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‘Adventures in Pandemica’ or ‘What I did on my Isolation Vacation’

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Adventures in Pandemica’ or ‘What I did on my Isolation Vacation’

Our trip to Pandemica was unplanned. It began March 17, 2020, on a sunny St Patrick’s Day. The voyage was short, comfortable and hassle-free. No packing, no suitcases, no plane tickets – and no jetlag. We simply got out of bed and we were there. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this strange land or how long we’d be here, so I acquired a couple of travel books. Fodors Guide to the Living Room has come in handy and Lonely Toilet has been indispensable.

The climate in Pandemica is quite lovely. The weather hovers around room temperature year-round and there’s very little precipitation – with the exception of an occasional morning shower. The sights and sounds are unique, wondrous, spectacular. I never get tired of staring into the refrigerator. There’s something raw and primal about gazing vacantly into an appliance, the barefoot uncombed silence broken only by the perpetual tick of a kitchen clock. Pandemica is a fun, exciting place. Every day brings new adventure, challenges and occasionally, life-defining choices. Should I brush my teeth before or after checking the mailbox? Is that stale-dated yogurt edible or shall I just heave it?

Although not a big place (as vacation spots goes), Pandemica has lots of interesting, undiscovered regions to explore. Don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path. Move that fridge. Open the hide-a-bed. Look behind the stove. Venture outside your comfort zone. Here you will discover strange sights, ancient artifacts, long-forgotten foodstuffs. And before vacuuming up the primordial grime and decades-old grit, reminisce and enjoy the moment. Take the time to really examine that plastic letter ‘K’ you found under the oven. Time will fly. Before you know it, it’ll be time to stand naked in front of the fridge again.

The view from my armchair is comforting but yesterday, throwing caution to the wind, I snuck out the back door to dump the garbage. I scanned the perimeter for Covid-19 police, then made a dash for the alley. The fresh air on my face was intense and exhilarating – but also unfamiliar and a little unnerving. I looked up at the clear blue sky. There were no contrails. I shuddered involuntarily and scurried back inside to seek comfort from the daily White House briefing.

Often, we sleep in. But one day, it was a Tuesday, maybe a Wednesday, I got up early… and sat on the couch.

Time in sequestration can pass slowly if one doesn’t keep mind honed and body occupied. And since I’m a ‘get things done’ kind of guy, early on I created a to-do list:

  • look longingly out window
  • observe woman at other end of sofa knitting something
  • check corona virus stats
  • wander aimlessly from room to room wondering what it was you went in there for
  • descend into YouTube wormhole/re-watch Groundhog Month
  • stare vacuously into refrigerator
  • (repeat above steps as necessary until mind is comfortably numb)

Before you know it the day will be over and it’ll be time for bed. And you can look forward to tomorrow – and another pathetic day executing the same monotonous rituals. But remember, a steadfast routine is what makes life worthwhile, consequential, meaningful.

We borrowed a 1000-piece puzzle from the neighbours. It took forever. Cleaning each chunk before assembly was enormously gratifying and a real time killer.

 

For moi, self-isolation has ratcheted up the agoraphobia factor a couple of notches. The more I’m confined, the less I’m socially inclined. Humans are an adaptive species – but also remarkably sheep-like. The new awkward requires that, on those rare occasions where we dare step outside to seek provisions, we keep our heads down, move quickly to the other side of the vegetable aisle and, at all costs, avoid eye contact. I’m really enjoying it.

And it’s interesting how quickly we have evolved to accept and adopt strange new mores, such as physical distancing. On the thirteenth straight night of Netflix, I began talking to the television, quietly berating the stars of a ‘90s sitcom. The actors were co-mingled around a coffee table, unabashedly unmasked. I really lost it when they hugged, high-fived and then broke bread together. Disgusted, I switched over to watch Gravity, not my favourite flic, but at least the cast had the decency to wear space suits.

From the heights of my step ladder in the dining room, the vista is stunning. I have an unobstructed look at the neighbour’s garage and a bird’s-eye-view of our entire ceiling. Overcome by this stippled splendor I nearly forgot my purpose atop the ladder. But I was quickly brought back down from my lofty reverie when my wife hollered, ‘Are you or are you not going to remove the dead flies from that light fixture.’

We so enjoyed our trip to Pandemica that we decided to exercise the full two-month extension. And I’m proud to say I’ve now checked off some lifetime bucket-list items: taking down the Christmas lights before June, vacuuming the wood pile, discarding a pair of mis-matched socks, sharpening a drawer full of dull pencils. There’s more but I don’t want to boast about my less sensational achievements.

At the end of week nine we finally caved and invited a couple of friends over for a social-distancing dinner. What with catching up, toasts to the ‘new normal’, etc., it went rather too well and, since no taxis were operating, our friends and their car had an impromptu sleep-over. After breakfast, unwilling to don her previous evening’s formal attire, our lady-friend exited the house barefoot, clad only in a pair of borrowed pajamas. Fortunately, no nosy neighbours were extant. But a murder of crows, blissfully ignorant of their obligation to self-isolate after a winter abroad, were on hand to raucously caw Barb’s ‘walk of shame’ down the driveway.

When this mess is finally over, I’m not sure I want to go back to work. Come to think of it, since I didn’t have a vocation before this compulsory vacation, I’m pretty sure I’m not going back.

Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible.  Please support them.

 

“Can you tell me if there’s a good spot to fish around here?”

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Sailing the Nile – Parts 1 and 2

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Sailing the Nile

This is the second in a two-part series “Sailing the Nile”.

There were only 15 guests on board the Malouka: nine polite Americans and our group of six raucous Canadians. We were on a six-day sail up the Nile River. The vessel was a traditional double-masted dahabiya, part of the Nour el Nil fleet https://www.nourelnil.com/

Dahabiyas have been plying the waters of the Nile for millennia. But this was a cleverly-constructed, modern, luxurious craft for us clever, modern, luxuriant folk.

Egypt: Sailing the Nile Part 1 by Gerry Feehan

 

In addition to the crew – who outnumbered the guests – we were graced with the presence of Jean-Pierre, a gentle man with a charming Parisian accent whose only responsibility aboard ship (from what we could glean) was to hop from boat to boat, entertaining the guests with his relaxed septuagenarian spirit – and to act as self-appointed ‘bodyguard’ to Eleanor, one of the fleet’s owners. Eleanor, an elegant French lady, maintained her sumptuous quarters on the Malouka’s sister ship, the Meroe.

Every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner, was served in style, on deck, in the open air. The food was amazing. We were waited on like Pharaohs and Queens: fresh-netted Nile perch, crisp fried falafel and baba ghanouj; straight-from–the-oven flatbread to scoop up the tahini, hummus and yogurt sauces. Each afternoon, we were offered the refreshing juice of some exotic fruit. After dinner, often just a simple desert of dates and figs.

After feeding the guests, the crew enjoys lunch on the lower deck

We quickly bonded with the crew. Where English/Arabic language issues arose, the occasional knowing nod, some common courtesy and a mutual admiration for the beauty of the Nile, sufficed. The Egyptian crew was polite and attentive. And even the most hardened of these river seamen displayed a boyish sense of humour.

Each time we neared shore to dock for an excursion, the captain – whom the staff had inexplicably nicknamed Humpty Dumpty – commenced a routine of alarmed shouts directed at the bow crew—while simultaneously engaging in a frantic arm-waving ceremony toward the helmsman. As we neared Edfu, and before he could start this inevitable daily performance, I jumped into his station at the bow and began gesticulating and yelling in my best pidgin Arabic.

Humpty looked at me in astonishment. The crew was momentarily dumfounded. Then one-by-one they burst into hysterical laughter. The cook, abandoning the galley, fell to the floor, pounding his fists on the deck with unrestrained glee.

I looked at the captain apologetically and said, “Asif.” But I wasn’t really sorry—and Humpty was laughing just as hard as the others.

The sun began to redden over the Nile. The barge passed fertile fields of cotton and sugar cane; lush orchards of pomegranates and figs. Galabiya-clad shepherds looked up from their flocks. Women washed clothes in the fading light. Children leapt into the clear warm water. A startled grey heron squawked. A young boy astride a thin donkey waived hello. Everything was fun and games. Then the squall hit.

The sudden gale propelled the dahabiya sideways. We were headed for an inevitable collision with shore. All hands were on deck as the bow slowly crushed into a thick grove of papyrus. I looked at the captain. He was not laughing. Orders were shouted. Two crewmen jumped overboard with tie-lines in hand, frantically swimming through the thick reeds. On shore they pounded grounding stakes into the hard bank. Then the entire team, from first mate to cook, hauled fast the lines.

When you are a ship’s captain you are on duty 24/7 and can never break, even if your name is Humpty.

As quickly as it started the squall ebbed and all was well again.

Humpty at the helm

This motley crew was not much help during the squall

After the calm we resumed our drift. Near the Temple of Horemheb we tied up for the night, went ashore and visited a small village. We popped in for shai (tea) at what can only be described as the neighbourhood pub, although no alcohol was served. The place smelled of desert grime seasoned with stale tobacco smoke. In the dim murky light an animated group of men were huddled around a table, taking turns smashing domino tiles down upon the battered old piece of furniture. They offered us shai and thick, sweet Turkish coffee, then invited us to join the game and share shisha—a water pipe. The local tobacco is flavoured with fruit and the taste is very mild. Even a deep inhale doesn’t burn the lungs. Or so I’m told.

It was evident that the people here were desperately poor. And yet they welcomed us politely, with expressions of sincere gratitude for our visit to their country. Proffered payment for the shai, coffee, shisha—and our domino debts—were all firmly refused.

Young and old, Nile folk were friendly and welcoming

Egypt needs visitors. Tourism has been hard hit by an unfortunate series of events: 9/11, middle-east concerns, terrorist threats – both real and imagined. The 2010 ‘Arab Spring’ democratic uprising was, ironically, particularly devastating. Tourist numbers plummeted to near zero, but are now recovering. Still, only about 150 of the 350 tour boats that formerly plied this section of the Nile are operating.

We left the village and climbed to a high vantage point overlooking the mighty river. It began to rain. Soon we were all soaked to the skin. Sawi, Alberto and Mahmoud (our on-board waiters and off-board protectors) danced gleefully in the desert downpour. This part of Egypt had not seen rain for four years.

In the morning, docked below the high dam at Aswan, we enjoyed a solemn breakfast while watching a last sunrise over the Nile. Our toast was served with marmalade and melancholy. Our time aboard the Melouka was over. Jean-Pierre and Eleanor came to bid us adieu. All of the crew were emotional. Mahmoud’s eyes were glued to the floor. You know I hate to see a grown man cry… so I avoided looking in the mirror.

We walked the gangplank off the dahabiya. A van awaited us dockside. There we were introduced to Sayed Mansour, from Exodus Travel, who would be our guide for the rest of our Egyptian adventure. He hurried us into the van. A plane awaited us. We were bound for the ancient temple of Abu Simbel on Lake Nasser.

Exodus Travel skillfully handled every detail of our Egypt adventure: www.exodustravels.com/‎

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence now live in Kimberley, BC!

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for sponsoring this series.  Click on their ads and learn more about these long-term local businesses.

Click to read more travel stories.

 

8 miles off the coast of Ireland Gerry Feehan’s “Buddy-Hike” discovers the Skellig Islands

 

 

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Egypt: Sailing the Nile Part 1 by Gerry Feehan

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Sure, there’s no travel now, but one day, when the world opens up, we will travel again. In the meantime, enjoy the first in a two-part series “Sailing the Nile”

The Nile River is a mind-boggling 6853 km long. It is the longest river in the world. Mind you we were only sailing about 200 km of it, from Luxor to Aswan, on an Egyptian dahabiya. But since we were relying on the prevailing north wind to carry us upstream—to the south—even that took nearly a week.

Dahabiyas are shallow-bottomed, barge-like vessels. These two-masted craft have been plying the waters of the Nile, in one form or another, for thousands of years. We were on the Malouka, a 45-meter long beauty, part of the four-boat Nour el Nil fleet. For the entire voyage, all four boats sailed together in a colourful flotilla. https://www.nourelnil.com/

Our captain was Humpty Dumpty (the crew had given each other very entertaining nicknames). Humpty was a musical fellow. When he wasn’t shouting orders he was humming quietly to himself. As my travels have repeatedly confirmed, music is the world’s great unifier. Thus, on our second evening aboard, I uncased my ever-present ukulele and began strumming a few tunes. Soon, the captain and a few other crewmembers wandered up from below deck, listening appreciatively, attentively—and patiently.

Abandoning our eggs, we all scrambled from the table and donned bathing attire.

Then it was their turn. In moments the entire crew had gathered on deck, instruments in hand. They began clapping as the captain sang out an Arabic folk song. The loud thumping of the cook’s doumbec filled the Nile valley with contagious percussion. The floorboards reverberated as every soul on board bounced wildly in unison. Our quiet jam session on a soft Egyptian night had quickly evolved into a raucous international jamboree. It was magical.

In the morning we were enjoying a reflective, leisurely breakfast when someone shouted, ‘There’s a woman floating in the river!’ The lady casually waved as she drifted by. It was Eleanor, one of Nour el Nil’s owners. Eleanor’s cabin was on the Malouka’s sister ship, the Meroe. We were invited to join Eleanor in the water. I had no idea that swimming in the Nile was safe—or part of the agenda.

Abandoning our eggs, we all scrambled from the table and donned bathing attire. The procedure was simple: walk a few hundred meters upstream, jump in and simply go with the flow. Drift down to the dahabiya, swim to shore and… repeat. This unexpected treat—and respite from the hot Egyptian sun—quickly became a daily ritual. Surprisingly, the Nile River is not overly wide. But it has a subtle incessant strength. A dip in this great watercourse reveals its unmistakable power. Each of us tried futilely to buck the current and swim upstream. None made any headway, all eventually succumbing to the Nile’s deep, relentless, perpetual force.

Ancient Egyptians relied on this coincidence of opposing wind and current to build the greatest civilization the world had ever known. It is what enabled the construction of the pyramids 4500 years ago. Vast blocks of granite and sandstone were quarried and, during the annual flood, floated downstream and unloaded. Then the barges were sailed back upstream and loaded anew. The Great Pyramid of Cheops near Cairo contains over two million blocks, each weighing in excess of a tonne, every stone stacked in place by hand. That’s a lot of barging—not to mention the heavy lifting.

There is no more luxurious—or relaxing way—to see Egypt and appreciate its spectacular ancient tombs and temples, than to embark on a quiet sail up the Nile on a dahabiya. Muslim rulers in the middle ages ostentatiously gilded these barges the colour of the sun. The name is thus derived from the Arabic word for gold.

Each day we moved a little further south. We’d dock, disembark and, after enduring a gauntlet of incessant, tenacious, persistent street hawkers, we’d be in the portal of one of ancient Egypt’s incredible monuments. All these sites are located just a short walk from shore, above the high-water mark of the historical Nile flood. First we visited Esna, then Al-Kab, then Edfu and Horemheb. Our final stop was Kom-Ombo and its Crocodile Museum, where 3000 year-old mummified reptiles stared at us, teeth bared, looking malevolently alive. The Pharaohs venerated these beasts, preserving them for their mutual journey to the afterlife.

Temple guard

Kom-Ombo

At each stop we were met on shore by Adele, a young Egyptologist, who guided us through the complex history of these wonders. He patiently explained the ancient hieroglyphs that adorned the sandstone walls—but only after our group gave him our complete attention. Any noisy transgressors received a stony stare until they were embarrassed into silence. Then in a quiet but commanding baritone the lesson would begin. And god forbid you were caught snapping a photo of a frieze from the middle kingdom during one of his talks. Another cold glare would ensue, together with the admonition, “Time for pictures later.”

Adele explaining a cartouche

On the hike to Al-Kab, I noticed Adele fidgeting with something in his hands. “Why the worry beads?” I asked. “Prayer beads,” he corrected. He didn’t look like the devout type. “I’m trying to quit smoking,” he explained sheepishly.

Inside the tomb, Adele was showing us how to read a 30-century-old cartouche carved into the stone, pointing out a few of the multitude of gods worshiped by the early Egyptians. Osiris, god of the dead, Horus, with his falcon head and Isis, Horus’s mother. We all stood, obediently quiet in the dim sweltering closeness of the crypt. Then with a flashlight he pointed out some additional markings in the rock: ‘John Edwards 1819.’ We looked closer and saw many other similar autographs. British soldiers had clumsily scratched graffiti into these magnificent ancient works 200 years ago.

Kilroy, it seems, has been just about everywhere.

Next time: Part 2: Sailing the Nile on a Dahabiya.

Exodus Travel skillfully handled every detail of our Egypt adventure: www.exodustravels.com/

Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence now live in Kimberley, BC!

Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for sponsoring this series.  Click on their ads and learn more about these long-term local businesses.

Click to read more travel stories.

We will travel again but in the meantime, enjoy Gerry’s ‘Buddy Trip to Ireland’

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