Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A farewell kiss...

Like a farewell kiss, but by a toothless dog with mange. That is how Egypt was to say goodbye after our two weeks here. And to have such shit as to be robbed of completely everything minus my passport and my black velvet, goat hair lined Jordanian vest which was a gift from a most beautiful French woman at the border. We were making our way back from Luxor after touring the western desert and at some point on the overnight train to Cairo somebody got off the train with my pack.
So, no photos for you all out there :-( The hardest things to lose were definitely the camera and journal which was a really big one that had travels from the past four years! Good thing i have a great memory.

The only way to get deep into the desert is by jeep or by camel, and after having a brief feeling of what even 20 minutes on a camel is like, we opted for a jeep. After spending a much needed day of relaxation in the Bahariyya Oasis, we organized a two day tour out into the White Desert. Our 4x4 was loaded and off we went across the world. First through the black desert, a flat landscape dotted with large anthill like projectiles. The orange sand is covered intensely by iron black pyrite, a beautiful stone smooth and heavy. From the top of one of the hills we had a 360 view like nothing else.

The highlight by far of the entire trip so far was the white desert. It is like entering a foreign world. Lunarly in nature, white monoliths of limestone erroded by wind take forms of many shapes. Like cloud gazing without the sky or the clouds. The jeep flies up and over dunes, around stones, and through the towers. At sunset, watching the massive ball drop down, the glow on the white stones turns pink and the entire horizon fades into night. The peach colored everything turns to moon shadowed rock under venus glow and the big dipper tells us where north is.
Our guides occasionally turn around and say "welcome" as if we havent been with them for over a day already. They were awesome though, and know the desert well. Language barriers are quikly overcome around the fire with shared tea and sheesha and lauging at jokes that probably are not understood by the others.
For us, accostomed to dirtbag style travel, a tour like this felt weird, everything about being super plush. But for what it was it was cheeeeeap and we had a fantastic time.

Luxor is said to be Egypt's most hassle filled city. It can be if you're a sucker -- good thing me and danny are no chumps when it comes to telling a tout to fuck off. We stayed in a small alley hotel and ventured off to see the ancient capital of Thebes. There are too many temples, palaces, and tombs to see in a year around the area, so we picked a handful that we liked.
Second day we rented bikes and had a grand ol time crusuing around the west bank of the nile and seeing some incredible places. The place is packed with honkeys - millions of tour busses and groups moving like ants marching to see everything, but we raged on our own wheels. The orignal dready jews club was started on bikes, and after all these years we still know how to kick it. (Julia, you were there in spirit. You too Haley Morgan honorary Jew)

After the shit show of losing my gear we were forced to return to Ahmed's place in Cairo, something we did not want to do at all. Tonight, after accomplishing nothing today, we leave for Israel. Yippee! Leaving Egypt right in time for passover... a sign maybe?
We are still going to Jordan, but only after i get some new gear from my sister in Jerusalem.

Danny's pack was stolen on our way to Egypt, mine stolen on our way to Israel. A test in materialism and attachment that we are now able to share.

Danny has two weeks left, i have a month and a half. I'll be doing trail work in Colorado this summer i just found out. Great Sand Dunes Natl Park. yes!

all good things

love love love

Saturday, March 28, 2009


The energy that circulates this place comes in pulses: sometimes instantaneous flashes of tranquility in an otherwise sea of chaos, other times small heart attacks in the already intense atmosphere. The city sprawls across the plains on both banks of the Nile, the life force behind this city. Outside the Nile river valley the desert resumes its arid ways, sand rocks sun wind desolation purity.
We have been staying with the amazing Ahmed Zeiden, a photographer that we hooked up with through couchsurfing.com. His apartment is on the 25th floor of a building that looks out over all of Cairo, including the pyramids. It has been incredible staying here and getting to know him.

The city is so massive that it would take weeks to explore it all, if Danny and I actually had the desire to do that. We have been in Cairo for too long now, happily, but overrun and rundown by big city life. Our first day here will stay in my memories forever. From the beginning, walking to the metro from Ahmed's apartment we got the first sense of what it would be like to be out in public during daylight hours. Whistles, honks, stares, glares, and shouts are more than common; watermelon covered hands from small boys reaching out to pull my hair, Danny narrowly dodging the sticky redness, me not so lucky. We wonder that if we were just normal white people without long hair if we would get so much attention. Never, even in west Africa, have I gotten so much attention just by walking the streets or taking public transit. It definitely takes its toll, and it has left somewhat of a sour taste in my mouth about Cairo.
No rules on the roads whatsoever. Real anarchy in action. No traffic signals, stop signs, speed limits, emissions controls, safety regulations, no headlights at night (they are only used to flash people to get the hell out of the way). Ahmed told us that if we could successfully cross the street here ten times without dying then we would make it in this city. It is like playing real life frogger. Im talking crossing four lane highways dodging traffic while blindfolded. It is fucking insane. At least you can rest easy knowing that the chances of drunk driving are pretty slim for the most part. Alcohol is not very common here, but luckily you can have beer delivered to the apartment.
There must have been a national campaign to teach English to the general public in which the entire language was compiled into, "Welcome, welcome to Cairo!" It can come from any direction at any time. But it is all genuine welcoming from the community here... maybe. Sometimes it is hard to decipher tone of voice; people could be saying "go fuck off Yankee", and we wouldn't ever know the difference. Today actually we got into a, "No, you go fuck yourself" discussion with some kids on the street. For years I had been warned that Egypt is the worst place for encountering touts and people who work hard to lure the wallet out of your pants. It is the same old shit that I hear everywhere i go. Oh, dont go here dont go there, danger blah blah. Beyond the oogling at the two furry white guys strolling down the avenue, we are generally welcomed here and there has been almost no intense hassle outside of the pyramids. People are kind here, and looking past the conservative Islamic blanket which I see sometimes as stifling the outflow of emotions in public, there is a warmth and kick in the step of almost everyone on the streets.

The pyramids at Giza are the only remaining ancient wonder of the world, but it is hard to overcome the barrage of "hey mister you want camel ride?" It comes every five seconds, and there is no stopping. Men on camels will follow you for minutes just in case you happen to change your mind. Everyone wants baksheesh (bribes); from the police to the local kids who offer to point you in a certain direction, there is a "charge" for everything. Danny and I are far from suckers and usually try to have fun at the expense of the touts, but the experience of seeing such marvels is almost ruined by the intensity of the harrassment. That and the ass load of other tourists.
Did you know that the Sphynx is really small? Not small, but not as big as we thought. In all the pictures it seemed like it was as big as a pyramid, but it is actually quite little in comparion.
It is funny the hypotheses that exist about how the pyramids were built. New Agers come and say that the aliens brought them there, but Danny and I know the real truth behind the wonderful rock pyramids. Lots of Jews.

A higlight of the entire trip so far was definitely the Sufi dance and music show put on by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. It was a free show in a fantastic old stone building; An open courtyard surrounded by ornate wooden balconies. The show started just with music, a group of drummers, horn players (imagine the stereotpyed snake charming horn), hand symbols, and singing. Holy shit the drumming was amazing and the players were glowing, smiling and working the crowd. After a while of just the music dancers came out and began the whirling. Sufism is the mystical side of Islam, and they are known for their whirling dervish dance, spinning for hours on end in communion with Allah. The drumming picks up, the spinners move faster and slower and faster again, arms and neck twirling almost independently from the never relaxing feet. The colors are psychadelic: blues, reds, yellows, and greens, flying through the air. Multiple skirts are worn and sometimes are lifted above the head and twirled as well. It is unreal to see. I was on the edge of my seat, hooting and shouting after each raucous finale, like Kerouac at a jazz club.

We have been in this city for too long, and we are stressed. Tomorrow we will take the train north to the legendary city of Alexandria along the shores of the Mediterranean. It is Egypt's most cosmopolitan city which is not what we are looking for, but it is at least more of a transition to the less crowded more open spaces tranquil western Egypt that is our next main destination.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dready Jews Go Home

We are in Cairo right now after making our way through the Sinai peninsula where, naturally, Danny and I would be hit by a freak wind/sand storm that would, naturally, rip the roof off of the room we were staying in on the beach. Waking up in the morning to brush the thick layer of dust and sand off of everything we noticed that, of course, ours was the only one shredded. But so it goes that to be back on the road life is always full of freak storms. That and sunshine, oceans, and incredibly kind Bedouins. But to go back two weeks now and recap how we arrived in Egypt.

In the words of one Andrew B. "Your trip is going to be heinous."
We assumed he would be right, in fact for the three years that we planned this trip we held assumptions that a Birthright trip would be nothing but Zionist propaganda and a crappy tour around Israel. A trip called Israel Outdoors that we knew spent no time camping, a tour bus with 40 Americans making a huge scene all over the country, and very little say in how the tour goes.
Turns out we actually had a good time. Yes, we were surprised too! Our tour guide Hagai (cha-guy... not cha like do the cha cha, but like clearing your throat) was amazing and he made the trip what it was. We heard from other groups along the way how strict and overbearing their guides were, but we had the complete opposite experience. To our surprise also, the group was not 18 year old new yorkers, but mainly folks over 23 from all over the country. Not surprising was the number of instant connections made with people on the tour. First person i saw at the airport I recognized from my cross-country bike tour in 1998. The last time I saw her was when I took her to a Phish show in Philly in 1999. Many more just like that too. The group bonded well and we had a great time together.
BUS BUS BUS. It was our ball and chain, never parting, always there. From the minute we arrived at the airport to the mintute the trip ended it was an undeniable part of the birthright experience.
The propaganda that we had anticipated was kept to a minimum, to our liking, but there is indeed a very simple message that all Birthright participants are pushed towards:

make Jewish babies

And why not? It's like a big summer camp, so go nuts and keep the tribe alive.
The days were jam packed with activities: walks, lectures, bus rides, visits with artists, meals, etc. In ten days they manage to haul you from end to end; the lush green of the Golan Heights, to the burnt amber and dryness of the Negev in the south, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Tzvat, Kibbutzes, wineries, clubs, more more more until ENOUGH ALREADY. By the end we all crash and try to remember everything we learned and all the places we visited, but it was all too much and too fast.
Israel is such an amazing place; so alive with people, culture, struggle, fear, love, that being there can be such a sensory overload if you arent prepared. The natural mysitc blowing through the air in Tzvat...

Interlude: As i write this, the time is 12 noon and the call to prayer has just begun all over Cairo. I have heard this only in two places before this: the north of Ghana and in Israel. To me it is an eerie display of complete devotion to God, the most intense form. Mosques on every corner are calling to Allah over the loud speaker, delays and echoes from the competing megaphones create bizarre time lapse effects on the prayer. Long drawn out wailings, not unlike the howlings of coyotes on a silent desert evening. Beautiful music.

...the cosmopolitan mayhem of a Tel Aviv night, the hustle and rushing to get in all the shopping before Shabbat in Jerusalem, seeing 18 year old soldiers with powerful weapons of war and violence, the horror and pain of the Holocaust Museum, the hard yet beautifully simple life of the Bedouin. Everything is so compact and full, there is little escape.

The question that always comes to mind for me is: can you be an aethiest and still be a Jew? Each time i have visited Israel the answer comes fully and simply. Yes. To be a Jew does not mean one needs to believe in the big guy upstairs or go to pray in a temple, or even honor the sabbath. It is a tribal feeling, the community, the sense of belonging to a group of people that spreads around the globe, holding on to identity.
The beauty of this is that while maintaining my independence I still hold the power of tribal connection everywhere i go, and i can do this without needing to change my beliefs about the spiritual nature of things.

Danny and I will be in Egpyt for two to three weeks before making our way back to Israel via Jordan. We are already having great experiences here and truly enjoying Arabic culture. Just on the trip overland from Sinai we witnessed the intensity and barrenness of the desert here; it is everything. We plan on venturing deeper into the country to discover more about this land.
Pictures and stories to follow of course. Literally, i am looking at the Giza Pyramids right now. Soon you will be able to see them too!

I have somewhat lost the motivation to keep up this blog, so this entry is poorly written and short, but for those that enjoy it I am glad.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The End.

The trip is nearly over. To end it I am in Bogota once again at my friend Jeisson´s apartment in ChapiƱero. Zach is back from the ruckus of Carnavale in Baranquilla and I am back from a journey into the deep mountains of Colombia. Both seem to have been quite the experience.

The trip from the coast to Cocuy National Park is long and involves changing transport many times. The roads lead through the departments of Santander and Boyaca. Boyaca is definintely the mountain heart of Colombia. The dirt roads wind through an epic landscape sparsely settled by cattle farms and campesinos. There are small colonial towns once every couple of hours. These are the places that i wish i had seen earlier in my trip. Most never see any tourists, and are uniquely tranquil in a way that i´ve never experienced before. I rolled into the small colonial mountain town of El Cocuy after dark and found an incredible place to stay with an artist and musician who lives alone in a beautiful old house with a massive collection of plants and paintings around the inner courtyard of the home. I made preparations to head high into the park the next day. To get to the park I hopped a ride with the local milk truck that drives through the mountains collecting the fresh milk from the numerous dairy farms in the hills. Higher and higher we climbed, stopping to pour the steaming milk into the large vats in the back of the truck, the driver carefully noting the amount of milk collected at each location. It is real campesino life in the hills. Small brick houses made from the earth they sit on. The weather was colder, the air thinner as we continued to climb higher. I got dropped off at the end of the main road and had to walk another hour higher into the mountains to get to the farm where the park begins.

After talking to a couple austrian mountaineers a day earlier i realized that the extra wool hat i bought was going to do nothing for me in the backcountry. I sucked it up and told myself that it would be okay for me to sleep indoors and only do dayhikes being as how I had no cold weather gear and no stove. The accomodations are an unelectrified farm house with the family who has been there for generations. Around the house are their cows, sheep, and horses; corrals constructed of stones from the fields. The views from the house are insane. Miles of mountain peaks and giant valleys right out the front door. The snow capped peaks and granite cliffs loom ever higher above the camp which is situated at around 10,500 feet.

Coming from the coast direct to the mountains I had expected to be hard, but not as hard as it was. I struggled to catch my breath my entire time there, especially above 13,000 feet. My first day i did a hike up to 13,500 to a mountain pass up a steep ravine. The going was tough, having to stop almost every 50 feet to catch my breath. The water was crystaline, frigid, and perfect; like a deer, stop to drink at every stream. From the pass I got my first view deep into the sharp range, and i instantly regretted not having the right gear to continue walking.I felt like absolute shit after returning from the 8 hour hike. The altitude squeezed my ocean air accustomed lungs and used my brain as a dart board. I went to sleep without eating anything. Next morning i woke up early to the sound of four Colombian hikers come up for the day to reach the Devil´s Pulpit. I set out after them but soon we were hiking together. I was the youngest by far, the rest in their fifties and one in his eighties. What a character that man was: 29 years as a machinist on a colombian freighter. He told me tales of nearly 30 years of life on a boat, travelling to almost every continent and countless countries along the way. It´s people like that that really inspire me.

The hike up to the pulpit was much harder and longer than the day before, plus much higher. We stopped at 15,210 feet, almost a thousand feet higher than i´ve ever been. Just like the sierras in california, I staggered gasping for breath along granite ridges and massive boulder fields. The going was slow but at the end it was as close to the sky i´ve ever felt. Snow cones of ice and condensed milk, sledding on my ass with my raincoat, and a brilliant sunshine day, made it one of the best hikes ever.

The two days in the park and the two days it took me to get there and back were by far a highlight of the whole trip. This whole trip has been a highlight of all the trips i´ve ever done. I am happy to be leaving, if only to continue my journey in another foreign land.

This is the last entry. Im not even sure how many people actually read it or look at the pictures, but it does feel good to explain at least to the little computer elves what i´ve been up to. Maybe ill be inspired to continue from the middle east.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

pura carribbean

has been some time since i´ve done the whole bloggy blog thing so here we go!
From Bogota towards the north coast is a long trip, about 15 hours by bus, but first stop was Medellin, once home (and why not still) to the infamous Pablo Escobar cartel. It used to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but in the past ten years has become one of the safest and modern in Colombia. It has a completely different feel from Bogota, a lot less soul and a more metropolitan feel. The pride of most Colombians anywhere in the country is the metro of Medellin. That and the women. In fact the first things i heard when i crossed the border was, ¨wow the women and the metro.¨I must have heard that a million times before actually getting to the city. But, the metro is in fact nice, fast, cheap, and gets you from point A to B, and the women there are incredibly attractive. It is shocking actually the ratio of super good looking women to non. But there is somewhat of a fad there to have fake boobies and buttocks. People say it stems back to the Escobar days and has never slowed. There is an absurd amount of silicone walking the streets of Medellin. Who ever heard of a fake ass?
My favorite part of Medellin was the Botero sculpture park. Fernando Botero is probably the pride of Colombian art. He´s known for doing everything in a fat way. People, animals, fruit, everything. I first saw his work at the Botero gallery in Bogota, but there is mainly his paintings. His sculptures are incredible! Huge bronze pieces dot the park with lots of people basking in sunshine and milling around. He has this way of making fat very fun and the giant sculptures really come to life. The city all in all didnt really do it for me, so off to the beach we went.

First stop Cartagena. This is a city that i first started hearing about in Nicaragua. It is famous for its beautiful colonial walled in zone of the city, and for being the port where many travellers from central america enter the south. Zach and I found a relatively cheap and clean place to stay just outside the walled in heart. Everybody and there mother must have been travelling through Cartagena, it is that touristy. Bus loads of old tourists file through the narrow streets and lush fountain filled parks following guides like good sheep. Sheep with video cameras. It was an odd sight to see so many tourists and a little unerving.
I get this selfish sence of entitlement often that demands entire cities be for only my enjoyment. I cringe at the sight of other backpackers walking in hordes, their packs big on the back, beers in hand, sun tinted skin no longer so pasty white. The gringo trail is always growing, im not making it any shorter, and i loath it. I make it a point often to avoid as much as possible the backpacker born places down here, but im finding it somewhat hard to do, especially here on the carribbean side. There are ass loads of travellers here, really.
Cartagena was a little to boutiquey for me, very expensive, and too tourist, so we took off after only two nights. Santa Marta was our next stop, another ocean front city known for its laid back atmosphere. It is a good place to relax and and catch a breath for a while. We found a hotel where we could camp on the roof for about the equivalent of a dollar and 80 cents. It was ocean breezes and booming music all night.
We took a trip out to a small town called Aracataca which really doesnt have that much to offer. We went because we found a guy on couchsurfing with a house there. The description he gave was of a farm with large garden, a pond stocked with fish, and horses. To stay for free all we had to do was help out in the garden a little. We got there and this ¨farm¨was a pretty shabby house with a large overgrown yard, a mud pit pond which served as a mosquito breeding place to the extreme, and not much else. For farm work they gave us a machete and a kitchen knife and told us to go mow the lawn. It was pretty rediculous and we gave ourselves some good blisters before boycotting the stupidity of the situation. Aracataca is famous as being the birthplace of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who writes about Macondo (his code name for the town) in most of his books. The best part of the two days at the ¨farm¨was the rope swing into the Aracataca River. We were happy to leave.

One of the highights of the past 9 weeks of travel was Tayrona National Park. Unreal beaches with huge boulder fields and pure jungle, sun, wind, and more coconuts than anyone can count. Amazing, amazing. We easily could have stayed longer than the four days we did. We camped with some great new friends from Brazil, Spain, Argentina, and Chile and cooked our meals family style over open fires under incredible stars and bright moon. It felt amazing to be camping out of a city! Up until that point I was feeling a real lack of nature and a huge overload of city life.
From Tayrona, me, Zach, and Lucia our friend from Spain decided to make to journey farther east to La Guajira which is colombia´s desert region near the border of Venezuela. All we knew was that it was desert and that there is a large Wayuu Indian population there. Not knowing more than that we began the long trip by bus out that way.

The sun and the wind got together and decided that they were going to kidnap the three of us and hold us hostage on the beach for a couple days. They tested us to see how much we could take before crying mercy. It only took two days of the brutal weather to do us in and we made the trip back to Santa Marta sunburned and mentally fried. It is mind boggling to think that people can live their whole lives in the extremes of weather. The energy in that place was not for us, we felt unwelcome by both the weather and the people in the region. The best part though was the super cheap lobster! I bought a lobster from a Wayuu man and cooked it over a fire on the beach, super good.

Side note from this trip. Lucia, Zach, and I were very low on water so we thought we should try cooking with sea water. We had some rice and some cans of tuna so we figured a little extra salt wouldnt hurt. MISTAKE!!!! Dont cook with sea water if you want your food to taste like anything other than salt.

Now i sit here in Taganga which is a small tranquil place just in the next bay from Santa Marta. This is the backpackers haven of Colombia, a bit over the top with travellers and artisans. It is the artisan, beach bum, hippy, crusty punk, and sorority girl capital. A bizarre mix of dreadlocks and platinum blond. But it makes sense why everyone comes here: tranquility, beach, cheap weed, plenty of hostels and beach front bars with hammocks taboot, and fish right off the boat.

It is Carnavale time! Things are starting to pick up now and the whole coast is starting to quake with the anticipation of the ruckus to come. Barranquilla is where the main party takes place; four days of insanity in the streets. I could go... but i have made the decision to start my journey south starting tomorrow. I dont feel like i need huge crowds and a few hangovers right now, what i want is mountains baby! MOUNTAINS!!! So im going to the heart of the Sierra Nevada to do some trekking for a few days up at 14,000 feet. I will need to come across some supplementary gear to ensure i dont die up there, but ill take care of that when i come to it.

I have been in colombia for 5 weeks and the total trip around 9 weeks. The rest of the days will pass by super quick im sure and before long ill be gettin down to Trey´s face melting guitar solos down at the phish shows in Virginia. It has been a great trip so far and i think that my remaining days will be a highlight. I am very excited to start the next leg of the journey though; three months in the middle east. Thinking about it, i have really been travelling since last august. It all started with the canadian border patrol...

It´s a treadmill this whole travelling thing. But i have these little electrodes taped to my nipples and as soon as i stop running im going to get shocked. The belt is spinning faster than ever, but my legs know what to do. Im in great shape for it.

This is Me, signing off.

The pictures are in no order but they include: Tayrona Nat´l Park, La Guajira, Medellin, me cooking a lobster on a stick, etc.