The last week of May 2009, I decided to entail on an epic Middle Eastern road trip, cycling and hitchhiking around the region. I traveled throughout Israel for 3 weeks; went hiking inside the Nabatean city of Petra, where I even climbed the Monastery to the very top with a Bedouin; and finished off in Egypt. This was all part of the grand finale of my epic year studying abroad in the Middle East.
By the way, in Egypt, this is how it went down: I spent few days of diving and relaxation in Dahab (Sinai, Red Sea), spent 3 days/2 nights sleeping on a felucca and sailing the Nile river. Plus, I spent a week of Pharaonic temple hunting in Aswan, Abu Simbel, Kom Ombo, Edfu & Luxor (Upper Egypt). Epic alright!?
These photos are only a small part of said journey, as my digital camera died and I only relied on disposable Kodaks for much of this Middle Eastern road trip. Hope you are inspired to travel the Middle East after seeing these snapshots!
Middle Eastern road trip, part one: Cairo to Jerusalem
Most photos shown on this section are from Flickr commons, as the developed rolls of my disposable cameras are in the safekeeping of my mother back in Puerto Rico. Still, I wanted to show you some of the landmarks I visited on this epic Middle Eastern road trip! Oh and btw, I still included the few scanned printed photos I do have in hand.
Cairo to Eilat: Border crossing
What’s crazy about this Middle Eastern road trip I took is how impromptu it was. One Wednesday morning, a few days after I had taken my last final and concluded my study abroad program in Egypt, I said to myself “I kinda want to go to Israel for a week.” Low and behold, by 3 Pm I already had a bus ticket and had a carry-on packed. By approx. 7 PM I was already on a bus from Cairo to Taba! Little did I know that my one-week “vacation” would morph into a full-blown, several-weeks-long solo female Middle Eastern road trip. YAY spirit!
The bus got to Taba, on the Egyptian side of the Israeli border, by dawn — the other side being Eilat. Funny, last time I was there, my group and I were held at gunpoint for 7 hours (with a nice ocean-view balcony, nonetheless) while our Norwegian friend got questioned about his family history thanks to stamps to pretty much every Arab country (lol). This time? Nahhh – was simply asked “why are you visiting Israel?” and I said “seeing a friend, his name is Gilad” (one of my Couchsurfing hosts). Oky, clear! I was in and out of the border in about 5 minutes. As a solo woman traveler. WOW! It does help I do look like an Israeli…or an Arab. I guess it depends which side you want to take that particular day. Haha
Once in Eilat, I had to take a taxi from the border to the bus station. No buses were scheduled for a few hours, so I walked around the city (yes, by myself!). Pretty, clean. Didn’t venture to the beach as I wanted to get to Jerusalem ASAP, but it looked nice from a distance. After eating a rather-delicious wrap and do some window shopping around the bus station, I hopped on the Jerusalem bus. It wouldn’t be until Northern Israel that I would start my solo hitchhiking adventures.
Eilat to Jerusalem
Upon arrival to the bus station (located in New Jerusalem), I knew what I had to do: Grab a cab to Jaffa Gate at Old City. Once there, I trusted my photographic memory to try to find the sign and stairs for the lovely place I stayed at on my very first trip to Israel and Palestine during Eid el Adha.
Instead of choosing a private room or dorm bed, this time around, I opted for a mattress on the rooftop of Citadel Hostel. Management offers the sleeping bags as covers; nature offers the cool, soothing breeze all night. I absolutely adored being woken up by the sun rays, not an annoying alarm clock, to views of the Old City of Jerusalem every morning. What a treat! Needless to say, I slept like a baby, and met some interesting travelers from all walks of life.
After having breakfast from some stand or hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Arab Quarter, I would start sightseeing. There are so many things to do in Jerusalem that, even after 2 visits, I feel there are many attractions yet to discover.
My second time around, I visited most places I hit on my first visit. Namely: Excavations of ancient Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa, Hurva (Ruined) synagogue, David’s Citadel, all 4 Old City quarters (Jewish, Muslim, Christian & Armenian), Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Damascus Gate, etc. This time though, I took a 3-hour SANDEMANs Free Tour, which was absolutely fantastic. Our guide was very knowledgeable and really helped me see the city with a new set of eyes. Needless to say, I tipped him well The true highlight of my second trip to Jerusalem, though? Waking up early to see the city slowly wake up — PRICELESS!
Another highlight of my second trip to Jerusalem, and my entire Middle Eastern road trip, was the paid tour I took with a United Nations guide. As of, I was escorted and treated like a freakin’ diplomat. Better yet? The guide gave me a special student price. Halla! Among the things I saw? Well…
Umm, yeah. In fact, I entered both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. WHAT!? Yah…and no, I’m not Muslim. I dressed Muslim…as was allowed in with my UN guide, passing as a visiting diplomat. UNreal! No photo or video proof from me…didn’t take out a camera out of respect, you knoW? I even gOt to enter the cave where Prophet Muhammad (puh) spent time praying and got to see the quarters inside Al Aqsa Mosque. Just…wow. The energy, the serenity…one of those places you know you are lucky to experience. I can’t even keep typing — can’t be described in words. Thankfully, I found a video on Youtube that takes us inside the Dome of the Rock
This should be enough tales for Part One of my epic solo female Middle Eastern road trip! Next week I’ll continue describing every detail of this journey, with Part Two: Jerusalem to Haifa. Many more Middle East photos and travel tales to come, so stay tuned!
*Part two posted! Solo Middle East travel: Northern Israel*