A Travellerspoint blog

October 2011

Jordan and the Amazing Petra…

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We left behind the beaches of Egypt and travelled to Jordan via a small sliver of Israel. We headed directly to Wadi Musa, the town outside of Petra. Petra has been on our short list of places to see for some time- maybe it was Indiana Jones or maybe it was Petra’s designation as one of the seven wonders of the modern world, but, for whatever reason, we had high expectations.

Fortunately, unlike some things in life, Petra lived up to the hype. For starters, walking into the ancient city via what is called the Siq was one of the coolest walks I’ve ever done. For about a mile, you walk through a gorge split almost perfectly by a shift in tectonic plates. At the end of the Siq you reach the infamous and beautiful Treasury building. It just comes out of nowhere and you wonder how in the world anyone rediscovered it all. I had imagined that Petra consisted of the Treasury building and a few other tombs/ruins, but the ancient city is actually huge - ¼ the size of London. Dozens of tombs and ruins are spread out over several miles. What’s most impressive about the tombs is the detailed and well preserved carving on their outsides. In contrast, the insides are just simple rooms with empty, dugout graves. We walked all around the main sites on our first day and ended the day with a walk up the mountain (800 steps) to the Monastery building which was almost as dramatic as the Treasury. We bought a two day pass, so we spent our second day in Petra doing a few of the recommended hikes in the surrounding hillsides. We even climbed up one of the rock formations and along a ridge to get a look at the Treasury from above. We left completely soaked in sweat and exhausted, but Petra was spectacular - seriously, put it on your list.
If you have any interest in taking a "walk" through the final portion of the siq to the Treasury click here
IMG_8770.jpgWalking Through the Siq
IMG_8781.jpg The famous Treasury building
IMG_8823.jpg The exterior of multiple funerary buildings
IMG_8903.jpg The Monestary building- that's actually me standing in the doorway to give some scale (it was pretty hilarious watching me try and climb up there)
IMG_9021.jpgInside one of the buildilngs- just to show you what was in there
IMG_9047.jpg A view from our climb up to see the Treasury building from above
After Petra, we visited the impressive, desert landscapes of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is famous because it is where TE Lawrence, a British officer, spent time living as a Bedouin while supporting the Arab Revolt during World War I. His story is the basis for the movie Lawrence of Arabia (one of Jeff’s favorite movies), which was shot in part in Wadi Rum. We took a jeep tour for several hours taking in the canyons, siqs, and sand dunes, and completed several short hikes. We spent the night at a Bedouin camp enjoying the sunset, eating a traditional meal, and doing some particularly great star gazing. The experience makes me wonder how Bedouin actually live in such a harsh environment, scorching and dry in the daytime and then freezing at night.
IMG_8705.jpg A view of Wadi Rum Desert
IMG_9058.jpgOur Bedouin host and his cute daughters
IMG_9077.jpgA view from Lawrence's spring
IMG_9096.jpg Our desert crew for the day
IMG_9115.jpg Jeff standing on the "bridge"
IMG_9138.jpg Sunset in the desert
After our desert experience, we had to camp out at our hostel outside of Petra for a few days because I had my first major illness of the trip. I had to burn off a fever and let my upset stomach work itself out while Jeff played Nurse Nancy. He even walked 40-minutes to buy me Gatorade, a luxury in this part of the world - he’s the best :)

After three days, finally healthy and fit, we returned to our travels and set off for Amman, Jordan’s capital, via the King’s Highway. The King’s Highway is very picturesque and has several worthwhile stops along the way to break up the drive. For starters, we stopped at two Crusader castles, Shobak and Karak. Shobak had an 800 step escape tunnel which you can walk in its entirety to the other side at the bottom of the mountain. Man, so again, I found myself walking down a pitch black tunnel under a mountain for enjoyment. Jeff took a slight tumble in the tunnel, like 12 steps, leaving him with a healthy rug burn on his leg – that’s going to sting in the Dead Sea. We also passed through Wadi Mujib (Jordan’s Grand Canyon) and visited Mt. Nebo. Mt. Nebo is the site where Moses led his people (after Mt. Sinai and the Ten Commandments in Egypt) and from which he pointed out the Promised Land. He then promptly died at the ripe old age of 120. There is so much history in the Middle East, it’s amazing. Our last stop before arriving in Amman was Madaba, a town known for its collection of Byzantine- era mosaics. The most famous mosaic, a map of Palestine from around 560 AD, was discovered during the rebuilding of St. George’s church in 1884. After an enjoyable but long day on the King’s Highway, we arrived at our hostel in Amman. We will write more again soon!
IMG_9175.jpg Midway down the escape tunnel
IMG_9185.jpg Shobak Castle
IMG_9232.jpg A scenic view of the King's Highway
IMG_9251.jpgThe mosiac map of Palestine in Madaba

Posted by geldere 21:58 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Luxor and the Sinai Peninsula...

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Our overnight train from Cairo to Luxor was one of the fancier modes of transportation we’ve taken. We got a private sleeping cabin for two with dinner and breakfast included - not too shabby. We arrived in Luxor just before 7 am and walked to our hostel and crashed for a bit before heading out to the sights. We haven’t eaten American fast food in months, so our first stop was lunch at McDonald’s. The burgers, fries and supersized, fountain sodas were amazing! We even had a view from our table over the Luxor Temple.
IMG_8176.jpgThe best located McDonald's I've ever seen- amazing view!
Luxor is best known for its temples and monuments. Egypt, and Luxor in particular, really hit the jackpot with all of this stuff. After indulging at McDonalds, we visited the Luxor Temple which is situated on the east bank of the Nile. The temple was built over several hundred years by multiple pharaohs - even Alexander the Great left his Roman mark. It is especially known for its two enormous obelisks (one of which is now found in the Place de la Concorde in Paris). Afterwards, we headed out to Karnak, an enormous complex of temples, pylons, and sanctuaries. The site was completed over a period of 1500 years and has what is considered to be the largest religious building ever built. The Great Hypostyle Hall was really impressive- the hall is made up of 134 huge stone pillars that make you feel pretty small. Both the Luxor Temple and Karnak are UNESCO World Heritage sites and the fact they are still in decent shape after 2000+ years is amazing.
IMG_8195.jpg The entrance to Luxor Temple
IMG_8216.jpgSome heiroglyphics in Luxor
IMG_8250.jpg Scuplture in Karnak Temple
IMG_8289.jpgJeff taking in the Hypostyle Hall
On our second day in Luxor, we visited the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. These royal necropolises are buried in the mountains (literally) on the west bank of the Nile. Through excavations in the valleys, they have unearthed hundreds of tombs. Some tombs are better preserved than others, but many of them are still covered with painted and carved hieroglyphics. Sadly, they do not let you take pictures inside of the tombs. To see one of the best preserved tombs, the Tomb of Queen Nefratate, costs 20,000 Egyptian pounds (roughly 3,000 USD) - we skipped that one. We also explored the Funerary Temple of Hatshepsut, which is built into a mountainside. Funerary temples were used during the 70-day mummification period between death and burial. The sites were certainly impressive, but it was so so so hot that day (upwards of 95 degrees and blazing sun) that I was excited to get back to our hostel. The terrain here is unforgiving.
IMG_8314.jpg The Temple of Hatshepsut
IMG_8351.jpg Colored heiroglyphics from Hatshepsut Temple
Probably one of the cooler things we did while in Luxor was take a hot air balloon ride above the monuments and sites. It was by far the cheapest place we’ve found to do it (50 USD each), so we decided to take advantage. The 4:40 am pick-up time was rough, but it was awesome to watch the balloons get filled up in the pre-dawn light. How the flame doesn’t ignite the balloon is totally beyond me. Hot air ballooning was far more relaxing than I thought it would be and watching the sunrise from the air was really beautiful.
IMG_8392.jpg Pre-dawn
IMG_8402.jpgGetting ready to take off
IMG_8446.jpgOne of the ancient temples seen from the air
IMG_8471.jpgTaking in the sunrise
After Luxor, our next stop was the town of Dahab on the Sinai Peninsula, an overnight bus ride away. Egyptian buses are not horrible, but 16-hours in any bus is enough to make you go nuts. At 4:00am, we had to get off the bus with our bags and have a dog sniff them to ensure we weren’t carrying any bombs- we all passed and continued on our way. We arrived in Dahab early in the morning, took a taxi to our hostel and crashed (pattern forming here?).
Dahab is a little slice of heaven on the Red Sea. It’s a Bedouin village bordering on a resort town. Though it lacks a true beach, the water is crystal clear, literally. It is crazy that when you are eating or lounging by the sea, you can see Saudi Arabia across the water. Sometimes I forget where I am.
With its crystal clear water, Dahab is well known for diving, so we signed up for a single dive of a site called “The Islands”, a National Geographic worthy dive. The reef is fairly close to shore so we were able to walk most of the way out to it, a nice change from boat diving. It really was beautiful - an enormous amount of coral and colorful fish. We even saw a school of barracuda and three lion fish.
IMG_8550.jpgGetting our gear ready
IMG_8570.jpgView from the beach
IMG_8585.jpgThe small beach town of Dahab
Aside from diving and relaxing by the water, we also took a day trip (or should I say night trip) to climb Mt. Sinai and visit St. Katherine’s Monastery. Mt. Sinai is the supposed site where Moses received the Ten Commandments from the Big Man in the sky. As with most mountain excursions, the best time to climb is before sunrise- so again, I found myself climbing a mountain at 3 am (our hotel pickup was at 11 pm). Shockingly we were not alone as there were hundreds of other crazy people on the mountain. The climb wasn’t too bad, but we were surprisingly cold on the summit. After watching a lovely sunrise, we headed back down to the Monastery. St. Katherine’s is the oldest Monastery in the world and has the second largest collection of early religious texts, second only to the Vatican. It is also the supposed site of the burning bush, the location where Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Egypt is chalk full of history. Given the 11 pm departure time, everyone was open-mouthed-head-bobbing on the ride back to Dahab.
IMG_8631.jpgSunrise on Mt. Sinai
IMG_8638.jpgThe parade coming back down the mountain
IMG_8650.jpgA view of St. Katherine's Monastery on the way back down the mountain
IMG_8660.jpgA view from inside the Monastery
After two great weeks in Egypt, we are now headed to Jordan. We’ll write more soon! Thanks for reading!

Posted by geldere 11:54 Archived in Egypt Comments (0)

Touched down in Egypt and the Middle East….

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Cairo was our first stop in the Middle East and was definitely a sensory overload. For starters, the traffic is insane and the drivers even more so. Crossing the street here is a sport as you have to dodge and weave in and around the traffic. After finally making it across a street feeding into Tahrir Square (the center of most of the 2010 revolution protests), we spent our first full day in Cairo enjoying the Egyptian Museum. The museum houses over 100,000 relics and antiquities from all periods of Egyptian history (some items are upwards of 4000 years old). Similar to the Louvre in Paris, if you spent one minute on every item, it would take you nine months to see the whole museum. It’s stuffy and poorly labeled, but it has some of the most amazing pieces of history I’ve ever seen (no photos were allowed inside). We spent time seeing the highlights, including the royal mummy rooms (it is amazing to see 3500 year old bodies) and the Tutankhamun collection (King Tut as most people know him). What’s amazing about King Tut is that he was a fairly young and insignificant ruler, but his tomb someone how escaped grave robbers for thousands of years. So, when it was rediscovered in 1922, it harbored some of the most amazing artifacts ever found in Egypt. King Tut and the rest of the 100+ pharaohs believed in the afterlife, so they had items placed in their tombs that they believed they would need: mummified animals for food and as pets, weapons, jewels, figurines of servants to take care of them, chariots, boats, etc. The King Tut collection is so impressive; one can only imagine the stuff that more prominent pharaohs would have been buried with.
IMG_7849.jpg Outside the Egyptian Museum
IMG_7854.jpg In front of the museum
IMG_8164.jpgA view of the street from our hotel

We set out on day two with a driver to view what Egypt is probably best known for, the Pyramids. We started with the Pyramids of Giza as they are the largest and most famous. They are the only surviving wonder of the ancient world and are approximately 4,000 years old. They were the tallest man-made structures in the world until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889. That’s crazy - they were built thousands of years ago and no one else built anything bigger until 140 years ago? Blows my mind. Anyway, there are three main Pyramids (Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure), all built with the sole purpose of holding the sarcophagus of the abovementioned pharaohs. In short, they are extremely elaborate tombstones that were designed to take pharaohs into the afterlife. The site of Giza also houses the Sphinx which was carved almost entirely from one huge piece of limestone.
IMG_7883.jpg In front of the Sphinx
IMG_7893.jpg The Sphinx and one of the 3 Pyramids of Giza
Before arriving in Egypt, I thought Giza was it for pyramids, but it turns out there are more, dozens more. So we also visited the sites of Saqqara, which has the Step Pyramid of Zoser (the world’s oldest pyramid/stone monument), and Dahshur, which has the Red Pyramid. You can walk down into the Red Pyramid via a 120-foot long, narrow tunnel. I got halfway down and decided that it was far enough for me (I am not obsessively claustrophobic, but the tunnel was making me insane) and let Jeff continue the rest of the way. We rounded out the day with a stop at Felfela, a restaurant specializing in Egyptian food. After dinner, I tried a cup of the “local Egyptian coffee” which was reminiscent of chewing on a coffee bean and could really put some hair on your chest.
IMG_7968.jpgThe Step Pyramid of Zoser
IMG_8006.jpgInside the Red Pyramid- a bit freaky for me!

On day three, we decided to take a day trip to Alexandria, a city about two hours north of Cairo located on the Mediterranean. It was founded by Alexander the Great around 332 BC and boasts some amazing sights and history as well. We stopped at the Roman Amphitheatre (the only one in Egypt), Pompey’s Pillar (a Roman monument), the Catacombs of Kom Ash-Shuqqafa (which date back to the 2nd Century AD - no pictures allowed in the catacombs), and the Citadel (a fort protecting the harbor). We also visited the impressive and modern Alexandria Library. The city of Alexandria use to house the “Library of Alexandria”, another wonder of the ancient world, but it was supposedly dismantled and destroyed by the ravages of time and war. The ancient library now has a near mythical quality, but the modern library is a seemingly fitting replacement. We recently read the Alexandria Link, a fictional book about the ancient library and Israel if anyone is looking for something good to read - very appropriate for this phase of our trip.
IMG_8040.jpgThe Roman Amphitheatre
IMG_8056.jpgA Tea Street Vendor
IMG_8073.jpgPompey's Pillar
IMG_8100.jpgThe new library
IMG_8097.jpgJeff absorbing all that knowledge

We spent our last day in Cairo exploring the Citadel, a collection of three fortified mosques from the 12th century. It is also a popular spot for locals to spend the day. We turned out to be a huge attraction for the local children who wanted to practice their English and have their photos taken with the blonde haired people. The kids would say “Hello, what is your name” and then run away - it was cute. My favorite photo of the day was when a woman came over and asked if I would take a picture with her baby. I was happy to oblige, but no one asked the child if he wanted to have his photo taken. Jeff got a good photo of the child’s reaction.
IMG_8138.jpgInside of of the Mosques
IMG_8147.jpgOh, this picture makes me laugh- total despair on the kid's face :)
IMG_8157.jpgA view of one of the mosques in the Citadel
IMG_8160.jpgThese girls asked to take a photo with us- they were so sweet

It is definitely interesting to be in a country that is in the midst of a revolution. The government was thrown out in 2010 and the military is now in charge. This November, a new legislature is set to be elected, but there is no date for the presidential election yet. While we were in Cairo, there were small protests most nights and a large protest that shut down Tahrir Square on October 6th, a national holiday. For most people, it is business as usual, but everyone is looking forward to electing a new government.
The other thing that surprised me was that everyone smokes. Almost everyone chain smokes anywhere and everywhere – buses, taxis, restaurants, hostel lobbies, etc. My favorite was a guy who was smoking and using his inhaler - I wanted to let him know it was counterproductive, but the lesson seemed futile.
We are heading out of Cairo on an overnight train bound for Luxor. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 00:11 Archived in Egypt Comments (1)

Nairobi and Parting Thoughts on Africa

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Nairobi, Kenya is known as one of the most dangerous cities in Africa, so much so that it has earned the nickname “Nairobbery” and even beats out Jo’burg. Because of this reputation, I was expecting the worst. But, like so many things in life, it really wasn’t at all like I expected - it was better. Nairobi is a busy, cosmopolitan African city, even modern and sophisticated in parts. Sure, it has rough neighborhoods, but it also has a lot of first world amenities, and we took full advantage.
We’ve been traveling very fast the last few weeks, so we’ve become a little run down and under the weather. We decided to spend our time in Nairobi taking it easy and indulging in the first world amenities. First stop, the newest mall in town, of course. We had lunch at a nice bistro (it could have been anywhere in the US), got some cupcakes and gelato, and went to the movies. And I when I say “went to the movies”, I’m almost embarrassed to say it… we saw three movies in a row - triple feature - Crazy/Stupid/Love, Contagion, and Friends with Benefits. They were all entertaining, but Crazy/Stupid/Love was our favorite. Between movies two and three, we had Chinese food for dinner in the food court. It was a day of fabulous, over-indulgence!
IMG_7813.jpgAhhh..first world mall and cupcakes :)
IMG_7818.jpgDowntown Nairobi
IMG_7823.jpgA stop at the American Embassy Memorial Garden where the bombings happened in 1998
Before our flight from Nairobi to Cairo, Egypt, we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the restaurant Carnivore, well known for serving copious amounts of charred meat in an “all you can eat” fashion. Jeff was in heaven. You control a flag at your table and when the flag is up, servers stop by and offer you whatever meat they are serving. When you are done and cannot possibly eat any more, you surrender by lowering the flag. While some meats were better than others, we at least tried them all: beef rump steak, beef sausage, leg of lamb, lamb sausage, lamb chops, leg of pork, pork sausage, pork spare ribs, turkey, chicken wings, chicken liver, chicken gizzards, and . . . ox balls. “Wait, what?” I asked. “Ox testicles” he says to get the point across. “Seriously?” “Yup, you wanna try?” They taste about how you think they would. I think some parts are better left uncooked if you know what I mean, but at least they use the whole animal. The food was good and it was a fun atmosphere, I just felt like I needed to take a Lipitor when we were done.
IMG_7834.jpgJeff taking in a local Tusker and the massive quantity of meat they serve
Our time in Africa has come to an end (I know Egypt is technically in Africa, but it’s more the Middle East to me). It is hard to believe that we have been on the road for over four months, time flies. It has been a great experience – we will never forget it!
Over the last three months, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and Africa. Every country we’ve visited has been unique and interesting, with its own particular highs and lows, but in the end all positive experiences. We’ve had our challenges that’s for sure. Getting around without spending a fortune was probably the biggest for us. But in the process, I have learned that I’m more flexible than I realized…you want me to hold your child on the bus? Put a bag of rice under my feet? Fall asleep on my shoulder…sure, no problem. The joke in Africa is “how many people can you fit in a minibus/combi/dalla-dalla”? “One more”. But please, no stinky, dried fish, hand me the chicken. We’ve been squished, uncomfortable and hot as sin in those things, but it has gotten us closer to the local people, who almost unanimously turned out to be friendly and generous. People have gone out of their way to help us find things, translate, get a ride, make sure we’re not getting ripped off, etc.
Also, travelling in a private car had its own interesting challenges. Police officers and military personnel often wanted bribes at checkpoints, which we just had to flat out deny. My favorite line was “it’s not a bribe, it’s a gift”. “Show me your papers, where are your seatbelts, your fire extinguisher, your first aid kit, you were speeding, you were five minutes past the gate closing time, what’s in the car…show me, now show me your passports, ok give me money”. We just smiled, said no, and kept driving.
While getting around, we’ve seen poverty and sadness, but Africans are resilient, so a lot of joy as well, especially from children who know no different. Being here has made me feel so lucky for all the things I have - it’s reinforced daily. I have a new respect for amenities such as running water, hot water, a toilet, a private room, internet access, air conditioning, paved roads, and fixed prices.
The constant hassle from touts was also at times a challenge. “You need to exchange money, Mama/Sister/ Auntie, my shop is around the corner, you want bracelet, are you signed up for a tour, you need a taxi, I give you good price, give me money, etc.” They’re just trying to make a living, but they don’t realize that you just got asked the same question by five other people all clamoring for your attention. You just have to take it all in stride and have a sense of humor and you’ll be fine :)
The landscape and safaris were amazing. It’s the stuff dreams are made of and we got to experience the Africa you read about and see on the Discovery Channel. From watching a massive migration of wildebeest, to elephant herds playing in the mud, to watching lions taking shade from the hot African sun, it turns you into a kid again staring open mouthed fixed in one position for hours. For those that come after us, Etosha National Park in Namibia was our favorite for animal watching, but you can’t beat the scenery in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
We’ve had a lot of fun seeing the sights and taking in the culture. Trying to explain culture here is like peeling an onion. There are so many layers to it. For starters, there are Muslims, Christians, tribal beliefs, and Hindus... then there are Africans who are white, black, Asian and Indian… educated and uneducated… rich, but mostly poor… city dwellers and subsistence farmers… All told, the people watching here is amazing and getting to experience it first hand by eating at local places and standing on the roadside with locals waiting for a ride has been fun.
Africa has been a fascinating experience and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience it. Now we are moving on to the Middle East, away from scenery and safaris and on to history and religion. It should be a nice change. Plus, I’m looking forward to couscous, hummus, and kebabs  We will write more in Egypt. Until then, we leave you with much love from Africa!

Posted by geldere 11:31 Archived in Kenya Comments (1)

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