Monday, 3 October 2016

Samoa and American Samoa

3 weeks in the Samoas

From Auckland, I took a direct flight to Apia, Samoa which was about 4 hours long via Virgin Australia. After 2 amazing weeks in Samoa, I spent another 2 days in Pago Pago, American Samoa and flew to a tiny Ofu Island of population 300 for 7 days.

Here are my top 10 experiences in both Samoas:

1. Alofaaga Blowholes, Savai'i
The blowholes are incredible and shoots up 20, 30m into the sky. If you throw in coconuts at the right timing, it shoots up and lands several metres away. It's so much fun.

2. In Samoa's most famous attraction, To Sua Ocean Trench, some visitors might hesitate to climb down the 15m slippery ladder. Most of those who make it swim within the calm, clear turquoise waters with safe activities like swimming, shrimp and people watching. The more adventurous might try to jump off the 2m platform into the water. Far fewer might attempt to swim through a natural formation: a underwater tunnel linking the trench to a cave and out into the choppy open ocean. So of course, that's what I did (with a huge dollop of anxiety and hesitation). Swimming at the opening of the tunnel, I had no idea how long or wide the tunnel is and how long I have to hold my breath, but I know many people have done it before. After trying to calm myself myself with a few deep breaths, I watched the flow and waited for the good moment when the water is rushing into the tunnel, I plunged into the water and dived. I was a lot more buoyant than I had remembered and my back and hands scraped the sharp ridges on the roof and I struggled to move forward. I was stuck, floating on the top of the tunnel. I kicked my fins hard and one came loose.

It's a funny feeling, I could feel panic rising in my body and a fact registering that I might drown in this strangely beautiful underwater tunnel so far away from home in my brain. I held in my precious mouth of air. I kicked harder with one fin remaining and dislodged myself and swam for my life.

I saw the light at the end of the tunnel becoming brighter, broke the surface and gasped.

While I hyperventilated and was shaking in shock, my friend went to recover my missing fin and came back with it a few seconds later.  I sat down on the rocks to catch my breath and admire the contrast between the mysterious dark cave and the beautiful green glowing water. After a few minutes of sitting in the sloshing waters, we decided to head out into the open ocean (really 不怕死,I know). We swam under a short rock formation and it was liberating to emerge from a dark cave into a wide open ocean that stretches for as far as the eye could see with the sun shining down.

We went back into the cave soon after. The only way in from the trench was the same as the only way out. I had to swim in the long underwater tunnel again. Not left with any options, I gulped and dived. I decided I had enough scratches on my back, so this time round, I crawled upside down out of the tunnel. It's like rock climbing, but horizontal and in the water. Lol. It worked a lot better and I survived yet another day to explore Samoa!

3. The second near death experience was in Anuu'u Island, a small volcanic island off the main island Tutuila in American Samoa. We took a local boat for US$2 for 15 minutes to reach this island of 400 people. Walking under the blazing hot sun for a couple of hours, I was ready get into the water to cool off, but never like what I had imagined. We walked to the Eastern end of Anuu'u Island, to see dramatic ocean waves crashing into rocks at Ma'ama'a Cove. I sought shelter from the sun standing in the only narrow strip of shadow available, about 2 metres higher than the sea level with the occasional harmless spray of water. I was zipping my bag after putting my camera in when I heard a shout.

"There's a big one coming!"


Because I could react, a huge force of water hit me and all I saw was white. I was swept off my feet by the force, and the next moment I was on the floor. I could feel the water retreating into the ocean, dragging me along. When I realised I wasn't going to be swept into the crashing waves below, I scrambled higher ground with adrenaline pumping, screaming and cursing. I was completely drenched from head to toe.

The positive thing is, I was cooled off properly. Everything I had, except my sunglasses which were swept off, were still kept dry by my waterproof bag.

4. The last near death experience was when I fell from the 110c scooter in heavy rain on the main South Coast Road. The rain misted my sunglasses and road signs were few and far in between. When I spotted cars in the one lane bridge while scooting down the hill, I squeezed the brakes hard, lost balance and fell. I was sprawled on the ground, and my right leg trapped under the scooter. Passers-by came to my rescue and lifted the bike off. A lady offered a plaster for my bleeding knee. Another man made sure my eyes were following his finger when he moved it around and I was okay before I scooted an hour back to the scooter rental shop to check for damages and patch up my knee.

Thankfully, the only damage to the bike was the mirror, which was an easy fix. No charges were asked. I spent the next 3 weeks dousing my swollen knee in alcohol, antiseptic cream and humongous plasters, but no real harm were done. Now I have a cool Samoan tattoo on my knee, thanks to a silly mistake and the asphalt!

Maybe 4 experiences will do for now :)

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Reflections for 2015 and plans for 2016

Hello everyone!

It's the start of 2016 and I thought to jot down a few of my thoughts over what has happened in 2015.

Game of Thrones Season 5 is awesome as usual, full of heart stopping moments and the cliffhanger at last episode which left the viewers wondering whether Jon Snow is dead or barely alive.

I've passed my Class 3 Manual Driving Practical Test in after 1 year of learning, 2 instructors and $3,600 less in my bank account.

I've also obtained Class 2B license which allows me to ride motorcycles less than 200cc and below.

Quit my expensive gym membership ($160/month - what in the world was I thinking? All the money that could have gone towards travelling...)

Picking up the hobby of rock climbing is probably the best thing that has happened to me this year. I was hooked since the first time I've tried it. It's a great individual sport that challenges me physically and mentally. Got a half yearly season pass at Climb Central and climbed outdoors in Kuala Lumpur. 

Hiking up Mount Kinabalu was probably the most exhausting activity I've ever did in my entire life. I was pushed to the brink of my physical limit with severe diarrhea and but eventually I did reach the peak of 4,096m with great support from my friends. An earthquake causing 18 deaths happened 2 months later :(

Completed a first aid and rescue diving course in Hikkaduwa, which is great for improving the general safety of other divers and if i wish to advance to divemaster in the future.

Travelled to Malaysia, Australia(again), Krabi (diving) and Sri Lanka. Crossed off 10 UNESCO WHS off my list ( 1 in Kinabalu, 8 in Sri Lanka and 1 in Singapore - congratulations to the promoted status of Royal Botanic Gardens)

Possible plans for 2016
- Working holiday in New Zealand (Air tickets booked for 17 Mar!)
- Find a more engaging workplace to spend 8 hours of my time everyday (instead of typing out a blog post like this)
- Get fitter (a more accurate fitness goal than BMI is percentage of body fat. Let's drop it from 20% to 18%)
- Climb regularly (2 to 3 times/week, or more when my body successfully adjusts to putting my entire body weight on my finger tips. Right now, I'm on a somewhat solid 6A+ or shaky 6B on top rope, a terrified 6A on lead and occasional boulder V3.)
- Bike trip to Malaysia (Penang, Malacca, Cameron Highlands will be nice)
- Spanish lessons in Columbia (Maybe, let's see how the year and application goes)

Let's treat everyone more kindly, smile more, laugh genuinely, keep in contact with family and friends. 

I look forward to 幸福 (no word in English can replace this word accurately in my opinion, but it roughly translates to happiness, bliss and welfare) and bigger plans for 2016!

Ending this post with a selfie taken in Knuckles Mountain, Sri Lanka!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Climbing Mt Kinabalu in April 2015

Mt Kinabalu is a 4096m high mountain in Sabah, East Malaysia and it's only a short 1 hour+ flight from Singapore. I've been itching to climb a mountain and do some hiking for ages.

There are some reasons why I chose to climb Kota Kinabalu. After some research on the Internet, I've found out that it's climbing it is not a walk in the park, but it's not so challenging that people do not make it to the summit. Most do. 70 years old people do it, young kids do too. I'm young, relatively fit, and wanting to find challenges in my life. If not now, then when?

After some on and off training of climbing stairs, walking briskly at 15 degrees incline in the gym, and lots of cycling, I felt more or less physically ready to conquer the beautiful Mt Kinabalu. But I was reduced to a heap half way up the mountain and I'll tell you what happened.

Day -1
At the doctor's, he diagnosed me with throat inflammation, sent me home with 3 days' medical leave and 6 types of medicine. He advised against climbing the mountain, and said that the illness will travel down from my throat, to lungs and finally to my stomach. I'm 26 years old this year, and I thought the time when I was young and foolish were over. Well, I guess I'm still young and foolish!

Day 0
While I enjoy travelling alone, I didn't want to go alone for my first overnight hiking trip, I've went with a few friends. I took the medicine religiously and on schedule, never missing a dose. I felt fine. Off I went with my backpack to the airport, in high spirits and lots to look forward to.

That's us at Changi Airport (SK, Jaren, me, Thiri and Peggy)
A short flight via Airasia after, we reached Kota Kinabalu and it was 15 mins taxi ride into the city where our rented apartment was. After dinner, we rested and slept early for the night to prepare for the long day ahead the next day.

Day 1

It's the day to the start of the climb! We woke up at 5.30am, snapped a quick picture before leaving the apartment. The bus we arranged with the tour agency to pick us up at 6am never came (they forgot to arrange it despite sending them a email reminder the day before), we took a cab to Mt Kinabalu two hours away and reached an hour later than we had planned. The tour agency later covered the RM200 for the cab fare.

We twirled and twisted on the road trip there, and finally reached the 1800+m elevation. The point where we will start our climb.

 The board which shows the top timings for a climbathon a couple of years back. People always say "Nothing is Impossible" but I think I'll take nothing because those timings are impossible for me.

Our porter and guide showing us the route that we are going to take - starting at Timphon Gate.

If you are planning to climb and wondering why the climb is so costly, here's the reason why: RM325 goes to the Sabah Park Fees if you're a non-Malaysian above 18 years old. These fees are twice to five times as much compared to a Malaysian national.

And so, we began the 6km journey with 1,200m altitude ascend. The sky was cloudy so it wasn't too warm. But it's a tropical rainforest after all, so it was humid. April is the dry season and it hadn't rained for two months. But the nature is amazing because the trees were still lush green. Onwards we go!

Going well. YEAHHH!
Stopping is for losers!
I don't even need to take a rest!
Even have time for a picture!
Stairs... I'll climb them like I've climbed the thousands before!
Sweat is fat crying. Fat is sad, really depressed today. It can't stop crying.
You mean I have half the distance more to go? Will I make it?
I've only covered another 0.5km?! You gotta be kidding me!
I've spotted a few labourers carrying food and other essential items up. This guy was carrying rice, cans of soup, some veggies and strangely, some chilli bean curd!

Our porter with our bags stacked high up. We gave him 22kg of load, and including his 5kg, that's a total of 27kg. He charged 10RM per kg both ways.

At 4.0km, we stopped for lunch for about 30 minutes at a hut. It was a prepacked sandwiches, chicken and an apple given to us at the bottom of the mountain. There was a slight drizzle so we took the chance to rest for another 15 minutes more. Then, we continued the journey.

After the 5th km, the terrain started to change. It was less muddy and rockier. The flora and fauna that lined both sides of the path are changing. They are temperate shrubs and bushes with smaller leaves and shorter stems. It was becoming colder and my perspiration has dried up. I guess my fats were crying on the inside.

I'm on the same altitude as the clouds!!!

I've read so many blogs articles saying that the walking sticks were a god-sent and it's a must to rent. Not true. It's up to your own preference, as two friends went perfectly fine without them. They are an additional weight to carry but it did save my butt from kissing the rocks a couple of times when I lost my balance though!

The last part was the steepest and it took us about 1 to 2 hours to cover the final kilometre. We had to throw on an additional layer of jacket because of the cold. It was probably about 10 to 15 degrees at 3pm.

We made it! Isn't the view gorgeous?

We reached before 4.30pm at Pendant Hut for the Via Ferrata briefing. There are several huts at the base camp but Pendant Hut is only for people under the Ferrata programme.

We got into the hut and staff showed us the way to our dormitory - I've never cringed so bad at seeing a flight of stairs in my life before. Our soft comfortable bunk beds with a warm sleeping bag were just 15 steps away, but it just seemed so impossible to take another vertical step at that time. I was totally exhausted. After watching our horrified faces quickly turning white, the staff directed us to another room that was on the same level. We had to share a room with several other Hong Kongers, but I couldn't care less.

Another surprise was that due to the dry season, our hut was rationing water - it can only be used for drinking and flushing the toilet! We didn't get the chance to brush our teeth nor take a shower before sleeping after the day's hike. Not taking a shower wasn't as bad as I had imagined it to be, as it was so cold and I didn't feel sticky at all.

Buffet dinner was served at the Laban Rata Hut. When I sneaked up to use their dormitory toilet, to my surprise, people were showering in lukewarm water and the taps were flowing! So I guess that water is not a shared resource there and it depends on the individual water supply that each hut has.

Magnificent sunset just before dinner. Everyone was jostling for space on the balcony to take picture of the sunset. My elbows won the jostling match to give us the opportunity to take this picture.

The problem for me began after dinner and lights out. My tummy started rumbling. It felt like there were hundreds of ferocious monsters having the third world war with artillery in my stomach. I tossed and turned in the sleeping bag for six hours, unable to sleep while making numerous hurried trips to the toilet. When the lights came on, I had to make a decision on whether to continue the trip to the summit. My face didn't have any colour and my lips were white. My body didn't have a chance to rest from the previous day's hike and I was dehydrated as well. My stomach was still churning and I swear there was a little man inside flipping roti prata.

After some light breakfast at 2am, we geared up with warm clothes and a headlight and continued on our way to the summit. I did not feel well to say the least. After an hour of slow but steady stairs climbing, I was nauseated and started taking breaks more often for longer periods. After two hours, my stomach finally quit holding on to my breakfast and left the half digested glory behind. I immediately felt better, but still weak. At some parts of the trek, it was an almost 60 degrees vertical ascent and one had to grab the ropes to propel one up. I pretty much used all my strength I had from my mummy's milk to not fall.

After that, at probably 3,500m elevation, I had to stop every 50m or so to take a break. When I just concentrated on placing one foot in front of another and on the few occasions I looked up from my feet, and saw the never ending rocky ascent ahead of me, I just wanted to lie down on my back with my arms and legs stretched out in a big star shape and not move again. But of course, I trudged on step by step slowly with frequent enthusiastic encouragement from my friend which I greatly appreciated, yet I mostly ignored, even frustratingly, as I wanted to reach the summit before sunrise so bad yet my body was so weak. I didn't want my friends to miss them because of my weakness as well. During one of my breaks, a kind-hearted stranger offered to share with me some of her food as she saw that my lips were so pale.

When the guide told me that the last 800m of the 3km trek will be flat, I couldn't be happier. I would jump for joy if I wasn't so exhausted. Every step that I took brought me a little closer to the last stretch of the ascent and then it would be an easy, flat walk! With that boost of motivation, I pushed my body harder and plodded along quicker for the next hour.

When we reached the 800m mark , I couldn't believe my eyes. The guide was accurate in saying that it was flat and there were no more steps, but he forgot to mention that the path was tilted at a 30 degrees angle! That mother daft bastard!

If I had been not sick, I would probably just raise an eyebrow, shoot some eye daggers at the guide and continue walking, but at that moment, a wave of frustration, weakness, exasperation overwhelmed me. My face crunched up and tears fell. Drama, I know I know. On hindside, I know I'm also lucky that up till that point of time, I haven't experienced something more physically and mentally demanding in my life yet. It's after all just a leisure mountain climb with a company of supportive friends and a (lying) guide and I did make my decision to go against the doctor's advice so I gotta take the responsibility for it!

 And so, after recovering from that few seconds of weakness, I started walking again.

 I've grabbed this picture from my friend and this was how the route was like. The sun was peeping over the horizon so we had to hurry a bit. By then, we would have trekked for 4.5 hours at a snail pace.


 Picture of wefie
 Actual picture of wefie


The views were majestic, I can't choose my favourite picture! After the sunrise, we climbed for another 45 minutes more to reach the actual 4095.2m Taman Kinablu Summit with the rather antagonising name of Low's Peak.

Then we began the descend. Unfortunately, I couldn't participate in the Via Ferrata as I was feeling up to it. What I got in return was plenty of time to descend at a leisurely pace, admire the scenery and take lots of pictures :) The guide was using my camera most of the time.

Now that the day was light, I could take a better look at the path I've ascended in the early morning - omfg. There was a slight drizzle for about 10 minutes so out came the waterproof clothes. If the climb up was physically exhausting, the descend was mentally tiring. You don't huff and puff with muscle strain as with climbing up, you grit your teeth with the pain that shoots through your feet and up your knees with each step.

My stomach also unexpectedly became 10 times worse. I'm not sure how that's possible, but it did. The cramps were so excruciating I felt like rolling around on the floor. I had to recycle the content of my digestive system back to nature directly without the facility of a toilet a couple of times too. Ah, embrace the Mother Nature!

The descent took us about 9 hours with 2 hours break at the hut. Most people manage it in less time though as we were one of the last groups left.

A final picture with famous Mt Kinabalu in the background. The good part about taking our own sweet time to descend was that we managed to catch some bits of the early sunset as well :)
So what happened next?

As medicine of any kind were not provided in the hut - 'we're not doctors', they said, I waited to return to the city to see one. The doctor suspected food poisoning or food allergy and prescribed diarrhea medicine, hydration salts as well as steroid cream to soothe the massive patches of rashes that erupted on both arms a few hours earlier.

I was more than a qualified patient.

All of us got a body massage the next day and returned safely to Singapore. I had mostly recovered, but my legs were constantly reminding me that I forgot to stretch them before ascent and after descent. I almost couldn't get out of bed two days later and was limping to the office. My colleagues commented that it looked 'painful'.

Whenever I saw a flight of stairs, I broke out into a cold sweat and ran away screaming hysterically in the opposite direction. I was also successfully granted a personal protection order for all the gyms to keep at least a 20 metre distance away from me for three weeks.

How much did the trip cost?

Arranged 2D1N tour including permits, transport from city to mountain, 1 night's accommodation, 4 meals and a private guide - 550 SGD
Air tickets via airasia from SIN to KK - 130 SGD
Accommodation in the city - 25 SGD/ night
Porter charges - 4 SGD/ kg
Walking sticks rental - 4 SGD / piece
Taxi from city to and fro airport - 30 SGD shared among 5 of us

What did I get out of this trip?

Every challenge comes an opportunity to learn or improve right? I'll knock myself on my head if I have learnt naught from this trip. 

Pain is temporary. Pain can overwhelm all your senses and even your mind and control your words and actions, but eventually even the worst times shall pass.

I've kicked my 3-year habit of daily coffee consumption which I've always wanted to stop but I haven't the strong enough motivation to do so. The fear of further irritating my stomach during the trip made me stop. The lack of caffeine intake for half a day always causes me a massive headache, especially over the weekends. So say hi to the headache-free, grumpy-free me without caffeine!

BYOM. Bring your own medicine. Enough said.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Egypt Part III

Day Six, Seven and Eight - Temples and Hot Air Balloon

After the ferry ride to Hurghada, there were a few hours to kill before the bus that will take me to Luxor. Dragging my luggage around, I decided to venture into the street next to the bus terminal to get dinner. I kid you not, once I stepped into the street - filled with only men - turned around to look at me. I wondered if this was some kind of a male-only street in Egypt that I did not know about and my first instinct was to bolt right away/ But my stomach growled and I reminded myself that nothing would happen to me in the middle of a busy street. With that in mind, I took a deep breath and despite the hundred pairs of eyes still staring at me, I walked briskly down the street, dragging my luggage behind me, staring straight ahead and not making any eye contact with anyone at all. I took huge strides and acted like I knew where I was going - I hadn't a clue at all. 

This was one of many uncomfortable moments I've felt in this male-dominated society and I sincerely wished I were born a man instead, just so that I would feel less vulnerable.

I went into a decent-eating eatery that wasn't too big or too small which served grilled chicken with pita bread and Tahini, a sesame paste which I like very much. I chose a seat that allow me to see the people on the streets while keeping me semi-hidden from view. I've had enough unwanted attention for the day. After the dinner, I went to wait in the bus terminal, after witnessing a huge verbal fight between two big men, fending off several requests for money and the multiple personal questions thrown by a too friendly Egyptian man, I boarded the bus to Luxor.

A really nice family man with his wife and five children took care of me during this bus ride. I had wanted to sit down next to some dodgy Egyptian man at the back of the bus, but he came and said, “Come and sit with my family, you sit next to my boy.” The boy turned out to be an extremely cute three-year old with pinch-able cheeks. During the dinner break, he invited me to sit with his family again with bread and chips and he even bought me a can of soft drink. I was slightly paranoid that he would want me as his second wife the entire time but I guess I was, once again, just thinking too much for my own good.

He showed me the stop to get off -  in the middle of a dimly lit street with no traffic at 3a.m. in the morning. I was all alone except for a couple of policemen at a nearby checkpoint. I was feeling pretty panicky and at a loss. I thought I was going to Luxor, one of the busiest tourist sites in Egypt where I would have no trouble finding my way around and yet there I was, in the middle of nowhere with hardly anyone on the streets. Everyone on the bus was waiting for me to go so that the bus could start moving again. I had to suppress my panic and asked the bus driver how I could get to my hostel. The father acted as my translator and they helped me call a taxi. After expressing my gratitude to the father for taking care of me, the bus started up and took off, leaving me behind with my luggage in a trail of dust and sand.

Thankfully, the taxi did arrive and took me to a hostel. I was overcharged by five times, but I was so glad that I reached a place where I could rest so late in the night that I didn't do too much bargaining. When I reached the hostel, the receptionist who had been sleeping, came out to register my details, without his pants on. He was completely unabashed about it and when I reached my room, I finally realised why. The whole place was sickeningly hot even in the middle of the night and I could feel the humidity in the air. I did not sleep well that night and woke up next morning drenched in sweat. After being scalded by the bathroom water in the morning, I went down for breakfast to find an Asian guy eating breakfast. He seemed friendly enough and there was no one else around so I asked him if I could join him for breakfast. He turned out to be a nice and easy-going Korean and we ended up going to Karnak Temple together. Karnak Temple was probably the most impressive temple out of all that I'd seen, in terms of its size and the majesty of the structures, but there are other temples far well-preserved in the smaller details such the retention of the colours and more intricate carvings.

Entrance of Karnak Temple with ram guards

Hieroglyphics on the walls. Those encircled symbols represent a  King's name.

Mummy statues

The coptic people decided that they didn't like the queen so they chiselled all images of her out.
Paranomic view of the temple
The mummies are holding two keys - one for this life and one for the next. I like this idea so much that I even bothered to put up with the shopkeepers determined to squeeze every pound out of me and bought two key key chains.
Walking around the scarab seven times for good luck. I wanted to walk together with the Korean guy, but he said if we walk together, we will have to marry each other. We both felt that that it was too soon for a marriage proposal so we walked alone. 

The friendly Korean guy. I wish I got his name!
In Egypt, as far I know, the concept of boy or girlfriend is rather flamboyant and people only date to marry. So when two Asians walked together in Egypt, the only two reasons they are travelling together are
1. they are brothers and sisters 
2. they are married

So within few hours of knowing each other, in order to keep the answers to the numerous questions asked by the curious shopkeepers to taxi drivers simple, we become a married couple. I think the secret power of the scarab was super strong. Anyway, so we had lunch together and my fake husband soon left me later for Sharm, but he did introduce another French friend, Nicolas, to me who became my travelling companion for the remainder of the day and the next. We went to the pretty impressive Luxor Temple with more detailed carvings than Karnak Temple.
Luxor Temple

The sweltering heat pretty much made the visits to the two temples enough for the day, but I have exciting plans for the next day. 

I arranged for an hot air balloon ride very early next morning to catch the sunrise. A car would pick me up from the hostel and bring me to a jetty, where a boat will bring us across the river where the hot air balloons were. But perhaps due to the heat and dehydration, I was slightly delirious. After the tour operator told me to be ready downstairs at 4.20am the next morning, just before I went to sleep, I cleverly set the alarm clock for exactly 4.20am. I panicked when I woke up and discovered that the car to bring me to the ferry had left without me. I then woke the receptionist up, who was sleeping without his pants on again, and soon the car came back for me. When I reached the ferry, I realised everyone was waiting for me. On hindsight, I had slept till the latest among all the passengers and waited for the least amount of time for the ferry to depart, a decent trade-off for the huge morning stress it had caused me. 

Balloons preparing to take off
The balloon captain gave us a few minutes' talk about the safety and the taking-off and landing position where we had to assume and then we were off! All 25 of us fit nicely into a small basket, separated into five sections. Four corners of the basket held six passengers each and the middle portion stood the captain and all his air tanks.
Beautiful sunrise

The flame made a few people dripped with sweat.

Add caption
We flew over the mass landscape of ancient temples, uncompleted residential buildings without roofs, crops and animals and saw the vast desert, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens and a snaking river. It was a enjoyable 45 minutes up in the air with a sweaty but jovial and hardworking captain. 
Reminds me of UP
Green vs sand
Landing and keeping the hot air balloon was a massive task that involved more than 20 workers. Once we touched down, I got the shock of my life. The 20 or so men started chasing at full speed towards us and flung their arms and held onto the edge of the basket. All these happened, when I was still squatted in the landing position and looking upwards out of the basket, watching more and more men appearing and wondering what the hell was happening. It was a confusing couple of minutes.
Keeping the balloon
But all was fine in the end and I enjoyed the first hot air balloon ride in my life :)

In the morning, Nicolas and I went for the West Bank Tour, which was a fascinating tour of the ancient temples and tombs. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention to the names of the temples and the pharaohs. The highlight of the tour, Valley of the Kings, containing some incredibly well-preserved tombs hidden deep underground, didn't allow any cameras to be brought into the compound at all. 

Original paint 3000 years ago. Offering incense to god.

Deeply carved hieroglyphs so that no one could deface them
All covered up despite the blazing sun

It was it to my adventures in Luxor, a treasure trove of ancient Egyptian culture and history.