Crusader Castle & Calamity – 03 November

Well, we started the day with some excitement – I could not find my glasses!  I am sure they are quite safe, they are in their glasses case, with a pair of sunglass clip-ons, but they are no longer in my possession, sigh.  We looked high and low, emptied all our suitcases and hand luggage, but no sign of them.  Finally, out of time, we had to run to check out, eat breakfast and get on the bus to leave Wadi Musa.  It wasn’t until a couple of hours later that I thought that they are probably stuck down behind the desk or the suitcase stand.  As it turns out, I could have had another chance to retrieve them… but, more on that later.

The lower half of this picture is a view of the Bait Zama resort centre where we stayed 2 nights in Wadi Musa (aka Wadi Mousa, these Arab names are so confusing!)

Fortunately, although I do complain about my eyesight, it isn’t really that bad.  I’m a bit nearsighted, but my vision is actually adequate for, say, touring.  So, onward we go!  We had to stop to buy water anyway, so we got a chance to see the Moses Springs in Wadi Musa (which supplies the Petra facility several km away through secret underground passages), and I bought a pair of cheap sunglasses from a convenience store.

Moses Springs in Wadi Musa

I did commission the resort to do a search of the room, and I inquired at the front desk and the restaurant about if they had been turned in, but no luck.  I’m not sure they would have looked behind the furniture, however.  Sigh.

We left promptly at 8 AM, but decided to go to the Ash Shubak castle, instead of Kerak.  They are both 12th century crusader’s castles, but Ash Shubak is less busy and actually the first one of its kind to be built anyway.

Ash Shubak castle
Entrance to Castle (note split capstone of arch)

These castles were part of a network that were built to defend the Holy Land after it was taken by the Christian Crusaders.  It was held for some 70 years by the Christians, until Saladin and his Muslim armies took back the holy land and the castles.  Fascinating, they actually reworked key elements of the design of the exterior interior of the castle to make them more Islamic styled.  for instance, the Christians built arches in the Roman style, with a single capstone.  Muslims built arches with a split capstone.  So they changed many of the archways to be Islamic in style. 

We have one woman who has difficulty walking any significant distance, so her husband pushes her in a wheelchair, so nice.  However, it turns out that the narrow road to the castle has a steep slope down then a steep slope up.  It’s too narrow for the bus to navigate, so we had to disembark at the visitor centre and do the hills on foot.

Well, the run down was precarious, but it was short, and we managed to keep the wheelchair straight and slow.  On the way up, well, the 5,000 ft elevation strained the husband’s ability, so halfway up, he needed help.  I was about to jump in when one of the ladies of the group started to help.  She had one side and the husband had the other side, which was great.  With about 100 ft to the top, she slipped and fell, hurting her wrist, and at about the same time, the husband just plain ran out of steam.  So I had to jump on the wheelchair and push it, alone, to the top.  Yikes, had no real idea what altitude could do to your strength – well more like your stamina!  It was all I could do to get that blessed wheelchair to the top.  Of course it was windy, gusty and dusty, so then had to help the lady into the castle while her husband caught up and transported the wheelchair.

Some of our folks tended to the injured lady, who herself was apparently a nurse before she retired, and we went on to tour the castle.  The tour guide was a local fellow with a basic grasp of English, but great knowledge, wit and humour. 

Now the big concern was that the trip up was precarious enough, but going back down that slope in a wheelchair was going to be dangerous, well actually pretty well impossible.

As we went off to do our tour, I saw a young lady drive up in a pickup truck.  I waited for her and asked if she would run our wheelchair lady back down.  Well she spoke perfect English, and said she would.  Apparently she was from University of Florence, Italy, was a PhD student doing archaeological work on the castle.  Wonderful, I’ll look you up in half an hour when it’s time to leave.  Then, since I kind of missed the group, I proceeded to run around the castle
on my own.  Very neat, but a dangerous place – lots of loose stones, pits & wells just waiting for you to step into…  but I managed to avoid all that stuff and got some nice pictures. 

Finally, it was time to go down, but I could not find that young lady from Florence!  I looked and looked, talked to her colleagues, even thought I caught sight of her for a few seconds, but could not track her down. 

As a result, the lady who should have rode in the wheelchair had to walk down the slope (which was apparently possible for her, it’s going up that’s not possible), with someone else trailing with the wheelchair.

Once on the bus (first had to pay 1 Jordan dinar to use the bathroom – well actually the bathroom is free but the toilet paper is 1 JD), we found that our guide had taken the injured lady off to hospital.  Now we find out what the Tourist Police do – apparently they transported her there.  Now we had to meet them at the hospital, in the tour bus, and see what shakes.

So where do you think the hospital is?  All the way back in Wadi Musa!  So we drove 1-1/4 hour back to the hospital.  She was already done!  She had been seen, triaged, X-rayed twice, diagnosed with two fractures in the wrist, cast & splinted, all by the time we got there.  The total cost?  About 70 JD – about US$100.  She purchased the insurance, so she will get reimbursed – but it’s nice to know that health care is not exorbitantly priced here.  [ NB we have the insurance too, and I’m glad we do ]

The Hospital in Wadi Musa.  Note pictures of present and previous kings of Jordan over entrance – these pictures are everywhere, even on private cars – Jordanians really really love their king!

Then we were back on the road, now about 2 hours late.  We just burned it back through Wadi Musa, right past the resort we had stayed at (I waved a sad goodbye to my glasses for a second time), and out onto the highway.  Man, that driver drove as never before – at least on our trip so far!  We had a quick stop for lunch (another 1 JD for bathroom break, this is getting annoying), and then off to Madaba to see an Orthodox church with an amazing ancient map mosaic on the floor.  Now, apparently, the mosaic was part of a very old cathedral that fell into ruins, but some folk re-discovered the ruins in the 19th century and built the modern church on top, to preserve the mosaic and re-consecrate the site. 

Lunch Stop, nice place, but keep lots of 1 JD notes on hand, especially if you plan to take a bathroom break!
The map mosaic in the floor

Parishioners start to file in, we are still gawking and taking pictures.  Very beautiful church, by the way!

Here’s where it gets uncomfortable – the parishioners aren’t just arriving for any mass – it’s a funeral mass!

As we were inside the church and started gawking and looking around, we noticed that local folk were coming in and sitting down.  Some had trays of food.  Hmm, they are about to start a service here, I thought, so I left.  Then someone pointed out that they were all wearing black.  OOPS!  We were holding up a funeral mass!  We got our folks out just in time.  The locals were starting to look at us funny!  Now we found out why we were in such a rush to get there.  Oh well, we saw it anyway.

We were then supposed to run to the summit of Mount Nebo, which is the place from which Moses saw the Promised Land before he died (he was advised that he could see it but not lead the people to it, because he had disobeyed God in the early days of wandering).  This summit gives a huge panoramic view of the Holy Land, including the River Jordan, Jerusalem, and points all around.  However, it turns out that at that late hour, the summit was closed (dusk falls at about 4:45 PM, and it was 4:15 PM by now). 

Instead, we went straight into Amman to check into the Mariott Hotel, which is fine by me.  We’ll do Mount Nebo tomorrow first thing.

But this Mariott, wow!  What a nice hotel!  And here, they have metal detectors and X-Ray machines, but they actually pay attention.  I got patted down because I didn’t take off my watch.  Hmm.

Dinner was nice, probably the nicest we’ve had on the trip.  We then decided to take a stroll down the shopping strip with one of our fellow travellers, Cheryl  Morrison from Calgary.  This was entertaining, because traffic here is very different than back home.  Well they drive on the s  ame side of the road, they drive like maniacs, but they are extremely courteous.  There are very few signals and lots of roundabouts.  When it comes to crossing the street, you judge your gaps, make your move, watch the traffic, adjust your pace, and wave off cars if you have to – they will stop.  Cheryl had some trouble with this technique, and she and Dayna wanted to run everywhere, yikes.  We made it there and back though, so we must have done something right.

We went to the shopping area because they wanted to check things out, but it was me who bought stuff.  Well, Cheryl did buy some earrings, which was a fair penny, something like US80, then again, not bad.  But it was I who purchased a pair of headphones with microphone (so I can Skype call and save money on long distance!) for the big price of 5 JD, and then later, a watch for 3 JD.  Like I said, big spender.  [ late breaking news: tried to set the time on the watch, and it doesn’t work – the hour hand won’t move – I got took, call the police!  Oh well, it’s a loss of US5 and I got a laugh out of the whole thing ]

So that’s enough excitement for one day.  Tomorrow, we are moving onward, first a few sites here in Jordan, including re-baptism in the River Jordan, apparently where John baptized Jesus, wow!  Then into Israel, where we get a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee, and lots more. 

Until next post…

Petra, Mini Petra, and Beidha Neolithic Village – 02 November

Today was the day that we finally get to see the facade of Petra, the building that lent its image to the stunning visuals of the movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

I was up far too late last night catching up on my blogging, so when the 6:30 AM wake up call arrived at 6 AM, it was a bit annoying.  But hey I went back to sleep easily enough, then tried to catch up by rushing – always a good plan, or maybe not…

I managed to get enough together that we could make breakfast then the bus, but I’d have to brush my teeth down at the restaurant.  No problem, except, as I found out much later, I apparently left my toothbrush & toothpaste behind.  So now I need a toothbrush, oh well.  Foolish moves.

First stop was Petra itself – see .  What a long walk!  About 2 km from the vistor’s centre to the entrance to the city, then another say 2 km in the Siq (narrow jagged entry passage between the walls of rock).  It then opens up to show the Treasury, the facade that the Indiana Jones movie (among others) made famous.  Very impressive, very amazing!

Not sure what the motion picture industry thinks of the use of their trademark, but this shop sells all kinds of stuff, including hats that look nothing like Indiana Jones hats

But… did you know that all this was just a tomb for a beloved ruler?  Yikes, not the hiding place for the Holy Grail after all (ha ha).  Well, so much for the accuracy of the Indiana Jones movies!  Great entertainment but not quite factual, I can live with that.

In fact, there are several tombs along the siq (entry passage) in, much smaller and less elaborate of course, but some are still quite large and impressive.

Also, when you get to the Treasury, you haven’t seen one tenth of the site yet.  Turn to your right and then to your left and continue, and the city opens up into more tombs, some of which are quite magnificent, an amphitheatre, then hundreds of living quarters, and it goes on and on.  Apparently, during its heyday something like 30,000 inhabitants lived here, wow.

The Treasury

The city was built at the crossing of three ancient overland major trade routes, providing safe haven and resting point for travellers and their animals, and a trading venue for their wares.  For hundreds of years, it prospered.

We of course had limited time and could not see everything, but we did wander down through the ruins and then climbed the stairs up to a large tomb cut up high in the rock.  We got some magnificent pictures from there.

We stand about 100 feet up in the entrance to a tomb up high on the rock face, a picture overlooking the north end of the ancient Petra City

So the entry passage is wider than you think it would be.  It’s something like 8 to 14 ft wide most of the way, with one short passage that’s only about 6 ft wide (where workers have erected scaffolding and a screen to prevent a rock collapse).  It’s not all that difficult to navigate.  However, there is a lot of two way traffic in this passage!  There are “chariots”, well 3 person horse drawn carriages (2 persons plus driver) racing up and down, plus folks being taken in and out on horseback.  The floor of the passage was originally sandstone, as is the other rock that makes the walls etc., and it was quite soft, only suitable for pedestrian traffic.  When the Roman Empire took over, they re-paved the passage in limestone, which allowed carriages and the like to make it through.  But when the walled city fell into disrepair after a devastating earthquake, the man-made defences for flash flooding eventually failed, and the resultant water runs cut the walls to collapse, and damaged the floor of the passage.  Recent restorative work has replaced some of the limestone, cleaned other bits, and put more modern materials in other places.  Much of the floor is sand coloured, but there is still a lot of rough hewn “cobbled stone” limestone in place.  This stone is bone jarring for those riding in the carriages!  We saw people in agony as the carriage raced across the stones.  Some of our tour group rode in carriages and confirmed that it was a very rough ride.

Rev. George Davidson and Sandra Madder share a carriage from the visitor centre to Petra

Petra had an amazing water distribution system hidden in the rock.  When the erosion and damage occurred, it uncovered the secret.  There was a clay lined trough hidden in the left side wall of the passage (clay lined to prevent seepage into the surrounding relatively porous rock), carefully covered with fitted rock pieces to make it look inconspicuous.  This water supply was extended right back to a deep well a short distance away.  Enemies didn’t know the source, couldn’t interrupt or poison it, so the city could live for a long time, even under siege.

Petra water distribution along side of passageway – lined with clay and topped by cap stones.  They would just make a hole into the water passage, and water would seem to mysteriously come out of the rock!
Another view of the water distribution channel, showing a piece of the clay lining

With the tall rock around and the assured water supply, the narrow entry passageway was easy to defend for long periods.  Enemies could be attacked from above; the passageway could be closed, and the city live happily for months.

The Romans finally got the city to succumb by building a bypass trade route, and cutting off Petra’s source of income, a brilliant and devastating strategy.

After spending a few hours at Petra, we went for lunch at a wonderful restaurant, then off to Al Beidha, or Little Petra.  Now, the actual caravans and their animals could not fit into Petra itself, unless very few at a time, so the animals were actually put up in Little Petra.  Here there are water passages like in Petra itself, but they feed large cisterns carved into the rock, which also function as water troughs for the animals.  Also magnificent!

Feature at the entrance to Little Petra.  Is it a tax collection booth?

One of many cisterns in the rock at Little Petra
A feature cut in the rock at Little Petra, purpose unknown (at least to me!)

Lastly, we walked from Little Petra to the Beidha Neolithic Village, about 2 km away.  Here an archeological dig has unearthed an entire village about 9,000 years old, amazing!  There is also a reconstructed Neolithic home in this ancient style.

Exhausted and thirsty, we made our way back to the resort.  I figured I’d take a dip in the pool before supper, do some laps and work off a bit of that good  food I’ve been eating.  I went down to the pool, and it’s a good size, probably 20 to 25 metre lengths, wonderful, but to my surprise the water is warmer than a hot bath!  The whole pool!  Well I tried to do my 1500 metres but it was me against the warm water and the warm water won – I was only able to pound out about 750 metres before I had to give up.  Oh well.

Then of course off to another great supper, a few glasses of wine, and… oops, have to do this blog.  THEN off to bed.  It’s another early morning, and tomorrow we are on the move, up to Amman, with several stops along the way.  Until next time…

A border incident? And Wadi Rum – 01 November

So we’re up in the morning to have breakfast, pack, and leave the resort.  We are going from Egypt to Jordan today, with a short trip through the southern tip of Israel.

We loaded up the bus, got on the bus, got ready to drive away, even did a pass around the reception loop and back to the door of the hotel.  It turns out that you have to get clearance from the Egyptian “Tourist Police” (yes that’s what they call them, you can see the buildings cars & uniforms everywhere) before they will even open the gate of the resort to let us out!  So we wait for about 40 minutes to get that clearance.  So now we are 40 minutes late starting.

The drive to the Egyptian/Israeli border is shorter than we anticipated, about 20 minutes.  We say “goodbye” to our guide and drivers, then off we go, bags in tow.

It turns out that you are treated just like in an airport.  You go through a metal detector, put your bags through an X-Ray scanner, then an optional bag inspection.  Then they take your passport and check it in some way.  Then you go back outside to a deserted “no man’s land” stretch of road, where you must walk the 100 or 200 feet to the Israeli side, where you queue up and do the whole metal detector, X-Ray scanner, bag inspection, passport check again.

Well I should say that in all our stay in Egypt, we went through dozens of metal detectors.  Only at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo did anyone even pay attention to them.  At the end, we were ignoring them, keeping our change and pens etc in our pockets, the metal detectors would go like crazy, and nobody would care.  And in the X-Ray machines in Egypt, nobody blinks an eye about my briefcase full of electronic gear – notebook computer & adapter, world cell phone & adapter, BlackBerry, handheld GPS, little camcorder, digital camera, etc.

But at the border crossing, I emptied my pockets as I should, put my bag on the belt and went through like a good boy.  No problem exiting Egypt.

Now, getting into Israel was another matter.  We ended up behind an American tour group, which was no problem, but this meant that we had to queue up, Disneyland-snake-style, and wait to get through.  I was about third or fourth of our group in line.  We saw a pre-screen customs person (beautiful young women guards at this border crossing, let me tell you, but hey they have the guns and we are tourists, so shut up and answer the questions!).  Then, just as we reached the X-Ray machine, the security staff started shouting for us to leave our bags and got back out the entrance way IMMEDIATELY.  I snagged my wallet (passport was already in hand) and headed back as I was told, as the rest of the crowd started backing out WITH their luggage.  I was shouting to leave the luggage as we were instructed (the pretty young ladies have accents and may not have been understood), which they finally did, and went outside.  Well then they were a bit upset at ME.  Well, hey, when Israeli security tells you to *vacate the building* you do what you are told!  Then they let us back in.  We aren’t sure what happened, but someone noticed that they let the lone wheelchair person and her husband stay through the commotion, so we suspect that it was a drill, ugh.

Then we get to immigration control.  I approach a station and ask for my visa to be put on a separate piece of paper (Dave Batson advised me many years ago, and our guide reiterated this today, that it’s a good idea to not have Israeli visa in your passport, in case you ever go to say Saudi Arabia).  She shoved a form at me and told me to  go back and fill it out.  Fine, but there is no place to do that.  She shrugged.  Not her problem, apparently.  So I wandered back and found an ATM that had a surface I could write on.  [ luckily I always carry my own pen ]  Back to another station, another young woman.  This one on her BlackBerry the whole time, sounds like she’s talking to her boyfriend.  Passed me through, no problem.  Except she apparently forgot to give me an important piece of paper…  but I’m skipping ahead in the story.

The whole thing took so long that security sent our bus away.  We had to wait another 30 minutes outside in the heat, waiting for another one.  So now we are in Israel.  A 20 minute drive across Israel, and now it’s time to do the Israel-to-Jordan crossing.

This time we line up for an exit visa from Israel, then go to the armed security station just outside no man’s land.  He passes everyone except for two of us, saying we were missing the requisite “pink piece of paper” and that we had to go back to Passport Control to get it.  THIS Passport Control, or the one at the Egyptian border, I ask?  Well, this one will do, fortunately.  So I get the pink paper, present myself at the border, and this young man (with automatic weapon at his side) looks at it and says, “Sorry, wrong pink paper,” and hands the passport back.  I just managed to choke out a “what?” before he chuckled, took it back, and said “JUST KIDDING.”  Oh my God, I guess he has a bit of a sense of humour too.  And he managed to get a rise out of me, that’s for sure.  I take border security too seriously, perhaps.

Then we stumble the 100 to 200 feet to the Jordan side of the border, where they subject us to metal detectors (results ignored) and X-Ray machine (they asked to see the laptop and that was all).  Whew!  Then another 45 minutes for Jordan officials to check the passports, before we could get on the bus.  Oh, and another 100 foot walk with our luggage to get to the bus, too.

All of this left us tired and a bit grumpy.  Fortunately, we zipped into Aqaba and picked up box lunches, and off to our next stop, the Wadi Rum desert.

I wasn’t expecting much out of this stop, but it was a blast!  We were loaded into old beat-up Toyota & Nissan 4×4 trucks fitted with open air benches in the back, and zoomed out across the desert.  Well, “zoomed” might be exaggerating a bit.  We rolled out across the desert.  We stopped to take in some breathtaking views, get a camel ride (dromedary actually but I’ll never tell), visit a Bedouin tent and have some of their special tea & smell their incense (unfortunately incense and I don’t get along but I sucked it up for the occasion).  Then back to the interpretive centre.

Now, these 4×4 trucks – they were rough and beat up, all sounded like diesel engines, although a careful listen tells me only half of them were diesels (others were just on their last legs?).  The seats in the back were not bolted down, which made me nervous.  And the “cover” and “roll cage” was made of tent poles, no help at all.  Fortunately, we did go fairly slowly most of the way, although I must say it was pretty bumpy.  There was a “back rack” right behind the cab and I hung tightly onto that, figuring that I could probably hold Dayna and I in the box if I had to.  Turns out she had noticed and was hanging on tightly too.  Well, no big troubles, except for one…

At the first stop, we were there only about 30 seconds when there was a deafening “bang” like a gunshot.  I thought one of the goof drivers had shot a rifle into the air to create a scene.  Well, no, it was the right rear tire of the 4×4 behind us letting go in spectacular fashion!  We were shocked, but as we went on our way getting our pictures, the four drivers got together, took a spare out of one of the other trucks (seems they only carry one between them), and changed the tire.  Put me a bit on edge, because if that happened while driving…  well, I worry too much.

By the time we reached the resort in which we are staying, it was thoroughly dark.  It’s very nice, but very confusing.  It’s called Bait Zama, in Wadi Mousa.  Maybe you can look it up.  It’s actually a rebuilt ancient community with many buildings, each housing several large suites.  It’s very nice.  However, dozens of steps and cobblestone roads make it tough to find your room!  Hopefully some pictures tomorrow.

Well, past time to crash.  More later!

Tabaaaaaah! – 31 October

Well, today was what they call a “free day”.  This does not mean free as in no cost!  It means “do what you want”.  But it was nice anyway.

Well, I figured out today why the ancient Egyptians used to worship the sun.  Man, is it nice here!  For a fleeting moment, I had this vision of plunking down my Visa card and saying that we’d stay here for the rest of our time in the far east – rejoining the tour just in time to fly home.  But, as I say, it was a fleeting thought – I cannot pass up the opportunity to see all of the other Holy Land sights!

I woke up early this morning, something like 7 AM, with the feeling of cotton batten in my mouth.  Yup, my CPAP machine, which never uses up its supply of water, had used up all its water in the night.  I guess that’s what they mean when they say you are in a desert!  I refilled it and re-crashed.

We were up at the break of 9 AM for breakfast.  Yes, it was nice to sleep in for one day, without having to pack and run for the bus.

We lounged around the resort pool for the morning, and that was nice.  The pool itself was actually quite cold, more like a lap pool than a spa pool, but what the heck.  As we sat by the pool, I could hear all kinds of languages spoken – not that I could understand any of it – but I heard several distinctive languages, including Italian, French, German and Russian.  This really drove home the fact that we are actually in a resort on the other side of the planet!

At noon hour, we took the shuttle bus to the “Taba Resort Centre”, which is an open air mall of little shops.  Almost every shop we went into, the shop keeper said, “British” and smiled.  I had to say “no, Canadian,” and they were astonished.  My guess is that they have a lot more British tourists here than Canadian – which makes sense, if it’s 13 hours of flying just to get here!

In the afternoon, we did something evil and washed some of our clothes in the sink.  It’s so dry here that they dry almost immediately!  Well, just my luck that apparently my clothing holds more water, and sadly it’s still wet – I may be packing wet clothing in the morning, ugh.  We have to pass through Israeli customs and then Jordanian customs on our way to Petra tomorrow; pity the poor border guard that has to open and inspect my clothing, ha ha!

Then we packed up and went down to the beach.  Dave Batson told me quite earnestly that I had to take a swim in the Red Sea, and being the earnest friend of Dave that I am, I took that as an order.  I’ve never had a swim in salt water before, wow!  It turns out that the sea is actually much warmer than the pool.  The only annoying thing was that there are a lot of rocks along the shore, you *must* wear sandals when going into the sea.  Because of this, I left my goggles on the shore, but I didn’t realize that the rocks stop and it’s back to pure sand about 20 ft offshore.  Well anyway, I took a nice long swim in the sea.  I couldn’t open my eyes, it was very painful, and I got a significant salt taste with every stroke, but it was great!  The water was very soft with all that salt.  But hey, being on a sodium reduced diet, I have to really watch my intake for the next month –  yikes.  All in all, a very nice thing to do.  Thanks, Dave.

While we were in town I finally found a place to purchase a corkscrew, so we could open the bottle of wine that we bought in Giza (oh I see now that I didn’t include that story in the blog, sorry, should have).  Well, let’s just say that I wanted a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, and ended up with Rose, at an inflated price.  We’d better drink it before we exit Egypt, I said, because I have no inclination of carrying it home!  Well, so I bought the corkscrew, and then came back to the room.  A half hour later, I was fumbling with my swimming stuff, and what falls out of my bag?  A multi-purpose hobby knife with corkscrew!  Oh, man.  Well at least I have a mediocre Egyptian style corkscrew now.  A trophy, a keepsake, yeah right. 

So we finally got to drink that Egyptian rose wine that we got in Giza.  Whoopee.  It was OK.  Especially after the first glass 🙂

One last thing about the Taba Resort.  I spotted some interesting trees.  They are tall but too too straight!  Well you get up closer and take a look at the top – they aren’t trees at all, but cell towers!  I’ve read about them, but never seen them in the wild.

Supplemental notes about St. Catherine monastery and Mount Sinai – 29 October

Ha, as soon as you think a post is finished and that you’ve recorded everything, you realize there are a couple more interesting bits that you had forgotten!

At the end of the late supper at the St. Catherine monastery (see picture in previous post), as our folks were clearing out to go back to their rooms, a short portly fellow behind me with a thick accent (Italian?) asked me whether we were there together as a faith group or as a group of (secular / non-religious) tourists.  I replied that we were mostly one faith group, from Canada.  He asked if we were Roman Catholic or Orthodox Christians, in a manner which implied that there weren’t any others (hey I wasn’t offended, more amused than anything – reminded me of the wonderful nuns who taught us at St. Charles Academy many years ago).  So I told him that we were neither, that we were Protestants.  Well, this must have thrown him for a loop, because he was most astonished.  “But we have the church, in church we have icons, you do not believe in these icons,” he exclaimed.  He went on to make it clear that they were Orthodox and that the monastery was Orthodox.  [ this was very obvious the next day, when we saw the church itself – from the style, the icons, and the writing style on the items in the church (sorry don’t know what lettering it is, but imagine it is Greek?), it was clear that it was Orthodox ]

Well, I explained, we were there to climb the mountain and to tour the monastery.  He was still unbelieving.  So, I tried to tell him that there would be two types of Christian visitors:
1. those who had the religious fervour to visit and to pray because it was Orthodox and an important blessed location – these would be the aforesaid Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians, and
2. those who came because it was an important historical location and liked to see the Christian history of those that came before – other Christians and those from other religions.

Well, that didn’t placate him.  “But, you don’t celebrate the Eucharist!”

“Well, actually we do,” I advised, “we just don’t do it at every service.”

“But we invoke the Holy Spirit to change the elements into ze body and ze blood of our Saviour!”

“Well, we actually do the same thing.  Just not as often.”

There was an Orthodox priest right beside him who apparently was rather amused by the exchange.  Another woman from the table asked me, in perfect English, where I was from, and I of course told her.

At this point, we were obviously suffering from a disconnect.  So I changed tacts.

“We need to know and understand each other, Muslim and Jew, Orthodox and Catholic and Protestant, so we can learn from each other,” I advised my new friend.

“But these people, Muslim and Jews (with a pause that made it clear that others, implies us) are all different from us.  We have our Saviour Jesus Christ, ze one true path, ze only way to the Father, to God!   …and they do not.”

“My friend,” I replied, “it is not through conflict that we successfully convert others to our beliefs.  It is only through dialogue.  This dialogue is the only way to understand each other, to convince each other, to convert one another.  I choose to listen to many points of view, and it deepens my understanding and my faith.”

Then I bid him adieu and turned to leave.  I noticed that George was the only one behind me at our table, as if to be watching my back.  He also got up and left.  I was thinking about whether I did the right thing, said the right thing.  In my limited way, I think maybe I did.  Hmm, just read that passage this morning that might apply to this, Matthew 10:19&20, excerpted NIV: “…do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  Hmm, not sure of the divinity of the words, but maybe something I can lean on, myself.

The other “missed item” that occurred to me was not nearly as important.  But, as we were climbing to the summit, we were gawking around from time to time to see what was out there.  This was dangerous; you could lose your footing, or in my case, crank out an ankle, in one step.  And at the coffee shacks, there were lights that blotted out your night vision, so sad.  So, once in a while, we did sneak a peak up.  The stars lit up the sky!  Well, then, let me tell you, once I reached the summit, I found an unoccupied space and gazed up.  Oh the magnificent stars up there!  Clear and beautiful.  Now I’m not an astronomer by any means, but it sure was a wonderful sight, a vision to behold.

A Long Drive, Sinai Peninsula, St. Catherine Monastery, and a big big climb – 29 and 30 October

Friday was a big driving day.  We packed up early and headed out on the bus, across Giza and Cairo, off to the Sinai Peninsula.  We crossed *under* the Suez Canal.

Check point to go under the Suez Canal

Our destination was St. Catherine Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, right next to Mount Sinai where Moses saw the burning bush and received the ten commandments.  Along the way, we stopped at the site where manna was first received by the Israelites during their sojourn in the wilderness.  There are twelve wells there, one for each Israeli tribe.  We saw three of them which were within walking distance.  There are quite a few families settled behind it in shacks, and they appear to sell small trinkets and the like.  Dozens children chase down the tourists, begging for money.

Two of the twelve wells can be seen here, and the settlement behind it

One interesting thing about our journey was that each “province” of Egypt seems to have an armed checkpoint at its border.  We passed through several such checkpoints on our way to St. Catherine.  We had wondered why our guide had stopped in Cairo and bought a stack of newspapers, but it seemed as though he was giving each border guard post a copy of today’s news – and that seemed to speed our passage.  Or, I could have just been imagining things.

We stopped for a wonderful lunch at Moon Beach restaurant on the Red Sea.  Some went down and stood in the Red Sea, it was beautiful.

The Sinai is a desolate, beautiful place.  So much soaring rock, so much scalloped rock face!

The roads are narrow two lane highways with a moderate amount of traffic.  There are all kinds of vehicles, but mostly tour buses like ours, a few tanker trucks and other commercial vehicles, and of course a scattering of cars too.  Much of the highway is across the plains between the rock outcroppings, punctuated by breathtaking careening curves through rock cuts.

It was during one of the serene plains stretches that our bus passed a fuel tanker.  The tanker driver honk-honked as we passed, as they seem always to do.  However, we immediately pulled off of the road and stopped.  One of the staff members (I think he is an alternate driver) jumped out, was gone for several minutes, returned, and we were on our way again.  Dayna said that she saw him carrying something blue, like bus body paint colour, into the bus.  Yikes!

At the next stop, I noticed that the right hand outside mirror was missing.  It seems that we must have succumbed to the narrow roadway and hooked the mirror into the tanker.  In any case, I’ll note that the next morning, when the bus pulled up to the monastery, there was a new mirror in place.  We were impressed!

So, after a very long ride, something like eight or nine hours, we arrived at the monastery in the dark, in time for a late supper.

Supper at the monastery – that’s George in blue & beige on the left, looking away, his wife Donna at the far end in pink, and of course me on the right staring into the camera (as I was told!)

So we ate then crashed, ready for our big climb up Mount Sinai in the morning .  Did I mention that it was *early* morning?  Well we hit the pit at about 8:30 PM, got our wake up “knock on the door” (no room phones – hey it’s the guest house of a monastery!) at 1:30 AM, and had to be out and ready to climb at 2:00 AM.  We were led through the monastery grounds and up to the trail.  The target is to get to the summit before sunrise, which is apparently magnificent up there.  At this time, we aren’t sure when sunrise is, so we hustle, thinking that it should be at about 5 AM, giving us about 3 hours to scramble to the top.

Our leader and pastor, Rev. George Davidson (see picture above), was not feeling up to the hike this time, so we weren’t able to have a service at the summit, as has been his custom on past trips.  Oh, well.

Wouldn’t you know it, but there were THOUSANDS of people on the trail already, hundreds of camels and their handlers, dozens of Bedouin guides and other guides.  What a melee!  And us with our flashlights, striding up the five kilometres of trails, dodging camel doo, trying not to slip or trip on the rocks.  Yes, a trail about five kilometres long and about four feet wide, with two way traffic, camels and people stopped on the side, some extra camels being offered at about hundred feet intervals for those who decide the climb was getting too much.

So we try to stick together, while others are going slower and faster, we are passing and being passed, accented voices calling “Camel” from the darkness as we scramble to the left or right to avoid being trampled.  We flash our lights on the feet of the person in front of us, trying to anticipate the trail’s uneven footing and watching for signs of stumbling or trouble.

Camels waiting for customers, partway up the trail, in the dark!
Camels can be smelly, noisy beasts – I saw one biting another one to annoy it – wonder if the first camel insulted the second one’s mother?

There are twelve small ramshackle coffee shops set up along the trail, each a hustling bustling centre of activity.  More than coffee, they sell chocolate bars and energy bars, other drinks including soft drinks and tea, and provide refuge from the elements.  Unfortunate, they are also crowded and packed, and almost every Bedouin seems to smoke while they hang around their groups.  This was enough to get me antsy at pretty well every coffee shop stop, as we always seemed to be waiting for someone to catch up, catch their breath, use the W.C. (yes here in Egypt they follow the British convention of calling the washrooms a Water Closet, or more commonly “toilet”) or whatever else.  Not that I’m complaining, it was a tough climb, but curses if they would just butt out I would breath a whole heck of a lot easier!

Then there are the vendors all the way along the trail.  In the dark, they were mostly hawking rides the rest of the way up by camel.  However, after daybreak, the trail filled up with dozens and dozens of old men and children, selling polished stones (“only one US dollar sir, five Egyptian pounds”), or books about the monastery or the Sinai, or all manner of other trinkets and junque.  Near the bottom, the youngest children were simply picking up any old stones off of the path and trying to look sad; the last few were simply asking for money.  It seems everyone in this land is out for the few EGPs (Egyptian Pounds) that they can hustle, sad actually – but what can you do?

In any case, this approximately five kilometres of trail goes up at a moderate slope, back and forth on the mountains (well sharp escarpment really) around Mount Sinai, but it is only the opening act of what turns out to be a tough tough performance.  You get to a point where the camels can no longer climb, and the path turns from a four feet wide sand-gravel-and-rock trail, to what has been called 750 steps to the summit.  Well it’s hardly steps, more like rocks carefully piled to make an approximation of steps.  As such, they are even more uneven, more narrow, more treacherous.  And, as the time approaches sunrise, the pace quickens, folks get a little more twitchy, and they take more chances, passing each other where they really shouldn’t, yikes.

Then you’ve got the local folks, who scare you half to death by scrambling up and down across what look like sheer rock cuts, laughing as they go.  And these guys wear sandals, OMG!  They have a cavalier attitude and I suppose they are very comfortable running up and down.  Yikes.

The last 100 feet or so to the summit was to me the scariest.  Although the “steps” are no different, the slope seems to be much steeper.

So why, may you ask, am I so concerned about the climb?  Well it’s not just my fear of heights, which of course is fairly easy to ignore in the dark, but will be on high alert in the daylight coming down.

No, it’s because of my ankles.  In late June 2009, I had a very bad right ankle sprain that I foolishly delayed seeking attention for.  It took months of physio to get it feeling better.  This past summer it was feeling so strong and great that I stopped doing the exercises.  Well, about four weeks ago, while riding my bike to work, I suffered another bad sprain on the same side.  This time, I got right back into the exercise program, and it felt better within days.  So while it does feel good, there’s always the possibility that…

The one thing that gave me confidence that I could do it, on the other hand, was my recent hard work to lose weight, get into shape, and get my lung capacity back to where it should be.  Since late August, I’ve lost around 27 pounds cycling back and forth from Headingley to work at Scurfield Blvd., about 23 km each way.  Well that and some swimming too, now that fall is fading and winter is closing in.  I haven’t felt this good in a long time.

So, what happened?  Of the 25 of us who were on the Biblical Lands Discovery Tour, 13 of us started out that morning.  5 decided that they would ride camels as far as they would go, 8 of us decided to walk.  Of the 8 that walked, 6 stayed at the base of the “steps”, 3 of us ventured on and made it to the summit.  Of the 5 that rode camels, 3 of them ventured on up the “steps” and 1 made it to the summit.

In that last miserable 100 feet to the summit, the temperature seemed to drop at least 10 deg C and the wind just started to howl (it had been pretty calm until that point).  It was just then that I realized that while climbing and sweating on the lower levels, I had dumped my sweater and mittens and put them into Dayna’s knapsack – which of course she kept down at the base of the “steps”.  Also, the 7500 ft elevation became very obvious all the sudden – it was getting harder and harder to catch my breath.  Up to this point, I had paced my breathing, much like when cycling.  But at the summit, OMG, it became that much harder – with the cold, the wind, the steeper slope.  But the four of us pressed on to the summit.

We arrived at the summit around 5:15 AM.  We had heard from our guide that the sun should rise at about 6:00 AM, so we had plenty of time to hang out.

On the summit, there is a small chapel and a small mosque, with stone terraces, stone steps and low stone walls.  So, how many people do you think could fit up there?  My guess is about five to seven hundred.  It was packed!  All the good spots for viewing the sunrise were taken, but we managed to squeeze a spot on some stairs and wait. 

Summit dwellers huddling below the mosque

Summit dwellers huddling along the south side of the chapel
Here I am, on the west side of the summit – the one where you could actually find a place to stand.  The sun seekers are weighing down the east side.

There was a hazy cloud on the horizon to the east, so the sun didn’t rise cleanly above the horizon.  I got several photos of the sun “almost” risen, but the crowd, the smoke (yes lots of smoking everywhere in Egypt!) and the cold got to me and I started the way back down.  Well the sun broke through as I descended the first stretch from the summit, so I turned back and snapped a picture of it.

When I looked around in the daylight, I was so surprised that there were hundreds more people lining the spine of the path all the way down.  There were a *lot* of people up there!

The sun comes up just in time!

Folks lined the ridges facing east

So we scrambled our way back down the “steps”.  It was rather uneventful, although for what should be a less rushed trek down, there seemed to be several persons and groups in an awful hurry, rushing past on spots where it really wasn’t wide enough, even pushing in a few spots.  There were some folks who probably should not have made the trip up, using walking canes to get back down, and they were subject to a lot of passing and folks breathing down their necks.  Bad form, people!  Thankfully, I only saw one injury, there were three people tending to a lady with what looked like a sprained ankle.

Steps near the summit down to the first coffee / refreshment stand

More of the steps, further down from the summit.  Goes through a rock cut!

We rejoined the rest of our group at the base of the steps, although there was confusion as to who was where, why they weren’t all there at the same time, etc.  Yikes, we have some ways to go to learn how to trek together as a group!

Surprise, surprise, the “easy” part of the walk down was actually the most difficult for me.  The “steps” were largely free from debris and sand, so while you had to be careful and watch your step, footing was relatively sure.  However, on the lower portion, the 5 km portion of the trail, the larger rocks often had sand on them, or gravel (well loose broken stone, not gravel as we know it), and this made it very treacherous to walk down.  Also, never discount the effect of walking *downward* for a long stretch of time, it really wears down the back and the Achilles!

We reached the monastery at about 8:15 AM.  We showered, stretched out flat for a bit (ouch ouch) then off for breakfast.  After taking a tour of the monastery and the very old Orthodox church within, and seeing what is held to be *the* burning bush, we were on the bus and on our way.  We stopped near the end of the lane, to see a likeness of the golden calf that the Israelites created and worshipped while Moses was up on the mountain getting the ten commandments.  One of our tour members did mock homage to it, I wanted to tell him that he’d better smarten up or I’d smash some stone tablets over his head.

Burning bush, long since extinguished, thankfully

Likeness of the golden calf?  (in stone about 3/4 up in picture)

The monastery kitchen provided us with elaborate box lunches (hot meal too, rice & chicken!), so we headed straight for the Mariott Resort at Taba.  Checkpoint, checkpoint, checkpoint… well, you get the idea.  No newspapers now (guess they would have been old news).

Well not quite straight.  We stopped at the Sayadeen Village Resort in Nuweibaa for a “toilet break” (NB British influence on our guide again).  Wow, very nice place, again on the Red Sea.  I’d love to holiday there if it wasn’t like 12 hours of plane flight away!

We got to the Taba Resort, very nice, but I made the mistake of mentioning that I’d really really really prefer a non-smoking room (I’ve put up with too much smoke in the past few days) and then there was an argument at the desk.  We waited over half an hour while they checked the room, checked again, changed our room, etc.  Yikes, I should have just shut up and took what they gave me.  Then I couldn’t FIND the room.  It turns out that they have about seven buildings of rooms around a campus area, and they are numbered in way that would make a believer in numerology cry.  Well Dayna and I had a bit of a tiff over the search for a room, but then she found it and I crashed.  Wouldn’t you know it, I was tired!  And life is really much better after you get an hour’s sleep.

Then we had the requisite dinner, quite nice actually.  We are looking forward to a free day at the resort tomorrow.

Cairo Citadel, Churches and Egyptian Museum – 28 October

We were off early to the Citadel this morning, the fortress built by sultan Saladin in the 12th city where the 19th century Mohammed Ali Mosque is built, very impressive.

Mohammed Ali mosque in the Cairo Citadel

Then we were off to Old Cairo – Coptic Cairo – the walled city within the city, where Christians once found refuge.  We visited St. Sargius Church, which was recently (last decade) pumped dry after being flooded by the Nile.  The crypt below the church, which we could only peer down into, is held to be one of the places where the Holy Family sought refuge when they fled to Egypt to escape from King Herod’s murderous intent.

We also visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue, apparently one of the oldest and most famous synagogues in the world.

The streets of Coptic Cairo are narrow and made of cobblestone.  It was quite crowded, difficult to navigate with all the other groups making their way along the same path!

Driving in Cairo must be quite a challenge – honking constantly, weaving in and out, and the road markings are, in the words of our first night’s guide, “for decoration only.”  I honestly don’t know how more people aren’t laying along the side of the road every day.  There are almost no traffic lights, yet traffic moves along fairly well.  Apparently insurance is available but good luck in getting a settlement in your lifetime.  You might as well toss the car and get another one.  Not a new one, mind you – apparently the import duties on automobiles can be as high as 100% – and there are no domestic vehicles manufactured.

A quiet time on a street outside of Coptic Cairo

Our next stop was the Egyptian Museum.  Yes, King Tuankhamun’s tomb treasures are here, including many, many pieces of jewelry, the head dress, gold coated furniture & caskets.  In fact, many of the wooden pieces have a thick layer of gold leaf on them, and then they fit one within another, like Ukranian Dolls.  Even the caskets are four huge boxes coated with gold leaf, and fit one within another.  They are so large that they cannot be practically extracted from within each other.  Each larger one was built around the outside of the smaller one, yikes!

There are hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the museum, it would take years to see it all.  We spent two hours and saw a small fraction.  I think maybe in spite of this, I got my fill.

…which brings me to the next thing.  Everyone here has their hand out, especially in the washrooms.  You will be paying to go to the bathroom, just count on it.  There often isn’t any toilet paper in the bathroom stall, even if there is a holder for it.  A young man (or woman as the case may be in a woman’s washroom) will be there with a roll, ready to offer some.  So you can take some in with you, right?  Well there is no hand towel either.  As soon as you emerge, the person will jump to the sink, start the water for you, and offer you a hand towel.  So you might as well haul out an Egyptian 5 pound note (roughly equivalent to 1 dollar) and offer it to the young person.  Not realizing all of this, I went into one washroom in the museum, where there was a posting “no tips allowed”, feeling pretty good about myself.  No toilet paper.  I turned right round and walked out, the young fellow started hassling me to pay!  I did the old “wash out” symbol and told him, “didn’t do anything, no pay” and continued right past him.  He was pretty peeved.  I guess I’ll have to get down with the local customs better…

We had lunch on “The Imperial”, a permanently moored ship along the Nile, quite nice.  Then we took photos off the top deck.  I’m not sure I would swim in that river, let me tell you!  Then again, neither would I swim in the Assiniboine, come to think of it.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at an Egyptian Cotton Shop.

We returned to the hotel for a late afternoon nap, then off to a laser light show at the Giza Pyramids.  The show was called “Sound and Light”.  It was quite impressive, lighting up the pyramids and sphynx with lasers and many different coloured floodlights, but it was all a bit melodramatic for me.  Oh well, everyone else seemed to enjoy it.  I just thought that at 55 minutes, it was about 30 minutes too long.

We had a late supper, now typing this in and ready to crash.  Dayna has re-packed us, we are prepared for an early morning departure for St. Catherine on the Sinai Peninsula.  Apparently we’re in for six to eight hours of riding in the motor coach tomorrow!  We’ll be hitting the sack early tomorrow night, as the next day we are up at 02h00 for the three hour climb to the summit of climb Mount Sinai for a sunrise service on top.  Apparently, most won’t be able to make the walk, as it’s a long, long walk up, very taxing, and quite a challenge to keep your footing on the several few hundred metres.  I don’t know if I’ll be posting tomorrow evening, we shall see!

Pyramid day – 27 October

One of the things that strikes you about the city of Cairo (and Giza) is that the buildings look terrible.  Very few of the residence buildings are completed.  Our guide advised that this is a way to avoid taxes, as apparently incomplete buildings are taxed much lower.  It sure makes the residences look ugly, especially at night, when you can see that they don’t have windows but people are still living there.  You can see carpets & towels over windows, even see right into people’s living areas, and it can look rather sad.

Incomplete buildings – they almost all look this way!

That said, there is obviously a lot of money in this country too – in some places.  There are beautiful places.

So about the pyramids.  We went to two sites today – the Giza pyramids, the larger ones and more modern, and the Sakkara pyramids, one of which is the oldest man-made stone structure in the world, over 4500 years old, yikes.

At each stop, we of course got out and did the tourist thing – took pictures of course!  And said, “no no no” hundreds of times.  Yikes, there are hundreds of guys hawking their wares here, from kids who look eight or nine years old, right up to those who look to be in their eighties!  They seem very pushy to Canadians, let me tell you.  And they are all smoking cigarettes – even the eight year olds!

Vendors hawking their wares at the Giza Pyramids

The pyramids themselves are pretty impressive.  They were at one time capped with limestone, but it was all stolen to make new buildings, so now they are jagged on the edges.

The Giza Pyramids
Dayna stands before the largest pyramid at Giza.  Notice the jaggy edge.  The smooth part up high is what is left of the smooth cap that used to be on all of them!

So then we went to a shop that sold jewelry.  Now we could not afford the big ticket items in there, but we did buy a nice crystal pyramid and a few other little items.

Next to a papyrus shop.  We didn’t buy anything but it was fascinating the way they used to make the stuff… and they still do!

Lunch was wonderful, although we couldn’t identify everything, it was all great.

Then off to the Sakkara pyramids, which are the oldest pyramids of them all, reaching back to around 5,000 years ago!  We actually got to go inside one of them, down to the sarcophagus chamber and saw real hyroglyphics, very cool.  I actually touched them, wasn’t supposed to, oops.  We weren’t able to take pictures in there, so nothing to show – but it’s worthwhile, if you ever get the chance.

So then back to the hotel for supper, very nice. 

After supper, Dayna and I went for a walk outside the walls of the hotel grounds.  We figured we might come across a convenience store or market where we might buy Diet Pepsi, etc.  We came across two others from our group who were doing the same thing.  Then we came across a member of the hotel staff, just off duty, who offered to take us to one.

Well first stop was nothing of the sort, it was a perfume shop.  Wow, what a place.  The perfumes were apparently pure extract, no chemicals nor alcohol.  It was amazing!  So we bought some, spent too much!

Then they took us to a general gift shop, then another papyrus place.  We were tired, didn’t buy, came back.  And that’s it.  Well, except updating this blog!

Winnipeg to Cairo – 25/26 October

Leaving Winnipeg on Monday.  George didn’t take a very clear shot!  I think he was nervous to be in such good company.

We packed and headed to the airport.  Halfway to the airport, I remembered that I had not put enough shirts in.  I stopped and checked, and sure enough, only two shirts – how did I do that?  Well, too late to go home, so we zipped into Zeller’s Polo Park and picked up a few more.  Then off to the airport, where we sat and waited for the plane to leave.

The flight to Toronto was smooth and pleasant enough, but there was a mechanical issue with the auxiliary power unit and we were a half hour late.  Getting off the plane, we heard last call for our connecting flight to London-Heathrow, yikes!  Dayna and I left the rest behind and made a dash for the gate.  It took us over 20 minutes of brisk walk to get there, and we knew that there were at least a dozen well behind us, including one lady in a wheelchair.  The folks at the gate assured us that they knew we were coming, and would wait.  I stood outside and waited, while Dayna got on the plane.  They all showed up without incident, although it took some twenty minutes more.  We wiped our foreheads and jumped on, and were off!

The flight to London was long but uneventful.  Most folks got some sleep; I just couldn’t.  Pondering, thinking, wondering… and then we were there.

We got to sit for three hours and a bit in Heathrow.  Our next flight on Egypt Air, was posted as boarding at 14h45, but no gate number was put up until about 15h00.  By the time we got to the gate, the lineup was huge, but that was just to get into the gate lounge.  Another hour’s delay in the lounge, and we were… oops, delay on the tarmac, and the slowest taxi out & takeoff I have ever seen. 

Even after all that, we were only 1/2 hour late getting to Cairo.  It was almost midnight by the time we got to our hotel, though – it’s actually in Giza, Cairo’s sister city across the Nile.  We’re riding in a bus, and that’s a good thing.  Driving must be quite the experience here – as our tour guide that night said, the lines on the road are just decorations – and he meant it!

After a full day’s travel without sleep, we finally get to sit down in Le Meridien lobby

So we made it to Cairo, now staying at Le Meridien Pyramids.  Time to crash!

Planning for trip to the middle east!

Yes, we are getting ready to go on the “Bible Lands Discovery Tour” of the middle east.  It’s just over a week away now!  Leaving 25 October.

The itinerary looks like this:

25 October – depart Winnipeg early evening, through Toronto then Heathrow and on to Cairo

26 October – arrive Cairo & crash

27 October –  Cairo – off to Sakkara and visit Giza Pyramids

28 October – Cairo – Egyptian Museum and other historical sites of Cairo

29 October – Sinai Peninsula / Saint Catherine

30 October – up to top of Mount Sinai for sunrise service, St. Catherine Monastery, and off to Taba, resort along Gulf of Aqaba

31 October – free day in Taba, very nice resort!

 1 November – travel out of Egypt across southern Israel and into Jordan, travel to Wadi Rum desert landscape, then on to Petra

 2 November – visit ancient city of Petra, accessible only through a mile long canyon

 3 November – travel north up “the King’s Highway”to Kerak, then Mount Nebo, Masaba, and on to Amman where we stay overnight.

 4 November – visit Bethany where John the Baptist lived and where Jesus was baptized, then on into Israel, staying along the Sea of Galilee.

 5 November – visit sites around the Sea of Galilee and go on the Sea, then Banias (Caesarea Philippi), Capernaum, Tabgha (loaves & fishes miracle location), and the Mount of Beatitudes (sermon on the mount).

 6 November – visit ruins at Sepphoris, Nazareth, and Mount Tabor (location of transfiguration).

7 November – Megiddo (predicted location of Battle of Armegeddon), Caesarea, and Jericho.

 8 November – Dead Sea region – Qumran (where Dead Sea Scrolls found), Masada, take a dip in the Dead Sea, then to Jerusalem

 9 November – Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Church of Nativity, Shepherd’s Fields, Shrine of the Book Museum (Dead Sea Scrolls preserved here).

10 November – Old Jerusalem, Pool of Bethesda, Via Dolorosa (“Way of the Cross” to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), Garden Tomb.

11 November – return home through Toronto