Would you like me to fold your message or prayer into the Western Wall in Jerusalem?
This summer I’ll be returning to the Middle East to work at Camp Ultimate Peace. Before camp begins, I’ll be settling in for a full day of crane folding in the plaza in front of the Western Wall, located in the center of the Old City in Jerusalem. My plan is to start folding on the morning of Thursday, 7/16 and to continue until sundown. The next day I’ll be traveling to Hebron to the plaza outside the Cave of the Patriarchs to do the same thing. On the third day I will be continuing to fold in Bethlehem outside the Church of the Nativity. My plan is to fold 1,000 cranes over the course of the three days and place them all in the Western Wall.
My hope is for all 1,000 cranes to be folded out of paper containing messages and prayers.
Over the past 70 years 1,000 paper cranes has come to symbolize peace, hope, healing, love, and a wish… five things that I hope to bring to the region with my work with Ultimate Peace.
I would be honored to bring your messages and prayers to the Western Wall. If that’s something you’d like me to do, feel free to write as many messages or prayers on as many square pieces of paper as you’d like and mail them to me at 183 Main St. #1, Easthampton, MA 01027. They need to arrive in Easthampton by Monday, 6/29.
I’d also love to have company while I fold. Let me know if you’d like to join me at any of the folding venues.
There are many things that draw me to this region. First, it was Ultimate and sheerly coming to a new place. My friends pulled me in with something I was familiar with: The power of Ultimate to change lives, with the added bonus of feeding my addiction for travel. I knew I was going to learn. I knew I was going to see and experience “new”. What I really couldn’t have imagined in that early spring of 2012 when I was gearing up for my first trip to Middle East was how much I was going to learn. How my life was going to change.
On Friday morning, March 14th, I slept. What a glorious feeling to sleep in and wake up to the gentle sound of rain in the heart of the Old City. After a leasurely run through of my day, I picked up a small dosage of hotel coffee and joined the scrum on the street. I love being enveloped by the Old City. There is so much going on. Everything is interesting. I moved with a purpose to the south, then east, through a quick security checkpoint, and out into the Western Wall plaza. Out in the expanse, I looked around for a place to fold and contemplated the weather. It was cold, and blustery, but I saw Torah stands I could use. Also, on this visit I was better prepared: I had my own Yamaka, straight from Zach and Mimi’s wedding. (Oh, by the way Zach, I now have a basic idea what all that interrupting was at your pre-wedding ceremony Tish.)
Out in front of the wall it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to fold inside, so I went into the arch over to the left, into the sea of praying Orthodox Jews. The power of concentrated prayer, in that space especially, is quite amazing. I did feel out of place, and yes, I really was, but at no point did I feel unwelcome. So, I made my way over to the far wall, found a chair and a stand, and began to fold. I folded cranes out of paper with written messages from my mother’s church and a few students from my school. It’s a 3-hour period I will remember forever. As I folded I placed the finished cranes on the seat next to me. The seat was eventually covered. Three times during the stretch something new happened — Orthodox Jews came up to me and spoke to me. At one point, I looked over my shoulder and two were watching me fold, so I picked up a blank piece of paper, folded a crane, and gave it to one.
I then bagged up the cranes and moved out into the plaza, to the outside portion of the wall. I found the crane I left yesterday, and went to work placing cranes around the edge of the same stone. While placing the cranes, I had one conversation with a secular Jew from Tel Aviv who said it was wonderful that non-Jews had faith in the Wall. He said he came here, to be at the wall and charge himself, like an iPod connected to an electrical socket. What a convergence of place and terminology. Wonderful.
I then backed away and looked over the cranes, all of which were now placed. Back in the center of the square as I walked away, it began to rain again. So, I moved north up into the Muslim Quarter, and headed to my favorite spot in all the world (Yah, I think so), the roof of the Austrian Hospice. On this visit I only stayed a short while, soaking in the view of so much… everything. I then walked the short distance north to the Damascus Gate to meet Rachel, a local UP coach. We walked the Old City, ate Knaffe (yum!) and then took in some Arabic Coffee at an expat cafe in Jerusalem.
We then met up with one of Rachel’s friend’s, Lucy, and made out way to a Shul for a Shabbat prayer session. I stood through the packed ceremony, and took in the calling and loved the dancing. Afterwards, the three of us were invited to Shabat diner with another of Rachel’s friends, Dave, a Rabbi and author. There ended up being 10 people at dinner and it was so, so, so over the top wonderful. We ate, talked, prayed, laughed. We laughed until we cried and hurt. The group was incredibly welcoming, interesting, and had such beautiful stories. The whole dinner spanned a solid 3 hours, and there was no down time. I can’t wait to visit Dave’s family again. After dinner, we walked back into the night, which was pretty interesting as Purim was gearing up and there were a healthy number of people dressed up running around in the streets. We saw many Smurfs. Yes, Smurfs.
I made my way to the Jaffa gate, and then through the rain-slicked alleys of the Old City, back to the Hashimi Hotel where I quickly crashed.
The next morning I woke to another easy morning. I got caught up on email, packed up, and before checking out had a nice breakfast in the hotel, right next to a window overlooking a huge vista of the Old City. I then made my way out into the Old City, and quickly treated myself to another round of Knaffe, before moving to my perch on the roof of the Austrian Hospice. I got comfy with a book and read for a while, taking in the view every few minutes.
Back in the scrum of the Old City, I meandered over to the Jaffe gate and sat and watched from the top of the stairs to the David museum. Shortly afterwards, I met up with Rachel and we caught a taxi to checkpoint 300, where Ben picked us up. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the Beit Sahour School, where we setup for practice. Ben did a fantastic job pulling the kids together, warming them up with a fun close-pin game of tag, and then ran them through drills and a couple scrimmages. The kids have game. We had a small space, but they used it well and showed good patience.
After practice Ben, Rachel, Amanda (Ben’s friend) and I had a very filling dinner in Bethlehem. After pulling down lots of hummus, kebobs, and some Taybeh beer, we drove Rachel back to Jerusalem, played some cards, checked out the view of Jerusaelem from the roof of her building, and then Ben, Amanda, and I made it back through checkpoint 300 and to Beit Sahour, to Ben’s apartment. Sleep was grand.
The next morning I woke up and we all talked about what to do. We quickly settled on a trip to the Dead Sea, given that the weather was perfect. So, we picked up Rachel, then headed east and then south on the very nice highway, to Ein Gedi, stopped briefly to load up on lunch on the way. The drive out was notable for the scenery and the 2,500+ foot drop to the level of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Crazy. Oh, we saw some camels along the way too.
After parking, we ate some lunch and then went down to the rocky shore, and had a blast floating in the water. I noticed the sign that said don’t put your head under, and I didn’t plan to, and now I know… that would be a truly terrible idea given how much salt is in the water it burns your eyes like crazy. You’re so boyant in the water it’s actually not very easy to stay veritcal while floating. There’s also a pretty strong current, which means people tend to drift without noticing. The salt also coats many of the rocks on the shore, which is pretty cool to see.
After drying off the best we could, and accepting the layer of salt that was bonded to us, we got back in the car and drove back to Jerusalem. There we dropped off Rachel and went back into the West Bank. Back at the apartment we got cleaned up and then headed out for dinner, stopping at the local KFC to see how fake it was… only to discover that it was REAL! By that point we were so hungry we succumbed to what was in front of us and enjoyed some American chicken! Back at the apartment we all slept soundly.
The next morning I woke up early, polished off some UP work, and then Ben drove me to the Bethlehem bus station where I easily found a taxi van to Ramallah, which took off right after I arrived. Heading north I enjoyed the view of the valley, and the huge winding road built with USAID funds. In Ramallah I got out to a familiar sigh of controlled chaos, and made my way to the Manara circle. From there it was a straight shot to the Friends Boys School, the Upper School I was visiting for the day. (The Boys School is in name only. It’s now coed.)
After a bit of exploration, I found my contact, Elizabeth, who then gave me a tour along with another visitor. I then had some free time to explore and then the head of the Upper School, Mahmoud, brought me to an 7th grade math class which was high energy and great fun. Next, I had some time to talk with Elizabeth before I got to see a 8th grade math class which was quite advanced! Right before the end of class I was pulled out and brought to the basketball courts where I got to run a middle school gym class! In all I had 20+ kids running after discs and flying all over the place. All the kids showed great energy and there were a couple that showed some great skill. At the end of the session we took a group photo and then I talked to a few of them while helping them learn how to throw forehands. Such great kids! I left a few discs behind and told them I would be back in June.
I said my goodbye to Elizabeth and then headed out into Ramallah to find the store where I could purchase some FBS clothing. A couple wrong turns and some help from locals later, I found the store, got the jacket I was looking for, then headed back to the bus station where the bus I wanted was just about to leave. Back in Bethlehem I arrived at the bus station and started my journey on foot back to Ben’s apartment. Walking at night, through the crazy streets of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, I was super happy to take two wrong turns before finding the apartment. Comfortably ensconced back at the apartment, I worked through some UP emails, then slept.
This morning I slept in a bit, packed up, and then walked back to the bus station where I caught a taxi van to Hebron, a new place for me to visit. About 45 minute later I got out of the bus into an amplified version of Ramallah. Everything was busier and more crowded. And more intense. I was immediately approached by someone offering a tour, which I nicely brushed off. I then got my bearings and walked in what I thought was the right direction to find the Cave of the Patriarchs. Along the way I found the tourism office which verified I was going in the right place. I continued down the one street of the Old City of Hebron, and passed through security from zone H1 (Arab) to H2 (Jewish). There I walked up and entered the Mosque section of the building. I ended getting a tag-along with a local guide who was, really, doing it for free. What an amazing place. I saw all the tomb markers, and was particularly drawn to Sarah’s. Through the green grate I saw the large marker, and over to the side the edge of the same type of window for the Temple side. Wow.
I then made my way back outside, and around to the other side of the building, to the Temple entrance. Outside I put on my Yamaka, passed through security, and went up into the Temple. I joined a prayer session, and then viewed the tomb markers — the same ones I saw before, from the other side. The whole experience was powerful and truly surreal.
I’ve found that the place is best described in this line from Let’s Go:
“The allegorical possibilities of this astounding effect—two different groups looking at the same object from segregated areas and investing that object with different meanings—are almost comically endless. Regardless of whether or not you see this place as a symbol of the conflict, it is a foundational site for Western religion and an unparalleled opportunity to compare the differences both deep and superficial that exist between Judaism and Islam.”
Back outside, I walked around the rather empty streets, got a bit of food int he Settler’s cafe, and then my way back into H1, up through many streets, and eventually found the taxi van launching area for Bethlehem. Before boarding I had a great conversation with the driver and one Hamaya security guard. Fun. The ride was smooth and so very interesting. Seeing the constant security as I did in Hebron, where everything was so packed together. Back in Bethlehem I was let out in a new area, but given that everything is so close together I easily found the Church of the Nativity where I met Ben and together we found dinner.
We’re not back at the UP apartment, working away at UP tasks.
Tomorrow I’m going to explore and attend the Bethlehem practice. I am also hoping to visit the Beit Sahour school. In the days after the plan is to attend the first Jerusalem practice, explore and find the Marzapan Bakery, and then go to Acco with Miri, the Origami teacher. Friday night there may be a UP coaches social gathering. Then on Saturday I fly home.
People certainly make a place. Here, in the busy hum of Tel Aviv, Tamra, Neyanya, Ra’anana, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour… that couldn’t be more true. In launching myself on this 18-day journey, I certainly felt a certain level of anxiety. As everyone who has ever traveled to this region knows, nothing is every super easy. There’s an added level of complexity that’s added to every task. And I knew what I wanted to do in my time here was all over the place, and that I would need support… and I had faith in the amazing network of truly AMAZING people that make up this place.
I could not be happier with how thing have turned out.
My Sunday morning (3/9), started with an early morning taxi ride to Ra’anana to pick up my rental car. I would have loved to have been able to rely on public transport, but bouncing around to super specific locations is not always easy in Israel. At the rental care agency, all things went to plan, which was especially relieving since I had to use my backup plastic since the night before I went through the fun of canceling my primary plastic. Yup, I certainly called my banks and notified them of my travels, but it turns out that my primary card was used in SoCal. On Saturday. Oh well. Anyway — I got my car, geared up my GPS, and moved north on 6.
While traveling north to Albayan high school Tamra, all I knew was that I needed to get to the city. Alas, there are no addresses in the same sense we are used to in the States. Half way through my journey, courtesy of the wonders of Waze, one of the students I was meeting sent me an exact GPS location, and I was set. The ride was smooth, and for us folk used to driving for 3+ hours to get places, quite quick. In Tamra, I made my way through the busy streets, enjoying the “active driving”.
I parked in front of the school and shot a text out to a couple of the students I was meeting. I set up waiting near the gate, and looked across the threshold to the first student I saw… who was UP CIT Areen! 1/1 on recognizing people. Nice. We were quickly joined by Shada, Asmaa, and Hanan who were my guides for the day.
I ended up going to one math class with Asmaa, and then a second one with a different teacher. Math truly is a universal language, and I managed to keep up with most of the problems. That being said, I do not speak Arabic or Hebrew, so I was well behind in understanding certain moments. I now know, clearly, what some of my new international students feel when they first land in a math class here in the States. The math itself can make perfect sense… but not click. It can be so tantalizingly close. I really get it now.
After class, we stopped as Asmaa’s house on our way to practice. I got to meet her mother and was treated to a round of very tasty Arabic coffee. I now have quite a taste for the potent brew. Now I just need to learn how to make it properly myself.
On the way to practice it started to rain. For the first time in 3+ months. Practice ended up getting truncated a bit and instead of two sessions, one combined practice was run by Abe and Chris. It was fantastic to see the kids in action. I practiced my lefty throws a bit as my right shoulder is still a bit mangled. By the end of practice, everyone was happily drenched. Abe and Chris ran a fantastic show.
After practice, I dropped off a few players and Ali and I went to his house to get cleaned up. Over at Ali’s I met his wonderfully friendly mother and rested up a bit before Ali and I headed out to pick up Shada and Asmaa. At dinner, we were joined by Samir, and we loaded up on salad and pasta.
The next morning, I woke from my first full night of sleep in more than a week, and Ali and I went upstairs for breakfast. I loaded up on a delicious array of food and talked to Ali about our day, all while taking in an amazing view of Tamra. Next, Ali and I drove over to his school, located in the neighboring town of Kabul. At school, we started by meeting with the principal, and then I got to visit 5 different classes: 4 math classes and one Arabic. During the last 30 minutes of the last class, Ali’s teacher gave me the floor and I talked a little bit about myself, and then ran the kids through some of my favorite math questions. We had a blast talking about infinity, irrationality, and famous unsolved problems.
After school ended, Ali and I headed back to his house where we had another fabulous meal prepared by his mother, who also took the time to show me some good technique tips for making Arabic coffee. We all sat around talking for a while. I learned more about Ali’s younger brother, and talked more with Ali. At around 5pm I said my goodbyes, and headed south for Tel Aviv.
In the city, thanks to Waze, I easily found the address for the night’s gathering of UP coaches. Then began the battle for parking, which I found 10 minutes away, in a timed spot in front of the Norwegian Consulate. After getting confirmation on what the sign said from two different people, both of whom said it was okay to park in the spot, I walked back to the restaurant. And of course, while the address was easy to find, the opening was quite hard to see, but alas, this is Israel and some things are a bit tough ;)
The gathering was for Sarah, for the people in the area she impacted. I knew about some of the people that were going to show up… and then they kept on showing up. By 9pm it seemed like everyone was there. It was such a grand experience. Jez spoke as eloquently as only he can. We then had the social fun that Sarah was so known for — the smiling, and reveling in each other’s company. I made new friends, connected with ones I hadn’t seen since last summer (Tomer!)… and had Such. An. Amazing. Time.
Afterwards, I crashed with Chelsea on her familiar couch, and woke up early to find my car… which I was relieved to find still in the spot I left it in! Hooray for not being towed. Then, with another round of help from Mr. Waze, I found the Ra’anana HS with an hour to spare, which I used to down a nice breakfast outside in the sun. The area was quite a convergence given the traffic of kids AND the fact the Purim is coming up… so, LOTS of kids in awesome costumes.
At 9:30 I met the UP Ra’anana CIT contingent at the gate and started off a great morning of visiting classes. I ended up seeing three different classes, at three different levels. The students were super friendly and there was certainly an upped amount of energy in the air due to Purim. I also got to speak to the math chair a bit and talk to a couple other teachers. After classes, I spent some time in the teacher’s lounge ironing out some plans.
Next up, I drove back into Tel Aviv and parked in one of the coastal lots by the pyramid play structure thing made of ropes. I was hungry, so of course I headed for the Shuk where I picked up my favorite Shuk snack of incredible blue cheese and a baguette. Yes, I know, not super traditional, but wow, so yummy. I capped off my snack with a nice bit of reading in a cafe, after which I found the outside atmosphere to have changed from sun to driving wind and some rain. I battled my way back to my car, and then headed to north Tel Aviv to spend the night with Chris Panna.
The next morning I drove north back to Herzliya to meet with Miri, the head of the Origametria program, which teaches Origami to elementary students across Israel to help them understand Geometry. I first learned about her program in the phenomenal Between the Folds documentary. The segment of the documentary that covers Origametria can be viewed right here:
I had an absolutely wonderful time meeting with Miri and her husband Paul Jackson, who is also involved in the program, and an unreal Origami artist. We talked, drank tea, and I learned so much about the program. Miri gave me a mini lesson in the efficacy of using geometry terminology to teach Origami and I was thoroughly impressed. Paul explained his work and the impact of folding on thinking, and how it works so very well with younger children. They are one of the most fascinating couples I have ever met. After a wonderful lunch, Miri invited me to come up with her to Acco next week to observe an Origametria data-gathering session. I cannot wait.
Back on the road, I headed east to Jerusalem. The drive was smooth, even with the rain, and while gassing up the car involved a U-turn in heavy traffic, the the return place was, of course, out of the way and not easy to find, all went well and I got the car all tucked in back at Sixt. Out in the sun I walked the short distance to the Jaffa gate to the Old City, and through the familiar and wildly textured alleys of the Muslim Quarter to the Hashimi Hotel. After dropping off my stuff, I headed out west from the Old City to meet up with Ben, Rachel, and Amanda.
The four of us had a great evening of card games, and then Ben, Amanda, and I headed into the West Bank to meet up with the Daajneh family and some of the local UP kids. It was so great to see everyone again. After chatting with the family, and Ben impressing us all with his Arabic, we continued to Beit Sahour to the UP apartment to eat dinner. Ben then brought me back to the Jaffa gate where I made my way back through the alleys — no map needed — to my hotel.
The next morning I slept in, polished off a torrent of email replies over coffee, and then headed out into the Old City. The rain was coming down, but most of the Old City is covered, so I was pretty protected. Out in the plaza I got my first view of the Western Wall, and then realized it was a great time to get in line to go up to the Temple Mount. Out in the rain I waited, and for short periods there was some actual hail. Surreal. Up on the Temple Mount I walked around the Dome several times, and really took in details of the place I hadn’t noticed before. What a place.
Back out in the streets, I made my way to Abu Skuri and filled up hummus, falafel, and tea. Fueled up, I went back out into the rain, to the Wall, and wandered around inside the side area, soaking in the surreal environment of tremendous faith, believe, history, and… simply, the Old City of Jerusalem. Back out at the Wall, I folder my first crane. Tomorrow, the main folding will occur.
Back a the hotel I warmed up, rested a bit, and then headed south west to the Armenian Quarter to visit my favorite tile and jewelry store. The proprietor was there, and we talked for a while about several topics. What an interesting man. Out in the night, I walked a short distance to a nearby Armenian restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal of lamb, salad, rice, and baklava. Yum!
Back here at the hotel I am gearing up for sleep. Tomorrow I will spend a good portion of the day folding at the Western Wall, but I also hope to meet up with some local friends. Tomorrow I’ll change my base to the UP apartment in Beit Sahour, and from there visit schools and various other sights around the West Bank.
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.”
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.
In addition to the unreal experience of working at both Camp UP sessions this summer, I am going to be arriving two weeks early in order to help out at several clinics Ultimate Peace is running in a few communities in the West Bank. The sessions are currently planned to run in the West Bank communities of Bet Sahor, Bet Lehem & Jericho. I can’t wait!
Here’s a map of the locations I’ll be working in and traveling to during the summer: