Tuesday, November 29, 2005

it's the end of the world

I have made it to the end of the world. I've dropped off the mainland American continent, and am now on the Isla Grande of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), in the Argentinian city of Ushuaia. It's been a lot of fun getting here.

After leaving El Chalten, all grubby and tired from SuperTrekking, we headed to El Calafate, a tourist town that has sprung up due to it's proximity to the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is one of the largest glaciers in the world that lies outside of the poles. It is huge. Unspeakable gigantic. And even more fun than being a giant chunk of ice, it actually calves off hunks of ice into the lake on a regular basis, so there were tons of icebergs (ice cubes for those who had been down to the Antarctic) in the glacial lake, and every so often you would hear a huge crash as another piece came heaving off the glacier. This made for exciting watching, and we spent a pleasantly warm (a surprising state of affairs in Patagonia) lunch watching the iceberg, in the hope that another piece would come of. Of course, I managed to betray my Northern Irish roots by suggesting we chucked on a molotov cocktail to speed up the calving process, but thankfully no one took up my suggestion. We also took a boat ride out to the glacier to get a full view of the front of it, which was beautiful - lots of clear, blue ice in incredible formations, betraying any sense of gravity or other natural powers. What must have been truly amazing would have been to dive under the water and see the glacier from below, but of course, that is manically dangerous, what with the potential of an iceberg landing on your head.

After Calafate we crossed the border and went back into Chile, stopping at Puerto Natales, another little tourist town. The main attraction of Puerto Natales is the fact that the Navimag, a boat which sails the Chilean fjords between Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales arrives here, and the proximity of Torres Del Paine National Park. Torres Del Paine is probably the most famous national park in the Patagonia region, and rightly so. It hosts not only fantastic scenery, but some amazing hikes, including El Circuito, and the "W". I did two legs of the "W" whilst I was there, unfortunately leaving out what looked to have been the most spectacular leg (I do have to say that our Tucan guide has not impressed me with her information, and I ought to have relied more upon my old friend Lonely), which was the Frances Valley. Having said that, the first hike we did was the hike to the Torres themselves, which was a lot of fun. It started with a pretty tough hour, then an easy hour, and then a 45min scramble up some boulders to make it to a fabulous viewpoint which is so close to the towers of granite that you can almost touch them. By the time we made it though, the weather had closed in and it was snowing, so we headed down. However, for some reason we decided that it was clearing, so we burned up the scramble again for a second summit, which wasn't really worth it from a photographic point of view, but certainly made me feel that I was at least deserving of large amounts of South American Dairy Milk.

Something in me said that double summits were not enough physical punishment for my body, and I signed up for 8hrs of horse riding through the park the next day. What an amazing experience, alhtough I am still aching from it today! We had an amazingly, authentic gaucho guide, complete with red beret, fabulous leather boots (something that I was deeply envious of, because I have permanent bruises on my calves from my stirrup straps), and a beautiful multi-coloured woven belt. We went trekking through the forests and lakes and rivers of the park, doing a couple of river crossings and several fabulously long canters, on horses that certainly knew their way around the park, although it didn't always make for easy riding. Still, the entire day was absolutely amazing, and at the end of it, we were taken back to the very humble home of the gaucho for coffee and bread with rhubarb jam, which was a sharp reminder of how touch gaucho life seems to be.

Our own campsite was far from tough. Unlike the freezing night I spent SuperTrekking, this time I was using my own sleeping back, the fabulous and faithful Blue Kazoo, so naturally I was toasty warm all night, although the air mattress I had been given had a leak, which did nothing for my already tortured back. I have been plagued by a sore back since I fell off the motorcycle, but I think it is more a case of bad beds and constantly dragging my backpack places. Hopefully it will settle down when I do. The campsite was also complete with the usual tightrope, which I had a go on, and did a little better than last time, managing a whole two steps before having to grab the boys beside me and getting off. We also had generous amounts of wine and food, and were basically well taken care off. Even the weather wasn't horrendous, only raining on the last day. Oh, the final day in the park we did a walk out to the Grey Glacier, which was good, but having seen the opening of the Frances Valley, I know that I would have preferred that leg of the "W". However, transport in the park was problematic, being both expensive and not running the ful timetable, meaning that some hikes were not very accessible whilst we were there. IT was funny though, because Patagonia so far had been pretty empty until we got to Torres, which was positively heaving. I am not sure I would even want to be there in high season.

After Torres, we drove down to Punto Arenas, with the intention of checking out the penguin colony. Penguins proved to be as stupid as I had thought they would be. I wonder if they get frustrated with falling over all the time, and their pathetically short legs. I know, they are extremely graceful when they are in the water, but watching them on land is just too funny for words. I could have done it for hours if it hadn't been so windy that it actually hurt my ears.

And so from Punto Arenas across the Magellen Straits, some more driving, and then Ushuaia, the most southerly city inthe world. The city has a great feel about it - good time tourism is the main order of the day. It is the jumping off point for Antarctica, and right now the boats are empty due to an airline strike, so berths are going very cheaply. Still not cheaply enough for me to jump aboard, but it is extremely tempting. There is also meant to be a deluge of outdoor stores here, but I haven't spotted a bargain, so maybe not. It's a shame, because I was going to get everyone something North Face for Christmas, since I knew that would bring a smile to some faces. Instead, you are all just going to have something strange and colourful from Peru. That is, assuming the airlines stop striking, and I'm not stuck here for ages.

Monday, November 28, 2005


I haven´t posted for a while, mainly because I simply haven´t had a moment to myself for the last two weeks at all. For the most part, this has been fine, but I am now in serious need of some me time.

Enough of my complaining. I have been having an amazing time for the last two weeks seeing some incredible wide open spaces. Patagonia has the biggest sky I have ever seen - bigger than in Montana or New Zealand. It just goes on forever. However, to get to the big sky, you have to travel for about 2000km on a dirt road, which is not exactly relaxing. Ruta 40 runs down the Patagonian plains of Argentina, and it seems to be the emptiest road in the world. On the first day that we drove it, we saw 2 vehicles, and the second 4. Not the ideal place for hitchhiking or breaking down. Along the drive was also acres and acres of pampa, and the odd wild, or not quite so wild horse. There would also be evidence of human life, such as barbed wire fences and dirt tracks leading out into the distance, but no actual people. There were most likely estancias out and over the hills, but of course, if you have that much space, why would you live near the road?

Bariloche was the first stop in Argentina, and it was a swanky little ski town, filled with chocolate places and cable cars to check out the views. It was very cute, but not really much more than that. After that, two serious days of driving brought us to El Chalten, which is situated right in the centre of Fitzroy National Park. This was my absolute highlight. We hooked up with El Chalten Travel for a two day experience called, originally enough, SuperTrekking. SuperTrekking involved hiking out to a camp, and then dumping our overnight stuff, and then hiking out to the Torre Glacier. This was a fairly tough, muddy hike. We were lucky that the day was fabulously clear, because the last four days had been snow and rain. One of the initial challenges of the day (apart from actually ending up with the wrong trekking company) was crossing the river on a zip-line that we had to pull ourselves along, hand over hand. I found it quite relaxing to stare up at the blue blue sky, so didn´t fancy being hurried, but there were 15 other people who fancied a chance at this, so of course I was yelled at for taking my time.

Once we had crossed the river, it was still another two hours to hike to the glacier, where we did some ice climbing. Ice climbing is rapidly becoming my favourite activity, mainly because it is an activity that completely empties my mind. Whilst climbing, there is simply no space in your head for anything else apart from where you put your axes in and where to place your feet. It´s a great feeling. Unfortunately, we did only one climb before turning back to camp. Camp was fantastic. It was maintained by some climbing guys, who in return for maintaing camp and cooking meals, get paid to go climbing. The camp was gorgeous, in full view were the most amazing mountains that I have ever seen - the Cerro Torre, which are really three chimney like spires that shriek up into the sky. Amazingly beautiful, especially when they glow red-orange in the sunrise. A completely fabulous moment.

The rest of the second day was spent hiking through the park, under Mt Fitzroy, which is also a dynamic rock lifting up into the sky, although it lacked the fiercesome beauty of the Cerro Torre. Our guide also pointed out some puma tracks, which was great, a couple of wild horses, some condors, and then we saw a penumbra round the sun, which was great. Francis actually didn´t want to point it out, because he thought he had blinded himself, but we all saw it, and it was amazing. A sort of brown shadow emanating from the sun. I have no idea why they happen, but I am sure it is something to do with atmosphere and clouds. Anyway, we arrived back at El Chalten grubby and tired, to be bundled onto another bus and to try and sleep again for a couple of hours before getting to El Calafate, the town of the huge Perito Moreno Glacier. More coming soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I'll be sliding down the mountain when I come

I've spent the last couple of days in Pucon, which is about 800km south of Santiago. It's not quite Patagonia yet, but it's getting there. The main reason to be in Pucon is to climb Villarica, an active volcano that spits out toxic fumes and you can see lava from the edge of the crater. Yesterday's attempt was cancelled due to bad weather, and so instead I went for some training in the gym, somewhere I haven't been since I have been away. In that sense, it was quite novel. I went with a couple of guys from my tour bus, and so we had a "plank" competition, which unfortunately I lost. Turns out I'm not as strong or as fit as I used to be. After that, all the good work done by my 5k was cancelled by hanging out in a coffee shop and eating muffins. Pucon is very much a little ski town, and has a Swiss chalet feel to it, with all the buildings being very tasteful and wooden. Tres chic.

Anyways, today's volcano attempt was successful in that I got to climb the volcano. It was vaguely unsuccessful in that I was utterly bored the entire time I was climbing it (coming down was another matter). The reason for my boredom was the complete cloud cover that we were climbing in, and so the scenery of complete white (we were climbing on snow) did not change for 4hrs. The only thing that was quite amusing was the fact that the climb was completely orchestrated, I think by CONAF's (the national parks people in Chile) request. So there were hordes of people climbing up in single file, and you could see them making their way up the mountain like lemmings. Amusing for a while, but not enough to really make me wonder why I was climbing. The reason I was questioning my motivation is that my original motivation was to see cool volcanic landscapes, and to check out the crater. I then realised that it was going to be so cold that the crater was going to be enveloped in steam, and there was no point. This was actually true - at the top we saw nothing but cloud, although it stank. And my face was partly frozen, as were the tips of my hair. A good look, but not as good as the stripe I have across my forehead from sunburn where my hat was. Anyways, like I said there was no view, but that doesn't mean that the hike was in vain, because we did do one of the most fun descents ever -sliding down the entire mountain on our bums in chutes which have been dug in. It was awesome! Of course, the 4hr ascent took only 45mins to get down, but so worth it. Plus the sun had come out, we could see the summit, the snow was white, and basically, the craic was great. So a wasted morning turned into a great afternoon.

Tonight, the boys are cooking up a steak night for the girls, which is how it should be, and then tomorrow, we're heading for the steak country that is Argentina.

Friday, November 11, 2005

bienvenidos a santiago

Contrary to popular belief, I have actually made it to Santiago, although the sim card for my phone did not, and I am now incommunicado. It's like being in the dark ages. Well no, not really, and it will save an awful lot of money, not having the temptation of constant communication available. C'est la vie.

All the guidebooks rave about Santiago's "European"ness. Well, I guess. Yes, there are some beautiful squares, with amazing buildings, and I saw a fantastic open-air photography expo, but it was still extremely grimy, smoggy, with a distinct lack of signs, anywhere. This didn't detract from my pleasant wanderings of the city. I did it in what I call Cara style. Vaguely point myself in the right direction, and wander along stopping at whatever takes my fancy, and hopefully I'll end up at the right spot. It worked very well indeed today, and like I said, I happened upon a great photography display, a school singing pop hymns at San Cristobal (the sight of a very big Virgin Mary, on top of a hill overlooking the city), and some very interesting cafes. The cafes intrigue me no end. There are two main chains - Cafe Haiti, and Cafe Caribe. They both seem to be the same as each other, so far. Anyway, neither of them have anywhere to sit, instead you kinda hover at a counter. So much for relaxing the afternoon away, thinking deep existential thoughts. And even if you did have deep existential thoughts, you would be distracted from them by the waitresses, whose uniform consists of the shortest skirts I have ever seen. No wonder the majority of the clientele was male.

So, the Lonely claimed that I was staying in the "boho" part of town. This morning, I thought that was a stretch, to say the least. I have however, kind of found the cool, studenty part of my wee area, and yes, I do rather like it, although to call it boho is still pushing the boat out. Ah, the Lonely. Sometimes it misses so much by trying so hard. Something I have learnt not to fall for is anywhere the Lonely says "has charm". It's a translation for "is crap, but I'm a traveller, and I love slumming it".

Something has been confusing me for a while, and whilst I am sure it is perfectly simple, I just cannot get my wee blonde head around is the whole crossing of the international date line. I mean, how did I go from 12hrs ahead of my parents, and being awake when they are asleep, to somehow being 5hrs behind them? And how did I get two Wednesday, 9th Novembers? I can't live a day twice! (To make up with this grave error in the universe, I slept through the second one). But seriously, when I was on the plane, what exactly happened. I know that I was alive, and only for 10hrs, but were other people living more? So confusing. Does time really stretch? Someone please help me out on this one.

frequent flyer points

I actually do not collect any frequent flyer points, which in light on the recent amount of time I have spent in international air space, is an absolute crime. Anyway, I do have a couple of comments about some airlines.

I started out of Auckland on Singapore Airlines, who were pretty damn good - reasonably spacious seats, good food, complete with menu, so that you could identify what your food was, and, most importantly for a daytime flight, an in-flight entertainment system that included a screen in your seat, and a hard-drive with over 30 movies to choose from. So many that I had a hard time choosing, before eventually going for The Wedding Crashers, and then Crash. Top marks for Singapore.

The rest of my flights were with Lufthansa. For some reason, Lufthansa have a good reputation. God knows why. They suck. Their planes are cramped, their entertainment system is of the old school of screens in the middle of the aisles, their food was shitty (the options really were "chicken or beef?". Not even an explanation of that the chicken and beef were!), and they were late. I had the worst seat in the plane, on the very back row. Now, when I got this seat on LAN, I could still recline, and it was comfortable enough. Not so on Lufthansa, whose seats are cramped enough as it is. Worse is when the guy in front of me reclines so that his seat is actually touching my knees, and there is nowhere for me to go. The flight´s only redeeming features were the two guys beside me who at least sympathised with my pain and made me laugh. Oh, and Lufhthansa kept pushing their revolutionary Flynet service, which is an in-flight broadband service. Well, I don´t want an overpriced ability to check my email (which I couldn´t do anyway, since the seats are so small that laptops are actually at risk if the person in front decides to recline in their seat), I want some choices in my in-flight entertainment. No points for Lufthansa. And negative points for (a) using Frankfurt as a hub - it´s dark, dank, smells of smoke, and has no comfortable seating and (b) grossly overbooking its service to Tel Aviv, meaning that about 30 people did not get on the flight they had booked. Why like this?

Air New Zealand. Ah, I cannot speak highly enough of Air New Zealand, mainly because of their classy service. Their staff were fantastic, their seats comfortable and spacious, and their food fantastic. I had waffles with bacon and maple syrup for breakfast. How awesome is that?

Coming from New Zealand to Santiago, I flew with LAN, so back to the oneworld team, after my dalliance with staralliance. Absolutely no complaints - seats were good, entertainment fine, although they could have had more choices, and the food was okay. Something to note about every single flight I took - I was hungry each time. I don´t know whether it was my fault, or the length of the flights (usually around 10hrs, with just 2meals), or the airlines, but I was starving for much of the flights. Maybe I´m just a greedy bugger.

Anyway, 3wks with no flights at all. Bliss.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

more random Israeli notations

We went to the movies, twice. And both times, there was an intermission. This is apparently in all movies. Now, I didn´t like it one bit, since it seemed that as soon as things got interesting, there was a ten-minute break, but apparently this is entirely necessary, since Israelis cannot be expected to keep quiet for a whole two hours. Hmmm. Still, they also had popcorn, so I can´t complain.

The best frapuccino in the world is not available at Starbucks. Instead, it is at Aroma, the only place in Hebrew that I can recognise. Hey, needs bring about learning. Anyway, they have a fabulous drink called Aroma Ice, which is lighter and more coffee-y than a regular frap, and therefore delicious. For cold days, they also have a yummy coffee thing which has lumps of coffee at the bottom, all melted and yummy.

Aaah, the food. Highlights include real falafel (of course!), which was just amazingly delicious, with greasy greasy "cheeps", and yummy tahine. I could never finish one, although this state of affairs suited Ori just fine. Also, eating falafel meant that no other meals were required for the day. And the best junk food? Bamba. Like eating peanut butter in wotsit form. Yes, a hard idea to get your head around, but entirely delicious.

The nightlife was fun too. Things don´t get going until late, and my favourite bar was "The Bell". Maybe because free drinks were to be had all night from the Upper West Side kid who was happy to provide the alcohol, since "we were all Jews". Ah well, never mind.

Jaffa (no cakes)

Archway in Jaffa
Originally uploaded by scarlettholly.
Yes, my favourite biscuit and an old port collide all at once, and the result is a beautiful old town, complete with tiny cobbled alleyways, views of the surfers at Tel Aviv (who knew?), and at least 10 weddings having their picturesque photos being taken. Remind me never to get a dress made in Israel. Each one of the girls was wearing the most ugly attempts at couture I have ever seen. Meringues seemed to be in vogue, and lots of blonde hair. Not a good look on what were otherwise probably quite pretty Arab girls. Having said that, nothing could dampen the beauty of the gorgeous cobbled streets filled with tiny artist´s galleries that was Jaffa. This was so close to one of the most ghetto places I have ever been, which was regular Jaffa (not the old town), where girls wore white knee high boots, car exhausts may have been gun shots, and everything was generally run-down and horrible. Still, driving through during the day meant it was all pretty safe. After wandering Jaffa, we headed to the flea market, where, like all flea markets, gorgeous furniture jostled with ghastly attempts at tastefulness, and bargains could be had, if you were patient. Definitely a place I could have spent hours if (a) I had a place to live, (b) I had space in my backpack) and (c), if I had any spare cash, which I most definitely don´t. 7 months of travelling has most definitely taken a toll on my finances! Still, only 6wks left to go. I think I can handle it, especially if I stop eating.

The Middle Eastern San Francisco?

Bahai Gardens, Haifa
Originally uploaded by scarlettholly.
I wasn´t too sure of this title myself, but that is how the tourist information referred to the city of Haifa. Haifa is on the Mediterranean coast, and was indeed pretty, although not, admittedly up to San Franciscoan standards. What was notable, however, was the Bahai Gardens. These are the center point of the Bahai religion, of which I am completely ignorant. The gardens, however, were amazingly beautiful and luxurious. I am not a huge fan of wandering around tended places, being a bigger fan of the great outdoors, but this place reminded me so much of my grandfather, and how much he would have loved it, and I couldn´t help but be impressed.

Yes, I am a heathen

The second coming
Originally uploaded by scarlettholly.
It was time to see some sights outside of Jerusalem. First stop - the Dead Sea, officially the lowest place on earth. For the entire time that we were below sea level, I had to hold my breath. And it was for 2 days!!! I had no idea my lungs could be so strong. Okay, not really, but it was still a strange feeling to be so, well, low.

The Dead Sea had a kind of viscous, oily texture, and I can´t say that I loved it. I mean, it´s dead, for a start. Plus, there are very few free beaches, lots of entreprenurial chaps have set up nice businesses charging for admittance. In exchange for however many scheckels (I have to admit to not spending a single penny whilst in Israel - my darling boy took care of the finances), you got a sun lounger, a shower, and access to some mud and very salty water. We didn´t shell out, and instead kind of snuck on for about 5 minutes just to test the water. Maybe next time, if it is warmer I will take a dip and feel its redemptive powers, but I wasn´t tempted this time.

The detour to the Dead Sea was on route to Masada, a clifftop structure constructed by King Herod and later used in a siege against the Romans. After walking up the Snake Trail (we declined the easy option of taking the cable car), we reached the summit, which was a remarkably well preserved ancient (2,000+ years) fort-like structure. Parts of it had been rebuilt, which I didn´t agree with, but most of it was "as is". It was an incredible structure, and easy to defend, being on the top of a bitch of a hill. Eventually, the Romans actually built a ramp up to the fort. And to do this, they employed 10,000 Jews. Clever guys those Romans. I have to admit to not really knowing what they were fighting over, but probably that Judaism was bad, and that Romans were good. Still, the Romans eventually won, after years of siege. It was an impressive place, and you could see huge dust/sand storms on the other side of the Dead Sea. There were also plenty of carrion birds, it being the desert. Ori didn´t know that crows poke out baby lambs eyes, so now he doesn´t like them any more. That´s a good thing.

After Masada we drove north past Jericho to the kibbutz where Ori´s grandfather had lived. I have to admit to knowing nothing about kibbutzes, apart from that they were vaguely socialist, and that they weren´t doing so hot. People keep leaving them, because they are restricted by what they can do, since what they do must be for the good of the kibbutz. This means that if the kibbutz needs more cattle-hands, then you can´t go be a computer programmer. Even if you are a wuss and scared of dear old Bessie the cow. Okay, I have probably got that totally wrong, and will feel the wrath of the kibbutzen when they read this, but the basic fact is that they are having a hard time at the moment. Whenever we went there, the first thing that we noticed was being stared at. Like nothing else. This is because outsiders are not common, especially ones who aren´t speaking Hebrew. So eyes followed us as we went to the supermarket, as we wandered around the supermarket, and as we went back to where we were staying. This didn´t really bother me at all, since being blond in Nepal and being a girl in Vietnam has basially left me being immune to large numbers of people staring. The next morning, we wandered around, and the main thing that I noticed was that it was blissfully quiet - such a peaceful place. We went to where Ori played as a kid, and it was such a good playground. Much better than anything I had. A really beautiful place.

The kibbutz was in the north, near the Sea of Galilee, which was our next stop. The Sea of Galilee is notable for being the second lowest place on earth (I´m still holding my breath), and for some religious dude apparently walking on it. It also is home to some seriously vicious currents, and tons of fish. Ori used to swim the length of it (I wish I knew how long it was, but it looked a really long way), and he says parts of it were so shallow that he could see how the standing trick was done. I however went one better, and found a tyre slightly submerged, and stood on that. See, any fool could do it. And this is what two thousand years of Christianity is founded upon? Oh dear. Actually, it was a pretty nice place to hang out at, and on the other side of the sea is Jordan. I love looking over borders. I think it comes from living on an island, and therefore land borders are pretty surreal. It was lunch time then, so time to start driving West.

The Chosen Land and the Holy People

Originally uploaded by scarlettholly.
It´s funny to think that I am one of the most sacriligeous, heathen people I know, and yet, I have been to perhaps the most religious country in the world, the centre of the three great monotheistic religions. And despite the lack of theological guidance in my life, it was an amazing experience.

I was in Israel to visit my boyfriend, Ori, a native to the Holy Land. He was able to show me around and give me the insider´s viewpoint, although the occasional refrain of "a map might have been useful" was sometimes heard. He couldn´t help getting us occasionally lost; he actually hasn´t lived in the country for about 5 years. Still, he proved to be an exceptional host, and managed to take me almost the entire lenght and breadth of the country. The only major place that we missed was Eilat, and we can do that next time. By the way, Israel is pretty small, so the length and breadth took us only 2 days.

Ori lives just outside of Jerusalem, so it made sense to start there. Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and also home to some of the biggest religious conflicts in Israel. Notably, all peace plans for the Middle East leave a sort of blank space where discussion over the future of Jerusalem should be, for fear of not bringing parties to the table. Nobody really knows that the future of the city will be.

Anyways, aside from politics, it is an amazing city. Ori first took me to the Old City, where the streets and archways are around 3,00o years old. It is here where the Western Wall is, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, and where men and women (separately) come to pray. Many write their prayers on small pieces of paper and stuff them in the cracks. The stones that were used to build the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) are up to 2m thick, and no one knows how the stones were put in place. They were built before the Pyramids. I have to admit to not going up to the Wailing Wall myself, mainly because I am a non-believer. With so many people coming to make religious pilgrimages, I would have felt bad to just wander up and check it out myself. I think that harks back to the same reason why I cannot take pictures of monks. Maybe because of my lack of relgion I have a fairly large respect for those who are.

The streets of the Old City are compact, narrow, and filled with people. They weave in all directions, and I never knew where I was going. This was a good time to have a guide, but even if I hadn´t, it wouldn´t have been too hard to have latched onto one of the many tour groups being shown around the city. These comprised mainly of Eastern Europeans, who had, without a doubt, the worst fashion sense I have ever seen. There was one woman in jeans that were pvc from the knee down. Another woman had a fitted flower printed pvc shirt. And it was hot out. I can only imagine how much she was sweating. It was truly grim.

Through the windy streets we went, and ended up in a very important church - that where Jesus was buried. I have to admit to not being to hot on the whole ascension thing, but I saw an amazing building, said to be his tomb, that was decorated with a glorious mismatch of candles, and some very, very holy dudes who were allowed inside to pray. I also saw a broken piece of rock - I have a feeling it broke when Jesus lay on it, but I´m not too sure. Anyways, I think this church was the last stop on the Via Dolorosa - the walk of tears, on which Jesus carried his cross. Anyways, the church itself was extremely beautiful, and not in an over the top, grandiose, European Catholic way. It was large, certainly, and had amazing high ceilings and art-work, but it was lacking in the masses of gold that is so often used in Europe. To get to this church, we walked through some of the oldest Christian churches in the world, which were being tended by what seemed to be Ethiopian monks. These were tiny rooms, small, dark, low-ceilinged and almost stark. All incredibly fascinating.

After exploring the Old City, it was time for modernity. A couple of days later, we went to Yad Vashem - the Holocaust Museum. I have been to Holocaust museums all over Europe, and the famous one in DC, but to go to one in Israel is particularly special. Of course, there was little new to tell, but that didn´t make the memorial any less special. In fact, it was the "extras", that which was outside of the museum, which was particularly special. Ori told me how he would take his soldiers there, since education in the IDF was particularly important, and seeing all the soldiers there was interesting. The most special, or touching part of the whole area, was Children´s Memorial, an amazing trick of light and dark and mirrors, where 6 candles are endlessly reflected against mirrors in the dark to represent the 6 million who died. It was amazing. More amazing to think that the modern state of Israel, and many of the people who live there today, had lost so many to the Holocaust itself. A very intense place.