Dante’s Inferno – Diving into the Valley of Fire

June 19th, 2022

Feeling refreshed and ready after our luxury 3.5 hours of sleep we packed up our car to take on day 2! We said farewell to our fish friends and admired the pastel mountains surrounding us. Pahrump (pa-pa-pum), Nevada is the epitome of small desert town, but the contrast of flat, sparse ground and mountains are breathtaking. We couldn’t help but wonder if the locals take it for granted or if they actually fully appreciate the beauty each day.

7 Magic Mountains

We absolutely flew across the country to look at painted rocks. 0 regrets.

Our first official (daylight) stop was the “7 Magic Mountains”, an art installation south of Las Vegas. We went ready to brave the heat on a hike out into the desert… but it was really right off the highway. Not mad about it to be honest. We were greeted by some nice, sandy, wind tornadoes in the distance as we grew closer to the parking lot.

Not going to lie, we were fully prepared for it to be a gimmicky tourist trap that just somehow photographed well. Not the case! It was actually way more impressive than we expected. We sat there for a while pondering the important questions of:

  • how did they stack and make them stay (we have ideas, but still… tell me your secrets)?
  • do they repaint? Or is the paint just supposed to fade and that is part of the “deeper meaning” or artist expression [all those artsy things]

As for the photo ops – obviously there are a good amount of people there, but, if you are patient, there are good photo opportunities capable of avoiding random people in the background. You just need to move fast to take advantage of them! Mom always said patience was a virtue.

After appreciating the stacks, we climbed back in the car to head toward the “Valley of Fire.” While en route we drove through Vegas now during the daylight hours. Not as fun, but did quite enjoy the WIDE variety of billboards… most of which you would make you think “only in Vegas.”

Valley of Fire

The death grip we had on this sign…

UNDERRATED. I stan VAF. Entrance was meh, but awesome inside the park. When researching, it was always mentioned as an “if you have time” or as an alternative to the Wave. We ended up there for the latter of the two because we missed the lottery for the Wave hike, but we were SO happy we did. It isn’t quite as popular, getting there a little later helped too, so you aren’t battling crowds. It was actually really nice, empty, and low key while we were there.

First, and most importantly, let’s talk maps. After the previous night Valley of Fire’s blew us away. It was excellent. Easy to read, easy to navigate, marked sights… *Chef’s kiss*. AND THE ROAD SIGNS?! More than a girl’s heart can take.

I happily spent the first hour staring off into the park and acting as the official park greeter/ photographer while poor McAllister had to hop onto a zoom meeting.

The park was filled with a multitude of landscapes.

As you enter the park (from the Vegas side) you instantly see the juxtaposition between the grey mountains and red rock formations. The scenic route takes you up close and personal by the red rocks. You are able to pull to the side and scramble around the little caves and caverns. It definitely gave me strawberry pot vibes.

*As you will see, boot goes on and off depending on how spicy I’m feeling*

The red rocks also include a mini arch (eye of Sauron) and Atlatl Rock which was the star of the show for us. It displays petroglyphs [I kept saying hieroglyphs] that were drawn OVER 4000 YEARS AGO. We had to hike upstairs [spice level 0, boot it is] just to see them, we couldn’t stop talking about how impressive that they were able to climb up there and how interesting it is seeing where they deemed important enough to mark their life stories.

This guy apparently had a knack for the future. As you can CLEARLY see, he predicted not only MC and I visiting with the two lizard people, but Star Wars with the Tuscan Raider proudly brandishing his gaffi stick atop the mountain. No banthas though, just goats.

Also, at VAF, there are fancy petrified logs! Unfortunately for us, we had no idea what they were supposed to look like so it took us a few tries before finding the noticeably labeled and fenced off logs. We were just practicing with the 20 rock photos before… definitely not confused and trying to justify them looking like logs.

Not logs ➡ petrified log

The Valley changes yet again from red, to white, to a multi-colored pastel wave pattern. We were bummed that a lot of the hikes (including the Fire Wave hike we specifically came for) were closed for the summer because of extreme temperatures, even if it was only between 85-90 while we were there. No problem for us though! We still felt like we really got the full experience.

The pastel canyons were dreamlike. The yellows, reds, orange, purples, blues, whites, etc. were just swirling around you. A short hike (up a steeper sand slope) left you with a stunning view of the formations. Too overwhelming to properly articulate. We sat there for the longest time watching the golden glow illuminate the waves as the sun began to set and making up shapes in the surrounding rocks.

Do you see the sleeping giant manatee?

Exiting the park we enjoyed continuing to find faces and other objects in the rock formations while searching for the elusive goats (to no avail.)

At the Utah exit we made our final stop to see “Elephant Rock.” The quote signs are very important there because once again we struggled finding this because we just couldn’t see it. We found three other better, rock elephants that, to us, were much more obvious.

The night fell and we admired the stars as we made our way to our Tiny Cabin near Zion.

Tiny cabin was absolutely precious and comfortable. We bathed ONCE AGAIN and returned to our cabin to make PB&Js for dinner, only to find that there were no paper towels or knives. ROUGHING IT. Good thing we have fingers for knives to spread our peanut butter, brain cells at work. Concerning that this was such a struggle seeing that we have our straight up dirt dome stay coming up.

Thoughts/ additional notes of the day:

  • I find people are less intimidated by you and more likely to accept your offer for picture help when booted. I guess in their mind you will probably be easier to catch… LITTLE DO THEY KNOW. Jokes, they are absolutely right.
  • I understand rock layers and colors because of sediments and minerals during different ages. HOWEVER, still amazed by the distinct clean lines between the colors. Not clear how they are SO clean vertical up a mountain. Like someone just took two play-doh colors and just smooshed them together.
  • Deeper into the Pastel Canyon were remnants of an old movie set from “The Professionals” a western movie filmed in 1966 (Thought of you daddio!)
  • Valley of Fire was listening to me, every time I put a wish for directions or explanation out into the universe it would answer with a conveniently located sign post.


December 2nd, 2015

De temps en temps, tu te trouves à peu près sur deux ans après avoir obtenu le diplome, une année et demie avec un boulot dont t’as eu de nombreux opportunités mais ces jours t’en au eu marre, et tu tombes par hasard sur ton blog de voyage du semestre ou t’as vecu à Marseille. 

Que tu me manques, ma belle ville, ville sale, ville débordant de vie des couleurs des peuples de pain et fromage des bateaux des calanques - ah putain, les calanques! est-ce que je vous ai dit que j’ai désormais appris comment faire l’escalade? Il est absoluement nécéssaire que je vous revisite un jour pour grimper les calanques!

j’étais ou… 

ben, c’est assez pour le moment, mon ptit coeur! Il y a des appels à candidature qui nécéssitent mes réponses ce soir…


December 2nd, 2015

De temps en temps, tu te trouves à peu près sur deux ans après avoir obtenu le diplome, une année et demie avec un boulot dont t’as eu de nombreux opportunités mais ces jours t’en au eu marre, et tu tombes par hasard sur ton blog de voyage du semestre ou t’as vecu à Marseille. 

Que tu me manques, ma belle ville, ville sale, ville débordant de vie des couleurs des peuples de pain et fromage des bateaux des calanques - ah putain, les calanques! est-ce que je vous ai dit que j’ai désormais appris comment faire l’escalade? Il est absoluement nécéssaire que je vous revisite un jour pour grimper les calanques!

j’étais ou… 

ben, c’est assez pour le moment, mon ptit coeur! Il y a des appels à candidature qui nécéssitent mes réponses ce soir…

I Don’t Know What The Hell Comes Next..

April 15th, 2015

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…

I don’t know how things will turn out…because, this year, the universe has certainly been busy dealing with me and my stubbornness to stick to one plan.

I’ve come to truly believe that everything seems to happen for a reason. I believed it before…but not entirely, I suppose. I’d swear my life on that belief now. The universe doesn’t let me ease into anything…hits me in the face with something and says “Now adjust, fool!”

*shaking fist at the universe*

Kind of hilarious because many times this year, I’ve been brought back to that moment when I was in Dr. Singh’s office during my last year of college…and he told me that I am so razor sharp in what I want to do. I plot, scheme, and plan and not even a comet could take me off course. He used an example that had to do with football. He warned me that I need to learn to not view any opportunity that I haven’t specifically already made a part of my initial plan and mapped out as taking me off my path…that some opportunities actually strengthen what I had initially thought out.

Of course, at the time, I smiled and said “You’re right!” and he laughed.

Now I know he knew that I was GOING to understand and that I didn’t truly understand what he was saying in that moment.

When I plan…I am in my element. It’s like a challenge and I truly believe that nothing can stop me. Yes, I’ve felt those feelings of “Can I really do this…” but I’ve never accepted not attempting something, knowing deep down somewhere that I would be GOOD for this opportunity. The feeling of winning… was contagious, especially coupled with the skills that I had acquired throughout the process.

I determined that achieving success…material success…was all that mattered.

Well. I’ve been trying to open my mind.

Well, I’ve kind of been forced to…but I suppose that needed to happen for me to begin to willingly look at this a bit more openly.

People think I’ve got it all figured out… nope. They always say that…but…no.

LOL… as I conclude this, I’m chuckling because there was a time when I would have preferred to be burned at the stake than admit this publicly because 1.) I knew I’d figure something out so why speak about something that I know I’ll solve 2.) What is life when you have no direction? 3.) I didn’t need people judging me.

Well. I don’t care enough right now to be overly concerned with 1, 2, and 3 because, no, I don’t know if I will solve this and I’m tired trying to force things to settle as I want them to and they absolutely wilL NOT…been trying for damn year a year. What is life when you have no direction? More like…what is life when you think you’ve got everything figured out? As for people judging me… I don’t give a fuck.

I will allow myself to be uncertain any time that I feel…because I now have a bit of newfound respect for that needing to happen to truly attain an understanding of self, to truly attain a *healthy* belief in a person’s ability to be able to know when the next step is something that they can control and what it is something that they cannot.

I’ve learned that no matter how many times I’ve tried to resist the universe…it’s been – forcefully- pushing me in a certain direction. I don’t know what that is. All I know is that in May 2014, I had three different 5 year plans that I’ve *finally* tossed to the side.

They’re useless to me now. Or on a SERIOUS hold.

I am being pushed in a different direction…there have been clues all year that this might be the case…but I didn’t recognize or even acknowledge those clues until I was at my lowest. I was at a low, then I got lower, and then I hit my lowest, and have been slowly rising again.

I don’t know what the plan is…but I have been putting some different plans in place.

I’ll just wait…because if these plans pan out…then that will speak volumes to me, especially since they are plans that I’d never heavily considered or not at all until this year.

I’ve not been “myself”. I’ve actually been sitting here, for almost a year, wondering what is more important and what is necessary for *me* to do right now. As I’ve faced many unexpected and alarming things this year… I’ve questioned and I’ve criticized myself for not having it all figured out.

Yet…now…recently…I ask myself: “What happens next?”
– What the old Shirley would say: Full speed ahead on my career because nothing else matters: What the old Shirley would say
– This is what the new Shirley believes: Right now, tend to Shirley …in a way that I finally realize is not all about driving full speed ahead toward shaping my career. Tend to her now so that she can have a healthy balance of old and new Shirley.

The universe is trying to push me toward something that I need to be pushed toward…
I’ve accepted that.

It’s uncomfortable for me to do but I’ll let myself be guided towards an “unknown” because I believe that when everything settles as they will, I’ll grit my teeth a bit but I’ll just *know* that this something is what I’m supposed to be doing for myself…not only for my future. When I am in this new situation…when I am finally IN it…I’ll realize that ” this is what was supposed to happen.”

I’ll take the risk.

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing…but my gut apparently does.
That’s something I can’t write down and plan out meticulously.

I’ve accepted that. I’ve resisted this understanding long enough.

I know.
Everyone is going to tell me what I’ve heard for years, “You can’t control everything.”

I know…but, hell, I’ve tried. I’ve been so successful in many things, things that people have admired me for…and with more success, the less room I’ve given myself to “not know”.

I felt that I should know.
Why the hell shouldn’t I?!?!

But – I am finally ready to try something different.

I don’t fucking know this time.
I don’t know what the Hell is coming next.
I have a little over a month left and I don’t know.

That’s ok.
Whatever happens…it will be about Shirley and it will be about my future.

It may come in a different package but it WILL be about Shirley and it WILL be about how Shirley moves forward for the future.

Right now, that is good enough.

The Universe

Ok, Now Where Did She Go This Time?!?

March 13th, 2015

That’s right folks! Spring Break 2015 has come and gone. Did I just sit around and do nothing all week long? OF COURSE NOT!! This adventure took me to Costa Rica with my Tropical Biology class. Yea, you read that right, I got to spend a week in paradise for college credit! Check out the highlights of my trip below!



Thoughts on my travels after Oman

December 16th, 2014

The Summer Arabic Language and Media Program was a great opportunity to learn more about Oman and the Middle East in a more broad sense, but because it was a program, a lot of the information and experiences we got were rehearsed.  Previous programs had done similar things and one of the purposes of the program was to show us the good things about Oman.  Traveling on my own allowed me a lot more freedom of movement to explore.  In contrast to Oman, I was also less isolated from the population and I had to buy food and groceries for myself while I was traveling, so there was much more contact on a day to day basis with the local population.  While I was traveling, I was responsible for myself financially, which meant that I spent more time hitchhiking or couchsurfing to keep costs down when I could which also put me in contact more often with locals.

I chose the countries that I traveled to for different reasons, but many of them were related to academic interests.  I traveled to south of Spain largely because of its Islamic heritage and to Malta because of the linguistic ties to Arabic.  Morocco was an easy choice because of its proximity to Spain, and I have been interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict for years.  In each of these cases, I got some real world context to things that I had mostly just read about.  Linguistically, my spanish is passable and so is my arabic, so more chance to practice those was helpful.  Where it wasn’t helpful, for instance in darija-speaking Morocco was illuminating in its own light.

Morocco, Oman, and Palestine are three largely Arab countries that share some similarities, but their differences are interesting too.  The difference between Omani and Palestinian bedouins was stark and kind of interesting to see.  The similarities in food were much less than I would have guessed, but the differences were interesting too.  Even the differences in Ramadan were interesting.

Malta turned out to be kind of disappointing from a cultural aspect, but I can’t blame the Maltese for capitalising on European tourism.

Probably, the best part of my trip was to Israel and Palestine.  I took a class with Professor al-Tikriti on the history of the conflict, but seeing the effects of is quite different.  The casualness of armed military in Israeli cities, the sirens, or even talking to Israelis is puts things into their context.  There were definitely Israelis sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but I also met some who believed that all of the land was theirs and would brook no opposition to that.

Dealing with security checkpoints and mobility was certainly easier for me than the average Palestinian in West Bank, but a gave me a better idea of what they go through everyday if they have to go elsewhere for work or have family elsewhere in the territories.  There was a surprising amount of diversity in Palestinian dialects as well.  Only a short drive from Ramallah in Taybeh, qofs disappear and become glottal stops (actually the same thing that happens in Maltese), from person to person where can be weyn or feyn, but certainly not aina.

I think that traveling is important if you are interested in something and able, because there are small details and sensory experiences that can’t really be described in a text.  The similar usage of inshallah and mañana for a half serious hope of something as me and Spanish-Moroccan Jew discussed or the feeling of being caged in at Qalandiya checkpoint between the occupied territories and Jerusalem.  I was fortunate to be given an opportunity to travel by the Sultanate of Oman and having a decent amount in savings to continue on after that, and hope to have the opportunity again.  As of now, I was awarded a Gilman Scholarship to study in Beijing, I’m awaiting hearing on Fullbright Teaching Assistantship in Taiwan, and getting ready to start the paperwork for the Peace Corps, so who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll see in the future.

Making it home

December 16th, 2014

I had a little time in Jerusalem, so I decided to take a trip to al-Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem on my last day.  Checkpoint 300 is much easier to get through than Qalandiya, possibly because Bethlehem is such a big tourist destination.  I wandered around the security wall where personal anecdotes had been posted on signs, and browsed the graffiti.  The graffiti ranged from inane, to incredible works of art, and as I walked along it, a Palestinian family stopped to talk to me.  They were residents of al-Aida, so they offered to take me there with them on their way home.  We arrived in the camp and they invited me into their house to talk for a while.

IMAG0827 IMAG1093 IMAG1099 IMAG1102 IMAG1104 IMAG1106 IMAG1107

They seemed to be doing better than I had expected, but the father complained of not being able to find work and not being able to enter Jerusalem where he used to do construction.  He talked about wanting a better life and an education for his sons and seemed generally optimistic that they would have a better life.  He was uniquely also the first person I met who seemed to want a single state with the Israelis.  I don’t know if it was from being beat down from living in a camp his whole life and just wanting peace and opportunity or the influence of the UN at the camp, but most Israelis and Palestinians I had talked to previously believed two separate states was the best option.

He offered me food and a bottle of water which I was torn about accepting.  I didn’t want to offend him by turning down food and implying that he was , but I didn’t want to accept and take something from him when he clearly less well off.  I decided to accept a small amount to be polite and give him some lokum from Hebron and some fruit from Daher’s farm in return.  I don’t know if that was the correct response, but I hope he understood that I appreciated his generosity.  I had to leave shortly after that to make it to Ben Gurion airport, so I said my goodbyes and wished him luck.

The trip to Ben Gurion didn’t go so well, and I ended walking an hour and a half to get there only to discover that they had changed the terminal my flight was in.  After waiting on a bus to the other terminal I made it there barely in time for my delayed flight.  Getting through security proved to be a challenge, so I almost missed my flight anyway.  Previous experiences with security in Israel had not gone well for me, and this was no exception.

During what had been a cheerful chat with the woman working security, I mentioned that I had traveled to the West Bank, and things to a turn for the Kafkaesque.  Her expression suddenly became blank and she began repeating the same sets of questions to me over and over again, presumably to get me to slip up?  It was surreal experience, she gave no physical acknowledgement of the repetition, and I briefly had to wander if I was going crazy, and the entire time I was just trying to get to my flight.  Finally, I was free to go and rushed through as fast as possible and only barely caught my flight.

I made it to London late at night only to find my bag hadn’t come with me.  I wouldn’t receive it for another three weeks, so I had to find some toiletries.  London was largely uneventful and a day later I was back in the states.

Experiences in West Bank

December 16th, 2014

I arrived at Ramallah late in the evening with a Canadian I had met in Jerusalem.  Our attempts to find the hostel were unsuccessful, and neither of us a had a phone.  We knew we were close, but the map we had wasn’t terribly helpful so we stopped to ask directions from a family who had just started to close down their shoe shop in preparation to break the fast.  We sat and chatted for a bit in Arabic, and I showed them the map, but unfortunately, they had no idea where the hostel was either.  Their younger boy suddenly scooped up my backpack and decided he was going to find it for us and ran off down the street.  His father laughed and told us to go with him, so we set off.

IMAG0891 IMAG0892 IMAG0893

The boy didn’t really speak fusha, so we spent the time going back and forth trying to figure out different words in Palestinian dialect while we walked.  I felt guilty haven’t him carry my backpack and asked for it back, and he begrudgingly returned it.  It quickly became clear he didn’t really know where he was going either, but he seemed very excited about the whole experience so I decided to keep following and just keep my eyes peeled.  It turns at that we had been circling the hostel the entire time, which was made worse by the fact that the building was unmarked, but we eventually found it.  After my experiences in Tangiers, I began to get out some money, thinking that it would be expected.  Besides the kid was pretty cool and very enthusiastic about helping us and I thought it would be a nice gift especially since Ramadan was still going on, but he steadfastly refused any payment.  He said that it was his home and he was just doing what was right and then scampered off into the night.

The hostel was nice, an Ethiopian-American volunteer named Semhal met us at the door and led us to our rooms.  The two brother who ran it, Bobo and Chris, lived in the floors below the hostel with the rest of their family.  There was a photojournalist, Johannes, from Finland there working on a story about Ramadhan in the West Bank, and another aspiring photojournalist named Til.  I spent most of my time in West Bank travelling with Til, Johannes, and Semhal.  We went out later so Til and Johannes could get some pictures of a protest at Minara Square and to find somewhere to get some falafel.  The protest itself was interesting, but we left shortly after as Palestinian Authority Security forces began to crack down

IMAG0894 IMAG0897 IMAG0895.

Over the next few days we did some traveling outside of Ramallah, and our first stop was Hebron.  The tension in the air there was even more palpable then in Jerusalem.  We met up with a friend of Chris and Bobo’s who took us to a friend’s house at the edge of territory that settler’s had staked a claim to.  His house was surrounded on three sides by settlers territory and his roof was topped with barbed wire to keep people out.  He showed us some videos of a settler climbing onto his roof to remove his flag and yell at him and crowds of settlers protests outside of his house.  A short distance from his rooftop, an Israeli soldier manned an outpost.

IMAG0898 IMAG0899

We continued on through a market in the old city that was screened in above by chainlink fence to catch garbage and rocks that were thrown down from above at vendors.  One section on a side street was filled with closed shops that had been shutdown after security cordons reduced traffic to that area, and most of the doors were covered in graffiti.  After passing through a checkpoint we visited the Cave of the Patriarchs, but to be honest we weren’t able to see anything worth seeing.  We stopped by a shopkeeper’s shop who showed us some older pictures of what Hebron used to look like before parts of the city were cordoned off by security forces.  We made our way back to the central bus station, but not before we heard the rattle of gunshots in the distance.  We never found out who was doing the shooting, but given the atmosphere in the city, it honestly wasn’t surprising.

IMAG0900 IMAG0901 IMAG0902 IMAG0904 IMAG0906 IMAG0908 IMAG0911 IMAG0914 IMAG0915

Our next trip was to visit Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin camp that Johannes had heard of.  To get there, we to a taxi to Jericho, and then hitchhiked back along the highway to get to the camp.  It was kind of a miracle that we were able to get a ride, considering there were four of us, but we figured we could split up into groups of two if necessary.  Fortunately, we managed to a get a ride from a man from Jericho whose sisters was married to one of the Bedouins at the camp.  He introduced us to his sister and went off and found the boss of the camp.

The Bedouins were vastly different than the ones I had met in Oman.  A little of the disregard for the rules was there (several were smoking or drinking tea during the day in Ramadhan), but they were not giving camel rides to tourist.  The camp itself was the largest of many in the area, but still quite small.  They didn’t have access to utilities, but had set up solar cells and generators with the help of an NGO to provide electricity to a central meeting place in the camp that housed a refrigerator and an old tv.  He showed us some pictures of him with foreign dignitaries who had visited his camp (including Ban-Ki Moon) and some reports the UN had put out regarding loss of land by Bedouins, then took us to see the school that had been built by another NGO.  It was a construct of tires and concrete that had been decorated by the children of the camp, but its still in danger of being demolished so that the highway can be expanded in the area.  Semhal and one of the Bedouin women exchanged jewelry and goodbyes and we made our way back to Ramallah.

IMAG0954 IMAG0957 IMAG0966 IMAG0967 IMAG0968 IMAG0972 IMAG0973 IMAG0977 IMAG0983 IMAG0985

Johannes had mentioned wanted to visit a beer brewery and restaurant in the Christian village of Taybeh, so that was the next trip we took.  It was a short trip from Ramallah, maybe 20 minutes.  We grabbed some Musakhan and a few beers and enjoyed the view of Jordan in the distance, before heading on to the brewery.  The brewery was closed by the time we got there, but owner’s wife happened to spot us wandering around outside.  In another instance of Palestinian hospitality, she postponed a dinner out with her husband and some friends to take us on a personal tour of the brewery.  

As far as brewery tours go, this one was pretty standard, although some of the adversity they have to go through to do business was interesting.  Because they are allowed limited access to water, they have to do many of their activities on one day out of the week when they can use it.  Because of the difficulty marketing and shipping their beer its often made to order, so extremely fresh.  They don’t really export to many countries, I believe she said Sweden and Japan as of right now, but they do decent business in Israel and Palestine.  Its also probably easily the best beer I had while I was traveling.  After the brewery, we hitchhiked back to Ramallah.

IMAG1003 IMAG1008 IMAG1011

On another daytrip, we traveled to Tent of Nations, a farm run by a Palestinian farmer in West Bank whose slowly being surrounded on all sides by settlements.  He’s been fighting in court for some time to retain his land, and its been a battle despite him having documents from the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, and Jordan establishing it as his families.  Getting there was difficult as quite a few taxi drivers didn’t want to travel in the area due to the large concentration of settlements, but we found one driver who would take us.  After climbing over a pile rubble blocking the road to the farm, we hiked to the front gate where we were met by Daher Nassar, the current owner of the farm.

He showed us a summer school he had set up in a cave where he teaches refugee children and the tents that he housed volunteer workers at.  I asked him about the tents and the caves and he responded that he wasn’t allowed to build any new structures on his land.  His orchards were home to apricots, apples, carob, figs, grapes, and other kinds of fruit which he would periodically pull from the trees to give to us.  He relied heavily on volunteers to help him keep the farm going and ran the program as a way of educating people to live renewably on the land.  The volunteers we met were largely from Germany, and many were Lutheran, like Daher, though he accepted anyone (the kids from the refugee camps were mostly Muslim).

IMAG1048 IMAG1049 IMAG1055 IMAG1067  IMAG1071 IMAG1072 IMAG1083 IMAG1088IMAG1069

My time in Ramallah itself was largely spent getting hookah with Johannes at a place near Arafat square, and hanging out with people he knew in the city.  One of his contacts was an editor for al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, the PA newspaper, so we visited a protest with him so the could take pictures.  The protest was a march on Qalandiya checkpoint from Ramallah and quickly turned to chaos while we were there.  Khaldun, the editor, was able to help us stay safe during the protest as Palestinian youths exchanged fireworks and rocks for Israeli bullets and tear gas.  We talked politics for a while, as Khaldun had majored in Hebrew studies and political science at university, so I was able to get an interesting perspective on the current political situation in Israel and Palestine.  After the protest, he drove us to the hospital where his wife was giving blood, so Johannes and Till could get pictures.  The death toll was only three, but the injured were in the hundreds.

The most interesting thing about the protest was how organised everything was.  The crowd would surge forth and move back as one with the increases or decreases in firing from the Israeli side.  People carrying boxes of chopped onion would move through the crowd dispersing it to be rubbed under ones nose to reduce the effects of tear gas.  Men would run down the center of the street clearing the crowd so ambulances could move towards the front as other groups of men would move the wounded away from the front lines.  The ambulances themselves would stay uphill out of the line of fire (although several had windows blown out by the end of the night) until needed and then would come surging down to collect the wounded.  Not surprisingly, the Palestinians seemed to have distilled the act of protest down to an art.

The city when not protesting is a lot smaller than I thought, considering its the de facto capital (both the Israelis and the Palestinians consider Jerusalem their capital).  I looked it up on wikipedia later and apparently the population is only 27,000.  Because it serves capital any embassies are located there, though there aren’t many.  Similarly, most embassies in Israel are located in Tel Aviv rather than Jerusalem.  The government operates out of a complex called the mukataa that also houses Arafat’s tomb.  Despite its small size, there’s a shopping mall, and both Arafat Square and Minara Square are bustling centers of commercial activity.  There’s also an incredible Mahmoud Darwish Museum that I would recommend checking out.

IMAG0917 IMAG0920 IMAG0922 IMAG0924 IMAG0931 IMAG0936 IMAG0938 IMAG0944 IMAG1017IMAG0949 IMAG0951


My trip back from Ramallah took me back through a now scorched Qalandiya checkpoint.  Its a pretty disheartening experience, with the journey through the checkpoint building forcing you through a series of cage-like lanes before getting to an xray scanner.  Johannes made it through fine, but I had to unpack my backpack and run everything through the scanner individually.  Unfortunately, only a few people are allowed into the scanner at a time, so as I was held up by security, a line formed behind me.  After finally making it through, I headed back to Jerusalem to get ready to fly home.

IMAG1021 IMAG1023 IMAG1024 IMAG1025

Foundation of Peace/Abode of Holiness

December 16th, 2014

Jerusalem was a very different place from Tel Aviv.  There was a lot more obviously religiously observant Jews here and a lot more Arabs, so it was a bit more tense.  There were also a lot more armed soldiers on duty around the city.  I stayed in the Old City in a hostel not too far from Jaffa gate near the border of the Armenian and the Christian sections.  The building was ancient like much of the rest of the city, and again, I opted for sleeping on the roof.  The view of the city was incredible, and often I’d wake to the sound of church bells or the Adhan.  There was a basement area to hang out in when it got hot and a single maybe 15″ bulky tv down there.  On the second or third day I was there, we all crammed into that basement to watch the ground invasion of Gaza begin on that little tv.

IMAG0785 IMAG0794 IMAG0797IMAG0823

Because of the strife in Gaza, tensions were inflamed in Jerusalem and the Haram ash-Sharif was closed the entire time I was there, as were some portions of the Arab quarter.  So, I saw what religious sites I could from the other denominations.  I visited the Wailing Wall and traveled to the catacombs beneath it on one of my failed attempts to see the Temple Mount. I checked out the Tower of David and walked along the walls of the Old City.  There were plenty of churches to see with Christianity’s long presence in the city.

IMAG0869 IMAG0867 IMAG0866 IMAG0865 IMAG0861 IMAG0872 IMAG0875 IMAG0877 IMAG0886 IMAG0885

Obviously the most interesting one was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The thing you see when you walk in is the anointing stone where Jesus was supposed to have been prepared for burial.  People from all over the world congregate around it, kissing it or praying to it, and it looked like some had little vials of water that they blessing over it.  As you pass by that, on the left is the Holy Sepulchre where you can actually stay overnight in on vigil.

IMAG0815 IMAG0817 IMAG0818   IMAG0822IMAG0820IMAG0821

More interestingly though, if you head to the right you’ll pass by all kinds of specific chapel rooms for different denominations.  So you’ll pass by an Ethiopian Church, to Catholic, to Orthodox and so on.  Some are bigger than others, and one or two rooms actually looked abandoned.  Its a strange experience to walk through this patchwork of a church, and every room has a different style of decoration and a different language is being spoken.

Before heading on to Ramallah, I took a day trip with a couple of Australians to Jericho and Bethlehem.  When we visited the Church of the Nativity, it was under construction and kind of underwhelming.  We traveled through a market after and actually found a Starbucks in Bethlehem.  That’s a bit sad, but I thought it worth noting.  We spotted a few Banksy painting while we were there and headed on to the Herodium outside of town.

IMAG0828 IMAG0829 IMAG0830 IMAG0831 IMAG0832 IMAG0833 IMAG0834 IMAG0845 IMAG0844IMAG0846 IMAG0855  IMAG0860 IMAG0837 IMAG0858

The Herodium is a fortress built by King Herod the Great sometime around 20 BC built on top of a mountain.  Its pretty high up so it affords a great view of a lot of the West Bank around it and the ruins are pretty impressive themselves.  You can travel down into the tunnels beneath it where supplies and water are kept.  It was destroyed during the Jewish War against the Romans, but was rebuilt and used again during the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The last leg of our daytrip was to head to Jericho, one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the world.  The old city itself was small and took little time to take in, so we decided to head up the mountain on a cable car to see the Monastery of Temptation.  Its a Monastery built into a mountain that’s said to be where Jesus fasted for forty days while Satan tried to tempt him.  Unfortunately, after hiking up the mountain, the monks were apparently calling it a day, so we weren’t able to get in to see the actual monastery.  Still, the view of the dead sea was fantastic and dust devils were kicking about in front of it, so I’d say it was worth the ascent.

After a few days, I traveled to Ramallah.  The owner of the hostel I stayed at in Jerusalem was an Arab with family that also ran a hostel in Ramallah, so I had somewhere to stay when I got there.

Arrival in Tel Aviv

December 16th, 2014

Like many of my other arrivals, I got into Tel Aviv fairly late at night.  I guess that’s one of the costs of cheap plane tickets.  My hostel was located in the Florentine district which, like in many other cities of the world, is a place that turned from a poor industrial part of town to a haven for artists when they figured out the cheap rent situation.  I actually ended up sleeping on the roof while I was there which was a bit cheaper and actually really nice given the climate.

I didn’t really do anything particularly historical while I was there.  Its a new city, relatively speaking, and I was going to be travelling to Jerusalem and the West Bank shortly. I mostly spent my time eating great falafel and drinking Arak and grapefruit juice, two things that I find I miss here in the states.  I did get a chance to see Old Jaffa which is an Arab town that was incorporated into Tel Aviv over time.  Its quite different from the rest of Tel Aviv because it so much older than the rest of the city.  There’s more Arabs here I think, but also a lot of Africans who have moved as refugees.

IMAG0758    IMAG0751 IMAG0753 IMAG0749     IMAG0742 IMAG0741  IMAG0735   IMAG0736 IMAG0737

I did talk to some Jewish Americans who were at the hostel after doing birthright.  Its an interesting program which had some parallels to my experience in Oman.  They basically invite Jewish people from elsewhere to stay in Israel and take them around to show them all the best parts about it.  A lot of the people I talked to said it was a bit heavyhanded on the propaganda but mostly they had a positive view of Israel.  I think the endgoal of it is to solidify identification in the mindsets of non Israeli Jews and possibly convince them to emigrate.  The group I was talking to were mostly more secular, but I could see this being a great recruiting tool for the more religious Jews in the U.S.

A couple of rockets were launched at the city while I was there, but at least in the hostel, no one really seemed to take them seriously.  Apparently buildings in Tel Aviv built after a certain date have to include some kind of bomb shelter.  In the case of ours, it was the stairwell, so we’d shuffle into there while the sirens went off, but there was a sense that people who had been there for a while were kind of rolling their eyes at the whole process.  The owner of the hostel would shoo everyone down there, and when the sirens stopped everyone would go back to what they were doing.

There were a few things like that that seemed out of place to me, but were just part of everyday life.  I’ve lived on military bases before, so seeing soldiers isn’t that big a deal to me, but its a bit odd to see uniformed and armed soldiers walking casually about such a big city.  They wouldn’t even necessarily be on duty, sometimes they’d be on a train or bus or at a grocery store.  Even with soldiers, the atmosphere in Tel Aviv was generally friendly, except for an occasional argument about politics.  I left for Jerusalem after a couple of days, and that had a very different feel to it.