The road home: Amman

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” 
― Maya Angelou

The end of our path.
The end of our path.

Something about travel abroad stirs in us a restlessness, quenching that desire to place one foot continually in front of the other. The unknown places perpetually before us serve as a proxy for self-discovery, or perhaps a catalyst for it. The instability of our existence while in foreign lands, unable to speak the language and unsure of our trajectory, does not allow us to withdraw to the comfort of familiarity or routine. This constant uncertainty is both enlightening and exhausting. And so, at the end of a month of exploration, we were ready to go home.

We boarded the bus in Nazareth, bound for Amman, Jordan. When I booked our flights in October, it was for some reason much less expensive to fly into Cairo and out of Amman than any other combination of flights to and from Cairo/Amman/Tel Aviv (the three major airports in the region of our intended travels). We were tired, and I for one was more than a little cranky. Continue reading

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The coming storm: Haifa, Akko, Nazareth

The storm eases against the walls of Akko
The storm eases against the walls of Akko

Sometimes we traverse a long, convoluted road through hostile territories of our own making. And sometimes this road grows longer with every step we take along it; the road winds endlessly through hills and gullies without clear direction, without horizon. Ironically, this infinite path invariably leads us right back to where we started.

And so we arrived in Ben’s childhood home, Haifa.

We took the train from Herzliya, and Ben’s relatives collected us from the station. Itai and Gadi, brothers, live most of the time in the Northwest Territories of Canada, but they were in Israel to help care for their parents (Ben’s grandparents), Assad and Marilla, for a few months. Good timing on our part! Though we could not stay with Ben’s grandparents in Tiv’on (a suburb of Haifa) due to my cat allergy, we stayed with some neighbors who were kind enough to open their home to us for a couple nights. Continue reading

Spa day: Dead Sea and Herzliya

Ein Gedi beach
Ein Gedi beach

There are few activities in this life that will invariably force grown adults to giggle. Floating in the Dead Sea is one such activity.

After an action-packed visit to Jerusalem, we were ready to kick back and relax. We rose early, and planned to catch the 8:00 bus to Ein Gedi. But, just like police, taxis are often omnipresent (and obnoxious) when you don’t need one, and nowhere to be seen when you do. We paced the streets outside the Old City for a half hour, trying unsuccessfully to hail a cab. Or at least, to secure a cab that would use a meter. Israel requires taxi drivers to use a meter by law, but they still will try to haggle a fixed price. “It’s better fo you,” they will say. “With traffic, it will cost ten shekels more if I use the meter.” Right, because that makes a lot of sense. You’re trying to do me a favor, because taxi drivers are so charitable (see previous post about Jordanian taxi mafia). If it’s going to make you more money, pal, why don’t you just use the frickin’ meter!? Continue reading

Tunnels and domes: Jerusalem (vol. 2)

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Spice markets! Yum!

In America, we are accustomed to buying most (if not all) of our food and consumer goods at large-scale chain stores. Need some produce? Go to Safeway, Whole Foods, etc. Need a power adaptor or a new kettle? Try Lowe’s, Sears, or Ace. We never meet the owners of such establishments; they are faceless corporations driven by the market alone.

Much of the rest of the world does not operate this way, however. In many countries, individuals run stalls at large community shopping areas. The Middle East boasts various souqs (pronounced “shukes”), all with a wide variety of goods for sale. In Jerusalem, you can buy anything from a yard of fabric to a stereo system (and just about everything in between) without ever setting foot in a chain store. There are chain supermarkets in the New City should you be so inclined to visit one, but the Old City souqs have much more charm and a livelier atmosphere. Continue reading

Hands on rocks: Jerusalem (vol. 1)

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Old City streets

So this is what everyone is fighting over.

Jerusalem is an old place, and has been contested for almost its entire existence. It’s been under siege 23 times, attacked another 52 times, captured 44 times, and has passed through the hands of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Egyptians, Turks, Romans, Crusaders, Persians, and the British Empire. And, unlike the beautiful temples of Luxor or the expansive ruins of Petra, this city is still alive.

Today, Israel claims Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital; a claim not recognized by the larger international community since the eastern part of the city (which includes the Old City and all the religious landmarks) was captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and is considered to be an Israeli-occupied territory. Palestinians likewise claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, should one ever materialize. Hmm. Problematic.

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Taxi Man and cave dwelling: Petra

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Ben in the Siq leading to Petra

Let me begin this story with its moral, so I can open this post with something positive.

We can (and should) all be kinder to guests.

Jordan taught us this lesson in two very different ways.

We arrived in the country across the land border from the Israeli Red Sea town of Eilat. As soon as we stepped foot outside passport control, we were approached by a man — an “organizer” — who said he worked for the government, and his job was to organize a taxi for us from amongst the numerous green vehicles in the parking lot. The conversation went as follows:

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Under the sea: Dahab and the Sinai

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Dahab beachfront

Egypt is known for its pyramids, temples, tombs, and the Nile. But the peninsula separating Africa from Asia, the Sinai, is also a part of Egypt and distinctly different both in landscape and culturally from the Nile Valley.

The Sinai is covered in rugged desert mountains, their craggy shapes rising abruptly above the seashores from a rocky desert floor. The Red Sea sparkles out toward Saudi Arabia, turquoise and rich, deep cobalt.

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