Well the Pilgrimage has made it to the Promised land at last

Friday 14 September 2018

We left the Dead Sea early this morning, fearing a long-complicated process for crossing the border at the Allenby bridge into Israel. While it took about an hour-and-a-half it did go smoothly – thanks to our new driver for the crossing who managed to wangle our tiny mini-bus in front of two large coaches and be first in line. Robert’s artificial knee held us up at the Israeli end along with Conrad’s C-Pap sleep machine. The tiny and polite but stern lady doing the inspection had us all in giggles as she carefully patted Conrad’s bag down, then slowly un-zipped it and exposed for all the world to see, Conrad’s unique packing style! She was thorough with her testing of every element of Conrad’s machine along with going through every bit of paper and all the books in his case. Finally satisfied that all was well – we went on to meet our new guide Maher (pronounced My – hair) He was also the driver and was full of information as we sped along the beautiful roads, passing Jericho and on into Jerusalem. He did do a bit of explaining about the different political situation with the Palestinians as well as Israel’s four border neighbours – Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It was a surreal moment seeing Jerusalem for the first time. All the hype and expectations faded as we realised we were here at last.

Our hotel for the next three nights is the 7 Arches Hotel on the top of the Mount of Olives. The view overlooks the entire city and I imagine one could never tire of it. After checking in, Maher left us to our own devices for the afternoon. Not wanting to waste a moment I hired us a driver and van to take us to the highly recommended market – Mahane Yehuda. The Mahane Yehuda Market (aka The Shuk) is the largest market in Jerusalem and one of the most famous in the Middle East. Once a shopping and dining centre for the working class, the shuk has transformed into one of Jerusalem’s main cultural centres. It was packed with shoppers wanting to get goods before the Shabbat began around 5pm when everything in the Jewish Quarter closed. The sounds, smells, and colours were almost overwhelming. It was a delight to interact with people for a change and not look at temples, ruins, castles, or tombs!

Our driver, who introduced himself to me as “Just call me Kojak” (mainly because of his bald head), then drove us to just outside the old city. We walked up and through the Dung Gate and made our way to the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall) – the only remaining section of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Women on one side and men on the other – we men all donned our Kipa’s/Yarmulke’s and said a prayer at the wall. It was a moment not to forget.

Tomorrow we begin our exploration of the city in earnest in the morning before heading to Bethlehem in the afternoon.

hotel 7 Arches

Our hotel for the next three nights

jerusalem in all its glory

The view from the front of the Hotel!

Mehane Yehuda Markets 1

Mehane Yehuda MarketMehane Yehuda Markets 2

Mehane Yehuda Markets 3modern tram system

A modern cheap tram system well used by the locals!

entering via the dung gate

Entering the Old City via the Dung Gate

 

Ian, Robert and Lewis praying at the Wailing Wall

Robert, Ian and Lewis at the wallit's been a long tiring day

Yours truly and Mrs J at the end of a long day!

The Dead Sea

Thursday 13 September 2018

A rest day and relaxing day at the Holiday Inn by the north-eastern edge of the Dead Sea. The highlight of the day of course was the experience of trying to swim in it!

For me it was a weird and eerie feeling. It was a hot morning and the water was tepid. You wade across the pebbles and you are in. You tilt back and suddenly you are on your back floating high; suspended on the water. It was hard to put your feet down – you kept rolling over. It was hard not to laugh out loud and our group was in a constant state of the giggles. When I got my feet under me I could not submerge lower than my shoulders – it was as if I were a human cork bobbing up and down.

Many took the opportunity to lather themselves in the mud and looked quite the sight! In our prayers at the end of the day we remembered the end of the story of Moses (Deut 34) and the fact that while he saw the promised land he never entered it. Today was a great day for us all to recharge the batteries before we actually do cross over into the Promised land tomorrow.

the Dead Sea ready for us

J floating in the Dead Sea

J floating in the Dead Sea

Judy J up lathered up

Judy J all lathered up

From the High’s to the Low’s

Wednesday 12 September 2018

I was up very early to see the dawn break across this majestic desert landscape and to savour the quietness – no man-made noise whatsoever. It was a beautiful hour’s meditation and rejuvenation! After a simple breakfast we left our desert camp early this morning in the 4×4’s – sitting up top was exhilarating -watching the desert roar past, with the fresh cool -ish breeze in one’s face. We came to the local village to join our minivan for the trek north to Kerak – a 3-an-a-half hour journey.

Once an important city of the Biblical kingdom of Moab, Kerak was also home to the Nabateans, Romans (from 105 AD), and the Byzantines, before the Crusaders built a castle here. In the Byzantine period Kerak was a bishopric and it remained mostly a Christian town even under Arab rule. It was the castle we had come to see a mighty impressive castle it is – even if half-ruined! In 1126, Payen le Bouteiller (Paganus the Butler) received Kerak from King Baldwin II of Jerusalem as part of the lordship of Oultrejourdain (Transjordan). In 1142, he built Kerak Castle over the existing foundations on the site. The Crusaders set up an impressive system of security: all the fortifications were a day’s journey apart and each one lit a beacon at night to inform Jerusalem it was safe.

Kerak Castle resisted attacks by Saladin’s troops in 1183 and 1184, but finally fell after a siege in 1189. The Mamluk ruler Baybars added a tower on the northwest corner in 1263. It was later owned by local families until 1840, when Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt captured the castle and destroyed much of it in the process. After World War I, Kerak was administered by the British until the Emirate of Transjordan was established in 1921. Kerak is still a predominantly Christian town, with many of today’s inhabitants tracing their roots back to the Byzantines.

We enjoyed the site – especially seeing the cells down below which have been recently excavated. The wine/olive press in the kitchen was a high-light as well; along with the pipe system to collect water, and the arched church roof – still standing after 850 years. Looking out over the eastern edge of the castle we were able to see the caves used by the Moabites over 3000 years ago. Given that King David was the Great-grandson of Ruth, a Moabite and that Moses died in Moab having been only able to see the Promised land but not enter it – this was a special moment for many in the group.

After a delightful lunch, we descended towards our destination – the Holiday Inn Resort on the North-Eastern side of the Dead Sea. We passed the marker indicating sea-level and kept driving down for another hour or so, finally reaching our accommodation for the next two nights.

To swim here would be tomorrow’s delight!

camels eat anything

While waiting to get into our minivan we spotted these camels eating cardboard

local train running on tracks laid down in 1904

We stopped at the local Wadi Rum station – this train still runs on tracks laid down in 1904!

Eid our guide

Eid – our 60 year old Bedouin guide in full flight

J at Kerek Castle

J at the castle

view from castle showing moabite caves on cliff front

If you look at the cliff face at the bottom right you will make out the Moabite caves

down to the cells

down to the cells!

view to the church

a view from inside out to the arch of the 12th century church

sea level marker 2

On the way DOWN!

the dead sea

The Dead Sea

Between a rock and a hard place (actually a bona fide desert!) Or- smell the serenity!

Tuesday 11 September 2018

In the morning I had a bit of ‘Petra belly’ and my knees were weak after yesterday’s journey, so I am inviting fellow traveller – Daniel B – the youngest and fittest of the hardy nine to write about the mornings excursion back to Petra. I will then pick up the narrative for our afternoon trip to the Wadi Rum – our night at a desert camp under the starry starry night.

Thanks Shane!  Day 10 of our trip was certainly action-packed, and we were all feeling a degree of soreness and fatigue after our journey to the magnificent Treasury and Monastery Facades. Day 11 saw us begin our journey just past the Petra visitor centre but shortly before the entrance to the famous Siq. It was at this point that we branched off along the Al-Madras trail.  According to our guide Eid, this was a “secret” trail that would lead us to the heart of Petra.  While certainly not a secret these days, the trail is certainly not as well known as the famous Siq. There were hardly any other tourists aside from a half dozen German backpackers who we met along the way, so we were relatively undisturbed for most of the journey which was a welcome change from the large crowds gathered at some of the better-known attractions.

The Al-Madras trail is approximately 4-5 kilometres long, with moderate to hard levels of climbing up and down the hills of Petra.  Walking along the trail allowed us to observe some of the landscape of Petra which was previously hidden on our journey yesterday.  While mostly barren, we saw some varieties of plant life (Sea Onions being the most predominant plant although I’m yet to research this name given Petra is quite a distance from any ocean front that I’m aware of) along with herds of goats being looked after by local shepherds (mainly young boys of around 10-12 years of age who would scamper over the rocky hills quicker than we could walk on the relatively flat designated trails).

Along the journey we saw a few features in the local landscape.  Guard houses (man-made caves carved into the rock face) were the most common feature.  The design and location of these caverns was clearly on show as they gave magnificent elevated views of the surrounding region. This would have aided the original Nabataean inhabitants to spot any approaching visitors (unwelcome or otherwise) to Petra.  The location of the guardhouses to each other also showed a canny design as communication would have been a possibility to pass on basic signals over medium to long distances (perhaps by sound or light signals?).

After a journey of approximately three hours we began to approach our destination, two ancient ruined Obelisks.  This marked the final ascent up to the High Place of Sacrifice.  After a further 20-minute climb up some relatively steep steps and rock formations, we arrived at the High Place to find a rocky plateau carved into the peak of the hilltop.  It was here that the Nabataean’s would conduct religious ceremonies with a backdrop overlooking much of the city of Petra. 

Some of the sights visible at the top of the mountain side were of the Theatre (an outdoor amphitheatre carved into a mountainside able to accommodate 4000 people) and the Street of Facades, the name given to a row of monumental tombs, similar in nature to the famed Treasury.  While the journey up was certainly arduous and challenging, the elevated views of Petra were magnificent to observe and a great reward for our efforts to reach the top.  After a short break for refreshments, we continued our journey down the mountainside and exited Petra via the Siq, saying a final farewell to the Treasury along the way to continue our journey on to Wadi Rum. 

Back to you Shane…….

The afternoon saw us drive towards the Wadi Rum – and our destination – the Rainbow Camp. Wadi just means ‘Valley.’ This entire area has been turned into a reserve with a few desert camps for visitors. After a quick stop at the Visitors Centre to see the rock formation – the Seven Pillars of Wisdom we soon exchanged our minivan for a number of 4×4’s. Most of us sat up top in the ute tray at the back which had a shade cover. The vehicles looked like they had been built in the last quarter of the last century but managed to do the job. Our camp was about twenty-five k’s in. We stopped at the Lawrence Spring – a resting spot for camels and the place where the only two trees flourish in the entire valley. Another stop to marvel at an actual huge red sand dune and then we arrived at camp.

About 15 canvas two-person canvas tents – very basic – a lovely toilet/shower block and then the covered resting area where we rest upon carpet for Jordanian tea! The highlights include watching the sun go down over the desert – the absolute absence of man-made sound – the hungi style dinner cooled in a pit – and of course – the stars of the night sky which blew us away! One of our nine -Ian – who has a good knowledge of the night sky – pointed out the four planets we could see very easily – Mars, Jupitar, Saturn, and Venus. When the camp lights were switched off it was easy to imagine ancient peoples looking up and being mesmerised by this overwhelming sight.

A truly magnificent way to finish another day – Ahh the serenity!

overlooking Petra

Overlooking Petra

the group with Eid and Farah the driver

Our group with Eid our guide and Farah our driver

7 Pillars of Wisdom

7 Pillars of Wisdom

Lawreance Spring - a camel stopping spot with the only two trees in the Wadi

Lawrence Spring – with the only two trees.

Mt Rum 1755m high

Mt Rum – 1755m

our transport to the desert camp

Our transport across the desert

rainbow camp finally

finally at camp

our accommodation

Our tent for the night

our desert dinnar out of the ground pit

dinner emerges

 

 

 

Petra – more than a Wonder

Monday 10 September 2018

According to the information booklet we were all given upon arrival at the Visitors Centre:

It is not known precisely when Petra was built, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, which grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire and continued to thrive until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city. The earthquake combined with changes in trade routes, eventually led to the downfall of the city which was ultimately abandoned. By the middle of the 7th century Petra appears to have been largely deserted and it was then lost to all except local Bedouin from the area. It was not until 1812 when a Swiss explorer Johannes Burckhardt ‘rediscovered’ the ‘lost city’.

This city is truly worthy of being ‘a world heritage site’, and we were all eager early today to see it. We had been prewarned about the temperature and the need for lots of water for the day. We had also been warned about this being one of the more ‘punishing’ days on the body – walking, climbing, and staying cool.

Luckily – there was breeze early and the temperature was in the 20s – something we had not seen for the last 10 days! It did warm up later in the afternoon, but we were able to see a lot in relative coolness.

The great monument that is the ‘Treasury’ is the more famous and well-known. It is approached by walking along the ‘Siq’ (which means gorge) – a 1.2k winding and slowly descending path between the cliff face until one enters and beholds this awe-inspiring façade.

We walked on and passed the ‘Theatre’ – a 4000 seat amphitheatre carved into the rock face; passed the ‘Nymphaeum’- semi-circular public fountain; walked on the ‘Colonnaded Street’; went up to see ‘the Church’ – built at the end of the 5th century and destroyed by fire/earthquake later. We saw the ‘Royal Tombs’ carved out of the mountain face.

After lunch – many faced the real test of the day – do we soldier onto the see the ‘Ad Deir – the Monastery.’ The problem was that it was a further walk followed by a climb of 845 rock hewn steps straight up! Many turned back but a few of the hardy nine ventured forth! D was the true hero as he along with the guide went up and back. J and yours truly took what we thought was an easier option – to ride mules to the top! This was scarier than I thought with you perched on an animal – peering over the edge of the rock face – looking death in the eye if you fell off. But we both managed to get to the top and along with D marvel at the ‘Monastery’- one of the largest monuments in Petra (over 48m high!) deeply and beautifully carved into the rock. I decided for my sake and the animal’s that I would descend on foot all those stairs. We all made it safely if all exhausted back to Petra’s opening and slept well this night.

the view from our breakfast table as the sun rose

The view from our Hotel as the sun rose

the start

Approaching Petra – our guide Eid to the left, J in the middle, and D on the right

the start of the Siq

the start of the ‘Siq’

siq 2

the path narrows

first glimpse of treasury

first glimpse of Treasury

treasury

wow

sand formation

theatre 2

monastery

I made it to the top – the Monastery

the donket ride home

The Royal tombs hewn high in the rock; a little boy sadly sitting in the sun selling little bits of rock; and J on donkey riding back

Come fly with me, come fly, come fly and drive!

Sunday 9 September 2018

We started the day early with a lovely communion service held in one of our rooms where we reflected upon Moses leading the people across the Red Sea (as we would be crossing the Red Sea later this day – although in a hopefully less traumatic manner as the Israelites!) We packed, checked out and waited for our last drive with Sherif, who would be taking us to the airport. Sherif has been an excellent guide during our stay in Egypt, and our guides to come have big shoes to fill!

Transport is always time consuming, and while the flight to Jordan itself was only the same length of time as a flight from Melbourne to Sydney – this was an international flight and it took over an hour for our bags to be processed upon landing.

We met our new guide – Eid – a grandfatherly old Bedouin with a deep Bass voice – and started on our way. The trip from the airport to Petra where we would be staying for two nights is only 250k. But driving in Jordan, while far less hectic and chaotic as Cairo, has its own set of difficulties – road works and single lane sections made for slow travelling. Also remember that this road – the Desert High Way – is one of the areas major transport routes and so was packed with semi-trailers with all sorts of produce to feed the people of the region. 250k took us four-and-a-half hours!

The pain of the day’s travel soon vanished as we approached our destination for the next couple of nights – The Old Village Resort, Petra. We drove into this valley with what seemed like Christmas lights twinkling all around – the lights of the houses on the surrounding hills. It was magical as was our hotel! – The rooms large and comfortable – the restaurant where we had a late evening meal fantastic – all bode well for our visit over the next day and a half to the World Heritage listed site – the city of Petra!

white house made from limestone

Simple house on road to Petra – square white and made from limestone

mosque on the roadside

A Mosque by the road

patches of green in a barren landscape

Patches of green in a desert setting – highly irrigated but told by guide that water is beginning to be more precious and valuable – something we know all about back home!

O I do like to be beside the Seaside

Saturday 8 September 2018

One of the options taken by me to shape this tour was to exchange a day at the resort centre on the Red Sea and instead have a day exploring the marvels of the city of Alexandria, nested on the Mediterranean Sea. Adding time for traffic in Cairo and in Alexandria it was a three-and-a-half hour trip each way. We left at 6.30am and arrived back at our lovely hotel by 6.50pm – a full exhausting but exhilarating day!

Alexandria – founded by Alexander the Great in around 331 BC is the second largest city in Egypt – with around 8 million people. The day was picture perfect (if a tad hot in the afternoon – high 30s) We visited the Montazah Palace, built for the Royal family back in 1892, restored in 1932, and now serving as a Presidential address and meeting place for visiting dignitaries.

Next we saw the New library complex which is two buildings connected representing a solar disk and an eye! We looked out across the bay to the place where the old lighthouse stood – one of the 7 wonders of the Ancient world – upon which a 14th century fort now stands. Both the old lighthouse and the old library (destroyed by fire) were created by Ptolemy 2nd – the son of Ptolemy (to whom this city was given after the death of Alexander.)

We weaved our way through the back streets of Alexandria – marvelling at the local businesses at play; the chaotic traffic and the locals who walk wherever and whenever they like despite the volume of cars and trucks around! We visited the sight of Pompeii’s Pillar – a misnomer if ever there was one – the legend has it that after his death Pompeii’s head (or ashes) were placed upon the top of this 28m high granite pillar flanked by two Roman Sphinx’s. The problem is that Pompeii had been dead for over two hundred years by the time the pillar was erected in the 4th century. But the name has stuck! The site first contained a temple complex erected by none other than Ptolemy 2nd (an enlightened intellectual). Upon a breakout of violence between the pagans, using this site as their last refuge, and the pillaging Christians, in the 4th century, the local authority called upon help from the Romans. The legend has it that this violence also was the cause of the fire which destroyed the famed library of Alexandria. In thanks for their support in quelling the riot – this pillar was erected.

Our last stop were the impressive Roman catacombs, discovered by accident in 1900 when a poor donkey fell down a well. We went far below the ground to see family tombs decorated with paintings which are a hybrid between Egyptian and Roman beliefs. It was interesting to reflect that we had over the course now of a week seen Egyptian symbols and Gods morph over 3500 years but be clearly recognised still. These tombs were in my opinion far more impressive than the ones I have seen in Rome. We were not allowed to take photos so again google Alexandria catacombs to get a sense of what I am saying.

After a long drive back to the Hotel through some chaotic and at times scary traffic in Cairo, the hardy Nine had their last meal together in Egypt before heading off to Jordan tomorrow (Sunday 9/9)

Depending on Wi-Fi availability will determine the timing of the next post!

Palace in Alexandria

Montazah Palace built in 1892

beautiful gardens at Palace in Alexandria

The view of the Mediterranean Sea  from the gates of the palace – stunning day and vista!

new library at Alexandria 1

New Library – part of the building – in shape of Solar disk – The God ‘Ra’

new library at Alexandria 2

The other part of the Library – the ‘Eye’

group in front of Med

In the background – over Judy’s left shoulder (2nd from right) is the sight where the Light House of Pharos stood – one of Seven Wonders of the World.

colourful markets

Market day every day

trams

I didn’t bring my Myki

pillar 2

Pompeii’s Pillar

pillar 1

Only shade behind the Pillar!

pillar 3

last glimpse of Pyramid in Cairo

Last glimpse of the Great pyramid – you would not believe how close the suburbs are to this wonder