Israel and Jordan
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
We slept in. And by slept in, I mean really slept in. We did make it to breakfast just before they close it, and then geared up to go see the old city.
We meandered our way through the city to the Temple Mount, getting reasonably lost a few times. We checked out the wailing wall - Louisa was warned by a child that she was getting too close to the men's side, so she backed off. We then looked for the way up to the Dome of the Rock, but it was closed.
We headed back towards the Tower of David museum, and on our way, passed by a street fight that seemed to be between two pre-teen boys, but shortly involved quite a few people and spectators. We couldn't understand the language, of course, but we're pretty sure they weren't complimenting each other.
We soon passed by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, so we toured it, reading out of our tour book so we would know what we were looking at. We were a bit taken aback by the sheer number of tour groups and different languages that were being spoken, but we managed to find our way through ourselves.
The sheer amount of history here is staggering, and very different from other historical places we have visited, such as Tikal or Macchu Pichu. For one thing, it is a living place, and history continues to be made here every day. Also, because it is important to so many different religions, there have been more conflicts here.
We finally found the Citadel, and entered the Tower of David museum. We were immediately struck by an exhibition of blown glass by Dale Chihuly, which was displayed throughout the courtyard. With thousands of colorful pieces of intricately blown glass, the exhibition was quite different from anything we had ever seen - some of the pieces were delicate and beautiful, while others were large and striking.
We watched a brief movie about the history of Jerusalem, and then walked on the history tour, through an excellent and informative set of displays. We both learned quite a bit more about the general history of the region than we learned in school.
The day was hot but not overbearing - we took it a bit easy, and tried to stay in the shade. We did go on a search for a bank to get some shekels, and found that most of the banks in Israel seem to be on the Plus system, while we have a Cirrus card. Finally we found one, quite a ways up Jaffa street.
We dropped by the hotel to make some arrangements for the next few days, and then went out to a local restaurant called Off the Corner for salads and homemade pot pies. Things aren't cheap here - this meal was over $30 - but the food was pretty good.
After dinner we stopped by Ben & Jerry's for an ice cream, and then spent a while in an internet cafe, researching for our trip and working on the site.
We slept in again - something about the heat really saps our energy, even though our room is nicely air conditioned. Then we spent the morning arranging things for the next few days, packing, and eating breakfast.
We went back into the old city again during the late morning, and once again our timing was poor - the Dome of the Rock was closed to tourists for noon prayer. We walked around the city a bit more, then headed back to pick up our rental car.
Once we got the car (Eldan gave us a full briefing on all of the car's controls - very useful, all rental companies should do this), we took quite a scenic route to the Holocaust Memorial. The drivers are a bit aggressive, and the signage is not good, but with Louisa's excellent map reading skills and Tom's careful driving, we got there in one piece.
The Holocaust Memorial was impressive, as it is designed to be, even though it is under considerable construction at the moment. We spent a lot of time in the Historical Museum. We got the audio tour, but it wasn't really worth it - it's for people who don't want to read what's already written on the walls. The movie, too, is not worth the time. The exhibits are very detailed, so it takes quite a while to get through, and it makes its point very clearly.
We then walked down to the Valley of the Communities, which was an unusual but reasonably effective way to communicate the sheer number of communities destroyed by the Holocaust. The movie there was a nice AC break, and a decent chronology of Jewish civilization.
By the time we walked back up and through the Childrens Memorial, it was 4pm. We hopped back in the car and got back on the crazy roads towards the Dead Sea. On the way we passed bedouin camps in the harsh desert near the road, with tents providing shade in the late afternoon heat.
We had decided to see what a kibbutz was like, so we drove down to Ein Gedi and checked in to the Ein Gedi kibbutz guest house. We just had time for a quick dip in the pool before dinner in the communal kitchen. The food was surprisingly good, despite the cafeteria setting, and we ate a bit too much.
After dinner we wandered out into the furnace-like heat of the night - we had expected it to cool a bit, but it sure didn't feel cooler. Over at the reception area, we found that in a few minutes they were teaching Israeli folk dancing. Soon a man came and taught line and circle dances to a group of about 15 tourists (including us), and we all had a pretty good time. He marred the whole thing by teaching the macarena at the end, but saved himself afterwards by playing some music we could swing dance to. Sweaty and nicely worn out, we headed for bed.
We found Jerusalem uninspiring and incomprehensible. So many people worshiping, photographing, and fighting about the same things - it just didn't work for us. We really couldn't identify with any of them. Even the Christians here seem so far removed from the ones we know back home that we couldn't think of anything to talk to them about. To say nothing of the Jews and Muslims, who we know even less about. We felt less at home here than we did in small towns in South America.
We rushed through breakfast to be on time for the 9am tour of the kibbutz, only to wait 20 minutes for the guide before being told he was sick. The kibbutz did not look as interesting on our own. We headed the few kilometers down the road to the Ein Gedi Spa.
A great perk of our room is free admission to the spa. It felt as if we were melting from the heat, so hopping into the Dead Sea sounded very appealling! The sensation of not being able to sink was rather odd, but enjoyable. Small cuts do sting, though, and try not to get it in your eyes and mouth. Once our skin felt covered in salt, we got out and headed for the mud.
We slathered our bodies in the medicinal Dead Sea mud. We looked rather odd with green-grey skin, but it was fun! After it thoroughly dried we stood under the high volume Dead Sea water showers followed by an Ein Gedi Spring water rinse as well. Thoroughly refreshed we headed along the road to Masada.
The bleakness of the desert was ended with the ridge of mountains on our right. Masada is impressively perched on top of one of the ridges. Herod selected Masada as his refuge and built many elaborate buildings during his reign. However, it is better known for the mass suicide of 963 Jews when the Romans overcame the city in 70CE.
The ruins are fairly impressive, and work continues to excavate more of the buildings. We wandered through the city in the sweltering heat until we were puddles. It continued on, but we had hit the highlights and decided to catch the cable car down.
We decided to wait until Sunday to leave for Petra, and to drive to the Sea of Galilee instead. Tom drove through the desert while Louisa slept. We wanted to travel to Safed which came highly recommended from Cindy and Jay, but could not find a hotel room via phone. So, we checked into the Casear in Tiberius with a view of the water.
We watched a great Wimbeldon match between Agassi and Rafter in the air conditioning then headed down to the hotel's buffet dinner. The food was better than we expected, and came with a bottle of wine for shabbat.
The hotel had a great internet connection, so we surfed for awhile. The elevators were crazy. Since it was shabbat, the hotel has the elevators on automatic run. They stop at every floor up and down so that no one has to push a button and break the sabbath. It definitely added to our understanding of the sabbath and our experience.
After sleeping in again (Louisa seems to have become a champion sleeper) we ate breakfast and headed along the Sea of Galilee to the artistic city of Safed. Being Shabbat, only the art galleries were open. We chatted with the curator of the main gallery about her years in Israel where she came after one year in Auschwitz - she was 17 at the time.
Lunch was along the water in Tiberius. We saw lots of folks waterskiing and having fun on the water. We drove along the Jordan river for a while, and nearly every time we saw it there were people swimming in it. Then we drove for a long time through the Negev desert to Eilat. The desert was rocky and barren, not at all sandy like many people think. We did see occasional bedouin camps, and could not believe how people can live here - a tribute to human adaptability.
Eilat is a huge pile of concrete, neon and cars. We had a good Indian dinner along the marina, mostly because it is located next to the Ben & Jerry store where we had a delectable dessert.
On the walk to the hotel, we detoured to a supermarket where we actually found Honey Nut Cheerios, Tom could hardly wait for breakfast! A lengthy recap of the Davenport v. Williams Wimbledon final was on TV. Then we headed to bed.
We got a great start to our day with Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast. We then packed and returned the car with no trouble. A taxi took us to the nearby Jordanian border.
Israeli exit procedures were quick and simple, and soon we walked across the 100yds of DMZ to Jordan. There, it took a few minutes to find the right line to wait in, then a few more to figure out that the visa fee ($50pp for Americans) had to be paid in dinar, which meant a quick trip to the change booth across the way. After over an hour, we finally got the visas, then had the passports stamped and checked, and entered Jordan. There we met the car sent from the Movenpick, and set out for Petra.
Our driver, Bashim, was friendly and talkative, even if his English wasn't very good. He told us about the desert and the wadis as we drove through them. He also gave us some good history of Petra, and described Bedouin life to us. Unfortunately, halfway through the trip, he received a phone call that his child was sick and needed to go to the doctor, so he started driving like a crazy man to get us there faster. We survived, and soon were checked in at the Movenpick.
By this time it was nearly noon, so we ate some lunch, checked email briefly, and relaxed a bit through the heat of the day - someone had turned it up to "broil". At about 2:30 we motivated and went down to the visitor's center.
After buying tickets, we hired a guide, and got lucky with a very friendly man named Mohammed. He spoke excellent English, and was very well informed about Petra, as well as nice and enjoyable to be with. We chatted as we walked the 1km to the entrance to the Siq, and he delighted in showing us every feature as we approached the hidden city.
Tom was full of enthusiasm for each carved tomb, icon, and water channel. He climbed on rocks and snapped pictures with gusto, while exclaming over the sophistication of their water works. Mohammed picked up on this feeling, and showed us much more than his usual tours get.
The first view of the Treasury is truly magical. Before you even emerge from the narrow canyon (Siq) where the walls seem to meet above you, you catch glimpses of the columns and capitals. When you do emerge, the sight is breathtaking - a huge facade, with carved animals and columns, hewn directly from the sandstone. Because it is protected from the winds by the narrowness of the canyon, it shows remarkably little erosion, given that it has been there almost 2000 years. A Bedouin legend held that the urn on the top contained the Pharoah's gold, but nobody could climb up to it - so they started shooting at it! They made only deep pockmarks, for it is solid stone.
One thing that nobody seems to mention about Petra is the color of the stone. We have heard of it as the "rose-red city", but in fact, the sandstone is the most incredible swirls of red, green, blue, white, and yellow. The Nabateans did not need to paint any of their buildings - the stone provided color enough!
Another interesting fact is that the actual city part is well outside the canyon, in a valley that is not well defended on two sides. All of the carved rooms that were located in the canyon seem to have been tombs, except for the theatre. Royal tombs were better decorated than those of ordinary people, and many tombs had benches for family to gather and celebrate in the company of their dead relatives.
One tomb with a large internal chamber was actually converted to a Christian church when the Byzantines conquered Petra. There is also a Crusader castle on a nearby hill. Work is progressing on excavating more of the city proper, but because it was built of stone instead of carved from the cliff, nearly all of it has crumbled and been buried.
We enjoyed Mohammed's tour for a couple of hours, then said goodbye and wandered around ourselves. We visited the main city for a while, but were not especially impressed. We went back and explored more of the royal tombs, and really enjoyed looking at the carved facades and exploring the huge rooms.
It was getting late, but we still wanted to visit the High Place of Sacrifice. We quickly climbed the stairs and went up the narrow path to the top of the ridge overlooking Petra. From there we had a great view of the entire city, and looked down on some Roman tombs that we had no time to explore. It took us a half hour to climb, but it was worth the hike.
Soon a guard came and told us it was time to head down, so we trudged back down the steps and through the city. Even near sundown, the city was magnificent, and we continued to marvel as we passed.
Going back up the Siq was much longer than coming down, although it was still fun. Hiking back up the path outside the Siq, several boys persisted in asking if we wanted to ride horses instead of walking, but we politely refused.
Once back in the hotel, we scrubbed several times to remove the dirt and dust from our bodies, then flopped on the bed. We didn't even have the energy to walk downstairs, so we had a room service dinner while watching Venus Williams stomp Lindsay Davenport in the finals of Wimbledon. A great end to a great day!
We woke at 6, opened the hotel's extensive and delicious breakfast buffet, and headed into Petra before 7am. We ambled along the grounds and along the Siq before the Treasury appeared before us. We continued through the town and found the path to the monastery. Along the way we enjoyed every moment, seeing the buildings lit in the morning light.
We were the only ones on the path to the monastery ( which was not well marked). During the climb we stopped to admire other tombs. The expanse of the city impressed us. Suddenly the monastery appeared on our right. The building seemed to fill the entire mountainside. We thought it odd that the vast facade housed only one room, but it was magnificent.
The morning light was behind the temple so the afternoon light would show it in its full glory, but the morning climb was cool, compared to the hot afternoon climb. The bluff to the West looks over the desert to Israel, which was interesting, but did not have much to see.
We realized that we had one hour to return to the hotel! We raced down the mountain and through the city one last time. While we ached to stay longer in Petra, the travel schedules did not allow us. The horror stories from the internet and other travelers were clear - only take the fast ferry between Jordan and Egypt, so we were stuck with leaving Petra so early.
Bashim drove us to the ferry in Aqaba, which took a full two hours. Then the madness began. There are many builldings on the pier, with hardly any signs. We chose one and went in. There were signs for tickets for the 'fast ferry', but no one at the windows. The long line of Jordanians crowded around a window attracted us. After a few moments of observation we determined that they were buying tickets for the fast ferry. Tom flashed our US passports, which got us to the front of the line (tip from the internet), but then they yelled in broken English "Passport stamp! Down there!" And vaguely pointing down a hallway.
With 15 minutes to go, we went to passport control. They said "Departure Tax! Back down on the left!" Tom ran. No one was in the office for the departure tax. A Jordanian at the exchange booth yelled throughout the terminal for us, and a man with a suitcase full of money and stamps arrived. He only accepted Jordanian currency of which we no longer had enough. Tom quickly changed more, ran back down the hallway, got the passport stamps, then ran down the hallway again to the ticket office.
There was no line at the ticket window. We thought we were lucky until the man said "Too late!" What did he mean? We talked him into selling us the tickets, and he called over a man to take us to the ferry. While he slowly hand wrote the tickets Tom ran across the terminal again to change more money. At two minutes til noon, we started out the building, down the stairs and across the parking lot with our escort. We piled in his minivan. He talked with everyone standing around it seemed, and another man hopped in. We drove up to the ferry as the last person was getting on. We jumped on and threw our tickets at the guard. Then we collapsed into our seats laughing.
The guard kept our passports to add us to the list after we cast off. Louisa went to find him a few minutes into the ride. Another ferry worker said "5 minutes." After 15, Louisa tried again. Again she was told "5 minutes." 20 minutes later she tried again, and was told "5 minutes." A few minutes later a man walked up to us and handed us our passports. This was just the introduction.
In Egypt we were some of the first ones off of the boat and through customs. Great! But, in order to get out of the pier it is necessary to ride on a bus, which they load with all of the passengers from the ferry. It was about 200 degrees out, so we sat on the dilapidated bus. For a long time the only person was an old, Arabic speaking woman. She was not happy with waiting and kept on asking the bus driver questions, then turning to us to explain the situation. We smiled back, and waited some more.
After a while the bus began to fill up. Some young Arabic men sat near us. We pulled out the phrase list in the travel guide and tried out some words. Not much luck. One man spoke some English so we chatted. The others tried to teach us Arabic. They were impressed that we already knew the numbers. It was a fun way to pass the time.
The bus dropped us at 'baggage claim.' This consisted of some frightening trucks loaded with piles of luggage. We bypassed this and went directly for customs. The customs officers stopped us, and the few others, at the door and had us form two lines - one Arabic, the other foreigners (they designated by skin color). While waiting we started to talk with the Australians behind us. Suddenly the officers stepped back and another rush began. We got our luggage through the primative xray quickly and proceeded to walk through the rest of the room which was 'customs.' No one stopped us as we walked through, around the tables and out the door. In other countries this means that we are done. Nope. As we started to walk towards the gate along the road, a man came out and yelled for us to come back in. We did. It was mayhem. Egyptian customs officials yelled to a crowd "Do you have anything to declare?" and then write down any repsonses onto one list with no names, nothing. After a while of miscommunication and getting nowhere, the officers indicated to go. The group was all foreigners and we walked out of the warehouse together.
The guards at the gate would not let us out. They said to wait near a bus for '5 minutes.' After a few minutes, Louisa went to talk to the guard since we were staying in Nuweiba and all others were going on. He said, OK you can leave. But this caused the entire group of foreigners to come over, and the story changed - 5 minutes. 20 minutes later, they said 5 minutes. 20 minutes later they said 5 minutes. After an hour or more, they finally let us through for no reason. Odd!
A taxi driver drove us the 2km to the Hilton. We were thrilled to be done with travelling for the day! Next was contacting Amigo Tours since we had arrived. It took awhile, but we finally were transferred to Mohammed in reservations who agreed to find us a phone number in Cairo, and talked the hotel's computer engineer into letting us use the internet. (This all took another hour).
With everything set, we donned our bathing suits, order food by the pool and went swimming. After awhile we moved to the beach for sunset. The sunlight reflected off of the smooth water turning the sea red... A very appropriate name. It seemed that we had arrived in paradise.
The Amigo Tours agent came by the hotel. He reviewed our itinerary with us and confirmed a pick up for the next day. We were slightly concerned about his understanding of the English language, but it seemed that all would be fine. We ate outdoor by the beach overlooking the Red Sea. The hotel placed floodlights in the water. It was very attractive, and the light attracted lion fish! The food was mediocre, but the setting was wonderful.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on