July 31, 2008

the plan is planned

I missed my bus from Cairo this morning, so I'm going to fly to Tel Aviv. At 4 am, which means getting to the airport in the middle of the night (maybe 1 am) for security screening. Especially considering I have a last-minute one-way ticket on El Al. Think anyone might be jumpy about that? The good thing is that the flight takes an hour twenty, where a bus would be 14 hours at a conservative estimate.

Then: two days in Jerusalem (and maybe Bethlehem), and I go see my cousins in some little town between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

It's a good plan, I think, but either way it's the plan I've got.

July 30, 2008

egypt #2: interesting things about Cairo

A man weaving his bicycle in and out of Cairo traffic (worst I've ever seen) with a 12-foot tray of pita balanced on his head.


Every few blocks there's a juice place where, for 40-60 cents, you can get a glass of fresh pomegranate, guava, mango, or orange juice. I get one and then, ten minutes later, find myself thinking, "Is it too soon for another?"


Women wearing gloves (and black robes and face veils) for modesty in the Cairo heat.


I don't mind wearing long pants - or the heat itself - as much as I thought I would. To be honest I mind it less than wearing modest clothes for Shabbat at Orthodox homes.


Crossing the street is absolutely terrifying.


Cairo is the dirtiest place I've ever been. The city redefines air pollution, and it sticks to your body and makes you dirty whether you touch anything or not.


Bargaining for taxis is entertaining. You flag down a taxi by - well, really, if you're a foreign woman, by existing, and then state your destination and ask, "Bi-kam?" How much? Often the driver will shrug and say, "No problem, no problem," but in that case I won't get into the car, because I want an agreement before we get there. Other times the request is several times the going rate - it's worth trying, after all, and the fares are really cheap anyway - and then there's the counter-offer and sometimes a little "That's too much, you know it's too much" and then the agreement, or you wave the taxi on and wait for the next one. Which arrives in 2.8 seconds, or sometimes is already waiting.


Is it too soon for another pomegranate juice?

school of no: pyramids campus

The tourist hassle at the Pyramids is intense.

"Excuse me madame! Hello madame! Excuse me! Hey!"

Don't look don't look don't look.

"Would you like to buy a postcard/headdress/miniature pyramid/scarf/sphinx/camel ride/horse ride?"

La' shukran (no thank you).

"Maybe next time?"

La' shukran.

Direct methods have failed. Next tactic: pretend to be friends.

"Where are you from?"


"I love America!"


"You look Egyptian."

Raised eyebrow.

Eventually I just started saying, "Soy de España." Luckily none of them spoke Spanish.

I almost didn't go to the Pyramids, because it seemed like a hassle (which it wasn't, really). But then I realized they're the Pyramids. So I went. And dude. They're pretty damn cool. Also, the boat museum there is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Seriously. Out of control. And it's just one boat.

July 28, 2008

egypt #1

Some photos I would have taken, but couldn't:

At Wadi Rum, a man in a white robe and a red keffiyah leads 8 camels, all saddled, on a string of leads through red sand desert in the slanting evening sunlight.


At Petra, a Bedouin family packs up for the evening. An old woman and a young woman are putting away the trinkets they've been selling; a young man and two little boys have brought up the donkeys they rent to tourists; a toddler sits beside the path.


The minibus from Taba - loosely packed with me, an 18-year-old Austrian, one world-weary 20-something each from Moldova and Ukraine, two quiet Jordanian men, and a security guard in a purple tie and mirrored sunglasses - careens down the middle, the actual center, of the Sinai desert road.


The Austrian, the Moldovan, and the Ukrainian haggle the poor bus driver into accepting shekels, dollars, and euros rather than the previously agreed on 100 Egyptian pounds. People! There is an ATM in the Egyptian arrivals hall, and the charmingly named Israeli 'Change Place' will change your money as well. Use these services!


One of the quiet Jordanians makes sure the minibus stops where I can get a taxi to where I'm staying and offers to let me use his phone to call the person I'm staying with.


A houseboat on the Nile at dusk, ashtray upon ashtray on the table. A guitar. Radiohead on the speakers. Just like you'd think it would be.


Sunlight through the high windows at the Egyptian Museum. Most of the display cards look like they were made on a typewriter in the card catalog era by someone who spoke good English but was only a fair typist. A few of the cases have cards written on lined notebook paper in ballpoint pen - these are only in Arabic.

(slideshow over)

I haven't spoken to anyone all day, except for some stilted efforts at telling a taxi driver where to go. Traveling alone is weird. Also, as a solo woman in a place with a lot of harassment, I'm not willing to talk to men at all unless I start the interaction (i.e. I hail a taxi). Mostly, this has been very very easy to enforce. It also means I'm not willing to sit and have tea when it's offered, even though that kind of hospitality is something for which the Arab world is (justly, as far as I can tell) famous.

I'm glad to be adventuring, but I still kind of want to go home.

July 27, 2008

where can you see lions?

Only in Cairo! and that's where I'm going today. I predict awesomeness and exhaustion. Thanks to everyone who gave me thoughts and advice.

July 23, 2008

good and bad

Petra is incredible.

I don't like my travel partner. He's a fine person, but we're not compatible. He's much more price sensitive than I am (and would probably sleep out in the desert if he were alone) and kind of hard to communicate with.

Petra is amazingly beautiful. Remind me to write about the Bedouin later. I think I'm going to go to Egypt alone.

July 20, 2008

grumble grumble grumble bah

My traveling partners have both bailed on me, so if I go to Egypt I have to go by myself (which I don't want to do). I can't reach the person I'm trying to call in the United States and it's too early to call anyone further west. No one has answered my beg for information. I don't know where I'm going to sleep tomorrow and all my clothes are dirty. I might want to come home earlier and it might cost $250 to change my ticket.


July 18, 2008

israel #2 + bonus request

Now I'm in this crazy Orthodox mystical artists' community called Tsfat. A couple three quick observations before I let the 15 people behind me get on the computer, and then a plea for you to find information for me.

1. It is actually damned impressive that the Jews are still around. Not so many peoples with thousands of years of more or less recorded history who still have not only their genetic material here, but their culture. And that didn't happen because of secular humanist people like me. The Kabbalah artist who talked to us said, basically accurately, that until a couple generations ago the (or some of the) physical ancestors of the people in the room prayed daily that they or their descendants could someday return to Israel, and here we are, and that's crazy. To him it's the fulfillment of prophecy and prayer. To the Arab inhabitants of this land, it's the Nakba, the catastrophe. To me?

2. Whoa I'm so exhausted. There's much more to digest than I can possibly do before I leave. I'm looking forward (already, less than halfway through my trip) to getting back home where I can drink a cold beer in a hot shower and then sit down for a few hours and write and think.

3. Group dynamics with 40 people for 2 weeks - even when all those people are pretty chill - are still kind of intense.

4. Quick bleg: There's a new warning out for Israelis to not travel to the Sinai and to come back if they're there for fear of kidnappings, and there are tons of rumors going around about Iran. Does anyone know anything about the political situation in the Middle East over the last two weeks and want to send me some articles or a quick digest of what's going on (in comments or by email)? Also, does anyone know if the warnings are confined to Sinai or include Egypt proper? And finally, does anyone know how the status of American tourists with Israeli stamps on their passports fits in to these warnings? And finally finally, how should this affect my chosen mode of transportation (air/bus/service taxi) to Cairo?

July 10, 2008

israel #1

Two days ago: flew to Israel. Rode a bus with 40 other people to Jerusalem and got talked at about Abraham and this being the Jewish homeland. Walked through the Old City to a place where we could see the Dome of the Rock; more talking about the First Temple, the Second Temple, Nebuchadnezzar, the diaspora, and this being the Jewish homeland.

Yesterday: got up at 4:45 to take a bus with 40 people to walk up a mountain to a fortress in the hot desert (breezes feel like they just drifted out from a furnace) and get talked at about Herod and this being the Jewish homeland. Floated in the Dead Sea: it's bouncy! and warm! Weird! An attempt at discussion with 40 people.

Today: got up at 3:30 to walk up a different mountain in the slightly less hot (because earlier) and get talked at about David and this being the Jewish homeland. Then one of the most unearthly lovely places ever: an oasis. Trees moss water waterfalls caves swimming! Swimming! In the desert! You have no idea how good it feels (unless you do). Then took a bus to Jerusalem with 40 people to a hotel that connects to the intertubes. Tonight we will get talked at about Shabbat and this being the Jewish homeland.

Is anyone starting to see patterns here? Also I am having a lovely time and will write much more when I get home.

July 6, 2008


I'm traveling in the Middle East for the next month. Wish me luck and give me suggestions, unless you're one of the fifty people I've already hit up for luck and suggestions.

July 2, 2008


Three guys showed up in the alley by my house today with a ladder, banging around and knocking over the trash cans, so I stuck my head out the back door to see what was up. They're taking down this big tree in the back of the house, which is covered with poison ivy. Covered. All the way up. These guys are not arborists: all they've got is some work gloves, a rattle-trap ladder, a chainsaw, and a rented moving truck. No protective gear of any kind. So I tell them about the poison ivy, and one guy starts freaking out, but another, who seems to be in charge, says naw, it's just regular ivy. Off they go. I told the guy who was worried about it to scrub himself in the harshest soap he can find when he's done, but they're still going to be absolutely covered with it. But what kind of person hires three dudes who don't know how to identify poison ivy - or much else about trees, from the looks of their work - to take out a big tree covered in a vine?

At least they're not going to burn the slash. Poison ivy in the lungs is nothing to mess with.

conditional ocd

If you know me, the idea that I could be obsessively organized about anything is kind of laughable. My room's a mess, my 'files' are stacks of paper in cardboard boxes or on the floor, and my strategy for keeping people from breaking into my car is to have so much random, essentially valueless crap in there that it's not worth breaking the window to see if there's something valuable under there.

Nevertheless, I'm pretty damn organized for any backcountry trip. It's not a conscious decision, but I'll take it - as far as places to get a little OCD, backpacking's a good one. Turns out that a month of travel in the Middle East gets me feeling the same way. I leave for Israel on July 7, and I won't be back until August 7. I'm making lists and trying to remember absolutely everything I could possibly need. It's spilling into grad school planning: I just made an excel spreadsheet to track my applications.

Maybe someday I'll fold my laundry.