My Humanity in Egypt!

Egypt Pyramids

I have been trying to write this blog for a while, but I kept delaying it. However, due to recent circumstance I believe it may be a good time to share this experience. It is my experience in Egypt…

My friend, Madhav, and I went to Egypt right after the first revolution, which had Hosni Mubarak thrown out of power and Mohammed Morsi recently elected as their president. Egypt was thrown into a realm of uncertainty and people were curious about the future of Egypt. Demonstrations raged throughout the streets. Tahrir Square hosted these protests. There were angry faces everywhere and they yelled for freedom. All of this was shown in the news, social media, and my daily conversations. I came into Egypt after all this madness and I tried to imagine what Egypt must have been like. It was surely in chaos, despair, anger, suspicion, and unease.

I remember looking out of the plane window down upon Egypt. It was a wide desert littered with mud-brick homes. The Nile cut through Egypt with its green vegetation following it. The airport, upon arriving, was eerily quite. As I exited the airport I could feel the sun beat down on me. We asked a cab driver to take us to our hostel although he wasn’t entirely sure where it was. Nevertheless, he took us into the mad traffic of Cairo and I was introduced to honks, which raged throughout the streets. I could see the hazy silhouette of the Cairo buildings, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the sands or smog. We checked into our hostel and we took a tour of the city. Tahrir square was empty as if everyone wanted to avoid it. People walked around it next to graffiti sprayed walls. Revolution was sprayed on the walls. Sand swept through the streets and I was filled with suspicion.

Grafitti

Grafitti two

We were met with stares and I could sense their curiosity. They may not have seen a lot of tourists since the revolution. Around many of the tourist attractions there were beggars. They were desperate. They would twist up words to get a better deal. Even our cab driver, later on during our stay, insisted to take us to a mall. We originally wanted to go to the Khan Al-Khalili Bazaar, but our driver insisted that their was a riot going on. We reluctantly agreed only to be disappointed and after we wanted to go back to our hostel he said the Bazaar wasn’t under a riot. At the end, he insisted that we pay for the whole fare.

Eventually, we planned to head south towards Aswan through Luxor. The night of our departure the train never came. We were warned by an old man exiting the train station. He communicated with hand signals, but it was fruitless. We waited at the train station for an hour only to go back to our hostel. Apparently, there was a strike, which held up the train. Fortunately, we were able to get a train the next night and we made our way south. The train was in disrepair and it was covered in dirt. Later on, two couples arrived into our compartments. They seemed to be tourists and they seemed miserable. The wife complained desperately to the conductor. She went into a monologue and insisted that “the train was a mirror of Egypt.” The conductor didn’t know what to say. During our trip back to Cairo, as I was leaving the train station, the conductor ran after me with my iPhone in his hand. He was an older Egyptian with a funny mustache. He wanted to return my iPhone.

IMG_0355

IMG_0354

After leaving Egypt I insisted I would never come back. Later on, I began to ponder on my experience. I began to think how much of my perception of Egypt was affected by the news and social media. I wondered how much bias and prejudice I brought with me. I pondered whether my fever and cold had affected me so that I reacted negatively. I realized how much I had become withdrawn, introverted, and suspicious. I wanted to develop a connection between myself and the people of Egypt, but instead, I created barriers.

I want to make the world feel like a smaller place by welding these two worlds together. I mention “worlds” because they feel different and separate. We have different languages, cultures, traditions, and lifestyles. These difference may feel intimidating. In reality, it is these differences which make the world a better place. The world becomes much richer when we embrace these differences. Instead, of making these two different worlds further apart we need to bring them together. I wish I could have come to Egypt with an open mind.

Instead, I will try to hold on to my good memories of Egypt. I will remember the old man and the conductor with the funny mustache at the train station. I will remember the soda seller beneath our hostel who smiled after I said, “shukran! I will try to remember our waiter at Luxor who fed our leftovers to the cats. I will remember Egypt well and learn to be more open minded about its people. Especially, those whom I barely know.

Happy Valentines Day!!

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Jumping Next to the Smoke That Thunders

So… My friend Jeremy and I, in order to make most of our trip, decided to find another place to travel.

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

Naturally, we decided to go to the Smoke that Thunders or Victoria Falls. Why wouldn’t we want to travel here? We were also very interested in going to Devil’s Pool, which is a natural pool formation that is situated on the edge of the waterfall. This was the ultimate adventure! We purchased our tickets one month before our flight to South Africa.

We would soon find out that the attraction was closed due to the winter season or wet season. Bummer! The wet season, as the name implies, generates a lot of rain, which increases the currents, and makes it impossible for swimmers to get to Devil’s Pool. This is evident by the large quantity of water that plunges down from the gorge creating a smokescreen of water. It is impossible to get a clear view of the falls during the wet season.

Nevertheless, my friend and I were still very excited to visit the falls. However, we needed to find some other extreme adventure that we could partake. Jeremy did some research and decided that we should bungee jump, which made me a little nervous. I decided to just do it (Nike would be proud), and soon enough I made the reservations for our jump through Shearwater reservations.

Our trip to Victoria Falls was only for three days. We arrived using Air Zimbabwe and prior to landing we were able to identify a mist ascend from the dense forest. We instantly recognized that the landmark was Victoria Falls. We landed in a small airport and took a cab to the A’Zambezi River Lodge.

Prior to our jump, we decided to explore the falls. The falls were scenic, especially during the sunset, where the falls were highlighted by the sun. We walked through a rain forest which is nurtured by the falls. The hues of green from the trees were highlighted by hues of red and orange, which transitioned beautifully to the orange waterfall.

The falls were literally a smoke of thunder! Massive amounts of water were dumped down into the A’Zambezi river, the fourth longest river in Africa, that stretches from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mozambique. The mist was like walking through a monsoon or maybe more like a summer rain storm. Our jeans were soaked! Get a poncho!

Eventually the day came where we had to jump. In order to do this we had to get a temporary visa, walk past the border to Zambia, and walk towards a bridge where the jump would take place. We purchased our tickets and did the full package, which included the zipline adventure, the bungee jump, and the bridge swing.

Panorama of Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls Rain Forest

Zip line Adventure

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

We started off with the Zip line adventure, which was fun, but not incredibly exciting. Perhaps, this was overshadowed by the bungee jump and the bridge swing.

Next in line, was the bungee jump, where the question “to jump or not to jump” became more relevant.

Bungee Jump

Bungee

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

The worst thing about doing anything is thinking about all the bad things that can happen  I remember watching a video prior to our trip about an Australian girl who fell in the river after her bungee cord snapped. Luckily, she survived without a scratch. Like I said, there is a lot of thoughts that pop up, but I have a good way of ignoring those thoughts. Maybe not a good thing.

We waited in line until our turn came up. It was a long line full of crazy people just like my friend and I. Jeremy went before me. It took only a couple of minutes for him to receive instructions, hobble to the edge of the bridge, and jump backwards while yelling “YOLO!”

He disappeared and they quickly called me up to the edge of the bridge. My heart began to pound and they were instructing me on what should I do. They mentioned that I should look forward, dive as far I can, and blah blah. I was more worried about the jump. I could feel my heart thump against my chest… Thump… Thump… Thump…

Everything went fast. Before I knew my legs were tied up and I wobbled forward to the edge. I looked down for a moment and took a deep breath. They placed my arms up and they started counting down from five quickly. I jumped…

The next few seconds were the greatest seconds of my life. The experience was amazing. It is where everything begins to slow down. I am looking down with tunnel vision and everything becomes focused. I realize what I have done, that I have just jumped, and that I am currently falling. Quickly I was developing a high as adrenaline kicked in. I observe every moment, a smile cracks from my face, I yell for my life, and before I know it I am done.

Blood quickly rushes towards my head and I am dangling below a bridge above raging waters. My thoughts go back to every second of the jump. I can hear the raging water storm below me, I can feel the droplets of the falls hit my face, I can smell the moisture of the falls, and my surroundings open up to me. The landscape is beautiful. It was as if I were seeing through a new lens, promoted by the adrenaline and blood rushing to my head.

Eventually, a person came down and picked me up and we slowly were brought back up to the base of the bridge. I had to walk through the steel work and climb up to the main road. I was greeted by my Friend and we cracked a smile and laughed.

Bridge Swing

Bridge Swing

Picture provided by Victoria Falls Staff

We were still high from the bungee jump, but we had the bridge swing left to do. We decided to do the bridge swing together in order to build more speed. Once again we waited in line. I was still thinking about my jump. Jeremy bummed a cigarette from one of the jumpers. He was trying to keep his brain stimulated . We waited in line until we were called up. The staff walked us through the jump. My friend and I were tied together and we walked towards the ledge. After the count of five we jumped.

It was icing on the cake. Instantly gravity was pushing against me, I could feel my stomach fall, and I couldn’t help but scream from the top of my lungs  It was a few seconds of free fall before our rope followed the motion of a pendulum. We flew over the river and screamed “woo hoo” and “that was awesome!” It may sound corny, but I guess it is something that you just have to do.

Just Do It

Just Do It!

Table Mountain

The View

I remember the day clearly. I was scanning medical documents at the office. One by one, each document passed through the feeder, while I was deeply focused on a quiz that I recently took. The quiz was a Buzzfeed article on What City Should You Actually Live In. For me, it said Cape Town. I don’t know if it was through impulse or natural inspiration, but I texted my friend Now I wanna go to Cape Town. I waited for his text. Finally, he texted back lets goo! I think he thought I was joking, but three days later we booked our tickets to South Africa.

Perhaps — it was inspiration — that led me to Cape Town, especially Table Mountain. The flat-topped mountain and the fog that ascends from it illustrates a surreal piece of landscape that is full of raw emotion. Devil’s Peak and Lion’s head bow down to the grand mountain. It is the highlight of the façade of mountains that stretch behind it. The vitality and rawness of the mountain is captured as it watches over the City Bowl. It is a part of Africa! The unique flora illustrate this fact. Yes! it was Table Mountain that brought me to South Africa.

The Distance

***

What I was to behold in Table Mountain was — as a fellow South African described it — Magic! Below is my best description of what I think he was leading me to…

After four months of planning and a two hour flight, including a layover in London, we finally arrived at Cape Town International Airport. We took the N2 highway going to our Hostel. The road was wide and surprisingly empty. Meanwhile, we passed through the winelands and the township. It was further down where I got my first glimpse of Table Mountain. Just like I thought, it stood up tall and strong. There were storm clouds that churned above it, but still, I managed to feel small in front of it. I could sense the anger of the mountain. There was a huge storm that passed by and it looked like there was a forecast of rain still to come.

We woke up early the next morning as the sun rose above the horizon. The sun painted the city in orange and our day began with bright optimism. We walked passed the Soccer stadium as we headed towards the V&A Waterfront. It was on the ferry to Robben Island that I noticed that Table Mountain was shrouded in a thick fog, which caused my heart to drop because that meant the Aerial Cableway would be closed due to poor visibility. Meanwhile, the boat is rocking back and forth through three meters swells. I was still hopeful! I still believed we would go up Table Mountain.

View from the Ferry

The Aerial Cable Car

Fortunately, on our way back the fog began to clear. After lunch, we took a cab up the winding roads to Table Mountain, which was a 200 ZAR fare from the V&A Waterfront. We took the Aerial Cableway (205 ZAR Round Trip) to the top of the Mountain where we were greeted with amazing views of the city surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Ocean. It was towards the west where we looked down upon the city. I saw Lion’s head held high and confidently above the city. Further west, was a succession of three peaks that were covered in fog. The scene was magic! Finally, to the North, we saw Devil’s Peak, which was also covered in Fog.

Legend has it that a Dutch Man named Jan Van Hunks, a prodigious pipe smoker who lived at the foot of the mountain circa 1700. he was forced by his wife to leave the house whenever he smoked his pipe. One day, while smoking on the slopes of the peak, he met a mysterious stranger who also smoked. They each bragged of how much they smoked and so they fell into a pipe-smoking contest. The stranger turned out to be the Devil and Van Hunks eventually won the contest, but not before the smoke that they had made had covered the mountain, forming the table cloths cloud.

Story by the 19th Century Poet Dante Cabriel Rossetti in his poem Jan Van Hunks (The Dutchman’s Wager)

At the top, there is a wide diversity of plants and floral life that illustrates South Africa. Much of the floral landscape makes up the Cape Floral Kingdom (Capensis Kingdom). One of my biggest regret was not hiking up Table Mountain, a four hour hike one way. I believe that hiking would have provided the best experience of Table Mountain. It would have been the best way to explore the rich flora of Table Mountain. Alas, we were racing against time and had only two hours to explore the mountain.

The Top

Fynbos Plant

more flowers

The two hours we had to explore were well worth it. If I had one advice, it would be to use any opportunity to explore Table Mountain, especially during South Africa’s winter month. The weather is variable. We had only one day to explore Table Mountain, which was closed for most of the week due to fog or rain.  There were so many travelers who didn’t get the chance to go up and explore the top…

In hindsight, the experience was amazing and something I would recommend to any traveller. It was very easy to get lost in deep thoughts when looking down on the city bowl, the two oceans, and the series of mountains that stretch along the coast. There is so many legends, stories, and poems that are inspired by the mountain. It is a beacon of hope to lost sailors, it is place to explore for avid adventurers, and it is a muse for lovers and storytellers. It is an experiences that can inspire. After all, it was my inspiration to travel to South Africa.

Lion's Head, the City Bowl, and Devil's Peak

Sunset