Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jordan: Aqaba & Wadi Rum

It is taking me quite awhile to finish up Jordan, I know.  We have been super busy and on top of that the internet is super slow.

Our remaining time in Jordan was spent partially in Aqaba which is located at the southern end of the country on the red sea.  We went there because if we weren't getting to dive the red sea in Egypt we wanted to at least get a dive or two in in Jordan.  We got into Aqaba after dark and found a horrible room near the water right in the middle of the city.  The music playing beneath the window made it an even worse nights sleep.  I hated it and couldn't wait to leave there.  The next morning we jumped in the car and drove south along the coast to the first dive center we saw.  We went in and were able to do a dive within an hour.  It was amazing!  We walked right into the ocean behind the dive center with all our gear on.  The coral was so colorful and there was so many beautiful fish.  Not just the colorful tropical fish you normally think of, but tons of little wierdo animals you couldn't even imagine.  We both really really loved it!  We opted out of a second dive at that shop to drive down the coast toward Saudi Arabia to see what else was out there.  We stopped at the marine sanctuary visitors center which wasn't much, but we got some sandwiches for lunch from a very nice man working at the restaurant.  We continued driving toward Saudi Arabia just to do it but as we got closer we it became really industrial and we weren't sure if we were allowed there plus Jeff said I shouldn't get too close to the border anyway because I am a woman and I was probably breaking 10 laws just sitting there!  Ha!  We turned around and found a nice quiet area with a few beach hotels and dive centers.  This was so much better than the night before.  We attempted to do another dive.  We got all our gear, put on wetsuits, and drove to the beach just to be turned away because of the wind causing waves.  We were disappointed but decided just to go back and enjoy the beach near the hotel.  I collected sea glass and even got Jeff to participate.  Now I have red sea glass that is green :)  We ate a lovely dinner at the hotel of Arabic salad and chicken.  The sleep didn't improve at all however, because of all the mosquitoes in the room, but it was still better than the night before.

The next day we drove north to Wadi Rum.  Wadi means basically canyon, sort of, in Arabic.  This is a very scenic one that most people visit when coming to Jordan.  We drove in a bit to a village and stopped for lunch.  Then we walked up to some ruins of a 2000 year old temple.  Beyond that we hiked up to the cliff face where we ran into a Bedouin couple herding some goats.  The view from up there was great!  We couldn't stay long because we flew out in the morning and had to make it back toward the airport so we jumped back in the rental and drove another 3 hours north.  

We stayed in a town called Madaba south of Amman about 25 minutes, a bit closer to the airport.  The town is well known for old mosaics found while people were building.  After looking around we decided to stay at a Pilgrim House located on the grounds of the Greek Orthodox Church where the most famous mosaic was found.  It is a map of the holy land including Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Lot's Cave, the Dead Sea and tons of other Biblical places.  They told us when we got there that we wouldn't able to see it because they had mass the next morning and they had to lay out carpets for it.  Luckily the lady at the Pilgrim house talked to one of the clergy men who let us come in after they had just finished a meeting to see it.  It was pretty neat.  It covered only a fourth of the floor and some of it was missing but you could see fish swimming in the river Jordan trying to get away from the salty dead sea.  I loved that part.  The mosaic was (I think) made in 300A.D.  The Pilgrim House we stayed in was so much different than any other place we have stayed.  Women ran it and they dressed in what I consider normal clothes.  They talked to us, helped us, and were very friendly. It was nice being able to interact with women more than we had been.  We slept well then woke up early to catch a flight to Bahrain where we had a 5 hour layover before we headed to the Philippines where we are now.  There is so much to write about what we are doing now, but it will have to wait til I have the energy and time.  I hope you enjoyed Jordan!

Sorry there are no pictures.  I was walking down a dark path to my room at the red sea and took a bad fall busting up my knees and my computer.  I was very very sad about the computer.  It won't turn on.  I am hoping it can be fixed. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jordan: Petra

We drove straight from Karak to Petra arriving at 2pm.  We checked out a couple of hotels on our way in to get an idea what we were in for.  Petra is of course the biggest tourist attraction in Jordan so there is little doubt this would be used to everyone's advantage in the form of ridiculously high prices.  We were surprised to be able to significantly talk them down on room prices, but we waited to make a decision so we could have more time in Petra our first day.  We went to the entrance and paid the 55 dinars (around $) for 2 days.  Its 100 dinars if you only stay one day, don't ask me why.  We walked the 15 minutes to the opening in the narrow canyon that led into the main canyon.  We were hassled light heartedly by people offering horses or donkeys down.  They asked if we needed a taxi or maybe a Ferrari.  We said no about a million times and went by foot down the narrow windy canyon.  Along the way were remnants of ceramic piping used to get water down to the people, also, parts of the cobble road was still in place.  We stopped for lunch along the way enjoying the canyon and eating our packed chicken sandwiches.  We set off again, soon to round a corner to get a glimpse of a tomb through the opening of the canyon.  It was the Treasury made famous in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  It was incredible.  It was carved right out of the canyon wall.  A line of camels waiting for passengers lay in front of it making it even more enchanting.

After filling our eyes with the treasury we continued on down the canyon as it widen out a bit.  There were lots of tombs carved out the rocks on either side most of which you could go into.  The inside of the tombs were far less impressive than the outside.  It was usually just one room, often filled with trash and the smell of a bathroom.  There were lots of natural openings in the rock utilized for centuries as tombs, sleeping quarters, or stables.  We spent four hours exploring before it began to get dark.  We started heading out the way we came when we were invited to tea by some Bedouins living and selling their goods in the canyon.  We excepted despite the encroaching darkness.  We sat around a small fire built at the opening of a shop with 4 men in their early 20's.  They spoke only a bit of english, but were entirely friendly and told us a bit about their life living in Petra.  We discovered there is a village at the other end of the canyon where many Bedouins live who walk in everyday.  Alot of them just sleep in their shops or have found one of the caves that suites them and sleep in there. One of the Bedouins told us his 2 donkeys, named Shakira and Isuzu, also had there own caves.  At the end of the day, they were simply released and they would hike up on their own to their chosen abode for the night.  We stayed for a bit longer then decided it was time to go.  It was almost completely dark.  We hitched a ride to the top on a carriage pulled by a beautiful white horse itching to get home.  I was scared I was going to fall out most of the ride up.  He knew he was going home and was ready to be there already.
We stayed the night at the Sella hotel.  A supposed 3 star, which was nice in a lot of ways, but many things didn't work.  We enjoyed our rest though and the next morning we got up early, picked up a lunch to pack in, then took a taxi to the Bedouin village were we hiked in from like the locals.  We were the only tourists there so we had many of the tombs on the way in to ourselves.  We hiked into what is called Petra city center where there is a temple, a street lined with columns, and lots of other ruins.  All of which were beautiful and fun to explore.  We hiked up a side canyon to what is known as the Monastery later that morning.  It was my favorite place in all of Petra.  The hike was a windy trail up the canyon and when you got to the top there was the most spectacular tomb.  From there you could walk out to the edge to a beautiful but very windy vista.  It was far too windy to stay at for long with the sheer drop offs on all sides. We stopped for Bedouin tea on the trail with 2 women who had seen us hiking in from their village that morning.  They were very sweet and welcoming.  One woman's baby walked over to me with unsure footing and crawled into my lap.  He reached up to my shirt and start to pull on it.  The women laughed when they saw my eyes get big.  They said, "He just wants your milk!"  It was pretty funny.  When we were getting up to leave the baby had a tight grip on my hand and wouldn't let me go.  I gentle freed myself and gave him a big smile, but he still cried as I walked away.  It was sweet. 

We spent the afternoon wandering about looking into the various, tombs, cave, and rooms in the rocks.  We hike up a hill poking into all the nooks and crannies.  Our goal was to make it to the sacred high place, but as we were trying to find our way a big sand storm blew in darkening the surrounding hills and canyons.  There would be no point in going up there now.  We were getting pelted by sand so we headed toward the canyon we came into the first day that led to the entrance.  We stopped for a bit at the Treasury again and just admired it before heading up.  By then it was nearing 5pm.  We had finished with our time at Petra, but felt like we could have easily spent several more days there.  There was litter, bad smells, and annoying salesmen, but it was worth it all.  Petra is beautiful and an impressive example of human ability. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011


We got into Jordan very very late (1:30am) and got a taxi into Amman city center where we had a reservation at the Jordan Tower Hotel.  We got put with the youngest taxi driver of the lot who zoomed out of the airport, immediately lit a cigarette and started sucking on a bag.  It was late and he was annoying me, but I tried to have a positive attitude.  He didn't know where the hotel was and I tried to give him the address and phone number but he was content on driving around with his neck craned searching.  But I'm the one who eventually found our hotel.  He was very nice as we left to his credit.  There was a strange noise coming from the pipes in the hotel which drove me mad all night.  I got up several times to remedy the problem, which means I got up stomped around, listened to the walls, and turned the heater on and off.  Nothing worked.  Eventually I fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning tired but so excited to get started but not having a clue what to do or where to go.  We went down for breakfast, which came with the room, and had cucumbers, cheese, tomatoes, and bread.  Simple, but very tasty.  We discovered that an English lady ran the hotel.  She helped us arrange a car with a rental company for the 6 days we would be spending in Jordan.  While we waited for the car to come we walked across the street to the ruins of a Roman Amphitheater.  We climbed to the top of the amphitheater and could see the whole downtown area.  It looks pretty much like you would picture a middle eastern city.  Cinder block construction dominated, with a brown backdrop.

When the rental car arrived we were driven to the edge of town where we were told it was easy to navigate from.  The city center is kind of a maze for the novice.  Jeff jumped in the drivers seat, put it into first and we were off.  Only to miss our first exit.  We got turned around and headed the right way just in time to miss another turn improperly signed which took us awhile to remedy.  From then on out we would stop periodically and ask if we were headed the right way.  Our destination was the dead sea.  Everyone proved to be super helpful.  Everyone and anyone was willing to help and wanted nothing in return.  Our first stop was at the north of the dead sea near where the river Jordan empties into the dead sea.  It is the baptismal site of Jesus.  Archaeologists have been able to pin point the exact location from books in the new testament and other records.  The area has changed drastically in the past 2000 years.  The place we saw no longer had water flowing, but was a muddy hole.  There were remnants of Byzantine era baptismal fonts built 300 years after Christ.  They think they know the exact spot Christ walked into the water, but I don't know how.  I expected the experience to be somber and reflective, but it is in an area only recently (the past 15 years) where tourists have been allowed because its on the Israeli border.  ( we stood within 10 feet of the border)  So strict tours are given on a tight time frame.  It was a bit of a rush through the site, but I did enjoy it and appreciate it none-the-less.

We drove to the dead sea after leaving and arrived at the "Amman beach" just as it was beginning to get dark.  We paid the exorbitant price, threw on suits, and got in.  The air was a touch cold but the water was warm enough to glide right in.  It was wonderful!  The water felt heavier than normal water with all the minerals and salt in it.  We floated easily, with little choice but to do so.  It was advised not to get water in our eyes or mouth and one accidental taste told you why.  It didn't taste just like salt, it was extremely bitter and weird tasting.  There were salt crystal formations along the shore were I cut my foot in four places coming in and I could feel it burn.  But I didn't care, it was great being there and we both enjoyed it more than we expected.  

Because it was getting dark quickly we got out and jumped back in the car to drive to the town of Karak, about an hour and a half away.  We were advised by the English woman at the hotel that morning not to drive in the dark not knowing the winding roads, but we didn't listen.  And I was glad I didn't.  It was a breeze getting there and if those roads are so curvy they are considered dangerous, she hasn't driven much.  We got to Karak and found all the roads to be one ways in one direction.  Or at least it seemed that way.  We finally got to the hotel we had been looking for and got out of the car to a man who was telling us where we could park.  He followed us to the two hotels we check prices at and then asked if we would eat dinner at his restaurant.  We agreed, although,  I'm not sure how much choice we had at that point.  I asked to use the bathroom and was taken into the kitchen, if you can call it that, to the corner where an accordion door separated me from him.  I quickly went and exited looking at the sparse set up for cooking.  To my surprise the food was excellent.  I got a breaded chicken and Jeff got kebab and we shared a stewed tomato dish.  And we didn't even get sick!  The hotel we stayed at was pretty awful.  It had nice views of the valley but the room seemed wet and mold was growing on the walls, not to mention it was very cold.  We made it through the night and got up to walk around the Crusader castle just outside our door. The castle is the main draw to the town.  It is set on a hill with great views all around.  There were lots of underground passage ways and rooms making it fun to explore.  We really liked it but had to leave for the 4 hour drive to Petra.  I was too excited to put it off any longer......

Monday, February 14, 2011


Spain.  Well, only Barcelona actually.  Our time here has been spent walking and sleeping and working out flights and hotels for our next destination, Jordan.  We've walked, what feels like all over the city.  The first day here we set out to see the architecture of the famous Gaudi who lived during the late 1800's and early 1900's.  He built some really cool crazy buildings with all sorts of neat twists and curves.  We walked by a few but saved our admission money for the HUGE cathedral he was in the process of building when he was hit by a tram and died.  They continued his work and are still building it.  When its done its going to be massive and very neat looking.  The inside is done, but he had plans for lots of spires and gargoily things.  The whole thing has a very naturey theme.  The columns on the inside are made to look like trees and on one side of the outside there are scenes from Christ's life mixed with lots of animals (turtles, lizards, frogs, chickens, etc).  The main doors going into the church have the Gospels of I think Matthew and John, or maybe Luke, written in full.  Jeff said it is the best Cathedral he's ever been in and I would have to agree.

We've spent some time at the beach, fully clothed in pants and coats because its in the 50's here but I can't say that for everyone there.  There was a man with nothing on, no shoes no hat nothing, walking up and down the sidewalk that goes along the beach.  He seemed to feel so comfortable in his nudity.  It just grossed me out.  We saw what we joked and said was his wife later down the beach in the exact same apparel.  :)  The mediterranean is beautiful and seemed clear, but very very cold right now.  The beaches here are spacious and really nice for such a big city.  We watched some street performers juggle and spin their bodies in giant hula hoops things.  There were people building elaborate sand castles and dragons for money.  One even had a waterfall and a fire!  And dumb me wasn't carrying my camera.

We went to the Picasso museum the 2nd day and with hopes of not making people mad I would just like to say he paints like a 5 year old (No offense to any 5 year olds I know).  There is this beautiful painting done  by a guy named Velasquez that I happened to really like.  Its a gorgeous painting that Picasso tried to recreate and totally mucked it up.  Not to say I don't like some of his stuff, I do.  It's just not my favorite.  They had a room of ceramics that he did and let me say, the only reason they are in a museum is because of his name not because he is a good ceramicist.  If this makes die hard Picasso fans mad, I apologize.  Sort of.

There's a big hill on the west end of the city with some museums and the Olympic stadium from 1992.  Anybody remember those?  We hiked up a dirt trail overlooking the mediterranean then walked across the hill to the olympic swimming pool and then the stadium.  The views from up there were incredible!  We opted out of the art museum and went to the archaeology museum which had tons of really cool artifacts.  I absolutely loved it, but unforunately it was all in Catalan, the language a lot of people speak here.  So I didn't get to learn specifics but it was still a really good museum.

Yesterday morning was spent at the park after going to the train station to go to a nearby town and discovering we were at the wrong train station.  And because we were sick of walking at this point we opted not to walk across the city to the other station.  And by the way, there is public transportion here, and I'm sure its very good, but it's costly and we decided we have legs that would get us where we need to go if we needed to go bad enough.  So the park,  it was a huge and lovely.  We came across a movie set!  That was fun.  We sat and ate our packed lunch on the steps of a gazebo and watched them do their thing.  We found ping pong tables in the park which made Jeff's day until he realized we had no paddles and balls.  We almost got drenched by sprinklers that came on while we were walking across a grassy area.  We ran so fast and luckily stayed dry, but I am convinced they were motion sensitive.  We sat for a while and people watched.  We saw a couple fighting in the middle of the sidewalk at a busy intersection.  She was yelling and flailing her arms and her boyfriend was quiet as can be.  He tried to hold her hand and hug her but she pushed him away.  And then she stomped off so he went the other way, but the dummies just ended up crossing the road and heading the same direction.  She saw him up ahead and started running after him.  As you can see it was very entertaining.  We sat and disected the whole situation as it unfolded.  Oh and the dogs!!  People in Barcelona love their dogs.  There are tons of sweet pups all over the city and they are all so well behaved.  Hardly anyone has them on a leash.  They carry the leash in their hand which is how you know who the owner is and the pups keep a close distance but still get a little freedom.  The dogs were so much fun to watch, but not many wanted to be pet.  They are definitely city dogs.  They were totally used to hoards of people and were all on a mission.  I only got to pet one chihuahua the whole time

Our hotel was located in the Gothic Quarter, my favorite part of the city.  It was full of narrow alleys and cobble stone streets barely big enough for cars, which not many ventured in.  The hotel itself was on the 3rd floor above a jewelry shop so you had to have a key to get in at street level when the shop was closed.  It made you feel like a local.  The small streets were bustling during the day but by 10pm all the shops pulled down a graffiti filled garage doors which totally changed it from a crowded winding path through the city to a desolate, dark, alley.

We have left Spain and are now in Jordan having a grand time.  More soon!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Belfast & Dublin

Belfast is 4 hours from Galway back across the country to the opposite coast then straight north.  Misty, John, Jeff and I got there with daylight to spare to walk a bit around the downtown area.  Despite the dreary day(s) it was a beautiful downtown.  Nothing like what I expected.  I was expecting all the turmoil Northern Ireland has had to be evident all around, but it didn't really show through.  We ate lunch at the Kitchen Bar right downtown where I had potato and leek soup and Jeff had the Irish roast of the day, which was pork chops, potatoes, and vegetables.  It wouldn't be a meal in Ireland without potatoes and I am a bit potato'd out to be honest.  I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked the city.  The architecture was lovely and it was easy to navigate, which always makes me like a place better.  
We got all gussied up that night and went to hear some live Irish music.  It was pretty good, but my heels were killing me and I am not much of a night owl so I was happy to return to our nice hotel for a good nights sleep.  We ate a big Irish breakfast of bacon, beans, eggs, and potatoes the next morning at the hotel then set off to do a little sightseeing.  We went in search of the famous murals depicting the troubles between the catholics and protestants.  On our way we passed a couple of riot police vehicles riddled with bullet holes.  Finally some colors were showing through.  The murals were extremely interesting.  The one that stood out the most was the hunger strikers.  They were prisoners who refused to eat and wiped their feces all over.  There is lots more to the story, but you'll just have to google it.
After the murals, we headed down to the docks.  The very docks where Titanic was built!  We drove around for a bit looking at the boats and the ship building stuff, but in order to get to Dublin before too late we soon headed back south.  Misty and John dropped us off in Dublin where Jeff and I spent the next day exploring.  We stayed in the Charles Stewart Guesthouse, which had a great location near the city center but far enough off that it wasn't loud at night.  We spent the next day walking all over!  We went to the Temple Bar district where there are lots of cute pubs, St. Stephen's Green, a well known park, and visited the Dublin castle, not that great, and ChristChurch Cathedral.  
Later that afternoon while walking to a restaurant they put in an old church (yep a church, weird) I saw a shake place with millions and millions of ingredient choices.  Oh my my my was I in heaven.  I made Jeff take me back there after the Church restaurant thing.  We shared a brownie banana shake, a large even.  If I lived there I'd go every day.  After I was blitz'd on sugar we headed to the Jameson distillery where we took a tour of where they used to make Jameson whiskey.  Since I love factories and getting to see just about anything being made I was a little disappointed we didn't get to see the real process, but they made it fun and had good replicas, so it was good still.  Dinner was Supermacs, which is a lot like McDonalds, but the Irish version.  I had to try it just once, but once was enough.

The next morning we woke up and packed as fast as we could so we could get to the Archaeology Museum right when it opened.  We were supposed to leave for the airport that morning so we had only 1 hour in the museum and had to walk across the city and back before time to get on the bus for the airport.  The museum was a bit of a whirlwind but it seemed like an excellent museum that I could have spent all day in.  Next time.  (I've got lots of next times)  We jumped on a bus to the airport as easy as can be and flew to Spain, where we are now...

Saturday, February 5, 2011


I have been in Ireland now almost a week.  My friend Misty picked us up at the airport with her boyfriend, John, and her 2 year old boy Finn.  I rounded the corner headed toward the exit and little Finn saw us coming and ran and jumped into my arms.  It was the best welcome I could have asked for.  We headed to their home near Galway on the west coast of Ireland.  It was so nice staying at a friend's house and not having to worry about getting around and finding a place to lay our head every night.  We cooked big dinners every night and baked lots cookies.  We spent our days going and seeing the sights.  We drove 2 hours to the Cliffs of Moher, which are a famous natural landmark in Ireland.  They are, as the name suggests, tall vertical cliffs.  It is really a stunning sight.  I had seen them before when I traveled to Ireland, but they were even prettier this time. 

We went to a couple of castles in the area, one with a little river running underneath it built on limestone cliffs.  It was a neat setting for a castle.  It was closed, but that didn't stop Jeff from going underneath the bridge and walking over to the lawn to take some pictures of the inside for me. 

Downtown Galway is full of  beautiful old buildings, some dating back to the 1300's.  Jeff and I saw a cheesemonger shop, and since I love cheese I had to go in.  We sampled lots and bought a couple to take home for dinner.

Evenings were my favorite.  I got to sit around with my best pal and chat for hours, while Jeff usually played with Finn.  Finn got a tool set for Christmas so him and Jeff spent many hours "fixing" the couch, the chairs, the doors, the TV and just about everything else.  When I was packing my bag to go Finn asked me where I was going, so I told him I was going to Belfast.  He said "Ok, but Jeff's not going, he's staying here".  Then at breakfast John sat next to him and Finn promptly told him "You better hurry, Jeff's sitting by me".  He informed us all that Jeff was his best friend.  It was pretty cute to watch them together, even though we all had to take a back seat to Jeff. 
We have 2 and a half days left in Ireland, which we will spend in Belfast and then Dublin.  Then its off to Spain.  We, of course, have canceled our our Egypt leg of the trip, which really makes me sad.  I was looking forward to the Red Sea most of all.  As of now the area we were going has been safe, but there is no telling what could happen given the situation in Cairo.  We are now going to go only to Jordan then straight to the Philippines.  I guess I will save Egypt until next time.