Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



When I say Cairo is cool, I'm not saying it's a funky place, although there is probably the potential, what I'm saying is it's cold, or at least comparatively so. Yesterday when I got here it was about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) not very warm at all, and I thought Ethiopia was a bit nippy. Oh well.

In some respects I was sad to leave Ethiopia as I made some local friends there, but such is the life of a traveler, just as you make friends you move on. A side note by the way, a couple of the guys at the hotel where I was staying said the Khat in Lalibela is crap therefore no surprise it wasn't the most rewarding. They got me some from Harar, in the east where apparently the best comes from and insisted I try again. I must bow to their greater knowledge of the subject as after sticking a bale of this stuff in my face and sucking on it for the best part of an hour, although having a rather odd taste in my mouth I must say there was a great effect, I was totally monged (stoned) for the rest of the night and far from making you tired it keeps you awake, apparently Ethiopian truck drivers chew the stuff to keep them going. My faith was renewed all thanks to the boys of Bel Air.

Since arrival in Cairo I haven't done huge amounts, had a wander around town and just went to the Egyptian museum which has some spectacular exhibits, including the loot from Tutankamens tomb (essentially, the stuff that the British museum doesn't have). Only problem is the place was absolutely swarming with tourists, I guess that is going to be the problem from here on. It was kind of nice in some of the countries going into their national museums and at most being one of three non-employees wandering around. I might wander down to the old town this afternoon (or might not) and then probably go to Giza tomorrow. From then on I think I shall head south and work my way back North and west, slowly. We shall see, plans are made to be broken.


Greetings from Cairo. Herewith the news of my adventures in Egypt. Believe it or not arriving in Cairo was a relief of sorts as it is the closest to real civilisation I have been since South Africa, which isn't really saying that much. The idea was that the food, transport and other aspects would be much more predictable and easier as a result. Well it was a nice theory, whilst it lasted.

I have wandered around a fair amount of this town and it has a certain charm, it also has ridiculous pollution so whereas walking may regarded as healthy most places, here it is probably decidedly unhealthy, still. It was nice that whilst here I was able to have a couple of Mike's (my brothers) acquaintances treat me to some corporate hospitality which involved driving me around a bit taking me out two nights running to nice restaurants, taking me to Khan-el-Khalili in the old town and to Amr (one of their) homes on a houseboat on the Nile, very chilled. Really nice folk, good fun interesting, down to earth, hospitable and generous with the expense account, my kind of people.

Cairo has also been an admin centre of sorts for me where I have managed to sort out my visas for Jordan and Syria, despite the Syrians trying to make things difficult. It was also quite a good place to get a little bit ill (if that makes sense), I guess the traveling has taken a bit of a toll and I was rather unwell over the weekend, fortunately they have reasonable doctors here who speak good English, one of whom has thankfully sorted me out. I guess it is just the funny life of the traveler, combined with changing food, culture, climate, etc. that makes one prone to bugs, still, everything sorted now so nothing to worry about.

Something else I have taken advantage of here is to go to the cinema as films here are in English - bonus. It actually took me a while to see the pyramids at Giza (Sunday), most peoples first port of call. They are impressive, but unfortunately not quite as inspiring as I had hoped. This is no doubt in part to do with the quantity of tourists and touts around, which inevitably lessens the enjoyment of a place. The sphinx was nice but again I, perhaps unfairly, was expecting more. It wasn't as large as I thought but it's still nice. I think part of the problem with these sights is that we know too well what to expect as we see pictures of them across the media, which in turn increases ones expectations but lessens the actual realisation which should be much more awing.

Amongst the other things I have seen was Coptic or Old Cairo, where the Christian area is/was. It is interesting to see the different parts that make up this city that has entertained most popular cultures and religions that have existed at some time or another for some greater or shorter time. Some obstinate coppers wouldn't let anyone into the Ben Ezra synagogue which is very old, the sight dates back over two thousand years according to some. I did however go to the only remaining functioning synagogue in Cairo (literally opposite the place I'm staying). A nice old jewish lady (the custodian) cam out to chat with me about the place. They unfortunately do not have a rabbi, kosher food or anything of the sort available to them as the community numbers less than 200. Another sad fact is that it probably won't be around for very long as the youngest congregant is 65 (by her appearance I would guess she wasn't talking about herself). The one nice thing she said is that if you are jewish anywhere in the Arab world, Egypt is the best. The Egyptians are apparently very tolerant, to the point of not caring (in a good way).

After this it made sense to see Islamic Cairo, this started with a tour of the citadel, built by Salah-al-Din (Saladin) over a thousand years ago. Other sultans and the like have added to it and rebuilt bits, the grandest bit being the mosque of Mohamed Ali (no relation to the boxer). There are also a number of museums inside of greater or lesser interest. Some of them seem to be there merely to use otherwise empty buildings, such as the police museum which was crap. From there I went to a succession of mosques (the blue, Ibn Tuln's, Sultan Hassan's, Al Rifa'I and Sayyed Zaneb, to name a few). This I feel has rounded my Cairene expereience, from Pharaonic to modern times. Later this evening I am getting the night train to Aswan to see Abu Simbel, the dam and other sights. From there I plan to go north to Edfu and Luxor and then back to Cairo, perhaps with a side trip to Alexandria - we'll see.


Well, I'm currently in Luxor, leaving this evening to go back to Cairo to sort out a couple of bits and then onto Jordan.

Egypt has been rather nice for a number of reasons, as mentioned in my previous e-mail Egypt has been a return to normality to some extent, where services exist and the toll on the traveler isn't so great (apart from the hassling touts and the demands for Baksheesh). In addition to this there is some beautiful stuff here. In Aswan I went on a Felucca for a few hours which was rather chilled, watched the sun go down from the middle of the Nile and then it got decidedly chilly. Went to a couple of museums in Aswan one was okay the other (the Nubian museum, just recently completed) was extremely good. The temple of Knum on Elephantine island was a bit of a non-event as it is still being pt back together and is difficult to see how nice it might once have been.

From Aswan I went up to the high dam aswell as over the British built Aswan dam. These are only moderately interesting unless you have an overwhelming interest in Hydro-electric generation. What is more spectacular is the immensity of Lake Nasser, created by the high dam, which is apparently the largest reservoir in the world and the only reason the Egyptians didn't suffer as the Sudanese and Ethiopians did in the eighties during the drought years. It would be nice to think that the Ethiopians and Sudanese could do the same but when the Ethiopians built a dam on the blue nile, the Egyptians threatened to go to war if they didn't maintain the flow of water through it. Many observers say that it is almost inevitable that Egypt will go to war over the water in the nile over the next century, when I was in Ethiopia I found out that it has nearly happened already.

From there I went to Kalabsha a very nice temple on an island just near the high dam, which was moved by UNESCO (United Nations Environment Science and Culture Organisation) as it was being submerged by the rising waters of the lake (at the same time as they moved Abu Simbel, Philae and thirty other historic sights above the water). Kalabsha is actually a really nice temple in part because there were almost no other people there, a bit of a rarity when in Egypt, to be able to get away from the throngs of tourists arriving by the coachload. There are some lovely carvings and paintings, with much of the original colouring. Something I didn't appreciate so much before is how much everything was painted on all these temples, at some of the sights it was possible to see with a little imagination how these places would have looked in their heyday.

My next step was Philae (as previously mentioned also moved by UNESCO) another nice sight, the carvings are not quite as impressive although the sight is much larger. There were also many more tourists (you can only get away from them for so long it seems).

Unfortunately the roads to Abu Simbel are currently closed, the only to get there being by plane (too expensive) so I didn't get to see that.

As I must be in Istanbul in mid-April I am having to cut down some of my itinerary in Egypt, seeing the essentials and less of the "just appealing". As part of this time saving I decided to take a private taxi from Aswan to Luxor, stopping at Kom Ombo and Edfu en route, that otherwise would have meant staying a day in each, fr transport reasons more than anything else.

Kom Ombo had some very interesting bits and I was able to trail an English speaking guide for a while which helped some of my understanding. One of the interesting paintings showed an Egyptian stethoscope and other medical tools (see, nothing is new).

The temple of Horus at Edfu is larger but seemed to be a cheaper effort, it was built very late and the quality of work didn't really seem to be there, although it was pleasant. From there I got to Luxor a few hours later booked into a hotel and then walked up to the Luxor museum which has some lovely pieces, again I was able to follow an English speaking guide who could read the hieroglyphics and gave some great insights into the pieces. After that I walked down to the Luxor temple where I found another couple of groups to trail as well as the folk from the museum previously. Unfortunately the temple in Luxor is over inundated with tourists making it rather difficult to see or enjoy the place. I waited until it got dark and then wandered through the place again, as it has a different ambiance after dark.

I decided against my usual policy, to go with an organised group to the valleys of the Kings and Queens and Queen Hatshepsuts temple. The group all seemed decent enough, but too large and the guide was crap, he wasn't very informative and I got more information from the guide book as we were walking about. There were however some spectacular bits in the tombs, some of the paintings are stunning, I don't think people appreciate before having seen some of the stuff how colourful and vivid the tombs are. Some of the painting is almost as it was three and a half thousand years ago, with very strong colouring. Queen Hatsheptsuts temple (scene of the massacre of tourists three or for years ago) is pleasant but not as impressive as I had hoped. I think part of the problem with this country's sights are that we are overexposed to them in the media, taking something away from the actual realisation. I decided to go back to the West Bank (where all these bits are) on my own after the abismal guide. I went to Medinet Habu a temple built by Ramasses III which is nice and has some impressive works and painting, to Deir-al-Madina (the workers village), where the artisans who built the temples, dug the tombs of the Kings etc, did the carvings, painted the murals lived and a few of them collaborate to make their own tombs. These although not so grand as the tombs of the kings and queens have a certain charm and as they were not wealthy people with things to rob were largely left alone, so have very vivid colours and some nice more natural less religious art. It was also nice to see a place where ancient Egyptians actually lived, as only temples and tombs of the royals and nobles still exist. From there I went to the Ramasseum, a temple built by Ramasses II with a fallen colossus that is truly colossal, 100 tons when it was complete, in pink granite very nice. Lastly on the West Back I went to some of the tombs of the nobles which were nice, halfway between the workers and the royals for grandeur, but with very few people which is always a bonus.

When I got back I went to Karnak temple which is immense with some impressive stuff, I managed to follow a couple of English speaking groups about which was also good. Tonight I am going back to Cairo by bus as the trains are booked up. From where I plan to leave for Jordan in a couple of days, meaning I will have to come back some day to see some of the bits I missed such as Abu Simble, Alexandria, the Oases and the stuff on the red sea.



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