March 27, 2009

Holy cow!

Read and drool, people – read and drool...

The line-up for a table was spilling onto the street when we arrived for our first taste of Argentina's world-famous steak. Somehow, despite not having a reservation, we managed to nab an outside table for two.

'The restaurant recommends sharing a meal between two,' it said at the bottom of the menu in fine italic print. 'Pfft,' scoffed Craig. 'I'm not sharing with anyone!'

We ordered a bottle of wine, a steak each and a side of chips.

Then, after a good half an hour, it arrived. The hugest, most gimongous, giganticast steak I have ever laid eyes on in my life, surrounded by a myriad of sauces, and it was plonked straight down in front of Craig. When mine came out, and it wasn't much smaller, all we could do was laugh... and eat.

Our mission: to eat meat. Outcome: successful.

There were people waiting for a table who offered to help Craig out with his, obviously not believing it was humanly possible for one man to eat such a large hunk of steak, but he was having none of it. He was going to eat the entire thing, even if it took him all night.

While I struggled to eat all my tender juicy steaks, covered in bacon strips, Craig ploughed on, stopping only to comment on how 'awesome' his was.

Not one to be beaten (especially when it comes to challenges of the eating kind), much to the shock, horror and admiration of the waiting diners, Craig did eat his entire steak.

And boy, was it good.

Steak, tango and an eccentric 60-something

Sunshine, blue skies and one super-cool city. It took us over 32 hours in transit (walk, bus, plane, plane, taxi) to get there, but boy was it worth it.

We had no idea what to expect of Buenos Aires (or the entire South American continent for that matter!), but what we found was a clean, vibrant city that was begging to be explored.

Short on pay-a-fortune-to-look-at-something-for-five-minutes attractions, our days were filled with pounding the pavements – our feet blistered from Havaiana shock – exploring the different suburbs that make up the Argentinian capital.

We devoured cheap choripans (chorizo sandwiches) like we hadn't tasted red meat for a year (which isn't far from the truth, thanks England) and ate ice-cream in the park in the city, watched people tango on the streets and admired the multi-coloured buildings in rough La Boca, ate succulent, gigantuous steaks in Palermo, naively walked to dodgy and dangerous Retiro to buy bus tickets and explored the eerily beautiful Recoleta cemetery.

Oh, and I almost forgot – Dereck! The crazy old dude that was living in our hostel, who took us to an old Catholic church at midnight to watch locals and people from around the world tango. While Dereck turned out to be a total weirdo, the actual experience was one to remember.

Gracias, Buenos Aires. Gracias.

March 26, 2009

Ass whooping

White Lighting was his name. 'He's a strong one,' we were told. 'You beauty!' thought Craig, who envisioned himself speeding ahead of the pack on his thoroughbred donkey.

About five minutes into our hour-and-a-half-long donkey ride to the Valley of the Kings, 'speedy' White Lightning (as he was dubbed by Craig) turned into 'phsyco donkey of the century'. His screeching 'eey-ores' could be heard from miles away – we were told this was because he 'wanted to make sex' – and then, as we were plodding along a country lane, a rogue farmer's donkey became White Lightning's first victim. Craig's screeches were louder than that of a horny donkey as White Lightning bucked onto his hind legs and took the other donkey's head into his mouth. The sheer terror on Craig's face will never be forgotten, his saviour came in the form of a farmer, who ran from the field and tore the donkeys apart.

I, on the other hand, had the best donkey ever. Up near the front of the pack, my donkey didn't miss a a beat. It stopped where I wanted to stop, went fast when I wanted it to go fast, and it didn't try to eat any other donkeys – bonus!

We then went into a few underground tombs, saw lots of heiroglyphics, yada, yada, yada. Then, it was donkey time again!

Craig felt he had formed a bond with White Lighting, so he opted to ride him back into town. This time, instead of fighting, he was in eating mode, and Craig struggled to keep up with the rest of the pack as he was constantly making 'grass-stops'.

Once the journey was over, it was time for Craig and White Lighting to say goodbye. A quick pat and it was all over. White Lighting was herded off back to wherever he came from, and Craig hobbled off – as you do after three hours of sitting on a donkey!

March 20, 2009

Fellucing it up the Nile

As Forrest Gump once said, 'Shit happens.' If that's the case in life, then it's safe to say that when travelling, 'diarrhoea happens' – both literally and metaphorically.

Lost luggage, hours and hours in transit (32 to be precise), jetlag, language barriers and hostel bathrooms do not a happy traveller make. Dealing with a whole lotta crap becomes part and parcel with the life of a backpacker, but it's the precious pinch-yourself, take-a-billion-photos, blog-about-and-make-everyone-insanely-jealous moments that make the dirty toilets, scary bus rides and endless queues all worth while.

Cue our felluca trip up the Nile River.

Our home for two days and two nights was a basic sail boat – all 13 of us ate, slept and lived on the mattress-covered deck. Our life for those precious couple of days consisted of laying back and watching the stunning Nile scenery glide by before our eyes, this was interrupted occasionally to enjoy simple-but-delicious feasts of lentil soup, mashed potato, fried chicken, veggies and a truck-load of bread – and to make the occasional behind-the-bushes toilet stop.

On our first night we stopped and visited a Nubian house, where the kind owners let us use their sand-filled courtyard to chuck around a football, take photos with their gorgeous kids and smoke sheesha (fruit flavoured tobacco).

The second night we docked on a 'beach' where we danced and sang around a bonfire, and Craig's super-competitive side came out with a game of pass-the-bottle (PS. He came in second).

We were disappointed when we had to leave the felluca to be shuttled off to yet another temple, we could easily have spent a couple more days lying back, beer in hand, enjoying the beauty of Egypt.

Hands down, the highlight of our Egyptian experience!

March 15, 2009

Highlight of the day

11 March, 2009: Visiting Abu Simbel

It took a 2.45am wake-up call and a three-hour bus ride (the machine-gun-wielding policeman accompanying us on the bus was complimentary), but the journey to Abu Simbel was totally worth it. The Great Temple of Ramses II is truly awe-inspiring, both inside and out – carved into a mountain between 1274 and 1244 BC (in other words, a bloody long time ago), we just can't get our heads around how the ancient Egyptians made this massive, detailed monument.

Once again, you weren't allowed to take photos inside (FYI, it's filled with more statues and walls covered in hieroglyphics), but the outside pretty much speaks for itself. What's even more amazing, is that in the 1960s this monument was set to be lost forever under the Nile, so experts around the world united to move it piece by piece over four painstaking years.

Craig's already put in his order for a similar structure in his honour. Any volunteers?

Market madness

'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, oi, oi.'

'Where you from? Australia?'

'Welcome to Atlanta.'

'Everything half price today.'

'Hassle-free shop.'

'You want scarf? Spices? Magnet?'

'Looking is free.'

Our first taste of the Egyptian market scene was at the never-ending strip in Aswan. Craig had a brilliant time haggling for things he had no intention of buying, just to see just how cheap he could get 'em – he also had a nice chat over peanuts with one shop owner, who claimed ginger was his secret to keeping his two wives 'satisfied'.

A few hours, a McDonald's pit-stop and one purchased magnet (bargained down to 5LE from 30LE, thank you very much!) later, we managed to escape the heat and haggling of the markets and enjoyed a cold beer back at our hotel.

Like they say, a hard-earned thirst...

March 14, 2009

Ancient history

Think Egypt. Think pyramids.

They're the only Wonder of the Ancient World left standing, and we saw them... and touched them and climbed them and took about 500 photos of them.

The day started with the discovery of Craig's backpack, but it wasn't long before our attention was diverted from all things lost luggage to all things ancient Egypt. Our first port of call was the Egyptian Museum, which houses 120,000 objects from the ancient times. We saw statues, tools, jewellery, inscriptions, mummified animals (the crocodile was pretty cool) and furniture, with the highlight being the treasures and elaborate mask of King Tutankhamen – we weren't allowed to take our camera inside, but I've chucked in a file photo to the right to jog your Year-10-History memory.

After a good couple of hours at the museum, it was off to the papyrus factory where the majority of our tour group was scammed into buying overpriced papyrus prints. Scare tactics and promises of a 10 per cent discount were the rip-off weapons of choice.

A quick koshari (an Egyptian dish consisting of rice, macaroni, chickpeas, lentils and a spicy tomato salsa) was devoured on the bus as we made our way to the Pyramids of Giza. Sure, there were hawkers and spruikers galore – selling everything from postcards to pyramids statuettes – but it was still pretty special to stand under, and climb on, the Great Pyramid. We then opted for the ultimate cliche, and hired a camel to take us out into the desert for a long-distance view of the pyramids (there are nine in total, but only three of them are big enough to care about).

Once we were done and dusted with the pyramids, it was Sphinx time. We only had time for a few quick snaps before we were suddenly kicked out for closing time.

Totally exhausted, we headed back to the hotel. We hoped and prayed that my bag would be there when we arrived, but there was no sign of it in the lobby and our fears were quickly confirmed when we were told the airline still didn't know where it was.

We quickly scoffed down a buffet dinner before being shuffled onto a bus. Destination: Cairo train station. Our bed for the night was a reclining seat on the overnight train to Aswan. Elated, exhausted and down one bag (devo!), we left Cairo content in the fact that we had ticked a massive box on our 'to do' list.

One down, 5623 to go!

March 10, 2009

The first-day curse

4 April, 2006
We land in Hanoi on the first day of our month-long journey from the top to the bottom of Vietnam. Our hotel has arranged an airport transfer, and, on arriving, we realise this is not the hotel we booked at all. "Sorry, the hotel overbooked so you are now staying here," we were told. Taking Lonely Planet's advice a little too close to heart, we were convinced this was part of a scam (we found out it wasn't) and ended up spending a good hour negotiating our way through the smelly, chaotic streets (meat market included), looking for a new place to stay.

8 September, 2008
We set off on our three-month van tour of Europe. The van is packed, we've stocked up on baked beans and we're raring to go. One hour after driving off the ferry in France, we find ourselves veering off a country road and into a ditch. We then spend five horrific days living in a mechanic's carpark, and pay 950 euros in repairs for the privilege.

8 March, 2009
We land in Cairo, Egypt on the first day of our six-month 'trip of a lifetime'. We wait at the airport carousel for our backpacks to make an appearance. One by one, our fellow passengers pick up their bags and leave. Eventually, the baggage handlers stick their heads through the rubber flaps to inform us that there are no more bags. Yep, trust us to have to go through one of every traveller's worst fears. Air Alitalia, who we flew with, are of little help, and we are sent on our way with no explanation or indication of where on earth our backpacks have ended up. We spend a sleepless night freaking out. Where the f*** are our bags?! We go through a range of emotions: Helplessness (what are we going to do?), anger (this is f***ed!), defeat (that's it, I'm over this. Let's just call it quits and go home) and hope (we can get through this).

The next morning, we go down to breakfast to discover Craig's yellow and black Black Wolf pack sitting there next to the reception desk. While there is still no sign of mine, at least we now have clothes we can share between us, a sleeping bag for our upcoming two-night felucca trip and toiletries like sunscreen and insect repellent. After a day at the pyramids, my bag still has not been found. We board our 13-hour overnight train to Aswan without it. Our trip seems doomed.
I'm stuck in an awful cargo and white-top combo (my 'flying' outfit) and the thought of making an insurance claim for an entire bag of stuff seems hopeless, as does rebuilding an entire travel wardrobe plus all my gear.

After yet another sleepless night (this time due to the drunk Aussie yobbos on our train rather than bag worry) we arrive in Aswan. Our first point of call is to check the Air Alitalia baggage tracker on the net to find out if there have been any developments. It says my bag has been delivered. I quickly call our tour operator in Cairo to find out that, yes, my bag has been found and it will be put on the train for me tonight to arrive tomorrow morning.

When it gets here (which it bloody well better!), I'm gonna give it a big kiss, change my clothes, brush my hair, pluck my eyebrows, and then make sure that from now on, I have a change of clothes in both my carry-on luggage and Craig's bag. And, of course, I will never fly with Air Alitalia again.

Note to curse: Bad things come in threes, you've filled your quota. So bugger off and just let us enjoy our trip!

March 02, 2009

Football fantasy

Things to do in London # 72: Go to a Premier League football match.

One of Craig's London must-dos was to go to a Premier League football (soccer) game. As a Manchester United fan, his ultimate would have been watching them at Old Trafford (their home stadium), but with tickets near impossible to secure (most games over here are sold out to members first), we had to settle for watching second-on-the-table Chelsea vs Wigan.

For £52 pounds each, we were treated to seats third row from the back – not as bad as it sounds, we had a great view of the game! Plus, it was just yet another dream we got to tick off our ever-growing list.