Thursday, July 17, 2008

I still have no Internet in my apartment.

So, I'm posting from work, and I haven't brought my pre-written blog posts here. I'll get them up here eventually, I promise.

I'm missing the dig already. I like being back in the States; things like "my own apartment" and "seeing my friends" are kinda nice. But I miss the excitement of being abroad. I miss dig folks, I miss hard work every day, I miss never knowing what I'm going to see. I guess I'll have to go back, huh?

The plan for today is to go fence! I haven't fenced in ages upon ages, but I ran into Matthias at the Pub the other night, and he offered to fence epee with me today. He'll have to rescue my gear from the clutches of the Crown, but that shouldn't be too hard. I've missed my blades... they're probably pretty rusty at this point, but then again, so am I. I'll let you all know how it goes, and whether I can still live up to that "D" ranking that I earned once upon a time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Quick update

Back in the States, everyone! Alive and well. I don't have Internet at my apartment, so I'll be coming to you LIVE from the nearest Internet cafe whenever possible, until I can get the right wires plugged in at my home. I am going to finish the story, don't worry. I realized that I left out the trip to Nimrod's Fortress on day one, and it's all written and ready to be posted. Day Two is still in the works, but I've got a good chunk of it done. Following that, I just need to write up Jerusalem and Cairo. So, you've got a good chunk of Middle Eastern adventures still to come your way! Also, I'll be posting a lot more pictures.

I've heard from Mom that there have been rumblings that I should publish this account of my trip abroad. Honestly, that sounds like a fun idea, although I don't know if anyone would actually read it or be interested... I'd love to write this up in a much more in-depth fashion. As it is, you guys have gotten the pared-down version, because if I wrote every detail of what I saw, these posts would have taken me all night, every night. Anyway, if I do write more about the trip, particularly about the places I visited, I'll be sure to post it here. Keep reading!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Google is all in Hebrew again.

I have arrived at Ben Gurion International in Tel Aviv... five and a half hours before my flight starts checking in. Oh, well. Nothing for it but to keep working on the blog, but first I gotta scare off these kids that are surreptitiously checking out my laptop.

BOO!

P.S. - The first "Northern Excursion" post is predated, so it will be below this one. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Northern Excursion: Days Zero and One

This will be a postdated... predated?... entry. I'm writing it on looseleaf as I sit at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat. My hands are shaking a little - you all know I'm shy at first, although the two men here have been incredibly accommodating. But I will get to my Cairo travel stories later. For now I'll catch you up on the final group excursion.

We said our goodbyes - I may never see Liz again - and left Kibbutz Lahav at 2:30 on Friday. We didn't stop along the way, but made straight for Tiberias (Tveria, in the Hebrew). Watching the landscape change as we moved northward was enthralling. I started out by trying to finish up Warriors of God, but found myself persistently staring out the window. In the Negev, we sat perched on yellow, sun-baked, dusty hills. Straw and chaff swirled up at every movement. As we traveled north, the hills steepened and became greener. The air became wetter. We drove past mountains on both sides, and cut through one of only two passes - used since ancient times - through the Mt. Carmel range. Past the mountains, the land again sank toward the rift valley, and the terrain looked more familiar - albeit far more verdant. The Sea of Galilee, like the Dead Sea, is below sea level. To the west are the same kinds of rolling hills I encountered in the Negev, interspersed with high tells. To the east, clearly visible as a steep cliff across the Sea of Galilee, are the Golan Heights and Jordan.

We reached our hotel in Tiberias at about 5:30. Tiberias is a stunning city. It reminded me a lot of Casares, with red-tiled roofs stairstepping up steep hills. At the bottom, however, Tiberias slopes directly into the glittering Galilee. From our hotel room, we could look out over the town to the steel-blue sea. Directly across from us was an expansive view of the Golan, and the Yarmuk River Valley which separates it from Jordan was visible a little to the south. The first night, there were no particular plans, so we took to the city on our own.

Before dinner, we all set out to explore a little bit and see what could be seen in the city. We all started out heading different directions, but ended up running into eachother near an old Islamic section of the city wall, with a locked-up castle nearby. Anna and I also found an abandoned school building, which we promptly climbed into via a broken window. The walls were covered in graffiti in every language, and we found an old Hebrew school book on the floor. At this point, we had to return to the hotel for dinner; but afterward, the bus brought us to the water's edge for a night out on the town.

Social groups in this particular dig situation have been pretty fluid, so associations drifted a bit as we wandered from bar to bar along the boardwalk. Ultimately, I ended up exploring with a number of people - notable free spirit Anna and ninja Scott among them. We came upon a plaza that looked out over the water, surrounded by a railing and bordered by basalt boulders in a tumble down to the water's edge. We immediately hopped the metal railing and clambered down the boulders in the dark, with the lights of the boardwalk shining out over our heads.

We goofed off for a while by the water, and then headed back up. After making a quick detour at the merry-go-round, we returned to our rendezvous point to discover that we had been left. Unfortunately, Neil appeared to have thought that making a point on the first night was a good idea, and we were the scapegoats. We were a little cheesed, but nobody wanted to give him the satisfaction, so we took a five-shekel ($1.60) cab ride back to the hotel and said very little about it.

The next day began bright and early, on the bus by 7:45. Our first stop was Tel Hazor. This was one of the four Biblical cities fortified by David. The city was originally Canaanite, and they have a cutout figure of a Canaanite defender looking toward the valley approach that Joshua would have taken to sack the city. The view from the top of the tell was impressive - rolling hills on every side. I never think so until I reach the top, but every tell is either the highest or one of the highest points in the surrounding area, and invariably commands an expansive and militarily advantageous view. The city was mud-brick and stone, and as is usually the case, a maze of twisting walls remained. We clambered through, studying the patterns in the architecture and looking at potsherds. The most impressive part of Tel Hazor, however, was the water tunnel.

You all should know by this point how I feel about cisterns and water tunnels. I love ancient civic architecture, because it's a striking sign of strong centralized governance. Hazor's tunnel, much like Beersheva's, descends steeply down a shaft to a massive cistern cut straight into the rock beneath the tell. Water was in the cistern, albeit not much; supposedly, the winter in Israel was bad this year.

Back on the bus, and on to our next stop. The ride was long enough that I could get a bit of a nap, but the place itself also woke me up considerably: Tel Dan. Not only is it a conserved archaeological site, it's a nature preserve filled with freshwater springs. I hadn't realized what a profound effect five weeks in the desert had created, but Tel Dan underscored the relative novelty of being surrounded by water. The environment was a complete shift: shade, greenery, and the sound of rushing streams touched off excitement in the same way that the rivers in Colorado used to do when I was seven. Again, Scott, Anna and I wandered away from the group. We didn't see much of the city of ancient Dan, apart from its massive outer walls, and we missed the shrine to the golden calf. Instead, we walked the rocky stepping-stone paths of the nature preserve through the springs and pools. We climbed gnarled old trees and took our pictures knee-deep next to signs that said "No Wading". Every path was shady and cool, practically swallowed by trees and reeds and ferns. At one point, the path opened out onto an old flour mill. It was locked up tightly, but around back, we found a hidden waterfall, and some excellent views of the interior of the mill. In the path leading away were pieces of broken millstones.

I hated to leave the springs and shade of Tel Dan, but we were on our way to an even more dramatic spot. The Banias Falls are tucked down into a steep valley, at the bottom of a staircase that I'm not convinced hasn't killed anyone. (In fact, someone was hauled off in an ambulance while we were there.) This crack in the ground concealed more of the green and cool of Tel Dan, and further up the path, we found what can only be described as a sickeningly picturesque waterfall. You can probably guess by now that we hopped the railing and climbed out onto the craggy, tree-laden banks. The pool at the bottom of the fall was sky-blue, and a school of trout that made me hungry to look at them was hovering nearby. Above, the classic soft, white pillar of water tumbled over a cliff, throwing up a cool mist and creating rainbows.

We climbed back up the killer staircase and piled on the bus - all, of course, except for one. Scott, with Neil's approval, hiked up the stream trail to meet us at our next location: Caesarea Phillipi, the headwaters of the Jordan River. But first, we all settled in for lunch just outside the park, at a Lebanese restaurant (with very tasty falafel sandwiches).

Caesarea Phillipi, compared to the rest of the sites we had visited so far, had an obvious Greco-Roman bent. Entering the park, the first thing we passed was a series of pools. The brand-new Jordan River waters bubbled straight up from between the rocks. Above the pools was a rusty cliff face bearing the gaping entrance to Pan's Grotto. Into various points in the cliff face were cut altars and niches for statues. The floors were mosaic and cut marble; stables for sacred goats were nearby. The area was littered with elaborately carved marble capitals. Caves in the cliff made for a tempting climb, but I would never have made it, and even Scott looked wary. We found a number of Greek inscriptions, which Margaret and Zac attempted to translate; however, they were too worn to read clearly. This prompted Zac and me to set off for Agrippa's Palace, in search of clearer ones. We missed our mark a little and ended up heading the opposite direction, out of the park, but we quickly turned ourselves around and found a shady path next to the same stream that had led Scott up to the site. Michelle and Kristen joined up with us here, and the four of us set off exploring.

The path led us underneath a Roman bridge and past another old flour mill, much like the one at Tel Dan. Families with kids splashed in the stream nearby. Past the mill, we came upon the mostly-buried entrance to Agrippa's Palace. We could see the outline of the monolithic walls, curving inward to a narrow entryway. We descended into the palace, the inside of which has mostly been excavated. The path led us through a few twisting hallways, and out into the palace complex. At this point - yep, you guessed it - we went exploring out over the ruins. I found a columned room with more of the same gorgeous capitals.

As we moved onward through the palace complex, the structures became less distinct. Zac and I pulled ahead of Kristen and Michelle, and meandered over piles of rubble and ancient walls. Zac knows far more than I do about pottery and lithics, and as we walked along, he would date or talk about sherds or stones that we would pick up. I came away with a chunk of marble from the palace, and Zac managed to find some kind of votive figure or talisman - it clearly had a rho incised into it, which produced much excitement when he showed it to Jimmy back at the bus.

Leaving Caesarea Phillipi, we headed for our big swim in the Sea of Galilee... Unfortunately, I had forgotten my bathing suit. Not that I had ever actually had one, mind you, but I didn't even bring any clothing to change into. I rolled up my jeans and walked along the edge of the water. The sun was setting across the sea from us, and my friends in the water were no more than silhouettes. Scott gave me his camera, so that I could take some pictures of the aquatic antics. I caught a few good action shots of Scott and several of the other boys doing flips over the waves, and the landscapes to either side of us and the hills across the sea were breathtaking. I collected a few shells as well; the beach was littered with tiny spiraling white shells, and deep purple bivalves. Zac was picking up abalone and mother of pearl; his grandfather makes mandolins, and Zac is hoping he can inlay one with shells from the Sea of Galilee. Eventually, however, I just couldn't let my compatriots have all the fun; I put Scott's camera back, took off my glasses, and dove straight in. The water was beautifully warm, and the waves were high enough to tumble us around a bit. It all made for a fairly squishy ride back to the hotel, but I was well satisfied.

That night, I was utterly exhausted (and avoiding the unwanted romantic attentions of a certain creepy Gezer excavator), so I opted to call home and stay in for the evening. I finished Warriors of God at about 9pm, and promptly rolled over and passed out cold - the sign of a good day.

Here ends part 1 of the northern excursion; more to follow soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I'm alive!

And better yet, I'm in Cairo with the wonderful Lisy and Wahied! Their apartment is amazing. I'm sitting in a dining room with a view of mango trees in the Israeli embassy.

While sitting at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat, I started writing blog posts to catch you up on our Northern trip. I'll type them up later; for now, I'm going to spend some time with my hosts.

See you later!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Day... Oh Man, I Totally Can't Remember

SO MUCH has happened since I last wrote. The dig has wrapped up, we cleaned up the tell and sandbagged our squares. Then we went off to our trip up north.

I stayed for two nights in a hotel in Tiberias, from which we journeyed to various northern sites: Tel Hazor, Tel Dan, Banias Falls, Caesarea Phillipi, Nimrod's fortress, swimming in the Sea of Galilee, Bet She'an, Tel Megiddo, Caesarea Maritima and swimming in the Mediterranean by the Roman aqueducts, and then back to Jerusalem. It was a madcap trip and I have tons to say, especially about Bet She'an, which made my head burst with glee. But now is not the time.

Right now, I'm sitting in Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, where I will be for the next four and a half hours. I'm taking a midnight bus to Eilat, the town down where Israel meets the Mediterranean. There, I'll get a tourist visa to Egypt, cross at the Taba Border Crossing, and catch an East Delta Bus to Cairo.

That's right.

Cairo.

This is my pilgrimage, right here. I'm so excited. I'm going to be staying with Lisy and Wahied, who are being kind enough to give me floor to sleep on last-minute, while they are busy planning their wedding. I'm kind of flinging myself into space on this one - the program is over, everyone else is on their way to the airport. Ted is still in Jerusalem, and will be for the next couple of days, and then will move on to Akko. I said goodbye to him about an hour ago. I have no idea what to expect at the border crossing, and I've heard all kinds of mixed things about where to get a visa and how to get a bus from Taba to Cairo, but I'm told that Taba is tiny and everyone speaks English (this is from Wahied, professional tour guide, who picks people up in Taba all the time). I'm also told that I can get a visa either at the Egyptian consulate in Eilat, or just at the border crossing - we'll find out which, I guess. I'm scared shitless, but I wouldn't trade this experience for the world.

More when I'm in Cairo!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Day Thirty-One: Things Are Slowing Down

Not a whole lot to tell about yesterday. Sandbag filling was the name of the game. We jumped off the dump a bit more, and I turned my ankle (again) in the hole I was digging. I am injured six ways from Tuesday at this point... It kind of sucks. Still, sandbag-filling is a total slacker job. Ted, Kristen, Michelle, and I just hung out on the dump, chatting and telling jokes. It was pretty fun, ultimately.

Later in the evening, there was a bonfire. The bonfires are always good times, because it gives us all a chance to unwind. My guess is that there is also going to be one tomorrow night, for the Fourth of July. We're traveling on the Fourth proper, but that doesn't mean we can't celebrate with some good ol' American booze and burnin' stuff. :-)

Today was a pretty sweet day, because today was my day to go on the survey. I didn't get to go with Team Extreme, so I didn't have to walk the badlands. I can't decide whether I'm disappointed or grateful. I went with Drake, Billy, Kate, Thomas, and Jeff. I walked between Billy and Thomas. What happens is, we go out to the start of each kilometer square, and we space ourselves out fifty meters apart. We go south, turn around and redistribute ourselves, and come back up the square. We're scanning the ground for pottery, and we tag any that we find with a GPS point. If we come across any sites, we measure them and tag them as well. The constantly changing scenery is wonderful, and you never know what you're going to see that day. We almost had to cross through a Bedouin camp; I was keeping an eye out for rocks. The only way to deter Bedouin dogs is to mime throwing a rock, but if one kept coming at me, there wasn't gonna be no miming about it. We also kept running into chicken houses, and let me tell you, chicken shit is one of the worse smells in the world. Also, I had a hard enough time staying on my line without having to walk all the way around these massive poultry installations. The terrain wasn't bad; it was mostly fields, although we did encounter several wadis that I had to clamber through. I got in my share of climbing today. I had one scary moment, where I was down in a wadi maybe two meters deep, and I was trying to get out the other side and realized I was walking on nothing but a pile of dead bulrushes. Had my foot broken through, I might have been hurting pretty bad. Fortunately, I evaded the consequences of my stupidity and lived to walk a few more transects. It's hard to stay in a straight line; I had no compass or GPS unit. Only the first, third, and fifth people in the line have them, and the other two stay in between and call the GPS folks over when they need a tag. I had no way of knowing what direction I was going, so I had to gauge by sight whether I was fifty meters from Thomas and Billy. When Thomas is lagging and Billy is being speedy, though, or vice-versa, it gets a little difficult. I think I ended up walking six kilometers today. Thomas may have walked more, though; every time he got back on his transect, I'd call him over to tag another sherd. He told me he was going to whup my ass, and do it for science to boot.

We finished up early enough to stop by Casa Phillipi, Pepe's, whatever you want to call it. :-) It's a restaurant stand type thing by the freeway. The surveyors have been going there at least once a day for the past several weeks, because the food is so delicious and they have cold drinks. I had goat cheese, spices, and olive oil wrapped in a pita, and a grapefruit soda. It was wonderful, especially after having walked all day. Surveying definitely feels like an adventure; you see and do new things every day, and you get to walk all over gorgeous landscapes, run into people and dogs, and generally just be badass. We ate breakfast under the infamous tree at Tel Hesi, the central point of our surveying, and Jeff regaled me with stories about it. It made for an excellent, if exhausting, work day. My feet hurt.

When I got back, I wanted nothing more than to nap and rest my feet, especially since I had been up late last night, but we ended up going into Beersheva to visit the ATM so we could pay for our Jerusalem trips. We also stopped off at the grocery store there, and got some popsicles - a rare luxury. :-)

Currently, Oded has all of our best finds from this season on display in the dig lab, so the kibbutzniks can go take a look at what we've found. It's really impressive to see stuff that I pulled out of the ground laid out like it was in a museum. We've found some really beautiful things - the gold earring is just one piece. We also have carnelian and other types of stone beads, juglets, ballista stones, grinders, and much more. It makes me feel so cool. :-) And everything looks stunning now that it has been cleaned and tagged. Other people are taking photos, so I'll post them as soon as I can find them.

For now, though, I am beat to hell from surveying, so methinks it is nappytimes. Hasta luego!