Monday, April 19, 2010

EGYPT!! (brace yourselves, it's a long one)

Hello :D Jon and Kasey here…

Egypt. So much to tell. We started our trip right after Kasey’s work. Half of us took a taxi and the other got driven by the principal to the central bus station in Jerusalem. We had to go through security and long story short JON got pulled aside… out of all the people in line (not just our group, but the 40 people waiting to get through) JON got pulled aside (Kasey: hang on, when you hear it you’ll understand).

Jon had packed his camping knife that his dad gave him before he came here. You need to understand that this knife is REALLY big. Anyway, Jon gets pulled aside, gets questioned and then is escorted to the police office because apparently it is illegal to carry any knife in Jerusalem that is larger than your palm (just fyi). Jon thought it was kind of fun that all this was happening, but we only had about 45 min until our bus left and we didn’t know how long this would take. It didn’t take long, they looked at the knife, told Jon the rules and told him to put it back in his bag. We have learned that if you get pulled over for anything or questioned about anything by the authorities all you have to do is play the “stupid American” card. It always seems to work :D We made our bus and arrived 5 hours later in Eilat, around 9pm.

When we got there, from looking online at how to do this trip, we were under the impression that the Egyptian border was just 100 meters away. We went 100 meters and no border, so we asked a lot of random people and each person had a different answer: 20 miles, 11miles, 30 km, 1 km, etc… it was annoying because nobody really seemed to know how far the border was. But eventually we had to get a cab ($10) to drive us to the border (it was REALLY far away). We got to the border and first we had to go through all of the Israeli border control.

Jon did not get pulled aside this time. We had to pay around $30 each as a tax for getting out of the country and then had to go through about 2 more places where they looked at your passport. THEN we got to the Egyptian border, where we had to show our passports 2 times in order to get through. Around 11pm, we arrived in Egypt for the first time :D

Now came the difficult part: Bargaining for a taxi all the way to Dahab. You get into Egypt and there are like 20 big van taxis all ready to give you a ride, except there is no set price… it’s ALL bargaining! After about 10-20 min of haggling with these guys we finally agreed on $15 each. Before we took off a group of Jews joined us. We chatted for a while and later on in the trip one of the couples entertained us by making out in front of us for about 20 min straight… who knew Jews where so scandalous :P The ride down was pretty heart stopping… meaning your heart stopped all the time out of fear. It was pitch black outside because there were no lights on the highway and we were driving through the Sinai Mountains. On our way there we passed an identical taxi car that had flipped over and crashed… it looked bad but we did not stop. So that did not help us. By that time I’m pretty sure a bunch of us started praying for that taxi and our own lives as well. We made it to Dahab after 2 hours of crazy driving in the dark. We got to our rooms and were extremely surprised how nice the hostel was! We stayed at the Alaska Camp and Hotel, for $8 each/night. Kasey and I crashed.

(This is where Kasey takes over)

Just fyi, on the way to Dahab, all but one of the girls in the taxi completely passed out, so really it was the guys who suffered. I wasn’t awake to see the taxi that had flipped over, but I do know that on the way back a few days later, a delivery truck had flipped over the barrier and both the driver and passenger were killed.

When we arrived in Dahab, our first impression was one of dismay. For those of you who haven’t heard our current home in Beit Hanina described, it’s essentially 10 times worse than the “bad” parts of town back home. Everything is run down and looks like it was completely destroyed at one point. The streets are littered with garbage, and when it’s unfamiliar, you feel extremely unsafe.

Our first impression of Dahab was that it reminded us of Beit Hanina. The girls had woken by this point and we stared in dismay, wondering just how bad our vacation was going to be. Our driver, moreover, had no idea where anything was. He pulled up to a group of men and asked directions to our hostel. We were grateful to have arrived, but still slightly regretting our choice of vacation spots. Two of our friends (Nick and Angel) were staying at another hotel, and nobody had any clue where it was. Our Israeli friends seemed to leave the taxi at the same time as we did, but Nick and Angel had to go off into the distance on their own, and no one had any idea of how we’d get in touch with them over the next few days to coordinate our return.

I left Jon to worry about the bags and walked into the hostel. There was a small main gate through which I could see a flagstone path and plants. As I walked through, I could tell that the hostel was small, but it seemed peaceful and most importantly, clean. I found the office, we all got checked in, and went off to our rooms.

We were glad to see that the people who worked at the hostel were friendly, that nothing here resembled the main street, and that our room, while very simple, was very clean. We even had our own bathroom, which was unexpected. Jon and I looked around for a couple of minutes before, as he said, we crashed. It was about 3am.

Jon woke up super early and went out to check out our situation. He brought his camera and wandered out the side of the hostel opposite the gate we entered the night before. We didn’t realize it until the day before we left, but Dahab is one hour behind Israel, so it was about an hour before any of the shops or restaurants were going to open.

I slept a couple hours longer than Jon, until he came back and woke me up to show me the pictures.

Right outside of our hostel was the boardwalk of Dahab. Lining the boardwalk are shop after shop, and restaurant upon restaurant. The restaurants were all directly on the beach. Well… not so much a beach as a wall at which the ocean stopped. You literally could have jumped from your table into the ocean (which Jon and I did on several occasions).

I got up somewhere around 10 and we went to meet our friends at a restaurant called El Fanar, where our breakfast was 10 LE (about $2) with free Bedouin tea. Jon and I were excited to see an “American” breakfast, which included eggs, bacon, and toast, on their menu. By “toast” they meant plain white bread (untoasted) and by “bacon” they meant spam, but, you know….

After that we went our separate ways. Our friends Anna and Christie had been up since 6, napping in various spots along the beach, and they planned to do the same for the rest of the day. Anna’s brother and sister-in-law, Jesse and Aisha, wanted to go shopping. Jon and I wanted to walk down the boardwalk for about 35 minutes to “The Laguna,” where all the resort beaches were. Jesse and Aisha decided to go with us, and we took off walking.

Unfortunately I had decided to wear my new Croc heels, but my feet are so soft that after about 10 minutes I’d rubbed several blisters into my toes and feet. I walked the rest of the way barefoot, over crunchy dirt and scalding patches. That added a couple more blisters.

BUT at last we arrived at the Laguna, and it was awesome. If you’ve been on facebook you saw how bright blue the water was there. There was no guard at the post to the entrance, so we just walked right in and settled into some lounge chairs. We noticed that we were almost definitely not allowed, because everyone else had the same hotel-prescribed towel, but we decided to stay for as long as we would be allowed. Jesse and Aisha had expected more shopping, and Jesse had forgotten his swim shorts, so they only hung out for a little while before taking off to walk back.

Jon and I (of course) wanted to go swimming, so we waded into the water, which was much, MUCH colder than expected. We stood waist-deep for a while and then Jon took the plunge, swimming out a ways and videoing himself. I waited a while longer and then joined him, and then we laid on the lounge chairs for a while, drying off and enjoying the exposure to the vitamin D.

After a couple of hours someone from the hotel did notice that we didn’t belong and very politely asked us to leave. I couldn’t walk back with no shoes, though, because my feet were already too damaged, so we went to the hotel shop and picked up some cheap flip-flops. It took us around 40 minutes to get back to our hostel.

We relaxed for a while (and I washed off my feet), and then we went to see if the girls wanted to join us for dinner. They were napping in their room at this point, completely exhausted from all the sun.

When they finally emerged from their room, they were bright red all over – sunburned lobster red. Evidently this was their plan all along, but they were definitely in pain for a long while.

We went to dinner at Meya Meya. On our way back from the Laguna, Jon and I were stopped by a guy named Mohammad who worked there, and because we looked semi-skeptical, he kept throwing in free things. In the end we got five free things: starter, tea, bottled water, dessert, and a smile, and we promised to come back.

Eating in Dahab is a very relaxing experience. Meya Meya, like many of the other restaurants, was covered in pillows. You sat on a pillow and leaned on a pillow, with a tiny table in the middle. When it got dark and the wind got stronger, they pulled a giant carpet up as a wall and lit bonfires throughout the place. Jesse and Aisha, who had gone on a camel ride up a mountain to watch the sunset, joined us near the end and then we all decided to head to a restaurant called Yalla Bar, where one of the guys who worked at our hostel also worked at night. We sat around and played Phase 10 until we were all too tired to worry about getting 1 set of 5 and 1 set of 2, and then we went back to the hostel and to bed.

Jon and I woke up early to reserve lounge chairs for us all at Yalla. Most restaurants had lounge chairs lining the wall along the water. We got there at about 7 am, spread out our stuff to save 6 chairs, and lounged until the restaurant opened. We ordered a continental breakfast, which was the perfect start to the day, and actually included toast, and then Jon went to the scuba and snorkel shop across from Yalla to pick up snorkeling gear for the day for $2 each. Jesse and Aisha showed up about then, so we waited for them to have their breakfast and take over the chairs, and then we jumped in the water and took off the adjust to snorkeling again.

Aisha didn’t know how to swim but wanted to try snorkeling anyway. Jesse spent a few minutes in the water readjusting to how snorkels work, and then he helped Aisha wade in, life vest and all. We spent a while getting Aisha used to being in the water and lying on her stomach kicking, then we all took a break to lie on our lounge chairs. By then Anna and Christie were awake and wisely applied sunscreen. We all spent the day with a combination of swimming and sunbathing.

Around 2, Nick and Angel showed up. Their hotel had a shuttle running to “downtown Dahab,” which was the boardwalk, so they’d come to find us. Anna and Christie, Nick and Angel, went off to have a late lunch, while the rest of us snorkeled some more.

At about 4 we headed back to the hostel to shower, and then we went to El Mundo for dinner. We literally picked fresh fish from a cooler and had it cooked for us. Jon had spent so long in the sun that he was suffering from a little bit of heat exhaustion (the rest of us sat under an umbrella later in the day, but he refused), so he didn’t feel like eating at all. The fish was amazing, which he missed, but we also had milk shakes, which he made it most of the way through (Jon here—the milkshake was SO GOOD, but I could barely drink it. I finished about half of it and then Kasey had the rest).

After diner, Jesse and Aisha went off to do last-minute shopping. Jon headed back to the room, but Anna, Christie, and I went wandering from shop to shop, finally winding up at a crepe place to split a double chocolate crepe, and then going to a salon to have our nails done (um… worst mani/pedis ever).

Because Jesse and Aisha were heading back to America in the very early morning on Tuesday, and they still wanted to visit Ramallah (a town behind the wall next to Beit Hanina), they were going to leave on Sunday, which was not originally planned. When we had bought our bus tickets, we planned on being there till Monday. Before we had left Jerusalem, Jesse and Nick had spent our last minutes frantically arguing with the bus station to switch 3 of the tickets to Sunday (Jesse, Aisha, Anna). They repeatedly said they needed 3 tickets switched. The woman switched 4, and then said, “You’re going to miss your bus,” and they had to rush to make it on board.

This unfortunately meant that Christie had to leave early with them (Nick tried calling once we made it to Dahab, but the office was closed for the holiday), so this was their last night in Dahab. Anna, Christie, and I lounged in the pillowed area of our hostel, chatting, and then we all headed back to our rooms. They left before 8 the next morning.

Jon and I had a very lazy Sunday. We went to the Friends restaurant and lay on the benches to read and eat our breakfast. We spent the morning there and then went back to our room for a nap. We went back to Friends for dinner and played Phase 10 and read, and chatted with the little girls who came by to sell bracelets (we found it was quicker to decline by speaking Arabic instead of English [“La, habibti” or “La, shoukran”]. If you speak English they try even harder to sell you something). We went back and went to bed fairly early, enjoying the peace.

We woke up early the next morning and went to sit in the sun at Yalla to have breakfast and read. We’d worn our bathing suits, expecting to swim, but the wind was strong and the water was choppy, so we stayed on our benches, soaking up some last-minute sun and, again, enjoying the tranquility.

We headed back to our room at 9 to pack and shower. Nick and Angel met us at the hostel at around 10:30 and we went to wait for our taxi driver. Because the same drive took the other group the previous day at 8, he’d assumed we wanted to leave at 8 too, and had showed up at 8 and then left when we didn’t show up (we had a receipt clearing marking that we were leaving at 11, but oh well). We got there before 11 and he was called back, and arrived around 20 minutes late.

Our taxi ride back was fairly pleasant. There was no air conditioning so we had the windows rolled down, and our driver kept stopping along the way to show us specific mountains (“Look, it’s a camel!”). All in all, we arrived at the border 3 hours before our bus was to leave Eilat.

We had to walk a ways from where our taxi let us out and where the border was. Imagine our surprise when we ran into a very long, long line of hippies who were also intent on getting back into Israel.

The border consists of 8 checks: one to check your passport and Egyptian visa when you arrive, another to scan your luggage as you exit, another to review paperwork and claims, another as you leave the Egyptian border to make sure you’ve been processed… then a passport check as you enter the Israeli border, then a luggage scan, then the paperwork… and one more passport check so that you can leave the border. It took us 2 ½ hours to get through, and at that point we were a 10-minute taxi ride from the bus station, and it was 5 minutes AFTER when the bus was supposed to leave. We did what we could, but our taxi driver was an uncommonly safe one, and we arrived 15 minutes after our bus left.

Between talking with information, cashiers, managers, and almost the police when security spotted an unattended bag (we all wandered off to find a solution to our transportation and forgot to bring a suitcase), we finally managed to switch our tickets to a later bus that was going to Tel Aviv. We had about an hour and a half left, and we were all starving, so we wandered about a half-mile away from the bus station, luggage in tow, to find one of the only things open (since it was a holiday and everything shuts down): a convenience store. There we managed to pick up pita, hummus, some veggies and sandwich meat (plus the all-important road trip candy), which we then trekked back to the bus station to eat.

Our bus to Tel Aviv left at 7pm, and while that got us within about an hour/hour-and-a-half of Jerusalem, we still had to figure out how to make it. Nick made a few calls and Shane, our fearless principal, told us not to worry, that someone would be able to pick us up.

Then Nick managed to find out from some of our fellow passengers that we could get off in Beer Sheva and catch a bus from there to Jerusalem. Our bus let us off in Beer Sheva 5 minutes before the Jerusalem bus took off, and as soon as the Jerusalem bus opened its doors, it was a free-for-all to get inside. We all barely managed to squeeze in the doors ahead of some people, and while we had to sit apart, we at least had seats. Everyone who got on after us had to sit in the aisle.

Around 12:30am, we arrived in Jerusalem and Shane was there to pick us up. We got home not long after and were greeted by a very emotional kitty, who yelled at the top of her lungs to tell us what her life had been like while we were gone. We got to bed a little before 2, and miracle upon miracle, Kasey was not sick the morning and made it to work.

So that concludes our Egypt trip. Everything added up, for the two of us we spent $410. Pretty spiffy if you ask us.


  1. It's not a camel, it's a downed AT-AT walker! I thought we went through this.

    Sounds like a very fun trip. Oddly, not unlike my trip to Mexico. But the water was warmer there.

  2. You guys are the best story tellers.

  3. Hello Jon, Brenda Passegger here :)....long time no talk and to peek in on your adventures with your lovely Bride, amazing! What an unique opportunity for you to be in the LAND!I couldnt resist and I copied and pasted your Egypt story to Sarah....she LIVED in Dahab for 6 mos! so she would have a feel of all your stories for certain!
    Well we will talk again soon....Be Blessed!
    p.s. we have been studying the Hebraic roots of the Christain faith for two years its cute you mentioning the festivals etc...that you are witnessing right there and we are over here wishing we could be part of them :) LOL .....