Author Archives: peterberman

Life aboard the Ship in troubled waters

Day 21 continued

 

At noon half the passengers were glued to the railings at the rear decks to watch the two Saudi naby gun boats arrive at the ship. We stopped momentarily in the journey for a group of former British SAS commandos to transfer on board with their weapons. We have ships in front and behind us, several miles separates each one, so it feels like we’re in a convoy. At 3 pm, half the passengers were glued to the rear fantale decks to watch them practice. Unfortunately, the only view of what they were doing was from the crew quarters deck, and they reported that they were firing silenced sniper rifles. So much for the heavy armament.

 

It was a lazy day for me. Napping, lying out by the pool, swimming when the heat was too much, then eating….again! At dusk, they killed the running lights on the ship and blacked out all the windows. The party continued inside, but the outside upper and lower decks were closed. Only one deck was open, and I went out there, but the side windows really prevented looking out at the sea with any clarity. I sneaked out on my balcony. At first it was so dark I had to feel in front of me for the railing. After my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I could see the Milky Way in it’s full glory. Venus was in the sky and the light from Venus lit up the ocean the way the moon does at night. I’ve never seen that before. It was really a sight to behold. I attended a show in the theater and got to bed about midnight.

 

 

Day 22 Friday May 11

 

We heard today that last night in the early morning hours a small boat approached us. We didn’t have to take evasive action. The small boat apparently realized it was making a mistake and changed course. It got pretty close. Best guess is it was a small fishing boat, but who fishes in the middle of the night? I’d be more inclined to believe it was a smuggler boat, but I guess we’ll never know.

 

Another lazy day for me. I’ve been told that we’re being shadowed by a US Carrier. On three separate occasions during the day, Blackhawk helicopters buzzed the ship. They hovered above us, and I had the distinct feeling they were assessing the ship and possible sites for putting men onboard should it become necessary. A very comforting feeling. We’re not really worried about pirates. Ship to large and too many people on board. Apparently, we’re the only large passenger boat to be cruising in these waters, so the threat, if there is one, is more likely from terrorists who might decide to suicide crash an small explosive boat into us. This risk is much more likely as we gain entry into the Straits of Hormuz off Iran/Pakistan. That won’t happen for another day or so. I know there are two US carriers in the Straits now, so my guess is we’ll get special attention if anyone tries to get close to us.

 

This cruising stuff is great. I just wish I had a few friends along. I’ve made a large number of friends from all over the world on this trip. Everyone is really friendly. But most of them are sailing on to Singapore, and I can see why. When people wait on you hand and foot, 24 hours a day, it gets really addictive. It would be a lot more fun if I was with a group of folks from home, but still, this is really the way to travel.

 

It was another day of workouts, swimming, massage, barbecue at lunch out by the pool, afternoon nap, reading in between, formal dinner, $3. Mai Tai’s from 5-9 pm, and an evening stage show. Life’s so difficult.

 

Day 23, Saturday, May 11

 

Wish I had something new to report, but it’s just more of the same. Nothing new on the high seas. Pizza for lunch… I’m trying to cut back on the calories. Pretty sad when two pieces of pizza is less than half the calories I’ve been eating at every meal. I went to bed right after dinner, about 9pm, in order to get up at two am to listen to the game 7 between the Rangers and the Washington Capitals. However, we had another time zone shift today, and I forgot to factor that in to my counting on my fingers. I got up an hour early….again. What a waste. I’m now downstairs in one of the lounges that serves food (sandwiches, pizza and deserts) all night. I’ve seen a procession of drunks come through here, all getting something to eat before they wander off to try and find their rooms. It’s starting to get a little quiter now, but I’m beginning to fade and I’m not really willing to stay up all night anymore for the game. Besides, in 24 hours, my Kings game will be on and I’m hoping I can watch it through the magic of one of my kids ipads. Think I’ll get a piece of pizza to help me sleep.  Bad, bad boy……

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Safaga Egypt, Karnak, and sailing past Sudan and Saudi Arabia

Day 19, Tuesday, May 8

Got up at 5:00, breakfast at 5:30. We are still sailing into Safaga, Egypt. We mustered at 6:30 am and left the ship at 7:00. You can immediately tell you’re back in Egypt. Trash on the streets, police in white uniforms carrying AK’s. Home sweet desert. Safaga is a small town, so the convoy passed through it in minutes. Across the water is Saudi Arabia.

 

Each bus had an armed member of the security police on board. I got a seat right behind the rear side door. More leg room, and the water cooler is right in front of me. I st with a crew member from South Africa. Once we were underway, I discovered that there’s a price to pay for more lef room. Everytime someone used the bathroom in the stairwell, the smell was overwhelming. Almost puked the first time, but learned to breath through my mouth. Oh, brother. Three hour drive to Luxor, and the old folks on this bus were using the can every five minutes. Please God, just kill me now. Was kinda hoping to be taken hostage. Conditions as a prisoner couldn’t be any worse.

The desert between Safaga and Aquaba is about the most uninviting desert I’ve ever seen. No greenery anywhere. The highway was okay, not traveled by many cars, but the pabement had buckled in a number of spots from the incessent heat. We were lucky. It was only 97 degrees. Arrived in Luxor, crossed the Nile river and saw the riverboats that sail the entire length. Interestingly enough, the Nile flows from South to North, the complete opposite of all the major rivers in the States. The Aswan has really helped to control the flooding. The lands around the nile are fertile and farming is everywhere. The people are dirt poor, many living in mud brick houses.

We saw a few monuments, then it was off the the Valley of the Kings.

If I say amazing, it’s overused but understated. Hundreds of tombs dug into the sides of mountains. Many of the mountains have pyramid shapes. The 4000 year old drawings are spectacular. Went down into three tombs (included in the price of the ticket). All the while we had to fight the intense heat, the dry air, and the in your face hawkers. Everything is “One dollar.” They don’t take no. They try to engage you in conversation, then if that doesn’t work, they give you the postcards, etc. for free because you “look like an Egyptian,” or “ I love Americans.” If you take it, they start pressing for a return gift from you of….you guessed it…. one dollar. some of the old guys in our group nearly came to blows with several vendors, and the arguments at the top of everyone’s lungs was constant. The tourist police don’t do much, if anything. Until this country has a new president and everything gets settled, it won’t be back to normal. And no, I didn’t buy anything.

 

We drove to a beautiful hotel in Luxor for lunch. It was good and I tried a number of things that I normally wouldn’t eat, but there was no Camel on the menu. After lunch we went to Karnak.

 

This was an awesome site. Three hundred acres of a single giant temple. 180 pillars, and hopefully, I can get a few photos of them to post. But the heat was killer, and we couldn’t wait to get back on the bus, toilet smells and all.

 

The ride back to the boat was even longer. The sun went down and it was harder to stay on the road because of all the turns. But we made it at about 9 pm. On the way, someone left the toilet door open and the smell never left. The guy next to me was asleep, so I couldn’t get up to close it. It was forty five minutes of pure hell before the door slammed shut on a turn. Ugh!

 

Once we were on the ship, I ate a quick meal (mostly lemonade and chocolate chip cookies), and went straight to bed. The heat was exhausting.

 

Day 20, Wednesday, May 9

 

Slept in until 6:30 am, my cold finally seems to be gone. I was beginning to think I had TB. 🙂  I had a leisurely breakfast, then went out to the pool to sunbathe for thirty minutes. We’re having a safety drill this am in case we’re attacked by pirates. I’m not kidding. They take this very seriously. Tonight we’ll start into the gulf of Aden, off Sudan. The ship will be blacked out after dark, and all outside decks closed. Security personnel will be on watch with night viewing scopes and weapons. If a boat comes close, we’ll go into evasive action turns. No one expects trouble. This ship is to large, has a crew of 1500, and no one wants to miss Dubai, so pirates beware. We just might run you over.

 

After lunch today, I’m going to finish proofing the novel (only 20 pages to go), then a massage at 3:30. Life is so tough when you cruise. Nothing to do but read, drink, eat, eat, eat, workout, and nap. 🙂

 

I quit proofing without finishing. The last chapter doesn’t flow well, but my mind is not into it. I’ll let it percolate tonight and finish it tomorrow. I had the massage. Once again, it was bery relaxing. I fell asleep twice on the table. I watched the movie Casablanca, then dinner, followed by a ten pm bedtime. I just can’t seem to get interested in any of the shipboard shows or activities. The ship is running on minimal outdoor lighting, so I went up on deck 12 to look around. It’s really black out tonight, the noon isn’t up yet. But it’s hot, hot, hot. The desert wind from Egypt/Sudan or Saudi Arabia is blowing at about 15 knots. I’m betting that it’s in the low nineties. CNN put the temperature at Mecca today at 107, so it’s no wonder. Mecca is inland, about a hundred clicks from the water. We’ll be passing it shortly. I only lasted ten minutes up top, so I called it a night and crashed with the final episode of Harry Potter in English on the TV. It’s been running in French all week long.

 

Day 21  Thursday May 10

 

I woke up at 4:30, fully rested. I had an idea for finishing the novel so that’s precisely what I did. It’s completely finished, and I have no intention of even looking at it again before I send it off to the publisher. The last chapter is now better than ever, so it’s fine’.

 

I went over to my balcony, rolled back the blackout curtains, and the ambient heat poured in through the window glass. Uh, oh. It’s going to be miserable outside by the pool. I went out for breakfast at 8am, then hit the pool about nine. By 10 I’d had it. the wind is still blowing hot air across the decks and the sun is unremitting. It’s 11:00 o’clock now, and at noon we’ll be stopping in the middle of the sea to allow a boat to come alongside. The Captain warned us not to panic. It’s carrying extra security personnel and specialized equipment to deal with Jack Sparrow and his mates. I’ll try to get pictures of this. Hope they’re bringing SAM’s on board…or at the very least, RPG’s. 🙂 Maybe it’s a 50 caliber machine gun. This could end up being very cool.

 

The Captain just announced that after 3 pm, our security forces will be test firing their “weapon” in preparation for our transit through disputed waters. This is getting cooler by the minute.

I can’t get any photo’s to load up. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I’ll keep working on it.

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Trying to catch up….Suez Canal and Aquaba

Day 14, Thursday, May 3

It’s 1:30 pm. I’m in my room, lying on the bed, trying to get comfortable after eating a gourmet lunch that included some kind of banana carmel cakie thing that must have been 800 calories all by itself. I’m working out every morning, two miles fast walk, followed by weights, and I try to do the same in the afternoon, but I think the calories going in are more than what’s being burned. It’s hard to pass up ice cream, cakes and pies, flans, and every other decadant thing you can imagine, available 24 hours a day.

Right now we’re forty-six miles off the coast of Libya, too far to see the coastline with the naked eye. The weather is clear but a little overcast. Out in the sun, it’s warm, but it’s chilly if you sit or walk in the shade. I’ve yet to use any of the swimming pools. In fact, I haven’t even had a drink since I came on board. My cold has been the big factor holding me back, but I’m doing a lot better, so that may change tonight.

At lunch they announced that one of the tours set for tomorrow, one that went to Tahir Square in Cairo, has been cancelled because of the riots and killings that happened yesterday. Fortunately for me, my tour to Cairo, the Nile and the pyramids is still on. I’m guessing we don’t go near Tahir Square. But I’m sure security has been increased, so I’ll try to get photo’s of our escorts. I’m visualizing a couple of beat up Opal Sedans, with a couple of overweight Egyptians with one pants leg caught up in the top of a boot, carrying old military rifles. 🙂  We’ll see what tomorrow brings. This afternoon, I plan to continue reading a novel that I’ve almost finished, and I’m going to try and proof another few chapters of my own novel for the publisher, and interspersed between these activities, I’ll try to get another workout in at the Spa as well as a delicious nap. Ah, what a luxury it is to just eat, read and sleep all day and night. One could get hooked on this very easily. I’ll be up and online by 4 am to catch the Kings home game at Staples on the satalite feed of the internet. Tomorrow will be a very long day.

Day 15  Friday May 4

Up at 3:30 am. Managed to get a chance to speak to my grandson on the facetime app. Then I got connected with Julie and Mike and they broadcast the TV game for me and a few of my new friends while we sat in the bar. Kings up 3 games to 0. It’s times like these when I really wish I was home. Enjoy the tickets, my beloved children. Daddy will be home for the finals. 🙂

Shoveled down a quick breakfast, then joined my bus group at 7:15 am. About thirty busses, all new, clean, with bathrooms were waiting outside. I was on bus 1. An armed security guard was on each bus. They were from the Tourist Police. The ride to Cairo was 2.5 hours. We traveled through what used to be desert but is now a lot of farmland. When we arrived at Cairo, I was shocked by the amount of garbage…. it was everywhere. It’s all politics, but after the Arab Spring revolution, corruption set in, contracts were taken from the groups who did the work, and given to an outfit that didn’t perform. Now, no one picks up the trash. When I say it’s everywhere, it is. Absolutely sickening. I took some photos. The mess unbelievable! The high rise buildings are old and crumbling. Most are not finished for tax reasons. Granted, we had to stay away from the downtown to avoid the violence, but I suspect a lot of the city is like what we saw. The air pollution is awful. An inversion layer that makes you choke.

We arrived at the Giza plateau, where the two giant pyramids are. Getting off the bus we were swarmed by hawkers. “One dollar, one dollar.” The give you stuff, then ask for a donation. They follow you around, trying to make conversation. It really is annoying. I took a lot of photo’s. In person, they are so much more spectacular than film or photos could ever depict. Next, we drove down the hill aways to the Sphinx. Took photos and wandered around in some Tombs that were 4500 years old. The site is above the City of Cairo, and it’s really a site to behold.

 

 

We drove to a country club where we got into Toyota land cruisers for four wheelin’ in the desert. We did some serious dune sliding. It was fun. Then we rode camels for about forty five minutes. That was fun. Lots of photo’s. Then lunch at the country club. Some really good food.

We then went to Sakkare, Egypts ancient cemetery, and this was followed by the Step Pyramid. It was humid, hot, dusty… and my cough has returned. Can’t seem to shake my cold. We were forced to stop at the obligatory souvenir shop. Ugh! Then the long bus ride back to Alexandria.

We got to the ship at about 9 pm. Dinner was long over, so I went to Johnny Rockets and had a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake. glad I did. I then called it a night and tried to get some sleep before the Alexandria City Tour in the early morning.

Day 16 Saturday  May 5

Ate a very quick breakfast and met the group at 7:15. We visited a fort that’s built where the old lighthouse (one of the seven wonders of the world) used to be. The lighthouse came down in a major earthquake. Most of the stones are still in the sea and you can take a diving tour to see them. We then went to a mosque, the biggest and most famous in Alexandria.

Once again, it’s fair to note that trash is everywhere in Alexandria, too, particularly in the poorer neighborhoods. The people try to burn it in the street, but all that does is contribute the the horrible air quality. The buildings along the seashore are all high rises that are in terrible condition. Packed together, dense, dark, crumbly, unfinished…. that’s the best way to describe the sea shore. Traffic is a nightmare everywhere in Egypt. Some of the highways have no lane lines, so people dart in and out and squeeze between trucks. Some cars drive on the wrong side of the road. Truckers stop in the fast lane and get out and have tea at makeshift roadside stands that are built right in the lanes of the road. It’s absolutely crazy. In the city, it’s worse. They drive with their horns, stop for nothing, and park whereever. The bus driver’s skill is unparalleled. I can’t believe he could squeeze between cars to get down the road the way he did, over and over. We visited a catacombs, and finally got to the library of Alexandria.

The new library is considered one of the best and most beautiful in the world, and it lived up to it’s billing. I took a lot of photo’s, but it really is spectacular. I also had an opportunity to see a lot of the young moslem women because the University of Alexandria is across the street from the library. They wear the traditional black robe and scarf, but most of them accent the outfit with colorful tops on top of the robe. Many wear pants. It seems to me that it’s an act of rebellion or individuality creeping out in this society. You’d never see this in Afganistan or Iraq. The colors are bright, and very fashionable. I took photo’s, but it was really surprising to see.

Stopped at another souvenir shop, then finally back to the ship. We sail at 2:20 pm, headed for the Suez Canal, which we will enter sometime after midnight. I’m going to catch up on my sleep this afternoon, if possible.

Tried to go out by the pool, but the wind picked up and it was too chilly. Temps will be much hotter in the Suez, so I’ll wait for tomorrow to take a swim.

Had dinner with my group tonight, two deserts….again! Yikes! Fell asleep about 9pm.

Day 17 Sunday May 6

We entered the Suez a little after 1 am. I woke up from the thrusters as we were getting into position in the Mediterranean. Slept until 5:30, then got up to take some photos as we were gliding through the canal. I imagined there would be locks, but there aren’t. It’s one straight shot, about twelve hours of gliding along at 8.9 nautical miles per hour. It’s really weird to see this floating city so close to land. We passed Port Said and I took photos of a little city we passed named Shubra El Kehema.

Today was a full day of sailing, so I used it to workout and to work on proofing my novel, the one that’s due at the publisher’s on July 1. Got a hundred pages completed, so I rewarded myself again at dinner with another two deserts. It was a formal dinner night, and I can still button my pants without cutting into the skin, so I guess I’m not overdoing it, but this is really getting out of control. I think I’m holding myself in check, but it’s awfully easy to overdue it.

Tonight at 9 pm Egyptian time, 12 noon LA time, the Kings play game 4 with the St. Louis Blues. I’ve been looking forward to this for days. At just before nine, I called Bryan, but the signal here is sporadic, and we had trouble hooking up for a video feed of the game. We eventually gave up and I listened to the game. I could only get the St. Louis broadcasters feed, so I had to listen to them whine the entire game because their team was getting beaten. The last two minutes of the game were electric. You could barely hear the broadcasters because of the screaming cheers of the LA crowd. I read later that our goalie Jon Quick said it gave him goosebumps. It was fantastic. I’m glad you enjoyed my tickets, Jeremy. The Kings have only made it to the finals once in over forty years, and the way they’re playing now, it just might happen again. What a treat. I may actually be home in time to catch part of Round Three.

I went to bed around midnight. Too wound up about the game.

Day 18, Tuesday, May 7

I had a late breakfast. We docked in Aquaba, Jordan about 8 am. Hundreds of folks were going to Petra, so by the time I got in for breakfast, the crowd was gone. I took a leisurely walking tour of the city of Aquaba. The cruise line provided shuttle busses into the center of town, five minutes away. Once there, I began walking through the various sections of the part of town that caters to the locals. The shops were tiny, the crowd was heavily Muslim, and the goods being sold were displayed in heaps both in and outside the store. It’s what you’d see in downtown LA in the garment market. The people who live here are friendly and I felt completely safe wandering around on my own. But it was really hot, and there was a desert wind that kept blowing dust (or sand) in my face. It’s everywhere, and you can’t escape it.

The Isralie city of Elat is just across the harbor. Hard to believe I was there almost two weeks ago. It seems like yesterday. The trip is going fast.

I got back to the ship at noon, ate at Johnny Rockets, took a nap, then worked out in the almost empty gym. After that, I hit the swimming pool. It was great, especially in this never ending desert heat. I’ve got lots of pictures, some quite spectacular. There’s one I took of the full moon out at sea that’s really awesome.

I spent the afternoon reading. We’ll be sailing later for Safaga, Egypt, and tomorrow we go for the long bus ride to the Nile and the Valley of the Kings. I hope it cools off a bit.

More later………….

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We’re sailing…………

I’m catching up with a few days. Very expensive to use internet on the ocean part, so no photos until we reach port. Takes too long to download at .30 cents per minute.

Day 10  Sunday

 

I woke up at 2:25 am, listened to the start of the game at 2:30 am, dressed during the intermissions, and listened to the final period in the lobby from 4:30 to 5:00 am while I waited for my driver to take me to the airport. Fortunately, the game ended five minutes before he showed up, so I got a chance to hear it all.

 

THE KINGS WIN! THE KINGS WIN! THE KINGS WIN!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Who needs sleep. It was great!

 

I’m now at the airport waiting for my El Flight to Barcelona. I will arrive there about 1:00 pm which will give me the whole afternoon and evening to walk around and see the old haunts. Can’t wait.

 

The flight to Barca was nice, and after clearing customs, I caught a cab to the hotel. Cost was about forty dollars US. The hotel room is really nice, but since I leave on the boat tomorrow, I won’t unpack. I grabbed a map and decided to head over to my old haunts which centered around La Rambla, a picturesque street that runs for over a mile from a central park down to the waterfront. Along the way are street performers, outdoor cafe’s, and lots of people walking, talking, eating and generally having fun.

 

However, it was not a straight shot over to La Rambla. Turns out that my hotel street, La Paral lel (Parallel), also runs down to the waterfront. It connects with La Rambla at the point of a V. So I walked the five blocks down to the harbor, got on La Rambla, and did the stroll.

 

I have never seen so many people. I was like walking in downtown Tokyo. At times, the crowd didn’t move. Almost impossible to get through. I walked all the way to the top of the hill, then slowly made my way back down again. slowly being the operative word. Near the bottom, I figured I could shave a little time off my now exhausting walk, so I decided to cut corners and avoid the walk all the way to the harbor by cutting across the city to connect with La Para lel. Huge mistake. After a couple of blocks, I realized the streets didn’t go straight through. I continued on, trusting my instincts and my innate sense of direction. An even bigger mistake. It was like being caught in an English garden maze. I finally saw a street sign pointing where I needed to go to get to Para lel. It was a direction I never would have guessed. When I finally arrived at the street, I turned right, and started up the boulevard, looking for my hotel. I walked almost a mile before using my common sense and checking the address on my door key card. I was going the wrong direction. I want back down the street, in the direction I had come from, vowing never to leave the hotel room again. I was wearing a heavy coat, and the sun came out, which meant I was seriously overdressed. Sweat poured from my face, etc. When I finally got back to the spot where I started off in the wrong direction, I discovered that I had been right in front of the hotel, and if I’d turned left and walked twenty feet, I would have been at the front door.

 

That night I had dinner in the hotel. Too tired from all the walking to go out. Very expensive steak dinner. Barcalona is not cheap despite the economic problems they’re facing. I took photos from the rooftop of the hotel which had a panoramic view of the city, then settled in for the night.

 

Day 11 Monday

 

Breakfast at a small street cafe across the street from the hotel. Spanish coffee is very strong. I spilled a few drops on my hand and I swear that hair is now growing out of my fingers.

 

I went walking again down by the harbor, and at 1 pm I took a cab and all my stuff down to the cruise line for boarding. The process took an hour. I had to be examined by a medical specialist because of my cold, but they cleared me for the cruise. You can’t take alcohol on board the ship, but somehow my bottle of scotch made it through the xray, so I have it now tucked safely away in my room safe. Finally got to my room and it’s a beauty. Great double glass doors that open out onto my balcony. Awesome! I unpacked and then went down to the big dining room for lunch. Every kind of food you can imagine. Of course, I overate, and finally finished about three pm. Dinner was set for six pm, so I went walking around the ship to try to burn off some calories. Took over an hour to see everything they have to offer. At the spa I signed up for a massage for the following day, then made my way back tot he room where I found a protocol for what would happen once we entered Somalia’s pirate filled waters.

 

When the sun goes down, all outside decks are closed. All room blackout curtains must be shut. We run in darkness. Armed guards and lookouts will be posted outside on the closed decks. If the alarm sounds, those of us in outside cabins must muster in the inside hallways until further notice. If any boat approaches (including fishing boats of which there are many) the ship will take evasive action with giant side to side sweeps, etc. You get the idea. This is a really big deal. Gonna be fun!

 

My dinner companions are from England, Washington DC, and Miami, Fla. A very eclectic group. We laughed a lot and they’ll be fun for the rest of the week.

 

A little about the crowd. With the exception of about twenty people, including two families with kids, a quick scan of the nightlife scene brings to mind a rest home for the elderly. Holy cow! Chronologically, I might be up there, but these people really look their ages. Soon they’re likely to start calling me sonny or kid. It’s FRIGHTENING. I ran down to look at myself in the mirror. When did I get so old? A lot of couples just sising around, staring at the walls, consuming alcohol, not talking, just watching. I swear, it’s a wealthy, floating rest home. The only young people on the boat are the crew members. Good thing I’m not here trying to meet Mrs. Right. I know it’s silly, but I feel like I’m hanging out with a crowd of my parents contempories. Now I’m getting depressed.

 

After an amazing dinner, I went to my room and crashed. Kings game at 4:30 am, so I’m hoping to get a little sleep.

 

The boat didn’t leave the harbor until 1 am.

 

Day 12  Tuesday

 

Got up at 4 am, walked down to the main prominade, found the open 24 hours pastry shop and poured myself a large cup of coffee. Before bed last night, I set up the internet to get the game. Get this, I had to buy 500 minutes of internet time (the shiup bills by the minute). It cost me $150 US. I could have paid by the minute, but that was .65 cents per minute. It’s a huge rip off, but I need to listen to my Kings game, so I had no choice. I connected with the internet, and turned on the sound portion for the game. While waiting for the connection, I typed a message to Bryan to see if he was watching the game. He typed back that the Kings were leading 4 to nothing. Yeah, right. He’s trying to  fake me out. The sound came on, as did the printed score, and I fell out of my chair. It was 4 to nothing…..AND I MISSED IT. By sailing at one am, we entered a different time zone. I was an hour late getting up. @#%$X*%$!

 

I typed him back, and he called me by the facetime feature on the ipad. We spoke face to face, and he held his ipad up to the big screen, and I got to watch the last few minutes of the period. Jeremy called me, and I lost the game signal. We connected on facetime, and he graciously put his ipad on a barstool in front of his TV, and I got to watch most of the third period. It was clear and just like an original feed. When the ship changed course, I lost the feed from Jeremy, and since he couldn’t hear me moaning about it, I called Bryan back. He put a barstool on top of his coffee table and put his ipad on top so I could see his screen. It was fantastic. I owe you guys…. enjoy my tickets. I’ll be calling again for the next game. 🙂

 

By the way, the only people up on the ship were workers and one guy, a former football coach from Oklahoma. I had a large crowd around me by the end of the game. All are new Kings fans. Soon, they could become the most popular team in the Middle East. We ate pastries, drank coffee, and laughed a lot about how this TV rebroadcast feed was being pulled off. It was great!

 

I was too wired to go back to sleep, so I hit the gym, did the treadmill and my weight routine, then made it to an open seating breakfast. Met another interesting group, and really, seriously over ate… again. By the time I finished, it was time to see the Vegetable carving demonstration, and after that was over, I attended a lecture about losing belly fat. (It was a total rip off. The guy was making a pitch to sell personal consultations. Did you know that the cause of belly fat is clogged intestines, which in turn is one of the leading caused of cancer? Seems to me the only guy with clogged intestines was the lecturer, because this guy was really full of shit! Fortunately, most of the group walked off and didn’t sign up for the snakeoil cure. It was bad).

 

Lunch time. What! We’re eating again? Soup, grilled fish, and chocolate cake. That shoud clog up my intestines real good. Then it was off to the spa for another workout (feeling guilty about the cake), followed by a dip in the luke warm hot tub, which was then followed by a one hour Swedish massage. I decided the seaweed wrap and the Thai bamboo massages were a little much for the first time. I want to save those experiences for later in the trip when things get boring. But the massage was great, really good for my sore legs (all that Barca walking), then back to the room to shower and change for……. DINNER.

 

Yep. We’re eating again. Medeterranian salad (with shrimp and calamare), oven baked sea bass with veggies, then, for desert, a giant piece of bacallava drowned in honey with a scoop of pistachio ice cream and a carmel flan for good measure. It’s like crack. I can’t stop eating the deserts. I can see my future for the next two weeks. The gym, then eat, then the gym, then eat, etc.

 

I got into bed at 9 pm, and believe it or not, I got my first eight hours of almost interrupted sleep since I left LA. My cold seems to be getting better, too.

It’s now six am, we’re sailing off the coast of Sicily. On the other side of the water is Tunesia. I’m finished typing, and it’s time to get up and have breakfast. But I’m vowing not to have desert with this meal. 🙂

 

Day 13, Wednesday, May 2

 

Spent the day reading, proofing my novel, and two workouts in the gym. Ate no fewer than four deserts today, so I need to start toning it down. We’re sailing off the coast of Sicily tonight. Sky has sme clouds, but the outdoor temp is very pleasant and the seas are calm. It’s been a very nice day.

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The Road Back to Tel Aviv

Day 9 Saturday

Last day on the road in Israel. Breakfast in the Kibbutiz. They really have good food, and lots of choices. The Kibbutizim in Israel have evolved over the years, from true socialist “share everything equally” to big business operations with members retaining private possessions. This Kibbutiz was a true resort.

Last night, the end of the big holiday weekend, saw the Jewish visitors to the Kibbutiz celebrating after the big dinner. They gathered together indoors and played games, sang songs, talked (really loud… seems to be an affliction of everyone in the middle east). Kids were running around, climbing on tables, sliding down the main staircase, yelling, crying and laughing (again…loudly). Outside, families and friends sat in large groups and talked until the middle of the night. It was very social and I’m glad I got to experience it, although I only lasted about an hour in the lobby area because I didn’t know the lyrics to any of the tunes. They were all sung in Hebrew. 🙂

We hit the road and stopped at a huge crusader fortress in Capernium. This place was really remarkable. The arabs took the fort centuries ago, and buried it. That was no easy task. The walls from the ground to the roof were forty feet high. They must have been seriously angry to go to all that trouble. The walls were five to six feet thick. Anyway, a prison was built on top, and the ruins weren’t rediscovered until the war for independence in the 1940‘s when an Isralie prisoner tried to dig his way out and felt a draft. He never escaped, but after the war they started digging it up and to their amazement, it was intact and had survived a very serious earthquake that devistated the region.

   

Our next stop was a Roman aqueduct down by the beach. Our route was along the coastline. the beach there was nice, and we moved on down to Cesaria where the Romans built a huge outdoor ampatheater. They currently use it almost every evening for concerts. It holds 8000 people.

Next door is a huge hippodrome used for chariot races. Very impressive.

We then had a look at the Bahia religion temple set into the hillside above Tel Aviv. It’s a breakoff of the Shia religion, but inclusive of males and females. They have a lot of money and build these temples all over the world. The landscaping is a hallmark of their projects. Check out the view above the city.

 

Our last stop was a walking tour of Jaffa which is now part of Tel Aviv. The view was really great from the top of the hill.

We saw other things along the way, I just don’t have my schedule and can’t remember the names or how to spell anything correctly. Needless to say, I’m tired of looking at ruins and ready to get on to Barca and the cruise. I got to my hotel at about five pm, got dinner at a Subway sandwich shop ($10. for a six inch with chips and a pepsi. It’s not inexpensive here in Israel). Then I got to bed about 8:00 pm so that I could get a few hours sleep before the Kings game.

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The Upper Galilee

Day 8  Friday

Got up this morning and took a brief walk around the Kibbutzim about 6 am. It was very quiet, but the staff was up and washing all the floors in the main building. I checked out the two swimming pools and the gym, but my cold is so bad I don’t feel like doing  much of anything. From the balcony outside the gigantic indoor swimming pool I’m able to look at Syrian territory and Lebanon. Both are just across the valley beyond the buffer zone of the nearest mountain peaks.

After a really good breakfast (they had pancakes!) we boarded the bus for a day at the Galilee, about five miles away. First stop was the Church of the Ascenscion. This is in the area of where Jesus did his ministry and preaching for the three years before he went to Jerusalem, where he was killed one week later. The church is dedicated to his ascending into heaven. The two photos show the alter, and note the rectangular windows. The second is the view through one of the windows. Pretty nice view, eh? (The eh is Canadian. I’ve been hanging out with a group of them talking hockey all week long). The second sign is the one outside the church as you enter the grounds. Note the “no guns” portion of the sign. Guess everyone (except tourists) carries one.

     

We then went to Capharnaum, the city where St. Peter came from. They have built a building over what they believe is the original site of his stone house where Jesus was known to stay.

 

We then boarded a boat to sail around the Sea. We were able to view the area believed to be where he gave the Sermon on the Mount and where he walked on water.  It’s bloody hot in the sun, so the ride on the boat was really nice.

We then drove through the town where Mary Magdaline came from. It’s only a mile or so from where Jesus was preching and staying. Then down the coast for an hour to a resort hotel on the water. We had an asolutely enormous lunch here, and barely able to move, I waddled with the others out to the bus. We made a stop at an Isralie diamond dealer (way too expensive), and then finally, the long bus drive back to the Kibbutzim.

I took a nap, got up for dinner, and connected with a guy on the bus named Joe. Joe’s a nice guy. He lives in the Ontario Province, Canada. You can tell he’s just a little bit too religious for me, but he’s kind, so I agreed to eat dinner with him. He started off dinner with grace, but it ended up being a story about a miracle worker in Canada who sounds suspiciously like a cult leader. My soup was getting stone cold. After that, it got much worse. Politics reared it’s ugly head, and he was not shy about voicing his opinions. Apparently, he found the conversation to be stimulating, while I just wanted to talk about hockey or other safe topics. Finally, when I couldn’t take his misinformed opinions any longer, I called him on a few points, and managed to get him to settle down. But I won’t make that mistake again…

Tomorrow morning we leave for Tel Aviv, and then on Sunday morning (Sat. afternoon in LA) I jump a flight to Barcelona. Turns out the Kings game will start one hour into my flight, and it will likely end before the flight is over. I am one, unhappy guy. Until tomorrow night……. stay frosty my friends.

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Minefields, the Golan Heights, and the Lebanon border

Day 7 Thursday

My cold is in full bloom today, and instead of sounding like Barry White, I sound like I’m going through puberity. This was an eleven hour day, and maybe it’s the cold I’ve got, but I’m getting tired of seeing churches and riding around from one end of the country to the other.

Interesting fact: Most of the events in the bible took place within three miles, with the fartherst one being were we are tonight, at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee.

We drove down to the Jordan River, then north along the border for two hours. Along the border were two separate fences, about six feet apart. If the fence is cut or someone climbs over, the surveillance and sensors on the fence bring the Israelie’s running. The responding military unit contains a Bedouin tracker to locate anyone who made it through or over the fences. Turns out the Jordanians also use Bedouin trackers, and cooperation between the two groups is pretty good.

We then drove to Bet Shean, an important Biblical City in the Upper Galallie. It was destroyed by an earthquake, but they’ve dug up about ten percent of the city. There is a hill next to the city and they have discovered that there are twenty different civilizations that have been overlayed above the ruins of the current city.  (see photos).

            

Next stop was the Church of the Ascencion, a church devoted to Mary. There are a number of Churches all grouped together in Nazareth. It is in the Palestinean Territories, so there is real friction. At the base of the Cathedral, there is a piece of land that the Palestineans decided to use to build a mosque. They started construction, and there was so much flack that the Israelies came in and leveled it. It now resembles a concrete park of sorts, but the Palestineans have erected banners proclaiming the usual religeous threats to non believers. I’ve added a photo, not the misspellings. 🙂

The Church is very beautiful. (Photo is of the side view of the Church). And underneath it, actually next door, the Franciscan’s excavated a tool shop. It is believed to be the workshop of Joseph. Actually, they have no idea if the location was attributable, but like everything else in the Holy Land, it’s close enough and representative enough to serve the purposes of the faithful. I’ve added a photo showing how they built the new church (50 yrs. old) over the old ruins of the original town of Nazareth.

       

We then went to the Golan Heights. After crossing over the Jordan River, we climbed into the foothills in what used to be Syrian land. This territory is controlled by the Isralie’s but on each side of the road stretching for miles are Syrian minefields. (see photo).

When we reached the last Isralie forward checkpoint, we looked down out of the hills over the UN peacekeeping encampment, and a Syrian town recently in the news as a site where rebels blew up Syrian government officials. The photo shows the city in the distance, but we were actually a lot closer to the actual border just below us, but between the border and the town is the UN enclave.

We the traveled back through the hills and over the Jordan River on land still controlled by the Isralies. The Golan Heights is a plain about thirty miles long and ten miles wide. We passed a number of Isralie tank, artillary and inteligence bases scattered within the forrests. Interesting story. Back before the ’73 war, the Isralie’s had a spy who was friends with a number of officers in the Syrian high command. He persuaded the Syrians to hide the military encampments in the Golan by planting Eucalyptus trees all around their fortifications. They did, and when the ’73 war broke out, the Isralies’s knew exactly where to target their tank and artillary fire. The Syrians hanged the spy, and his remains have never been returned to Israel.

We crossed back across the Jordan River (more like a small stream at this location), then to a hillside City called Kiryat Shmone where we saw a very old Synagogue and an artist colony. I got a fresh squeezed lemonade for 5 Shekels. It was pretty good.

Back in the bus….again! This time we drove right past the border with Lebanon. I’ve included a photo of the Lebanonese border partol units watching us pass by.

Then…. finally, we arrived at the Kfar Giladi Kibbutz Hotel on the border with Lebanon, overlooking the Golan Heights. It’s a fairly large facility, with a massive swimming pool, gym, etc. I was given a room in a building close to the main facility. It’s basic, but clean and nice. Internet service is spotty, so I can’t pick up the NY game seven, but I’ll be in Barcelona (Sunday Barca time) when the Kings play in St. Louis on Sat. (St. Louis time). Dinner was buffet style, and believe it or not, every hotel, etc. on this trip has served the very same food. A fried fish, beef stew, or roasted chicken entre, veggies consisting of peas, carrots, corn, or a mixture of one or more of these, fried potatoes (everywhere), rice, and salads out the ying-yang. It was good, particularly when you’re really hungry, but I was hoping for something a little more exotic… like maybe a camel burger, or bacon…. Not a chance. 🙂 Our lunches have been Swarma or Flaffel, and that’s been really good. But you have to find an arab run restaurant to get that kind of fare because the Isralie’s don’t generally eat them as part of their cuisine. The Isralies love their sweets, and every buffet has tons of different cakes or pies, etc. to eat. I’m trying to be really good and not overdue it, but it’s difficult.

I went to bed about 9 pm, and now it’s 4:30 am and I’m wide awake. The cold is no better, so I’ll tough it out today. We’re going down to the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum, and I understand that we may be taking a boat trip. I plan to cast a net and try my hand at walking on water. Hope there are no sharks.

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My Afternoon in the PLO controlled West Bank

Day 5  Tuesday

Five hours sleep last night, a good breakfast, and it was off at 8:30 to Mt. Scopus and the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Agony. Here’s one of the views of the City of Jerusalem.

This is the sight of the Olive Garden where Christ foresaw what was coming and prayed to God the Father to let it pass.

The place was crawling with pilgrims and tourists. Bus after bus load. There was virtually no order. Tour groups going in through the exit while other groups tried to get out. No place to unload the busses, so they jhust stopped in the single traffic lane. Car horns going off constantly, people running everywhere. It was akin to taking a stick and poking it into an ant hill. It was completely crazy.

We then drove to Ein Karem, the birth place of John the Baptist. A church was the focal point of the location. Eh…. Interesting, but not particularly unique.

Then we drove to Mt. Herzel and Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust. It’s important to note that all of these locations are within the city of Jerusalem. They’re not that far apart. It’s given me a new perspective about how Christ got around. Everything is really close.

The Yad Vashem is stunning in it’s architectural layout, and powerful in it’s message. Sorry. Photo’s not allowed. You weave back and forth between rooms that breakdown the history of anti-Semitism bu the use of video interviews with survivors, photo’s, films, news clips………

Uh, oh!

Air raid sirens are going off right now all over the city. Fortunately, I was told the other day what was going to happen. Tonight at sunset begins their memorial day, and they take it very seriously. Everything, and I mean everything, closes until sundown tomorrow. The only food available is hotel food. And once the remembrance of the dead in military service is over, it’s their independence day. That means fireworks, street parties, etc. Going to be an interesting 48 hours.

Back to the holocost museum. They have photos of some of the victims, and a paragraph or two about their lives. Each country that gave up their Jews to the Nazi’s has a room, and their are artifacts to go with the pictures and speeches of Hitler. You can’t go through it without being deeply affected. There is a second building, a museum dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. It’s amazing. It a room that uses mirrors and glass to create the impression of immersion in a universe of candles. A voice reads off the names of children, one at a time, and the country they come from. It’s so dark inside, except for the pinpoints of thousands of candles, that you have to hold on to a railing to walk through it. Very poignant for a memorial day.

Outside, four planes in synchronized formation, wide circular patterns for an hour over the city as a prelude to the start of the mourning period that is their Memorial Day. You really do get a feeling that life here for everyone is really on the edge.

We then left Israel and entered the West Bank which is under the control of the PLO. We passed through the checkpoint, and headed down the main street to a restaurant. The food, grilled chicken, hummas (Not Hamas 🙂 ), roasted veggies, pita bread, etc. was the best meal I’ve had since arriving in the middle east. The restaurant was called the Palms. (Photo of the inside).

 

Everyone there was polite… just like the average Israelie citizen. It’s really painful to see how this inability to get along has brought both groups to the brink when the average person is no different in terms of their wants, needs, and humanity. And it’s clear that the Palestinians are suffering by what’s going on as well. It’s so sad.

I’ve included photo’s from the West Bank. Check out this one. Notice anything unusual about the franchise name? Ha!

Bethlehem is in the West Bank, and our destination was the Church of the Nativity. Three different Christian groups control the site. Each has a church, and all three churches are connected together. We stood in line for almost an hour to get in to see the spot (cave)where Christ was allegedly born. Next to it is the site of the manger. They’re literally in the same room. The location of the birth is marked by a star on the floor. I photographed it and have included it for you all to look at.

I’m including photo’s of the walls at the checkpoint. The PLO poured 50 cal. machine gun bullets into a housing settlement occupied by the Israelies, so the wall was put up to stop the attacks. The result is a cold reminder of how difficult it is here, and the graffiti has become an artwork of the times.

 

At the border, two young PLO gunmen (army, security, whatever?) got on board with their automatic weapons and walked the aisle looking everyone over. I was pretty sure they were going to take me away because I didn’t buy anything at the tourist shop, but I guess I didn’t fit the profile of whatever they were looking for. I did remove my Kings hat…just in case they were Vancouver fans, but they passed me buy. WHEW!

We headed back to the hotel, but before we got there, the nagging throat tickle I’ve had all day has blossomed into a full cold. I’m already talking like Barry White…again. Could it be that I’m a victim of germ warfare? I had to pass on a night tour of Jerusalem because I felt so out of sync, so I ordered grilled fish for dinner from room service. Enough food arrived to feed four. (see photo). It was pretty good.

I’m so wiped out by the anti-histimines I’ve taken that I’m going to pass on the night tour of Jerusalem and crash for the rest of the evening.

One last thought. Although I like to write about the disasters that befall me during my trips, in truth, the Middle East is amazing. Other than some of the tourists I’m with, I haven’t met a single Isralie, Jordanian, or Palestinean that I haven’t liked. I feel safe being here in all three areas, it really has opened my eyes to the immense difficulties and problems that exist throughout the Middle East. I suppose it’s fair to say that if one was to stray away from the group in territory controlled by the PLO that you would quickly find yourself in deep trouble, they didn’t let us leave the restaurant, Church, or obligatory tourist souviner shop unless we were all moving at the same time. The West Bank’s economy is dependent upon tourism, so gun toting young men aside, it’s safe. But the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, that’s another thing entirely.

Don’t worry kids. I’m not going there. At least… I don’t think we are?

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Masada, the Dead Sea, and Me

Day 4

Monday

Last night, after the return flight from Tel Aviv, I got my hotel room and crashed about midnight. No dinner, of course, so I ate a power bar and drank water. I think I really am losing weight. At 1:30 am, I get a call on my cell from the alarm company in LA stating that the alarm just went off in my house. What in the world did they expect me to do about it? I told them to dispatche the police because it was mid-afternoon on Sunday in LA, and they said they’d call me back once the house was checked out. I called Bryan to ask him to cover it from his end, and he reminded me that the Kings game would begin in another hour. After three or four calls, the alarm company called and said there was no break-in, Great! But now I’ve got a dilemma. Sleep or Kings game. I lay in bed for two hours, to jacked up to sleep, and the Kings game won out. I picked it up on the live radio feed on the internet, and heard my boys tie the game, and later listened as they won in it in overtime. THEY KNOCKED THE BEST TEAM ALL SEASON OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS! OMG! I actually yelled, couldn’t help myself, but fortunately, the security at the hotel didn’t come running. So, after no sleep, I got out of bed an hour later, hastily shut my suitcases, and checked out of the hotel for the start of the tour. Who needs sleep anyway. THE KINGS WON!

Big, comfortable bus. Good, knowledgeable, funny tour guide, an hour’s delay because a family of four wandered off from their hotel, and two others tied one on the night before and didn’t wake up, but finally we started off for Masada. I rode in the front of the bus.

We drove for about two hours. I saw biblical cities all along the way. Learned a lot about the various tribes (groups) that make up the population. So much that I can only relate the highlights. Drove past Ashod, the city that was indundated with over three thousand rockets for five years before Israel went back into Gaza. All quiet today, though. They have a very serious Bedouin problem in the Nagev. Over 60,000 that don’t fit into society at all. They camp in large numbers on government land. It takes a large squad of troops to evict them and it often gets violent. The Bedouins from Egypet have taken to smuggling drugs, rugs and other stuff from Egypt by taking their camels from Israel over the border, loading them up, and turning them loose. The camels are like homing pigeons, they head for home by themselves, so these guys are not at risk of being caught with the drugs. They now plan to put up a fence across the Negev desert to block the camels from getting home. The next major problem facing the region is water. Not enough, and everyone is daming up rivers, depriving their neighbors down stream. Lots of very big problems. We passed within view of the Gaza strip (within rocket range) but all was quiet. Perhaps the Palestineans stayed up to listen to the Kings game and were now all asleep.

The Negev is one really desolate place. It’s so dry that striations on the land that one might think were erosion lines are everywhere. But it’s no erosion, it’s goat trails going back centuries. They look like parallel lines that completely that completely cover the mountains like geologic strata. Amazing. We dropped down from over 500 meters above sea level to 490 meters below sea level to the lowest place on the planet not covered by water. The Dead Sea. It’s so low that UV rays are not a problem, so you can get burned, but it won’t damage the skin. Yea… that’s what I thought, too. But I ain’t buyin’ it. I’m slathered with sun block. This is one pretty face that’s not going to be tempted to get all browned up. We drove along the coast and finally arrived at the base of Massada.

Again, too much info to relate here, but the photo’s tell the story. The site is a geologic masterpiece of selection for security. It’s an isolated peak of enormous size, with the most ingenious system for capturing and storing water that I’ve ever seen. It must have been phenominal. The site held enough food and water for 1000 people for ten years. It took the Romans five years to send a legion, and once they got there, they must have been really pissed off to have to dislodge these rebels because it was oppressively hot, dusty, dry, and just plain miserable. They were so angry that they built a six foot high wall around the entire mountain, then built an earthen ramp up the back side to the entry gate while facing danger from boulders being rolled and thrown down on them from the top. It took the Romans only ninety days to breach this fortress, and we all know what they found. A mass suicide site. The moral of the story is don’t piss off the Romans? No, wait… it’s you can’t hurt us because we already hurt ourselves? No? How about… who cares… it’s so hot here all I want to do is go back to the bus and cool off!

Next stop was lunch at at Kibbutzim along the side of the Dead Sea. Overcooked chicken, rice and corn. I was salivating. The chicken was overcooked, the corn was good, but they don’t have soy sauce for the rice. Damn. It was almost perfect, too. Real, LA food.

The PLO flushes all their sewage down towards the Dead Sea. The Israelies capture the effluence and process it and use the water for irrigate date palm forests. Waste not, want not. (Bad pun).

Now the PLO doesn’t want the Isralies to make use of their waste water, so they plan to use it themselves. Their going to dam up the effluence and use it for….. hmmm. They’ll have to figure that out later. First priority, get a lake full of sweage.

Maybe they can grow crops with it or something. The Isralies found a use for it so it must be worth something. (I’m thinking this is just a PR campaign by the Isralies to get them to stop dumping the raw sewage. Make them think it’s valuable so they’ll keep it just for spite. These Isralies are smart cookies.

Thirty minutes later, we were at the Dead Sea beach and spa. Across the water was Jordan. I payed for a locker an hiked down to the outdoor dressing room, got on my bathing suit and sandals, covered up with a towel to prevent the no UV sun damage, and hiked with the others down to the water. You really can’t sink. It’s like you’ve got a life jacket in your backside, cause you float whether you want to or not. A little tip from one who knows…. don’t shave before going in, and don’t get any water in your eyes because it stings like hell!

Got a friend to take photos, then I went over to the dead sea mud bucket and slathered up. Got photo’s of that, too. It was fun. Then showered off outdoors and it took forever to get the mud and salt off.

We then had to hike back up the trail, about a hundred yards, to get to the locker area. I thought I got all the salt off my skin, but it suddenly felt as if my groin was on fire. I’m not kidding, there was salt in my suit, and the guys were getting rubbed raw! I’m telling you this because it hurt like someone poured gasoline on them and lit them on fire. I still had fifty yards to go before the nearest shower. It felt like I was in no man’s land. Funny how focused your mind gets, how singular of purpose you become. No longer thinking of sleep or food. All I wanted was to strip off my shorts and get fresh, clean, cool water running over my equipment. I was limping by the time I got to the shower. Got the trunks off and the boys were firery red. Cool water never felt so good. I think I now know what must have pissed the Romans off enough to get them to breach Massada down the road in only ninety days. They must have all bathed one day and discovered the enduring agony of salt in the shorts. And since the rebels had the only fresh water, I think I would have breached the fortress myself to get at it, too.

And no. There will be not photo’s attached showing my injuries. Wouldn’t want to scare the children.

We drove into Jerusalem, located the hotel, got settled in, and for the first time, I get to unpack. We’ll be here for three days. We get one day to see the sights, then the following day is the National Day of Mourning. Everything, and I mean everything is closed. The only food will be at the hotel. The day after that is Independence day. Street parties, celebrations, fireworks. Should be a lot of fun.

I ate dinner in the hotel. Too tired to go out. Very expensive in Israel. Only Switzerland costs more. Huge buffet. I had chicken and mashed potatoes. But I learned a lesson here too. The chef told me the gravy was hot. I thought he meant temperature hot. I slathered it all over the chicken and mashed potatoes. It was spicy hot. I ruined my dinner. Ever had mashed potatoes with a mustered, lime sauce. Yep! It was yucky. I ate what I could, ditched the rest, and had a beef stew, or what looked like beef stew. It was tough meat, turnips (I thought they were chunks of potatoes), and veggies. I ate it, but I make a tastier stew at home. Desert was good. These folks do love their deserts. I had an ice cream cone dipped in choclate filled with chocolate mousse and chocolate chips, and a choclate covered, dipped in sprinkles ball of something that tasted suspiciously like rice (not so good). I finally made it back to my room and collapsed into bed about nine for a nap which lasted until 3:30 am. I’m now wide awake and typing, but after I post this and download the photo’s, I think I’ll turn on a hockey game. Oh, yeah. I’ve got indigestion (heartburn) from that freaking lime mustard gravy. Can’t wait to see what delicacies await me at breakfast in another……..what…….three hours. But I’m hungry now!

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Day 3 Sunday

Didn’t sleep at all! I’m completely thrown off by the time change. Watched old movies in English on the TV all night. When that didn’t work, watched Discovery channel in French. Still didn’t bore me enough to make me drowsey. Got up at 6:15 and retrieved the breakfast box prepared by the hotel. Inside were olives (tasty), cheese (tastless), two yougerts, a vegetible salad, and orange and an apple. After that weird meal, I met the contact person who drove me and nine other in our group to the border. We went through four or five checkpoints, past barbed wire and gun towers. It was just like Berlin in the 60’s. The young people manning the security on both sides were efficient, professional, and genuinely pleasant. We had to sit on the Jordanian side in a fly infested souviner shop because one of the older members of the group showed two passports in two names. She had dual citizenship and one was in her maiden name. That took a good hour to sort out. Meanwhile, the flys were eating me alive. I think it was my suntan lotion. Must be a fly aphrodesiac. Our Jordanian tour guide was really good. We drove in a van for two hours to get to Petra. It’s high in the mountains. We stopped along the way at a Bedouin tent and a wiry old man poured us hot, sweet tea. I was reluctant at first to drink it, cause I didn’t see a fresh water spring anywhere nearby.

But the water was boiled, so I gave it a try. It was really good. Hot tea in the baking sun. It actually cools you off. While we sat in his tent, I noticed ants running around on the ground near my feet. These ants must have been part of a nuclear experiment because they were the size of flys and fast as Cheetas. When you slapped one you got bathed in goo. It was not a pleasant sight.

We arrived at Petra and discovered that it’s a very long ravine stretching a couple of miles, all downhill. It has got to be seen in person to be believed. The photos I took are good but the real thing is spectacular. No wonder it’s now one of the new seven wonders of the world. We all think of Petra as one single temple facade, but there are temples and burial tombs for miles. 70% has not yet been excavated. And even the temple that appeared in the Indiana Jones movie has not yet been fully excavated. What you see exposed appears to be only an upper level. A toumb has been found thirty feet down right in front of the building, so who knows how far down it goes. But all the dirt in the ravine has covered up everything, and it all has to be excavated. It was amazing.  

I shared a horse drawn cart ride back up the ravine with a lady from our group. The driver was showing off, getting the horse to sprint. Pedestrians had to jump out of the way. We went around a turn in the narrow canyon and nearly collided head on with a horse drawn wagon coming down at high speed. Parts of the road are sections of exposed roman cobblestones. They are completely uneven, so when the cart wheels go over them at high speed, you get bounced around. It was kidney jarring.

Back at the border, I cleared Jordanian security, but then I had to walk the wire lined road to get to the first Israelie checkpoint. I decided to take a photo of the Jordanian border crossing. Not illegal, but in the process I dropped my passport and all the various stamped forms flew out. The wind was blowing hard at the time, and my papers headed for the desert. I thought I was screwed, but I managed to get them before they went through the fence. Learned my lesson. It would have been a disaster.

Got my bags from the hotel and raced to the airport with my driver. I had the time wrong for my flight, so I was an hour early. But I had run with the bags and was sweating profusely. And because I was alone and didn’t know anyone in Israel, I hit the profile. I was checked out by two security agents, and finally was cleared to get to my flight. The questions they ask are really good. Our TSA people could learn a lot from the Israelie system. 

I’m waiting for the plane now, and all I can say is I’m tired, in need of a bath… and thank God the Red Wings, Pens and San Jose went down in five. Got back to Tel Aviv on a good flight. Getting picked up tomorrow am at 7:45 so I’ll pass on dinner, eat a power bar, and get to bed. Tomorrow is Massada and the Dead Sea. Should be interesting. G”Night All.

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