Of all the gin joints, in all the world #ileftmyheartin Cairo

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was six years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter and it is the city #ileftmyheartin.

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

Advertisements

Why now is the perfect time to visit Egypt

For many people Egypt conjures up some incredible imagery. The rolling sand dunes of the Sahara desert, the enormous temple ruins of Luxor and Karnak, and of course the pyramids, arguably some of the most recognisable structures in the world. Sadly in recent years most people think of the violence and protests associated with the Arab Spring and the power vacuum left behind in its wake. Thankfully however things are improving and many countries have altered their travel advice and warnings over the past few months. With Egypt being given the ‘green light’ so to speak for many nationalities to return and with several big named travel operators resuming their tours, now is one of the best times to visit or start planning a trip to Egypt.

THE photo everyone wants

THE photo everyone wants

While there are still travel warnings for some areas of Egypt, such as the northern Sinai area (which has always been quite hostile) and the western deserts towards Libya (sadly one of our favourite areas), the main regions for international tourism such as along the Nile and the southern areas of the Sinai peninsula such as Sharm-el-Sheikh and Dahab are classified as safe by the British Foreign Office.

The sun setting over the alluring Nile River

The sun setting over the alluring Nile River

The so-called Arab Spring had a devastating effect upon Egyptian tourism, but for visitors venturing there now that can have a number of advantages. The thought of wandering around the famous ruins, temples and tombs without the huge throngs of tourists is massively appealing. I love old ruins, and could easily spend days wandering around the crumbling columns, the row upon row of sphinx and the hieroglyph engraved walls. In fact I normally get fed up with the crowds well before being overwhelmed by yet another temple. With fewer crowds (there will still be some) there is a greater sense of adventure and discovery, so it may be time to dust off the fedora and leather jacket and start exploring Indiana Jones style.

Imagine exploring temples and ruins without the masses

Imagine exploring temples and ruins without the masses

For many visitors a large amount of time is spent in the souks or markets, particularly in Luxor and Aswan trying to grab a bargain. In the boom periods you could guarantee that prices were massively inflated, the hard sell was a certainty and begrudgingly you would agree to a purchase price over a glass of apple tea. The huge drop in tourism has had a flow on effect into the markets, prices are more reasonable, the hard sell has disappeared (to a degree) and you don’t mind (so much) paying a little extra, knowing it is helping people get back on their feet. Many of the main tourist frequented souks are deserted, save for the scent of apple tea or the waft of the shisha smoke, so get out there and support the local economy.

Many of the once thriving souks geared towards tourists are now near empty. Great when searching for a bargain

Many of the once thriving souks geared towards tourists are now near empty. Great when searching for a bargain

Not only has shopping  become cheaper but there are some amazing bargains to be had when it comes to accommodation. Why not splurge and stay in one of the most famous hotels in Egypt, The Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan? This is the hotel where Agatha Christie wrote ‘Death on the Nile’ and for such a famous residence, rates are reasonably priced. If cruising down the Nile is more your thing then there are also some great bargains to be had on river cruises. A word to the wise though, with numbers down the amount of boats is nowhere near as many as before the revolution so plan ahead.

Sailing down the Nile, Agatha Christie style

Sailing down the Nile, Agatha Christie style

Egypt relies heavily upon tourism and so do many of the citizens of the bigger more frequented cities. Local guides (or as they’d rather be known, ‘Egyptologists’) spend years of university education attaining the qualifications to guide in Egypt and the sudden down turn in tourism has probably hit them the hardest. Whether visiting the Temples of Karnak and Luxor, the Valley of the Kings or the rescued temple of Abu Simbel we highly recommend  employing the services of a local guide. Walking around these awe-inspiring sites without one is like watching the television with the sound off, you don’t quite know what is going on.

Abu Simbel, before the hordes return

Abu Simbel, before the hordes return

Visiting Egypt is an experience you will never forget, the hair stands on the back of my neck every time I see the pyramids for the first time or walk amongst the enormous stone columns of Karnak Temple. Best of all, visiting now will give you the knowledge that through tourism you are helping a country heal and get back on its feet. Your visit is helping people return to some semblance of a normal life. If you ask me, that is the best reason of all…

– Dean

Keep an eye out on Facebook as we celebrate ‘Egypt Week’ with some of our favourite photos!

The two of us at the Hatshepsut

The two of us at the Hatshepsut

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was five years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter….

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

 

Our Favourite Wildlife Experiences So Far… Part 2

Last week we began looking at our favourite wildlife experiences around the world, if you missed part one you can catch up by clicking here.

This week we round out our list with five more of our best experiences around the world.

6: Snorkelling with Whale Sharks, Tofo Mozambique

While we have been lucky to see them several times now, our first experience of the world’s largest fish really stands out. Their amazing markings and huge gapping mouths are stunning as they glide by almost in slow motion. Almost oblivious to your presence the grace with which they swim by looks out of place when compared to their size. When we were in Tofo the Beach Club had weekly seminars about whale sharks and manta rays, well worth sitting on if they still run.

The beautiful markings of the world's largest fish

The beautiful markings of the world’s largest fish

7: Chasing the Big 5 in South Africa

You can’t compile a great wildlife list without mentioning Africa and the Big 5. There are some great National Parks and reserves in South Africa to see Africa’s incredible wildlife. We loved Ado National Park for Elephants, we were almost trampled by a family when we couldn’t get our car started! Hluhluwe for Rhino spotting and you can’t miss out on Kruger. The best bit of advice we can give you is to sty in the parks overnight. We didn’t on a couple of occasions and really missed out, but when we did we had breakfast with elephants one morning and were woken by the roars of lions another!

One of the many elephants in the Kruger National Park

One of the many elephants in the Kruger National Park

8: Australia’s Unique Wildlife along The Great Ocean Road Victoria

It is easy for me to pass judgement and say how amazing Australia’s wildlife is but I still get excited when I see kangaroos or koalas in the wild. From our ‘home base’ in Australia (thank you Mum and Dad) we can see kangaroos from the balcony at happy hour or a short drive sees them grazing on the local golf course! Koalas in abundance live along the great ocean road and there are some fantastic reserves and shelters for native wildlife.

Kangaroos on the local golf course along the Great Ocean Road

Kangaroos on the local golf course along the Great Ocean Road

9: Orang-utans in Borneo
This is one of Natalie’s suggestions and unfortunately Borneo is still a place on my ‘to-go’ list.  Natalie said, “The famous Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo is known across the World for their efforts with Orang-Utan rehabilitation.  This fantastic centre provides a base to rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals, before a staged approach to reintegrating them into the 43 sq KM reserve begins.  As you walk through the reserve you see the Orang-Utans staring back at you – equally as interested in you as you are them!!  It’s impossible to forget their bright orange coat and distinctive stare.  Such beautiful creatures who so deserve to be protected”.

Minding his business - a snoozing Orang-Utan at Sepilok (taken on a film camera)

Minding his own business – a snoozing Orang-Utan at Sepilok (taken on a film camera)

10: THE WISHLIST: Manta Rays

While we have been incredibly lucky with our travels to see so many amazing animals in their natural habitat there is one that has eluded us, the Manta Ray. Whether it has purely been wrong place at the wrong time or adverse weather conditions they remain at the top of our animal bucket list. Guess that’s the beautiful thing about travel, the more you see the more you want to see, and that list never seems to get any shorter!

– Dean

South Africa 610

Just remember to watch where you go!

Just remember to watch where you go!

Our Top Wildlife Experiences So Far… Part 1

Nothing beats seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and over the years we have been lucky enough to see our fair share. From almost being trampled by a family of elephants in South Africa, searching for the elusive nocturnal Bamboo Lemur in Madagascar to the other worldliness of Antarctica, in this two part blog we explore our favourite wildlife experiences from our travels so far….

1: Mountain Gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans Rwanda

This would have to be one of the most amazing hours of our lives. We hiked for roughly an hour into the rain forests of the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda to get up close and personal with one of mans’ closest relatives.

One of the most amazing hours of our lives.

One of the most amazing hours of our lives.

Visiting the Gorillas is strictly regulated, and rightly so, with less than an estimated 800 still in the wilds of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Only 10 visitors per day get to spend one incredible hour with a family watching them go about their business. Despite their size, (the males can weigh over 200 kg), they can be extremely quiet and the sound of them beating their chests was more like hollow drums being beaten than anything out of a King Kong movie.

Up close and personal with a 200kg Mountain Gorilla

Up close and personal with a 200kg Mountain Gorilla

They truly exhibit human like tendencies and when they make eye contact you can sense the intelligence behind those eyes.  It is an experience you will never forget. I never thought anything would top visiting Antarctica, I was wrong.

2: Penguins in Antarctica

Antarctica is like another world, virtually devoid of human interference and one of the few places in the world where nature rules supreme.

Just one of the colonies of Penguins to be found in Antarctica's harsh environment

Just one of the colonies of Penguins to be found in Antarctica’s harsh environment

It really is a privilege to visit Antarctica and to watch a colony of roughly half a million penguins squawk, clamber, dodge and bully each other was one of the highlights of my years of travel. Each penguin had a totally unique personality, and armed with your camera and just sitting still they would move around, investigate and try and make sense of you being there. Antarctica is one of the few places in the world where wildlife has not had to learn to fear man and the penguin’s curiosity was fascinating to behold. We can only hope that it remains this way.

The penguins go about their business as if you were not there

The penguins go about their business as if you were not there

3: Madagascar’s Diverse and Unique Wildlife

After watching the BBC documentary series on Madagascar we thought we would be lucky to see half of what they experienced on the program, how wrong we were. Getting our Attenborough on was far easier than we thought, and we were lucky enough to see over 20 species of Lemur (our new favourite animals, sorry penguins you have dropped to number two!), dozens of incredibly colourful chameleon and geckos that looked like leaves.  We never thought we would get so excited about spotting insects!

A Ring Tailed Lemur in the  Andasibe National Park, Madagascar

A Ring Tailed Lemur in the Andasibe National Park, Madagascar

Each national park was famous for a different variety of Lemur, or a special type of Chameleon. Our tip, make sure you link up with experienced local guides in the National Parks, without a good one you wont see a fraction of what can see you.

One of the stunning Chameleon we saw on Madagascar's northern islands

One of the stunning Chameleon we saw on Madagascar’s northern islands

4:Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

You can’t talk about wildlife experiences without mentioning Africa!  While not the most famous, we loved Lake Nakuru National Park.  A stunning location and diverse wildlife made this one of our best game park experiences in Africa. Containing four of the big five (the park is too small for elephants) as well as loads of monkey and flamingo all set around a beautiful large lake and only a couple of hours out side Nairobi, make sure you add this to your Kenyan wish list.

Our first Lion in Nakuru National Park

Our first Lion in Lake Nakuru National Park

5: Diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Philippines

While there are without doubt far better dive sites in the world, and perhaps because it was my first shark experience Malapascua makes the list. It is one of the few sites in the world where recreational divers can see these deep-water sharks. Every morning at dawn they swim up to a cleaning station at 30m below the surface. Their ribbon like tails majestically waving behind them and their huge black eyes and open mouths they almost look as if they were stoned!  For divers, their fist shark experience is always something special, and mine was no exception.

 

The amazing tail of the Thresher Shark off Malapascua

The amazing tail of the Thresher Shark off Malapascua

Divers lined up at dawn as the Thresher sharks swim up to a 30m cleaning station

Divers lined up at dawn as the Thresher sharks swim up to a 30m cleaning station

Next week in Part 2 we round out our top 10 wildlife experiences. Any ideas what we will find? Leave a guess below or tell us about your favourite wildlife experience around the world and we will have to add it to our travel bucket list!

– Dean