Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Kenya the Beautiful

PLEASE NOTE: Because of the vastness of this country and the time we spent exploring I highly suggest clicking onto my "One the Road Again" images link (upper right side of the blog) in shutterfly to view the hundreds of photos to enhance the following read.

The Amboseli National Park with a spectacular view of Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania in the back ground
While in Greece I had booked a Kenya safari with the company F King Safaris and up until a week before our arrival into Nairobi the communication between us was excellent and Farid, the owner of the company assured me everything was taken care of. My last email to him requested he set up a hotel for us in Nairobi and have someone meet us at the airport to drive us to the hotel considering our flight landed at four in the morning. The last two requests went unanswered and I voiced my concern with Sharon regarding the silence before we left Cairo. When we arrived into Nairobi International Airport I was hoping someone would be there and that we had a hotel room. We felt if all else fails we would have to figure it out on the fly.

Stepping off the plane we followed the normal directional signs to immigration for visas on arrival, laid down the fifty US dollars, and proceeded to baggage still carrying the feeling of uncertainty about getting to a hotel or even a safari. Within a few minutes our bags arrived and there stood two young men with a sign bearing our name. We had no idea the Swahili word Nairobi means “cold”. Our naivety caught us off guard as we walked out of the airport into the cold rainy early dawn towards the car.

The Boulevard Hotel was an older design hotel but nice though I became concerned because once again our hotel had an armed guard and gates at the entrance. The difference in Nairobi verses Cairo was it was safe to walk anywhere during the daytime but everyone warned us we shouldn’t wonder around the city at night.
While checking into the hotel, our driver handed me his cell phone because his boss Farid wanted to make sure everything was satisfactory and made an appointment to meet with me to finalize the safari and collect payment. After settling in our room, we had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Returning to our room we fell back to sleep catching up on the loss of sleep traveling all night from Cairo.

Sharon jumping it up with the Masai
Midday we awoke and made use of the internet to catch up on correspondence, watching the news, doing some laundry and most importantly to coordinate picking up my replacement credit cards at the FEDEX office where my bank had them sent and held for pickup . Both of us were quite content on arriving to Kenya. We noticed a big change in the people of Kenya verses where we just came from. Everyone smiled and was extremely friendly plus you could drink alcohol openly without the feeling of being scrutinized. A sense of relaxation was a welcoming feeling.

The next day we visited the National Museum around the corner from our hotel. This was a nicely laid out collection of tribal artifacts and stuffed examples of the game we were to expect to see on our safari. After touring the museum we had a very nice lunch at the café, afterwards we visited the snake and reptile exhibit set up in a zoo like design. All in all it was a fun interesting place to visit.

My FEDEX package hadn’t arrived yet into Nairobi so the next day we arranged for a driver to take us on a tour of the National Wildlife Refuge, a huge untouched mass of land brderng the airport. Here you can drive around in passenger cars to see giraffes, gazelles, zebras, wildebeests and many other animals and birds in their natural setting. It was like a mini introduction to our upcoming safari.  In the afternoon I researched online a place called “Hell’s Gate Park”. There you can rent mountain bikes and ride through the bush lands and take a hike into a canyon. This sounded just like what we needed so went down stairs to the lobby and arranged transportation to this park that was almost two hours out of Nairobi. Early the next day we took off to Hells Gate. The drive was interesting leaving Nairobi but the countryside of Kenya began to unfold as the miles past. The high mountain passes gave way to long views into the Rift Valley, a fertile sink spanning hundreds of miles.

We stopped at a small lodge and met a young man named Offin, that was going to be our guide. At first we refused this offer because we just wanted to ride but both our driver and the guide insisted we use the service. OK…..but reluctantly we agreed and were presented with our roughly maintained and modified mountain bikes. These are the type of bikes one would take to Burningman and not caring if they returned with you. We mounted our bikes and followed our guide onto the tarmac main road for about 6 kilometers and turned onto the dirt road leading up to the park.  Riding up to the park guardhouse we dismounted and figured out all the fees, got the tickets, hopped back on our bikes and began our bike trek through the mountainous grasslands. The nice part of this trip is we were out in the middle of nature with hardly anyone around, just us and the hundreds of zebras, gazelles and water buffaloes. With bikes you could ride up within 20 feet and closely observe the animals. We stopped at two large pinnacles, sat down as Offin explained in detail the sexual secrets of the Masi tribe. It was very painful at times to listen to the practices of these people. I’ll spare you the details of this conversation but if you are interested, ask Sharon.

We road for about 15 kilometers to a ranger station, left our bikes, then hiked through a gorge for a couple kilometers. The steep shear rock walls of the gorge reminded us of many canyons in Arizona but this one had steaming hot water cascading from a few fishers in the walls. The nice part about the hike was it wasn’t a weak nature walk because parts of this hike were a bit challenging for both of us. After hiking out of the canyon, we mounted our bikes but I discovered my rear tire lost half its air. Of course our guide didn’t have a pump let alone a repair kit. Offin switched bikes with me because he was much lighter than I and could ride the half inflated tire better than me. Within 20 minutes the tire was mostly flat and we still had quite away to go but he persevered and got to the ranger station where they had a pump. Inflated the tire and we road off towards the lodge. Once we got to the tarmac we stopped at a village and he had the tube replaced while Sharon shopped. I stood and observed the workings of the villagers. Kenyan merchants are a collection of entrepreneurial shops attached to each other forming long strip malls. The villages comprise of many small shops of crudely built plywood plastic and galvanized sheet steel all painted brightly with very clever names emblazoned on them. 

Returning to the lodge we gave back the bicycles, talked with our interesting guide for quite awhile, and then woke up our driver and got back to our hotel after eight that evening.

When we walked into our room I immediately checked our email hoping I would have news from FEDEX. I only had one more day before we were scheduled to leave Nairobi for safari and I wasn’t expected back to Nairobi for two weeks. Time was getting tight, the clock was ticking, and if we didn’t get the package getting money would be a very awkward process. I logged onto to the FEDEX site and bingo, my package arrived but was sent out on deliver while we were gone. The shipping instructions were clear “Hold for Pickup”. The last notation on the tracking matrix said they tried to deliver but the address was unclear and the package was waiting at the FEDEX agency’s office. Well at least the package was in Nairobi but let’s hope it was at the office because tomorrow was my last day in Nairobi.

The next morning I anxiously got out of bed and placed a call to the local FEDEX office.  FEDEX licenses their services through local agencies so calling them isn’t quite the same as in the states. On the internet there were horror stories about lost or delayed delivers in Kenya. I couldn’t get through to find out if they held the package and to confirm the address. Sharon and I left the hotel after breakfast and took a twenty-five dollar taxi ride out near the airport. Fortunately the building had the all-familiar red, white and blue graphics reading FEDEX.  Our driver pulled into the parking lot and I held my breath with hope of a package waiting addressed to me. The receptionist was busy with a couple others so I waited somewhat patiently until she recognized me and I introduced myself at the same time she reached to the side of her desk a presented the package. Hallelujah, to the end of this uncomfortable saga. At this point I must thank Matt and Ricci at National Bank of Arizona for transferring funds into Sharon’s account for temporary relief and getting my replacement cards to the other side of the world exactly on time.  

The same evening two representatives from F King’s Safaris came to our hotel to collect payment for the five-day safari in cash. I was a little apprehensive because the company owner originally requested payment in US Dollars to which I refused to do. I replied that VISA or Kenya Schillings, the local currency, could be the payment. He rescinded his original request and said local currency would be best.
Of the two gentlemen I met with, one was the moneyman and the other was introduced as Ali, our driver and guide. After the money was counted twice and a receipt was written, Ali said to be ready at the hotel by 7AM. I assured him we would be ready and excitedly went back up to our room to begin packing for the next morning. Things were coming together finally and that night I slept very soundly.

I came down stairs with our bags, paid our bill at the front -desk, and said our goodbyes to the staff of the Boulevard Hotel at breakfast. These people were so gentle, engaging, and friendly it was sad to leave. We left the restaurant waited under the entrance awning for Ali while the rain came down steadily. We took the rain as a good sign and within minutes our four- wheel drive Nissan safari van pulled up, Ali loaded our bags and off we went for our five-day expedition. Since I arranged for a private safari the van provided us a lot of space to stretch out. This was better than I imagined. As he navigated his way through the chaotic Nairobi traffic, Ali explained his 15 years experience as a safari guide and assured us that we would see many animals. The rain quickly subsided to clear blue skies as we turned from the highway into the Amboseli National Park and onward to check in and have lunch at the Amboseli Serena Lodge. Sharon and I didn’t know what to expect in the way of a lodge or food but when we arrived to the lodge our concerns were immediately wiped away. This lodge was not only beautiful on the outside but the room was incredible and the lunch seemed to be delivered from heaven. I couldn’t believe it except for the huge smile stretched across Sharon’s face assured me I wasn’t dreaming.

Ali instructed us that after lunch we would relax in our room until 4PM, then come to the lobby and we would go for a game drive for a couple hours. The drive was a beautiful eye opening experience of animal herds roaming in their natural habitats as the sun lowered in the sky and our anticipation of dinner at the lodge that evening.  The dinner served like the lunch was quasi buffet but the quality of this food was superb and with a bottle of South African wine, it was the perfect end to a great first day.

The game drive the next morning began at 6AM and we wound around the endless stretches of high grass and pockets of trees until 8:30AM when we would return, have breakfast and check out of the lodge and proceed to Tsavo West National Park with a stop over at Mzima Springs to view hippopotamus’ and crocodiles before checking into the Kilanguni Serena Lodge and have lunch. Once again we were totally surprised by the design of the lodge, this having a watering hole for the game at night just 50 yards from the open air restaurant. Again the food was delicious but we noticed that only two others were staying at this lodge. Questioning our waiter, he said we were traveling in low season and this resort doesn’t close like many others during off season.  During the rest of our trip we noticed how empty the hotels and restaurants were plus the better pricing made has made this an even better journey.

This time of year in Kenya is normally known for its rainy season but unfortunately Kenya has been experiencing a drought and the rains this time of year most likely won’t happen until the next rainy season in August. So the lack of rain is good for us on our trip but its rather devastating for the farmers in Kenya.

Driving around the parks looking for animals captures a wonderful beauty and if you’ve never done it you should treat yourself to this experience. Among the many animals we saw were, hundreds of elephants, herds of zebras, gazelles, impalas, dic dics, ostriches, wildebeests’, water buffaloes, lions, one leopard, baboons, giraffes, hippos and many others. The only animal we didn’t see was the Rhinoceros. We could have went to an area after the safari to see the Rhino but it wasn’t all that important to us.

One of the most beautiful moments of the trip  was the third morning as we skirted along the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro the usually clouded mountain cleared and our view of the mountain with a strip of clouds midpoint accented with a herd of zebras in the foreground was an image I’ll never forget. Fortunately I captured the moment perfectly on camera.

After Tsavo West National Park we continued our safari to Tsavo East National Park and finally our trip ended on the Indian Ocean coastal city of Mombasa. 

The island city of Mombasa is a crowded smaller metropolis where we first had to stop and meet Mr. Farid of F King Safaris and then we would be dropped off at the arranged hotel for us in the area of Bamburi Beach. Pulling up to the company’s modest office, Mr. Farid greeted as we exited from the van, invited to have a seat across the desk from him and asked how was our safari. Both Sharon and I couldn’t have had a better experience. The expertise of Ali and the beauty of the parks and the lodges made for a perfect experience.

Soon we left and were dropped off at our hotel, The Bamburi Resort. At first we thought it was quaint with it’s thatched roofs and bamboo walls but soon the exotic luster wore off and the endless hiphop sounds from the bar along with the stagnant air had us packing our bags early the next morning. We walked only 100 yards down the road to the Bamburi Beach Hotel, a small change in name but a big difference in property. This hotel served us well with plenty of beach time until we moved onto the island of Lamu.

We arranged the travel to Lamu through the hotels travel department and found that it would be best to take the 35 minute flight and not take the eight to ten hour bus. I was all for that considering the condition of the roads in the area. Since it was still low season, we couldn’t fly from Mombasa to Lamu but had to take an hour and a half drive north to the Malindi airport. The agent booked our flights and a hotel called the Lamu Palace Hotel located right on the water and it had airconditioned rooms. The price was a little high but I had priced some other places and it seemed in line so we finalized the trip within two days we were landing on the island of  Manda and took a boat over to Lamu.

We walked down the steps from our 580 turbo prop plane off the tarmac and onto the grassy walk towards the small terminal under construction to the baggage claim metal rack under a large tree and waited for our bags to arrive via a push cart. Two young men were there to handle our bags and direct us to walk from the terminal on a dirt path to the jetty where our boat was waiting to deliver us across the mile wide waterway to the other jetty on the island of Lamu. Within five minutes we stepped across a couple boats and up upon the landing up a small flight of stairs to mix in with the hectic activity of the port.
Lamu has no cars except for a couple tractors and a half dozen motorbikes everything else is transported by donkey or human power. Our bags stayed on the boat to be delivered further down the sea wall while we were directed to the Lamu Palace Hotel, a colonial building with Moorish arches and a canvas awning extended out from the building used to cover the outside café. This was a great location to watch the busy activity of the town. There are only two main single lane thoroughfares in this town, the one that followed the sea wall and the other narrow walk way cutting through the center of the village.

Mercy, the hotel manager, met us at the main entrance to give us a warm welcome. This woman about my age and half my height was very gracious and accommodating. The hotel was as described only it was in need of a renovation to bring it up to what we would expect for the price of the room per night. Sharon went with Mercy upstairs to inspect the room before we checked in. Returning downstairs she said it was all right but not great. The room was very small and the bathroom even smaller but it had great air conditioning and free WiFi. Considering the temperature at the moment, cool air trumped other shortcomings. Later we went downstairs to the restaurant discovering the food was pretty good and the beer was cold. Taking a quick look around it appeared we were the only guests in this 22 room hotel.

Later in the afternoon, Mercy had arranged a tour of Lamu by a guide named Fahruk. The hour walk about had us winding through tight alley ways, stepping around trash and deep puddles. He told us much of the history centering upon the number of mosques of different ages and the leadership of the times. It was hard not to be put off by the raw garbage mounds scattered around the town. Most of these mounds were used as feeding areas for the donkeys and cats though occasionally I would see children looking through them looking for food or drink.. We returned to the hotel as the sun dropped below the horizon, cleaned up and had dinner that was included in our half board.

Once again traveling during the low season meant a bit more attention from the vendors, other than that it felt I was dropped into a pure culture for my examination. The next day we wanted to take a long walk to another town about 5 kilometers down the sea front. Most of the activity while we walked focused on the building or repairing of boats during low tide. The boats cocked off to one side on the sand gave access to repair holes, reinforce seals or repair rudders. We continued until the boat activity vanished and the clean open area of beach unfolded. At a point where the protected waters separated from the open deep water a large Moorish castle like private home stood alone nestled within the sand dunes. The whole view was dreamlike. The temperature and cool breeze allowed us to pause and take a swim. The calm water was a perfect temperature to float and let your mind drift. After an hour of soaking and sunning we began our walk back except this time we redirected ourselves to walk through the small village of Shela. This village was much cleaner, better maintained and the couple inns we visited were of a much better value. But moving is a hassle and we only had a couple more days before departing so we took the information for the next time we visit or someone else needs info. At one of the inns we decided to have some lunch under a vine-covered patio along side of a garden with a fountain. It was a quite a contrast from the activity in Lamu. After lunch we wound through the walkways of the village and out to the sea front and returned to our hotel.

The night before we arranged with Mercy for a boat excursion to a pricey resort called Manda Bay Resort located on the very tip of Manda Island.  We were told the resort wanted around $1,000.00 USD per night so Sharon and I decided we had best check this place out. We left Lamu the next morning about 10:AM, after the stormy weather passed, with Mercy, our skipper and his mate on board of “One Love”, a native Dhow boat. Because of the winds blowing into our bow the skipper fired up the outboard and made our way through the mangrove forests to Manda. The hour and a half run was smooth and rather uneventful but when the tall peaked roofs of the Manda Bay came into sight the view was quite beautiful. The resort is built upon the sandy beach encapsulated with lush landscaping. Our skipper read the reef line and we glided into the shore while the remaining guests of the resort getting ready to leave this paradise by skiff turned and photographed our native craft. I jumped from the boat, ran a shore and declared this beach in honor of the royal family. The shuttle motored by and the remaining gentleman walked over inquiring about the nature of our business in a friendly engaging manner. I introduced myself, Sharon and the others  saying I was curious about the resort. He introduced himself as Andy, one of the owners of the resort. With a most cordial invite he showed us to the bar and then had a lovely young girl Stephi (19, her family had been coming to the spot for several years and the families had become friends and so her summer job was arranged) take us on a tour of the property.  The cottages were tastefully rustic with all the modern fixtures and space of current resort standards. Most all the furniture was built at the property lending even more charm and comfort. 

After the tour we ended in the dining room and Andy asked us to join them and their staff for lunch.  Stephaney filled us in on the time when lunch would be served and suggested we relax and take a swim in the ocean. I ordered one more Captain Morgan and tonic off to the beach for an hour of floating and paddling in the perfect water then sitting in the shade taking in the view.

Lunch was called out and we all served ourselves from a delicious buffet of fresh green salad, grilled curried fish, and rice. White wine was served to compliment the offerings. The conversation was a lively discussion about world issues, local island problems and the reasons we all love where we live.

The afternoon drifted away and our boat needed to set sail soon before our light disappeared and or the threat of a storm on the horizon would catch us. We all thanked Andy for his generous hospitality and time, boarded our “yacht” to head home to Lamu.

Later Sharon and I walked down the seafront and had a fish dinner at Bush Gardens, a local small restaurant along the main boulevard. Our flight for Nairobi was scheduled to depart at 12:55PM the next day leaving us five more days in Kenya. We didn’t want to spend it in the big city so we decided to hike on Mount Kenya, about 160 kilometers north of Nairobi. Later that evening back at  the Lamu Palace Hotel, we told Mercy of our idea and she said she had a friend that could drive us to the area. We asked about a place to stay and she mentioned the Ark Hotel, which happened to be related to the Lamu Palace. I went upstairs and checked online the cost of the Ark. Being a safari hotel it was a bit pricey plus safari hotels are secured by a perimeter fence not allowing you to freely go hiking. This isn’t what we were after in the way of a place to hang out for four days.

After breakfast the next morning Mercy arranged a shuttle boat to the airport pier. We said our goodbyes at the pier while the porter took our bags to the terminal. We checked in at the gate, checked our two bags, and waited for our plane under the tree outside in the baggage claim area. About a quarter after twelve the plane landed and unloaded its passengers and bags. Once everything was through the gate, it was now our time to board the plane. This type of flying brings back the memories when flying was glorious and fun. The flight was scheduled to leave 12:55 but the door on the flight closed at 12:30 and we were in the air by 12:40. No reason to hang around when everyone of the ticketed passengers were seated. With a short stop over in Malindi, we arrived into Nairobi around 2:30PM with Mercy’s friend Joshua waiting for us as we exited the baggage area. We walked out to a safari van and we immediately had to clarify that neither of us wanted another safari and that we just wanted a ride to the Mount Kenya area to find a hotel. Either Mercy didn’t quite convey our intention to Joshua or Joshua wanted to steer us in another direction. We asked if he could suggest a hotel near the park so we could arrange for hiking on Mount Kenya. Sharon added we didn’t have much money left and didn’t want a resort type place. After having his driver wind through the business district of Nairobi he suggested a place called the Bantu and that the cost of the ride to and from Mount Kenya would be 8000 schillings which is about $900.00 and this would cover the cost of having the van and driver during the three nights and four days. I protested that we didn’t want to have a driver while we were there. We only wanted to be transported to Mount Kenya and then to be taken back to a hotel in Nairobi the day before our flight, nothing else. He cut the cost in half, I paid the fare, and just before 4PM we were on our way to the Bantu Lodge near Mount Kenya. Mike, our driver then began the long journey to the mountain.

The drive to the Bantu Lodge should have taken no more than three and a half hours but Kenya is going through massive road construction projects then couple that issue with Kenyan style driving, so by the time we reached the Bantu Lodge it was close to 8:PM. We pulled up under the overhang of the entry to the hotel. Knowing we didn’t have reservations, I got out first and went to the front desk to see if we could have a room for four nights The quiet cute young lady bundled up behind the reception counter looked thoroughly perplexed when I explained that we wanted to hike Mount Kenya and if we could just hike from here. She asked if we had a driver and I replied that our driver only drove us here, then he will return to Nairobi tonight and pick us up here in three days. That plan totally confused her. The main point I made was do you have a room for this evening. She confirmed that and my second question was is your restaurant serving dinner now? She confirmed that and we agreed our transportation and hiking plans would be discussed later. We sent our driver off, grabbed our bags and walked down to our room bordering the forest.

The room was basic and the restaurant followed suit but the service was sincere and responsive to anything we asked for. As for the Bantu Lodge, it appeared this was a family place geared towards religious retreats or conferences though it advertised itself at its entrance as a base camp to Mount Kenya. The hotel part had about 30 rooms but the property was laid out to accommodate hundreds of campers.

After we settled into our room, Sharon and I walked over to the restaurant that adjoined the main lobby of the building. Dinner was served buffet style with drinks offered by the wait staff. Our waiter, Paul who remained our server throughout our stay was very attentive, personable, and courteous. The food was tasty but nothing to write home about. I did get to try a few times the Kenyan food staple called Ogle, a maize based mash potato type substance that sticks to your ribs.

After dinner we walked to our room and I had to chuckle about the receptionist being bundled up and asking me in my short sleeves if I was cold? The temperature was very cool but not freezing as reflected in her down coat and stocking cap. It was certainly a pleasant change from the hot humid temps we came from earlier in the day. Entering the room we brushed teeth and hit the sack after a long day of travel.

At the reception desk the next morning, a quieter woman named Theresa listened to what we wanted in a hike so we went over all the options and decided to take a two hour nature walk with a guide today and tomorrow we would hike on Mount Kenya with the same guide. After noontime we began our nature walk starting out slow by touring some of the campgrounds but then we walked out into the brush and tall trees that grew along a small river. The walk wasn’t great but it did get us out and learn a bit more about our surrounding. Just before we ended our nature walk I asked our guide Sammy about what would attract elephants if you were in search of  these enormous beasts. “Do you think smearing your entire body with peanut butter would attract an elephant?” I inquired. He totally ignored my question and pointed to a yellow flower on the river bank and said “Dat’s a Blacked Susan”. So I was left with the question of trolling for elephant bait still lingering in my head. At the end we finalized our plan for Mount Kenya. We needed to hire a four-wheel drive vehicle with driver, have our guide, and pay the entry fee into the Mount Kenya National Park.  The time of departure would be 7:30AM.

Up and ready and to breakfast by 7:AM and out the door by 7:30AM we began our trip by driving through a small town and then we turned onto a rough road. Not just a rough road but one of the most challenging four-wheel drive trails I ever ridden or driven on. Our vehicle, a Nissan 4x4 safari van was getting the shit kicked out of it by our driver. On the second stop where Sharon and I got out to lighten the load, I noticed all the tires were bald and the one beneath me had the steel belts severed. Not only did the vehicle have to get us to the Old Moses base camp but it needed to get us off the mountain as well. We got within eye shot of the base camp when the road wouldn’t let the Nissan continue even though the driver smoked the wheels and the clutch trying but it did nothing except kick rocks and slide sideways. I instructed the driver to stop and we would walk the half-mile to our starting point. We threw on our packs and began the hike. I immediately felt the 3200-meter altitude in my head and my lungs. This hike was going to be a very slow pace at best and fortunately our guide who has lead many expeditions to the top made certain our pace never reached more than a very slow walk.

We walked into the courtyard comprising of three roughly constructed buildings laid out in a U shape and met Candy, the manager of the camp. A tall young Kenyan with running tights and windbreaker curiously stood just outside of the entry. Sammy our guide said it was time to begin and we ‘slowly slowly’ began our assent to a lookout point to get a great view of the peak and its twins.  About 15 minutes into the hike the tall curious young man in running attire was running like a gazelle up the mountain. Sammy explained Kenyan marathon runners all train here on the mountain. We continued on with minimal stops for three hours and the final quick push up to the look out before the clouds shielded the peaks. Sammy declared this a rare day where his day hikers could have a clear view of the mountain.  The increase in my pace rapidly brought about some dizziness and pounding of my heart so I had to throttle back my efforts. I made it to the point before the clouds and quickly fired my camera a number of times and had Sammy take a Sharon and Curt photo just before the first set of clouds set in to soften the clarity of the view and drop the temperature by 15 degrees. We rested about 15 minutes, placed a Kate Drew Wilkerson bead for good fortune, like many others we’ve placed in the world, and began out descent back to base camp and the beaten van.

We reached Old Moses and our driver was waiting in the courtyard. After a 10 minute rest we hiked back down to the van, now turned around in the retreating direction, and started the bouncing, sliding, bone jarring descent.  The hour ride back to pavement was as exhausting as the climb itself but both of us felt great for having hiked up in altitude over 3800-meters and were able to have a clear view of the mountain peaks. On the way back Sharon instructed the driver to turn off at a sign for the Trout Tree Restaurant, about 3 kilometers from our hotel. We turned in and drove down the road about 800 meters to the parking area. The restaurant is a Swiss Family Robinson affair with different levels but the dining area is built up into a very large tree. The property has numerous large pools with constant running water where they farm rainbow trout. Obviously they serve trout in a number of ways. The hours of the establishment were 11AM to 4PM being perfect for us to hike from our hotel to the restaurant and back. We told the hostess and others we would be back tomorrow for lunch and then driver dropped us at our hotel.

Once in our room I collapsed but not before taking a hot shower. Then about 8PM we walked to the dining room, ate a bit of food and I quickly returned to our room and passed out. I was beat.

The next morning I awoke with a slight headache, sore muscles, and of all things my butt hurt. I walked gingerly up to the dining hall for breakfast, came back to the room, wrote a little until it was time to hike over to the Trout Tree Restaurant. We dropped the key off at the reception desk, told the receptionist, Beatrice, what our plans were and she asked if we would be OK walking by ourselves. She was concerned about the monkeys (more precisely, the Baboons). I assured her we have things in our deserts just as threatening and we’ll be back by 4:PM. Walking out through the forest we did see some baboons on our 1K walk out to the main road but they behaved themselves.

White people….it is an interesting observation with the native Kenyans that we don’t walk out in bush alone,  walk along remote roadways,  and it was said of us that we are sensitive and ask a lot of questions.  This is just what these sweet caring  people think of us regarding our actions as divulged by a guide.

We walked just off the main paved roadway up to the turnoff to the restaurant. The looks of everyone passing was happily surprised punctuated by the Swahili greeting “Jambo” along with a smile and waving hand.

Soon we reached the restaurant turnoff, down the dirt road, and stepped down the brick stairs to the swinging bridge leading us to our table. The view was fabulous, the food, especially the smoked trout appetizer and the trout chowder. To place the bookend to our grilled trout main entrees, we split a piece of chocolate cake. Thankfully after our early dinner we had a pleasant 3K walk back to the lodge to work off some of our feast.  Once we returned to our room I passed out and didn’t wake up until seven so I worked on my blog and Sharon read when suddenly a knock on the door broke the room’s silence. Opening the door displayed our sadden faced waiter Paul announcing we are late for dinner. Earlier Sharon stopped at the front desk letting them know we would not be taking dinner tonight because of our late large lunch at the Trout Tree. Apparently the message never got to the kitchen. I explained this to Paul. Though he understood I knew his feelings were hurt we didn’t have us to wait on during the dinner hour.

Bedtime came early and our rise from slumber was early as well. After three weeks in Kenya we both are ready for a complete new environment and nothing could be more of a change from Kenya than France. Our driver from Nairobi showed up at 10:45AM, we said our goodbyes to the staff and enjoyed half the three hour drive to Nairobi. The last half of the drive was through construction and the chaotic driving antics of Kenyans. It was a relief to see our hotel at the end of the boulevard.

Tomorrow at this time we will be in Qatar during a five hour layover and by morning we’ll be having coffee and a croissant with our friend Lisa in Paris.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Egypt Myramid

Sharon happy to arrive to the land of a new democracy

Revolution without a solution

Night time arrival to Cairo crossing the Nile River bridge
For three weeks prior to our scheduled flight into Cairo I carefully monitored the news regarding any unrest within Cairo or the country itself. Everyone warned us of what could happen and the high risk factor traveling within a country dominated with so many conflicting factions vying for power and control since the over throw of Hosni Mubarak and his family of thieves.  For this reason I chose to move forward with our plans because I had a hunch of what I might discover to be true. These people need our dollars more than ever. But as a precaution upon our arrival, I booked a hotel in advance near the Great Pyramids in Giza and requested a driver to wait at the airport to avoid any chaos because our flight was scheduled to touch down in the early evening hours.
The "pyramid view" from our room

We boarded the Metro train in Athens, Greece in the afternoon, airport bound, the same train I had my wallet nicked upon arrival back from Crete just days prior, this time with half as many people and my waist pack tucked inside my locked duffel. Replacement debit and credit cards were due to arrive in Nairobi Kenya in a week so the timing of our four days in Egypt I estimated should work out well.

The powerful Mobius Star
We arrived into Cairo around 8:30 PM and waited for the luggage but only half the luggage of the entire plane seemed to arrive while the other half of the passengers including us stood looking at the empty conveyor nonplused.  I couldn’t believe Egyptair would lose half the luggage on a direct flight but...20 minutes later the conveyor began moving again and our luggage finally popped out of the stainless steel chute onto to the belt.  During the wait I tried to see out into the waiting area if anyone was waiting with a sign bearing our name though the distance was far, I thought I saw a person waving at me.

My five minute visit to the Sphinx
With luggage on our backs and in our hands we skirted by security out into the international arrival area and indentified our name among the many placards posted in the hands of others waiting. Our driver introduced himself as Mohammad and we walked into the parking garage together. The airport being quite away from Giza we had plenty of time to exchange personal information about each other along with occasional breaks when the driver directed our attention to a point of interest while he negotiated the hectic traffic. As we drove across the Nile River I saw many cars parked off to the side on the bridge so I requested him to stop for a photo. It was very dark and the image wasn’t clear but I snapped a quick shot of our driver got back into the car and within minutes we arrived to the gates of our hotel compound. I say “compound” because everything other than the general public is under the watch of armed security guards. The guard opened the gates, the doorman collected our bags and we bid farewell to Mohammed but not before setting a time to meet him and his boss downstairs the next morning to discuss a tour of the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and other less important sites which would take up the whole day and the following day. We quickly discovered anywhere we wanted to go or explore had to be with an escort. This made our visit restrictive and confining.
The epic center to the newest democracy

The Grand Pyramid Hotel is a five story 1980’s style boxy L shaped building with a large pool and a couple mediocre restaurants. As for our room, I requested we face the Great Pyramid when I made the reservation. We stepped into our average sized room, threw back the curtains to see the view of the pyramids. The prominent items first catching my eye was the elevated freeway, the second was large concrete apartment cubes and finally the top 25% of the pyramid behind the buildings. Well the hotel didn’t lie it just wasn’t like the view of the Acropolis we had in Athens. After a quick shower, we collapsed into our beds to be refreshed for the next morning’s tour.
Mubarak's burnt out HQ overlooking the Cairo Museum

During our entire stay we had conflicting reports from everyone we met about walking around by ourselves without a guide or a bodyguard. The conversation usually went like this, “Egypt is perfectly safe but don’t leave your hotel by yourselves,” and always our driver’s insistent reminder ”don’t trust anyone.” Ummm….safe but not too safe. To be honest the revolution has put 40% or more of the population out of work and if you happened to be employed you can expect to be paid less than five dollars a day. The economy is a disaster. Tourism, the main source of Egypt’s revenue has dropped off more than 80% leaving the hotel industry in shambles, the tour companies and the vendors who feed off the tours, in total desperation.  Most of the citizen’s attitude reflects a conflict of joy for their freedom but general unhappiness clouds them, which brings about a bit of fear from tourists.

We arrived at the Great Pyramids at 10AM the next morning only to discover we were the only tourists visiting at that time. Can you imagine one of the most important man made wonders in the world having two tourists show up on a beautiful day mid morning? At first one would think this is a great opportunity for us except we were the only possible customers for every trinket salesman, camel ride hawker, horse cart driver, and tour guide in the whole site when there should be thousands of possible customers. HELP!  How many times can we say no or no thank you in one day?  We honestly felt sorry for all these vendors still I developed a callus attitude until we visited the historical mosque on our last day when a young man came up to us after we thwarted all the other sellers of trinkets and he spilled his guts about knowing we didn’t want to buy any of his merchandise but this is the only way he can make a living in this collapsed economy. There are no jobs for any young person yet he still needs to somehow feed himself and help with his family. He went to on explain how once the revolution started it was joyous and wonderful but the daily needs still exist. Though the revolution brought freedom it has chased away all the tourism and when there was once a thousand visitors standing where we were six months ago, only a half dozen now exist making the odds of selling anything slim to none. I bought a change purse of some sort to allow him to eat that day only hoping that some other person does the same tomorrow for this articulate young man with a college degree in business.

When I purchased the series of tickets at the entry gate, one of them was to enter the Grand Pyramid and walk up into the very top chamber of the pyramid. The corridor leading to the top was a small passage mostly constructed as a tight tunnel requiring us to travel on our hands and knees until you reach past the halfway point. If you have the least bit of claustrophobia this passage surely would start to bring on a bit of anxiety and fortunately there was hardly anyone there. I couldn’t image navigating this passageway with hundreds of others. The passage was both up and down and the size wouldn’t allow for passing except maybe a small child. When we reached the top chamber I was surprised to see about six people sitting meditating plus one meditating person lying in a stone body sized sarcophagus with the lid slid half off. The air was stagnant and heavy with a single low wattage bulb providing a sip of light for viewing. Sharon and I sat and began some mediation of our own. I began my breathing bringing my mind to a languid state when suddenly I saw a bright cerulean blue flash. It startled me and as fast as it came it left and never returned. A few minutes later we got up and began our decent back into the bright surroundings of the site and the throngs of vendors.

A candid shot of our happiness leaving Egypt
Before we left Bisbee we were given a Mobius star from John Gallaher to be placed on the west side of the Grand Pyramid. The charm was only the size of a quarter and this request seemed to be an easy one to do but we didn’t plan on being the only tourists walking around the site. Trying to get some time by ourselves to place the Mobius suddenly was a major challenge. First we had to shake the vendors away, then this pyramid was the only structure that was roped off keeping you 20 feet away from its base with guards posted at each of the corners and then our driver saw us leave the entry into the pyramid and decided to follow us in his car requesting we get in so he could drive us to the other sites. We repeated our request many times to leave us alone for a few minutes because we had something to do. Suspiciously he drove off to a meeting point we agreed on during our repartee. We waited on several attempts to allow guides and guards to clear. Our plan needed to be quick. I photographed the Mobius in the hand of Sharon, took the piece in my hand and wondered up to the rope barrier. Sharon was ten yards away with the camera to capture the placement. With me giving the signal, I threw up my hand like I was pointing to the top and threw the Mobius making it to about the third stone level. Not as far as I wanted but far enough out of eye shot to any passerby. No one suspected anything and we continued on our walk up to our impatient driver. He didn’t appreciate us ignoring his direction and finally we succumbed and he finished our tour of the pyramids and drove us to the Sphinx. Driving to the Sphinx was a bit strange because when he pulled into a small parking area next to the site which was less than five minutes from the pyramids, a guard chased us away and he had to park on the small pot holed dirt road, let us out for a photo and told us to return quickly. It was weird but I got my photos and allowed myself a couple minutes more to take in the site before I could see he was anxious to go. 

A few days after we left Cairo we heard a news story about new Egyptian symbols had been discovered on the west side of the Grand Pyramid discovered by a robotic camera.  Was it coincidence or the power of the Mobius Star?

We returned to our hotel and that night we discussed some of our observations between us and with some other visitors from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cairo and Giza are overrun with trash and buildings in total disrepair along with hundreds of unfinished buildings. The disrepair I can somewhat understand because no one can afford to patch or put a coat of paint on anything but the trash strung streets are a matter of community pride. It takes only a little effort to make a difference to bring the standard from total despair to poor especially if so many aren’t working anyway. It doesn’t sound like much but it shows that people care about there surroundings. India’s people make an effort creating such a difference in appearance and health. Egypt has been beaten to a slow death by the previous Mubarak government ignored reinvestment into his people and country. Instead this prick squirreled away billions of dollars in banks and real estate. This is most obvious when visiting the National Museum in Cairo located near Tahrir Square, the revolution epicenter. Outside the building looks inviting but once inside all the national treasures are barely lit if at all, the walls are literally crumbing, glass on the display cases haven’t been cleaned in years, the papyrus paintings are fading to nothing because of the UV light pouring in the clear story windows, and the cases protecting these relics could be compromised without any effort. Considering the importance of this collection, it’s care has been shamefully been ignored the past 30 years of greediness by the Mubarak regime. It’s no wonder the government building next to the museum still bears the charring of the revolution and should remain as a reminder until the rest of Cairo is rebuilt. With the 30 million people in Cairo and Giza alone, the city deserves to be the Paris of North Africa but as it stands now, only a miracle could bring relief to these people to meet their basic needs.  

During our stay in Giza we felt trapped within our neat little compound and nothing outside enticed us to venture beyond the tourist destinations. I tried hard to understand but I couldn’t get past the extreme hardship these people are enduring. The freedom they fought for now seems empty and I could only offer a replay when asked about democracy by the few inquisitive Egyptians, “It takes time “ and they asked “How can I feed my children tonight?” I fell silent.

I pray their elections scheduled for September and November prove hopeful but in the meantime there will be millions in Cairo going to bed hungry each night with very little hope in sight.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grecian Formula Part 7


Arriving Athens close to nine in the evening made for not only for a long day but being a Saturday night, a crowded Metro ride to our stop at Syntagma Square where our Hotel Metropolis was a ten minute walk away.  I’ve discovered returning to a place where you previously spent a few days and got to know the lay of the land is like coming home. I felt very comfortable though trying to exit at our stop proved rough, shoving through the thoroughly packed train car with our bags knowing we had only a minute to get off the train before its doors closed. I forced a path through the wall of humans with Sharon riding my wake and like a cork popping from a bottle we delivered ourselves onto the landing both sighing from relief.

Out the exit onto the bustling night time square down the boulevard to our home with the five stories of  bougainvilleas clinging to the exterior. The night clerk gave us a welcoming smile reserved for returning guests but became serious for a moment. “I’m sorry” he began, “Their was a misunderstanding about when you would arrive….we thought tomorrow and your room is taken, but we got your email today rather late and saved our last room for you but it has a shared bathroom. Tomorrow your special room will be ready for you”. Our gasp at first turned to jubilation because we just needed to collapse and not search the streets of Athens to find a bed.  We thanked our night clerk for their thoughtfulness, went up the steep stairs to our room for the night. The tiny room with twin beds and the bath down two floors didn’t faze us. We smiled at each other, prepared for bed, and morning quickly came.

We contacted our friend Irini once more for our last get together and after a few back and forth attempts we arranged for a dinner date the next evening before we left Greece for Egypt. After contacting Irini, Sharon and I finished up our sight seeing of Athens, made our last minute arrangements for hotel, flight, and airport driver for Egypt.

Evening came and we met Irini on the street in front of our hotel, exchanged our flashes of happy smiles and hugs, then wondered through the alley ways of our neighborhood to find a local Greek restaurant. Down a small alley was John’s Taverna. This very small restaurant had maybe two tables inside, four outside on the sidewalk and two in the street on the opposite side of the alleyway. We chose a table in the street where the few cars would drive within inches of my backside plus the table sloped with the elevation of the street by a couple inches. You can’t buy charm like this. Our dinner was delectable, well served, and our conversations were fully animated heightened by the local carafes of wine.

Upon finishing dinner, Irini asked if we would be interested in hearing some jazz music. She explained we needed to take some transportation because it was further than just a walk so I excused myself while walking up to the Metro station so I could get some cash from the ATM.  I unzipped my waist pack and discovered my wallet wasn’t there. I checked my pockets twice, three times and my heart began to race. I rechecked my waist pack finding my passport, US cash, and some other items but the wallet was definitely gone. The wallet didn’t have any money but it had my credit, debit, health insurance cards and my driver’s license.  I chased down Sharon and Irini to explain my dilemma and told them I must return to our hotel room a short walk away to check my backpack and duffel bag to see if I can find my wallet. I quickly made my way to our room, searched everywhere but couldn’t find it. I then started to think about our Metro trip from the airport the night before and the warning the night clerk at the hotel had told me weeks earlier. The crushing crowd was the perfect cover for a pickpocket to access the zippered waist bag in front of me. I had been pick-pocketed!  In all my hundreds of thousands of miles in some of the most outrageous places in the world it just happened to me.

Now I had to perform damage control. I quickly got out my computer, logged onto my bank, checking the accounts and the VISA activity finding nothing to indicate any malicious activity. I went downstairs and all of us agreed that the night out needed to be postponed since I needed to contact my bank, credit card and debit card people to make certain everything was canceled and everyone was alerted. I was a bit panicky but knew I needed to call the US to begin this process. We said goodnight to Irini and I got to work trying to call the US with no success. The night clerk was quiet but concerned and finally interjected by making some calls through local operators and finding the best connections. He was very patient but stern like a father. He made the connection to National Bank of Arizona, handed me the phone and the customer service woman on the other end of the phone was like a nurse with great concern and assured me everything would be fine from this point forward. No activity has been detected and new cards would be sent to me. I explained I was in Athens, Greece but I would be leaving for Cairo tomorrow. She explained it would take 5 to 7 business days and she would contact my personal banker, Matt, and he would make all the arrangements to get the cards to me. “Don’t worry, continue to have a nice trip”. Then the sweet voice of assurance hung up. Totally wrung out, I logged off my laptop, thanked the night clerk for his patience and assistance, walked up the stairs, and figured out with Sharon what we would do for funds for the next 10 days.

The next day, after having a farewell lunch with Irini assuring her everything was alright, we checked out of the Hotel Metropolis, walked to the Metro mid day, boarded the half empty train and arrived at the airport a few hours before boarding our flight to Cairo.

Grecian Formula Part 6


Gordon and Kim on one of our great treks through Crete

A tip for those planning world travel in the future, get an international cell phone during your travels. Everyone now expects travelers to have a cell and I must admit it would have come in handy more than a dozen times for meeting up with people and making travel arrangements but us quasi old schoolers made due with using email, Skype, and Facetime.

After a great refreshing sleep at the Archontiki, we were scheduled to meet up with our friends from Bisbee, Kim and Gordon, to explore the western end of Crete. Their time of arrival was estimated at 2:PM at the bus station and after checking out the location was, to our surprise, only a couple blocks away from our hotel. We waited at the station on time and after twenty minutes past the time of arrival without seeing them, Sharon went back to the hotel and discovered an email from Kim stating they missed their bus but would be arriving an hour later.  As the adjusted time stated they rolled in and after a joyous welcoming, they followed us to the hotel, checked in, and we showed them around as much of Chania as we knew in our short time of discovery. Over dinner we discussed our plans for the next nine days together, retired for the evening and got ready for the next days adventure.
Gordon taking his watch over the Libyan Sea..Look out Momar

Our first stop was a restored mountain village now an inn called Milia tucked away high in the mountains of western Crete. There is nothing more fun than having friends to help navigate and get lost with. Everyone has an opinion and generally after all the jiving and sarcasm settles, we found the right pathway to our destination.  The roads in this area are usually scarcely defined, decent tarmac but extremely winding and narrow which sets the stage for more excitement and not always for the faint of heart. My careful driving skills prevented Kim from abandoning the ship except once but that I’ll explain later.

We parked at the designated area, threw on our packs and hiked down the trail to the village that expounded organic cuisine, solar power, and working farm. The descriptions were close enough and soon the old rough stone structures appeared so we were ushered to our quaint suites with more charm than words can express.

Ditching our packs we quickly assembled and Gordon, our trekking leader, lead us on a couple hour walk up the side of the deep canyon onto a saddle with an incredible view. Then we returned to our rooms, readied for dinner and sat down for quite the feast put together for us by Milos, a Croatian Borat impresario and the general manager of the property, plus one of the funniest persons I’ve ever met. For two days we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Milia using it as our hiking base camp before we drove off the mountain to the fishing village of Palehorra where Kim and Gordon had made reservations for two apartments within walking distance of the town and the beach.  During our week at the Olive Tree we had incredible adventures, in fact so many that I can only provide you a headline for each one and you will have to get the rest of the story from one or all of us at a later time.

Sharon prepares Incredible food on hot plate.
Wine in plastic bottles satisfies our souls.
Gordon discovers new love…homemade Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and honey
Hiking so intoxicating Curt kisses the earth hard, letting blood and spraining wrists
Short drive to Elephanisi turns out to be road from hell…Kim leaves vehicle.
While sorties fly over…Gordon takes to anti-aircraft gun.
I kissed the earth a bit too hard.
Taverna at the end of short hike makes all of us giddy with happiness .

Kim and Gordon...Bon Voyage
I couldn’t begin to say how much fun we had with our friends but as time passes the end is always waiting. The morning of our departure we drove Kim and Gordon to the small port where they boarded “Neptune” while the sun still silhouetted the departing boat as she gently delivered them to their next adventure and we returned to the apartment to pack our things and began our long day of travel back to Athens.

Grecian Formula Part 4 & 5


Before the 4:45AM wake up call we were awake and half packed. Even though our ferry boat wasn’t scheduled to leave until 7AM we needed to get a cab (arranged the night before) , get to the port , find the ticket office, find out what boat we could take, board the boat and then set down in our assigned seats for the two hour sail to Ios, the infamous island I escaped from Athens to in 1972 after being without money for three weeks.

Communication to the United States in those days via Aerogram was slow. Sending a message to my parents via Western Union Telegram was at least a day and expensive especially for me who was living on two dollars a day or less. My money was running short in Rome when I sent my first note to my parents in Phoenix but I thought it best for them to send a portion of my money to Athens. I had just enough funds left to get me across the Italian boot to the port of Brindisi, board a ferry boat to the Greek island of Corfu, hitch hike through Delphi to Athens and hang out at the American Express office for a day to retrieve my funds. Communication was slow  and as I, a poor draft-dodging lad, found out, not reliable. No money waiting for me, remember this is 1972…before the computer.
Lunch at the hotel with view of the port
The port view from our hotel

So, I arrived in Athens with some friends, found a cheap hostel in the basement of a three star hotel and waited. The friends left after a week leaving me their change. I was now completely out of money in Athens, Greece. After two weeks the hotel owner tracked me down and wanted me to pay up for my stay. I came clean and told him my story. He invited me upstairs for a game of chess (his skills were horrible) and some fruit. I let him win which I was awarded a bowl of ridicule and more fruit. He told me I could stay and run up a bill but everyday I must go to the train station in the afternoon to meet other travelers, hand out brochures to his hotel, and lead students to the hostel. I also had to make sure no one was using drugs and not fighting in the basement refuge for the economically deprived. The running up my room bill didn’t provide anything for my raging hunger so I had a number of things I did for very little money such as play harmonica near the American Express office each day after checking for my funds arrival. Offering bogus tours about the city directing young travelers to all the sights, sitting down at a table at the YWCA cafeteria with a cup of coffee watching skinny young girls leave their half finished plates of food then smoothly slide over and finish up for them. One day I heard you could sell your blood for eight dollars and get a cheese sandwich with a cup of orange juice. What a deal for a guy like me. I lined up at the blood bank, gave a pint of my best, enjoyed the treats and skipped out the door with coins in my pocket and a snap to my step. I stopped at a kiosk, bought a pack of smokes, went back to my hostel only to be met at the door by my landlord with his hand out saying I had money and I must pay on my bill. How did this guy know I got money? Never found that one out. Within a week I got my money from American Express and decided to escape from this big city to some peace and quiet on an island and the one I choose was Ios…. Back to the present….
My Cave with skylight 39 years latert
The ferry docked at the port, we grabbed our bags and went directly to the ferry booking office to get a reservation for the next day to Crete. Our reason for coming to Ios is to rediscover the infamous cave I lived in and told of in my stories to my children about their father’s young adventuresome life.

The charming woman at the counter booked our late afternoon ticket and promised us an incredible hotel deal at a new place overlooking the inlet and within two minute walk of Chora, the main village of Ios. After our transaction and bookings I asked her about the caves. I couldn’t quite remember where it was other than it was a large beach on an inlet over from the main port. She said it was most likely Milaposta Beach. The name didn’t ring a bell but I knew it was a short hike away no matter where we were. The van for the hotel picked us up. This was very different than the Ios I remembered because when I was here thirty-nine years ago, there were no roads or cars on the island but…things change and considering the steep climb up from the port I was happy with the improvement. The van pulled into to a new wonderfully designed hotel with our room overlooking the pool and the beautiful mountains and clear bright blue waters of Ios. After lunch, poolside, we thought it would be best we began our search for the cave since we only had one day to find our grail. We asked the woman at the front desk about the caves but she didn’t really know though she told us how to get to the beach the ticket counter person told us.  We followed the directions and soon we were hiking high on a mountainside looking down on the very familiar beach.  Though a lot more buildings are there, the taverna at the far end of the beach confirmed this was the place. We walked down the mountainside to the beach, shuffled through the sand allowing the occasional wave to wet our feet and reached the other side within 20 minutes. The closer I got the more excited I became because none of the new development encroached into the steep path leading up to my cave. I started up the path and gave a description to Sharon of the neighbors I had at the time. I walked up quite away but I didn’t see my very distinctive cave with a skylight. I stopped looked up once again and saw it…the skylight was still there. I called out to Sharon and we reveled at the rediscovery.

We hiked down from the mountain to the beach, stopped at the nearest taverna, ordered a Fix Beer and talked with the bartender who had a great amount of local social knowledge, enough to direct us to others and others and others and then it was time to leave. We really didn’t want to leave. We couldn’t see how Crete could top this incredibly beautiful spot with such friendly wonderful people. I will return to Ios and this time I won’t wait so long.


The morning and afternoon on Ios went quickly and soon we were at the port waiting for the boat to Crete. The ferry to Crete is a four hour crossing and the winds were very strong creating very prominent white caps on the sea. Since Sharon has a strong propensity for seasickness, I suggested she get some pills before departing. Nothing in the port is open until a boat arrives so we had to wait until the ferry entered the inlet before the little kiosk that has the concession for the pills opened. Funny to find out the old man behind the counter sells them one at a time. I guess he knows his market. The boat was a passenger ferry only so it was a bit smaller and a little faster. These boats have assigned seating like airplanes but you can get up and walk about, go to the bar, or just have a something from the coffee stand.
Main town in Ios

We pulled into the Crete port of Iraklion about 7:30PM and once we disembarked, a taxi gave a free lift to a rental car agency. We planned to rent a car for a ten days, meet up with our Bisbee friends Kim and Gordon, the famous chocolate makers, stay at a restored mountain village for two days then move down the mountain to a seaside fishing village of Paleochoro.

The car rental went quickly but I was a bit alarmed when I asked how far our first destination was and the clerk said two hours. By now it was past eight , which meant I had to drive in a new country, find the highway in a large port city, on a island, all in the dark. After that find a hotel room when we arrive in Chania.  Hey, this is what makes an adventure.

As usual, the rental clerk said we better get to a gas station quickly before going to Chania. We quickly found fuel and began following signs to Chania that lead us for an hour in a circular fashion (maybe a couple times) around Iraklion before we began our drive on the correct highway to our first stop. Now its really dark and what could have been a very picturesque drive was now a video game of blind driver.  At close to midnight we see a couple signs for Chania but nothing to signify the “centro” area so we continued on the highway until both of us were satisfied we were leaving the Chania area. Turning around we pulled into the first exit for Chania and with in 4km narrow streets seemed to be the downtown area. Now past midnight I pulled into a quaint neighborhood that might have small inns. Sharon spotted one so I dropped her off and had to continue down the one way lanes driving further away, having to make turns and soon I started to be concerned that I couldn’t find my way back because I was only stopped for thirty seconds and didn’t get to have a good look before having to move.

Driving these crowded very narrow roadways with bars and cafes overflowing with raucous activity only added to my confusion but I kept my cool and within 30 minutes was back at her drop off spot only this time she had a gentleman with her. I pulled up and they told me to park down the street. Ten minutes later I wonder back up the street after find a quasi parking spot next to a dumpster. Tired and road weary the gentleman was quite kind in trying to get us a room but nothing was open or if it was it was full so we thanked the man, returned to our car and ventured out of the old town area and began our quest a little further out. Within minutes I spotted a large blue and white sign of Archcontiki Hotel. We made the quick left and pulled up front of the hotel. Sharon went inside and soon her voice echoed through the streets from a balcony three floors above. Again the travel gods found us a good home even after closing hours.