Saturday, 23 June 2018

Camino de Santiago 2018 (Spanish)


Desde Sahagun hasta Ponferrada 170 kms aproximadamente.


Como de costumbre, este año empezamos el Camino desde al punto donde terminamos el año pasado, y para llegar allí cojimos un autobús muy temprano hacia Santander y después otro hasta Torrelavega donde abordamos un tren que nos llevo a Sahagun vía Palencia. La mitad de nuestro grupo quería usar un ‘mochila taxi’ para no cargar con ella, y tuvimos la suerte que en el momento que salimos de la estación, había un taxista muy amable que estaba dispuesto a llevar nuestras mochilas por poco dinero. Después de comer algo, andamos los diez kilómetros que faltaban para llegar a nuestro primer destino, el albergue Santa Clara en Barcianos de Real Camino.
Sahagun
Rosa, la dueña del albergue, había hecho once caminos y sabia mucho del tema. En su opinión la única manera de disfrutar las experiencias espirituales del camino era haciendo el camino entero en 30 días. Mientras ella hacia el papeleo, hablamos de mi experiencias en el camino, y ella me sonrío y dijo que iba en la dirección correcta. Una vez establecidos nos fuimos a dar un paseo por el pueblo, cenar algo y después tomar unas copas. Cuando regresamos, nos dimos cuenta de que habíamos entendido mal (muy mal) la hora cuando Rosa y sus compañeros nos esperaban para dormir y terminar de trabajar. 


Al día siguiente nos dirigimos al pueblo de Mancilla de las Mulas que quedaba a unos 25 kms. Era un día precioso y empezamos bien pero todavía no nos habíamos acostumbrado a la caminata diaria y a los 20 kms paramos, (yo ya empezaba a encontrarme débil) para reponer nuestras fuerzas con algo de comer. Cuando empezamos a caminar de nuevo nos encontramos un panorama de miedo con nubes negras de tormenta justo en nuestra dirección. Cometimos el error de seguir caminando pensando que llegábamos antes de la tormenta. No tuvimos suerte y pronto un diluvio impensable nos cayo encima con viento y toda la fuerza de un huracán y siguió durante todo el camino hasta el albergue. Nos pusimos las capas pero no fueron muy útiles, nos calamos desde la cintura para abajo y las botas eran como depósitos de agua. Cuando llegamos al final después de una hora, nos tuvieron que ayudar a sacar toda la ropa mojada y las capas, las botas y demás cachivaches. No cabe duda que pasamos una tarde muy agitada trabajando para intentar secar todo para poder seguir al día siguiente. El método de meter periódicos dentro de las botas varias veces, y secar las capas con papel funcionó, así que como un milagro todo estaba seco para el día siguiente.


Por suerte los tres días siguientes fueron soleados, hasta demasiado para los caminantes del Camino. Use un paraguas todos los días desde las 10 de la mañana en un paisaje muy llano y que carecía de sombras. Después de andar casi 30 kms de camino muy aburrido, llegamos a Virgen del Camino donde un lujoso hostal El Central nos esperaba. Yo disponía de una habitación con baño, todo un lujo entre todos los albergues con literas y servicios compartidos. El día siguiente andamos otros 29 kms hasta Hospital de Órbigo, donde el albergue Verde que parecía una comuna de estilo hippie donde casi todos los ocupantes eran extranjeros. Había voluntarios que hacían tareas como mantenimiento, reformas, yoga y hasta cocinar a cambio de alojamiento y comida. La cocinera era una Israelita, que nos hizo un curry vegetariano indio que no me parecía muy autentico. El precio de la cena era ‘la voluntad’ y había música y un discurso en Ingles (con algo de traducción en Castellano) sobre el Camino, su historia y porque se dirigía hasta el fin de la tierra en aquello tiempos. También hicieron un comentario sobre como esto de andar hacia el Oeste estaba en nuestro ADN, algo que no quise discutir pensando que nuestros antepasados fueron al Este y Oeste cuando emergieron de Africa. Participamos en la clase de Yoga, disfrutamos de la puesta de Sol y yo compartí la cena con una joven de Nueva York, que acababa de terminar su carrera de Psicología en la universidad de Duke, pensando cuanto me habría gustado tener cuarenta años menos por varias razones.


Entre el camino y los albergues era posible encontrar una multitud de gente y tener conversaciones muy interesantes. Por ejemplo la instructora de yoga que había vivido casi toda su vida en California aunque era española, el fotógrafo Mel de origen Ingles que ahora vivía cerca de Almería, el gigantesco Nuevo Zealandes que me contó la historia de un amigo que se rompió la rodilla poco días de empezar el camino y tuvo que volver a casa, y la mujer americana que tenia dos cintas debajo de sus rodillas que mis compañeros querían saber para que sirvian (soporte para la rodilla) y en conversación dijo que era de Charlotte en Carolina del Norte donde yo había estado hace poco porque nuestro hijo Manjeet vivía allí. En otra oportunidad alguien nos vio a todos juntos y pregunto cual era nuestra religión, porque pensaban que yo era como el guru del grupo!
La Presentadora
El siguiente pueblo, si podemos llamarlo así, era Ganso, otros 29 kms de camino. En una de nuestras paradas para comer y beber algo, había un equipo de televisión y una presentadora guapísima conversando con los peregrinos sobre sus experiencias del camino. Cuando me vieron, se dirigieron a mi para una sesión sobre mi origen, el camino y mis compañeros. Nuestro albergue aquella noche era El Gabino, donde teníamos 8 literas en un dormitorio de 11 camas. Había en el mismo dormitorio una cama reservada para un señor mayor, y este señor fue responsable para el momento de mayor emoción de toda la semana. Dos de nuestro grupo (Alfonso y yo) nos apuntamos para una cena que empezaba a las 7:30, muy temprano para la mayoría de los españoles. Había solo cinco personas para cenar y con las mesas de cuatro Alfonso y yo estuvimos en una mesa con dos mujeres alemanas. El quinto era el señor mencionado arriba y estaba solo en una mesa. Conversamos mucho con las mujeres de Hanover y Hamburg en ingles con traducción por mi parte para Alfonso. Después de la cena empezamos a conversar también con el señor de la mesa de al  lado, y nos contó que el había hecho el Camino seis veces, se llamaba Braulio y que todos en el Camino le conocían. 

Después nos dijo que este año era diferente para el. Cuando preguntamos por que, el se emociono y se le caían las lagrimas. Después de una pequeña pausa nos enseño su mano donde tenia dos anillos y dijo ‘el año pasado mi esposa estaba viva, pero este año ella no esta’. Para simpatizar con el le dije que yo también había perdido alguien este año (mi padre) y me emocione y llore. A mi lado Alfonso también estaba llorando por alguna perdida personal suya. Así que las dos mujeres alemanas veían tres hombres con lagrimas y no intendian lo que sucedía. Después de traducir la conversación se aclaro el tema. 

Después de un rato las mujeres y el señor se retiraron, y mientras Alfonso y yo terminamos nuestros vinos, un hombre paso por nuestra mesa y me saludo en mi idioma (sat sri akal). Así empiezo otra conversación sobre el vinculo de este hombre con la cultura India, a través del Kundalini yoga y sus numerosas visitas a los centros de yoga y los ashrams de los famosos gurus indios. El también estaba interesado en niveles de percepción con la ayuda de hierbas halucigenicas como ayahuasca, y tuvimos una conversación interesante sobre las enseñanzas de Don Juan (el famoso libro de Carlos Castaneda) y el uso del peyote y otras maravillas. A mi lado  a Alfonso se le ponían los pelos de punta cuando le pregunte al hombre si tenia algún mensaje espiritual para mi!
El 'Cowboy Bar'
Mas tarde nos reunimos con nuestros compañeros para tomar algo en un bar dedicado al Oeste Americano (El Cowboy Bar) donde se podía tomar bebidas a precios muy económicos, y donde también se podían ver las películas del Wild West en una televisión montada por este fin.

Si Ganso era pequeño y con muy poco para entretener a un peregrino, nuestro próximo destino era mucho menos. Caminando hacia Riego Ambrose, un total de 29 kms el camino se fue elevando a 1500 metros durante toda la mañana y después por la tarde bajando en una superficie rocosa con piedras sueltas que resulto muy difícil. Yo llegue con mis pies un poco molestos y a Alfonso se le rompieron las botas. Era Jueves 15 de Junio, y España jugaba un partido de futbol en el Mundial en Russia contra Portugal. Sucede que en Riego Ambrosa no había ningún bar o local donde alguien podía ver el partido! Algunos del grupo (incluyéndome) llamamos a un taxi para ir al próximo pueblo donde había un poco mas de vida y bares donde podíamos ver el partido. Resulto un partido emocionante con los dos equipos ganando en diferentes etapas del partido, y finalmente culminando en un empate, mientras nosotros discutíamos las habilidades (o falta de) de Ronaldo y De Gea. Resulto que De Gea comitio dos errores que resultaron en dos de los goles que marco Ronaldo.

El día siguiente era el ultimo día de nuestra caminata, y el camino hacia abajo por las rocas continuo en la misma manera que el día anterior pero con vistas preciosas. No había ningún posibilidad de empezar con un desayuno, pero después de salir del pueblo llegamos a un puesto donde alguien había dejado frutas, galletas y mas cosas para los peregrinos, y una pequeña caja donde los peregrinos podían dejar ‘la voluntad’. Esta caja estaba llena y consta la honestidad de la mayoría de los peregrinos. Después de una hora de bajada llegamos al pueblo de la partida de la noche anterior y desayunamos de verdad. Unas horas mas tarde llegamos a Ponferrada y a nuestro albergue para esta noche. Necesitábamos descansar y tomar un vermut en una terraza sentados en el sol. 
Ponferrada
Después de la una nosotros disponíamos de nuestras habitaciones y nos podíamos cambiar de ropa y descansar. Pronto nos reunimos con amigos y familiares que habían llegado desde Laredo, para almorzar y celebrar el final de nuestro proyecto para este año.

Ahora nos queda solo Ponferrada hasta Sarria para completar el Camino entero.
Posiblemente el año que viene.
Buen Camino.

Camino de Santiago 2018


Camino de Santiago 2018
From Sahagun to Ponferrada about 170 kms.

As usual we took up the Camino from where we had finished last year, and one Sunday morning we took the early morning bus to Santander then another bus/ train combination to reach Sahagun. Those of us who were interested in using a taxi service for our backpacks were relieved to find a taxi just outside the Sahagun station, which agreed to transport our bags for a small sum. After a quick bite to keep us going we walked the short ten kilometres to our first hostel for the night, the Santa Clara in Barcianos de Real Camino.
Sahagun
Rosa, the proprietor at the Santa Clara turned out to be veteran Camino walker, having already completed 11 and most of them in one 30 day finish. She told me that it was the only way to move from the just walking to the higher planes of consciousness that I have tried to accomplish on the short bursts of one week that our group has been doing. I had to reveal my own experiences to her and she confirmed with a smile that I was on the right track. The group headed out for a walkaround the small town and a dinner followed by a drink (or two). Most family run hostels expect the pilgrims to be in bed early and it is customary to ask what would be the expected time for being back at the hostel in the evening. That night we got it wrong, very wrong.

The next morning we headed out at 8 am on the 25 km walk to our next destination, the quaintly named town of Mancilla de las Mulas. It was a bright sunny day and we made good progress. With my energies waning we made a pit stop at about 20 kms and after suitable refreshments took up the walk again, only to find a storm brewing right in front of us. It was scary. Here we made a rash decision to continue walking in the hope of reaching our objective before the heavens opened. No such luck, soon the storm ripped through us, with high winds and lashing rain. We donned our waterproof capes, but it was no use. We were drenched from the waist down and our shoes were like water containers. By the time an hour later we made the Gaia hostel, we had to be helped with our drenched clothes and boots to not flood the entire establishment. Needless to say a very stressed evening of trying to dry our shoes and clothes followed. Newspapers were stuffed in all the boots and this was repeated three times. The capes were wiped dry and the clothes hung up to dry. Miraculously everything was dry by the next morning.
Leon
Luckily the next three days were cloudlessly sunny, and this was perhaps too sunny for the Camino walker. I used an umbrella for shade when walking from about 10am onwards. It was very easy walking in mostly level coutryside while we made our way from Mancilla to Virgen del Camino where a luxury hostal (The Central) awaited. I was lucky to have my own room with my own bath, a real luxury among the normal dormitory style accomodation and shared facilities. then it was a further 29 kms to Hospital de Órbigo, where we were booked into what turned out to be a hippie style commune mostly populated by foreigners. Some volunteers among them were resident helpers doing such jobs as construction, looking after the vegetable patch and giving classes of yoga.  There was also an Israeli cook who had agreed to make a vegetarian curry for dinner, which everyone could have for a voluntary contribution. I realised that the dish we ate was hardly classifiable as a curry and for some strange reason the starter of bread and hummus was billed as an Israeli dish! There was music and the owner gave us a lecture on the significance of the Camino, and how moving westward was built into our DNA, which was hard to believe and I did not argue the point that our forefathers when they emerged from Africa, went both east and west. We did yoga and watched the sunset. I shared a table with a bright Psychology student from New York and wished I was forty years younger for various reasons.

Albergue Verde
In between the walks and the hostals it was possible to make friends and have conversations with all sorts of people, such as the Spanish yoga instructor who had lived all her life in California, the photographer Mel from Brighton who now lived in the South of Spain, the chap from New Zealand whose walking partner had twisted his knee soon after arrival and after surgery had to return home and the lady with the knee bands (my fellow walkers were curious about these) who turned out to be from Charlotte in North Carolina much to my surprise because I had visited that city when my son had lived there until recently. On another occasion someone asked us what religion we practiced, perhaps because our group contained several women and a bearded man with a turban!

Then it was onto the hic town of Ganso 29 kms away. On one of our stops along the way to catch a bite to eat, there was a local TV crew interviewing passing pilgrims about their experiences on the Camino. Once they saw me they headed straight to my side and the gorgeous presenter of the show and I, we discussed my impressions of the Camino and how I was friends with this large Spanish group. In Ganso we were booked into a place called Gabino, in a dormitory with 11 bunk beds. They came in pairs with the only single bed allocated to an old man who provided (at least for me) the emotional highlight of the entire week. Two of us from our group (Alfonso and I) signed up for an early dinner provided by the hostal, and there were only five diners in total. So we had a table for four at which we were joined by two German ladies, while the fifth person who had a table to himself turned out to be the old man mentioned above. There was much conversation with young ladies from Hamburg and Hanover and after dinner the old man joined in the conversation (with me as the translator). He revealed that his name was Braulio and that he had already completed 6 Caminos and that everyone knew him on the Camino. 

Local TV Host
Then he said that this year marked a difference for him, and when we asked what was different, he became quite emotional and began to shed some tears. He showed us his hand on which he wore two rings and said ‘last year at this time my wife was alive, and now she is not’. I sympathised, and revealed that I also had lost someone close to me (my father) recently and that several times I had had the feeling that my father was walking besides me. I too had my eyes brimming with tears and I realised that Alfonso was also crying for some personal loss of his own.

So there was this scene where three men were emotional and two young ladies were wondering what was going on. I translated and I guess they understood the reason for all the tears. Soon after the ladies retired to prepare for an early start, and the old man had also departed, a man approached me and greeted me in Panjabi (Sat Sri Akal). I was surprised but not shocked, having seen other people on the Camino with knowledge of Indian customs. We started talking and this man had been practicing Kundalini Yoga and some other spiritual rituals using ayahuasca and other hallucinogenic plants. The evening was getting more interesting by the minute and we were deep in conversation about the use of peyote and the teachings of Don Juan (the book by Carlos Castaneda). By the time I asked this man if he had a spiritual message for me, Alfonso had his hair standing on end.

Later we caught up with our friends and had a drink at the Cowboy Bar dedicated to the American wild west, including a TV showing western movies, where the drinks were priced at suitably agreeable prices.

If Ganso was small with nothing to show, our next destination turned out to be even less of a place. This was another 29 kms down the camino and went by the name of Riego Ámbrose. The Camino took a steady climb during most of the morning while we climbed to 1500 metres and then a steep drop down a rocky path with loose boulders strewn across, which made for a very difficult walk. Several of our party had their feet in trouble and some boots were broken. It was Thursday the 15th and Spain was expected to play Portugal at the World cup in Russia. Most Spaniards wanted to be at some venue to watch, but as it turned out, there was not a single TV in this town where anyone could watch the game. Some in our group (including me) called a taxi, which took us to the next town with a bit more life, and a bar where we could watch the game. It turned out to be quite a game, with both sides taking turns to be ahead but finally settling for a draw, while we debated the skills (or otherwise) of both Ronaldo, who scored three goals and the Spanish goalkeeper De Gea who was responsible for errors which allowed two Ronaldo shots to end up in goal.

The next day was the final day of our Camino, and the rocky path down the mountain continued through beautiful scenery. It was much easier than we had feared and to make it a delight someone had set up a ‘honesty’ fruit stall along the path perhaps aware that our town had no bars and no breakfast facilities, so that we could have a variety of fruit and leave a contribution in a money box for a very welcome injection of energy. I have to say that the money box was full, a testament to the honesty of most pilgrims. An hour or so later we reached the soccer game town of the night before for a proper breakfast with coffee! A few hours after that we came into Ponferrada, our final destination for a much earned rest, and a large vermouth at a table in a sunny spot outside a bar. Later more friends and family came up from Laredo to join us for the final lunch and to ferry us all back home the next day.
Ponferrada
Now we have only Ponferrada to Sarria (about 100 kms) left to complete the whole Camino, perhaps next year. 
Buen camino.
To see a full set of photos click here

Monday, 15 January 2018

Seattle - 2017/18


Seattle


Every year during the festive season we try and get together with kids and grand kids. This year was no different, in fact we jumped at the chance of discovering a new city, as our #1 son had recently moved to Seattle, the home of several technology giants. 
So in early December we got up one morning at 3am (Ouch) to catch the early morning flight to Frankfurt and then the 10 hour flight to Seattle. Since there is a 9 hour time difference the 10.30 flight to Seattle arrived by 11.30 as we followed the sun around the earth and we were hugging the grand kids soon after.
As usual the first thing was to pickup our hire car which would be our transport for the duration of the stay. The girl at Alamo counter turned out to be a Sikh from Ludhiana who was suitably impressed while we chatted amongst ourselves in Spanish, and we talked for a while about the quirky exoticness of a mixed culture family. It turns out that the before mentioned technology companies employ a lot of Indian IT nerds and consequently there are a lot of Indians in Seattle.

 

Seattle has something of a reputation for getting a lot of rain, but we arrived in bright sunshine with somewhat colder temperatures then we are used to, and the road (Rt 99) home took us past downtown which looked lovely in the Sun. There was also a first glimpse of Mount Rainier, a volcano which can be seen towards the South from Seattle.






Over the next few days we did what every tourist does when arriving in a new place which is to visit all the sights, and discovering that it was much more expensive then other US cities, we took the advice from our hosts and bought a combined entry City pass for several locations in the city at a bargain. The cultural hub of Seattle is a large space near downtown known as Seattle Centre which makes room for several interesting things in Seattle. These include theatres, museums, the Space needle, Chihuly Glass Gallery and gardens and parks and cafeterias all within a walkable distance.


We loved the Chihuly gallery and garden, which contained many of his famous colourful glass sculptures and the nearby Space Needle in which you can take a lift to the viewing deck at about 300 meters. The nearby Museum of Pop culture is also very interesting, inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. Included in our pass was also a boat ride on the waterfront and the entry to the fabulous Aquarium (Santa Clause put in an appearance!).



No visit to the US is complete without visits to the spectacular shopping malls in every city and here we had several within a short driving distance. Additionally the whole of the Downtown area is a big shopping district and the nearby Pike Place market is a big tourist attraction where hundreds of market stalls fight to attract buyers of everything from fish to handmade jewellery. The fish stalls are famous for throwing fish from one employee to another and make a big show of every sale. Not surprisingly the Alaskan fish is in big demand and all the restaurants feature mouth watering fish and sea food dishes.


One curiosity fact is that Starbucks home base is in Seattle, and they are everywhere, apparantly 150 of them all together. Their flagship Starbucks Reserve cafe and store on Pike Street is well worth a visit though expensive compared to coffee in Spain. The first Starbucks outlet is also kind of a tourist attraction.


Eating out was a major passtime for us as we tried to be as low maintenance as possible for our hosts, and we tried all type of cuisine, including Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Italian, American and more. Santa Clause from Germany had left us a big gift card for a grand dinner at one of the better fish restaurants in the city and we did full justice to our good fortune. By the time we had dived into a cocktail (typically 12 dollars) and a bottle of wine (about 60 dollars), half our budget had been blown, but we had enough left over to tuck into a nice dinner. Having said all that about eating out, we were also treated to many evening meals cooked in a cosy atmosphere at home.
Grand children were a delight, so grown up already and able to engage in conversations and games and soccer. The celebrations included Xmas, New Year and a birthday so time flew by quickly. An added bonus was a visit by a family we used to know in England twenty years ago, who were all in Seattle where one of their grown up kids also works. Its a small world, and we spent a lovely afternoon reminiscing about old times.


A visit to the Boeing Museum of flight and aeroplanes is mandatory in Seattle, and although it was cold we spent a very interesting day exploring all things related to flight including a large section on space craft. A hanger full of real planes contained marvels like a Concord! It was the first time I entered one of these lovely supersonic planes. Somewhat curious item was one of the old Air Force 1 presidential planes.



The art museums were left for January when they had free entry days in the first week of the month. The SAM and the BAM as they are known, the Seattle and the Bellevue art museums are a treat. Housed in very pleasant buildings with large open gallery spaces they had marvellous exhibitions. The ‘Searching for home’ work in wood by Humaira Abid was amazing (https://www.bellevuearts.org/exhibitions/current/humaira-abid) and next to it the stunning figures of Walter McConnell called ‘Itinerant Edens: A Measure of Disorder’ (https://www.bellevuearts.org/exhibitions/current/walter-mcconnell) were in the Bellevue. In the Belleview also was a large exhibition by the teachers from a local art institute known as the Pratt, which contained a stunning variety of great work by obviously accomplished artists. The Sam had a large exhibit of a tree project by Andrew Wyeth in the foyer to attract visitors and a collection of Museum art covering many movements plus very interesting sections on American Indian art, African art and Japanese works.


Soon after this the time had come to take our leave and head home. Not before a 7 year old’s birthday party. ‘Make a wish’ we said as he blew out the customary candles. Afterwards he revealed that the wish had been to go and see the Egyptian Pyramids! This kid will go far. One of his Xmas list items had been a trip to Hawaii! 
What else can you expect from my grandchildren!


Sunday, 5 November 2017

Egypt 2017

Which means ‘four Spanish’ was a phrase much used by our guides whenever we came in contact with the authorities, although this was not strictly true as one of us had a British passport.
This was our third attempt to visit the famous temples and pyramids to be found in Egypt, and after the failure of our previous attempts due to travel agents going bust or airlines strikes, it was third time lucky although we had made sure that we had all the insurance policies in place in case the same scenarios repeated themselves.
Thanks to the dedication and attention to every detail, by our friends Marian and Mariano, we had had to make virtually no effort apart from the necessary handover of cash, in the organisation of this trip. So when they asked us if we would like to join them in this expedition we had no hesitation to reignite our long time objective of visiting Egypt. 
After an enjoyable overnight stay which included a meal at our favourite Indian restaurant in Madrid, and a long and tiring trip we arrived at Aswan at the start of our 10 day Egyptian adventure. If we had any misgivings or apprehension about travelling Egypt Air then those were quickly dispelled as all flights turned out to be pleasant and punctual.
After a few hours sleep we headed down a desert highway to Abu Simbel, and though we would have preferred a less tiring mode of transport we were not disappointed. The temples were well worth the trip and the only doubt was in that they were not in their original position where they were constructed thousands of years before the building of the Aswan dam.

One of the objective of our trip was the interest in places of power and concentration of energy in the temples and pyramids. Marisol and Marian had done plenty of research into these topics and were determined to explore this at all of the sites we were to visit. I must say that this added an attractive dimension to the monuments beyond the history plus the architectural and artistic magnitude of the labour involved in constructing these monuments.
Since most of the readers have probably been to Egypt themselves I will not dwell on the Faraonic history or try to explain theories about the construction of these awesome structures, but will say that any calculation of the amount of effort involved in putting together any of the large temples and the sculpting of the murals on their walls would easily tempt one into accepting the Ancient Astronauts theory of technologies from other worlds that could have been responsible for their creation. 


The murals on the walls of the Dendara Temple for example at a conservative estimate would be perhaps 10 kilometres in length and 15 metres in height. Looking at the detail on these murals it is difficult to imagine thousands of people producing identical quality of work and no mistakes in any of the carving in massively huge stones is remarkable. It was almost as if a ‘printer’ driven by a digital image produced by a draughtsman had been programmed to cut the design into the massive stone walls. 
A second unbelievable accomplishment was on those murals where the stone had a stand out relief. That is to say the motifs stand out from the stone instead of being cut down into the stone. This represents a massive effort to remove all material down to a background level and with such precision that it is the same over a very large surface. My ‘printer’ in the above fantasy would not be able to do this, so a different strategy would have to be used.

Apart from the famous Luxor and Karnak temples we also had the Edfu, Phylae, Kom Ombo, Dendara, and Abydos on our list. The valley of the Kings with the Tutankhamun tomb plus the Hatshepsut temple nearby were all included in our tour. Tutankhamun's mummy is still in the burial chamber and it had a special energy all around it. According to our experts it was not pleasant and even I had a headache and a feeling that we were not welcome!
After a very pleasant cruise downstream from Aswan to Luxor we were taken to the Abydos and Dendara temples on one of the days while our cruiser ship was moored in Luxor. The road to Abydos was somewhat shorter then the drive to Abu Simbel but much more difficult as there is more insecurity in this area. The road heads north along a canal for almost eighty kilometres up to the town of Qena, before heading across on a desert road for another hundred.  The first eighty kilometres of road has a set of three speed breakers after every kilometre! You can imagine what this drive was like with all the bumps. This road (according to Google Maps) is the highway 75 and perhaps this section of it should be renamed Speedbreakers Road!
The other notable feature of this drive which took about 5 hours was the 20 police check points spaced along with the bumps in the road. We were provided police escort on some sections (just like John Simpson of BBC when reporting from war zones) and there was the occasional wait at some checkpoints while some money changed hands. (It was the end of the month :-) On the way back we stopped to look at the Dendara temple and although the journey was arduous, the temples were well worth the effort specially since there were very few others who wanted to hang around this area.



Later we took a flight to Cairo and installed ourselves in the Mena House Hotel. It was not until the following morning when we got up to have our breakfast, that we realised what a spectacular setting we were in with the Pyramids as a backdrop to our table at the restaurant. Tourism has taken a big hit in Egypt, and everywhere we went we had the monuments pretty much to ourselves for long periods. When we made our way to the burial chamber in the Cheops, we had the space to ourselves for about fifteen minutes.
Cairo was chaotic but nice in an old world kind of way. The Pyramids, The Khalili Market and the Cairo antiquities museum are well worth visiting. Giza on the other hand, just outside our beautiful setting at the hotel, was a mess and it looked like no one had collected the rubbish in the streets for many years. More than 20 million people need a lot of waste management which does not seem to exist in Giza. The other significant observation is that most of the private properties in Cairo and indeed the whole of Egypt look unfinished. When we asked our guide about this, he said that the rules allowed folks whose houses were under construction to pay less taxes! No wonder the houses remained unfinished for decades!
Soon it was time to go home and we said goodbye to our very able and efficient guide Aladin, used up the last of our Egyptian pounds and took the early morning flight to Madrid. Onwards to more adventures still waiting in other parts of our planet.
The funniest moment of the trip was when one of the passengers ahead of me at the Cairo Airport security check took off his belt to place in the tray for the X-ray machine, then walked through the security portal which beeped. The agents on the other side asked him to raise his arms for a manual check at which point his trousers fell to the floor around his ankles!

One had to laugh!

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Version Español

Arbe Al’asban
Significa ‘cuatro españoles’ y esta frase fue usada frecuentemente cuando los policias nos paraban, aunque no era totalmente correcto debido que uno de nosotros tenia un pasaporte Británico.
Era la tercera vez que  intentábamos visitar los famosos templos y pirámides de Egipto y después de haber fracasado anteriormente por causa de la bancarrota de la agencia de viajes y otra vez por la huelga de la linea aérea, finalmente ‘a la tercera la vencida’. De todos modos ya habíamos sacado todos los seguros para asegurarnos de que no nos arruinaríamos por si se volvía a repetir la mala suerte.
Gracias a la dedicación y atención a los detalles de parte de nuestros amigos Marian y Mariano, nosotros no tuvimos que hacer nada mas que aceptar la invitación para apuntarnos al programa y pagar la requerida cantidad de dinero. No tuvimos la mas mínima duda para cumplir con nuestro objetivo de hacer este viaje a Egipto.
Después de una estancia de una noche en Madrid que incluía una comida en nuestro restaurante favorito de cocina India, y un largo viaje llegamos a Aswan para iniciar nuestra aventura. Si había alguna duda sobre viajar con Egypt Air, no tuvimos preocupación debido que todo los vuelos fueron confortables y a su hora.
Después de unas horas de reposo salimos con destino Abu Simbel vía una carretera en pleno desierto. Nos hubiera gustado un modo de transporte mas confortable pero ni tan mal porque fue todo lo que esperábamos de los templos. Valía la pena hacer el esfuerzo y la única pega era que estos no estaban en sus lugares originales hace miles de años, sino reconstruidos en un nivel mas alto cuando se inundaron por culpa de la presa de Aswan.
Uno de los objetivos en este viaje era la exploración de los sitios de poder en los templos y pirámides de Egipto. Marisol y Marian habían investigado este tema y estaban muy motivadas para examinar todos los posibles sitios de poder. Puedo decir que eso fue un punto de atracción adicional a lo de la historia y la magnitud de la labor implicada en el aspecto arquitectural y artístico de todos los monumentos.
Creo que muchos de los lectores han hecho este mismo viaje, así que no explicare aquí la historia faraónica o las teorías de la construcción de estas estructuras asombrosas, pero puedo decir que cualquier calculo del trabajo necesario para levantar uno de estos templos y después crear todos los murales en las paredes, puede fácilmente convencernos que esto es obra de una tecnología de otra inteligencia que normalmente proponen en programas de televisión como Aliegenas o Antiguos Astronautas.

La suma de la longitud de los murales en las paredes de Templo de Dendara como un ejemplo y como un estimado conservador puede ser hasta 10 kilometro y hasta 15 metros de alto. Fijándonos en el detalle en estos murales es difícil de imaginar que miles de trabajadores podían producir obra del mismo nivel de calidad con ningún fallo en estas piedras enormes. Parece como hecho por una impresora programada para reproducción de una imagen digital.
Hay también en muchos de estos murales la técnica conocida como relieve alto, que resulta aun mas difícil. En este caso es necesario quitar material de fondo hasta un nivel que es uniforme en un tamaño enorme en todo el mural. Mi teoría de la impresora digital no podría hacer eso, necesitaría alguna otra estrategia.
Nuestro itinerario nos llevaba a todos los templos famosos de Egipto, entre ellos los de Karnak y Luxor, y también los de Edfu, Phylae, Kom Ombo, Dendara, y Abydos. También nos llevaron a las tumbas de Valle de los Reyes donde encuentra la del Tutankhamun, y el templo de Hatshepsut.
Despues de una relajante paseo por crucero desde Aswan a Luxor, fuimos a ver los templos de Abydos y Dendara. La carretera hacia Abydos era mas corta de la de Aswan a Abu Simbel, pero mucho mas dura para conducir, debido a la inseguridad en la zona y la costumbre de las autoridades de instalar reductores de velocidad. La carretera sigue un canal durante casi ochenta kilómetros hasta al pueblo de Qena, y luego continua a través del desierto por otros cien kilómetros. La parte hasta Qena tiene estos reductores de velocidad cada kilometro y hace el viaje muy pesado. 
El viaje duro casi cinco horas y paramos en múltiples puntos de inspección policial, donde tuvimos que registrar los ‘Cuatro Españoles’. Los policías nos acompañaron en varios tramos de la carretera donde supuestamente había mas inseguridad, tal como lo hacen para los reporteros cuando mandan noticias desde las zonas en guerra. En algunos casos tuvimos que esperar hasta que nuestros guías ‘regalaron’ una cantidad de dinero (era el fin de mes :-) En camino de vuelta fuimos al templo de Dendara, y en general valió la pena porque eran monumentos estupendos y había pocos turistas.

Acto seguido llegamos a Cairo y nos instalamos en el lujoso Mena House Hotel. No nos dimos cuenta de la ubicación hasta la mañana siguiente cuando vimos la Pirámide de Cheops mientras desayunábamos. El turismo ha bajado mucho en los años recientes y tuvimos casi todos los espacios turísticos para nosotros. Cuando llegamos a la Gran Galeria y la cámara en la Pirámide, estuvimos solos durante quince minutos.
Cairo era caótico pero interesante por su ambiente antiguo. Las Pirámides, el Mercado Khalili y el Museo de Antigüedades son muy recomendables para visitar. En cambio el barrio de Giza, justo al lado de nuestro lujoso hotel era como un basurero, y parecía que nadie había limpiado las calles de basura desde hace años. 20 millones de habitantes necesitan mucha administración de basura, pero en Giza no la hay. Una otra cosa que nos pareció peculiar era que muchas de las casas parecían inacabadas. La parte inferior generalmente parecía habitada pero el ultimo piso siempre en construcción. Cuando preguntamos a nuestro guía sobre esto, supimos que en Egipto la gente paga menos tasas mientras su casa esta en construcción! Con razón, las casas quedan en construcción durante décadas.
Ya era hora de volver a casa y cogimos el vuelo desde Cairo hacia Madrid, después de despedirnos de nuestro nuestro guía ‘Aladdin’ y  gastar los ultimas Libras Egipcias. Nos esperan nuevas aventuras y viajes en otras partes.
Y el momento mas gracioso del viaje? Hubo un viajero adelante de nosotros en la cola para pasar la seguridad en el aeropuerto de Cairo, que de costumbre se tuvo que dejar la chaqueta, los zapatos y el cinturón en la bandeja para pasar por los rayos X. Cuando paso por la puerta de seguridad le pito y los agentes le indicaron que le iban a revisar manualmente. Le indicaron levantar los brazos y cuando lo hizo se le cayeron los pantalones al suelo!

No podíamos hacer mas que reír!