Thursday, January 21, 1999

Canary Island Road trip and Beaches


Taking a winter vacation to get away from the cold weather has become something of a habit for us. When we were in the United States it often was to the Phoenix Arizona area because it was warm, and also because my parents spent their winters there and we could often freeload off them for a while. But since we are in Europe now and Arizona is a long way away we decided this year we would try the tropical desert archipelago of the Canary Islands.  There is hiking (as in mountains), beaches, and there is suppose to be good scuba diving. Oh and it a cheap trip if you are already on the right continent.
The canary Islands are about 90 miles of the coast of Moroco (That’s Africa) and are considered a part of Spain. The climate is beautiful in the winter and a too hot desert in the summer. A short flight from Amsterdam and a car rental to get us to our hotel and were are ready see some sights.

From Canary Islands Hotel and Beach and Road trip
There is a long board walk down the beach.  Along the boardwalk is hundreds of restaurants where you could get a very good meal and a couple of drinks for two for under 20 dollars. Oh and don’t forget all the tourist things and shopping as well. ( Ask Margaret about her big diamond). In the week we were here I can’t count the number of time we were up and down this several mile long boardwalk.

From Canary Islands Hotel and Beach and Road trip
 If you look at the terrain map of Tenerife which is the biggest of Canary Islands chain. You can see that it is essential a dormant volcano with a 10,000 for peak in the center of the Island. It was our plan to climb to the top of this volcano, but after we drove up there and saw it considering that we had just done the Masca valley hike the other day (see next post) and almost killed ourselves so we settled for some pictures. Check out the erie moon like terain a the top of the Volcano
One of the other things I had planned while here was to re-test for my Scuba certification. I had an old certification from the YMCA that most of the Dive Shops questioned so I figured I’d get a PADI certification which was universal. So I spent several hours retaking the test and doing checkout dives with a team here which I passed with no problems. While I was unable to get pictures of any of the dive sites I was able to dive an old wrecked ship full of stingrays and barracuda’s  as well as a fantastic dive called the grotto where thousands of iridescent blue fish and a natural underwater amphitheater made for spectacular scenery.
From Canary Islands Hotel and Beach and Road trip

Wednesday, January 20, 1999

Egypt

In January of 1999 while living in Europe we decided that if we were ever to see the Great Pyramids of Egypt this was the time to do it. We booked a tour through a travel agent in Holland that had a group going to Egypt for 3 weeks. The trip involved several days in Cairo to see the Pyramids. Then a 4 day trip in a river boat down the Nile river to the Valley of the Kings and Luxor from there taking a bus across the desert to the Red Sea for a week on the coast and diving.

The trip didn't start so well. There was a heavy fog in Amsterdam and the charter plane from Egypt could not land. So it was decided that the plane would land in Brussels about 100 miles away and we would be bused to the Brussels airport and leave from there.

While the flight to Cairo from Brussels isn't that far only4 or 5 hours by the time we took the bus and got off the ground it was 9 or 10 the next morning by the time we landed in Cairo. The hotel we stayed at was in the Diplomatic section of Cairo and was probably a 3 star hotel. Not too nice but not the worst place in the world considering where we were at. The next day we would get to see the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Today we would have to be satisfied with a museum and a little shopping in the Bazaars



From Egypt


Since we were with a Dutch tour group we had a young guide that told us all about everything we were seeing. Unfortunately he told us in Dutch!

Cairo is an amazing place. over 10 million people living in a few miles of land surrounding the Nile river. Very crowded, very dirty (It almost never rains here so nothing ever get cleaned)

From Egypt

From the middle of the city you can see the Great Pyramids off in the distance on the plateau.

From Egypt

You can see all the TV programs and pictures of the Pyramids, but until you stand there on the Giza plateau and see them for yourself you cannot appreciate how awe inspiring and what a tremendous feat it was to build these things 1000's of years ago.From a couple of miles away they are beautiful

From Egypt

From up close you can truly appreciate how large they are and the size of each individual stone in the massive buildings

From Egypt
While in Egypt you have to be careful because of the many beggars that are looking for money. Often times you will be charged to take a picture if you are not careful and allow yourself to be taken in by one of the locals who do their best to separate you from your cash. This picture cost me a couple Egyptian pounds (about $.30)

From Egypt
While this Picture was free. The owner thought I was going to pay him for a camel ride after the picture.

From Egypt
We took to calling them skinners because they wouldn't leave you alone and it sometimes felt like they were skinning you.

From Cairo we boarded a plane that would take us south to our boat which was a floating hotel that would be our home for 4 days as we traveled down the Nile from the Aswan Dam to the Valley of the Kings and Luxor.

The boat turns out to be the way to travel in Egypt the scenery along the Nile is fantastic and we had our own stateroom (Small but comfortable) and we were fed extravagant feasts every evening. We even had a Hot Tub on the boat's top deck to view the river from
.

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After 4 days on the River We docked in Luxor where we stayed in a not so nice hotel right on the river. From there we visited all the local tombs and temples as well as the Valley of the Kings.

After a couple of days here we all boarded a tour bus early in the morning and meet with several other tour buses where we joined a military convey with an armed escort to make the 6 hour crossing of the desert. Where we would be spending a week at the Red Sea Diving and relaxing.

You see it was only a moth or two ago that the terrorists had killed 50 tourists in one of the tombs we had just visited and the local authorities were still a bit worried. While this terrorist event had caused the authorities to have stationed armed guards at many of the tourist attractions we really never had a problem. In fact it even helped because there were so few people we had our run of the normally crowded sites.

Masca Valley Hike




If you are looking for a hike in Tenerief there are many, but one of the most popular is the Masca Valley it is about a 40 mile drive from the main airport on Tenerief. It is talked about in many of the local tourist brochures and can be found on the internet. We did our research and figured out that this was about a 5 mile hike one way to the bottom of a large valley that leads to the ocean from the top of the very high mountains surrounding the sea there. So we would have to walk 5 miles down hill first then back up the hill on the way out for a total of 10 miles round trip with the hard part last. This is backwards from a mountain where the hard part is firsts and the easy part is last.
The road to the Masca valley has 40 miles of the most winding narrow roads you have seen anywhere on the planet with some areas of exposure to cliff sides where the next stop in the car if 2000 feet below in the ocean should you miss the turn.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
After a nerve racking road trip to the Village of Masca we found a parking spot along the highway and loaded our stuff for our trip into the village and the ultimate trip to the ocean down through the valley. The village is small and quit a tourist attraction since the village itself is a fantastically beautiful setting located at the top of the valley. It is almost a window into the past and looks ancient setting among the strange tropical desert vegetation of the valley.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
To the hike: we find our way down through the village an manage to find a sign that points the way to the trail. As we get on the trail we find that there are many people (20-30) from a tour that are descending into the valley along with us.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
As we make our way down into the valley the surrounding vegetation looks almost prehistoric
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
After an hour or so of hiking the easy trial down the upper segment of the valley gives way to boulder hopping and wading through a small river we started to follow.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
As we wind our way through the deepest part of the valley the side walls reach thousands of feet overhead and we can only occasionally see the sky as we close in on the beach.
At last after 5 miles of a rough scramble of boulders and cliffs the beach!
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
But wait there is a boat waiting to pick up the tour group! Who forgot to tell us that you could ride back to the top! After trekking with the group all the way to the bottom and the hardest part is yet to come they are going to bail and ride back! Not fair!
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
So we sat and had lunch and watched the tour group load themselves onto the boat with tears in our eyes. We now have to climb the 5 miles back out! I sure am looking forward to the beer(s) on the veranda at the end of this hike!
I knew getting out was going to be tough but, it is proving to be tougher that I though.
From Canary Islands Masca Valley
At last we are out, and headed towards the veranda for that beer, but wait! We are exhausted can hardly walk anymore and we have that 40 miles of bad roads back to our hotel! Maybe two lemonades are in order instead of the beer I have dreamed about for the last five very uphill miles!
From Canary Islands Masca Valley

From Canary Islands Masca Valley
On the way out of the village we ran across a street vendor selling watercolor paintings of the village and we purchased a hand painted water color of the valley that almost identically matches some of the photos we took. How cool is that!

Tuesday, January 19, 1999

Red Sea


Our six hour bus trip from Luxor across the barren deserts of Egypt was uneventful. Not one shot was fired by the armed escorts. we didn't even see any signs of life much less terrorists. We rolled in to Hurghada on the coast of the Red Sea late in the afternoon.

We were staying at a beautiful Marriott hotel that had its own barbed wire enclosed compound. Inside the compound was "5 Star" outside the compound was definitely "third world". This was our home for the next 5 days. Our room was very large almost a suite, with a view overlooking the Red Sea and the many cruise ships that ran up and down the coast day and night

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The next day we wandered around the hotel for the day and I checked out the scuba diving program. Because of my YMCA certification the wanted me to do a check out dive in the pool which I did and passed with flying colors. I'll have to get a more recognized certification some day. (see Canary Islands re-test) The next day we were on for a series of dives on several reefs and lunch in the dive boat.

We were out on the pier early ready to take off. All we need was our cameras and our personal things. Everything else was supplied on the boat. It would be a a couple of hours cruise on the boat to the 1st dive spot then lunch on and island then another dive at another location.

The first thing you will notice when you get on the Red Sea is that outside of very narrow corridors of population in a few cities there is nothing. As far as you can see there is beautiful turquoise green waters and white sand devoid of anything, but a few boats cruising the Sea.

From Red Sea

After arriving at the 1st dive location we suited up and over we went for about a 40 minute dive at 30-50 feet deep. While we were diving the people still on the boat were enjoying the wind and water and had a party and played music

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After everyone was back aboard the boat we were off for a short ride to an island that was a popular spot for boats, divers and tourists to lunch and play on the beach. we had a catered lunch there and spent a couple of hour relaxing and swimming before heading to the next dive site

From Red Sea


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One of the most memorable events of the week on the Red Sea was a day we decided to walk to the center of town from our hotel compound. It appeared to be a couple of miles on the map and it was a beautiful day so we set out along the beach road. Most of the road to town was occupied by hotel compounds similar to ours. However as we got closer to town it became obvious that this was indeed still part of Africa and other than the hotels and diving Hurghada was really a backwater.

We walked to the center of town where there was located a duty free shopping center that catered to the tourist industry. As always when walking in Egypt if you are a foreigner you will get bothered for money by the "skinners" and here was no exception. After shopping it was getting late and dark so we opted to take a cab back the 3 or so miles to the hotel compound.

Cabs in a third world country can be interesting. The one we managed to flag down was falling apart, and the doors were wired shut. There also seems to be this strange custom on country road in Egypt to shut off the head lights when driving. They seemed to think that they were saving electricity or something. But they would only turn the lights back on when they were about to pass an oncoming car. The ride back in the dark going to fast with no lights in a falling down cab proved to be "Interesting". We did however made it back safely to our compound.

Other than the diving we lounged by the pool had great meals and relaxed.

Tenerife Day Hike


The plan today is to take a couple of mile day hike up the old aqueduct trail where most of Tenerife got it water supply for years. It's only a couple of miles from our hotel and we should be able to get in and out in a couple of hours. The views are suppose to be good too. The drive to the trailhead takes us through some of the older local communities of Tenerife.

From Canary Islands Day Hike
At the trail head there is a few people ahead of us and it's still early. Many of the people are tourist like us here for a vacation and are out hiking and looking at the sights. Right near the entrance to the trail is a nice restaurant where I'm sure we will spend some Spanish currency for a couple of "cervezas" (that beer to you non Spanish speakers)on the way back.




From Canary Islands Day Hike
The trail climbs at a leisurely pace alongside the old aquaduct crossing back and forth for a few miles up the valley towards the top.

From Canary Islands Day Hike
Nearing the top but still inside the deep valley you can see the old pools where they collected the water to feed the city below

From Canary Islands Day Hike
The top of the trail leads deep into and old dark almost cave where water runs out of the mountainside into a small pool that is collected as it works its way down the mountain.

From Canary Islands Day Hike
After a snack and drink and some pictures of the water source. We make out way back to the restaurant for those cervezas, before heading back to the hotel.

From Canary Islands Day Hike

Friday, January 1, 1999

Millennium Celebration

Now I haven't been to all the cities in the world but I have been to a few and In my humble opinion Amsterdam is the coolest city in the world. So while we lived in the Netherlands we spent a lot of time in Amsterdam. The sidewalk cafes, museums, and canals are just a few or the things that make it such and interesting place.
From Amsterdam 2000

From Amsterdam 2000

However the most special thing about Amsterdam is the people and the attitude they have towards life. It seems that people in the Netherlands don't moralize or force their viewpoint on other people it is pretty much a live and let live place. So if you had to pick a city to celebrate the millennium New Years eve of 2000 in Amsterdam was my pick for the place to celebrate.

We made reservations at the downtown Marriott hotel for 2 nights just a few blocks from Dam Square the center of Amsterdam. The Millennium Celebration here was to included bands, beer tents and a carnival along with thousands of people.

If you recall the concern over the year 2000 many thought that because of the problem with the date change in the computers infrastructure was going to fall apart and we would be potentially without water, electricity or other important services. So when we checked in the hotel gave us a letter asking us to fill the bathtub with water in case water pressure failed at midnight so we would have a water supply. As well they provided a flashlight and other survival components in case the worst happened

The view form our hotel balcony looking towards Dam Square

From Amsterdam 2000
New Years Eve 1999 early afternoon we filled the bathtub with water stored our survival supplies in case of disaster and headed out to explore Amsterdam on the eve of the Millennium. Our first stop was a couple of cocktails in the local bar. (We were starting early)

From Amsterdam 2000

From there we wandered the streets. The fire works were already intense even before sunset . They were setting of firecrackers and rockets by the thousands every where and the revelers were crowding out into the streets.

From Amsterdam 2000


The bands were cranking up in Dam Square carnival area

From Amsterdam 2000


From Amsterdam 2000

By 10:00 everyone was shoulder to shoulder in the Dam Square area with many people drinking from special two foot tall Heineken bottles sold specially for the Millennium Celebration. (Not to mention the spillover from the infamous coffee shops on to the streets)

After the countdown to midnight we headed back to our hotel room for a special celebration with a glass of Baily's (no disaster other than a few passed out people on the street)

From Amsterdam 2000
The next morning the litter on the street from all the fireworks and drinking containers was most impressive. It will take the city workers some time to clean the mess.

From Amsterdam 2000


From Amsterdam 2000

It will undoubtedly be the most remember New Years eve in my lifetime