holmes sweet holmes

sucking marrow and seeking more

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

It’s a nice day for the White Desert

Black Desert Simon's photo

Photo by Simon Glogiewicz

Egypt has much to offer: the Red Sea and the Med Sea, the pyramids and Nile, and, of course, the desert. We had a three-day weekend at the end of February and decided to take a long drive (with many stops early on for our sick driver and small-bladdered travel companion) for a short stay in the Black and White Desert. It was one of the best things I have done on this two-year-long adventure.

En route to the White Desert, our camping locale for the night, we stopped at the Black Desert and ran up a mini-mountain. The smooth, black stones beneath our feet sounded like broken glass. We were sweating in February; I cannot imagine how brutally hot it is in July.

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Black Desert JUMP!

JUMP! We did one practice jump and then boom. Nailed it.

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Most of us hiked up the mini-mountain. The boys ran up, down, and up again. Can you spot them?

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Sheila and the boys on top of Crystal Mountain, our second stop

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When we reached the White Desert, our drivers displayed their mad skillz. To avoid getting stuck in the sand, we drove crazy-fast and angled into dunes in such a way I continuously thought we were going to flip. Bouncing and flying over the sand, I couldn’t help but squeal with excitement. But I was also very grateful when we all exited the jeep in one piece. 

White Desert Group

We survived

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We enjoyed the setting sun while waiting for the second jeep to join us. They did get stuck in the sand a couple of times, as they had all of our camping gear weighing them down.

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We started to set up camp in the waning sunlight, and we were immediately visited by a small desert creature, the fennec fox. He came right up to us, talking and exploring, then running away if we made any quick movements. He distracted most of us, requiring us to set up in the dark, and he later returned with a few of his friends. It was amazing!

White Desert Fennec Fox

Photo by Simon

White Desert Campsite

Our campsite by night.
Photo by Simon

White Desert Camp

Our campsite by night.
Photo by Simon

The next morning we explored the area around us. The hills were steep and tall — a great workout, as we climbed and sank, climbed and sank. We were awarded breath-taking views for working so hard. The desert stretched on for miles and miles. 

White Desert Sheila

Our campsite by day.
Photo by Sheila

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I felt like we landed on another planet.

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The white limestone was cool to the touch, even with the hot sun beating down on it.

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We saw another jeep drive across this area, and it was a teeny tiny speck in the distance. I can’t even guesstimate how large this expanse is.

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Becks, enjoying the view

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Our campsite, all packed up, from the middle of one of the hills

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After breaking camp, we drove around through the Western Desert, stopping at some of the most famous sites. 

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Allia hanging out in a mini-oasis

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A desert forest

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White Desert formations. This one looks like the Sphinx!

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The famous chicken and mushroom

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It’s not called the White Desert for nothing. Millions of years ago, it was the sea floor, and we found shell fossils in the ground we were walking over.

White Desert from Simon

Photo by Simon

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White Desert jump FAIL

Our first jump was so successful, we thought we’d attempt a repeat. Fail.

White Desert whole group

The whole crew


Special Delivery

Back in November, I was doing some online shopping and decided to put the postal service to the test. A few packages have made their way to my front door, and I assumed this one would too.  About a month ago, the letter I received in the mail — entirely in Arabic — said, alas, I would need to pick up the package from Ramses Square. No delivery. Today, I finally went to retrieve it, with assistance from an employee at my school. 

The hour-long retrieval tested my observational skills, but surprisingly, not my patience. Before you start this meandering journey with me, make a quick guess — how many employees does it take to help pick up a package?

So here goes: We enter the post office, and after a few dead-ends, someone directs us down the street, around the corner, and into the Special Packages building. From there we go upstairs, where we meet the Man in Periwinkle and ask if he can help us. He directs us inside the warehouse, which was once painted dusty rose and cream but is now simply dust-covered rose and cream paint, with a long empty walkway down the middle and tables covered in paperwork and packages — and in one instance, eight broken fans — around the sides. 

The Man in Blue Stripes collects my passport, finds my package, and hands us a half sheet of paper. I think, Fabulous! The package is right there! Not so easy, of course. He points to the Woman in Pink. 

She shuffles us to the Woman in Navy, who initials the half sheet of paper, which we return to the Man in Blue Stripes and trade for another piece of paper. 

We bring it back to the Woman in Pink and begin filling it out. I sign my name in both English and Arabic. We cross the empty walkway of the warehouse to bring the papers to the Man in Blue Stripes. 

Ah, sorry, back to the Woman in Navy first. She tells us to leave the warehouse, turn shemel, alatool shweia, and then yemeen. The Woman in Purple and Gray, who is waiting for us after that final right turn, provides multiple signatures and writes a few things in her book. 

We return to the Woman in Pink, who glances at the paperwork and immediately sends us to the Woman in Violet. She’ll help, but not until the Man in Blue Stripes gives us back my passport. We sit and wait. 

The Woman in Gray takes the paperwork away briefly as she walks from one end of the warehouse and back again. I have no idea if she did anything productive on that walk. The Woman in Violet brings us to a desk we haven’t yet seen. She scribbles a couple of things, and shuffles us back to the Woman in Pink, who makes more notes, staples more things to the paperwork, hands the paperwork to the Woman in Eggshell, and plugs some numbers into her calculator. 

Special Delivery

I only had the guts to snap one photo. Here she be.

Woman in Eggshell reviews the paperwork, initials a couple of things, takes a sip of her shai tea. The Woman in Navy walks over and collects the half paper originally supplied by the Man in Blue Stripes. We are directed out of the warehouse to the Man in Periwinkle’s office. I pay an outrageous import tax (40%! which supposedly is a deal, as it should have been 60%!) and watch the Man in Periwinkle write my receipt 4 times (yes, there were carbon copies made of each of the four receipts). Finally, we return the now Stamped and Official Paperwork to the Man in Blue Stripes. 

We sit for about ten minutes, waiting. The Man in Blue Stripes leaves to boil some water while we are sitting and waiting, so his co-worker the Woman in Brown hands us the papers and directs us to the front of the warehouse. 

The Gatekeeper asks my name (KathREEN? KathREEN?) and I sign again while she and the other Gatekeeper make notes in their ledgers. 

We return to the Woman in Brown just as the Man in Blue Stripes is arriving. Turns out multi-tasking isn’t his strong suit. He reaches for my package while simultaneously emptying the hot water carafe all over the five ledgers spread out on their tables. Slowly, calmly, practically without a reaction at all, the Man in Blue Stripes and the Woman in Brown move the ledgers out of the water and hand me the package. 

One final passing of the papers to the Gatekeepers, and we are off. 

And that, my friends, is the true story of how I became the proud owner of the most expensive t-shirts from Etsy in the whole of Cairo. 


(11. Is that what you guessed?)

el fin!

it’s march, but somehow i’m still writing about the last third of our winter break extravaganza. here’s the as-brief-as-a-wordy-person-like-me-can-make-it tale of the jordanian portion of our trip, photo by photo.


initial thoughts as i drove away from the airport: snow! infrastructure! coniferous trees!

smoke-filled, heater-less hostel — i slept with mittens on, multiple pairs of socks, and my jacket as a third blanket. didn’t help my cold at all.

walked through downtown amman. young boys hooted and hollered, and one spit on us when we yelled at him in arabi.

decided walking up the hill to the citadel wouldn’t be too bad. we were wrong!

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roman amphitheater #1



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amphitheatre + amman, view from citadel

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becks and sheilz, taking it all in

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local boys (non-spitters, these ones) carrying the jordanian flag

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exploring ruins atop the citadel; temple of hercules in the distance

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temple of hercules

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puts a whole different spin on “water park”



crazy huge roman complex. literally took hours to walk around. beautiful way to usher in 2014.

strolled through city center to find a money exchange. saw a mosque built on a roman wall. and more shoes for sale than i’ve ever seen before.

stayed in a beautiful “hotel” that overlooks hadrian’s gate. “hotel” used loosely, as there were only two rooms, run by the most adorable old man who painstakingly served us tea/coffee/breakfast.

made a friend at a local hole-in-the-wall restaurant. learned his life story as he prepared our delicious meals, played us ’90s music while we ate — tracy chapman is universal — and uploaded our picture to his restaurant’s fb page.

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middle eastern hospitality

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hadrian’s gate

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heard a rumor that jordan and lebanon have the best roman ruins in the world. after traversing the massive complex of jerash, i’d bet money on it.

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temple of artemis, photo courtesy of sheila


this one too


sat in this amphitheater and watched tiny specks enter the park via someone’s backyard. the young boys proceeded to play soccer amongst the rubble.
photo by sheila

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temple of artemis in the background

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looking at the north entrance of jerash

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temple of artemis

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temple of zeus

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temple of zeus, the largest structure in jerash, overlooking a portion of the complex


atop the temple of zeus, photo by sheila

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temple of zeus

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ended the exploration in the second amphitheater, listening to bedouins on bagpipes


photo by sheila


forgive the boots. winter footwear options are limited in the desert, and warmth will always trump fashion.
photo by sheila


karak castle

a city of hills. i found myself perfecting my clutch-and-stick-shifting skills on hills that i swear had an unnatural slope. gravity was not on our side, but we made it!

man offered to parallel park into a tight spot for us. when our car was still intact two hours later, we repaid him by lunching on our daily meal of hummus and lemon juice (nescafe for becks) at his restaurant.

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multiple dark tunnels and few tourists made for a slightly creepy experience

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photo by sheila

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a foot and lighthearted
i take to the open road,
healthy, free,
the world before me.
walt whitman



splurged our final two nights. we’d stayed well within budget for accommodations, and decided to go for the holy trifecta: heat, hot water, and wi-fi!

also, room service. and fluffy pillows and beds. and flirty staff whom we had to wake up from a post-revelery “lie-in” in order to check out. but it was cool, because from madaba, we had easy access to multiple sites. 

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st. john the baptist’s church

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underground shrine to st. john the baptist

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an ancient well below the church

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standing on mount nebo, looking across the promised land just like moses did, at the city of jericho

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the site of jesus’ baptism in the jordan river. it’s changed course over the last 2000 years, so now it is marked by the entrance to a former church.

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the jordan river

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i was on the jordanian side of the river, looking across at pilgrims on the israeli side of the river. the border is directly in the middle, and if you swim across, then you risk being shot by one of the guards on either side with their ak47s.

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we moved from one body of water to another: the dead sea.

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salt build up


the dead sea is cold in the winter
photo by sheila


look ma, no hands!

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leisure time in the lowest place on earth

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my name in arabic


flotsam and jetsam

a few random photos from earlier stages of the journey, all captured by sheila: 


jerusalem hills


in an old jewish cemetery, overlooking the old city and the dome of the rock


journaling at the mount of olives


walking through the old city in jerusalem


early morning in petra, pre-hike, when we still wanted layers of warmth




mickey mouse, impatiently walking behind us


the monastery in petra


not my greatest jumping attempt. i swear my vertical is better than that.


and…that’s a wrap. winter break 2013 finally comes to a close. 


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