Community Visit, Departure, Jordan, Home

Camp Ultimate Peace 2012 is now complete and I am back home in St. Johnsbury, VT becoming reacclimatized to life in the states. It’s been a long journey from Acco to my home in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont….

Immediately after camp concluded and the last campers were on their busses home, the mad packing scramble began. Equipment was broken down, room cleaning began, and the logistics of everyone’s exit strategies for getting home fully coalesced. My fun began with a trip to a nearby car rental agency with a group of UP coaches. Due to Shabbat, UP needed to pick up a bunch of cars, and I needed one to get down to Jerusalem later the next day. After a short battle getting my rented GPS from Russian to German to English, I made it back to the Manof where everyone rested and then headed out for falafel on the beach! As the sun went down we socialized and enjoyed being together. That night everyone slept well.

The next morning Idan, Zolo, Mickey, and I traveled to Bu’eine Nujeidat, a village an hour east of Acco, located up int he valley overlooking large farms. The drive was smooth and we easily found the indoor playing area, a welcome respite from the high temperatures. Inside we found a very excited group of 15 players. Almost all of them had gone to camp and all of them were super excited for the clinic.

Over the course of the next two hours we ran through some drills, scrimmaged, and then at the end grouped up to talk about the session and give out spirit awards. The session was active, fun, and full of the joy of play. Everyone had a great time. Afterwards, we went out into the village to have lunch in two locations. Idan and I went to one home and Mickey and Zolo went to another. The meal was fantastic and so was meeting the families. Our host player was incredibly gracious and it was wonderful to meet the extended families in the community. By the time we left we were thoroughly stuffed and very content with the day. Back on campus we all got back to packing before later that evening we all took off for dinner in old Acco!

The next day, after a lazy morning, all the staff packed into rental cars to drive over to the Jordan river rafting location. Along the way a couple of our cars got flat tires (fun!), a problem that was quickly remedied by our talented coaching staff. Once we arrived at the rafting launch, we found it to be fantastically crowded so the whole staff headed out to find a place to go swimming. Eventually we found a section of the river to frolic in, at about the same time Maggie, Gabe, and I had to head out on our drive south to Jerusalem. The three of us said our goodbyes, wished everyone well, and started the drive south.

The Israeli countryside is gorgeous and really fun to drive through, especially on Shabbat when there are very few other cars on the road. The GPS led us straight to Dan’s place in northeast Tel Aviv where we dropped off our big bags, and then continued east to Jerusalem. Driving through untrafficed J’lem streets was quite fun. We found our parking lot, took a cab to the check point, walked through, and then took another cab to the Paradise hotel, located right at the entrance to the Azzeh refugee camp. There we met up with Linda and Bob, before we checked in and rested for a little while before dressing for the wedding!

Down in the hotel dining area we connected with Camp UP camper Lara and a couple of her friends, who joined us for a short meal before we packed into a van and were driven to the wedding site. In the evening light was got out of the van to a scene of dancing, headed by Hamouda and the groom, his older brother. I love all the dancing while sitting on the shoulders of others! We followed as the group danced their way into the dining hall, connecting with an orbital of cousins who knew us from Camp UP.

Inside the reception area Gabe, Bob, and I found a table on the first floor with all the men, while Maggie and Linda went up to the sixth floor to join the women’s group. Over the next several hours we talked, socialized, danced, and took in the lively atmosphere. We all got pulled in to dance, talked to many of the groom’s relatives, and had a blast interacting with all the kids who swarmed around our table. This summer, the 8 kids from Bethlehem were the first to come from the city except for Hamouda. Next year I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 Bethlehem kids came to camp! Towards the end of the night I got a chance to talk to the groom, who seemed a little tired after all the many hours of dancing. Late that night we took a van back to the hotel where we spent the night.

The next morning Gabe, Maggie, and I went over to Hamouda’s house to say goodbye before heading out. We found Hamouda’s brother Noer (sp?) sleeping on a downstairs couch, displaced by the large amount of relatives staying over. He surfaced from his rest and soon after we were joined by Hamouda’s parents Kamel and Sowad. We talked for a while and eventually Hamouda surfaced, having managed to get a couple hours of sleep. Brothers of the groom don’t sleep very much on wedding day 2 of 3! We learned all about what was to come that day — the main even being a large meal for almost 1,000 people! Kamel told us about the 300Kg of meat that they were cooking! Eventually we said our goodbyes and caught a taxi back to the checkpoint.

In J’lem we took another taxi back to our rental car and started the journey west back to Tel Aviv. Along the way we stopped to do some rental car paperwork (hooray for weird car regs in Israel!), and made it into Tel Aviv by mid-afternoon where I was dropped off close to the beach. A couple blocks later I met up with my college roommate, Eric, who had flown in the day before to join me on a romp to Jordan!

First, we walked north along the Tel Aviv coast, enjoying the bright sunny day and catching up on each other’s lives. We made it to a nice air conditioned lobby area where we grabbed lunch, coffee, cash, and some rest. We then caught a taxi to the main transport station in southern Tel Aviv where we idled for a couple hours until our bus to Eilat took off around 5pm. The ride south was smooth and easy. The bus stopped a couple times, at which time we got some good views of the Negev dessert. At around 9pm we made it into Eilat where we were happy to see our hotel was right next to the station. We also found the 95 degree weather at 9pm to be quite… intense!

After getting checked into our hotel, we walked down to the Eilat boardwalk to take in what we were told was the Vegas of Israel. It certainly was a Vegas meets LA meets Israel vibe. The IMAX pyramid was particularly intense (gaudy?). We had a great meal of sushi (for me) and Pad Thai (for Eric) before walking back to our hotel to get to sleep early.

The next morning we woke up early and caught a taxi to the border crossing, arriving by 6:15 with the hopes of crossing into Jordan right at the 6:30 opening. We ended up being the second pair of people through what was a very smooth if not long crossing area. On he other side we found a taxi (agressive!) and were soon heading north east to Wadi Rum. A little over an hour later we were dropped off at the Wadi Rum Visitor’s Center where we idled for a little while before our guide showed up around 9:15. The guide (Sulliman) then drove us into Rum Village, about 5Km into Wadi Rum.

Our first top was at a small grocery stand where Sulliman picked up the food we’d need for our day and night in the Wadi Rum dessert. After he loaded up, we drove a short distance to his house where we enjoyed some very nice sweet mint tea (my favorite!) and met his wife and a few of his kids. We learned more about the village and his life in Wadi Rum. Full of sugary tea, we got back in the jeep and headed out into the Rum. About 300 yards from the house the street just… ended.. and the dessert began. We drove out into the sand along nominally traveled paths and made out first stop at a small tent complex adjacent to a spring. While Sulliman rested, Eric and I hiked up several hundred yard to the mouth of the spring where we got our first long view of the area. The colors, rock formations, and utter desolation were all quite intense!

Next, we started our drive further into the Wadi Rum. We stopped at several valley formations where we got to climb amongst the rocks. We saw ancient rock carvings, a very large sand dune, and were careful not to burn our feet on the very hot sand. We also had the chance to talk to several other travelers and I got to practice my Mandarin!

By around 1pm we stopped for lunch and several hours of rest in the shade. Sulliman prepared a wonderful meal of vegetable stew and melon, and we rested in the cool shade.  It’s amazingly unreal the temperature difference between sun and shade in the dessert! Around 4pm we roused and drove about 20 minutes to the Bedouin camp where we spent the night.

At the camp Eric and I were joined by a father and his two young children. Together we climbed to a nearby ridge and watched as the sun went down over the large valley. Sitting among the alien rocks, with the warm breeze and bright sun is an experience I will always remember. We took sets of pictures of a falling sun, talked to the French family, and then made our way back to the tents for dinner. There we set up pads outside and then Sulliman brought our the dinner of a chicken and vegetable stew. Yum! Eric and I had fun speaking with the French children, and eventually we all went to sleep under the incredibly clear starry night.

The next morning Eric and I woke up early so that Sulliman could take us to the bus stop in Rum Village for our trip north to Petra. There we were supposed to take a 5JD (~$9) bus ride to Petra, but instead were greeted by two men who said the bus wasn’t running. This is the basic gist of the conversation that ensued:

Random guys (who we suspect were in collusion with Sulliman): “The bus isn’t running today.”

Us: “Why?”

Random guys: “The bus driver died last night.”

Us: “Wow, we’re so sorry. How’d he die?”

Random guys: “He was shot in the head.” (Hand motions used to explain.)

At this point Eric is starring down Sulliman who really can’t look Eric in the eyes.

Us: “Okay… how much is that taxi going to charge to get to Petra?”

Random guys: “40JD”

Us: “Yah, we’re not going to pay that.”

We eventually get them down to $43 USD and head on our way north on what turned out to be a great ride… just preceeded by a freakin’ weird story. (We strongly suspect one of the random guys was the bus drive and that since it was the low season he knew he wasn’t going to get a full bus to Petra.)

The taxi took us straight to our hotel in Petra — the Valentine Inn — where we checked in to what turned out to be a great and affordable room. We unloaded our stuff, took a quick trip to town to find an ATM, and then got a ride in the Valentine Inn van to the entrance of Petra, arriving around 10am.

We were stymied a bit at the entrance to the valley, but soon found our way down the paved path, past the Indiana Jones gift shops, and to the ticket counter. We then joined the moderately large amount of people on the 1km initial walk to the valley, past the Djinn blocks and a few temple carving. Over the next 6 hours we walked the entire length of the valley, past unreal rock carvings including the famed Treasury (Indiana Jones time!) and all the way to the Monestary. Along the way Eric and I met a very nice couple on the third week of their honeymoon trip all over Europe and the Middle East. We ended up spending the rest of the day with them along with Wanda, a UP coach who we randomly found on one of the side trails. It was a hot, hot sunny day filled with wonders of rock and intense views of an ancient city. We drank liters of water and several glasses of amazing fresh orange juice. By the time we made it out of the valley, back at the main entrance, we were ready to rest.

Eric and I then headed back to our hotel to clean up, after which we met up with Wanda at the Movenpick hotel, right near the Petra entrance, to dive into their lavish buffet. The meal was stunning and we ate until we were well past full. The food was excellent and the conversation even better. Out on the street after dinner Eric and I said goodbye to Wanda and took a cab back to the hotel.

The next morning Eric and I met our prearranged early cab (we met a great driver the day before) who took us to “Little Petra”, located a few km north of Petra, a site smaller, still very interesting, and much less traveled.

We were the first people there, and saw no one else in our hour at the site. Eric and I climbed all over ancient stairways, saw 1st century AD paintings, and had a wonderful time exploring. We even got to test a little bit of our rock climbing expertise.

Back at the entrance to Little Petra, we found our cab (the only one!) and he took us to a secondary (Bedouin) entrance to Petra. High above the valley the path looked like a long road with no shade, but it turned out to be a great walk filled with other sights to see along the way. We eventually merged with the main Petra canyon where we spent the next 3 hours working our way back to the main entrance, taking every side journey we could. By the time we made it back to the main entrance we had seen many more tombs, a huge free standing temple, and massive rock rooms. It was also pretty unreal to sip a nice soda, relaxing infront of the final resting place of the Holy Grail :)

Out at the main entrance, our driver picked us up, and drove use back to the Valentine Inn where we picked up our bags. Next, we made a short stop in the center of Petra where our driver got us a Schwarma lunch, which was very tasty and very cheap considering we weren’t the ones making the purchase. We then got on the highway and buzzed south, making the drive back to Aqaba in about 90 minutes.

Out in the hot, HOT sun of the border parking lot, we said goodbye to our driver and made out way through the crossing. The Jordanians were all humorous about the 46C (113 degrees F!) heat, while the Israeli section was a bit more serious, but in a building with AC. At the end of the checkpoint we exchanged some money back into Sheckles, and then made it to parking where we got a taxi back to Eilat’s bus station. There we got our tickets, had lunch, and then walked down to the water where we had a brief swim in the Red Sea!

After drying off (not hard!) we made our way back to the station and found our bus. We saw more of the desert over the the next 5 hours and read while the miles passed us by. We eventually made it into Tel Aviv around 10pm where we took a taxi north to the Hayarkon 48 hostel, where we checked in, dropped off our stuff, and went out to the beach area to walk around and get a late night dinner. We stayed up a bit longer, but were quite tired so we headed to bed relatively early in our 4-person hostel room.

The next morning we packed up our stuff, put it into one of the hostel’s storage lockers, and walked south east to the HaCarmel Shuk (market). We walked the long isles of stalls, pausing to purchase a few food items, our favorite being a very large Druze crepe with chocolate sauce. We left the Shuk stuffed and well content for the walk southward to Jaffa. There we saw a great view of Tel Aviv and then found a small cafe overlooking the Jaffa harbor (one of the oldest on the planet) where we enjoyed some lemonade and shade. A couple hours and lots of conversation later, we walked north along the coast, all the way to the hostel where we got our stuff. After a short internet cafe break, we caught a taxi north to Dan’s house where were talked for a while as Dan worked on logistics for the Israeli National Junior’s teams upcoming trip to Junior Worlds in Dublin. (He’s one of the girls team coaches.) We then drove out to a nearby Asian restaurant where I got my weekly dosage of sushi along with some fantastic spicy noodles.

Next, we picked up my bags at Dan’s house and he drove Eric and I to the nearby train station. There we said our goodbyes to Dan, who gave me a VERY cool Team Israel jersey (#pi!). In the station Eric and I found our platform and soon after had to part ways — Eric continued on to Jerusalem and a week more of traveling while I went to the airport to head home. What a grand 4 days we had together!

At the airport I cleared El Al security (always fun!), and relaxed at my gate. On the plane I quickly feel asleep and managed to stay unconscious for the first 8 hours of the 11.5 hour flight from Tel Aviv to JFK. Upon touching down I cleared all of the paperwork hurdles as fast as possible, but didn’t make my connection due to the initial flight being an hour late. So, I enjoyed a “fun” 5 hours in JFK waiting for my connection to Boston, which meant that by the time I made it to Boston it was Friday rush hour. So… the drive from Boston to STJ ended up taking 5 hours instead of 3…. but I eventually made it home.

I’ve now been home for three days. The reentry to life back in the states has been smooth, although, like everyone who is lucky enough to have a summer vacation, I don’t want summer to end and work to begin. I do still have a couple more weeks of freedom, which I will certainly enjoy.

My Ultimate Peace summer went so very far beyond everything I could have imagined it to be. I got to be a part of something truly special, in a unique environment, and I helped make the world a better place in a real and direct way.

My entire UP experience was made all the more meaningful by the fact that it was made possible by the support of my friends and family. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone out there who supported my journey.

Thank you for making it possible for me to collect many new stories, make hundreds of new friends, and have a better understanding of the complex world in which we live.

Thank you.

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