Merry Christmas from Snowy Ankara!

We're celebrating with a visit to Ataturk's tomb and a marathon of Christmas movies...and last night we went to a Christmas Mass officiated by a Papal Nuncio--the Archbishop who is the Vatican's ambassador to Turkey. Kelly tells me that having an Archbishop officiate over any service is very rare---so that's pretty cool. She had to tell me when to kneel because the last mass I attended was my cousin's wedding--and i'm pretty sure I was eight.

Tomorrow (the 26th) my flight departs Ankara at 10:30 A.M., and after a three hour layover in Frankfurt I'll be on my way to Dulles where I'm scheduled to arrive shortly after eight o'clock.

See you soon!


yaa al-qahira, ma'a sala'ama!

On the way back from campus, my last night in Cairo and after taking my last final, the bus driver decided to go through Tahrir and the heart of downtown Cairo before swinging off to cross the bridge over the Nile into Zamalek.

I was grateful. It gave me a chance to say goodbye.

The next morning, after packing all night, we made our way to Cairo International. The air was clogged with a mixture of smog and fog and the rising sun was just a diffuse orange glow behind the gloom that made the passing minarets look like dark gray shadows.

Two hours after take-off we landed in Istanbul, in the middle of something I haven't experienced since leaving the US four months ago: a rainstorm.

We're staying in the Sultanhamet, a maze of cobbled streets and bright lights a block away from the Hagia Sophia, where yesterday we spent several hours wandering beneath its massive dome.

I bought a winter coat and gloves and have been wearing plastic bags shoved into my socks to keep my feet dry, since the sneakers I bought for a desert clime are certainly not waterproof, and my little flats are certainly no match for puddles.

Walking in the rain, though, is refreshing.


It's (not) beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

...but it is starting to feel a lot like fall.

Scene in my apartment this morning: Miranda wore a turtle neck sweater and long sleeved shirt, Hannah a sweater, and me: a sweatshirt and scarf. It was 65 degrees.

In other news:

My sleeping train chugged into Cairo at 9 AM yesterday in classic style after a wonderful week long sojourn along the Nile.

Now its time to buckle down and get to work, but first: Happy Christmas to those Dittenhafers currently gathered at my aunt's house (and those missing the yearly event!) The crowd may be smaller than normal (this is the first time in my entire life I've missed it, and John's as well I think) but that just means more good food for the rest of you! Have fun. Eat some shrimp for me!


Eid Al Adha

...means a whole week of no classes and a whole lot of traveling for me.

We're going in the opposite direction of the hajj to visit Luxor, Aswan, and Abu Simbel.

My flight to Aswan leaves at 10:20 tomorrow night (bus/train tickets all sold out really early, unfortunately).

Monday night I embark on a Nile Cruise (Kelly and Tommy are taking a felucca, my friend Savannah is joining me on a boat that provides beds and bathrooms instead of just planks and blankets).

Wednesday we arrive in Luxor and Thursday night we return to Cairo via sleeper car.

It'll be a great time...even though I have textbooks stuffed in my backpack instead of novels so I can learn everything there is to know about comparative politics for my comprehensive final for which the professor (who taught us nothing all semester) refused to provide a review sheet. oh, and it counts for 40% of my total grade which counts for my GPA. but, as they say in Cairo, ma'alish!


Thanksgiving Expat Style

(written on actual thanksgiving...not posted because my lovely internet connection is completely gone. we're in deep mourning.)

My usual Thanksgiving plans involve watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and (semi) helping in the kitchen before gorging myself on turkey, pineapple stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed corn pudding, apple bread, pumpkin pie, apple pie, and broccoli bake.

Today, my room-mates and I rolled out of bed early, took a taxi to Tahrir Square and bought plane tickets and then train tickets for our Eid vacation (I really don’t want to think about how much money I spent today). Kelly and I then got a guided tour of the Wikala of Al-Ghouri (in Arabic, Kelly translated and I got every third word or so). The Wikala is a 14th century hotel for merchants that’s been beautifully maintained, and our tour guide even took up us into the private quarters so we could peer through the original mashrabiyya screens.

The Mosque of al Azhar is a block or two away from the caravanserai . I wandered in alone as Kelly had to retrieve her camera (she’d left it behind in the dungeon of the Wikala, which has been converted into an arts and crafts center). There were students studying in every corner and the Mosque was full of people (very unlike Ibn Tulun, which was deserted). I walked up to the entrance to the praying area, unsure If I was allowed to enter (as a female and a foreigner, I didn’t think my chances were too good) but a man who was cleaning the carpets motioned me inside. Men were sprawled out, sleeping in the quiet shade, others were studying, still a few more were praying. I sat with my back to an ancient pillar, hidden near the doorway, and sat quietly until Kelly found me (she recovered her camera).

Hannah and Joanna met us outside of Al-Azhar, and after walking through the nearby local market, we were on our way to the Citadel.

Originally constructed by Salah ad Din, the Citadel rises above Cairo near the Muqattam Cliffs. There were four of us there—all girls—alone except for each other and unescorted. We were hassled from the minute we got out of the taxi to the minute we left, a few hours later. I’m pretty sure a ton of Egyptians have pictures of the four of us looking extremely pissed off. I’m not sure what the attraction was, but we couldn’t go two seconds without someone asking to take a picture with us or just taking a picture of us, without asking. However, the sites were worth it: the Mosque of Mohammed Ali dominates the skyline and is filled with lighted globes handing from the decorated ceiling. The Egyptian Military Museum—co-developed with the cooperation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (I’m not kidding, there’s a plaque)—is a fascinating place for a history major and museum fanatic to visit. I saw perhaps the best label of any artifact anywhere there: a statue labeled simply as “The Best Soldier on Earth.” There was no name, just the superlative.

After we escaped the clutches of the schoolchildren we made our way to the Maadi House for Thanksgiving Dinner, which AUC’s ISA office kindly informed us of. It’s an expat center of some type in a villa in the neighborhood of Maadi—quite lovely and difficult for black and white taxi drivers to find. Ours asked at least ten people on the way. At Maadi House we were able to eat turkey and mashed potatoes smothered with gravy and excellent carrots and pumpkin pie and coffee flavored cake…not quite the Thanksgiving my parents are throwing at home, but in this case Egypt came through. The only thing I missed—a lot—was stuffing. We met Tommy there, and after our meal he and Joanna and Kelly and I played a rousing game of contact ping-pong before returning to our apartment for…the first Christmas music of the season. On our way to Maadi we passed by the Nile Hilton, which had a neon billboard scrolling “Happy New Year 2009!” We think they’re getting a little ahead of themselves…but we still managed to cover three holidays in one day.


Looking Ahead...

Today is November 26. I am now exactly thirty days away from landing back in the good old US of A. I am eight days away from my trip to Luxor and Aswan and twenty four days away from Istanbul. Can you tell we’re all excited to leave? These are the things I am most looking forward to once I return:

1) My Dad’s family’s Christmas in Pittsburgh (I might be missing the Dittenhafer Christmas AND actual Christmas, but I can still get one in!)

2) January 20, 2009. I’m going to be one of those four million crazy people freezing on the Mall.

3) I actually already have concert tickets: the Killers are playing George Mason on the 28th. And, thanks to Mike, we have a transportation plan that does not involve trying to hail a taxi in Fairfax, Virginia at 2 A.M.

4) Steak.

5) My shoes. And jewelry. And clothing that doesn’t make me feel /look like a vagabond. I’m trashing the baggy pants.

6) Washing machines that actually work. Swishing my clothes around by hand in the sink=clothing that is still very very dirty even after its “washed.”

7) Walking across Massachusetts Avenue to get to class vs. Walking across Abou Feda Street to get to the bus that will take an hour to get me to class and one and a half to two hours to get me back from class. The other day I realized that on the worst traffic filled days, my commute would be comparable to me actually going home every night to Pennsylvania after my classes finished in DC. One of my roommates freaks out every time she thinks about the fifteen hours plus per week we spend on the bus. Riding it is like a part-time job that slowly sucks your soul away.

8) Liking school again. It’s hard to hate something that I usually love.

9) Discussing literature (!) with my sister who actually started reading good books.

10) Franz Ferdinand’s third album comes out in January!

11) Last but not least: seeing all of my fabulous friends and family again. And having a cell phone that allows me to call them whenever I want to instead of being dependent on internet access.

12) Oh right, I forgot: having regular internet access with huge amounts of bandwidth that allows me to do whatever I want to do online. Like upload pictures/watch tv shows/read msnbc.com. That would be great.

13) Oh, and TV. I miss TV. I am usually a TV junkie. When I had a TV in the hotels I was subject to terrible, awful horrible bad nineties shows like La Femme Nikita and cheesy eighties movies. My housing when I go back offers three channels of HBO and a hundred other channels that I will be free to watch to my heart’s content. And cable news! I cannot tell you how much I miss MSNBC and how much I am looking forward to watching Rachel Maddow’s new show. (Well, new to me!).

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. I will be seeing all of you soon!


II & III: A Guest Post from Kelly

Remember months ago when I promised to finish describing our first Eid vacation? Yeah, that totally didn't happen. But as it turns out, Kelly volunteered to share the write-up she sent her parents--so enjoy. She picks up at the Monastery of St. Katherine's at the base of Mt. Sinai.

Enter the Burning Bush. The monastery is home to what is believed to be a descendant of the original burning bush. The plant itself is more tree-like than I imagined, and puts Aunt Deb’s best efforts to shame [Editor’s Note: Kelly’s Aunt Deb mailed her a plant the size of a five year old child our freshman year. The tree (named Zarathustra) took the place of Kelly’s absent room-mate but despite our best efforts died a rather quick death]. The monks have encircled it with a wall, but parts of it hang down low enough for pilgrims to break off part of a branch as a souvenir. We didn’t know what we were looking at until a friendly Croatian informed us, at which point we joined the throngs snapping photographs. The monastery had a beautiful Coptic chapel, with engraved doors dating from the 14th century. Over the centuries, the chapel had accumulated a large number of relics and artistic masterpieces, which were a treat to see.

We returned to our hostel just long enough to grab our backpacks and set off again. Our group split up into threes, so that the others went to Dahab, a beach town, and Tommy, Katelyn, and I embarked on an inter-country sprint to Jordan. At the Egyptian border, we had to convince the guards to issue us re-entry visas for the return trip, as they are not offered on the way in from the Israeli border. Our original tourist visas had expired, and the government had not yet processed our requests for student visas, so we were technically in the country illegally. However, the visa paperwork was entirely in English, which none of the guards fully understood. This set up an interesting half-English half-Arabic discussion heavily reliant on hand gestures to indicate exactly what we wanted and why. We made good friends with the director of the border with the time we left, who assured us that we would have no problems returning as long as he was on duty.

Entering Israel was reasonably easy. We were each questioned about our travels, religious affiliations, and parents’ names. The first official radioed ahead to the next station to tell them to expect three Americans travelling together. Security on the Egyptian side was not comparable. Once we stepped onto Israeli soil, I was hit by a wave of culture shock. Egypt, Israel, and Jordan are separated at the base of the Red Sea by just a few miles, yet each country is a world apart from the others. The Israeli streets were crammed with billboards advertising luxury hotels, watersports, and Heineken. Women walked around freely in shorts and low-cut tops, and very few wore any form of head covering. The buildings and amenities looked modern, the taxis were clean and had functioning meters, and traffic seemed to follow the posted rules. I saw all of this from the back seat of a Taxi; we stayed in Israel just long enough to get to the Jordanian border crossing. Although we technically could have taken a ferry from Egypt to Jordan and avoided Israel altogether, we had heard far too many horror stories about having to wait for eight hours in an unair-conditioned warehouse and waiting in port in Jordan for hours. It was both faster and easier to make four border crossings.

At the Israeli border, we had to pay a departure tax of 85 shekkels for leaving the country we had just entered. In total, we were in Israel for 30 minutes, meaning that with the exchange rate we were charged more than a dollar per minute to pass through Israel. Rather a steep price, in my opinion. The guard at the border raised her eyebrows slightly at seeing our still-fresh entry stamps, but allowed us to leave without any difficulty. The process of entering Jordan consisted of a glance at our passports and a quick stamp of the passport. They didn’t even bother to x-ray our backpacks. I guess they figure that Israel does a good enough job for the both of them, which is probably true.

We managed to cross into Jordan just before sunset, and so hired a taxi for the few hours to Petra in twilight. The taxi driver cranked the sound system and sang along with the few English songs he knew. My musical introduction to Jordan was “Barbie Girl” on repeat for fifteen minutes. At that point I fell in love with the country.

For some reason there are no ATMs at the Jordanian border, nor were there any within 5 kilometers of our hostel, so by the time we paid the taxi driver with the dinars we had exchanged for in Israel, we were broke. Luckily, our hostel agreed to take us to an ATM the following morning to pay the bill, and allowed us to eat in their restaurant and add the cost to our tab. We got halfway through our food before our eyes began to droop, so we hobbled our way up to our room and crashed into bed at the senior-citizen hour of 8:30 pm.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to tour the legendary ancient city of Petra. Other tourists on Mt. Sinai had told us that we would really feel the pain of the climb on the morning afterward, and that was most unfortunately true. I had difficulty walking down the flight of stairs to the lobby, and only managed by bracing myself with both arms on the walls and swinging my legs down. Katelyn felt the pain as well, so we established a very sedate walking pace. Tommy was somehow unaffected by the climb, but humored us and stuck to our slow-and-steady pace. Petra was overrun with hordes of tourists, more than I’ve seen in my time in the Middle East. Seemingly every other store in town sells souvenirs and “priceless antiques”. Admission to the site was also very expensive for tourists, at roughly $40. The entry price for a Jordanian? $1.50. I learned quickly that Jordan is an expensive country. The Jordanian dinar is stronger than the US dollar, which makes prices even higher for tourists. Coming from Egypt, where dinner can cost 20 cents and a cross-country bus ride barely surpasses $10, it was quite a shock to see my money disappear so quickly.

All things said, however, the admission price was worth every penny. To enter the site, we walked down into a tall, narrow passageway. The passageway is usually called a canyon, and is large enough to be one, but is in fact one mammoth sheet of rock that has been rent apart by tectonic forces. The walls of the canyon show the remnants of engravings and tombs carved thousands of years ago. The canyon stretches for more than a kilometer, twisting every so often. Just when we had begun to envy the tourists in horse-drawn carriages, we rounded one last bend and found ourselves face to face with the Makhzen, widely considered to be Petra’s greatest treasure.

Before I go further, it may be of some benefit to explain the historical significance of Petra. Out of all the ancient towns and settlements, Petra is unique in that it was carved entirely out of the massive rock faces encircling the city. The ancient city was entirely contained within these gorges, isolated and easily defensible from the outside world. Alexander the Great’s general tried for four years to conquer Petra, but ultimately failed, as did many other would-be conquerors. This means that many of the carved buildings are largely intact today. Carved into giant rock faces are temples, tombs, warehouses, wealthy homes, and other structures from ancient city life. Petra was at the center of the East-West trading routes and controlled trade for thousands of miles, so it was prosperous enough to produce immense, breathtaking monuments. The city flourished for several centuries, but ultimately fell victim to its own geographical uniqueness. Petra was wracked by a series of powerful earthquakes within a span of a decade. While many structures were not damaged beyond repair, the current of a nearby river changed and swept into the canyon, forcing the evacuation of the city. Petra remained hidden to the Western world until the late 19th century, wherein it became one of the most fascinating centers of history of which you may have never heard.

Understandably, I was more than a little excited to visit Petra.

And now, for a continuation of the ridiculously long story about my Eid vacation:

Petra was incredible. As I described previously, huge pillars of rock tower over the small valley, giving way to inexplicitly ornate and beautiful designs and carvings. We spent a good 6 hours just walking through the site and gawking at everything. They had a nice museum explaining the history of the city, and many entertaining souvenir shops. Because Katelyn, Tommy, and I apparently enjoy pain and pushing ourselves beyond a reasonable person's limits, we decided to climb our second mountain in 30 hours in order to reach The Monastery, a huge and supposedly beautiful temple carved into the top of a nearby cliff. Muscles aching and joints groaning, we slowly hauled ourselves up the rock-hewn staircases winding their way up the cliff. The guidebook said the Monastery was "a pleasant 45-minute climb", proving yet again that guidebook writers are superhuman. It took us about an hour and a half before we collapsed on the last step. Once we recovered with celebratory Borios (the knockoff Oreos that have become our reward for meeting challenges) we turned the corner and were confronted with a mammoth structure emanating from the mountain. The Monastery was indeed huge, at a good eight stories high or so, and had gorgeous columns and pillars. Furthermore, the mountain looked over the town and valley, providing incredible views of the rocky landscape. No matter how poorly we felt at the moment, the trek was more than worth it.

Unfortunately, what goes up must come down, and by this point my legs were so exhausted and in pain that I had difficulty walking even on flat terrain, and anything resembling stairs or a ledge required serious effort and concentration. Rather than spend hours crying my way down the mountain, I elected to rent a donkey to carry me to the bottom. After that experience, I can say with finality that one should never, ever ride a beast of burden down a mountain unless one is physically incapable of making it by oneself. Katelyn planned to ride a donkey down as well, but insisted on getting off after ten feet. The donkey simply plunged his way down the stairs, throwing me at 45-degree angles to the side of the mountain, staring directly into the sheer drop from the side of the path. I leaned so far back as to be nearly laying flat on the donkey's back in order to simply stay on. The donkey's uneven steps joined with a weaving, uneven pace so as to continuously bounce me out of the saddle. At times, the only reason I stayed on the donkey was because the donkey's owner was literally pushing me into the saddle as he walked beside me. The donkey careened sideways down the path with little regard to anything in its way. At one point I actually knocked a woman off the path when the donkey slammed into her. Thank goodness she was on the side attached to the mountain and not on the precipice. I was more than slightly terrified at some points, but kept on because it was really my only option. Multiple tourists I passed addressed me in a mixture of incredulity and outright shock, combined with some admiration. All in all, it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had in a while, although not in an entirely good way.

After we staggered out of the site, we were quite hungry, and lo, just outside the entrance was Mystic Pizza! As in, the astonishingly cheesy 80s film starring Julia Roberts. Katelyn and I had just seen the movie the previous week, so we considered it a sign. Turns out the pizza is fabulous, and we swear the secret ingredient is pumpkin. That sounds odd, but it tasted fantastic. Who knew that Jordan held the secrets to great pizza?

Exhausted but happy, we decided that we all deserved some rest and relaxation, so we struck out for the natural destination: the beach! Not just any old beach on any body of water, but the luxury resorts on the Dead Sea. We spent a full day just floating around and enjoying the incredible buoyancy of the water. The Dead Sea is incredibly salty, so everything and everyone just floats. It's difficult to even try to lower yourself in the water. There were also huge chunks of solid salt lying on the shores, which Katelyn and I used to exfoliate. For the record, I have never exfoliated before because I always thought it was kind of creepy, but the ultra-softness of my skin convinced me of its benefits. We all floated on our backs in the water, as the salt even kept our heads above the level of the water. Eventually, we all fell asleep and took a nap, while still floating. Tommy woke up when he beached himself on a pile of sand.

In an effort to save money, we generally settled for very basic amenities throughout our trip-using the public bus systems, sleeping in hostels, eating street food, etc. However, there are no budget options on the Dead Sea. There aren't even any mid-range hotels within 25 miles. So we ended up staying at a five-star resort for the night. To summarize, it was fabulous. In addition to the extensive private beach, it had three children's pools, two adult pools, a lap pool, and a waterslide. We took advantage of satellite t.v. to watch one of the presidential debates, slept like children on the featherbeds, and took as many toiletries as we could carry. We had a wonderful time going from pool to pool and just relaxing. The resort also had a spa, but as tired as I was, $40 massages are not cheap. As it was, the room only cost us $80 per person for the night, so as far as luxury hotels go it was a great deal. It was also the perfect accompaniment to two days of hard travel and mountain climbing.

The next morning, we sadly bid adieu to our dear hotel and set off for Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum, for background knowledge, is host to some of the most spectacular desert scenery in the world. There are a wide range of improbable rock formations, like a rock bridge and huge sculptures resting precariously on very thin columns, along with vast sand dunes. The sands are punctuated with mountains jutting out of the dunes in a variety of hues. Wadi Rum served as the backdrop for Raiders of the Lost Arc, and some of the materials constructed for the movie are still there. Bedouin nomads roamed the area for centuries, tending goats and sheep on the sides of the mountains and tapping into underground springs. Their descendants still reside in the area, although in a semi-permanent lifestyle. We hired a guide to take us in a 4x4 tour of some of the most impressive sights and ended up sand-sliding, turquoise hunting, and climbing yet another structure, albeit much smaller. Remarkably, the guide drove us for four hours on an empty tank of gas. I watched the needle steadily decrease and as it reached the critical point began to worry about getting stranded in the desert, but apparently jeeps don't require fuel in the desert, because it lasted us all the way until the closest gas station hundreds of miles away.

We were planning on returning to Aqaba, the Jordanian border crossing point with Israel, to spend the night and prepare for the four border crossings that would get us back to Cairo. However, we arrived in town at 2 pm Egyptian time and decided to press onward and try to make the last bus out of Taba, on the Egyptian side, which left at 4:30 pm. This was probably one of our less inspired ideas, but nevertheless, we hurried to the border.

Leaving Jordan was no problem whatsoever. The border crossing seems quite relaxed compared with the Egyptian and Israeli posts. We walked to the Israeli side, changed our Jordanian dinars into Israeli shekkels, and hustled through the border, answering the obligatory questions about our religious heritage, family background, and purpose for travelling to the Middle East. There were no other people passing through the border except for one family in a car. Putting this from our minds, we hastened (in reality, hobbled as we were still sore) out of the checkpoint in Israel to find a taxi. Five minutes later, after realizing that the border was completely deserted of life and taxis were not simply waiting to chauffer us at will, we returned to the border and begged the guards for assistance. It turns out that Saturday, being the holy day in Judaism, is strictly observed as a holiday by most Israelis, and finding taxis can be challenging. The guards had to telephone a company to come and pick us up in order to save us a very long walk across Israel. When the taxi finally arrived, we explained our haste and had him get us to the border at Eilat as quickly as possible. We jumped out of the taxi, threw some colorful Israeli currency at the driver, and hightailed it to a sandwich shop just outside the crossing station, where we grabbed some lunch/dinner to go. I grabbed what I thought were knockoff cheetos that turned out to be peanut-butter flavored. Very odd, and not very good. The sandwiches were excellent, however, so I didn't mind much.

According to a quick glance at my watch in line to leave Israel, we now had one hour before the bus left. It should have been plenty of time. Knowing my life, though, it was going to be much more interesting and harrying. First, Tommy's bag was pulled aside and searched in security. They didn't find whatever they were looking for, so we continued on to immigration, where we were forced to wait in line behind a very large Egyptian family that had documents, passports, and people all over the place and required a lot of time to sort things out. At the kiosk to pay our departure tax, we skillfully maneuvered our way in front of said family and successfully paid the tax (again, more than $1 per minute in Israel) and changed our shekkels into Egyptian pounds. The last stop was to get our passports stamped and walk across the border. When we got to the passport stamping booth, however, there was a line several people deep that was not moving whatsoever. There seemed to be a problem with the passports of some Eastern Europeans ahead of us that held up the passport agents. Eventually it was sorted out, we thought, and we stepped up to the counter. The two young female Israels agents just stared at their computer screens with blank faces, though, and wouldn't take our passports. They simply sat staring at their screens and joking with each other, ignoring the line of people waiting for the departure stamp. Eventually I figured out that their computer system had broken, and they didn't know how to fix it. The two agents finally thought about calling for help, and managed to break their phone when they picked it up, which set off another round of jokes and giggles. We weren't in the joking mood as we watched the minutes tick away down to twenty minutes until the bus left. A supervisor finally came over and overrode the system so that we could get our stamps and continue.

Desperate to make the bus, we ran across the border at top speed and didn't stop until the metal detectors in Taba. The guards saw us coming and greeted us with bemused expressions. I explained what we wanted to do, and they sped us through the station, bypassing the usual lines to take us directly to the station manager. As luck would have it, it was the same man who had sorted out our visas previously, and he was delighted to see us again. He glanced at our passports, stamped our entry, validated our visas, and sent us on our way in less than five minutes. Now we had ten minutes to get to the bus station, buy tickets, and board before we would be stranded in Taba for the night. Again, we took off running and commandeered a minibus (a 15-passanger van that serves as a shared taxi), directing him to take us to the bus station immediately and not to stop for anything. He drove straight past some Egyptians and a policeman attempting to flag down the bus. We arrived at the bus station right at 4:30. Luckily, the bus had yet to arrive so we bought our tickets without issue and were waiting when the bus pulled in ten minutes later. Tommy, Katelyn, and I boarded the bus and settled in to finally enjoy our Israeli sandwiches and nap a bit for the seven-hour ride back to Cairo.

However, the bus only got about a mile down the road when it was pulled over and boarded by two military officers. It is normal for policemen and military officers to board the buses at checkpoints, but we had not yet reached a checkpoint and the men were not checking everyone's passports. Instead, he made a beeline straight for the three of us and uttered the terrifying words, "you three, come with me." Everyone in the bus turned to stare at us as we left the bus trying to figure out what we had done to merit getting personally escorted off the bus. There were several men outside who began pointing at our passports and arguing among themselves in rapid Arabic. I couldn't understand fully what they were saying, but it seemed to center on our two entry stamps for Egypt. While the bus was made to wait, we were questioned about our arrivals in Egypt in August and just then. It turned out that in our haste to make the bus, the border guards had forgotten to charge us the port tax for entering Taba. That made us illegal in the country for the half-hour before they caught us (I prefer to think of us as outlaws). We got everything straightened out and paid the $10 tax, and they allowed us to re-board the bus and continue on to Cairo. The rest of the trip was quite uneventful, as I slept until we pulled into the downtown station.

All in all, though, it was certainly a trip to remember, for a lot of reasons, some great and some merely great stories. I'm sorry that it took me so long to tell the entire adventure, but I couldn't see shortening any of the details. I'm sure that by booking through a travel agency we could have avoided many of the hassles and nerve-wracking moments, but it was quite fun for me to roll with the punches and see where each experience would take us. I did learn that it is a bad idea to cram so much serious climbing into so little time when we were completely inexperienced. It was a week before I could walk up or down stairs without soreness, but that eventually faded. I have a lot of great photographs now that will last much longer.