Cairo in a Day

Recently we had a 15 hour layover in Cairo on our way from Torotnto to Nairobi. I had booked a one way ticket and going via Cairo served a couple of purposes:

 

  1. It was the least amount of stopping.
  2. The baggage allowance was awesome.
  3. Going to Egypt was on my bucket list.

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My grandfather, like thousands of other ANZAC’s spent time in North Africa for training before they were sent on to fight in the Second World War. I remember seeing this old black and white photo with my grandfather standing in front of a pyramid. At that stage I didn’t know that he wasn’t in many photos because he was actually a photographer. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt and this fueled that desire.

 

It was a bit tricky booking a flight on the Egypt Air website, especially since I found out that Westpac in Australia blocked me from making the booking. Apparently they thought it was fraudulent until I called them about it. One thing I did note is that they didn’t offer a gluten free option.

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Egypt Air have their own tour company (Karnak). You can choose a variety of ready made tours, or like in our case, they got us into the things we really wanted to see. For $90 USD each they said they would take us on a 9 hour tour of the Sphinx, Giza Pyramid, Museum, boat ride on the Nile and the Mosque. It sounded good, but wasn’t sure how it would work out.

 

What happened is that we waited 90 minutes for a transit visa (free) that was organized on arrival. They told us that they were booking us into a hotel before the tour, which freaked me out because we didn’t have the funds for it. Considering women are pretty invisible there, the nicest customer service guy told me ‘Madam, we have to look after you, you are here for a very long time’. After a 5 minute walk we ended up at the Le Meridien, one of the flashiest hotels I’ve seen for a long time.

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When we got to our room I kind of wished that we weren’t going on tour. After an overnight flight where we hardly slept, the bed felt so luxurious and clean. But, we didn’t have time to  relax. After a quick shower we headed downstairs to a full on buffet breakfast – all taken care of by the airline. At 10am sharp, our driver picked us up just as we were told.

 

 

I had been forewarned about both the traffic and the dirtiness of Cairo – and it’s true. Both Pete and I agreed that we would never drive there. There’s no lanes, people weave in and out, and pretty much all the cars are dented. I never felt afraid, but I’m glad we were sitting in the back seat – if only my seatbelt worked!. After picking up our tour guide, as you do from the side of the road, we headed towards the pyramids. It was so cool when we approached the area which was full of security. Lots of people were walking in, which would’ve been faster. Unfortunately we didn’t get to touch the pyramids, which you can do. I think it was because there was nowhere for the car to park. Next we saw the sphinx, which was massive. I’m definitely going back there.

sphynx

We also visited a couple of other stores. One was a perfume store where you could buy the real deal (apparently) of lots of oils. We only bought one, 100ml of oil for $50USD. Now, I kick myself as we should’ve bought more. Another reason to return.

 

Like other tour companies, I’m sure the guides get a kickback from sales at places. They insisted on us going to a papyrus picture store. While they paintings were a good price, there wasn’t anything I wanted in my house – which they were disappointed with.

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The boat ride was so calm that Pete nodded off during it. It was 43 degrees outside which we didn’t mind but the cool breeze off the river was appreciated. There were two more stops on what would only be a 5 hour tour. The first was at the museum. This was where we spent a little bit too much time, but our guide was so knowledgeable on what was in there. You could take some photos but definitely not in the room where King Tut’s coffin was. There’s a new museum being built where a lot of the artifacts would be transferred to which is good because this one was pretty crowded.

The last stop was the mosque. We’ve done a few mosques in the past in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and this was the least glamourous. We did get a fantastic view of the city and when you understand how old the surrounding buildings are, it puts things into perspective. Egypt is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. According to our tour guide there’s never any problems between the two faith groups. Interesting considering the latest report from Open Doors reports that Egypt is the 17th top country in the world that it is dangerous to be a Christian.

mosque

Once we were dropped off it was time for lunch. Even as it approached 2.30pm they allowed us to have buffet lunch. The great thing about the hotel is that we could check out just before we needed to be at the airport. This meant we could go for a swim if we wanted, or in our case, catch a few hours sleep.

 

The Cairo International Airport is nothing to rave about. Not that we needed food, but there isn’t much to choose from. One thing that does stick out is the smell of cigarette smoke. Sure, there are smoking rooms, but they keep the doors wide open – what’s the point?

 

Pretty much, that was our day in Cairo. I’d definitely go back again but travel down to Luxor or Alexandria. Our Egypt Air plane stayed in the sky, so that’s always good. Their service was great, the Cairo airport crappy but I’d do it all again.

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What about you, what are your experiences with Egypt Air?

 

 

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What a Year

It’s been an interesting year in Kenya that’s for sure. It’s never dull and boring here anyway but this was a year we were all dreading in a way. Pretty much business went downhill, people weren’t paying their bills and no roadwork got done. Usually in an election year there’s plenty of roadworks going on to convince people that a party is worth voting for.

 

That meant our roads were in the worse state possible for a whole year. Last year we spent $3,000 on repairs and tyres alone. In one day two new tyres burst just coming back from the airport.

 

Earlier in the year I spent a few weeks in New Zealand with our daughter’s little family. Poor Pete had to stay behind and in the end I only spent 3 days without meetings. Not exactly great family time. It would be nice to actually go somewhere for an actual holiday and not have to mix meetings with it.

 

Before we came to Kenya I thought our travel days were over. What a joke, we’ve traveled more than ever before. In fact, sometimes I wonder if people think all we do is travel. But, if we’re not out there fundraising, then pretty much no money comes in for projects. Hence, we took a 6 week trip to the US. It’s an emerging market but will probably be at least a couple of years before we start making any money there.

 

We stayed in country for the 2017 Elections just in case it all went down the toilet. We ended up with another family staying with us who felt unsafe in the Kibera Slum. While it wasn’t as bad as in previous elections, there were still plenty of people rioting and burning buildings. One of our team told us how her neighbor was killed simply because her kids were hungry so she went to the market and was shot in the crossfire. After all that, they reheld the elections which didn’t change anything. Lots of money spent, lives lost and a low economy.

 

Our beautiful grandson was born in October and this time I was smart. I traveled to Australia for 10 days of fundraising and did nothing but be a grandmother in NZ. This time we all went. Pete worked for a good six weeks painting my cousins house but at least he got to see his family too.

 

Our biggest shock of the year was to find out that our daughter Liz was told she had to return to Australia or New Zealand to keep her Disability Pension. We were all so stunned because for the past 5 years we’ve had no problems and had no indication things were about to change. Thankfully my sister who lives in New Zealand was able to take her in but it’s not really the solution. For most people it’s a chance to ‘grow up’ by being thrown in the deep end. However, for someone with a mental disability they cope but don’t have the ability to grow. Thankfully we will see her in March when we go over.

 

So it’s a terribly quiet Christmas for us. We had all these grand plans to drive down to Tanzania as a family and then go on to Zanzibar. Without Liz though we threw that idea out of the window. Pretty much all of Nairobi empties out and it becomes a ghost town for a few days. Boring would be an understatement to describe Nairobi over this time. Thankfully we’ve been rescued by our friend Lucy who is like our daughter, who invited us to her university graduation celebration on Christmas Day.

 

2017 has been a full on year. While most people when they retire want to travel, I dream of staying at home! 2018 doesn’t look like things are going to slow down but at least I can’t complain that I’m bored!

Navigating Airports

You can’t avoid airports, but you can help yourself and make it easier. Some people make it bigger than Ben Hur so let me help you out by giving you some tips.

 

  1. Travel as light as possible

Everyone packs way too much stuff. Pack for 4 changes of clothes – remember you can always wash them! Weigh your bags BEFORE you get to the airport. You can go to places like Kmart and for less than $10 buy a small bag weighing scale. There’s nothing more stressful than to get all the way to the airport and either getting whacked with excessive baggage fees or having to dump some of your gear on the lovely people that dropped you off.

Best not to go over the limit on your hand luggage weight as some airlines weigh that bag as well.

bags

  1. Check in online

If possible, check in online before you get to the airport. This saves you time and also covers you if you get stuck in traffic on the way.

 

  1. Get to the airport early

I would much rather be bored at an airport than stressing while sitting in a taxi which is stuck in a traffic jam. Try to avoid peak traffic times for transit. Before you travel, check which of your airports does have free wifi.

traffic

  1. Get your money exchanged at a bank and not at the airport

You’ll get a worse rate at the airport than anywhere else. US dollars are accepted in any country so always have some of those to keep you going. Pretty much at any airport you can buy things in US dollars as well. Also have several ways to access your money. If your wallet gets stolen or lost, what can you do to get cash? When traveling I carry one card with me, and leave the other in a safe place, just in case. Also download an exchange rate app on your phone so you have a good idea of what things will cost you.

 

  1. Wear easily removable shoes

It would be great if all airports had the same way of doing things, but they don’t. When going through security checks sometimes you have to take off your shoes, and at other times you don’t. Keep an eye out for what others are doing, and don’t be afraid to ask. If possible, wear slip on shoes at the airport, it makes easier. If not, at least undo your laces before getting into line. Always, always get your laptop out early.

shoe

  1. Take a jacket

I’ve been on a 14 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney and frozen my butt off. Literally everyone on the plane had one or two blankets over them. We were all complaining about how cold it was and yet they didn’t turn up the temperature! I always carry a hoodie on the plane just in case. Wear comfortable and breathable clothes.

 

  1. Keep your passport on you

I was in a toilet at the Auckland Airport and there sitting on top of the toilet roll dispenser was someone’s passport. Of course, I took it to a security officer and then I heard the person’s name called out over a public announcement. I’m always super conscious about NOT losing my passport. In lots of places you can’t even hold your passport as you go through the security scanner, so don’t forget to take it out of the tray!

passport

  1. Go directly to the gate

I always tell people that once you’re through the security checks go directly to your gate so you know where it is. There’s nothing more embarrassing than your name being called repeatedly over the sound system and then a whole plane load of people give you the hate look as you finally make your way onto the plane.

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  1. Walk as much as possible

You’ll be sitting down for a very long time on some of your flights. Try and walk as much as possible while in the airport rather than sitting down all of the time. After a couple of days of flying I’ve even resorted to laying on the floor just to catch some sleep for a few minutes. Otherwise I get on my phone on the free wifi and walk when I can. When you’re on the plane get up every now and then for a quick walk or at least do some foot exercises to keep the puffiness down.

 

  1. Wait to be called

When the staff call people up for the flight they will always ask for those who are part of their loyalty program, then those with small children or needing assistance and then by zones. Sometimes it becomes a stampede, as if people are going to miss their flight! It must be frustrating for the staff when they ask for Zone B people and Zone A rock on up. All they do is send you to the back of the line. There’s no harm in waiting.

lines

Don’t presume that everyone on your flight or in the airport have flown before. I met two ladies in their mid twenties who were flying from Johannesburg to Bali and I was shocked that they were first timers. They were fretting about our flight delay because they didn’t know about time zones.

I’ve a Split Personality

I’ve been away from our African home for 3 weeks now and I’ve suddenly realized that I’ve got what used to be called a split personality, now it’s known as having a Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Here’s one definition:

‘dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity’ (webmd.com)

Most of us turn towards Hollywood on this issue where we see someone suddenly transform into a totally different person and go ‘Oh, they have a split personality’.

Why on Earth would I confess to this?

It’s quite easy really. I was in the car with Pete and we agreed that we felt like fish out of water in a country that we call our ‘other home’. Sure, we hold an NZ passport but it doesn’t make us Kiwis. We are a mixed breed – born in New Zealand, spent a good number of years in Australia but Kenya feels more home than any other place.

tea 2

This does not taste like Kenyan tea.

We literally have to speak a different language, dress differently and act differently. I still get shocked that there is no place in cafes to wash your hands before you eat. It rains here A LOT and it’s the coldest we’ve been in a long time. Temperature wise it’s not that cold but it’s a chill that goes to the bones.

It’s almost like we have to put away our ‘Africa lifestyle’ and pretend that we belong here.

But there’s this tugging of a war inside of me. I’ve adapted and become someone else who doesn’t fit in here, I’m just pretending. I feel like the real me is waiting back in Nairobi.

It’s not that I’m not making the most of it, it just feels weird. I’m loving time with family and the food here is phenomenal, there’s no doubt about that. When I’m skyping my team back home I can slide back into my comfort zone. Even after a few weeks of being away, I feel like there’s a strong pull to East Africa while here I am not connected to much Kiwiana at all.

So what’s the answer?

I think I will embrace my very different ‘mes’, while I’m full on Kiwi on the outside, on the inside I’m very Kenyan. I’ll keep speaking English out loud and Swahili in my head. I’ll use knife and fork with my chicken here but gladly use fingers in Kenya.  I’ll get to understand how this new country of mine (for 2 months) works and then miss the simplicity of it when I return home.

sevens

And yes, the Kenyans beat the Kiwis in the sevens.

When you see me, feel free to say ‘habari za asubuhi’ (good morning) and you will make my day, but I warn you, my Kenyan side might come out in full swing!

 

 

Transport on the ground

For a quick video of this blog you can go HERE.

If there’s only one or two of you traveling you should look at alternatives to hiring a car. When you hire a car you need to look at including insurance costs. The last thing you want is to be out of pocket by thousands of dollars if you have an accident.

oyster

For use in London

Another alternative is to go on public transport. My husband hates going on public transport but even he concedes that it’s a much cheaper way to go. However, you have to do your homework before you get on the plane. If there’s a group of you, it might be easier and cost effective to grab an Uber. If there’s just a couple of you and there’s a bus, train or ferry to where you want to go, why not try one of these.

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Metro Card for NYC

Before you leave home make sure you download maps and travel apps for the country/city you’re going to. Google Maps is my fallback. You don’t always have internet when traveling so take the stress out of it all. Also look into whether it’s better to get a one day, 7 day or 24 hour card. Some places like in London cap the daily use to a certain amount, meaning you can travel as much as you like for six pounds. It doesn’t take many trips on the Tube to get to six pounds. In other places you can transfer from a train to a bus at no extra cost if it’s within 2 hours.

opal

Opal card for New South Wales, Australia

Like I said – do your homework before you leave home. We wasted $30 on paying for a travel card we didn’t need.

Most places you will find a vending machine to obtain your card. Then you put as much money on it as you want. A lot of times you can use your credit or debit card. Don’t forget to keep your card as they don’t expire. We have cards from Dubai, Australia, the UK and NYC ready to use for the next time.

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Metro card for use in Dubai

Going on public transport might take you a bit longer but it can certainly save you a lot of dollars and you also get to see how ordinary people do life there. Give it a go.

The 2017 Kenya Elections & Us

This is our second elections that we have been through living in Kenya. Last time we stocked up on food and fuel for a month as it was the first time after the 2007 elections which ended up being hugely violent. 2012 was minimal violence.

Now in 2017 everyone was so unsure of what would eventuate. We decided to stay in Nairobi because we’ve travelled a lot this year and we wanted to be here for our team in case it all went cactus. We’ve actually ended up with extras at our place. First we had an Aussie friend who lives in Uganda staying. When she left a friend and her son who live in the Kibera Slum have come to stay for a few days until the elections are over.

Here’s the lowdown on how it affected not just us but the public.

 

Beforehand

Usually in an election year there’s lots of upgrades on the roads, improvements in communities and better access to water. This year there was absolutely nothing. So things are more rundown than ever.

Nairobi is known to be an apartment city and there’s lots of building going on. However, for the past 6 months I haven’t seen as many busy sites. They’re there but not active. Maybe it’s because investors have pulled out but also businesses aren’t sure if they will get paid.

We’ve talked with a lot of business people and that’s their biggest problem. There’s plenty of work but people are not paying their bills. It’s usually a problem here but it’s blown up this year.

The elections were held on August 8th. That meant on 5th and 6th the shops were jam packed. Imagine what it’s like in your country leading up to Christmas when every man and his dog decides to visit the mall. Here people shopped like it was the end of the world. Everything was meant to be closed on election day but it was more than that. It was the uncertainty of what would happen afterwards.

That was the biggest thing that hung in the air all year – a sense of uncertainty.

flag

Will things flare up, will there be peace, will everything flare up?

It looks like half of Nairobi has emptied out. Many people have gone to their home village or to resorts. It’s deathly quiet, a bit like it is during the Christmas break. In our apartment block only half the people are here and it seems to be the norm across the city.

 

During

I went for a walk about 8.30am on the day of elections. Mainly it was because I was totally nosy as there was a polling booth just up the road from our apartment and I wanted to see what the turnout was like. I was really pleased to see it jam packed with people.

The roads themselves were empty and have been ever since. There is also an eerie quiet over the city. It made me a bit nervous because we are used to the noise of Nairobi.

After visiting some friends of ours in the morning we decided to venture out to see if there was a café open. We knew that the movie theatre was open and also a sports pub up the road but I thought Pete needed to get out. I was surprised to find that all of the eateries were open and packed with people.

 

After

The last three days have felt the longest ever. While I’ve enjoyed the lack of cars on the road what we really need is for people to get back to their normal lives. If people aren’t working, they’re not making money. That means school fees and bills won’t be paid when the term starts again in a few weeks. I was really pleased to hear the noise coming off the building site yesterday. These guys are earning minimal wages so it’s important for them to be able to feed their families.

The fact is if unemployment was lower than 65% in the under 25’s we would have a lot less trouble. It’s these ones who struggle daily and when a politician stirs them up or they feel like they’re not being listened to, it’s easy to stir them up. They’ll be the ones who will throw stones, set tyres alight and march up streets directly into tear gas thrown by police.

If a person is employed they are able to feed their family, pay school fees, buy clothes and pay the rent. When you’re employed you have a responsibility to turn up to work the next day. You don’t have time to get yourself in trouble and spend your nights stirring things up.

Now we play the waiting game. As soon as it is officially announced (hopefully today) then we will wait once again to see what flareups will happen because of it.

One thing I can say. The Kenyan elections have pretty much put the whole country on hold. Productivity has gone down the toilet and all we want to do is get on with our lives.

elections

Essentials on the Plane

If you’re like me and do long haul flights maybe over a couple of days and anywhere from 10 – 16 hours, it’s important to take a few essentials with you to make it comfortable.

If you would much rather watch the video of this rather than reading it, check it out HERE.

 

  1. Noise Reducing Headphones

I would suggest going all out and purchasing a pair of Bose headphones. Some people have got the cheaper ones but according to travel buddies, they are nowhere near as good as Bose. You can buy wireless ones, but for $100 less you can get the ones with a cord. I’ve done a lot of trips with mine and found the AAA batteries last longer than what I was told.

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  1. Neck Pillow

Don’t go and buy the cheap ones, go for the memory phone neck pillow. They last longer and you won’t regret the investment. The pillows on the planes just don’t do the trick and are never thick enough.

neck pillow

  1. Eye Mask

You can get freebies when you do long hauls on airlines such as Emirates, or you can spend a few dollars at the airport. They block out the light and help with the much needed sleep.

mask

  1. Contact Lenses

I hate wearing glasses, but it’s much more comfortable than your eyes drying out on a flight when you wear contacts. You can always put your contacts in at the airport toilets. Make sure you fill your contact lens case with lots of solution as it tends to leak on flights. Take a small bottle of solution with you on the plane, it doesn’t count towards your liquid take ons.

lens

  1. Socks

Kick your shoes off as soon as your flight takes off, it will help with keeping the swelling down. I tend to wear ballet flats on a plane and put on a pair of cheap socks for the flight. That way when I go to the dreaded toilets I just wear my socks, which I leave on the plane or put in the garbage after the flight. I find that my feet tend to get really cold on a flight so even if it’s hot outside, I wear my socks on the plane.

 

  1. Jumper

Call it a sweater, hoodie or jumper but definitely take something to keep warm on a flight. On one of our long flights from Abu Dhabi to Sydney it was so cold on the 14 hour flight that people had blankets over their heads and around them. For the life of me I don’t know why they didn’t turn up the air conditioning but it was the worst flight ever. From now on I’m even taking one of my Masai blankets as an extra precaution.

 

  1. Little Items

Hairbrush, hair tie, toothbrush, toothpaste. They all make a difference to your flight. At the airport you can buy (if you don’t get one on the flight) in the toilets a small toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s well worth the $2 investment. Most airplane toilets have hand moisturizer in them – use it. At least after a long haul flight you can walk off the plane feeling a little refreshed.

tooth

 

What essentials do you take on your long haul flights?