Archive for May, 2008

Scooters and Fat Chicks……

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

Ok, at least not the fat chicks. For all those that are groaning right now… when have you ever known me to be PC??? Seriously though, a bit of catch up is in order. So here goes: I left off right before I headed over to Israel from Petra. That was an extremely fun day (I need a sarcasm key here). We got up at 6:00 to catch a 7:00 am taxi to the border crossing. The drive through Jordan was actually pretty cool though. A lot of small villages on the way and the decent into the lowest point on Earth was really neat with a bunch of old semi trucks dotting the bottom of the ravines from the winding roads, no guard rail, and the awesome penchant of the Middle East to pass on a blind curve. Anyway, we stopped by the dead sea for about an hour and a half before we headed to the border.Let me tell you, that was an absolutely amazing feeling. The pictures that you see of people literally sitting on top of the water with feet up reading a newspaper are real. I would have thought they were doctored or something, but not so. You get in and I could not submerge myself any more than neck level when I tried to hop up out of the water and plunge down. I guess that was good though as it is pretty toxic to drink, and not the most pleasant thing to get into your eyes. The water actually felt slimy from all the salt in it. Like a very think sugar solution where you boil the water and load it up with massive amounts for sweet-sweet tea. Or rock candy making. Anyway, I taught a Pakistani man (a logistician with Doctors without Borders) how to float after one unfortunate dunking on his part. Ended up getting into a discussion on Pakistan-India which led to the Iraq/Afghanistan. I know, you are all shocked that I would get into a political discussion (FTH-SAB). Anyway, after I was tired of just bobbing we took off for the border crossing at Al Hussein bridge about 10 miles west of Jerusalem. Yeah, I crossed at the West Bank, but the Israeli’s there kept telling me it wasn’t the West Bank when they were questioning me if I was planning on going there, and I responded “Isn’t this it??” So in order to get in there, you head to the Jordanian side, get your baggage X-Rayed in the arrival building, then head over to the departure building to get your exit stamp (5 Dinar, or ~$8) and bus ticket to Israel (3 Dinar). You then hop on a bus because the taxi’s cannot drive you to the Israeli border, and head the 500 yards to the border crossing through what looks like a Desert version of the DMZ. Two passport checks on the way there and then you pull up to the Israeli customs station. Men and women in jeans and T-shirts with Uzi’s, M-16’s, and vintage 1980’s Aviator sunglasses. No Pictures… From there you wait on the bus for about 20 minutes until they are ready for you when you hop off and hand your baggage over for X-Ray again hand-checking. You proceed inside to go through the metal detector and X-Ray for hand luggage where the metal detector picks up the smallest piece of metal on you. One woman held up the line for about 5 minutes because she didn’t want to uncover her head and take out the metal barrette in her hair, or couldn’t figure out that was what kept setting it off. Technology is not the Middle East’s strongest point. I had a hell of a time getting them to hand check my film going through here, but with a little whining, creative story-telling, and flirting with some Israeli women, I managed. Anyway once you are through that point, you go through a machine which you step into, small slats close behind and in front of you, and it announces “Jets will start momentarily…” at which point I was like “What the……..” You are then blasted with jets of air, which was a bit unexpected, and I am still not really sure what the heck was going on. There were a couple theories running around from de-lousing to bomb sniffing. Whatever, it was a bit of a shock. Anyway, then on to the passport stamp. “Why are you coming to Israel?” “Tourism.” “Where are you going?” “Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, maybe Haifa and Elat.” “Do you know where you are staying there?” “Yes.” “Let me see your reservations.” “They are on the internet.” “How do you know where you are going then?” “It’s right across from Damascas gate.” “What is the name of the Hotel?” “I don’t remember.” “How long are you going to be in Israel?” “Maybe 10 days.” “You don’t have a return ticket?” “I am planning on leaving via Elat back to Egypt.” Anyway, you get the picture about the questioning. Now add to that it was an extremely pretty young woman grilling me, and the picture will be complete. After about 20 minutes when she finally stamped my passport (so long Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Oman, Saudi….. but no big loss I think) she softened a bit telling me “Tel Aviv is the best city” and nodding me to the right. Apparently that was the easy questioning as some people were directed back to sit and wait for a more thorough session. So then it was the line to see if you baggage survived the interrogation process. You would hop in a line and slowly move to the front to be told that your bags were not ready yet (comforting), and to head to the back to repeat the process. Luckily it only took me one repeat to make it through. So, a grand total of about 2-3 hours getting in, and I was on the relatively fast track. Just for planning purposes if anyone is planning on crossing from Jordan to Israel anytime soon.

Jerusalem now. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately I didn’t take a lot of digital pictures (and can’t upload now anyway), so not much to show until I get my film developed in Germany. However, the Via de la Rose is pretty heavy to walk, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was absolutely… I can’t even think of word to describe the feeling. You walk in and there is the slab that Jesus was supposedly prepared for burial on. Even if it isn’t the actual one, seeing what holds the possibility of, I don’t know, touching the greatest man in history (even in you are not Christian), and the Son of God if you are, is more than amazing. I highly recommend spending time there if you go, and just stopping to listen a bit. They also had the burial tomb of Jesus, complete with an Orthodox priest who was more than a bit pushy. I think that may be his full time job, because I was there twice and he was there both times. Anyway, the Old city was great. You have to figure out which quarter you can go to to eat on which days, and what foods you can get where. Friday the Mulsim Quarter is quiet, Saturday it is the Jewish Quarter, and Sunday the Armenian and Christian Quarters. The Dome on the Rock is only open to non-Muslims on Monday-Thursday from 7:00-11:00 in the morning, and apparently the only entrance is by the wailing wall, so it took three attempts to see this before I finally got in. Saying that, it was a really nice and quiet area, but you are not allowed to go inside the Dome nor the Mosque if you are not Muslim, so sort of anti-climatic.

After 5 days in Jerusalem, I hopped a one hour bus to Tel Aviv for three days of fun in the sun and relaxing on the beach. Nothing really to see in Tel Aviv other than the beaches so I spent most of the time just hanging out. After three days I hopped a flight to Rhodes, Greece, home of the Ancient Colossus, which isn’t there anymore. Been here for 3 days, and getting ready to leave on a ferry tonight (1:00 am) for Santorini. I have rented a scooter, which is the only way to see the Greek islands I think, and been mopeding all over. Went down to a place called the “7 Springs” named conveniently enough for the 7 springs that start there, and hiked through at 200 yard tunnel about 5 feet tall and 1.5 feet wide to get to a nice little glade with a waterfall and a lot of other neat stuff, not to mention Peacocks flying overhead and wandering around. Also went to Lindos which is a “typical Greek town” on the water with a large castle overlooking a blue lagoon. That is not even mentioning the Old City of Rhodes which is the most well preserved medieval town in the world (or at least that is what they say.)

Anyway, that is pretty much up to date. I need to put up some lessons learned, to use a Navy colloquialism, but I think those are going to have to wait a bit. I still have 7 hours of valuable moped time to explore a bit more, and I want to catch the sunset on the west side of Rhodes.

 Hope everyone is doing well, with the exception of Hillary Clinton’s campaign that is.

Oh and to answer a few more questions:

Pat – the Berkas are not as prevalent as I would have thought. Egypt maybe 5% of the women where in full traditional dress with face/and hands covered. About 65% had the robe with head covering, and the remaining 30% or so were wearing Jeans or pants with a blouse type thing and head covering. Jordan was a bit more skewed towards the traditional, and in Jerusalem I actually saw local women with no head covering. Wow. 

Mike – I have met a couple women. The Russians are fun to talk to because I can practice Russian, and they are almost all extremely pretty. The Arab women a bit less approachable… go figure. Israeli women are extremely approachable, but also extremely money oriented. I have actually had the most fun hanging out with a couple Aussies and New Zelanders, and the occasional American girl I find running around.  

Taylor – Schwarma sucks.

-JC

Nothing to see here….

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

I have taken a couple days off on this, mostly because I have been plain tuckered out to be honest. I was in Dahab for five days and all I did was wake up at 7 in the morning every day to go diving a couple times a day. The combination of the sun and Nitrogen absorption tends to tire you out on those, so my life was pretty much restricted to diving, eating, and sleeping. But it was nice. Really nice. Dahab is an extremely small “village” which I kind of got a Polk County feeling when I was there. Only they didn’t have that one stoplight, just a bunch of camels and Egyptian round-abouts: rocks in the road. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a digital camera that I could rent, so no pictures from there. Guess I will just have to go back (shucks!)  That is something I have learned the painful way. Pretty much any sort of luxury goods (i.e. anything that is not essential to life, like Coke, cameras, phones, candy, yada-yada) is cheaper in the US. I really didn’t see that one coming. Although, I am not sure how much of that is that price tags are only in the US as well. Everywhere else has been pretty much look at me, gauge how much I am willing to pay for something, then triple it. (Egypt was multiply by 10 though.) You really have to watch out about getting ripped off. Partly because the money is like monopoly money here too. You never really “know” how much you are spending until you do the math, and then you are like “What the heck???? Are you on crack???”

Anyway, Dahab was a nice breather for me, and I took off two days ago to head to Jordan. That consisted of grabbing the minibus to Newiaba, which was about 1 hour north of Dahab ($8). Then you had to buy the ticket on the ferry to Jordan where they had prices in dollars (instant warning sign, and as I can now read Arabic numbers, I knew the price difference between Egyptians and foreigners which was about 1/2). $70 for what was supposedly the “speed boat” leaving in the next 30 minutes because the ferry was not running with a picture of a cigarette boat under the price, not to mention the $10 leaving Egypt tax (gotta love those!) I wandered around the port until I found the customs station, and got my exit stamp to get into the waiting area (it was 11:00 in the morning, by the way) and headed for the exit gate at which point I was told to sit down and wait. Hmmm…. A couple from Belgium, living in London, had followed me up as apparently I looked like I knew what I was doing (HA!), and we compared notes. This is when we realized we were swindled. The ticket we got only showed a $60 purchase price so apparently the ferry was running. The _____ at the window was charging everyone an extra $10 telling them the ferry wasn’t taking passengers counting on the fact that we wouldn’t find out until we had our exit stamp and couldn’t go back to complain. I am going to have to post that somewhere so others don’t get taken advantage of. (Dangling participle? I never know.) Anyway the ferry actually left for Jordan about 6 hours later so we get into Jordan around 6:00 after only an hour long transit. Let me tell you, the Egyptians really have their stuff squared away (can you hear the sarcasm??) They even joke about their lack of punctuality. Everything is 20 minutes “Egyptian time” which roughly translates into “whenever.” Our entrance into Jordan was greeted by the typical barrage of taxi drives outside the terminal, and we managed to score a taxi to the Aqaba bus station to find out there were no more buses running to Petra that day. Crap! So we succumbed to the will of the multitude of taxi drivers surrounding us (myself and a Korean couple that is linked by a mutual loving of Pringles… Taylor….) and headed off to Petra via taxi for the nice sum of 30 Jordan Dinars (about $40 or $45 total) That means around $15 from me for a 2 hour cab ride. Can’t beat that, other than by bus that is which is 3 JD. So I got settled in and familiarized myself with Wadi Musa, which is the town outside Petra. The next day I woke up early and down the mountain to Petra which is in a valley, and found out the Monastery is on the top of the mountain. Yep, that view in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is only the entrance to Petra right after coming out of the Siq, only about 30 minutes into Petra National Park. I don’t recall reading about the climb up to monastery, but it was a nice hour long hike up…. and up… and up. The view at the top was worth it though, and I spent about 3 hours wandering around the top relaxing and checking out the views from the different vantage points. Great views out across the Jordan desert, but I am not sure how smart it was to climb a mountain in the desert. I made it though, with enough foresight to buy two 1.5L water for the trek. The fun part was the walk back down, and then back up the mountain again to get back to my hotel. I should have taken a taxi, but my distrust of taxis and general dislike of them won out, and I walked it. Can you guess what happened next??? BED!

Me next to a Beoudin Hut

So that is up to today. I am heading back to Petra to explore the lower reaches, as I spent most of my time up high yesterday, but here are some of the pictures I took.

 Livin’ life. Oh and I watched the Bucket List waiting for the Ferry the other day. Great movie, and makes me really value what I am doing now.

 JC

I thought they’d be bigger….

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Alright, now that I have some form of reliable internet access where I can upload photo’s, I figured I would give the details on the last week or so. I already talked about the taxi and all that from the airport, but what I forgot to mention is that when I got to the hotel, I immediately took off to walk around Luxor. Pretty much everyone in Egypt says “hello” as you pass, especially if you look like a foreigner (i.e. have money) and this will inevitably be followed by “where you from?” From there you can expect their sales pitch. I think everyone here hustles, even the non-locals. Heaven forbid you actually look in their direction, because you are in for a ten minute sales pitch you really can’t get out of without being rude. I found the best way was to put my earphones on and pretend that I didn’t hear them as I walked by. Anyway, I talked to my hotel owner about what there was to do in Luxor, and was immediately barraged by a huge sales pitch where he proceeded to lay out my days from about 5 in the morning until 8 or so at night. I had to scale him back considerably, but I ended up signing up for a 5:00am hot air balloon ride over Luxor. I was hoping the wind was going to take me over the temple area, but alas we ended up sailing in the opposite direction over the Nile and Luxor city. It was still an amazing trip, and cost me about $30 for an hour ride in the balloon. We sailed over the farming regions of Luxor (I put a bunch of photos of this on ofoto), and ended up landing in a farmers sugar cane field. Luckily the sugar cane had already been harvested, but the farmer was a bit irritated to have huge balloon plop down in his field and then the handlers stomping all over the place to get it loaded back in the truck. Which, by the way, managed to get stuck coming to pick up the basket and balloon. When we left, they were still arguing about what to do. I felt like I was back in Jamaica watching the bus driver trying to change a flat, but he was turning the lug nuts in the wrong direction. So, I came back from that, and then took off for a 4 hour camel ride around Luxor and a visit to a couple temples along the way, including Habu temple. I got a bit scammed on this one though. I signed up for it, and was supposed to have unlimited time at the temples. They kept telling me “no problem. However long you want….” Well, it turned out that the camel was rented from a stable that needed it back for a 65 tourist camel jockey around the village in 3 hours. My guide started getting a lot of calls around the 3 hour mark, and I ended up having to pay a bit more for the “extra hour.” Really I didn’t feel like arguing the point, and ended up paying the $5 extra dollars, but no tip for the “tour manager” and didn’t use him anymore. I kinda think that is the way you have to go here. Either way, Habu temple was amazing. Unfortunately you all are not going to get a chance to see any of it until I get back, since I only took my film camera with me on the camel ride. However, I think that it will be worth the wait. The next day, I did an actual “guided tour” which went to the Valley of the Kings, Hot Chicken Soup, The Valley of the Queen, and a couple other places. The stink of it is, anywhere that is a major tourist sight in Egypt you are not allowed to take pictures. In side the pyramids, inside any tombs, the Egyptian Museum, etc… It is kind of annoying. However, we climbed the mountain in the Valley of the King to get some great views, and I took a couple panoramics that I need to stitch together that I think are going to be amazing. The tombs were a bit of a let down to be honest. Really, the Valley of the Kings is visited by way too many people so it feels a bit like Disney Worlds 20,000 leagues under the sea where you way cheek and jowell next to other people along the way, so a bit of the mystery is lost. Also, nothing is really left in the tombs, except the mummy of King Tut, so the only thing to see are the hieroglyphics and such. Again, you see 50, you pretty much have seen them all. So-and-so Pharaoh, son of the god Amun-Ra/Horace/yada-yada, is loved by all, and has defeated many enemies…. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Regardless, the tour was fun if for nothing else than the tour guide who I had a lot of fun running around. I think she liked me, but then, we all know the ladies are pretty much helpless against me….. STOP LAUGHING! Where was I? Oh, so from there a falluca ride on the Nile for a sunset cruise and a stop by “Banana Island” for some free bananas and not so free cokes. Actually a pretty refreshing time as it was just me, the falluca captain, and a deck hand along the way for about 3 hours. And that day was spent. The last day in Luxor I headed over to Karnak temple which is the largest temple in the world. It covers almost 60 acres, so huge! I walked all over there until they kicked us out at around 6:00 and the last portion of the Luxor pictures are from there. Also very crowded though.

That night, I caught the night train to Cairo and arrived there at about 6:30 in the morning. I hightailed it to my hotel hoping that I could get an early check in and a nap before I headed out, but no such luck. Actually, they didn’t even have my reservation in the system, so I was thinking I might be SOL. They told be to leave my luggage and check back in a couple hours. I figures what the heck, and huffed it down to the Pyramids of Giza. Looooonnnnnggg walk…. there and back… For some reason taxi drivers are the only people I don’t like being generous with. Can’t stand them. I guess because they honk at you every time they pass, so they pretty much got on my bad side right away. Picture the Mexican taxi drivers on crack trying to take you somewhere, and you may get an idea of what I mean. Anyway, the Pyramids. The crazy thing is you think they are in the middle of the desert right? Nope. More like the edge of town. It’s like heading out 192 and on the other side of I-95…. pyramids. Kinda strange actually, and I really thought they would be bigger….



So, I fended of the multitude of Tourist Police looking for a handout, and camel jockeys (already been there, done that, and it hurts the rump), and spent the next 6 hours exploring the pyramids. They are re-facing the Spinx which I am not really happy with as it is starting to look like something you would find in Las Vegas, and the mystery and age is being covered up I think. But not my show. After a while though, that got old so I headed back to the hotel, finally got a room, and sacked out for the night. The next day was the Egyptian museum (again, no pictures allowed) and a tour of Cairo. I saw King Tut’s treasure including the burial mask: solid gold as well as his coffin. Do they have that option at Brownlie-Maxwell? Really cool to see the mummies and such, but the place could use a good dusting, and a few more explanations. It felt like a lot of stuff was just thrown in there with no idea what it was. Some pretty cool stuff though. A lot of Greek and Roman stuff too, which was a little surprising to me, despite two seasons of Rome on HBO. Honestly, I am sure there was a lot more that I could have done in Cairo: The Old City, the Islamic tour, Alexandria, etc… but I really did not enjoy the town. It was loud, obnoxious, annoying, and extremely dirty, so I was pretty much ready to leave after seeing the Pyramids, and was a little disappointed they actually found my reservation. I was thinking I could take off early to Dahab to do some more diving. Either way I am here now. Hopefully I will have some good stuff to relate from here too.

Photos of the Pyramids
Photos of Luxor

-JC

Thanks to Rina for pointing out my Typo….

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

The “hotel” I booked in Luxor had touted its free wifi and internet access, so I was thinking I would be able to communicate easier while I was there, not to mention post a bunch of pictures. However, while there was a computer, the internet connection did not work there pretty much the entire time I was there. I kept hearing rumors of someone getting it to work for a bit, but I think those were spread by the owner so people wouldn’t get too mad. Who knows? Anyway because of that, my last post was sent from my phone through the McDonalds wifi (pretty much the only place in Luxor I found a reliable internet connection). Hence the typo. Anyway, I loved Luxor in spite of all that. When I landed my heart was beating pretty hard, and I felt the excitement running through me. I kept thinking “Holy crap! I’m in Africa!” and I am pretty sure I was smiling ear to ear. I proceeded to grab a cab and argue from 20 Euro for a trip to town (about 180 Egyptian Pounds) down to 25. I was pretty proud of myself on that one, and everyone who asked how much I paid for a cab from the airport kind of had their eyes open in shock after I told them. Saying that, I didn’t haggle too much after that except in a few notable instances. I keep thinking that we are relatively well off, and I can afford to spread a little around so I give to those I don’t think are trying to rip me off too much. That said, if you are with an Egyptian, you will be amazed at how little you pay for things, and I think the prices are still inflated for what they are for Egyptians alone. I payed 8 L.E. (Egyptian Pounds) for  soda’s and two big bottles of water which works out to about $1.50 when I was with an Egyptian. When it was just me I had a hard time getting one soda for 5 L.E. (just under a dollar.) Go figure. My hotel on the other hand, only cost me 20 L.E. per night, so do the math on that one. I can’t really get my head around the pricing structure here. Lodging is extremely cheap, while other things are ridiculous. When I was at the temple of Hetchetsup (otherwise known as “Hot Chicken Soup”) they tried to charge me 70 L.E. for two soda’s and a snickers bar, which comes out to about $14. I had to restrain myself from laughing in the guys face on that one, and just left the stuff sitting on the counter without even trying to haggle the price. Anyway though, I am currently in Cairo for a couple of nights before I head to Dahab for diving and fun in the sun. I only booked three days for Cairo, and am pretty glad I did that, since really the only things that I wanted to see here were the Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum. I have already done both and only been here 24 hours. Now I am just looking for souvenirs and exploring. Not really sure what I am going to bring back yet, so recommendations would be nice. I am thinking a hooka, but I don’t really smoke, so it would just sit there. Apparently all the good Egyptian cotton is exported and not sold here too much, so that idea it pretty much out too. Other than that, I am only seeing the typical touristy stuff like carved figurines, etc… I don’t know, yet.

From here, like I said, is Dahab, then onto …. wait for it….  PETRA!!! How cool is that?? Just slap me silly and call me “Indiana Jones!” I have been wanting to see that for years. I got some good advise from a couple other backpackers while I was in Luxor, and they said the gates open at 6:00am, and if you are there then, you will pretty much have the place to yourself almost the entire day until the trip out as everyone will be behind you. I am thinking 2 days there and then onto Israel. Can’t wait to see Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

To answer a few questions.

Pat – Yes, the gas here is ridiculously expensive. I had a 12 gallon tank in the rental car I had and it cost me over $100 to fill up. It is around 1.45 Euro per liter which comes to about $9 per gallon. Luckily I was able to fill up on the bases a couple times where it was only like $4/gallon. Either way, I am glad I don’t have a car here. As for the shark attack… was this at the famous “No Shark Beach?” Oh, and everyone here keeps telling me “American’s… Great people…… bad government…” Go figure.

Mike – No Frauleins nor Berka’s yet, but I am having a fun time flirting with a couple which pretty much backs up Rina’s idea that I am a flirt, and why she refuses to introduce me to any of here friends…. Missing the art-fair was a bit of a disappointment for me as well, though it has been going down in the past couple years. I think Anthony is doing too good a job as the Alcohol Supply Coordinator, so everyone it too drunk to notice if the art is good or bad anymore.

Katie – I love “House” and am particularly distressed to be missing all the new seasons of TV. But I am willing to make that sacrifice…. I think…. Rina – DVR Grey’s Anatomy and Lost! Sean – you have “House.” NO DELETING!!!!! Ok, that’s taken care of….

Taylor – I did my taxes before I left. Already have my money and am spending it to finance this trip… partly….  I am also officially out of the Navy! No more paycheck though…

Rina – Totally not ready to head home yet, but there is the annual Keys trip that I have to make in August, so I am planning on getting back around the 15th of July or so. Also, not a clue where I am living yet, but I checked craigslist before I left to see what was out there. Pretty much everyone was looking for someone within the month, so I am figuring I can get that set up when I get back and start checking craigslist the last couple weeks I am in Europe.. hopefully…. 

Anthony – are you still headed to the Netherlands in June? Not sure if I am heading back to Vienna or not.. why?

I think that is it for now. Hope everyone is doing well, because I know I am.

-JC

Just a quickie

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

I just wanted to let everyone now I’m OK. Africa is absolutely amazing! I am totally enjoying myself and have been pretty busy with tours and walking all over. Unfortunately, the internet here is off and on so you all are going to have to wait a bit for pictures. And for those wanting me to try and call around 6:00 or so (Katie) just a reminder that it is 7 hours later here…