I’m a journalist, travel writer, editor and copywriter based in Melbourne, Australia. I write pacy travel features, edit edifying websites and fashion flamboyant copy. My articles and photographs have appeared in publications worldwide, from inflight to interior design: I’ve visited every continent, and have lived in three. Want to work together? Drop me a line… 

Follow

 

Sign of the times at the pointy end of Egyptian tourism

Photo: Belinda Jackson
The first time I visited the Pyramids, I went through the front door with several hundred other foreigners, all lining up for a photo of ‘kissing’ the Sphinx or ‘holding’
a pyramid by the fingertips.
The other day,  I went round the back, where a
handful of guards nearly fell over to see someone, and the touts couldn’t believe their luck at not one, but two carloads of visitors, even if they were all Egyptian (including one suspiciously blonde one in the middle).
Sitting on the boot of our cars, they literally corralled us into a private car park to negotiate the hire of two caretas (carriages) and two horses.
Those who have been held hostage high on a camel until they paid up big will be pleased
to know not even the locals can resist the Giza Pyramid mafia.
A camel driver. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Let me tell you this: Egyptians visit the Pyramids in a whole different way to us foreigners. Toss the guidebook, forget about learning kings’ names and studying informative plaques earnestly.
It’s all about the photos, the freedom of the desert surrounds and the physicality of being beside something so magnificent, that you forget about the traffic jams, the pollution, the protests and the curfews that see you trapped indoors after 7pm on a Friday night thanks to the current army
curfew.
The newspapers are reporting an 80 percent drop in tourism to Egypt, which, based on what I saw at the Pyramids on a sunny autumn afternoon, should read more like 95 percent.
There were three young Americans, skinny, bearded and wearing
the obligatory Arafat scarf, there was a Euro-couple celebrating the
end of a Cape Town to Cairo adventure, and a small tour group of Russians
snavelling basement-bargain travel. That’s all.
Forlorn camel owners perked up when they saw us coming, and Giza’s notoriously
overworked and underfed horses were fleet of foot and ready to run. My little
grey mare, Sousou, is surely the fastest pony in Giza.
It’s been a very long time since I rode around the Pyramids in the daylight. Usually, I’d
ride on a full moon, flat out down the plateau at full gallop, breathing in the
cool desert night air. In broad daylight, it’s a whole different ballgame. You
see the stones the size of basketballs that your horse is dodging. You see the
concrete wall that the horses aim for at full tilt, before swerving left to
pass through the exit gate. You see the snarling curs that lick around the
ponies’ hooves, snapping at ankles as you pass.
It’s consoling to know that the Pyramids remain unchanged while Egypt twists and
wrenches itself into a new form. But the lesson from Afghanistan and China is
that you can never take even heroic art and architecture for granted.

Abu Simbel’s time to shine: Egyptian antiquities

At the feet of the gods, Abu Simbel, Egypt. Photo: Belinda Jackson.
There’s a lot of change going on in Cairo at the moment, but some things, thankfully, remain the same. 
Later this morning, the sun will touch the face of King Ramses II in the magnificent Abu Simbel temple, south of Aswan, by the Sudanese border. 
The temple, built in 1257BC, was constructed so that twice a year, the sun’s rays would shine into the inner sanctuary and light all but the statue of Ptah, the god of the Underworld, reports the Ministry of Tourism today. The two days of the year are October 22 and February 22.
The temple is dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-
Horakhty and Ptah and also to Ramses, who rather fancied himself as a deity.
You can see a live streaming of the event on www.youtube.com/egypt or on local television, if you’re in Egypt. The phenomenon will occur at 5.53am local time, and last for 20 minutes.

Petting lions and paddling in the Med: a day in Egypt

A day spent swimming and patting lion cubs: in all, an excellent day in Egypt.
Apologies for
the silence, I’ve been offline up on Egypt’s north coast, where I had no
internet, curfews (thank you, revolution) and not even a chemist for lousy cold tablets.
It’s
sometimes strange to think that Egypt is a Mediterranean country (did you know there are 21?), but it’s home to some of the most budget-friendly Med resorts. The flashiest of
them all is Porto Marina, 280km from Cairo, where ministers and other high government officials
have their summer getaways, in the form of luxe tower apartments and chic chalets.
Porto Marina and a foolhardy bungee jumper.
There’s a
touch of Australia’s Gold Coast to it all, with a huge restaurant strip on a marina full
of white boats, a crane hauling quaking bungee jumpers up into the sky. But it’s
still Egypt: while we were having lunch there today, a man walked by, carrying
a five-month-old lion cub. The photographer by his side made sure nobody got to
take a snap without producing the gold.
The little
cub is from a local circus, and they assured me she wasn’t drugged, as she
curled up against the man like a kitten. We patted her paws, stroked her back and
admired her beautiful eyes without complaint.
“Do you
want your daughter to sit on the lion for a photo?” asked the tout. Listen
mate, I’ve already horrified enough animal lovers with posts of Eid’s sacrifices, I
told him. Let’s not push it…
(PS: I can’t show you the pic of the lion because I’m a dentist. No, it’s because I don’t have a scanner. Will work on that one…)

Of dusty plains and no-fly zones: welcome to Cairo!

Sunset over the Nile tonight, Cairo. Photo: Belle Jackson

It looks
like the khamaseen has come early to Cairo this year. The fifty days of dust
storms that scour North Africa usually cover the city’s windows and put the grit in your teeth each
February and March, but a strange cloud hangs over the city and it’s still just
October.
Looking out
from the balcony, airplanes slip quietly through the early morning mist. Their
passing doesn’t seem to happen that often: Cairo’s international airport was pretty
low-key when we came through three days ago, with Singapore Airlines the only
international I spotted: the rest were Egyptair planes, codesharing where the
other big names don’t want to go.
The duty
free shop was bereft of customers, I saw a boarded-up Thomas Cook counter and
the tourism touts could barely raise an eyebrow when I walked past: they know
that most passengers are locals returning for Eid al-Adha, the great feast,
this week. Any tourists are well and truly on organised packages and I didn’t
spot a single backpack.
Our three
flights from Melbourne to Cairo (via Singapore and Dubai) were shared with a
woman in her late 50s or early 60s. We were both worried by the brief, 55-minute
transit time in Singapore, as our incoming flight was late.
“No
matter,” I said. “There are worse places to have a forced stopover than
Singapore.”

“Well I
wouldn’t like to be doing it on my own!” said the intrepid lady, with some
concern. Woman, I thought to myself, you’re going to Cairo…

Tasting tradition: Ramadan kareem

Cairo at sunset. Photo: Belinda Jackson
Today is the first day of Ramadan 2013, which for me is about the scent of almonds, the sweetness of fresh dates and the call to prayer. 
If you’re shaky on the whole Ramadan thing, it’s Islam’s holy month, where Muslims take time to
reflect on themselves and their lives. 
The most
obvious part of Ramadan is fasting: followers don’t let anything pass their
lips from first light to sunset. At the moment, wintery Australia is considered a cushy place to be for Ramadan 2013: first light this morning was around 6am and the sun set at 5.15.
In comparison, it’s high summer in the Middle East, which sees 14-hour days,
with 5am sunrise and sunset not until 7pm.
That
means no food, no water, no cigarettes (a tough one for countries such as
Egypt, where smoking is rated a profession). Some people don’t use
toothpaste in the daylight hours…mmm.
Of all
the Muslim countries I’ve visited during Ramadan, I had the most fun in Egypt.
Egyptians like to joke that they actually put on weight in Ramadan, sunset
is the time for feasting, and feast they do. In a city where you can hit a
traffic jam at 1am, the streets are empty at sunset: you can cross town in 20 minutes,
normally a two-hour journey, as everyone’s sitting down to drink sweet drinks
such as tamrhindy (tamarind) or qamardeen, a thick, sweet apricot juice, and taste elaborate dishes and desserts made
only in this month.
Ben Youssef madrasa, Marrakech.
Photo: some helpful, random tourist
who didn’t run away with my camera.
The five-star hotels and the streets are lined with Ramadan ‘tents’ that serve banquets from sundown to sun-up, elaborate low lounges designed for smoking shisha and nibbling sweets, drinking tea and catching up with old friends. Music tends toward the traditional, though I spotted plenty of glam actors and smoking hot MTV stars (Amr Diab, people!). During Ramadan, TV shows tend toward swords-and-sandals dramas with strong moral punchlines.
I also
like the solidarity of Egypt’s citizens: around 10 percent of the population is
Christian, yet they will never smoke, eat or drink on the street. It’s
considered poor form, and most tourists get the picture.
In far
more liberal Morocco, where tourists amble around in hot pants, wining and
dining on street cafes during Ramadan, it must be tough not to have a tiny
touch of resentment when you’re hot, thirsty and hanging for a fag. But the locals I know are proud of their country’s
tolerance of all cultures, and they have some pretty fabulous Ramadan sweets, including honey and sesame cookies, halwa chebakia
I rate my favourite fitar or iftar (the meal you take when breaking fast at sunset) as the cool almond milk and dates stuffed with almond paste served at Marrakech’s sublime La Mamounia hotel.  
In
comparison, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we foreigners were ushered into makeshift
restaurants in the five-star hotels’ basements for lunch, and the bars were
shrouded affairs, if open at all. We were instructed sternly by hotel staff to dress even more modestly than usual, and our attire scanned before we left the hotel in case a rogue knee or shoulder should present itself to daylight.
Wherever you find yourself, Ramadan mubarak (Happy Ramadan)!

Shake it, spa it, catwalk it: Travel deals 9 September 2012

Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa 
Nostalgic surfer chic meets Miami swim catwalk on the Gold Coast and learn to shake what your mama gave you at the home of samba, salsa and tango. 

VICTORIA
Quest’s five new studio apartment properties in
inner-urban Sydney and Melbourne include a kitchenette, workspace and free
wi-fi. They’re kicking off with deals such as $175 a night, down from $300, at
Quest Studios East Melbourne, close to the shopping strip of Bridge Road and
Melbourne’s top sports arenas. Includes breakfast for two at a local café. Stay
until October 30, quote ‘SHSO’ when booking. (03)
9413 0000, questapartments.com.au.
TASMANIA
Save 40 per cent when you book a night at Launceston’s
Country Club Tasmania, on the edge of the state’s second city. A night in a 4.5-star
deluxe room for two includes a bottle of Tasmanian wine, 18 holes of golf and a
30-minute massage as well as breakfast in the Links restaurant. Go horse
riding, take a wine tour or fish for trout in its private lake. Costs $299 a
night, until September 30.  1800 635 344,
countryclubtasmania.com.au 
QT Gold Coast
 QUEENSLAND
Get the party started on the Gold Coast with a two-night
stay in the slinky QT Gold Coast, self-described as ‘nostalgic surfer chic
meets Miami swim catwalk’. That’ll help you choose your wardrobe. On top of a
saving of $384, you’ll get breakfast, an exploratory dinner for two in its hugely
popular signature restaurant, Bazaar and $50 spa credit or a party starter at
the happening Stingray Lounge. Costs from $450 a room for two nights until
November 30.  (07) 5584 1200, qtgoldcoast.com.au.
Seashells Resort Mandurah
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Mandurah is only an hour south of Fremantle, which is
gearing up for the return of the replica Dutch ship Duyfken, the first European
ship to reach Australia in 1606, on Sunday 23 September. Stay three, pay for
two nights in a one-bedroom apartment at the 4.5-star Seashells Resort Mandurah
until November 30. Costs from $210 a person, three nights, twin share.  132 757, harveyworld.com.au.
NORTHERN TERRITORY
Watch the sun rise on Uluru, discover galleries of
Aboriginal rock art and visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Book 12 months
advance for your journey into the red centre, saving up to $450 a couple on a
six-day Red Centre Discovery. Included is a dinner and a discovery tour of the
Earth Sanctuary World National Centre, airport transfers and guiding. Deal
valid on departures until December 28, 2013. Earlybird special costs from $1689 a person, twin
share. 1300 228 546, aatkings.com.au.
NSW
Spring has sprung so put a wiggle in your walk with a
visit to the town of love and light, Byron Bay. Normally $780 room only, the
sleek Byron at Byron resort’s spring package gets you 10 per cent off in the
spa, restaurant and bar, as well as free yoga, wifi, daily breakfast buffet and
bike hire to cruise the rainforest trails down to the beach. Valid for stays
until December 10. Costs $794 for two nights in a standard suite. 1300 554 362, thebyronatbyron.com.au.
FRANCE
B&B, 
Île Saint-Louis, Paris
You may still be shopping for the wardrobe to suit your
Parisian jaunt, but your apartment will certainly come up to scratch. Set on
the Île Saint-Louis, an island in the middle of the Seine, the B&B is on
the third floor of a traditional Haussmann building, and despite its antique
interiors, its owners welcome kids. There are two rooms, great for families or
two couples. Save from E44 a night on stays between November 1 and March 30.
Costs from E175 a night. petiteparis.com.au.
HAWAI’I
Hit the sands of Waikiki beach and stay eight nights at the Four-Diamond Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, with breakfast, flights and airport transfers. Kids under 17 stay free, under-12s get free lunch and dinner with a paying adult. Bonuses include a tour of Pearl Harbour and Honolulu city and one entertainment show or catamaran dinner cruise. Costs from $1990 a person, twin share, eight nights and return airfares with Hawaiian Airlines. 1300 00 42 92, myholidaycentre.com.au/hawaii.

Semara Resort & Spa
BALI
Hot to shop and the island’s best dining strip, Seminyak
is the fast-beating heart of Bali. The Semara Resort & Spa’s Winter Escape
deal saves $438 on stays until September 30. Book a two-night stay in a
superior poolside room, get daily buffet breakfast,  dinner for two at Finns Beach Club, two hours
for two in the spa, wifi, yoga  and
meditation classes and airport transfers. Costs from $484 for two people, two
nights. +62 (361) 847 6661, semararesorts.com.
MALAYSIA
Koto Kinabalu, Malaysia
Get a double dose of the tropics and a free Darwin stopover
on your way to Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu. Price includes return flights to KK via
Darwin with Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia, two nights at Darwin’s
Travel Lodge Mirambeena Resort and four nights at Novotel Kota Kinabalu.
They’ll throw in a free tour of Litchfield National Park, worth $149, full
breakfast daily and one free nightBook by end September, travel November 1 –
December 7. Costs from $1459 a person (land and air). 1300 747 400, creativeholidays.com/asiaonsale.
 
AFRICA &
MIDDLE EAST
Blend African wildlife with the craziness of Cairo and
Jordan’s deserts over 26 days from Cape Town to Cairo. Book before December 31
and your friend flies free (paying only taxes of $795), saving up to $2040 per
couple. Departs August – October 2013 and includes all flights within Africa,
two charter flights in Kenya, 4WD game viewing and accommodation in private
game lodges and luxury camps. Costs from $18,995 a person, twin share. 1300 229
804, aptouring.com.au.
TOURWATCH
Learn to shake what your mama gave you, and where better
than the home of samba, salsa and tango, South America? This 14-day dance-themed tour starts in
Santiago, Chile, where you’ll tackle the cueca and rumba, lubricated with wineries
visits, before hitting Buenos Aires’ La Boca district for up-close-and-personal
tango workshops. There’s samba and salsa classes in Rio de Janeiro as well as
visits to Copacabana Beach and Corcovado Mountain, to stand at the feet of
Christ the Redeemer, and the tour includes a trip to the Argentinean and
Brazilian sides of the magnificent Iguassu Falls. Departs March 3, 2013. Costs
from $3995 a person, twin share and includes some meals and all South American
flights. 1300 558 987, tempoholidays.com.
Source: Belinda Jackson Sun Herald


Cairo hormones high while NYC snoozes and loses

Cairo thrashes New York for late-night flirting. Who’d a thought?

In case you missed it this week, online dating site Badoo found that the Egyptian capital tops the world as most nocturnal city with the latest night logons for chatting and flirting on its website.

The Sex in the City capital, New York, was caught snoozing and therefore losing, coming in at a rather poor 32nd out of the 180 cities Badoo operates in. London came in 17th and Paris 18th. The naughtiest European city was Malaga, with six Spanish cities in the top 10 hotspots.

Cairo, a city I once heard described as not so much a city that never sleeps, but a city that sleeps in shifts, sees its flirt and chat activity peak at 00.45am.

Badoo’s 10 Most 24-hour cities
1. Cairo (Egypt)
2. Montevideo (Uruguay)
3. Beirut (Lebanon)
4. Malaga (Spain)
5. Zaragoza (Spain)
6. Madrid (Spain)
7. Barcelona (Spain)
8. Valencia (Spain)
9. Seville (Spain)
10. Buenos Aires (Argentina)


Happy Easter!

It is a mark of the difference between Australia’s commercial TV stations and the national broadcaster that at Easter, Channel 7 is showing The Fast and the Furious 2 (muscle mary Vin Diesel does street car races) the while the far more high-brow ABC is showing the 1956 movie, The 10 Commandments.
The Cecil B De Mille number was filmed partially just outside Cairo, starring Charles Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as a hunky Pharaoh Ramses, with an abundance of muscles and lavish use of body oil.
The TV notes describe the movie as “the monumental dramatisation of the book of Exodus, [which] recreates the life of Moses from his infancy through to his deliverance of the Israelites”.Talk about big subject matter.
  
Anyway, Charles and Cecil stayed at the Mena House hotel, which still stands right beside the Pyramids, and Charles would ride his horse down from filming into the hotel’s afternoon cocktails on the lawn, all flowing beard and robes. 
With the discounts and incentives Egyptian tourism is currently offering to lure tourists back after the revolution, I reckon you’d be allowed to do a Charles and ride your pony down from the Pyramids into hotel drinkies, no worries. 

PS: I now note that Channel 7 IS actually showing the same movie, only starting at 11.30pm!


Hot to shop: Cairo

In the printed media business, we work with interesting timings: to wit the publication of the Sun Herald’s Hot to Shop: Cairo, just as the riots were taking hold, when shops were either closed against the demonstrations, or being forceably opened by looters.

As was said to me recently, it could have been worse: London’s The Guardian published a story on Cairo for kids at the height of the demonstrations. Damn those long lead times!

Look on the bright side, travellers! Cairo is going to be dirt cheap in the coming months – if the government gets its act together. Having read the news reports about the French supermarket chain Carrefour being looted to blazes, I have to wonder what the looters really thought they’d do with all that weird foreign food: pesto, risotto, thai curry paste…

Well, if Queensland can mount an advertising campaign to lure back lost tourists after a swathe of natural disasters (floods, cyclones, more floods), why not Cairo? It may be a few weeks to early, but the Occidental Tourist likes to stay ahead of the pack.

So if you’re heading for Egypt some time soon, here are my hot tips for the best shopping in the Victorious City, more


So that’s why the internet has been turned off in Cairo?

…so that’s why the internet has been turned off in Cairo?

‘Remarkable scenes’ at Cairo protests

Anti-government protests have broken out in Egypt after an internet campaign inspired by the uprising in Tunisia.
Thousands of protesters are marching through Cairo chanting anti-government slogans, after activists called for a “day of revolt” in a web message.
Riot police have tackled protesters in the capital, using tear gas to try to disperse them.

Further BBC reports say three have been killed in Cairo and Suez in the riots, which were organised via a Facebook page, which today had just under 20,000 supporters, a mere drop when you consider Cairo alone has a population of 20 million. But then, so many of those 20 million are unemployed, illiterate or not even registered with the state as being in existence. Mobile phones are, however, commonplace.

For those out of the ME loop, the demonstrations were inspired by similar riots last week in Tunisia, where the President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has held power for 23 years, was finally ousted, sparked by scenes of citizens setting themselves on fire in protest over corruption that makes their lives unbearable.

In comparison, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, has lead an army-supported rule since 1981, three decades that have seen him unshaken by elections that continue to return him with support in the high 90s percentile, belaying widespread opposition. Egypt was taking notes and has copied Tunisa’s tactics, with people setting themselves alight daily: their actions of course blamed on mental health issues, rather than sheer desperation at their limited, and seemingly unchangeable lives.

Hosny, who is 83 this year and held together possibly only by sheer resolve, army support and a lot of black hair dye, presides over a country riddled with corruption, high unemployment (reflected in no way by the official figures) and sharply rising food prices.

I hate to be pessimistic, but general malcontent, however, seems doomed in the face of solid police and army support for the regime which has afforded these two institutions seemingly limitless powers over the decades since Hosni came to power. On his succession, he immediately put the country on a State of Emergency, following the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, 30 years ago, and the ban has not been lifted since.

This is a big year for Egypt, as Hosny, dogged by ill health, hints he may step down, to be replaced by his son and career bureaucrat, Gamal, a move that must be undertaken while not endangering Egypt’s considerable foreign aid support from the West. We can only hope for a peaceful resolution.


Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Youtube
Consent to display content from Youtube
Vimeo
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google