Monday, July 16, 2012

Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib reserve ends at the Jordanian dead sea, 410 meters below sea level, as a narrow-walled rock-cut gorge of incredible oranges, yellows, and reds. Prior to this gorge, it opens up into a mountainous, canyon style region, and at some points raises to 900 meters above sea level. The dramatic change in elevation lends to hosting a wide range of wildlife and vegetation.

I was able to go to just the gorge. At this time of year, the water level is between only ankle and waist level. I initially thought it was going to be just a hike. Then my driver told me to change my shoes, into something sturdy. Luckily, I brought a spare pair that I didn't care about.

The walk starts out nice enough. Go into the shallow creek, and start walking, admiring the towering yet narrow nature of the gorge walls. There are 5 or so passable waterfalls of progressive difficulty, which are haphazardly outfitted with thick ropes that you must use in order to traverse to the next section of the gorge. The approach to each waterfall is made more difficult by the fact that the water can reach chest level at the waterfall base. The first two waterfalls in and of themselves were not so simple. I had to severely brace myself against the rocks with my legs, holding the rope, and clamber up the rocks and over the fall. The third fall, however, was my defeat. Although I maintain I could have surmounted it with a little more drive and effort, my problem was my glasses. With water rushing down the falls and crashing all over the place, I just could not risk losing them by getting hit in the face. Chalk up just another case for laser vision. Screw you, glasses! :)

I had to hijack a few of these photos because I did not bring my camera very far into the reserve due to the rushing water. Especially in the most beautiful, narrow area with towering walls.

The entrance to the gorge, before it narrows

The first waterfall

The gorge narrows and curves

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mount Nebo

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho
—Deuteronomy 34:1

Mount Nebo is said to be the place where Moses climbed and then died at the end of his life. The view from the top is breathtaking (it was said to have given Moses a view of the promised land). From Jordan you can look over the dead sea and peer into Israel in the distance. Three churches and a monastery have been excavated at the site. Some impressive mosaics have been excavated at the site, as well.
You can see part of the dead sea, normally Jericho, and Jerusalem on a very clear day.

The winding road up to Mt. Nebo, and the arid climate

This rolling stone was used to fortify the door of a Byzantine monastery

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The People you Meet - Jordan

Now here is the story of someone I met which I felt was compelling enough to tell. This is in fact the second such story I've heard regarding the same type of situation, so I am detecting a theme with the subject country, Saudia Arabia.

Now, not that this blog is infamous (it's only tops on the web these days, actually), but it is floating around the intraspace, so I'll change a few details just for good measure.

I met an interesting Jordanian guy in Amman, in his 30s or 40s, with fantastic English. We'll call him Wal, a popular Jordanian name. Wal has spent quite a bit of time outside Jordan. At first he just wasn't satisfied with the lifestyle and the attitudes of Jordanian people. So he left. He spent somewhere around 10 years between Saudia Arabia, Europe, and Asia, and had lots of enthusiastic stories about life abroad to tell me.

This particular story begins and ends in Saudia Arabia. Wal went there to make money...Saudia Arabia pays fantastic. Wal had previously received some sort of cooking/chef/baking certification, so there he was picked up by a catering company/deli.

Now, being a single male and a foreigner in Saudia Arabia, you have the odds stacked against you at meeting any women, even for a chat. It is a completely closed culture when it comes to any interaction between men and women, and with foreigners, forget about it. If done the 'normal' way, men and women usually meet through friends of relatives. A women does not show her face until marriage, or maybe just before, in the privacy of a home. So Wal said he felt he was living the life of a priest for the first 2.5 years there. Pretty much no contact with women, except those who would come into the deli to buy some things.

The deli is the key to the story, as he got to meet women there. The first 2.5 years he wouldn't dare talk to Saudi women, out of fear their husbands might suspect something. The penalties are stiff. So after 2.5 years of priesthood, he said somehow he arranged a rendezvous with one of his clients. Married, of course. He managed to make it to her house when her husband was gone, and so they had an affair.

After this, he had an instantaneous 180 degree turn in his lifestyle. The woman passed his name around the neighborhood, and he became something like a gigolo, bouncing from house to house as needed. He was the foreign and unusual Jordanian guy that all the Saudi woman wanted to be with. Being a fairly typical middle eastern man, this obviously was no problem for him.

Now, the way he conducted these affairs is ridiculous. Extremely secretive least begins to describe it. First, he would arrive to the house in the truck, which was owned and marked by the deli. It was a coordinated delivery...of a cake, some desserts, some food, and whatnot. Nobody could suspect much out of this. He would go with one of his co-workers, and Indian guy. Trustworthy, someone who didn't give much of a crap about the personal goings on of Wal. Wal and his co-worker would walk up in their deli clothes with the delivery and ring the doorbell. The wife of course knew they were coming. When the door opened Wal would slip in immediately, leaving the Indian guy to go back to the deli truck and drive off.

Now, this guy said every time he did this he was scared shitless. It was the end of him if he got caught. Blood pumping and adrenaline flowing. He had to take 1-2 hours after he got inside just to calm down, relax, have a drink, etc. After this, he would stay 4-5 hours and leave before the first prayer time of the day, when nobody was out in the streets. Leaving was another challenge. If when he was leaving a broom fell, the trees whistled loudly, or a cat appeared, he would nearly have a heart attack on the off-chance that it might be a neighbor who has spotted him. That would probably be the end of him and the women as well.

After awhile this came more normal and part of daily life for him for a year or so. On one particularly rough day, he pulled up in the truck to a house, and as he was preparing to open the car door and step out, when he saw in the mirror one of his neighbors pull up behind him. Heart beating and knowing he couldn't be seen, he ducked below the steering wheel and hid. He stayed crouched in that tiny pocket in front of the drivers seat for an hour! When he felt it might be safe to proceed, he opened the door, and with the coast clear, rushed inside. Inside, he was still so scared that he hid in a closet for 2 hours!!

A few weeks later, he saw a program on satellite TV about a woman being stoned to death in Saudia Arabia. Seeing that, and knowing very well that he would be executed if he was caught cheating on a Saudi's wife, he became tense and scared. He said every day he felt like everywhere he looked someone might suspect something. From the day he saw that program, he began planning his departure from Saudi Arabia. One month after that program aired, he was gone, leaving only with a carry on bag.

So I don't know what the moral of this story should be, but I can definitely say that guy is crazy, and Saudi Arabian culture is nutty.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Crusader Castle Shoubak

Jordan is chock full of historical remnants from many ages. This crusader castle, Castle Shoubak, located outside of Petra, was built in the early 1100s. Located on a strategic hill on the caravan route from Syria to Arabia, it gave the crusaders control of trade. It was captured several times and also renovated in various styles over time

I arrived early and there was essentially nobody there, so I could walk around the castle freely. The interior of the castle is in partial ruins. Only corridors, archways, stairs, and some rooms are still intact. It is really quite an impressive mess of stone blocks that gives a grandiose impression of its former self. The location also gives it a fantastic 360 degree view of the surrounding valleys.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crazy Penomh Penh

Phenom Penh is one of the few cities I've been to which I really have not taking much of a liking to whatsoever.

There are only two other places which I can even begin to relatively compare it to...Asuncion, Paraguay, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The common factor between the three being that they seem to be on the same scale in terms of overall poverty.

PP is a dirty, dusty city. Only in the very center of the city are there paved sidewalks. That means that everywhere else, dirt, dust, and sand make up the sidewalk, which is also usually lined with small shops, of the makeshift tarp/corrugated roof kind once you have left downtown. With all the motorcyles, which seem to drive anywhere open space exists, I can see why so many people wear face masks. The feeling of being in a tuk-tuk and having a moto zoom by kicking up dust on one side, and a massive truck spew out clouds of black smoke on the other, then having to inhale the resulting mixture, is not something I desire to repeat. It’s like being in a dirt car race track with an open top.

Dusty, dusty place
Whereas in Ethiopia everyone seemed pretty poor, they did not necessarily seem desperate or unhappy. Here, it is obvious there is very little middle class and very little choice. Crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia, the number of motorcyles decreases dramatically and car traffic normalizes. In Phenom Penh, you can see Hummers, nice SUVs, Mercedes, and plenty of other fancy cars. When you are rich enough to own a car, then you are rich enough to pay someone to park it daily, wash it daily, and look over it while parked. However, you also can't walk down the street here without a young child or a mom carrying her baby and asking for money or trying to sell something. You feel guilty because you can't help everyone, but so many seem to actually need it. The corruption in this country must be staggering. I imagine bribery is the norm.

I met my friend Ryan, way back from St. Theresa days, for dinner one night. He's been here for a year or so, working with an NGO. They teach dance, spoken poetry, and classes on drugs and sex education, both of which are desperately needed. He pulled up in a loud and fast motorcycle (hey, the guy likes motorcycles). I asked him if he ever gets worried about having it stolen since it seems so much nicer than all the other bikes. He said that first of all, people would probably not know how to ride such a nice motorcycle. If they actually did know how to ride it, they would also most likely be scared of stealing it because someone that has the money to buy a nice motorcycle like that would also have the ability to hunt them down after. Thus, no worries.

Just to give an idea, the average wage of a factory worker is 30-60 USD/month. That comes with about 3 days off per month, working 10-12 hours/day (the whole apparel factory thing apparently  began in the 90s after a trade deal with the US caused apparel factories to sprout up, go figure). The average wage of a guy sitting on the street watching parked cars or motorcycles is 50 dollars/month.

I was sick and stayed in to sleep after dinner, but Ryan ended taking Mark and Dennis out to see PP at night. They ended up at a street full of bars in the center of the downtown. Here, all of the bars were full of women, 20 or 30 at each. When you sit down, 5 or 6 girls will sit down at your table. They'll do whatever it takes to make 'the sale'. Mark said one girl sat on his lap immediately and another began massaging his shoulders. The stuff the girls said to them was impressive, so I'll leave that to the imagination. But Dennis said one girl asked him for $100 for the evening. After saying they weren't there for the 'services', she made a desperate plea and offered $30. Consider again the fact that a factory worker makes $30-60/night, it all sounds like a lot of money. After a short drink, on the way out, a few of the girls asked them to take them with them and tried to cry (or actually cried, for all I know). As many of the girls are probably sold into this life and are owned by the bar, who knows how much they actually receive. Most of the bars are patronized by tourists from Europe and North America, with Cambodians and Chinese people thrown in the mix as well. I presume that Cambodia must one of the largest sex tourist destinations in the world.

Another strange thing in Cambodia is the currency. There are no coins. The US dollar is used and dispensed at ATMs. Under $1, the old Cambodian currency is used, sort of like change, but in bill form. So, if the cost of the item is 6,000 riel (which is equivalent to $1.50), you can pay $1 plus 2,000 Riel, or you can pay $2 and get 2,000 Riel in change. Sometimes, if you pay with a larger bill, you can get both USD an Riel back....a pretty strange feeling to get change in two separate currencies. Paying with a 20 and sometimes even a 10 can be tricky as it is never assured that the shop owner will have change.

As Cambodia used to be a French colony, you can still see some of influence, but it is pretty well hidden. For example, plenty of French colonial buildings exist. But since the French left, most of these buildings became occupied by wealthy people or the government, and as a result, were enclosed with large gates and walls.

The people also seem quite lackluster in regards to their status. I am sure the socialist government is strong, full of rich bureaucrats, and not going anywhere soon, but the people don't seem to show much motivation. I know there are many dynamic factors that must contribute to this, but I imagine education (or lack thereof, at least in the rural areas) is one of the problems. I was told that many of the average people are still just content with life as it is because they are not being mass murdered. Afterall, 20-30% of Cambodia's population was killed (often times hacked to death with axes and blunt objects with screams muffled by the sound of loud generators and blaring music) between 1975 and 1979 during the Khmer Rouge genocide. This was evident in our visit to one of the 'killing fields', where more than 30 years later rags and bones are still surfacing from mass graves, as rain washes dirt away from the surface.

On the plus, a few of the dishes I ate were incredible. For example, a curry soup bought from a stall at one of the local markets which was exploding with ingredients and flavors: Onions, green onions, bean sprouts, mint, curry, noodles, chicken, squid tentacles, garlic, and who knows what else. And quality grasshoppers! Most dishes were between $1-2 in markets, with a bit higher prices up to $4 in restaurants considered suitable for the average foreigners.

I found this article to be quite an interesting and informative article about this eccentric place:

Here you can shoot a bazooka!

So many street markets in Phenom Penh

A kid carrying a bag the size of her body

Bought some grasshoppers from a seller while sitting at a restaurant. Juicy ones!

You know its not a very fair system when signs for one party are EVERYWHERE in the entire country.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Desert Turtles

My driver suddenly pulled over to the side of the road on the Jordanian Desert Highway, in the middle of nowhere. With no other cars on the road, he then reversed for about 20 seconds, stopped, and got out. Crossing the road was this little turtle. My driver picked it up,smiled at it, and popped it in the trunk, to bring it home to his kids.

Barefoot Doctor

A Canadian girl we met fell out of her bunk bed and smashed her leg on the way down, resulting in a massive bruise and subsequent swelling. Fast forward a week later when we met her in Phuket, the swelling was just beginning to go down. She told us about a strange doctor she went to in Ko Phi Phi island that poked and prodded her leg in strange ways which had helped a lot.

On the way to our guesthouse a few days later in Ko Phi Phi, we passed by this doctors shop. I didn’t really realize it was the same place at the time, and didn’t plan on going in, so we continued on. However, after talking with Dennis later that day, it seemed like it might be a good shot to try and fix my nagging plantar. At the very least a cheap and alternative method that had a chance.

I walked in and sat down on a wooden stool and told them I have had pain on the bottom of my foot for over a year. The guy, middle aged and in shorts, a t-shirt, sandals, and wearing round glasses, began his inspection by first quickly checked my tongue and thus immediately told me to stop eating mangos, watermelons, and other sugary food, in addition stop drinking coffee (after I told him that I usually drink 1-2 cups these days). He used his iphone to snap a photo of my tongue and show me how white it is.
Then, he picked up my foot, and began smashing a wooden dowel into various points around my foot. Bottom, side, and top. He seemed to direct it toward the veins to cut off the circulation. He also used his fingers, squeezing my toes, and occasionally used his elbow along my leg, and toward the end of the session even stepped on my foot. This lasted for an hour. The whole time he was asking me 'tingles?', so I would say 'Tingles!' when I got a sensation. He aimed specifically at my big toe for awhile, trying to cut off the circulation via points on the toe itself and the prodder, then squeezing the toe, then moving upward to points on the upper part of the foot. Later, he worked my pinky toe for at least 30 minutes. It seemed as if he was trying to work his way back to get the tingling sensation each time, starting from squeezing the toe itself, and moving back in discrete locations all the way up to the knee. This took some time, because for at least 20 minutes the only way he could get the tingling in the pinky toe was to squeeze with his thumb and index finger (sometimes for 30 seconds until it was really red), then when he moved back towards the knee, he couldn't maintain the correct locations to keep up the tingling. I made lots of grunts and ows, as most of the time there was no tingling, but the pain of the dowel itself being jammed into my foot was pretty ridiculous.

My foot felt pretty good immediately after....Though one hour later it was the same again. We'll see if it changes over time. At the end, he also pointed out some small brown moles on my arm, and said that my intestines were clogged and that I need to watch my kidneys. I should drink more water in small servings (no chugging). Eat less fried things, and less noodles (no pad thai every day, he advised). And they recommend no meat at night, fish is ok. Meat for lunch is better. To clean out my intestines, they gave me 5 pills....herbal laxatives! They told me I should be pooping a lot tomorrow, woo hoo!

Now, all this was conducted with the guys English being limited to words like 'tingling' 'pain' 'feel it?' 'mango' and 'kidney'. His wife was a bit better able to communicate, though I still had to make the motion of pooping to get across that the pills were supposed to make me shit a lot. They showed me a book with pictures of the intestines and said 'full' and 'not clean'. The funny part is that the other half of the shop is a hair salon, which his wife runs. So while I was sitting there on the wooden stool going “OW!” and saying “Tingling!!”, at one point there was a guy in a barber chair directly in front of me getting his hair trimmed.