Monday, September 28, 2015

JORDAN: MOUNT NEBO (THE ORIGINAL)

Mount Nebo, a 11,929-foot massif at the southernmost end of Utah's Wasatch Range, looms over Nephi, Utah, a town thirty miles away from where I grew up.
Its imposing presence is reflected in the number of things named after it: the Nebo Scenic Byway, the Mount Nebo Wilderness, the Nebo Credit Union, and even Nebo School District, source of my excellent education. Utah's main north-south freeway runs right past Mount Nebo, and I've driven that stretch hundreds of times. My husband and one of our sons have climbed Mount Nebo and deemed it a pretty rigorous hike.

Understandably, I was more than ready to meet the archetypal Mount Nebo, a somewhat more stooped 2,680 feet-above-sea-level hump.
Just like many of the Biblical sites in Israel, this one is being cared for by the Franciscans. As I think about it now that I am back home, I wonder how the Jews and Muslims feel about Christian control of this site. Mount Nebo was Moses's last stop on his exceedingly long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, a series of events that is a significant part of Jewish and Muslim tradition as well as Christian tradition. Some (but not all) members of all three traditions also believe Moses is buried somewhere on this mountain. It is not just a "Christian Holy Place."
However, until the Franciscans came in 1933, there was nothing at this site. Our guide told us that the Franciscans asked King Abdullah for the mountain, and he bought it and gave it to the them. They are responsible for all the work here, so I guess that gives them some rights. 

Pope John Paul II chose Mount Nebo as the place to kick off his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2000. Maybe he was trying to symbolically continue the journey that, for Moses, halted here almost 3300 years ago. Like Moses, he got a pretty good look at the Promised Land from Mount Nebo's summit, but unlike Moses, he got to continue on.
Photo of photo at site
 During his visit, he planted an olive tree as a symbol of peace:
There is also a wonderful statue of Moses that was installed in 2000 and dedicated to Pope John Paul II:
The Latin inscription on the side reads, "One god, father of all, over all."
 This looks like Moses to me:
Seen head-on, the sculpture looks like a book, each strand of Moses's hair and beard a page:
An up-close look at the lower portion shows smaller books, as if on a shelf:

Thursday, September 24, 2015

JORDAN: MADABA

The third country in our Middle Eastern Adventure Triumvirate was Jordan, a country with an ancient history but only recognized as a state under British supervision in 1922 by the League of Nations (and known as Transjordan until 1949). It was given independent status by the United Nations in 1946. For a good timeline of subsequent events in Jordan's history, go here.  

We arrived at the Queen Alia International Airport several hours ahead of our tour group. Although the airport has been around since 1983, this beautiful terminal is just two years old.
Jordan is slightly smaller in area than the state of Indiana and has a similar population. I'm always shocked by the relatively tiny size of these countries that seem to play such a critical part in world affairs.  It was a little scary to visit a country that borders Syria and Iraq, not the most docile places in the world right now. In fact, while we were there--March 2015--Jordan was participating with their neighbor Saudi Arabia in airstrikes on Yemen. However, Jordan itself seemed very peaceful. One thing that helped us feel comfortable was that Bob had hired a local private guide named Isam who took good care of us.
Our first destination was the town of Madaba (population 60,000), located about 20 miles south of the capital city of Amman. It was definitely a tourist town:
Jordan is about 92% Sunni Muslim, so it was interesting to see this partially dismantled Christmas tree in the town center. Note also the name of the Hotel: "Moab Land." No, not Utah's Moab. The Biblical land of Moab--the original Moab--was located in Jordan.
A few interesting things Isam told us about Muslims in Jordan:
- Almost all Muslims in Jordan are Sunnis, and almost all Muslims in Iraq are Shi'a. "Shi-ites are not Muslim," he said. The Kurds are Sunni.
- Assad, the leader of Syria, is Shi'a.
- Sunnis are liberal, so covering the face is against the law. Someone with a covered face, for example, is not allowed to enter a bank.
- They have no imam. They follow God. "Islam" means "surrender self to God" (not to man or a leader).
- Their practice of wearing head coverings comes from Christianity.

As we were walking through town, Isam (far left and wearing a white shirt in the photo below) stopped to buy us a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. Note the store in the background: Frankfurter (Wir sprechen Deutsch--"We speak English"). There are lots of German tourists in Jordan.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

EGYPT: THE PYRAMIDS OF GIZA AND THE GREAT SPHINX

Mark Twain described seeing the Great Pyramids of Giza for the first time in 1867 in his book Innocents Abroad:

"At the distance of a few miles the Pyramids rising above the palms looked very clean-cut, very grand and imposing, and very soft and filmy, as well. They swam in a rich haze that took from them all suggestions of unfeeling stone, and made them seem only the airy nothings of a dream--structures which might blossom into tiers of vague arches, or ornate colonnades, maybe, and change and change again, into all graceful forms of architecture, while we looked, and then melt deliciously away and blend with the tremulous atmosphere."

Yes, yes, we could see exactly what he was talking about as we approached them, especially that part about the "tremulous atmosphere." (Is that a euphemism for "smog"?)
We had seen them a few times from a distance as we were driving around the city and were suprised by how they stand out. Cairo covers a lot of area, and the edges of the city creep right up to the pyramids. Rising 481 feet above the desert, the largest of the pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza, was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,700 years. (Note: It was replaced by the Lincoln Cathedral in England, built in 1092, which stood at 525 feet. These days the tallest building in the United Arab Emirates, the Khalifa Tower, is over 2,700 feet tall.)
Picture from Wikipedia
Of course, I recognized them right away. They are pretty good copies of the pyramids and sphinx in the town where I live in Southern California:
Photo from here
There are six pyramids at Giza (I'm not sure where the other two are hiding), and altogether they are known as the Giza Necropolis, or City of the Dead:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

EGYPT: CAIRO CITY SITES

In his book Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, Bruce Feiler writes:

"If Egypt is the gift of the Nile, Cairo is the cleanup job left after all the boxes have been opened and all the guests have gone home."

I have to agree. Cairo is a tightly packed and messy city in need of a good cleaning. Because the Cairo Airport is over nine miles from the city center, we saw a fair amount of Cairo through bus windows during both our arrival from Luxor and our way back to the airport for our flight to Jordan, as well as during our driving to the Pyramids of Giza. Most of the pictures in this post were taken via those windows, so be forgiving of an occasional bit of glare.
The capital city of Egypt, Cairo is very densely populated and seems to be composed primarily of apartment buildings that are various shades of brown: sand brown, dirt brown, desert brown, and red-brown:




There is also quite a bit of dirty white, gray white, and smoggy white:


Sunday, September 13, 2015

EGYPT: CAIRO INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL AND THE CAIRO MUSEUM OF EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES

With a population of over ten million and ten million more people just outside the city, Cairo is the largest city in the Middle East and the second largest city in Africa behind Lagos, Nigeria. It is also one of the most densely populated capital cities in the world. I was surprised to learn that Cairo was founded in the 10th century AD. I would have thought it was as ancient as the pyramids. The really old city of the region is Memphis, just 21 miles away, which was founded in at least the 31st century BC.

Like other large African cities we've visited (Nairobi, Kenya, and Accra, Ghana), and probably like most really big cities in the United States (Los Angeles, for example), Cairo is a shocking mix of extreme poverty . . .


. . . and over-the-top wealth. Our hotel, the Hotel Intercontinental Cairo, was definitely on the high end of the wealth spectrum:
Picture from here
It was hard not to feel guilty about staying here after seeing some of the living conditions in the city through the windows of our air-conditioned tour bus.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

EGYPT: LUXOR TEMPLE

The Luxor Temple was our sixth Egyptian Temple in three days. We had already been to the Philae, Kom Ombo, Edfu, Ramses III, and Karnak temples. It was also our third major event on a single day, following a very early-morning hot air balloon ride and a visit to Karnak Temple. To say this trip was intense is a huge understatement. A trip like this pretty much has to be intense, however. The likelihood of returning to this area of the world is pretty slim, partly because of the length of our bucket list and the limitations of our finances, and partly because of the general turmoil in the region, so we (and our tour company) felt the need to cram as much into the allotted time as possible.

No worries. I at least had some context for the Luxor Temple, for I had seen its reproduction in Las Vegas many times:
Picture from here 
Imagine my surprise when it didn't look like that at all. In fact, Las Vegas Luxor = Cairo's Great Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx, 313 air miles away. Someone really needs a geography and history refresher.

I had to start at ground zero, which meant looking at this map, which helped a little bit:
This temple was built mostly by  Amenhotep III (1391-1353), completed by Tutankhamun (1332-1323 BC) and Horemheb (1306-1292 BC), and then added to by Ramses II (1279-1213 BC), who many believe was the pharaoh in Moses's story, and, whose gigantic statues we had seen near the Valley of the Kings. Amenhotep and Ramses each had his own courtyard, as shown in the diagram above, at the back end is a shrine dedicated to Alexander the Great (332-305 BC), and somewhere in the Ramses II section is an Islamic mosque that is still in use.

This was once a happenin' place. In fact, it still is.

I found these instructions from the Luxor Temple Inspeection [sic] people helpful, although I was puzzled by the random use of capital letters. However, since I can't write a single word in Egyptian, I shouldn't be critical.
Did I give them a "tine"? I don't remember that.
 A broad avenue once connected Karnak and Luxor, a distance of about two miles:
In ancient times, the entire length was lined with sphinxes. Many sphinxes still stand as sentries at Luxor, just as we had seen them at Karnak.
The head of one of the sphinxes, sans body and cobra head piece:
I do like the effect of the palm tree growing out of this head in the photo on the left:
  
Ouch! That's a serious stubbed toe!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

EGYPT: KARNAK TEMPLE

It's a bit embarrassing to realize how little I knew about Egypt before this trip. For example, I'd heard of Karnak, but I had no concept of its size or importance in Egyptian history. I didn't know that it is the second largest religious site in the world, behind only Angor Wat in Cambodia, or that it is the second most visited site in Egypt behind the Great Pyramids of Giza. 

Part of the reason Karnak grew to such size (over 200 acres) and prominence (a pilgrimage site for over 2,000 years) is because almost thirty pharaohs added to it. I guess that when you are trying to outdo your predecessors, big things happen.

Before we entered the grounds, we took a look at this model, which was so large that I couldn't even get all of it in a single picture:
Here's an artist's drawing of the complex that gives a more panoramic view:
Picture from here
Before we went in, we stopped for a group picture. I think this is just the passengers in the Yellow Bus, which is half of our group:
The road leading up to the entrance, called The Avenue of the Sphinxes, is lined with statues that have lions' bodies and rams' heads:
Between the paws of each sphinx is a statue of the great Ramses II, depicted as Osiris:


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

EGYPT: A HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE OVER LUXOR AND VALLEY OF THE KINGS

When we were in Kenya last year, we had an opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Masai Mara for $500/person.  That was much too steep for our bank account, and we declined. When we heard a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings was an option for this trip, and that it cost a much more reasonable $135/person, we were among the first in line to sign up. When we got the 4:00 AM wake-up call, however, I was questioning the wisdom of that decision.

We left our cruise boat at 4:30 and headed for the barque that would transport us across the River Styx Nile to our heavenly transport:
 We look perky, don't you think?
It's a good thing they provided us with a nutritious breakfast:
When we arrived, the crew had just begun to inflate the five or six enormous balloons that would carry our group and some others aloft:

A burst of flame shot into the void:
. . . and one by one the balloons rose up like oddly colored specters into the pre-dawn grayness:
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