Saturday, August 28, 2010

Getting to the Center -- Adventures Ahoy

We are doing well. The flights went spectacularly well, I couldn’t have asked for better, other than a few delay problems with the first flight. The kids were incredible. We got to the JC (Jerusalem Center) to drop the luggage off, and the kids were given a brief tour. They loved it, and were so excited to be here. Sadly we had to leave pretty soon to our hotel. It was an okay, modest hotel. Really pretty good for Middle East standards, but not quite the Marriotts that the kids have stayed in during the last year. It was also about 50 yards from the Dome of the Rock in a very Palestinian section. The kids were pretty worn out, were a bit stressed by not being able to understand many of the people around them or read any of the signs, and were not impressed by the hotel (though it was a very big room, with 4 twin beds). We also arrived during Ramadan, and as the sun went down people started lighting firecrackers. Some of the kids thought it was gunfire. BJ said he wanted to go home, he didn’t want to be here, he really wanted to go home. They were all fully stressed. It took a little talking and relaxing to get them feeling okay. We had some prayers, did some blessings, and within an hour BJ and everyone else told us they were glad to be there.

People fell asleep okay. But Jacob woke up after only about 3 hours of sleep and we never got him to go to sleep again. I stayed up with him for about 4 hours trying to keep him happy and quiet enough others could sleep. Everyone woke up pretty early, by about 5 am. We read some stuff, talked, listened to a kids book on cd together, and went for a walk (the weirdness of the area freaked them out a bit more). Then we were provided with a great breakfast at the hotel, went over to the JC to do some luggage switching since we had figured out some packing mistakes we had made, and then caught a taxi to the bus station. I had researched ahead of time when the bus we wanted would leave, so we got there, got the tickets, and got to the right spot with about 20 minutes to spare, which I thought was perfect. But somewhere along the way things had changed, and the bus was actually leaving an hour later than we had planned. So we waited for an hour and 20 minutes and finally got on the bus for our 5 hour bus ride. The ride went okay, most of them slept for the first half. It stopped about half way so we could use the bathroom, eat, etc. As we got off, in the middle of the desert heading towards Sinai, the heat was so oppressive it made everyone feel sick. No one felt much like eating, I got them to eat some fruit. The last half of the trip was not fun for anyone, until I got come dvd’s going on the personal dvd players. Then it went okay.

When we got off, the heat was worse than ever. It was horrible. The original plan had been to get a hotel there in Eilat, and go snorkeling on the Red Sea. However, I had misunderstood some information that the travel website I was using had given me, and the hotel we had was just across the border, in Egypt. When I had figured this out (a few months ago), I had tried to get another hotel in Eilat, but they were all gone, except the $500 a room kinds. So we caught another bus to the border. It was so, so, so very hot, the kids were dying. They were great troopers about helping to haul the luggage, etc. Sadly, the wheels on our biggest suitcase had stopped working, so for the whole trip I had to drag the big thing everywhere we went.

The border crossing was tedious, sometimes difficult, and had more hidden fees, sometimes big ones, than I had every guessed. We filled up every kind of water bottle we had just before leaving Israel, since we knew the water in Egypt was not safe. We drank it all before we got to the hotel, and were still on the verge of dehydration. The wind was strong, and very hot, and the air was burning. If the children of Israel went through that Sinai area in August I don’t blame them for complaining they would die without water. It was probably a matter of hours without it before they would die.

We got a taxi to our hotel. The hotel itself was great. We changed and went swimming in a few of their very cool pools, that included water slides, caves with water falls, a bar in the swimming pool, etc. We had a great time. Then we went back, ate some snacks, and went to sleep.

The next day we celebrated Kaleb’s birthday. The hotel provided an incredible breakfast, just incredible. Then we went to snorkel in the Red Sea. But the spot we were had had absolutely nothing to see under the water, just nothing. Oh well, we went to the swimming pool instead. We checked out of our hotel just barely when we needed to, and waited for our scheduled taxi. After a while I inquired why it had not come, only to learn that Egypt had changed time when Israel had not, and we had another hour to wait. We got some expensive ice cream to celebrat Kaleb’s birthday, and finally got to the border, again. It was just as hot, and just as tough, but he kids were so great.

We found some taxis to take us to the Jordan Border. One of them arranged some Jordanian taxis for us on the other side of the border to take us to Petra. He arranged a price that seemed like it was okay (it is hard to judge, I knew how much one taxi should be, but not how having 8 people total affected the price).

So, we did another hot, bothersome border crossing. It was really not a fun experience. But the kids were so, so great. I couldn’t believe how good they were, and though they were hot and dehydrated and tired, they were holding up so well. We had originally planned to stay in Eilat again when we finished with Petra, but since our hotel was not actually in Eilat, and we didn’t want to do the border crossing twice more when we got back, we decided to cancel the last part of the trip, and tell the folks at the JC we would get in a day earlier than we were supposed to, even though we had promised we would not.

I really, really did not like the ride to Petra. They had no van taxis, so we had to ride in two cars, and I did not like being separated from Julianne and the littlest kids. My driver kept getting so far ahead that I could not see the other car, and I would have to tell him to slow down. The fact that every Arab man we had met had demonstrated an irresistible need to touch Sabrina’s blond hair, and try to hold her and walk somewhere with her made me quite nervous. I knew we would get this a bit with out blonde girls, but it was surprising how much Sabrina got it. I had to keep an eye on her all the time. Anyway, the drivers were crazy on a very windy road, and two children threw up on the way.

The hotel in Petra was nice. Not super nice like in Egypt, but nice. We slept well, had instant oatmeal for breakfast, and went to Petra. It was a lot of hiking, and it was hot. The kids had a lot of fun, were amazing troopers, and we did well. But we didn’t see everything because after a while they voted that they would rather go back. I thought it was wise, and I think they were incredible. They really were so good during everything. We had a nice time there, nice swimming at the hotel when we got back, and a nice evening overall.

The next morning we left. Our taxi driver found out we were going to go to Eilat and then Jerusalem, and told us there was a border crossing point closer to Jerusalem we could use. It would be an hour longer drive in Jordan, but about 4 hours less in Israel. I had not chosen this border crossing point because we had been planning on staying in Eilat, and because I knew that Eilat was the only place you didn’t have to buy a Jordan visa ahead of time, you could get it on the day you crossed. I asked him if that would pose a problem for us going back. We were both pretty sure that going back you only had to pay an exit tax, but nothing else, and it wouldn’t be a problem. He called an uncle who worked for the police, who looked into it and told us we were right. So we decided to go to the King Hussein border.

Part way through the drive my driver, who was in a BMW, started driving so fast and so crazy. It was making kids sick, and I couldn’t see Julianne and the others in the other car. I kept having to tell him to slow down and keep them in sight. We later found out that he had learned that the border crossing we were heading to closed at 1 pm on Saturdays, so he was trying to hurry. But it wouldn’t have done us any good if only half of us got there, and the other car couldn’t go that fast, and it just wasn’t safe. It became a very, very stressful ride. We got a flat tire part way through also.

About ten minutes before 1 pm I learned that the border was going to shut down at 1. We tried hard, but did not make it. It turned out that they stopped letting people go across at 11 am, and letting them finish coming into Jordan at 1 pm, so we missed it b y a long ways anyway. So we reconsidered our options. There was another border to cross about an hour north, and we decided to go that way, though it meant paying for that much more in taxis. Ah well. We drove like crazy, stopping to buy a new tire along the way, etc. The kids were hot, hungry (no time to buy food, and they wouldn’t eat the granola bars I had), car sick and bored. But they really handled all of that well.

We finally got to this border (took us almost 2 hours). It was the strangest process I had ever seen. After moving from taxi to taxi to station to bus to station, paying tons, filling out lots of forms, interviews, etc., etc., we got the the Israel side, and did more of the same. There were a few stressful things involved, but with the help of the Lord we worked out way through it.

We finally got through the whole process, found a nice minibus to take us to the center for a good price, and had a nice drive here. The kids were so excited after all of that to get to this place that they feel like this is the most wonderful place on earth. They feel like it is so modern, so friendly, so beautiful, that they are absolutely in love with being here. It is very nice.

The apartment they have created for us is very nice. It is just a bit smaller than how much room we had in Hawaii. The place is magical, and we are very happy here. People have been bringing us food, and doing a lot to help us out. Today the kids played, we did a lot of unpacking, we greeted our friend family as they arrived, played in the playground, etc. There is a calm, peaceful, almost magical feeling about this place. Everyone is very, very happy to be here. I wish that the tv did not have Disney Channel, but oh well.

I have not been able to get our internet phone working, but will keep trying.

I honestly believe that while we went through some fun and very crazy and stressful stuff, that you could not have found 6 kids anywhere in the world who did it better than these 6. They were overly incredible, and I am so pleased about it. And you can see them really coming together. Overall it is great. I have a few more grey hairs, but it was great.

1 comment:

  1. I came across your blog on facebook, I think, and it's fun to get the proxy experience--thanks for sharing! (I'm not as jealous after reading as I was before :-) I hope Israel is a fantastic place to be with your family--what great experiences and memories your kids will have! Lehit!