Lebanon- Part 1

Cantaloupe is an amazing restaurant at the end of Rainbow Street in Amman. It has panoramic views of the city and fantastic (Italian) food. We were there with a small group of friends a few weeks ago to farewell our beloved American friend, Justin. (We miss you Justin!!)

A phone-camera snap of the view.

A phone-camera snap of the view.

Realising that it was Easter that coming weekend, we decided to go on the group’s long-awaited trip to Lebanon. Only a few days after Justin left. I guess we subconsciously wanted him to regret leaving us all. Sorry Justin.

A few days later we were off! Only a quick flight of just over an hour and we were there. It turns out we flew with the only airline that is still game (read: crazy?) enough to fly over Syria. So for most of the trip we cruised straight over Syria, although the plane did skirt Damascus so that’s fine, right? Oops. But we got there in one piece. Next challenge was to be let in.

One of the sights we were excited to see in Beirut!

One of the sights we were excited to see in Beirut!

Everyone got through customs without a hassle (Well, Michelle did get hit on by the customs officer: ‘have you tried tabouleh?’.. ‘yes.’ … ‘Lebanese tabouleh is the best. I can show you’ … ‘No thanks.’) But then it was my turn.

For those who don’t know, you cannot be let into Lebanon if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. It’s the same in Saudi Arabia, amongst other countries. But I knew this, and didn’t have  a stamp.

However, I was born in Jerusalem, and it says so in my Australian passport under place of birth. They took my passport to the main office and consulted with each other. They called the owner of apartment we were staying at in Beirut, asked for many more details etc etc. I explained that I was born in Jerusalem because my Dad was working with the UN at the time, helping Palestinian refugees, and we lived in Bethlehem (Palestine) but the hospital was in Jerusalem. No good. (During the explanation one of them had the clever idea that I just change my place of birth. Genius, why didn’t I think of that beforehand…) They required approval from higher up, saying it would take about three hours. Not ok. I wanted to call for help.

We couldn’t get a sim card, they wouldn’t let us use their phone, and of course, the pay phones did not function. After over an hour of heated debate (in Arabic may I add- yay!), I was finally escorted by security to a pay phone on another floor that did work. My calls weren’t too fruitful in terms of getting me into the country, but I had plenty of time for a nice catch-up with my parents.

Other things we did to stay entertained:

  • Made paper aeroplanes out of the visa forms, earning strange looks from the guards, some of whom later joined us and made planes that put ours to shame.
  • Played soccer with a pen
  •  Watched Sam wear a wicked grin as he sped down the large empty corridor in a wheelchair that he found
  • Michelle taught me some Latin-American dance moves
  • Ate a lot of Oreos
  • Sung
  • Banged our heads on the wall
  • Sam lifted heavy tables and put them back down again, seriously concerning the security staff.

 

Kara and Michele dance the pain away.

Kara and Michele dance the pain away.

Yeah, it got pretty fun toward the end.

 

Nevertheless, five hours later I was finally allowed into the country. And it was great.

At least I know that I can argue in Arabic now!
(Note from Sam: No you can’t – it took 5 hours to get in, remember?)

Advertisements

Sam’s poetry is coming along.

Bummed out about the future.

Once there was a boy
Whose name was Sam.

He grew up in the capital
That’s where he learnt how to stand.

A few years down the track
With Uni almost done

He met this lovely girl
Who had an incredible bum.

She was off to the Middle East
A land of swords, bombs and sheiks

But Sam wasn’t scared, he was in love
So he followed her, like an overenthusiastic creep.

Together now they live,
In an apartment in Amman

They study Arabic together,
And with the locals they yarn.

Both of them are ambitious,
A pair of future diplomats maybe

But how will they stay together
If they have to travel daily?

These questions and more they struggle with
But each day is fun

And because Sam is a simple one
He’s happy as long as he can stare at Kara’s bum.

Luckily for both of them,
They have options, choices.

That’s a lot luckier than some.
So through time they will travel,

Together as one.
Making decisions as a team,

Because that’s how all the great champions played,
That’s how they won.

The Valley of Women: Wadi Mukheires

It’s kind of a grim story. Apparently, a Spanish man used the wadi as a dumping ground for the women he killed. Wadi means valley, and Mukhaires is Spanish for women. So it was named after this story. In fact, the wadi was only recently opened up for hiking, it was closed because they thought there were still some potential burial sites in there!

According to Sam. The expert on Jordanian history, geography and everything in between. Sam had the group, maybe not convinced, but definitely confused. Our guide wasn’t sure if there was a story behind the name so told us to make one up instead. Sam did a pretty good job, no?

1795698_652561371476736_1353841939_n

It was a smaller group than last week, so Sam and I and a friend from uni were driven up by one of our guides in his big old 4WD, while the others were in another car. Besides the fact that both our guides are great guys, it was good to get to chat with Jordanians after spending most of our time with foreigners at university.

The walk itself was fantastic. While classified as moderate/difficult as opposed to last week’s ‘easy’ walk, it didn’t actually involve any swimming, and none of the climbing was excessively hard either. As Sam said, this meant we could get into a nice rhythm without having to stop too much. It was a different type of enjoyment and appreciation of the wadi we were walking through. That said, we didn’t have to swim!

IMG_7806

Although, Sam’s bum did get a bit wet, because of course he had to try and jump across the widest part of the stream. He ended up with his feet and legs on dry land and just his bum in the water. Hilarious! And me, when I prematurely congratulated myself on jumping across a wide stretch of water by relaxing and failing to actually make it to the other side… But just wet feet!

Which may be why we decided to stand under the waterfall at the top of the hike! Powerful and cold neck and shoulder massage anyone?!

Sam won't let me escape the freezing waterfall

The waterfall was really powerful!

Yes, it was cold

Wringing ourselves out

So yes, we did get soaked. But sunbaking on the rocks afterwards was a great recovery from our refreshing pummelling. The waterfall was beautiful though. There were some springs flowing out of the surrounding rocks, as well as a pile of rocks from a recent avalanche. Which was apparently covering one of our guides’ campsites from a few weeks earlier! He was properly concerned when he saw what had become of where he had slept.

IMG_7763

We had arrived at the waterfall ahead of time as our small group moved quickly. So we ate an early, but again, delicious lunch. Feast of fresh bread with fried tomatoes, onions, chilis, and some capsicum and sausages too. And tea, of course. With date and sesame dessert pastries. Yuuuuummo.

IMG_7799

IMG_7795

We actually interrupted a lovely British couple and their guide having tea when we arrived at the waterfall. But then a group of about 30 young boys came on some sort of school trip, and played under the waterfall too. Funny to watch them pushing their teacher in, but still glad they didn’t stay for toooo long.

IMG_7765

20140228_144203

Our group was great though. We brought a couple of friends from uni, one of whom brought her Jordanian boyfriend. Who is nicknamed Lemur, because he climbs and bounces around everywhere and does parkour. So while we were slipping and clambering around, he was back-flipping off rocks.

1896841_652566901476183_1563038303_n

We also had some great conversations with an American working here with the Peace Corps. This organisation runs a 2-year volunteering program for Americans, who learn the local dialect and usually teach English or work with Jordanian youths. Interesting to compare it to Australia’s Youth Ambassador Program, which isn’t nearly as long and doesn’t operate in Jordan.

Then there are our guides, who are awesome.

IMG_7727

And they always make the walk even more interesting

Walking like an Egyptian

Driving back along the Dead Sea was also an interesting experience. So many people were sitting picnicking along the edge of the road again. On the OTHER side of the four lane highway from the Dead Sea. So they drive an hour or so out of Amman to sit by a busy road unable to see the sea. What are we missing here? It’s so popular, surely there must be something more to it?

Really, I think it’s definitely them missing out on the beauty Jordan has to offer. Weekend trips out of Amman are definitely going to continue! We love these walks. So much so that Sam’s sweat patches form a massive love heart across his chest!

IMG_7745

An American, a German and two Australians walk into a bar…

Three guys and a girl walk into a burger joint in Amman, Jordan. The American offends the staff by being American. The German offends the American by telling him ‘your hair smells like flowers’ in an aggressive German accent. The Australian girl offends the Australian boy by laughing at his Arabic. The Australian boy disgusts everyone by ordering three desserts. He ate them all, not wanting to admit that he only meant to order one and that his Arabic does in fact suck.* And because they were delicious.

Three of these.

Three of these.

*Sam is actually really good at Arabic, and much better than Kara was after seven days of classes.

Top ten funny street vendor moments

Taxi drivers, felucca drivers, horse and carriage drivers, shopkeepers… Everyone is trying to sell their goods or services to us. Constantly. This has led to some interesting encounters. Here are some favourites:

1. Walking through a souk:
“Come and spend your money here!”
Subtle.

2. When the five MILLIONTH man tries to offer us a ride in a horse and carriage as we’re walking along the Nile:

Driver: Do you know how much for a carriage ride?
Me (Kara): Yes. Five pounds.
Driver: …Oh. (And leaves)

3. Sam singing as we walk through a souk
Vendor: I recommend to you that you stop singing. You have a bad voice. (Prepares himself for a selling pitch)
Sam: Well I recommend that you go away.
It worked.

4. WE FOUND A WAY TO GET RID OF PEOPLE HASSLING US!!
We were being hassled by kids pretending to be beggars at the Botanical Gardens in Aswan.

They couldn’t stop giggling, but kept following us and asking for money.
Eventually, I told them (in Arabic) that we weren’t tourists, so please leave us alone. So they did! Then they came back and actually had a chat. Turns out they were on a big family picnic while on their school holidays. Cheeky devils.

Other common attempts to attract our attention:
5. No hassle, no hassle!

6. Lucky man! How many camels? (Getting very old now)

7. Yes yes yes yes yes?

8. *Something incomprehensible in German, thinking we are German tourists*

9. Looking is free today! (as opposed to all the days you pay to walk in a store?)

10. Remember me? I work at your hotel!

11. (Bonus) Where you from? Australia? Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!

It gets pretty annoying, but you get used to relegating the hassle to background noise, and in the end, they are just doing their business.

That said, the best tip for having a conversation with a haggler, is don’t get roped in to a conversation with a haggler!

The night Sam wore a dress* out to dinner

Sam’s new Kathmandu pants tore a bit while horse-riding around the Pyramids (I told you it was intense/scary riding!). When looking for a restaurant in a souk (market), we came across a tailor and asked whether he could fix them. He could, but not while Sam was wearing them. (Duh). We suggested we come back later, but they insisted that no, now was better. Sam could wear a Galabiyah* while we had dinner at the restaurant next door. We were hungry, and it was a good price, so it was a deal!

IMG_7412

IMG_7413

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And what a beautiful deal it was. The outfit was also quite comfortable (apparently). Although I think this had more to do with Sam not having to wear pants. Should I be worried?

It was certainly entertaining for the locals to see Sam, with his long curly blonde hair, eating street food in their traditional dress. But it worked- we had dinner, Sam’s trousers were fixed, and we took ‘cultural immersion’ to its full extension. We are now on the hunt for Galabiyahs.

*A traditional Egyptian Galabiyah, worn by men, but hilarious on Sam.

To Hulk, or not to Hulk? Aswan hotels suck.

Every hotel in Aswan was either full, exorbitantly priced, or a dump. A number of people told us about fantastic walk-in prices you could get at some of these hotels. We hadn’t quite realised this meant USD200/night, down from a cool USD400. We did manage to get a better price walking into the hotel, but the hunt was way more difficult than it should have been.

Aswan's beautiful sunset.

Aswan’s beautiful sunset.

Hotel number 1:
Turned out to be along a road completely blocked by the police, along with four large armoured trucks, men with machine guns and a group of riot police. This was to protect a government building following the bomb in Cairo on January 24th. Should we feel safer within the barricade, or was it a place expected to come under attack?

Either way, the hotel was far more expensive than expected, so we moved on to hotel number 2, about 10 minutes walk away.

Hotel number 2:
Closed for renovations.

We turned back the way we came to check out two other places we saw from across the street.

Hotel number 3:
At full capacity (from Egyptian school holidays)

Hotel number 4:

IMG_7405

We kept walking.

Hotel number 5:
The last one before we were going to give up and return to the first, more expensive, militarily barricaded place. Let’s be blunt: This hotel did not immediately seem ideal.

Firstly, the name of the hotel is on a big building overlooking the Nile. We followed the signs to ‘reception’ and discovered that the hotel is in a totally different building, a block or two back from the Nile. Okay.

Luckily, though, the hotel had a room, a basic level of cleanliness, and the staff were very friendly. So we had a winner, several hours later.

The police, soldiers, security guards and locals who watched us repeatedly lug our bags up and down the street must have had a good chuckle at our expense. Community service for the day: accomplished.

But it didn’t end there.

Fooood!
Finally free of our bags, we headed to a restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet. We were exhausted and hungry, having been up at six and not eating since breakfast – by now it was about 4pm. Found the restaurant. YAY! Restaurant closed. Owner on holiday. During peak season. Good.

We did eventually eat. And we even managed to pay local prices (the English menu had higher prices than the Arabic menu!). And Aswan turned out to be great.

When we come back though, we will be staying at the guesthouses we discovered while on Elephantine Island. No idea how to find them online, but we have their numbers.

The art of Anger management: Not all travel is smooth, so when you get to that point when you want to hulk smash your way into a closed hotel just remember that in Egypt the police have machine guns and are very bored.

(28 January 2014)

How to break things in stores and get away with it

The ancient Egyptians used granite for a range of purposes, including for sculptures in their temples. Many modern Egyptian vendors sell small granite statues as souvenirs. Or at least some do- many are fakes.

Granite statue at the Temple of Horus, Edfu.

Granite statue at the Temple of Horus, Edfu.

During our trip to the Valley of the Kings, on the West Bank of Luxor, we made a stop at a small shop where they showed us how to tell whether a product is authentic. The owner demonstrated how real and fake granite reacted to being burnt, and then told us that real granite will not smash if dropped. He proceeded to hurl a hand-made statue onto the floor. It damaged the concrete, but the statue was fine.

Lesson:

To ensure the expensive granite sculpture you are about to purchase is genuine, either burn it or smash it on the ground.

As this would most likely get you kicked out of any store, I asked if there was a more practical way to determine the difference.

The owner’s reply?

Buy it from here of course!

Our taxi got hijacked on the way to the Pyramids

Do we need to tell you that the Pyramids are amazing? No.

But here are three numbers:
147m: The height of the Great Pyramid (largest of the pyramids in Giza).
2.3 million: The number of rocks in the largest pyramids. Each one weighs between 2.5 and 50 tonnes.
~120: The number of pyramids in Egypt.

Yes, that was more than three numbers. But interesting, right?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We caught a taxi to the Pyramids, the silhouettes of which slowly emerged through the thick pollution of Cairo. Just before we arrived, several men tried to stop the taxi from driving, one of them hitting the car as our driver swerved past him. Then the whole road was blocked by a line of young men, some with whips. Good start. We locked our doors but one guy jumped into the front passenger seat, introduced himself as a ‘guide’ and diverted our taxi driver into one of the horse stables.

I was quite amused when a friend gave me pepper spray before I left for Egypt, but secretly hoped I wouldn’t need it. Seeing the wall of young men, I really wished I hadn’t left it at the hotel (by accident). Sam was not impressed.

In retrospect, we should have left immediately. Instead, we fell for the scam. They insisted that the road was closed and these were the main stables. We paid Adam Fox 450 pounds to take us around the pyramids on horseback. This was after we bargained him down, but still 250 pounds more than what Lonely Planet said was the going rate. He did not get a tip. And boy have we improved since then.

The actual horse riding was a mixed bag. It saved our feet, but hurt our bums. The guide wasn’t all that informative, but the horse riding was fun. (Kara: except the times the horses galloped and I almost died. Sam: watching Kara freak out was possibly the best bit).

Walking around after the horse ride was a different type of frustration given the number of vendors, camel and horse owners that constantly hassled us. This made it hard to fully enjoy the pyramids as we had to spend our energy on avoiding, politely refusing or completely ignoring them all. Or, in one case, not-so-politely refusing to pay for piece of material shoved on Sam’s head as a “gift”.

We feel for the hawkers, because they’ve had little business since 2011. There were more tourist operators than tourists, and it was painfully clear how desperate they were.

Oddly, our trip to the Pyramids taught us more about modern Egypt than ancient. We witnessed the tense, frantic atmosphere among the locals competing to survive on the dwindling tourist dollar. Thankfully, the Pyramids are not that hard to appreciate. The Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple gave us greater insight into Ancient Egypt, while the Pyramids showed us both the scale of Ancient Egyptian accomplishments, and modern Egyptian challenges.

We also saw the Sphinx. It was cool. Getting ripped off was not.

That said, Sam could have come away rich had he accepted the offers of thousands of camels in exchange for me. Thankfully, he prefers steak.

SAM_2300

For more interesting information about the pyramids, see this link: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/pyramids/khufu.html

Or this one (credibility not guaranteed)
http://www.ancient-code.com/25-facts-about-the-great-pyramid-of-giza/

Alternatively, search “Egypt pyramids aliens” and go crazy.