Friday, May 20, 2011

Middle East Recap: Days 11 and 12

[Catch up: Days 1 & 2, Day 3, Days 4 & 5, Day 6, Days 7 & 8, Days 9 & 10]

March 18, 2011

Now, if you were on a bus from midnight until 5am, wouldn't you assume that you and your fellow passengers would all want to get some sleep?

Not quite the case, apparently.  We had a few talkers on our vehicle who interfered with our REM, but even more, the ride itself was so bumpy and windy that Becky and I arrived in Eilat tired and drained.  I'd hoped we would get enough sleep on the bus to avoid the need for a hotel, but that clearly did not happen.  We walked to the first hotel we could find and asked the front desk if we could stay from 5am until 4pm, and he obliged.  There was even free breakfast!  All for about $40 per person.

Becky slept well but I slept fitfully, with the anxiety of my big-sisterly responsibility for the solo leg of our trip seeping into my dreams.

Fortunately, our day in Eilat went smoothly.  We took a cab to Coral Beach, which is home to a small underwater nature reserve.  We rented $5 snorkels and sat on loungers above the rocky beach, alternatively baking in the sun and swimming in the freezing Red Sea.

The reefs at the beach were not very colorful or impressive, but the fish life was AMAZING!  I saw an enormous variety of bright, phosphorescent fish of all colors---sometimes all colors at once---many of which I had never seen before.  I even spotted two pufferfish.  There was an extremely long, needle-thin fish with a spoon-flat nose.  I watched as a huge blue spotted fish successfully flipped over a spikey sea urchin, immediately lunging for the sweet animal beneath the spikes.  It was breathtaking.

Our lunch consisted of foodstuffs hoarded from our free breakfast.  Me: cucumber, tomato, and soft cheese sandwich.  Becky: two hardboiled eggs.

After the beach, we rode back to our hotel, stopping at an open-air market for fresh fruit along the way.  We showered and made our way to the Jordanian border, which we walked across nervously (after getting the requisite passport stamps).

Once there, we met with a friend of my friend Abby, who drove us to a Bedouin camp in Wadi Rum where we will stay for two nights while exploring the area.  Ironically, the Bedouin tent was my and Becky's least favorite Israel accommodation due to its dusty air and cold temperature, but this camp---run by a man named Suleman---at least has fresh air indoors!  Of course, the toilet is a hole in the floor, but you can't have it all.

I could barely stay awake around the campfire after dinner.  With the plan in someone else's hands, I slept like a rock.

March 19, 2011

Waking up in Wadi Rum in the morning was a slow-dawning experience.  While driving in under cover of night yesterday, the landscape consisted of vague rocky structures reminiscent of what I imagine the moon would look like.  In the sunlight this morning, the full spectrum of the sandstone rock formations showed themselves.  It took me a few minutes to even notice them as I stepped outside of our tent onto the sand, slowly waking up to the smell of desert and eventually processing my breathtaking surroundings.  These structures were formed, apparently, when sea water receded, exposing them and turning the sea floor into a desert.

We spent the day moving from spot to spot in the SUVs of our host Bedouins.  The day was action-packed and involved running up high sand dunes, rock climbing, hiking, and picnicking.  Becky and I once again crashed early---before 9pm!  Walking through the deep, soft desert sand was absolutely exhausting.

Ravi running up a sand dune.

The resultingly unbelievable amounts of sand in our sneaks.

I made friends with this amazingly adorable goat by throwing him my orange peel.  I named him "Sirius Black & White" and I wanted to take him home with me.  He was so distracted by the orange peel that he got separated from his herd.  One of the guys on the trip picked him up and carried him to the Bedouin woman who was herding the goats.

Before we went to bed, we had an interesting conversation about Israeli-Palestinian relations with one of the Americans on a year-long fellowship in Jordan (like my friend Abby).  Not surprisingly, basically everyone here is anti-Israel.  While I certainly wouldn't be able to support or defend all of Israel's political actions, one thing I was struck by was the difference in open-mindedness and willingness to concede between moderate/liberal Israelis and pro-Palestinian Americans.  In talking to Israelis (admittedly no right-wing folks), many of them acknowledged the Palestinian perspective or agreed that Israel could be in the wrong on some of its actions---while also noting that radical Palestinians and suicide bombers are also in the wrong.  Even the native Jordanians we spoke with seemed to have a more tolerant attitude.  But none of the pro-Palestinian Americans visiting the Bedouin camp with us acknowledged this shade of gray.  Again, I'm not condoning the actions of the Israeli government towards Palestinians, but I am saying that when a small minority of Palestinian radicals cause great damage and loss of life in Israel by finding weaknesses in Israel's defense policy, committing suicide bombings or launching homemade rockets (using materials Israel provided to support the building of houses, as in Sderot)---I don't know.  Can't we at least acknowledge that both sides are sort of in the wrong?  At least a little?

A fragrant patch of mint growing along a hiking trail.

I left this rock structure on the top of a cliff.

How adorable is my sister?

Our hero, host Abby.

We stood on top of this rock bridge!

Carefully walking down the side of a biggie, I basically do this all the time.

Some Arabic Words:
shokran: thank you
la shokran: no thank you
salam: peace
a salam malekum: peace be with you (all purpose greeting/farewell)
kef halak: how YOU doin? (to a man)
keef halek: how YOU doin? (to a woman) 

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