Hello, friends. It’s been a while.
The fact is, I’ve been having far too much fun to actually write about what I’ve been doing. I’m abismally behind in my written journal as well; according to my Moleskine, I’m still in Thailand at the Sriracha Tiger Zoo (a vegan’s nightmare! o jeez!).
Here’s basically what’s been up:
Thus far, my trip has been a series of legitimate Pittsburgh reunions, plus making new friends on the road.
My first stop was Japan, where I spent most of my time in Tokyo (and more specifically a suburb of its suburb Yokohama) with my friend Ram from college. Tokyo is a bit crazy, but I really enjoyed it. We did a lot of people-watching, which is quite fruitful in Japan. My favorite outing was one Ram sent me on one of the days he had to work, out to Kamukara, a small town on the ocean that has a number of shrines and temples in walking distance of one another, including (another) huge sitting Buddha statue! A very cool and relaxing area, just slightly off the tourist route of Tokyo. We also had a great time riding the Cosmo Clock in Yokohama, the largest clock in the world, which is also a huge ferris wheel. While we were in Yokohama, we bought panda-face dessert bao, which while not super delicious, were super cute. I also really enjoyed the trip Ram and I took down to Hiroshima (via bullet train, which is quite speedy) to visit my friend Kristin, who I know from high school. We spent most of our day on Miyajima, an island near Hiroshima with an enormous Shinto shrine, tame deer, and lots of monkeys. But, we also made our requisite trip to the A-bomb Dome, which was overwhelmingly depressing. Fifteen minutes was enough for me while on a short vacation!
Next was Thailand, where I met up again with “Bah Duh” Jon from Pittsburgh. He’s been on the road since the beginning of April, after spending about one to two months in southern Spain on a WWOOF farm. We stayed with one of his family’s old exchange students, Montira, and she and her family made sure we knew how to get to places of interest around Bangkok and were more than happy to drive us around themselves when they didn’t have to go to work. Jon and I went ourselves to the two major temples downtown, Wat Po and Wat Phra Kaew, on our first full day in town. Wat Phra Kaew has an enormous complex, including an expansive mural of the Ramayana, but Wat Po was my favorite of the two because it had (another) huge Buddha statue, the largest I’ve seen thus far. 46 meters long! That’s huge! On day trips with Montira and with Oui, a friend of my friend Grant’s from when he was doing mission work for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we went to a floating food market (plus boat trip to temples), the Sriracha Tiger Zoo (false advertising! so false! tigers jumping through hoops! eek!), and “Ancient Siam,” a drivable scaled model of the entire country of Thailand. Lastly, I actually had a surprisingly difficult time finding vegetarian food. I’m wondering if, like in Japan, vegetarian options are just an American tourist/restaurant construction. Or, we just weren’t eating at enough street stalls. Anyway, I still ate lots of noodles and fruits, and that was fine by me.
Then Jon and I made the long flight to Egypt, and his jetlag was fully messed up 🙂 However, Egypt was awesome in all ways, so we still had a great time. We tried couchsurfing for the first time, which means I signed up for a website and found a host family for us in Cairo. Very cool! We got a couple family dinners and some very relaxed time playing with the two young daughters and the kitten of the family. It was a great situation after long days of being tourists. Our first day we drove out and saw the pyramids at Giza and Saqqara, which were AWESOME. The Lonely Planet describes the Giza pyramid area as a site which “never fail to disappoint,” but they are full of crap. Pyramids are AWESOME. I cannot express that enough. Hilariously, the city is built up right to the edge of the Sphinx, so you’re just driving around thinking you’re not about to see an enormous pyramid, but BAM, then there it is. I hope my use of capital letters shows how cool they are. The step pyramid at Saqqara was also pretty neat, and though it was too late in the day for us to make it out to the other pyramids at nearby Dahshur, we could still easily see them in the distance. We made time in our last two days in Cairo to go see the Egyptian Museum (King Tut was pretty cool), the Citadel (another cool place disrespected by the Lonely Planet that was very close to where we were couchsurfing), Islamic Cairo (with a big touristy market among big mosques… uuuugh touristy markets), and Coptic Cairo. Coptic Cairo was probably the best, because while we got there too late in the day to go in any of the churches (oops) we ended up following a big marching band parade to St. George’s Convent’s church, which was fun and the church was gorgeous. Despite what I had heard about Egypt and women travelers, I didn’t come across trouble at all. Part of this was that I was with Jon, my surrogate brother/husband/whatever, but a bigger part was that I wore long sleeved shirts and ankle-length skirts. Jon called my makeshift headcoverings “instant respect.” Do you know whose legs and arms you see in Egypt? Tourists. Don’t go to Egypt in shorts and sleeveless tops! You will be the only one in town showing off those parts! Culturally inappropriate! Sheesh.
Our trip to Jordan was a little nutty, but worked out well in the end because we made new friends and saw Petra, which was Jon’s favorite monument (except maybe the pyramids, which again, are too cool). We took a bus across the Sinai and spent the night in a small hut along the Red Sea at Nuweiba. Then, we took the very not fast fast-ferry to Aqaba, on the Jordanian side, which left four hours late and thus we arrived in Jordan around 10 pm. This would have deterred some travelers from the extra two hour car ride to Petra, but not Jon and I! We made friends with an Australian living in Britain, a Chinese-Australian living in France, and an Indian-Fijian living in Britain and had an insane trip out to Petra. Of course, in the process, we became friends. The Australian-in-Britain, Mary, ended up coming and staying with us in Jerusalem as well! Anyway, we got up reasonably early and went to Petra, which was also SO COOL. It’s way more than what you see in Indiana Jones. The canyon is enormous, and there are tombs all over the place. The two best preserved things (the Indiana Jones Treasury facade and the Monastery) are at opposite ends, but both well worth the walk, if the hundreds of facades in between didn’t do the trick. We all got sunburnt, but otherwise it was a delightful day. Like in Egypt, the people in Jordan were really hospitable and friendly. I think my favorite compliment was when one of the hotel guys said, in reference to me, “This girl is not like other Americans! She knows some things!” Oh dear, America. Lastly, this Jordanian journey made us Moses Jones. Hoorah!
After a long taxi ride and wait at a contested border, we made it over the King Hussein Bridge and into Israel. My first impression of Israel was not great: there was a kid maybe my age in sneakers and a polo shirt standing outside the customs office with a machine gun, and the girl who was interviewing Jon and I (who was maybe as old as Jon, but I doubt it) was girlishly delighted over our Lonely Planet… but stuck out her tongue in girlish distaste when she saw the title included the Palestinian Territories. Ah, 18-year-olds… with weapons. Eesh. However, my opinion was shifted because Jerusalem was really, really great. I dragged Jon to all sorts of religious sites, which he was very gracious about. Of course we visited the Temple Mount (though non-Muslims can no longer go see the Rock in the Dome of the Rock — alas!), but there’s so much more in Jerusalem, especially if you’re interested in Christian history. One afternoon we just spent walking the Stations of the Cross, which lead into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a very interesting and zany Crusader church that supposedly is built on the cruxifiction and burial sites of Jesus.
Probably the coolest thing I thought we did in Jerusalem was actually outside the city, in the little town of Bethlehem. I was reluctant to go there because it’s in the West Bank (ooooh noooes) but then my dad offhandedly informed me that the His Holiness the Pope himself was visiting Israel and would be in Bethlehem the day after we arrived. All fears gone aside! I was so excited to go and see him. Jon and I linked up with a Canadian guy named Cameron at our youth hostel, and made the (surprisingly easy) bus journey to Bethlehem, only to discover on arrival that you needed tickets. Drat! But, Providence provided us with two nice young Catholic ladies who were volunteering at the papal office in Jerusalem, and one of them had extra tickets in her purse. Hoorah! We got to see the smallest public papal mass, and, AND, most importantly, the Pope driving around in his Popemobile. A great day.
Now we’re in Haifa on our last day in Israel, and about to go out and see the Shrine of the Bab and Baha’i Gardens. We’re couchsurfing again, and to say that our host’s apartment has a fabulous view of the Mediterranean is a great understandment. We’re having a great time so far, and plan for this last day to be just as good. Then Jon’s headed back to Pittsburgh and I to Ghana to see my high school friend Mike, who’s been in the Peace Corps for almost two years now.
About the Children’s Village, I’ve heard from our friends out in India that five of the older children were able to participate in the annual youth conference, which happened earlier this month. Possibly because of their presence there, the UUNEI Youth Wing is planning to have a “volunteer day” at the orphanage soon! It would be great to have more people from the UUNEI community out at the Children’s Village to help out. Bahun, the eldest of the two Mukhim sisters, has also brought a doctor out to Mawsynjri to meet with the kids, and he recommended that they go through deworming medication and vitamins as their first course of healthier living. On that note, the Meghalayan government supposedly gave out a mass meningitis vaccination to villages including Kharang about a week ago; still waiting to hear if that actually went through (ahh, the Indian government). I’ve also heard that construction has “slowed,” which is worrisome because last time I heard that, construction had come to a full halt for three weeks. Eesh. But let’s all pray that that’s not actually what’s happening and that the septic tank is finished. It’s strange only getting this information second-hand when I used to be the main contact about the kids, but that’s how it has to be now. I can just hope that I can return soon to visit them!
Phew, that’s the long of it. Maybe I’ll post again from Barcelona so that Ghana will be in a reasonably sized chunk 🙂