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 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 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).


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.

Daily Travel Photo – Majuro, Marshall Islands

Posted by on February 19, 2009

Bikini Atoll Town Hall, Majuro, Marshall Islands

Bikini Atoll Town Hall, Majuro, Marshall Islands

This photo will require some explaining…

The one part of the Marshall Islands which most people have heard of is the Bikini Atoll. Not only is it the namesake of the bikini swimsuit, it was also a location where the United States did above ground nuclear tests after World War II. It was the location of the first explosion of a hydrogen bomb.

Prior to blowing up nuclear weapons on the island, of course, they had to remove the residents of Bikini. After several moves, they ended up in what is now the capital of the Marshal Islands, Majuro. Under 200 people were moved off the atoll by the time testing began in 1948.

Those 200 people have become over 5,000 via marriage and children in the 63 years since, the majority of which have never seen Bikini. That is why the Bikini Town Hall is several hundred miles away from Bikini Atoll.

The American government has cleared the top 16 inches of soil off the island, created housing and other structures, yet only a small group have returned. The 5,000 descendants of the people moved off of Bikini still get money, health care, and housing from the US government and constitute a powerful constituency in the Marshal Islands.

The levels of radiation on the island are now at a safe level. The only restriction is that you can’t eat food grown on the island. The years of human absence from the island have created one of the best coral reefs in the world and Bikini is now an attraction for SCUBA divers.