Jordan, I Wish I Could have Known You a Little Longer

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The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many path and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
The Lord of the Rings
The Old Walking Song sung by Bilbo Baggins, Chapter ‘A Long-Expected Party’.

Egypt is a Walt Disney World vacation:  crowds, heat, the urge to get up early and stay late.  The country of Jordan is a week at a country house:  laid back, quiet, visit one or two sites during the day and then come back to relax with your friends.  But only if that country house has 200 flights of stairs.  Seriously, I have never climbed up and down so many stairs in my life.  Stairways in the hotels, stairs built into mountains, stairs between streets, stairs into the castles, and stairs down to the beach.

Wadi Rum

After long ferry ride (four hours of waiting and an hour and a half of actual ferrying)  from Nuweiba we landed at the port of Aqaba, Jordan.  Going through customs at a ferry terminal is nothing like customs at a cruise terminal, but with the help of our G Adventures CEO we made it through without any mishaps.  Aqaba is a modern city, full of shops, hotels, and restaurants, but we only stayed on night.  Early the next morning we left for Wadi Rum, which is now my most favorite place on earth.  For everyone back home, imagine your favorite place in Eastern Oregon, and then add 10 times the beauty.  It’s that amazing.

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Tourist transport in Wadi Rum

 

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2000 year old pictographs.
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Natural Wonders
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That Sunset!

 

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Bedouin desert camp.  You should have seen the stars!

Petra

After one of the best camping experiences I’ve ever had, we were off to Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses) to visit the ancient City of Petra.  The next morning, at 6:00 am, we were the first people on the trail.  We were able to walk alone through the Siq, and take pictures in front of the treasury without anyone to interrupt our view. Petra is immense.  We spent all day there and walked over 12 miles (including 2 mountains of stairs).

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The Siq:  a 1 mile narrow path that winds through a steep canyon.
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Is it an elephant?
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Or is it a fish?
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Almost There!
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When you start early, you get pictures like this!  No crowds!
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From the top of the opposite mountain.

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Crusader Castles and the Dead Sea

The day after Petra, we headed north toward the Dead Sea.  Passed some Crusader Castles along the way.  This is Karak Castle, the siege of which was featured in the movie “Kingdom of Heaven”.  The lord of the castle, Reynald, was such a nice guy that he put boxes around his victims heads so that they wouldn’t lose consciousness when he had them thrown off the castle.  Reynald was eventually captured and beheaded by Saladin.

I had to borrow this picture from the internet.  My camera is stuck and I can’t download anymore photos until I get home.

We spent several hours at the Dead Sea, bobbing around like corks.  The Dead Sea is so salty that it is impossible to sink.  Weirdest feeling ever!  And you definitely don’t wan to have any cuts or sores when you get in.  Then we all paid 3 JD to cover ourselves in Dead Sea Mud, which is supposed to have healing properties.  I don’t know if anything was “healed”, but my skin has never been softer.

Normally I would never put a swimsuit picture of myself on line, but this one I find pretty hilarious.
Mud monsters!

Madaba, Mt. Nebo, and Jerash

We stayed the night in Madaba, the site of St. George’s Orthodox church, which has a mosaic that is the oldest map of the holy land.  The next morning, we went to the top of Mt. Nebo, the sight where Moses got his only glimpse of the holy land.

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho.  And the LORD shewed him all the land of Gilead. . . . .  And the LORD said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed:  I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes but thou shalt not go over thither.  Deuteronomy 34: 1 & 4  KJV

We also got to spend the afternoon at Jerash, one of the two most complete Roman ruins outside of Italy.  Ephesus may be more preserved, but Jerash is bigger.

Thanks Mike, for letting me “borrow” pictures off of your facebook page!

All of the white limestone sure made it hot at Jerash!

The Last Day:  Jesus’ Baptism Site and Saying Goodbye

Members of the group started leaving the evening after Jerash.  The next morning, the seven of us who remained hired a driver to take us to Bethany Beyond Jordan, the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.  Archaeologists believe the site is on the Jordan side, but the Jordan River has much changed in the past 2000 years.  We also visited the “current” baptism site, on the border of Jordan and Israel.

The Jordan River is neither deep nor wide, but it’s still beautiful.

 

This is the historic spot!  “And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”  Luke 3:22 KJV
Israel is just a few feet away.

Some days my life is so blessed, I can’t believe it!

Leaving

Finally, there were only four of us left.  One last passport check!  I’ll try to post more when I can, but right now I have more than 30 hours of travel ahead of me.

 

 

 

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Jordan, I Wish I Could have Known You a Little Longer

In the Footsteps of Moses: Finding Peace on Mt. Sinai

“And the glory of the LORD abode upon mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days:  and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the  midst of the cloud.

And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.”

Exodus 24:15-16.  KJV

 

The climb up Mt. Sinai is full of contradictions. Spiritual pilgrimage vs. commercial juggernaut. Quiet contemplation vs. joyful exuberance. Aching muscles and burning lungs vs. lifted spirit.

“And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.”  Exodus 34:4

 

My climb up Mt. Sinai began at 10:30 pm when our G Adventures group met in the lobby of the Nakhil Inn in Nuweiba. At that time, I had no idea what a physical, emotional, and spiritual trial it was going to be for me. I had envisioned a slightly strenuous hike that would lead me to the summit well before sunrise. I also thought that I would be able to keep up with the younger, fitter members of our group

 

We left a little after 11:00 pm. The moon was out and what I could see of the landscape through the van window looked like the lunar surface. The drive to St. Catherine’s Monastery (where the trail starts) took about 2 hours. We started at the monastery as a merry group, ready to tackle the mountain. Vendors offered us food, drinks, and flashlights. Everyone was exited.

Ready to hike at 1:30 am.

 

 

Sinai isn’t an easy mountain for an out-of-shape hiker like myself. The mountain is 7500 feet high, and the trail is rocky and steep. It’s a little over 2 miles to the top with an elevation gain of about 2300 feet. The last part of the trail consists of about 750 uneven “steps” to the top. These steps are slippery, uneven, and tall.

After about 1/2 mile, it became clear that I would need to travel at my own pace. I just couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group if I was going to make it to the top. My new friend Beate was kind enough to walk with me. The moon was almost full, and our path was completely visible as we slogged up the mountain.

Unfortunately, our slower pace brought out the camels with their Bedouin handlers. The swarmed on us like buzzards. “Want a Camel?” “It’s a long way to the top.” “The camel will take you almost to the top.” “Why don’t you use the camel?” This continued for the first entire mile of the hike. Finally all but one camel and handler had left. We finally convinced him that we needed to make this journey without help. I felt a little bad for him as he turned back. Like everyone else in Egypt, the 90% drop in tourism over the past 5 years has left its mark and he was just trying to make a living.

It was peaceful as we continued up. We talked for a while, and we were quiet for a while. Everyone else was way ahead, and there was only the moonlight and the quiet. Every few hundred yards we would pass a small shelter, where we were offered drinks or food. We couldn’t stop for long, though, as we needed to get to the top before the sunrise.

I thought that God was playing a joke on me when we got close to the top and began the 700+ “stairs”. The stairs were horrible; tall, uneven, and slippery. If it hadn’t been dark I might have given up. We could only see about 20 stairs ahead of us as we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. And climbed.

We arrived at the top close to 3 hours after we had begun. We had arrived with plenty of time to see the sunrise. Exhausted, I stopped to say a kneeling prayer for my family. I knew instinctively that any prayer said on this mountain would be heard and answered.

We made it!

 

The atmosphere at the top of Sinai is both quiet and cheerful. Some hikers huddle together in blankets, getting some much needed sleep before the sunrise. Others cheer and sing. Vendors are there to offer hot drinks, blankets, and snacks.

I sat on a ledge and watched the Eastern horizon slowly grow lighter. Finally, at 3:58 am, the sun started to rise above the mountains. First it was only a sliver, then within 2 minutes it was a full orange ball of fire, rising in the eastern sky. Some people cheered. Some sang. Others (like myself) cried. Other than my wedding and the birth of my two daughters, it was the best moment of my life.

 

The day broke, the temperature rose, and it was time to make our way down. Down was quicker, but no less difficult. In the daylight the steps looked much more treacherous. It was slippery, and my knees ached with each step. However, in a little over an hour and a half, we had made it back to the bottom.

The climb up Sinai was one of the best experiences of my life. The spiritual peace that you feel at the top is overwhelming. I’d like to send out special thanks to my new friend Beate for making the journey with me. I know she could have kept up with the younger ones, even though she said that she liked going slower. I’d also like to thank our wonderful G Adventures CEO Ibrahim, who left me alone to go at my own pace. And most of all, thanks to my Heavenly Father, who helped carry me up the mountain.

In the Footsteps of Moses: Finding Peace on Mt. Sinai

Temples and Tombs (and the day that I fell off my ass but didn’t land on my butt)

*I’m running a bit behind on my blog posts.  This one’s mostly a travelogue.  Look for something a little more insightful from my next post about climbing Mt. Sinai.

Sleeping on the deck of a felucca was a novel experience, kind of like a big camp out except instead of everyone being in tents or on cots, we were all on mats on the deck of the felucca. After a late dinner, everyone spread out on deck. It was nice to be gently rocked to sleep on deck. It was not nice, however, if you had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. That meant you had to climb over sleeping bodies, climb into the support boat, and make your way to the bathroom. And while waking up to an amazing sunrise on the Nile was absolutely beautiful, it was not beautiful to have access to showers, clean running water, or privacy. I’m glad I had a chance to experience it though.

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Waking up on the Nile River

Kom Ombo

After a light breakfast on board the support boat, we crossed the river to where a van was waiting. Our first stop for the day was Kom Ombo, a temple on the Nile.

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Looking at the Nile from Kom Ombo 

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Next to the temple was the crocodile museum, so here is a poem in honor of the mummified crocodiles there.DSCN1259.JPG

 

The Crocodile
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!

Lewis Carroll

 

Edfu

Two hours down the Nile from Kom Ombo was Edfu, one of the most complete temples left in Egypt. Edfu had been buried for centuries before being “discovered” in the 1800s.

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Luxor

Four hours later we were in our destination for the next day and a half, Luxor. Luxor is amazing. Although not a large city, you could explore the area for weeks and still not see all of the archeological treasures. That evening most of us took a carriage ride around the city and toured the Temple of Karnak, one of the most famous of all Egyptian temples. The temple in amazing, especially the immense columns and the one remaining oblisk (other oblisks were carried off by the British).

 

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Valley of Kings

We woke during the early hours of the morning so that we could tour the Valley of Kings. Most of the group had woken up even earlier to take a hot air balloon ride about the valley. The few of us who didn’t do the balloon ride met them at the Nile, where we took a boat to the West Bank.

Looking across the Nile, toward the Valley of the Kings

 

To get to closer to the Valley of the Kings, we rode donkeys for about a mile. My ride was fine until another donkey decided to cut mine off. My donkey didn’t like that at all and protested by jumping to the left, leaving me to slide off to the right. After a slow and surprisingly graceful fall to the ground, I got right back up on the damn donkey. He behaved for the rest of the way. I have no pictures of the donkey ride (and I don’t regret that at all).

 

Yes, I’m still a Democrat, but I did not have the best luck with donkeys in Luxor.

Our ticket at Valley of the Kings allowed us to go into three of the tombs, and I paid extra to enter the tomb of Rameses V &VI and the Tomb of King Tutankhamen. King Tut’s tomb is the only one that still has the mummy. I got to see him in the flesh (or what remains of his flesh).

King Tut in the “flesh”.  *Picture from the internet because cameras are FORBIDDEN in the Valley of the Kings.

There are no pictures of Valley of the Kings, as pictures are not allowed. However, here is a picture from the Valley of the Queens, a temple build by Hatshepsut, the female pharaoh. It is in the process of being restored.

 

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Temples and Tombs (and the day that I fell off my ass but didn’t land on my butt)

My Heart Will Go On: The Great Felucca Incident of 2016

A long time ago in a country far, far away, 15 tourists set off on a felucca sail down the Nile River.  Here is their story.

This is a Felucca:

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Here are the tourists, enjoying themselves on deck of the felucca.

Here are two tourists acting out a scene from Titanic, while the song My Heart Goes On Plays in the background.

Here is the felucca, sailing into the thorn bushes, as the song My Heart will go On still plays in the background:

Here is the captain and first mate, trying to repair the broken sail:

 

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Waking up to this view made the whole adventure worth while, but I won’t be listening to THAT SONG anytime soon.DSCN1235.JPGSailing down the Nile was an incredible experience; one that I’ll never forget.It’s a beautiful river, and we were far enough upstream that the water was clean and cool.  Swimming in the Nile was one of my favorite parts of the trip so far.

 

I tried to find a poem about the Nile, but nothing jumped out at me.  Then I remembered these lyrics from a country song that came out when I was in college:
You know a dream is like a river
Ever changin’ as it flows
And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores…

And, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry

Too many times we stand aside
And let the waters slip away
‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow
Has now become today
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide…

Yes, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry

There’s bound to be rough waters
And I know I’ll take some falls
But with the good Lord as my captain
I can make it through them all…

Yes, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry

Yes, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
‘Til the river runs dry

—Garth Brooks, The River

My Heart Will Go On: The Great Felucca Incident of 2016

Ozymandias

 

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I was a bit disappointed with my hotel room, and then I looked out the window.

Aswan
We could tell immediately upon leaving the train station that Aswan was much different from Cairo. It’s cleaner, quieter, and somehow sleepier. It’s definitely hotter! I think it was 107 on our first day out, and it can get much hotter. The nile is magnificent. It’s green and calm with note of the garbage of Cairo. Our hotel isn’t much in the way of luxuries. It’s actually pretty dismal, until you look out the window. One of the best views I’ve every had from a hotel room.

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Head scarves really do protect against the sun.  Plus, I can go incognito.

 

Our first stop was Philae Temple. It was one of the temples that had to be moved in order to build the Aswan Dam. Built to the goddess Isis (and later used by the Greeks, Romans, and Coptic Christians), it stands on an island overrlooking the Nile. Our group of 15 had the temple almost to ourselves. We also visted the Aswan High Dam and the quarry where many of the ancient Egyptian monuments were sculpted. I’m sure there are worse places to visit on a 107 degree day than a granite quarry without shade, but I can’t think of any at the moment.

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Hundreds of empty boats, waiting to take tourists to Philae Temple.  Five years ago these boats would have all been full.

The best part of the day was our visit to the Nubian village on an island in the Nile. The Nubians are the “other” Egyptians. They live mostly on the West Bank of the Nile from Luxor down into Sudan. G tours arranged for us to have dinner in a Nubian home. We were able to visit with them as well as eat the wonderful meal that they prepared for us (lentil soup, bread, potatoes, rice, eggplant, chicken, and meat pastries) It’s the only time that I felt like I was actually in Africa instead of the Middle East.

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Second Day in Aswan:  Abu Simbel

Wake up call at 3:00 am. Hotel Lobby by 3:30. Why so early? To catch the caravan for Abu Simbel. Since 1997, all tourist traffic in and out of Abu Simbel is done by caravan. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to break down in the Sahara and have no one around to help you out. So at 4:00 sharp, we met 10 other vans and set off to the far South of Egypt. 5 years ago there would have been 200 caravans, setting off at 3 different times during the morning. Now, no more than 20 in a day.
Devoted to the Pharoah Ramses II, Abu Simbel is incredible. Huge. Massive. It’s even more incredible when you know that in the 1960s, the entire complex was moved higher to avoid being flooded when the Aswan Dam was finished. UNESCO helped move it and several other temples along the lower Nile, including Philae Temple. When you walk in, you can feel the presence of the ancient Egyptians. Although the entire complex was moved, everything looks untouched. Massive temple chambers with anterooms exttend far into the mountain. Another smaller (but no less impressive) temple is near, dedicated to the wife of Ramses, Nefertari.

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As with everywhere else I’ve visited so far in Egypt, the place was deserted. No tourists, except for the 10 vans that caravaned from Aswan with us at 4:00 this morning.

To end today, one of my favorite poems.  It’s about Ramses II, whom Abu Simbel was built for:

Ozymandias
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

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Ozymandias

Coming face to face with the Sphinx, Ramses II, and a Camel named Hi Ho Silver

 

A Sphinx

Close-mouthed you sat five thousand years and never
let out a whisper.
Processions came by, marchers, asking questions you
answered with grey eyes never blinking, shut lips
never talking.
Not one croak of anything you know has come from your
cat crouch of ages.
I am one of those who know all you know and I keep my
questions: I know the answers you hold.

—-Carl Sandberg

 

Any picture that you’ve ever seen of the Pyramids can’t possibly convey how massive they are.  They’re incredible.  Amazing.  Massive.  Awe-inspiring.  And sadly, very few people are there to appreciate them right now.  Egypt has lost 90% of its tourism since the Revolution of 2011.  It was Friday (the day off in Egypt) and once you got away from the parking lot, you could easily take pictures with no other people in them.

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The vendors here are hurting for money.  You can see the desperation in their eyes as they approach you, trying to sell you something.  It’s really sad.  Tourism is a huge portion of the Egyptian economy and no one is coming.  Even the area around the sphinx is almost tourist-free.

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This place should be swarming with people.  While I’m greatful to have missed the crowds, I’m really worried for the Egyptian people.

We also did a trip into one of the smaller pyramids (really hot and humid, and not at all scary) and an awesome ride around the pyramids on a camel.  If you’ve never been on a camel, it’s like riding a horse except it is twice as tall, sways side to side, is much wider, and it makes noises that you sound like ones you would hear coming from your stomach after you eat Thanksgiving dinner.  On second thought, riding a camel is nothing like riding a horse.

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Heigh ho Silver, Away.

The camel driver said to call my camel “Heigh Ho Silver”.  He also offered me 2000 camels to marry him.  I tried to sell my daughters for 2000 camels each, but I guess I’m still stuck with them.

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The view from the  back of the Camel Pack.

After a traditional lunch (carbs, carbs, a little meat and vegetables, and more carbs), it was off to the Egyptian museum.  I’d love to post pictures, but they don’t let you take them!  Saw King Tut’s Treasure, statues that I’ve seen before in books, and mummies.  Rameses II, Seti I, and Hapshetsut aren’t looking too bad for having been dead thousands of years ago.

Had to steal this image of Rameses from the internet, as the Egyptian Museum won’t let you take pictures!

After a  very busy (and hot!) day, it was off to the train station for the overnight ride to Aswan.  Never traveled overnight on a train before.  It would have been cozy, except the train rattled, shook and make noises like it was going to fall apart.  Still, it was easier to sleep on a train than in an airplane!  I will say, however, that train travel is not so comfortable when you’ve been sweating in 100+ weather all day and you have no access to a shower.

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I got the  bottom bunk!

 

Coming face to face with the Sphinx, Ramses II, and a Camel named Hi Ho Silver

A Walk Around Old Cairo

 

A Walk

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(Translated by Robert Bly )

 

I woke up in an adventurous mood today.  I put on my “big girl” attitude.   Took a taxi (all by myself) to old Cairo and spent the morning visiting old Churches.  Strange, right?  I travel to the Middle East and visit old Christian sites?  It makes sense when you know that Christianity has consistently been in Egypt longer that in any other country.

A note on Taxis in Cairo:  They are constantly honking.  Not because the drivers are mad, just to let others know where they are.  I think that instead of relying on their rear view mirrors, they rely on the honks of other cars to figure out where they are.  This is important when you’re trying to drive down a 2 lane street with 6 cars at the same time.  Anyway, this is what I’ve deciphered so far.

Beep!:  I’m right behind you.

Beep! Beep!:  Any closer and my taxi would be on top of yours.

Beeeeeeeeep!  Are you going to move or not?

Beep, Beep, Beep:  Watch out for that donkey cart.

Beep! Beeeeeeeeeeeep! Beep-beep!:  Slow down so I can ask you directions.  This crazy American lady in the backseat needs to go to a hotel that I’ve never heard of before.

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Statue in the Coptic Cemetery, Old Cairo

A row of tombs in the Coptic Cemetery.
Narrow passages; just what I’d imagined Old Cairo would look like.
Courtyard at St. Mary’s, the “Hanging Church” because it was build to hang over an existing Roman Gate.

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Church of St. George
A Walk Around Old Cairo