Sand and water

by Eliza Myers 19. September 2011 22:58



I took a moment to catch my breath. The gigantic sand dune kept going straight up into the air and down below me the people were already looking like Polly Pocket dolls. But it was the challenge of the Wadi Rum desert that kept me climbing the sand dune. I figured Lawrence of Arabia hadn’t given up when he had crossed this desert to attack Aquaba for the Arab Revolt, so I wouldn’t stop climbing.

Once I reached the top, the view was worth it. The towering rock cliffs and wavy sand seemed to go on forever. With no vegetation or signs of civilization, it really made me wonder how Bedouins have lived in Wadi Rum for centuries. The preservation of water surely took on a new meaning here in the middle of the harsh, but magnificent desert. As I listened to my voice bounce around the desert canyons, I realized T. E. Lawrence had summed the place up well by calling it "vast, echoing and godlike."

When it was time to descend, the few who had made it to the overlook decided it was best to run back down the vertical sand dune. After seeing someone wipeout halfway down in a cloud of sand, I tempered my speed to a gentle gallop and enjoyed the freedom of the sand on my feet and the feeling of letting gravity do most of the work to get me back to the desert floor.

That evening at the Bedouin-style camp was truly remarkable and unforgettable. At the camp, I wasn’t just learning about Bedouin tradition, but living it. I watched as the camp staff dug up our dinner that had been cooking deep in the sand’s heat. The cuisine enjoyed in front of the campfire tasted better than many meals I’ve had in fancy restaurants. As the evening went on, the camp staff sang traditional Arabic songs and invited our group to dance around the fire with them in light-hearted fellowship. I wound down my evening by admiring the billions of stars visible in the middle of the desert.

After this memorable experience, I spent the last days of my tour enjoying Jordan’s Red Sea and Dead Sea beaches. In the Red Sea, the focus was on the colorful marine life that lived below the bright blue water. So many fish of every shape, size and color made it seem like God had been playing with crayons when he created this coral reef.

My last day at the Dead Sea focused on the water itself, since the 27% salt content of the Dead Sea makes it impossible to sink. I bobbed up and down in the water like a cork before trying out the skin-softening mud bath. The great variety of sites I saw in just these last days more than proved Jordan’s marvelous variety of top quality attractions. Already, I’m looking forward to returning one day to the peaceful and welcoming country.

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Finding peace in Jordan

Petra treasures

by Eliza Myers 17. September 2011 19:12




After a walk through a shadowy, narrow gorge in the desert, a light appears through the sandstone mountain slits. There is where I got my first glimpse of the iconic Treasury. The elaborate tomb’s façade was carved by the mysterious Nabateans between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. This iconic structure is reason enough for many people to journey to Jordan.

I tried to imagine Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt’s glee when he beheld the towering tomb for the first time in 1812. Prior to his discovery, Petra lay unknown to Europeans, since it was guarded by the locals who believed the place held a legendary treasure. This myth that the Treasury building was anything more than a tomb proved to be untrue. However, what the locals eventually came to realize after Burckhardt spread the word about a lost city carved into sandstone was that the treasure was there all along. People began traveling in droves to see the expansive ruins of Petra, which helped out the local economy more than anything else.

But the Treasury is just one of hundreds of decorative tombs influenced by Greek architecture. The Nabateans valued the afterlife over the current life, so even those not wealthy could sometimes afford a carved tomb into the mountains.

The ruins of Petra seemed to keep going on and on as I toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could easily see why this incredible city was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Swirls of vivid red, yellow and orange stone decorated the ruins better than any paint could have.

After lunch in Petra, I climbed up 800 or so steps to see the Monastery. This elaborate tomb impressed me even more than the others from its remoteness at the top of a mountain with views of Petra all around.

That evening, I sat down to a traditional Jordanian dinner that I had cooked myself (with a little help of course) at Petra Kitchen. Even now, I’m looking forward to attempting that meal’s delicious recipes for my husband. I’ll consider it a success if the food is even half as good.



Monastery Tomb



Petra Kitchen

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Finding peace in Jordan

Down to the river to pray

by Eliza Myers 14. September 2011 00:48



Almost 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist baptized a man in the Jordan River who would change the world. I got to walk on the hallowed ground where this miracle occurred at Bethany-Beyond-Jordan. It is easy to picture this event, since the area has the same desert look that it had during the time of Jesus.

I basked in the peacefulness and authenticity of the site as I walked from John the Baptist's cave to Byzantine church ruins to the actual spot where archeologists have determined Jesus was baptized. It felt like I might see John the Baptist in his desert garbs and wild hair around any corner. Even the wild berries he lived on were hanging from bushes all over the site.

A little down river where baptisms often take place, I had the song “As I went down to the river to pray” playing in my head. I stood for a few moments and soaked up the quiet movement of the wind through the river’s reeds. It almost seemed like the plants were quietly whispering long-remembered secrets.

Later that day, I visited another Biblical site at Mount Nebo. The story of Moses looking over the promised land, but being unable to go because of one mistake always seemed unfair to me. It’s not as if his followers' faith remained solid as a rock throughout their 40 years in the desert. However, when I actually beheld the view from the top of Mount Nebo, the spectacular site of the Dead Sea and surrounding mountains felt more hopeful and inspiring than anything else.



Jordan River



Mount Nebo where Moses died



St. George Greek Orthodox Church

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Finding peace in Jordan

Touching the hand of Hercules

by Eliza Myers 12. September 2011 09:10



You might not think of Hercules when you think of Jordan. However, Hercules once stood atop the Citadel Hill in Jordan’s capital, Amman, during the Roman times. All that’s left of the once giant statue is little more than a piece of the hand, but that is enough to imagine the statue‘s former grandeur. Walking through the Stone Age, Roman, Byzantine and Muslim ruins, it is easy to see why this hill was occupied throughout Jordan’s history. The fantastic view reveals the seven hills of Amman and all its sprawling glory.

This city was my first introduction into Jordanian culture. Already, I have been amazed by the amount of archeological ruins that have survived the centuries. In Umm Qais (located in northern Jordan), the Roman city had been so well-preserved that the chariot dents into the stone streets were still present. This preserved archeological site featured rows of standing columns, shops from Roman streets and a view of Syria and Israel. The Golan Heights glowed next to the Sea of Galilee located in the valley below Umm Qais.

Nearby, Jerash is another Roman city which has even more remarkable remains, including a chariot racing arena, main street, Temple of Artemis and a large theater with seats so high, it almost made me dizzy to look straight down at the stage.

Even more moving is learning about the modern Jordanian life. Religion plays a huge part of the culture, which I have explored with a Baptist service, Melkite Catholic mass and a tour of a enormous Mosque whose dome covered the entire interior of the structure. The most inspiring part is the religious peace and tolerance that Jordan has maintained despite it’s location in a sometimes violent Middle East. One can only hope that other Middle Eastern countries can learn by their example in interfaith coexistence.



Umm Qais with the Golon Heights in the backdrop



Mosque in Amman



Jerash ruins

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Finding peace in Jordan

Richmond rocked!

by Eliza Myers 30. August 2011 22:51


Evening entertainment at the Science Museum of Virginia

On August 23, 2011, an earthquake shook the city of Richmond, Va., and ensured an exciting start to the Going On Faith Conference. Although only lasting for a few seconds, the quake made for an unforgettable first day of conference registration.

That evening, attendees learned that even rats could be trained to play basketball at the Science Museum of Virginia’s evening reception. Delegates watched an African-themed show with actors in traditional African garbs and music, before wandering through the museum’s main exhibits. One exhibit in lab room showcased rats showing off their basketball dunking skills.

The next day, delegates listened to a moving presentation by Tucker Davis about the Honor Tour program. The program enables WWII veterans to tour Washington D.C. for free. Davis told several emotional stories about veterans getting to see D.C.’s war memorials for the first time.

At the marketplace, vendors could meet with religious group leaders via Skype for the first time at the Going On Faith Conference. After sightseeing tours around Richmond, sweet smells and gorgeous blooms decorated the walkways at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s reception. After dinner, attendees were able to pursue the flowers at their leisure before an evening song and dance performance in front of the historic Bloemendaal House.

Roger McCurry’s presentation on faith-based travel kicked off Wednesday’s marketplace. To illustrate his points, McCurry demonstrated a few magic tricks he had picked up over the years to entertain groups. For the final lunch reception, attendees watched a NarroWay Productions preview of their many religious-based theatrical shows.


First marketplace appointment via Skype


Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

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2011 GOF Conference

Charmed by elephants and snakes

by Eliza Myers 15. June 2011 01:12

I think elephant might be my new favorite mode of travel. You get to enjoy the scenic view while being gently rocked as if in a boat on calm waters. Plus, elephants are extremely cute, which beats out many other modes of transportation.

On my last full day of touring India, I rode one particularly cute elephant up to the Amber Fort, just outside Jaipur. The red sandstone fort protected the Rajput Maharajas, who choose the area because of the surrounding steep hills. Cobblestone paths, tall ramparts and a series of gates protected them from invaders from 1592 to 1727.

The ancient citadel blends both Hindu and Mughal elements, since the Hindu Rajputs managed to stay in power with the help of many Mughal treaties. Although several centuries old, the fort retains many of its luxurious stone and glass details.

On my way out of the fort, I passed a snake charmer who encouraged me to have no fear while petting a cobra and allowing a python to curl around my shoulders. Trusting the power of the snake charmer’s music, I enjoyed getting close to creatures I would have run from in the wild.

That evening I thought all my adventures on Globus’ India trip were over until I heard the joyful music of a wedding procession going past my hotel window. I hurried outside to see a band, dancing wedding guests, bright decorative lights and a soon-to-be groom on a white horse. The groom and his family typically walk/dance in parade-like fashion to the wedding reception where the bride and her family are waiting.

As I was snapping some pictures, one of the girls ran over to me to ask if I would like to dance. I said yes and was ushered into a sea of ornately dressed ladies jubilantly dancing to the music. Everyone welcomed me with a gleeful hello as we danced about. Sometimes it is the unplanned moments that can say so much about a culture.



The gorgeous Amber palace



The sweepers at Amber Fort take a break



Happily petting the cobra



A groom on the way to his wedding

A teardrop for all time

by Eliza Myers 14. June 2011 23:53

Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once called the Taj Mahal a teardrop that glistened “spotlessly bright on the cheek of time.” I felt these romantic sentiments accurately captured the delicate beauty of the great Taj Mahal.

It all began with a love story, which I listened to in front of the Taj Mahal at daybreak. As my guide related the story of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wish to memorialize his love for his wife in white marble, the sun’s rays illuminated more and more of the glowing mausoleum.

No matter how many pictures are splashed over tour guides, this is a place you have to see face to face to truly appreciate. The details of the 1653 monument became more apparent the closer I came to the Taj Mahal. Eventually, I could see the colored designs all over the walls were semi-precious and precious stones cut into the white marble. These stones sparkled in the sunlight with a dazzling effect.

The chamber for Shah Jahan’s wife’s tomb is kept quiet with little light except an overhead lamp. Echoes from visitors’ voices reverberated musically overhead as I paused to think about the royal couple that inspired the Taj Mahal’s construction.

After journeying through some of India’s crazy traffic to get to Jaipur, I watched a demonstration of clothes and carpet making at the Shree Carpet and Textile Mahal. People here use the same methods they have used for centuries to produce handmade clothes and carpets. Inside the main shop, I saw the brightly colored finished products of shirts, scarves, dresses, tablecloths and rugs for sale.



One of the many strange sights I saw on the way to Jaipur



A rug making demonstration

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Experiencing India

A day of Mughals and monkeys

by Eliza Myers 9. June 2011 21:22



How can a building stay snow white for centuries? By using some of India’s stain-free white marble. This is how the Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah in Agra still looks new after almost 400 years. The use of white marble, carved stone screens and colorful wall designs illustrate how this Mughal mausoleum was the precursor to the Taj Mahal. Sometimes compared to an elaborate wedding cake, the decadent building was constructed by one of the few females in charge of the Mughal empire: Nur Jahan for her father after his death.

Walking around the tomb’s sandstone gate, I noticed a monkey crawling along the top of the gate in a hurry. I hustled after to try and get a picture and found not one but about 15 monkeys taking advantage of the shade of a stone canopy. I couldn’t get over my good fortune as I watched the monkeys regard me with little concern as I snapped photos.

Nearby, the Agra Fort goes all the way back to Akbar the Great in 1565. It was different from any fort I had seen before, since it was not only for defensive purposes, but also the residence of the emperors. After our guide described the history and daily life at the fort, I wandered through room after room of elaborately designed red sandstone before realizing that if I wasn’t careful, I would soon be lost.

Part of the fun of touring these ancient structures is also the people watching, since Indians have keep their local style of dress for centuries. The local women embrace vibrantly colored saris that jumped out at me, making me wondering what magic detergent they were using.

Fortunately, many of the locals are as curious of you as you are of them. Several came up to me asking to take a picture with me, since some of the Indian tourists to these sites are from rural India where Westerners are scarce. My face will now be captured forever in several Indian tourists' photo albumns.



The Agra Fort



Some Indian tourists resting at the Agra Fort

Rickshaw mayhem

by Eliza Myers 7. June 2011 22:18



“If you want to experience the sights, the sounds and the smells of “real” India all at once, the best way is a rickshaw ride through Old Delhi,” said Anil Bahal, my India tour director.

So on my first day of touring India with Globus Tours, I climbed into a tiny rickshaw to let all of India come rushing at me all at once. The rickshaw driver must have legs of steel to be able to bike two people and their covered seats into the mass of people in the Old Delhi markets without ever showing signs of weariness.

There was barely enough room for the rickshaw and the amount of people walking past the market's mostly pedestrian streets. But for such a narrow street, I felt like my senses couldn’t soak everything in fast enough. Everywhere I looked were bright colors from bejeweled fabrics, fresh fruit and store signs. Incense hung in the air, as well as excitement from the bustling activity of people buying, selling and honking to get through. Then of course there is always the occasional man pushing a cart of bricks or woman carrying a large bag of clothes on her head.

The rickshaw turned out to be a perfect way to safely watch the madness of the market without the headache of trying to navigate the labyrinth of streets. People would even take the time to wave a friendly hello as we passed by.

My first day also included a quieter side of India at Delhi’s Jama Masjid and Tomb of Humayun. These magnificent buildings made me realize that the country has managed to preserve a vast quantity of ancient structures. Built in the 16th and 17th centuries, these two historic sites provided a glimpse into the time of India’s affluent Mughal Empire.



One colorful scene on the rickshaw ride



At the Tomb of Humayun



At the Jama Masjid

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Experiencing India

Canadian cowboys

by Eliza Myers 21. April 2011 06:55

After saying goodbye to the mountains this morning, I experienced a totally new side of Canada at Calgary. The growing city is in the midst of prairie country, so the region has long depended on ranching as one of its main economic staples.

 

To celebrate this, the city holds an annual Calgary Stampede rodeo every July. The famous event gives tours of the grounds and has a gift shop that stays open year round for those interested in everything from souvenirs to high end cowboy gear.

 

I had more retail therapy at downtown Calgary’s extensive Stephen Avenue mall before enjoying my final dinner at Mavericks. The Western-themed restaurant is on Calgary Stampede’s park grounds.

 

Now that I've just finished several helpings of the restaurant’s wonderful buffet, I’m sure I will sleep like a baby before departing back to the U.S. tomorrow morning.



Calgary Stampede gift shop



Calgary

b

Stephen Avenue mall

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