A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ChantelleS


I spent 1 night in luxury before heading off on a week long tour. I spent my free day at the Hassan II Mosque.

sunny 24 °C

Morocco was my 5th and last country of this trip. I arrived in Casablanca from Cairo, at 10am. I stayed at the fancy Le Lido Thalasso Resort & Spa, located beachfront on the Atlantic Ocean, overlooking the lighthouse.
Normally this type of hotel is way out of my budget. I prefer B&Bs, or home stays. But I booked this the night before on Expedia. It was regular $626CAD, on sale for $126! That's still over my budget ... but wait ... I had a $100 Expedia voucher, so I only had to pay $26 for a $626 room!!!! Steal of a deal! However, sometimes I think Expedia makes up absurdly high rates and then 'discounts' them so people think they are getting an extra good deal. Cuz this place was nice, but not $626 nice.
I only had a few sunny hours before it started raining. I couldn't really complain though, as this was only my 2nd day of rain in 5wks of traveling! Last year I traveled in Indonesia for a month and had 2wks of rain!
My 2nd day in Casablanca I had the morning & afternoon free before I had to meet up with my tour group, so I walked over to Hassan II Mosque. Its HUGE, so it was a lot farther of a walk than it looked, lol! It is the world's 3rd largest mosque, behind only the ones in Mecca & Medina, Saudi Arabia. I wandered along Corniche Blvd, along the waterfront where families were fishing, and finally arrived at the mosque.
Its minaret is the world's tallest at 689ft (60 stories)! It is topped by a laser that points towards Mecca.
It hold 105,000 worshippers - 25,000 inside the mosque hall, and another 80,000 on the mosque's outside grounds. It also has a retractable roof!
I wish there was a person in this photo so you could understand how huge these doors are! The smaller side doors are about 3 times my height ... so you can imagine how large the middle door is!!!
I didn't go inside. I didn't think I would be allowed to, as I'm not Muslim. But I later found out that this mosque is 1 of only 2 mosques in all of Morocco that allow non-muslims to enter.
I spent the better part of an hour here. The architecture and mosaic details are amazing. So photogenic!
I spent the rest of my day at the pool. Then headed over to the joining hotel where I met my group for my week long tour across Morocco. But that will all be in my next post :)

Posted by ChantelleS 17:05 Archived in Morocco Tagged architecture mosque africa morocco casablanca Comments (0)


The pyramids, Sphinx, and watching the sunset at a Bedouin camp in the desert.

sunny 23 °C

Egypt. Whatta day! I only had a 22hr layover in Cairo, but I made the most of it. I booked myself one night at the Pyramids View Inn for only $35. The hotel itself wasn't anything to get excited about, but the view from the rooftop terrace sure was!!!
Look how tiny the people on horses are in comparison!
I checked into the hotel at 8am, enjoyed a free breakfast on the rooftop, then literally walked across the street to the pyramids.
I visited Egypt at a time when no one else was. Everyone thought it was too dangerous to be traveling here, including my own mother. She was sure I was going to die or get taken. *Spoiler alert - I managed just fine. But since tourism was down, the touts around the pyramids were desparate for my business. Actually, it started at the airport already. Taxi drivers refused to drop their prices. Maybe its cuz they badly needed the money, or more likely its because they saw a blonde woman traveling alone and thought she was the perfect target to rip off. I wasted so much time bargaining over a taxi ride to my hotel, but got them down to $20CAD. I only had a day here, so I didn't want to waste any more time arguing with them.

I already knew to beware of all the scams & rip offs going on around the pyramids, and expected myself to be a target since I was alone. But geez, I got ripped off on EVERYTHING! And the worst part was I knew it was happening but couldn't do anything about it. So here is my story on how I paid a small fortune for an afternoon at the pyramids. It should really only cost you $12CAD for admission, and that's it. Walk past everyone trying to sell you everything from souvenirs to camel rides, carriage rides, horse rides, donkey rides, tour guide services ... the list goes on & on. Even if you do want something, like say a camel ride, be warned that you will pay a fortune, the ride will last 5min, and they will also want a tip ... and not just a couple dollars, $10, $15, etc! Its absurd!

Even before I made it to the entrance a man named Mustafa saw me coming. He introduced himself and walked me to the entrance gate, showed me where to purchase my ticket, helped me through security, etc. Again, I knew he'd want a tip. This wasn't Jordan any more where no one asks for tips. This is Egypt, and nothing is free. Mustafa kept walking & talking with me showing me this & that. I had somehow gotten myself a tour guide without wanting one. And I couldn't get rid of him. He kept saying it was free, no charge ... which is code for "but your going to have to give me a huge tip".

Upon arriving at the pyramids I realized they were a lot farther apart than I expected, so I decided to hire a horse and carriage to take me around them. They wanted $40CAD. I thought this was for the whole day, and so I agreed. Nope, turns out it was for 1hr. More on this later.
So Mustafa jumps in the carriage with me and we head out to the largest pyramid. WOW is it big!!! Standing at the bottom looking up, you cant even see the top! It is 461ft tall ... whereas the Sphinx is only 65ft tall.
Of course Mustafa just so happened to have a friend waiting by the pyramid that also just so happened to know how to work my camera and "you should give him your camera, he will make nice pictures of you".
I let him take a few, then checked to make sure they were actually clear. And they were. Since I was solo and didn't have anyone to take photos of me, I figured, what the heck, why not.
I knew he would ask for a tip. And he did. Well, heres the trick, they don't call it a tip. They tell you its free. Then when they are done, they say "are you happy?" To which I replied yes. Then they say "Ok, now you make me happy" and they hold out their hand for a tip. So don't fall for it! Nothing is actually FREE here! NOTHING! I asked how much, to which they all say the same damn thing "whatever you feel in your heart". So then when I try to give him a few dollars ... he looks at it & scoffs and says, "No. 250 Egytian Pounds". WHAT?! That's $40! I gave him 100p, which was still a rip off and he knew it. Ugh. What happened to "whatever you feel in your heart?'
Then whadaya know, Mr Photographer just so happens to have a son that can take me on a camel ride around the pyramids. By now I know this is all a set up. They just pass me along to their next 'friend' so that they can all make money off of me. But how do I say no to a camel ride by the pyramids?! This is what I came here for. And so, on a camel I get, lol!
This is Hemi, who is 13, and already quickly learning how to scam tourists.
At least unlimited photos were included in the camel ride.
They tell you that they will take you around the pyramids and to the Sphinx for $40CAD. What they really mean, is that they'll take you to a lookout point over the Sphinx, not actually right up to it. And you don't actually ride around all the pyramids, you only ride past the one you are already at.
Oh, and surprise surprise, this kid wanted a tip too! And so did the carriage ride guy. Everyone wants $40 to do whatever it is they are offering, plus they want another $40 tip!!!!!! *&!*%@ I couldn't take it anymore and started crying. Not sobbing, just a quivery chin and some silent tears. I was just SO fed up. I only had 1 day here and was trying SO hard to enjoy myself, but being ripped of every 10min just pissed me off! When Mr Photographer saw my tears he felt bad enough to give my money back, saying he would take a cut from his son (camel kid). Well of course you will! I'm sure you took it ALL from your kid, or maybe left him with a dollar! Uuuuggggghhhh! But through crying I at least got some money back, and then they felt bad and took me to feed their camels ... for free, lol!
After all that drama I find out my carriage ride is done. Um, what?! You still haven't actually taken me to the Sphinx, nor out into the desert to get that perfect shot of all the pyramids lined up in a row! I threw a hissy fit & stomped my foot. Mustafa convinced the carriage guy to take me out into the desert. He agreed, probably cuz he knew I well over-paid for this carriage ride to begin with. Plus, tourism is down, so he's unlikely to get another customer all day.

View from my carriage as we headed out in to the desert.
FINALLY! This is what I had dreamed of! Standing right here, with this view! I cried again, but this time happy tears. This time cuz I had made a long time dream come true ... by myself. No one helped me plan or pay for this (in fact, many told me not to go), I made this all happen, and it felt great!
It was just me and some local kids on a field trip out in the desert (what a fabulous place for a field trip!!). They wanted their photo taken with me, so I agreed only if I could take one with them too. I was quite the celebrity with my blonde hair and pasty white skin. You may have noticed that my head scarf turnt into a skirt part way throughout the day. This is because I somehow managed to rip a huge whole in the ass of my linen pants! I had no choice but to use it as a skirt to cover my bum, lol! But by doing so my blonde hair was exposed and drew a lot of attention. Everyone was stopping me wanting a photo with me. Now I know how celebrities feel! At first it was funny, but it got really annoying really fast. Women don't have to cover their heads in Egypt, but if you have blonde hair, I recommend it just to keep the attention off of you.
Then we headed over to the Sphinx. Hold on to your entrance ticket, cuz you'll need it to get into the enclosed Sphinx area too. You see all those kids in the photo below? ALL of them were following me snapping photos of me when they thought I wasn't looking. I swear I was the first blonde person they'd ever seen. As soon as I sat down to have Mustafa take my photo, all the kids stopped and pretended to be minding their own business. But as soon as I started walking again, they followed.
The second I entered the Sphinx enclosure there were locals offering to take my photo of me & the sphinx. Its free they say. Ya right! Not falling for that scam again. I just waited until the next tourist came in, and then we took pictures of eachother (which is what I should've done over by the pyramid too).
Finally I was rid of Mustafa (for a few hours at least - I agreed to let him take me out to a Bedouin camp in the desert for sunset later that day) and had some free time to just wander - which is what I should've been doing this whole time.
Just before sunset I met up with Mustafa again. He had borrowed his buddy's horse & carriage to take me out there. We went through the slums of Cairo before reaching the edge of the desert. Although absolutely disgusting, it was a real look into the lives of how people in this area live. I can honestly say its the dirtiest/poorest place I've ever seen (and smelt), even more so than Mombasa, Kenya! There was rotting garbage, raw sewage, badly abused & starving animals, and even a dead horse belly up in the piles of trash! All of this baking in the hot, hot sun! You can only imagine the stench!! I had to breath through my mouth in order to not throw up! I didn't feel right taking photos here, as I'm sure these people's lives are miserable enough without having some dumb tourist taking photos of them digging through the mountains of trash searching for food. By the time we finally reached the outskirts of the desert I was in tears yet again. This time cuz what I had seen was just so incredibly overwhelming :(

We didn't go too far into the desert, just far enough to be out of the city, and to have a good view over the pyramids. Bedouins actually live in this camp. They work in Cairo, and then come here to sleep.
This was definitely a side to Cairo that you don't see in the travel brouchures, or even when you google it. As I sat in camp waiting for the sun to set, I was served mint tea by one of the men living there. I watched the Bedouins coming home at the end of the night.
The owner of this place noticed me taking photos of his camel & donkey. So he quickly came over and posed the camel any which way I wanted (for a tip of course).
Waiting for the sun to go down ... which didn't actually set behind the pyramids like I was hoping. So I got the camel owner to pose his camel again so I could get camel sunset photos instead, lol!
So there you have it. Although seeing the pyramids was a dream come true, it was a hard day, from dealing with the rip offs, to seeing how the locals live, to just being overwhelmed by the immense size of the pyramids, and the beauty of the desert. I will definitely be back some day to explore the rest of Egypt, but this time I will be prepared for all the scams coming at me, lol! My day ended with me basically emptying out my wallet into Mustafa's hands, lol! He was with me from 8am until sunset ... so of course he wanted a tip for his unwanted 'service'.

Posted by ChantelleS 11:47 Archived in Egypt Tagged desert ruins egypt africa sphinx pyramids ancient Comments (0)


Roman ruins in Jordan? Yup!

sunny 26 °C

On the last day of my 6 day tour of Jordan, we headed north, to the ancient Roman ruins of Jerash. Above is a photo of me under Hadrian's Arch.
Our guide, Suhaib, educating us on the history of Jerash.
The hippodrome - where chariot races used to take place in ancient times, and in summer months, still do for entertainment! I would've loved to have watched one, but I was there in November.
Exterior of the hippodrome.
This ancient city dates back to 333 BC.
The Oval Plaza, or forum.
Jerash has 2 amphitheaters. One big, one small. At the bigger one we were given an acoustics demonstration by 2 Jordanian men.
No matter where we sat in the amphitheater the acoustics were exactly the same. After their demo we each got the chance to stand in the middle of the 'stage' and speak. By standing exactly in the middle it sounds like you are speaking on a microphone, but one step left or right and it sounds completely different.
The small concave space located between the 2 men (below) also acted as microphones. If you speak into them it amplifies your voice. No shouting required! Truly amazing! Nowadays we require so many electronics to put on a concert, but back then they didn't need anything fancy. Every summer Jerash Festival is held here - a music festival featuring local artists. Both amphitheaters are used. The way that they are built, you cannot hear 2 bands playing at the same time, nor can the nearby neighborhoods hear anything! All the noise stays within the open-air amphitheaters!!
This is the main street, the colonnaded Cardo Maximus.
The Gateway to the Temple of Artemis.
I feel bad, but I cannot remember what this is (below). I looked on a map of Jerash, and if I'm correct, then this is the Agora.
Unfortunately the majority of ancient Jerash now lays underneath the modern city of the same name. In the photo below you can see some ruins alongside the modern city.
This is the smaller South Theatre.
Jerash was actually more interesting than I was expecting it to be. I enjoyed the acoustic demo, the fact that all the ruins are fairly close together so theres not too much walking in the heat, that there where almost no other tourists (cuz people are too scared to come to Jordan cuz they think its 'dangerous'), and that chariot races take place here in summer! How fun would that be to watch!

Posted by ChantelleS 16:46 Archived in Jordan Tagged history ruins roman asia jordan ancient jerash Comments (0)


Shobak Castle, Madaba, and the Dead Sea.

sunny 20 °C

Today we drove from Wadi Musa to the Dead Sea. Its about a 3hr drive, so we made a few stops along the way to break it up. Our first stop was the Crusader fortress of Shobak Castle. We didn't go in, as we were in a hurry to make it to the Dead Sea for sunset. But we were able to stop at 2 different viewpoints of it.
It was built in 1115 AD. It withstood numerous attacks from the armies of Saladin before succumbing in 1189.
Our 18 seater bus that we toured Jordan in.
Jordanian flag on the castle.
Scenery along the way to Madaba.
Traffic jam! Goats everywhere!
We arrived in Madaba in time for lunch. After lunch we were given a tour. Madaba is another example of Jordan's religious tolerance. Church bells ring along with the call to prayer from nearby mosques. Muslims make up 2/3 of Madaba, and Christians 1/3. The main attraction here is St George's Church with its mosaic map.
The mosaic tile map on the floor of the church was unearthed in 1884, but was laid in AD 560. It is a clear map of the Holy Land, including all biblical sites from Lebanon to Egypt, and down to the Mediterranean, including references to the Nile River, Dead Sea and Jerusalem.
After Madaba we finally arrived at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea visit was not included in my 6 day tour, it was one of those optional add-ons. Well of course everyone wanted to go! How could you come all the way to Jordan and not float in the Dead Sea?! It was an over-priced add-on at $87CAD!!! This included transportation there & back, lockers, and use of a resort's pool. We didn't realize we were being brought to a resort ... that's why it cost so much. But it was very nice being able to use the showers & lockers here.
Salt on the beach.
The Dead Sea is located on the border, half in Jordan, half in Israel. It has an incredibly high salt content at 30% ... that's 7 times saltier than the ocean! That is why everyone floats! (and I mean everyone - it doesn't matter your weight, you WILL float).
It is impossible to sink ... some people in my group actually tried to sink and sit on the bottom ... they couldn't even get their head under, lol! It is the strangest feeling, almost like someone is holding you up. It is actually hard to get your feet back down on the ground!
After my float, I showered off all itchy salt at the resort. Be sure to NOT shave the day before, and do not get it in your eyes, or you will be in agony for a few minutes! IT BURNS! Then I walked around the pretty resort taking photos and waiting for the sun to set over the Dead Sea.
The level of the Dead Sea has been falling by about 500cm per year for the last 20yrs, mainly because there is no longer an inflow from the Jordan River, and evaporation is so high. The Dead Sea has fallen from 392m below sea level to 420m (the lowest point on earth). 30% of it has vanished, and experts are predicting it will be completely dried up in 50yrs! So go see it now!!

Posted by ChantelleS 16:24 Archived in Jordan Tagged sea religion holy dead asia jordan float salt madaba Comments (0)


The ancient Red Rose city of Petra!

sunny 35 °C

All who travel to Jordan end up in Petra. And it is for good reason ... its incredible! To be fully honest, I didn't even realize Petra was a real place until 3yrs ago. I had been planning a trip to Egypt and had googled 'day trips near Sinai', and Petra came up (you can take a ferry across the Red Sea to Jordan from Egypt, and then a bus to Petra). I had never heard of Petra, so I clicked on the link. What I saw made my jaw drop! This is where Indiana Jones was filmed! I recognized it immediately!! But all these years I had thought it was fake; a movie set. But it dawned on me then that this was a real place ... and now I just HAD to go! Unfortunately that trip to Egypt was canceled, as that was the same year of the Revolution. Fast forward 3yrs later, and now I'm there!!

If you read my previous post on Jordan, you will know that I was on a week-long tour. Entrance to Petra was included in this tour. Petra is hidden in the sandstone mountains. From the viewpoint over the town of Wadi Musa (below) you would never guess what lay hidden ...
After you pass the entrance gates, follow the path. If you have a guide, he/she will point out various tombs and carvings along the way, as well as troughs that were part of the irrigation system that brought water into the city.
A natural shape in the sandstone that looks like an elephant.
You will eventually come to, and walk through, the Siq, which is a long, narrow gorge that links the outside world to the hidden city of Petra. It is 1.2km long.
At its narrowest it is 2m, at its widest 6m, and the walls tower up to 200m overhead!
The Siq seems to go on forever, and at every bend my heart started to beat a little faster in hopes the Treasury would be around the corner! And finally, BAM, there it was in all its glory!!
Just look at it!!!
So many intricate details all carved by hand!!
Those little 'holes' along the side are ancient scaffolding for the Nabataeans who carved Petra into the sandstone 1000s of years ago.
This is the Treasury guard ... he doesn't seem to be taking his job too seriously, lol!
Camels were everywhere awaiting riders.
The morning was spent with the tour group getting a history lesson, and then we were given the afternoon free to explore on our own.

The entire group chose to make the long hike up to the monastery and back which took them the whole day ... except me. No thanks. In photos the Treasury & Monastery look the same. I wanted to see other things, like the Royal Tombs, and climb up to some viewpoints.

Tombs carved into the sandstone. These are not the Royal Tombs, these are the tombs of middle class people.
Look at the incredible natural patterns in the rock!! Suhaib (our guide) told us that the pink is iron, yellow is sulphur, and blue is copper. But the colors mix together creating new colors, my favorite being purple.
Check out the purple sand!
The amphitheater was cut into the rock, and could hold 3000 spectators.
And now for the Royal Tombs ...
Hadrian's Arch - where I had a little picnic
One thing I really wanted to do was figure out how to get to a lookout point over the Treasury. I had seen on a blog a photo of a girl sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Treasury down below, and I wanted the same photo of myself. I asked my guide if he knew where the trail was. He pointed off to the south, but then said it takes 3hrs each way ... which I wouldn't have enough time for. But I could've sworn the blog I read had said it was only a 30min hike. So as I wandered through the ancient city I asked a few Bedouins if they knew of a shortcut. Their had to be one! This guy came to my rescue! He knew exactly where I was talking about, and that there was a shortcut north of the Royal Tombs (the opposite direction my guide had pointed me)! Woohoo!
He was one of the Bedouins who live within Petra. He said he and his donkey, Shakira, were headed that way and I could follow him. So off we went.
Stairs, stairs and more stairs!
Some lookout points over the ancient city as I climbed higher.
View over the amphitheater.
Many Bedouins live within Petra, and work selling cold drinks and souvenirs to tourists. They live in caves and small huts, and herd goats & camels. We passed some of their homes along the way.
It took about 30-40min to reach the viewpoint, and it was worth the climb!
My Johnny-Depp-from-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-look-alike Bedouin friend had a hut built atop the cliff overlooking the Treasury. He offered me mint tea and to sit in the shade and listen to stories of life in Petra.
After about 20min hanging with 'Johnny' I sadly had to leave. I had to meet the rest of the group and catch the bus to our hotel in Wadi Musa. On the walk back down towards the Siq I stopped and checked a few of the souvenirs stands the Bedouins had set up.
Sand art
Included in the admission to Petra is a 'free' ride on a horse & carriage either from the entrance, down the Siq, and to the Treasury, or in the reverse direction. I advise you to save it for the end of the day when you are exhausted and don't want to walk 1.2km down the Siq again. I say 'free' cuz theres a $5USD mandatory tip required.
The Bedouins will ask if you want an air conditioned Ferrari ride ... and then escort you to one of these, lol! I loved listening to the galloping hooves of on-coming 'Ferraris' echoing throughout the Siq :)
It was a long day, but WOW was it a good one! If you are traveling on your own without a group/tour, I recommend 2 days here. There were so many hikes/trails to go on, and caves/tombs to explore. And also there was no way I would've had time to hike to the Monastery if I had wanted too. You can also visit Petra at night when the Siq and area around the Treasury are lit by candles. I wanted to return at night for this but my feet did not agree, I was completely exhausted! If ever I find myself in Jordan again I will definitely visit Petra by night!

Have I convinced you to visit the Middle East yet? I sure hope I have ;)

Posted by ChantelleS 10:37 Archived in Jordan Tagged desert ruins city red rose asia ancient petra jordam Comments (0)

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