Harry R. Matthews retirement home page

Letters from Egypt, January 2011

Introduction

On Wednesday, January 19, 2011, I (Harry) set out from Bluff, New Zealand, to Cairo, Egypt. I thought this 6-flight journey would be the most difficult part of my trip; little did I know. While I, and the group I met up with in Cairo, were sightseeing in Egypt, the 2011 uprising began. We evacuated from Egypt, with some difficulty, and resumed our tour in Jordan. I wrote daily emails to my wife, Iris, who was detained in New Zealand by Alzheimer's disease. The emails related to the uprising may be of interest and although I've included all my emails, I suggest you start with January 27, where I first mention the demonstrations.

Wednesday, Jan 19 am

Dear Iris,

I hope you are doing well. I have reached Auckland without incident and am in the Qantas lounge at the moment. The weather improved as we went north although Auckland is still cloudy with some blue patches. I hope your weather has improved.

I walked from the domestic terminal to the International terminal, as we usually do. The Qantas domestic terminal has changed it’s name to Jetstar.

I sat next to a vet on the way from Christchurch to Auckland. He was going to Auckland for a job interview. I’m checked in as far as Amman; there I have to pick up my suitcase and check-in again. Fortunately, I have enough time there.

Please give my love to all the family in Bluff. I’m sure they are looking after you well. Do you think it would be a good idea to ask Katherine or Amber for a bell or something in case you need help at night?

With love from

-- Harry

Wednesday, Jan 19 pm

Dear Iris and everyone else,

Thank you for your replies. It sound as though you had a good day. The radio is a good idea. I hope the Riverton trip goes smoothly.

I’m in Melbourne waiting for my flight to Abu Dhabi. I had a nap earlier; it’s just twenty to nine here but it’s twenty to eleven in NZ. My suitcase is checked through to Amman where I have to pick it up and check-in again for the final flight to Cairo. So, I didn’t have to pick it up here but the customs people here in Melbourne were quite unhappy that I didn’t have much luggage. They let me through eventually, though.

The Etihad Airlines ‘plane is brightly painted in shades of red but otherwise looks just like any other from the outside. I think this is the longest leg of the journey although Abu Dhabi to Amman is also quite a long way.

I hope you are all having a good sleep. I guess they will serve supper on the ‘plane and then I’ll take my temezepam and sleep too.

With love from

--Harry

Thursday, Jan 20 am

Dear Iris and everyone,

Its 6:20 am here in Abu Dhabi where I’m waiting for my flight to Amman that leaves in about an hour and a half. I think it’s about 1:20 pm in New Zealand. The airport is like any large international airport but hotter. The flight from Melbourne was a bit bumpy but otherwise uneventful. They had a different seat arrangement which was quite private and went flat for sleeping so I had quite a good sleep. Some other seats were arranged side-by-side for couples. I also read quite a lot on my Kindle during the 13-hour flight. I have found out where Abu Dhabi is … . There was nothing to see on the flight, although I had a window seat, because it was all in the dark.

I hope you’re doing well and the weather is good.

There is supposed to be Internet access here but it doesn’t seem to be working very well so I don’t know when this email will be sent. It will go as soon as I get a connection.

With love from

-- Harry

Thursday, Jan 20 pm

Dear Iris and everyone,

Yes, I made it here to the Cairo hotel, suitcase and all, with no significant problems. I was met at the airport by APT and driven to the hotel where I met the tour leader for the Egyptian tour. He is called Ehab and is probably Egyptian; he seems to know what he is doing. We have an orientation meeting this evening at 7:00. This is an excellent hotel and I’ve already washed out my travelling clothes. I hope they dry before we leave, early tomorrow morning. Now I’m going to have a shower.

I had a glimpse of a huge densely populated city as we came in to land. I haven’t seen much more because the hotel is only just off the airport grounds, which are huge. As usual in airports these days, there is massive airport construction going on.

Tomorrow we go to Alexandria. We’ll do Cairo in a couple of days’ time, after we return from Alexandria. It should be good to start with a couple of relatively low-key days in Alexandria. The weather here is fine but a bit hazy and some cloud around.

Hope things are going well in Bluff.

Love from

-- Harry

Friday Jan 21 am

Dear Iris and everyone,

For some reason, Egypt keeps rejecting my emails to you. They say my emails are spam! I've got round this, though, so hopefully there will be no more interruptions.

Its 6:15 am Friday morning and I'm finishing up packing ready for bag out at 6:45. Then, we have breakfast and leave at 7:00 for Alexandria. I didn't sleep very well last night. I think I will take the second temezepam tonight (I took one on the Melbourne to Abu Dhabi flight). I'm feeling fine, though. For the first few days there are just 9 tourists. When we get back from Alexandria, we will be joined by about 5 others. The ones here look as though they are in the 50 to 70 age range except one who may be older. There are 3 couples, a pair of women travelling together, and me. They are all from Australia and seem very nice. The tour leader seems experienced and helpful.

Water is a bit of a nuisance because APT only provides one bottle a day. We will have some free time in Alexandria this afternoon so I should be able to get some more then. I'm working hard on using the hand sanitizer, you will be pleased to hear.

Now I must pack up this computer and get the suitcase out. It sounds as though you are getting on well in Bluff. Please give my love to everyone there; I do appreciate getting your news.

With love from

-- Harry

Friday Jan 21 pm

Dear Iris and everyone,

It’s Friday afternoon and today we have a break between a late lunch and going out to a group dinner early this evening. The drive from Cairo to Alexandria this morning was long, boring and not very comfortable. Cairo is more polluted even than Hong Kong and we had fog as well. Alexandria is much better. When we arrived we visited some excavated catacombs, like an underground cemetery. They dated from the Greek-Roman period, 200 BC to 200 AD more or less. They would have been used by relatively poor people, unlike the pyramids. The catacombs were carved out of sandstone below the ground in several levels. We just went down the first level – the lower ones are permanently flooded now. Then we went to a collection of archeological exhibits around Pompey’s column. There were two relatively small but well-preserved sphinxes. The site is right in the middle of Alexandria on a small hill and there were rather untidy blocks of flats in the background – an interesting contrast.

The hotel for today and tomorrow is quite old but well-maintained. The lifts have manual doors for example. I have a reasonable view of the Mediterranean sea-front from my room. Apparently it gets very crowded in summer but it’s fine now.

Hope all is well with you.

Love from

-- Harry

Saturday Jan 22

Dear Iris et al.,

Thank you for your messages. I'm glad you had a good walk on the glory track and enjoyed the birds.

We’ve had a good morning in Alexandria and a late lunch at a fish restaurant which was good. Before we started, I took a walk from the hotel along the Corniche, or sea wall, and took some photographs of the harbour and fishermen. We saw a Roman amphitheater, which was a bit tame after Pompeii and other European sites we’ve seen, but was good evidence of the Roman occupation of Alexandria. Then we went to the Library of Alexandria, a massive group of buildings, and had a tour and a walk round. We finished up at the Citadel, a fortress at the harbour entrance, before going to lunch. After lunch, we returned to the hotel where I down-loaded pictures and had a nap. Now I’m writing to you.

I had a brief nose-bleed yesterday at lunchtime; embarrassing but not serious. It messed up my shirt but the shirt seems to have come clean after a bit of soaking. Otherwise, I'm getting over the jet lag, sleeping a bit better every day and feeling fine. This hotel has stairs and so I have been using them. My room is higher than our apartment so I get little puffed but that's OK. There's a little balcony up here with a view of the harbour and the traffic along the sea wall. Egyptian traffic is quite chaotic and noisy but seems good natured. People cross the road by just heading out into the traffic and hoping the vehicles slow down or swerve. On tour, the bus driver helps if we need to cross a road. When I went for my walk this morning, I found some Egyptians about to cross the road and followed closely behind them which worked fine.

I hope you continue to have a good time in Bluff. Give my love to everyone.

With love from

-- Harry

Sunday, Jan 23

Dear Iris et al.,

Thanks very much for the photos and news! I enjoyed them. Iris, it looks as though you are enjoying yourself. It's good to see your smile.

Today has been mostly in the bus, first going west along the Mediterranean coast from Alexandria to El Alamein. Most of this coast, called the North Coast in Egypt, is one incredibly huge seaside resort, deserted now because it is winter. We visited the El Alamein 2nd World War museum and then the cemetery where 1,100 New Zealand soldiers are buried, along with about 10,000 other allied soldiers. There are separate cemeteries for Germans and Italians. I've attached a couple of pictures.

We then drove back to Cairo, several hours across the desert. On the way in to Cairo we got a glimpse of the pyramids at Giza. Once in the hotel, I got my washing done and started this message. Then, we all went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant. I had grilled sea bass; it was good but a little overcooked. They ran out of coffee, though, and this hotel doesn't have a kettle in the room so I'll have to manage with water. Happily, there has been plenty of bottled water available so no problem there.

Five more people joined us this evening. ... We have a 6:15 am wake-up call in the morning so I'm off to bed, now.

I hope you have good flights home and that everything works out when you arrive.

With love from

-- Harry

Monday, Jan 24

Dear Iris et al.,

We've had a full day's sightseeing in Cairo today, Monday. The highlights were a huge mosque and the Egyptian Museum with Tutankhamen's mask and several rooms' full of other "stuff" from his tomb. I've attached a couple of pictures of the inside of the mosque and one of our tour director and guide who is doing a pretty good job.

Tomorrow we get up at 1:30 am for our early flight to Abu Simbel. After Abu Simbel we go to Aswan where we board the river boat for four nights. I don't know if there will be Internet access on the boat. If not, you won't hear from me for a few days. Otherwise, I will keep you posted as usual.

I hope you are comfortable at Phoenix Court.

With love from

-- Harry

Tuesday, Jan 25

Dear Iris et al.,

Thanks for the two emails. It's good to hear that you are getting on well except for the ipod. I'm sorry I don't know anything about how that works. There is no reason why you shouldn't use your email account, Katherine, either on Iris' laptop or on one of our desktops. Iris' account is working fine though.

Today has been very long, starting at 1:30 am, but we've seen some great sights. This morning, after flying from Cairo, we saw the Abu Simbel temples. The huge carvings were very impressive. This afternoon we went on a fellucca (sailing boat) ride on the River Nile at Aswan. It was very pleasant and a good opportunity to take photos. As you can imagine, I am very tired after our early start but feeling fine otherwise. I expect I will sleep well tonight. There is limited Internet connectivity on the ship, where I am now and will be for 4 nights, so we will be able to keep touch.

I hope you are still doing well, Iris, and that Brian & Katherine are managing in our apartment. Please give my love to Meryl when you see her.

With love from

Harry

Wednesday Jan 26

Thank you very much for your email. I'm glad to hear you are sleeping ok at Phoenix Court, Iris, and that the apartment is working for Brian and Katherine. Sounds as though you had a busy and successful day at the Mall.

...

Today we had an early start, 5:45 am wake-up call, but after that a more relaxed day. After breakfast, we went on a small boat to a temple called Philae on an island in the Nile river. We saw lots of carving in the rock of the temple which was pretty big and impressive. Then we returned to the river cruise ship and motored down the Nile to a temple called Kom Ombo. We got there after lunch and explored it. More huge columns and carvings. Now we are motoring further down the Nile river. Although there are lots of tourists and other river cruise ships, it still feels special to be on the Nile. This afternoon we saw two lots of camels of the river bank as we motored past. There are lots of sail boats, called feluccas, on the river as well as the cruise ships. We do get pestered a bit by vendors but it's not too bad compared with some other places we've been.

… . I'm still not sleeping as well as I would like but I'm otherwise in good shape. I hope you are comfortable in Phoenix Court.

With love from

-- Harry

Thursday, Jan 27

Dear Iris et al.,

This morning we saw the Temple of Horus at Edfu and then spent the rest of the day on the ship cruising down the Nile to Luxor. We went through the only lock on the Nile; like Panama, we just fitted in. ... With this easy day today we will be ready for a longer day tomorrow in the Valley of the Kings. It's been interesting cruising down the Nile looking at the agriculture and, from time to time, the people and villages along the bank. I've signed up for the hot air balloon ride tomorrow so it will be an early start. Today I've been looking at my photos and picking out and processing the better ones. I'm looking forward to showing them to you.

There has been some rioting in Cairo but fortunately it is a long way from where we will be staying, in Giza near the pyramids, and the airport is not affected so we will be OK for our flight to Jordan.

With love from

-- Harry

Friday, Jan 28 River boat (written later from notes)

Although we had heard of the growing unrest in Cairo and elsewhere, this was the first day we were directly affected. Internet services throughout Egypt were shut down, preventing us sending emails, although cell 'phones were OK. Also, our hot air balloon ride was postponed from today (Friday, the day of prayer) to tomorrow. We were beginning to get worried but we were assured that tourists were not targeted and that our planned route and destinations were not affected. No changes to our itinerary, apart from the optional balloon ride, were envisaged so far and we went ahead with our scheduled sightseeing.

Saturday, Jan 29, Luxor (written later from notes)

The balloon ride postponed from yesterday was cancelled. The Internet was still down. However, we did our scheduled daylight sightseeing and checked in to the Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor. There was a curfew and about a dozen soldiers guarding the hotel. We were allowed to take taxis to a restaurant for lunch but the army did not allow us to walk back to the Hotel. From now on, we were essentially in the Army's protective custody either in a hotel or an airport or a bus travelling between hotel and airport.

We were scheduled to go to a Sound and Light show this evening by horse and carriage. This did not take place and we had been told a similar show at the pyramids would be substituted.

Sunday, Jan 30, Luxor (written at the time)

This morning, after breakfast, we went to the airport here in Luxor but our flight didn't leave and so we are now back in the Winter Palace hotel. We will try again tomorrow to fly to Cairo.

The army is still guarding our hotel. As well as the guards across the front of the hotel, there is a tank just round the corner. We saw another tank between the airport and here and quite a number of police with riot shields and helmets and barricades but no riots. A large armoured van with  mounted machine gun has just gone past with it siren going. We saw several broken windows from yesterday's riots on our drive to the airport and back.

Apart from being stuck in the airport for 7 hours we haven't been uncomfortable. Our planned time in Cairo, where we were to have seen the pyramids and a sound and light show, has been cancelled. Now we are all just hoping to get out of Egypt as soon as possible, some going home and most of us going to Jordan, assuming that remains safe.

In half an hour, 4:00 pm, the curfew starts so we cannot leave the hotel until tomorrow morning but we all have our rooms back. I slept well last night so hopefully tonight will be good too. We will have dinner here in the hotel tonight.

I hope you get this soon; the Internet is still not available but I will read and send email as soon as I can. Now I'm going to do my laundry.

I hope that you are all having a good time.

With love from

-- Harry

Monday, Jan 31

Dear Iris et al.,

This morning we stayed in the hotel for a while and I took some photos in the hotel garden, which is quite extensive. Then we set out for the airport with the idea of trying to get out of Egypt as soon as possible. The streets of Luxor were quiet but the tanks and army personnel were still there. Traffic became heavy near the airport but we got there OK.

There were international flights from Luxor but our tour manager said they were all full, which seemed likely considering the large number of people at the airport. The situation at the airport was quite chaotic. All the departure boards stopped working and displayed incorrect information. We waited at the airport for several hours, watching some flights to Cairo leaving and finally they put us on a flight which arrived in Cairo after the curfew started.

We were told we would have to spend the night in the airport because of the curfew so we began to settle down on the cold marble floor along with many others. We hadn't eaten since breakfast. I had a Mars bar that I had bought the previous day in case of emergencies. We had already learnt to hoard water and so we all had water. There were representatives of the British, Canadian and Australian embassies at the airport. They advised us to stay there overnight. The Australians brought in food boxes and we all got one each. It was quite basic but acceptable and very welcome in the circumstances. All the airport shops and cafes had run out of food, although there was one place that still had water. People were using the light cardboard boxes that the food came in as make-shift mattresses.

We were just getting settled when the tour manager said we should move from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1, so we all clambered up off the floor, gathered up all of our luggage, and herded into a bus that took us to Terminal 1. We had arrived in Terminal 3 but our scheduled flight to Jordan (the following day) would leave from Terminal 1. Terminal 1 was smaller than Terminal 3 but otherwise in similar shape. We hung around and then started to bed down again when the tour manager said he had got permission to take us to a hotel a few km away. I was a bit nervous about leaving the airport because the embassy personnel had advised us to stay put. The next day was scheduled for the million-people march in Cairo and the government was trying to block the roads and trains into Cairo to keep people from joining the march and to keep out food and supplies to make it more difficult for the marchers and their families (and everyone else in this city of about 24 million people). Anyway, we eventually, after more waiting, got into another bus and drove to a comfortable hotel. Although it was quite late when we arrived, we were able to get a decent night's sleep, have a shower and a good breakfast. Little did we know how long it would be before the next meal.

With love from

-- Harry

Tuesday, Feb 1

Dear Iris et al.,

The tour manager decided to let us sleep in this morning because our flight to Amman in Jordan was scheduled for 3:30 in the afternoon. He scheduled our departure for 10:30 this morning. We were all ready and hanging around by 10:00 so we left then. Traffic to the airport was dense; it took an hour to cover the 2 or 3 km to get there. The bus couldn't get close to the terminal so we had to drag all our luggage across roads and pavements to the terminal, mixing in with the traffic.

The tour manager reported that "there is a war in there", referring to the terminal. This was a bit of an exaggeration but not much. We didn't know at first but it transpired that Royal Jordanian Airlines had offered free tickets back to Jordan for any Jordanian citizen in Egypt. There were thousands of families, many with small children, trying to get free tickets out. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any extra 'planes. They used existing flight numbers but the times were weird. For example, our tour manager was supposed to be getting out with us on a later flight (ours was full); his 7:00 pm flight actually left 12 hours early, at 7:00 am. I suppose they filled the 'plane with Jordanian refugees because none of the paying passengers were there.

For me, the worst part was the "queue" that we spent 4 hours in. There was no-one attempting to organize the queue for the check-in desks and no barriers or anything to provide any semblance of safety, let alone order. The queue wasn't limited to ticket-holders because the check-in desks were giving out the free boarding passes to Jordanian citizens. Many of them had carts piled with luggage. Of course, we and others had all our check-in luggage, too.

It was quite literally push and shove with the largest and most aggressive making progress and the others not. There was an attempt to get a separate line for women but it didn't work. This is a big airport and the same situation was happening at all the check-in desks. I estimate the dense crowd to have been about an acre of people and luggage. There were lots of people milling around in the area away from the check-in desks but it was possible to move about there. In the check-in queue it was completely solid.

Our tour manager told us before we went in that we absolutely had to keep together. He was moderately successful at moving forward although we only made a few yards an hour. We were able to maintain a wiggly, tenuous, but continuous line behind him. I inevitably soon got to the back of our line, being a bit more tentative than most of the others, but I did just manage to keep with the group, albeit last. Most of the time we weren't moving but it was huge problem just maintaining our places in the face of all the pushing and shoving.

At one point, a large group tried to go behind us and come in on the other side (which was just as solid). There was not enough room for them to pass behind me so my back became continually banged and bashed as this group barged through. Eventually, I lost it and stood right in their way and waved my arms to keep them at bay. This did stop them and I marched up and down in the tiny space space created until I gradually came to and settled down again. On two other occasions, I was actually knocked to the ground by large people shoving down on me. You might think it impossible to be knocked to the ground in that melee but what happens is that people and/or luggage move into the space you leave behind as you fall. I didn't hit the ground straight away; I just bounced off luggage and people on the way down. Fortunately, people helped me up and I didn't get trampled in either case. At least one other person from our group got knocked down.

The worst part, for me, was my claustrophobia. This kind of situation is what I have nightmares about, especially when I was younger but still occasionally now. The feeling is indescribable because it is unique in my experience. It's a bit like being suffocated but more complex and frightening. I'm relatively short and feel very hemmed in by crowds to the point of becoming dysfunctional. Fortunately, in ths particular crowd there was a small amount of open space in front of my eyes because of the check-in luggage (except when it was piled on carts). I managed to keep a small group of suitcases in front or to the side most of the time which just about enabled me to cope.

People who successfully got boarding passes immediately hid them away to avoid theft and had to get back out through the crowd. This was extremely difficult because people were afraid to move even an inch for fear of losing their hard-won place. They were generally able to make it out, partly because they had no luggage. The abandoned carts were a different matter. After a while some-one had the bright idea of lifting them up and passing them back over the heads of the crowd. It was pretty scary but people cooperated (without moving their positions) and the carts were cleared out of the way as they were abandoned. It was a bit scary but I didn't see anybody get hurt, just a few near misses.

Eventually, our tour manager got to the head of the queue and got our boarding passes. Most of us, though, were still well back. We still had to get our check-in luggage to the desk. We borrowed the cart idea and passed all our suitcases to the front overhead. Then we had to get back out of the melee,which we eventually did.

We hung out for another hour, maybe two, waiting for our tour manager who still had our passports and boarding passes. Eventually he came back. Royal Jordanian Airlines had "bumped" two of us onto a later flight without a specific departure time. He was trying to keep the group together. So, two of us were left on our own hoping that we would eventually get a flight out. No reason was given why we were bumped or why Carolyn and I were the victims especially as Carolyn was travelling with her husband who needed some assistance. By this time it was about 3:00 pm, five hour after we left the hotel, and the group scampered through emigration and into the gate area. Carolyn and I, of course, were not allowed into the gate area but we did see the group soon board a bus that headed off towards the runway. There was no known departure time or gate for our flight, the announcements were only in Arabic, and the departure monitors were not working. Our instructions were to ask at the Information Desk at 30 minute intervals if our flight had been called. We took it in turns to ask so that the Information staff wouldn't feel quite so pestered. In fact, the staff were mostly kind and helpful and seemed to know what they were doing which was really great for our peace of mind.

By now it was after 4:00 pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast so we got a sandwich and cake from the coffee bar near where the group had departed. It wasn't too crowded in the departure area, thank goodness, although there were plenty of people around. We were able to walk a bit, do some duty-free shopping and find reasonably comfortable seats while we waited, not knowing how long it would be. I had got used to the pattern of the boarding announcements; it was distinguishable from other unintelligible announcements. While we were sitting, about halfway between our half-hourly treks to the Information desk, I though I heard the word "Amman" in a presumed departure announcement. So, we scampered down to the Information Desk and, yes, the flight was leaving. They gave us the gate number and we scampered along there.

We were near the back of the queue but not late and wended our way through perfunctory security to the gate area and almost immediately boarded a bus. It was the second bus and so we waited for everything to be sorted out. For example, one man had a boarding pass for the next flight. One person let him on the bus and then another came along later and took him off. Happily, we had no problems getting on the plane. I was happy to have the business class seat that I'd paid for but Carolyn told me that her seat was already occupied when she got to it. Fortunately the cabin staff found her another seat.

The flight had a little turbulence but was otherwise good and we had another snack. When we got off the 'plane we were met by a Jordanian man who guided us through the visa and immigration process. He told me that my suitcase was already at our hotel (hurray!) but that Carolyn had to pick hers up, here at the airport. She found it straight away, so that was OK although the situation did seem a bit weird. When we got to the hotel (a 30-minute drive) we learnt that there were 7 cases to be picked up, not just Carolyn's. Anyway, Carolyn and I went off to our respective rooms -- it was nearly midnight -- where we got a food package and glass of wine each. I found out in the morning that Carolyn's husband was one of those with a suitcase still at the airport. Fortunately, I escaped all the luggage drama, drank my wine, did a quick check of emails (wonderful to have the Internet back!), and went to bed feeling extremely tired and emotionally drained.

With love from Harry

Wednesday, Feb 2

Hi everybody,

Thanks for your message, Katherine. I hope you enjoyed meeting with Jane.

I'm taking a few hours off today after the stress of getting out of Egypt. The tour director suggested having a half-day today instead of the scheduled full day of touring, which would have have suited me well, but the majority voted for the full day. Of course, they had had a good night's sleep while I had been bumped off the 'plane, knocked down in the airport, and suffered from claustrophobia for hours. I should be fine with a bit of rest. I'll probably join the rest of the group for dinner this evening.

I'll dig out the emails I wrote but couldn't send from Egypt and send them now so you will get a better picture of how things have gone.

I hope the weather cools off for you.

With love from

-- Harry

Thursday, Feb 3

Dear Iris et al.,

Thank you for your messages, Brian/Katherine and Amber/Stuart. I am very happy that things seem to be working out all right for you, Iris, and I hope for Brian and Katherine, too. B and K: I hope you enjoyed Fiddler on the Roof and maybe some other DVDs or Blu-Rays.

Today was back to normal; we're not seeing any signs of trouble in Jordan. I took yesterday off because I was very tired after all the stress and all the standing around of the previous 3 days. I also got some diarrhea, probably a reaction to the stress. It was bad this morning but hasn't given me any trouble since. I took some Imodium and told the tour director, who said to wait and see.

We've just got in to our hotel in Petra. After dinner, we will go on a candle-light walk through the gorge (called the siq) leading to the ancient city of Petra itself. We've driven here from Amman, stopping at an old church with a remarkable map in mosaic on the floor. We visited a "factory" where disabled or special-needs women were working at making mosaics for sale and watched them working and heard about how the mosaics are made. We had a another stop at Mount Nebo where Moses saw the promised land. It was a bit hazy but we could just make out the Dead Sea and the River Jordan from the panoramic view. We stopped for lunch; I had bread and one falafel which is basically chick peas and parsley rolled into a small ball and deep-fried. There were other goodies made with chick peas and olive oil etc. Then, we finished off the journey with a 3 1/2 hour drive (with a pit-stop) to our hotel here.

Thanks again for keeping in touch!

With love from

-- Harry

Friday, February 4

Dear Iris et al.,

Thank you for all the news! It's great to hear how you are getting on. Thank you, Brian & Katherine, for taking Iris to the Photographic Club and delivering our photos. We'll let you now how they fare. I'm sure you will enjoy the visit from Dave & Bernarda. Please give them my love if they haven't already left.

Last night (Thursday) most us went to the "Petra by night" event. It involved walking from the hotel to the entrance to the Petra site where there was a short introduction before we set off on the 2 km walk through a canyon lit only by candlelight, to the site of the ancient city of Petra. There we sit on carpets on the ground and listened to live Arabic music, all by candlelight. Finally, we walked the 2 km back out. It was  lovely experience.

This morning we went back to Petra with a guide who told us about the site which dates from way before Christ up to the big earthquake of 749 AD. It was a major trading route from the way back until Roman times when it was taken over by the Romans. (The Greeks had previously failed to take control.) The entrance is through a huge narrow gorge which opens out into a large area surrounded by mountains. Most of the site is believed to be still buried under sand but there re some impressive ruins, probably not up to Ephesus standards, as ruins go, but on a huge scale in a wonderful site. We spent about 4 hours there, walking in a total of 4 km. I walked out halfway and took a horse-drawn carriage, with others of our group, for the last part. The cart just took 2 people and the driver and was a very rough ride with the horse trotting most of way over very rough Roman paving. I took lots of pictures and they are downloading from the camera card to the computer as I am writing to you. As well as the ruins and the rocks, I got shots of the camels, donkeys and horses that are used for transport there and one or two local faces.

Yes, I have just 3 nights left in Jordan and one in Melbourne before I get home. I'm looking forward to seeing you, Iris.

With love to all,

-- Harry

Saturday, Feb 5

Dear Iris et al.,

Thank for your email, Katherine. I'm glad you enjoyed the Camera Club and I hope you all had a good visit with Dave and Bernarda.

Today we had a false wake-up call at 4:50 am which was very unsettling; the real call was at 5:45 am. The rest of the day has been good, though. We started with a tour of a smaller ruin of the same age as Petra. We were the only group there, and a shepherd drove her goats through while we were looking at the ruins. We then headed for the Dead Sea via Aqaba, on the Red Sea. We arrived about 5:30 pm after quite a few hours on the road. En route, we had a tour of Wadi Rum, a huge sandy valley with vertical rock faces and some carvings from the 3rd century BC. Later, we passed a pillar of rock which is rumored to be Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt. In the bus, I passed round my computer for people to look at the photos; it brought back a lot of memories from before our flight from Egypt.

We are in a very impressive hotel and I have a view of the Dead Sea from my room.

Now I must go and meet the others for dinner.

With love from

-- Harry

Sunday, Feb 6

Dear Iris, Brian and Katherine,

Thank you for your two recent emails. It's Sunday afternoon here today and our touring program is finished. Tonight we will have dinner together for the last time and we leave for the airport in Amman at various times tomorrow. Yes, I should be home on Wednesday evening as scheduled.

This morning we had a very pleasant trip to Bethany where Jesus was baptised, by John the Baptist. The exact spot is apparently not known definitely but there are remains of an early church including some fragments of mosaic flooring which is believed to be close to the site of the baptism. Curiously, there is no water close by. Apparently. the Jordan River used to be very wide and came up to the site of the baptism. Today, we had to walk quite a bit further to reach the River which is now only a few metres wide.

Some of our group paddled in the muddy water, using the steps provided, while we all watched from the observation platform. It was rather uncanny that the Israelis had also built an observation platform and steps into the river and there were people on that side, too. Normally the border is wide and protected by minefields on both sides but here there were just a few metres of gently flowing water. Some of our group started talking with the group on the other side but after a short time they were stopped from talking by the patrolling Jordanian soldier. There were soldiers on the Israeli side, too.

On the way back, we stopped at a craft shop that specialised in products based on the minerals in the Dead Sea water, mainly beauty and medicinal products. I bought some foot cream.

I hope it is not so humid for you today. If I don't catch you before you leave, Brian & Katherine, I hope you have a good trip home. Iris and I certainly appreciate you taking the time and trouble to help out. Iris, I'm looking forward to seeing you soon.

With love from

-- Harry

Monday, Feb 7

Dear Iris et al.,

Thank you for your last message. I'm glad you enjoyed dinner together. I don't know if you, Brian & Katherine, will get this before you leave or not. It will probably be my last message before I get home.

Almost all of us will be leaving together in just over an hour, at noon today (Monday), for the one-hour drive to Amman airport. We have different flights but about 5 of us will be on the flight that I take, to Abu Dhabi. I'm not sure if anyone else will be on my flight from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne, although it's likely that some will be. I expect to sleep most of the time on the flight to Melbourne. Then, I will stay at the airport Hilton overnight before catching my early morning flight to Auckland and then home.

Looking forward to seeing you Iris,

With love from

-- Harry