Saturday, December 31, 2011

The King’s Road

When four kings decided to go to war against the wicked Sodom and Gomorra in Genesis 14, they went trekking down the ‘King’s Road’ and when Moses dragged his followers through Edom in Numbers 20, they wandered down the ‘Kings Road’.  In real life, the King’s Road was a travel route linking Southern Jordan to Damascus and the north trade routes of China.  Now it’s a windy, two lane road that meanders by Mamluk forts, Crusader castles and ancient biblical sites like Herod’s Castle.


I hired a driver for $65 and we left the beautiful Wadi Mousa (the city next to Petra) at 9:00am.

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The scenery was fantastic with our first stop at Dana Nature Preserve.

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Crusaders castles off in the distance.

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Crazy winding roads into valleys.

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Then a stop at Karak, a crusader castle built in 1142.

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The place is massive with five or six levels and a maze of rooms, tunnels and walls.

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The castle was fantastic.  I could have spent a whole day wandering around, guessing what each of the rooms were for and getting lost but we were off to the city of Madaba after  only two hours.

Madaba was settled by  early Christians so there are a lot of very old churches.  What makes these churches so special is their amazing mosaic floors.  St. George has one of the oldest known maps of Christendom made of tiny mosaic stones on it’s floor.  That’s Jericho in the center….before the walls came down :)

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I spent the next couple days exploring the area including a day at Jeresh, an ancient Roman city that was a major part of the empire and is on par with Ephesus in Turkey.

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We also got a show of Julius Caesar's centurions and chariot races.  The whole thing is quite historically accurate and educational as well as entertaining.  It’s apparently staffed by retired military men and they did do the marching rather well.

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I’ve run out of time and I’ll be heading home for New Years but I think I might come back to Jordan.  The people are really nice and I missed so much this trip that I could do another trip easily.  I also felt quite badly for the people in the tourism industry which has been hit quite hard by BBC’s and CNN’s ‘over’ reporting of the trouble in the Middle East so I don’t mind spending a bit of money here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Spent my final days in Dahab doing some snorkelling….freaking amazing!!!  Just like a National Geographic special and all I had to do was put on my mask and flippers and swim off the front of my hotel.  I couldn’t take any photos because I don’t have an underwater camera but I’ve stolen a few from the internet that look exactly like what I saw.
I actually followed one of these Lion fish for a while, trying to remember if they were poisonous or not.  So fantastic that I might come back to get my diving certificate one day.
Left Dabab and got into Wadi Mousa, Jordan in the late evening after a crazy Christmas Eve ferry ride from Egypt.  When they said it was the slow boat, they weren’t kidding.  Still, it was a nice sunny day to sail along the Sea of Aquaba.
My hotel is very nice and has a Turkish bath which I’ll be partaking in later.  I had a great Christmas day at the ancient city of Petra.   It was a bit cold but that gave me a good excuse to do some of the more strenuous hikes  just to keep warm. 
The layout of Petra is exceptionally dramatic.  After walking a kilometre or so along a dirt path, you enter the Siq, a narrow canyon.
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Here is a picture with a horse and carriage just to show the size of these rock walls.
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The walk through here is incredible, with carvings and beautiful natural rock formations.  What do you see in this picture?
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Then you get a glimpse of the city ahead.
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And you come out into the entry of Petra.  This building is called the Treasury but it’s actually a funerary building.
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I always thought that this was the main part of the city but this is just the beginning.  There are tons of tombs, rock hewn homes, temples and other structures including a Byzantine church and a monastery.
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People have been living here for 10,000 years but the city of Petra was created from about 100bc to 550ad by a group of people called the Nabateans.  The poor Nabateans weren't very lucky people.  They got a good trade thing going on with Arabic frankensense and myrh and the Alexanders' army comes along and attacks.  They survive that only to have Rome try to destroy their trade route and then finally come and attack them too.  Consequently, the city has several different building styles and religious artefacts that reflect all the different traders and conquerers.  Unfortunately, their bad luck continued and after two massive earthquakes, the city was abandoned. 

It's actuallly not completely abandoned because the local Bedouin still live in the cave houses and, apparently they sneak around at night with head lamps to dig up long lost treasures to sell to tourists.  If you want a 2000 year old thingamajig to put on your shelf, you've come to the right place.

The place is huge and I trekked up and down mountains, over temples and through holes in rock walls for about seven hours before heading out.  On my way out I met a very nice woman, got to chatting and we had our Christmas dinner together at the beautiful Movenpick hotel bar just outside the park…nothing like good company, a pint and fish & chips for Christmas dinner. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dahab, Egypt…or where hippies go to live on eternally

So the journey here was pretty crazy.  My lovely taxi driver Evelyn picked me up at 4:30 am and drove me to Abu Dhabi because there are no early buses.  After a two hour flight to Amaan, Jordan, a four layover, another two hour fight and then an hour drive.  I made it. 

Dahab is an odd ramshackle place with restaurants, guesthouses and souvenir shops everywhere all pressed up a rocky coastline. 

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This was the view from my lunch restaurant yesterday where I ate roasted chicken and vegetables while reading my new Janet Evanovich book…life is bloody grand!

I spent today out in the desert and did some hiking.  I use the term hiking loosely here because there was some canyon wall scaling with ropes and some others without ropes.   There was also a ‘ten’ minute hike straight up the side of a mountain.  You’ll notice that the ten is in quotation marks because Arabs love to ‘guestimate’ time with wild abandon.   I have to say it was truly beautiful and the wall scaling pretty fun.  There was also some hot, sweet Bedouin tea and some cool people to chat with.

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This was the Colored Canyon.  Pink and orange.  We climbed, slid, squeezed our way along through amazing rock formations and high walls.

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Then we headed to the White Canyon.

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This was so much fun.  I had a great time looking for hand and foot holds.  Our guide made fun of us for paying to do this and saying ‘good luck’ like we were all doomed.  He also kept singing ten year old pop songs which he said was the only way he could stay sane doing this ridiculous job.

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We arrived at the oasis just as a baby goat was born…poor little thing bleated all through our lunch.  Everything was cooked on a palm leaf fire and was all delicious.

Our trip ended with a stop at Mushroom Rock.

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I’m going to hang out in town tomorrow.  I wanted to go snorkelling but I’m sitting here on my balcony watching the palms whip around and the surf pounding the shore. The temperature has also dropped  so I’m thinking I’ll just be drinking tea and reading for the day.  Such a sacrifice!

Christmas in the UAE

So, I walk into the shopping mall and I am stopped dead by the display set up in the supermarket.  Christmas trees, decorations and twinkling lights everywhere and just beyond that is the camping gear because hey, nothing says Christmas like a bbq in the desert.  It’s really telling how relaxed the UAE is when they don’t mind the glitz of our tackiest holiday crowding their shopping aisles.

I’ve had a pretty good pre-Christmas week.  I started off with fantastic dinner and Choir performance at the Danat Hotel.  They had turkey, prime rib and all the fixings, including a huge gingerbread house.  My friends Sharon and Liz were both in the Choir and were wonderful.  They included the audience for 12 Days of Christmas and the tables had to stand and sing their lines.  We were ‘three French Hens’ which was funny because we had three French Canadians at our table.

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This is our table with Sharon in white, hubby Serge in black, me, Louise, her husband  Rak, Linda and her son Lars in back.  Great people to share a table with.

I also did some baking and organized a Secret Santa in our office.  The Emirati ladies participated too which was so fun.  It was all very secular and not meant to be anything other than an excuse to goof-off for a short time on the last day before holidays started.

Then, Sharon and I went to Dubai to visit The Global Village which is a huge international shopping expo dressed up to look cultural by having performers and decorations from each of the countries participating.  India was the best and we both bought ourselves a little something there.  We ate in Morocco and even talked about going to Morocco in March for our next vacation.

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And I got my first glimpse of the Burj Khalifa…check out how huge that thing is.

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There was a couple of bad things that happened that last bit  before holidays.  My supervisor, who I really like, announced that she’s leaving in June.  Apparently, she’s one of the best supervisors according to my co-workers.  I feel very unstable now with people leaving or being let go.  It’s not a good atmosphere.  On top of that, I had a classroom observation the day before holidays started and the students were wild enough and I was freaked out enough that I blew it.  I don’t think that I’ve taught a class that badly in years.  At this point in my teaching career, I really should be able to ignore what’s happening outside the classroom but it’s difficult…I’m thinking more manicures and massages might help.  

Luckily, I’m on holidays!!!!  So, I’m off to Egypt and Jordan.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Desert BBQ

Some friends invited me out into the desert for a bbq this past weekend so we were out in the dunes as the sun set and had some great food. 

Sharon and Serge lighting up the bbq...luckily, everyone still had their
eyebrows when it was all finished.  You can see we had to 4x4 in.

We were near some pools of reclamation water so there were a lot
of birds including these little guys and some huge herons that wouldn't pose for me.
Very picturesque with Jebal Hafeet Mountain in the distance.
I trashed my pedicure but had a blast climbing the dunes.

The reclamation pools give life to a bone dry place.

Al Ain has this amazing red sand that got brilliant in the light of the setting sun

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our College's National Day celebrations

This week has been the absolute craziest week that I've had here so far.  The national Day (translate that into month) wackiness started with a bird show on the campus. 

From the Al Ain Zoo
Falconry is a big deal here and a lot of people have them, in fact, one of my student's brothers have them.  These zoo keepers brought the birds and had them flying for prey in front of the girls who screamed and took photos on cue. 

This one didn't want to go back to his handler and held the show up for a while.

The next day got even wilder when we became a parade.  Four floats and 48 buses filled with screaming, flag waving students.  We paraded through town for 90 minutes and then went to some sort of heritage village.  My students were pretty excited and cheered and sang the whole time on the bus.  This is a big deal for them to go out into public and be allowed to stick their heads out of windows like that because they usually act demure in public places.

All of the school kids lined the street to see the parade...this was a National Day slash recruitment event.
This is a women's traditonal Dance.  They swing their hair from side to side
while swaying to the beat of the drums.  There is very little movement and,
as dance and music are not allowed in Islamic culture, it seems to be done
only at home. 
Yesterday was my student's big day as they had a 'festival' in the college where each class in our level one had a booth/table to sell something,  create something or celebrate National Day in some way.  My class took photos of students with the traditional berka that their grandmother's used to wear on their faces and then they printed off the photos to give each girl.  

These girls cooked and brought in food to sell.

I bought the traditional clothes to wear for the day and had fun.  The outer black cloak is called an Abayah, the head scarf is called a sheyla and the inner dress is called a Kandora.  Here I am getting the tradional Henna done on my hand by one of our students.

I'm glad that I wore the traditional clothes for the day because I feel like I understand my student a bit better now.  They walk very slowly which is quite irritating but I discovered that it's impossible to walk quickly in these clothes so now I think I'll be more understanding with them.

With the traditional berka on my face

I also made a cake for the day in the shape of a UAE traditional fort.  Red velvet, French vanila and dark chocolate layers to simulate the colors of the flag.