between the lands

Jessica and Andrew’s travel journal

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Hangin with the Hez…1

Posted by Andrew in LEBANON (August 20, 2007 at 4:49 pm)

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When I was growing up, the word Beirut basically meant violence and war. I didn’t even know where it was, but that’s the impression I had from somewhere. Its those kind of places (you have some impression that you don’t know where it comes from) which are some of the best to go to, so you can find out the real deal.
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Well the war thing was pretty much true. The scars of war are all over Lebanon. The civil war in the 1980s and now the war last year with Israel.
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We were staying with my friend Jackson (a great journalist-click here for his blog) and his so-hospitable roommates Arbi and Daniel.
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JESSICA SEZ: Daniel wrote the teensy weensy Arabic script on this chopstick, and Arbi has introduced capoeira to Beirut
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ANDREW RETURNZ:We were up in the mix of a mass of cool people, doing their best to keep Beiruits proud party tradition alive. Thats right, its also the party capital of the middle east. Our first night there, we were having too much fun at a house party to go to the club where BOY GEORGE was Dj’ing. Yes it would have been a great story to tell, but we’ve had to make hard choices all throughout this trip.
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Unsurprisingly, politics are everywhere in Lebanon. We asked a lot of questions, and learned a lot, but left still very confused as to whats really happening there.
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To boot we were there on election day so people were out in the streets and driv?ng through town promot?ng their particular favorite.
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There are so many factions and sub factions of Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Armenians, and others playing political games and making alliances with each other that I might defer to another friend and colleague Simba, who on my last night remarked that ‘its all politricks’, and the issues that matter to real people are never addressed by any of them. That’s the view I always had back home, but I was hoping it had a little more meaning over here. Maybe, maybe not….
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And of course, Hezbollah was on the scene.
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For those who don’t know, they are a legal political party with elected members in the Lebanese government. They have a great deal of support from the people. They’ve got a huge camp set up in downtown Beirut, as a sit-in to protest the current government. And they have a gift shop next to the roman ruins at Baalbek in Northern Lebanon.
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I spoke to a few members and got their take on things. In a tiny nutshell—they dont like the Zionist agenda, and they think the US supports it. Ask me for more details in person.
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Almost forgot, aside from all the politics, Lebanon ?s a beautiful country.
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Roman Ruins, beaches, mountains. We would have liked to have spent a lot longer exploring. (and cook?ng at Jacksons house–weve really m?ssed being able to cook our own food)
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Were behind again on the pics. We spent an awesome few days in Northern Syria, and are now in Southern Turkey. Its feelin more European every day…

And back on the profess?onal tip, you can click here to check out a story I just wrote for the St Petersburg Times about Burning Man, and how the fest?val this year is stepp?ng up its environmental consciousness.
? really w?sh I was going to be there, but, again…sacr?fices must be made.
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They Smoke Philly Titans in Syria0

Posted by Jessica in SYRIA (August 10, 2007 at 12:04 pm)

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I don’t know why, but Syria always sounded like the most exotic of our planned destinations. Cradle of Civilizations, blah blah blah. Well, so far I’m not disappointed, Syria is COOL.
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It had better be nice, since we waited 7 hours at the border to be admitted. In that time, we watched numerous people of other nationalities come thru, attain their visa in an hour or less, and go on their way. Hmm, is it only us who has to wait for the entire day? Oh well, the border is open 24 hours, so at least I knew they wouldn’t send us away to close up shop.
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First stop: Damascus. I like this place. The alleyway to our hotel, filled with little hole-in-the-wall coffeeshops and budget hostels, reminds me of Amsterdam.
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Folks were even enjoying a beer at a streetside café – something unheard of in the last 4 countries we’d visited. They always hide you away because, you know, drinking a beer is NOT a public, family-oriented activity, and you ought to be ashamed anyway!
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Damascus is OOOLLLDDDDD!
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There’s a huge mosque in the center of the Old Walled City, and still visible at either end are the columns and triangular pediment of the former Temple of Jupiter.
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ANDREW SEZ: In The Ummyad mosque, there was a few shrines, and one had the head of John the Baptist inside it. People were getting pretty emotional..
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JESSICA RETURNZ: I got scrubbed down in an old beautiful hammam, and we spent hours just walking around the souks and the Old City.
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Syria is rockin the fresh juice shops, and they sell blackberry juice icees – mmmmmmm! Did I mention it’s about 115 degrees every day??
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ANDREW SEZ: Cairo was the best for fresh fruit juice, while Syria has so far been a close second. The difference—Cairo juice stands have strawberry juice. Best pick here is the mixed fruit-you get a huge glass of fresh smoothie.
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JESSICA RETERNZ: Look out for the taxi drivers though – we have been yelled at by more of them than not. Even if you can get him to put on the trip meter, he will invariably want more that the meter reading when you arrive at your destination. They might follow you out screaming, and one guy put up his dukes. OK, he was smiling, so that was pretend. I don’t like the taxi drama.
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Spent a few days in Hama, city of 17 Ancient Norias (waterwheels). The norias are huge and quite beautiful: dark water-stained wooden wheels, turning lazily in the flow of the river. They are mounted on wooden blocks, so the wood-on-wet-wood friction creates an enormously loud groaning. Something between a squeaky hinge and a harley davidson. The water used to pour into the tops of aquaducts and go all over town, but now it mostly just sprinkles down the noria in a gorgeous spray of light. If the river wasn’t so stinky… The aquaducts are still standing in several places, and together with the norias it’s a very nice picture.
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Most of Hama’s Old City is gone, lost to bombs, but a small portion remains. There we saw a right perty palace and some quaint narrow stone streets winding between a hammam and a mosque. It must have been very pretty once.
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I also felt like we got one step closer to Europe, as we checked out a few castles.
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Some Shepards(who have been ever present, but we havent been giving due props over the past few months)
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And last but not least, the beehive villages. Some folks still live in these houses..
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Now we are chillin in Beiruit. Well have pictures soon. Suffice it to say it’s a fascinating city. War torn for sure, but also the party capital of the middle east. Waking up around noon to a view of the sea, and bombed out buildings…hasta pronto…
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Happy Anniversary!!!1

Posted by Jessica in EGYPT, JORDAN, SYRIA (August 1, 2007 at 11:31 am)

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Today is August 1, which makes it ONE YEAR since we set forth from Tampa. Wow! And yes, it feels like a year. So far we’ve survived the Granada winter and we are currently sweating out the Middle East summer. There’s a couple more months to go, barring disaster we still hope to make it to Rome….

We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last 2 1/2 weeks : we revisited Cairo and met the Sinai Peninsula, saw the last little bits of Jordan, and crossed into Syria. We like to think we’re on the home stretch of this journey now – no more revisiting countries, always heading forward.
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In CAIRO we met some young newspaper cartoonists, Qundeel & Makhrouf. They had some really interesting work, and sounds like great luck to be drawing for their living. Other newspapers in Cairo are starting to imitate this paper and hire cartoonists because it been so successful. It was enlightening to see their view of the world from their pen and ink drawings. Hey Guys!
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SINAI is some desert shit: brown rocky desert for miles and miles, with mountains and folds of stony earth poking out everywhere. We climbed to the top of Mt Sinai (of 10 Commandments fame) timing it so we’d arrive at the summit just before dawn and see the amazing colors of the morning sun pour in over the mountains.
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At the top there are lots of other folks doing the same thing, many of them pilgrims from all over the world.
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There are also kittens living up there and LOTS of souvenir shacks. ‘You want CAMEL? GOOD camel!’
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At the bottom you can visit St Katherine’s monastery where they supposedly keep the [descendent of the] Original Burning Bush. Sorry, No flames, no booming voice of god.
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We spent a couple days beach-bumming in DAHAB. I hear this place was recently just a bunch of laid-back shanties and huts on the beach, but no more! There’s a million budget hotels and dive shops lining the beach, as well as tourist shops and restaurants, and a long concrete sidewalk snaking the shore. We rented cheap snorkeling gear and caught a glimpse of The Best Coral Reef Diving in the World, reportedly. LOTS of coral, (much of it trampled by fellow snorkelers entering and exiting the reef area) and colorful fish. Sorry, no pics of this. We even saw a couple eels and an octopus!
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If you’re looking to stay in the area, however, I’d recommend searching out the next old-Dahab, somewhere with less development and more huts. Too much tourists, and prices reflected that.
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ANDREW SEZ: A not so quick ferry ride from Egypt to Jordan…
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This time in Amman we finally saw the Roman Amphitheater that (restored) sits in the middle of the city. There was a free concert in it! Jordanian families danced in front of their seats.
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Then we rode up to the north and saw the Roman Ruins of JERASH. Some nice stuff here, but all these ruins are starting to look a lot alike if you ask me. Ruin-fatigue.
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ANDREW SEZ: Yes, in many ways, we feel as if we have already conquered Rome.(and Carthage for that matter) Still cool, but not the same ‘wow’ effect as the first time—like many things in life.
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JESSICA RETERNZ: Would have loved to stick around to see one of my favorite bands Ozomatli perform in this ancient amphitheater, but that would have required crossing the Syrian border a 2nd time, and as you will read in the next chapter, that just ain’t happening….