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JEFF GROBERMAN Scared Sh*tless in Botswana
JEFF GROBERMAN Where The Hell is Botswana??
posted March 14, 2019

JEFF GROBERMAN & the Northern Lights, NYT.



ALAN WALKER:  Suez Canal and a Mini-Safari in Kenya

BILL MORRIS: Mazatlan Photo Album

 

ALAN WALKER:  Suez Canal and a Mini-Safari in Kenya
Posted February 1st 2019

Our Suez Canal cruise on Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas was definitely more strenuous than our previous Panama Canal cruise. Flying from Vancouver to Athens effectively takes two days, and we tried to catch up on some lost sleep in a hotel day room during our long layover in Amsterdam. Arriving in Athens airport in the early a.m. was a slightly spooky experience, but nothing untoward happened. Our hotel was described as having "views of the Acropolis", but our actual room looked directly into the rear of an abandoned high-rise building. It really didn't matter. On this more exotic cruise, one needed to deal with additional issues such as having malaria pills, yellow fever shots, and visas for Egypt and Kenya. I met one passenger who told me that he was almost denied boarding of the ship because he did not have the yellow fever vaccination. I told him he should complain loudly to his travel agent on his return home, that he wasn't warned of this possibility. He then told me he WAS the travel agent. The ship eventually decided that they could do yellow fever vaccinations on board, and then it further transpired that one only needed the yellow fever vaccination if you traveled into Tanzania, and of the multiple safari itineraries at the end of the cruise, only a few of them actually crossed into Tanzania from Kenya.

As a result of the Middle East crisis, our two ports of call in Israel were cancelled even before the cruise started, and the ports of Santorini and Kusadasi (Ephesus) were substituted. My wife and I both thought these ports were great substitutes, as we already visited Israel before. However, because of the cancellation of these two ports, or because of the excessive fear Americans generally have of travelling anywhere close to problems overseas, the ship was substantially less than full.

Our first port of call was Santorini. You always see the same publicity photos of Santorini, the blue and white tops of buildings and churches, but in fact that particular viewpoint is difficult to get to when you actually arrive in Santorini. What is interesting is that the whole town of Santorini is perched on a mountainside, the rim of a former volcano, and it can only be accessed by going up by gondola, or an extraordinary long, steep and zigzagged pathway. You can pay for the privilege of being taken up the pathway on a donkey - the poor little bastards. I think Santorini is my favorite of the Greek Islands I have visited so far, always excepting Lesbos, as I was fascinated by its name.
                                    

Kusadasi was our first visit to Turkey. It is third world, of course, but less so than other countries we have visited. We looked at multitudes of Turkish rugs, but could not find a green indoor-outdoor carpet that we could have used at home. The Roman ruins at Ephesus, only a short drive away, were interesting at the time, but really were insignificant after we saw the Egyptian ruins in Luxor.
                                    

Our cruise director was a good one, and I chatted to him quite often. One interesting thing I saw him do was interview passengers who remained on board during the time of our many shore excursions. He asked some questions about what they had seen so far on the cruise, and I was amazed at the ignorance of some of the passengers. When asked what seas we passed between to go through the Suez Canal, most of them couldn't answer. One man couldn't answer whether there were any locks on the Suez Canal (there are none), because he said he slept through part of the transit. The video that the cruise director did of the passengers was repeated over and over again on one of the TV channels, and the people who gave dumb answers were, I hope, constantly embarrassed.
When the ship docks at Port Said, you are actually docked in the entrance of the Suez Canal. From Port Said you can go into Cairo and see the pyramids etc., but we had already been there, done that. We toured Port Said instead, and saw its overwhelming humanity, mess and disorganization, exoticness, and more. The city was only created at the time of building the Suez Canal, but has subsequently became world famous as a town of prostitutes, pimps and assorted criminals. Apparently, they are trying to clean up their act. To visit the pyramids, by the way, requires a certain amount of effort including up to eight hours of bus riding.
                                       

Like the Panama Canal, the transit of the Suez Canal is about eight hours, although the Suez is actually twice as long as the Panama Canal. The problem with the Suez is that you also have to go in convoys, and you can't pre-book the convoy time. Therefore it is quite possible - as it was in our case - that some of the Canal is transited in darkness. The Suez truly is a big ditch dug through the desert, and rarely did you see anything resembling the smallest of hills. Although much of it was the way it looked in Lawrence of Arabia, the Canal also passes cities, towns and industries, and I found it way more fascinating than watching the jungle of the Panama. As a reflection of the current times, our ship was preceded and followed by U.S. warships, and when you looked out at the banks of the Canal, you could always see, on both sides, either one or more soldiers with machine guns in hand. All of the roads that approach the Canal had roadblocks. I guess the Egyptian tourist police are serious about preventing incidents of the type where a group of German tourists were killed at Luxor.
                                       

The Egyptian version of the history of the Suez building states that 1.5 million Egyptians worked on the Canal, which is technically true, because the French would hire 10,000 Egyptians in the first month, who would then all quit, and another 10,000 would start the next month. So the cumulative total may have been 1.5 million bodies, but on the average, 25,000 workers worked each month in building the Canal. While building the Suez Canal would look like a slam dunk compared with the Panama, the advances in machinery and engineering in the 45 years between when the Suez was started, and when the Panama was started, should not be overlooked. The Suez was also built with private money, unlike the Panama where Uncle Sam had deep pockets.
                                      

Our next stop was at Sharm el Shief which, frankly, I had never heard of before. This town is on the eastern side of the Canal, and right at the tip of Egypt's Sinai Desert. We rode on camels in the Sinai Desert, only slightly embarrassed by the fact that the camels were led by Bedouin boys who looked about 7 years old. It was another "Lawrence of Arabia" experience. The town itself is forgettable, although it is becoming a favoured beach resort for European visitors.

Luxor was the big stop of interest for my wife and me. Despite nine hours of bus riding, and numerous roadblocks, the temples at Luxor were overwhelming. In particular, the Temple of Karnac (which I always thought was just a joke name that Johnny Carson used), was incredibly impressive with the size of the monuments, their architecture, and age. All the ancient works of the Greeks and Romans pale in comparison to what the Pharaohs created. The Valley of the Kings, where you can visit King Tut's tomb and others, was also fascinating. All the shore excursion buses went in a convoy, and we had military escorts at both ends. We had a fabulous lunch at one of the Egyptian hotels - better food than on the ship.
                                          

The captain on tour ship was a bit of a comic, and unlike any other captain I have seen at the freebie cocktail gathering, invited questions from the audience. I asked him, jokingly, whether he would be on duty the following night, when we were to pass close by to Yemen. He simply laughed at my question, and said he would be fast asleep in his cabin. A day and a half later, the captain announced from the bridge that the reason the ship was going so slowly at the moment was to maintain its schedule, because the ship had gone at full speed the previous night as it passed the narrow straits near Yemen, which have been the scene of more than 41 sea hijackings in the past year (presumably, not usually cruise ships). I guess the captain didn't mind telling us the frightening news after the fact.

A safari director joined us for the last week of the cruise, to explain all the ins and outs of the various safaris that passengers were mostly going on at the end of the cruise. We were all given a "safari bag", which was simply a large travel bag, but that was the only bag you were allowed to have with you on the safari - the rest of your luggage went directly to storage in Nairobi. A small difficulty arose when we reached our various safari hotels wherein the hotels insisted that the local bellboys take our bags from our safari vehicles into the hotel. You can imagine the fun of finding your bag when there were at least 200 identical bags in a pile. I at least had the foresight to put a special tag on mine.

My wife and I had visited Kenya before, about 10 years ago, and had a brief safari. At that time I noted that the Kenyan infrastructure was falling apart, and now I can report that it is fully broken. The main road out of Mombasa, the principal port, is a mixture of mud and large boulders. Much of the next three days was bouncing along in the safari vehicle, trying to avoid huge potholes, washed out portions of road, and vehicles coming two abreast from the opposite direction. You need a lot of stamina to enjoy the object of the exercise - viewing the wildlife. On our earlier Kenya trip, the vehicles went off road when there was game to be seen, but now the vehicles are strictly restricted to the alleged roads. The result was that you could see lions from perhaps a hundred metres away, and elephants even further. Less interesting wildlife, zebras, antelopes and such could be seen fairly close up, even outside our safari hotels where there was usually a waterhole to attract game. Sitting on the balcony of the safari hotel, sipping wine, and watching the approaching game at sunset, was probably the highlight of the safari.

Our particular three day safari visited the game parks of Tsavo and Amboselli. Many older passengers said the highlight of the safari was visiting "Giraffe Manor", which is really a zoo. You can actually feed giraffes by hand, and get to appreciate this weird version of an antelope. Did you know that an antelope has to sleep either standing up, or lying down with its neck resting against a tree. If a giraffe lies completely down, its neck hemorrhages, and it will die. For this reason, giraffes rarely enter limbo contests. We visited Karen Blixen's home outside of Nairobi - you may recall she was the author of "Out of Africa".
                                                 

Our safari ended in Nairobi, a city of 4 million people, of which at least half appear to be unemployed, and at least half of the half looked like they would mug you if they had the slightest opportunity. We not only had guards around the hotel itself, there was also a guard, with a submachine gun, at the entrance to the bar inside the hotel itself.

Leaving from Nairobi airport at midnight was an interesting experience, and it seems that the poorer the country, more guards and controls they have. You couldn't even enter the airport parking area without proving you were a passenger. Fortunately, our flights both to Athens and back home were on KLM, an excellent airline. It was a laborious return home, with an eight hour flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam, another day room to try and catch up on some sleep, and then a nine hour flight over the Pole back to Vancouver.

But, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

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TRAVEL TRIPS PHOTO ALBUM by Bill Morris
Posted Dec 22nd, 2018.
I hope you enjoy this new "less words" format for vacation photos.  CBC vacationers are welcome to send their recent pictures without the need for a long story!


MAZATLAN

After 15 years of taking winter vacations in Puerto Vallarta, we decided to check out a new vacation spot. PV has become a very popular destination for travellers from Canada, the US and Europe. With this popularity comes crowding and rising prices.
We chose the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay in Nuevo Mazatlan, the sister hotel of Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan in the hotel zone. The Pueblo Bonito Mazatlan, although closer to town with a better beach, was under major renovation. The trip was less costly and less crowded than a similar trip to PV .

Statistics suggest that Mazatlan is about 3 deg cooler on average and gets a little over half the rainfall that PV gets. Mazatlan is also about twice the size of PV but has way fewer restaurants and cafes.and is about 11% less costly to live in. One big difference is PV has about 3 times as many flights from Canada as does Mazatlan. Mazatlan is very popular with snowbirds from Canada.

Below are some of the photos from our November trip.

 For those unfamiliar with Mazatlan, this map shows some of the locations referred to in the photos below.

For those unfamiliar with Mazatlan, this map shows some of the locations referred to in the photos below.

Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort where we stayed. 20 acres and 378 rooms. Lots of safe walking at night, large clean rooms, many pools and good restaurant and buffet

Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay Resort where we stayed. 20 acres and 378 rooms. Lots of safe walking at night, large clean rooms, many pools and good restaurant and buffet

 Late November and the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay was already prepared for Christmas.

Late November and the Pueblo Bonito Emerald Bay was already prepared for Christmas.


 Looking south from the northern tip of hotel row. The large white hotel on the left is the RIU, the second major resort heading south.

Looking south from the northern tip of hotel row. The large white hotel on the left is the RIU, the second major resort heading south.

 Generally the beaches were flat and easy to walk on. This is in front of the Pueblo Bonito.

Generally the beaches were flat and easy to walk on. This is in front of the Pueblo Bonito.

The RIU Hotel quite affordable for a major resort.

The RIU Hotel quite affordable for a major resort.


 The Peublo Bonito, sister hotel to the Emerald Bay, was under construction and that is why we stayed at the sister hotel.

The Peublo Bonito, sister hotel to the Emerald Bay, was under construction and that is why we stayed at the sister hotel.

 Sun set at the Pueblo Bonito.

Sun set at the Pueblo Bonito.

 Local bar with many Canadians watching the Grey  Cup.

Local bar with many Canadians watching the Grey Cup.


Pulmonias ...an open air taxi. Taxis there are not metered and you barter for the fare. There are normal closed taxis but we thought we would try one of these. A very rough smelly ride is what you get so we chose regular taxis after this ride.

Pulmonias ...an open air taxi. Taxis there are not metered and you barter for the fare. There are normal closed taxis but we thought we would try one of these. A very rough smelly ride is what you get so we chose regular taxis after this ride.

 The Malacon walkway. It was still partially closed at this point after major renovations.

The Malacon walkway. It was still partially closed at this point after major renovations.

 The Malacon from street level. Still very quiet because of the partial closure still in effect.

The Malacon from street level. Still very quiet because of the partial closure still in effect.


 Hotel Freeman rooftop deck and bar/cafe. Great view of the "Old Town" from here.

Hotel Freeman rooftop deck and bar/cafe. Great view of the "Old Town" from here.

 Menu (in peso) for the rooftop bar. (sorry, a bit hard to read)

Menu (in peso) for the rooftop bar. (sorry, a bit hard to read)

 Old Town.

Old Town.


 Malacon and Old Town

Malacon and Old Town

 Old Town

Old Town

Market near Machado Plaza

Market near Machado Plaza


Market near Machado Plaza.

Market near Machado Plaza.

Restaurant in Machado Plaza

Restaurant in Machado Plaza

View from the room. Yes there is an ocean view but hard to tell with the trees.

View from the room. Yes there is an ocean view but hard to tell with the trees.


Large rooms and much larger 1 bedrooms also available

Large rooms and much larger 1 bedrooms also available

We had a kitchenette but being an all inclusive, we only used the fridge to keep water cool.

We had a kitchenette but being an all inclusive, we only used the fridge to keep water cool.