Journey Up the Nile River

Journey Up the Nile River

TRAVEL & LIFESTYLE

July 2019

There are many kinds of vacations—the relaxing, island vacation, the adventuruous trip up the mountains of Peru, the majestic splendor of old churches throughout Europe, and then there is the Middle East. A term coined in 1850s by a British India official, it is composed of 18 countries, 60+ languages and nearly four million people. It is the birthplace of most of the world’s religions and “has been a major center of world affairs; a strategically, economically, politically, culturally, and religiously sensitive area.”

So, let’s just say, it’s not Hawaii.

There are over 200 Nile cruise ships. Many originate in the small town of Aswan, which is down the Nile. This is where our journey begins—after we leave the hustle of Cairo. To get to Aswan you travel by plane or train—driving is not recommended.

An overnight trip to Aswan by an overnight train is a unique experience. The train station in Cairo grows smaller in the distance as we head south on a 549 mile journey. Waking early morning, a rattling train is now alongside the Nile River; a country with a long history that hasn’t seen, in these parts, enormous change: Men still pull carts with cattle, horses carry cane sugar. In one brief moment a dead cow carcass can be seen in a small pond by the side of the road. Time has stood still in these parts.

Aswan is a smaller version of Cairo. To be sure, there is a McDonalds, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and likely anyday, a Starbucks, but for now, it is a popular city that sits on the Nile, with a substantial amount of river boats.

Aswan is the “Jewel of the Nile”. Pink and grey granite thrusts upward through the Nubian sandstone, forming mountains, cliffs and jagged outcrops. While there countless mosques, there is also Archangel Michael’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral—a towering catherdral  in the Coptic architecture — the architecture of the Copts, who form the majority of Christians in Egypt. 

Security is a way of life in Egypt. In Cairo and in places like the Coptic Church, security runs high. Armed guards and blockades can be found at many hotels and indeed at this Coptic Church. But retail and restaurants flourish in the city of Aswan—it is only until late one after noon on a Friday that the azan, the call to prayer can be heard by countless speakers throughout the city—these callers, called muezzinine, are a cacophony of  sounds—it becomes a surreal moment in a backstreet hotel as the soundtrack shifts, the sun sets, we are surely not in the West anymore.

The river Nile. The view of the river as seen in Aswan.

Photograph by Zuke Oshiro

“What you can expect from a Nile River cruise is the adventure of a lifetime.”

DAY ONE we board the Santuary IV. The Sanctuary Sun Boat IV is a contemporary chic, sleek boat with heavy art deco influences. There are 36 standard cabins, two presidential suites and two royal suites. We are greeted as enter the plank by the entire staff offering refreshments and introductions. We are divided  into groups and assigned an English-speaking tour guide, who will accompany us to the various temples along the way. Afternoon tea will be served. Everynight an activity is planned—tonight, after a gourmet dinner is served, we watch as traditional fokloric music and a “whirling dervish” perform.

As one look about it becomes clear that this journey invites all kinds of people—local Egytians, A London-based Sufi businessman with his family, and elderly couple from Scotland, a couple from Cape Cod, a Brazilan opera singer and her daughter, and Egyptian family with their California-based son-in-law. The staff is attentive, ocassionaly too attentive, but the dinner, which is buffet-style, is a nice start to the this ride up the Nile.

A felucca is a traditional wooden sailing boat used in protected waters of Egypt. Its rig consists of one or two lateen sails.

Photographed by Zuke Oshiro

DAY TWO a large buffet breakfast is served each morning. Groups gather on the first deck and we head out for adventure.  We journey to the majestic Philae Temple on the Island of Agilika. We begin to make friends with some Egytian locals and their California-based relatives. The temples are surreal. Over three thousand years old, the preservation is impressive. We are to dress like and Egyptians for a post-dinner party. We bargain with the locals to buy a “galabeyya”, the traditional Egyptian outfit. Each night, at dinner you are seated in the same place. We are seated next to a Brazilian opera singer and her daughter. The after-dinner party is a chance for everyone to mingle and dance into the wee Egyptian hours. This is the requisite fun of travelling by boat—it’s a small party, you get to know everyone, and their stories.

DAY THREE we set off the visit the Temple of Horus. We begin to understand some aspects of the Egyptian pharoah culture. The mythology is deeply complex. For example Horus, is the sky god and there are two, Horus the Younger and Horus Elder. There is a surprising lack of sexuality in these temples, and everyone is quite fit. The drawings are impeccable and rarely vary in form.

We head to The Temple of Esna. The Temple of Esna, which was buried beneath its own debris for many centuries, is located in the center of the town, close to the River Nile and only a short walk from your boat through the local market. We are given passage by way of carriage. The remains of the Temple contain a hall of columns with 24 pillars beautifully decorated with lotus and palm capitals. Also notable is that while looking up, astrological symbols can be seen, 12 of them.

To suggest that it is overwhelming is an understatement. One has to pinch themselves to remind themselves of the reality—you are in Egypt, in the MIddle East and these are the temples that Hollywood has been in love with for so long.

So that evening, as entertainment, they have set up a projector to show the 1978 film, “Death on the Nile”. This version features Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian sleuth. Actually filmed along the same route we are on, this two hour and twenty minute film runs late into the Egyptian night—we all retire early for our last day.

 

DAY FOUR The east and west banks of Luxor. This is the big one, the grandaddy of temples. We’re suddenly seeing more people at these temples.  First stop, Temple of Luxor, dedicated to the god Amun. We have had a change in our tour guide! The people in our group requested a new guide. Welcome Medhat, looking like something out of a central casting for Indiana Jones, he is informative and affable. We move onto the Temple of Karnak.
After lunch, visit the Valley of the Kings or The Great and Majestic Necropolis of the Millions of Years of the Pharaoh, Life, Strength, Health in The West of Thebes, as it was once known. We will have the chance to visit at least one tomb in the Valley of the Queens, and visit the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. On the way back to the river Nile, you will pass by the famed Colossi of Memnon, known in Ancient Greek times for their haunting voices at dawn.

 

It’s over. We arrive at our final moments on board the Santuary IV — saying goodby the ship is abuzz with activity. Rooms are quickly seen to. We head to the Luxor airport to head back to Cairo. We have made friends. We travel over vast stretches of desert, broken by the sudden appearance of a great lake, which seems to run for miles. We are back in Cairo for 12 hours.

There was something about this trip, that for the well-worn traveler speaks to that ocassional need for danger—not physical danger, but to be somewhere where your native language is foreign, the landscape, the people, the culture is vastly different than anything previously experienced. Bali was one of those places, The Maldives certainly. Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, all spoke to a distance of things known, flavors never tasted, history seen in terms of thousands instead of hundreds. Dangerous? Sure—you’re in the Middle East—you cannot get to Israel easily from Egypt though it is under 500 miles away. But it’s Egypt, it’s Cairo. It’s the Pyramids! It’s everything you ever imagined and more. To be sure, there was a moment, leaving the hustle of Cairo in a taxi and the Pyramids suddenlhy appear in the distance—it’s a moment. Crusing up the Nile via a five star luxury boat, that too, was many moments.

https://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/egypt-holidays

The Iconic Mondrian L.A. on Sunset Continues Summer Reign with Full Redesign

The Iconic Mondrian L.A. on Sunset Continues Summer Reign with Full Redesign

Earlier this Summer, Sunset Boulevard destination staple, The Mondrian L.A., unveiled it’s complete redesign after a whopping 19 million dollar renovation. The level of luxury exuding from this West Hollywood location fits in perfectly with the beautiful days of an L.A. Summer. There’s a unique direction in design specific to the 236 rooms and hallways of the hotel bring in an essence of imagination through the Alice in Wonderland inspired decor. Take into account the floor-to-ceiling windows, marble touched bathrooms, and 24 Hour room service.

           

The renovation came in at a whopping 19 million dollars to create the ever-inspiring luxury hotel’s re-imagined aesthetic. It’s the perfect place for a local getaway while being able to also step outside and enjoy California-inspired cuisines at Ivory on Sunset and play at Skybar’s iconic sun-drenched pool deck by day, star-studded nightlife hotspot after sunset.

  

 

For Reservations and Calendar of Events, Check out Mondrian Los Angeles Online.

Wisdome: an immersive art park

Wisdome: an immersive art park

Left: Leon Hendrix, Jimmy Hendrix’s younger brother and Randy Hanson

Legendary writer/photographer Belissa Cohen goes psychedelic to experience L.A.’s hidden gem of an “immersive art park,” Downtown L.A.’s Wisdome

If you haven’t yet been to downtown L.A.’s Wisdome, we suggest putting it on your nightlife bucket list, and maybe stock up on your favorite psychedelics beforehand.

Called an “immersive art park,” this enormous 35,000 sqare foot space houses a collection of five huge interconnecting domes, one of which hosts nearly continuous showings of a 360 degree short film called Samskara by innovative experimental artist Android Jones. The other domes host other immersive art installations, live music events in 10.1 surround sound, and are surrounded by a commodius grassy outdoor area for hanging out on glorious summer nights with bars, ethnic food and drink purveyors, and trinket vendors selling wares of a vaguely spiritual nature —  it’s the whole enchilada in one place, with enchiladas. It’s both comfortable and hella trippy!

We experienced the Wisdome when Randy Hanson, who is considered arguably the best of the Jimi Hendrix tribute performers among those in the know about such things, did the first of his spot-on two-night performances in the largest of the Wisdomes, while psychedelic art in the form of constantly morphing mandala images were projected on the walls and ceiling of the dome, and many audience members took in the multimedia show from reclining seats. Like them, we found ourselves gazing ceiling-ward during the show, mesmerized, as the images changed organically, all the while absorbed in the expertly executed music.Randy, who is in demand all over the world for his Jimi Hendrix realness, and is, like Jimi, a Seattle native, played and sang all the hits note for note, from “Foxy Lady” to “Purple Haze” to the Bob Dylan-penned “All Along the Watchtower,” on what just so happened to be Dylan’s birthday.

As happens in L.A., we found ourselves Ubering to the Wisdome with the famous-adjacent:  Leon Hendrix, Jimi’s younger brother and an edgy blues musician in his own right, who sang with Randy and his band very appropriately  on “Castles Made of Sand,” a song Jimi had penned back in the day about his family’s dysfunction. Leon’s own show the very next weekend at The Mint in West L.A. was a sold out success.


The world-renowned Randy Hanson brings his Jimi extravaganza back to the Wisdome at the end of June. For all of us who missed Jimi’s legendary L.A. performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968, we now have a second chance to Be Experienced!

5 Best Westside Spas for Mother’s Day

5 Best Westside Spas for Mother’s Day

What do Mothers want for Mother’s Day? Short answer: Relaxation and me time… Or, as we like to call it, a spa day. If you’ve been scrolling through Yelp wondering which is the best Westside spa for Mother’s Day, or if you’re simply scratching your scalp trying to find the perfect gift for your Mom, then you are in the right place.

This year we got together a group of Moms and asked them “which are the 5 best Westside spas for Mother’s Day?”. Below we’ve listed them.

Burke Williams

Mom will feel: Serene, peaceful
Perfect if she loves: Quiet, nurturing, European style spas
Price Range: $$$
Treatment time: All day

Burke Williams Spa is the classic Day-Spa choice for many women in the Westside. This European, dimly-lit space has various baths (both silent and social), private massage rooms, and a reading nook with coffee and fruit too. You can enjoy just a massage, or indulge in the the all-day Spa facilities too. Though this place is on the more expensive end of the Spa spectrum, it is absolutely worth it for the many hours of luxury and relaxation that is on offer here.

Learn more about Burke Williams here.

Hideko Spa

Mom will feel: elegant, pampered
Perfect if she loves: Japanese hospitality, luxury, grace, Japanese tea
Price Range: $$
Treatment time: Typically 1.5 hours

A Japanese luxury spa, Hideko is a modest yet elegant space that offers unparalleled hospitality and grace. With a deluxe Japanese massage experience, the spa uses only organic products and materials, including oils, woods, scrubs, wraps, and refreshments. After your massage you can enjoy your own private bath in a luxury tub adjacent to your massage room, as well as warm cup of herbal tea and a selection of Japanese cakes.

Learn more about Hideko Spa here.

Cryo Healthcare

Mom will feel: Energized
Perfect if she loves: Fitness, Biohacking, a less traditional wellness experience
Price: $
Treatment time: Typically 1 hour

Notoriously loved by Mom of three, Demi Moore and Mom of five, Tori Spelling, the Cryo Healthcare facility provides a uniquely elegant Cryotherapy experience on the Westside. Originating from Japan, Cryotherapy has quickly gained popularity with the ever-expanding biohacking community. Known for its immediate energizing effects Cryotherapy is the perfect gift for any Mom who likes keeping up with trends, and trying new things.

Before booking make sure you check out the list of medical conditions that determine your Mom’s suitability to the treatment.

Find out more about Cryo Healthcare here.

Raven Spa

Mom will feel: Healed and opened up
Perfect if she loves: Thai Massage, acupuncture
Price Range: $$
Treatment time: 1.5 hours

The Raven Spa is a sweet oceanside spa that is nestled in the side streets of Santa Monica. It specializes in Thai massage yet also offers an impressive menu of alternative treatments like acupuncture, infrared saunas, and Reiki. If your Mom prefers deep tissue massages with a focus on relieving tension and muscle soreness then this is the place for her!

Learn more about The Raven Spa here.

Willow Spa

Mom will feel: Grounded
Perfect if she loves: Soft touch, energy healing, Asian-inspired spaces
Price Range: $$
Treatment time: Typically 2 hours

Willow Spa offers a tropical Spa experience for any Mom who wants to indulge in soft healing. Nestled in a renovated home, WIllow Spa is the perfect haven-away-from-home for any Mom who wants to experience massage with a spiritual focus. There are a number of specialized treatments at Willow Spa–from their Blooming Lotus Massage (a treatment specifically designed for pregnant women), to their Reiki practice (an ancient healing technique used by the Tibetans to enhance the flow of life-energy), to Shiatsu (a Japanese method of unlocking energy in your body by using the meridians of your body).

Learn more about Willow Spa here.

14 Experience-Worthy Valentine’s Day Gifts

14 Experience-Worthy Valentine’s Day Gifts

It’s probably one of the corniest holidays in existence, because without fail, February becomes a month filled with heart-shaped balloons and candy, endless amounts of chocolate boxes and bouquets, and stereotypical nods to cheesy eroticism through red silk boxers paired with bow-ties. Seriously, give it a rest. Now, I’m not trying to be completely cynical, but when I think about Valentine’s Day and how commercially warped it is, I quickly lose interest. I want to celebrate Love everyday of the year, but if I’m going to dedicate a specific day to demonstrate it, then I’m going to do it in a very special way.

Typically, Valentine’s Day gifts are more novelty in nature: We’re talking teddy bears, rose bouquets, themed underwear, and dinner at either a too fancy or too crowded restaurant. I think it’s time we step it up and not only think smarter about these gifts but also add the element of an experience that you and your special someone can share together. (Sidebar*, Love doesn’t have to only be celebrated romantically. Your friends and family can share this day with you too.) Here’s a list of 20 experiential Valentine’s Day gifts that will help create memorable moments rather than forgettable, novelty riff-raff.

In no particular order:

1. Atlas Coffee Club

      

Atlas Coffee Club, is a travel-themed coffee club that explores the world of coffee and culture!  From Papua New Guinea to Peru, Burundi to Brazil, each month they highlight a new country! (Retail: Gift Subscriptions starting at $60)


2. Nostalgia Electronics Waterfall

       

The Nostalgia Electrics Chocolate Waterfall creates a steady fountain of edible chocolate. Perfect to dip cakes, fruit and marshmallows. A great addition to your dessert spread for your and your valentine to enjoy together. (Retail: $49.99)


3. LATHER Sweet As Honey Kit & Road Warrior Men’s Survival Kit

      

Indulge in a collection of face, bath, body and gourmet treats, made with nature’s candy – honey – an excellent source of nourishing antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. And for the guys, Lather created a survival kit for men on the go, with travel sizes of their favorite face, body, and hair care essentials. (Retail $48-$58)


4. Feast Laguna

            

Flowers and jewelry are always romantic gestures but what’s more fun, entertaining, and memorable than spending a delightful afternoon or evening with your significant other, enjoying delicious food and being immersed in stunning works of art and beach culture? Feast Laguna is a culinary/food tour operator based in the beautiful beach community of Laguna Beach, CA. They offer tasty and entertaining food tours that are expertly led by knowledgeable and friendly Laguna local guides. (Retail: $75-$79)


5. LOVE Gem Water Bottle by Vitajuwel

For the crystal lover in your life, Vitajuwel has updated their original Love Gem Water Bottle to include garnet and clear quartz. If you’re a deeply romantic soul looking to inspire love, and deepen devotion, this latest incarnation of the Love gem-water blend awaits… (Retail: $98)


6. Basic Outfitters’ Create-a-Drawer

      

As seen on season 8 of Shark Tank – Basic Outfitters‘ Create-a-Drawer allows guys to ditch their worn out attire and replenish their wardrobe with up to 17 pieces of high-quality basics in under two minutes with a collection of high quality and fashionable socks, underwear, tees, and joggers delivered right to their door for only $60 (a $120 value).


7. ISlide

           

ISlides are the only fully customizable, sought-after slide sandal sweeping the world on the feet of athletes and celebrities like Madonna, Dwyane Wade, Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Diddy, and many more. Maker of DJ Khaled‘s famous “Bless Up” and “Another One” slide sandals, ISlide fuses fashion with athletics and has partnered with Neiman Marcus, the NBA, and a number of other teams, brands, and organizations for custom designs. ISlides can be designed to match anyone’s personality with pictures, phrases, emojis and more – or choose from hundreds of pre-designed collections from French Montana, Nickelodeon, NCAA colleges and more. (Retail: $49.99)


8. PediPocket

      

As seen on Good Morning America, PediPocket is 6 feet of super soft microfiber fleece that has a clever foot pocket to keep your toes toasty. Use it at home, at the office or take it while traveling. Plus, it’s machine washable and dryer friendly. Perfect for cold winter days spent snuggling up on the couch with your Valentine. (Retail: $39.99)


9.  Tell It Well Cards

      

Among all the texts and tweets, send your Valentine a meaningful handwritten message with the original line of modern photo greeting cards from Tell It Well Cards! Each card is 4 x 4 square (Polaroid size) and is printed on sustainably sourced and recycled paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. 10% of sales go to provide small business microloans to women in poverty in the US and around the world for the Whole Planet Foundation. (Retail: $4 – $20)


10. Gratitude Glass “Love” Jar

Show your friends and family how much you care with the Gratitude Glass Love Jar. Fill the jar up with love notes that can be enjoyed all year long! Named “the gift that keeps on giving” by Oprah and featured among the 102 gifts of Oprah’s Favorite Things 2017 List, the Gratitude Jar from Gratitude Glass Jars has driven a movement – inspiring others to love themselves and the people around them. (Retail: $45)


11. HelloFresh Sweetheart’s New York Strip Steak

      

During Valentine’s Day week (Feb. 10-16) we’ll be offering a special Sweetheart’s New York Strip Steak with Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, and Blood Orange Sauce. The recipe takes only 35 minutes to make and fool-proof for even the most novice home cooks. As one of HelloFresh‘s Premium recipes, this dinner is undeniably special. With strip steak, brown sugar mashed sweet potatoes, and roasted Brussels sprouts, this dish has tenderness, sweetness, and warmth—just like any solid relationship. It’s topped off with cranberries and a sauce based on blood orange—two fruits that have a romantic red hue. (Retail: $59+ for a 3 meal box for 2 people)


12. BOXFOX

      

Do Valentine’s Day differently this year with BOXFOX and their limited edition 2018 collection of pre-curated themed boxes. Available online until Feb. 18, each box is a thoughtful assortment of gifts that allows you to show you care on the most romantic holiday of the year. If you want to really show your creativity, you can curate your own custom BOXFOX with their BUILD A BOXFOX platform and and select whichever items your heart desires. (Retail: $30 – $200)


13. SouFeel

      

Customized gifts are always a great idea. Soufeel Jewelry’s personalized pieces are your easy solution. For once, you can find the perfect gift for everyone on your list without having to sacrifice meaning or thought! (Retail: $19.95 – $49.95)


14. The Mondrian Staycation

Being in love never felt so good. Celebrate your romance with this package that includes an in-room couple’s massage and dinner at the Doheny Room ($150 sbe gift card provided). Followed by a nightcap for two at Skybar. Then end it all with a turndown service including champagne and rose petals. Price point for the hotel stay plus the package is ($800)


BONUS:  Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato & Brut Rose

           

Think Pink this year for Valentine’s Day with Barefoot Wine’s Bubbly Pink Moscato & Brut Rose selections. Everything is better with wine, and Barefoot is trusted and true for this occasion. This is one of SoCal Mag’s favorites!

Camp No Counselors:  Redefining the Rules of Camping

Camp No Counselors: Redefining the Rules of Camping

This is not your average campfire!  Welcome to Camp No Counselors, a unique camp experience specifically created for adults who want to have a positive, booze-filled fun fest with a nod to their childhood.  Sound crazy?  That’s because it is… Crazy fun.  I was able to experience Camp No Counselors this past May when they hosted the Los Angeles edition of the camp.  If I could describe the experience in three words, they would have to be adventurous, daring, and exceptional!

The experience overall was unlike any camping trip I’ve been on, noted, most of my camp experiences were limited to childhood, church-based field trips.  This was the complete opposite. The CNC team really put in the effort to create an atmosphere that gives campers the opportunity to tap into a fun childhood memory, but as adults.  Imagine, rope courses, themed-parties, relay races, sports, and camp activities, all mixed with a completely open bar included in your reservation.  The result is nothing short of a grand old party in the woods that lasts for three days.

I attended with a completely open mind, willing to experience something new and meet all kinds of new people.  The beginning of camp starts with a happy hour mixer and fire-side party as a means to break the ice and to get everyone excited to have a stress-free, good time.  My highlight moment was the “Color Wars”, which divided the entire camp into four teams, each representing a different color.  Throughout the various activities, your team participates in a number of challenges leading up to an ultimate relay race that crowns your team the camp champions upon completion.  I was on the green team, and we were seen as the underdogs in the beginning, but in the end were victorious when we beat out everyone in the collective drinking game, flip-cup, where each member of our team had to slide down a water slide and successfully drink a cup of beer and flip the cup right-side up from the edge of a table.

Additionally, the camp-grounds offered three deliciously prepared meals everyday paired with a mimosa bar for breakfast, endless beer at lunch, and full bar complete with an added selections of wines at dinner.  To note, the camp grounds are typically secluded away from metropolitan areas of the designated city, in turn offering limited to almost no cell-phone service while camping.  At first, I was concerned about not being able to have service to check emails and messages, but in turn, I ended up loving the notion of completely disconnecting from my everyday world and truly submerging myself into the camping experience.  Camp No Counselors proved to be something not only completely positive but an event that was almost therapeutic in its own right.

  

The camp is continuing its tour throughout the summer, but is returning to Los Angeles for three dates in the Fall, including the introduction to their first LGBTQ geared camp in October.  To signup, click on the dates below.  Also, make sure to follow Camp No Counselors on all social media channels.

IG:  @campnocounselors

Twitter: @CampNoCounselor

Facebook:  Camp No Counselors