A Travellerspoint blog

Palestine

Bethlehem, Hebron & The Dead Sea

sunny 26 °C

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We're back!! Once again it's been a crazy couple of days. Just finished up climbing Mount Sinai which is supposed to be the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. He must have had a heck of climb up and his way back down with those tablets couldn't have been any easier cause it was on hell of a trek! We woke up at 1AM to start the climb to catch the sunrise. Of course more on this later...

Palestine... when we last left off we were still in Jerusalem having a fantastic time trying to cram in all the sights there. Unfortunately we couldn't quite fit them all into our itinerary but oh well... you can't see everything in one year! Sitting just to the south east of Jerusalem in Palestine lies Bethlehem and I don't think that I need to explain the historical relevance of this city. Just outside of our hostel we boarded a local bus and within a half hour we arrived in the birthplace of Jesus.

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That's me with our good friend Shannon from Melbourne Australia. We actually met Shannon in Amman Jordan and fortunately he was travelling in our general direction. Our itineraries didn't quite sync up in Jordan but we met up in Israel shortly after we crossed the border and travelled together from then on after.

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Navigating through Bethlehem on our way to the Church Of The Nativity.

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Within a short while we had reached The Church and made our way inside.

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The church was quite large and was actually two churches attached to one another. I'm not aware of the exact history of the two churches (when they were built and by whom), but if you look closely at the above picture you'll see that there are holes in the floor where there have been excavations revealing ancient mosaic floors. Again not sure of the story behind this but my guess is that a church was built on top of a church like numerous other sites in Jerusalem.

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As you can see the church contained catacombs beneath it as well as a courtyard and garden area. As with most religious sites in the region The Church Of The Nativity was pretty crowded with tourists... especially at the big ticket... the spot where Jesus was born.

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Before entering down into the area we purchased several candles and lit them from a flame in the church... figured they would make nice gifts for certain special people back home :) Pretty remarkable place. For me it was really quite crazy to visit these holy places and finally get to see them with my own eyes after hearing and learning about them throughout my childhood (had a great couple of Sunday School teachers... wink wink... that's you Mom lol). Obviously a lot has changed in the region since 0 AD so you still do have to rely on your imagination to picture these sites as they once were. Shortly after visiting the Nativity we had made our way over to the Milk Grotto which is supposedly the place where Mary was breastfeeding Jesus and apparently spilled some milk in the grotto which turned the whole place stark white. The main reason we visited was because it is a place where people pray for fertility.... no we didn't say a pray for ourselves lol... no babies yet!... but rather Stacey wanted to light a candle for someone special in her life that deeply wants to receive a baby.

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This is the point in the blog where we change gears a little bit... Okay, as I explained before when we came to Israel we both agreed that we would stay open minded about the conflict and try to learn as much as we could about BOTH sides before formulating our own opinion. Like the title on the blog says, upon reaching Bethlehem we had crossed over a check point and into the Palestine Territory know as the West Bank. What will follow below is OUR account of what we saw and did in Palestine. Again because this conflict is extremely sensitive I want to stress that I'm not trying to sway opinion or take sides... I am merely documenting what we saw and experienced. So lets begin.

Upon exiting the Church Of The Nativity we noticed a billboard outlining the Palestinians struggle with Israel and a bit of the historical background. I found this map to be quite shocking...

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What it shows is, in green Palestine and in white Israel. Boundaries were clearly laid out in 1948 and as you can see have been steadily changing ever since. Even from Bethlehem, just beyond the billboard you can see Israel settlements in Palestine territory.

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From Bethlehem the three of us caught a taxi that shuttled us off south to the historic city of Hebron where we would be meeting up with our friend Mohammed Hassouneh. We had actually met Mohammed in Amman Jordan and he was kind enough to invite both Stacey, I and Shannon to come stay with him and his family in their home in Hebron. How awesome is that!

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Us after just arriving in Hebron having coffee with Mohammed and his friends. Afterwards Mohammed took us to his home where we got to meet his family. To our surprise his mother had prepared us the most amazing meal! The food was fantastic and I can honestly say I haven't ate that much in a long time lol.

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Mohammed's older brother's baby girl...

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Such a little sweetheart! After dinner Mohammed and his good friend Wsem chauffeured us around Hebron so we could see some of the sites. First stop a trip to a glass blowing factory.

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Then we went to a Rec Centre to play a little Ping Pong...

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Shannon vs Stacey... both terrible lol Then they showed us the local soccer stadium...

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And we finished off the evening with a little Shisha in a cafe...

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Tasty stuff... Afterwards we returned to Mohammed's home and I commented to Stacey that this was the first time since China where we stayed in someone else's home and not a hotel or hostel. Gotta say it felt nice to be in a home again. The next day we woke early and set out to the famous Sanctuary of Abraham or Ibrahimi Mosque. We made a couple of other stops along the way including a trip to a local run museum.

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I included that last picture because the display case used to contain ancient jewellery until it was sacked by Israeli soldiers and taken to the museum in Jerusalem. Obviously when entering a mosque you must dress conservatively and appropriately, and this especially goes for women...

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Mohammed's mother was kind enough to lend Stacey an outfit so she could enter the mosque. I personally love the new look! After going through an intensive security check by Israeli soldiers (more on this in a bit) we entered Abrahams Mosque. Abraham, who is both a prophet in Islam as well as a founding father to both Christianity and Judaism is reportedly buried here beneath the mosque along with his entire family. The shrine is the world's most ancient Jewish site and the second holiest place for the Jewish people, after Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Arabic name of the complex reflects the prominence given to Abraham, revered by Muslims as a Quranic prophet and patriarch through Ishmael. As you can see the religious significance of the site to both religions creates great tension and has been the site of many horrific tragedies in the past (Google Abraham Mosque Massacre).

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The mosque was also separated into two different parts, each with a different entrance. The bigger part of the mosque (and the surrounding gardens) were, shockingly, turned into a synagogue. Today an Israeli flag flies from the top of this ancient mosque and Israeli soldiers control access to it. Just to get into the mosque we had to go through 2 or 3 different military check points where our passports/belongings were checked and where both metal detectors and soldiers with assault riffles were present.

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Of course we were able to gain access with relative ease because we're tourists but it was a different story for our Palestinian friends who seemed to be greeted with spite and suspicion. Mohammed actually told us a story about when him and his friends were detained and harassed by Israeli soldiers for no reason which included being strip searched and beaten up among other things. Acts of intimidation, aggression and humiliation by the Israeli soldiers are apparently all too common in Hebron. You see Hebron is home to around 500+ Jewish settlers (maybe more... found this stat online). Most of these extreme settlers (who originate from USA, France, Germany, Russia and other European countries) were brought from the rest of the West Bank and from Gaza to Hebron. This was no accident as they were given incentives by the Israeli government to move there (money, free homes, power etc). The settlers aim in Hebron is to create a new Jewish neighbourhood and they work together to try and push the Palestinian people out of the area, including their homes and businesses. Attacks and other forms of harassment by the settlers take place all the time and includes things like verbal abuse, and having stones, bottles of urine, dirty water, alcohol, rubbish, fire, Molotov cocktails and rocks thrown at Palestinians, their homes and their cars in an attempt to drive them from the area. Many of them have died as a result of being hit by rocks thrown at them by settlers and it is therefore not safe for Palestinians to live now in certain areas Hebron. After leaving the mosque we got Mohammed and his friends to show us one of these areas. As you will see in the pictures below, the locals have had to install fencing above their market just to protect themselves from the settlers living above.

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Notice the massive boulders in that last picture? Unreal. Pretty sure that would kill anyone it landed on. Horrific. One of the local shopkeepers pulled me and Stacey aside and told us his story. He told us that settlers, accompanied by soldiers actually attempted to evict him from his own home for no reason. Luckily they were unsuccessful in their attempt. However they were successful in welding his shop doors shut. What will then happen after several months is that the Israeli government will legally consider his shop abandoned and then legally confiscate his property. Isn't it nice that a government can hide behind the law when it's convenient?

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This next picture is of a Israeli guard tower positioned above the market. It's placed there to protect the settlers as they attempt to "settle" the area.

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Mohammed's grandfather still works in the market selling vegetables.

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As well as the soldiers behaviour, military law makes life incredibly difficult for the Palestinians living in Hebron. Many areas are off limits for Palestinians as well as numerous roads which are also blocked off by gates and fences in order to ‘protect’ the settlements. This includes the main road in Hebron which connects the North side of the city from the South side. This road is now closed off for Palestinians who are forced to walk a really long way round in order to reach their destinations. What used to be a 5 minute journey for them now takes much, much longer. Even as we left the mosque, only Shannon, Stacey and I were allowed to enter the Jewish synagogue area. Soldiers even told Stacey to remove her outfit because if not she would most likely be mistaken for a muslim and attacked. Really? It just seems like such excessive force and action on Israel's part. I still just can't understand why? Why aren't the original territorial boundaries established in 1948 followed? Why does Israel need to have settlements inside the West Bank? To me it just seems like a no brainer... there is bound to be conflict when 500+ settlers backed up by 2000+ soldiers attempt to take over someone else's home. I'll stop here because although I could shed much more light and insight into this issue I will attempt to remain unbiased about the situation. Remember, other then Mohammed's testimony we saw most of this happening right before our own eyes.

After touring the market and old city we made a quick pitstop at Mohammed's sister's home to have tea with her family.

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Mohammed is truly blessed to have such a great family. Never in my life have I been so kindly welcomed. Thanks again Mohammed! Did I mention that we had rented a car? Well actually Mohammed and Wsem did... next stop on our tour was the infamous Israeli Security wall.

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How many times has this failed throughout history? Started in 2004 the wall now covers 500+ KM with around another 250+ KM slated to be completed soon. So let me get this straight... you build a wall and then you build settlements on the opposite side???

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I still can't believe how huge it is. For the record... I took a piss on it lol. From the wall we dropped Shannon off at a checkpoint as he had made plans to meet a lady friend in Tel Aviv, and we continued on to the Dead Sea... only the other side this time.

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We arrived rather late but still had time to take a quick dip before dark.

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That night our plan was to camp on the beach... only with no tent lol. Remember camping here is nothing like Canada! Although Mohammed got cold, the only thing bothering this Canuck was the mosquitos.... God I hate those miserable creatures!

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The lights on the other side are Aqaba where we crossed the border into Israel. South of Aqaba is of course Saudi Arabia which we could also see off in the distance. That night we were treated to some world class Palestinian BBQ... and man was it good.

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Due to the excessive and very persistent mosquitoes I retired early from my outdoor experience and hightailed it to the car. Lol ya I know I'm a pussy... but I needed the Zzzzz. That morning we finished up our time in Palestine with a dip in the Dead Sea for our last time....

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I will never get over how cool it is to just float there. Completely unique.

And that concludes Palestine. Both of us cherished our time there and can't thank our gracious hosts enough. Thank you Mohammed for all your planning, guiding and of course translation but also for letting us meet your family and of course for offering us your home. Also thank you Wsem for also showing us a great time even though your driving was a little gut wrenching at times. You our both welcome in our home anytime! Travelling to Palestine finally allowed both Stacey and I the opportunity to finally see another side of the story (and not just what the news feeds you). Again I'm trying to remain neutral (although I problem failed in my attempt) but read between the lines... Palestine has no army and are not even recognized as a proper state. What I witnessed was an occultation much the same as what we witnessed in Tibet. Israel has the world's 4th most powerful army and are using it much like a big kid in a playground uses a big stick. What the Israeli Government is doing is not right... there are however good people on both sides which is why I'm quick to point out "government" in that last sentence. I could go on in more detail about what I think and feel but this will not be that forum. I have formulated my own opinions by now based purely on what I witnessed and I hope that this blog will inspire you to also look deeper, beyond what the media portrays about this on going conflict... we at least owe the innocent victims on both sides that much.

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Posted by ttbwarren 11:14 Archived in Israel Comments (1)

Jerusalem

Welcome To Israel & The Holiest City Of The World

sunny 26 °C

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Man has it been an awesome crazy couple of weeks! Israel and Palestine were both fascinating and fantastic. It's gonna be really hard for me to convey and explain why this is entirely, because there are just so many layers. The landscape and weather were both great as were the heaps upon heaps of sites we visited of religious significance. The people on both sides were great but different (obviously as I'm sure all are aware there is great tension between both sides and what seems to be an underlying hatred for each other... more on all this later) and we met and travelled with some amazing people making our experience all the more memorable.

  • Before embarking on this leg of the journey both of us made a pact to try and remain as neutral as possible and not take any side, neither Palestine's or Israel's. We felt that by arriving with any preconceived notion about what the conflict was about or for example blaming one side, we in turn would be hampering our observation and understanding. I must admit it was very hard not to judge or point out the obvious but in the end both sides have good people who are merely citizens and ultimately it is their prospective governments that are making the bulk of the decisions that effect their lives. However after spending 2 weeks within the territory it is fair to say that we've gained a much better prospective into what is ACTUALLY going on... here's a hint - the media does NOT do a good job portraying the story. After talking with numerous people on both sides you quickly begin to understand just how deep it all really goes and that there is no one real solution to bring about peace to the region... it's just all way too complicated. This blog will not be a forum nor will I suggest what I think should be a solution... I will just merely share our collective experience and stories and of course your all free to make up your own minds. So please keep this mind while reading the next few posts. Thank you *

After spending 11 days in Jordan we caught a cab in Aqaba and headed for the border crossing into Israel. We had heard quite a few horror stories about people getting hassled at the border so I guess we just expected the worst. Overall it was by far the most I've ever been interrogated entering a country. Nothing out of line or anything, but I think that I kind of set the tone poorly by asking him to stamp a specific page of my passport because I'm running low on blank pages. I think he in turn thought I was asking him to not stamp my passport which can be requested if you plan on travelling to Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia etc afterwards. After about 10 minutes of questioning however I think he realized that I had no hidden agenda and that I knew our travel details inside and out. At this point he then asked if I still didn't want my passport stamped but after explaining to him that I did, and that it will make a great souvenir he was all smiles. So from the border we headed into Eilat, the Israeli city that just sits across the Red Sea from Aqaba Jordan, where we met up with our good friend Shannon from Australia. Unfortunately there wasn't a bus leaving to Jerusalem that day until nightfall because of Shabbat (Saturday or holy day in the Jewish faith... our Sunday I guess - ya business week is Sunday to Thursday here) so we killed the day in a park like a couple of hobos and made it to Jerusalem late that evening.

Day One: We woke early and planned our day around touring the Old City. Luckily our hostel was situated just outside Damascus Gate...

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Inside the Old City is just a completely different world. It's basically split into quarters: Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian. Why Armenian you may ask? Well the Armenians were actually the first people to adopt the Christian faith as a country (short answer). Damascus Gate is an entrance to the Muslim quarter. It just felt crazy to be somewhere that 3 great religions all consider so holy and can live together in relative harmony (as far as I could see of course). Even though a Muslim quarter exists, it is very difficult for Palestinians to gain entry and permission to be in Jerusalem which is of course now completely controlled by Israel.

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After touring around and getting our bearings the first site we went to see was the Western Wall otherwise known as the Wailing Wall.

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Why is it significant? Well the Western Wall is really the most important site to all of Judaism maybe besides the Temple Mount itself. Over time Jerusalem has been captured and conquered by numerous empires and civilizations so buildings have been built, destroyed and rebuilt again all on the same exact spots. The Western Wall, besides the Temple Mount, is the only remnant of the great Second Temple built by Herod The Great around 19 BCE. Because the Temple Mount is now occupied by The Dome Of The Rock (more on this in a bit), this is all that is really left of the Second Temple. Therefore people of the Jewish faith all come here to pray and to also even write prays on a piece of paper and place them in the wall. There is more to the story then this however so if your interested look up why it's called the Wailing Wall.

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Us sportin' our Kippah's...

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Here are a few pictures of the different people inhabiting the Old City...

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After a little Jewish history we decided to use the rest of our day doing a Christian pilgrimage. Known as Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way Of Suffering"), it is believed to be the path Jesus walked carrying the cross on the way to his crucification. The walk consists of about 14 stations all with varying degrees of significance. I don't have all the information at hand to explain each point, but the pilgrimage was very humbling and special for all of us.

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This station contained a spot where Jesus was said to have placed his hand. The stone is completely worn down by people touching it over the years...

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We made a small detour from our pilgrimage to visit the birth place of the Virgin Mary and her parents home.

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It is believed that she was born on that exact spot. The house was really fascinating. Jerusalem just has so many levels and layers as the city has been built and rebuilt again literally with buildings being placed on top of one another.

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We continued on making several stops along the way to see places where Jesus fell, or for example the place where Simon from Cyrene helped Jesus carry the cross (although it is extremely violent we both watched the Passion Of The Christ after doing the walk... it helped to put a lot of the walk into perspective).

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The end of Via Dolorosa is concluded with Christianity's most holy site which is the Church Of The Holy Sepulchre which is the location where it is believed Jesus was crucified and buried.

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This is us at the rock where Jesus's cross was mounted and where his blood dripped down causing the earthquake...

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Not sure if it rivals the Vatican in beauty but it was an amazingly beautiful church. We both really enjoy visiting places of such religious significance because we find them both peaceful and serene and because we enjoy witnessing how much they move other people also experiencing them.

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This is the spot where the cross was supposedly hidden away for years until it was discovered again.

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After it was rediscovered it was also put on display there. According to our guidebook it was also here where pilgrims visited it and kissed the cross. Apparently while kissing it they would also bite off a little piece to take for themselves and in doing so the cross is no more (not very good Christians lol). Of course the Church was also home to the place where Jesus was buried before his resurrection (The Sepulchre).

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We all waited our turn to go inside to pray and touch the spot where Jesus' body lay. Whether your religious or not it's a pretty unique and moving experience.

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That pretty much concluded our first day in Jerusalem. Shortly afterwards we headed back to our hostel, feet throbbing, while walking on stones placed there centuries ago presumably by the Romans (so we had read in our guidebook).

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Day Two: After an amazing first day we quickly realized that we had barely began to even scratch the surface of Jerusalem's many treasures. So we rose early and quickly headed out to visit the Temple Mount which is now occupied by Islam's Third most holy site - The Dome Of The Rock.

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Oddly enough all three religions hold the Temple Mount sacred because it is the supposedly the true place of creation. Yep this is the spot where God turned dust and earth into Adam. It is also the place where Abraham was set to sacrifice his son Isaac for God. Also it is the place once occupied by both The First and Second Jewish Temples. In Islam, this spot is believed to be the place where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. You see people, our religions are really not all that different. But because we are not Muslim we were not able to go inside the Dome Of The Rock.

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Beautiful place (loved the mosaic walls and gold roof)... feel very blessed that we have be able to travel here. For those of you thinking about making a trip to the Holy Land whether it be with a tour group or church group or merely by yourselves (GO BACKPACKING!!) ... do it... you'll be so glad you did. After visiting the Temple Mount we set off out the Lions Gate and towards Mount Olive which is home to the Virgin Mary's Tomb among many other things.

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Inside the Tomb Of The Virgin Mary...

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Mount Olive is significant to both Jews and Christians alike because it is proclaimed to be where Jesus preached and taught while in Jerusalem, as well as home to the Garden Of Gethsemane and the chapel where Jesus was arrested. For Jews it is the site where the Messiah will come and begin the resurrection.

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Those olive trees date back before Jesus if you can believe it! Here we also visited the Church Of All Nations...

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The top of Mount Olive also gave us a great view of the city. Below are pics of The Dome Of The Rock, Church Of The Holy Sepulchre and of the infamous Israeli security wall ...

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A quick stop for lunch...

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Two things you can always find Israel: Chicken Shawarma and Falafel! Got pretty tired in the end of eating both... and hummus... actually we're both still kind of addicted to hummus lol.

Next up was a stop at Warren's Shaft (ya that's right lol) which is an ancient aqueduct discovered by a British explorer and dates back to the time when Jerusalem was ruled by King David. We couldn't get pictures of it all because there is still water inside (it is an aqueduct after all) and at times the water was up to our knees. The passage was extremely narrow and unlit. Because we lost our flashlight in the desert ( :( ) all we had was the light on my iPhone. Needles to say I got a little claustrophobic at times throughout the 45 minute squeeze through the water logged tunnel.

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The final stop of our long day was a visit to the City Of David which is home to his tomb but also features the room in which it is believed Jesus and his Disciples had the Last Supper (pictured below)...

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On our way back to our hostel we finally got to see the Armenian Quarter...

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Plastered on the walls throughout the quarter were posters explaining the Armenian Genocide of 1915. I still can't believe that I never knew anything about it!! Rough estimates claim 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Horrific what happened and utterly sad that the events of World War II eventually overshadowed what happened to the Armenians. So horrific. Look it up.

Day Three: On our final full day we decided to see what Western Jerusalem (the modern part of the city) had to offer. Our main objective was to visit the Israel Museum but before we did that we visited Jaffa Street and it's market among other things.

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Quick pitstop to devour a couple dogs lol....

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After a brief bout of shopping and hotdogs we reached the museum. We allotted ourselves 4 hours to see it and in the end we really only digested about half of it (I'm not joking it was that HUGE!!). We spent the bulk of our time in the archaeology wings learning up on the history of the territory (I still can't believe how many people have fought over this land... mind-blowing).

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So many great exhibits and pieces... some of the oldest found skeletons to date...

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Found it rather odd that just the day before I was at the spot of creation and then next day we found ourselves staring at skeletal remains found in Israel over 20,000 years old. Do the math.

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The ancients had porn?? Lol. The Playboy of the day!

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That last one was of Alexander The Great who once ruled over the land.

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This doesn't even begin to display just how many exhibits there were to see. Along with the archaeology there were masks and relics from every continent on earth, modern/contemporary art, impressionist/post impressionist art, mock churches and Victorian era rooms and of course the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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There was even a scale model of what Jerusalem looked like during the Second Temple Era...

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The Shrine Of The Book which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls...

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Here they are the Dead Sea Scrolls...

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The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of 973 texts from the Hebrew Bible and extra-biblical documents found between 1947 and 1956 on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, from which they derive their name. They were specifically located at Khirbet Qumran in Palestine, in what is now known as the East Bank. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include the earliest known surviving copies of Biblical and extra-biblical documents dating back to around 150 BCE.

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Wow that was a long one!! Glad to be finished. I never intended to write so much but I feel that it's important to try and convey the religious and historical significance of the sites and pictures, otherwise it would just look like a bunch of old stone and churches lol. Like I said before, go to Jerusalem! Such an amazing city with way to many treasures to try and cram in in only a few short days. Our overall experience there was excellent... but do yourselves a favour and allow for at least 5-6 hours in the museum. What??? Yep we're nerds. Oh and beware of the "Jerusalem Fever" lol... it really exists. Look that one up... you'll probably even find videos on YouTube. Shalom.

Posted by ttbwarren 22:05 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Wadi Rum & Aqaba

From The Desert To The Red Sea

storm 26 °C

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Wow... back again in Israel after an amazing couple of days in Palestine with our new friends. I don't want to give too much away because it clearly warrants its own post so all I say is this: what we hear in our media is complete lies and bullshit!! What's happening there is an absolute atrocity. But we'll get more into this later, as for now I must conclude about our time spent in Jordan. Jordan was just a fantastic country to visit! The people, food and sights were all equally fantastic. To be honest the only thing I could even complain about is the price of entry to the tourist sites and maybe the odd crumby cab driver... but that's honestly it. I really try on this thing to write a fair representation of the country we visit.... I actually had to go back and re-read my India posts because of all the negative feedback I've received (i.e.: "I'm never going to India now" etc) lol. Honestly people it wasn't that bad and it clearly had its highlights. I bad place to be sick nonetheless... but hey I write this thing and your all free to pass your own judgements... lol if you don't want to travel to India and contract Face Aids (that's what Stacey and I jokingly refer to my ol' facial infection as lol) that's your prerogative.

From magnificent Petra we booked a minibus which left from our hotel extremely early and arrived in the heart of the Jordanian desert mid-morning. The views of Wadi Rum.... breathtaking. Unfortunately we were still experiencing the effects of the sandstorm and visibility was not the best... but hey... we're seasoned Bedouins by now lol.

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Again our only complaint about Jordan is the tourist traps set for you. Even before you arrive in town your bombarded to stay in Bedouin camps and have Jeep tours of the desert which to be honest we wanted no part of. The Bedouin camp aspect would probably would have been great but it was just so pricey. They wanted about 35JD (around $50 each) to have a half day tour by Jeep and a night with dinner/breakfast in a communal tent. Pretty pricey for what you get so we instead opted for the backpacker deluxe package for a whopping $3...

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Just a canvas tent set in the backdrop of sandstone cliffs. Lawrence Of Arabia would have been proud! Speaking of which, T. E. Lawrence was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. He wrote several books, was an archaeologist as well as a military officer and spent quite a bit of time mapping the Negev Desert. For more info watch the famous movie based on his name. After getting settled into our tent we set off on our epic desert adventure. NO JEEP NEEDED... just four feet and two heart beats.

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Just before we got out of the small village which contained only two small stores and one restaurant set among a few houses, we came across a pen full of camels.. and babies! Aawhh lol.

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Curious little things but they were a little too shy to come right up to us. As we were busy awing at the babies from behind a young kid approached us riding a camel. So after 30 minutes of negotiations (no lie) we finally reached an agreement to hitch a ride on his camels for the trek to Lawrence Spring. Our first camel ride!

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First of all camels are NOT a comfy mode of transport lol. I don't know if it's one of those things that you have to get used to or what, because your legs are so stretched across its back and because its stride/step is so big and rough. It honestly feels like your gonna tear your groin with every stride. We got some great video of the experience. Also its quite the challenge to get on and off. All in all great fun though.

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You see... side saddle... that's the way you gotta do it. After we reached the Lawrence Spring we dismounted and stretched our legs while thanking ourselves for not agreeing to go on a longer ride. Not joking, it's really an uncomfortable ride lol. I think we both preferred walking. However in the desert this also comes with its challenges.

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You see before we embarked on this trip a lot of thought went into planning and deciding on what to bring and pack as well as what clothing/footwear would best suit our needs throughout the entire year. I opted for this great pair Nikes that were pretty much all mesh cause I figured that the only time I'd be cold would be in Tibet and there I could just double up on socks, and the rest of the year I would essentially be hot so why not get something that breaths and ventilates stank (yep). I guess in my research I must have completely forgot to factor in sand. Not only is walking in sand a royal pain and calf burner but with the added little treat of your shoes being filled with the stuff with every step, walking in the desert becomes quite the painstaking experience. Oh well, "Suck it up ya baby" as Stacey would say to me when I complained lol. Such a sweetheart.

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Gotta love random desert encounters lol. The nice thing about the sandstorm was that it wasn't all that hot for the desert cause the sand must have dampened the suns rays and there was always a cool breeze at our backs. However the other thing we quickly discovered about hiking in the desert is the vast distances between points of interest. I mean here I am looking out at next destination saying "that's about 1 km away and should only take a half hour" and after a hour and half we would finally make it there dog tired lol. It was just so hard to judge distances. Props to all the explorers and pioneers of the world... and thank God for modern GPS lol.

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We ended up hiking for about 5-6 hours and were starting to get dead tired. Where are those damn camels when you need 'em? We were also starting to get dangerously low on water so we decided to head back to the tent (remember though that was still a 2 hour hike away minimum... and it would be dark by that time). We ended up not making it to our planned destination because we ran out of time and wanted to be safe. Remember there was literally NO ONE else hiking in the desert and every vehicle that spotted us asked us if we were okay (and probably thought us crazy for not booking a tour... ha Jeep tours are for pussies).

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About half way back we were both super tired and luckily a truck approached us so we took advantage of the moment and hitched a ride back to town. We were both glad we did cause our calves were just burning and the dunes on the way back were super soft.

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Nothing like a home cooked meal in the desert! That night most likely due to our utter exhaustion, we both slept like babies. A great sleep in the desert cause it gets so nice and cool. And the stars! Oh my God! The only time I've seen them close to that bright is on a clear, cold Canadian winter night in the countryside... but even then I think the desert has it beat. The next morning we hitched a ride about an hour south to Aqaba which lies right on the northern tip of the Red Sea. We quickly found a hotel and were thankful to get to shower off the sand!

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We really only had a little over half a day to enjoy Aqaba and from what we seen it was a great little city.

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We toured around for the day and enjoyed some great Jordanian food.

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I've never seen one that big before (that's what she said)... but really that thing was huge lol.

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Mmmm BBQ chicken... gotta get over our fears sometime... made sure of course that it wasn't an Indian restaurant lol.

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Well you guys that concludes Jordan! The next day we crossed the border and made it over to Israel (I'll tell you about the extreme questioning at border control in the next one). Overall Jordan was just fantastic and probably one of our favourite countries visited. I've never been anywhere where the people are so friendly and welcoming. Also it was quite a bit cheaper then we expected (spent 11 days there, seen all the expensive tourist sights, ate well and even did a little shopping and it only cost us $1100 - so only $100 a day for 2 people... not too shabby). At this point I'm currently in Northern Israel and all I can say is do a Holy Land Tour people cause Jordan, Israel and Palestine are spectacular. Stay tuned for Jerusalem fever coming soon.

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Posted by ttbwarren 22:18 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

Petra

One Of The New Seven Wonders Of The World

sunny 28 °C

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Here it is! PETRA. Jordan's crown jewel and one of the new seven wonders of the world (we will see 3 on this trip + the only remaining ancient wonder in the world and have seen the Great Wall previously... very cool). Although pricey, the rewards of Petra were well worth it! By far the best hiking/exploring of our lives and obviously an adventure that we will never forget.

From Amman we took a public bus that took us right to Petra's township which is a fair size community that has obviously sprung up to accommodate tourists. There is quite a range of facilities there catering to all budgets, from the Crowne Plaza to backpacker delights like our hotel... the Valentine Inn... sounds sexy. Lol far from sexy but a really great hostel with chill common areas great for meeting other people. The rooftop was particularly atmospheric... check out the view.

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I wish I had more pics of the hotel itself but I think this post will be more about Petra and less about the fabulous Valentine Inn lol. Here's the view at sunset.

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The local beers...

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In Jordan they actually sell beer that's 14%! Tried it and it was so gross. Not kidding. Never in my life have I ever wanted to water down a beer before. The next morning we were up bright and early and well prepared for a good 10 hour day of hiking (really). Our hotel was about a 20 minute walk to the main entrance and from the entrance its about another 20 minutes into the main site itself.

Here's us past the main gate...

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Here's a map of the site to give you an idea of the layout of the area:

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After the main gate you eventually reach the bridge shown on the map which is where the ancients used to divert water into the city. If you continue on down the main tourist path you will follow what's called al-Siq which is a narrow canyon the leads up to the big ticket attraction - The Treasury. At the time we were entering the site of course there were boat loads of tourist groups and we didn't really want our first Petra experience to be fighting other tourists for a chance to take pictures of the big ticket. So instead we opted to bypass the Siq altogether and instead follow a gorge formed by flood waters that starts to the right of the bridge. The security guard stopped us and told us that it wasn't safe to go and that we weren't allowed, so of course we disobeyed and snuck past him anyways lol. By far the best decision we made that day because the hike was extraordinary!

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Getting into the gorge itself was a little tricky because it was really tall and it was hard to find a safe route in (remember my Stacey has a fear of heights but I think that she is overcoming this fear more and more everyday :) ). Honestly there were a few points where we had to ask ourselves "should we go?" cause once we descended down in a few parts there was no turning back. Very surreal place though... at times I felt like Bear Grylls in Man vs Wild, the ultimate survivor.

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Every now and again we would just stumble upon these cravings in the rock...

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But the best part was that there was absolutely no one around... just me and Stace. After about an hour we exited the canyon to the most stunning landscape. There is just so much more to Petra then what's on the regular tourist trail.

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History Lesson: Established sometime around the 6th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataeans, Petra is a symbol of Jordan as well as its most visited tourist attraction. It lies on the slope of Mount Hor in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550-1292 BC). The Nabataeans controlled and ruled Petra up until early AD when the Romans took control. Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule, in large part from the revision of sea-based trade routes. In 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. We were told that Petra was actually inhabited by Bedouins (desert dwelling Arabian groups/tribes) up until 1985 or 86 when the Jordan government forced them to move to accommodate tourism in the area. However we still saw lots of evidence of them inhabiting the areas off that main path.

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Came across a litter of puppies hidden in a bush...

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There were literally hundreds of homes, stables and storerooms among other things, craved into the rock of the mountains. Hard to imagine the work that went into creating these buildings.

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After an hour or two we finally began to enter the main site (#13 and 12 on the map above). The facades on these buildings/temples/tombs started becoming more and more impressive.

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The heat of the sun started to get to me a little bit so I figured, "when in Petra do as the Bedouins do" lol....

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No we didn't ride donkeys but we were definitely tempted to lol. The buildings just kept getting more and more impressive. It was honestly hard to wrap your brain around what you were seeing. Such a special place. Even though we allotted two days to see the area we had covered so much ground in the morning that we decided to see it all in one day and then just revisit our favourite spots the next day. After we stopped for a brief lunch break we made our way back towards #7 (#12-8 are called the Royal Tombs).

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Backtracking towards the Siq you also pass by The Roman Theatre (seen a few of these in Jordan)...

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Eventually you reach the big ticket which is course the Treasury. It is unknown as to why or exactly when Al Khazneh was originally built, probably between 100 BC and AD 200. Its Arabic name Treasury derives from one legend that bandits or pirates hid their loot in a stone urn high on the second level. Significant damage from bullets can be seen on the urn. Local lore attributes this to Bedouins, who are said to have shot at the urn in hopes of breaking it open and spilling out the "treasure" within (the decorative urn, however, is solid sandstone). Another is that it functioned as a treasury of the Egyptian Pharaoh of the time of Moses (Khaznet Far'oun) - courtesy of Wikipedia. Since we approached it from the wrong direction we decided to close our eyes and walk past it, only to re-approach it coming from the Siq to receive the full effect of it's magnificent beauty.

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I couldn't help but think of my Grandma and late Grandpa Warren when I seen it for the first time as I remember seeing pictures of them standing in front of it years ago on their trip to the Holy Land. I'm sure it was less touristy when they visited making it all that much more special. Love you Grandma! Feels pretty cool to retrace your foot steps halfway around the world!

After seeing the Treasury we made way for the High Place Of Sacrifice which was a real climb to get to (near the #30's but above them). The climbing was perfect for intermediate hikers such as ourselves (I'm gonna say we've graduated from rookie status lol) because the sandstone is like walking on sandpaper. You have amazing traction and had no problem even walking down declines of 45 or even 60 degrees.

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Pretty sweet birds eye view! At the top we stumbled upon these...

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I'm not sure what they're called but I'm pretty sure they're for good luck. We just started calling them rock babies lol. Of course our baby was the most special...

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I made sure he (ya its a boy.. his name's Jordan) overlooked the whole site.

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We spent quite awhile on top exploring... can't say enough about the amazing views...

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We eventually made our way down from the High Place Of Sacrifice and through #30-34 and then followed another dried up river bed towards #20 (just so your aware these are not short distances and by this point we were already dead tired!)

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But we got a little pick me up when we came across another group of puppies this time hiding in a cave!

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They were so much fun! Until the mother showed up snarling and barking at us! We quickly hightailed it outta there and laughed about not having a rabies shots... not that funny I suppose lol. From #20 we made a loop around #21 (these buildings probably all have names but there are just way too many to remember) and came into what's called the Village (#19-14) which consisted of ruins of several temples and a Byzantine Church.

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What most people don't realize is that Petra is just this massive area and not just one or two buildings craved into the sandstone. And once your actually there you realize that there's just way so much more then what's even shown on the tourist maps. Archaeologists could literally spend decades here excavating numerous areas and mountains. Two days of exploring didn't even really do the place justice as you could easily spend a week and not see everything. By the end of the day we were so tired and beaten down (feet throbbing of course and a little bit sunburnt to boot) but still had to make our way back out to the main entrance... could have rode a donkey or camel I suppose but they wanted just an exuberant amount of money to do so. So we walked instead... only another 3-4 km's. No biggie. It's not like there wasn't anything to see along the way!

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The next day we were beat! We slept like babies that night and felt well rested. We were sore but determined to continue on. We still had a bit left to see and this involved unfortunately quite a bit of climbing. You see the only thing we hadn't really seen the previous day was the Monastery (#24) which is all the way at the end of the site and about an hour long hike up a mountain. Yayyyyy!! (sarcastic) lol. So we stretched and got prepared for the days journey...

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Sweet threads Stacey! Again we walked to the main entrance (about 3 km from our hotel) and this time we followed the Siq into Petra.

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The climb to the Monastery wasn't too challenging except for the fact that out of nowhere a sandstorm whipped up and we found ourselves caught right in the middle of it. Mmmm... sand.

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Thank God I don't wear contact lenses anymore because it was dry and gritty! I've definitely seen my share of dirt/dust storms in Saskatchewan but nothing like this. But who could complain when you eventually reach this sight...

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Just to give you an idea of the scale of the Monastery, in this next picture I'm standing in the doorway.

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Unreal! We wanted to stay for the sunset but it was just too sandy...

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Well that concludes our journey through Petra. Can't say enough great things about the place and I can easily see why the site receives so many rave reviews and accolades. Absolutely add this place on your Must See Places Before You Die list because it's so well worth it and you'll be glad you did. I know we both sure are. For me it just seemed like one of those places I always imagined I was at (in my mind of course) while playing when I was a child. And when your finally really there that's what it is... a great big ancient playground! Of course I'm a huge Indiana Jones fan so for me it was pretty cool to visit a place where Dr. Jones himself found the Holy Grail lol... yep I'm a nerd. Stay tuned for more desert adventures to come!

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Posted by ttbwarren 01:31 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

The Dead Sea & Jerash

Day Tripping Out Of Amman

sunny 24 °C

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Once again sorry for the delay between posts! This time I can't really blame internet connectivity on my lack of production as it was rather due to our hectic schedule of the past week. To summarize: we visited the Dead Sea and Jerash, climbed and toured one of the Ancient Seven Wonders that is Petra, camped in the desert, travelled to the Red Sea, crossed into Israel, and just spent the day touring some of the most religious sites in the world in the holy city of Jerusalem. It's exhausting just thinking about it lol. But for now I must backtrack and begin where I left off last which is with us in Amman and the beginning of two very epic day trips out of the Jordanian capital.

From Amman we took a local bus destined for the Dead Sea. Geography lesson: The Dead Sea is the lowest land elevation point on Earth at 1388 ft below sea level (kind of crazy to imagine that in other parts of the world fish are swimming above you). With 33.7% salinity, it is also one of the world's saltiest bodies of water. It is 8.6 times saltier than the ocean and this salinity makes for a harsh environment in which animals cannot flourish, hence its name. As some of you may know because of the high salinity it is very easy to float, or rather it is virtually impossible to sink!

Our bus dropped us off in a little village around 5 km away from Amman Beach which was our finally destination. Therefore we had to find our own way to the beach. Along the way we met a couple from Italy (Max & Guilia) and shared a car (basically hitchhiking but paying for it lol) all the way to the beach. Views along the way...

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The vast majority of Jordan is desert. But not just desert in the traditional sense because it has loads of character as you will see in our future posts. We arrived at Amman Beach rather unprepared... you see our Lonely Planet book is about 2-3 years (not really old by travel book standards) and Jordan must have experienced severe inflation because the prices for everything listed in the book are just wrong wrong wrong. For example: 1) Visa at the airport - book price - 10 dinar / actual price 20 dinar (that's $28) 2) First hotel - book price - 12 dinar / actual price - 20 3) Admission to Amman Beach - book price - 8 dinar / actual price - 16 ... and the list goes on and on. Another little fun fact about travelling that most of you Canadians will enjoy is that in some countries like India, Indonesia, Thailand, or Jordan for example, foreigners, at the major tourist sites, pay upwards 500% more to see the same site as the natives. Fair? Maybe... but it's sure a kick in the balls when I'm forking out 55 dinar ($75) to see Petra and the locals are paying 2 ($2.50). I'd like to see that policy fly in Banff lol. Back to my original story - we arrived at Amman Beach not thinking it would cost much and to boot we hadn't eaten lunch and well you can just imagine how expensive it was to eat inside!

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But we sucked it up and went for a dip anyways...

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Or should I say float....

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Hard for me to describe in words just how buoyant the water is. I mean could literally sit cross-legged, suspended in the water. You could even stand upright and float. I kept thinking to myself that this is the perfect body of water for a weak swimmer like myself cause you could never get tired. Pretty amazing. But also damn awful tasting if it gets in your mouth or even on your lips... and any small cut burns! Man was it salty. But your skin feels great. Speaking of skin, the Dead Sea is famous for it's skin care products which are world renowned. We couldn't resist the temptation of the mud...

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Stacey was the guinea pig and was just raving about it... when in Rome...

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Lol... bit of a pain to wash off afterwards but clearly a worthwhile experience. We had such a laugh doing it too. And your skin feels great afterwards! I'm not kidding. Silky smooth for days after... I may just get used to this spa thing lol. We spent the rest of our day just chilling by the pool and ended up again sharing a car with our Italian friends back to Amman. The food in Jordan is really good and quite a welcome change. Now after travelling here for awhile it is starting to seem a little redundant but nonetheless it's still delicious.

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After dinner we again met up with Max and Guilia and indulged in a little Shisha and Turkish coffee (not our favourite but growing on us) ...

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Unfortunately (probably because our government can't tax it yet) Shisha is now illegal in Canada! Hello! You wanna legalize pot and have safe injection sites for heroin users but smoking tobacco out of a water pipe is illegal? What?? Oh Canadian values lol.

The next day we opted to partake in another day trip, only this time we headed north to Jerash (also spelt Jarash) which is home to some of the best well preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy. Again we took a local bus which is always the cheapest option but still a great way to see the countryside.

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Jordan is a very beautiful country... it's not ALL desert lol. The western part of the country seemed always quite lush and fertile. Our bus dropped us off near the ancient ruins so we got right to it and started touring.

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What we had read was right, cause the ruins were in great shape. I could explain more about Jerash's Roman history but I'm sure most of you just wanna see some pictures and well I'm not Wikipedia... let's face it they can do a better job of explaining it then I could ever hope to lol. So look it up keeners.

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I can't quite remember why I look so irritated in this picture but i think it was because this guy insisted on taking our picture and basically just grabbed our camera. Lol... either way he took a good photo.

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We spent a good few hours touring around the site as it was literally huge. Very impressive stuff and we had perfect weather that day.

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"Don't mess with my goats"

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This was a random sight to see in Jordan...

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Was he someones lost pet? Stacey nearly stepped on him!

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Like I said pretty impressive stuff. Hard to imagine people building these massive stone structures when they did. I wonder if our buildings will withstand the tests of time? Lol ya right.

That concludes our post about daytrippin'... I'll leave you with a picture of our typical Jordanian/ now Israeli meal: pita, hummus, falafel, tomato and of course fries... not the healthiest but it's always the cheapest.

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Posted by ttbwarren 11:21 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

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