between the lands

Jessica and Andrew’s travel journal

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mitigating sticker-shock in croatia0

Posted by Andrew in EGYPT, CROATIA (November 16, 2007 at 4:28 pm)

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Lets get the hard part out of the way—Croatia was expensive! Especially at this late point in our trip, to see prices like Western Europe in the middle of the Balkans was an unexpected and difficult shock. So If you’ve been dreaming about the out of the way 2-dollar Croatian vacation, sorry you’ve already missed the boat, cause the days of post-communism are long gone round here…
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But we are resilient, no? Por supuesto. With the help of some great couchsurfing hosts, Croatia comes alive. The best stop for sure was on the Dalmatian coast, CIMG5577 j with dalmatian.jpgwhere we stayed with Ljuba and her family in the town of Solin.
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Pomegranates off the tree for breakfast, a constant stream of Croatian porros, and an amazing once-a-year cultural event. In the nearby mountain town of Dugopolje, they were having their annual Klapa fest—Klapa is acoustic singing, sounds a bit like an American barber shop quartet, except there are 8, 10 or more people singing(either all men or all women)
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Click on these links below to listen to some Klapa—its good stuff.

The festival also featured some friendly non-musical competitions:
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Possibly the best part was when the whole town gathered at a huge underground cave, where a Klapa group performed a short song. They sang really quietly so the cave wouldn’t collapse.
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And as luck would have it, Ljuba’s good friend was both a Klapa singer, and host of the before, midway and after parties.
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Ljuba also showed us around the beautiful and historic towns of Split and Trogir.
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And best of all, we got to ride in a Yugo!!
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Slightly less exciting was the Croatian capital of Zagreb. Staying at the home of Martina, (more…)

THE CALL–a movie as promised0

Posted by Andrew in EGYPT, MOROCCO, TUNISIA, SYRIA, TURKEY (October 2, 2007 at 1:20 pm)

weve made alot of promises on this blog that we havent kept, about stories photos and such that we simply never got around to posting. But in honor of our 1 year anniversary of leaving the states(tomorrow–Ocotber 3rd) we will turn over a new leaf.

click here to watch a video featuring the infamous call or prayer from all over the arab world—for those who dont know, 5 times a day, all the mosques have a real(or sometimes recorded—boooo!) voice singing on a loudspeaker, letting people know that its about time to pray. It can be haunting at times, echoing down lonely streets, or startling in the middle of the night, depending on where your hotel window room is. But most of all its just a part of life, and after a while I didnt notice it half the time. Enjoy the movie…

JESSICA SEZ: there was only one place where anyone told us the call to prayer was recorded. the vast majority of the time, some dude gets himself to the mosque, 5 times a day, and sings his heart out. sometimes he’s a great singer, othertimes it’s all about heart. but it’s always cool. except if it’s pre-recorded. that’s just lame.

ANDREW RETURNZ: We are in Sarajevo today, coming from the beautiful Dalmatian coast of Croatia. of course, pictures will hopefully be posted about 3 weeks after weve been there(not everything is gonna change).

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….

takin an L…0

Posted by Andrew in EGYPT, TUNISIA (July 16, 2007 at 8:14 pm)

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We don’t like to admit defeat, but we have to in this case.
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Libya simply wouldn’t budge, and we could not get into the country. Without telling the entire saga, Ill include some details for the curious,(most people seem to be curious about Libya, as we were) interspersed with pictures from the magical Ksour of Tunisia for those with short attention spans.
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We began our efforts to get into Libya in February. The usual way to go is with a tour agency—officially, no tourists are allowed without one. It was going to cost more than we hoped, but we figured how many chances to you get to check out the amazing desert and ruins of Libya. Several agencies wrote back, saying the government had put a freeze of visas to Americans (not officially, but they just wouldn’t issue them), one guy offered to do it for $900, which was just too much.
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Then we found Libyan friends of friends in Granada, who really tried to help us and hook us up with good folks back in Tripoli, (thanks Matug and Hussein) but their connections petered out after a while, saying for Americans it was just too difficult…
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Then we heard about the transit visa option, where you just get a one week visa to cross the country(either from Egypt to Tunisia or the other way around). I had read about lots of foreigners doing this, but not Americans. We applied at the consulate in both Cairo and Tunis, but week after week they would tell us “call back next week” they were very nice, and said our papers were in order; they even said that Americans are sometimes granted visas, but alas, for us it never happened.
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Last week—Last chance. We were in southern Tunisia, two hours from the border, staying in Tataouine (the area where these pics of ruined ancient hilltop berber villages and grain storage ksour are from) We decided to just head for the border and try to talk our way in. We got past several levels of security, filled out the Libyan customs form, passed by the enourmous 70s style mural of Qadaffi, and were officially on Libyan soil, but then we were called into the office. An hour debating with some guy called ‘the general’ and other officers, and they said it was simply impossible for us to enter without a visa, and Tripoli wouldn’t give them the ok to issue us one. They were very nice, and seemed like they wanted to help, but their highups in the capital wouldn’t allow it.
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So now were back in Cairo, after flying over Libya –‘the forbidden land’. I could wax philosophical about how we now better understand how arab people feel, when the American government refuses to allow them into the US for no good reason, but instead, ill field a question from a betweenthelands reader, and intersperse the answers with pics from Cairo—‘the mother of the world’ as its known.

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A reader asked us to answer the following on the blog.
“I’m curious and perhaps other folks are too who are reading it. How has the safety/security situation been? As a tourist and/or as an American?”
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Ill answer first. In general, the bottom line is—we all know how wrong our (westerners) perceptions are about the Arab world, but its one thing to know it, and another to experience the reality. It’s hard to exaggerate how kind and generous people have to been to us. While of course there are scam artists here and there(just like in NYC), the majority of people are much more quick to share food, water, help you if you are lost, etc. than people in the US or Europe are.
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When we say we are American, there are a range of responses. Some people are simply still in love with the ideals America stands for on paper. Others make jokes about Bush, ask if we like him, or ask why Americans elected him. Others, say ‘America, oh…” and the conversation moves on to other topics.
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I’ve never felt unsafe being a foreigner or an American. The only threatening words I’ve heard were in Constantine, Algeria, when a group of 9 year olds were talking to us for a while, and then one said in broken English and hand gestures that al-Qaeda was going to slit our throats. I can only assume it was because a few months earlier, there was a bomb in that city, and im sure the kids have heard a lot of ridiculous things about ‘Al Qaeda’ (the same type of absurdity we all hear). There were adults nearby who were embarrassed, and told the kids to stop bothering us.
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The only place we were advised by some people not to go was Tizi Ouzou, in Algeria–theres been some problems there recently,(bombs, kidnappings) and people were telling us its a few crazy people who like blowing themselves or others up–kind of like whats happening all over the world. Regardless–we didnt go.
If there are radical isolationist fundamentalists in our midst, they haven’t made themselves known to us. Overall, the people of the Arab world are upset not only because the misperceptions of them are making their lives harder(eg. they cant study or visit relatives in the US and Europe, etc), but its hurt the tourism industry, which is one of the most important, especially in countries like Egypt. So they are economically suffering, because people are afraid to come visit their countries.

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Andrew & I are greeted daily with cries of ‘Welcome!’ from random passers-by in the street. People have been overwhelmingly considerate and kind. Folks will lead you to your destination when you simply ask for directions. A couple times a complete stranger in the same coffee shop or sandwich shop has actually paid our bill, without having spoken to us, for the simple reason of hospitality!
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Everybody asks “Where are you from?” I’m usually embarrassed to answer, but I never try to lie. Most folks politely say how great America is, perhaps even out of courtesy? Other folks will ask you frankly, but not harshly, “Why do the Americans allow this war to continue, killing babies and innocent victims?” When a beautiful, articulate and sensitive 14-yr old young lady tells you glumly, she knows why – “it’s because Americans think we (her brothers, friends, her people) are all terrorists”, believe me, this is hard to respond to! She is right – my people have an irrational fear of her people, whipped up by political and economic manipulation. And as I walk the streets of Cairo, Algiers, Tunis, Amman, looking into the smiling, tired, laughing, or wary eyes of other ordinary folks, as they walk by skinny, fat, wearing dorky glasses, or as suave as an Arabian prince, I see just how irrational and ridiculous that fear is. ‘They’ are just like ‘us’, except perhaps a bit kinder to strangers. And they wear more clothes in hot weather.
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The one bit of culture shock that I continue to have trouble with is the rigid gender-roles and separation. Girls and Boys (of all ages) simply do not mix here the way they do back home. Girls hang out away from the public eye, together, and Boys hang out EVERYWHERE, together. Girls are quiet and gentle, and Boys are rowdy. Boys are free and Girls are under control, or that’s how it looks to me. This bugs me every day. I was a tomboy. I wouldn’t be caught DEAD in a dress until my late teens. What would life have been like for me as a tomboy in Egypt? I just don’t know.
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Okay so we both veered off topic a bit, but hopefully some of the question was answered. I like to stay away from this preachy stuff, and simply use pictures to show you what its like, but im sure many people have been wondering the same thing so its worth a few paragraphs. Wed love to answer any other questions people have—either post them here, or email us individually. Well try to keep it short.
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Back to reality, were headed to the sinai peninsula tomorrow, to climb Mt Sinai, and then go swim in the red sea before we head on back to Jordan. Were happy to be back in the land of fresh fruit juice,(Egypt) but we must continue on…

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Couchsurfing Portugal1

Posted by Jessica in EGYPT, PORTUGAL (May 25, 2007 at 6:13 am)

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***Flashing back in time… now you can help us experience our backlog of fotos and experiences***

Portugal – “they are more Spanish than the Spanish”. I can’t tell you who said this but it was a Spaniard. Portugal is where we cut our teeth as “couchsurfers” (not counting the couches of friends we already know) – more on that when we get to Faro.

First stop – LAGOS. It’s got a charming “old city”, walled, waterfront, subtropical. We felt surrounded by other visitors, so we got out fast – but not before we gawked at the truly amazing beach cliffs
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…and some really gorgeous tiled buildings. In Spain there’s tons of tile indoors. In Portugal, they put it EVERYWHERE :
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…AND – the FISH MARKET!!! Yum! Too bad we weren’t in town long enough to cook some up…
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After the tourist-trap feel of Lagos, SAGRES provided a welcome breather… there is nuttin’ to do here but chill. CIMG2872 men sitting along wall.jpg

We took a little bike ride and saw the southwesternmost point of continental Europe
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Click here for a riviting 45 second clip featuring one of the ends of the earth.

More amazing cliffs over the sea:
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A huge old earthen compass rose that, once again, proved my travel compass to be off a few degrees
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CRAZY fishermen who taunt death. It doesn’t look so bad in the picture, but it’s a long way to the water, and this guy is close to the edge… SURELY some of them fall!
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We stayed at the affordable and comfy Cuadros de Yvonne, highly recommended. She only speaks Portuguese, but she can understand our bad Spanish just fine. Her dog Snoopy is one well-dressed pooch. CIMG2883 j and sweater pooch.jpg

Then we went to FARO – time to try out!

Click here to check our couchsurfing profile, and add a nice comment about us to help us get free places to stay. You can read more about the couchsurfing project on that site, but basically it’s a way for travelers to link-up and host and be hosted all over the world…Fo’ free!!!!
We are happy to count our Faro hosts Vera and Daniel among our new friends. We only spent one night in Faro, but they showed us a bit of their town and introduced us to Portuguese-style bread soup with spinach, cheese, and egg. Yum!
We walked along the waterfront and saw folks collecting dinner from the tidal flats CIMG0148 heads collecting bivalves.jpg

Vera was the lookout while I peeped CIMG2919 j and vera looking in.jpg

This is the church with the Chapel of Bones – real monks built into the walls! CIMG2938 skulls close up.jpg CIMG2942 skull chapel.jpg

Finally, on to LISBON, the favorite city of our friend Jaime in Seville. He’s a very sensitive guy, so I know he doesn’t say that lightly. I feel we got a small taste of what he means… CIMG2985 city through  arch.jpg
In Lisbon we couchsurfed again, this time with Jorge. Thank you Jorge and thank you Couchsurfing! Again, things worked out beautifully.
Lisbon really is a gorgeous city, including architecture, graffiti, the sea, and the parks.
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I learned to make fish stew and Jorge said it was a success.
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Here’s a selection of cool graffiti I liked:
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Bye bye Lisbon, until next time…CIMG3045 checker tile and woman.jpg

ANDREW SEZ: yes Portugal was nice. I really liked the tile buildings all over the place. Lots of old timers—im a bit concerned about the lack of young people but I guess I have to track down some stats on that before I get too concerned.

Back to the present, we are wrapping up a 3-week stint in Egypt—featuring a boat trip down the nile…
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Lots of hieros and temples–more on that some other time…CIMG1796 a points at big carvedmen.jpg

We spent the last few days in Alexandria, with a view of the medeterranian sea from our balcony.CIMG2174 sunset over alex.jpg

We fly out to Tunis tonight—plane flights were not on our original agenda, but we’ve had calendar and visa issues that forced our hand. En sha’allah this is our last flight for a while…Tunisia and Algeria await—Back to the heart of the maghreb!!!
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SAHARA–west to east0

Posted by Andrew in EGYPT, MOROCCO (May 11, 2007 at 2:05 pm)

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ok, so we are still seeing too much stuff to go through all our pictures. to our new portugese friends we promise to give you props soon… or else!!
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One hour before we take an all-night bus, a quick update and some hastily chosen shots.

first–the western Sahara..Morocco:
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A couple nights livin berber style:
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Then, here in Egypt, we spent a week in the white desert. it was a special environmental clean up, where volunteers pick up tourists trash from the past year.
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Ill be reporting on it somewhere soon.–check back here for details.
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Weve spent the last several days exploring Cairo–an awesome city that I never expected. it has more than twice the number of people as NYC. Its huge, dirty, crowded, crazy and a mix of old, new and everything inbetween.
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Oh yeah…we checked out those big triangular things too.
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Were now on our way to Aswan and the South…we promised those Morocco pics as well, and they will come..when weve got a little time to spare. It was fast and furious. those Moroccans really know how to hustle
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See yall on the banks of the nile…
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howdy ya’ll - we’re in EGYPT!0

Posted by Jessica in EGYPT, MOROCCO (April 29, 2007 at 3:22 pm)

no time for a real update right now. we just arrived in Cairo Egypt this morning, and tomorrow we embark for a week in the White Desert. we’re on cleanup duty. folks leave A LOT of trash in the desert! (especially toilet paper, i’m told)

anyway, just wanted to say we spent 10 days in MOROCCO - passing thru several major attractions at the speed of light, and now will see some EGYPT.

MOROCCO: Fes, Meknes, Marakesh (all 3 - hammams & souks, souks, souks!), Merzouga (camels, desert, dunes). Wow! amazing pics online next week!