Bigger delay than I expected! I’ve been back in the States since July 28th, but have my journals which I will finish the blog with. Adjusting to life at home again has been strange and I plan to do a follow up post after writing about the last few months of the trip.
Wadi Musa, Jordan
On May 28th we arrived in Tel Aviv and took a bus to Eilat. We wanted to get to Petra in Wadi Musa as soon as possible and then make our way back to Tel Aviv during the short time that we had in the area. We spent a day in Eilat catching up on sleep after our long day of travel from Mumbai and then on the 30th took a bus to Wadi Musa.
We got to our hostel in Wadi Musa by 10:00 am and were at Petra by 10:30. We walked along an open gravel road by buildings carved out of the stone made in 1 or 2 AD.
The road sloped downhill and soon we were in a stone crevice with old carvings fading away in its walls. The road twisted and turned as we got closer to where we knew the treasury was that was made famous in the Indiana Jones movie. We’d been walking for a little while when we came around a turn and we were standing at the base of the treasury. Incredible to see in person and again something that pictures can’t quite do justice.
After looking at the treasury and taking pictures for a while, we went to see if we could ride a camel through Petra. We had read about it online and in several books and decided it was something that Will and I both wanted to do. We found some guys who would take us from the treasury to the base of the steps going to the monastery a little less than a kilometer away. We hopped on and rode for the short time through Petra, towering over everyone there. Camels are pretty huge and you sit a full head and shoulders above people on horses. You get on the saddle while it’s sitting down and then as it stands you feel like you’re about to fall off, the camel straightening only its back legs before straightening the front legs. The only slight downside was the fact that there were no stirrups on the saddle, making it a little uncomfortable. Can’t imagine riding one of those things if it ran! I was happy to get on and happy to get off.
We then began the 840 step climb up to the monastery which took about 40 minutes. Quite a hike in the heat and we were exhausted when we got to the top, but it was without a doubt worth it. The monastery was carved out of more stone than most buildings in Petra, including its large courtyard in front.
We explored the top for a while and rehydrated before we began the climb back down. When we got to the bottom we looked at a few more of the buildings before calling it a day.
On the 31st we got up early and went back to Eilat. Crossing the border back into Israel was intense and my entire bag got unpacked by security there. Kind of annoying, but they’re keeping people safe so that’s a good thing. We were planning on going to Masada so we bought tickets there without worrying about where we would stay. We planned on using the free wifi on the bus to book a place only to discover that the cheapest place available was $70/night. No good for our budget! Fortunately the bus was going all the way to Jerusalem so we bought Masada – Jerusalem tickets at a stop and were good to go.
We arrived in Jerusalem and found a hostel much more in our budget located just a five minute walk away from the Damascus Gate of the old city.
On June 1st we went into the old city of Jerusalem and explored. We found a cheap map of the Via Dolorosa, way of suffering, which is the path Jesus walked to be crucified. We followed the map and went to the fourteen stations of the cross, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
It was strange being in a place that is holy to so many people of several different religions and interesting hearing about some of the history of the interactions between groups. That evening was the beginning of the Sabbath, so we decided to go see the Western Wall where many Jews of different backgrounds would go to worship, sing, and dance. The reason it is called the Western Wall (or the Wailing wall) is because the wall used to be the western wall of the holiest temple to Judaism. The temple was destroyed during religious battles and the only thing that remained was the western wall. The Jewish people were told by their rabbis not to go where the temple used to stand as there was still holy ground they were not allowed to step on, and Muslim people built the Dome of the Rock near where the temple stood. The Jews use the Western Wall as a marker for where this temple used to be and still go there to worship and pray.
On the 2nd Will and I did a fair amount of walking as public transportation doesn’t run on the Sabbath. We decided to walk to Mount Olives and climb up to get a better view of Jerusalem. It was a hot day so the climb was pretty rough, but the views we had from the top were incredible.
From Mount Olives we walked to the garden of Gethsemane before going to the tomb of Mary Magdeline. There were several tours going on crowding the tomb, so we didn’t stay for very long.
After exploring Mount Olives and the area surrounding it we headed back into the old city to find some food. We stopped and ate outside along Via Dolorosa across the street from the IV station of the cross. At some point during our meal, a large group of people turned the corner carrying a cross singing in Portugese. They stopped at station IV and read from the Bible before carrying on to the next station. I got the impression that every Sunday this church has a service visiting each station of the cross. I wonder if the people there take for granted that they’re in a place so many consider holy!
On the 3rd Will and I got up to go on a tour of Masada and the Dead Sea with a phenomenal tour guide, Kupi, who took my parents around when they visited. Kupi picked us up at 8:30 am and explained the history of Masada on the way there. In the last century BC King Herod built a palace on the northern side of a mountain as a refuge for himself during troubled times. The mountain he chose is isolated from surrounding mountains, making it an ideal location for defending and hiding. He filled it with tons of food, wine, had cisterns for water, a bath house, and a palace so he could stay for extended periods of time if necessary.
In 75 AD a group of jews took refuge from Romans on Masada, living off of what Herod had left behind. After two years, Roman soldiers had built encampments surrounding the mountain, preventing the jews from going anywhere. Roman soldiers attempted to scale the mountain only to be knocked down with boulders or hot oil. The Romans then built a stone ramp up to the top so they could smash a hole in the wall of the fortress in order to capture the jews. Eventually, the jews knew there was no way out and instead of being tortured by the Romans they decided to commit mass suicide. Men killed their families and then cast lots to decide who would have to kill the rest of the group and eventually themselves. Before everyone had died, the jews moved large jars containing food into a courtyard, showing the Romans they would rather kill themselves than be captured.
After the tour of Masada we went to the Dead Sea nearby to a spa where we could swim in the incredibly salty water. When swimming in the sea we were advised to bring water shoes of some sort as salt deposits form on the sea floor that hurt to walk on. The salt deposits only matter when getting into the water, after which you float like a cork.
On the 4th we got up early and went to see the Dome of the Rock in the Temple Mount before going to Bethlehem. It took a while to find the non-Muslim entrance and when we did there was a fair amount of security to go through. Temple Mount takes up a large portion of the Old City of Jerusalem, which was immediately apparent with the large open space in the Old City.
From the Temple Mount we caught a bus to Bethlehem. When we arrived, we were in a Palestinian territory and were greeted by several taxi drivers offering us tours. We negotiated with one driver and were taken to see famous graffiti done by Banksy.
The first stop in Bethlehem we were taken to was Shepard’s Garden, where it is written angels descended and sang of Jesus’ birth.
Next we went to the Church of the Nativity where they believe Jesus was born. Inside the church they have a 14-point star on the floor in a room underneath the altar where they believe Jesus was born.
After our tour we caught the bus back to Jerusalem. Mid-way through our bus ride, the bus stopped at a checkpoint and we were all asked to get off the bus. Israeli soldiers searched the bus and checked everyone’s passports before allowing us to go back on the bus.
On the 5th we headed to Tel Aviv. The hostel we chose to stay at was very crowded and as a result we met tons of people over the course of the next few days. It was fun socializing with the people who would come and go and making friends I hope to see in the future.
After a few days of figuring out what to do about Will’s passport with a few countries left to visit and not enough space, the 8th quickly rolled around and we joined nearly the entire hostel in going to the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade. There were thousands of people crowding the streets, blasting music from trucks and dancing en route to the beach, where it ended. It was a blast! I ended up getting separated from Will and then eventually two friends we had made from the hostel, but still had a great time walking around looking at all the people enjoying themselves.
On the 9th we checked out of the hostel and hung out saying our farewells to everyone we had gotten to know during our stay. We left and headed to the airport to head to Istanbul where we were meeting my Dad! Needless to say, I was quite excited.