffering from cold and mosquitoes.

Ganesh:

Who would not know the darling elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh, son of Siva and Parvati.  Legends are numerous to explain his appearance.  Here is one:  Siva in a rage cut off the head of his own son, after he returned from a long absence.  The son did not recognize him as his father and Siva did not even know he had a son…  Parvati complained until Siva restored his son’s life with the head of the first animal that passed by, an elephant.    You have to hand it to the Hindus – their stories are fun.

Ganesh is regarded as the Lord of Beginnings and the Lord of Obstacles, better the remover of obstacles and not least the Lord of Intellect and Wisdom.  What a powerhouse!  I hope he won’t be too busy to remove a few obstacles for me on this trip and will come along to accompany me as he has before.

TBD:

Each trip is unique.  Each trip needs someone special to bless the journey and to be my imaginary travel companion.  Last year it was Scheherazade.  For 101 days she held her hands over me gave me courage and was an inspiration.    

Who will it be this year?  I am looking…