When last I wrote I was a broken woman. Sick three times in one month, ending my gigantic/stupid spelling bee project by being yelled at by one of the competitor’s fathers, remembering what winter is like in Debar (cold).
But then I got to go on vacation, and it was awesome, and now if I am not exactly recharged for the school year I am at least excited for something again (more traveling!).
I spent about two weeks visiting Israel, Jordan and Egypt with two other volunteers here. We did Israel and two nights in Amman, Jordan on our own, then joined a tour group for eight nights in Jordan and Egypt.
Again, it was awesome.
The trip started with a long haul across the country to Delchevo, near the Bulgarian border, then a taxi ride to the Sofia airport where we caught our flight to Istanbul. After learning we’d have to buy $20 visas just to exit the airport for a few hours we killed ten or eleven hours in the airport, drinking Starbucks, then beer, then eating, then eating some more, before getting our flight to Amman around midnight. This got us to our hotel at three a.m., where the proprietor was sleeping on a sofa waiting for us.
We slept till, I don’t know, two or three the next afternoon, waking up only to head into the city center, get confused trying to find a place to eat, then finding the best restaurant ever and loading up on mango and guava juice, hummus, “mutable eggplant” and Turkish coffee.
The next day we took a taxi to the Allenby border crossing to Israel. About five hours after leaving our hotel we were in Jerusalem, found our hostel, and went on a hunt for what one of the guys at the hostel promised would be the best falafel, ever. Sidetracked by a microbrewery, free shots of Jameson, edamame and french fries, we found the falafel place a few hours later. It was really, really good falafel. We walked around the city at night, enjoyed more good beers, and….well, that pretty much describes our time in Jerusalem, spent largely in search of the next bagel/falafel/beer/pad thai/shot of Jameson. It has been, let me explain, a long, long time since I have seen a bagel or a decent beer. That Jerusalem gave me my first tofu in a year and a half will leave me with fond memories of Israel for the rest of my life, whatever I think of the country’s politics.
After three nights in Jerusalem we headed back to Amman, slept, then went back to our favorite restaurant to spend another $9 on huge/delicious meals before meeting our tour group at six p.m. On our first night with the rest of the group I couldn’t really understand anyone (the whole group apart from us was from Canada or Australia because we booked with an Australian company, Intrepid) and spent a fair amount of time doing the “Macedonian head bobble” in response to indecipherable sentences.
(From here on assume that everything I write about this trip is followed by “And it was awesome.”)
We hit up the Dead Sea, which it turns out you don’t want to get in either your mouth or your eyes, saw a Crusader castle, debated the living situations of Peace Corps Jordan volunteers, and spent our second night in Petra, where I prepared for my reenactment of Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade. Petra itself was amazing, and a lot bigger than I had imagined. Even Indiana Jones could not prepare me for the scope of this place.
The next day we drove to Wadi Rum, climbed a giant sand dune, then a natural stone bridge, which I managed to summit (ha, ha) but where I would have been forced to remain until the end of my days if Sarah and Osama, our tour leader, hadn’t each taken me by one arm and practically dragged me down. We spent the night in a Bedouin camp. Travel advice: if you are going to a Bedouin camp in the middle of Wadi Rum in the middle of January, bring your sleeping bag.
Then on to Aqaba, where we caught a ferry to Egypt and two nights in the Sawa Beach Camp. This may sound uncultured but, whatever. Sitting around on a beach for two days was definitely the best part of the trip, probably in part because it was followed by climbing Mt. Sinai, Coldest F—ing Place in Egypt.
Mt. Sinai was the second night of the trip I spent shivering under my covers, trying in vain to find a warm pocket of air without distubing my elaborate dress of t-shirt/cardigan/hoodie/jacket/scarf (that is, exactly what I wore when climbing Mt. Sinai). In part from sleeping in my clothes for two nights and in part because many hotels/beach huts in Egypt don’t provide towels, I was feeling good on our nine hour drive to Cairo, or as I prefer to think of it, Falafel City. (I ate six falafels and five falafel balls, some of which I turned into additional sandwiches, in our two nights there. It’s good to know I’ve still got it, whatever “it” is.)
On the last day of our tour we visited the pyramids, where I took a number of respectful photos and nearly had a freak-out while inside one of the pyramids. (Why I don’t pay greater heed to my fear of heights and enclosed spaces is beyond me.) But then I ate a lot of falafel, went to the “mummy museum,” ate some more falafel, and bade a tearful farewell to the other members of our tour group who were continuing their travels. Somehow I resisted the urge to abandon my Peace Corps service to spend two more weeks traveling in Egypt, spent a day shopping in the market, and caught our 3 a.m. flight from Cairo to Istanbul, then onward to Sofia, Delchevo, Skopje, Gostivar and, at long last, home.