Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I took the chinatown bus from new york to boston last thursday during a huge snowstorm.  Everyone was talking about the snow the day before, and I just shrugged it off thinking it would just be a few inches and no big deal.  I had no idea what I was in for...I got on the bus at 10am after having a coffee and a muffin...and didn't get off the bus in Boston till 8pm with no food or water along the way!  Apparently the storm I shrugged off was due to dump 6inches of fresh powder on New England and I happened to be right in the middle of it.

It was vaguely reminiscent of my time on the Ethiopian buses, the tradeoff being that on those buses we stopped regularly for food, but at least this bus didn't have horrible music or uncomfortable chairs.

To pass the time I had my laptop and went through all my panorama pictures and put together a panorama web page.  Some really good stuff, planning on printing some out.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Israel Recap

Nothing too exciting happened in Israel aside from the wedding in the previous post, but I'll give a little recap of what I did.

The week of the wedding I just hung out around the pimp 5-star hotel I was staying at, wandered around the old city in Jerusalem, went online a lot, caught up on my falafel eating, and went drinking almost every night with my cousin (brother of the one getting married). Was also able to meet up with 2 friends from college, one who turned into a religious jew and has been studying in israel for the last 2 years, the other is getting paid to be here by some fellowship (Jewish agencies love to throw money at Jews going to Israel, for instance if I decided to move here they would pay for my plane ticket, give me several hundred dollars a month for the first few months, and cheap loans for buying a house or furniture or whatever).

After Jerusalem I went down to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, where I met up with my dad's old business partner Avi, who I've met several times in the US and Israel. He hosted me for a couple days. I'd had a bad cough the past week and a half and finally went to see a doctor who quickly diagnosed me with a lung infection and gave me antibiotics (they worked, everything's fine now). I didn't feel sick at all, just had a horrible sounding cough and some wheezing.

3rd day there I met my dad's other business associate at the kibbutz. He is very interested in me helping them out exporting their olive oil to the US, been discussing it with him a lot and it might be an interesting project to take on when I return home in November. That day he drove me to Tel Aviv and I met up with my old friend Eitan...known him since I was a camp counselor almost 6 years ago. Went out with him one night and met some interesting characters like a massive Georgian (the country) guy who runs a liquor shop that sells triple shots of vodka for $1 and one of his philosopher friends who likes to turn every conversation into a philosophical poetic rhyming and flowing match.

Next day I took the bus to Herzeliya and met up with my friend Rachel from home, she moved here 7 years ago, went through the army here, traveled a bit, and is now going through college. She had a very nice apartment with an extra mattress, stayed there for the weekend, went to the beach both days. The first day went out in Tel Aviv to a sushi restaurant (delicious) and to the hottest bar in Tel Aviv...dropped so much cash that night and didn't even get drunk (f obscenely expensive bottle service).

After Herzeliya, took the train up to Haifa and hung out with 2 of my friends from camp 10 years ago. I saw them 4 years ago, and it's always cool to see everyone is still in the military, a chief engineer on a ship in the navy. He told me he just did a training exercise with the US and Turkish Navies and was having a drink with all the US officers, they couldn't believe he was so highly ranked at 24 yrs old, but that's how they have to do it in Israel. My other friend is a student at Technion, considered the MIT of Israel. We played poker one night with their friends, of course I kicked all their asses for a $10 profit (only played about $2.50 buy in per person). Next day hung out at the beach and went out for a few drinks that night.

Now I'm back in Tel Aviv. Was able to get my ticket to Thailand changed and will be leaving tomorrow for Thailand. Will spend a week there, get my visa to China, then fly to china on Sept 8th. Looking forward to getting back to the East...been a long road. Hard to believe i'm more than 2/3 of the way through my trip.

As a side note, started playing poker online again , have had too much free time when my friends were at work and me just sitting around doing nothing. Was down about $140, but last night won $ I'm back in the game! Might play some more in Thailand if I get bored, but probably won't play in China.

Another side note, since I am a huge nerd, I published a spreadsheet of my costs to date...completely up to date, can be viewed here. Israel cut my daily cost a bit due to being treated to so many meals by my relatives and friends, and not having to pay once for housing. Literally all my money was spent on food and with a little on buses/taxis/trains. Thanks friends!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Cousin's Wedding

Been awhile since I posted anything, just been hanging out in Israel with some friends. At the beginning I met up with my family. My cousin (I think technically it's first cousin once removed) was getting married here. He moved to Israel about 5 years ago and became very religious. The wedding was an Orthodox Jewish wedding, which I have never experienced. Men are separated from the women, much more praying and singing than a non-religious wedding. I took a ton of pictures, but mostly videos, which I posted below...some of them I thought were pretty funny. Most of the crowd were people like my cousin, who became religious later in life.

The wedding had it all, crazy dancing, gymnastics, rap, and a good band. The only thing it was missing was women.

The bride being led to the wedding ceremony

My cousin, the groom, praying and waiting for the bride to come

The bride being led around the groom 7 times as part of the wedding ceremony...the first time they EVER touch is when he puts the ring on her finger (they have met before, but never touched each other)


My cousin elated immediately after the ceremony

They sit the bride and groom and family down and people perform various acts, like juggling, human pyramids, etc

Various common Jewish stereotypes were shattered at this wedding, if you thought Jews could dance, check out these videos...



If you thought Jews couldn't make funny faces while dancing, check this guy out

These guys actually have some moves...

This one is my favorite...

This guy apparently went to a few raves before he became religious, really very good.

If you thought jews weren't flexible, see below

If you thought Jews couldn't fence, see below

If you thought Jews couldn't do gymnastics, see the next 3 videos to be proven wrong video



If you thought Jews couldn't freestyle, see below

Plus a couple videos of the general party...


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Jordan - Petra & Amman

Been over a week since I updated, posted so many entries in egypt wanted to take a break for a few days.  Ended up leaving Egypt last thursday...took a minibus to Nuweba where there is a ferry to Aqaba in Jordan.  I wanted to take the ferry b/c I thought it would be less of a hassle than crossing through israel, but I was very wrong.  First it was incredibly expensive, cost $68 to take the hour and a half ferry.  I got to Nuweba around 11:30 in the morning and the ferry was supposed to leave at 2:30...I go to buy the ticket and the ticket window isn't open.  End up having to wait around until 2pm to line up with an angry crowd of egyptians pushing and shoving and cutting in line to finally buy the ticket (you'd think for a $60 ferry ticket they'd be a little more organized...).  Get to the port only to find out the ferry is late and won't be leaving till around 5pm...more waiting, finally get on the boat around 4:30, it leaves at five.  Very smooth ride, and fast, but it was miserable with about 20 different babies crying the whole ride and little kids running around wreaking havoc. 
Got to the port in Jordan and the customs people hold us on the boat for over an hour, I somehow push my way out near first in line, only to get to customs and have them tell us it would take an hour to process the foreigner visas.  Didn't end up getting out of there till 9:30...was planning on going straight to Petra, but decided to take a taxi to town and find a room.  Met a couple Japanese backpackers who could barely speak english, and we booked a three person room together.
Next morning woke up early and took the first bus to Petra, found a room and hit the Petra ruins (ancient civilization that carved a city into the desert rocks...featured in the end of Indiana Jones 3).  Walked over 15km that day and didn't eat anything till around 4:30.  Ruins were very nice though, was able to see everything I wanted in one day which was good because a 1 day ticket was about $30 and 2 day was close to $40 (many people spend 2-3 days there).  There is a really cool 1km long narrow gorge you walk through to get to the main temple there.  I was a little disappointed by the temples...They are really impressive looking from the outside, but I expected they would continue deep into the rock.  Mostly though, they are just a facade, nothing to explore inside.  There is one temple up a mountain that was about 800 steps to climb up...made the hike and it was worth it.  A lot of great views of the desert up there.
Morning after that I took a bus into Amman, still with the Japanese guys...we arrive and none of the taxi drivers know the hostel we are trying to go to & the japanese guys only have a guidebook in japanese.  After a lot of arguing between each other one of the drivers says he knows and takes us...he didn't know, had to ask his friend on the way...f-ing taxi drivers are the same everywhere. Met an Israeli guy travelling up there and a Korean girl at the hostel and we went to Iraq Al Amir, the palace of an ancient jewish family that controlled the area a few thousand years ago.  Mostly ruins, but the israeli guy was a history major so he gave us the whole story of the family and the history of the area, which was interesting.  To get there had to take a taxi who ripped us off, then a bus, then a minibus...was a little adventure.  The ride back was much easier. 
My dad has a customer in Amman named Mahar and he promised to show me around the city and the area.  So that night I met up with him and he took me for dinner and drinks.  He was a really fun guy and we ended up hanging out for another 3 days.  I didn't have much to do in Amman, but I wasn't in a huge rush to get to israel...was pretty bored during the day, but had a lot of fun hanging out with Mahar every night.  One afternoon he took me to Jerash, a city about 30min away where there are ancient Roman was very nice, almost a whole city preserved in ruins.  At night there was a music festival there with performances from all over the world and had a good time watching those.  Was difficult to have to much fun in Amman though, because my hostel had a 12pm curfew...had to cut the drinking with Mahar short every night. 
On tuesday I decided to go to Israel and Mahar dropped me off at the border and I went through, met a few US marines travelling on the bus, and rode with them to Jerusalem.  I had bought a new cell phone in Amman and immediately bought a sim card and got in touch with my family...was able to meet up with them (after almost getting screwed by israeli cab drivers...i hate them, why can't they all just have meters!)  So now I'm staying in a very nice I think 4 star hotel here in Jerusalem getting spoiled on good food and nice beds.  My cousin's wedding is tonight and I'll be sure to write about that, it's a Jewish orthodox wedding, so it should be an interesting experience. 

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Luxor, Mt. Sinai, and Dahab

From Cairo I took the overnight train down to Luxor, which was freezing cold b/c the air con was too high...was wearing a fleece and shivering all night. Get to Luxor and it's 110 degrees in the shade! Find a hotel and check out Luxor Temple, which was very nice, cool hieroglyphics and pillars. Then make the decision to walk to Karnak Temple...guidebook said it was 500 meters, but it was really about a 4km walk in the blazing heat. Made it there and had a nice time walking around the temple...some nice obelisks and pillars. Took a cab back b/c i wasn't about to do that walk again and just chilled in the air conditioned room for the rest of the afternoon.

Booked a tour the next day to go to Valley of the Kings...about 70 tombs of ancient Pharaohs nestled in a cliff. With the ticket you can only visit three...they are like saunas inside due to the heat, but all incredible well preserved hieroglyphics...really neat to see...and the tombs go so deep into the rock, overall worth the trip down to Luxor. Then the tour took us to some alabaster factory where they "hand make" alabaster it's some kind of lost Egyptian craft...the honeymooners on our tour bought over $80 worth of the stuff, i didn't even look at it, was a little pissed they hurried us through the tombs to take us to some factory so they could get commissions. Went to another temple, can't remember the name, then the statues you can see in the last picture below.

That night we took the bus up to Dahab, a pleasant 20hr bus wasn't too loud and the driver only smoked about once an hour, air con too. Other people were complaining about how miserable it was, but compared to Ethiopia and other bus rides I've been on recently it was nothing.

Got to Dahab and ended up chilling there for 7 days. Really tranquil, a lot of beach side bars you can just lay on pillows and read books all day. Great snorkeling and the one time i was able to dive (caught a sinus infection...couldn't dive) it was great too. One of the nights I took their Mt. Sinai tour, where Moses supposedly received the 10 commandments. We hiked up in the middle of the night and watched the sunrise from the top...can see some pics below. Absolutely beautiful. Not a difficult hike, worst part is dealing with all the camel droppings from all the tourists riding camels up. At the bottom there is a monastery that houses the supposed descendant of the burning was hanging up on a wall, and so many tourists were grabbing at the branches and ripping leaves off for good luck.

After 7 days in Dahab and not being able to dive I had to go...couldn't justify lounging around there another week, even though I wanted to. Cheap food & room, great scenery, good people, had a really relaxing time...definitely a place I'll go back to & would recommend.

St Catherine Monastery
Mt Sinai surrounds
Polish group praying as the sun rises
sunrise from the summit
Statues at Luxor west

Monday, August 06, 2007

How to Cross the Street in Cairo

When I arrived in Cairo I quickly learned the intricacies of how to cross the street. Cairo probably has the worst traffic of any city I've seen and there is no respect for pedestrians. Furthermore, there are almost no traffic signals, and in the few places they exist they are ignored.

Taxi drivers fly through the city chain smoking in small stick-shift four door Fiats barely paying attention to the road, Buses go 40mph and zip across two lanes of traffic to pass a slow commuter (on the right) only to make a whip-lash inducing stop half a block later to let off passengers (Was standing in a bus waiting to get off and almost fell through the driver's window at one of these stops, only thing that stopped me was almost knocking some poor woman over, was quite a scene). Thankfully, there aren't many motorbikes or walking might be impossible.

So crossing the street is always a small adventure. There is a similar situation in China, but there at least when they see someone trying to cross they tend to slow down and give you a chance. In Cairo they don't slow down...half the cars seem to speed up and try to get by me, usually barely missing me by half a foot or less. Most times I would try and walk alongside an Egyptian and try to walk like an Egyptian (o I crack myself up). It's a little unnerving to stand alone in the middle of intense speeding traffic waiting for an opening to run across. And run I any opening, shamelessly sprinting across the road, there was no other way.

Posted a couple good videos to illustrate what I mean...this is an intersection right by the hostel I stayed at and I crossed it several times a day.



Cost structure

Today marks the 5 month anniversary of the start of my trip and I just spent about an hour on the internet making a spreadsheet tallying all my costs so far.  I haven't broken it down by country yet, but I think I have a total cost unless I missed something.

In total I've spent $6,057, which at 153 days traveling is $39.59 per day or more curiously $.03 per minute - significantly more than I expected to spend...was trying to budget around $30 a day, but the cost of Africa & the dropping dollar conspired against me.

If I remove the various thieves that have stolen money and objects from me, $150 in cash & a $45 cell phone in SA, spending $45 to send a document express in SA that got lost in the mail, $161 from the ATM in Tanzania, a $50 cell phone in Ethiopia, and a $29 late fee on my credit card (this is  99% my fault, 1% the bank for not having an auto-pay option).  This brings the cost per day down to $36.45.

If I remove the flights I've had to pay for, to get only a day to day travel expense, that brings the cost per day down to $30.55.

Also have to remember that my parents treated me to the overland truck from Joburg to Nairobi, so that is 26 days that I only had to pay for extra activities and food...