Sunday, October 25, 2009

Farewell to the Middle East

It's finally happened, the new mainsail looks great and is ready for a serious test. The new bimini, with front back and sides, is complete and tested and we're looking forward to having an extra living room in the winter. We have completed our travels in Jordan to the stone carved ancient city of Petra and slept in a Bedouin camp on a sand dune in Wadi Rum, and completed our diving courses in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt in the Red Sea. It's been a big year with a lot of travels and experiences, costs and memories. Promise to write about it all during the winter when we are marina bound in Finike again, in between social activities with many old and hopefully new friends too. Looking forward to the lovely smiley Turkish people. 
We've practiced untying from the marina 3 times now - to get fuel from the fuel berth, to scrub the bottom of the boat outside the marina, and to test the new sail. We're confident we can do it again tomorrow morning. We should be in Cyprus by Tuesday evening, watching the weather for the next leg to Finike. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year
No we haven't gone mad, it is Rosh Hashanah here in Israel, Jewish New Year. 
It was a family event and everything closed for 2 1/2 days including all public transport. So we just had to chill out and sit on the beach. After 2 months in the UK, my legs are like uncooked pork sausages, while Stu's are like frankfurters. This imbalance needs to be redressed.
It's not quite perfect here, still a little bit too hot to sit in the sun during the day (30 degrees) and if anything the sand on the beach is just a little bit too fine, and gets everywhere. I can tell you're full of sympathy!  
We have been busy constructing the new bimini (sunshade) with sides to enclose the cockpit during the rainy season. It will be like having a new conservatory on a house, and we can dine sort-of-al-fresco all year round. 
On Thursday we will be travelling to the Sinai peninsula of Egypt to go diving at Sharks Bay. Eeek! Apparently the sharks have mostly been scared away by divers. Lets hope so, I just want to look at small pretty fishies, not hungry ones. 
After that, we hope to travel up to Jordan, to visit Petra and Wadi Rum, returning to the boat via Jerusalem. That's the current plan anyway - as  you all know we could be onto plan B or C by tomorrow. 
We have an interesting neighbour in the marina at the moment - a 33m catamaran called Gitana 13 ( the toy of Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. It was called Orange and dismasted by Ellen MacArthur in the Indian Ocean in a previous life. It really is an awesome sailing machine. The French crew of 9 young men are not bad either. 

More news, it actually rained here 2 days ago. This is big news. The first rain we've seen since April in Turkey. Apparently in only rains about 8 times in the winter.This is why the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are disappearing rapidly, as the Israeli irrigation projects that provide them with successful agricultural land literally suck the seas dry. It would be satisfying to see some sort of restrictions on shower, toilet and water supplies to discourage profligate water usage, but it seems that they are just doing the ostrich trick. 

Next weekend is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of Atonement. On this occasion all sins are forgiven and one spends the day reflecting on also forgiving the sins of others. They can't use a car, or turn on lights, or use any other form of power. Another weekend of no public transport but no matter as we will be in Egypt enjoying clear blue seas and lots of irritating requests for baksheesh. Every time you try to take a photo, a local suddenly appears in the frame and then demands baksheesh for allowing you to take their photo. I wonder if they will manage to do that underwater too......


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Egypt - Suez canal to the Nile Valley

We are back now in Israel. We are taking it easy for a few days before
heading off to Jordan for a look around, and to spend some more time in
Jerusalem and to visit the West Bank.

Herzliya is cheap to stay in at about £8 per day for the boat and just a
few km south of Tel Aviv. Turkey marinas will be about 5 times that
price at this time of the year. Anchoring is obviously cheaper but not
an option here or in Cyprus.

Egypt was full of surprises. The sites and monuments were unforgettable,
the Port Said "Marina" (?) at the entrance to the Suez canal was a
memorable experience – more like Port Sad. So were the armed guards on
and in front and behind the bus wherever we went. Armed guards watched
the boats while we all went off by coach to Cairo and the Nile. This was
the most 'unsafe' place of the rally – a few months ago a tourist coach
was bombed in the souq in Cairo, probably by al-queda, so the tourist
police are understandably twitched. You may remember that there was a
massacre of tourists at Deir el Bahri in 1997, which kind of discouraged
tourists for some time. Since then tourist buses are well protected by
armed guards. It felt much safer to be out in very small groups in local
taxis without all the attention that the large buses and guards bring.

Our bus and train trip to Cairo, then to Aswan and back was a great
opportunity to see real life taking place around us, from the ships
passing a few hundred metres away in the canal to the life in the fields
and the cities, it was an experience that we'll never forget. It really
beats flying straight to your tourist hotel.

The ancient temples were staggering and so were the Pyramids and the
Sphinx. The 3 day Nile cruise was a great experience, sitting upstairs
by, or in, the swimming pool passing ancient tombs and temples and
agriculture where the practices have hardly changed since early
civilization. At times we passed desert, other times, lush plantations
of crops or date palms. The most common transport from field to village
is still the donkey or occasionally camel. The lush dark green marshy
fields backed by unyielding yellow brown dust and sand with absolutely
no vegetation, are still ploughed by manpower and water buffalo. The
crops are gathered by hand and sickle. They cross the Nile for market by
sailing dhow with the traditional latine sails (feluccas). The
temperature was a surprise, 6.30pm saw the temperature in the streets of
the town fall (!) to 46 degrees C, and we reckon the early afternoon was
48 to 50 degrees. Stu tried the traditional galabieh for a day
sightseeing and was presently surprised how comfortable it was, creating
your own shade all the way to your feet and the head dressing was
surprisingly cool once the locals had tied it correctly and the
appropriate baksheesh had been paid.

On the less positive side, the mooring area, despite great efforts to do
us as proud as possible, was filthy and cockroach infested. No doubt
rats all over the place although we did not see any. The navy normally
keep their boats there, but move them out of the way to accommodate the
rally boats.
The diesel arrived in an assortment of old filthy plastic cans, some
with no lids and others leaking from holes in the bottom. The fuel was
not the cleanest but once filtered for dirt and water seems to have
worked OK. ( it is cheap at 56p per litre)

The tour operator who organized the trip to the Nile was simply a
thieving bully who took the opportunity to line his pockets and didn't
give a cuss for the wishes of his clients. Magi tours – boo hiss!. He
brought his entire family with him and secured the best suite even
though paying guests were over the engine room in less glamorous
conditions. He had a shouting match with several customers and our
organisers. One woman resorted to standing on a table and shouting at
him that his bullying techniques were not going to intimidate her. On
the last morning during a totally disorganized transit in Cairo train
station, from overnight sleeper train to buses for the 3 hour trip to
Port Said or a day tour of Cairo, his total disinterest in the chaos
resulted in our rally leader calling him a FAT APE with which he
replied, 'That's it!' and simply left us all to it, and the tour guides
had to step in and take over. The guide on our bus was exceptional – she
was really organised and so informative and helpful. I don't know how
she can work for him. I have her email address if anyone is visiting
Egypt – we highly recommend her.
I think everybody on the rally has had stomach bugs or food poisoning.
We both got hit hard early on and have been fairly unaffected for the
most part since although Steph is a bit off colour at the moment. It was
all too much for the oldest rally member, 80year old Laurie, a charming
3rd time EMYRite, whose remaining kidney packed up as we arrived back in
Israel and has recovered well in hospital here in Tel Aviv, and now
flown home to cooler climes. Thank goodness he didn't fall ill and end
up in an Egyptian hell hole.
Many of the remaining boats left for the return to Turkey today and it's
a lot quieter now. We will stay here about a month and travel to Jordan
and the Red Sea from here. Then head up to Cyprus and then back to
Turkey for swimming and anchoring.
Despite the many hours of motoring the boat has stood up well. The
engine has a slightly worse oil leak but nothing to worry about. We
caught quite a lot of tuna. Stu's catches ranged from 72 cm to 2 at 93cm
in length and 54cm round. We are all getting a bit sick of tuna and will
enjoy a break from it – we can't even give it away.
So what have been the highlights and surprises of the trip so far.
Religion. The impact of religion in this area is obvious but to our
surprise it's been a lot less invasive than expected. In Syria and
Lebanon alcohol was almost always available at restaurants. Praying has
been less intensive and fanatical than in Turkey, and churches much more
common. The mosques are never crowded and casual attendance seems to be
generally the rule. In Jerusalem the wailing wall was quite busy – the
women having to crowd into the smaller part as they are not allowed to
mix with the men. The Orthodox Jews (fanatical) are not really held in
high regard as they don't work, in order to be devoted to god. This
seems by some to be a good excuse for avoiding Army duty and anything
like hard work. They receive the dole to support their many children,
which they are bound to have by their interpretation of the bible.
Sights. The sites of historical interest are starting to merge into one
but the photos will help put things back into place. The most striking
thing has been the size of the structures preserved by burial in the
desert sand. The Temples of the Ancient Egyptians and the Greco-Roman
periods are simply astonishing in their size and grandeur. Not to
mention the unimaginable resources that were used to construct things
that even now would put a good few architects into convulsions, like the
prospect of moving 22ton stones hundreds of miles to be stood vertically
on pedestals using the principle of air expulsion ( vacuum between 2
flat surfaces) no cement, to hold the obelisks in place. Bear in mind
some of these were erected before pulleys or wheels were even invented!
And they've survived thousands of years of earthquakes and still display
their messages despite the years of intense UV and heat.

The incredible amount of gold and wealth that the Tutankhamen tomb
revealed was astounding. It nearly fills the entire Cairo museum. This
king died a teenager after only short reign 1361-1352, and had only a
small tomb hurriedly completed after his unexpected death. Other kings
reigned for 40 years, and accomplished great things , so their tombs
were much bigger to reflect this. All the tombs were robbed in antiquity
for the gold they were knew to contain, so one can only begin to imagine
the wealth that they must have tried to take with them the underworld.
Tutankhamen tomb was only discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, so it's
1700 objects are well known and preserved for our minds to boggle over.
There are gold beds, chariots, life sized statues, thrones, his famous
funerary mask and his mummy was absolutely dripping with jewellery that
fills 2 large rooms in the museum.

The valley of the kings is still under exploration, and as recently as
1995 a mass tomb complex was discovered using clues from a papyrus codex
in Turin. Who knows what other riches they might find.

The nearby Valley of the Nobles (we didn't have time to visit) has the
remains of the lesser mortals. We saw the contents of these tombs,
depicting daily domestic life in models, in the Cairo museum. The little
lifelike figures working in kitchens, bakeries, fishing and farming
looked like they had just been made, but give so much information about
their way of life. You had to keep pinching yourself and reminding
yourself that everything in that museum is real, ancient and original
with the exception of a copy of the Rosetta stone (original in London)
that was the key to deciphering the hieroglyphics covering every wall of
every palace, temple and tomb.

The pyramids were awesome, and of course we had to go inside and climb
the narrow and claustrophobic passageway to the central burial chamber.
Inside you have to stoop as you climb the steep ramp, it is hot and
airless and probably the best place to catch swine flu in the world due
to all the international travellers breathing in there.

Next to the great pyramid they discovered a pit containing a 43m solar
boat that had been in use on the Nile, then broken down into pieces and
buried near the Pharaoh in the belief that he might use it in the
afterlife. It has been reconstructed and is unbelievably huge.

Outside there were camel rides on offer, so it had to be done. They are
smelly and foul, but it was a great experience in this setting with the
great pyramids as a backdrop.

The size and power and length of the pharaonic dynasties and their
riches are staggering, It is such a shame to see what so much of Egypt
has been reduced to now. The poverty, dirt, corruption and shameless
begging amongst the plush or not so plush hotels and tourist sites. The
cost of living is very low here, with good products available in the
supermarkets, for a fraction of the price in neighbouring countries. The
money made by the tour operators is so out of proportion to the income
of the local people, it is quite shocking, but I guess who can blame
them when 18 million tourists per year are willing to pay it.

Arriving in Israel again is such a culture shock, as you are suddenly
transported to a wealthy thriving western style country with clean
streets, buses, people and prices to match. Herzliya is an expensive
beach resort town, with good transport connections, so it will suit us
for a few weeks to come, as we catch up on boat jobs and laundry ready
for our next adventures on land.

The rally is all over, and no doubt you ask if we would do it again.
We've had a fantastic time and met so many new people good and bad, and
had unforgettable experiences, thanks to the limitless energy of Hasan,
Dave and Kath who organise it evey year, lets just say that for us the
rally was a once in a lifetime experience!

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Israel - Haifa, Ashkelon, Herzilya, Jerusalem

Haifa, Northern Israel
14-18 June 2009

After another long night at sea motoring south in a huge flotilla, we all had to announce our arrival in Israeli waters (25 miles out) to the Israeli navy on channel 16. At first they don't answer, but you can be sure you are being tracked as you approach. You have to make a call every 5 miles, and closer to the shore they call you up to check you out and verify the number of people on board. We're led to believe that some sort of heat or infra-red cameras allow them to 'see' how many people are on board, and  this has to match the details given of all the rally yachts in advance (boats with dogs or small children on a shared passport seemed to trigger an enquiry). As we approached Haifa in the morning light we saw a couple of gunboats and a submarine. The Israeli navy boat came close to us and we had to put our passports into a proffered fishing net for them to peruse, then we were allowed into the port. As soon as we were parked the security officials came on board to check us out for weapons and stowaways. They were very polite and courteous and formalities were wrapped up very quickly. It is no problem to request that your passport is not stamped on entry and exit. The Israelis are used to being asked this, and it is essential if you plan to visit Syria or  Lebanon with the same passport.
We were hosted by the Carmel Yacht Club in the municipal fishing harbour. The warm welcome and friendship of the yacht club members somewhat made up for the dark brown polluted harbour and stink from the nearby industrial plants which shed black grit and dust over our decks. I'd wake up in the night unable to inhale for the vile fumes ( and it wasn't Stuart this time!) 
It's a real shame that Carmel YC has not been relocated to a new marina, as they are really friendly and hard-working, organising all trips for us, and inviting rally sailors into their homes for dinner, or drinks and lots of chat. We spent an evening with David at his apartment, who in his spare time between 2 jobs and 3 kids and building a 43' yacht runs a sailing school for children. Next evening we went for drinks at another David's house, a single parent and also helping to run the sailing school in his spare time. Both went out of their way to drive us around, give us information, tell us about their very different backgrounds and show us great hospitality. What lovely people. 

Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights
From Haifa the Carmel Yacht Club members organised a very pleasant tour for us to the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. Israel is not a big country, so you can cover several places of interest in a day trip.

First we stopped to admire the rapidly increasing shores of the Sea of Galilee.  It is a very beautiful spot, and the probable base of Jesus' earliest preaching, the Sermon on the Mount, and the 'Feeding of the Five Thousand'. The tour took us to the modern church situated on the shore, where the nuns shouted at people for showing their shoulders – uncovered knees and hair not a problem here, but shoulders – the work of the devil!

We then went to the top of the Golan Heights to appreciate the view over the Sea. From the map you can see the strategic importance of the Heights, for water access and border control, acquired by Israel from Syria during the 6 day war in 1967. It is a beautiful pastoral plateau, and very popular with walkers. Our Israeli friend said that he liked to go walking in the Heights, as he knows that one day Israel will have to give them back! Although not everyone thinks this way - In May 2009, Netanyahu, a few months after becoming Prime Minister for a second term, said that Israel would never leave the Golan, and "Giving of the Golan Heights will turn the Golan into Iran's front lines which will threaten the whole state of Israel'. So that's pretty clear then. 

The work of the pioneering Israelis who turned desert into oasis was formidable, and they continue to grow delicious fruit and vegetables to feed their industrious population, but it all comes at a cost as you can read here:
and here:

The long term sustainability of this desert agriculture is dubious. At no time in Israel did we see any measures to limit or restrict the free flow of water in showers or toilets, or washing of boats - unlike the Balearic Islands where the horrid tasting desalinated water is treated as a precious and restricted commodity. Still when the Sea of Galilee is completely empty perhaps they will start to take wasting water seriously! As it only rains 8 times a year in Israel and then only a splatter, the solution is unlikely to come from above despite their connections.

For our lunch stop we were taken to a Druze village. This offshoot  of early Islam now has little relationship to modern Islam. The Druze are scattered throughout the mountainous regions of Syria, Lebanon and Israel. They have traditionally been very secretive about their lives and little was known about their beliefs. They are now coming out of the woodwork and hosting small groups in their homes so that others can understand what they are about. It's not so that you can be converted, as Druze is a closed shop. You have to be born into it, and if you marry outside the religion you are no longer part of the clan. They know that this means that their numbers are slowly dwindling. They believe in reincarnation for all of us, as one Druze dies the soul is born into another newborn Druze baby. 
Anyway we had a tasty mezze lunch, washed down with water of course – no beer or meat in these households. 

Our next stop was Caeserea, a port built by Herod the Great in the years just before JC, by sinking wooden frames filled with cement that sets underwater, clever eh? The process was virtually copied to build the harbour for the D day landings in Normandy. For years it was the greatest port in the eastern Mediterranean. This was our first introduction to the modern multi-media experience in these renovated sites, that almost eclipses the opportunity to see what's left of the real ruins. In this case it was artfully done so that those of us with no historical imagination could have a clear idea of what (someone thinks) it looked like in its heyday. It made a change from rocks in the desert, but you could just watch it on telly. 

Akko Crusader Underground City

The tour next day included the Crusader fortress of Acre (Akko in Hebrew) followed by Nazareth. Unfortunately the tour guide seemed intent on sitting us in front of musicians and multimedia screens while various bits of history were reinvented in front of us, rather than let us wander the fascinating cavernous halls and storerooms and secret tunnels that allowed Knights Templar and Hospitallers to defend this outpost of Christianity from Mamelukes for 100 years. It was the chief port of landing for pilgrims and  the most powerfully defended town in the lands. It was levelled by  the Mamelukes in 1291 and rebuilt as an Ottoman city over the top. The vast Underground City is still being excavated and as you will see in the photos, once cleared it has to have concrete props put in place, which will then be poorly disguised as real Crusader columns before long. Lighting and plumbing is being installed behind the walls to create the ultimate tourism experience complete with mood lighting  no doubt. Go soon before you can no longer see what is real and fake!

Despite being thought of as the childhood home of Jesus of Nazareth, the town today is predominantly inhabited by Arab citizens of Israel, both Christian and Muslim(68%).  For Christians it is the site of the Annunciation (when Mary was told that she would have Jesus as her son) that is the big attraction. 
I found the large modern church really uninspiring. Churches from around the world had been encouraged to provide art of their own 'madonnas' and it was interesting to see how she is interpreted in cultures around the world. She was white if you were European and  Oriental if you were from that part of the world and definitely very black in others. 

This was where our guide was shouted at by the nasty nuns -'You are a very bad man!' for telling one of our group that he thought his knee length shorts would be suitable attire to enter the church (bare shoulders seemed to be no problem here though).
The muslims had tried to build a mosque adjacent to the church, but it was demolished. Instead they have erected a large sign (see photo)to remind Christians of the error of their ways and and a very loud megaphone to announce the call to prayer in the open space where the mosque used to be. 
Our last day in Haifa was spent on an independent tour of the Bahai gardens. The Bahai is a relatively new faith, totally the opposite of the Druze, that welcomes all comers from any religion and background. There are many Bahai headquarters around the world but this is the biggest and best. The exquisite gardens are tended by volunteers from within the organisation, who also were on hand to lead us through the grounds. It was hard to get a sense of what Bahai believe or stand for, other than that they are a sort of pan-faith NGO representing peoples interests within the UN. The founder sounds like a nice guy who believed that all faiths should come together and stop fighting each other. He was, of course, imprisoned and killed for saying something as radical as that.  
Ashkelon , Israel
18 – 23 June

Our next stop was Ashkelon 90 miles south. It is a very modern marina with all services available surrounded by beachside apartments. It all looks very normal and at first you wonder why the marina is so empty. Something to do with being 8km from, and within shelling distance of, Gaza perhaps? They insisted it was very safe as it's so close to the border the shells go clean over the top! In the last fracas part of the marina wall was damaged by shelling, but there are no problems here at the moment, everyone is poised, waiting for Obama to bring world peace. 
We haven't met anyone in Syria, Lebanon, Northern Cyprus or Israel who wants to fight with anyone else. It's all down to the men in power. Israeli history is so complicated and convoluted and everyone has an opinion that they want to tell you about. It's good to be here and to see and hear the politics from local people, not via the BBC.
Ashkelon would be a good place to enter Israel as it is very welcoming and there are spaces available. It is a bit out of town to serve as a base for exploring the country, though with a hire car this would not be a problem at all. 
Our trips from here were to Masada, The Dead Sea, and Jerusalem

What should you do on a hot summer's day at midday in mid June in Israel? Lie on a beach? Shop in an air-conditioned mall? No - we went to the middle of the desert and climbed up to the top of an ancient desert fortress on a rocky sun-baked plateau of course. This is an isolated, naturally elevated spot overlooking the Dead Sea on the edge of the Judean desert. It was fortified by Herod the Great (father of the executioner of Jesus) as a refuge in case of a revolt. When a particularly antagonistic Jewish sect were evicted from Jerusalem, they fled to Masada, taking over the fortifications, and used it as a base to harass the Roman armies. 
The Romans laid siege to the fortress and finally overcame it by building an enormous ramp from where they could wield a battering ram. When they got inside the inhabitants had set fire to the place and committed mass suicide to avoid being taken captive or as slaves. 
We climbed the Roman ramp to gain access using any means possible to make our own shade (sarongs, hats, umbrellas). Actually the air was dry and so didn't feel too unpleasant at all. There were even some mad folk cross country running !! There were great views of the Dead Sea from the top. There is a fascinating water collection system built into the side of the cliffs, which we passed as we walked down the snake path. The rest of our tour group took the   cable car down, but we took the hot walk to avoid being exploited for an hour in the inevitably overpriced tourist shop at the bottom where the guide gets the commission for his coach-load of shekel-wielding captives' spur-of-the-moment purchases. Yuk, I hate this sort of tourism!

Until recently Masada served as a place for swearing in soldiers who have completed their Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) basic training.  The soldiers climb the Snake Path at night and are sworn in with torches lighting the background. The ceremony ends with the declaration: "Masada shall not fall again.” A good bit of brainwashing of young minds, I feel. Since conscription is universal for boys and girls at 18 for 3 years (girls 2 years) and there is no option for conscientious objection without going to jail, I find this scenario quite hair-raising, and unlikely to lead to a society with a balanced view of the world and their place in it.  
Young minds - young guns!

After our exertions the coach disgorged us at a beach on the Dead Sea, where we could bathe for an hour and have the weird experience of not being able to sink. The Dead Sea is 8 times saltier than the ocean, so nothing lives in it, hence the name. It lies 422metres (1,385ft) below sea level, the lowest place on the planet's surface. It has been a health resort since the days of Herod the Great, and has a reputation for significant improvement of psoriasis and cystic fibrosis. It is very difficult to swim at all, you have to sort of flollop along, trying not to get the water in your mouth, or even worse, your eyes. Sorry we didn't have a newspaper to read, for the standard photograph! 
There was a muddy area near the beach where you could slather yourself in foul smelling gloop, fooling yourself that it was the equivalent of an expensive Dead Sea mud treatment at a spa – well, it's as close as I'm going to get to one. 
Why, we wondered, does the shore have lifeguards huts dotted around, when it is impossible to sink? We presume they are there to make people behave and stop splashing, and to deal with those that panic, blinded by salt water, unable to find their way to the fresh water showers!
What is more interesting about the lifeguard huts is that they have to keep building new ones closer to the water, as the levels rapidly recede. This is due to the diversion of water from the incoming  Jordan river to irrigation projects and drinking water for Jordan and Israel. Israel has not turned the desert into productive agricultural land without any rainfall by magic – there is a penalty, that the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are disappearing, fast. The Dead Sea has retracted by one third in 20 years. 

There is a joint Israeli, Jordan, Palestinian Red-Dead project to desalinate Red Sea water (from near Aqaba) for drinking and irrigation and to convey the waste brine to the Dead Sea for replenishment. Ecologists worry that importing a different type of sea water will ruin the unique properties of the Dead Sea, and there was a 2 year feasibility project to study this. The Jordanians have decided to go ahead without waiting for the results – none too surprisingly since we read that Jordan could very soon cease to be an economically viable country without it's own water supply. That's the trouble when you carve up the world at the end of an empire and draw imaginary lines around new countries without regard for their sustainability. 

Suitably relaxed for our next adventure, the following day we went on a tourist tour of the amazing city of Jerusalem, probably the most fought over city on earth – everyone thinks they should be in charge of it. 
First our guide took us on a speedy tour of the Via Dolorosa (meaning way of suffering). 

It is a confusing amble through the crowded streets of the Old Town, filled with hawkers and market stalls. It follows the supposed footsteps of Jesus with the cross through the streets to the site of crucifixion which is now inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This huge cavernous church marks the site of Golgotha (or Hill of Calvary), where the crucifixion may have taken place. The location was not 'determined' until 300 years later, at the time the site of a pagan temple. Emperor Constantine's mother, Helena founded a church there, and maybe she was involved in excavations revealing a tomb and 3 crosses, depending on who you believe. 
Subsequent destructions by Persians and Turks, fires and earthquakes and Crusader rebuilding in 1149 make it now a huge cross shape incorporating all the oratories, chapels and sanctuaries. Infighting between the different religions in 1852 caused the Ottomans to divide it up into areas for Franciscans, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox, with the remaining shared between the Coptic, Syrian, and Ethiopian churches. 
It is really decrepit, badly lit and labyrinthine with no wall decoration, only oil lamps, incense, tourists and worshippers. Apparently there is still plenty of fighting about whose responsibility any repairs or improvements may belong to, so very little gets accomplished. 
Here, religious fervour reaches new heights. The religious bring their souvenirs from the thousands of  tat shops (scarves, trinkets, effigies etc) for them to be blessed by being placed on the 'stone of the anointing'
The Edicule under one of the main domes, houses Jesus' tomb where large crowds wait in line to enter. The 3 main religions (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic share the site for daily mass. 

There are strange quirks in the Church, such as this ancient cave church off a part of the Syrian church:
The Ethiopian Monastery is relegated to the roof of the church. Here's a fascinating story illustrating the sensitivities from Wikipedia:

'On a hot summer day in 2002, the Coptic monk who is stationed on the roof to express Coptic claims to the Ethiopian territory there moved his chair from its agreed spot into the shade. This was interpreted as a hostile move by the Ethiopians, and eleven were hospitalized after the resulting fracas.'

The western wall is the closest point that Jews can get to worshipping the site that might have housed the Holy of Holies, under the remains of the Temple Mount.  Only a fraction of the wall appears above modern street level, and there is an excavated area below ground where the orthodox (dressed in black with sideburns, beards and hats) go to pray – men only. It illustrates how much of the old city still lies under the present day streets.
At street level the praying area is unequally divided between men and women. The ladies have to squeeze into an overcrowded section and compete for the opportunity to get forehead to wall. 

When the Israelis captured/liberated the area in the 1967 war, the soldiers  demolished the Moroccan quarter which stood 4m from the wall, without any government order, increasing the narrow platform from 120 to 20000 square metres. It is of course still a bitter memory for the muslims whose families lived there.
Western Wall Plaza previously the Moroccan quarter

In the background you can see the gold dome of The Dome of the Rock dominating the skyline. We would have liked to have visited, but it was closed due to tensions arising from a wheelbarrow of rocks having been found there, (which the Palestinians claimed had been planted by the Israelis) which could have been used to start a protest. 
The Wall never seems to be closed to Jews for wailing, but Palestinians have restricted access to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa mosque, their 3rd holiest place after Mecca and Medina. Presently Palestinians from Gaza and West Bank must be married and over 50 (women 45) to be allowed entry, on the assumption that they are less likely than their young counterparts to 'cause trouble'.

The rest of the day tour took in the Israel museum with an incredible model village of what ancient Jerusalem could have looked like, and the Shrine of the Book, the new home of the Dead Sea scrolls, found in a cave on the shores of the Dead Sea. They are not that exciting to look at, being on scraps of parchment and in a foreign language and no photos were allowed to be taken. It's probably more interesting to learn about them on the telly! Or perhaps I'm just jaded after so much sightseeing that I can't take any more in!

After our amazing trip to Egypt and the Nile cruise the rally returned to Israel to the modern marina of Herzilya where the rally ended with a big party and we all fell into an exhausted slump. 
On an independent day trip to Jerusalem from Herzilya by train and returning by bus we took a' political tour'. We'd really recommend this tour, for the time being based from The Jerusalem Hotel near the Damascus Gate, in the Palestinian area.;

It's aim is to 'discuss the historical, geographic, political, and socio-economic aspects of Israeli policies in East Jerusalem', and covers parts of the separation barrier, the Israeli checkpoint regime, and the issue of settlement and home demolitions and the impact on the Palestinian people's daily lives. 

A prosperous Israeli settlement with Palestinian refugee houses behind:

The Wall!
Palestinians working in West Jerusalem have to cross the checkpoints every day with many delays and potential for harassment. Note the signs are only in Hebrew and English, not Arabic. 
Palestinians living in Jerusalem have a residence permit which gives them some freedom of movement, but if they get married their spouse and children have no rights to live with them, only occasional visits. Is this to ensure that the Palestinian population of Jerusalem can only dwindle?

Palestinian homes can always be identified because of the black water tanks on their roof. Their water supply is often interrupted for days at a time, so they all store water. When they are saving water, flushing the loo is not an option. Nearby Israeli homes can use water without restriction, despite the ever decreasing level of the Sea of Galilee. 
The new 'security' wall snakes it's way through the city, ensuring the wells, aquifers and influential people's homes stay in the Israeli side.
How much did this cost?????

We were taken to see (and in one case meet) Palestinian families who had been forcibly evicted from their homes and had set up camp to live in the street opposite their home while Israeli settlers moved in and set up armed guard to protect the new inhabitants. They had been to court many times over many years with documents to prove the ownership of the property, but to no avail.  This story is happening all over Jerusalem, and even around Tel Aviv, as Netanyahu ignores international requests to stop this slow ethnic cleansing of Israel. Like a sinister pacman the Israelis are slowly, surely  gobbling up the grid, creating more and more animosity amongst the remaining non-Jewish residents. 
The previous residents on the street
A new settlement - comes with a minder !!

You should read more about house demolitions, and other examples of the current situation in the Occupied Territories. Don't forget that this occupation has lasted 43 years out of a total 62 years of Israel's existence. 

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition:

The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories:

The Alternative Information Centre:

Herzliya was a great base to spend a couple of months for land travel. It is 15 minutes by bus to Tel Aviv, from where you can get a bus to anywhere. The 90 bus goes to the Carmel market, where you can buy local produce for reasonable prices, and the 505 and 501 buses go to the central bus station from the main highway, 15 minutes walk away. It cost about £10 per day on the monthly rate including water, electricity and tax. Believe me we used a lot of power with the fans going full blast day and night to combat the humidity. 
We also made use of the local airport to fly to Eilat to make the trip quicker to our dive course in the Red Sea. We stayed at Shark's Bay for our PADI course, which was delightfully basic and laid back, and not at all like mainland Egypt for backsheesh.
After diving we returned via Eilat(Israel) and went straight out again to Aqaba (Jordan) where we toured to Petra and Wadi Rum (photos later) before taking the bus back from Eilat to Tel Aviv across the Negev desert (4-5 hours).  
I (Steph) went home to the Uk for my stepfathers funeral and then worked in the NHS for a fun filled few weeks. Stu looked after the boat and the beach while I was gone, and ended up with a mutually beneficial arrangement with Easy, the local sailmaker, that included using his machines to make our new bimini. 

In late October we crossed direct to Larnaca in Southern Cyprus where we met up with our friends Brian and Lynnette, and we're introduced to Hashing – where you run or walk following a course set by coloured chalk on the ground – in a Railway Children fashion if you know what I mean. Larnaca marina was full to the brim and we got the only berth available as a yacht had just lifted out. There were no guarantees at all, the harourmaster said we would just have to turn up and see. As we arrived at 4pm with not much daylight left and a thunderheads forming all around we were very pleased not to have to carry on down the coast, especially since Limmasol and Paphos would not guarantee a place either. 
One of the hashers mentioned a little port called Latchi on the north west edge of southern Cyprus. The pilot book still says it is only a shallow fishing port, but it now has been dredged and it a delightful little marina (no facilities) with a small holiday village ashore. It was full of local boats but the harbour master can be contacted by phone (email me if you need the number) and he will do his best to find you a place. You can even do your entry and exit paperwork there, though it may be necessary to go by car or bus to Paphos if the customs won't come to you. 

This was our jumping off point for sailing direct to Finike, and we had another lovely late season sail, entering on 7th November in time for the liveaboard welcome party, which had been delayed to await us!! 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Jounieh, Lebanon

Four nights in Jounieh, Lebanon

10th - 13th June 2009

After the dust and grime of Iskenderun and Latakia ports, and the disorganisation of the officialdom in Syria, arriving in Jounieh ACTL yachtclub was like paradise, just 15km north of Beirut. It is a large modern marina, with proper finger pontoons, a large luxurious sports complex and an Olympic sized swimming pool. The rally boats were squeezed into all available places – 9 boats in space meant for a maximum of 4! You can't help but think 'what if there's a fire on the inside boat?!' but then you go to the swimming pool and stop worrying about it.

Our first tour was 'Beirut by night' – enough to send a chill down your parents spine, as it has been the site of such a violent civil war until really very recently. Luckily I hadn't read Tom Friedman's 'From Beirut to Jerusalem' before we visited as I was blissfully ignorant of the scale of bloodshed that went on here. Our tour guide happily pointed out the shell damage and bullet holes still evident around the city, and we visited the memorial to the president who was assassinated in 2006 by an enormous car bomb, which also killed 25 bystanders.
 The Central Business District has been demolished and completely rebuilt and is now a chilled-out, upmarket pedestrianised cafĂ© and restaurant area, patrolled by armed guards at every corner ! Our visit was just a few days after a major election so we were listening out for any signs of unrest.

The decades of living in constant danger now seems to have manifested a belief in immortality- the driving was by far the most reckless I've ever seen. It was not safe to walk where there was no pavement, as you could easily be swiped by a high speed   passing side mirror or wing.  There were many big black American 4x4's and Mercedes, a testament to the wealth of Lebanon as the Swiss banking economy of oil-rich Middle East countries.
It would be so fascinating to spend more time here, to hear the stories of people who lived in the city during the troubles. No life would have been untouched by danger and tragedy.

The following day our tour bus drove us into the mountains and beyond to the Beqaa valley, the stronghold of Hezbollah and scene of much destruction by Israel in the most recent war. Hezbollah leaders' faces and AK47's were all around on t-shirts and posters all down the middle of the highway. We were told that they are like a Territorial Army, only allowed to bear arms in time of war. I guess that could be any-time around here though.

The jewel of the Beqaa valley is Baalbeck (Baal – God of the Sun) – a Roman site built over Phoenetician temples and incorporating local pagan beliefs. It boasts the tallest columns ever erected,and the largest stones ever cut – one stone is the weight of 2 jumbo jets, and it is thought that it would take 40000 men to move each one! The complex of the Great Temple is in 4 parts, my favourite being the smaller but perfect Temple of Bacchus (God of wine and ecstasy) where the stone masons have carved intricate pillars of grapes to celebrate worship of wine, and eggs to celebrate fertility, and sheaves of wheat for celebration of food. That's our kind of church!

We visited the nearby Roman stone quarry where the gigantic stones had been hewn in ancient times. It had been a rubbish tip for many recent years, and one man set out to clear it and preserve it despite the locals continuing to use it as a tip, stopping by to call him a fool. He finally funded his own refuse collection service for the town until the municipality took it over after a few years. What a dedicated guy!
The stones were only roughly hewn in the quarry, being carved once in place. Can you imagine the swearing if your chisel slipped and chopped off the final carving detail? The surfaces had to be completely smooth for joining together with metal hooks, as there was no mortar to hold the joints together, and more amazingly it is still standing 2000 years later, despite the earthquakes and wars surrounding it.

For the next 2 days we hired a car and driver to explore with John and Priscilla our groups leaders. First we visited Byblos, an ancient Canaanite and Phoenician sea port important in the Mediterranean trade of papyrus, then timber, shipping the Cedars of Lebanon all over for building ships for trade and war. It has 7000 years of history before your eyes- neolithic huts where family members were buried under the floor of their own homes, bronze age walls, temples, rock tombs, phoenician necropolis, a castle with Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman contributions.
More to Stuart's taste we also had a beer at the beautiful Byblos Fishing Club looking out over the tiny fishing harbour. Here we are with our lovely friend Brendan, who sadly lost his life in the Haiti earthquake whilst on a UN mission.

Our second trip was up into the cedar clad mountains to Beiteddine palace complex, built in the early 19th century by the ruling Emir Bechir Chehab II. It has beautiful architecture and manicured gardens around al fresco Byzantine mosaics. This was built under Ottoman rule, but the Emir incorporated secret Christian signs into the design, such as a special window in the haman (baths) which displays a perfect cross when you stand right under it.
It was a shock to be visiting such recent construction,as we have become so used to looking at piles of rocks and Roman pillars since we were in Italy!

Does he have the best job in the world? 
Tending rose gardens among Byzantine mosaics in the levantine sun!

It is strange how the most unlikely sights can be so thought-provoking. On the last morning I took a taxi along the busy  motorway towards Beirut, and we turned off where the roaring traffic crosses a once peaceful, narrow valley called Nahr-al Kalb. Before this major construction project, the valley was a major challenge to cross, exposing troops through the ages to the fire of whichever opponents they were facing at the time. In  commemoration of their success at crossing the valley various generals through the ages took time-out and ordered inscriptions to be set into the rocks. The oldest is from the 6th century BC where Nebuschadnezeer records his campaign in Mesopotamia and Lebanon. There follows a 14C AD Arab inscription, a 200 AD Roman one right next to a modern obelisk marking the French and Allied forces arrival in 1942. The others: Greek, Assyrian, British (1918 capture of Damascus, Homs  and Aleppo), Phalangist, and last but not least, none other than Napoleon was 'ere. This brings to mind the constant movement of people and troops and the upheaval of the Middle East and its occupation by successive rulers.

Lebanon is a truly beautiful country. Despite years of war it is rich beyond belief in finance and nature and more importantly it has water in the snowy mountains, which none of it's near neighbours enjoy. Our visit was only marred by some official wrangling. When the rally leaves Lebanon we have to say that we are going to Limassol in Cyprus, as it would not be acceptable to say we are going to Israel. Although the marina know that, of course, we do not sail 200 miles out of our way, they have until now, turned a blind eye to the rally schedule. This year they took our passport details and yacht details and threatened all rally participants with the status of persona non grata if we went directly to Israel. This caused much consternation and a few yachts left the rally at this point so as not to cause problems later. It's a shame that officials chose to do this once the rally was in already in town, instead of addressing the problem at the organisation stage with Hasan and the committee, as it could have been avoided by rearranging the order in which the rally visits each country.  All the marina staff we met said they were really sorry about it and had no problem with our programme. Anyway it just goes to show the sensitivities involved and the luck of the draw regarding which official you meet on the day you check in to any new country.
So maybe we will go back to visit beautiful Lebanon again - or maybe we cannot.
For other visitors, you can sail to Jounieh and arrange a visa/shore pass with the marina office. I believe the first few days mooring is free, but then becomes very expensive. The office were very helpful in arranging a car and driver. Just don't go if you have any evidence of having visited Israel.

Matador's books:
Some Other Rainbow, John MacCarthy's incarceration in Lebanon
Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman, very scary reading indeed.
Lebanon Through the Lens of Munir Nasr, nice pictures