Thursday 24 October, 2012

I won’t go as far as to claim that we left the best till last. But I think I speak for every member of our group when I say that eye-popping, mind-boggling Petra has been the icing on the cake. You can read about it, study pictures of it, watch Discovery Channel programmes about it, whatever … but to actually GO there yesterday, get our feet dirty by actually WALKING the dusty cobbled road in (and out), and actually SEE this ancient site for ourselves is an experience we’ll never forget.

The Middle Eastern Kingdom of Jordan specialises in amazing backdrops – from the red sands and palm trees of Wadi Rum to the lifeless, mineral-rich Dead Sea. As we drove from the airport to the capital, we were agreeably surprised and impressed with Amman – the buildings limestone-white, the streets tidy, the whole place much more modern than we’d expected. And on our 3½-hour drive the next day to Petra, we spotted plenty of biblical scenes – like Bedouin tents amongst the sand-dunes, sun-blackened men in full-flowing robes, leading herds of livestock across the timeless desert.

But let me talk about Petra …

More than 2000 years ago the Nabataeans (a tribe of nomadic Arabs) carved a city out of the rose-red rock and built a thriving empire based on agriculture and trade. Petra was protected for several hundred years by a ring of impenetrable mountains, breached only by a several-kilometre-long split in the rock (in places only three metres wide), known as the Siq. When the Romans finally captured Petra in 106 AD (after several failed attempts), it was a large, thriving and beautiful city.

Some of our group bounced and lurched their way through the Siq on rickety horse-drawn chariots – the rest of us walked. And, at the end, through that famous narrow crack in the sheer sandstone cliffs, we encountered the iconic Treasury (Al Khazneh). Fantastic! And further on down the canyon lay the Monastery (an enormous temple sculptured out of the mountainside), the Nabataean Roman Theatre (in the centre of the city), the High Place of Sacrifice (still stained with animal-blood), and the Royal Tombs.

Have you read the book ‘Married To A Bedouin’ by Marguerite van Geldermalsen? This heart-warming account by a Kiwi woman (who met, fell in love with, and married the handsome Bedouin she met when touring Petra many years ago) gives some colourful background to this uniquely different location and its uniquely different residents. And, yesterday, some of us met her son, Raami, in the little souvenir shop he runs … and, later, we clambered up through crumbling rock and ankle-deep dust to the hilltop cave that was once this happy family’s home. Double fantastic!

So Petra: a dramatic finale to an unforgettable 31-day adventure? Without a doubt! And, this morning, after another HORRIBLY early wake-up call, we Kiwis left our Amman hotel, loaded bags and bodies onto the coach for one last time, and headed to the airport where we’ve begun our long journey home.

It’s been a BLAST, this combination of luxury-at-sea and discovery-on-shore. We’ve had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience … we’ve made some great friends … and we’ve got stories and memories and photos to prove it!

Is everybody happy? You bet your life we are!

Bedouin camp


  • Come Feb/Mar next year, we’re cruising around the bottom end of SOUTH AMERICA – including the rounding of Cape Horn … a day in the Falkland Islands (weather permitting) … the awesome, thundering Iguazu Falls … and the spectacular Lost City of the Incas: Machu Picchu. We’ve still got a few places on this fabulous cruise/tour, but you need to act now.
  • We also have places left on next year’s RHINE & DANUBE Cruise (June). If your ‘bucket-list’ includes destinations like Amsterdam, Cologne, the castles of the Rhine Valley, Nuremburg, Vienna and Budapest … decide now that you’re going to join us.
  • If the vast, wild, wintry regions of ALASKA are on your ‘bucket-list’ … why don’t you come with us in September next year when we’re heading off on a 17-day cruise along those glacier-clad shores – including two spectacular days on the Rocky Mountaineer scenic train? Plus, for those interested, we’ll add a second 9-day cruise down the eastern coast of CANADA & NEW ENGLAND.
  • Call Roger (Lion World Travel) on 0800 277 477 – or email – to request an InfoPack and register your early-booking.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN



Tuesday 23 October, 2012

There are few man-made symbols that speak as loudly and as universally as Egypt’s massive Pyramids and their ever-watchful Sphinx. These massive monuments (the Pyramids were tombs of the Pharaohs, and the Sphinx was installed to protect their occupants and guarantee them safe passage into the afterlife) were built out of millions of stone blocks (each weighing an average two-and-a-half tons) … and it’s not until you stand before them on the desert sands just outside Cairo that you can really appreciate how overwhelmingly BIG they really are. Little wonder they were known for centuries as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!

Frankly, it was the Pyramids of Giza more than anything else that brought many of our Mad Midlifers to Egypt … and today, while Mrs Cooney and I were waiting for a delayed flight from Luxor, our Kiwi group kept an appointment with these giants – photographing them from every conceivable angle (like zillions of tourists before them) … following other brave souls down-down-down into the internal burial chambers of Cheops Pyramid (the biggest) … and being taken for a ride (in more ways than one) by the hordes of camel-drivers that lay in wait.

We met some pretty happy campers when we finally caught up with them – and Peter and Rodger happily agreed to some of their photos being shared with you and other adoring readers back home.

Last night, before heading for our beds at the elegant Cairo Marriott Hotel (famous for its palace gardens and views of the Nile), we drove again through crowded streets (past a kaleidoscope of people, faces, shops and animals – including corralled sheep awaiting sacrifice for the upcoming Muslim Eid Adha festival, starting 26 Oct), and returned to the now-dark Pyramids and Sphinx for an inspiring sound-&-light show.

This morning, after yet another posh hotel breakfast (not many more of these to go before we’re back home and back to Weetbix or toast), we spent an informative few hours in the vast Egyptian Museum, where the world’s most important collection of Nile antiquities is exhibited – including some celebrated mummies, and the knock-you-over treasures of the mummified King Tut.

Then a late-afternoon Egypt Air flight took us from Cairo to Amman (Jordan), where we down-luggaged at the 5-star Regency Palace Hotel in the heart of the city.


The stragglers are being mopped-up now, with a last-minute nomination being received for another quacky yellow duck:

  • The ‘Leading Sheep Astray Award’ has gone to Alison C – for marching into the men’s loo at one of our recent stops, faithfully followed by at least four other Kiwi women.


Magnificent, mysterious Petra (in Jordan)is one of the Middle East’s most unmissable sights … and a special ‘icing-on-the-cake’ bonus for us Kiwis.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

Eid ADHA 26 Oct

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Monday 22 October, 2012

Imagine being pampered aboard a triple-decker, pool-topped cruise ship … riding silently on the wide, still waters of the Nile … with nothing to do but bask in the sun … interrupted only to be fed three times a day … while the peaceful shoreline slips past in slow motion.

Imagine fields of maize and sugarcane, date and banana palms – vivid-green against a backdrop of harsh brown desert. Imagine minarets (mosque-towers) rising high above the treeline in even the smallest, dustiest village … and the sound of muezzin (Muslim criers) calling the faithful to worship.

Imagine a thousand scenes ever-changing – and yet unchanged in thousands of years. Imagine small boys in rickety rowboats throwing fishing nets and smacking the water with sticks to scare up a meal … women at the water’s edge washing robes and shirts and pots while their kids splash each other and shout “hello” to the passing tourists … sun-blackened men ploughing the rich soil with tired plodding water-buffalos.

Imagine …

Well, we Kiwis don’t have to imagine it anymore, because this is exactly what we’ve been DOING for the past three days! And it’s been every bit as “pinch-me-please-this-can’t-be-happening” magical as it sounds.

ON SATURDAY …While we ate a royal shipboard breakfast, the Tamr Henna cast off and motored gently out into the current. Our route took us downstream (northward – see map), and our first stop-off  was the shoreside town of Kom Ombo, where we visit a temple (332 BC) dedicated to Sobek, the Crocodile God.

(Note: Since arriving in Egypt we Kiwis have had a crash-course on the Nile and its gods, and will probably lecture you on the subject when we get home. For your interest, the river goes back a long way – into central Africa (winding its way north through Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan) and into ancient history. Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians depended hugely on the Nile’s annual floods. Those floods brought down silt by the sack-full and spread it along the riverbank in thin fertile strips. If the Nile failed, Egypt starved. Not surprising, therefore, that the bewildering array of Egyptian deities were linked to these watery cycles. And not surprising that the pharaohs chose the banks of the Nile to build their stunning monuments. Anyway, I’m not gonna tell you any more. I’ve got places to go and people to see. But you can meet some of these gods yourself – like Osiris, Isis, Seth and Horus – by reading Wilbur Smith’s novel, River God, and its sequel The Seventh Scroll.)

Following lunch back on the ship, we did some Mad-Midlife relaxing in top-deck sun-chairs and splashed around in the cool, cool pool while the Tamr Henna continued its downstream cruise to Edfu and the beautifully preserved Temple of Horus, the Falcon God. Thanks to the dry heat (plus the fact that most of them spent centuries buried deep beneath the sand) these 2500-to-3500-year-old temples are remarkably well-preserved … and their huge scale, looming statues and stunning reliefs (hieroglyphics, cartouches, wall-carvings, and faded-but-still-glorious colours) must be seen to be believed.

That afternoon, for something a little different, we travelled to this temple via a hair-raising horse’n’cart ride … careening through the streets of Edfu accompanied by much shouting (by the drivers) and shrieking (by us)!

Then, at night (while the shippassed through the lock at Esna and continued on to Luxor), we dressed up as pharaohs, queens, priests, whatever (robes and togas, beads and head-towels) and enjoyed an Egyptian Galabea Party. Yeehaa!

ON SUNDAY …With the Tamr Henna moored in the big, busy city of Luxor, we got up before the sun, crossed to the Nile’s West Bank,and drove out through arid mountains to the renowned Valley of the Kings, where some 63 Pharaohs of Egypt – including the young and mysterious Tutankhamen – were buried (up to 1500 years before Christ) in elaborate tombs. We also visited the eye-catching Temple of Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh), blending dramatically into the sun-baked cliff-face … had a photo-stop at the Colossi of Memnon (all that’s left of the Funerary Temple of Pharaoh Amenphis III) … and enjoyed a fascinating papyrus-making demo at a local factory.

Then, after another weight-watcher’s lunch back on the ship, we were up-up-and-away again – to the fabulous temple complexes at Karnak. Construction started here some 4000 years ago, was spread over 1300 years, was undertaken by a succession of big-name pharaohs (including Ramses 11), and resulted in the world’s largest religious complex (St Peter’s, Milan and Notre Dame Cathedrals could all be lost within its walls).

We’ve seen more than our fair share of temples these past three weeks, but this one – the granddaddy of ‘em all – simply knocked our socks off. Its three main temples (dedicated to the gods Mut, Montu and Amun), are enclosed in enormous brick walls, and set among avenues of sphinxes and halls of gigantic columns.

More than a few of us went back to the Tamr Henna with stiff necks, from all the looking up-up-up!

ON MONDAY … (that’s today) We packed our bags, vacuumed our cabins, ate our final Nile-cruise breakfast, said “Maa al lama!” (goodbye) to the ship‘s friendly crew, and relocated to Luxor’s lovely modern airport – where we had to fight off hordes of would-be porters, intent on taking our bags and scoring a fat tip.

And that’s where I am right now … sitting with my beloved … and writing all this nonsense for you lucky people. Our group flew out to Cairo a couple of hours ago without us. There was a small hiccup, you see: the plane was overbooked, and they couldn’t take all 49 of us, so me and she elected to stay back. But our (later) flight has now been called – so I’m signing off.

Bye for now!


We’ve been too busy these past few days to hand out yellow ducks, so time for a catch-up:

  • In most stopovers our big group has been using two coaches – right? And Gavan joins several others who, without realising it, have climbed onto the wrong one. For giving his wife a panic-attack he has earned himself the ‘Missing Husband Award’.
  • Our gorgeous tour-guide-cum-Egyptologist – Emmy – gets the ‘Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost Award’, for trying to make us all get on some other group’s bus.
  • Olwyn has walked away with the ‘Uncooked & Runny Award’ – for cracking open what she thought was a hard-boiled egg at breakfast yesterday. (It wasn’t hard-boiled; it was raw … and, of course, it went everywhere.)
  • Leila has claimed our ‘State of Emergency Award’ – for allowing her curiosity to get the better of her while taking a shower in her ship’s bathroom. She pulled on the red knob attached to a red cord hanging on the shower wall … setting off a loud alarm and bringing concerned staff running.


Our Mad Midlifers experience a close-up encounter with one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: Egypt’s massive Pyramids and their ever-watchful Sphinx.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Friday 19 October, 2012

When I spoke to you yesterday, it was (you may recall) from Rome’s Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino, and we were about to fly to Cairo, Egypt. Three-and-a-bit hours later, as we made our landing approach, the sun was going down on the Land of the Pharaohs, and the dry-desert landscape was shrouded in haze.

We were excited? What do YOU think? Yes, of COURSE we were!

It was dark by the time we got bums and bags on the coach – and Cairo’s 18 million people all seemed to be rushing home from work in the same general direction as us. This wasn’t just a traffic jam: it was PANDEMONIUM! – and a tourist-experience all on its own. Cars with missing fenders, no lights, and loud horns … motor scooters weaving in and out of the traffic (sometimes even against the current) … grubby on-the-footpath shops … rubbish everywhere … donkey carts competing with overloaded trucks … garish brightly-lit billboards lining the ring-road … men fishing in the dark from a bridge that crossed the legendary Nile. On and on it went – fantastic!

Two hours later we reached the Mena House Oberoi and our beds for the night. This palatial hotel sits in the shadow of the Great Pyramids. But the Great Pyramids were just a huge ghostly outline in the night sky by the time we arrived – and they were just as hard to see when we left, only a few hours later. In fact, don’t tell anyone, but we were woken next morning at the unearthly hour of 1:00am (aarrgghh!) … and, by 2:15am, 49 very sleepy Kiwis were back on the coach, boxed breakfasts under our arms, driving to the airport!

(I warned you that this tour wasn’t for the faint-hearted!)

Why the early start? Well, next on our to-do list was Abu Simbel (south of Egypt, in the Nubian Desert, near the border with Sudan). And a red-eye flight was (i) the only flight available that morning … and (ii) the only way to beat the heat down there in the desert.

Our lack of sleep was rapidly swept aside by the truly astonishing sight that awaited us at Abu Simbel. The two eye-popping, oversized mega-temples of Ramses II and Nefertari, carved deep into a rocky cliff-face by Egyptian engineers back in 1257 BC, were astonishing enough. But just as astonishing was the recent (1960s) relocation of both temples – block by block, in an artificial mountain on higher ground – by UNESCO engineers, to save them from the rising waters of the newly-forming Lake Nasser.

For the first time in three weeks, our Mad Midlifers were speechless … blown-away (I kid you not) by the scale of these things!

Later, following another short flight to Aswan and a photo-stop at the Aswan High Dam, we were welcomed aboard the luxury ms Tamr Henna for our much-anticipated Nile Cruise. After checking out our cabins, bouncing on our beds, and gobbling lunch, we went ashore for an afternoon tour in-and-around Aswan – which included (i) the amazing Unfinished Obelisk (abandoned in the city’s granite quarry 2000-plus years ago when it developed a crack) … (ii) the lyrical Temple of Isis out on the island of Philae (which we reached by means of a small boat) … (iii) a felucca (Nile yacht) ride around Elephantine Island, with views of the Agha Khan Mausoleum plus the Old Cataract Hotel (made famous by Agatha Christie’s ‘Death On The Nile’).

Then it was back onboard for a freshen-up – and a classy dinner in the elegant restaurant.


We cruise downstream to Kom Ombo, where we visit a temple (180 BC) dedicated to Sobek, the Crocodile God… and then on to Edfu and the beautifully preserved Temple of Horus, the Falcon God.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.