As the plane touched down on the runway, I had a disorienting moment of pure panic: I had no idea where I was!? The airport looked the same as the others I'd seen recently and my mind actually had to run through the itinerary to figure out I was home. This was Logan Airport. Home. Paris - Amman (Jordan) - Petra - Aqaba - Sharm el Sheikh (Egypt) - The Red Sea - Hurghada - Luxor - Cairo - Suez - Suez Canal - Ashdod (Israel) - Jerusalem - Haifa - Nazareth - Limassol (Cyprus) - Larnaca - Amsterdam - Boston - HOME.
I had assumed I'd be able to get online during the trip and blog my adventures as they happened. But life never follows an itinerary. So I found myself on many, many (many!) long bus rides "blogging" in my head. The past two weeks or so are already becoming a blur. This was an insane trip filled with locations at which we could have easily spent the entire trip! We arrived home at 2am "our time" - 7pm local time and my brain is so filled with a jumble of images and emotions - I imagine it will take a while to sort it all out.
The awe of walking a mile through a dark narrow "wadi" (a rock canyon) and emerging into the sunlight to stare up at the "Treasury" of Petra. An entire city carved out of the rock walls - thousands of years old - lost in the desert until about 100 years ago. I stuck my feet in the Red Sea, the River Jordan, and the only lake on the planet invisible to satellites! I stood between the front paws of the Sphinx! No one gets beyond the fence surrounding the sphinx, but Dr. Ramadan, who is second in command of the Egyptian Antiquities Dept. - also happens to be a former student of the professor who was leading our group. He accompanied us around Cairo and took us down to the feet of the Sphinx! We were able to walk right up to the tablet under his chin. If you don't understand the sense of awe this creature instills - consider this: the sphinx was already ancient... 8,000 years ago! They believe he originally had the face of a lion and it was re-carved into the pharaoh's face "in more recent times" which is why the head appears so much smaller in proportion to the body. It's also thought that there was a matching Sphinx on the other side of the Nile.
I was also overwhelmed by the insane amount of construction going on in the Middle East. Miles and miles and miles of very expensive apartments and hotels all going up at once... in the desert. Where does the water come from?! And the trash and the smog. There are four-lane highways in Cairo and traffic worse than Boston. 20 years ago, there were some cars, but mostly donkey carts and pedestrians and scary buses. Our bus drove up the plateau, behind the pyramids to the scenic view where you can photograph all three pyramids together. We could barely see them through the smog. Egypt will manage to destroy in one generation - what has lasted for thousands of years. There is a new McDonald's right behind the Luxor Temple, and I saw a TGIFriday's and a Gold's Gym built onto the Nile in Cairo. A positive development is the improvement of the museums and Egypt's new cataloging system. They have recovered over 5,000 "stolen" artifacts. Many more are still in museums around the world. They are also working on programs to train and educate Egyptians to curate the new museums and do recovery work.
One thing that I did not think I would get used to was the security. Everywhere we went we had, what we called, our "men in black." I don't know how they manage to pack those huge guns into the back of their pants... and the suits! It was more than 110 degrees in Egypt and these guys were wearing full suits. But they came everywhere with us and often there was a police escort as well for the bus. Every public place we entered: hotels, museums, tomb sites... we had to go through security x-rays. It eventually wore me down. This combined with the huge (gigantic) changes at all our stops in Egypt... it felt like the kid in me who decided to become an archaeologist at age 8... was being stoned by Reality. I just cannot put into words the shock and horror at the change I saw. It's like that song "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot." The parking lots, tourist trams... no photos in the Valley of the Kings?! Even if you aren't as into archaeology as I am, you must have heard about the accidental discoveries in Egypt? The boats found buried next to the pyramids? Or KV5 - the tomb of Ramses' sons? Even King Tut was just a hole in the ground, right? So how...HOW... can they justify paving and building roads, museums and rest houses, parking lots right up to and through these sites?!!! And the trash from the locals and the tourists will cover the country faster than the sand. I saw islands of water bottles and other trash bumping up against the luxury boats on the Nile. There used to be hundreds of little sailboats in Luxor, felucas, now there are hundreds of hotel boats. Honestly, floating hotels.
I've never been to Israel before, so I thought it would be better - nothing to compare it against. But I had a feeling the "Atlantic City" on the shore of the Sea of Galilee was a fairly new addition. Our guide described the Roman ruins around us, but the shops completely obscured them.
All my ideas about politics, religion, materialism, security and even my own sense of confidence have all come under examination. I hope I can think of something to "DO" with all this "stuff" in my head! I did keep a journal and if I can keep my eyes open long enough tomorrow, I'll try to scan some of it and post it if there is any interest! I know this post comes across as very negative - that happens when one is extremely exhausted. But, honestly, I am really glad I got to take this trip - and really glad I got to bring my son along. I need to unpack my brain along with the dirty clothes and assess it all.