Greek Cyprus

What a contrast having just left Egypt.  Welcome to Cyprus – birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite.

A Mediterranean island surrounded by Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel.  The southern portion of the island is Greek and the north occupied by Turkey – with a DMZ, passport check and secured by the UN.

Larnaca – a charming beach town. A favorite European destination where the sea is clear and you can walk for days in the shallow surf and only be waist deep.  It’s the slow time of the year and mostly deserted but lucky for us they were having unusually warm weather – high 70’s.

 

 

Pyramids of Egypt

Monstrous, awe-inspiring, unbelievable – the pyramids of Egypt.  It has been asked too many times but how did they do that?

We decided to stay in Giza at that base of the pyramids instead of nearby Cairo. This allowed us to come and go at leisure.  No tours.

Early – before the tourists get there even if it’s a bit hazy for photos. If you walk up to the top furthest from the Sphinx entrance it is fairly quiet.

The views are vast.

It is definitely a tourist economy. Camel drivers, horse carriages and single horse drivers all fighting for your business. Tolerable. Not all the hawkers are as described on the internet.  Just stay away from the entrances.

We walked and walked. Observing and snapping photos. Succumbing to a camel ride to capture a photo of all of the pyramids lined up.  Bill and I shared a camel.  “Don’t hold on and go with the flow.” said the camel driver. Easier said than done but we got he hang of it.
Bill and I walked a bit out of bounds and stumbled upon a security area. We asked if we could take photos.  We got a wide smile – a yes – an invite inside and a cup of tea.  The hefe put his finger to his lips as to say “shhh” and pointed to an area off limits prompting us to follow.  Bill was gung-ho – looked at me with a gleam in his eye. The guard flung his AK47 flung over his shoulder and I said no.

We stayed at the Le Meridien because you can see the pyramids from the hotel. It was a perfect respite after the dust and dirt of the pyramids. We lounged around the pool every afternoon. What a money maker that must be.  Around the clock, tours showed up in droves. The lobby was always full of people – breakfast before 8 was packed and loud.

Didn’t think we would ever get here.  So delighted to stand in front of one of the world’s biggest mysteries.

 

Yao Women and the Longest Hair in the World

Meet Mrs. Pan – she is 56 years old, lives with her parents in their ancestral family home along with her son and grandson in Dazhai Village – in the foothills of the Longji Rice Terraces in Guilin, China.

Normally when a daughter marries she moves into her husband’s family home. Since Mrs. Pan is an only child she lives with her parents so that she may help care for them.

Mrs. Pan is a Yao ethnic minority – famous for having the longest hair in the world.  Women only cut their hair once in a lifetime – when they are 18.  The cut hair is kept and made into a hair extension – perhaps saved for when they marry.  As years pass the women also collect their hair that falls out during combing and washing to make an additional extension. These two hair extensions are added to the hair on her head to create cultural and symbolic hair style.

They hair is worn in two different ways. If a women has been married it is worn in a bun in the front of her head.  If she is single there is no bun.

I tried to learn what Mrs. Pan’s feelings were about cutting her hair at 18.  It was something that was normal and feelings are not something that is talked about or shared within their culture.

Since we left Guilin I was about to google more information about their hair growing tradition.  It seems that they wash their hair with the left over rice water.

In the first couple of photos you can see her extension hanging on the fence.

Click to enlarge photos.

 

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Beirut, Lebanon

Scheduled a quick trip since the Prime Minister just resigned and we were not sure about the political climate in the country.  Unfortunately, our continued colds depleted any energy to truly explore.

The Corniche Beirut esplanade hugs the St. George Bay and highlights the beautiful Mediterranean – a perfect place for a stroll. On Beirut’s western most tip is the famous Rock of Raouché or Pigeon’s Rock which stands tall in the turquoise waters and nearby ocean front condos and war marked buildings stand side by side.

It is a tenuous time for Lebanon. The world waits to see…

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Jordan – from Amman to Petra

We have wanted to travel to the Middle East but never knew when the time was right.

Heeding the travel warnings would never get us there. Since we’re in the region and traveler’s current blogs say “no worries” Bill said “let’s go”.

Flying over Jordan was at first just miles of barren land. As the plane neared touch down this humongous beige city propped up on beige soil appeared out of nowhere. It was fabulous!

We’re doing this.

Sore throats made us want to head to bed. Instead we ventured out to tour Amman and the famous Citadel, considered to be amongst the world’s oldest continuously inhabited places and occupied by many civilizations dating back to 1650 BC.

*click on photos to enlarge

From the Citadel’s plateau there was a 360° view of the city where a Mosque seemed to be on every block and a symphony could be heard during the call to prayer.

Nestled at the base of the Citadel in the foothills of the city was the beautiful Roman theater dating back to their occupation in 30 BC.

Ashraf – a cabbie that we used for our drive back to the hotel soon became our ride and protector for the 2 day trip to Petra and the holy lands that lie in the south of Jordan.

Shobak Castle – known as Shawbok in Arabic. Sits high on a hill on the way to Petra. Built in 1115 by Baldwin I of Jerusalem – it was strategically placed on the caravan route between Syria and Arabia allowing Baldwin to manipulate commerce as everyone needed to pass by the castle.

It was enjoyable and at times eerie to soak it all in and try to visualize life within these ruins.

Petra (UNESCO World Heritage site) aka. The Rose City was the nomadic Arab Nabataeans’ capital city in 312 BC. Located on the trade route it became a large trading concourse. The Nabataeans were known for rock carvings and the ability to construct water collecting systems in the barren terrain.

Some of the rock carvings look as they were chiseled with modern day tools . Lines straight as an arrow and curves smoothed with sandpaper.

The camels, donkeys and horses of Petra were delightful.

Unbeknownst to us we had to walk through the Al-Siq gorge to get to the ancient carvings of Petra. It was much like the crescendo of some crazy Italian opera. The build up was insane – where were we going and what would be at the end? We weaved through 30 story high rock formations while gypsies drove past us on horses and carts at the speed of light to take lazy tourists to the first and most famous formation – the Treasury.

It all amounted to experiencing life past and present at its fullest.

Our little 2 star hotel in Petra respected the Muslim way and didn’t serve alcohol. So the heathens that we are left us no choice but to walk to the 5 Star Mövenpick Hotel for wine and dinner. What a way to top off our day.

We visited Jesus’ baptism site near the eastern shore of the Jordan River. Discovered in 1996 by archaeologists to be the actual site. Nearby, the River Jordan at the Israel (occupied Palestine as our guide informed us) Jordan border hundreds of Christians on the Israel side were either fully submerging themselves in the muddied waters or having the water poured over their heads by a clergy. On our Jordanian side a few people submerged themselves without all the fanfare.

The countryside is barren – speckled with bedouin camps, sheep, goats and camels.

We traveled to Mt. Nebo – 817 meters above sea level to where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land and Madaba to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George to view its 6th century mosaic floor map of the Holy Land.

Lastly to the Dead Sea – 430 meters below sea level. We stayed there for the night, finally succumbing to our colds and dragging off to bed – missing a swim in the sea.

 

Incredible India

It started in Chennai – in the south east.  Bill and I explored northern India 4 years ago and wanted to see the South.  Preston and Chloe (eldest son and daughter-in-law) decided to join us.

UNESCO World Heritage sites are always on the radar. On the Coromandel Coast in the Bay of Bengal, Tamil Nadu – the Monuments at Mahabalipuram were a great place to start.  The rock carvings were founded by the Pallava kings in the 7th and 8th centuries.  The terrain consists of larger than life sized boulders right next to the coastline.

Our original plan was to take the train to travel across the country – opting for overnight sleepers when possible. We got to the station at 10 pm for a midnight train. It was already delayed by two hours. We suspected that as the clock approached 2 am it would be further delayed – most trains were. Everyone was very tired. Sleeping on the floor is obviously okay, but when Bill saw the sign that read “please do not defecate on the station floor” we decided to return to the hotel, get some sleep and fly. 

Onward to Kochi in Kerala.  An overnight 2 bedroom houseboat trip through the backwaters in Alleppey. We kicked back on the huge lounge at the front of the boat , drank beers and cruised at a snails pace – watching life on the water.  Fishing, bathing, washing clothes/dishes, taxi boats and children bobbing in the water are part of life on the banks of the waterway. We stopped at a tiny fish market and picked out humongous  jumbo prawns for dinner.  Freshly cooked lunch, dinner and breakfast fit for an army was served to just the four of us.

We strolled along the coastline in Kochi and got a lesson on the workings of the famous  Chinese fishing nets.  It wasn’t fishing season but the Portuguese contraptions make for good stories. Yes, Chinese fishing nets.  Nets from China – the idea from the Portuguese. China won on the name game.

Goa – oh Goa.  You are so clean.  India is known for it’s garage. It’s everywhere!  For some inexplicable reason the beach in Goa is CLEAN! We stayed at Utorda Beach area and did I tell you it was clean?  We strolled the white sandy beach, splashed in the warm clean water and relished the peace.  

Goa is home to a series of UNESCO churches built by the Portuguese in the early 1500’s.  They are stunning and attract lots of visitors.  The Christian population in Goa is around 25%.  High for a country that is mostly Hindu.

We witnessed a Hindu ceremony at the Shanta Durga Temple.  Not sure what it all meant but it was special none the less.

A seaside dinner was off the charts.  Water front dining with nothing but candle light. The menu – a bucket of fresh fish delivered to your table.

Mumbai – large, crowded, dirty and has crazy traffic which all comes to a screeching halt at 2 in the afternoon when the 6 hour traffic jam starts.

We packed a lot into a couple of days. Highlights were the Haji Ali Dargah Mosque, on an inlet and quite the landmark, constructed in 1431. Mani Bhavan – Gandhi’s headquarters for approx.17 years, from 1917 to 1934. My personal fav- Ghobi Ghat, an open air laundromat without machinery, washing the clothes/bedding from Mumbai’s hotels and hospitals. It’s fascinating. Gateway to India, erected to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Elephanta Caves, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a series of caves dedicated to Shiva dating back to 550 AD. Lunch at Leopolds (read the book Shantaram) (it still has dozens of bullet holes from the 2008 terrorist attack) and lastly shoulder to shoulder bazaar shopping at Linking Road.

Phew…  It was a remarkable trip and wonderful to be able to share it with the kids.

 

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Portrait of Great Grandma Pan – A Yao minority

Meet great grand mother Pan – a Yao.  Yao people are an ethnic minority group that live in the mountainous terrain in Southern China.  The Pan family lives in Dazhai, a village in the foothills of the Longji RiceTerraces.

Mrs. Pan is in her 80’s, married to a man 4 years her junior.  She has a daughter, grandson and great grandson.  They are farmers and help out in their daughter’s restaurant.

Their house is simple.  The living area has a table, a few chairs, a wash basin, bags of rice, corn, peppers and supplies for their animals which live under their floor boards.


We were treated to a home cooked meal prepared on an open flame on the kitchen floor.  An experience to behold – so far removed from our modern kitchens at home.