This the Manatee Amazon Explorer on the Napo River in the Amazonian Rain Forest, Ecuador, where we spent five days and nights journeying down the river exploring the jungle. It is a flat bottomed boat that can accommodate thirty people but there were just seven of us from the UK sharing the experiences. It may be called a rain forest but it was jungle; steaming, humid and mysterious. Life on the Manatee was gorgeous, delightful crew and delicious home cooked food with a sun deck and a barman who knew how to make cocktails. The cabins were small but perfect with air conditioning and comfy beds.
This is the view from our cabin door. Told you it was jungle.
This is a Caiman at night. To me this is a huge Crocodile though technically it's an Alligator. We were in a small motorised canoe exploring the river banks. I should tell you now that I can't swim and deep water and small boats frighten me. Keep this information in your head as I tell you all I could imagine was this large animal with big teeth and huge eyes making one lurch towards our small canoe and tipping us over. At the same time Bats as big as seagulls were swooping past our heads scooping up the zillions of insects for their late night feast. Glow-worms lined the banks in their thousands twinkling like fairy lights.
The young man on the left was our canoe driver. I did wonder if our holiday insurance covered us for being driven in dangerous circumstances by a ten year old. Earlier in the day we went to The Piranha Lake and saw Pink River Dolphins but then invited to swim in the lake -the lake full of Piranhas. They eat you. But only if you have an open wound. So glad I had an excuse not to go in and even if I could swim I could never get into a lake full of fishes that eat you.
Ooh look. He's looking at me. Twice a day, early morning after breakfast and then after lunch we'd disembark and get in small canoes, travel to the river banks and explore with our guide, seeing monkeys, birds, tapirs, native villages. No place for glamour here as we wore heavy wellies, rubber capes and life jackets because it isn't called a rain forest for nothing and downpours and storms can roll in at any time. Hence the steaming humidity.
By contrast this is our luxury boat, the M/V Galapagos Explorer, where we stayed for five days and nights as it cruised The Galapagos Islands. This boat accommodates one hundred passengers in luxurious cabins as big as hotel rooms. Again, twice a day we disembarked after breakfast and after lunch with experienced naturalists for shore expeditions to seek out wildlife and understand the natural history of these volcanic islands. The biggest impact walking around the islands is how the wildlife take no notice of humans as they have no fear of them. So we were able to step over Iguanas as they lay basking, get close enough to seals to gaze into their liquid eyes, exotic birds stayed where they were so we could see their beauty.
A view of the islands and a pretty beach where others snorkelled and swam in 24 degree warm sea. For those who love the water there were opportunities to swim and to snorkel every day as motorised dingies took them out into deep water. One morning as we were disembarking for our morning trip on the dingy to the shore I was standing on the deck looking down and saw a family of six reef sharks circling the dingy. Circling the dingy that I was supposed to be boarding. I couldn't do it. I couldn't climb down the steps and into the dingy, the dingy that bobs up and down, with sharks within touching distance.
A Pelican Preening.
There Be Dragons. The Iguanas have evolved to take on the colours of their habitats as all the islands vary in foliage, lava rocks, sand so they are all different. The Iguanas on the islands that are mainly black lava rock are black and indistinguishable from their surroundings. This one lives on a sandy island and blended in with the sand and the sea.
This trip was nine air flights , international and internal, two cruises and three nights spent in two cities in Ecuador. Two nights were spent in Quito the capital of Ecuador over 9000 feet above sea level and very near an active volcano in the Andes. Such a pretty city and great to explore. One night was spent in the city of Guayaquil the main port and a delightful surprise as it has a beautiful river waterfront and many small parks with City Iguanas. They had adapted themselves to blend with the urban surroundings and had long tails of green and brown stripes and mottled bodies so as they ran up the trees in the parks they were invisible. They were more twitchy than their cousins in The Galapagos and shied away from humans - typical city life eh?
This was the most adventurous holiday I have ever experienced. I am proud that I'm not as scared as I was of small boats and deep water be it a river or the ocean. Just as well because I estimate I got on and off small canoes and dingies around thirty times.
It was good to meet lots of young people backpacking their way through South America taking Gap Years from education or in-between jobs, couples making that one last trip before they settled down to make a baby. It was good to travel with people of similar ages to us who never had the means to do such things when they were very young - like us. It was good to meet so many nationalities in the Galapagos, Finnish, Russians, Americans, Swiss; Everyone eager to seek and to see and discover the world.
In February we were in the Namib Desert in Namibia. In September we were in the Sahara Desert in Tunisia. Above is a picture of the prickly pears growing around the Roman City of Dougga.
Above is a picture of chillis drying out in a cave dwelling in the troglodyte village of Matmata. People have been living in thse caves for more than two thousand years. The lady of the cave gave us sweet mint tea and her own flat bread smothered with honey and olive oil. Below is a picture of her onions drying in the baking hot sun.
Date palms protected from any rain with yellow plastic as they ripen ready for cropping in October and our Christmas 'Eat Me' boxes of dates.
Only 25% of visitors to Tunisia visit the Roman cities, Carthage, museums, medinas, Mosques, monasteries, the salt lakes and the many ancient sites.
My youngest grandson loves food. Eating it and cooking it. He cooked these fresh mackerel, asparagus salad and crushed new potatoes for dinner this week. Jack has a natural flair for cooking and a good palate although he insists he doesn't want to be a Chef de Cuisine.
Half an hour after disembarking from the MS Prince Abbas after our week long cruise on Lake Nasser we were waiting with our luggage on the East Bank of the River Nile in Aswan as we watched the Pharoanic Barge make its way across the river from Elephantine Island to transport us back to our home for a further week-The Hotel Oberoi situated on this palm covered island in the middle of the Nile. Nothing had prepared us for the beauty we were about to experience. This stretch of the Nile between the city of Aswan, the Old Dam and the High Dam and LakeNasser is scattered with islands. Ancient Aswan was originally sited on ElephantineIsland as it could be easily defended against invaders from any direction. That ancient city has long disappeared and ElephantineIsland can only be reached by the boats and feluccas that freely taxi visitors to and fro, day and night.
The ancient city of Aswan was once the largest trading centre for Upper Egypt exchanging goods from equatorial Africa and the Mediterranean. Aswan lies on the first cataract of the Nile which acted as a natural insurmountable barrier for river traffic as the bubbling waterfalls, rocks and torrents were impossible for boats to navigate. South of Aswan goods had to be carried by caravan across the barren Nubian Desert. However, the building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s changed everything. Damming the Nile and diverting the Nile flood waters into the artificial Lake Nasser has now established the pretty city of Aswan as the main river port for river cruises to Luxor and on the other side of the magnificent Aswan Dam, the dock for cruises over Lake Nasser.
The Hotel Oberoi is the only hotel on the island set in beautiful gardens with swimming pools, poolside bars and restaurant and all the bedrooms with balconies trailing with hibiscus and panoramic views over the River Nile and Aswan. The most striking feature of the Hotel Oberoi is the twelve story tower that has a 360 degree view through h
uge plate glass windows where visitors can sit and have a drink or a light meal. Our first view from the top of the tower of an Aswan sunset over the West Bank of the Nile was unforgettable as the sun sank, rapidly sliding behind the desert, while on the West Bank in the City of Aswan the lights twinkled on the Mosques.
We mused as to how the name ElephantineIsland came about? Looking south down the Nile from the tower we could see we were surrounded by large grey rocks and they all looked like elephants rising out of the water. Or was this romantic thinking on our part and the name ElephantineIsland was because of the ancient trade in ivory from Upper Nubia-now modern Sudan? Perhaps the name is a bit of both eh?
The intention was to purely relax, read and write and laze about by the pool in this very comfortable hotel and the gorgeous sunshine but there were far too many things to see in Aswan. However, the very nature of a cruise means the visitor is almost over protected from the cut and thrust of every day life in an Egyptian city as any excursions from the ship are done in a group and with the Egyptian Tour Manager. We were soon to discover how protected we had been. Woken by the call to the Mosque at dawn and then having strong coffee sitting on our balcony and watching the sun rise over Aswan, after a delicious breakfast we caught the Pharoanic Barge across the river to the Aswan Corniche along the banks of the Nile. We had only walked a few yards along the Corniche when the hassle began. It is intolerable. Caleche drivers, taxi drivers, self appointed unofficial tour guides, Felucca boatmen and children descended upon us as if from nowhere offering us rides, discounts and artefacts. I understand the poverty in Egypt and the need to take every opportunity to earn money from the tourist but this persistent pestering has the opposite effect on me. I just want them all to go away as I will spend my money as and when I want and certainly not a
s a result of this relentless hassling.
We decided to take a Caleche ride-horse and carriage- along the busy Corniche to the famous Old Cataract Hotel, where Agatha Christie stayed, to have coffee on their illustrious terraces overlooking the Nile. I insisted we chose a Caleche with the healthiest looking horse but after just a few yards I realised the horse was tired. My heart sank when the carriage driver cheerfully told us she had just had a baby. Fortunately, the Old Cataract Hotel was only a short distance away and after the usual haggling over what was originally an agreed fare, and then the driver asking for more money to feed the horse leaving me muttering that next time I'd buy my own oats, we were sitting on the terrace admiring the beauty of the Nile. Drawn to the water we chose to take a Felucca sail boat ride back to ElephantineIsland and our hotel, stopping first at an archaeological area on the Island where excavation began in 1969 to uncover the ancient settlements.
The fare was agreed with the Felucca boatman by the hour to include one hour's waiting time as we explored the archaeological area and visited the small AswanMuseum. It was so very exhilarating sailing along as the gentle breeze caught the white sails of the Felucca and we leisurely basked in the hot sunshine. The Nile was a hive of activity with boats of all shapes and sizes going about their daily business. Our boatman expertly used the wind to tack to and fro around the massive grey 'elephant' rocks that loomed out of the river like giant statues. Once again we were caught off our guard as we bought our entrance tickets. From nowhere an unofficial guide attached himself to us and wouldn't go away. We wanted to quietly walk around the excavations referring to our guide book when necessary and enjoying the peace and tranquillity as we imagined the Romans who had once lived here, imagining the Cemetery for the Sacred Rams where the blood stains co
uld still be seen and gaze at the carvings in the Temple of Khnum.
We were patient with him until he got rather excited about a carving of a Pharaoh sporting an enormous black penis. He then suggested his penis was bigger than the Pharaoh's and how did Morty's compare. That was it for me! Off with him! Nevertheless, he insisted on payment not only for his services but for his seven children. From this moment on we decided to make use of organised trips to see the rest of the delights Aswan has to offer. So! They are more expensive than doing it yourself, but at least on an organised tour with an official English speaking Egyptian guide you get the freedom to concentrate on what you wanted to see and not forever doing deals.
We were a bit 'Templed-Out' by now, as anybody who has ever been to Egypt would understand, so we chose a visit by Felucca to Kitchener's Island, also known as the 'Island of Plants' to be guided by an expert of flora, fauna and wild-life and to follow this with a motor boat trip upstream to the now peaceful First Cataract and through a wild-life sanctuary. General Kitchener was the British Consul General in Egypt in 1910 and he created this luxuriously planted island. After seeing many dusty ancient ruins, the Nubian Desert and large expanses of lake this was a delightful contrast. Kitchener planted many varieties of plants here that grow in our own gardens in the UK so it was strange to see waist high Bizzy Lizzies and huge Lupins alongside lemon and date trees.
The motor boat ride up through the First Cataract is awesome. Huge granite boulders that once caused the waters to roar over them in plumes of spray now stand exposed in the reduced waters of the Nile. The boat wove its way through these immense boulders and we saw herons, kingfishers, terns, kites and other abundant birdlife plus water buffalo and mules. It was eerily silent and the birds seemed to be putting on a show for us as
they appeared to order as if by magic for our expert guide. The final part of this tour was to spend an hour in a genuine Nubian village on the West Bank. The people of the village opened their homes for us, showed us baby crocodiles in tanks, scorpions in jars and played with snakes. They also gave us mint tea and we bought two Egyptian cotton shirts for two pounds sterling each. The Nubians are a very elegant and good looking people with a quiet charm and I felt sad that many of the older Nubians in the village would have been forced to leave their homes in the 1960s when their villages were drowned by the forming of LakeNasser.
A must to see if ever the reader is in Aswan are the temples of Philae. The island that the temples of Philae originally stood on for three thousand years were partially flooded by the construction of the first Aswan Dam in 1902 and completely submerged by the building of the new High Dam. Consequently, the ruins were dismantled and rebuilt by UNESCO on another island one mile south of the Aswan Dam on the stretch of the Nile between the two dams. A short coach ride and we stood in the afternoon heat watching a scene of utter madness as hundreds of dilapidated old motor boats with engines that had seen better days fought for space at the quayside so they could moor up and let the many tour groups board to be taken to the Island Of Philae. By now we expected our appetite for ancient temples to have been sated but as the boat approached the temples we were very impressed with the magnificence of the obelisks and enjoyed a couple of hours quietly wandering around. Ready for our hotel room by now and a drink before dinner we still had one more visit to the granite quarry to see the unfinished obelisk. Mmmm! That's what I thought too as quarries do nothing for me so that Egyptian beer back at the hotel was calling me.
A little more to tell here about Egyptian hospitality and the Hotel Oberoi in Aswan-throughout our stay both on the ship and in the hotel we were amused at the bed-towel art that greeted us every night when we retired to our room. The room service made exotic animals and birds from white towels using rose petals and hibiscus flowers as decoration and laid them on the bed. This was apart from the very grim crocodile on our cabin floor wearing dark glasses and a wide open mouth held in position by the television remote control. It is the custom on a cruise to put money in the envelopes provided for gratuities. The last night on the ship we were greeted by towel art of a man in the bed wearing Morty's jumper, dark glasses and holding the tipping envelopes in its hands. The hotel was a little more romantic as they created graceful swans and rose-strewn hearts to surprise us every night. We were also happy that there was no need to 'dress-up' on either the ship or the hotel for the evenings. We prefer the casual approach as we are on holiday and pressure of any kind is unwanted.
Egyptian wine leaves much to be desired. The choice of red, white or rose is limited and some likened it to a chemical cleaner, but being a brave little soldier I soon adjusted my palate to the white wine and got rather fond of it. I've had worse in English pubs! The only beer available was a tinned variety of Fosters which was refreshing enough when required. There was a fridge in our room both on the boat and in the hotel so there is a choice to drink any duty-free in the room. The meals in our hotel were excellent. Buffet style but a continual stream of freshly cooked food was brought from the kitchens to the endless buffet tables. It was possible to eat European as well as more Egyptian style food and vegetarians were very well provided for. The vegetables were grown in the hotel gardens and I wanted to hug the pastry chef as the deserts were wonderful. There was a wide variety of good breads and I had cinnamon pancakes with honey and thick yoghurt with plump raisins for breakfast every morning as I never have that at home.
Not to be deterred by the hassle from the Corniche we decided to take a Caleche ride through the Souk or market. Avoiding eye contact I chose a horse drawn Caleche and made sure the horse had some meat on it and didn't look old and worn out. Better luck this time, as we ripped along the promenade at a fair pace with a comparatively happy horse and the driver took us on a tour of Aswan. It is a small city and it was good to see schools, childrens' play parks, well maintained Mosques, CopticChurches, local shops and the general hustle and bustle of every day life. The Souk in Aswan is recognised as being the best in Egypt with quite wide streets and a huge variety of goods on sale. Emboldened by the lack of hassling we paid our driver and walked the mile or so back through the Souk to get the full atmosphere of the shops and peddlers selling their goods. So many spices, materials, fruits, leather, meat, rugs and vegetables for sale and thankfully we were left alone and no more harangued than in a typical London street-market.
Aswan is very proud of their new NubiaMuseum opened in 1997, and rightly so. It is situated opposite the Old Cataract hotel and stands in its own vast gardens with water features, statues, palm trees and walkways. It is spread over several floors and displays very important objects from throughout Nubian history. As with many museums there is too much to take in on one visit alone so rather than get culture weariness we made two trips and wandered around at our leisure. I understand that the CairoMuseum is relocating and building a new museum to house its treasures. If it is half as wonderful as the NubianMuseum in Aswan then we are all in for a treat as that makes returning to Cairo a must in the future.
There were so many other places to visit in Aswan and the surrounding areas but none of them are compulsory. You don't have to be active. There are some who would prefer to take advantage of the beautiful weather and stay by the pool to swim, drink, eat, sleep, visit the gym, have beauty treatments and massage and wallow in the luxury. During the week we did a bit of both and as we flew from Aswan International Airport on our return flight to Gatwick we both agreed that this, our second visit to Egypt, was probably our best holiday yet and certainly not our last to the Land of the Pharaohs.
We've just returned from our travels through The Baltic Countries beginning with Sweden, moving on to Finland, then Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Germany and finishing in Denmark. All this achieved cruising on The Clipper Adventurer, a small cruise ship with just over one hundred passengers, a wonderful crew, delicious food and The Baltic Sea and The Gulf of Finland as calm as a duck pond all of the way. I ate fresh fish every day and above is a small example of the foods sold in a local food market - but I can't remember which country we were in when I took the photos!
Most of the time I was caught up emotionally with the people in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as the local guides proudly showed us their towns and cities and talked gently of The Troubled Times leading up to 1991 and their eventual freedom. Freedom from the Nazis to the left of them and the Russians to the right of them. Centuries of occupation, invasion and they are at last free. I kept imagining if this had been us here in the UK and simply how lucky we all are as no matter how we feel about our governments we have no idea how it was for the people of these countries. They are rebuilding their beautiful cities and they welcome visitors like us with great charm and speak our language perfectly.
We were in Finland and a pompous Git in our very privileged group asked the Finnish guide if they 'had a lot of trouble from the Eastern Europeans coming into their country and taking their jobs' I held my breath waiting for her reply and she answered
'We have many Estonians coming here to work and they are excellent carpenters so when they arrive they start up their own carpentry businesses and are a great asset to us and our economy'
Lovely dish of mussels and the fattest chips and mayo eaten sitting in the afternoon sunshine in The Bull Hotel courtyard. Although next time I order them I'll ask for them cooked with no cream. I prefer them Mariniere -simply white wine, garlic and parsley so I can drink the liquer like a soup and dunk my bread. I was left with a bowl of cream - undrinkable.
Three days of summer put me in the mood to do a tiny bit of gardening. So I repotted the Olive Tree given to me by my daughter for Mother's Day. It needed it because it was still in the original tiny pot. It's also called the Peace Tree and when I look at it now I feel peaceful.
This is where we sit every day and eat our sandwich lunch. Perhaps later in the day we may have a glass of wine as the sun sets. A simple garden. I prefer this as before I had it landscaped into four levels it was on a hill and lawned. I could never sit in it then without getting fidgety seeing all there was to do. Now I am able to sit and chill. Now and again I rake the gravel.
I had these scallops in a local Dorset eating place. They were horrid. Smelt fishy, not in a good way, and had been microwaved to the point where the edges had gone hard and crusty.
The scallops below were eaten in another local hostelry, very small and shrivelled, and I had no leaves or bread to mop up the garlic butter so I had to ask for some.
We were in The High Peak this weekend. So of course we ate a lot. The above is yet another variation on the ubiquitous scallop. These were some of the best I've eaten lately, resting on some very lush, moist black pudding. I'm giving up on scallops until an imaginitive chef comes up with something new. How about deep fried in a tempura batter? Why not?
These two photos are of our Roast Sunday Lunch in The Fallow Deer in Chapel en-le-Frith, Derbyshire. Yes-two massive Yorkshire Puddings. That's gravy in the brown jug. The vegetables were fresh and lightly steamed, the roast beef was good. This plate of food is far more hearty than most Sunday lunches where I live and only cost £7.95. Locally some places charge almost twice that. Of course we couldn't eat both Yorkies but most plates were going back to the kitchen empty so plenty of diners managed to eat them. Or maybe they gave them to a friend.
On cooking. With all these baby leaves being presented as a garnish on many dishes and they are so very small why not go back to mustard and cress?