After a very long week and long weekend, I am happy to be back on campus. I got back around 5pm yesterday, and have done little but some laundry by hand and had some pita and hummus for dinner. Life is good.
Thursday we went to the Ghetto Fighter’s Museum, commemorating the people who fought against the Nazis in different ghettos during the Holocaust. It also was a museum about the Holocaust in general, which was interesting but pretty heavy. Friday I walked down to Horev (a shopping area in Haifa) for fresh challah, and then back up the hill (took about 2.5 hours round trip). Saturday was filled with packing and trying not to forget anything, as Sunday we met the bus at 6:45am and left by 7am.
Sunday we went to Latrun Amour Museum and Battle Site (in between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv), an army museum with lots of tanks from different time periods, and then on to Castel, which had some pretty cool trenches. It’s been a long week so I don’t remember all of the history, but it was interesting at the time at least. After was Ammunition Hill, a museum/memorial for paratroopers which was also interesting, but we were getting a bit bored of museums by then. We stopped by a cemetery for a little too long at the end of the day, and saw some famous people’s graves and heard about their lives. But this was actually very exciting for me,because for the very first time I could read something in Hebrew! I was looking at a grave, and suddenly I realized that I could read that it said Hertzl! I sounded it out, from what I know of the letters and how they sound (I don’t know all of them yet but I’m getting there), and realized that’s who we had started to learn about in class and that’s why we were visiting his grave. It was a very exciting moment. Since then I’ve been trying to sound out other names, as they sound the same in English and Hebrew, but nouns are different. We stayed over that night in Jerusalem, not far from the Old City, in a hostel and had a pretty quiet night. I went to the Damascus gate with my two friends and we had some awesome (and very cheap!) falafel. It’s Ramadan, so after dark all of the Muslims break fast and eat dinner with their families, and then go out to eat with their friends.
Monday we explored the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, visiting a bunch of different sites and historical monuments, like the Western Wall and the grave of Oskar Schindler. We also walked through King Hezekia’s tunnel, an underground tunnel which has flowing water through it. The water started out about thigh-high but soon was around ankle deep. It was a ton of fun, basically, walking in a dark tunnel underground for about half an hour, with only a keychain flashlight for light. It’s one-way and narrow so that I occasionally hit my shoulders and bounced off the walls, but it was usually high enough to stand up comfortably. We stayed the night in Jerusalem again, so we went to the Damascus gate again for more falafel and explored around.
Tuesday we walked to the Mount of Olives, or the Christian Quarter. We visited a lot of churches and other holy sites, like the Room of the Last Supper, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and many more. We saw a lot of ruins too, which became a bit dull. Interestingly enough, the people at the ruins clearly know that they are not very exciting, as they add light and sound shows to almost all of them. Doesn’t really help, but does make us laugh when you hear 8 minutes of sound effects and lights flashing over the ruins of a house. Well, really only the foundation of a house. That is half rebuilt. And quite cheesy. Yeah, our interest ran low at times, as is to be expected with such an intense trip. But that night was awesome! We stayed in Bedowin tents and when we got there, we got to ride camels! And by ride, I mean we got on camels, walked about 100 feet, and then turned back and got off. But it was still fun. I rode in front and it was a blast, a bit like a roller coaster. Very nice animals, but we learned to never touch their face if you wanted to keep all of your fingers. We had a feast for dinner with tons of food, and then hung around playing cards until crawling into the tents to sleep. They were huge tents that could easily have fit 50 people, but we were only 20 so we fit just fine. We heard about the culture of the Bedowins too, which was quite cool. They are very hospitable; if you come to their tent and take off your shoes, you can stay for 3 and 1/3 days before they ask why you’re there. And if they fill up your cup of coffee all the way, it is their way of saying “we’ve had our fill of you, move along please”.
Wednesday we woke up early to hike up Masada. It wasn’t a bad hike and we made it up before sunrise, which was just breathtaking. We walked around the ruins then, listening about their history and seeing where different events happened. We hiked down the snake path (we hiked up an easier one), and had ice cream at the bottom. Next we went to the En Gedi springs which were lovely. The water was very clear, and nice and cool after an early morning hike. We swam for a bit in the little pool made by a waterfall, hiked a little and continued on our way. At the Dead Sea we had lunch, and then swam. It was the coolest thing ever! I knew I’d float, but there’s nothing like actually feeling it. You can sort of swim, but it takes a lot of effort to just stand in the water, so we just floated around on our stomachs and backs. I tasted a little of the water accidentally and wow is it salty! It’s actually prohibited to drink the water ’cause it can kill you, as I found out from my professor. It dries up your esophagus and then you suffocate, or something nasty like that. We were fine, and had fun watching the high schoolers cover themselves with Dead Sea mud and then go swimming (the mud is supposed to be great for your skin). It felt like my skin was a lot softer after just swimming, so I did not partake in the mud. We got to our hostel/guest house early, so we had a lot of free time. I talked with some friends before dinner, just looking out over the lovely view. Then after dinner, I had a silly adventure with my two roommates, Rachel and Bekah. We realized that we could climb out our window, so we pulled 3 mattresses out with us and star gazed for a while. It was really nice out, though a bit windy and chilly. We felt quite proud of our adventure, of course.
Thursday we went to Ben Gurion’s house and gravesite, both lovely. At the gravesite we saw a bunch of high schoolers going through boot camp. They can try out the army for a week, and it was pretty funny to see the drill sargents yelling at them in Hebrew. We went on to Ein Avdat, a nice hike up some cliffs, and then on to the most exciting part of the day: the Bar Kokhva caves. That’s where people used to hide out, for months at a time, if not more. We crawled in to find ourselves in a large room, and then another large one. We explored around, and did some army-crawling to another room. We were trying to exit when our professor came back and told us that the way was partially caved in (the exit). So we started joking about “Trapped in a cave: the musical” and singing a couple of the hit songs, or what we thought they would be. I wasn’t looking forward to slithering back through, but we made it out just fine, although momentarily stunned by the sunlight. There was absolutely no light inside, and when we turned off our flashlights we were in perfect darkness. It was very eerie, and really gave us a feeling for what it would be like to be stuck in a cave like that, hiding for days on end. Unfortunately, I bruised my ribs mildly and my abs too, but they’re all better now. And finally, we were off to Tel Aviv, where the next part of my adventure began.
We (Rachel, Madison and Cristina) got to the bus station and grabbed a bus to Eilat. It took 5 hours and we had some company who enjoyed singing the entire time, but eventually we made it. Once there we checked in to our hotel and relaxed a bit before bed. The next morning (Friday) we went to the beach for a little while, to officially swim in the Red Sea. It was fine, nothing excellent. I much prefer the beaches in Haifa, but now that I’ve gone to Eilat, I know that I’ve got it really good up north. We got a taxi to the boarder at 1pm and finally crossed around 2pm. We were met by a driver from our hostel in Jordan, and 2 hours later we were in Petra. We napped before dinner and Rachel and I explored town a bit. Petra was a lot smaller than I expected it to be, but I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly everyone was. We stuck out a lot, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable or unsafe at all. The people in town knew enough English so that we could get around just fine. We went to sleep early after watching some Arabic tv, and slept a ton.
I actually slept through the call to prayer at 5am, which I was quite happy about. We leisurely got up and had breakfast (which was included since the hot water boiler was broken, reminding me strongly of Peru), and made our way to the ruins around noon. Wow. Just wow. It started out slow, and we walked for a while not seeing much, but then we came out of this very steep valley-like pathway and saw this breathtaking monument, a tomb I think. From there we saw lots of tombs and temples, homes and other caves. All of them were carved right out of the mountain and are in spectacular condition. We didn’t even see everything, but we really enjoyed what we did see. We walked a few miles, but apparently there are many more miles of ruins that we could have seen. I was pretty sick of ruins by then so I personally did not mind that we only had 5 hours there, rather than 3 days, but I really enjoyed them nonetheless. We went back to the hostel and napped before dinner, and then went out to a different place to eat. It had good food, and after we went to another bakery for dessert (which was delicious). We had another relaxing evening and went to bed early.
The next morning we were up early to catch the bus by 7:30am. We took the bus to Amman, about 3 hours north of Petra. Once in Amman we got a taxi to the boarder, another 2 hours, and finally we could see Israel again. It took a while to cross, with a different taxi and a bus taking us across, but we made it across just fine. I did get a random pat-down once on the Israel side, but I was free again in minutes. Once we were all through we started looking for a bus, but it was Sunday of Rosh Hashana, so no buses were to be found. So we caught a cab back to school, and finally we made a triumphant return. I didn’t do much last night aside from catch up on missed emails and hand-wash some laundry, and then today we had another lecture class. Oh and I successfully did real laundry, with a washer and dryer. Now I will have clean clothing without dust to wear again, something I’ve been lacking all week. Tomorrow is our last field trip day, and Wednesday is our last day of class. I’m thinking I’ll relax the rest of this week, get some work done for class, and maybe travel to Egypt next week. Might as well take advantage of the free time I have and the places I can go see!