Monthly Archives: February 2009

Kicking Things Up A Notch

Posted by on February 28, 2009

I don’t usually talk about the mechanics of running a travel blog while on the road. Most of the people who visit here are more interested in seeing photos and hearing stories of the the places I visit. Nonetheless, it is occasionally necessary to delve into the dirty underside of the business of running this site.

Sometime in the next week you should see a brand new version 3.0 of my website. It has taken a lot of time and but it is almost ready to go. I’ve never been satisfied with my website, so I got some professional help. I think the new site looks great and will be something I can live with for quite a while. It will be more visual, easier to navigate, and should really show off my photography much better.

Organizing my photography has been a real sore spot for me. Back in May I tried to self host my photos with a Galley2, which is open source photo management software. While it works, it has proven difficult to manage by myself. It has also failed spectacularly in my main objective of getting my photos indexed by Google Images. Less than 10% of my photos have been indexed in almost a year.

I also am now taking up 20gb of storage on my webserver which is waaay more than what I’m paying for. I am going to move to Smugmug.com as my photography solution. Not only is it cheaper than trying to self host 20gb of photos, but they have everything which Flickr doesn’t. I can map my own domain name to my Smugmug site, which means I can point photography.Everything-Everywhere.com to them and no one need know they are at another site…except for the fact that I just told everyone. I can protect images by blocking download of images larger than a set size, which Flickr cannot do. I’m pretty confident that Smugmug will be my long term photo solution. So far, the support they’ve given has been fantastic.

Going back and fixing the links to all my images is going to take a bunch of work. Going back and changing the links doesn’t bother so much as trying to do it with Egyptian bandwidth. I’m guessing it is a process which will take about 2 months, working on it on and off. I have also not been able to upload most of my photos since I’ve arrived in the Middle East. I’m sitting on almost 300 photos from the last 2 months which I can’t upload because the connection is too slow. One photo can take 10-20 minutes and the connection will usually time out before it is finished.

When the dust settles, everything should be working like I want it to. If anyone has any comments or suggestions, please feel free to let me know. Managing a website from the middle of nowhere can be a pain in the butt sometimes, but overall I really enjoy it.

Diving the Lighthouse of Alexandria

Posted by on February 25, 2009

Artist rendition of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (from Wikipedia)

Artist rendition of the Lighthouse of Alexandria (from Wikipedia)

Today was a pretty good day. I went diving in the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was the most unique dive I’ve ever done on many different levels: it was the coldest dive I’ve ever done at 15C (59F), the shallowest dive I’ve ever done at only 8m, it was the worst visibility I’ve ever had on a dive, and the only archeological dive I’ve ever done.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria was the architectural landmark of Alexandria during the Ptolemaic dynasty and during Roman rule. Also known as the Pharos, it got its name from the small island it was situated on in the Alexandria harbor. It was estimated to be between 115 and 150 m (380 and 490 ft) tall, which would put it on a par with the Great Pyramid. The lighthouse was destroyed in the early 14th century from earthquakes, and in the 15th century, Sultan Qaitbey built a fort on the site. The fort is still there today.

Surprisingly, no one knew that parts of the lighthouse were in the sea until a team of divers discovered in in 1994. I say surprisingly only because the water is shallow enough where someone could free dive from the surface and see the large stones. In 700 years, no one bothered to look.

There was only myself and a Canadian guy who did the dive today. This isn’t really the high season for tourists and given the water temperature, not a great time for divers. I had to wear a full 5mil wetsuit with a hood and boots. All of the previous dives I’ve done have been in tropical climates where at best you only needed a light, half wetsuit. The only part of my body which was exposed were my hands the area around my mouth and eyes not covered by my goggles.

The dive was run by Alexandria Divers, the only dive shop in town.

The first dive was outside the harbor wall. Visibility wasn’t too bad at about 10-12m. Everywhere you went were large rectangular blocks, pillars, stone chairs, and sphinxes. Before most dives, you have a short meeting with the divemaster to go over hand signals. They had special ones to identify is something was Roman, Greek or Egyptian or if it was a pillar or part of the lighthouse. From the maps of the area I’ve seen, there is a lot more there that we didn’t see. While air supply isn’t an issue at that depth, the temperature still was and we had a good hour in the water.

The second dive was inside the harbor and the main attraction was an Italian fighter which crashed during WWII. There were also jars, vases and lamps strewn about the seafloor. Visibility here was horrible. It was maybe 2m at best and it was very easy to get lost and lose sight of the people you were diving with. I was sort of surprised at the number of artifacts I was able to see. I figured most of them would have been hauled up and put in a museum by now.

If you are a diver and are going to Egypt, the Alexandria dive is something you should consider. There aren’t many non-wreck, archeological dives in the world you can do. The price is sort of steep at 100 Euros for 2 dives, but it isn’t outrageous. If you go in the summer, I think it would be a much more enjoyable experience. Water temperature in the summer can reach 25C (77F) which is a much nicer environment for diving than 15C. Most divers in Egypt go to the Red Sea. Alexandria isn’t too far to go if you want to do something different.

Buming Around in the Footsteps of Caesar and Alexander

Posted by on February 23, 2009

I spent most of today walking the streets of Alexandria. There is no better way to get to know a city than to walk around for a day and get lost in the process.

In some ways, I find Alexandria really depressing. This is a city where almost every building is 100 years old and looks as if nothing has been repaired in all that time. The buildings are old, the buses are old, the street cars are old, there are rotary telephones all over, and you get the feeling you’ve stepped back in time about 50 years. It is on a par in terms of development with Vietnam, except Vietnam is growing and Egypt is still living in old, dilapidated buildings. They are like Benjamin Button countries meeting in the middle. Alexandria seems to have its best days well behind it.

All of that needs to be considered when you realized that Alexandria has one of the nicest buildings, and certainly nicest library, in the world. The New Library of Alexandria, the Biblioteca Alexandria, was built as an international effort with several foreign corporation and NGO’s pitching in. As the collection of books goes it probably has less than most university libraries in the US, but it is still a feather in the cap for Alexandria and all of Egypt. That being said, it is really, really out of place here.

Today I managed to see most of the few remaining ancient sites in the city: the Roman theater, Pompey’s Pillar (which was erected 250 years after Pompey was killed in Alexandria), and the catacombs. The sites were managed much better than the Pyramids, but still had a lot of room for improvement. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of tourists in Egypt right now. I guess winter isn’t the high season.

I should also address the bomb blast in Cairo. Just so everyone knows, I was in Alexandria when it happened. I’m not scared or worried. In a country with 80 million people, things happen all the time. Almost every attack like that happens to groups of tourists on package tours and I travel alone, which paradoxically, is safer when it comes to this sort of thing. I haven’t even heard a word about it in the news here….not that I’d really know because I can’t read/speak Arabic.

Tomorrow I’m going to investigate doing some dives in the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria and visit Fort Qaitbey. The next day I’m off to Abu Mena and then Upper Egypt (confusingly in the south of the country. The Nile flows to the north).

Alexandria

Posted by on February 21, 2009

I’ve arrived in Alexandria.

My first reaction is that I like it a lot more than Cairo. It isn’t as busy, dirty or crowded. Also, I have yet to have anyone “welcome” me to Egypt and try to sell me crap. I’m staying about 2 blocks from the Mediterranean Sea, in a hotel which would be a dump in any other circumstances. However, I’m so used to such accommodations at this point, I don’t even bat an eye at it. This is also the first time I’ve laid my eyes on the Mediterranean Sea.

For an historical city, Alexandria doesn’t have much in the way of buildings left. One of the books I read earlier on my trip was the story of the body of Alexander the Great. After he died in Persia, his body was stolen by Ptolemy and taken to Egypt where it was eventually entombed in Alexandria. There are mentions of it over the years and at least as late as when Julius Caesar came here chasing Pompey, the tomb still remained as Caesar paid a visit. At some point, the glass coffin which contained his body was lost.

I’m near the harbor which was the location of the Lighthouse of Alexandria; one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. It was destroyed by earthquake in the 14th Century. The stones of the lighthouse were used in the construction of a fort, now located on the site. There are also stone located in the water just off the harbor.

While an Egyptian city, it really has nothing to do with the ancient Egypt of the Pharaohs. For most of its life it was either a Greek or Roman city. This is the city which Alexander the Great founded, where Julius Caesar lived for several years, where Marc Anthony and Cleopatra took their own lives, where Pompey was killed, where Octavian conquered it in the name of Rome, and where the great library stood and eventually burned. It also was/is the center of Coptic Christianity.

The city eventually sort of died off after the Arab conquest of Egypt, but was resurrected in the 19th Century.

It is colder here than in Cairo, but it should be an interesting few days. In addition to the few Roman ruins in the city, I will also be making a short trip to a nearby World Heritage site (Abu Mena) and I might go SCUBA diving if the weather permits.

Questions & Answers #3

Posted by on February 19, 2009

The photo I use on every networking site

The photo I use on every networking site

@cyberdyne Have you considered changing your twitter icon as you travel to represent where you are ?

I made a conscious decision to keep my avatar the same. In fact, I use the exact same photo on every network I belong. People recognize images before they read names. The Easter Island photo I think is representative of what I’m doing and was taken early in my trip. For better or worse, I’m now the Easter Island guy. If I change it, people may not recognize me. I know that happens when people I follow change their avatar. I do however, change my location in Twitter every time I change cities. It is a great way to find other people on Twitter near where you are. I suppose I might change it in the future, but I don’t recommend constantly changing your image.

@urpisdream Any advice for people trying to figure out how they can start up their own ‘everywhere trip’?

Don’t put too much effort into planning. Reading and researching about where you want to go is fun, but trying not to set an extremely rigid schedule. The biggest trick is unwinding all the stuff in your life which will prevent you from going. Cars, jobs, mortgages, etc are all reasons people have for not traveling. The actual act of traveling is pretty simple. Conquering all the reasons for not going is the real accomplishment.

@kalpeshk What was your main motivation for the trip and the most significant realization from your travel so far?

The motivation was that I enjoyed traveling and I didn’t want to wait until I was facing death to go do the things I wanted to do. At this point in my life I could do it and enjoy it.

As for the realizations…well, there are a lot and it would be hard to summarize it in a few sentences. Without any explanation behind it here are a few: culture matters, everyone is proud of where they are from, most people are good, and nothing is as simple as it appears.

For a more detailed explanation, you will have to buy the book :)

@rjhintz Where, if anywhere, do you take prophylactic medication for malaria? Have you had to pay bribes at borders?

I have been carrying around a bottle of Doxycycline since I started my trip. I took it in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands but haven’t bothered taking it otherwise. It think it would be more important to use in Africa than the places I’ve been.

As for bribes, I haven’t had to pay any border bribes. If you look at the list of places I’ve been, a lot of the countries are Islands. Oddly enough, I’ve only had to make a few land crossings: Brunei to Malaysia, Singapore to Malaysia, Cambodia to Vietnam, Laos to Thailand, UAE to Oman. I also entered South Korea and Macau by boat. I think border bribes would be a bigger deal in Sub-Saharan Africa or Central Asia, which I haven’t visited yet.

@d_rjoseph alright, what kind of camera, memory card(s), and batteries do you use?

I have a Nikon D200 with 2 rechargeable batteries. I have a 4gb compact flash card as my main memory card and a cheap 2gb compact flash card in my camera bag in case I need more space. I always keep a fully charged battery in my camera bag.

@susandeane Where on your travels have you encountered the friendliest folk? Which of all those countries is the friendliest?

Some people are more outgoing than other. Many Arabs I’ve met will give you the shirt off their back in the name of hospitality, but might not go out of their way to say “hello” on the street.

Off the top of my head I’d say Samoans or Fijians. They are really, really nice people who will go out of their way to say “Bula!” or “Talofa!”. Just don’t mess with them on the rugby field!

@JustNomadic How do you research your next location – guides, web, people, tourist boards etc?

I never use guidebooks. They are expensive, heavy and usually out of date. I might page through one if a free one is at a hostel, otherwise I primarily use the internet and talking to locals. You can also find a ton of free information in most hotels. There is an entire industry anywhere you go built upon providing you services to go see things. The larger the city and more popular the attraction you are visiting, the less you need a guidebook.

First Thoughts on Egypt

Posted by on February 19, 2009

I haven’t really written anything since I’ve arrived in Egypt. Usually when I arrive in a new place it takes a while to adjust to things. That adjustment period can be as short as an hour or as long as a few days. Egypt has taken a lot longer than normal.

While it is ostensibly an Arab country like Gulf countries where I’ve spent the last month, it feels like a totally different culture. For starters, there is no oil money in Egypt. This alone makes it a much poorer country than the small states of the Gulf. Second, there are no guest workers. One could confuse most of the many of the Gulf nations as being ruled by Indian Rajahs if they didn’t know any better, but Egypt is full of just Egyptians.

The first thing most visitors to Cairo will describe to you is the traffic. I’ve seen crazy traffic before, but Cairo might be the worst. The difference between Cairo and someplace like Saigon is that everyone in Cairo drives a car, not a motorbike. This makes things exceptionally crowded. Also, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of parking rules. I’ve not only seen a lot of double parking, but triple and quadruple parking as well. Anywhere there is not a car is a potential parking spot.

The cars here are much older than I’ve seen anywhere else. The average taxi seems to be a Fiat made in the 1970’s and the taxi meter are all non-functioning and about 40-50 years old.

Since I arrived, I’ve been to the Egyptian Museum, the Cairo Citadel and Mohammed Ali Mosque (not the boxer), and the pyramids. I’ll probably be writing more on the pyramids later on, but what I saw at the Egyptian Museum is pretty indicative what I’ve seen all over Cairo.

The Egyptian Museum is both the best and worst museum I’ve been to on my trip. It is the best in terms of the items and artifacts on display. This is the permanent home of the King Tut exhibit, and has every manner of item you’d expect for a museum on Egypt. However, it sort of seems like a warehouse. The building is falling apart and doesn’t seem to have been painted or repaired in decades. The display of items is poorly done and there doesn’t appear to be any money reinvested back into the museum. You can’t help but wonder where it all goes.

There are police everywhere. Everyone seems to smoke. I haven’t seen a building in Cairo built within the last 30 years.

It is a very different place from what I’ve experience so far on my trip. Very different.

I don’t forsee uploading photos soon. The bandwidth where I’m staying is pretty poor. My current plan is to leave Cairo tomorrow for Alexandria, and I’ll see how things go there.

The Kuwait Is Over

Posted by on February 14, 2009

My brief stay in Kuwait is almost over. I screwed up and accidentally booked a flight to Cairo at 11:00pm not am, so I’m here for 12 hours more than I had planned.

There isn’t a whole lot to see in Kuwait. It is a small country, it’s mostly desert, and there isn’t a lot in the way of ancient history here. That being said, Kuwait is probably the most livable country in the Gulf. I’d describe Kuwait as an American suburb that was populated by Arabs. You can find almost every chain restaurant you can think of in Kuwait and much of the layout of streets and houses has a similar American feel to it.

Kuwait is also probably the most liberal of the countries in the Gulf. I’ve seen some Arab men and women dressed in western clothing. Much of that has to do with the area I’m staying in, but it does exist. The internet here is censored, but the quality of the connection seems better than anything else I’ve had in the Gulf.

Kuwait is also expensive. 1 Kuwait Dinar is US$3.42. It is about US$5 for a McDonald’s value meal. There are lots of westerners here for business, but it doesn’t have anything like the vibe that Dubai does. Kuwait is building and growing as needed, not trying to create its own demand.

I had the pleasure of exploring around Kuwait City with Bader, a Kuwati blogger, who I met via Twitter. He took me out to for a Kuwati lunch, to see the Kuwait towers and a drive around Kuwait City. I was nice to meet an actual Kuwaiti who knew the region as well as someone who had spent significant time in the US (he went to college in Seattle).

With that, my time in the Persian Gulf is over. I’ll have more to say, but as for now, it is on to Egypt!

UNESCO World Heritage Site #54: Bahla Fort

Posted by on February 14, 2009

World Heritage Site #54: Bahla Fort

World Heritage Site #54: Bahla Fort

From the World Heritage inscription:

The oasis of Bahla owes its prosperity to the Banu Nebhan, the dominant tribe in the area from the 12th to the end of the 15th century. The ruins of the immense fort, with its walls and towers of unbaked brick and its stone foundations, is a remarkable example of this type of fortification and attests to the power of the Banu Nebhan.

Getting to the Bahla Fort is pretty easy to do. It is a short drive from Nizwa, which is itself an easy 90 minute drive from Muscat. However, the view you get in this photo is about as much of the fort as you are going to see for the time being. They are renovating the fort so you can’t go inside. There are no signs or anything set up around the fort for tourists. If you are in Nizwa it is probably worth taking a look as it is so close, but a much better experience can be found at the Nizwa Fort.

Currencies I Have Known

Posted by on February 13, 2009

I was going through a bag of coins and small bills I’ve collected over the last several months. I thought it would be fun to compile a list of all the currencies I’ve had to deal with since my trip started. The conversion rates are all listed as the amount of the currency which can be purchased with US$1. The rates are also as of today, not when I was there. Exchange rates have gotten better in Australia and New Zealand, but have gotten worse in Japan.

Countries in italics are places I’ll be in the next few months. Cambodia is listed twice as the US Dollar is the common form of currency, but the Cambodia Riel is used in place of coins.

CurencyCodeConversion Rate
US Dollars
– United States
– Guam
– CNMI
– Marshall Islands
– American Samoa
Palau
– Federated States of Micronesia
– East Timor
– Cambodia*
USD 1.000000
Pacific Francs
– French Polynesia
– New Caledonia
XPF 94.59758
New Zealand Dollar NZD1.91531
Fijian Dollars FJD1.84575
Samoan Tala WST3.12600
Tongan Pa’anga TOP2.07469
Solomon Dollars SBD 7.63359
Vanuatu Vatu VUV120.100
Australian Dollars
– Nauru
– Kiribati
– Australia
AUD1.53372
Philippine Peso PHP47.30832
Taiwanese Dollar TWD 34.06717
Japanese YenJPY90.23698
South Korean Won KRW1,402.52
Hong Kong Dollar HKD7.75201
Macau Pataca MOP 8.14741
Brunei Dollar BND1.52931
Malaysian Ringgit MYR3.61745
Indonesian Rupiah IDR11,919.0
Papua New Guinea Kina PGK2.72808
Singapore DollarSGD1.50995
Thailand Bhat THB35.33876
Cambodia Riel KHR4,204.92
Vietnam Dong VND17,643.9
Laos Kip LAK8,702.74
UAE Dirham AED 3.67394
Oman Rial OMR 0.38619
Qatari Riyal QAR3.64444
Bahrain Dinar BHD 0.37840
Kuwaiti Dinar KWD0.29325
Egypt PoundEGP5.59453
Jordan Dinar JOD0.71244
Israel SheckleILS4.06134
European Euro EUR0.77762
British Pound GBP0.69981
Iceland Kronar ISK114.952
Canadian Dollar CND1.24451

Kuwaiting Is The Hardest Part

Posted by on February 12, 2009

I arrived in Kuwait last night only to find that the dust storm which had descended over Bahrain was even worse in Kuwait. I looked out of the window of the plane and it was a wall of beige.

All of the countries in the Gulf which I’ve visited so far have had very easy and common sense policies for tourist visas. Getting into Kuwait made no sense. Like several countries I’ve visited, you need to get a visa on arrival in Kuwait. The other countries which require that have been PNG, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos. I can understand if a country makes you apply for a visa, but when you are getting one at the airport, it is just needless paperwork. If they want to charge an entry fee, then they can just charge an entry fee. Filling out a form with the exact same information that is on your passport and requiring a photocopy of the passport is sort of redundant. Just scan the passport like every other country and you can get all the information you want instantly. Then just stamp the passport as if it were a visa.

The dust storm as seen in Bahrain. It was worse in Kuwait.

The dust storm as seen in Bahrain. It was worse in Kuwait.

Once I got that taken care of, I was surprised to see my hotel had a shuttle, so I didn’t have to pay for a cab. Nice to see something was going right. I was talking to the hotel employee who was from Morocco and he had raised his hands in the air while gesturing while a Kuwaiti man was walking past him from behind. He accidentally hit him in the face. It wasn’t very hard and it was totally an accident. I know I’ve had that happen to me and I’ve done it to other people. It happens. The Kuwaiti guy starts to go nuts and punches the Moroccan guy in the throat and walks off.

Now the Moroccan guy wasn’t really hurt either. He goes off to find the police, but the Kuwaiti guy disappeared. When he gets back to the car, he seems pissed, which is not surprising. The reason he’s pissed off, however is because he felt as if the guy who punched him thought he was an Indian.

That was my first hour in Kuwait.

Other than that I have little to say. It was dark by the time I left the airport and there is still heavy dust in the air which really reduces visibility. Everything here seems very nice, but I can’t see much at this point. Hopefully I’ll be able to get out and see some of the sights in Kuwait City without having to look through a wall of dust.