A Travellerspoint blog

November 22nd - 29th, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

November 22nd
As agreed, Bernie knocked to say goodbye early in the morning. It had been a very good week travelling around Jordan - almost like a holiday rather than travelling.... We got up a little later, checked out of the hotel and jumped in a taxi to the King Hussein Bridge - one of the border crossings between Jordan and Israel.

Now, we were aware as to the potential problems and issues arising as a result of an attempt of getting into Israel - refusal, passport stamps prohibiting passage into other Middle Eastern countries, endless questions, long delays and, well, perhaps a little danger.... We were dropped a 5 min walk from the first checkpoint. The Jordanian departure went relatively smoothly - they agreed not to stamp our passports, understanding the consequences of a Jordanian/Israeli border crossing stamp on future travel. A short bus ride across no man's land - for which we were charged - past the Star of David waving in the wind above and to the Israeli arrivals buildings.

All seemed to be going well, it was taking time - yes - but, the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th checks of our bags and passports all appeared relatively harmless. And then the lady (teenage girl) with the stamp, and the power to say yes or no. Smiling sweetly we asked for a stamp to be issued on paper rather then in the passport. 'Why?', she demanded. Hadn't really expected that - obvious reasons really - we kept things honest and simple. A phone call. Then a trip across the hall to another office. Back again. Endless questions. 'Where are you going?', 'Who do you know here?', 'Are you going to West Bank?','Why you go to Bethlehem?', 'Why come here', 'Father's name?', 'Where you work?'. She had never heard of the Sea of Galilee which proved to be a bit of stumbling block. But, eventually she assented and we walked through with stampless passports. The remaining 3 or 4 checkpoints were a breeze - even despite the teenage boys clutching their big guns guarding - well, whatever, probably themselves...

And, so onto the bus, shwarma in hand and only 1 more checkpoint en route to Jerusalem. The bus pulled up just outside of the walled old city near Damascus Gate and from there it was a very short walk to the Faisal Hostel where we checked in. Not a place I'd recommend - over-priced, building works ongoing and a fairly blunt staff. And, for the life of me I simply couldn't get the key to work in our lock - fortunately after a bit of twisting and pulling etc... Marsha managed it each time.

And we went walking in Jerusalem's old walled city. Wow. What a place. One of my most favourite cities ever. The atmosphere was excitable, the hustle and bustle of people hurrying to and fro - on bikes, pushing carts, walking and talking. The smell of kebab and shwarma stands filled the air - as did the voices of their vendors selling their fare. Inside the walls the mazelike tiny cobbled lanes were busy, lined with little shops - inside each bargains being struck - as has happenned for over 2000 years.

At every turn ancient structures stood proudly - churches, synagogues, mosques, tombs, arches, alleyways...The place was a collision of cultures, beliefs and ethnicities. Bespectacled Jewish people in traditional clothing, muslims and christians all occupied the same spaces. Each aware and yet oblivious of each other. And of course, this mix of people and backgrounds has resulted in a dining paradise. Every cuisine imaginable was available - produced in the traditional way by native people.

We wandered to the Dome of the rock - the site at which Abraham's faith was tested and where Mohammed ascended to heaven. We walked past the room which housed the last supper. We spied the place where Jesus ascended and where Judas betrayed. A group of Italian tourists were heaving a cross round the believed route that Jesus took. We saw where he fell. We entered the church that people believe was the site of his crucifixion. So many biblical events in such a small place. We ended up at the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall). Segregated by a short wall, Jewish men and women, bowing repeatedly at the hip, prayed and chanted and read from holy books - noses to the wall. The Wailing Wall is the only remains from an ancient temple - the wailing is their lamenting of its demise.
The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.

The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem.

PB223527.jpgPB233553.jpgPB233557.jpgJewish Quarter, Jerusalem

Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem

Behind the wall was the Dome of the Rock. It has various different entrances and opening times according to your religion. We chose the Christian door as we felt it most likely to get us in. A very impressive area - big, imposing and expensive - as are most religious buildings - but a huge sense of history too. We stayed until we were shooed out to let the next differently named worshippers in to kneel before the same God. All rather bizzare.
Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

Resting in Jerusalem

Resting in Jerusalem

After gaining advice from a friendly Jewish wine shop owner we headed up Jaffa St in search of food and a drink and found plenty of both.

November 23rd
Another day In Jerusalem. We took the Holy City walking tour we found advertised from Jaffa Gate. It explored most of the city and the knowledgable guide explained where, how, when and why many historical events from the old and new testaments and the Koran just may have happenned. Despite our sceptism about the factual content at times, it was a fascinating tour. It passed through the Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of the old city, onto the rooves above, overlooking Jerusalem and the surrounding hills and past such places as the Dome, the Wailing Wall, Herod's tower, the church of the Holy Sepulchre and plenty more.

In the evening we opted for a couple of drinks and a cheap shwarma from next door to where we were staying.

November 24th
A month before Xmas Eve and we visited Bethlehem. Just an hour's bus ride away - or so we thought. At the last stop we were informed by a taxi driver standing by helpfully that in fact we were about 5km away. But, not to worry, he'd take us for the price of a local Palestinian to the centre. 350 Sheqals he said. (About $90). 'Errrmm, that's perhaps a little overpriced', we politely said. 'But, I wait you, bring you back - same price!', he replied, grinning. He obviously felt the lift back would clinch the deal. We started to walk. 'Ok, ok. 250 Sheqalsl'. Our pace increased. 'And we will go to Rachel's tomb', he added. We continued on our way.... 'Who the hell's Rachel...?', Marsha whispered. Neither of us knew.

Anyhow, round the corner, through the market, down the next street and we found ourselves in Manger Square - the centre of Bethlehem. The town is relatively small, albeit filled with tourists. Christmas shops line the streets. The large Church of the Nativity commands most of the attention. Huge tour groups filed into it - we followed. Below the altar is where several different denominations of Christianity believe that Jesus was actually born. We queued. After much pushing and shoving (you'd expect the holy people to be a little more polite!) we eventually descended into the grotto and spent a short amount of time at the actual birthplace. Not much to it really - but I guess that fits into the whole meek and humble image he promoted in life.

As with Jerusalem the previous day, it was very exciting being in this place we'd heard so much about; however, it is not quite the same as seeing other historical places - it doesn't quite conjure up the same emotions, because, firstly doubts remain over whether any of these things actually happenned - and if some did, whether anything spiritual was occuring or whether the legend of the man named Jesus has just grown to giant sized exaggerated proportions. And, secondly, assuming everything was for real - Angels, virgin birth, rising from the dead etc.... even the most ardent of followers would surely doubt that they have managed to pinpoint the exact spots for all these miracles and ocurrences.

Enough cynicism. Because, it was very interesting.
Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Where Jesus was born

Where Jesus was born

As we emerged from the grotto and then the church into the daylight, the Mosque over the road began the Call to Prayer - loudly competing with the church for the attention of the tour groups. We had a kebab and then visited the site where Mary and co hid from Herod's soldiers as they went about their child killing business.

Later back in Jerusalem, having enjoyed the possible sites of ancient times and events we decided to enjoy something real and modern - and had ourselves a very nice Italian with a fantastic bottle of white Israeli wine.

November 25th
We'd got ourselves a hire car for 2 days. Through the crazy streets of Jerusalem, past Jericho and into the West Bank. We crossed the River Jordan a few times (it is tiny!!) and tried to find the baptism site of Jesus (there is a different one across the border in Jordan!). However, all we found was a bunch of tanks, barbed wire fences and buildings with huge holes in them. You'd have thought that Jesus could have chosen a better place....
The River Jordan

The River Jordan

Up to the Sea of Galilee. Over 200 metres below sea level - and actually a lake. Having parked up in Tiberias we went to the shore. I tried first. Apparently, it's all to do with faith - so Marsha told me afterwards. By taking off my shoes so they wouldn't get wet, I had already displayed my lack of faith in my ability to walk on water. Sure enough, in up to my shins. Sadly, I am not the new Messiah.
Me in/on the Sea of Galilee

Me in/on the Sea of Galilee

Walking in water in Galilee

Walking in water in Galilee

Marsha then refused to try, adding that she wouldn't fall into temptation - much like Jesus in the desert - thereby proving that she was the new Messiah..... I felt her argument was a little flawed. Also, if she is the new Messiah, surely she'd be blessed with a slightly better singing voice when we're driving...

Galilee was very picturesque as we drove north. We dropped in at other places - where the fishes and loaves fed 5000 had been made into a church with the actual rock where it happenned as its altar.
Loaves and fishes miracle location at Galilee

Loaves and fishes miracle location at Galilee


Caparnaum - where Peter lived and where Jesus hung out for a while.
PB253587.jpg
As the sun set over the sea....
Sunset at Galilee

Sunset at Galilee


....and mongooses (mongeese?) played nearby we decided it was time to find a place to stay. It was difficult. We eventually ended up in a town for which one of its spelling varieties was Zhelfat. A little old town filled with art galleries - oh, and 1 rather unpleasant hostel in which we stayed. It was called Lipshits or something similar... A walk around the closed up galleries and a reasonably good kosher dinner in the Art Cafe.

November 26th
Early. And northwards. Up into the Golan Heights we drove. To Nimrod Castle. The castle built to defend against the crusades stood proudly high on a hill - much of it in a state of semi ruins. It had a grand lookout and was lovely to wander around - especially as we had it to ourselves for most of the time we were there.
Nimrod Castle.

Nimrod Castle.

PB263593.jpgNimrod castle animals

Nimrod castle animals


After a couple of hours we started south again. We passed very close to the Syrian border. In a town nearby, people, unfortunately split by the border, spend their Fridays on 'Shouting Hill' yelling greetings and news across to their Syrian friends and family.

We popped into the Golan Heights Winery. The wine really is amazingly good. Professional conniseurs we may not be, but we can tell when something is halfway decent - as the wines here surely are. From there we returned through Tiberias and passed the Sea of Galilee to the busy, traffic congested town of Nazareth. The angel Gabriel told Mary of her pregnancy here - and the 'exact' spot now has a modern church atop.
Inside the church where the Angel Gabriel and Mary chatted

Inside the church where the Angel Gabriel and Mary chatted


Joseph's carpentry shop also has a small chapel over the site. As we walked towards the holy site a huge advertising billboard reminded anyone who chose to read it that Islam was the only true path to paradise and that all other religions would result in hell - so that was nice....

We wanted to beat darkness and so didn't stay long and got to Akko on the Meditaranean sea just as the sun set. A little old walled town by the sea - it was really pleasant and a place just waiting for the tourists to arrive in their thousands. We checked into 1 place - changed our mind because it was rancid - and checked into another - The Sand Hotel. As with all places in Israel - massively overpriced again. But still, we had a nice dinner on the water's edge with a bottle of wine we'd bought at the winery.

November 27th
The aim was to drive via Tel Aviv for breakfast in a little place we'd read about and then make it to Jerusalem by 11am - our car return deadline. As it turned out, we got to Tel Aviv, drove round hopelessly lost for an hour or so, abandoned breakfast and arrived in Jerusalem hungry. Still, we ate there instead and once we'd convinced the somewhat unpleasant and unhelpful staff back at the Faisal that we had a room booked, we headed off to the Mount of Olives.

The Mount of Olives - the virgin Mary's tomb is here. It is also where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the garden of Gethsemene. An olive garden and a church commemorate the spot at the foot of the mount. After there we climbed to the top for great views over the walled city of Jerusalem. We stayed as the sun set - a trio of musicians played and prayed for a group of army people at the top at the same time. The place is where Jesus ascended to heaven. It is also where Christians and Muslims alike believe that God and Allah will eventually appear on judgement day. Presumably Jesus and Mohammed will be there or thereabouts as well - although probably not at the same time.

Anyhow, no-one chose to appear today and so we occupied ourselves by visiting the other sites and watching the colourful sunset.
Church in Jerusalem

Church in Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives

Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Jewish Cemetary on Mount of Olives

Jewish Cemetary on Mount of Olives

Sunset over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Sunset over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives


Below the summit is a huge Jewish cemetry as well. Back in the old city after dark we walked the Via De La Rosa - walk of the cross - where Jesus carried the cross, all the way to the Holy Sepulchre where he was crucified.
Where Jesus fell with the cross, Jerusalem

Where Jesus fell with the cross, Jerusalem

Inside the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified

Inside the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified

Later on we enjoyed a hubbly bubbly shisha pipe - as you do in the Middle East! And, a final shwarma before returning to the hotel.

November 28th
And so it was that we left Israel. Back over the King Hussein Bridge (called the Allenby Bridge on the Israeli side) into Jordan again. It took about 7 hours door to door and we covered a distance of about 50 km. We were lucky though... Some of the local Palestinian people, having waited on the Israeli side for hours were eventually turned around and told to try the next day! A truly mean and disrespectful way to treat the citizens of your country. We left Israel with a slightly bitter taste in our mouth.

Undoubtedly a great place to visit - especially if you wholeheartedly believe everything you are told whilst doing the 'Jesus trail'. But, the country does not cater well to the individual or small group travellers - and it felt as though everyone was simply trying to make money out of us. The accomodation was some of the most expensive we've stayed in (apart from the times we've treated ourselves - eg: Dead Sea, Bali villa, Yangshao) and was also among the least good standard. Unclean rooms, rude staff and no facilities.

Back in Amman we had a drink at La Calle again having done a little shopping in the afternoon and relaxed a little at the Hotel Palace where we stayed again.

Posted by Patrick H. 22:31 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

November 15th - 22nd, Jordan

November 15th
A flight to Amman, Jordan. Arriving early afternoon in downtown Amman we checked into the Palace Hotel. Even on the flight over there was a noticeable difference in the conservatism - or lack of - in Jordan compared with Sharjah and Yemen. There were female faces showing and, once in Amman, we whizzed past a couple of bars on the side of the street.

In a small cafe near the hotel we enjoyed some bread and hummos and kababs for lunch, before returning to the Palace and booking a few things on the internet and catching up with e-mails etc...

Later on, Bernie - a friend from the UK - arrived and we set off into downtown Amman in search of a bar. Surprisingly, most things were shutting up for the night but we did find a quiet little place and we stayed there for a few hours chatting and planning the week ahead together - Bernie was out in Jordan until the 22nd.

November 16th
After a cold shower and a plain breakfast had inadequately prepared us for the day, we met up with a local man who showed us to the car that we were to hire for the time in Jordan. Carefully avoiding the fracas that was occuring behind us when a screwdriver wielding man was shouting and gesticulating at another man through the window of a car parked nearby, we set off north towards the ancient Roman city of Jerash.

The ruined site was much bigger than any of us had thought and contained a couple of theatres and a hippodrome amongst temples and endless coloumns. We watched the chariot racing show in the hippodrome which in fact as it turned out was more of a tacky Roman army display. About 20 men dressed as soldiers unenthusiastically marched up and down for a while, occasionally attacking and slicing up imaginary enemies. A gladitorial display followed after which the 3 of us voted for the defeated warrior to be killed by pointing our thumbs sideways (not down!). Sadly the rest of the crowd were more generous and he survived. The racing was more of a display than a contest as 3 sets of horses pulled chariots and drivers around the hippodrome a few times.
PB163245.jpgPB163250.jpgChariot racing in Jerash

Chariot racing in Jerash

PB163265.jpg

We spent several hours wandering around the site. Much of it was well preserved - especially the amphitheatres and it was great sitting down in front of the stage, peacefully soaking up the atmosphere and imagining the goings on 2000 years previously.
PB163295.jpgRoman theatre in Jerash

Roman theatre in Jerash

Marsha performs in the roman theatre in Jerash

Marsha performs in the roman theatre in Jerash


Peaceful that is, until a couple of Jordanian men in the full Arab regalia intruded the calm by blasting away on bagpipes (bagpipes!..??) on the stage. We left.PB163300.jpg

It was well into the afternoon by the time we set off south in the car again. We reached the Dead Sea as the sun set beautifully behind the water and the hills of Israel on the far shore.
Dead Sea sunset

Dead Sea sunset


After much deliberation the 3 of us checked into the Marriot Hotel for the night. On checking out the room which turned out to be the size of a small house we excitedly decided to blow the budget somewhat and stay for 2 nights instead. A few drinks, some food in the Champions Bar, and bed.

November 17th
The shores of the Dead Sea lie at over 400 metres below sea level - the lowest place on earth.
PB183349.jpg
There is 10% more oxygen in the air - although the 3 of us questioned the truth of this after we had each struggled through a short session in the gym! The water is 8.6 times more saline than an ordinary ocean. So, after a workout in the gym and a huge breakfast (we decided to eat enough for lunch as well), armed with a copy of the Times we took to the water.

Bernie entered first and promptly claimed that, 'I normally float like this'. Hmmm... His arms, legs and half his body were above the water. It looked as though he was floating on a lilo just submerged beneath the water. There was a breeze blowing which made reading the paper a little difficult, however, we really were very bouyant in the water. It was a weird sensation. I tried swimming breaststroke and found that my legs were kicking air above the water.

Apparently morbidly obese people can drown in the sea, as, it is difficult to remain in control bobbing up and down on the surface and it is easy to be tipped over onto your front. Then, the fat people struggle to be able to right themselves again - and drown. A hotel attendant watched as we swam about - concerned for our safety, obviously regarding us as potential drown victims after our gargantuan breakfast. Over the course of the swim we each got some water either up our noses or in our eyes - and it was incredibly painful. I likened the experience to being at Everest - beautiful, but, as with Everest where the altitude made the whole experience slightly nauseating, here, the salt left us with burning eyes and throats.
PB173312.jpgPB173315.jpgBernie and Marsha sychronise swim

Bernie and Marsha sychronise swim

PB173334.jpg

After a short swim we covered ourselves with Dead Sea mud - yes, yes, we said ourselves that it was a slightly odd thing to do. But, you had to be there. Apparently it's good for the joints and skin. We stood about for 5 minutes feeling more than a little conspicuous before washing it off back in the sea.
Bernie and Patrick and Dead Sea mud

Bernie and Patrick and Dead Sea mud

Marsha and Dead Sea mud

Marsha and Dead Sea mud

The rest of the day was spent lounging about, reading, swimming in the pool, enjoying the jaccusi etc... Marsha and I hadn't done that for a while and it was lovely. Later on sundowner drinks were followed by a couple more drinks and an Italian meal accompanied by a surprisingly good bottle of Jordanian red wine.
Dead Sea sunset

Dead Sea sunset

PB183364.jpg

November 18th
It's not every day that you wake up 400 metres below sea level and so we decided to repeat the previous day's experience - breakfast, swim, mud and all. And then, reluctantly, we left at midday.

We drove south again. The road was a little difficult to follow as it meandered through various towns and up and down valleys. We stopped several times to look at the views and to take photos that in no way captured the dramatic Arabian landscape stretching out before us. It was dark as we entered the town on the doorstep of Petra. We stayed at the Candles Hotel.

November 19th
Petra - voted onto the list of the new modern wonders of the world.

We walked in very shortly after sunrise - before the tour groups arrived en masse. This provided us with a glimpse of Petra without people. After entering the gate it is about a 15 minute walk to the entrance of the Siq. This is essentially a very narrow gorge - just enough room for a horse and cart - and about 70 metres high. We walked through the siq for about 1 km before we sighted the treasury through a crack in the rock. This is the most famous building in Petra and the one seen on all the photos. Carved out of the rock, this facade has stood for well over 2000 years. Along with the handful of other people who had arisen early, we simply stood and looked in awe at it for ages. Again, like Jerash, it was not difficult to imagine the hustle and bustle from 2000 years previously.
The Treasury from the siq, Petra

The Treasury from the siq, Petra

PB193370.jpgPB193382.jpgPB193383.jpgPB193391.jpg

But there's so much more to Petra. It is a massive site comprised mainly of hundreds of ancient dwellings carved into the rock faces. Many have huge facades sculptured on the outside. Some free standing ruined buildings were also present. We wandered about marvelling at the old carvings. As the morning went on, the crowds and the camels and the donkeys arrived. We walked up for nearly an hour to reach the old Monastery on the hill. As impressive as the Treasury building, it stood hidden from the sun high into the rock. The 3 of us sat up there and had a drink and watched as the sun gradually lit it up. The view of the surrounding desert was fantastic.
PB193397.jpgCamels in Petra

Camels in Petra

PB193405.jpgPetra Monastery

Petra Monastery

PB193415.jpg

It was sometime later that we ventured back downhill and through the city and back to the entrance gate. A spot of lunch and then we returned. This time the walk through the siq, the treasury and the old city itself was swarming with people. We all felt very glad that we'd made the effort to get into the site before most other people earlier in the morning. However, it was still a very good few hours we had there before the sun went down. We visited the tombs up on the hills this time as the sun had eventually lit them up.

As we sat having a drink overlooking the ancient ruins just before sun set we realised that we had spent the best part of 9 hours in Petra. The time had past quickly and had been hugely enjoyable. A wonderful evocative place and rightly deserving of its place in the modern wonders of the world.
Marsha in Petra

Marsha in Petra

Camels in Petra

Camels in Petra

PB193432.jpgPetra tombs

Petra tombs

Whilst Petra is clearly deserving of world class status, the same could hardly be said for the restaurant we ate at for dinner. After the food arrived on the table I quistioned the waiter as to whether what had appeared before me was anything similar to what I'd acrually ordered. 'Oh yes', he replied, and lifted up some of my food is his hand in front of me and said, 'Look'. Right..., great, sorry, thanks for showing me....

November 20th/21st
Petra to Wadi Rum by car took a little over an hour. Just as Petra is now one of the modern wonders of the world, Wadi Rum is hoping to make the list for the 7 natural wonders of the world currently being voted for. This prompted much discussion amongst us as to what should be included in the list, but, by the end of our time there we each felt that Wadi Rum was right to be hopeful of inclusion.

At the visitor centre we were accosted by an Arab man who claimed to know the place like the back of his hand but he was shooed away by the park keepers and we paid up for a 1 day, 1 night tour into the desert on a 4 by 4 with someone a little more genuine.

The place is essentially a desert of red sand interspersed with towering rocky peaks. We were driven hither and thither getting out every so often to climb dunes, to stand upon naturally made rock bridges, to venture into canyons, to visit Bedouin tents and simply to walk about and to take photos. The combination of a bright sun, blue sky and the red sand created perfect photography conditions. It was impossible to take a bad shot.

We stood on top of a rocky outcrop having climbed up the sand dune and looked around. The red desert extended for miles in every direction. Camels littered the desert floor. Peaks towered above us. We sat and took photos and listened to the silence of the place. A car far in the distance was making its way across the sand - and we could make out the faint noise of its engine. The occasional bird circled high above before gliding on.

Lawrence of Arabia stayed here for a while and we visited his old house - now not much more than a wall against a rock and a pile of stones scattered about. Shortly afterwards we stopped to see the sun go down. A stunning array of colours in the sand, sky and the rocks.
Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

PB203455.jpgBernie in Wadi Rum

Bernie in Wadi Rum

Marsha, competitive as usual...

Marsha, competitive as usual...

Natural Bridge, Wadi Rum

Natural Bridge, Wadi Rum

PB203472.jpgPB203477.jpgBedouin Tent in Wadi Rum

Bedouin Tent in Wadi Rum

PB203486.jpgPB203490.jpgPB203494.jpgPB203496.jpgSunset at Wadi Rum

Sunset at Wadi Rum

We were staying in a Beduoin camp nearby and quickly unpacked before dark. Plenty of tea and some decent food underneath an overhanging rock in the middle of Wadi Rum - a near perfect way to end a great day - although we all felt some sort of cocktail would have made it ever so slightly better.... Before bed at some ridiculously early hour we stood outside of the camp for a while and looked at the stars overhead. As starry a night as I've ever seen. We picked out a few constellations and the milky way and watched as shooting stars occasionally darted across the sky.

In the tent, Marsha launched into some sort of epic ghost story in an effort to help us sleep! Unbeknown to her at the time, the rest of the camp were also listening - except for the fella in the next door tent who was audibly asleep already.

It was a cold night and once the first light came we emerged from the tent and wandered across the desert to a big rock - climbed it, and waited for sunrise. Light streaked over rocky peaks and the sandy desert all around before gradually appearing over the rise behind us. Breathtaking in its beauty.
PB213514.jpg

Anyhow, after a decent breakfast we were driven back out of Wadi Rum and to our car. From there we drove the 50km to Aqaba - a small resort town on the shores of the Red Sea bordering Israel. The wind was blowing a bit and the sea was a little choppy - it didn't look that inviting - and so we satisfied ourselves with a paddle rather than a swim. Tha water was very clear and there were people braver than us snorkelling just off the shore. Once we felt we'd had enough of the Red Sea experience we started the long drive back to Amman.

The road was less interesting but faster as we took the motorway stopping only once at a deserted tourist building. The people working there were surprised to see us and delighted with our purchase of 3 bags of crisps. We arrived in Amman, got totally lost in the traffic for a while and then eventually navigated our way to the Palace Hotel again and dropped off the car.

Bernie was leaving in the morning and so we had a night out in Amman with some food and drinks in the La Calle Restaurant and Bar. All very pleasant and we rounded it off by returning to the seedy little bar we had visited on our first night in Amman for a last drink.

Posted by Patrick H. 21:54 Archived in Jordan Comments (0)

October 31st - November 13th, Yemen

October 31st
Up far too early, to the airport, onto a delayed flight and several hours later we arrived in Sana'a, Yemen. A short taxi ride brought us to the Felix Arabia Hotel on the edge of Old Sana'a and by mid morning we were checked in.
Yemen - a little known Middle Eastern country bordering Saudi Arabia in the north and Oman to the east. Sana'a, however, is closer to Africa than either of these 2 countries and certain African influences can be witnessed here. Sana'a has been around since biblical times (Old Testament). It boasts of being the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world (along with Damascus and various other Middle Eastern cities admittedly). It was exciting to be here - and we immediately set off into the sun and into the midst of the old centre. Sitting at over 2000 metres the sun was cooler - but still able to burn.

The old town was incredible. Apart from the confused mass of electrical wires overhead and the presence of a few cars and bikes in the tiny cobbled streets, the town had the appearance of being unchanged for centuries. Arabian women covered from head to foot in black discreetly wandered the town busily bargaining in head scarf shops. The majority of the men were dressed in white robes, headdress, jacket and a large knife tucked into a belt at their front. The children tore around the streets often kicking a football and at other times relentlessly screaming.
The buildings looked like they were out of an ancient picture book. Made of muck and straw and stone the walls seemed to wobble uncertainly upwards. Misshapen windows randomly appeared. Little alleys sneaked off left and right in a maze-like fashion. It was wonderful simply walking around. We eventually came to the centre - and the market. Spices and Shisha water pipes and golden lamps lined the stalls. We sat down to eat in a tiny little room in the eating quarter and were served a great kebab with freshly made bread and a sauce. Delicious.

The people were very friendly - we were welcomed to Yemen at every turn. 'Where are you from?' and then, 'Welcome to Yemen'. One man who introduced himself as Mohammed invited us into his shop for tea. We were also introduced for the first time to Qat. Chewing Qat is a national pastime amongst the Yemini men. Everything shuts down in the afternoon and the men all gather in various shops, homes, alleyways or wherever they can find a quiet spot and chat and chew qat. Qat is essentially just a bunch of green leaves. These are stuffed into one side of your mouth and gently chewed. If chewed long enough then a mind altering affect results - not unlike the affects of drinking alcohol. As alcohol is prohibited in Yemen - this is obviously the alternative. It is banned in most countries - although not the UK interestingly.

So, we chatted and chewed. It was pretty foul actually and just left a mushy green residue in the mouth for ages afterwards. Oh, and no side affects sadly.

After we bid Mohammed farewell we passed some mosques and eventually found a Yemini home the owners of which invited us up to the roof. From there we gazed over the old town - the city where time has appeared to stand still and watched as the sun set behind the hills beyond the big mosque at the back end of town.
Some photos of the day:
Yemeni man

Yemeni man

Marsha in Sanaa

Marsha in Sanaa

Sanaa from our hotel roof at sunset

Sanaa from our hotel roof at sunset

Sanaa at sunset

Sanaa at sunset

Mosque in Sanaa

Mosque in Sanaa

Old Sanaa from the roof

Old Sanaa from the roof

View from the hotel of Old Sanaa

View from the hotel of Old Sanaa

A fantastic day was finished off with various breads and hommus and other middle eastern dips back at the hotel.

November 1st
We spent what seemed like about an hour in a taxi driving around New Sana’a before we miraculously managed to find what we had been searching for – Eternal Travel – our tour agency. We spent a fair while there sorting out the remaining 12 days in Yemen before returning to Old Sana’a and just browsing the town again. Again we had lunch in the eating quarter – this time upstairs in somebody’s house, or so it seemed. The streets were brimming with interest. We sat just inside the old walled gate to the town and just watched and took photos. People came up and begged us for photos of themselves and then stood to attention in rigid poses.

A lovely day again, this time we spent the sunset on the roof of our hotel sharing a bottle of – well, coke – or something like that… Very unadventurously we ate again at the hotel.

November 2nd/3rd
Marsha and I had hired a driver/guide for 2 days. We set off in his big 4 wheel drive machine to Manakha – a small village high in the hills. The drive took over 3 hours and yet it was only 90km. We kept on stopping for photos of the beautiful Arabian landscape. Dry, mountainous and with clusters of buildings perched on hill-tops – the scenery was superb.
The drive to manakah

The drive to manakah

Yemeni policeman and Marsha

Yemeni policeman and Marsha


Us on the drive to Manakah

Us on the drive to Manakah

Yemen landscape

Yemen landscape

Yemeni women

Yemeni women


We stopped at a little town and were inundated with requests for photos. We followed one Yemini man into his shop whereupon he proudly displayed what can only be called a shrine to Saddam Hussein. Posters of him were stuck on all 4 walls. Err, righto, we briefly took his picture and made a hasty departure. Others were just pleased to see an unveiled woman - as this photo (1 of many) shows:
Yemeni local enjoys seeng a western woman

Yemeni local enjoys seeng a western woman

On arrival at the Al Hajjarah hotel we had lunch and then had a wander to the next village and around the local area. An excitable bunch of boys followed us around for a while. And, as always, we were welcomed to Yemen by everyone we met. The views were lovely – Arabian hills and mountains stretching off into the distance as far as the eye (and haze) would allow. Unfortunately the villages themselves were swamped in litter – the perennial Asian problem….
Arabian scene in Manakah

Arabian scene in Manakah

Yemeni boys.

Yemeni boys.

Yemeni children.

Yemeni children.

Proud Yemeni boys

Proud Yemeni boys

Sunset in Manakah

Sunset in Manakah

Street in Manakah

Street in Manakah

We watched the sun set and then returned to the hotel for dinner. Afterwards, the entertainment really began. A group of 4 men sat in the corner and played some Arabian music whilst a couple of others dressed in their robes, holding a large knife and a gun each proceeded to perform a very energetic dance for us. It was apparently the dance performed by men at a wedding.

As is often the case in these situations, they unfortunately felt that audience participation was necessary and dragged myself and a couple of others up to join in. Marsha, unusually, stayed seated. I flapped my arms about and twisted and twirled as best I could. Wrongly mistaking my enthusiasm for competence, my Arabian dance partner assumed I had mastered the intricacies of the dance and handed me the big knife. Now, I’m not completely in control on a dance floor at the best of times, especially when wielding a large knife whilst twisting and turning in close proximity to others with knives and guns as well… It was a relief once the music stopped.
PB032782.jpgPB032800.jpgPB032803.jpg

But it didn’t end there. More dances were performed and these were followed by various feats of strength and agility. I tried some of them as best I could. One involved wrapping a musket type gun up, over, between and around your whole body without letting go. I ended up splayed on the floor, legs, arms and gun gracelessly tied in knots behind my neck before I eventually gave up. The last Arabian game they provided for us was nothing more than an opportunity to slap each other as hard as possible.

After a very interesting evening, and slightly bruised, we headed to bed. The next morning we awoke to the sun shining on the mountains and village perched on a hill across the valley, visible from our window. The car took us to a nearby village from which we then spent the morning walking (with a guide) across the hills and skirting mountains to the village we had seen from the bedroom.
Mosque on the hill above Manakah

Mosque on the hill above Manakah

Yemeni children

Yemeni children

Marsha looking at the view

Marsha looking at the view

Arabian landscape

Arabian landscape


As well as the views we were entertained by the various people we met. Goat herders, children walking to school, veiled women doing farmwork in the midday sun and a family of breadmakers. We spent a half hour with the family. The father looked like Zeus and was taking care of the goats. The mother and sons were sorting the wheat by throwing it into the air. As they did this they chanted a song of sorts – not unlike the ‘Hi Ho’ song by the dwarves in Snow White. They insisted on loads of photos and we have since posted the prints to them.
Here they are:The farming family

The farming family

Marsha helps to sort the wheat...

Marsha helps to sort the wheat...

We were met at the village by our driver and lots of villagers all of whom apparently had things to sell. ‘You look – me happy. You buy – me happy. You not buy – me happy’. So we looked and left empty-handed, and to be perfectly honest as we departed I had the distinct impression that actually they weren’t that happy…!

More bread and various dips for lunch – we are piling on the pounds here – and then we set off back to old Sana’a. The drive back was very enjoyable again – just watching the desert landscape rush by. We made it just in time for sunset on the roof again.

November 4th
Our photos needed saving onto disc and so we had a walk through new Sana’a for the first time. In the photo shop we met a man who proudly showed us the photo of himself shaking hands with the president of Yemen. Via some other poor customer who was hauled into the conversation to translate, he invited us to his village to share in some sort of celebration. Sadly, it was over 100km away and we were off the next day.

Various things were bought and a visit to the bank and lunch back in the middle of the old Souq. We stopped to take pictures of camels which were hanging around the centre. We enjoyed a cup of tea with a Yemini man overlooking the main gate. Marsha stopped various people in their tracks and took countless photos of them. Each time it happened she would find herself being urged to take more and more photos as people swarmed around.
Marsha in Sanaa

Marsha in Sanaa

The main gate to old Sanaa

The main gate to old Sanaa

Work break in Sanaa

Work break in Sanaa

Yemeni Man

Yemeni Man

Sanaa street scene

Sanaa street scene

Camel in Sanaa

Camel in Sanaa

Hmmmm

Hmmmm


Later on as the sun went down we found ourselves back at the rooftop of the house we had visited on our 2nd day. It felt a little repetitive watching the sun fall again behind the old town – but the place really does have to be seen to be believed.

November 5th
We were flying to Seiyun – in the east of Yemen. At the airport we tried to change some dollars with the exchange office. The man politely explained that they had no Yemini Riyals. I couldn’t help feeling that, over time, this might have a reasonably negative affect on his business venture. As we departed some time later he was still there patiently turning down customers and obviously waiting for a rich commuter to enter Yemen desperately intent on changing dollars to some obscure currency the office happened to stock.

In Seiyun we showed our police permit forms that we had got set up the previous evening. We needed to inform the police of our exact movements. What we hadn’t realised was that everywhere we went in the town we had to have an armed guard follow us. He sat with us at lunch with his gun on his lap pointing at Marsha. The food was good and cheap too – however, I was just pleased to make it through the meal without Marsha getting shot in the leg.

I had a haircut – the barber took out a slit-throat razor to finish the job at the end – Marsha took photos – and our armed guard stood by impatiently. Afterwards one of the other customers said that he would like to play a recorder type musical instrument thing he had in his bag for us. Okay we said. Before playing he then demanded an up front payment the equivalent of which would probably have enabled us to see the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform at the Albert Hall. I suggested that his price was perhaps a little optimistic and offered him something in the region of $1. He angrily refused and stuck to his initial price and so we left the irate musical genius in the barber shop and walked off – armed guard in tow.

The palace was shut, Tarim and all its museums were shut and so we had an hour to kill before we set off to Shibam – so I wrote what you have just read…

Shibam is known in Yemen as the ‘Manhattan of the Desert’. It is a centuries old town sitting on the site of previous towns in the middle of nowhere. The buildings are made entirely of mud and straw with a few sticks thrown in for good measure. What is amazing though, is that the buildings reach 9 and 10 storeys tall. These ancient skyscrapers are clustered together so closely that there is barely enough room to walk in between them at times – especially when there are several goats coming the other way.

5 of us wandered around together – us, the armed guard and 2 Japanese tourists (who curiously claimed to be Indian) who had been put with us to save on armed guard resources no doubt. It was fascinating to see this historical town – now virtually unlived in. Nothing much had changed in hundreds of years – still no glass windows - just holes in the buildings, uneven walls and walkways and a variety of farm animals scuttling back and forth. After an hour or so the little group that we were, squeezed back into the taxi - gun and all - and drove across the wasteland opposite. From there up a little litter ridden path we were afforded a great sunset view of Shibam from high up. There was even another armed guard to keep our one company. We all just sat and watched as the sun set on a surreal looking skyline.
Building in Shibam

Building in Shibam

Shibam (Manhatten of the desert)

Shibam (Manhatten of the desert)

Shibam.

Shibam.

Marsha and Shibam

Marsha and Shibam

Shibam, Yemen

Shibam, Yemen

Shibam

Shibam

November 6th/7th
We met our driver/guide in the morning and drove from Seiyun, via Shibam again, towards the south coast of Yemen. Stopping on the way we visited Shibam briefly again, a posh hotel made entirely of mud (and completely deserted), and also at the police station to pick up the armed guard from yesterday.
Marsha and our armed guard

Marsha and our armed guard


From there we made our way to the village of Khurayba. The road thread its way through Wadi Doan. (A wadi is a canyon or gorge). The steep and deep wadi was stunning, and made all the more so by small mud villages clinging to rocky outcrops within it. Our driver was made to stop on countless occasions and the poor armed guard felt compelled to follow us out of the car into the heat of the day each time as we took photos of the scenery. Every time we turned a corner the view seemed to improve as yet another ancient mud village appeared clutching impossibly to the rocky sides of the wadi.
Desert road

Desert road

Yemeni footy pitch

Yemeni footy pitch

PB062998.jpgPB063008.jpg

At Khurayba the hotel owner named Abdul took us on a short walk into the neighbouring village. We felt ever so slightly conspicuous walking in with an armed guard to the rear and Abdul clutching his big gun leading the way through groups of little old ladies in veils with small children running around. The main site in the next door village of Arubat was the large deserted house in which the family of Osama Bin Laden used to live. Happily, it looked empty and also in a fair state of disrepair.

Abdul then felt in need of a cup of tea and so we joined him at a place in the middle of the village – along with countless other onlookers – and drank tea and played dominoes.
We were delayed on our walk back by several camels on the side of the road that required attention and photographing – not that there was anything to do once we returned to the hotel – our armed guard had relaxed into a chair which meant we couldn’t really go anywhere – and, of course, Yemen being dry meant that we were hardly going to wander off and find a cozy little bar someplace.

Dinner was very ordinary and so we arranged with Abdul a time in the morning at which to meet so that we could be guided and climb to the top of the wadi that towered above the hotel and then went to bed.

On the walk up the wadi in the morning we saw the sunrise. It was great having the extent of the canyon gradually revealed as both the sun and us rose higher into the sky. Abdul posed for photos with his gun and then about half way up muttered something about chewing qat and decided to end the walk. Sadly, despite our protestations, he would go no further and so we returned.
Some photos were taken whilst on our all too brief walk:
Playing with guns

Playing with guns

PB073047.jpg

He served us breakfast that was even worse than dinner back at the hotel and then felt the need to double the original bill for staying the night. We left in a huff and it kind of lasted all day – well for me it did anyway. Because, half an hour down the road we happened upon the Hayd al Jazeel Hotel that is perched on the rim of the wadi. The view from it stretched for miles in both directions deep into the wadi. Steep rocky walls rising out of a green bed with little villages dotted around. It was stunning – and, annoyingly, thanks to Abdul’s inflation, was the same price as where we’d stayed in Khurayba. If you are ever in this location, wave to Abdul on the way past and stay half an hour down the road (or up the road I should say) at this hotel. Here's the view:
PB073076.jpgPB073078.jpgPB073084.jpg

We carried on. The desert like Arabian landscape passed by out of the window. We occasionally slowed for camels as they crossed the road in front of us, but finally arrived in Al Mukalla whereupon our driver managed to somehow talk us into giving him some money for his hotel. The town was on the coast and so we wandered along the Corniche as the sun set.
Sunset in Mukalla

Sunset in Mukalla


Sounds nice? Litter was everywhere and stank. We spotted a couple of rats nearby us and so we cut across a yard only to have nuts thrown at us by small boys. Having had about enough of the day we popped into a reasonable restaurant and paid over the odds for the pleasure of eating by ourselves.

November 8th – 13th
5 days and nights camping on Socotra (sometimes Soqotra) Island. An hour’s flight from mainland Yemen this little known island sits alone in the Indian Ocean. Through the internet a tour with a 4 by 4 and driver and 2 touring Slovenian girls had been arranged on our arrival on the island.

Throughout the 5 days we visited several great beaches. We swam and snorkelled in turquoise waters that lapped up against white powdery sand beaches. Huge dunes reached into the cloudless blue sky behind. We camped on some of these beaches, drifting off to sleep to the sound of the gentle waves and to the stars above. We also camped high up a wadi having trekked there and then the following night set up the tents deep in the wadi on a dry river bed.

The days, looking back, kind of gelled into 1 long, lazy, sun, sand and sea break from civilisation. On arrival we picked up some food at a market and then set off into the island. The island is certainly not deserted; however, the Soctran islanders tended to populate the 2 or 3 villages that dotted the coast. In fact, the few people we did see were either thumbing lifts or goat herders in the middle of nowhere.

The 2nd day on the island sums up the 5 days nicely. We awoke on the beach, the early morning light filtering into our tent. Turning our backs to the sea, we climbed a little way up the dune behind us to see the sun rise. I then went on up to the top (a huge amount of effort is contained in those 8 short words!). The view was gorgeous from the top and I sat and admired it for a while before running down for breakfast. We washed the dishes in the little stream running by – the same one in which Marsha had seen snakes in the night before.

Before heading off we had a quick swim in the sea. The short journey to Dalhimry along the coast was spent looking out of the window. Huge vultures circled overhead. At our beach destination we spent the rest of the morning in the water snorkelling and reading in the shade. Marsha, underwater, pointed out the biggest Moray Eel I or she have ever seen before – its head was bigger than mine. We had the beach to ourselves save for a couple of Czech fellas who were there.

Reluctantly we left and drove to the bottom of Homhill Wadi whereupon we hopped out, slapped loads of sunscreen on and climbed up to the top of the gorge. It took a couple of hours and the trail took us through some tree dominated scenery. It is difficult to get trees that look different from others but these species managed it. The short fat trees with tiny twig branches sitting next to the Dragons Blood trees that look upside down. The latter give off a sap that is used in perfume and for dye. At the top we made camp and watched as the sun set. Later, after food, we lay down and watched the stars overhead.

The other days were much like that one. We found more great beaches and explored new wadis. We took a boat trip for an hour up the coast and found 1 beach completely deserted. The white sand devoid of footsteps and the blue water was beautiful.

But, sadly the 5 days camping had to end. We flew back to Sana’a on the 13th in the morning having had a very relaxing and sun soaked 5 days. Back in Sanaa we met up with our tour organiser for lunch and she kindly took us around the huge modern Mosque in the city afterwards. There was enough time in the evening left to have a last wander around old Sanaa before heading back to the Arabia Felix again. Photos of the island:
PB093096.jpgPB093098.jpgPB093106.jpgEgyptian Vulture in Socotra

Egyptian Vulture in Socotra

PB093126.jpgThe 4 of us

The 4 of us

Dragons Blod trees

Dragons Blod trees

PB103142.jpgPB103148.jpgBath time in Socotra

Bath time in Socotra

Campsite on the river bed

Campsite on the river bed

Rock pool in the wadi

Rock pool in the wadi

PB113167.jpgDragons Blood trees

Dragons Blood trees

PB113175.jpgSunset in Socotra

Sunset in Socotra

Our boat, our beach

Our boat, our beach

Marsha on a beach in Socotra

Marsha on a beach in Socotra

Dolphins in Socotra

Dolphins in Socotra

PB123242.jpg

November 14th
And so we leave Yemen. An expensive place to get to and to travel about in – due to various travel restrictions and lack of competition. But, absolutely stunning – from its old capital Sana’a to the desolate and beautiful beaches of Socotra and the friendliness of the Yemeni people.

We flew to Sharjah again – transiting for the night. A chance to do some washing (at the most expensive laundry in the Middle East as it turns out) and some internet stuff.

Posted by Patrick H. 10:43 Archived in Yemen Arab Republic Comments (1)

October 27th - 30th, Nepal and UAE

October 27th/28th/29th/30th
We have been to Nepal before - 5 years ago almost exactly. The area of Thamel where we based ourselves again had not changed much. Cars, bikes, vendors, carts and people all compete for space on the bustling noisy streets. It was wonderful to be back. We needed a few days not doing much - a holiday within a holiday - and Kathmandu was a perfect location for this. We did very little, spending our time wandering the shops, often seeking sanctuary from the busy streets in one of the many bars, cafes and restaurants to indulge ourselves in huge desserts - whatever the time of day.

We ate dinner in the 'Northfield', 'New Orleans' and the '3rd Eye Restaurant', each time filling ourselves on fantastic Nepalese curries. Chinese food had been excellent, however, we were due a change. We also ate breakfast in various different roof-top cafes, sometimes with views of the distant Himalayas.

On the 2nd day in Nepal we wandered to Darbur Square. It was great to be back and we began to recognise temples, buildings and shops we had been to before. We visited the palace courtyard where the Goddess again showed her face. A new Goddess from the one we had seen previously - they get replaced once they start menstruating! This particular goddess, confined with her family to the palace, looked about 8 years old. She was beckoned to the balcony and then stood there above us, boredly looking into space, no doubt wondering why she wasn't allowed to be out on the streets playing with friends her own age, but, I guess, such is the price you pay if you are born a Goddess!!

From there we caught a taxi to the monkey temple and spent a couple of hours happily andering around in amongst the monkeys and prayer flags - again good views of the mountains behind (and up). But that was to be the extent of our exersions out of the Thamel area. Marsha shopped a considerable amount and I sat in cafes and read and did internet stuff etc....

Reluctantly though, our short stay in Kathmandu was over, and we set off to the airport on the 30th. A 4 hour flight later and we arrived into a very different climate and country - the UAE and the city of Sharjah. Already booked into the nondescript Al Salaam Hotel we had only a few hours left of nighttime before we were due back at the airport again. Just a stopover.

But, time enough to reaquaint ourselves with Middle Eastern food at a Lebonese Restaurant a short walk from the hotel along the sandy and dusty roads. And, of course, the bright colours of the Nepalese people, shops and coiuntryside were in stark contrast to the veiled black outfits the women wore, standing alongside (and usually slightly behind) their white robed male partners. Each to their own of course - and the food was terrific as is always the case in the Middle East.

A quick shower back at the hotel, during which loud Islamic prayers were pumped full volume into the bathroom, and then bed. We were off somewhere new in the morning....

Posted by Patrick H. 10:03 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

On leaving China

And so, we eventually leave China. On arrival into China on August 12th we had originally planned to stay 5 or 6 weeks. The pollution in Guilin was as bad as I've seen anywhere and we immediately reduced our planned length of stay further. We actually stayed in China for about 10 weeks - and this demonstrates firstly how huge the country is, but also how much we enjoyed being here and how much there is to do and see. There are many places we did not visit and many we would like to return to again. On re-reading my blog and looking through the photos I am reminded of all of the beautiful, historic and captivating sites we have seen. I would unreservedly reccommend China as a holiday or travel destination. What better than walking The Wall, standing eye to eye with The Warriors, sitting with pandas, staring up at Everest, drinking with Tibetans and walking a countryside that is breathtaking at every turn amongst many other things.

However, there is a But.

But, as China sky rockets to super power stardom there are some points of interest that I've noted that are less becoming of this potentially graet nation. The fact that I have delayed noting these criticisms online until my departure is an indication firstly of the lack of freedom here as compared to the west and other places I have visited in Asia. The country is growing up incredibly fast and it is only relatively recently that Chairman Mao ruled the land. And so, change and attitude change can't happen overnight - and yet, that is what the powers that be want. They want China to be the next world power - and as soon as possible - never mind who gets hurt in the process. Mao is still revered by millions and millions of Chinese people, this despite him being responsible for millions of deaths, destruction of property and destruction of cultural places and artefacts - and this is outside of Tibet. Perhaps the people forget quickly, or more likely, they are kept in the dark as to how revolting his tenure was.

But it is continuing. Our trip through Tibet was fantastic. The scenery amazing. However, the Tibetan people are an oppressed people. In the 1950s Tibet was liberated by China. Now, to my mind 'Liberation' means to provide freedom for an oppressed people. In this case however, the opposite appears to be true. A once peaceful race of people now has to suffer soldiers in the streets. They are not allowed passports. Chinese flags have to be flown from every Tibetan house. There is a massive amount of resentment harboured by the local people against the Chinese government. Money is coming in, but not anywhere nearly as fast as rich resouces and minerals are being mined and taken out and transported to Beijing and Shanghai. It is still an incredibly poor people that live there. And yet, there is massive wealth underground - but this is being effectively thieved by the Chinese government. So why does the west do nothing. Why don't they do 'an Iraq'. The answer is simple - China is the up and coming power and the last thing the West wants to do is to anger this giant. Why question them over Tibet when nobody really knows about it anyway...?

But the typical Chinese man and woman on the streets of Beijing and Shanghai etc... don't know much either. Chinese tv airs one English speaking channel - CCTV 9. We watched a few times but it is always the same. China is sending peace keeping troops to this troubled region, China has discovered this cure for this worldwide disease, the biggest bridge and the longest tunnel and every construction project imaginable are being completed way ahead of time. Everything is good and right with China. Outside of China there are bad things happenning of course... And yet we know not all of this to be true. We were turned around on the road to Yushu because of 'troubles'. We searched the internet and the local news and found nothing. At a hostel we stayed, the owner had a friend living in a town where the troubles were and he talked with him. Fighting on the streets and many deaths. But, this was not reported by the Chinese government - further than that, it was kept firmly under wraps. Imagine that happenning where you are...

A nation aspiring to be the next world power cannot continue to rule like this surely. Transparency is key - and yet this can and will only happen once China has cleaned itself up. This would mean releasing the 18 year old boy (if he is still alive) that has been in prison now for 12 years simply because the Tibetans appointed him the number 2 person to the Dalai Lama. Did you know that? This would mean removing the public enemy number 1 tag from the Dalai Lama an allowing him to return home to his people. This would mean liberating Tibet by leaving.

There are a small number of exceedingly rich Chinese people just as there are hundreds of millions of people living in abject poverty. The thoughts from the powers that be are that it doesn't matter how China gets there - whether most remain poor and only some prosper - as long as China is soon up on top of the world stage. Most Chinese people we met were lovely. They too were treated poorly by the government. A government that is too interested in putting people in space etc... than creating any kind of welfare system.

And lastly, they have to sort out their personal and public hygeine. Litter is everywhere. People discard their food packaging by throwing it on the floor - almost with no exception. The public toilets are a disaster. There are no cubicles - let alone doors. On walking into a public toilet you are first hit with the incredible stench. Then in front of you are several people just squatting over holes in the ground. Nothing between you and them. It is appalling and I can't understand how the situation is put up with.

But, to end on a high, I refer you to my first paragraph - it still holds true. A beautiful place, with mostly very nice people - and above all, a very interesting country to visit at this time...

Posted by Patrick H. 22:45 Archived in China Comments (0)

(Entries 41 - 45 of 55) « Page .. 4 5 6 7 8 [9] 10 11 »