I have to warn all of you before you read this that it is epically long. So beware - if you begin you have a long ways to go.
Well, I just returned back to the Jerusalem Center from Egypt for a week last night. I have done and seen so many things in the past week and a half that I have a lot to tell all of you. But I am going to start with last Sunday, May 9. The real adventure begins there, and it is only fitting that we start at the beginning.
Sunday, May 9 was a free day. A group was organized to go to the city of Tel Aviv and just explore and go to the beach and so on. There were many things to do such as museums, shopping, and just perusing around the city, but I just wanted to lay on the beach. And I did just that - for over 6 hours - without any sunscreen. Ya, bad idea on my part. It was a great day - the beach had the softest sand that I've ever felt, the water was amazing, and I loved swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. However, that night I was not so happy. I got one of the worst sunburns that I have ever had. I was already in pain that night, and I knew it would only get worse. But again, it was my own fault, and I can't complain too much. More details on this to come.
Monday, May 10 was a field trip day. We were able to go to the archeological site of Jericho. This was the place where Joshua captured the city and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down (according to the song). It wasn't all that special, but it was a good field trip day.
Tuesday and Wednesday May 11 and 12 weren't too exciting either. They basically consisted of lots of classes before we left for Egypt, Egypt orientation, doing laundry for Egypt, packing for Egypt, and everything to do with Egypt.
Thursday May 13 was the epic start to my adventures of Egypt! We left at 6:30 am and starting driving towards Egypt. We made a couple of stops along the way at Tel Beersheba (the possible place where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could have resided) and the Wilderness of Zin. We did a hike in a canyon within in the Wilderness, and it was pretty epic.
It was a very steep climb out of the canyon, but it was fun to not have to sit in the bus the entire day. That night we stayed over at a kibbutz right outside the border of Israel. For those who don't know, a kibbutz is basically the law of consecration put into practice. Essentially it is a self-sufficient living environment. Everyone in the kibbutz contributes to make sure that it is functional. Everyone's salary, whether working in a job outside the kibbutz or working within the many enterprises that the kibbutz has, goes to the kibbutz, and they get about $200 a month back for their services. This may not seem like very much, but all of their food, housing, bills, cars, gas, everything is provided free of charge for them. It is a very interesting set up, and I don't think I could live that way unless the Lord commands it. Haha. The leader of the kibbutz took us out on an adventure in the sand dunes that occupy southern Israel. We did a 20 minute hike up the top of a hill, and below us were the biggest sand dunes I have ever seen (but I have never seen the sand dunes of southern Utah). We had about half an hour to just goof off and play around on the dunes. After that we were told to spread out from everyone - no one was supposed to be visible to us. We then had a certain amount of time to just sit, think, contemplate, meditate, and just be by ourselves. This time was very insightful. My life is so busy that I don't know if I've ever had that much time to just sit and think about my life, my goals, my future, my testimony, and anything else. After a certain amount of time (I think it was like half an hour or so), we had a piece of paper on which we were supposed to write down our thoughts. I thought/wrote about so many things. Many of them pertained to my future and the uncertainty that lies ahead for me. It honestly got me a little nervous and feeling quite unsure of myself. But through all of my doubts towards the end of my writing time, a great peace came over me. The Spirit bore witness to me that basically everything will work out in Heavenly Father's way and time. I shouldn't be worried about it as long as I keep the Spirit close to me and a part of my life. Everything will work out. In the end, everything will be okay. It was so reassuring to feel the Spirit and have it testify to me of those things. The desert really can bring the Spirit into anyone's life. Anyways, it was such an amazing experience, and my testimony of the Holy Ghost was strengthened greatly. That night we slept over at the kibbutz, had a BBQ, swam, and played volleyball. It was a great day full of adventure.
Friday May 14 we actually crossed the border into Egypt. The rest of the day basically consisted of driving - we drove from 10:30 to about 4:30 with two rest stops. Ya, long day. One great thing was that we were able to have a sacrament meeting that afternoon. In Islam, their holy day or 'sabbath' is on Friday, and with Egypt being an Islamic country, the Church holds their meetings on Fridays. That concept is still so foreign to me, but it's kinda cool. It was also very refreshing to have a spiritual boost after a long day of sitting on a bus for like 6 hours.
Saturday May 15 was so awesome! The first thing we did was see the Great Pyramids! We even got to go inside one to where the tomb of pharaoh was. Man, it was awesome. I think that the pictures are better than anything.
And yes, we did make a human pyramid in front of the Great Pyramids. Original, I know. Haha.The only way to describe them is - HUGE! They seriously are so big. It still blows my mind that they were built like 4500 years ago. Then we went to see the Sphinx - the big stone structure with the head of a man (signifying wisdom and knowledge) and the body of a lion (signifying strength and power). They are also awesomely huge, and again I got great pictures.
They are also huge and pretty awesome. We then went to a papyrus factory where we learned how to make papyrus. That night we took a plane from Cairo, which is is northern Egypt, to Luxor in (more) southern Egypt. The only way to describe Luxor is - HOT!!!!! I thought Cairo was hot - ya, not compared to Luxor. One of the days we were there it got up to about 120*F! Pretty hot? I think so. Anyways, once we got to Luxor we just went to the hotel which was a 5-star Sherton, ate dinner, and went to bed.
Sunday May 16 was a very early day seeing as how we were trying to beat the heat. We left at 6:00 am to go to the Valley of the Kings. This is where the latest pharaohs were buried. Think that they have excavated over 60 tombs, and we were able to go inside three of them. One thing that amazed me was that the original paint on the hieroglyphs was still there. Things that were painted over 3500 years ago still had vibrant color. I can't even describe it. We also go to see King Tutankhamun's tomb and his mummy. Haha. It was pretty gross but cool. That night we were able to take a little boat ride on the Nile River and then take an hour long ride on a camel!!! This was the funnest thing that I did the entire trip! On the camel ride we were able to ride through the rural and agricultural lands of the local Nile farmers. It was cool to see the real side of the story in Egypt and experience the beauty of the country up close and personal. And again, I got such amazing pictures!
That night we had some free time, and I of course went shopping. What else would I do with my free time? Haha.
Monday May 17 was the amazingly hot day that I was telling you all about before. Oh man, it was so hot! Anyways, that day we went to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. They were temples built by the later pharaoh's. They weren't that particularly special except for how awesomely huge they were and what amazing hieroglyphs they had.
We spent the morning touring those two temples, had lunch, and then had a free afternoon. I just chilled at the hotel because it was so hot, and I was also exhausted. That night we took a night train from Luxor back to Cairo. Oh man, this was an experience in and of itself. I don't know how many of you have ever been on a night train, but they are so crazy. It's pretty much like an airplane but a train instead. It was so small - there were two beds that came out of the wall, a small little sink, and a communal toilet. Man, it was so awesome! It was way fun just because all of the students were there together. And we had some great girl talk that night - Haha! And I surprisingly slept pretty well which I wasn't expecting, but hey, I'm definitely not complaining.
Tuesday May 18 we got woken up on the train at 4:00 am! Again, the early mornings were starting to catch up with me. Anyways, we arrived at the hotel, had breakfast, and then set out to see some Coptic (Egyptian Christian) churches and then the Egyptian Museum. This museum has so many amazing things in it from all the different ages of Egypt's history. The most amazing thing that they have are the treasures found in King Tutankhamun's tomb. There was so much gold, jewelry, statues, chariots, and huge coffins. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take any pictures inside - lame! After the museum we went the Hark Rock Cafe for lunch!
Oh man it was amazing!!! Oh, most of you don't know that dietary restrictions we had there. We weren't able to drink any of the water because they just filter the Nile water which has raw sewage running into it so we had bottled water the entire trip. We couldn't eat any fresh fruits or vegetables that couldn't be peeled because they wash their fruits/veggies in the Nile water. The dairy was questionable. If any of you know me, the fruit and vegetable restriction was horrible for me! All I ate pretty much the entire trip was rice, bread, and cooked vegetables. However,I did survive. Anyways, so yes, the Hard Rock was a nice treat. After Hard Rock we had time to go shopping at a huge local bazaar which had tons of tourist trinkets. That was pretty much the day.
Wednesday May 19 was pretty much a driving day. That morning we did visit some Islamic mosques which were cool, and then we headed on the road to the base of Mt. Sinai.
It was such a fun bus ride! I definitely grew a lot closer to the people in my group on that ride. Once we got to the hotel we had a really early night because... Well I'll explain in tomorrow's notes. :)
Thursday May 20 we got a wake up knock at 2:00 am. Yes, that is correct, 2:00 am. We left around 2:30 and got to the base of Mt. Sinai around 3:00 am. And then, we started our hike to the summit of Mt. Sinai. Yes, this is the Mt. Sinai in which Moses communed with the Lord, saw the burning bush, received the Ten Commandments, etc. And we hiked it at 3:00 am. It was about a 2 hour hike, so we got to the top around 5:00 am. It wasn't too horrible because I took it slow and wanted to enjoy the hike up there. It was kinda weird because we could not see anything except what our flashlights could show us. We were so oblivious to what we were actually walking across. Once we were up to the top, we sang various hymns while we watched the sun rise over the amazing landscape before us.
I don't think I have ever seen anything so beautiful and breathtaking in my life. We were up there for about an hour and a half, so we got to see the entire sunrise.
And yes, I took loads of pics, but you can see them all when I get back. After we came down from the summit, we had a little testimony meeting for those who wanted to share their thoughts. It was really uplifting to hear the testimonies of my friends and fellow students. We then came down from the mountain which was just as treacherous as going up. Once we got back to the hotel I showered, ate lunch, and then loaded onto the bus to come back to Jerusalem. We drove to the Egyptian border, crossed the border (which took over two hours for everyone to get through), and then drove on to Jerusalem. We got back to the Center around 10:00 pm. I then got on my e-mail (of course that was the first thing we all did!), and then called my mom. I had missed being in contact with everyone, especially my family, for the week. I didn't end up getting to bed until about 12:30 am, so I had a 22.5 hour day.
Now for my reflections on this entire experience - I absolutely loved the amazing things I saw. Like I said previously, I still can't comprehend how people built such awesomely huge and amazing structures over 4000 years ago! I definitely gained a greater appreciation for their amazing dedication. I also learned a lot about the religion of their ancient culture, and I think they had some light given to them from God. They were very concerned with the afterlife and making sure that they did everything to return back to the Gods and become a God themselves. Umm, sound familiar? It was really cool to make connections between their various beliefs and what I know to be true. I am definitely also much more grateful and aware of my living conditions - clean water, clean and healthy food, and a floor not made of dirt. I don't think I really understand how much I've been given. Actually, I know I don't, but this trip definitely helped me realize how truly blessed I am - physically, materially, and spiritually. I am so much closer to the other people in my program now. When you are in close confined quarters like a bus for an entire week it's kinda hard not to get close. I love these people so much!!! I am so glad that I had the opportunity to see all that I did, but I sure am glad that I am back at the Jerusalem Center again. It feels like home now, and I am definitely done with traveling.
Anyways, thanks for listening to me rant and rave about my amazing adventures in Egypt. I hope you all enjoyed, and feel free to comment!