Monday, June 16, 2008

June 2008: Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Amsterdam

Salama (that means "hello" in every country we've been to so far, except for in Amsterdam, where in the Red Light district they say "allo" -- Nona doesn't want you to know we actually went to that part of Amsterdam, but we told her that if she doesn't pipe down she has to go back to her room right now... we intend to be very truthful throughout this entire update).
We're safe and sound in the middle of Jordan, somewhere near Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Haven't heard any gunfire... so far. Actually, we are in some town called Wasu Madi (not much of a town -- I saw forty camels and goat wearing a coat -- the goat was obviously in charge of the herd), very near Petra. Backing up a bit... we left SLC on time, the flight was uneventful, other than the mean lady sitting next to me that wouldn't let me put the armrest down (she loved me and wanted to snuggle, but she was a mean ol' drunk) and she put her blanket over her head and sat up straight the entire way across the Atlantic. We arrived in Amsterdam on time -- Lori Sawyer Jenson (my good friend) met us at the hotel and took us into the city where we went to the Red Light District, but the whole city seemed like a BIG Red Light District to Eli (we made him close his eyes the entire time). We didn't have a lot of time, so we scurried through the Anne Frank House -- Krishelle thought it was an Open House so she placed offer for $80k US, but they didn't accept because the dollar is really weak right now. Seriously though, it was really neat and we spent a whole hour there, which we now think was actually a really good/fair amount of time seeing as how we spent all of 27 minutes in the Egyptian Museum before we got bored (seven of those minutes were us just standing around so we wouldn't look so bad to the taxi driver who just drove us an hour to get there). So, after the Anne Frank House we flew to Egypt and landed at 2 a.m. local time. Egyptians, we have learned from first-hand experience, to put it nicely, get what they want when they want it, always at your expense. It first started with a pack of them on the airplane that, even though seats were assigned (like they are on most every plane across the free world) they chose to rush into the plane and sit where they wanted.... this, as you can imagine, was what instigated many fights and arguments before the plane even took off -- we sat and watched, as if it was part of the in-flight entertainment ("Battle of the Egyptians") -- the flight attendants tried to referee, but they eventually gave up and it was every man, woman, Egyptian, and child for themselves. This entertainment didn't cost us anything financially, other than arriving to Cairo an hour late and then waiting two more hours to get our bags. At that point, it wasn't very entertaining anymore as the sun was beginning to rise. After an interesting hassle at check-in, which took another two hours and I even used my strongest assertive voice (which, I think, to Egyptians is sweet-talk), we got settled into a very nice hotel with a great view of the Giza pyramids... unbelievable view. Then, we spent the whole day with Sayed our "English-speaking" guide who later confessed that he speaks English 50-50, which was extremely generous. We nodded and smiled a lot and told him we speak Arabic 0-100, so he was much better off than us. At one point, while we walked to the Sphinx, he told us he would be waiting for us at "Kentucky Down" which after looking around a while we figured it must mean the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street. Now, for the Panic Attack of 2008. At the pyramids, which are VERY huge and beautiful, we had the opportunity to go inside through a little shaft (Bridgette -- this is the equivalent of a slanted "shute"). In the biggest pyramid the shute goes upwards for a long, long, long, long way, so Sayed told us to pay the lesser amount and go in the smaller pyramid shute so we don't have to climb so far. Plus, the shute is really small and you're totally hunched over the entire way, one at a time, single file and it's dark, damp, hot, and really steep. That sounded like a great idea. Nona, of course, was already climbing in the shute before the rest of us even got instructions. Then, Eli, being the gentleman that he is, noticed how steep and dark and cramped and deep it was, so he told Nona to stop so he good be chivalrous and go first -- planning to act as a safety net for Nona should things go sour. You go down backwards like a ladder, because it's just that steep. So, Nona gets out of the way, and Eli enters, then Nona, then me, then Krishelle, and we start the descent. About 8 meters down (mind you, we are the only ones in the shute -- it wasn't at all crowded at the pyramids for some reason), one of us made a joke about "what if those guys up there close the metal door at the top of the shaft and leave us in here to cook for eternity”), then Eli said "I gotta get outta here." We all laughed and kept climbing down, but realized that we were stacking up on Eli who had stopped in his tracks and said, "No! Seriously! I gotta get outta here!" He then, pushed Nona out of the way, and climbed over me and Krishelle and shot out the top of the shaft faster than light! We all stood stunned not knowing what to do or say -- maybe make fun of him or climb out ourselves.... like, maybe he saw a ghost or something. But, for those of you who know Nona well, we were not about to leave until she had completed the entire journey. So, the remaining three of us went to the very bottom and then climbed back out and are glad we did, even though there's NOTHING to see in there. When we got back out, Eli was still shaking and breathing hard and has spent the last two days trying to convince us that he really is clinically claustrophobic and not just chicken. We love Eli. For a little distraction for Eli, Nona climbed on a live camel and took a ride and that calmed down Eli because we were all in amazement wondering how we would ever explain that the last time we saw Nona she was headed into the desert on the back of a running camel. (For those of you who don't know Nona, she is my 77 year-old adventure-loving mother). Other than managing through a near-fatal panic attack, we did all climb up part of the pyramids on the outside and that was kind of scary, too, but with a fabulous view of Cairo. And, after Nona proved that giant, slobbering, stinky camels are nothing to be afraid of, we all climbed on one and took a ride. It was a blast.... and a rip-off (again, Egyptians always get what they want, when they want it, at your expense).

The Sphinx. While the pyramids were just as big as expected, the Sphinx seemed rather small; however, we didn't let that stop us from asking it all the questions we dreamed up on the long plane ride over... like "what's your favorite color" to which the Sphinx answered, "dirty brown." Eli told it that was rather convenient, as everything was dirty brown. Then, Eli asked it, "What's your favorite bird?" To which the Sphinx answered, "Pigeons." Which was also rather convenient because there were pigeons roosting all over its face. We're trying to convince Krishelle to cut off her nose and tattoo tiny black pigeons all over her face so she can come back to the US and tell everyone "it's the latest style from Egypt, it's called 'The Sphinx'." After the Sphinx we went to the Egyptian museum, but we already talked about that... it was HUGE and really neat, but we're really not museum people and everything that is really cool from the museum is already on tour somewhere in the US. So, we went back to the hotel and went swimming under the shadows of the pyramids. This morning, we left Cairo and headed for the airport in a hair-raising white-knuckle taxi ride through rush-hour traffic to the airport. Apparently, 22 million people live in Cairo and they were all on the road this morning driving 90 miles an hour directly at each other. The only reason they don't crash is because they are all honking at each other constantly. We think Cairo is the noisiest city on the planet... probably in the universe. The Cairo airport was a little disorganized and a lot scary, but we made our flight and we'll leave at that for now. We landed in Amman, Jordan earlier today, rented a car, and drove a few hours to Petra (where we are now). We LOVE Jordan... it's calm and beautiful (if you're a desert-lover like we are right now). To be completely honest, we LOVE Egypt, too, and are really excited to finish the bulk of our trip there after Jordan and Israel. We're having a blast and we promise to not put Eli in any confined spaces for the rest of the trip, at least not until we can get him some good medication (which shouldn't be hard because there are pharmacies everywhere open all night).For family -- we are all healthy, happy, and very safe. The food is great. No worries! We're having a blast, as usual, and laughing most of the day every day (when it's not too hot).
Love you all! Will Whittle and Nona and Eli and Krishelle

Hello from Israel (barely alive). Not that we're sick or anything, unless sick and tired of the harassment we got trying to get across the border from Jordan to Israel counts, where the four of us are solely responsible for detaining an entire busload of Israelis. There were machine guns involved, but none of them, thankfully, ever fired at us. We'll get to that in a minute... So, last time we wrote, we were somewhere in southern Jordan. Now, we're in Jerusalem and it is a small miracle -- but, hey, this IS THE PLACE where miracles happen, right??? Our last day in Jordan we went to Petra -- that place from Indiana Jones' last crusade. It was amazing! It was a really LONG hot walk through something that looked a lot like the Narrows at Zions, but it was worth it. Nona wouldn't even consider getting on a horse to get to the main attraction, even when the horse "was free and you only have to tip the horse." So, we got to the main attraction after walking through the barren desert gorges for an hour, sat there, looked at a slobbering camel drinking a bottle of water with a bunch of German tourists oo-ing and awing at it, then we immediately decided it was time to leave, even though we think there was a lot more to see further down the canyon -- we'll buy a picture book later, we decided unanimously, and started the long hot trek back out of the gorge. Nona made it out without ever having to mount a horse, but when we got to the tourist shops she found the first bit of shade and sat there until we left. She's fine and so are we. We drove ourselves back to Amman and turned in our rental car and got screamed at by the police for reasons we're still unsure of... At this point, it was time to head to Jerusalem. As the crow flies, it's really just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away -- looked that way on the map, too... but, as the taxi drives, you need a day, at least. We agreed on a price ahead of time (thank goodness, because if we hadn't, we'd be coming home now flat broke). To make a long story short, the border crossing we needed to go through was closed, so we ended up somewhere near Syria at a much scarier border where no one spoke English and no signs were in English. The taxi got us to the border and dropped us off. Another guy in a taxi yelled something at us in Arabic and threw our bags in his trunk and started on the long journey through a VERY frightening security process, that we don't have time to detail right now.... but, if I were to create a process flowchart in Visio or some other software, it would fill pages and pages. In the middle of the security process, we had to get on a packed bus to drive 20 feet to the next armed security stop where our passports were checked for a fifth time, at which point our four passports were confiscated by a very frustrated military guy who stormed off the bus yelling something in Arabic. We had no idea what was going on until he returned with a "contact police" stamp in our passports and the bus backed up and turned around and called us to the front. We were horrified and pushed Nona first through a crowd of angry people (no other tourists in sight) because she's the sweetest -- that didn't help and she tripped over someone's duffle bag. About 10 minutes later, having been rushed through a bunch of machine gun-toting operated documentation processes which we still don't fully understand (but we think we got a discount because of the rush), we were shuffling back down the aisle of the angry bus... Anyway, we finally got through customs and immigration (several gray hairs later) and took a two-hour taxi ride through the middle of the night to Jerusalem to our hotel where we haven't dared to leave since (just kidding). Now, for the reason of our trip... We've been in Jerusalem and it's absolutely AMAZING! Quickly, we've been to the Garden Tomb, Gethsemane, Temple Mount, Wailing Wall, Via Dolorosa, multiple churches, synagogues and mosques, and BYU Jerusalem (which was air-conditioned). We'll tell you in detail about all the places when we get back, but we loved all of them. There's a different kind of peaceful feeling here -- like great things really did take place here or something. In the midst of all the religious sites, you have to navigate through a herd of persistent shopkeepers who seem to have every intention of ripping off the tourists and will follow you for streets to do it. For example, a nativity carving at one shop started at $170 US, but we eventually found that you can buy the same exact thing for $10 at the same shop, if you go a day later and tell them you found it for $20 down the street. Don't worry -- we haven't been super gullible... But, as the shopkeepers will tell you as they're trying to convince you that $170 is reasonable, "money she comes, money she goes... free to look." We're trying to convince them that money often goes faster than she comes. Okay -- since Uncle Will is on this trip, we haven't passed too many pharmacies without stopping in just to see what might be available (nothing too good, unfortunately). Though, Krishelle is working on an invention for a pill that will actually give you the cold shakes (it's so hot here!!!). In addition to this new pharmaceutical idea which we know would make us billionaires, Eli has come up with a few more practical ideas... Idea 1: "The Last Supper Character Restaurant" -- where all the staff dress like a character from the Bible. Idea 2: At night, the Old City turns into a water park for all the tourists because all the shops are closed and you realize how steep and winding most of the streets really are... plus, that would clean up the city nicely for each new day. Idea 3: A foot-washing stand -- just like they did in Bible days, but our gimmick is that ever third customer gets a lollipop. We have more investor ideas for you, if anyone's interested in "money changers" and "oil lamps" where three out of ten are actually filled with oil (luck o' the draw).We're off to Haifa and Galilee in the morning. Really, this place is amazing. We love it. We're totally safe... it would be helpful to speak Arabic or Hebrew here (note for next time). We saw a Jewish orchestra and choir perform last night and are going to an Israeli Jazz ensemble tonight. It's all incredible!!! We love you very much and wish you were all here with us!!! Drop us a line when you can.
Krishelle, Eli, Nona, Will

Hello everybody! So, we're back in Egypt and we want to tell you how we got here.... but first... Last time we sent an update, we were finishing off our last hours in the Holy City. If you recall, we probably freaked you all out with the horror of the border crossing from Jordan to Israel -- and, rightfully so, because we were scared to ever cross a border again ourselves -- thinking we were probably going to spend the rest of our lives in Israel just to avoid it. About an hour after we sent our last update we went to a Jazz concert at BYU Jerusalem (artists from an Israeli music school performed and they were amazing). We met a bunch of the volunteers and Nona started talking to one of them, and someone got on the subject of her maiden name, which then led to a domino effect of strange coincidences that ultimately connected Nona with one of the volunteers at the center who happened to be her long-lost first cousin from Idaho who she hadn't seen in 40 years, but they instantly recognized each other and broke into tears. It was serendipitous. We also spent some time with a couple of the visiting students (Mike Hansen from SLC and Allison Smith from Brawley) who happened to be there this semester. In the middle of our middle-eastern adventure, it was very nice to see some familiar faces! Next morning, we rented a car and drove to the Dead Sea. It was hot, dead, and amazing. Lots of tourists from around the world rubbing mud all over their bodies -- some not so covered as others, and no one covered as thoroughly as Eli who covered himself from head to toe, except for his white swim trunks which glistened in the sun. Nona even got into the action and floated around on her back with her straw hat shielding her face from the scorching sun -- we have great pictures. You've probably heard all about how well you float in the Dead Sea because of all the salt, but that is an understatement -- you are like a buoy on top of the water and it’s really hard to get your legs back under you once you have started floating, so often as you are trying to stand up you just go into a barrel roll and you can't stop... so you paddle around until one of your friends or family members helps you work it out and you get up and out. It was awesome. Next, we drove to the Sea of Galilee, where Eli immediately walked into the water (though, not ON the water) and took a big gulp and said, "it doesn't taste quite as salty as the Dead Sea." We looked at him a little stumped and he said, "I decided to take a gulp of every body of water we visit over here." This was despite the signs at the Dead Sea that said to consult a lifeguard immediately if you ingested the water. I have CIPRO in my bag in case anyone gets sick, but so far we're all fine (even Eli who has been drinking from rivers and lakes). The area was really beautiful and it was great to see it. Then, we drove to Haifa where we spent the night. It was much more beautiful than expected and actually felt like a bit of a vacation from our "vacation." It was clean, green, cool, right on the Mediterranean and had the most amazing landscape and views imaginable. The Bahia faith has one of their main temples there and the grounds were spectacular -- our hotel was very close to it and the beds in the hotel were very close to each other, as well as to the walls -- it was almost like being in a genie's bottle with wall-to-wall low beds and three other genie's besides yourself in the little bottle. This was not good for us because we stayed up almost all night telling 1st) ghost stories, and then 2nd) stories that ended up being mainly about poop. No surprise in this family! We finally got to sleep with our guts hurting from the laughter. We woke up 12 minutes later and got ready for the day. We tried to put gas in the car but couldn't figure it out because all the pumps and instructions were in Hebrew, which we hadn't learned to read by that point -- we could only speak it. At the point of getting back in the car and taking our chances on fumes, someone helped us fill up, suspiciously requiring our passports to do so. We only needed a half tank and it was a small/compact car, and it cost $70 US (God Bless America). After that, we drove to a Mediterranean beach where Eli took another gulp, five seconds before we pointed out the giant dead fish, rotting dead turtle, and piles of human waste all sitting peacefully at the tide line -- this was all very near a porcelain toilet that was also sitting at the high-tide line. Strangely, his foot disease, which most everyone on this email distribution has tried to help him cure for the better part of 12 months, seems to be healing quite nicely in the last two days. If we have to narrow it down to one of the Seas he drank from, we'd have to say it's from Galilee, a bottle of which Nona has been carrying around in her suitcase as if it's the elixir of life (she's also got an olive branch she pilfered from the Garden of Gethsemane and a ziplock bag of mud from the bottom of the Dead Sea to go with the frankensense and myrh she bought in the Holy Land). We love Nona and are glad she's picking up these rare commodities along the way, because we secretly want it but are too proud to carry it around... plus we're not sure any of it can legally make it through customs. After Haifa, we drove to Tel Aviv. This was the point at which we decided -- go west to Tel Aviv or go east to the Jordanian border. It was unanimous -- we decided to each pay a small fortune and fly from Tel Aviv to Amman (20 minutes on HUGE empty aircraft) rather than repeat the experience detailed in our last email (no more border crossings for us!). Also, we learned that you can pay a fee to the Hilton Hotel and they will do some shady biz and get you through customs and immigration and security at record speed, no questions asked. That was the best money we've ever spent and it was Nona's decision entirely to do it -- the Hilton people hadn't even finished their sales pitch when Nona said, "We'll take it all" with a hand wave, and threw her credit card at them. Apparently, the border crossing was scarier for her than she let on. Thank you, Nona (we'll pay you back later). Tel Aviv was BEAUTIFUL and relaxing. The beaches are AMAZING! The people are wonderful. Our hotel overlooked the Mediterranean and had it's own private beach. We ate an amazing restaurant overlooking the Sea -- Middle-Eastern seafood (lots of olives, hummus, fish eggs, pita bread, labna, taboulleh, white fish, calamari -- and, Eli's steak, medium well). It was delicious. We left the Hilton in Tel Aviv at 5:30 a.m., got to Amman, Jordan a couple of hours later, had a long layover and flew back to Cairo. Now we're here in Cairo and having a fantastic time. We've decided we LOVE Cairo and have decided to spend the last few days of our trip here. There is so much to do and see and the people are great!!! Even though they tend to lie a little bit from time to time, like today when a man told us he was a rich doctor and then led us three blocks out of our way and directly into his souvenir shop where his helpers slammed the door behind us, forced us to sit down, tried to make us drink forty varieties of herbal tea (we didn't drink any), and sell us a bunch of junk. Eli and I got up to leave, but the door was closed and had no handle, so Eli panicked (flashback to the pyramid episode) and said, "How do I get outta here???!!!!" All the while Nona sat peacefully looking at the piles of paintings they were showing, saying, "They're all beautiful, but I'm not buying anything." We eventually escaped and ran for our lives, even though we don't dare cross the streets by ourselves and there's no way we can possibly explain it, other than referring you to a hyped-up top-level version of Frogger where there are no lanes and no system and people everywhere. We eventually made it to the Egyptian museum, which, yes, we had already been there once (for those of you who read our first email), but we had to go again because Mike Hansen from BYU Jerusalem told us that all the really cool stuff was on the 2nd floor, which we were too lazy to see our first time because there were stairs involved. This time we made it to the 2nd floor and spent five times as long as we did on our first visit, despite how hot it was, because the mummies were actually pretty cool and some of those rooms had A/C, so we lingered longer and we also got to see a bunch of King Tut stuff. It was really neat -- actually better than what we've seen on tour in the US. So, we're happy we went back for an encore. After the museum, we went to the souq (big outdoor crazy crowded hot smelly market). We spent all our money there buying about 50 of the same thing that we'll have to show you when we get back, if we get them back because they'll never fit in our luggage. Every guy hit on Krishelle, including the one who when he saw Krishelle pass by his shop a second time said, "WELCOME BACK EGYPTIAN CAT!" Because, the first time he saw her he said, "Your eyes so pretty, the boys so lucky!" Nona stole a papyrus calendar. Or so we thought. Eli put her up to it. We were positive she didn't buy it, but when we got back to the hotel and were looking at our purchases, she pulled out the calendar and I asked where she got it and she said, "I swiped it -- diabetics do crazy things." She said it completely straight-faced and about put ME into diabetic coma (and I'm not even diabetic!). Come to find out, the shopkeeper's mother loved Nona so much that she had her son chase Nona down and give her the calendar for free, at which point Eli convinced her to play a trick on me... it freaked me out -- I thought Nona had lost her mind! She had me going -- they all did -- and, they're going to get it!!! We're having a blast! Cairo is awesome! Just a few days left and we'll be back... See you soon. Love you!!! Krishelle, Eli, Nona, Uncle Will