1-24 July 2006


Birthright Israel Trip Overview

1-11 July 2006

Hello All,

As you may or may not realize, I've been traveling for about a week and a half already and I haven't sent out a single email. The birthright trip kept us on such a tight schedule that I haven't been able to get to a computer until now that the tour is over and I'm on my own.

Rest assured you'll get all of the details of the trip. Whether or not you have the time to wade through them is another matter. I've been keeping an illegible journal which I will transcribe and send out when I get back to the states. I will employ Brian Mott from UCLA to transcribe my illegible scribbles as he is the only one including myself who can read my writing (this is from hours of painstaking copying of homework).

So let me give the real bare bones of the world wind tour and I'll keep you all more up to date with my last two days in israel and my egypt trip via email.

Afternoon 1:

We meet by the Mediterranean in a small town called Natanya and have some ice breakers

Day 2:

We travel to the north of israel at the Israel Lebanon border and hike for four hours. I stand in front of the group with my right knee pointed out to the right and my left hand on my head, serving as a map of israel for a brief history lesson. We end the hike at a 2000 year old temple ruins. We are silent for 30 seconds and you hear nothing but the wind. We travel to the ancient city of Tsafed where we learn about Kabala (Madona's Religion)

Day 3:

We go to the ancient city of Gambla and hear about their tale. We hear about the 67 war and the 73 yom kipur war. We travel to an army outpost base where our guide Yonatan had served. He said the walls make you crazy sometimes. The base overlooks Syria . We go to a Druse village for lunch. (google the Druse, they're quite interesting.) We don't linger. We go to the Jordan river for mountain biking and river rafting. The water was calm by my marauder spirit was strong. More details on that later.

Day 4:

We go to an honest to goodness oasis and cliff dive. Off to tel aviv for a short night out.

Day 5:

A tour of old tel aviv; Jaffa (the original arab city), the first movie theater, the first mall, and the first elevator. we shop in down town tel aviv. We travel east to the desert. We get an great interactive 45 minute israel history lesson. Off to a Bedoin (arab nomad) camp/dude ranch for camel riding, feasting, music, poetry and drinking.

Day 6:

Up at dawn to travel to the Masada to see the sun rise where 10,000 Jews supposedly committed suicide in lui of getting captured and enslaved by the Romans. We float in the dead sea. we travel south to a Kibutz for Shabbat. At the Kibutz we play basketball, swim and have services. We drink 'till 4am (the Jews sure know how to celebrate the Sabbath).

Day 7:

The day of rest. We do just that. 8.5 hours of sleep; beats my record this trip by 2.5 hours. Swimming, eating, basketball, writing, swimming. Then Havdala services, very informal. We do a night hike in the desert that is lit by the bright moon. It feels like a lunar landscape.

Day 8:

We travel to a real Bedouin village and interact with Bedouins via our israeli soldier travelling companions. We find out about social issues and come up with potential solutions in ways that Howard Garner (and his theory of multiple intelligences) would be very proud of. We see the Ramon Crater. It is the second to last night left. We watch france loose (whoo hoo) in the world cup and party it up with the soldiers and another birthright trip that happened to be in our hotel.

Day 9:

The Holocaust museum. Beautiful, heavy, but not as moving as Dachau for me. A few hours for shopping in new Jerusalem. We go to the military cemetery on Mt. Hertzel which is like a holy temple to many Jews. Any Israeli soldier who died in battle may be buried here. Several prime ministers lie here. More powerful however is that several friends and family members of the soldiers lie here. Only one solider doesn't have a friend who died from war or a terrorist attack. It is a fact of life for them. Israeli's know sorrow, but also how to have a good time. As the soldier Leor put it, we need to laugh or else we would cry. We party into the morning.

Day 10:

Old Jerusalem . The wailing wall. I didn't think it would hit me hard, but it was the most spiritual experience I had all trip. It was like the mirror in Harry Potter one that reflected what was in your mind and heart. The group parts. I'm now staying at a Hostel with one of my fellow birthright travellers, Michaela.

Tomorrow I visit Jerusalem again to see more.

Once again, I'll fill in the meet of this skeleton once I get back.




1-July to 11-July 2006


7:30 am I leave Oakland to arrive 5 hours early for my Israel flight. Israel Experts recommended 4 hours early. At El Al Airline there are ~ 5 18 year olds and 3 Jewish mothers attached to their hips. High hopes sank and visions of 10 days with timid, ignorant teenagers danced in my head. I turned around and went to where they couldn’t follow (not that they would, or even knew that I was their): a bar. Brazil looses to Italy in a surprise upset.

I return to the check-in an hour later to find far more piers and far fewer over-protective mothers. A whirl wind of where are you from, what do you do, is this your first time in Israel, as set of weird security questions that test my knowledge of Jewish tradition and a 10 hour flight later and I’m in the land of Milk & Honey.


The hoards amass and the first of many rounds of cat herding begin as a group of 18-26 year olds pile onto the bus.

Off to Natanya, ½ hour north of Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast. We Circle up on the beach and are told to look at the sea and drink it in and realized that it is not the Pacific or the Atlantic, but the Mediterranean. May eyes wander off in the other direction to the modern buildings being erected in this tourist town. Then they wander back to the hoards of Americans (who outnumber Israeli’s on the beach 2 to 1). This is not the Mediterranean; it wouldn’t be for 4 more days.

Four of us wandered down the coast line and blathered on about idealistic ways to save the worlds energy crisis. Al Gore is a hero, oil is our crutch and we come to the realization that we’ve become hippies for the last hour. That snaps us out of it. One of us, my roommate for the trip, Josh, is going into politics. Perhaps he’ll save the worlds energy problems… but probably not.

At dinner we get bread, humus, tomatoes, cucumbers, tahini, and some red sauce. True to our ignorance we load up our plates thinking that this is dinner. In retrospect it was pretty obvious that it was an appetizer (we didn’t even get big plates). Though well traveled, this will not be the last time I make a stupid cultural mistake. I’m just more comfortable making the mistakes after traveling.

Downtown Netanya is only a few blocks long, but it is charming. Josh, myself, Alli (an editor from NY) & a couple of others buy beer at a local corner store and sip it as we wander around the tiny social center. One hour later josh and I are all that is left of our little group and I’ve learned the word preamble.

One more hour of being bathed in the town’s warm glow and gentle atmosphere and we prepare for our next day. There is no jet lag.


An hour and a half on the bus and we’re on the Lebanese boarder. On the way we pass a small village on the left. The farm land that we were driving through was a swamp less than 100 years ago. The swamp was infested with mosquitoes which are hosts of malaria. The original Israeli settlers came to transform the land, but were all but thwarted by these little blood suckers. The Israelis hired an African tribe who was immune to malaria to dry the swamps. That tribe did the job, but they also inbred and have become some of the most retarded, poorly educated people in Israel. I mention this story because of a conversation that I had with our truly Amazing tour guide (and I don’t use that word lightly) Yonatan, 3 days later.

Yonatan and I were talking about peace in the Middle East. I had spoken to an Israeli soldier who felt that we need to move into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and go door to door, if necessary, and kill all of the terrorists. Then Israel would need to set up an infrastructure to help rebuild and gain some respect and trust from the Arab people. (Identifying large numbers of terrorists is not as theoretically impossible as it sounds; Israel has very good intelligence.) But for every Terrorist you shoot in their home, two more are created. That’s neither here nor there. Yonatan replied, “You don’t get rid of a swarm of mosquitoes by squashing each one; you need to dry up the swamp.” I’ll get back to this on day 5.

Yonatan is 29 and has gone through his gung ho army phase, seen his friends gotten heart, gone through a vagabond phase, and now appears to be focusing on balance, realism, and determining what is really important. Part of what made this trip so great is watching this man, who never makes anyone feel for a question, unfold.

We arrive at Mt Meron and prepare for our largest hike of the trip; a four hour all down hill trial which includes over an hour of breaks. At least the outdoor nature of this trip reveals itself for what it is up found and doesn’t raise false hopes of 15 mile treks through the unbeaten paths of the desert. (You should all know by now that I’m a bit of a masochist.) I picture the great mountains of Israel as large insurmountable rocks, like something out of Lord of the Rings, but they are simply small hills. Though these hills hold their own beauty, it is not aligned with the American, “more is more” philosophy. The noon sun shines down on us and it is just not that bad. The super-human living conditions that I envisioned have been shrunken down to normal sized.

We stop and see the Lebanese boarder in the distance. The sparse trees of Israel fade slowly into desert. This is the Lebanon border! That’s it. The Mediterranean gets one part more tangible. (I’d never imagine that it would be ablaze in a week and a half.)

Several hours later we wander down to a temple ruins from the old days , you know, 2000 years ago. America’s youth becomes more apparent and Israel’s rebirth starting in the early 20th century seems a little stronger. The group is silent for 30 seconds. I’m sitting on stone steps and the wind whistles through the brush. Later I will tell a small group that that was my favorite moment of the day.

Off to the home of the Madonna popularized, currently trendy, Jewish mystical religion, Kabala; Tsafed or Safed or Tzafed or Zafed. Tsafed is nestled in the hills and has tight cobble stone passage ways and a great view of the mountain that we just climbed. The streets are teaming with orthodox Jews wearing black suits and wide brimmed black hats. We shuffle into a small room packed with brightly colored paintings of Hebrew letters and abstract shapes. In the center we meet our Kabala guide Avraham; an ex-hippy from the university of Michigan who’se been here for 12 years.

Kababla, he explains, is the Jewish people’s spiritual answer to the eastern religions. Kabala believes in reincarnation and that the ultimate goal is to continue to raise ones soul to the highest levels with each rebirth. Avraham showed us a picture of two “Hay’s” (Hebrew letter for half) stacked on top of each other. One was black with a white background and one white with a black background. Sound familiar? One represents what you get and the other what you give. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to maximize the giving Hay. Pretty simple over arching concept, but their were a bunch of subtlies to the description that eluded me. Then the religion took a disappointing turn. Finite was intermingled with the infinite. Hebrew was the origin of all language. The soul had 70 discrete states, or something like that. Names had mystical meanings and powers. If your having a really bad time in your life, changing your name might help etc. But regardless of all that stuff that was about as full of holes as a wheel of cheese riddled by a Tommy gun, the religion is very beautiful. And, Avraham really seemed purely happy and content. I’d meet another American who found that thing that made him want to jump out of bed in the morning too, but was 2 days later. The religion embodied the bases of what one should; cove, compassion, a sense of purpose and community. That was nice, the bells and whistles interested me less. (The damned bells and whistles are what wars are fought over.)


Dinner, obligatory drinking, 5 hours of sleep, breakfast, a bus ride, a short walk and we are at the sight of the ancient city of Gambla in the Golan heights near the Syrian-Lebanese border. We heard tales of how the Romans fought the Israelis on this town atop a cliff. 55,000 Romans fought 10,000 Jewish men, women, and children. Many months and many battles later and the Jews were driven to the cliffs and off the cliffs. Only 2 survived. The tragic story was contrasted by the recapping of the 6 days war in ’67. This is where the Jews took the Golan Heights, West Bank, Gaza Strip & Sinai Peninsula with a 777 to 15,000 casualty ratio. I think that all war is hurtful for both sides and that there is very little glory in death even if it is necessary for your independence and security. But, I admit that despite this stance, I felt, listening to the recounts of the war, like the good guys beating the bad guys; we won and got the girl too! I felt pride. And in that pride is shame. It shows that my feelings represent the dehumanizing of Arabs which propagates the hate which is responsible for the violence in this aria, and in most wars for that matter. (My feelings of shame and humility would be rekindled again when I walked into the simple, desolate ’67 war cemetery in Cairo in the City of the dead.)

This combo feeling was once again surfaced a few minutes late when we settled down on the edge of a near by desert cliff to hear the bitter story of the ‘73 Yom Kippur war. Israel was a nation transformed. Hardened by loss, de-throned and sobered of their invincibility intoxication provided by the ’67 war. (I would also latter be appalled by the glorification of this war in Egypt. 6 October 1973 is now a National holiday in Egypt.)

F-4 Phantoms were supplied by America for both wars. (The Egyptians had Russian supplied Mig 17’s and 21’s and Sukhoi SU-7’s, I’d find out on my last day in Egypt.) Sorry, the Aerospace Engineer in me couldn’t resist.

We travel to a Druse village just for lunch. The Druse are an Islamic sect that closed their doors to new members and believe in destiny and fate. They also adhere to the rules of what-ever nation they live in. Yonatan explains that they are phenomenal soldiers because their views on fate make them fearless. Imagine knowing that whatever you do, your fate is already sealed; a scary and liberating thought.

The food was amazing. Plat after plate of salad, humus, red bean dip, babaganoosh, salad, falafel, fried potatoes, shiskabob, and about half a dozen other dipping sauces whose names I never learned and mounds and mounds of fresh pita’s. But we didn’t linger.

Off to the holy stream knows as the Jordan river. We had a short bike ride to the trail head. Carl's’ wheel fell off and he rode in the baby seat of Ari, the group leader’s, bike.

Kayaks and boats got flung into the Jordan River, if you can call the slow, calm 5 m wide strip of moving water a river. Josh fades out, closes his eyes and when he opens them, a Hun sees strange brightly colored defenseless vessels with weak passengers ripe for the picking. Resistance is virtually nil. The element of surprise is not even needed. People are plucked from their boats like fruit off a tree. They don’t even try to hook their feet into the crevices of their rafts. They just flail and wriggle as I pull them off of their boats into the rifer where Jesus was baptized. I jump from boat to kayak to boat knocking people out and taking their place. At the pinnacle of my reign I launch onto a six person boat, half guys, half girls. I land belly first half way into the boat and pull myself up by performing a breast stroke where the water is replaced by two people on either side of the boat. I am propelled into the bottom of the boat and they are, as simple lows of action and reaction dictate, propelled into the water. I remember my basic training from the American river where I met Emily and Christina for the first time I get low and sit down in the center of the boat. The next two have plenty of time to secure themselves, but they do nothing. As Chris, our rafting guide taught me, I grab a pair of ankles and lift. Then another pair. The fifth guy, David, actually gets smart and drops to the center of the boat and I can’t get him out. The sixth thinks he’s safe at the bow of the boat with David in between him and I, but a lung and a push & the six person boat now comprises of David and I and no paddles. Maybe I should have thought that last one through more, stole the paddle first, but no matter. I’m glad that David is their because when I jump ship to… liberate a seat on another boat, there’s someone left to navigate… or splash futily in the water with his hand.

After one guy almost lost his sunglasses I learned to check if they had glasses ties on before pulling them in. I even asked Alli if she had glasses ties. She said no, so when I sidled up to her boat I made sure to remove her glasses moments before plucking her from the raft and relocating her to the pleasant water.

My only regret is being unable to get the weathered veteran trip organizer Bill in. But, 10-15 people in about the same time as it takes to get your glasses at Lens Crafters is a personal best, so I’m satisfied. A stupid smirk rests on my face on the bus ride back. (Note: it was all in good fun and everyone has a good nature about it. Melissa even thanked me for making the trip more fun, though I had to give Devin my hat because I knocked his into the river when I knocked him in and then knocked in the girl who he handed the Jordan soaked hat to and it got lost. People’s good natured reactions showed me that I was with a good crew. Reaction to aquafare is a good litmus test for cool people, much like appreciation of Family Guy.


In the morning we traveled to the cemetery at the edge of the sea of Galilee. We were met by a quirky bald man from the states. He looked like the leader of the Andre the giant and Enigo Montoya in The Princes Bride. Eccentric & passionate describe him accurately. He said thinks like “KiiiiiiiiiwI!” He told the tale of Zionist settlers in the early 1900’s. Those in the cemetery were old when they died, but he remembered them as teenagers, as they were when they left their homes to live in a hot, squalid, malaria carrying mosquito infested swamp. All of his stories were constructed from the diaries of the settlers that he had read. From these diaries our speaker concluded 2 universal truths; that these Israeli’s are courageous idealists who selflessly worked for the benefit of future generations, and that they propagated and strengthened the stereotype of the kvetching Jew.

He spoke in generalities and via 3 specific stories, including one devil worshiper (a very small sect at the time). One line which, though overdramatic, encapsulates the settlers passion is, “I came here to transform the land, and in so doing, transform my soul,” – Ben Gurion (The first Prime Minister of Israel in 1948). These settlers really believed in the importance of drying the swamps and irrigating the fields to make Israel great again. I felt like I was hearing about someone who took a rusty 67 Chevy and worked to painstakingly restore each nook and cranny. But, my appreciation for these Northern agricultural settlers didn’t really occur until the next day when I saw Jaffa & Tel Aviv and heard about the rural settlers’ urban counterpart. The whole seemed so much greater than the sum of its parts. Most seemed much more moved than I. And, I was jealous. I wanted to be moved; to see this stuff through more impressionable eyes. Not just young eyes (their was a 26 year old, Zuck, who said he would have spent the whole day there alone reflecting) but eyes that could really drink in the story and fill and fill and fill… It made me think of something that Katy (my first girlfriend) said to me months after we broke up. She said that she liked me better before, when I was more passionate. I know that she’s bitter and also a little crazy, but their was some truth to the statement. I often linger on it, not because of what was probably meant by it at the time, but because of the truth that I extract from it as I reflect on my maturation. Linger… and move on.

On the way to Tel Aviv we stopped by an honest to goodness Oasis fed by ground water. We swam cliff dove & sun bathed. The pictures do it Justice.

In Tel Aviv we showered and then my roommate Josh and I share a beer and a Mediterranean sunset, how romantic, away from the incessant buzz of 38 other people. Following in the path of the settlers before us, J0osh and I kvetched about our free guided trip through Israel. It felt good.

We prepare for our night out at Tel Aviv. It was unremarkable except for having dinner on the shores of the Mediterranean in a swanky outdoor restaurant. We got turned down from 2 clubs because the guys were <27 and some of the girls <24 (a weird club policy for the pear area that we were at). We had one drink at a restaurant, absinth, and then it was midnight and we turned into pumpkins because the bus driver wouldn’t take us any later. We got back and I was at 1041 Dykstra Hall, UCLA, hustling people into a small dorm room looking both ways for any RA’s. We busted out Lindsey’s small Hookah and bottles from the Mini fridge. The only difference ws that everything that we were doing in the hotel was actually completely legal… God I’m getting old.

I took a walk on the beach and a had one of those great life story discussions with a fellow Berkeleyite & ex-LM ATC intern (what are the chances). The hours melted away and at 3 I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Sleep took me.


In the morning the trip changed with the Mifgash or “encounter.” Eight Israeli soldiers, who are currently on the bus, grunting and singing BINGO was his name-O, joined on. We had a Tel Aviv History lesson. We saw Jaffa, the old Arab city that was the Tel Aviv jumping of point, from a distance. We saw the first Tel Aviv settlements, the first movie theaters, the first elevator, the first mall (now a coffee shop that my sister would adore, which embodies the word eccentric), and the markets of Down town Tel Aviv. But most importantly we started talking to the ~20 year old soldiers. Crazy is an appropriate word for them. One of them, Shlomi, would later drink 7 shots of tequila and several other drinks and proclaimed himself a dolphin. He explained that he’s a dolphin ‘cause he kisses anyone he wants and he does what he wants. It’s true. He also puked behind a radiator and toasted to himself. But at the same time, he trains a platoon of 40. He is adamant that if Israel goes to war in the Gaza Strip because of the Shalit kidnapping that we can’t make the same mistake that we did before. Namely that Israel needs to provide schools, hospitals and infrastructure to Gaza in the wake of any war. They need to treat the Palestinians as equals and not as lesser. Not doing so will result in creating 2 terrorists for everyone that you kill; pretty insightful for a soldier who has served in the Gaza Strip and seen at least one friend die. And not everyone agrees with him. Our 22 year old medic/ guard has a dream that Israel could take all the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and put them into Jordan. He thinks peace is a futile effort.

I wandered off away from the group and breathed in much needed independence from the regimented tour.

By the time we got to the bus to head into the desert the ice had been broken and the soldiers wee a part of the group.

Four hours of sleep the night before plus a long bus ride = sleep on the bus. I awoke and the sea that I saw my first day became the Mediterranean. The rocky hills of the desert lay before us, the sun was setting and I was with Israelis. This was my turning point.

We entered a Bedouin camp in the North of the Negev desert. It was beautiful with huge sprawling tents, palm treks, lounge rooms, and camels. We went on a 10 minute camel ride and then switched to donkeys. Mine was so short that my feet were dragging on the ground as he walked. We were on a dude ranch plain and simple; a Bedouin (Arab Nomads) dude ranch. But we were with Israelis who were acting as tourists in their own land and it was good fun. No politics, just beer, hookahs, Bedouin music, and a poetry trip in the moonlight which had to compete with the Bedouin Barks speakers blaring Mambo Number 5. it was safe, beautiful and fun. An 18 Ruski, Paul, that sips vodka from the bottle in lieu of beer got smashed for no reason. He went to the bathroom and ripped off his pants button on accident. He proceeded to walk around with his pants wide open. It was hilarious. When he’d sit down and struggle to get up we’d wait until he was almost up and then tap him with an index finger and down he’d go. The hookah (same thing as an Egyptian Shisha) sat around the table, the Israelis were joking with us and people were just happy.


Three hours later at 4am for a sunrise trip to Masada. The Masada, much like Gambla, was an Israeli settlement that was crushed by the Romans during the time of the destruction of the second temple. But the story of Masada is different. There were 10,000 Jews on the hill top Masada village. They fought the Romans for 3 months until the Romans broke through their walls. At dawn the Ronan legions would attack. The Jews were outnumbered and out classed and defeat was assured. If they fought the men would be killed, the children would live a life of slavery and the woman would be rape and murdered. The Jews of Masada chose another option. They committed mass suicide and died free. It was a collective decision based on pride for their people. When Yonatan revealed that only two bodies had been found and that all recounts of the story had come only from one historian, including a clearly fabricated speech that the leader of Masada gave, some of the Israelis were shocked. Shocked like a kid that just found out that Santa Clause wasn’t real… probably not a good example for Jews, so let’s go with the Easter bunny not being real- yes little Johnny, that means that Cadbury cream eggs come from a factory.

Is it right to tell the story of Masada and pass it on as fact if it motivates a soldier to get up and fight because of the knowledge that they are fighting for the good of the collective? Or should the act be condemned because it goaes against individual choice? Maybe some people would choose a life of servitude over death in order to preserve Jewish continuity. What right does the collective have to choose for them? No consensus was met. The only thing for sure was that the soldiers preferred to believe that the story was fact, which it may be.

Fast forward past a hike down Masada and a 20 min bus ride, playing chicken in the natural springs and waterfalls to the Dead Sea: the lowest place on earth at -400m.

Two things about the dead sea; one you float up to the top of your chest even when you are completely vertical (It’s like 30% Sodium Chloride, I think by mass, Engineers do the buoyancy math). Two, it hurts like hell in cuts, scratches, nostrils and definitely eyes. After floating, creating a human raft, posing for pictures, and forming a human boat that stroked in unison like a real crew boat, I went gift shopping. I swam out of the beach boundaries & got yelled out by the life guards, but I managed to retrieve a salt encrusted twig for the only person who asked for anything on my trip. I then got lathered in mud and took a picture with Nadav, holding his M16. I know, I know, it’s a tool of death and suffering (and as Mr. Mackey would say, “mm, gun’s are bad, mkay”). But it’s different in Israel. You can’t go anywhere without seeing guns. It is a necessary precaution for their freedom. Plus… it was just plain cool.

On the bus over to the Dead Sea I talked with Shlomi about Gaza. He was the one that made the insightful comment that we can’t make the same mistakes that we had in the past; we have to treat the Palestinians as equals. He said that if Cpl Shalit dies at the hands of Hamas, Israel would enter an all out war on Hamas terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank, going door to door to kill terrorists if need be. As I said in the Day 1 entry, I talked to Yonatan about this and he told me that you don’t rid a swamp of mosquitoes by squashing each one; you have to dry the swamp. This hit me on a couple of levels. First the obvious analogy is that Israel needs to do what Hamas did in order to gain power; help instate infrastructure for water power, schools and hospitals in order to show the Palestinians that they are viewed as equals and garner public support. Violence, though often necessary propagates terrorism. But, if Israeli civilians go to Gaza or poor West Bank communities to build, many Israeli’s fear that they’ll be killed by Palestinians (I don’t necessarily agree, but what do I know). If Israel gives money to the Palestinians so that they can build themselves (as Israel has tried to do in the past), the Palestinians will use the money for weapons. When Israel withdrew their forces from the Gaza strip, Gazans started bombing the hell out of near by israei cities. If we withdrew the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from the West Bank, then the terrorists could be within 10 to 20 km of Tel Aviv; well within missile range. Those that believe peace is possible are at a consensus that it won’t be in our generation and it certainly won’t happen as long as Palestinian schools teach kids to hate the Jews from a very young age…

I got the one sided view, just like I feared. I wish I got to speak to some Palestinians… The soldiers were, however clear that at least 95% of Palestinians did not align themselves with the terrorists, but 5% of 2-3 million (1-1.5 million at each the West Bank and Gaza Strip) is still a lot. Anyway, the situation gets more and more complicated with each question that I ask. Oh yeah, before I went off on a tangent, I was talking about the swamp and how Yonatan’s statement was profound on two levels. The second is a much more literal meaning. It represents the hard work of Ben Gurion and the 1900’s settlers that worked, never really sing the fruits of their labors, to transform the land. Their sacrifice became more profound with each day in Israel. I guess the story by the cemetery by the seal of Galilee was a seed that took a while to blossom.

Oh I forgot something from the day before. In between Tel Aviv and the Dude ranch I had arguably the best 45 minute history lesson of my life. We packed all 48 of us in a small lecture room and sat around the edge. The head of Israel Experts, Joe, was on hands and knees furiously ripping masking tape and sprawling it across the floor. In minutes we had produced a huge map of Israel, prior to ’67, including the Sinai Peninsula, Red Sea, Iran, Jordan, Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Syria, Sea of Galilee & Lebanon. The boarders morphed with time as tape was removed and added. People helped visualized by standing in different places. But the end, my recent knowledge of Israel (facilitated by a 5 page summary of Israel history in the 20th century that was supplied by Josh) had been solidified. It’s hard to express the kind of impact that Joe’s energetic multiple intelligence teaching style had on me, but here’s what I thought were the historical highlights. Early 1900’s Israel Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Sinai Peninsula, Iran and Iraq were not solidified recognized nations with definitive boarders.

-1916, spoils of WWI: The Ottoman Empire. What is now Israel and Jordan (minus Gaza) is Brittan’s. Syria and Lebanon are Frances. The land is handled by the UN

-’47, the UN decides to declare that the Jews have a right to their own country. Partly due to Zionistic pressures, but mostly to try and compensate for their horrible losses in WWI

-’48, Israel is established as a Jewish country and is attacked, as soon the last British war ship sails off beyond the horizon, by all surrounding nations. The war of Independence is fought and won.

-’67 Israel has a preemptive attack on the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, Jordanian West Bank and Syrian and Lebanese Golan heights. In 60 days the ware is won, Israel’s size triples and 70% of the Arab nation’s military mechanisms and weaponry are destroyed.

-’73 Yom Kippur war- Arabs prove themselves as worthy opponents. The war is long and bloody. Israel is a sobered nation

-’95, 1st Oslo agreement- Gaza & West Bank are given limited autonomy

-2000, 2nd Oslo agreement- Palestinians offer 100% of Gaza and 95% of the West Bank, with full autonomy. Jerusalem will be an international city. Arafat rejects the offer. (I’m sure there are subtleties that make the deal less sweet than it appears.) It is a standing offer that Hamas also rejects years later.

There’s a lot more, but that’s the gist.

Back to the Dead Sea and down south to a Kibbutz for Shabbat. A few of our companions lead the prayers, we have little circle and dinner. Later we brake into groups and I find out that America’s support of Israel helps the Israelis sleep well at night. Aviv, on of the soldiers, painted a picture of hostile neighbors on three borders who want to throw all the Jews into the Mediterranean. His words touch me. I’m a bit ashamed that I don’t do more to support Israel actively or in my thoughts. At the same time his comments ease my anxiety of the moral implications of my work. I’m proud of what I do and what it will mean for Aviv. Once again I wish that I could talk to a Palestinian to get some balance.

We drink at the Kibbutz ‘till 4am. Shlomi proclaims himself a dolphin. Some of the younger girls make out with 3 guys a piece. It doesn’t really interest me. I feel old. I have a great 3 hour conversation with a very bright Israeli girl with impeccable English. My thoughts wander to a shirt I saw a girl wearing while running one day. It says “Think less, play more.” I’m failing there, but I guess the thinking is a form of playing for me. I think I’m trying to optimized my time again. Don’t let life pass you buy by something letting life pass you by; letting it wash over you.


Saturday is the day of rest. At 8 ½ hours of sleep I’ve beaten my sleep record by 2 hours. To day we eat, swim, write, and play basket ball. The soldiers teach us about military life. Earlier my 3rd roommate Nadav shows me how to take apart his M16. More swimming and lounging, dinner and then a Havdala where we sing, hold hands and light candles. I’ve softened and I let the spiritual chants fill me. I understand why my dad feels that the Jewish community is so important to him. I’m relaxed and ready to drink in the best hike of the trip, bar-none. This hike alone earns the specific title of this birthright trip: “Off the Beaten Path.”

The moon is bright, but you can still stare directly at it… barely. We are in the desert. Not sand dunes, but sand stone sloping hills, craggy cliffs and long since dried up canals that cut rifts in the ston. The moon bathes the surroundings and there are stark shadows in the night. It is a Lunar landscape. I lag behind and find excuses to stray from the3 babbling brook of campers walking along the dried canals. It is the most spiritual part of the trip for me to date, though each of the two final days will continue to take the record. Nature is my temple. I was somber, but very happy. Kinda like breathing in the air atop Clouds Rest in Yosemite.

We stopped in a moon-bathed clearing and Younaton busts out a stereo and a CD mix with all moon songs from Radiohead to Frank Sinatra. (Adi’s Bird compilation had nothing on this). We played guess the song. I was still in my stoic place during the song game so it didn’t resonate with me ‘till several songs in. Then we transitioned to dancing in the moonlight in the middle of a clearing in the desert. Music ranged from slow dancing (I guess this was the part where the make an effort to promote Jewish continuity)to swing. So weird, so awesome.

We traveled on and learned how to survive off of desert plants and how to carry a wounded person many kilometers on your back with a backpack, a shirt, or a belt. We got home at 1 am and slept.


Our destination was a real Bedouin Village at the Ramon Crater in the south of the Negev desert. We embarked on a 4 hour program never before tried on a birthright trip. We were guinea pigs; cute fluffy guinea pigs.

The Bedouins are Arabs that were originally a nomadic people. Now half of the hundred(s) of thousands of Bedouins live in more western style cities and help keep their old ways of nomadic travels. The mission in 4 hours was to break up into groups, each with one native Bedouin who spoke Arabic and Hebrew, learn who the Bedouins were, what their living problems were, and solve them by creating a new Bedouin city. This was accomplished by creating scrap sculptures (mom would be completely in her element here) out of whatever was around: planks, old tires, mud, bottle caps, burlap, string etc. The sculpture or model was supposed to give a taste of what the city would look like and who it would function. It also was supposed to reflect what form of inexpensive building material we would use: mud bricks, modern light paper/mud bricks, igloo type buildings mad out of burlap and sand, concrete, wood (which is very scarce in the desert), etc. Where in Israel would the city be located? How would it get power and water? How would Nomadic culture be preserved? We didn’t have to do all this with a diorama alone, we also had a large canvas to make an ad for our town. Our only medium for this painting was paint that we had to make ourselves from different colored sand. This painting represented the heart of our concept of the villages. Confused? So were we. We knew little more about the Bedouins or our task than you do right now.

As we talked with a 17 year old high school student, we began to understand their needs. In the end we came up with a concept whose slogan was “Western Technology While Preserving Nomadic Culture.” Our town was a hybrid between a nomadic RV camp and a western city. The western city had schools, hospitals, synagogues, mosques, houses, plumbing, and electricity. It was ~ 30,000 people and was similar to the city where our 17 Bedouin said that she lived. Or, more accurately, where our Israeli soldier/makeshift translator, Ele, said that the Bedouin girl (whose name eludes me) said she lived. The other half of the city was a simple plot of land with electric and water ports where Nomadic family’s can put down their tens on top, and pay as they go. Their would be a market infrastructure between the two halves of the city where the nomadic Bedouins could sell their meats and cheeses and art. The nomads tend to move biannually, so the towns schools could be set up to accommodate nomads and permanent Jewish and Bedouin residence. Ideally their would be several of these hybrid villages with synchronized curriculum so that the nomadic children would have an education with continuity.

When we gave our speech and it was translated for out Bedouin friends to hear, one of the Bedouins, who was in the Israeli army, told Nicole (the girl in our croup whose concept the hybrid village was) that she should be Prime Minister of Israel.

Five other groups had different concepts and different focuses, all of which had insightful elements. It really felt like I was on the ghetto Apprentice. I got a little competitive and I don’t know that I’d say that we won, but our group certainly wouldn’t have been sent to the board room.

We hoped in the buss to drive 5 minutes to see the Ramon Crater formed by natural erosion. Then we headed to our hotel outside of Jerusalem for dinning, drinking and watching France fall.

It was some of the Soldiers’ last night so people were a bit crazy. The Israelis lead rounds of singing cheesy American and Israeli songs. Alli and Michaela (who I later traveled to Tel Aviv with) wrestled on the ground for fun. But, they were really going at it. A huge circle formed around them and I got some great incriminating pictures. One of the Israeli girls, Corin, wanted to play truth or dare, so we managed to heard half of our group and half of another birthright group that was at the same hotel to attend. We only got through a couple of dares before the game collapsed. But the dares included having a girl stick her face in the triple-D bosom of Corin. Having a soldier boy, who will remain anonymous because he is an officer and I don’t want to incriminate him, give a lap-dance to Michaela. Finally, Corin made out with Shaina, who must have been a cheerleader in high school. The whole ordeal was ridiculously juvenile, but a good laugh non-the-less.

Later that night my Israeli soldier roommate from the night before, Nadav, gave me his spare Air Force wings pin as a token of his friendship. In return I helped set him up with a very cute Russian Blonde girl who was interested in me, but who Nadav had expressed interest in. I felt good about my small sacrifice until I found out the next day that Nadav had a girlfriend. But, I guess that’s his business.


In the morning we set off for our heaviest day of the trip. First to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. We listened to a survivor speak. She was 10 at the time the war broke out. This woman embodied Chutzpah. The most interesting and powerful part of her speech, for me, was not during the time of the final solution, but rather her description of the slow strangle hold that Hitler exerted on the Jews in the 30’s. It maws like dark rain clouds slowly forming over head above someone who had never seen rain. We all knew it was going to rain, but the little girl in the story knew nothing more than that the ominous clouds frightened her.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was an architectural masterpiece. It is a long concrete A-frame corridor. Ever few meters you are diverted into a passage to the right and then to the left. The Chronological passageway snakes its way back and forth through the concrete corridor. Pardon the analogy, but it was a bit like Ikea where you have to go through ever section. It was the most beautiful museum that I’d ever seen, but after visiting the concentration camps in Dachau, holocaust museums don’t elicit the same kind of emotions that they used to. The final room, however, was amazing. The ceiling was a dome that had a collage of Jews from WW2. There was a whole at the top where sunlight shown down to a rocky pool in the center of the room that bore the reflections of the collage. All around the walls were 100’s of volumes of all records we have of Jews perishing in the Holocaust.

The exit was a gentle upwards sloping path with bright white light pouring in at the end of the tunnel. Once outside, you are presented with a magnificent panorama of the city. The relief that you feel to be done with the Holocaust Museum and the Holocaust itself was vivid, just as the architecture intended.

We moved on to the children’s museum which was a room fashioned with glass and candles set up to give the illusion of never ending lights in all 6 directions. It was very spiritual.

We lifted the weight of the Holocaust and went shopping in the new part of Jerusalem. I saw a few dented doors and scrapped bolts that remained from a suicide bombing a while back that killed 11 and injured 70 people. These small tokens of death were foreshadowing for what we were going to see next: Mt. Hertzl.

Mt. Hertzl is where Theodore Hertzel, the founder of modern Zionism, is buried. When he died 200,000 Jews, 1/3 of the Jewish population of Israel at the time, attended his funeral. This mountain serves as a cemetery for every prime minister and every Israeli solder that died in the line of duty (unless they’d rather be buried elsewhere).

We saw Hertzel’s tomb, Rabin’s tomb, and several other Prim Ministers. But then we got to the soldiers tombs. Shlomi was standing off to the side by a head stone and he called me over. The tomb was his uncles…

 We went t to the war of independence memorial. It had several tomb stones inside. And, as with all of the head stones, they had the age of the deceased on it. The youngest was 10. He was a message courier who was shot.

Shlomi and Joel told me horrible tales of their losses. I won’t write them here, but you can talk to me about these stories in person if you’d like.

Loer went to 3 fresh tombs and told the group how these were members of his platoon who got blown up. He had to search for and recover the scattered limbs and burry his friends. Leor, Joel and Shlomi are 21. Looking at the tomb stone ages you see 20, 19, 23, 18, 18, 21, 24, 20, 19, 26, 18, 20. They are just kids. But it’s a fact of life there. Aviv is the only member of the infantry who didn’t have someone he cared about die. (Though he is a medic and not on the front lines.) I walked heavy for the next several hours.

We had a final dinner; a wine and cheese party. We circled up and shared experiences. My favorite was Carl’s experience/thought which was “Damn man, it’s like, you know, your all Jewish. I don’t know a lot of Jewish people and like I’m traveling with 40 Jews… and that’s cool.” I may be exaggerating a little, but it was a welcome break from the many attempts at the profound. We also did a 5 m long puzzle of Israel. We met up with a couple of the soldiers who had left for the day. Joel had an M16 that he stole from a private who was sleeping and didn’t have it properly stowed under his bed. The Private would be disciplined later.

We drank and laughed a little and then headed to bed to get 2 ½ hours of sleep before going to the old city of Jerusalem

DAY 10

Jerusalem; where the rock that is believed to be the center of the earth lies. The rock is where King David and King Solomon built the first temple and where the Jews rebuilt the temple after the Babylonians destroyed it and where the Muslims erected the mosque the Dome of the Rock several hundred years after the Romans destroyed the second temple. (That’s right, the mosque is right on top of the ruins of the holiest temple to the Jewish people.) The rock is holy to the Muslims because they believe that Muhammad flew to Jerusalem from Mecca on a winged horse and on that rock, he leaped and ascended to the highest heavens.

70 years before the Romans destroyed the second temple Jesus had his annual Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He was killed in old Jerusalem. I think he was shot, but he may have been stabbed by a mugger. I don’t remember which.

The old city is divided into 4 distinct quarters; the Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim sections. There are no walls between these sections, but the differences, particularly in the Muslim quarter, are drastic.

We saw the Western Wall; all that remains of the old temple. (It now boarders the Dome of the Rock which is quite odd.) It customary to write a note, a wish, a selfless wish and cram it into the wall. I wrote: “Please grant all people the ability to take what they hear with a grain of salt, to give all people the benefit of the doubt even when doubt is present, to dream, to find and believe in something bigger than themselves, and to find that haystack from which each morning they are elated to jump off.”

Upon my first approach to the wall I was mildly moved. I stepped back several paces and eventually I approached the wall again and pressed myself against it. I had a very profound experience that I’d rather not share here. But it was wonderful; mildly religious, but very emotional. Don’t worry it hasn’t mad me all religious or want to move to Israel or anything crazy. It was just rally, really special. I thanked the wall and left.

Our group went shopping and then to the airport. Here ends the Birthright Israel tale and begins my independent travels.

INDEPENDENT ISRAEL TRAVELS: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, & Jaffa

12-13 July 2006

First I'd like to thank everyone for the great responses. Unfortunately I don't have enough time to answer them individually while I'm abroad but I'd be happy to talk at lengths when I get back. And once again, there will be a loooong email with all of the details of my trip when I get home. I kept a journal for just that purpose. Yes, I can't spell. Sorry if the Harry Potter reference sounded stupid. The chick situation seemed to be a reoccurring questions so... Michaela has a fiance. No, unfortunately I didn't hook up on the trip, though I did forfeit an opportunity to hook up with a very hot blond Russian girl who was digging me because one of my soldier comrades told me that he was really interested in her. So I did my best to give them time alone. The single girls on the trip seemed to be all 18 and all of the ones that I would have been interested in had long term boyfriends (who they were apposed to cheating on Ian). I talked to the soldiers at length about the situation in gaza and the west bank and now Lebanon. I regret that we didn't get to speak to Palestinians about their side of the story, but I've gotten a decent understanding of both sides (though clearly more information from the israeli side). I didn't feel like anyone was providing anti arab propaganda. I definitely have a better appreciation for the difficulty of the situation and why there is no peace in the middle east. And yes the Israelis are acutely aware of the humanitarian crisis that they create by cutting off water and power to the Gaza strip. A lot of israeli soldiers do harbor a prejudices against Palestinians and that propagates the hate when these soldiers occupy territories. But for all the hard core pro-palestinian's remember there are actual terrorists there. It's not just a label that we put on them. Israel is putting a lot of misery on Palestinian civilians. I don't know enough about the military to know if there's a better way to deal with Gaza now. But I certainly know that their is no excuse for gunning down an israeli family in the middle of the day or blowing up a girl who is shopping for her wedding dress. Almost every israeli has a friend or brother or son who had died in a war or terrorist related activity. So is Israel to blame for creating the monster? somewhat yes. But the 1 or 5% of the palestinian population that sides with terrorist ideals are just horrible people. I could go on, but I'll stop because a wise man once said "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

Everyone said their goodbye's at the airport and we cruised to Tel Aviv. Michaela and I got off the train and asked the first person where Allenby street was (that's where our hostel was). The guy we asked happened to be going in that direction. He also happened to be a well known architect that spoke 8 languages and was well versed in Tel Aviv history. He gave Michaela and I a 20 minute history lesson on the way to our hostel. Michaela and I walked the whopping one block to the Mediterranean, the friggin Mediterranean!, and plopped down. The thing about the beaches there is that the sand is really fine. For some reason that makes the sand not too hot and it makes it very soft, but man does it get everywhere. Anyway, the water was warm and we both got stung by jelly fishes which were friggin' rampant in the Mediterranean as of late.

Back in the hostel we ran into three englishmen & women one of whom had a shirt with a dog sniffing Brian, from Family Guy's butt, with Brian saying, "do I know you." I knew these were my kinda guys. The five of us went to this bizarre Ethiopian restaurant and were about the only white people there. We got a table in the center of the restaurant. The two boys and I quoted family guy obnoxiously loud for the better part of a half hour. I was bested, these guys knew significantly more Family Guy lines than me. We transitioned to monty python and even sang a round of "I like Chinese, they only come up to your knees, and their cute and their cuddly and ready to please." We even tried to join in with the weird ethiopian dancing that was being performed. The patrons thought it was hilarious. These kids were crazy hyper and had the attention span of a gnat. I'd later get a picture of the two guys having a contest to see who could get their fist farther into their own mouths. Everything was ADD for them. They'd miss something that I said and they'd say, "sorry could you repeat that, its the ADD." They'd bump into a chair and say, "bloody ADD." Their favorite non offensive joke (of which their were very few) was

-how many kids with ADD does it take to change a light bulb

-I don't know, how man-

-Lets go ride bikes!

Michaela had an early start the next morning so she went to bed. We went to a pub where the owner, Scott, had a metal plate in his head. He had been arrested or detained for questioning 120 times and this was his third and final time fleeing from the states to Israel to avoid being jailed. He had lived in israel for the last 15 years and barely spoke a word of english. We had a few pints and then called it an early night.

The next day i went back to Jerusalem to see it more thoroughly. a lot of people say that the city should be an international city, but man you go there and the wall between the east and west parts of old Jerusalem is almost tangible. you walk down a corridor in the Jewish quarter with shops selling menorahs and draddles with israeli flags everywhere and then you hit an overpass and the flags end, the menorah's cease to be sold and everyone is Muslim. The shops are smaller way more crowded and the whole atmosphere changes. I went up and down those streets with my Yakima on and my UCLA shirt. I got a couple of odd looks, but for the most part nothing out of the ordinary.

I went back to the western wall which didn't elicit the same kind of emotions that it did the first time, but felt more like an old friend. A little more wandering and a history museum later and I was meeting up with one of the soldiers that we had travelled with, Ele, in Tel Aviv. We hooked up with the english kids and played volleyball on the beach with a spectacular mediteranean sunset backdrop. We played with some israeli kids and this one kid named Javi who was from mexico. I actually got to use some of my spanish, which is really atrocious.

Later i found out about the two israelis that were captured by the hasbala at the Lebanese border. Ele was terrified that here brothter would be brought up to from the reserves to active duty. We met up with 7 of our birthright companions for drinks on the beach. Ofer, our guard and ex soldier was also frightened that he would be called back to duty. We got a call from Shlomi, Joel, and Leor who were infantry soldiers that we travelled with. They had been re-stationed to the lebonese border yesterday. We were extremely relieved to find out that they would get to go back to their posts down south today because the reservists would take their place. 60,000 reservist was a number that was floating around. The reality of the Israeli military really sunk in for me. Everyone serves and when their is a crisis everyone in Israel is profoundly effected. Some of these soldiers who we drank and laughed with and learned from may die. It feels so very real here, there is no hazy looking glass that softens the view like there is looking in from the US.

But the israeli's took the situation well, they live like this everyday. So we drank and smoked hukkah's till 3.

This morning I went to the beautiful ancient city of Jaffa; the original hopping off point for the creation of tel aviv for zionist settlers in the early 1900's. I wandered about, had a felafel and now I'm here. I'm off to the ancient and historic building of Azrieli and then off to Cairo... Adi's probably the only one who got that. Azrieli is a mall.

Anyway. I'll email you guys soon. And even though I don't respond individually to your reply emails, I do read them and I really appreciate them, so keep em coming.





EGYPT 1: Cairo & Giza

13-14 July 2006

On my way to the train station to the airport I overheard some girl speaking American English. So I struck up a conversation. Turns out that she, Tamar, was on the same flight as me and was going to visit a friend. So we get on the train to the Ben Gurion Airport, but we find out later, that the announcement and the sign for the train were incorrect. So, thank god she spoke Hebrew, we found out where we were and hopped in a taxi to the airport. The flight to Egypt went off without a hitch. When we got there we ran into here friend and a guy with a sign with my name on it. The hostel that I was staying at had sent a taxi driver to pick me up. (The taxi ride was free, but would have cost me more that the $8 for two nights that i payed for the hostel.) We spoke with Tamara's friend Faye and we organized a trip to Giza & the step pyramids of Giza. She told me to meet up with them at 9am.

I've never seen anyone drive the way they do in Egypt. There are 20 million people in Cairo and in the surrounding cities and it shows. Cars don't use lanes or turn signals. Jaywalking through traffic is the only way to cross the street even through 5 lane roads of moving traffic. And the honking, oh the honking it never stops. The next day I was even in a cab where we couldn't see anyone for a mile in either direction on a straight road and the cabby was honking at nothing in particular.

Anyway I get to the hotel around 11:30 and it's a bit of a shit hole. But I keep an open mind. The owner, Ramadan greets me and within a couple of minutes he's taken me to a local tea shop with his taxi driver employee Saeed. We drink tea and smoke hukkahs for an hour and I'm definitely the only tourist. Two tea's, a 7-up & 3 hookah's equalling < $1 later and Ramadan and Saeed go to bed. I took a wander through the streets and practiced my J-walking. It is a real life game of frogger, I kid you not. I'd wait until an egyptian was crossing the street and follow his lead at first. I walked a few minutes and came upon the neon nile. Thursday night is their friday night, so everyone was out even at 1 am. There were neon river boats and neon signs and street vendors. It is a crazy city. I got hastled a little, but never any real danger.

I went back and went to bed. at 4 am the blaring outdoor speakers woke me up for 4 am muslim prayer at the first silk of light. 5 minutes later my roommate to be walks in. The hostels driver, I would find out later, had waited 1:45 for him at the airport not knowing weather or not he'd show up.

At 8 am I got up and introduced myself to Tim. He had just flown in from south africa. I invited him along and he came with us. We met up with Faye and she hailed a taxi and negotiated an all day cab tour from < $30. We went to the pyramids of Giza which is at the cities edge 20 minutes from Cairo. Saeed, apparently lives in Giza and passes the pyramids on the way to work. And there they were the three great pyramids of Giza and the Sphyinx in the middle. The sphyinx was a little smaller than I would have thought it would be. The pyramids were amazing. It was wild seeing the stark difference between the sand and rocky hills that the pyramids were build on and the city of Giza that abutted them and the golf course that was right next to the pyramids. I shit you not, you can play golf with the pyramids of Giza as a back drop. Friggin' weird.

We headed down south the see the first pyramid attempt: The step pyramid of Zoza. So here's how the history went down. in about 2650 BC Zoza erected the first quasi pyramid. it was a six layered pyramid with each layer ~10 m high and beveled inwards at 57 degrees. 50 years later the next pharoh tryed to make a real pyramid with that 57 degree slope, but about a third of the way upwards they realize that, crap, we can't build this thing this steep, so they change the inclintion of the pyramid walls to 43 degrees. This is called the bent pyramid because it the base and the top have two different inclinations. Shortly there after the next pyramid builder gets it right and does the whole thing at 43 degrees. It's called the red pyramid. I guess the lime stone used was a little red or something like that. 50 years later Pharoh Choeps says now that we know how to build a pyramid I'm gonna show y'all how the real Pharoh's do it and he builds the largest egyptian pyramid in giza. Later, other pharoh's would make a slightly smaller and a notably smaller pyramid in Giza right next to Cheops'. Also there were smaller pyramids that seemed to litter the land between the step pyramid, bent pyramid, red pyramid and great pyramids. So there you go.

After day of pyramid watching we get some icecream and faye invites us to a party. Tim and I, of course say yes, what else do we have planned? So we go back to our hostel and they help us out getting tickets on the night train to Luxor for the next day. (the next morning they also hook me up with help getting an ISIC student card for discounts. The hostel owner actually gets in the cab with me and takes me to the ISIC building and then comes back to the hotel with me.) The hospitality of Egypt is really unparalleled.

We get some beers and go to the party. Non of the cabby's know where to go, but they all say they do. I even show them a map, but they don't read maps here. They will pace another car and and just start yelling asking for directions. That or they'll swerve to the side of the road and ask strangers how to get there. We had to get out of our first cab cause he was going the wrong direction and then picked up a guy who was his buddy who tried to sell us travel packages. But eventually we got to the party. It was in the rich neighborhood, but still less nice than an apartment in the states. The party was chill and the food was great. There was a good mix of americans and egyptians. Everyone spoke at least some arabic and some english. Tim and I had a great time talking with everyone, but the heat had taken its toll and by 130 we couldn't keep our eyes open. We said our good-bye's and on our way out Kadim, a guy I'd talked to for 5 minutes said, "wait, I'm not letting you guys leave that easily. I've been taken in by too many strangers in my travels not to do the same." He gave me his number and said that if we evern needed a guy to show them around the city he's our man. So I gave him a call this morning on my cell, fresh with an egyptian sim card, and he said that he'd take us around after he got up in an hour. That's kinda where we stand now.

Tim is going to travel with me for a while, perhaps the rest of the trip, we've got the number of a tour guide that has a degree in egyptology to take us around luxor and we'll wing it from there.

And for those of you that are worried, about the dangers in the middle east. The real danger is in the north of Israel, not in Egypt or tel aviv where I will be for 10 hours during my overnight layover. Talk to you all later.




EGYPT 2: Cairo & Luxor

15-17 July 2006

Tim and I never ended up hooking up with Kadim, but we ended up having a good time in Cairo anyway. We wandered over the the cities grand bazaar; Khahil al Kahlili or something like that. On the way we travelled through narrow alley ways packed with beautiful rolls of various fabrics. Women walked through the streets with huge packages balanced on their heads, and everywhere there were Shisha (hookah) shops where Egyptians would sip tea and smoke tobacco. The bazaar was huge and you got lost in it immediately. they sold all sorts of tourist trinkets and hookahs and silver. I haggled for a gift for Sara, going to four different places where the price for the same thing varied 4x. It's interesting to see the different haggling philosophy's of the various vendors. Eventually I found the right custom made item and we cruised on the the city of the dead. a wide road separates cairo from this sprawl of cemetery. but it's not just a mass set of buildings and tomb stones, it is also a slum. No tourists were there and the only egyptians that we saw were just kinda laying around. It was frightening in the day (no police, no witnesses), I cant imagine it in the night.

We got back and stocked up on pastries from the local bakery for our night train down to luxor. We got to the train station earlier and crossed the street to a egyptian outdoor market. I got a felafel meal for 40 cents and the best mango juice I've ever had for 30 cents. The mango's are so sweet here (it's mango season) and this place had little bits of frozen mango still floating in the drink. I was converted. Ever since then tim and I have been on the hunt for mango juice stands, drinking at everyone we find.

Its really hard to find places that give us egyptian prices. most places have two menus, one for egyptians, and one for americans. I learned to read the egyptian numbering system by comparing the digits on the american/egyptian licence plates while in trafic, so I could tell that the prices are ~ 4x higher. Anyway...

on the train we met an english man whose been living in Aswan ( south of luxor) for 4 years doing custom tours. He called himself John Cairo. He hooked tim and I up with a guy named malak who would pick us up in the morning and tour us around the valley of the kings and queens as soon as we got into town. We hit the ground running.

Malak met us, helped us check into the hotel that we already booked and then popped us on a tour van. We were there with 7 Dutchmen & women and three asians who didn't speak any english. We went strait the the famous valley of the kings where 62 of the 65 ancient pharoh's tombs had been discovered (they're still looking for the last three).

We saw three of them: Tutmoises III , Amenhotep II, and Ramses III. The egyptian guard even let us sneak under the sarcophagus top into where the pharoh would have layed (for a small tip of course). Under the top was a carving of a woman looking down, very erie. We didn't see Tutankhamen's tomb because it was the smallest tomb in the valley of the kings, cost extra, and was only famous because of what used to be in the tomb and of the pharoh's age.

All of these tombs had corridors and then huge pits where the entrance to the next hallway was resealed so that grave robbers would a) fall in the pits when the were digging at night and b) wouldn't know where to start digging to get into the next corridor. The passage ways were filled solid with hieroglyphics and pictures of the pharoh's shaking hands goodbye with Ra, the sun god, and shaking hands hello to Anubis the gate keeper of the underworld.

We saw the valley of the queens, where were much more modest tombs, but the grand tomb of queen Nefertiti was closed.

Then we went on to see the great building of queen Hapshetsu who ruled as a pharoh and as a man. She took over because the oldest male heir at the time of her fathers death, tutmoises III, was only 4. She did great things for the country and during her rule egypt was in relative peace. But tutmoises III grew up and poisoned her to take the throne that he felt was rightfully his. he even defiled many of her monuments after her death cause he was a bitter, bitter man. oh and a side note, often times pictures of queen hatsheptsu depicted her with a beard to make her more accepted as a leader and a pharoh. We also saw the colosis of memnon.

Tim and I were hungry and spent the better part of an hour trying to find a restaurant that wouldn't charge us the tourist prices. Finally, as we were about to give up, we found a stand that sold us felafels in a pita for a quarter, we got fresh mango's and some baked goods and were set. We watched the last half of Armageddon in our hotel room and then headed out to meet up with one of the dutch guys for a sunset felucca (sailboat) cruise down the nile. The cruise was spectacular. you had the nile, other boats in the background, lush land with grass and palm trees, then stark desert and rocks followed by the setting sun. Two hours of lounging and we cruised back to the dock, had two mango juices and a sugar cane juice (just like the sugar water I used to make as a kid, but with more flavor). We fended off the many touts (which has become a way of life here, and a bit taxing) and relaxed with some shisa and tea. Finally we hit the roof top pool overlooking luxor at night and went to bed.

We had found out that the kids from holland had paid significantly less then we had from the tour. Granted it was because they had a kid with them who had lived in cairo for 11 years, but still... we ran in to Malek randomly on the street after the tour and asked how it was. We told him that we were a little upset that he charged us more (which was probably a standard, if not slightly cheaper tourist price) then the others. He told us that he wanted us happy so he offered a free ride to and from Karnak temple. We were weary, but he delivered today. He was one of the few reasonably honest salesmen that we met. He also hooked us up with the number of a friend of his in Dahab where we are going to next. Everyone who runs a hotel always has a friend or a brother somewhere else. Always. That's just the way of life here.

Karnak temple was awesome. It was huge. Probably the best temple in egypt barring Abu Simbel (8 hours south). IT was a combination of the effort of dozens of pharohs who all left their mark trying to make an even greater contribution to the temple to please the gods. There were a hundred + huge pillars that rose 6 stories tall and were 3 or 4 meters in diameter, each inscribes with hieroglyphics and pictures. There were side temples with rows of pharoh statures, there was a lake, a giant scarab, two obelisks. It was what you'd think of when you imagine an egyptian temple (minus the tourists). It was a sight to behold. I got a little of the history from the lonely planet, but there were very few placards (as with all egyptian monuments) so it was hard to understand the context of each part of the temple. Regardless, every inch was covered in hieroglyphics and pictures in the traditional pharonic style. Really fantastic.

Malek picked us up and we're spending the last few hours before getting on a 13 hour bus to Dahab by the red sea. I know that some of you think that Dahab is unsafe and I did before coming here, but after talking to enough travellers and enough locals and americans who have lived here for a while it is a consensus that the area is plenty safe. Just to be sure we'll stay in a place outside of of the city center.

Next stop scuba diving in the red sea! Eric be jealous, be very jealous! :-)

Talk to you all later.




EGYPT 3: Dahab & Cairo

18-22 July 2006

The night bus was god-awful. Due to heightened security, or what seemed like an ass backwards attempt at heightened security the bus stopped at check points every half hour or hour. Some police officer would check all of the egyptian peoples ID's and occasionally they'd check the white folks' passports as well. And at every of about 10 stops the bus driver would recheck our tickets because he had a terrible memory. The seats were very close and I had an imprint of the back of the seat in front of me on my knee by the end of the trip. There was one point where a Korean girl got on the bus and paid for her ticket for the ~10 hours left in the trip, but their weren't any seats. They were going to make her stand. But, this nice Alaskan woman and her 11 year old boy offered to scootch and lend the girl half the seat.

The Alaskan woman was actually pretty bad-ass as a mom. She was taking her kids on a 80 day tour around asia and the middle east (china, india, egypt, jordan etc.) all on a $100/day budget and no husband to help out. The bus would stop and she'd hand her 13 year old son 13 dollars and say go get some ice-cream. It would be like 2 am and the bus was going to leave in 3 minutes without warning, but Elliot would march outside and start asking shops if they had ice-cream and be back in time before the bus left. These kids are going to be totally independent when the grow up.

The bus ride ended up taking 19 hours, but that's part of the travelling experience. Apparently its much worse in india.

We got to Dahab on the Sinai peninsula in the early afternoon and got picked up by a guy we had contacted earlier. He took us to penguin village (just for you Sara). Dahab was the best risk I took all trip. It was a vacation away from our vacation. Each night we were there Tim and I and our other dive buddy Ben would spend lounging on cushions by the red sea over looking saudi arabia. We'd smoke sheesha (hookah) and have a drink. Palm trees and chill american music permeated the background, but I'm getting ahead of myself now.

Dahab is a tourist town, everything is a little bit more expensive, but very cheap by american standards, but it's an oasis from the touts and extremely relaxing.

I decided to get my advanced open water PADI certification, but we couldn't start diving on the day of our arrival because we were going to leave Dahab at 11pm to go climb Mt. Sinai to see the sun rise and if you have excess nitrogen in you blood from diving and then ascend to high altitudes shortly there after you can get the bends.

At 11 Tim and I and several others piled in a van and headed out on a two hour trip to the base of Mt Sinai. We got a Bedouin guide who did nothing but kind of lead some people up a trail that you couldn't get lost on, particularly with the hoards of people doing the same trek. The sky was incredibly clear, particularly in contrast to Cairo. We started the 2:30 hour hike up the hill along the camel trail, appropriately named because of the massive number of camels dragging overweight tourists up the hill. The camels hogged the road and didn't take kindly to having light shined in their eyes... Camels are still cool in my mind, but they'd completely lost their novelty. Every 30 minutes the bedouins had set up little shacks where they sold soda and water and candy. when we got near the top we rented little mattresses for $2 and ascended the 750 steps of redemption to the top. At the top were several old small buildings and some flat space to lie down on. We laid out and looked at the stars along with about another hundred people scattered about. i think I dozed off for a couple minutes. Then a small sliver of red cut across the horizon. Slowly, slowy, the horizon turned rainbow and light stared to pour around a far off mountain. By the time the sun had risen from behind a mountain the sky was light. But what was most impressive is the rocky landscape that sprawled all around mount Sinai. There were shear pink granite mountains as far as the eye could see. Very impressive.

We took a different route down, descending 3000 steps, and passing sites like the cave of Elijah. We ended up at st. Katherine's monastery, the sight where the burning bush was believed to have been and where now stands what is believed to be the descendant of the burning bush. (I've got a picture of me holding a lighter up to it :-) .)

We got back exhausted and I managed to get an hour nap in before doing my first refresher dive that I had to do before starting the Advanced course (I haven't dove since S.E. Asia). The dive was pretty sweet, I saw a bunch of lion fish and a 1.5 meter giant moray eel.

I got another hour of sleep and then Tim and I rocked a night dive which was awesome. You can't see quite as much when you only have you narrow beam to illuminate, but everything is so much more serene at night and there are cool plants that only come out at night and you can trick them into thinking that it's day time by shining your light on them and then watch them curl up. Anyway, afterwards, like I said before, we rocked the sheesha, and then slept and got ready for the next day of diving. In the morning was our deep dive at "the canyon." We swam up to this crevasse that was a couple meters wide and the instructor signaled down. I didn't know what she was talking about but then I saw her disappear into the crevasse and we followed. As we descended the reef walls opened up and there was life all around us. I kept on corkscrewing to see everything. We had to do a couple of math problems to make sure that we didn't have nitrogen narcosis, but then it was back to the dive.

The next dive was a drift dive called bells to blue hole. you start out by jumping into this little two meter diameter pool by the edge of the shore. Then you descend into what feels like a narrowing elevator shaft down to 30 meters. At the end of the shaft you squeeze through a narrow arch way and then the who ocean opens up to you. It was sweet. The reef wall went down as far as the eye can see and up to practically the surface. We swam along the wall seeing all sorts of fishes and an 2 meter long giant moray eel (friggin' humongous). Then be broke into the blue hole which is a 25 meter diameter hollow vertical cylinder of reef right off the shore that goes down 600 m. Some divers, they say, get mesmerized by the blue hole and keep on descending and eventually die because they go to deep, but maybe that's just an urban legend.

we relaxed from high tide to low tide to high tide over banana splits and sheesha. You could just sit in silence and be content.

In the morning Tim left and I did my last two dives to get my certification (navigation and underwater naturalist for those that dive). Then I went shopping I bargained for some art and then went sheesha shopping for my very own. It's amazing the array of prices you can pay for a sheesha of normal size; anywhere from 15 to 100 dollars, depending on quality. I heard so many things about what is good and bad quality. Eventually I learned enough to sort out the lies. I settled on a high quality, but pricey one that was sold by Omar: master of sheesha. While we were talking some friends of his from Austria came by to chat, apparently they get orders from their friends and buy from Omar whenever they're on holiday. Others walked into say hi as well. It is really hard to find people to trust, particularly when everyone is trying to rip you off, so I was sold on his customer loyalty, that and the quality. So you've got three main components, the metal shaft, the glass vase and the tube that you smoke from. you want the metal tube to be wide, strong, and nickel plated so that it doesn't corrode over time. The vase just has to be big enough to hold enough water and smoke and the tube should be made from camel hide and wrapped tightly in thread to bind it. Anyway, I don't think any of you need to know this, but it was interesting for me.

I got my stuff and headed on the night bus back to Cairo. This bus, actually took shorter than expected, was about half full and had plenty of leg room. I felt like I was living large. On the way to the bus I met a Nigerian guy who said that his nickname was dollars because he loves america, and he's a business man... or will be (he's currently studying about cairo university). His dad owns an oil company in Nigeria. Did you know that Nigeria is the 5th or 7th largest oil producing country in the world? I didn't. Anyway, he taught me a bit about Nigerian corruption and how they piss away their oil money. Sounds kinda like Venezuela. In fact, the Nigerian president even tried to pass legislation to increase the presidential term, but, unlike Hugo Chavez, he got denied by parliament.

Got to Cairo, got a place took an nap and then went off to the Cairo Museum. That museum is like a pharophiles wet dream. It was just bursting at the seems with poorly labeled pharonic statues, paintings, sarchophogauses, jewelery, etc. I tried to go in chronological order so that I could get a feel for the evolution of the Pharaohs. One of the more interesting time periods what the time of roman occupation. The romans came and blended their tradition with the egyptians to make it more accepted. I.e. there was a statue of the head of Zeus with the ram horns of Amun-Ra. People worshiped this Zeus-Amon Ra Deity. Then there were pharonic masks with European faces painted on them, an odd blending.

One of the highlights was clearly Tutankhamen's treasures which took up a large part of the museum. The crown of these treasures was the 11 lb solid gold death mask. It was beautiful and very well preserved. Tutankhamen was actually encased in three tombs one inside the other like those little russian dolls. Weird.

Also, Tutenkamen was only pharoh for 9 years and recent evidence suggest that he died of some infection, not murder. But he was popularized by the tales of his murder and because it was the only tomb that was found with all of the treasures in tact (grave robbers got all the rest).

The most impressive thing in the museum was the exhibit with 13 dead mummified pharoh's of old. They were so frail and short and yet the rulled egypt. You could even tell the similarity between father and son pharohs in their facial bone structure. The most powerful image in my mind was seeing the mummified 1.6 meter body of Ramses II, probably the greatest of all pharohs. He was the only one whose mummy still had hair. Also, his nose was bent downwards unlike the other pharoh's (leads me to believe that maybe he was jewish ;) ). It was just something else to be in a room with people who controlled the lives and fates of an empire.

And now here I am. My last night in Cairo ahead of me and the better part of the next day, then I begin the trek through tel aviv through jfk and then back to oakland.

I'm sad to go, but at the same time, I'll be glad to be back.

Oh and I wanted to take a little bit of the culture back with me. So when I get back I'd like to set up a night where we get pita's and make falafels and have salad and babaganoosh and drink tea and beer while smoking some sheesha out on the porch. That image embodies the kind of spirit that I saw in a lot of the egyptians (once you got passed the touts) and I'd like to be able to take that home with me. I'm pretty confident that I can persuade some of you to participate ;)

See you all soon.




EGYPT 4: Cairo & Home

22-24 July 2006

So I'm back home safe and sound, but there's still just a little bit of the trip that I need to finish up on.

The Nigerian, "Dollars," as he likes to be called, was going to hang out with me, but he got sick, so he bailed. I called a few other people who I had gotten numbers of when I was in Cairo at first, but to no avail. My last ditch effort was to have the lonely planet pick something for me to do, but I thought I'd see what was going on with Ramadan (the manager of the Hostel where I first stayed in Cairo). I mentioned to him that it was my last night and I wanted to do something cool, maybe see a belly dancing show or something. He said, ~$18 there's five star (Egyptian five star mind you) cruise that goes down the Nile for two hours. Its an all you can eat buffet an they have belly dancing and singing and dancing and entertainment. Now in Egyptian terms that's a lot of money and my mind was still wired in Egyptian pounds (it's kinda funny how that works), but I figured it was my last night so what the heck. I got changed and in half an hour Ramadan had arranged to have a driver go with me and take me back to the hostel. When we got to the dock, the entrance way was blocked solid with about 100 people in a wedding. The bride and groom were situated dead in the middle of the top of the stairway that lead to the boat. People were taking photo's left and right. Somehow we pushed past the bride and groom to get to the boat. It was very odd. I just wouldn't find that very romantic as a couple. Later the wedding party joined the boat.

Anyway, the driver (who apparently got free entry with me) and I sit down at a pretty nice table and I strike up a conversation with two egyptians and one guy from Oman named Tallel. The guy from Oman was with wife and kid, who he virtually completely ignored during the better part of the evening to talk to me. He also acted as a translator because his English was the best in the group. It turns out that he works for the Oman Air force's procurements division. They just bought 2 F-16 and intend to eventually stock up to a royal Oman fleet of 20 F-16; a formidable air force indeed. He was very interested in aircraft and I taught him about the principle of vector thrusting using a knife as a visual aid. It was hilarious seeing him try and translate vector thrusting, using the same knife, mimicking my motions, to the two other Egyptians. I could tell where in the translation he was by the knife motions followed by the appropriate oohs and aahs by the two Egyptians.

He asked me what Americans thought of Saudi Arabians. I told him that i couldn't speak for all Americans, but that I thought the majority were fine people, it's just that a small percentage of them, like in other Arab nations, are terrorists. But, I recognize the proportions. He was pleased with that answer. I asked him what Arabs thought about Americans. He said that Arabs think Americans are fine people, they just abhor the American Government. I thought about how many uneducated people in the Arab world were clever enough to make this distinction. Then I realized that Arab nations know, better than most nations, what it is to have a corrupt government. I'm not saying that the American government is corrupt, but rather that many Arabs have the distinct ability to appreciate the difference between a government and its people. That made a lot of sense to me.

Tallel and I were in line for food and I asked him, "What do the Arab nations think about Israel?" He got very pale and told me in a hushed strained voice to "shhhhh" and that we'd talk about that later. At first I thought that was silly, but then moments later, this short stalky Egyptian right in front of me puts his plate down roughly, wheels around and bellows that Israel is horrible. He goes on explaining that Israel has flattened Lebanon killing 50 people over 2 mere prisoners of war. Israel, he continued, has 10,000 Arab prisoners. He failed to make any distinction between people kidnapped by a rouge terrorist group and people captured attempting to attack Israel. Though, he certainly made a simple but important point about the utter obliteration of Lebanon.

Even now I still haven't made up my mind on the situation. I'm pretty sure that Israel went to far in Lebanon and probably created more potential future Hezbollah than they killed. But, A Rabbi and his wife, on the plane back to NY, reminded me that Hezbollah has its bases and its weapons armaments in schools, hospitals, mosques etc. So, if Israel attacks them Israel looks like a monster in the worlds eyes, and if Israel doesn't want to risk hurting the civilians that Hezbollah strategically places in their way, then Hezbollah gets away scott free. It's win-win (kinda) for Hezbollah. Also, Hezbollah continues to attack Israel with rockets, and if they had just kept the quite peace the situation would never get any better. The Rabbi later gave me a signed copy of his book, but that's neither hear nor their.

I've discussed this with several people and here's what I think needs to be done if any peace is ever desired. I think that Israel needs to swallow some pride, take the high road and do what Hammas did to garner the support of the Palestinians and what Hezbollah did to garner support of the Lebanese, namely build infrastructure. Israel, I believe, should help to build schools and hospitals and housing in the Gaza strip and in the West bank. I don't think the help would be welcomed with open arms at first, but in time it would be and the people would really appreciate it. Now Israel would need to work with the Palestinians to make sure that Palestinians had control over the institutions; it can't be an Israeli occupation. It has to be a sign of good faith with no ulterior motive other than peace. This wouldn't necessarily have an immediate effect, but it would eventually. Perhaps I am being naive and idealistic. But, in war, for every terrorist you kill you create two more. Militaristic suppression is just a temporary fix. Anyway, it worked for Hammas (that's why they won the popular vote), I don't see why, with a lot of extra effort, it wouldn't be a feasible option.

Anyway, I just let the Egyptian guy talk and kept my mouth shut. When we sat down again I spoke a little more to Tallal, who was very well educated. He shared the other man's sentiments, though he didn't quite see the situation in black and white. He also said that he doesn't believe that their will ever be peace. That's a not too uncommon thought I found out. I always thought that everyone wanted peace and that they all believed that it would be possible, at least in some great length of time. But, even the most optimistic people that I've spoken with believe that real peace won't occur at least until my generation has grown up and then is out of power.

Anyway on to happier things. The belly dancer was pretty cool. She had amazing muscle control and she kept on getting people to come up and participate, particularly overweight, balding Japanese tourists. Then, in my opinion, the cu de grais (spelling): (Eric you'll really appreciate this) at the end they had a literally retarded, spinning midget wearing a rainbow disc of fabric that flattened out as he twirled. When I get the pictures up you'll have to take a look. It is friggin' hilarious.

I got to bed around 1 and the next day I walked a lot. I walked all over old Islamic Cairo, where there are no cars and tons of huge mosques and goats in the streets. I got so lost in those streets, but I successfully navigated by looking at my shadow. At one point I paid a guard 80 cents to be able to explore all of this mosque. I could probably have just gone in, but I basically paid for the right to search every room guilt free. Gotta love buying the right to disrespect someone's religion. (Just kidding, I was respectful...-ish.) Islamic Cairo was like a different world. Their were markets every few blocks with fresh vegetables and falafel stands. I even wandered into a funeral by mistake. I saw a boy crying being consoled by a ~20 year old with a stone face. His face reminded me a lot of the war hardened faces of our soldiers in the Cemeteries in Israel. The parallel frightened me a little and I immediately turned around.

The evening was winding down so I got my stuff and headed over to Ramadan's. He took me to the best Kabob place in town. When we were done we went to the coffee shop in the alley way where we had first had a Shisha together on my first night in Egypt. It was a fitting way to end the trip. Saeed, the driver, joined us. We sipped tea and Mango juice and puffed on the Shisha. Fly's buzzed around and landed on my arm. I didn't try and brush them away. I just accepted them like Ramadan. It was a little dirtier, but it was the Egyptian way of life and that was cool. It was a very fitting end to my Egyptian journey.

I got in Saeed's cab and began my 4 flight, 40 hour journey back to my home.

Of note, I'm an idiot and didn't put the glass portion of the Shisha in my carry-on bag. It broke on the flight. But I got a replacement in San Jose and learned about a cool Shisha bar, called Hookah Nights, in downtown San Jose.

So, thus ends my tale. Not quite as wild eyed adventurous as my SE Asia trip. It was a little more somber, and a lot more intellectual and culturally eye opening. But, I still gotta remember the saying that I saw on some girls T-Shirt while running at the Dish at Stanford: "Think less, Play more." So, now I'm back and I've thought a heck of a lot. I'm going to let it sink in and it will change my way of thinking, but I'm going to take an example from the Israeli soldiers and remember that playing hard is just as important as thinking hard.

So have a beer or ten with a friend, and at the same time be thankful that we can enjoy this freedom and safety that we have in the US. Alright I'll get off my soap box; and a pretty shotty box it is at that. Hope you enjoyed my ramblings.




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