Friday, September 11, 2009

annnnnd class is dismissed...

here are my final lessons picked up along the road. well, these are the ones i can remember right now.

1. fear makes people do unspeakable things. fear of those who are different, fear for their livelihood, fear for their families- it doesn't matter what it is they're trying to protect, or from whom. I'm thinking of the Holocaust museum right now. but the concept can be shrunk down to the individual scale too; people who are afraid to visit the Middle East because they'll get blown-up or shot in the street or kidnapped. Because everyone here hates the western world. And while not visiting the Middle East for these reasons may not qualify as "unspeakable", it still means condemning a whole culture based on what are often case-specific, warped and over-exposed stories. Isn't that just as bad as if everyone here hated the west? Doesn't that make you the same as the people you are afraid of? Remember when you boil down all the conflicts and the histroies, we all crawled out of the same soup here in the Middle East, wayyyy back when.

2. Remember how in Muslim countries, pharmacies are marked by a green crescent moon, and in Christian countries, by a green cross? Well, here in Israel, pharmacies are marked by a green Star of David. Interesting eh?

3. It would be hard to come here and not mention the Israel/Palestine situation. Because it really is all over the place. In the old city of Jerusalem, there are shops selling little stuffed-toy camels that have "Palestinian Army" stitched on them, right next to shops with t-shirts with fighter planes on them that say "Israeli Military" on them. Now, as I'm sure you have noticed, I am not necessarily painting a detailed, fully-informed picture of the world, I am only telling you what I have seen, and how I've seen it. So this is the way I see this- it is, at its heart, a fight for home. Religion comes to the field later. In our taxi from Amman to the Jordanian border was a man. A Palestinian man. He hadn't been able to get home in 28 years, and not for lack of trying. He was trying again when we went. We lost him at the border, but found him again, on the Israeli-controlled he was being escorte back to the bus to Jordan. Another failed attempt to get home. I am lucky in that I can't even imagine how infuriating that must be. I have never had to deal with being denied access home. However, as with all stories-and coins for that matter- this one has another side to it. And that is the side of the Israelis, to whom this is home as well. I don't have an answer to the problem, I do know that it is too late to abandon and erase Israel. But after that, I don't know how you split things up. Hopefully, one day, like the Palestinian camels and the Israeli t-shirts, these two groups can live peacefully as neighbours.

4. although Jordan observes Ramadan, they do not retard their clocks, as Egypt does. They also don't tell you this at the border. we got to Jordan and had NO idea what time it was for two days. We couldn't decide whether we needed to leap ahead an hour or stay where we were in time. its very confusing! eventually, we found enough clocks to corroborate our suspicions and advanced in time by an hour.

5. Jordan's currency is very confusing. The main unit is the dinar. 1 dinar is made up of 100 piasters. Good so far? 1 piastre is made up of 10 fils. So there are 1000 fils OR 100 piastres to every dinar. And prices don't have units on them. Good luck.

Alright friends, I'm almost out of time online.
It's been a real pleasure, I thank you all again most heartily for reading, and wish you all a lovely day. Or night. Or whatever.

with affection.

a blog. about jordan and israel. for william.

Well, well, well, look who we have here. Long time no talk eh?

At this very moment, I am sitting on my bed in Dahab, Egypt, after just showering all the salt water out of my hair. I am convinced the Red Sea is saltier than the Pacific. And I know you were wondering what I think of the salinity levels of the worlds water bodies. So I hope that has satisfied you.

The sun has set. Usually an event only worth noting for the act itself, and of no greater significance. But my friends, let us not forget that Ramadan started nearly a week ago (sometime between Thursday at midnight and Saturday, depending who you ask), and so, sunset brings with it the promise of food and drinks. And that's a big deal when you haven't eaten since before sun up. And although no one expects Meagan and I to fast, we don't want to be rude, so we save our eating for after dark. And the occasional snack in our room (curse you delicious imported cookies!).

Anyways... Let me tell you about Dahab. Basically, its the perfect place to take a holiday from a holiday. Its exactly what we needed. Its a pretty small place, full of divers, and therefore, a very relaxed place. Its the kind of place that you start to recognize people in; I know we've made a few friends just because we walk by their restaurants every night. 20 walking-minutes from the town is the lagoon, where we've been swimming. Dahab itself is right on the water, but its not beach, its about 50m of shelf that drops off into reef-perfect for diving and snorkelling, not as great for swimming. If Dahab is fronted (is that even a word?) by the sea, its backed by dry, barren mountains which are amazing at sunset; there's just so many ridges! These mountains are like ogres and onions; they have layers. From our little table by the sea we can see across to the dry, barren mountains of Saudi Arabia.

But let's talk about life underwater. Holy. Smokes. UNBELIEVABLE! Absolutely amazing! There is SO much to see! So many fish, and types of coral and colours! On our first snorkel adventure we saw lionfish, puffer fish, clownfish, barracudas, squid, and a morray eel, among the other groupers and parrotfish and shiny fish. You know how you can get sucked in to watching the fireplace channel on TV at Christmas- the one where they poke at the fire every now and then? And you think 'hey, that's pretty real'. But then you get to a real fireplace, and its SO much better? Well, here its like every aquarium I've ever been to us that TV channel, and I've finally gotten myself to the real thing. And its mind-blowing.

So. If you love the magic of life underwater, come to Dahab. Haha, I'm listening to Dre and I nearly told you to come to Compton instead of Dahab... Focus Brooke.

Our days here generally consist of lying around, reading and listening to music. Then in the later afternoon, we head to the water and hang out there until sunset, when we come home and cleanup before setting off in search of dinner, which is always followed by a stop at the supermarket for pre-bed chocolate. Yes, life is rough. Did I mention that we're staying in a room with 2 twin beds and a double? Our bags get a whole bed to themselves- NOT looking forward to repacking that mess!

Time flies! After 11 nights of relaxation in Dahab, we packed up and headed for Jordan. Really quick, some Dahab highlights... Indian food! We ate there twice, both nights we had to roll home, we were so full. Sunset! Looking across the Gulf of Aqaba at the cliffs of Saudi Arabia, which turn golden, then glow pink as the sun gets lower. Snorkelling! Obvious reasons: absolutely mind-blowing.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jordan.

We took a van from Dahab north to Nuweiba, where there is a ferry to Aqaba. We walked into the compund surrounding the ticket office and must have looked a little confused (that or we were two white girls alone, surrounded by a hoard of Egyptian men), when a guy from California appeared and told us the process for getting tickets.

After an hour and a bit of waiting, we had tickets! Next challenge; how to get in to the port. Two sets of guards pointed us toward each other and we quickly realized they were pointing to the gate between them. The locked gate between them. With no one on the other side... Someone did eventually come and let us through and we were in the port. Then it was time for customs. Now, here's a good example of learning from past errors... Previously in our travels, we have found ourselves at the front of the customs line, only to be turned back because we hadn't completed the invisible-unless-you-know-where-to-look forms. But not this time! This time we knew to look everywhere, and after a little help, we were in line, forms completed. And wouldn'tcha know it, we get to be next in line, and the man in front of us has an issue, taking our guard with him and disappearing. Luckily they were only gone 10-15 minutes, not the end of the world.

Once we had our exit visas, we got to wait. This time for the ferry. A couple hours later, we were loaded up, and on our way. While we were waiting to get our tickets checked on board, qe were pulled out of line by a ferry worker, and deposited at the front of the line. This out is right behind a group of Aussies and Kiwis. Which meant that once we were upstairs we followed them (because they were in front of us). And we followed them right into first class. In all fairness, we didn't know you needed a special ticket, we just went where the ferryman told us to go. Not our faults he wanted us in first class!

So we rode out the voyage in luxury. Things looked good. Then when we got to Jordan, we had to wait for our pasports, complete with visas, to be returned to us. There were maybe 20 of us waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Apparently, its a 2 hour process. And the worst part was that they had returned our pasports after an hour but told us to keep waiting. So, not being the types who disobey port authority, we waited. Then, after a quick bag scan, we were told to go to the exit. Which had a locked gate against it, which was of course the only thing between us and a mob of taxi drivers.

Now, you have to understand, taxi drivers abroad, especially in tourist-funneling areas (ports, airports, museums...) are among the most relentless men you will ever encounter. 'Where you going?' 'Petra?' 'Aqaba?' ' Hello miss! Hello! Excuse me! Hello?' Multiplied by 10 or 15 men, all yelling. Yes, sometimes its amusing, early in the day, when you're still fresh (relatively speaking of course; there is a certain degree of freshness that cannot be achieved without great expense while travelling), then it can be fun. But after taking 8 and a half hours to do what you thought would be a 2 or 3 hour adventure, and having not eaten or drunken anything, taxi drivers suck.

But then things turned around. A guard realized a mob of taxi drivers = no fun, and took us through a back exit, right to the road, wher we easily found a taxi to Aqaba, hassle-free. At the bank, I was offered a chair while I waited for the man in front of me to finish with the ATM. Our taxi driver offered to take us to Petra, because buses can be 'no fun' -we still took the bus. It was fun.

So now we're in Wadi Musa, the nearest town to Petra, and we happened to pick a hotel next to the world's most delicious-smelling bakery. DANGER!! Oh, we're in so much trouble. The plain rolls alone are enough to make me want to eat just bread for the rest of my life. So far, Jordan is wonderful. The people are so genuine and friendly and helpful. And while we definitely met some great people in Egypt, the overwhelming feeling was still that of just a little creepy. Not in a dangerous way, just in that you can never really tell what people are after. And of course, that's just my experience and outlook on it, and it did not stop me from really enjoying Egypt. I think Jordan and I see going to get along really well though.

My, how the days fly. We are now in Jerusalem. We spent two nights in Wadi Musa, two in Amman, and here we are! So day 2 in Wadi Musa was Petra day. Wait. Night 1 was Petra by night. So cool! The entire 1.5km walk in through the Siq (the canyon) is lit by candles. Its absolutely gorgeous! If you ever want to feel like you're going back in time, that is the way to do it. A full moon, 15000 candles and a beautiful canyon leading to an ancient city. When the man at our hostel first told us about it, I thought it would be a hokey, touristy thing. And I guess by definition, it was. But we managed to space ourselves between groups of people, so it felt like we were the only ones there. Once you reach the treasury (if you're picturing Petra right now, the building you're thinking of us most likely the treasury), you're sat down, and two musicians start playing bedouin music. In a moonlit, candlelit canyon in the middle of the desert. Do you understand how amazing this is?! We got a little cup of tea-a necessity everywhere you visit in the Middle East, and then headed back out via the Siq.

So the next day was Petra by not-night (i.e. Petra by day). Note to readers: wear sunscreen when spending a day outside exploring an ancient desert city. You WILL burn. So I'm told...
Petra is pretty darn cool! After the treasury, we hiked up 30 minutes of stairs to the high place of sacrifice, from which you can see Aaron's tomb (Moses' brother for those of you who haven't seen the Prince of Egypt). Now, apparently there is a trail down the backside of the mountain, full of wonderful sights and archaeological goodies. We did not take this trail. We went back down the way we came up. And at the bottom, were met by donkey riders asking why we didn't take the other trail, its beautiful... Thanks guys. In the afternoon, we climbed up 800 rock-hewn stairs to the monastery. It was cool. I guess. Personally, not the highlight for me. My highlight was the view from the peak 10minutes past the monastery. Unreal! Canyon and desert and no guardrail. We met a guy from Amsterdam, and hung out with him and two Nabateans -Petra was built by the Nabatean people. That night, we would have liked to sleep like rocks, but happened to be in a hotel right next to the mosque, which mean 430am calls to prayer. Beautiful, but not at 430 in the morning.

We bussed to Amman, and got to what we thought was the hostel we had reserved; the Palace. Turns out the van driver took us to his friend's hostel (classic); the Abassi Palace. Which actually turned out to have everthing the real Palace promised at half the price. Total score! That afternoon we went to see I Love You, Man, and had burgers and beers at a sports bar. Because sometimes you need things that remind you of home.

The next day was hammam day. Brilliant! I have never felt SO clean in my whole life. You start with a sit in the steam room, the the jacuzzi, then you get scrubbed and lathered and massaged. Glorious! We were in such good moods after that, being clean is such a joyful feeling (especially when travelling, even though it never lasts). That night we ate at Wild Jordan; a restaurant that is all about healthy, locally grown food. I had a deelicious pasta dinner followed by an amazing brownie + froyo, all while sitting on the patio perched on the edge of a hill (Amman is built all over 12 hills), looking over the city and the world's tallest freestanding flag pole and watching the full moon rise. Not a bad day.

And then we went to Israel. Holy smokes, what a process. Our day of border-crossing fun began at 1040 when we left our hotel in Amman, and ended at 645-7ish when we got to our hostel in Jerusalem, and the two cities are only about 100km apart. So we waited at the Jordanian border for an hour, for exit visas and the bus to cross the bridge to get to the other side (Israel in this case). Then we miraculously got our bags to the front of the bag-checking line, got through 20 minutes of questioning by border patrol, and spent hours waiting to get our stamped passports back. Literally hours. Then we waited for the shared taxi to fill up so we could go to the city. It never did, we split the cost of the extra fares and we were off.

Once we had finally dumped our bags in our room, life got better. We grabbed dinner, and hung out on the roof of our hostel, looking over the old city.

The next day was Western Wall and Temple Mount day. There were so many bar-mitzvahs at and around the Western Wall, people were so excited, it was really fun to watch! The Dome of the Rock is something else. Its covered in beautiful blue and white tiles and topped by a beautiful golden dome. Of course, we had spent about 15 minutes wandering around, when we were asked to leave because it was closing. We seem to have a knack for timing. We napped that afternoon and spent the evening along Jaffa Road in the new city, eating and catching up on emails and the world.

Yesterday was frustrating. It started off pretty well, we strolled the old city and found the beginning of la Via Dolorosa; the way of sorrows, the final walk of Jesus' life, from where he was condemned to where he picked up the cross, to where he was crucified, died and was buried. I was amazed by two things on that walk-one, the emotion of those we passed; they were genuinely weeping, and two: they were all Korean. It was something else to see a group of Koreans carrying their own cross (I guess with some tour groups you can get a cross to carry with you, like full size), weeping along the aptly named way of sorrows. Not what I was expecting, that's for sure. La Via finishes at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. And I know some of you out there in reader-land are religious, and so I will refrain from airing my thoughts here in any detail, but I will say this; we could not get out of there fast enough, and by the time we finally did, both Meagan and I were at the point of snapping. Sometimes people suck. The church itself, as a building is cool, its home to six different groups- Greek Orthodox and Ethiopian among them..and you can see the overlap in the architecture.

Afterwards, in true Fail '09 style, we booked it to the bus station and missed the bus to the Dead Sea by literally 1 minute. That's where our fuel ran out. We dragged ourselves home through a park, cleaned up and found ourselves some food and some beer. And then some more beer. The day ended on a much better note than it started.

And now I'm finally caught up. Today we went to Yad Vashem; the Holocaust museum and memorial centre. We had no trouble spending the whole day there. It always amazes me just what people are capable of. It is truly terrifying. I won't go into detail, because I don't want to use the past's horror stories as fodder for my blog, but if you are ever in Jerusalem, I would recommend Yad Vashem, it will make you think. It is also an amazing building, architecturally. And the creators understood that the best way to process something like that is in nature. No, I am not turning into a granola, but after seeing something like that, you need time and quiet to think. At least, I do. It was also the first time in weeks (literally) that we were surrounded by trees. Turns out, I am a big fan.

Now we're driving into a beautiful, golden sunset, headed west to Tel-Aviv for 4 nights before jetting off to Greece. And so, since I'm not sure what the internet situation will be like where we're staying in Greece, and our plans from here on out involve beaches and vegging, this will most likely be my final blog documenting the summer of Fail '09. I might take that back later, but I don't want you to keep frantically checking, or to lose sleep awaiting a new post- yes, William, I am talking to you right now. I will write a follow-up with my lessons, but otherwise, I would just like to say thank you for taking some time to read about my days. I hope that you have enjoyed my stories, and maybe even learnt something (something other than Brooke is really good at writing rambling pointless stories).
And most of all...I hope you'll come visit these countries one day! Don't be mislead by the media, the Middle East is a fascinating place, full of wonderful, welcoming people, fabulous architecture and a lot of really good food.

So my friends, I bid you adieu.
Most sincerely,