Hello, and welcome to the next step in my post-military globe-trotting. Many of you followed my first blog (tonyrides.com) as I traveled the United States on my Motorcycle, riding over 18,000 miles and reaching 49 states and three countries.

In this next installment, my friend Jerod and I will be going abroad for an open-ended jaunt. We will start in the Middle-East at the end of February and see where the roads and the winds take us.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Back up on the stick

Hello from the central bus station in Jerusalem.  After getting up super early to catch the 7AM bus, which was sold out anyway, we got tickets for the 10AM and are killing time at an internet cafe. 

We spent Thursday through Sunday night in Tzfat, Israel.  We stayed with an organization called Livnot U'lehibinot, which is the organization that ran my two-week trip to Israel back in 2008.  It was great to see some familiar faces, and to meet some new people as well.  Our timing worked out to span a Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night), a hike near the Golan Heights, and a Passover Seder.  The passover seder was like none I had been to before, and lasted from around 8PM to 2AM.  It was intense, but a great experience.  Jerod was a trooper and took all of the Judaism I through at him with a grain of salt.  He definitely learned a lot about religion/culture from that experience.

After the first night of Passover we took the first bus from Tzfat to Jerusalem (9PM since they don't run during the holiday) so we could get an early start towards Eilat, where we will cross into the Sinai Penninsula.  As I mentioned before, the first bus was sold out, and the bus station is mobbed with people coming and going for the holiday week.

Today marks the end of our first month on the road.  We have spent a considerable amount of time in Israel and Jordan, but will still leave them with sights unseen and trails unhiked.  I guess it is a good excuse to return some time.  That being said, we are excited to be moving forward with the trip and getting a new country under our belts.  Egypt will be a bit of a whirlwind, since we have a set departure day on 15 April when we fly from Cairo to Istanbul. 

Things are great, though, and our spirits are high.  Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Rollers

Greetings again from Tzfat. Israel.  Thanks to closures in public transportation for Shabbat and Passover we are still here (that was the plan anyway).  We had a nice restful Shabbat, followed by a short hike (really more of a nature walk) today.  Tomorrow is the start of Passover (Pesach for those Hebrew speakers out there).  Not much to report on, things are going well, and have been really peacefull.  Jerod is getting a very in-depth education into Judaism, and we are looking forward our upcoming "reverse-exodus" to the Sinai.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back to Israel...

Good afternoon all, Jerod here--my first actual internet blog, on Tony's site or otherwise.  Yes, I am somewhat of technological caveman, so bear with me.  I just wanted to add a few additional notes on Tony's otherwise stellar documentation of the last day or two...

Last night we camped out at Zelon beach on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee--where it's believed that Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fish, among several lesser known feats.  We were pretty worn out from a long day of public transport and the notoriously stringent Israeli border crossing, but were treated to something of a miracle in itself--as we walked onto the clearly deserted beach, a couple of staff for the campground took us in, gave us tea and some food, and after getting the tent set up, we also shared a sip or two of Arak, a very popular middle east liquor similar to Sambuca back in the States.  Despite the language barrier we managed to share a few laughs.

Our first hitchhiking experiences of the trip were rather positive--it's a way of life in Israel, especially these nothern sections that aren't particularly well served by public transport.  Despite our large backpacks and rather shaggy looks we managed to get rides relatively easily.  It's also helpful if you can make friends with an Israeli who can assist with the language barrier, and today Tony and I were lucky enough to do just that.  We hitched somewhere around 60 km or so today to the town of Tsfat, where we plan to spend Passover and use as our general outpost for the next several days. 

One last note, just to demonstrate the issues of transliterations between Hebrew and English, take the town we're currently in for example--we've seen at least this many derivations of it during our travels--Zefat, Tzfat, Safed, Zefat, Tsfat, Zfat...I guess you can see why it was pretty helpful to make friends who can help you out.

Drop it like it's Tzfat

We are back in Israel.  Tzfat to be precise.  I am on the worst keyboard ever, so I will keep it short.  After two relaxing days in the Amman we took a car to the border and came back to Israel.  Even at the checkpoint it is a big distrinction between the Jewish and Arab sides. 

Due to minimal public transport we decided to have a go at hitchhiking.  We first took a cab to town, hitched a ride to the Sea of Galillee, and took a shared taxi to a campground.  We spent the night in a deserted camp on the shore of the Galillee.  Today we got a total of 3 rides to take us to Tzfat.  Then a long walk up the hill to the old city where we are staying. 

After dropping our packs off we grabbed an old Yemenite dish that is a cross between a pizza and a crepe.  I always call it Yemenite Pizza.  I'd been jonesing for one since I was here last.  Anyway, we have a few relaxing days ahead of us with Shabbat, and maybe we can squeeze in a trip to the Golan Heights before Passover. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bedouins and Ad Revinue

First things first, never buy a travel alarm clock from Sharp.  Three weeks into the trip and it quit on us.  Who needs an alarm clock anyway?

Anyway, just wanted to embellish a little on my last epic entry.  I LOVE JORDAN (Tony's opinion only.  Please consult Jerod for his opinion).  The people are amazing, the driving is like NASCAR, and if you avoid the tourist traps you can sleepand eat for very few Dinars (money).  Nawaf, our host in Um Sihon (near Petra) takes every couchsurfer that sends a request.  He made us several excellent dinners and would invite his Bedouin friends over to join us for evenings of Narghila (hookah), Arak (anisette liquor), and conversation.  In addition, we have picked up every hitchhiker that we have room for, and get to learn a lot about the Bedouin lifestyle in modern Jordan. 

On one particularly isolated hike in Petra we rounded a bend and heard flute music wafting out of a cave.  An older Bedouin man came out and invited us in for tea.  We sat on carpets on the floor of his cave and drank tea with him.  He had me read a text message to him that he had received in English from another visitor he had gotten in the past.  He told us he was not working currently because his donkey had just given birth and needed a month before it could be put to use again.  He sent us on our way with handshake and directions along the confusing trail.

Lastly,I just learned that Jerod and I are earning a tiny sum of money from the visits to the ads on our blog page, so I will put in a shameless plug and encourage you to click on them often!  Maybe through your efforts we can stay on the road a day longer!   

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nabateans Schmabateans

Greetings from Wadi Mousa, Jordan.  We've been busy bees since our last entry.  From Aqaba Jerod and I rented another car.  We were a little nervous since an international driver's license is required (why didn't we bother to get them before we left?), but even a chain like Hertz never asked to see one, so away we went. 

Our first stop was a Safeway grocery store.  I don't know why the worst grocery chain in the US is the only one in Jordan, but we stocked up on food and headed North into the desert.  Our first stop was Wadi Rum.  Wadi Rum is the former home of Lawrence of Arabia.  We skipped the expensive jeep tours and headed out into the desert on our own.  The first day we passed "Lawrence's Spring" on our way to a designated campsite.  We were treated to pretty breathtaking scenery reminiscent of the Southwest United States, with huge sandstone mountains and hills protruding from the desert floor, all carved and eroded from years of desert flash floods and blowing sand.  We made it into our campsite around sunset and were promptly invited into a Bedouin tent and offered us more tea than we could drink in a week.  We stayed for a bitand tried to make some conversation, but the language barrier was a bit strong.  We set up our camp and bunkered down for what proved to be a extremely windy night.  Despite being caught in the relative open in 25 mph winds the tent held strong and we got a lousy night's sleep.

The next day we woke early and continued to hike.  We stopped by Lawrence of Arabia's house (what was left of it) before attempting to find a more sheltered campsite.  We ended up camping in a cave (sort of) about 75 feet off the desert floor.  We built a lovely campfire and had some soup cooked on a bedouin stove that we borrowed after failing to find any fuel for ours.  We had a much nicer sleep, setting us up for a leisurely stroll out of the desert the next morning.

We stopped in Rum Village to return the borrowed stove, had some tea with our friend Ali, and got behind the wheel to drive to Um Sihon, home of our couchsurfing host Nawaf.  We met Nawaf at his family home in the village.  We had tea, met some of his 7 children and then he led us to his couchsurfing apartment on the edge of town.  There we met his other guests, from Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, and Denmark, as well as some of his local friends.  We sat around drinking arak and having a feast and sharing travel advice.

This morning we had some breakfast, dropped one of the couchsurfers at his work, and with our new friends Simon we set off for Petra.  Petra is absolutely spectacular, but get here to visit ASAP.  Entry was 38 Jordanian Dinars (almost 60 USD), and will be going up to 90 Dinars next year.  Apparently the quantity of tourism is taxing the water supply out in the desert.  While we found it to be crowded, there are plenty of places to get off the beaten path and do some real exploring.  Unlike parks in the US, there are very few off-limits places, and you can crawl around in ancient tombs (built by the Nabateans if you're wondering) and go almost wherever you want.  Definitely a place to see.  We will return tomorrow for another hike (we bought a two day pass) and then probably head North to Amman, with a possible stop in Karak.

Hopefully we will be getting more frequent internet access soon, so apologize for the delay in blogging.  Hope you enjoyed it. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Red Sea

Hello from Aqaba, Jordan, on the sunny Red Sea.  After our time by the Dead Sea in Israel we returned the rental car in Eilat (also on the Dead Sea).  We found a cheap campground across from the sea and spent a relaxing day lounging on the beach and swimming.  We spent last night lounging in a Bedouin tent by the sea smoking a hookah and drinking tea.  Today we had a guy we met at the campsite drive us to the border crossing into Jordan.  From there we walked across the border and hopped a cab for the cheapest hotel.  It's definitely exciting to finally be experiencing another country.  Now we are on the opposite shore of the Red Sea (gulf of Aqaba) almost looking across at our place in Eilat.  Should be a setup for a nice sunset.  Tomorrow we will try to rent a car again and head up to Wadi Rum and Petra.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Riding through the desert.....

Greetings from Masada in Israel.  We've been busy bees since you last heard from me.  From Bethlehem we had our same driver take us to Jericho, which is the lowest city on earth, at 200 meters below sea level, and also the oldest continuously populated city on earth.  The highlight of Jericho is its cable car that runs up the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days and nights.  I only lasted about an hour.  From Jericho we were headed to Ramallah, but Walid said it was too far/expensive for him to take us so he dropped us at a bus stop and we went back into Jerusalem and got another bus to Ramallah.  We spent the afternoon drinking terrible coffee and eating cheap falafels before meeting our couchsurfing hosts.  Travel Tip: don't let both traveling companions sleep on a bus at the same time only to wake up in a random Palestinian neighborhood.

After our adventures in Palestine we decided to head out to the dead sea and surround deserts.  With tours running almost $100 per person we thought it best to rent a car at $90 for three days.  We drove to spot on the Dead Sea called Qalia and did the obligatory floating and mud basking.  Jerod was able to confirm that it is indeed saltier than the Great Salt Lake.  From Qalia we drove down the coast to En Gedi (also on the Dead Sea).  We picked up an Italian couple hitch-hiking and drove them down the coast a bit.  Luckily we found a store open on Shabbat to buy some food for camping out and went to a beach on the Dead Sea with free camping.  Apparently it was also the night for every young adult in the area to show up and see who could play music the loudest and latest.  At 10 PM, with no sign of sleep on the horizon, we decided to get an early start on our day.  We broke our camp and loaded some day packs with some food, water, and our sleeping bags.  We snuck into the National Park and made a star-lit ascent of Mt Yishay (about 2000 ft).  At the top we camped out for the rest of the night, finally out of earshot of terrible arabic techno music.

We woke to the sun rising over the Dead Sea and headed out for the desert plateau.  We hiked around for several hours before choosing the trail labeled as the most difficult descent.  We made it safely into a lush river valley and cooled off swimming under a waterfall, ala shampoo commercial.  Now I am sitting in a Youth Hostel in Masada.  we are getting up a little before 5 AM to climb Masada and see the sun rise again. 

From here we are headed to Eilat on the Red Sea (Red, Dead, and Med).  We will make a stop in the Negev Desert on the way and Maybe get some camping in.  From Eilat we will cross into Aqaba, Jordan and begin our Quest for the Holy Grail in Petra. 

Until next time......

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The New Wailing Wall

Greetings faithful followers.  Shalom and Salaam.  Don't worry, I have not come down with Jerusalem Syndrome (a documented psychological complex where visitors to the holy land begin to think they are a prophet).  Since you last heard from me we have gotten a great mix (oxymoron?) of Christian and Jewish culture.  We followed some of the Via Doloroso (wayof the cross) which follows Jesus' path as he carried the cross.  It culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which (rumor has it) is the holiest christian place on earth.  We also got a chance to vist Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem, and had a nice dinner al fresco in the mountain town of Ein Karem.  From there we went to the Western Wall once again to take a tour of the tunnels that go deep beneath the old city of Jerusalem.

This morning my boots were delivered from El Al.  I feel whole again.  As soon as we got the boots Jerod and I walked to the Damascus Gate of the old city where we hopped on the "Arab Bus" to Bethlehem.  A bus to Bethlehem is definitely misleading because there is no open road there because it is in the famed West Bank.  The road from Jerusalem ends abruptly at a massive cement wall stretching in both directions.  It is garnsihed with razor wire and guard towers.  We passed easily through the control point, and found some cabs waiting on the other side.  We picked a driver with strong English and for a reasonable sum he took us to Mount Herodian and Shepherds Hill/Field (where the angels appeared after JC's birth).  After getting a room at the inn in Bethlehem we walked to the Church of the Nativity amd the Milk Grotto (feel free to wikipedia them, because I am not an expert).

I'll spare you any stereotypical rhetoric on the "apartheid wall" and mix of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures.  I will try to post some post some pics soon, though and let you draw your own conclusions.

Jerod is getting sleepy so I am going to lay him in a manger.
Goodnight, and god bless..

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Holy City (doesn't require boots)

Hello from Jerusalem.  Jerod and I successfully navigated the bus system to arrive in Jerusalem before things started to close down before Shabbat.  My friend Kristiana met us at the bust station and we made the hike back to her place.  A nice restful afternoon led to a nice Shabbat dinner prepared by Kristiana's Israeli roommate Ouriel.  Afterwords we sat around talking and drinking wine until bed time.

Today, after a delicious breakfast (again prepared by Ouriel) we set out for the old city of Jerusalem.  We knew the Jewish quarter would be mostly abandoned, but the Arab, Armenian, and Christian quarters were all bustling with market activity.  We passed the Jaffa gate and Damascus Gate as well as few of the stations of the cross.  After wandering through the twisting labyrinth of streets we arrived at a security checkpoint to enter the plaza with the Kotel (Wailing Wall/Western Wall).  We decided not to spend too much time there today, but we will return after Shabbat and take some photos and try to arrange to tour the tunnels leading under the Kotel.  A long walk brought us back to Kristiana's a few minutes ago, and we will probably grab some dinner soon.  Tomorrow will probably take us to a few more spots in the old city, back to the wall, and maybe some of Ben Yehuda street and Zion Square. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Moving on up (without boots)

Sigh....still no boots. But, at least we are getting out of Tel Aviv today.  We were going to be visiting a friend of mine near Tel Aviv last night, but he had to work a double.  Instead, he came into the city on Wednesday night to have a few pints. 

Today we are catching a bus to Jerusalem where we will be staying with a friend of mine.  We just need to make sure we get there early enough, otherwise things start shutting down in observation of shabbat, which starts at sunset.  Sine today is the start of shabbat most Israelis are off from work, and last night was their equivalent of Friday.  Jerod and I hit a few bars to get a feel for the "scene" here.  It was definitely good for a few laughs. 

We are definitely both excited to be moving on.  Tel Aviv is an interesting city, but still a city, and somewhat lacking in the historical splendor of the rest of the country.  In the next week we will be reporting back having visited places like the Western Wall, Bethlehem, and Nazareth (no, not the 80's metal band), so I don't think Tel Aviv really compares. 

Everyone pray for my boots.   

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sleepless in Tel Aviv

It's the morning of 3 March and it seems that famous Goldstein jet lag has finally sunk in.  It's almost 7AM and I have been up since 3AM after going to sleep at 1AM.  Oh well.  Yesterday was nice relaxing day.  We started with some breakfast before heading over to the beach.  Beautiful weather, but not quite beach weather.  We walked the boardwalk into old seaport of Jaffa before heading back to the hostel.  We spent a while reorganizing our gear since El Al was gracious enough to get it pretty disheveled.  I then introduced Jerod to schwarma before heading back for a little siesta.  We chatted with our roommate for a bit.  He is Brazilian tattoo artist from Rio.  His grasp of English being slightly better than my Portoguese made for an interesting conversation, but was fun none-the-less.  I also had my first lost wallet scare, sending me running back to the store I had used it at last, only to return to the hostel empty-handed but to find Jerod waiting out front with my wallet which another guest had found on the floor and brought by the room.  The kindness of strangers prevails.  I then bought a caribiner and some cord to manufacture a lanyard.  I won't lose it again.

El Al has still not delivered my boots, and a quick stop at a hiking store proved that replacing them here will be far costlier than it would be almost anywhere else.  I plan on calling the claims number today to get an ETA or maybe expedite the process.  Also on the books for today is a stop at the Carmel Market and maybe a trip to Hayarkon Park and Gardens just outside the city limits.

Thanks for stopping in.  Until next time.............. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Greetings From Tel Aviv

Hello from the capitol of Israel.  After 16 hours, two planes, a train, and two buses we are safe and sound at our youth hostel.  The biggest snafu of the day came when El Al security confiscated my hiking boots for further inspection.  They were very vague, but hopefully they will be able to put them on a flight tomorrow and deliver them to the hostel.  It's almost half past eleven here right now, and we left the house at 5PM on Sunday.  It's definitely been a long day.  I think we will grab a beer or two and hit the rack.