12.14.2010 - 01.27.2011
Hello all! Hope everyone had a wonderful and safe holiday season. For the past couple of months I have been travelling around Turkey and the Middle East. I absolutely love the region: its so full of culture, history, amazing people, and yummy foods. I used Istanbul as my base point and returned several times in between trips around the region. On December 16th, 2010, a friend of mine, Vicky, who is currently living and teaching in France came to meet me in Istanbul. We spent a few days sightseeing and then decided to take an impromptu trip to Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. We booked our ticket on December 19th, 2010 and left and hour later for the airport. Our flight took us from Istanbul to Gazientep, which is in the south of Turkey. We had no visas for Syria and did not know if we would be allowed to cross the border. All the other travellers that I had talked to had been turned back at the border, so we were taking our chances. Once we arrived in Gazientep, not knowing our next step, we followed everyone else and caught the airport shuttle into town. On the shuttle we started talking to a lady who helped us with where to get off and put us in contact with another guy who was also going to Syria. We ended up sharing a taxi with him from Gazientep to the border and hopefully, if all worked out at the border, to Aleppo, Syria. The ride to the border was nerve-wracking and stressful as we were starting to prepare for our next move after we had been denied entry as the taxi driver was sceptical that we would be allowed to cross. At the border, it was not looking good: we were called in twice to talk with the chief border patrol officer. He interrogated us both and could not comprehend the notion that we were just travelling to travel, not work or study. At the end of the second interview he said that it was going to be too difficult to allow us into Syria and we were not going to get a visa. I asked him to reconsider and told him that we were only going to stay in the country for a few days to sightsee and experience the country. He paused, made a phone call and then informed us that we had a visa and to go to the bank to pay the $50 USD fee. So our journey continued!
We then took the taxi from the border to Aleppo, where we then caught a bus to Damascus. We had no idea where we were going to go or sleep once we arrived in Damascus because we seriously did not think we would make it this far. About ten minutes before we arrived in Damascus, we asked a guy around our age sitting next to us if he knew of any hostels or hotels near the city center. He ended up coming with us to the city center and helped find a hotel (which was the equivalent of about $30 USD/night). He gave us his number and told us to call him if we needed anything while in town or wanted to be shown around. We called him the next day for advice about where to go and what to see. As he was a student and had some spare time, he toured us around for the three days we were in town and made our experience in Syria so much more memorable as we got to see and do things from a more local perspective.
From Damascus, we took another share taxi to Amman, Jordan. Crossing the border was no problem and fairly straight forward. Once in Amman, we had planned a bit better than we had for Syria so we had the address of a hostel in the city center. After we got some food (the most amazing falafels, hummus, and pita I have ever tasted for the equivalent of $1.30 USD for two people) we asked the manager of the hostel for his recommendations on an itinerary for the places we wanted to go in the time we had (about 4 days). After talking with him, we decided to leave for Petra the next morning at 7 am. We arrived in Petra at 10am and explored the site for the day. Although the entrance fee into the park is the equivalent of 50 euro, it was well worth it. We ended up hiking around in the mountains, where there were very few tourists, to access vantage points of the entire city and sites from above. After our day of sightseeing we made our way into the desert of Wadi Rum. We stayed the night at a camp. It was incredible scenery and so relaxing getting away from the city for a night to see the stars and sit around the fire in the desert. The next morning we did a 4 hour trek through the desert with a 4X4 before leaving for the Dead Sea on our way back to Amman. We made it to the public beach, Amman Beach, at the Dead Sea about an hour before sunset. It was a surreal experience FLOATING in the water and being so buoyant. I decided it would be a good idea to do a Dead Sea mineral mud bath for $5 USD. So, after letting the mud dry on my face and body I got into the water to wash it off. In the process of washing it off, I got it in my eyes and mouth…. NOT FUN!, but memorable. I could not open my eyes and had to be led out of the water and have my eyes cleaned.
The next day, Christmas, we made our way back to Damascus, Syria by a shared taxi. It was not a problem crossing the border because we had previously been there but we had to pay another $50 USD to enter despite our attempted efforts as budget travellers to have the fee waived. From Damascus we caught another shared taxi to Beirut, Lebanon. In Beirut, we dropped our bags off at a hotel for the day and did some sightseeing and had Christmas dinner. Our flight back to Istanbul was at 7am but we decide to stay the night at the airport because accommodation, like everything else in the city, was SO expensive. So my Christmas 2010 began in Jordan and ended in Beirut, via Syria.
After, spending a few more days back in Istanbul and deciding what to do and where to go next, we left on a ten hour overnight bus to Cappadocia in central Turkey. The landscape there is simply beautiful and other worldly. The rocks of Cappadocia near Göreme are eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and minaret-like forms called fairy chimneys. The people of the villages at the heart of the Cappadocia Region carved out these rocks to form houses, churches, and monasteries. We went to the world’s largest open air museum, which was very impressive and contains the region's best collection of painted cave-churches. Medieval orthodox Christian monks (1000-1200 AD) carved the caves from the soft volcanic stone and decorated them with elaborate Byzantine frescoes. The town itself, Göreme, is very quaint, charming, and full of reasonably priced hostels and hotels. One of the highlights was Derinkuyu Underground City (built between 3-5 centuries BC), which is an ancient multi-level underground city. It has eleven floors extending to a depth of approximately 85 meters, it was large enough to accommodate between 35,000 and 50,000 people together with their livestock and food stores for months at a time.
After our tour of Cappadocia, we boarded another overnight bus back to Istanbul in time for New Year’s. My best friend from high school, Neda, met us there on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s day Vicky had to return to France. Neda and I spent a few days in Istanbul and then left on a short flight to Antalya, which is on the Mediterranean coast in Southern Turkey. It is absolutely beautiful there. We spent our days just wandering around and enjoying the scenery and people watching around the marina. The weather was great and we were even able to go to the beach. We stayed in the old city, which is very quaint and quiet. It was a very relaxing and laidback vacation in the perfect location. After five days, we once again returned to Istanbul for one last time. All the pictures up to Cappadocia and a map of where I have gone so far are up on my blog.
I booked my flight for Kenya for the day Neda left to return to the US, January 14th, 2011. I am currently staying about 40 km outside of Nairobi, near a town called Ruai. I am staying with friends that I met when I was last here three and a half years ago. The lady runs a children’s home for orphans called Hope for Orphans Rescue and Education Centre (HOREC), where I previously volunteered. It’s great to be back and see the tremendous progress of the project. I am currently trying to do some fundraising for a project we would like to start to improve HOREC’s self-sustainability.