From Africa to the Middle East and Back Again

Hello friends, it’s Jess.

Sorry for the long delay in blogging, but at this point its pretty obvious that I just don’t blog that often. between the terrible internet connections in Africa, and traveling with friends from the US through the middle east, I just never found the time for an update. But alas, hold your breath no more, my update is here.

For the past 6 weeks, above all else, I’ve been sweating. seriously sweating. I’m one of those people who is usually cold, so I thought I could handle temperatures of 40 and 41 degrees Celsius (approximately 105 degrees Fahrenheit). I was wrong.Walk-as-though-I-was-in-a-haze, feel-nauseous-after-ten-minutes-outside wrong.

Egypt

This perspiring journey starts in Egypt, where i met up with my friend sam from home. my first day in Cairo was tough. I felt as though I was constantly walking behind a bus, with the hot air and smog blowing in my face.

After a day of settling in, and finally touring the pyramids I’ve waited my entire life to see, I pushed the unbearable conditions to the back of my mind. I traveled around Memphis, Saqqara and Giza, starting from the ancient civilizations of Egypt and the various attempts at pyramid building until it was finally built to proportion in Giza. I was struck most by the sheer size of it all. The statue of Ramses II in Memphis, weighing almost 10 tons and “laying” 34 feet long, is carved from one piece of stone. Then there are the pyramids, so large in size and width its hard to imagine them ever being built, more than 4000 years ago no less.

Me at the pyramids below:

With a final visit to the sphinx, I headed back to the hotel to rest up for my flight to Aswan, where i was boarding a boat for 4 days up the Nile. As many of you know, the Nile river flows north, and this particular tour took me up the Nile from Aswan to Luxor. With its obelisks and statues and of course the Aswan dam, it’s a city bustling with tourists. It’s also a city that’s 43 degrees Celsius…. in the shade! So after a city tour and a major cool-down in the full-blast air conditioning of my cabin, we set sail.

The Nile is lovely to watch at night, with ancient buildings and statues dotting the shores. But what struck me the most was the juxtaposition of desert feet from the longest river in the world. We sailed through the Nile, stopping each day to visit temples and tombs and then arrived in Luxor, to visit the necropolis and the valley of the kings. The valley of the kings contains 63 tombs, and is home to famous tomb of Tutankhamen. Hot and humid beyond belief, we walked around the town for two days. Its necessary to leave the boat by 7am, as midday is when your skin literally melts off. I wouldn’t be surprised if the creator of plastic man was inspired to create the superhero during a cruise on the Nile.

Back to Cairo i headed, where temperatures were a much *cooler* 39 degrees. I lounged around and hit the Egyptian museum (although filled to the brim with Egyptian artifacts, there is no air conditioning whatsoever, so it’s not really possible to see it all in one day). Then I packed up and sam and I flew to Israel, where I was meeting up with my friend Jana, and he was traveling around solo.

Israel

Enter Jana, one of my best friends from home and someone I couldn’t wait to see after five months of being apart. We met up at the airport in Tel Aviv, and headed up north to a kibbutz, Ein Hashofet, not too far from Haifa.

We had hired a tour guide to take us on a whirlwind tour of the north, seeing Haifa, Acre, Caesarea, Safed and the Golan Heights. It was ambitious (to say the least) for two days time, but Jana and I were troopers and took it all in.

The temperatures, though hot, were not *as* oppressive as egypt, but still wore us out after hours of touring. With history lessons on the Crusades and falafel breaks for lunch, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit. Our tour guide Michael, a self-proclaimed atheist who knows pretty much everything about everything, made our travels even that much more enjoyable, filling us to the brim was the information.

As for the kibbutz, Jana and I were guests there and weren’t required to work. Our packed days didn’t allow for much time on the kibbutz, but our host Uzi (a friend of a friend of a friend’s father — you know how it is) was gracious and escorted us each breakfast and evening to the dining hall, where its 800 residents come to eat all their meals. And of course, after each meal, Jana and I returned to our room to catch up on the past 5 months.

Our room, small and modest and clean, sported a television, straight from the home of Archie bunker, with turnstile levers for volume and channels, all set in that 1950s wood border. That Jana and I spent a good hour or so trying to turn it on, only to realize there was no cable wire, shouldn’t surprise those of you who know us well.

After leaving the Golan Heights on our last day of the tour with Michael, he drove us a few hours south to Tel Aviv. yet it felt like a different world. Tel Aviv is a gorgeous city nestled right along the beach of the Mediterranean sea. Again, staying with a friend of a friend of a friend (this was a theme of the trip), we found ourselves in a great apartment in a great area of town with some time to just veg out and vacation (we all need a vacation from our travels now and again).

We walked around the city, small in comparison to cities at home, as the entire country of Israel can be driven from north to south in about 10 hours. We hit the beach, went to restaurants, shopped around, and well… except for the language, it was as if I was back in New York, hanging out with my friends. A much-needed refuelling.

Me and Jana:

From Tel Aviv, we headed to Jerusalem, a city like no other. The center of much debate, a holy land to many religions, at the heart of the Israeli-Palestine conflict, it’s a city of ever-growing tensions. We went to yad vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. As both my paternal grandparents are holocaust survivors, I found the museum to be unbearably difficult and yet necessarily informative. We toured the various quarters of the old city, noticing more than anywhere else the divide between the two cultures.

We spent our last day in Israel taking a trip up to the ruins of Masada and then down to the Dead Sea. The lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea sits at 420 meters below sea level. And it was HOT. Unfortunately, a dip in the dead sea is not refreshing, as its warm and you can only go into the sea for about 15 minutes or so before the salt water starts to irritate your skin.

A trip to dead sea is not complete without combining childhood fantasies with adult luxuries…. Jana
and I covered ourselves from head to toe with mud, and then hung around while it dried. As a recovering spa-addict with a weakness for body wraps, i can honestly say that the dead sea mud left me feeling softer and more detoxed than any $200 New York City special. And it was free!

Dubai

A very tearful goodbye later (Jana, I miss you so much), I was off to catch a flight through Jordan to Dubai. Those of you avid blog readers may remember my friend Daniel – he traveled on and off with Jodi and i through Chile, Bolivia and Peru. But his blog fame can most be attributed to always being around when i was sick; when I had altitude sickness, he found all the extra blankets and wrapped me up, when I was in the hospital in Peru, he bought all the chocolate he could find before he left.

Determined to spend some time with Daniel being healthy, I took him up on his offer to come visit him in Dubai (he recently moved there). Not only was I excited to reconnect with Daniel, but I had always wanted to see what this oddly alluring city had to offer.

My arrival in Dubai was met with even more heat and humidity than Egypt; a basically incomprehensible heat that can only be described as oppressive x 100. which matches well with a city that can best be described as extravagance x 100. By way of example: my first day in Dubai consisted of hitting an over-the-top shopping mall, which houses every store you can imagine and an indoor ski slope to boot, and then a night out at an exclusive club, where magnums of champagne are ordered by the dozens.

As luck would have it, it was Star Wars night at the club, so every time a magnum was ordered, the music would be turned low and the imperial march would play while the champagne was delivered. It was perfect: out dancing and drinking with an old friend at an awesome nightclub with the cast of characters from star wars roaming around.

Daniel and I out clubbing:

Daniel was the perfect tour guide, taking me all around town that weekend. It’s such a bizarre city; its as if someone said “build me a city that’s a mixture of Manhattan and Vegas, and build it in one month.”

Everywhere you look, there’s construction. About 2/3 of the world’s cranes are in Dubai now. Buildings are being rented on the lower floors while the top floors are still being constructed. It’s a flow of mall, traffic, restaurant, traffic, mall, traffic, nightclubs, traffic.

In the oppressive heat, you can’t do too much outside. We drove past the tallest building in the world (the Burj Dubai) and went to the beach at the Persian gulf, so I could satisfy my desire to dip my feet into every ocean/sea/lake that I travel past (laying out is not really an option this time of year, as beads of sweat form every time you just think of going outside). We even went shopping for a Porsche.

But besides the abundance of western lifestyle activities enjoyed in this otherwise conservative culture, there aren’t many tourist attractions to be seen. However, on one of my last days in town, Daniel and I went with his friends to the desert (about an hour outside Dubai) to go go-carting on the sand dunes. It was Huacachina re-done!!

The last time I was in the sand dunes I was with Daniel (in Huacachina, Peru) but go-carting on the was a passenger sport. It should come as no surprise however, that in Dubai, you are the driver. I was terrified and excited. I found it to be much harder than it looked, as my cart was flying over the hills and practically driving sideways on the mounds.

Photos of our crew and the carts below:

My last day in Dubai i spent alone in Daniel’s apartment, making full use of his television, dvds and washer/dryer. I was fuelling up on the luxuries, as I was heading back to Africa, in part to try and plead for a visa to India, my next big trajectory on this long world trip.

Africa

On a mission in Nairobi, I headed directly to the high commission of India. fortunately, the aide behind the counter was optimistic as Nairobi did not outsource its visa applications, so everything could be handled directly with the consulate. So applied and waited.

In the interim, I met up with Alex (the Irish guy from my first safari in Zanzibar) and waited some more. and then, on my 6th day in Nairobi, I received my visa! mission accomplished! Before flying to india, I traveled with Alex a bit more, making our way to Uganda on a 16 hour bus journey, passing through customs at 5am. I spent about a week in Uganda, and then flew a hellish 30 hours.

To add insult to injury, I had an allergic reaction to who-knows-what and had this awful rash on my arms during the 30 hour flight. I had to go to the medical clinic in the Dubai airport during my layover at 1am, to have the doctor inject me in the rear TWICE (cortisone and antihistamines). Total nightmare.

After a very uncomfortable and long journey, I made my way to Delhi. I’ve been here for about a week, getting settled in with my friend Ninette’s cousin (who graciously offered to let me stay with her). I plan to be in India for two months before heading to South East Asia. To start my travels around India, I joined another G Adventures overland trip, this one for 15 days around the north of India of India (I leave this afternoon).

I will be out of touch for a bit (as if that’s really a question in any of your minds anymore), but hope to blog in a few weeks about my India experiences.

– Jess