Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

ride like an egyptian

If great guy could be in the water every day, all day, that’s where he'd be. So, our holiday on the Red Sea was perfect for him. He was in the water, learning to kiteboard, while I did yoga, wrote and read. Or he was snorkeling in the water, with me, while dolphins watched. But, once in a while, when the kites lay down to nap or the boat returned to dock he had to pull himself out of the water.


One of our first evenings in the small, seaside Egyptian town of El Gouna, we hailed a tuk tuk (or tak tak depending on the company) and rumbled into town. The tuk tuk is a creative mixture between a motorbike and hansom cab; with ten horses instead of one, a heck of a lot of noise and no doors. Tuk tuks are about as quiet as a Harley convention; which is great if you're trying to find one, but difficult if you want to have a romantic conversation on your way back from dinner…or any conversation at all. With a hint of indifference, the tuk tuk dismisses traffic signals, flashing its lights to notify other vehicles it's coming. It fills each space in traffic by 'stepping' on the gas; like an eagle swooping in at full speed only to ply on the brakes the second it hits its target - riding in a tuk tuk is almost like that. But safer. It reminded me of Mexican taxis, where a stop sign or red light is just a vague idea; more like sidewalk deco; except like I said, without doors.


Great guy says he just likes the ‘cabrio feeling’of tuk tuks. What I loved the most, racing down the sandy streets, clouds of dust and the acrid smell of gasoline trailing behind us; aside from reaching our destination in break-neck, stop-and-go speed, was the anticipation of which tuk tuk we would end up with. Many tuk-tukkers ‘dress-up’ their little no-door taxis in pop-art themes or bright colour schemes. Speedy Gonzalez (literally) could be zooming up to you, or Warhol’s Marilyn or a metre by metre-sized red and blue spiderweb. Like people the world over, these 15-year-old-looking, tuk tuk drivers make the most of what they have, want to express themselves with what they’ve got, and take control of what they can. Copyright doesn’t seem to be an issue.


While not quite as fast as the tuk tuk, the camel has been providing reliable transportation for Egyptians since, well, the beginning of Egypt. Without the sickening gas fumes, but just as bump-y, the camel excels in endurance tests and wins all reliability awards. Only in design is the camel, well, old fashioned.


The camels I met, albeit briefly, walking along the beach or through town, didn’t seem that interested in human interaction. Where a camel varies greatly, from say, a puppy who just wants to please you, it is more cat-like in the air of sophistication it exudes. While being anything but pretty, the camel saunters with regal-ness or importance which I don’t think it’s entitled to. Like someone deigning themselves to give you their time, only for the briefest of moments, they are actually far too busy doing…well, nothing. The camels we saw were beautifully costumed in draping fabrics and bright colours; adorned from head to hump in shiny baubles and tassles. Like a faux royal maybe or Elton John. I mean, Sir Elton John. 


By far our favourite mode of transport, wherever we are, is the boat. All shapes and sizes, of horsepower or console, we are not picky. This afternoon, I asked great guy why he loves boats so much, expecting an answer along the lines of ‘open sky’, ‘free feeling’, etc. All he said was, like duh, ‘weil sie schwimme’ (because they swim). Of course.

Along the shores of El Gouna, we puttered among the lagoons in an overcrowded, wooden boat; with paint flakes falling gently into the water below and the fifteen hp engine giving its all. Great guy and I quickly found the perfect spot on board, after being told we could sit out on the front of the bow if we wanted to. So, feeling like the majestic figureheads we no doubt looked like, we enjoyed our uninterrupted view; akin to riding the open prairies in the back of a Chevy half-ton - minus the beer and police - regulations be damned! Here in Egypt they seem to be mere suggestions anyways, if they exist at all.

El Gouna City Bus


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Saturday, January 11, 2014

under the sea

Snorkeling Day 1: As the sea water enveloped me, I took a few panicked breaths, then did as great guy said and lowered my be-goggled head into the water. I opened my eyes and saw a whole new world in all the shades of Martha Stewart's paint line; bay leaf and sultana greens, sea glass and araucana teal, ballet slipper pink, persimmon red, cornbread and heath.

Wikipedia Commons
Floating, or more a feeling like flying, we moved our flippered feet softly forwards and backwards, over Red Sea coral reefs more than 6000 years old. It is a frenzy of peaceful activity 'down there'; a silent hive, like New York on mute, with as many citizens per square foot. Architectural wonders like wrecking ball-sized brain coral, tall skyscraper-like pillar corals, huge discus-shaped apartments three or four storeys high of mushroom coral, and garden-like lettuce coral. Not to be missed, the yellow fish, the most common fish in the Red Sea, sped to and fro reminding me of those other common yellow speedsters, but without the honking.

Wikipedia Commons
Schools of zippy zebra fish heading to school; pairs of lovey racoon butterfly fish out for an afternoon date; gangs of plum-sized, jellyfish floating through us - like being attacked by bubbles; scattered needlefish, thin and long, meeting up like seniors on a street corner to discuss the weather; the eccentric town recluse, a pufferfish, hiding from us, but not really; and a lone devil firefish, the government bully everyone steers clear of for good reason, they hurt (in this case more the actions than the words).

Wikipedia Commons
I must admit I did feel a bit like Ariel, all flippered and floating among the sea creatures. I even saw an anemone fish - Nemo's cousin (oh wrong movie). I couldn't help but hum a few bars of "under the sea, under the sea, darling it's better down where it's wetter, take it from me. La lala la...".

Wikipedia Commons
In between these fringing reefs are wide open sandy spaces, a stark contrast like a central park oasis amidst blocks of high-rise activity. The pocked surface is marked only with soft tracks looking like the moon rover had been by. As we pushed our way against the current to get a closer look I noticed a familiar outline in the sand. All of a sudden I was swimming through a National Geographic documentary. I tapped, more like grabbed hold of great guy's leg and pointed downwards as the shovelnosed ray came to life. It shook the sand from it's sail-like wings and glided away, a mere two metres away from us.

Shovelnosed Ray - Wikipedia Commons
Snorkeling Day 2: We anchored at Sha'ab Abu Nuhas, south of the Sinai Mountains at a place also called the "wreck graveyard". Four ships have sunk here, lying dormant in a neat row along the kilometres of reef here. It is a diver's paradise and home to a large variety of marine life who have moved into these 'new' digs.

Carnatic (1869) - Wikipedia Commons
I wasn't prepared for the wave (no pun intended) of sadness that gripped me as I put my head into the water and saw the first behemoth corpse of a ship lying disfigured on its side just three metres below me. It scared me and I fought to be brave and take in this incredible sight. While great guy happy-go-luckily dove and touched, dove and touched.

Ghiannis D (1983) - Wikipedia Commons
The oldest of the wrecks sunk here in 1869 with a load of gold and cotton headed from England to India. Most of the gold was recovered in the weeks afterwards, but 8000 British Pounds still remain a deep sea treasure to be found. Great guy's ears perked right up at that news!

Wikipedia Commons
My favourite of the wrecks, if I had to pick one, would be the "Wreck of the Lentils" - only for it's great name. But if you're needing some free tiles you might want to dive by the "Wreck of the Tiles" which sunk in 1978 carrying an entire load which still lie on board and unclaimed.

As our trip winds to an end, I'm already excited to get home, get my hands on some MS paint swatches, and get to work making some interior design changes. I want to surround myself with all of the soft colours I saw in the reefs...maybe not all in one room. We'll see how great guy handles the changes.

Wikipedia Commons
Footnote: After returning from our first snorkeling trip I checked into the location of Moses' Red Sea crossing. I was quite disappointed to learn that it was far north of our location. But I did feel a spiritual connection as I floated above the fishies...they must have just been kindred spirits.
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

person of 2013

Two days late in announcing my 2013 person of the year.  
As I have been sitting reading Time's last issue of 2013, I have been thinking about who I would nominate for Person of the Year if Time would ask my opinion for their cover boy or girl. 
Of course, Pope Francis is a super choice. The more I read about the humble example he's setting, his values; challenging the 'haves' about their priorities, and choosing to hang out with the 'havenots', I'm impressed by an example not unfamiliar to anyone who has read the Good Book. 
I decided though, to reflect on someone closer to home - not literally in my current case - but someone who I know. It's actually a difficult decision. Either I know too many brilliant, inspiring, creative, hard-working people...or too few. I personally think it's the former. Not to name drop (I won't be naming any names anyways) but I actually know some pretty cool people, friends who I could actually call and not just 'like' on Facebook, who I truly respect and look up to.  
For example: Courageous former refugees working their tails off to survive in a new country and those who are encouraging them; a Canadian best-selling recording artist (is it platinum now, Kim?) who takes none of the money for herself; nurses nursing new babies and the broken-hearted; a 'soon-to-be' theologian (in my opinion) who thinks and challenges first herself and then the rest of us; a truly interesting folky, radio host who is the picture of perseverance while smiling; the stressed-out, tired but incredibly diligent dads who keep going...to bring home the bacon, or deer sausages; and the amazing parents to toddlets, twins and teens, who manage to do 18 things with only 2 hands all the while raising really nice kiddies. By trying to better the world with more peacemakers, healthier bodies, deeper souls, and less fracking, you inspire me to make more out of my life. 
So, ironically my choice for 2013's Person of the Year is a fighter. A daughter, a sister, a friend, a wife, a mother and a powerhouse. In a body as lean and agile as a gazelle, I think I can safely say that anyone who saw her this past year stands in awe of her. I won't name her only because I know her well enough to know that what she did she did for the sole purpose of surviving and not for attention.   
This devoted mom of four young adults started 2013 sick, really really sick. I haven't talked to her about this and so I won't disrespect her by assuming to know how she felt. I will only write about what I know. I know that throughout a good chunk of the year she was undergoing chemotherapy, that she was recovering from multiple surgeries, that she tried to wear positivity like a comforting blanket which I think her mother passed down to her, that she had the unwavering support of her family, and that she did it all while riding a bike. 
She rode hundreds (surely thousands) more miles on her bike than I did, and "is in better shape while undergoing chemo than me, a perfectly healthy, much younger person" her sister wrote me.  
There is a lot we all know about the power of positive-thinking, prayer, being active, eating healthy, blah, blah, blah. All super important and valid. But, what I think is so inspiring about my person of the year is that she actually did these things. She charged ahead at full speed, wearing lycra and a helmet, up mountains of courage and pereverance, through valleys of fear and feeling crappy, and across foothills of strength and life-embracing zeal. Everyone wants to live, and I have no doubt that everyone handles an illness the best way they can, but this wonder woman, and I have known her since I was six years old, is a charger, a tackler, not in an agressive rugby-playing way (that's her sister), but in a 'let's just do it' way.  
She set her sights on marrying "a rock and just an amazing partner... a great man", as her sister accurately descibed him last spring; she recognized a beautiful piece of land, perfect for a perfect home and set off to build it with her own two hands (plus a couple of others); she home-schooled her four children who have actually all gone on to university (my children would end up penniless wrecks); and a host of other awe-inspiring, and frustratingly-perfect-for-us-normal-folks examples. 
Like a bull in a china shop, but with grace, birkenstocks and a gentle spirit she charged through this most difficult year, and as a far-off bystander, I have been encouraged, inspired, even though the roles should be reversed. She has bigger things to think about than being a role model. 
No one of us knows how long we are here for, another five minutes or 50 years. As someone who has watched her mother and a dear friend lose their battle to breast cancer within the past six years , I have spent more than a few minutes thinking about how to prevent my brother from having to endure another female death in his family. I won't lie; it scares me. 
What I do know is that getting cancer seems like a big crapshoot...some get hit, others not, whether you're an eco, all-natural, ever-positive, happy person or an athlete or a smoker or not. Nobody can predict who will and who won't, it's like being in a car accident. Just yesterday I saw two crotchety old people, who looked about 95, both smoking away, looking for the beach. They will probably live a whole lot longer...although maybe they were only 50.  
It really seems like a battle, a war. Family needs to rally, gathering supplies and energy and the fighter needs to prepare (somehow) mentally to pick up the sword of courage and charge. Whether with a bicycle or a research project to improve the environment, or scrapbooks for the kids, or showering loved ones with gifts of laughter and shoes, I hope that if or when such a time comes I will be ready to fight the battle with the courage and grace that I have as examples before me.  
This person of the year has faced cancer, not floating down the river which is flowing close to me as I write this on a beach in Egypt, but charging through it like a bull in a china shop. And, she makes me want to charge my healthy 'ol self through life more. Not that I'm doing that yet; like so many things I know are good for me, I don't do them. That is why I tip my hat to her...she did and is doing the things that are good for her. She is praying, loving, laughing, riding. She is my great example to not just stroll through life complacently...but to pedal.
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