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Egypt Tour

Philae Temples – Eight Reasons You Must Visit on Your Trip to Egypt

Egypt Tour

Follow along with another installment on the Egyptian highlights as Dale from The Maritime Explorer recounts a recent tour of Egypt led by us.

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Egypt and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 


Earlier this year Alison and I had the good fortune to travel to Egypt with Canadian travel company Adventures Abroad, fulfilling a lifelong dream for both of us. Thanks to veteran tour leader Martin Charlton and our Egyptian guide Ahmed Mohsin Hashem, our small group had an incredibly diverse experience that included not only the archaeological highlights of Egypt, but the cultural and gastronomic side of Egyptian society as well. So far I’ve written posts on Abu Simbel and the fabulous Mena House Hotel where we stayed before joining the tour (although we did have lunch there with the group on the day we visited the Pyramids). I also provided some useful tips on getting the most out of A Visit To The Pyramids And Sphinx. This post is about the Philae Temples complex just south of Aswan and after reading it I hope to have convinced you that it is a must see destination in Egypt.

What are the Philae Temples?

Philae (pronounced fy-lee), despite appearing to be Greek, is apparently a corruption of the Egyptian word pilak and is the name given to an island in the Nile that lies between the two dams at Aswan. Before coming to Aswan I had no idea that there are actually two dams here and not just the famous one built by the Russians in the 1970’s. The fact is between 1898 and 1902 the British built what was then the Largest Dam Ever Built at the site of the First Cataract of the Nile. If you look at this map you can see a road crossing the Nile at the top of the map. That is the old or low dam. Behind the dam is the island of Philae.

Philae has been a site of ancient veneration for thousands of years, associated with both Osiris and his sister/wife Isis. Some priests claimed that not only was Philae the burial place of Osiris. but also the first piece of land on earth. Despite the oxymoronic implications of a dead god, Philae became a place of worship and pilgrimage and by the time the Romans arrived in Egypt it was all but covered in temples.

Philae Temples on Philae
Philae Temples on Philae

The building of the low dam resulted in semi-annual flooding that partially covered what remained of the temples for months of the year. Appreciating the damage this would do to the Philae Temples, the British did do enough underpinning to ensure that they did not get eroded away by the constant rise and fall of the Nile waters. What they couldn’t stop was the washing away of what were apparently among the brightest and best preserved of all Egytian temple paintings.

This is a recurring theme with the Philae Temples. Over hundreds of years, ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans strove to build mighty edifices to the gods they believed to be real. Over thousands more, forces of nature, religious fanaticism and the ‘march of progress’ allied themselves against the buildings and brought about their near destruction. Fortunately for future generations, there appears to be a truce and the Philae Temples, or what remains of them, are safe for the time being. Here’s how that came about.

If you look at the map again you will see a second line crossing the Nile near the bottom – that is the Aswan High Dam.  Its builders were aware that when it was completed and Lake Nasser filled up behind it that when those water were released downstream, that would be the end of the Philae Temples, unless they were moved to high ground. And thanks to UNESCO and the efforts of many nations, they mostly were.

Below the Aswan High Dam
Below the Aswan High Dam

The Temple of Isis and the Kiosk of Trajan were taken apart block by block and moved to higher ground on the much smaller Agilikia Island which is where we are headed shortly.

So that’s the background of the Philae Temples and here are the reasons why you will want to be sure to visit them.

The Philae Temples Can Only Be Reached By Boat

During our trip to Egypt we spent a lot of time on the Nile and whether it be on a Nile cruise, on a felucca or simply on a small motor cruiser we enjoyed every minute of it. To get to Agilikia Island you get on a small covered boat with a usually very tiny outboard and motor up the river to the landing in a leisurely fashion that allows for sightseeing along the way.

Typical Nile Riverboat
On the Way to the Philae Temples
On the Boat to the Philae Temples
On the Boat to the Philae Temples

As you approach the island you past directly by the Temple of Isis which looks amazing from the water. You can clearly see the two sets of pylons that mark the entrance to the outer and inner portions of the temple. I must say that, for me, this was one of the highlights of the entire trip. It was the first relatively intact Egyptian temple we visited and just the sight of it set against the clear blue sky got my heart racing. I had to pinch myself and think, “Yes, you are really on the Nile River looking at the Temple of Isis at Philae and soon you’ll be in it.”

Philae Temples - Temple of Isis from the Nile
Temple of Isis From the Water

The Philae Temples are not Overrun by Aggressive Hawkers

One of the banes of visiting famous Egyptian monuments is running the gauntlet of aggressive vendors, hawkers, grifters, faux guides and outright lying charlatans that bedevil every place you might want to see. They are here at the Philae Temples, but not nearly in the numbers you’ll find at most other places. Also, they are mostly confined to the landing area and you can tour the complex with or without a guide, in relative peace.

The Philae Temples are not Overrun with Other Tourists

You would think that the almost complete collapse of the North American and European market for Egypt would mean that places like the Pyramids or the Temple of Luxor would be less crowded. Not so. The Asian market has exploded in recent years and has largely made up for the loss of western visitors. Also remember that Egypt has over 90 million souls and most can’t afford to vacation outside their country so they visit places within Egypt. The bottom line is that you have to be prepared to share your Egyptian experiences with a lot of other people, but not always. The Philae Temples, probably due to their relatively remote location, are one of the exceptions.

This is not exactly a huge crowd.

Temple of Isis
Temple of Isis

It’s always great when you can get a shot that makes it seem like you were the only ones there.

Alison at the Temple of Isis
Alison at the Temple of Isis

The Philae Temples are Very Well Preserved

When you think of Egyptian monuments like the pyramids, sphinx or Temple of Luxor you think ‘old – very, very old’ and you’d be correct. The first pyramids were built an astonishing 4,600 years ago. However, the span of Egyptian history is so long that something like the Philae Temples that seem ancient to us is actually, by Egyptian standards, a relative infant. The structures that comprise the Philae Temples were mostly built during the very last of the Egyptian dynasties, the Ptolemys who were actually Greeks, descendants of one of Alexander’s generals who divided up his kingdom after his death. Other building continued during the Roman period with additions like Hadrian’s gate. Thus, these temples are ‘only’ about 2,000 years old which may well explain why they have survived as well as they have.

The Temple of Isis is Wonderful

Even though the Temple of Isis is at least a thousand years younger than more famous temples like Luxor and Abydos, it still follows a classic pattern of Egyptian temples that survived for millennia. It is the perfect place to be instructed on Egyptian temple design by a knowledgable guide such as Ahmed, who is not only familiar with all the Egyptian myths and legends, but can read hieroglyphics as well. What looks to me like just some carvings of gods and kings on the walls and pillars of the temple, is to him a story that can still be retold today.

This is Isis

Isis

And her son Horus, the falcon-headed god wearing the two crowns of Egypt, the white crown of Upper Egypt and the red crown of Lower Egypt. Once Egypt was unified in 3100 B.C. it was usual to depict gods and kings wearing this type of crown.

Horus, Philae Temples
Horus

This is Isis, Horus and Ptolemy III

Isis & Horus
Isis & Horus

It is impossible to describe the feeling that comes over one the first time you see these giant depictions in person. Awe, reverence and dumbstruck come to mind, but there is also a tinge of sadness as well. The people who believed in these gods did so for a period of over 4,000 years, before they died and their gods with them, at least figuratively. Will Christianity or Islam have as long a run on the Broadway stage of theism? Who knows, but that brings me to my next topic.

The Philae Temples – Irreverence and Intolerance

As mentioned, much of the construction of the Philae Temples dates from the Roman era and during this time Isis developed a huge following throughout the Roman Empire. Originally persecuted as a cult, it eventually became so mainstream that several Emperors were Isis adherents. The Romans were notoriously blasé about religion, seemingly more into religiosity than actual religious belief and adherence. While they would often start out persecuting a new religion (there were literally hundreds popping up across the empire) they usually accepted it after a while. The Isis and Christian religions followed that pattern. However, once the Christian religion became the official state religion the tolerance for other gods vanished almost over night. The Temple of Isis became the target of what I refer to as religious vandalism. Here is an example.

Vandalized Gods, Philae Temples
Vandalized Gods

Someone went to great lengths to deface these images of the king paying obeisance to Isis, Horus and Osiris. And this desecration of Isis.

Vandalized Isis
Vandalized Isis

If the early Christians really believed that their god was the one and only deity, then they had to also believe that these Egyptians gods were not real and these were just figures cut in stone. So why go to also this trouble – maybe they really weren’t so sure after all. The defacing of the carvings was not limited to the exterior of the temple and was even more extensive inside.

While Christians seem to have gotten over the urge to destroy non-Christian religious images, sadly religious vandalism continues to this day; witness the destruction of the Roman temple at Palmyra, Syria by ISIS. What irony.

The Temple of Isis has also been the subject of less serious vandalism as this picture shows.

Temple of Isis Graffiti
Temple of Isis Graffiti

But the good news is that the Temple of Isis still stands, greeting visitors every day while Messrs. Cradock and Treboux have long been mouldering in their graves. Would their lives have been less fulfilling if they hadn’t carved their names into the soft sandstone? I doubt it.

Philae Temples Are a Great Place to Study Hieroglyphics

As I mentioned, Ahmed can read hieroglyphics and he chose to use the hieroglyphics inside the Temple of Isis to give us a detailed explanation of what they are and are not. They are not pictographs, which at first glance would appear to be the case. For example, here are representations of a seated woman, scarab beetles, a cow and a baboon, but they do not literally mean those things. It was not until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 that contained the same words in Greek, Demotic script (the everyday language of Egyptian scribes) and hieroglyphics that scholars eventually deduced that the hieroglyphic symbols represented phonetic sounds, just like our modern alphabet. It was pretty neat to have Ahmed translate the hieroglyphics into English just as easily as one might translate French to English.

Hieroglyphics, Temple of Isis
Hieroglyphics, Temple of Isis

So when you go to an Egyptian temple there are three things to decode. First, the stories told by the carved figures of the gods and kings, secondly the stories told by the paintings on the walls, ceilings and pillars and lastly the hieroglyphics. Ahmed was able to do all three, although sadly, most of the paint is no longer visible. Here’s a good example of a combination of carved figures and hieroglyphics from a photo by Mohammad Fathy. We able to buy a cd with 10,000 images of many of the places we visited for a pretty nominal sum.

Carvings & Hieroglyphs iInside the Temple of Isis
Carvings & Hieroglyphs iInside the Temple of Isis

The Kiosk of Trajan

Much smaller than the Temple of Isis and with no real interior, the Kiosk of Trajan is nonetheless an imposing building. If any ancient temple might be termed ‘cute’, this would be it. Built by Trajan, one of the truly great Roman emperors, it was one of the very last structures ever built in the Egyptian style and the last to honour the ancient gods Osiris, Horus and Isis.

Kiosk of Trajan
Kiosk of Trajan
At Trajan's Kiosk
At Trajan’s Kiosk

As we left the Philae Temples we got one last look from the boat at Trajan’s Kiosk which has been inspiring artists for centuries. Now that I’ve seen it myself, I know why.

Temple of Hathor from the Water - Philae Temples
Kiosk of Trajan from the Water

One final suggestion. Do not even think of combining a trip to the Philae Temples with the all day excursion to Abu Simbel as some tour operators offer. Not only will you be too exhausted to enjoy it, but you will not be giving it the time and respect it deserves. There’s a ton of things to do in and around Aswan as I’ll describe in a future post, so set aside half a day for the great Philae Temples. You won’t regret it.


For more on Dale’s travels to Egypt as well as his other globe-trotting tales – be sure to visit themaritimeexplorer.ca. 
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dale! Looking forward to touring with you again! 

Abu Simbel tours

Abu Simbel – A Magical Day Trip from Aswan and Back

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Learn more about one of Egypt’s most alluring and iconic visits. A longer read about Abu Simbel from a recent traveller with us, Dale of The Maritime Explorer. 

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Egypt and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 

 


 

 

Abu Simbel, Abu Simbel, Abu Simbel – there is just something magical about those words, or at least there has been to me since I was a teenager and first learned of the herculean effort by UNESCO to save the most famous of Ramses II many Egyptian temples from inundation by the Aswan High Dam. The massive statues of Ramses II and his wife Nefertari (not Nefertiti) are the things of fantasy, more likely a product of H.P.Lovecraft’s wild imagination than reality, and yet they really do exist. And what’s better, you can visit them in relative ease and security after many years of being off limits to all but the most adventuresome and risk averse tourists. Won’t you join me on a day trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel and back? For me it was one of the most memorable days of my life.

What is Abu Simbel?

Technically, Abu Simbel is just a village on the Nile, the last stop before entering the vastness and insecurity of northern Sudan. It’s a place where caravans of truckers assemble, sometimes by the hundreds, to decrease the chances of being attacked by highway robbers on the way to Khartoum and beyond. It’s people are Nubians, of a civilization and language that may predate that of Egypt itself and of whom less than half a million remain today, most of their original kingdom flooded by the Aswan High Dam. Anwar Sadat was a Nubian and that might explain his willingness to make peace with Israel with whom the Nubians would have no beef. It cost him his life.

But the Nubians were not the only ones displaced by the creation of what is, depending on your point of view, either one of world’s greatest feats of engineering or one of the world’s greatest man made ecological disasters (I favour the latter view).

Ramses II is considered by most Egyptologists to be the most important and influential of all the kings in ancient Egypt. He ruled for 66 years, had an ego bigger than Donald Trump’s, fathered over 160 children and fought many major battles, all of which, according to him, he won. He could not resist boasting of his achievements and went on a building spree perhaps unequaled in history to let the world know of his unrivalled prowess. There is little doubt that when the ordinary person has an image of an Egyptian king, it is Ramses II that will come to mind. His image is the face of ancient Egypt, from the mouth of the Nile to the borders of Nubia, which explains why he had to build a massive temple to himself and his favourite wife Nefertari at the very place that any traveler or potential enemy heading north on the Nile could not fail to miss. The temple of Abu Simbel was a symbol (no pun intended) of his power and a warning – you are entering the realm of Ramses II, tremble in fear!

The great romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley seemed to get the last laugh at Ramses II expense in his 1818 sonnet Ozymandias which was another name for the king:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The irony is that, although many of Ramses II statues and works lie in dereliction as Shelley described, many more, including the temple of Abu Simbel do not and exist today as wonders of the ancient world.

The Relocation of Abu Simbel

Gamal Abdel Nasser was the first Egyptian to actually rule Egypt in over 2,000 years – true. He had great aspirations for modernizing the country, particularly by the construction of a great dam at Aswan that would provide electricity and regulate the annual flooding of the Nile. He seems to have overlooked the fact that the annual flooding is the very thing that defines Egypt since the dawn of civilization. The Russians built the dam and this colossally ugly monument to themselves for doing it. In the course of creating the vast lake behind the dam which was named for, who else but Nasser, they flooded almost 60% of ancient Nubia and hundreds of ancient monuments.

Russian Monument to Friendship
Russian Monument to Friendship

The temple of Abu Simbel would have been submerged by the rising waters if not relocated. There was only one big catch. Unlike most temples which are constructed from the ground up out of stone or some other building material, Abu Simbel was actually a gigantic rock carving. The statues on the outside and the interior were literally carved into a huge cliff overlooking the Nile. This was not something you could take apart and reassemble somewhere else like a set of Lego blocks.

Under the auspices of UNESCO, dozens of countries and companies collaborated to figure out a way to do it. I am proud to say that Canada played a prominent role as indicated on this chart in the Nubian museum in Aswan..

Countries that Contributed to Abu Simbel Relocation
Countries that Contributed to Abu Simbel Relocation

You can follow this Link to get a detailed explanation of how it was done. For brevity’s sake let’s just call it the first case of cut and past archaeology.

Relocation of Abu Simbel
Relocation of Abu Simbel

The relocated temple opened in 1968 after nine years of relocation work and has been a wonder of both the ancient and modern world ever since.

Getting to Abu Simbel

This is a map of southern Egypt. As you can see Abu Simbel is remote by any standards. The nearest city is Aswan which is 288 kms. (180 miles) away by road. There are three ways to get there. Jet setters can fly right in and out from Aswan or even Cairo. I don’t think that applies to most of my readers. You can take a leisurely 4 or 5 day boat cruise on Lake Nasser. This used to be a very popular option, but with the drastic decline in Egyptian tourism there are now only a few operators offering these cruises. If you’re interested here’s a Link to companies still offering Lake Nasser sailings.

By far the most popular option is driving to Abu Simbel from Aswan and returning on the same day. Here are the downsides – you spend a shitload of time on a bus and you have to get up in the middle of the night. Here are the upsides – you get to see the sun rise over the Sahara desert and you get to see Abu Simbel. For me this was a no brainer.

Don’t even think of going to Abu Simbel on your own. There is literally nothing for hundreds of kilometres and if something goes wrong you are probably screwed. If you are not already on a tour then take a day trip with one from Aswan. My group traveled with the excellent Canadian company Adventures Abroad which always has top notch guides and local contacts. Our Egyptian host was Ahmed Mohsin Hashem who has a Masters of Egyptology and studied with the great Dr. Zahi Hawass. He is fluent not only in English, but can read hieroglyphics as well. Here he is in Memphis explaining to us how to interpret ancient cartouches.

Ahmed Explains Cartouches
Ahmed Explains Cartouches

OK, after a far too long introduction we are off.

Highway 75 has numerous army checkpoints and little else. It is paved all the way and in good shape.  Almost all the traffic is buses like ours making their way to Abu Simbel. About an hour or so into the journey the sun makes its appearance in the east and it really is an awesome sight rising over the tractless sands. You fall into a kind of trance just staring out at the nothingness until suddenly, snapping out of it, we’re there. We pass through the village of Abu Simbel and a seemingly endless lineup of trucks getting ready to convoy into Sudan and then we pull into the parking lot. Only a few buses have beaten us here.

Sunrise in the Sahara
Sunrise in the Sahara

It’s about a five minute walk to the temple site through the inevitable gauntlet of hawkers, which is not bad as Egyptian tourist spots go. Abu Simbel faces away from the way you enter so you don’t come upon it gradually, but almost by surprise as you round a corner in the pathway. There are no words to describe the effect the first look at the colossal statues has on you. No matter what your expectations, you will be struck with awe. Now I’m just going to let the pictures of the exterior tell most of the story.

Abu Simbel Photo
Abu Simbel

BTW, in case you are wondering, the second statue on the left just didn’t fall down, that’s the way it was prior to relocation. The one on the far left is the most complete showing Ramses II wearing the dual crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. While it took modern technology nine years to complete the relocation, the original Grand Temple was finished by manual labour alone in twenty years.

Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel 2
Abu Simbel 2
Abu Simbel 3
Abu Simbel 3

The small figures between Ramses feet are representations of some of his favourite children.

Temple of Nefertari, Abu Simbel
Temple of Nefertari

This is the Lesser Temple dedicated to Ramses favourite wife Nefertari. It’s the only instance in Egyptian temples where the wife was depicted as the same size as the king. This shot makes it look quite busy, but if you look at the size of the entire complex you can see that this is not the case.

Temples of Ramses II and Nerfertari , Abu Simbel
Temples of Ramses II and Nerfertari

On both sides of the entrance to the Great Temple are these two sets of prisoners.

Hittite Prisoners, Abu Simbel
Hittite Prisoners

The first are Hittites from modern day Turkey whom Ramses claimed to have bested at the Battle Of Kadesh which took place in Syria. Most historians call it a draw.

African Prisoners, Abu Simbel
African Prisoners

The second group is clearly that of African prisoners and seems to put paid to the oft made argument that the ancient Egyptians were blacks. These men look nothing like the statues of Ramses or his ilk.

You cannot take pictures inside the temples, although that does not stop the Chinese tourists. Here is where Ahmed really comes into his own, interpreting the meaning of the carvings and hieroglyphs that cover the interior walls. With hieroglyphs it is literally true that every picture tells a story.

Here are some interior scenes taken from among the thousands of photos on the CD Impressions of Egypt by Egyptologist and friend of Ahmed’s, Mohammed Fathy.

Abu Simbel Interior
Abu Simbel Interior
Abu Simbel Interior 2
Abu Simbel Interior 2
Abu Simbel Interior 3
Abu Simbel Interior 3

Incredibly after over 3,000 years the paint is still quite visible.

Abu Simbel Interior 4
Abu Simbel Interior 4
Abu Simbel Interior 5

For more on Dale’s travels to Egypt as well as his other globe-trotting tales – be sure to visit themaritimeexplorer.ca. 
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dale! Looking forward to touring with you again! 

Abu Simbel Interior 5
heading_monastery

St Simeon Monastery – A Camel Ride into the Sahara

heading_monastery

Ever wondered what a camel ride would be like in an ancient setting? Take a photo journey to St Simeon Monastery with our recent traveller, Dale of The Maritime Explorer.

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Egypt and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 

 

 


 

 

This is the fifth post I’ve written about the many things we saw and did on a recent trip to Aswan, Egypt with Canadian tour company Adventures Abroad. When choosing the itinerary I was both delighted and a bit hesitant about the fact that it contained the de rigeur camel ride in the Sahara desert.

Who wants to go through life without being able to say that they’ve ever ridden a camel?

I think every baby boomer who ever watched Lawrence of Arabia came away with this romantic notion about riding a camel in the desert. On the other hand, camels are notoriously foul tempered, smell terrible and it’s a long way down if you fall off. Our destination was St. Simeon Monastery which lies just over a kilometre from the Nile on the west banks.

We were ferried to the west bank by motorboat from Aswan, and our camels and their individual handlers were awaiting us by the river. We could hear the racket they were making well before we landed and I’m not just talking about the camels. For some reason most Egyptian men and boys never forego a chance to shout when a simple conversational tone would suffice. Once one starts shouting it soon becomes pandemonium.

There were a couple of middle-aged men whom seemed to be the team leaders, but all of the individual handlers who generally lead the camel by a halter, were teenagers or in a few cases boys as young as 10. Here’s Alison with her camel Caramela and her handler, Mohammed.

Alison and Mohammed
Alison, Mohammed and Caramela

I was not disappointed to be among the last to go through the three step process of getting on the camel, having it rise on its back feet and then lurch upward with its front feet. Here’s what I mean as my camel, Samba, struggles to her feet. It was kind of embarrassing to have my assistant Mahmoud, who couldn’t have been more than twelve, telling me in broken English, “Don’t be nervous Mr. Dale.” I sure the look of rictus on my face was just a passing grimace and not a look of terror.

Getting Up
Getting Up

Our journey was going to take us up the slope you can see in the background and soon we were all set. Once you get used to being up that high you make darn sure you hold on to the rope that serves as the steering wheel on a camel. Actually it took very little pressure to get Samba to move to the left or right or stop.

Dale & Samba
Dale & Samba

This is the view from the top.

View from atop Samba
View from atop Samba

Here’s a shot of me with our Egyptian guide Ahmed Hashem who is a Bedouin by heritage and thus camel riding is no doubt in his genes. He very much looks the part of Sherif Ali, played by the great Egyptian actor Omar Sharif, in Lawrence of Arabia. Can you buy me as a stand in for Peter O’Toole?

On a Camel with Ahmed on the way to St. Simeon Monastery
On a Camel with Ahmed, aka Sherif Ali

After a few minutes the camels all seemed to naturally line up behind one another in the formation that we would recognize as a desert caravan. The boys generally let us handle the rope and remained nearby in case anyone strayed off route. A couple of them fell behind as they got into a screaming match with each other that seemed to start over nothing. I yelled at them that life was too short for this kind of shit, but they just went on arguing until they both got exhausted.

Adventures Abroad Caravan on the way to St. Simeon Monastery
Adventures Abroad Caravan

I was a bit apprehensive about the climb up the hill that lead to St. Simeon Monastery, but the camels were very sure footed and almost tiptoed their way up the very rocky path. I was even more wary of the thought of going back down that hill on our way back.

St. Simeon Monastery

From quite a distance we could see that St. Simeon Monastery was in fact a deserted ruin, although not too far away was a modern looking building that apparently is still an active Coptic monastery.

The proper name of this place is actually the Monastery Of Anba Hatre and you’ll find a fairly detailed history of it by following the link. The name St. Simeon Monastery was given by modern archaeologists without any real connection to any of the numerous St. Simeon’s that pop up in Christian mythology. It’s certainly a lot more catchy than Anba Hatre.

Photo of St. Simeon Monastery
St. Simeon Monastery

The monastery once held up to a thousand residents and was a popular wayside stop for desert travelers for over six hundred years. Built well before the advent of Islam, the Coptic monks were largely left alone by the Muslims for centuries. Ahmed showed us rooms that were specifically set aside for Islamic guests. Unfortunately the tolerance seemed to end about the same time as the Crusades and in the 12th century the great general Salah-al-Din (Saladin to the west) violently sacked the place and in the century after that it was abandoned for good.

Considering that it hasn’t had any repair work for over 700 years, parts of it are in pretty good shape. This is what’s left of the chapel with one of a number of art students who were visiting at the same time we were.

Drawing a Chapel, St. Simeon Monastery
Drawing a Chapel

Note tiny spy hole from which the priests could watch what was going on inside the chapel, just as Alison kept an eye on the rest of us.

Alison Behind the Chapel
Alison Behind the Chapel

This is the upper floor as it looks today.

Upper Floor, St. Simeon Monastery
Upper Floor, St. Simeon Monastery

This is what it looked like perhaps a thousand years ago. Each of these monasteries had to be self-sufficient in an environment that was extremely hostile to human life. Can you imagine living here in the heat of a Saharan summer?

Plan of St. Simeon Monastery
Plan of St. Simeon Monastery

On the plan you can see an oil press and on the ground today there is this marvellously preserved grindstone with three Coptic crosses.

Coptic Grindstone, St. Simeon Monastery
Coptic Grindstone

Tourists were not the only ones visiting St. Simeon Monastery on this day. After receiving permission, I took this photo of a Coptic monk from the monastery next door. And he didn’t even want any baksheesh for posing!

On a more serious note, even though I am not a religious person, I do not scoff at those who are. There was something almost eternal in the look on this man’s face that could make me understand the peace that religion can bring to the truly faithful. Sometimes In wish I could believe.

Coptic Monk, St. Simeon Monastery
Coptic Monk

Standing on the top walls of St. Simeon Monastery I looked out and saw another scene that is intrinsically linked with the Sahara and Arabian deserts – a lone camel rider amidst a sea of sand. Where was he going or coming from? Who knows, but it makes for a great picture.

Lone Camel Rider
Lone Camel Rider

My fears about having to ride the camels down the steep path turned out to be unfounded as the handlers had them waiting at the bottom of the path from whence we remounted and made or way back to the Nile where Ahmed took care of tipping them for us and we waved goodbye as we got in the boat and headed back to Aswan.

As St. Simeon Monastery faded into the background I realized I’d just had another of those “Pinch me, I’m really here” moments which seem to happen a lot on Adventures Abroad tours. I can now add camel jockey to the many occupations I’m not good at.

BTW if you really don’t want to ride a camel or physically cannot, AA provides ground transportation to and from the river landing to St. Simeon Monastery. A couple of people in our group opted for that choice.

I know I promised to tell you about a Nile cruise in my last post, that will have to wait until next time. So long from Aswan once again.

In St. Simeon Monastery
In St. Simeon Monastery

 

 

 


 

 

 

For more on Dale’s travels to Egypt as well as his other globe-trotting tales – be sure to visit themaritimeexplorer.ca. 
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dale! Looking forward to touring with you again! 
rio-nilo-2

Nile Cruise – What to Expect and Why You Don’t Want to Miss It

rio-nilo-2

Written by a trusted traveller, who recently returned from Egypt. 

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies, and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Egypt and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 

 


 

 

Ever since Agatha Christie put her famous detective Hercule Poirot aboard the steamship Karnak in Death On The Nile in 1937, a Nile cruise has been an integral part of almost all Egyptian journeys.

Death_on_the_Nile_First_Edition_Cover_1937
Death on the Nile, First Edition Cover

While it’s unlikely anyone will be murdered on your Nile cruise, there is still more than enough that is exotic, arcane and at times outright ridiculous, to make sure that the trip from Aswan to Luxor is a must-do part of your itinerary. Come along with us on the Radamis II and I’ll tell you why.

Our trip to Egypt was organized by Canadian travel company Adventures Abroad and after stops in Cairo, Alexandria and Aswan, the next part of the tour was a three day Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor. Three day cruise is a bit of a misnomer because there is actually only two days of sailing with a one night stop in Edfu. The other two nights are on board at Aswan and Luxor. Pretty well all the boats that make the Aswan to Luxor run follow the same schedule and as we found out that can lead to chaos at the Kom Ombo and Edfu, but more on that later. Tourists who just book a Nile cruise package as a stand alone trip will get a tour of the major sites around Aswan and Luxor as part of the itinerary. With Adventures Abroad we visited these sites, as well as Kom Ombo and Edfu, with our amazing Egyptian guide Ahmed Hashem and veteran tour director Martin Charlton.  We were a much smaller group than those who were taking the cruise ship tours.

Radamis II – Our Nile Cruise Ship

For some reason I seem to be progressively advancing to larger and larger vessels as I get older. I’ve gone from kayak (one) to canoe (two) to Turkish gulet (eight) to Dutch barge (twelve) to Croatian motor yacht (twenty-two, but only four of us on board) and now to full blown river cruiser. The Radamis II has 75 cabins and can hold up to 150 passengers. By my standards it’s enormous, but compared to today’s floating city cruise ships,  it’s just a baby. The Nile cruise ships are all seemingly built from one or two sets of blueprints as they pretty well all look the same. Here’s the Radamis II tied up at Luxor and as you can see it’s not going to win any beauty contests. However, it is rated as a 5-star ship by the Egyptian government and frankly, we had no complaints; in fact Alison and I got one of two best cabins on the boat.

Radamis II, Nile Cruise
Radamis II

The Radamis II has two upper decks for passengers as do most other Nile cruise ships. The top deck was occupied entirely by the Adventures Abroad group, a group of Chinese tourists and a smattering of Brits and Aussies. The lower deck was occupied almost exclusively by Egyptians, some in couples, but also many families, including multi-generation ones. I found it to be a very interesting mix of guests.

Outside Our Suite on the Nile cruise
Outside Our Suite

All of the top deck cabins were similar in size except for the two most forward ones which were considerably larger. I don’t know if it was the luck of the draw or what, but we got one of the two large forward suites. It might be because we’re Nova Scotians as the other suite was occupied by the only other Nova Scotians on the tour – you know we are such nice and deserving folks. That’s Alison outside the other couple’s suite. I’m sure you can appreciate that I didn’t want to swim out into the Nile to get a picture of ours.

None of the suites had balconies, but the next best thing was this small lounge area just outside our front door – the two forward suites were the only ones with an inside and outside entrance.

Outside Patio
Outside Patio

This is the interior of our suite which had a distinct sitting area, fridge and TV with BBC.

Our Sitting Area
Our Sitting Area

This is the bed, which was quite comfortable.

Bedroom, Radamis II
Bedroom, Radamis II

By small ship standards the bathroom was also quite spacious with hot water that worked, not a given on some ships in third world countries.

This is the outside deck with small swimming pool and hot tub, which we didn’t make us of.

Top Deck
Top Deck

However, the chaise lounges saw a lot of use by all groups and were a perfect place from which to watch life on the Nile or to catch a few rays or an afternoon nap.

Relaxing on the Nile
Relaxing on the Nile

I don’t know why, but I forgot to take any pictures of the restaurant or the bar/lounge areas. Suffice it to say that the food service was all buffet style and included a mix of different cuisines. Unfortunately, some of the best looking items, like the fresh fruits and vegetables, were also the ones we had to avoid or else risk getting traveler’s diarrhea or worse. Ahmed came up with a system whereby he would inspect the items on the buffet and declare an item either good or very good. Good actually meant bad and very good meant just that.

The quality of the food was similar to the buffets we had experienced in the Egyptian hotels and there were always enough choices to satisfy most palates. The one thing I did learn very quickly was to get your desserts at the start of the buffet. The Egyptians make great desserts and the Egyptian people love them enough that the first thing they did when the buffet opened was to charge the dessert table and wipe it out.

You could buy beer and wine at the bar and take it to your table or your room. Prices were not unreasonable, but the wine selection was pretty slim.

OK, that’s the story of the Radamis II, now let’s get on with the cruising.

The Nile Cruise from Aswan to Edfu

Egyptian Flag
Egyptian Flag

As I’ve mentioned on previous posts, tourism in Egypt has declined drastically over the last few years, particularly among western tourists. Nowhere is this more evident than in the number of Nile cruise boats lying idle in Aswan and Luxor. For every active boat there were at least three or four tied up and going nowhere. That might make you think that the places you would visit on the cruise would be relatively uncrowded; unfortunately not so. The reason is that the active ships pretty well all leave Aswan at the same time and arrive at Kom Ombo and Edfu at the same time. At no time during our short cruise were there no other ships in sight, but that really wasn’t a big deal. It did not detract from what, for me, was the most interesting part of the trip and that was just observing the rural Egyptian way of life that in some ways has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Here’s an example. This is a hieroglyph of a felucca that is thousands of years old and yet you can see the same boats, virtually unchanged in design, plying the waters of the Nile today.

Hieroglyphic Felucca
Hieroglyphic Felucca

Here’s another, a man riding a donkey with two cows in tow that no doubt are among his most valuable assets. Did he just buy them or is he going to market to sell them? Maybe he’s just moving them to a better pasture. These type of scenes are as old as the history of domestication and to me are as important to understanding the Egyptian way of life as the more vaunted monuments.

Donkey and Cows
Man With Donkey and Cows

And another. Teams of two would work the river, one rowing and pulling a small net, the other beating the water with a long stick to scare the fish into the net. It’s a technique that at first seems ludicrous, but in reality has worked for thousands of years. It also looked like bloody hard work and dispelled any notions that Egyptians were not industrious.

Water Beater as seen on a Nile cruise
Water Beater

So, even if you have no interest in visiting the temples at Kom Ombo and Edfu, there are still very good reasons for going on a Nile cruise.

By late afternoon the Radamis II arrived at Kom Ombo which was already aswarm with other boats discharging hundreds of people all headed to the same place – the Ptolemaic temple dedicated to Herwer and Sobek. You can see them in the background and that’s as close as we got as we decided not to fight the crowds and enjoy some quiet time on deck. You could actually hear a roar from the shouts of the hawkers, caleche drivers and others who rely on the decreasing number of tourists for their livelihood.

At Kom Ombo
At Kom Ombo

After those who did choose to go ashore returned, the Radamis II continued downriver to Edfu where we arrived after dark. On the way there was this gorgeous Nile sunset. When the sun got below the clouds in the west, its rays reflected off the underside of the clouds and then in turn seemed to refract onto the river giving it this almost purplish pink appearance that was truly beautiful. This picture does not do it justice.

Sunset on the Nile
Sunset on the Nile

We stayed on board for a latish supper followed by this appearance by a belly dancer.

 
For more on Dale’s travels to Egypt as well as his other globe-trotting tales – be sure to visit themaritimeexplorer.ca. 
Thank you so much for sharing with us Dale! Looking forward to touring with you again! 

Millions-of-Pink-Flamingos-at-Lake-Nakuru-1-490x351

Why Lake Nakuru National Park is not just for birds.

Millions-of-Pink-Flamingos-at-Lake-Nakuru-1-490x351

At Adventures Abroad, we believe our travellers are the best group out there.

Our small group tours are complemented by people with an adventurous spirit from all over the world. People who are keen to experience new cultures, peoples, cuisines, philosophies and points of view.

In 2017 we were pleased to travel with Dale, a lawyer and travel writer from Canada. After returning from the tour, he shared with us his impressions of Lake Nakuru in Kenya and we excited to share with you his beautiful photos and words. 

This post originally appeared on The Maritime Explorer and has been republished with permission. 

 


 

This is my fourth post on a recent trip Alison and I took to the fantastic country of Kenya courtesy of Adventures Abroad and their Kenyan representatives, Discover Safaris. Originally I was going to do a post on each game drive, but decided instead to post a comprehensive Photo Gallery with shots from all of the parks we visited. However, I am still going to do a post on each park and this one is Lake Nakuru National Park.

As a birder since my early teens, I had heard of Lake Nakuru and its famous flamingos for decades. National Geographic ran several stories over the years on the Lake Nakuru flamingos and recently named it as one of the Top 10 Colourful Scenes On Earth. Needless to say it was a mandatory destination on the Kenya trip and I was really psyched about getting there. When our driver and guide Richard Warukira told us on the way to Lake Nakuru that the flamingos might not be there, I was crestfallen to say the least. What happened to them and where did they go? Read on and I’ll explain, but first let me tell you about the great game lodge we stayed in at Lake Nakuru National Park and how we got there.

Ol Pejeta to Lake Nakuru

Our first three days were spent at Sweetwaters Camp in Ol Pejeta Conservancy and I wrote This Post about our fabulous stay there. BTW one definitely needs a thesaurus to adequately find enough adjectives to describe the great things about the Kenyan parks and the great accommodation you find in them.

As the crow flies it’s not that far from Ol Pejeta to Lake Nakuru, but there’s the Aberdare Mountain Range in between the cities of Nanyuki and Nakuru which is impassable by motor vehicle. So our route was more like a reverse N, first going south to Nyeri, then jogging northwest to Nyahururu and finally southwest to Nakuru. Almost the entire route was on paved highways with moderate traffic through relatively prosperous looking agricultural areas including tea plantations where field workers were hard at work.

Tea Plantation Workers
Tea Plantation Workers

There were many roadside stalls selling a great variety of produce with red onions and white potatoes the most predominant vegetables on display. Oddly enough neither tea, potatoes or onions are native to Africa.

Roadside Stalls
Roadside Stalls
Red Onions & White Potatoes for Sale
Red Onions & White Potatoes for Sale

One of the reasons I love to travel in third world countries is that you get to sees things that you would never see in a nanny state like Canada or most of the EU. For example, three guys on a motorcycle.

Three Guys on a Bike
Three Guys on a Bike

Or this obviously overloaded lorry – even if it is just foam.

Truckful of Foam
Truckful of Foam

Or this version of a carwash.

Kenyan Car Wash
Kenyan Car Wash

You also see a lot of agricultural equipment that has been jury-rigged to operate long after they would have been confined to the scrap heap back home. Take a good look at this tractor. At first glance it appears to be a Canadian Massey Ferguson, which I thought it was when I took the picture. But a closer look reveals that its a Massey Fergussion whatever the hell that is.

Massey Fergussion
Massey Fergussion Tractor

Donkeys are still a primary mode of transport in rural Kenya, particularly for delivering water.

Delivery by Donkey
Delivery by Donkey

About halfway to Nakuru we passed through the town of Nyahururu which lies at an elevation of over 7,500 feet. It is the home to many of the famous Kenyan long distance runners, who along with the Ethiopians, have dominated marathon racing for the past thirty years. It is also the site of Thomson’s Falls where we stopped for pictures, avoiding the locals dressed in native costume who wanted a fee to have your picture taken with them. I was quite happy just to have mine with my bride.

At Thomsons Falls
At Thomsons Falls

At 243 feet (72 meters) the falls are quite impressive and definitely worth a stop. There is no admission fee and it’s right off the main highway.

Thomson's Falls
Thomson’s Falls

On the way from the parking lot to the viewing area was this sign that I think says a lot about Kenyans. Just like their aversion to loud noise, so too with their ‘Polite Notices’ which you see in many places. No need to get hysterical with words like Achtung, Verboten or a circle with a red slash through it. Just a gentle reminder is all that is required.

Polite Notice
Polite Notice

Sarova Lion Hill Lodge

Just outside the small and busy city of Nakuru is the entrance to Lake Nakuru National Park which completely encircles the lake just to the south of the city. On the right hand side you can see our destination, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge, one of only two in the park. We arrived in time for lunch and a chance to check the place out before the afternoon game drive.

Lake Nakuru National Park
Lake Nakuru National Park

Sarova, like Serena, is an East African hotel chain that specializes in upscale resorts and game lodges. Sarova Lion Hill Lodge has a great location amidst a botanical setting in the forested hills that surround most of Lake Nakuru. It is not a tented camp, but a traditional lodge with a variety of rooms that have views of Lake Nakuru.

Lake Nahuru from Lion Hill Lodge
Lake Nahuru from Lion Hill Lodge

This is the exterior of our room.

Room 60, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge
Room 60, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge

This is the interior. Again, like Sweetwaters, not exactly roughing it.

Interior Room 60, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge
Interior Room 60, Sarova Lion Hill Lodge
Room 60, Lion Hill Lodge
Room 60, Lion Hill Lodge

The lodge itself is made almost entirely of wood and stone and has a dark, burnished look to it that is somehow reassuring.

Welcome to Sarova Lodge, Lake Nakuru
Welcome to Sarova Lodge

The staff were very welcoming and friendly.

Sarova Reception Desk
Sarova Reception Desk

We had lunch at the restaurant which as per all these Kenyan lodges, was a buffet with a wide variety of foods to cater to the international mix of the clientele.

Sarova Restaurant Buffet
Sarova Restaurant Buffet

And of course, there is a great bar, an absolute necessity in all these type of places. I can vouch for the Tom Collins’.

Sarova Bar
Sarova Bar

After lunch I took a stroll around the grounds and was surprised at the great variety of small birds, many of which I had not seen at Sweetwaters. These are Blue-Eared Glossy Starlings.

Blue-Eared Glossy Starling 2

Blue-Eared Glossy Starlings
Blue-Eared Glossy Starlings

Speckled Mousebirds

Speckled Mousebirds
Speckled Mousebirds
White-Browed Robin Chat
White-Browed Robin Chat

And some familiar faces.

Speke's & Baglafecht Weavers
Speke’s & Baglafecht Weavers

Lake Nakuru Game Drive

As you can see from the map, Lake Nakuru National Park has a road that completely encircles it. We will be driving in a clockwise direction from Lion Hill Lodge as far as Pelican Point and then back which Richard assures us will take in all the most important sites in the park. So let’s go.

Almost immediately we come across a troop of baboons which are cavorting on both sides of the road and in the trees surrounding it. They provide instant entertainment, especially the young ones and prove the old adage about a barrel of monkeys.

Three Baboons, Lake Nakuru
Three Baboons

Next Richard spots the first hippo of the trip which shows only its back before submerging completely. Hopefully this won’t be the only spotting of these huge beasts.

Our First Hippo, Lake Nakuru
Our First Hippo

While trying to get a better look at the hippo I spot something large slithering in the grass not far from the shoreline. It’s a huge monitor lizard that I definitely would not want to meet face to face. I always associated these relatives of the fearsome and potentially lethal Komodo dragon, with Indonesia, but this is a Nile monitor, native to most of Africa. They can grow up to eight feet long and although it’s difficult to tell how big this guy is from the photo, I would estimate four feet.

Monitor Lizard, Lake Nakuru
Monitor Lizard

By coincidence, I am writing this post in Lee County, Florida and in looking up facts on the Nile monitor I discover that there is a growing population of them in this very county, including on my beloved Sanibel Island so maybe I will come face to face with one after all.

As we transit from the euphorbia forest to the more typical acacia there is a band of grass between the forest and the lake. The sightings just keep on coming one after another. Here are the first hyenas of the trip, on the prowl and looking for prey. These are Spotted Hyenas, also called laughing hyenas and despite a reputation as scavengers, are actually very effective hunters. They are also replacement undertakers for the Maasai who, instead of burying their dead, put them out to be consumed by hyenas. This is not BS; I later confirmed it with a Massai elder.

Spotted Hyenas, Lake Nakuru
Spotted Hyenas

The hyenas passed by these two beautiful white rhinos who would have no reason to fear them and didn’t, just letting the hyenas go on their way.

Two White Rhinos, Lake Nakuru
Two White Rhinos

In the acacia forest we rounded a corner and came almost face to face with this giraffe munching on the acacia leaves, thorns and all. Did you know giraffes have blue tongues? Neither did I until I saw this fellow close up.

Blue-Tongued Giraffe
Blue-Tongued Giraffe

This guy/girl is a Rothschild’s giraffe, the rarest of the three giraffe species. They are found in only a few reserves in Kenya and Uganda and there may be less than 1,000 left in the wild. Believe it or not, big game hunters like that asshole dentist from Minnesota, will pay huge sums to have a poacher guide lead them to where they can be shot. If there was any justice in the world these hunters and their guides would be tied to stakes and the hyenas called in. BTW hyenas don’t bother to kill their victims before starting to eat them. They just start by ripping the guts out and chowing down. That’s a video I’d love to see on YouTube.

It was an amazing experience to see these giraffes in the wild.

Rothschild's Giraffe, Lake Nakuru
Rothschild’s Giraffe

Even before getting to the spot where we hoped to see the flamingoes, there was plenty of avian life including our one and only sighting on the trip of the crowned crane, one of the most recognizable birds in the world. I’d seen them in zoos many times, but to see them in their natural habitat was something else. They have to be one of the most majestic birds in existence.

Crowned Cranes , Lake Nakuru
Crowned Cranes

We also spotted this Augur buzzard. For reasons I can’t determine, North Americans think buzzards are members of the vulture family, when in fact they are birds of prey that are closely related to hawks and eagles.

Augur Buzzard, Lake Nakuru
Augur Buzzard

Speaking of eagles, Africa has a great variety including the long-crested which is a terror to small rodents, but probably wouldn’t go after those cute little baby baboons we saw earlier.

Long-Crested Eagle, Lake Nakuru
Long-Crested Eagle

Our next first was the largest bird in the world. Like most people I’ve been seeing ostriches in zoos since I was a little kid, but there’s something completely different about seeing them in the wild. This is a lone female and we would see many more on the trip, but the first one is always special.

Female Ostrich, Lake Nakuru
Female Ostrich

She seemed to think so too.

Ostrich Closeup
Ostrich Closeup

Lake Nakuru Flamingos

By now we were at the southern end of the lake and the forest gave way to open savannah which in turn gave way to dried mud flats leading to the shoreline. It was time to look for the famous flamingos of Lake Nakuru.

Lake Nakuru is one of a number of soda lakes in the Rift Valley of Kenya. They are called soda lakes because of their alkalinity which in turn leads to the algae blooms that attract the flamingos. It is no exaggeration to say that there can be over 1,000,000 flamingos at Lake Nakuru at one time. Here is a photo from the web showing what it was once possible to see.

Millions of Pink Flamingos at Lake Nakuru
Millions of Pink Flamingos at Lake Nakuru

Even though we were here in February, at the height of the dry season and the supposed best time to see the flamingos, Richard said we might not see any. I assumed, with global warming and the drought in many parts of Kenya, that the problem was that there was not enough water to sustain the numbers of flamingos as in the past. I was dead wrong. The problem is not too little water, but too much!

Believe it or not, those cormorants are sitting on top of what was, until a few years ago, a marker at the junction of two roads.

Cormorants on Old Road Marker, Lake Nakuru
Cormorants on Old Road Marker

So it was with a bit of trepidation that we approached Lookout Point where the flamingos once gathered in such great numbers. We could see from a distance that we certainly were not going to find millions, let alone thousands of flamingos, but to my intense relief there were still quite a few. Just how many flamingos do you need to spot to honestly say that you’ve “Seen the flamingos of Lake Nakuru”? I’m not sure, but this number does it for me.

Lake Nahuru Flamingos
Lake Nahuru Flamingos
Lake Nahuru Flamingos
Lake Nahuru Flamingos

These are flamingos of the greater or pink variety, famous as both lawn ornaments and for the names of countless bars and restaurants, three of which I can think of in Lee County alone. They are both ungainly and stately at the same time – a living oxymoron. Who doesn’t love flamingos? I can now go to my grave, secure in the knowledge that I’ve seen the flamingos of Lake Nakuru.

Greater Flamingo, Lake Nakuru National Park
Greater Flamingo
Greater Flamingos
Greater Flamingos

Flamingos weren’t the only birds enjoying the bounty of Lake Nakuru. These are African white pelicans.

White Pelicans, Lake Nakuru
African White Pelicans

This is a yellow-billed stork.

Yellow Billed Stork
Yellow Billed Stork

And a black-winged stilt.

Black-Winged Stilt, Lake Nakuru
Black-Winged Stilt

And lastly a grey heron.

Grey Heron
Grey Heron

We spent a fair amount of time at Lookout Point and hardly noticed that the sun was starting to go down. I took this shot as we headed back to Lion Hill Lodge.

Nakuru Sunset
Nakuru Sunset

After supper it was time for a little tribal drumming and dancing.

African Dancers
African Dancers
African Men Dancers
African Men Dancers
African Wedding Dance
African Wedding Dance

Alison happily joined in, but after my tragic dance floor accident of a few years ago I ordered another gin and tonic instead.

Alison Goes Native
Alison Goes Native

Can you believe that everything I’ve written about in this post happened in just one day? That’s Kenya for you. You gotta go!


Thanks again to Dale for sharing.

If you would like to follow along Dale’s adventures, please go to his website at www.themaritimeexplorer.ca.

Famous Meroe pyramids

THE ROADS LESS TRAVELED

Famous Meroe pyramids

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost

Before air travel became overly popular, it was easy to feel you were on the road less travelled. Since the development of the jet engine in the 1950s flying has become more commonplace, making it quicker and easier each year to see destinations you’ve been yearning over.

However, that means everyone else has been able to get to those far flung destinations too. We all know the feeling of arriving and finding out that you are undoubtedly not alone. The unbearable throngs of people all trying to see that one monument, places bursting at the seams as unending streams of people flow in and out of its city walls.

To shine a little light on places still under the radar, we wanted to share our top five underrated destinations where you’ll likely have the monuments, museums, beaches and nature paths all to yourself.

 

  1. Sudan and Djibouti Tours

    With more pyramids than Egypt, Sudan shines when discovering the ancient Pharaonic civilizations.

    Sandy hills engulf much of the landscape, which is broken up with patches of acacia tree forests, the black basalt mountains in the Bayuda Mountains, a red sandstone holy mountain found in Jebel Barkal and the twisting turning Nile Rivers that flow along the country until converging in Khartoum.

    On the banks of the Nile, local life blossoms alongside archeological sites. Nubian culture, which has inhabited the Nile Region since 2000 BC, is one of the oldest civilizations known to inhabit the African continent. Relics, such as the temple dedicated to Amon at the base of Jebel Barkal, were once the religious centre of Nubia for 1000 years, whereas the political centre was spread to numerous locations, such as the ancient city of Napata with a royal necropolis decorated fully with colourful hieroglyphics.

    Modern Nubian culture thrives in hospitality, and joining a village for a cup of tea is an experience that still feels natural.

    Near to Sudan and included in our tours to the region, Djibouti‘s well off the beaten track. Often compared to Iceland in terms of diverse landscapes, the small country has scenic salt lakes, extinct volcanoes, recessed plains, basaltic plateaus and impressive canyons.

  2. Mayotte – Comoros Islands 

    Far flung islands within the Indian Ocean, the Comoros archipelago doesn’t attract the traveller looking for a typical beach holiday. The remote location sees few tourists but locals enjoy plenty of natural beauty in what many consider the most scenic island in the Indian Ocean.

    Mayotte inherited a very diverse culture. Conquered in the 15th century by the Arabs, visited in the 16th century by the Portuguese and French, and invaded in the 18th century by the Sakalava, a Malagasy tribe from Madagascar. The French gained colonial control over Mayotte in 1843, and, together with the other islands of the Comoros archipelago and Madagascar, Mayotte became part of a single French overseas territory in the early 20th century.

    Find sprawling beaches with soft white sand, while inland active volcanoes create fertile lands producing crops such as vanilla, ylang-ylang, coffee, banana and coconuts. Spot lemurs and giant fruit bats near the baobab trees, a tree species which appear as though the roots are growing into the sky which is endemic to Mayotte, Madagascar and parts of the African continent.

  3. The Balkans: Macedonia and Kosovo 

    The Balkan Peninsula is the last corner of Europe to see tourists.

    Located near the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Black Seas, The Balkans have been at the crossroads of great civilizations since antiquity. Greek, Roman and Ottoman relics are still visible to this day.

    In Kosovo, a newly recognized country since 2008, one can view Ottoman legacies such as the Sinan Pasha Mosque built in 1561, the Carshia Mosque in Pristina constructed in the 15th century, and the Ottoman clock towers built in the 19th century in the city of Pristina. Showcasing the Serbian Orthodox minority are monasteries such as the Decani Monastery, which is considered to be one of the best preserved medieval monasteries in Kosovo or the Gracanica Monastery, built in 1321 and representing the height of Serbian Byzantine tradition.

    Follow twisting mountain roads to peaceful cobblestoned town squares with beautiful vistas. Cafe culture is alive and well in Kosovo, and while evidence of the conflicts from the 1990s are visible across the country, it feels as though that time is well in the past.

    In Macedonia, the country transitions seamlessly from the jigsaw puzzle of buildings in Skopje, which has been ruled at various times by ancient Rome, Byzantium, the First Bulgarian Empire and the Ottoman Turks, to the stunningly scenic towns such as Ohrid. Perched on the northern slopes above Lake Ohrid, the “city of 365 churches” is home to monasteries dating back to the 9th century which were once the cradle of arts and literature, even creators of the Cyrillic language.

  4. South Pacific Islands – Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati (

    You’d be forgiven if you had to reference a map to discover where the islands of Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati are.

    In Kiribati, fewer than 6000 visitors reached its shores, making it the 4th least visited country in the world. Tuvalu sees even less tourists, just under 1000 per year, while Nauru holds the distinction of being the least visited country in the world with fewer than 160 visitors per year.

    Extremely remote, these near inaccessible islands are found between New Zealand and Hawaii, and boast a wonderful Polynesian culture. In Kiribati, Micronesians speak the same Oceanic language since perhaps as far back as 3000 BC. Throughout history, arrivals from Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji have impacted the ‘cultural landscape’.

    Climate change is a real issue facing all three countries. Rising sea levels are expected to submerge the islands completely. Kiribati recently made headlines after it bought land in Fiji to relocate its 100,000 inhabitants. Tuvalu will be extremely hard hit as its highest point is a mere 4.6 m above sea level.

    If you like stunning coral reefs surrounding small atolls with palm fringed beaches in truly off the beaten path locations, these South Pacific Islands are ones to consider.

  5. Bhutan

    When a country measures itself against a ‘gross national happiness’ index, you know it is somewhere unique.

    A true Himalayan Kingdom, majestic monasteries cling to the hillsides of snowcapped mountains overlooking deeply cut gorges and pine-filled valleys in postcard-perfect settings.
    Bhutan‘s official name, ‘Druk Yul’, means the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’, and the country has taken a sustainable approach to tourism by highly regulating the numbers of tourists allowed into the country. This means plenty of space to explore for those that venture there.

    Explore the dzongs, a distinct fortress structure, such as the Punakha Dzong built on the junction of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers in 1637, the Tashicho Dzong with over 2000 monks in residence, or the Paro Dzong which each spring sees the Tsechus Festival. The Buddhist religious festival includes masked dances depicting the events from the life of Padmasambhava, the eighth-century Nyingmapa Buddhist teacher.

 

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Why Greece is the Perfect Family Getaway

greece_new You’ve wanted to go to Greece your whole life. The allure of those idyllic Greek islands surrounded by endless crystal-clear turquoise waters. The abundance of marble ruins scattered across the land, each with a tale of a mythical legend or a philosophical genius that would forever shape our civilization. Or maybe you simply want to over-indulge in a Mediterranean diet with fresh fruit, fish, vegetables and seasoned with virgin olive oil to nourish your appetite.   But you’re not just taking a holiday for you anymore.  You’ve got children, and maybe grandchildren, and nothing is better than exploring the world with those you love. Instead of doing another family vacation to a resort or a theme park, you want to take them somewhere exciting, vibrant in culture, rich in history and with jaw dropping scenery that will create memories to last for the rest of your lives. You already know the reasons why you want to go to Greece, but here is why it is also your next perfect getaway for the entire family. Fun for all ages Depending on your age, if you well into your golden years and planning a retirement vacation,  just starting a family, an adrenaline seeking teenager or an inquisitive pre-teen, your idea of ‘fun’ might be different than the next member of your family. Greece has a way of making everyone feel young again as each destination creates a sense of excitement. Whether it is standing in the shadow of the Acropolis, climbing a 17th century Venetian fortress, testing out your vocal abilities in a 2500 year old theatre or wandering the pirate-proof alleys of an idyllic Greek Isle before finding one of the many beaches that makes Greece so dreamy. We craft each journey to make sure our excursions are varied and interesting. When we explore a museum in the morning, we do gentle walking tour in the afternoon. The next day goes in a completely different direction and lets imaginations run wild while visiting an historic castle or set of ancient ruins. The point is to keep each day fresh, with a focus on the best of what there is to offer but never let the trip hit a dull moment. Guided tours aim to be equally informative and interactive, so that no eyes get glazed over in the process of learning. We enjoy the outdoors as much as possible, because we all know kids benefit with freedom that comes with fresh air. Easily accessible and comfortable For family tours, one key component of ensuring a comfortable journey is in simple details like spending at minimum 2 nights in the same hotel. No unpacking means more time to explore and less fuss. Less fuss is always good when travelling as a family. Hotels are always well appointed, close to the action but in a quieter part of the city. With a tour, someone else always takes care of the details, leaving you time to relax. We always use the highest of quality in transport, whether that is a large hydrofoil or ferry or an air-conditioned motor vehicle or a taxi. When it comes to the travelling between sites, none of the distances we travel in Greece are too great, all of the routes are incredibly scenic, so you won’t have worry about who’ll be first to ask ‘are we there yet?’ Memories that will last a lifetime The most important part of a family vacation is to have fun in a meaningful way. As you travel Greece in a smaller group sizes, you’ll find it to be a more rewarding experience that you’ll remember for years to come. In the Greek culture, family is the strongest bonds one will have and from the moment you touch down in Athens, locals will make you feel like you’re apart of their family. Greeks give a hearty and warm welcome to all ages, and our destinations are low in crime so that everyone feels safe to exploreWhether you are a first time explorer or a seasoned traveller, Greece has the ability to leave a mark on its visitors. Your memories of long days of laughter will be set with a backdrop of Mykonos’ sugar-cube houses. Your sense of awe will be awoken in marble ruins fit for the gods and you’ll be telling intriguing stories for years that could rival the legends of Hercules. You’ve known forever that you’ve wanted to go to Greece; why not share your sense of adventure with the whole family?

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Experiencing Vietnam’s Culture to the Fullest

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Vietnam is a country of contrasts. It is also a country that stimulates every single one of the senses. Fast-changing city skylines feel miles away from the breathtaking rural villages and timeless landscapes bursting with beauty.

The country’s pulse beats at a quick pace in the thriving metropolitan cities, complete with a never ending hum of moto­taxis and lingering scent of spicy street food stalls open from dawn until well after dusk. Just the opposite: the countryside encompasses an eternal pause that could define the word zen. Water­logged rice paddies stand still in the lines snaking through the valley floor between the karst mountains, as the sunset melts into a golden dream beyond the emerald green waters of Ha Long Bay.

Once a country so divided and overwhelming news stations with stories only of unimaginable horrors, the current Vietnam is a complete dream to travellers. Rich in both modern and ancient history, culinarily gifted, boasting surreal landscapes and a nation filled with determined people who are incredibly generous friendly and generous. For a first timer, a trip to Vietnam can be sensory overload, so how can one experience Vietnam’s culture to the fullest? Here are three easy steps that will ensure you experience it all: Seek out the new and the old With a human history dating back 25,000 years, to say Vietnam has a varied culture is an understatement. Throughout its years, Vietnam has been invaded or occupied by the Chinese, the Mongols, the Dutch, the French, the Americans, the Japanese, and the Chams, to name a view. While historically a nomadic people, the hill tribes of Vietnam vary greatly as well. Even in the smallest of villages one can find several different tribes, each with its own customs. While traditional stilt houses remain intact and in use for some tribes, most of the cultures of these people are beginning to transition into a modern era in which they are more interactive with outsiders. Perhaps the mix of historical influences is best discovered with architecture. Easily found are Japanese pagodas, Imperial “Forbidden City” characteristics fit for the Chinese emperors, Hindu temples, neo­classical lines of a French colonial opera houses or European style balconies and cafes to a distinctly Vietnamese mix of all. Less ancient history takes one to tunnels where the Vietnamese escaped during the brutal war bombings. Everything took place beneath the soil: living, dying, weddings, and births. For the visits good for the soul, one can seek an abundance of religions. Roman Catholic churches brought by the French, delicate temples dedicated to Hinduism created by the Chams and 20th-century icons of the eye used in humanistic religions popularized by the mass following of dispossessed peasants. With a small group tour, the sensory overload of new and old is easily broken down to understand and appreciate both the large and grand sites and the small unexpected ones. Eat everything Ask the most seasoned of Vietnam travellers what their favourite part of Vietnam is and the food experience will likely be at the top. From the fresh fruit and fish markets, the outdoor street vendors with plastic chairs and hot soup, to the upscale restaurants with million-dollar views to sip rice wine from or the small cafe serving French baguettes, ­ there are plenty of options to choose from. Try to indulge in the pho (soup) and taste the difference between the Chinese-influenced variety in the North, the spicier take in the South, and the more complex soups with more herbal infusions in the coastal areas. You’ll be hard pressed to escape without testing a seafood dish and the coffee lovers will relish a cup perfected after being brought over in the early 1800s during the French colonial era. With a tour, your taste buds will have a variety like never before and each meal planned to show you the best flavours to represent the country. Learn from a local It’s no secret that those who live in a place know it better than any outsider can. With a small-guided group tour of Vietnam, you’ll be taken on a journey to explore both the old and the new. Guided visits to museums, world heritage sites, cities, national parks, rural villages and more. This makes it one of our top destinations for seniors or those looking for a richer cultural experience. Meals will be in local establishments, not hotel buffets, and with a small group you’ll be able to move easily within the at times chaotic cities. You’ll always be able to hear the guide, the pace will always be mindful of rest time that allows you to have some independent time to explore and soak up all the first-hand knowledge you’ll learn along the way. Take a tour of all the highlights of Vietnam to best experience its culture. Every one of your senses will thank you.

How To Plan The Perfect Retirement Vacation

For many, it is one of the most difficult questions to answer:  where do I go for my vacation post-retirement? After years of making your mark in the business world, the time has finally come to find a new focus. The unique opportunity arrives where you can design your own schedule, engage in new cultures, taste different cuisines, admire world wonders and discover another lifestyle that was far removed from your daily routine. Retirement is the perfect time to see the world. Whether it is the first vacation you take after retiring or one you take decades after leaving a post, it is invariably a difficult decision to make. Prior to booking, the amount of questions and concerns that can arise can cause a great deal of stress, so much so that all enjoyment and anticipation in the planning process for your vacation can be ruined. While some travellers prefer to go it alone, booking their own hotels, transportation and activities after hours of destination research and guidebooks, others see the value in relying on travel experts. Do you try out a small group travel tour for seniors or even go with some friends and family? With a professional preparing an itinerary that matches your interests, pairing you up with like-minded individuals who are keen to discover new cultures and explore foreign lands can be highly beneficial in getting a personalized and cultural experience. With so many options, variables and questions that can arise along the way, we decided to compile a quick guide to outline how you can start planning and preparing for the perfect retirement vacation:  

1. Where to go?

The deciding factor on where to go is centred mainly on personal preferences relating to interests and comfort levels. Do you like warm climates and cultural tours with a focus on historic sites? Perhaps exploring the Peloponnese, an area of Southern Greece brimming with fascinating ancient sites, ruins and relics of a bygone age. Or, perhaps you are more inclined to bask in breathtaking vistas and get active while on vacation? In which case, a tour of Patagonia with short hikes along some of South America’s most iconic trails is more likely to pique your interest. patagonia Spectacular Patagonia is a popular destination for the active traveller To keep the planning as simple as possible, why not make a list of your passions/interests and think about how you can incorporate them into a vacation of a lifetime? To name a few points of consideration: historical vs modern, art vs nature, museum visits vs first-hand observations, cities vs nature, wildlife vs culture.  Next, be realistic about how much exercise you want to do and, indeed, how much you will be able to do in your new environment. Remember that many European cities have cobblestone alleys that can only be explored by foot and sometimes the most remote nature reserves in the world can be explored by bus. The terrain you’ll be contending with is a big factor when it comes to choosing a destination, as is the weather – be mindful that hotter climes will take their toll on stamina and endurance. Be sure to consider your destination’s environment when making the final decision on where to go and consider how that might impact your mobility level. cobblestones_kinda Some European countries have terrain that can prove difficult Lastly, decide on a time of year that works with your schedule and what type of climate you’d like to find yourself escaping to. You may consider traveling somewhere warm like Central America during the colder seasons of your country of residence, while getaways in Central and Eastern Europe offer some wonderful sightseeing opportunities while escaping the summer heat. caribbean Central America and the Caribbean offer a great getaway for winter If there’s a specific activity or experience you’d like to enjoy, options might include bird watching in Brazil, photography in Asia, or an in-depth cultural tour that incorporates visits to tribal villages in Africa. Make a list which will at least narrow down the options. If you are travelling independently, you can use the list you compile as keywords to finding a destination that suits you. If you opt for a group tour, you will benefit from your representative’s expert knowledge relating to destinations, their sights, their accessibility, and, ultimately, their suitability for you.  

2. Where to stay?

The multitude of options when it comes to accommodation can be daunting:
  • Do you like to be in the centre of it all or farther afield, more remote and quiet?
  • Do you want five-star luxury, or would well-appointed three- and four-star hotels suffice?
  • Is it just somewhere to rest your head or part of the experience?
  • Where you stay is based heavily on where you go.
If you are booking independently, finding a place to stay will require a lot of research based on all your requirements and the information you can find online or elsewhere. Elements such as optional breakfast inclusion, wifi,, location options, past traveller experience, and so on. If booking a tour, however, accommodation is handled by professionals who have been to the area, who choose accommodation best suited for the type of traveller, and who base their decisions on feedback and recommendations from past clients.  

3. Do I need travel insurance?

While purchasing travel insurance is entirely a matter of personal choice, we  recommend it 100% of the time.   Start by finding out what you are already insured for. Some credit cards, medical plans and homeowners insurance have coverage that extends to travel -  but it’s crucial to read the fine print to ensure you are covered. Having medical insurance abroad is always a good idea. Thinking of accidents, illnesses and more extreme situations is certainly not the fun part of planning  vacation, but invariably it is better to be insured and not need it than face extortionate medical bills if the unforeseen were to happen. Optional insurance coverage would include things like baggage, trip interruption, cancellation, identity theft and political evacuation. You can buy insurance that covers just the basics with a few options, or a comprehensive insurance for every situation imaginable. Do your homework on what you are already covered for, and what you’d like to be covered for just in case.  If in doubt, ask a professional who sells insurance and consult your country’s travel advisories.  

4. Will my medical conditions be an issue?

If you haven’t travelled before, it is difficult to know how your body will react abroad and we’d suggest a tip of 21 days or less as your first vacation. Every day people travel around the globe with medical issues ranging from osteoarthritis, neurological ailments like mild Parkinson’s, to high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, diabetes, sleep apnea, and post-cancer treatments. If you have concerns, ask your doctor before you plan your trip whether it is safe for you to travel, and if you get the go-ahead, ensure you bring all your medications with you. Always pack your medications or medical equipment in your carry on, with a few extra doses as availability to prescriptions varies in foreign countries.  

5. What else do I need to know?

Be warned that the perfect retirement vacation often leads to further wanderlust! The more you discover, the longer your list of places to discover becomes. Small-group-travel tours often attract lifelong learners who have led successful careers and are keen to learn about the world around them. This is often true because the smaller groups offer a more personalized and richer cultural experience that you simply won’t find anywhere else. While planning your perfect vacation destination, don’t be surprised if you happen across several more spots that will undoubtedly number among your inevitable next journeys abroad.

Top 3 Travel Destinations For Seniors

It’s a big wide world out there and sometimes the hardest part of taking a trip is deciding where to go. As a lifelong learner, you know you want to travel somewhere with history and learn about a culture that is completely foreign to your own. As someone with a sense of adventure, you’ll want to be active and adventurous, with awe-inspiring nature and fascinating historical site within easy reach. And, most importantly, now enjoying your golden ears, you’ll want to do it comfortably.  Wake up in a clean, cozy room, sample sumptuous local delicacies and have  plenty of time to explore each destination in depth with ample time to recharge between excursions.   With the world at your feet and a near-limitless number of destinations from which to choose, we wanted to make one decision a little easier for you – where to go. We asked our well-travelled clients and senior industry travel professionals about the recommended top travel destinations for seniors. Here are the top three destinations that are consistently top rated: Classical Greece and the Greek Islands greece A civilization that changed the course of history to represent the way of life we know. While recently receiving more bad press than good for economic factors, Greece is nonetheless the founder of democracy, the inventor of the Olympics, home to some of the most idyllic islands in the world, and so much more. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere that inspired generations of artists, philosophers and pioneers with its mythology and be inspired by sites of antiquity dripping with historical significance. Taste the extraordinary flavours of the Mediterranean, brimming with fresh products and family recipes perfected over generations. Discover endless blue horizons as you and your group set sail to your very own Greek Island, away from the crowds.  Marvel at a tapestry of modern wonders weaved with mediaeval charms in each uniquely quaint city and village. Greece is a naturally diverse country with soaring mountains in the north and gorgeous white-sand beaches in the south. It is so much more than just a backdrop to some of the most romantic island getaways.   Greece is an easy destination to get to and a hard place to forget. Spring and fall are the perfect times to visit Greece as the weather is still warm, yet the country sees fewer crowds. Brazil, Chile and Argentina chile Mixing eco-tourism with dynamic and transforming cities, exploring Brazil, Argentina and Chile gives a wide look at life in South America. As the location of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, Rio is once again in the spotlight as the city and country upgraded services making travel more comfortable. In Brazil, begin your tour in the Amazon, the world’s largest river and most diverse eco-system. Moving south, you’ll encounter a purpose-built capital more reminiscent of the 1960s than the modern day, before escaping to a far-flung ranch with more birds than people.  Stand in awe beneath Rio’s towering Christ the Redeemer statue that stands watch over the great city, before experiencing the gentle mist from the waterfall platforms that are so close that they almost touch the world-renowned Iguacu Falls. The hustle, bustle and colour of Buenos Aires, the so-called Paris of South America, is truly a sight to behold, and the Swiss-inspired  villages set deep in the lake- and mountain-regions of the Andes are sure to astound. Patagonia will pull at your heartstrings as you tour the pampas, glaciers and mountain ranges that make its beauty famous. Set route for the end of the world, where you’ll cruise the Beagle Channel with its teeming birdlife and breathtaking snow-capped peaks. To warm your fingers and whet your appetite, fly to one of the world’s premier wine regions, Mendoza, where you’ll fall in love with more than the Malbec before crossing the Andes on a series of hairpin switchbacks and finishing in the colonial city of Santiago. Vietnam and Cambodia cambodia Cruise the natural beauty of Halong Bay with emerald green waters, interspersed with over 1,600 scattered islands, each with limestone cliffs rising dramatically out of the waters. Get lost in the eight-and-a-half-century-old Angkor Wat. Criss-cross the maze of temples, overgrown with banyan trees, massive in size and sprawling an area that needs to be seen to be believed. Experience the dazzle of Hanoi, complete with elegant pagodas, interesting museums and local puppet shows. Imagine a culture influenced by the civilizations of China and India as well as the colonial rule of Britain and France; an area with dense jungles, exotic animals, peaceful rivers, and the Mekong Delta with its fertile plains providing a feast of fruits for filling up to your heart’s desire. Planning the perfect retirement vacation starts with selecting a compelling location, rich with cultural experiences and memories to cherish for years to come. Now the only question is, what are you waiting for?