Friday, September 11, 2009

Dahab, Jordan, Israel

So the last time I wrote we had just arrived to Dahab and we ended up staying there for two weeks. It's funny how fast time goes by when you aren't really doing too much of anything. When we first arrived the staff asked us if there was anything we really wanted to do, i.e any excursions. We said we wanted to be lazy and thus we were dubbed the lazy bishbishi women. Like I said previously, we pretty much swam and snorkeled, ate really good food, read, and slept. The snorkeling was amazing. The Red Sea has some of the best coral reefs in the world. Underneath the water among the reef was a world filled with life. Fish of all shapes, colors, and sizes, sea anemones, eels, and even sharks. Granted we didn't see any sharks, a guy saw a hammerhead one morning. One of the coolest parts was the contrast between ocean and desert. You are floating above looking down onto this vibrant world and you poke your head above the water to see nothing but desert and the Sinai mountains. Standing on land where hardly any vegetation survives, it's hard to believe that such an array of life exists a few feet away under the ocean. I could have stayed under water all day looking at and pretending to be part of that world, but one's back quickly becomes sunburn which wouldn't be a pleasant experience. Since we were in Dahab during the off-season, it really sometimes felt like a deserted island. Half the resorts had no guests and were eerily quiet and empty. Not that we were complaining; it's pretty nice to have the beach all to yourself. But another cool aspect of Dahab is that you can see the coast of Saudi Arabia pretty clearly. My favorite time of day was when dusk sets in and the orangish/reddish mountains seemed to glow. It's definetely something you can't capture on a camera. Overall I really loved Egypt. It's easy to find yourself mesmerized regardless if you are or are not a history fan. Plus there's cats. Lots of cats and kittens (kittens ahhh! haha). I was offered 2 kittens during my stay in Egypt. I wanted to take them with me, especially this cute little guy in Dahab who was 10 days old and an orphan. Sadly I left them behind because I wasn't too sure how the rest of the countries would feel about me traveling with an Egyptian cat, and Brooke didn't seem so keen on a new companion. But Dahab was amazing and we had to force ourselves to leave and continue onwards. We took a ferry from Nuweiba to Aqaba, Jordan. We somehow found ourselves ushered into the first class lounge, which we didn't say no to. After the hour long ferry ride we had the pleasure of waiting 2 hours in immigration with the rest of the foreigners. No one really knew why it took so long, but it might have had something to do with the day's fast ending (it is the month of Ramadan for followers of Islam). We also had no idea what time it was. Egypt ended day light savings early because of Ramadan, as did Morocco, so we thought maybe Jordan did too, turns out we were wrong. You would think it'd be an easy thing to figure out, but it proved quite a challenge.

The next morning we took a mini-bus to Wadi Musa, which is the main town outside Petra. That night we went and did Petra by night. It was pretty cool. To get to Petra, you have a mile walk through the Siq, which is a canyon chiseled out by wind and water. Over 300 candles lit the way down the curvy and slippery rock path. The way the gorge was illuminated by the full moon was incredible. In the moonlight, it felt like I was on a different planet. I wouldn't have been surprised to see some Star Wars creatures pop out from one of the caves. Once we reached the end of the Siq, you could see the faint outline of the treasury. There were a hundred candles lined up in front of the treasury, trying to light up Petra's most famous building. Everyone (there were 300 people that night) sat down on mats by the candles and we listened to two traditional Bedouin instruments being played. During the performance we were served some tea and soaked in the ambiance of the experience. I enjoyed seeing Petra at night, especially since it gave us a sneak preview to expect the next day.

Walking through the gorge in the daylight is a totally different experience. It just doesn't seem real, and the colors of the stone swirl in pinks, oranges, and browns. You most definitely don't expect to see the treasury at the end of the Siq. I read somewhere that there are no words to describe seeing the treasury for the first time and the contrast between the dark Siq and glowing treasury, which I found very true. It's hard to believe that all of the buildings are carved out of the mountains; the detail is so intricate. After walking past the treasury and some tombs, we came upon some rock stairs. We decided to take them because why not? We soon realized we were on the long, steep path to the High Place of Sacrifice; which is on top of a mountain that is 3000ft high. It as a good workout to the top and most definitely worth every step! From the High Place of Sacrifice you could see Aaron's white tomb (Moses brother) on top of the highest peak in Petra. There were two altars, a basin for blood to drain, and some other carvings into the rock that would have been helpful during human and animal sacrifices I suppose. We climbed back down the way we came, which apparently wasn't the more exciting way to go down, because as we climbed down everyone asked why didn't we just go the other way? When we reached Petra again, we walked past the theatre which was built to hold 7000 people, and went to the royal tombs. The Urn tomb was the most impressive with two rows of arches carved out underneath. After exploring around there, we walked down the city's main street, towards the path that would take us up 800 steps to the monastery. Despite it's name, the monastery was never a church, but a tomb dedicated to a king and is Petra's best preserved building. We hiked up a bit farther to one of the lookout spots and the view from the top felt like we were sitting on top of the world. You could see Aaron's tomb again and the "grand canyon." We made a friend from Amsterdam while we were up there and had another great conversation about American politics and the dissapointment of America's stance on universal health care. We eventually started our climb back down and were amazed at how easy the donkeys found it. They full out ran down the steps and rocks like it was no problem where I was slowly making my way down grasping onto the rocks trying not to slip off the mountain (for those of you who go to Petra, word of advice, don't wear flip flops haha.)

The next morning it was off on another mini-bus, but this time we were headed to Amman, the capital of Jordan. Amman is huge and to go anywhere required a taxi. The first day we went and saw a movie and caved and went to an American style restaurant/sports bar, and just happened to arrive during happy hour, such perfect timing. The next day was spent most of the time at a hammam. For those of you who don't know a hammam is a Turkish bath and is absolutely wonderful. It consists of a sauna, jacuzzi, body scrub and wash, massage, jacuzzi again, and then a shower to wash off. I didn't want to leave, plus they served this delicious cranberry juice. I don't think I've ever felt so clean. I was excited since I didn't get a chance to go when I was in Istanbul. It might be the highlight of my trip and was perfect after two months of backpacking. That night we went to dinner at Wild Jordan, which is a cafe and shop which uses/sells products from the area; similar to a fair trade shop. It has an amazing view of the city of Amman which included the roman ruins at the citadel and the worlds largest flagpole.

The next day we headed to Israel. We took a cab to the border, waited to get our exit stamps, and then hopped on a bus that takes you to the border of Israel. I've read that Israel has some of the tightest and best security in the world, and that was immediately evident. We dropped off our bags so they could be inspected and then went through more security to reach passport control. After answering all of immigrations questions, I had to wait another three hours before I got my passport back while they did their security background check on me. But I was let in and we took a shared taxi to Jerusalem. We stayed directly in the old city, which reminded me a lot of the medinas from Morocco. Looking from the roof of our hostel, you could see pretty much everything inside the four walls, including the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (where Christ was crucified and where his tomb is located). Jerusalem is such an interesting place. Within the four walls of the old city, you have some of the holiest sites for the three main religions of the world. We visited the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, did the Via Dolorosa walk (which follows the path Jesus walked from being tried to where he was crucified) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. At the Western Wall, there were lots of bar mitzvas going on and the families and sons were so genuinely happy and excited; everyone singing and dancing. You could see the millions of prayers folded into the walls cracks and crevices. The Dome of the Rock is beautiful. It's gold roof shines brightly in the city day and night and the tilework of the mosiacs makes it one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Of course shortly after we got there, the mosques courtyard closed so we didn't get to see the inside. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was insane. Well, I take that back. The tourists were insane. We were waiting in line to enter Christ's tomb and were literally being elbowed in the back by the group behind us, and then half the group managed to cut us. We were annoyed and and tried not to let it bother us, after all we were in a church. That patience lasted until it was our turn to go in and their tour guide tried to have me removed from the line; it was her groups turn and she insinuated that we had just cut and we needed to go to the end of the line. Such a joke since the woman had been looking at Brooke ever since they got in line behind us. After having some words, she conceded and let us go in. We then went upstairs to see the rock which Jesus was crucified on. Part of the rock is exposed, so you can touch it, so there was a pretty long line. At one point the line wasn't moving and people started yelling at each other and were being so rude. I couldn't help but laugh at the irony of the situation. Here we are in the holiest place for Christians and the people we encountered were acting anything but Christian. I couldn't wait to get out of there and away from all those people. But besides that, we had a lot of fun in Jerusalem.

And that brings us to right now, where we are in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is awesome. It's very different from Jerusalem and there are tons of trees. I didn't realize how much I like trees until I hadn't seen one in almost 2 months. Nothing too exciting has happened here, just a lot of shopping and going to the movies. I'm a big fan of this city. We leave for Greece soon and I'm pretty excited for that. But that's enough writing for now...