Liberating the Levant …
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
This part of the world has been fought over for thousands of years, with borders constantly changing, & even just from my first visit in 1976 the map again very different on my recent trip - hosting a small group to Jordan, Israel & Egypt!
Following in the footsteps of many before us, we “liberated” the region – of jewelry, hand-painted ceramics, traditional Keffiyehs (scarves), frankincense, papyrus art, spices, Egyptian Cotton & the odd fridge magnet! They in turn liberated us of every shekel we had – an easier task at the beginning than at the end after 3 weeks of honing our haggling skills across 3 very different countries. All three countries were unique experiences in their own right, each with its own highlights:
Obviously Petra, including meeting the son of Marguerite van Geldermalsen, a New Zealand-born nurse who married a Bedouin souvenir-seller & lived in a cave. Camping overnight at Wadi Rum with a spectacular Jeep ride in the desert, Kerak Castle & the fish lunch overlooking occupied Palestine before crossing overland into Israel.
I returned to Masada for the 5th time & it’s still my favourite ancient site, but a very different experience this time as we desperately tried to keep up with the Rugby World Cup score on my phone which had minimal reception (and in hindsight perhaps would have been better if we hadn’t!). And despite us being drowned by torrential rain, the Sound & Light Show at David’s Citadel was spectacular & I can’t recommend highly enough. Also not to be missed is the cooking workshop tour with a local chef & tour of Mahane Yehuda Market (The Shuk), the “happy hours” at the Market House Hotel in Old Jaffa, visiting the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount as it opens (before the worst of the crowds) & buying the best dates in the world from Palestinian Hebron.
Last, but not least, Egypt...
...where you are overwhelmed with the sheer scale of the ancient history & culture (and crowds) – but every day had its own highlight & sure everyone on the group would have different views on which was theirs. But for me they were Abu Simbel (definitely fly rather than go overland), Philae at sunset, overnight at the Old Winter Palace hotel in Luxor. Our guide Youssef made it all so easy; from avoiding crowds where possible, finding the best toilet (and tipping them for us), then introducing the group to his lovely sister Mary who was a refreshing contrast to our experience in the desert where the women were hidden away.
Here are a few tips for anyone following in my footsteps:
Jordan is expensive & I thought wine undrinkable (others not so fussy!) so bring your own from NZ and check price of coffee at hotel (my double espresso in Amman has now overtaken Oslo as most expensive costing me NZ$22!)
Israel, where I used to dread going through security, now has the most sophisticated system I have seen. So sophisticated in fact that you no longer need to remove laptops & toiletries from bags, or remove shoes and belts! And even better, on arrival no stamping of passports (you get loose without asking) which is great for anyone like me planning to visit Iran next year. Wine is very drinkable as well as prices for eating & drinking, and most shopping would be comparable to NZ.
Egypt, the tourists have returned so try & travel off peak if possible (we can advise best times) & most importantly however “independent” you are – it’s definitely worth having your own local guide. And even more challenging than riding a camel (or frightening than a balloon ride) are the “begging” children in Luxor outside the excellent Museum there - they can get hostile and it may be intimidating.
Join me next year as I host a trip on Persia and the Silk Road ending in Iran with World Journeys ( https://worldjourneys.co.nz/destinations/hosted-travel/persia-and-the-silk-road/25001081/ ). Only a few spaces left, so be sure to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested.