Thursday, August 20, 2009

An August for the Ages

...And the weeks go by. Another week has come and gone, bringing with it adventures, wondrous thoughts & sights, new friends, challenging hikes and a slue of beautiful sunrises and sunsets giving drama to time. The Klezmer Festival in Tzfat was amazing. Jewish gypsy music live on every corner, people gathered from all over the world, and a crew of newly acquired friends. After the Klezmer, I attempted to meet a friend and her family for Shabbat. Once again the race was on and as the hours wore on, it appeared as though I was losing. After missing the last train to where I needed to go, it took incredible effort and ingenuity from my friend, serving as central intelligence guiding my every step as I called from random cell phones, arranging rides and coordinating our impromptu Plan B with incredible precision. After a series of rushed buses and a cab ride only a fool rushing to make Shabbat would pay for, I arrived at her house twelve minutes before Shabbat arrived. Incredible! I spent the weekend with Shira (said friend and intelligence agent pulling the strings of my travels from an undisclosed location) and her family, which was a treat of the highest order. Meeting her grandparents, whom have lived lives of literally historical significance, was one of the most interesting experiences I've been fortunate enough to have since being in Israel. Her grandfather, a physicist whose work on Atomic Energy has taken them all over the world, her grandmother, a woman whose very presence puts you at ease yet instills a desire to learn more, try harder and take nothing for granted, both escaped Nazi Germany and lent their hands in the War of Independence for Israel in 1948. Their stories were epic, their presence steadfast, and the fact that they not only spoke to me, but actually did so with genuine interest was ultimately humbling. I only wish I could record a snapshot of the conversation and antics that went on around the Shabbat table. It was a history lesson wrapped in a Woody Allen film.

After a memorable Shabbat, several friends and I set out on a three day hike that would take us through a Druze village, along the only river with water in Israel at the moment, and end in a day at the most beautiful grottoes along the Mediterranean. My compatriots were three amazing compatriotets, each very unique in their own way, all such beautiful souls. It was quite the hike. Aside from the first night onslaught of mosquitoes and the occasional dog sitting on your head, our hike went very well. We would occassionally hitchike from place to place, often breaking into groups of two and meeting up at our final destination. A bit like the Amazing Race. After our hike concluded with a beautiful sunset over the Meditteranean, Shira (one of the three musketeerets) and I hitchiked to the north and crashed a beautiful wedding. It was an ideal ending to several days of hiking.

This brings us to today, as I'm about to set out with Shira #2, currently sitting right next to me, to hitchike (a favored form of transportation here) to Haifa for a beer festival, then on to Jerusalem where I'll spend Shabbat with my good friend Benny. For those of you following this blog, I wish you all unexpected inspiration. Below is a note from Shira, her lovely personality and incredible spelling ability shine through. She's a gem, no doubt. Till the next post...

Aside from that the best time that l had in Tzfat was not yet come- l am going with my best friend Shira (the littel one...) to a beer Fastevial in Haifa, the city l hate!!! but l would do any thing just to spend time with Shira!!! l would even buy here dinner tonight, when she will be hangrey, and stay intuch with here for ever!!!!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

...With A Little Help From My Friends

Well, I safely arrived in Tzfat, though not in the same condition as I left Nahariya. It was an exhilarating, exhausting and most of all an inspiring hike. As has been habit for the last several weeks, remnants of my still lingering New York penchant for expediency, I once again found myself in a slightly stressful, just slightly, race against Shabbat. Racing against Shabbat in order to enjoy Shabbat. A contradiction no doubt. But once again, I was catching the last train, that would connect to the last bus, that would drop me off in a small town that would no doubt be abandoned in preparation for the Shabbat celebrations once I arrived. And indeed, this is just what happened. So, with 3 days worth of food and water packed on my back, I wandered the empty town until I found a cab that would take me to the beach where the head of the trail I would begin to hike the next day was, and there I would camp for the night. This would be where I would celebrate Shabbat. Fortunately for me, as has been the case over and over here in Israel, the random person of my encounter, in this case the cab driver, would prove to be integral in not only getting me to the next phase, but would once again do so with grace, humility and a caring bond that distinguishes friends from strangers. Nava, which means "beautiful" in Hebrew (the cab driver), when she found out my plan to hike the Yam L' Yam alone, though I had yet to be able to find a map or a flashlight, proceeded to take a detour upon her own volition, in search of my needed provisions. Though we were unable to find a map, which would unsurprisingly prove problematic along the way, she rummaged through her trunk and found a perfect flashlight she insisted I take. When we arrived at the beach, she gave me her card and insisted I call her if I need anything during my hike. This is the cab driver mind you. She then went on to tell me that when she saw me walking alone earlier, she felt drawn to me for some reason, and after having spent the last twenty minutes together, she was certain that we had known each other for a very long time. Somewhere, somehow, we had been friends before. She wished me luck with a mother's concern and went about her way.

As I turned to take in the atmosphere where I would welcome in Shabbat in solitude, the scene was an instant affirmation of a quick and intuitive decision I had made several days prior. When walking around Haifa, a city in the north, I decided, literally within the scope of about five steps, to turn around at that very moment, pack my things, head to Tel Aviv to gather supplies and set off on this hike. Three days of running errands and gathering supplies found an undeniable affirmation in this moment. After taking a moment to appreciate the fruits of my brief labor, I snapped a few pictures for memory's sake and hiked up the tallest hill that punctuated one end of the beach and found a perfect camping spot, a hilltop that practically leaned over the ocean with an unobstructed view from every angle. I quickly set up camp and then stood and watched a fiery sun emanating shattered rays fade behind a purple and blue haze. After a few moments, I made a 180' turn and watched a rustic moon, almost identical in size and color, rise from the other horizon, directly in line with where the sun had set. It was a beautiful Shabbat evening.

The next morning I rose with the sun and greeted a day that I knew would be both invigorating and bittersweet. As I set out to hike the twenty kilometers that would be the intended first leg of my journey, I was thinking a lot about all that had transpired over the last two years that had brought me to this point, a place of unique fortune born in the wake of unprecedented pain. This day would have been my mother's 51st birthday. She would occupy the majority of my thoughts on this day as I walked alone, taking great pleasure in the clarity and intimacy of my memories. I add this in an attempt to offer a glimpse into the inner atmosphere of this day.

With an obscene amount of weight on my back, I set out through a field of banana farms, leaving the Mediterranean behind, walking directly into a rising sun. Without a map in my possession, I was relying solely on instructions I had gotten from the internet to be my guide. Throughout the day the trail would have many faces, from fields, to roadsides, to wooded valleys set between rolling mountains, but the trail itself was very poorly marked and I soon found myself on top of a hill that took two hours to hike up, but which culminated in a Moshav (a neighborhood, with cultisacs, pools and neighborhood dogs that seemed infatuated with the strange guy passing by with tons of food on his back.) So I knocked on a door, received shaky directions, and decided to hitchhike back down the hill to take the "other road". After a few minutes, a car arrived and a man in his forties with his two young daugthers (6 and 8) sitting in the front seat greeted me warmly. As I explained what I thought was my situation, he assured me, "Don't worry, we'll take you wherever you need to go. Just get in and we'll figure it out." Once again, an amazing soul sprouting from the fertile soil of Israel.

As we continued to drive, he trying to figure out where exactly I wanted to go, me not entirely sure, I told him where I was supposed to end up by the end of the day, which happened to be the town he was born in, and he quickly did a U-turn, heading back up the hill again. Watching him with his daughters was an incredible treat; they practicing their English with me and asking the curious questions that entertain the minds of children. The car was filled with their laughter, cutting straight through more mundane conversations of where I was trying to go, where I was from, etc. His youngest daughter, being quite the character, often had both of us in fits of laughter. We drove on, mind you it was now about 95 degrees outside at this point, and he offered to take me as far as I wanted to go. I decided that since the first leg of this hike went mostly through towns and ran too close to roads for my liking, he could take me several more kilometers and dropped me off where I should have been the morning of the next day. Not bad. What was a setback had suddenly put me a day ahead, and in this heat, with this weight on my back, that was a very nice luxury to be working with. As we said goodbye, me with my many 'thankyou's, and he, like Nava, writting down his number and insisting that if I need anything I not hesitate to call, that he would be happy to help from the phone, or could come get me if need be. He would not be the last good Samaritan of the day.

From where my hitchiking adventure ended, my hiking adventure began. I descended down into a valley, running along side a dry riverbed (this is summer in Israel after-all), and hiked through dry forests nestled between large rolling hills. Stopping periodically to eat and write, the day was taking on a more tranquil, though equally exhausting tone. After several hours of hiking and once again losing an elusive trail, I hiked up a steep incline, stopping at a gas station, completely exhausted, and began trying to gather as much information from the gas station attendant as possible, who made no qualms about expressing his astonishment and feelings of general absurdity at my idea of walking to Tzfat. "Why walk when you can drive?" was his general sentiment. When I spoke with the other attendant, neither of which knew where the trailhead was, she told me to wait a few minutes until her boyfriend arrived, maybe he knew. So I waited and when he arrived we got to talking, he showing me on the GPS on his phone (a high tech modern convenience he was quite proud of) where I was and where I wanted to go. It was essentially straight up hill, alongside a road. Lovely. As we spent more time together, he asked if I wanted a ride up to the town at the top of the hill. Such sweet words. I was seriously considering pitching a tent behind the gas station, I was so tired at this point. We drove up to Hurefish, a Druze village, which sits at the base of Mt. Meron, the biggest mountain in the area, and what, in theory would constitute the next day hike. However, as we went on he mentioned that just yesterday he told his girlfriend that he wanted to go up to Mt. Meron to clear his mind, but she convinced him to stay home and study. "Would you mind if I took you up to the top of Mt. Meron?" he asked. My love for the people of Israel only deepens as this day goes along.

When we arrived at the top of the mountain, the view was absolutely breathtaking. Lebanon to the North, Tzfat to the East, farms and small Moshaves dotting the valley between, and the Mediterranean to the West. We stood on top of the mountain and talked for about an hour and a half, him telling me about his experiences as an Israeli and a Jew, being born of a Polish mother and an Uzbeki father. He was intelligent, articulate and had a variety of passions, including flying airplanes. He told me about avoiding bombings from Gaza, being from Ashkalon, the town that borders Gaza. He told me of experiencing the bombings up where we currently were from Hezbollah in 2006. His stories and perspective were quite unique.

As he departed, like those that came before him, he gave me his contact information and insisted I call him if I need anything. I set up camp on top of Mt. Meron, where it was strikingly cooler than below, and slept for what felt like days. With bleeding feet (agressive hiking sandals) and a back that was screaming protests, I have never been so tired, but I had successfully covered almost three times as much ground in one day then I had planned... with a little help from my friends.

The next morning I got up, a beautiful day, and hiked down Mt. Meron, where, as the heat began to set in, I opted for a ride to Tzfat, which took all of about ten minutes. So, no I can't say that I successfully hiked the Yam L' Yam hike. The weather, lack of map, and surprisingly ailing body (a blunt reminder of my mortality) left me quite open to the help of the many extended hands of Israel. What I gained in return was a string of unforgettable experiences, all contained within a single Shabbat.

I'm now in Tzfat, reunited with several good friends and the Livnot Chevre I've come to love, awaiting the beginning of the much anticipated Klezmer festival, which will last the next two days and fill Tzfat to the brim. Here I have found time to decompress, reflect, and give thanks. I apologize for the lenght of this post, maybe there are unnecessary details embedded within. But I wanted to give those of you who are interested as accurate and intimate a look as I can offer into both the unparalleled generosity and love of the Israeli people, as well as the thoughts and inspirations carrying me along the way.

For those of you who have contacted me about your having prayed for Dave, I thank you and as soon as I find out his status, I will update you all.

I will leave you with another quote from Abramham Joshua Heschel, a continued presence on this trip. Thank you for reading and enjoy. Most importantly of all, enjoy.

"Israel exists not in order to be, but in order to dream the dream of God. Out of the wonder we came and into the wonder we shall return."
-Avraham Yehoshua Heschel

Friday, August 7, 2009

A thought... just a thought

This posting will be brief. I'm on my way to catch a train to Naharyia in the north. I'm going to hopefully arrive as Shabbos is coming in, enjoy the evening in solitude on a beach somewhere, and then rise early and begin the Yam L'Yam hike, which essentially connects the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. The hike should take about three days. A tent was provided by a friend I met in Sinai. A sleepingbag was offered by a good friend in Jerusalem. Israel, the people who make Israel what it is, provide for you. It's quite amazing really. There is much that I would like to say in this post. Many thoughts and inspirations have come to me that I want to share with you all. But for the moment, I must make haste. But I will share this very simple thought that keeps visiting me during peak moments here. It's a sort of a mantra really, something that is continually echoing in my mind, enhancing every moment and giving rise to a more purposeful and appreciated tomorrow. The thought is this:

There is so much magnificence.

Every thing around you at every moment, the very breath you are taking at this moment, which in itself requires you to be submerged in a sea of oxygen (which to our untrained eye appears as nothing), held in place by atmospheric pressure nurturing an oxygen rich rock that is very precisely spinning around a meduim size star at just the right distance for energy to infuse rather than consume, a process that has been coming into this state of being for approximately six and a half billion years. It's all at such a perfect balance, for this moment, and you not only get to experience it, but you essentially are the experience of it. So enjoy, because there really is so much magnificence that you might just miss it.

On another note however, there is something else on my mind, which by comparison makes these writings and adventures seem all too trivial or incredibly fortunate at best. I have a very good friend of mine who will be undergoing his second brain surgery today. He's an amazing person with incredible courage. Yet, as you can imagine, he's scared. Regardless of your beliefs, religious or otherwise, I'm asking each and everyone of you who reads this to please take a moment, a real moment, and think or pray or do whatever it is that you do within the depths of your own self when something really matters to you, and think of my friend Dave Sommer. If you care to know his story, or are moved to donate to his parent's ever-growing financial burden for his medical care, please visit his blog at Any and all positive messages are welcomed.

I thank each of you for reading and will write again when I can.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This Year in Jerusalem....

You'll have to excuse the recent slack in writing for this blog. Jerusalem is a place that more or less dominates your focus. Things turn upside down, inside out, and yet at the end somehow feel more balanced than ever before. Let me try to recap, though explaining might be out of the realm of my capabilities. Actually, I'm fairly certain it's out of the realm of language period.

So I've been in Jerusalem for over a week now and what a bizarre week it has been. After hitchiking/bus riding/budding up with strangers and catching rides up to Tzfat for a much needed Shabbat, I headed back down to Jerusalem by way of Tel Aviv, having made friends with the chevre that were currently enjoying Israel through the lens of Livnot. A friend, more of an angel really, took me and my old college roommate who decided to come to Israel to visit me in for two days. The first full day of Max's arrival we met up with a man I met in Nuweiba (Sinai) who lives in Jerusalem. He was born and raised here, works as an architect, and has many other interesting "hobbies" we'll say. He took us all over Jerusalem, showing us many amazing sites and giving us a walking history lesson. (Side note: I had no idea just how appropriate Antiquity Walking would be as a title for this blog.) After going all over Jerusalem, Max and I caught a night bus to Tel Aviv so as to show him the "other" side of Israel. We spent the next day in Tel Aviv, enjoy sunshine and the Mediterranean, relaxing in the evening with one of the chevre from my Livnot crew, sharing stories and spending most of our time in fits of laughter. If you don't know Max, he's a man with stories that could make even the Pope die laughing. The next morning we caught an early bus to Jerusalem hoping to take a West Bank tour with a non-profit group called Breaking the Silence. Unfortunately the bus we caught wasn't early enough and we missed the tour. Something to look forward to I hope. So we spent our day enjoying the Old City of Jerusalem, going to many of the Christian sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Needless to say these were very intense places where the flashes of tourists' cameras illuminated the tears of the most devoted. It's hard to describe these places. There's a sense that it is supposed to have remnants of the divine, that it's a "holy" place, but with all the tourists and commotion that comes along with people, it becomes more like a heavy laden Disney Land. However, when you find an empty corner and take the time to just be, there is something of a silent power here, even if it's only the incredible energy coming from people's beliefs, there is definitely a weight and sensation indicative of "holy" places. But I digress....

So after a day of wandering the Old City with my old roommate and newly acquired chevre, we met up with Benny again. Now Benny, well he's an interesting guy (to say the least). I'm not quite sure how to describe Benny, but I can give you the basics. He's 51 & an architect that works for restoration here in Jerusalem. He's born and raised in Jerusalem, having served in the military he experienced many of the intifada first hand. Those are the basics. Now for the more "interesting." About fifteen years ago Benny became a monk, of sorts, a mystic really. He studies Kabbalah and Tarot, took a vow of chastity, the whole nine yards. He's probably the best story teller I've ever known, with a bald head and rotund belly that jiggles with his contagious laughter, and after spending an evening with Benny your mind is absolutely spinning. There's no way I can really retell the events of this evening or the incredible scope of conversation, but after Benny had told us of the process of his enlightenment and the things he had seen and experienced since accepting his enlightenment (stories that in the end leave you asking, "Is this guy crazy or am I in the twilight zone?") he proceeded to give my friend Max a most uncanny Tarot reading, one that I'm sure he won't soon forget. This was something he did for me as well in Sinai and earlier in the evening gave me another Tarot reading in Jerusalem that only echoed the same sentiment in Sinai. Apparently, "The Cards Don't Lie" (insert Jamaican accent).

After a night of mysticism, we woke to greet Shabbat. We returned to the Old City, Max and I finding a hostel in East Jerusalem, and Max, myself, and my travel companion from Egypt, Sari, all went out to enjoy Shabbat in the Old City, a Shabbat like no where else. We wandered with no real direction, wishing others "Shabbat Shalom" as we walked on, at times singing ancient Jewish melodies, led mostly by Sari who has a knowledge of Jewish music and a voice that sounds as though it has been singing since Creation itself. We went to the Western Wall where Max got his first taste of enthusiastic Jewish community. A packed crowd of such diversity, from soldiers to hassidim, dancing and singing, celebrating the return of the Jewish people and the fact that they have the opportunity to celebrate where their ancestors could only dream of. The experience is truly inspiring, whether you join in the celebration or watch from a distance, there is something so natural about bringing in Shabbat in Jerusalem.

The next day Max departed back to Dubai, vowing to return to Israel within two weeks time because, in his own words, "This is the most incredible place on the planet." We'll see if his sentiment carries him back here. In the meantime I have been enjoying some much needed solitude. Walking the Old City alone, visiting places such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives and other quintessential Jerusalem sites. I've also been spending much time reading a most incredible work by Abraham Joshua Heschel entitled God In Search of Man. The beauty of these thoughts, I believe, could not possibly originated from the mind of man, but instead come from incredible dedication to the study of Torah, which is exactly what Rabbi Heschel did. Though there is much to see and discover here in Jerusalem, I believe this book may be the greatest find of all.

So this pretty much brings us up to date. I've been extending the network of friends here in Jerusalem by participating in couchsurfing, a network of people all around the world that host travelers. I stayed with a young married couple for a few nights, getting a healthy dose of the purely secular side of Jerusalem, and am now staying with an artist who seems to know everyone in the city. (Every time I stopped to use someone's phone to call him, they had his number saved in their phone. Popular guy apparently.) I'll be in Jerusalem for another few days, hopefully through Shabbat, and then I'm heading to Bersheeva, the largest city in the Negev Desert, to visit a friend from the Livnot trip. He's a commander in the Israeli Defense Force, recently released as of two days ago, and is one of the most incredible people I've ever met. I can't wait to spend a few days seeing life in Bersheeva and meeting his fiance.

Well, that about sums up the last week or so, a very eventful and slightly disorienting (or maybe reorienting) week. I hope all of you who are reading this blog are finding great inspiration and joy in life wherever you may be. Out of a desire to share some of the magnificence of this place and the Jewish people in general with all of you, I'm going to include a quote from the book I was referring to in every blog post from now on. I hope it evokes as much thought and wonder for you as it has for me. Till the next post....

"There is only one way to wisdom: awe. The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in the small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing, the stillness of the eternal."
- Avraham Yehoshua Heschel

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pictures! Pictures! Pictures!

According to the few readers of this blog that I've been in touch with, apparently pictures are a good thing. So, in light of that fact, I present to you... pictures. Here are a few images of the last few weeks in Egypt and a few from Israel. Hope you enjoy.

A newly found family, a tightly formed Chevre!

Petra. Amazing ruins in Jordan.

Three travel companions. One amazing tomb. Petra.

The supposed "burning bush" of Moses. (And my friend's hand.)

Bakers baking the subsidized bread for the Cairo community.

The scene of our feast at Es' house in the West Bank of Luxor.

Sari's, my travel companion through southern Egypt and Sinai, portrait on the Nile.

Family portrait of a Cairo family.

A look at Islamic Cairo from within.

Deliveries & shops in Islamic Cairo.

Playing futbol with the neighborhood kids in Islamic Cairo.

An amazing whirling dervish performance. (And free!)

Mosque of Sultan Hassan on left and Mosque of Al Rifa'i on right.

Inside one of the oldest mosques in Egypt.

An epic scene with best buddy Eli at the pyramids.

So there are a few pictures for the imaginative to work with. The landscape is amazing, the architecture is surreal and the people are out of a Marquez dream. I hope those of you following this blog have found it enjoyable to read and now visually interesting as well. Wishing all of you my best.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Well, we've arrived. Finally back to Israel, having now spent more time away than I have spent in the country. But that's about to change.

Nuweiba was a dream. I would have to remind myself periodically that this was in fact real and I was simply passing through for a brief stay. The beauty was imposing, epic and you began to feel as though life and dreams were interweaving in just about every way. Unforgiving mountains with not a drop of water to spare would meet the bluest and clearest waters with incredible reef lining all along the shoreline. Night skies were brighter than city lights, music was a shared language, and our food swam in the waters just before us. Sinai is a very interesting place, where three distinctly different cultures converge on paradise. There are the Israelis, who about thirty years ago owned Sinai as land taken during conflict with Egypt. Many still feel a deep connection with Sinai and consider it their home away from home. There are the Bedouins, who have inhabitated this very unforgiving land from time immemorial. They have become accustomed to a more "modern" (and I use this in the most minimal sense) life and now rely primarly on tourism as a form of livelihood. However, due to the rising tensions, Israelis don't come to Sinai as much any more and Israelis are the primary tourists, and the preferred tourists by the Bedouins, to this area. Then there are the Egyptians that come to escape the summer heat of Egypt. There is no love loss between the Bedouins and the Egyptian government, as the differing parties with their particular perspectives all converge in this place and attempt to deal harmoniously with one another in order to enjoy the wonder that is Sinai. Your ear hopscotches between Arabic and Hebrew continuously, while English appears so much more heavy laden of a language and thus disposed only to necessity.
The camp we stayed at was called Saba Camp and it was essentially twenty or so huts lined on the beach. Mosquito nets were your best friend at night and the rising sun, with intensity only found in Sinai, would wake you and invite, if not demand, a morning swim as the feeding frenzy around the reef reminded you that some things are indeed quite active in Sinai. The crew that inhabited our camp was quite the eclectic bunch, but a chevre (family) nonetheless. A young married couple living in Tel Aviv came for the weekend, teaching us Israeli card games and welcoming in Shabbat with everything from Hebrew hymns to the Beatles. The head architect of restoration in Jerusalem had brought several of his nephews and their friends (Americans) for a few days. He sat and smoked cigarette after cigarette, speaking about topics of great wonder and inspiration, and gave the most uncanny and insightful Tarot readings to everyone individually throughout the weekend. There was the middle aged couple, having met recently at a rave, that brought a comic and somewhat carnal element to the table. We all enjoyed each other's company, sharing meals, stories, music and the other simplicities that structure your days when the ammenities and distractions of modern life aren't around. And now it's back to the modern world, having arrived in Tel Aviv late last night. I'm currenlty staying with a member of the Chevre from Livnot and making plans for the next six weeks in Israel, which will hopefully include spending a few days with my long lost brother Maximus. We'll see where the next few weeks goes, but I'm hoping to get involved in several programs here in Israel, focused on community service as well as language immersion. I'll be making my way back to Tzfat soon enough to volunteer with Livnot and spend some time in the great mystic town. But for now, the white city of Tel Aviv...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adrift on the Nile

     Since my last post I have had the opportunity to experience the many wonders and wonderousness (sp?) of Luxor Egypt, which used to be known as Thebes, the ancient capital of Lower Egypt.  We're talking seriously ancient.  And seriously hot as well.  Like 115' F hot!  But we braved the heat and set out to walk the footsteps of Pharoahs past.  After arriving in Luxor on a less than sanitary and staunchly segregated train (we weren't allowed to sit with the Egyptians in second class, but were instead told we had to be in first class with the other "tourists", but if what we had was first class, I don't want to see second class) we rested for the day and then set out on a sunset felugga ride on the Nile.  This felugga ride would single handedly determine the rest of our experience in Luxor.  Our guide, Captain Es, as he liked to be called, was a character of the highest order.  Jovial, loving, and good natured to the core our relationship with Es would more than cross the line from "tourists" to "habibi" (family in Arabic).  After our felugga ride, Es invited us back to his very modest home with his mother, father, sister, and many nieces and nephews for dinner.  By most Western standards they live in pretty drastic poverty, but relative to the West Bank in Luxor they were doing pretty well for themselves.  As I mentioned in the last post, this was the evening of beard "threading", an experience I won't soon forget.  So after our tour of the West Bank the following day, which included the Valley of the Kings, the Temple of Hatshepsut, and several other ruins all of which date to around about 2500 BCE, which means they are about four and a half thousand years old.  Ancient!  And inspiring.  And also a bit disturbing as well.  Anyone who takes in these wonders is instantly struck by the magnitude and incredible decadence and thus effort required to erect these places.  But I started to think of all the strife that went into building these colossal buildings.  Slaves' strife.  Blood.  Sweat.  Tears.  Certain death, there can be no doubt.  Working in this heat to build something that the Pharoah believes his immortality is riding on.  The agony and pain that must have been inflicted upon those that actually built these temples with their bare hands... suddenly the walls look a little different.  They're still magnificent in their craftmanship and historical value, but they begin to seem trivial and extremely egomanical.  I don't want to deter anyone from seeing these ruins.  They are quite simply incredible and there is nothing else like it.  But it's bizarre when you realize all this was done to essentially "buy" immortality and in doing so their cost to people's lives is immeasurable.  Just a random thought from a plebian passing through.  
       The next day... more ruins.  Karnack Temple, the oldest temple in Egypt and one of the most incredible sites I have ever beheld, a massive temple that many different Pharoahs added to in an effort to one up the previous Pharoah to demonstrate their greatness.  We're talking "jaw-dropping-can't-believe-this-actually-exists-and-people-are-the-source-of-it" big.  After Karnack we headed over to Luxor Temple, it's smaller and just as impressive cousin.  They are actually connected by a 3 km road that used to play host to a huge procession in ancient times when priests would drink and be merry and carry the statue of the Sun God, Amun-Ra, and his wife from Karnack to Luxor for a 24 day "honeymoon".  Apparently on one of these visits the Moon God was conceived.  Yeah for the moon god! 

     After a day of exploring temples and ruins and only hours before catching an all night train back to Cairo as we now begin to make our way back to Israel (oh how sweet it will be), we met back up with our faithful captain Es for a final ride, brought to us courtesy of his hospitality.  After sailing to the West bank for dinner, we set out for our final sunset on the Nile.  We parked the boat in some marsh, got out and bathed/waded in the Nile.  After watching the sun set from within the Nile, we all laid together on the front bow of the sailboat and watched the stars grow brighter and brighter.  Here Es started singing some of the Arabic songs he had taught us and we in turn sang the responses he had taught us.  He sang another song that he translated for us as being thankful for the many brothers and sisters Allah brings into our lives.  He then asked us, in his broken English, to teach him some songs.  We decided to share with him several of the incredibly beautiful Hebrew songs that we sang with the Livnot trip.  Strikingly they meant the very same thing.  Arabic & Hebrew.  Muslim & Jewish.  Both so beautiful and so similar in so many ways.  Es just stared off as we sang him our songs.  As we finished and silence decended, I looked across the river and a sliver of the brightest, reddest, fullest moon I have ever seen began to rise steadily over the water.  When I saw this I unconsciously let out an "Oh my God!"  As Es turned to see what I was talking about, in a strikingly similar tone he said "Sapon Allah", the exact same sentence in Arabic.  We were collectively humbled and unmistakably aware of how beautiful this experience we were sharing was.   There we sat, after having just shared unprecedented intimacy, and watched the full moon rise over the Nile in silence.  It was an experience without comparison.
     As the moon cast her light onto the river, Es and I began to row our sailboat back across the river to the East bank so we could catch our night train.  We said goodbye to our newly acquired friend, vowing to send pictures when we get back to America, and set off to Cairo.  And that is where we are now.  I lucked out with a really great find on a website called Couch Surfing and am being hosted by an amazing guy here in Cairo with an amazing penthouse apartment that overlooks the entire city.  He's a photographer (bit of a kindred spirit) and has been an amazing help to us as we now prepare to head to Nuweiba Sinai for a few days of being in the middle of nowhere with local Bedouins on the Red Sea.  Apparently the norm is to sleep in huts on the sand, hang out with local Bedouins who will go out and catch your dinner for you for a fair price.  Should be lots of interesting travelers, some music around the campfire, the quintessential bright stars of the Sinai and then back to Israel.