between the lands

Jessica and Andrew’s travel journal

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Gobble Gobble (with special guests!)1

Posted by Jessica in TURKEY (September 28, 2007 at 12:21 pm)

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Amazing scenery, ancient ruins, crazy rock formations, spectacular cliffs surrounding Mediterranean islands, sacred carp, traditional music and dances, and even some very dear
friends and family from back home! Marhaba and welcome to Turkey! So now I’m going to try and tell you about all that (over 3 weeks worth) in as few words as possible.

1st stop : Urfa. We couch-surfed there with our new friend, Mahmut. He’s in the photos below with us. He showed us around his town, including a night-time cemetery tour, and the very-cool pool and canal complex that houses the sacred carp.
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ANDREW SEZ: Urfa is a real holy city to some folks. They say that Abraham was thrown from a mountain above the town, and even better, many claim that Adam(and eve as a result) are from Urfa. The supposed ‘garden of Eden’ is outside of town, and I somewhat regret that we didn’t get a chance to go see it.
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More impressive to me were the bakeries that Mahmut introduced us to. Neighborhood bakeries in Urfa will cook your food for you in their super hot big oven, as long as you bring it to them in a pan, and buy bread when you leave. These bakers are the most popular guys in town.
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JESSICA RETURNZ:
Mahmut came with us to see Harran, the ‘beehive village,’ and also Mt Nemrut. The beehive-houses resemble some we saw in Syria, but in Harran there were more of them, and they were bigger. There’s also ruins of a huge mosque and a castle.
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Mt Nemrut has huge statues that used to be set all around a temple. Not much remains of the temple, but the huge statues of Greek deities (now in large pieces, with heads mostly on the ground) are still there. From the top of the mountain, we could see the Euphrates river.
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2nd : Cappadocia. This place has pretty mountains, fertile valleys, and huge spiky rock formations poking straight up out of the ground. Something to do with ancient volcanoes… And sometime in the last 2 or 3 thousand years, people dug out houses, graves, heavily-decorated painted churches, and pigeon-houses from the rocks. You can hike all thru the valleys and explore these ‘fairy chimneys’ for days and days. But we only had 2 days ?
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We slept at a hostel in a cave-room.
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ANDREW SEZ: Don’t forget the underground cities…as if those crazy above ground pointy rock-home structures weren’t strange enough, in the same area, people built entire cities—some of them 10 stories down!—underground. One airshaft for survival, and a giant stone to block in and capture any invaders that tried to come and get them.
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3rd stop—Antalya: One night of couchsurfing with Julia and Ali,
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and then…Ma Dukes is in the house!!!
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JESSICA RETURNZ: We are happy to have given Andrew’s sweet mom Maralyn a good reason to take a much-deserved vacation in such an exotic place, and happy she spent it with us. Near disaster was averted when the airline finally found her missing luggage – only a few hours desperately pretending not to panic! Antalya is charming with its old city walls and bustling sea-port.
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4th : Next day – onward to Cirali. This may have been our most beautiful hotel and hotel setting. Our triple-occupancy cottage was nestled among gorgeous tropical plants, just a stone’s throw from the beach. And they whipped up incredible food at their little restaurant.
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That night, we biked a short way to Mt Olympus, where the ‘eternal flame’(also known as ‘the chimera’) is still flaming – right out of the top of the mountain! Scientists say the fire has been fueled for thousands of years by natural gas seeping up through cracks in the rock, igniting somehow along the way. I prefer the explanation that there is a chimera-monster down there.
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We got a bit lost on the way back, tho, and it was a late nite.
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It was pretty hard to tear ourselves away the next morning, but we had a boat to catch!
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5th stop : 4-day, 3-night boat cruise! Maralyn booked this one, and she did a great job. We loaded up onto a Turkish wooden sailboat along with 9 other lovely guests, and we all had to RELAX.
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Every few hours we would stop, the crew would feed us yummies, and then we’d swim. And then we could read and sleep and lay in the sun. All the way up the coast to Fethiye.
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6th : Istanbul.
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The Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia (church-come-mosque-come-museum), Hammam, The Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Dervishes (truly bizarre)….
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ANDREW SEZ: Istanbul(and Turkey) really lived up to its rep as a bridge between “east’ and ‘west”-ern cultures. Its got some of the most beautiful Mosques and Muslim architecture, side by side with super modern shopping districts, and a more European street culture.
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JESSICA RETURNZ: Medical anthropologist and Raki connoisseur Alayne Unterburger also flew in from Tampa to explore Turkey with us! We never would have found the upside-down head of medusa without her.
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7th : Bergama. Maralyn left us behind in Istanbul, so we grabbed Alayne and took her down to check out some more of Turkey. Bergama has a great set of Roman ruins on top of a hill, a ruined brick basilica, and lots of local carpets for sale.
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Alayne helped us to understand the full meaning of all the little explanatory panels in the museum. It helps to bring a scientist with you!
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8th : Izmir. Back to couchsurfing. This is becoming a theme, a good one. We have stayed for free with friendly and knowledgeable local hosts in several countries now, and it is WAY superior to getting a hotel or hostel. The hotel-guy isn’t going to become your new friend, show you around, explain all the confusing local customs and language, and maybe even buy a round of drinks. Our host Galip did all this.
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Izmir is a huge city, sprawling for miles along the seaside. We barely scratched the surface of our little area. There was a Bazaar, some museums, and lots of walking.
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9th : Selcuk. This is the town nearest to ancient roman Efesus, an ENORMOUS temple dedicated to Artemis-Cybele (the spiced-up western turkey version of the Greek goddess), tons of ancient mosques and churches. Efesus is, to date, my favorite of the ruins we’ve seen. And I’m so glad it came along, cuz I was getting pretty tired of ruins. But this place was outta sight. The 2-story white marble façade in the photos is the old library - majorly reconstructed.
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A large section of hillside homes is protected by a modern roof. The walls of these dwellings were conserved by being buried for thousands of years, so you can still see the painted frescos that adorned them. Amazing!
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ANDREW SEZ: We also were lucky to be in Selcuk for their annual independence festival. Folk(and pop) music performances, good food from all over Turkey, and lots of craft makers were all in town.
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Overall, it was great having my mom and Alayne traveling with us.
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Although we’ve been seeing old friends(and making new ones) along the way, this was the first time we had folks living their regular lives back in the states take time out to come join us on a leg of our round the sea adventure. Chok guzel!!….and to everyone else—we invited you..but unfortunately…time..is ..running out…
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JESSICA RETURNZ:
After all this time in Turkey, and traveling together with Maralyn and Alayne for a couple of weeks, we set off on our own again. Alayne headed to Capadocia, and we made off for Greece. Turkey is an amazing country. Far too big to have seen much in the short time we stayed there. I certainly hope to go back one day – there is so much more to see, and now I have friends there!
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Ma-ah salama—Leaving the Arab world2

Posted by Andrew in MOROCCO, TUNISIA, SYRIA, LEBANON (September 15, 2007 at 1:44 pm)

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We’ll be writing more about Turkey soon—it’s a huge country, and in 3 weeks we only saw a few small bits of it. (we are in Greece now) You’ve probably heard the debate about whether turkey should be part of Europe (the EU at least) or is it really a part of Asia, or the Middle East. For my cent and a half, I’ll just say that once we crossed the Syrian border and left the south of Turkey behind, it was clear that something had changed, starting with the language.
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The people were speaking Turkish, leaving the 20 or so Arabic phrases we had picked up virtually useless, and suddenly, we had left the Arab world after 5 months of immersion.

Fortunately, our last stop was one of the best. In Haleb (Aleppo to the non-Syrian), we were guests of Jamal, our favorite couchsurfing host so far (no offense to many other great hosts—you guys rocked as well). Jamal’s family treated us like we were relatives, and his mom cooked us some really great food.
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We hung out with Jamal, his best friend Jamal, 20070812269 a 2 jamalls in grass.jpg

…and their gang of friends, and we got to have lots of good discussions about life, politics and everything in between.CIMG4384 shoe shine jamal.jpgCIMG7806 2 jamals at home.jpgCIMG7684 da haleb gang over cityscape.jpgCIMG7736 3 js and mosque.jpg

JESSICA SEZ: We also went to Aleppo’s new (and maybe Syria’s first?) waterpark. Unfortunately, we don’t have a picture, but they had a waterslide that was totally new to both of us. It shot you down a long enclosed tube, then dropped you into a giant open-top funnel, where you went round and round and then finally dropped out the bottom into a pool. Just like being flushed down a toilet!
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ANDREW RETURNZ: Like Damascus, Aleppo is also a very old city with lots of history, and a huge covered market.(they say 30 kilometers worth of shops)

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I’m defintely sad to be leaving the arab word, and missing many things about the culture already. To try and give yall a little taste, click here to watch a video I put together with some clips from various countries we’ve visited since March —it includes a carpet auction in Tunisia, a 1-day-old baby goat in the Moroccan Saraha, election day on the streets of Beiruit, and several views of the Mediterranean. (some of the clips were ones I wanted to post when we were in Tunisia but had no real internet access.)

If you sat through that video and are wondering about the call to prayer and why it wasn’t included, we just have to much video and Im skeptical that many people are willing to watch even the 7 minute long movie above. Coming soon is a short video “The Call”. any day now, I promise.
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Looking forward, we have sketched out the next (and last) leg of our trip—and we only have about 6 weeks to go. Rome is on the horizon and the Balkans await!!
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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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ANDREW SEZ:

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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JESSICA RETURNZ: Back 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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JESSICA SEZ:
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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ANDREW RETURNZ:

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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Planet Tunisia0

Posted by Andrew in ALGERIA, TUNISIA (July 6, 2007 at 3:41 pm)

We finally tore ourselves away from Algeria. It’s debatable whether we overstayed our visa, but like everyone else there, all the police were so friendly, they didn’t mind at all. Thanks again to all of our new friends, including Mohammed and his family, who kindly spent the day with us in Cherchell.
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Had to make a stopover in Kabylie, where the indigenous African berbers are still reppin their language, written and spoken—Azoul!!
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JESSICA SEZ: The rumors are true, Algeria really is the unspoiled Maghreb. It’s got ‘4 seasons’ (desert, ice-capped mnts, beaches, plains), spectacular scenery, a thorough bus network to get around at good rates, and a network of real youth hostels (heavily used by Algerian youth athletic teams). Unlike Morocco and Tunisia, no one will follow you around trying to force you to buy something – anything! You can let your eyes stray onto an item in a souk without conjuring an ingratiating, patronizing hard-sell. You can ask for directions from a stranger who will not ask for a tip, and might even tell you to hop in his car for a ride. The tourist is still such an unusual sight, that folks see YOU – not a walking wallet – and that allowed us to see THEM as well.
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I was able to talk to Algerians more freely than anywhere else in northern Africa, with no strings and no ulterior motives. And they were very happy to discuss and share with us. What a relief it was. I hope to go back, and I hope they can keep that character of openness in the future…
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ANDREW RETURNZ:
On To Tunisia—land of some really unique stuff. While I do have much love for Algeria; and agree with what Jessica sez above; Ill point out that while Morocco is quite tough in terms of harrassment of foreigners; Tunisia is alot more mow key except along the well beaten path

First we hung out in El Kef (or Le Kef as the French prefer).
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Nearby we took a soak in some actual Roman baths!!! No, not ruins of baths; these thermal baths, which are out in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a difficult road, have been in continuous operation for over 1,800 years. It was so cool to be here, we didn’t even mind than it was 117 degrees outside that day.
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More ruins of course, including Bulla Regia, where it was so hot, the romans decided to build their homes underground.
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On to El Haouaria, where we were 1 week late for the annual falconry festival.
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Oh well, la prochaine fois…
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We got to swim in a sea water filled pool, so close to Europe, we could almost see Sicily.
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Next, down to Kairouan, the 4th most holy city in Islam (Mecca, Medina and Jeruselum are the first three).
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JESSICA SEZ:They told us 7 visits here equals one trip to Mecca.
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ANDREW RETURNZ: Only a short hop to El Jem, the biggest coliseum we’ve seen yet—it used to hold 30,000 people.
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Kariouen is also a carpet makers center.
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Its been a while for you movie lovers, so heres a North Africa themed movie I’ve made, featuring clips from Prayer time in Fez, the carpet auction in Kariouen, whirling dervishes dancing in Egypt, and some other assorted stuff. ***one problem, because of government censorship of the internet here in Tunisia, the service is so slow I cant upload this movie. So ill post it when we get to another country with better service. Sorry…***
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Then to the Island of Djerba, which still has a small Jewish community, and a synagogue which supposedly holds one of the oldest torahs in the world. There’s a big Jewish pilgrimage here during Passover.
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We stayed in a funduq, old multi-roomed boarding houses for the traveling merchants;
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…and we swam in the warmest sea yet on this trip…
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And of course, the ubiqutous Tunisia Jasmine flowers–all the guys are wearing them!!(fo real)
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Now I write this post from the town of Matmata. We are staying in a hotel that’s a network of underground caves.
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It was used for Luke Skywalkers home in Star Wars, and for the cantina where Han Solo bucked down Greedo. No joke!
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Most people now live above ground here, but there are still lots of troglodyte dwellings. If nothing else, it keeps cool during the day…

Well be in Tunisia a few more days, and then were giving Libya one last shot—we’d like to travel over land back to Egypt. If they still don’t let us in, well have to hop over to Cairo (on an expensive airplane—ugh!) and then head east. See ya’ll in Tripoli, en sha’allah…
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In the steps of the romans….1

Posted by Andrew in ALGERIA (June 17, 2007 at 3:47 pm)

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Welcome to Algeria! Where???
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Its been coming to our attention that many readers of this journal are beginning to lose us geographically. Rather than take you to task for throwing away your old globe from elementary schoool, heres a map you can look at, that has pretty much all the countries labeled that we are going to.
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Found Algeria? North of Africa, in the middle kind of to the left? Good. So whats happening here?

The most obvious thing is amazing roman ruins. Here are somehights: Djmella, Timgad, and of course, Tiddis.
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As for why the romans were here, (besides their desire to conquer and rule the world)its quite obvious—its beautiful. I really didn’t expect Algeria to be so green. There is plenty of desert in the south, but as you can see, the north(where we are sticking to, as its already June and hot in the desert) is full of mountains, rivers and farms.
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As for the people here, I think they have been the nicest of anywhere we’ve been. Folks are giving us free food, free car rides, good hospitality, and in general are just plain Buena gente.
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After crossing the Tunisian border, we spent a couple nights in El Kala, a picturesque fishing village.
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Then on to Constantine, an amazingly situated city. Its built on a giant rock, surrounded by gorges several hundred feet deep. You have to cross bridges to get to the city.
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The photos don’t really capture it, but here are a few.
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We were lucky enough on our first day walking around Constantine to see both a youth parade, and the filming of a movie, which had everyone on world war II era costumes.
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We were told the film is by the same producer as The Battle Of Algiers(a great flick by the way-check it out), but we’re not sure—we may have lost something in the translation…
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We also spent a week in Algiers, the capital, doing a radio training class (more on that to come), and checking out the town.
CIMG2676 hangin on mosque steps1.jpgCIMG2679 long street of arches.jpgCIMG2697 monument above city.jpgCIMG2714 2 look seaward.jpgCIMG2732 long view of beach.jpgCIMG2743 watching the beach.jpgCIMG2764 city view from high up.jpgCIMG2768 soccer outside auberge.jpgCIMG2793 exposed arch building.jpgCIMG2800 white robe white hat.jpgCIMG2809 girl running towards me1.jpgCIMG2824 robe walking down steps.jpgCIMG2833 baguette market.jpg

By government order, (almost) all the buildings are blue and white:
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in other news…you can hear a radio story i reently did for a BBC progarm called The World; by clicking here. The story is about the clean up trip we took to the white desert, egypt.

and if you get a free subscription to E! magazine, a>you can click here and read an article i wrote about the cave dwellers in granada, spain (sorry about the subscription thing, i dont like that either)

Back to the present day and algeria.. we are now in Cherchell, another beach town, recovering from a week of big city life. We’ve got a couple more stops on our way back east, where we’ll cross back into Tunisia. We spent a few days in Tunis(the capital) earlier this month, and well have more on that soon. One note however: in a major surprise, Tunisian food is slammin! In my opinion, its been the best food so far of anywhere, with Italy a close second. Well have more pics, details n’ recipes comin soon…a tut alors…
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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 couchsurfing.com!

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:
CIMG0186 where r your panties.jpg CIMG0187 conform consume.jpg CIMG0193 roots for legs.jpg CIMG0194 2 black painted birds.jpg CIMG0200 hiphop guehto.jpg CIMG0207 especula desde 1492.jpg CIMG0215 man steps on worker stencil.jpg CIMG0290 bush as clown poster.jpg

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:
CIMG0422 a chills in hut.jpgCIMG0454 goats on camel.jpgCIMG3808 tents in sahara.jpgCIMG4014 j with sunset.jpgCIMG4029 2 sahara guys and camels.jpg

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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