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Reed's Travelogue
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June 3, 2000:

Well, Shalom Shabbat everyone, or happy Jewish day of rest. Around sunset on Friday the Shabbat begins and continues till sunset the following day. In between these setting suns everything stops. If you forget to buy enough groceries (no, of course I don't know this from personal experience) you'll be reduced to eating whatever left-overs you have in the fridge, be that old hummos, old lettuce or old tuna fish till Sunday comes and the shops open up once again.

When this Shabbat rolled around, unlike last week, I was ready. There's nothing like forced relaxation to make a country quite pleasant. Absolutely no work is allowed in the Jewish tradition of Shabbat, that means no driving cars, no making phone calls, no anything that involves electricity. In fact, I've heard stories from people living here who have been out for walks on the Shabbat and have been called over to a phone booth by an Orthodox Jew who needed to make a phone call but was forbidden to physically punch the buttons. You can read all day long if you'd like but if you want to write a letter, forget it, that would involve work and that is against the law. There are over 300 different sects of Judaism in Israel but they all, to some extent, observe the Shabbat, which makes getting outside for a few hours the norm. You can see everyone out on a Saturday, all walking here or there. When I went out for my few hours today I saw little boys in yarmulkes with long side burns chase little girls in flowing dresses, husbands and wives pushing strollers and groups of four or five 20-somethings sipping drinks in the shade. The air felt calm, very different to the buz the city gives off the other six days of the week -- a furl of activity all in the name of security. On the Shabbat life feels safe. At least it did on this particular one. And so, with my well-rested self, I'm heading off out of Israel tomorrow to the land just east of here, Jordan.

June 6, 2000:

All filled up on date bread and yoghurt I'm just about ready to head out for the small town of Wadi Musa. Amman has been fun, the town itself is not all that great -- a fellow I met in Israel said the best thing about Amman was its porno-theatres, if that gives you any insights -- but I met a handful of great people here who were more than willing to show me the secret jewels of Philadelphia (old Roman name for Amman). Behind the thin facade of the movie houses Amman sits as a fairly modern city. Most anything you want is available here due mainly to the strong American presence. In fact, Jordan is the first country I've been in since Turkey where I really felt that the people liked Americans. In Syria no one hid their opinion of the great Satan, the United States, and were more than happy to sit down with you to tea and tell you why. In Lebanon there was indifference; if you weren't gong to invest in their country and you didn't speak French than they didn't feel two ways about you. And, in Israel you're expected to be American. So, here in Jordan when you answer someone's inquiries and tell them you're American they slap a huge smile on their face and say "Great! You want a husband?" I feel very loved here.

June 11, 2000:

I have a friend who used to tell me stories about sleeping on the high place of sacrifice in the ruins of Petra, of sleeping out under the stars all by himself on a spot where thousands of years ago people were slaughtered by that same moonlight. When I entered Petra four days ago all I could think about was I too must sleep on sacrificial rock. Well, the circumstances are a bit different now and Petra receives over 50 thousand tourists a year and has a security force to go with them, making an overnight mission slightly more difficult.

I started off the day swinging by the grocery to pick up some supplies of pita bread and a lesser form of hommus -- roasted chic peas -- before shelling out 40$ for a two-day pass to the big old fun park full of rocks. With my sleeping bag, food and water snug in my day pack I ambled around Petra for most of the day. By 3 o'clock it was so hot that as I drank my last drops of water my mantra of the sacrificial rock became less and less pronounced and turned into something more like must sleep in air conditioning. An hour later, coming out of my dehydrated hallucination for a few minutes, I found myself sitting quietly on the high place of sacrifice. I have no recollection of walking there, it was as if I was somehow transported to the top of the valley. This is a sign, I thought. (Probably a sign meant to tell me to go back to the hotel and rest.) And since there was no one else around I dragged my bag and myself further along the mountain top and plunked down on a shaded ledge overlooking the valley. I could see tourists milling about by the treasury -- the central spot of Indiana Jones movie fame. Three hours later I woke up hungry, thirsty and tired, it was 7 o'clock. I spent the next few hours watching the mountains change from red to purple to green to yellow before they cloaked themselves in black and the stars were hung up. I kept on waiting for a security guard to come and throw me from the mountain but none bothered. A light breeze forced me to unroll my sleeping bag and eat a Snickers to keep warm. The entire time prior to this I thought that I would just read myself to sleep out there in the Jordanian desert but I never cracked a page; I sat and listened. It was so quiet up there. I couldn't imagine people hiking up that rock a few thousand years ago to sacrifice to the Gods on a piece of stone right around the corner from me. And, as I dozed off to sleep, the only sound I heard was the bells of the Bedouin goats clanking their way to bed.

The next morning I flew out of bed and stuffed my belongings into my pack seconds before a huge German tour group ascended the stairs to my make-shift bedroom. "Gootten taag," I said as they filed past. None of them said hello as they were all busy trying to catch their breaths, either that or they caught a whiff of my hiked-for-a-day-in-the-desert-sun-with-no-deodorant self. So I squeezed by and went in search of some water. The day passed and I found myself in the same dehydrated state as the previous day when I crawled into the lobby of the pension. "You stayed in Petra didn't you?" asked the desk manager. "Flouaurwwgh," I said. It was the only sound I could make, I was so tired. I was more coherent by dinner time,rehydrated and clean, and I went to have some, what else, hummos at a restaurant up the street. Later that night as I lay in between snoring bodies on the dining room floor of the pension I realized just how incredible Petra is. Petra is incredible, the only thought I could muster and fell into a coma-like sleep.

The following few days I had even more incredible things to look at as I scrambled around the rock of Wadi Rum, another desert landscape just south of Saudi Arabia. Because of the Petra camp-out I didn't think it was necessary to take to the desert for another solo night but instead stayed in a tent at the small rest house. Just as fantastic as Petra but on a completely different scale, Wad Rum is similar to Moab in southern Utah but on a scale twenty times bigger with camels.

I've just arrived back in Amman from these two trips and I think it must be the heat or the over consumption of hummos because all I can manage to sum up about these places is that they are incredible. I think the Hobbs, or pita delivery man that I caught I ride with from Wadi Rum said it best: "You're skin shines now because of Jordan."

June 16, 2000:

This is one place where tourists aren't a new trend. Egypt has been a tourist destination for over 3,000 years, rivaling nearby Baghdad (the lands between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers) as the place where civilization began. I arrived into Cairo in the afternoon, met by the friend of my father's friend, and whisked away through the some 16 million inhabitants to the flat where I'll hang my hat for the next six weeks. With a grin on my face and a robe on my back I loaded up the washing machine and proceeded to wash every article of clothing I had. Six months of travel dirt washed away, out to where most of Cairo, most of Egypt, gets its water -- the Nile.

Five hours later I was back at the airport, clothed in sweet smelling linen, to meet my father and his friend Dr. Tarek Baghdadi and son. That evening we planned our next few days the Egyptian way -- we'd be easy. Let me tell you, easy is working just fine for me. Our easiness took us east, and the four of us have been enjoying the heat of the Red Sea for the past few days. I have just come from a full day of scuba diving in one of the world's best diving spots and will shower shortly in one of the nicest bathrooms I've seen since Christmas. But tomorrow I'm taking my father off to the Sinai where I'll show him how I've been traveling for the past 180 days.

June 21, 2000:

Oh, my friends. If only you could be here with me, sit down here and listen for the next one-thousand-and-one hours while I tell you about the past five days. I've been traveling for about 6 months now. I figured I'd been broken into the whole rig-a-marole (note: what is the origins of this phrase? First person to email me with the correct answer will get a nice new white hip totally-in-style therewewere t-shirt.) of traveling and had built up a pretty strong travel stamina. What is my point? You are asking. Well, as simply as I can I will say that I don't think any amount of travel and preparation will ever let me get into "Father John" shape. From the moment he stepped off the plane my father and I have not stopped. We even relax on the go. This vacation is going to require counseling when it's finished.

In the past five days my father and I have: scuba dived; snorkeled; eaten hummos; ridden in cabs, buses, private cars, horses; climbed a mountain; slept on top of a mountain; played tennis; watched soccer after soccer game; eaten hummos; walked through bazaars; ridden camels; seen a laser show; and eaten more hummos. We have just two more days till he leaves but I'm sure we'll fit in more than a month's worth of activities before it's up.

I'll have to say though that the highlight of my travels with my father so far was on Father's Day. He and I caught a few cabs deep into the middle of the Sinai peninsula, to the mountian (Gebel Musa or Mt. Sinai depending on your nationality) where Moses saw a bush on fire and received the Ten Commandments from up high. Dad and I filled up on water and, what else, hummos and hit the path -- a good 2 hour climb to the summit. We made it just in time for sunset. Besides the handful of small Bedouin men who live on the mountain selling Cokes and Snickers to the visitors we were alone up there. After our humble dinner and a few words with the Bedos my father and I decided we'd grab a couple blankets and mattresses and bed on the mountain for the night. We were fairly exhausted from our hike so we had no problem falling asleep shortly after 8pm. I slept soundly, minus my dad's snoring, until about 5 o'clock when out of a fog I heard angels singing and a loud voice speaking. Shhh, God. I thought. And then as I gained consciousness and remembered where I was I sat straight up to see where all the noise was coming from. People, billions of people were scattered all over the top of the mountain singing and saying prayers, waiting for the sun to rise. They had hiked up the mountain in the dark after my father and I had drifted off to sleep and arrived to welcome another day from the summit of that holy place.

June 29, 2000:

It was raining as I got up and slid between chairs and tables and headed for the bathroom just inside the restaurant. At least I thought it was raining when I had to jump over puddles and dodge fat water drops after leaving the protection of the sheltered outdoor cafe. Monsoon, I decided as I sat there on the toilet. But it turned out simply to be the condensation from the air conditioners sticking out of every window on the apartment complex above the restaurant. Besides, the big rains don't come until early winter here in Egypt.

When I returned to my place in the cafe the population of the place seemed to have doubled. I had been brought by my host and a few of his relatives and friends to the cafe to watch the semi-final Euro Cup soccer match between Portugal and France, and to smoke a little shisha. Contrary to what you're imagining, shisha is a large water-pipe -- sometimes called hubbly-bubbly or nargila -- used to smoke tobacco. Egyptian love their shisha. Most of the Arab countries and Turkey smoke the water-pipe but none do as majestically as the Egyptians. Out in that packed cafe (I arrived at 10 to a fairly spars crowd) at midnight a light wind was blowing white puffs of sweet smelling smoke and an occasional "rain" drop through the crowd as France worked up to their win by a penalty kick. "This place is open till 4 am." Said my host with a swing of his arm, "This is Egypt!" And I have to say that that cafe will put you in a good mood. "You want shisha?" Asked Muhammad, an Egyptian fellow sitting at the end of the table puffing away on his own pipe. If you looked around the tables you would have seen a dozen women all with their own water-pipes but I didn't feel up to it; shishas take training. "No, thank you." I smiled.

Tomorrow Holland plays Italy in the second semi-final game and depending on my mood I may try and watch it like an Egyptian, with a long silver pipe sticking out of my mouth and hot coals dancing over some tobacco.

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