Saturday, 28 March 2009

How to make Runescape Gold

There are many ways to make Gold, but here are a few of my top tips for any runescaper who comes accross this blog and wants money making tips!

I will be updating this as I think of more things to put on.

General Tips

* If you can make it, dont buy it.. you will save a lot of money and making things you need will help your skills..

* if you fancy a really nice bit of armour, or a fantastic sword, save up for it, dont let anything put you off, and dont spend your cash on bits n peices.

* do your daily activities daily.. go to catherby and buy seaweed and pineapples.. they sell at a much higher price in the G E

Daily Activities

Some of these depend on a quest or certain levels of the Achievement Diaries. if they do I have put Q in brackets!

* Talk to Arheim just outside the bank at Catherby who will offer you a choice of buying seaweed or pineapples. You can buy a limited amount of both each day - and both sell for a nice profit on the Grand Exchange. You have to talk to him, don't just click trade as it wont work.

Cook your seaweed and sell is as Soda Ash. You don't need any cooking level. It sells for more than normal seaweed in the Grand Exchange.

* Visit Bert (Hand in the Sand Quest) daily for your helping of free Sand in Yanille. You can either use this and your Soda Ash to make glass, or just sell it as it is!

* Visit Zaff in the Varrok Staff shop and buy your daily allowance of Staves. If you have done the hardest level available as I speak, you can buy 64 Staves a day! You can make them into Battle Staves, or just sell them on Grand Exchange at a small profit.

* Visit Flax (aka Geoffrey) in the flax field south of Camelot and West of Catherby for your daily free flax. You can only do this after doing the appropriate Diary!

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

No need for this kind of heat ( from Simon)

It's hot. Really, really hot. It's so hot that if you only drink 6 litres in a day then you don't pee. It's so hot that at daybreak it's still 20 degrees even after it's been cooling all night. It's so hot that if you don't drink anything for half an hour then do, you get drink sweats, when your body suddenly releases all the precious, precious moisture you were saving up to stop you desiccating. It's so hot the glue in my books is melting and the pages are falling out. It's so hot that the sun becomes unbearable after half 9 in the morning, and I skulk the shadows like a wraith. It's so hot that ice cold water becomes hot like a bath within an hour of purchase, and everything in the world becomes hotter than your body, so everything you touch makes you warmer - this makes lying in bed like trying to go to sleep on a radiator. It's so hot that yesterday when it was only 43 degrees it felt like a welcome break.
I should never have tempted fate like I did last time - I know so how meteorological systems like to peruse my missives and take action forthwith. Yet twasn't always like this. After I left you last I travelled to Karima where a band of rocky hills crosses the Very Flat and meets the Nile. Here was the flourishing of the Nubian Pharaohs, at the foot of Jebel Barkal which definitely doesn't look like a penis. The Victorian discoverer said he believed it may "be a huge statue of a fairly featureless Pharaoh standing ere... very straight with a peculiar conical hat." The fact that the Nubian queens used to crawl into a cave at the base of it to get impregnated by the God in no way shows what they felt.
But it's not all 90 metre cocks, there's a few (ruined) temples and (ruined) sphinxes, and loads of (small) pyramids in remarkably good shape. I spent a few days running around them being wowed by these secret monuments, and hanging out at my hotel next to a pimp my tuk-tuk garage where they played Sudanese rock and roll and stuck spinning Mad Max blades of death onto the wheels. I went there to see if they sold batteries and they decided to treat me to a series of videos proving why Bashir was the best president in the world:
"See, this is after the ICC announcement. He goes out into street in motorcade and says that if anyone wants to kill him, do it now. No-one kills him!"
"Could any other President do this and not die? I think not!"
"Look, this is next day, he goes to South Sudan to ask them to kill him if they want to. But they love him there!"
The footage that accompanies this one deserves some description. Bashir is standing on a platform, wearing a gigantic feather 'tribal' hat, shaking a spear, and dancing enthusiastically to some African tunes. Around him sit the Government of South Sudan (GoSS for short) dignitaries in suits and ashen faces. It looks like Prince Phillip unleashed.
"And now he is in Darfur - no-one is killing him!"
As I watch the Janjaweed ride past, saluting him. Granted this is for an internal audience, but surely this isn't the best way to prove that you have nothing to do with the problems that are ongoing there?

He then shows me footage of the big dam they've built just near Karima which will provide electricity to the whole of Northern Sudan, and allow agriculture to continue growing despite (a certain amount of) global warming and petrol running out. It's pretty essential for the continuing existence of Karima, and most of Nubia as well. So that's a good thing, though it was built with oil money, the oil coming from the South. To ensure there was peace, Bashir hired some militias to look after the area where the oil was found, but they accidentally killed all the Southerners who lived there. Whoops! How does Bashir keep getting in these pickles? I decided not to bring this up with Tuk-Tuk mechanic man.
Khartoum is the ultimate oil town. A wonderfully ramshackle African city set around the confluence of the White & Blue Niles, with lots of new 'event' skyscrapers, some of which seem to have paused half-way through construction due to the fall in prices. I really love the vibe of it, and I'm hoping that Addis Ababa has a similar feel. There's a spilling of life onto every space on the street; African music blares from every shop & juice stand; you have streets which are lined with people working sowing machines, and suqs which are lined with computers and speakers, blaring out a cacophony of music and films as people queue round them to get photo-copies.
There's also a smattering of decaying colonial buildings, and the city itself is laid out like a Union Jack ("Kill General Gordon, will you? Well now your capital city's shaped like our flag. See how YOU like it."). The Nile is lovely here, lazy and wide, but given it's Sudan, where 90% of the country is desert, there's a wide swath of farmland right through the heart of the city on either side of it. Even when you the road gets close to the water, you're not allowed to photograph it. I was caught and was pulled into an army post:
"Why were you photographing the Nile?"
"Because I'm a tourist."
"But why?"
"Because it's beautiful, and the confluence of the Nile is one of the most important geographical features on our planet." (Not sure got the whole of this across)
He then started going through all 2,500 pictures I had going "Is this in Sudan?" for each one. After 10 minutes, with me still in Jordan, I took my camera and excused myself. I had to delete the picture I'd just taken, but I got away with one picture they didn't see, which exclusively shows that the reason they're so edgy is that SADDAM'S WMDs ARE ALL HIDDEN UNDERWATER IN THE NILE IN KHARTOUM. That's why they were never found. Army guy had the last laugh though - as I walked away, he shouted "You can't walk down the street next to the Nile!", and made me head away inland. The army here are as obnoxious as the police are nice.

In fact, Khartoum has thrown up a number of frustrations, but it hasn't made me love it less. There's the fact that people won't tell you directions unless they know why you want to go there, which can be hard to explain in Arabic. Then there's the Sun. Luckily most streets have covered walkways, and there's juice stands every hundred metres or so. I'm beginning to find myself not trusting my standards though. I'd found one place that did mango juices that I thought weren't too sweet compared to what I was used to here - when I saw it made they put in the same amount of sugar as they did mango. I haven't been able to go back, or indeed have another mango juice since, but I'm just fooling myself that the guava juices are any less sweetened. Even the wonderfully tart lemon juices are probably loaded with it. I've had to give up tea because I can't get them to put less than an inch of sugar in the bottom of a 3 inch glass. I keep think I'm exaggerating here but this really is no lie. They don't have tea spoons, just really deep scoops. My blood feels really sticky and thick in my veins - I don't know how they're not all diabetics out here. I'm hoping the juice in Ethiopia is more natural.
I learnt to deal with the Sun though. At first I fought it, and the Sun won. By half past 1 I'd collapse in a heap in someones shop and have to wait there for an hour or two until it was safe to go out. They didn't mind; they understood. But soon I learnt why people got up at the crack of dawn here - I'd get up at half past 6 and walk around in British summer weather. Of course, at this time in the morning they only sell doughnuts to eat, fried up in front of you by the ubiquitous tea ladies who set up braziers and ankle high stools along every pavement. To combat any smells, they burn incense - though all the shops take it in turn to do this as well. Having said that, Sudan is remarkable in that there is a garbage disposal service which runs regularly round the towns and cities, and there's always someone sweeping up wherever you look. It's still a complete shit tip, but you can imagine what it's be like if it didn't happen.

After a sugary breakfast you can wander round in the relative cool and enjoy 'the best part of the day' (becoming Dad alert...). By lunch you can retire for a nap or an internet session in the slightly air conditioned internet cafes. Considering how packed in you are, cheek by jowl, it's amazing how many people look at porn. Khartoum starts winding down by 9 o'clock, and nothing's happening by 10. It's quite weird to be in such a big city and have totally blank evenings - there's not even the caffeine and sheesh experience you get in Egypt. I've only had 3 sheeshas since coming to Sudan, and most times I've been dragged to some dodgy back street sheesh hole - it all feels a bit sordid, though the mint sheeshas are lovely. I'm getting a bit sick of it though, won't mind swapping it for Beer & Qat in Ethiopia. Spanish Photographer fellow said that Qat was very good for writing on, which is what I'd heard, so that should be interesting.

So what have I actually been up to in Khartoum? Well, I actually had one of the best experiences of my life on Friday. I headed out to a cemetery out west where some Sammaniya Sufis gather for a dance every week. The Sammaniya brotherhood are known as the Whirling Dervishes, but whilst I'd seen some in Turkey who were pretty sedate, things are pretty crazy here. These guys are all dreadlocked and dressed in outlandish costumes, some going as far as wearing wizard's hats. There's some drumming and chanting of the usual 'La illaha illallah' (noGod but God) as they all gather in a big circle outside the tomb of their founders. They walk around ecstatically greeting each other and hugging, getting a groove on as the rhythm picks up, wandering around with braziers of incense to smell, and just smiling as if their life depended on it.

There was so much love in the air it was unreal. It was like a proper night out - it was as hot as a sweaty basement despite being in the open air at sunset, everyone was smiling, hugging and dancing, and there was great music. Because the Sufis are really tolerant there were lots of women there dancing too, and because the Sufis distinguish between mad and 'touched' there's quite a lot of people there with mental problems who are welcomed in as well. A wee dwarf of love came up and gave me a MASSIVE hug - best hug since Tom. In fact, Khartoum is total Tommy land, all sugar and loved up hugs. I actually started rushing my tits off, getting really into the music and dancing and just all the happiness around. It was very intense. People were really welcoming, shaking my hand and welcoming me in. Maybe they were just glad I wasn't like the other tourists (both western & Sudani) who were pushing their way to the centre of the circle, and shoving their cameras in the faces of the people who were spinning or shaking and reaching transcendental union with God. Strangely enough this seemed to bring them out of it, so naturally the tourist would have to find someone else to shove his camera in the face of so he could get that perfect shot. The whole thing was amazing though - the vibe was incredible and I made some friends who I've been bumping into since then.

In fact, Khartoum's really friendly like that. I was wondering how the Sudanese openness would translate to the big city, as it seems to fit towns and villages perfectly, but it works really well. I feel more part of the city after 5 days than in Cairo in 5 weeks. It's been fun trying to work out the bus system, which relies totally on a series of hand signals, pops and clicks. If you want to get off, you click your fingers, and the conductor hisses to the driver, everyone then re-arranges where they're sitting so that they are as far back in the bus as possible. To tell which bus you want you see what hand shapes the conductor is throwing as he leans out the window. There's also whistles, which are a bit beyond me, and a mixture of the Victory sign being switched into the Vs whilst a pound note was thrust in my face, which meant he wanted two 50s in change.

Flushed with the success of the Sufi love-in, I decided to get my hair cut. It had got past my shoulders, was hot, and blew in my face whenever the blessed wind appeared. Sometimes I found myself chewing on it. It was time. In Khartoum, hairdressers are denoted by a picture of either Will Smith or Craig David. The one I went to had both, thus denoting excellence, I thought. I should have been warned when after I asked for him to take a little off the bottom, he whipped out his clippers. Off came both sides pretty quick. A little bit off the top and he was done.

After a bit of a discussion, a little irate on my end, he went off and found some scissors (this took some time), and cut (hacked) off a lot more at the back. But I still had a mullet. No London trendy Nu-Mu, this was a full-on bouffon-&-flaring-back-early-
80s-day-time-soap-doctor's-suave-but-dastardly-brother-mullet. He even gave me designer stubble to match. I could have got it all shaved off, but I've run with it. Who am I trying to impress? I haven't washed it since and it's kind of gone a bit better (read messy), and I think it might grow out okay. Don't worry, you'll get to see the photos eventually.

One thing which has been weird given the preponderance of excellent music around, is how many people have trance ringtones. I keep expecting Dave Pearce to jump out and intone "Utter Euphoria 267 - bang some wrong down your drug hole and it won't sound like the exquisite ear toss it really is." Perhaps his gap toothed gypsy persona is what's popularizing it.

But it's time for me to head on, go and check out some more Pyramids, and hopefully get to Port Sudan, which is apparently only in the 30s at the moment! I don't have a permit, which may or may not be needed - different travellers report different results. If I'm allowed through I'm hoping to go snorkelling or diving there, then head round via the hills and Kassala before going down to Ethiopia; if I get turned back then I'll head down quicker. Basically I should be in Ethiopia in 1 or 2 weeks. Quite exciting to be this close to the place I've been planning to visit for so, so long. I'll probably hate it!

Anyway, I should head off now, as it's just gone 10 and I'm virtually the last person in the cafe. It's past my bed time.

All my love,


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Happy Birthday Me!!!!!!!!!!!!

Im (cough) 21 today!!

I started my day with a delicious breakfast of Granola (Museli) with plain yoghurt, delicious munchy green grapes and a little orange juice. Douglas and I watched "Americas Next Top Model" on Sky +, which allows you to record things and watch them at a time that suits you.

I gave Douglas a lift to work, was smothered in kisses by him (ahhhhhhh) :-) then went to Tescos. I'm off sick from work because I've lost my voice, and even though there is plenty of paperwork for me to do, I'm not allowed in cause I cant talk. Stupid rules... but I'm enjoying today lol.

My supply of Chocolate has run out, so I decided to do a birthday shop and stock up. Needless to say Tesco in our town does not have any left now lol. Ok.. I got some Lindt chilli choc, and some Green and Blacks.. one Maya Gold and one dark choc and mint. These will last me quite a long time as I only eat a few chunks a day.. and sometimes none at all for a few days. This time last year I could have eaten the lot in one sitting!!!! (I still could but I wont now)


After having a nice time playing Runescape, I went into town then over to meet up with my neice Martha and her mum Katy. Martha has had her leg in plaster for 6 weeks following a very bad break when she bounced off a toboggan during the snowy period we had.

We went to the hospital for xrays and to see the Doc. The top of the cast was taken off - it was like taking the top off an Easter Egg. The bottom of the cast was left on to provide a bit of stability during the Xray process.

The Doc was good.. he explained the Xrays clearly, and said that the break is healing well, but is not quite ready to be let out of its cast just yet, so much to poor Marthas dissapointment, the top of the cast was popped back on, and the whole lot stuck back together with blue fibreglass? plaster stuff. It is far better that it heal further in safety rather than risk anything else happening to it during this time.

I have promsied to take an afternoon off to spend with her during the next 4 weeks - true to form, she wants to spend that time making a chocolate cake :-)

Thomas was going to pick Martha and Kt up and take them home, so i got the tram back home and met up with Douglas.

Martha and the two boys had all made me wonderful cards!! Marthas had Billy and Lilly on it, and a picture of me on a flying bar of chocolate.. Leos strangely had a chocolate theme, including Mount Malteeser and a really cool pop up bit in the middle of the card. Little Carlo had also done one with 4 pictures in.. I will have to get him to tell me their stories some time!!

Thomas and Kt gave me a very funny cat card with a donation towards the lap top I want, I got a lovely Amazon voucher from my Dreaded Mum in Law and a nice card from my friend Loony in Bristol.

Douglas picked me up from the tram, and we had half an hours rest before having a very pleasant evening with my parents. We had a good meal - Douglas ingratiated himself to my dad by liking his "chicken shape" A chicken Shape consists of bits of left over chicken put in a bowl with the juices that run off during cooking. Bung the whole lot into the fridge and it sets like a jelly!! I used to absoltley abhore it as a child and when mum wasnt around I was forced to eat it. (yeah.. damaged childhood and all that....) I've never liked jelly - especially hated meat type jelly.

I digress :-)

We had a good meal then watched some cine films my parents have had transferred at some considerable expense, onto video tape and DVD. It was so funny to see a tiny Thomas, mini Anna and slightly bigger John, mum with dark curly hair, and dad with LOADS of dark hair!!

About 8.30 Douglas was getting tired, and since he has work tomorrow, we wheeled our way home.

Note on voice:
I used it today in its very croakey state, and now as my throat hurts and the voice is very tired, I wished I hadn't. Will try to stay silent tomorrow!! Still off sick.. will probably need Drs note soon.. how tiresome - I really do love my job and I wanna go back!!!!!

All in good time.. but I think I better do a strong and silent tomorrow, write things down or do sign language.. not even whipser.

Never mind.. I had a really good birth day celebration.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

New Carpet!

Recently, we discovered a forgotten "pot of gold" in an internet banking account I thought was closed, so we have decided to spend this on a new carpet for our lounge/diner area.

The present carpets are thin, stained and burnt with iron marks from the previous owners. We have been very slowly working down our list of things we want to do to our house since we moved in about 2 years ago, and carpets had come to the top of the list!

A few days before this discovery, we had a flier through from a local furniture and carpet firm advising of a "previous customer" preview of their sale :-)

We have chosen two samples for quotes.. both pure wool, and both from British sheep - also the underlay is going to be made from recycled foam, so we are doing our best to shop locally, use recycled products and buy British :-)

We both really like the more expensive of the two carpets, but we will see what the quotes are like, and take it from there.

Photos will follow evenutally!!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Koola Tammam!! (from Simon)

Roughly translated that means "Everything's Cool", and the Sudanese love saying it. I've had entire conversations consisting of tammam, in various different meanings. It's appropriate because everything here is fine and dandy, and as I've already said in a shorter mail, this is one of the most chilled out and relaxing countries I've ever visited. Indeed, the most hassle I've had is in trying to prevent people from giving me bananas and buying me tea.
After a great send-off in Aswan (allegedly the parade was in honour of the Prophet's birthday, but I know better), it was time to move on. So, still singing "No god but God" (it's a lot catchier in Arabic, believe me), and with some trepidation given all the current media blah, I caught the ferry to Sudan.
The only way from Egypt to Sudan at the moment is on this ferry which is definitely not owned by a relation of a Sudanese minister, and travels over Lake Nasser, which used to be Nubia until the Aswan High Dam was built (as GCSE Geography students should remember). It was actually a pretty cool way to do it, pretty relaxing. Most of my fellow ferryteers were traders bringing back goods unavailable in Sudan, mostly TVs and Subwoofers (apparently Sudan is suffering a shortage of Bass). One of them told me he didn't like south Sudan because they had no work ethic - this coming from an Egyptian! I also met a couple of Ozzies, Marty & Davie, who were travelling down to Cape Town on the cheap, and were always eating. Always. Mind I was hanging out in the cafeteria because they played awesome Sudanese music which Kicks Egyptian music SO much; really funky, relaxed, and sweet - an awesome blend of Arabic & African sounds. I've bought a few tapes and there's no sure fire way of endearing myself to Sudanis than to tell them my favourite musicians or let them listen to my walkman.
After a night spent sleeping on a hard bench, I awoke just in time to miss seeing Abu Simbel from the water. By about 20 minutes. I could still see the promontory it stands on, but couldn't see the temples or statues. Malesh. Still, it wasn't too long before we reached Wadi Halfa, the port of entry into Sudan, and was only a few more hours before we were finally allowed off the boat. My first shock was getting on the bus to immigration, when a woman said to me "You can sit next to me." Contact with Egyptian women had been limited to them whispering to each other and giggling whilst pointing at me, but Sudanese women are forthright and very happy to talk to you. A lot of them are also dressed in the stunningly printed, butterfly bright, african wraps, as opposed to the figure hugging jumpers most Egyptians chose.
Wadi Halfa has been described as the last place on earth, and it does have a certain apocalyptic flair, being a collection of mud brick villages built at varying distances from the ever changing level of the waters of Lake Nasser, on a dry plain studded with rocky outcrops. It can be a bit harsh in the strong midday sun, but sitting in a cafe with an exceptional sheesha and watching the place come to life as the sunset moves in was a great pleasure. It's even nicer to climb an outcrop and watch the sunset, as well as the life tumbling around you. In the distance you see a dot on the plane; gradually it resolves into a line, then a person. People walk here!
Halfa's also an ideal place to meet other travellers, as everyone funnels through here for the weekly ferry. One person I met was the head of VSO in Ethiopia, who gave me the very important news that volunteering is now Not an option in Ethiopia. They've passed a law which makes it practically impossible to even volunteer if any Ethiopian could do a similar job, and apparently if I mention volunteering when I apply for my visa or try to cross the border then I won't be allowed in. Very useful to know! A bit gutted that I won't be able to participate, but I guess I should focus on the writing. She also had horror stories about costs going up (tripling) under the inflation, which means I'd have to find somewhere else to do my writing (India? Nepal?), but she followed this by saying "So say you want a pizza, it'll cost the same as at home." When I said that I was planning to eat more local food, she said that there weren't many local restaurants as locals couldn't afford to eat out. This seems to directly contravene every thing I've heard from every one who's been there (including people I met in Halfa who'd been there but a month before) as well as all the guide books, so I can only surmise that she was very detached from the everyday realities of Ethiopia or that she was a LIAR. I'll see how it is when I get there - plans can change. I still have money and all the time in the world.
Accommodation was in a Lokanda, dorm rooms you share with locals. This is actually a really nice way to meet locals, though naturally the toilet/shower is not really to western standards, as it normally is reluctant to have running water. Also, you tend not to have a light switch. The light stays on until the electricity runs out. And there's no bed clothes, though luckily I brought a sleep sack, and there is a mattress. It's really nice to drift off to the sound of soft, chuckling, African voices, whilst the sha-clack-clack of dominoes can be heard from another room. The first night I was saddled with an inveterate snorer, but aside from that the experience has been good.
Heading south from Halfa I took a Boksi - or a covered Toyota pickup to you and me. The Sudan literally means 'Of the Blacks', and whilst it is meant to be applied to the people it could also be said of the burnt ground that is the Northern Desert that borders Egypt. Struggling through this violent landscape, all jagged teeth of rock and dragon's backbone ridges, one is reminded not so much of other planets but of 70s Dr Who's impressions of them, courtesy of South Wales slag heaps. Imagine them writ large, chewed, shaken and spat out from a giant's maw, and you're close to the satanic majesty of this world.
Nothing seems more alien than when you finally return to the Nile and see a slash of green curving through the violated earth, life returning to the incinerated earth. A narrow strip of palms and wheat fields supports the Nubian villages which stretch along endlessly beside the river, forming a massive conurbation as no-one wants to be far from the source of abundance. Nubian houses are like miniature mud forts, with grandly painted gates which tend to face the Nile. Nubians are ridiculously friendly, and very interested in the strange foreigner who wanders in their midst. I spent a night in Abri, a market town where a few streets are added on to the eternal Nile side one, a bulge allowed by the land gradually flattening as you head south. Here the landscape is more like the Africa of my imagination: large flat plains with the occasional mountain dotted about. Electricity is only prominent in the main tea house and restaurant, where one room watches football and another action movies.
The next day brings a flood of life to the streets, as people pour in for the weekly market. There doesn't seem to be to much buying and selling going on, more crowds of friends meeting up and slapping chests before shaking hands. It's great to wander about in, with most people dressed in turbans and jallabiyyas except for the occasional ragamuffin yout dressed as if in a Fiddy Cent video. I catch a boksi south, and we stop at a wedding to pick up some revellers. It appears that Carl Douglas is a Nubian, and has decided to get married in his Kung Fu Fighting outfit. I only wish I could have taken a photo because the similarity was eerie. To be honest though I might just photoshop a still from his video onto a Nubian background and you won't be able to tell the difference, although Nubian Carl had added a couple of purple tassels to butch up a bit.
The next destination was Kerma, an even bigger Nubian town, though we're still talking British village size. If anything, the larger size made the shortage of electricity even more noticeable, though the sound I associate with it is the put put of generators and pumps for the fields. They've really pushed the boundaries on how far they cultivate here, and wheat fields stretch into the desert. They also do the best bread I've ever had. You should come to Sudan, go to Kerma and eat the bread. That's what you should do.
But there's more to Kerma than the bread! It is also home to some incredible remnants of their pre-Egyptian culture. 3,500 years old, these incredible remnants are called Defuffas, or "Big Mud Things". I set off to find them, without too much idea of what I was looking for except they were made of mud and old. After a lovely walk through palm groves and wheat fields I came across an incredible archaeological dig. You can wander down ancient alleyways that lead to deep wells you can descend into. Everywhere there are charming water channels which would splash water down a series of steps whilst the ancients sauntered past. It's amazing! I feel like I've found something truly different - there's nothing like this in Egypt.
It's also enhanced by the amazing antics of the Bee-eaters. These beautiful little birds are everywhere along the Nile, and in many different species. The most common around here is a bright green one, whose brown wings pop out as a real contrast. They all have cute fan shaped tails and long curvy beaks. The real reason I love them, though, is that they fly like drunken acrobats, always seemingly leaving it to the last moment before pirouetting out of danger. They spazz their wings out in a hummingbirdish flurry of activity before burying them deep in their body and plummeting groundward, then Top Gunning with ease into a new and possibly even more thrilling trajectory.
They accompany me as I head east to the desert to find the other one that's meant to be that way somewhere, as I pass larger and larger mid-western type wheat fields and congratulate myself on discovering such amazing ancient remains. On reaching the desert I find a few circular tumuli scattered with remains of pots, and feel glad that I saw the Western ones first, as these aren't all that impressive. Just as I'm about to turn back, I notice a weird blot on the horizon, and stumble through the ancient graves towards a strange, organic shape. It grows, but makes less and less sense. It appears to be some massive rock standing alone in the desert, but as I get closer I realise that it's made of millions of mud bricks, and is buzzing with activity. This giant mud temple, slowly decaying, has been riddled with holes which just about fit a bee-eater or two. They fill the air, stumbling gracefully from crumbling peak to bird-pooed summit. Hiking up it myself, I gaze in wonder at this palace of the bee-eaters, magnificent in its antiquity and mystery. Down its middle there is a great channel and the remains of arches, and there are massive slabs of light coloured rock down its axes. Standing astern with just the birds and the desert, its impossible not to be captivated by this mysterious ancient culture we know so little about.
I then realise that I probably didn't see the first deffufa. Heading back Nilewards, getting lost among irrigation channels and palm clusters, I finally come face to face with the big defuffa, which dwarves all around it. Gagantuan in size and ambition, this mud monster kneels and offers you its back. From its top I swept my gaze across the palm groves to the original settlement I'd explored just a couple of hundred metres to the north.
It turns out that that was an Egyptian settlement they'd built 3,000 years ago when they'd conquered the people who built the defuffas, who are still rather opaque, no small thanks to being endemic to Sudan. The reason there was nothing like it in Egypt is that they'd all been ploughed under long since as Egypt agriculturised the whole Nile valley to support its burgeoning population. The deffufas, however, are unique - massive monuments to an African civilisation which is missing to most history books. But at 18 metres high, and 50 metres long, its amazing that these have survived so long when entirely made from mud. It musn't have rained for 3,500 years here. That's quite a long time without rain.
The weather is pretty good at the moment; not as hot as I'd feared. Admittedly if leaves ever gather in piles then they have a tendency to smoulder and spontaneously combust, but there's been a constant breeze since I got here and the evenings haven't been too hot to sleep. Every now and again the breeze slows and you're hit buy the huge, hot weight of the sun, crushing down on you, but it's genuinely been alright - better than Aswan. People I met in Wadi Halfa said the night before I arrived there had been a change to the cooler weather, and I really hope it lasts another couple of weeks - at least till I'm through Port Sudan, which has been known to hit 50 degrees.
The wind was also helpful as Kerma and Abri are plagued by little biting fly things. They come out in the afternoon, and peak in huge swarms at sunset, particularly by the Nile which is naturally intensely photogenic at just such a point. Luckily they cannot handle the breeze, and disappear completely, but even if they are out you can fool them by never stopping moving. If you pause to look at something, or take a picture, they swarm all over you, into every uncovered orifice, and bite and generally harass you, crawling into your eyes to die. It has had the good effect of making me very chilled out about any other occurrence of insects ever. Nothing could be this bad. The locals have even taken to wearing nets over their heads, which is the only time I've seen Africans worry about insects. After the first 2 days, however, the breeze has been constant and they've almost completely disappeared.
I moved onto Dongola, by which time the landscape is almost entirely flat, and to make up for that this urban centre has splashed out on a few buildings with more than one story. It really seemed busy at first, with paved streets and leccy galore, and tuk-tuks rolling up & down the streets all day long. There's not too much to see here, especially as the only ancient remains charge the standard $10 to enter, which seems worth while for the defuffas, but not to see 4 old sand-blown pillars. However, I found an old school (probably) which was aesthetically pleasing (to me) and furnished several 'arty' shots, there was an excellent internet cafe, and there was another traveller staying in the hotel whom it was nice to talk to. He was a Spanish photojournalist and occasional writer called Javier, he looked like Gael Garcia Bernal with a beard, and his favourite country he's ever been to was also Pakistan.
He's just come from Ethiopia and said he found it very hard (he'd been in the Congo a few months before). He also said that it was very cheap, one of the cheapest places he'd ever been - this in the same breath as saying one of his biggest problems with it was that foreigners were officially charged more than locals for everything. This always raises hackles on the forums - I think it's a point of pride to many travellers that they don't pay tourist prices, but what locals do. I admit it annoys me when people think you're stupid enough to pay lots more than the actual price, but I'm hoping that as it's official policy, and you can still get rooms and meals for under 2 pounds, I should chill out about it.
Other things about Sudan - the call to prayer has a plaintive, negro spiritual quality to it; it carries the rhythm of the fields. Over half of the men have a gap between their front teeth - it's long been seen as lucky and attractive to have one so I guess its been selected for genetically. Sometimes it's really wide; you could almost fit another tooth in.
The food hasn't been as bad as I was fearing. I've only had to fall back on ful for half of my meals, and although the basic dish is much worse than Egyptian ful (which is basically refried bean mash), they often add salad, cheese, or spicy sauce, or mashed up falafels - all sorts basically - so that you get something different each time, even if you're in somewhere like Abri where it's all the restaurants do. But I've had lentils, fish and a tomatoey bean thing as well, so it's not been too bad. The coffee here is flavoured with ginger or cinnamon, which is great. I'd become slightly addicted to the cartons of mango milk they do here, but have just noted I've just consumed 9,000 calories in one carton, which I'm hoping is a misprint. The thing is, I've been drinking it because it's much less sweet than the juices they do here, which are always mixed with sugar cane juice. I hate to think what they pack in.
Anyway, I'd better go, but hopefully I've set your minds at rest about any worries you may have had. At the moment my only concern is that I've only got a month here - I'd love to come back some time. Apparently for a lot of people this is their favourite country in Africa, mainly because the people are so nice. I feel privileged to be able to share some of it, and sad that circumstances have so often conspired against these happy people.
Keep smiling, I'll be in touch soon,

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Our wonderful Lilly

Just under a year and a half ago, we became the proud parents of two cats who we named Billy and Lilly.

Bloggers of old will remember the first photo, about 6 months after we got the cats, of Lilly, looking terrified hiding way under our table - the nearest she would let us get to her.

As time has gone on, she learnt to trust us - enough at first just to touch her head against our toes as we reclined on our sofa, then enough to let us stroke her. Another few months and she starting to "talk" to us, demanding to be stroked a little before scarpering off having got scared and lost her nerve. She now miaows quite frequently, demanding attention, and if we dare to stop before shes had enough, she tells us off!

As I type, for the first time ever she is lying on the desk next quite close to me, watching me and listening to the sounds of my keyboard. Shes happy, relaxed and as cats do.. shes smiling.

This is such a special moment - shes never had enough nerve even to stay on the desk in our presence before.. let alone stay lying down and let me sit at the desk and let me stroke her there!!

Oh happy day :-)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Really Rather Wonderful

Another amazing entry c/o Simons travels.

Heading south from Luxor to Aswan. The Nile Valley narrows here, but even so the belt of green fertilised by the Nile doesn't quite stretch to the valley walls. There's a stark line where the water from the irrigation canals peters out, and the verdant pastures become bone-dry and rubbish strewn. The hungry desert laps away, trying to get a purchase, and angry djinn whip up sand to try and take back the land. Donkey backed boys wave as we pass, oxen patiently turn water wheels as they've done for millennia, and camels, those great ships of the desert, stand becalmed and bemused in an emerald sea.

Only the leccy pylons remind you of the now, far taller obelisks than the ancients ever dared. That and the mumpy train I'm on. I've taken third class again which always amuses the locals. There's the same smell of wee I'm used to, though a little fainter. As I put my backpack up in the luggage rack I realise there's a couple of fellahs sleeping there, which is a new one on me. When we stop in stations people leap out to retrieve sugar canes from the cargo trains sitting there, and leap back on grinning through their rotten teeth. As they munch away we soon develop a new carpet of cane detritus, which nicely covers the remains of the last few thousand journeys.

Aswan itself is hot. The sun beats down on molten pavements, and every breath of breeze is more important than that you suck into your lungs. Feluccas glide past down the Nile, which is full of islands and great granite boulders here. Tombs & mausoleums look down from atop the great sandy mounds on t'other side. If you're bored, you can sail across to an island and wander round Nubian villages untouched by the city a hundred metres away. The yellow and ochre paint jobs make the arms-width streets a kaleidescope of light, without disrupting the cool shade. Outside, palm groves shelter masticating oxen & goats, whilst men mend boats and children paddle out into the Nile on planks.

To escape the burning sun of doom it can be pleasant to take walks at night. I've wandered along a ridge by the Nile, following long tailed foxes that check to make sure I'm keeping up. Arriving in a fresh estate, the brilliant peachy light from the multitude of street lights is only enhanced by the yellow paint; the whole place seems almost healthy. A pink track-suited little girl flashes me a winning smile and an older boy offers me a solemn "Salaam Aleykum" - where's the packs of kids screaming "Mumkin pen?" or harrying me for baksheesh? In truth, Aswan's a pretty mellow place, once you've told the shop owners you'll have the proper price, please, they generally play ball. Though I did have to argue with the people in Telecom Egypt to pay the price which was on the big screen, as well as the government booze shop.

I spent a few days trying to sort out the Sudanese visa, and trying to get a felucca to take me down the river. The first was frustrated because i didn't have a sponsor from Sudan (but I did have the 4 photos, letter from my embassy costing 30 quid & photocopy of my passport), the second was put off by the mysterious people who were 'definitely' coming with me all falling ill but 'you can still go just for twice the price'.

However, eventually I got the sponsor by trawling through random Sudanese people on the internet, only to be toldby the Consulate that they'd have to send it to Khartoum and it would take at least two weeks. The only option was to go back to Cairo, 1000km away. On the way back from the Consulate I ram imto two Englishes who were genuinelly on their way to a Felucca so hastily signed up and climbed aboard. Another 2 American girls joined us, as well as a French lady, and we were off! To the island mentioned above 100 metres away. Where we had lunch. And waited. Very pleasantly admittedly, lying on cushions, chatting with each other. After a bit of badgering the crew finally took us another 500 metres downstream, where we sat in the shade and waited for sunset - "Bad Wind" they said. We had a bit of a wander through the Nubian village on the banks above us, before setting off at 6 for half an hour and finally leaving Aswan. As soon as we got to the edge of the streetlights we stopped for the night.
The next day was wonderful. Despite a late start after an early breakfast, and an extended early lunch, we had a blissful afternoon floating down the Nile. Head back over the side, looking up at the moon in the clear blue sky, past the sail billowing in the wind. Sitting up, palm trees drift by. Dangling a beer over the side to chill it to drink with sunset. A group of lovely people to talk to. We stop about halfway to the temple we were meant to go to - but a bus picks us up and takes us there the next day. It's a scam so they can get the boat back in one day, but given I paid under 13 quid for two days and 6 meals, it really wasn't bad. Plus I have a plan to make this scam impossible in the future; just got to get the LP and Rough Guide on side. And the one perfect afternoon was beautiful, and it was nice sharing time with sound Westerners as well.
Still, it's lovely to get to Luxor and check into my favourite little hotel with the roof terrace - have a shower and wash my clothes. The two English guys turn up later, and I take them to the place which does the best chicken in Egypt where they treat me like the prodigal son; hugs from all the staff.
The next day I book my overnight train down to Cairo, and find that the Egyptian authorities response to the bombing has been to restrict all foreigners to travel on one train, which conveniently costs two-thirds more than the local train. On a whim, I take a trip down to Qena, to visit the incredible temple of Dendera which is still complete. It's only 40 minutes away (according to the LP), and I've got plenty of time before my train tonight at 9.
It takes an hour and ten minutes. I've decided to walk to the temple as it's only 4kms away (according to the LP) but it turns out to be almost double that. There's the pungent sweet stench of death for most of the journey, but aside from the animal corpses the countryside is as wonderful as usual.
The temple is absolutely breathtaking. Very few temples have roofs left, this one had rooves on the buildings on the main temple's roof. When you realise how much extraordinary artwork is on the ceilings, you realise what you're missing, especially as they're cleaning it all here, which brings back the fantastic colours. It also creates a lovely feeling of mystery to be out of the sun, and going through the chambers. This was only heightened by descending some steep steps and squeeing through a tiny opening into an underground chamber with even more incredible reliefs. This is without doubt the greatest temple in Egypt - just astonishing. It was really, really, really amazing. I thought I'd been about templed out but this one was just incredible.
I decided to get a minibus back (it was only 6p) and get back to town at 5. I ask at the station when the next train will be and am told 6. That's a shame as I'd agreed to meet up with Ben & Katey, the English people from the felucca, for sunset tea, but I'm sure they'll understand. At quarter past 6 I ask again - "[Maybe 7?]" Seven o'clock passes with little to recommend it. The train is announced at quarter past 7. Still nothing comes...
The train arrives as I'm just deciding I'll have to get a taxi. The trip takes an hour and 10 minutes, and I have an hour and 40 minutes before my train to Cairo leaves. Flying through the countryside past galloping donkey carts and sleeping teashops is exilirating; the speed seems to make the flourescent lights flicker, those same omnipresent flourescent lights whose cool light is everywhere in Egypt, as if to make up for the hot yellow of the days. I'm actually enjoying the pressure - my adrenaline's flowing and I feel alive, the cool air rushing through the window onto my face.
And then, we come, to a halt. And we wait. As my 30 minutes turnaround in Luxor ticks down, second by second, I try to remain calm. I realise that if I don't make it down to Cairo for tomorrow then it'll be the weekend and I won't be able to make next weeks ferry in time. And still nothing happens. After 10 minutes, we creek forward a yard or two, then stop again. Finally, after 20 minutes, we start up again. 10 mintues turnaround now, not enough time to say goodbye to Ben & Katey, maybe just enough time to run to the hotel, pick up my bags and run back.
Wierdly, Luxor's lights come into view and I check the time - we've only taken 1 hour and 10 minutes. The 20 minute stop hasn't affected the time at all. I pick up my bags, leave a note for the guys, and make it back with 5 minutes to spare. The train doesn't leave till 9:50...
It was nice being in Cairo for a day, visiting some old haunts, being asked the actual amount for everything instead of what they guess I'll pay. The Sudanese embassy is friendly as anything, and the man serving me has a giant Bashir badge on - if I can pick up one in Sudan that's a definite WIN. As I was back on the overnight train I decided to have some fo the local brandy to help me sleep. This seemed like a great plan until I caught myself pouring brandy into a coke under the table at Macdonalds and felt like my descent into alchoholism was complete.
Still I made it back to Aswan feeling fairly refreshed. The countryside looked particularly beautiful as I glided through the rose brushed dawn, scratching fellaheen waking and walking the fields. It has got hotter though. I crossed the Nile to visit some, disappointing for a change, tombs, and the walk up to them almost killed me. The view was incredible though.
In the distance was the monastery of St Simeon, who appart from being named after me had the enticing habit of tying his beard to the ceiling to stop him falling asleep during prayers - life was crazy in the world before caffeine. It didn't seem far to walk, but the desert is no respecter of distance; your eyes deceive you; your feet betray. I stumbled through the hallucinatory heat into a field of pigeons plucking at the dust, as happy as in Trafalgar square (but with more toes). Camel mounted police trotted past and made sure I was alright.
The monastery shimmers out of the desert, but it's closed. The ferry back to town from beside it stopped years ago; I walk back across the burning sands. I'm taking my anti-malarials now which is meant to make your skin sensative to sunlight: it seems that it's finally given me a tan rather than the vague reddish-brown hue I've been carrying around for months. It does make me weep if I face the sun though, sometimes, and my tears are drunk by the thirsty sands.
Today, I drink tea and read, and try to find out if Sudan's actually dangerous or not. I walk to a beautiful sunset spot and take sheesha and lemon juice as the sun sets over the old cateract, which has got sleepy since they built the High Dam. On my way back into town I'm attracted by a myriad of bright flashing lights in a country which isn't exactly shy of them. They seem to be emanating from the cemetary. All around them booming soundsystems with the reverb turned right up are bouncing back and forth "Allah!"
It's an incredible atmosphere, everyone smiling and shaking my hand. I'm told to come back tomorrow at 1 when apparently the party will be really kicking. It's the warm up to the prophet's birthday on Monday. It's held in the graveyard, because, well, that seems to be where the Sufis like to party - it's certainly where they dug it in Pakistan. Nothing like a bit of death to remind you of the miracle of life.
Thanks to everyone who's been in touch. It's so good to hear from you. I may be out of touch for a bit as Sudan & Ethiopia are pretty bad for internet, but don't worry too much. I'll make it a priority to send "I'm here!" e-mails and not stress so much about the mammoth e-mails I've been sending of late.
There's still so much I could tell you all about Egypt: I never got round to describing what they looked like, the lookey-likeys that I saw, or my fundamental understanding about why their are so many misunderstandings between Arabs and the West (might save that for my book on philosophy). But things are coming to an end now - it's time for the Egyptian chapter to close and a new one to begin.
Take care all of you. You are in my heart and soul,

Monday, 2 March 2009

New Furniture!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Quite a while ago, I was browsing the net and found a picture of a wonderful multi-levelled cat scratching post. Billy and Lilly only have a small scratching post which is not really adequate, so having looked at the price of these posts (£100) I knew we really couldnt afford one, no matter how much we love them.

Now.. those of you who have met my dad will know that he is very talented with his hands, so I showed the pictures of the posts on the internet, printed the best one out as a reminder.

This evening we had a delivery of an amazing bit of cat furniture.. let the photos do the rest of the talking!!

Its worth clicking on each photo to see them up close.

Oh Happy Cats....

Billy and Lilly say thanks Grandpa!!!!!!!