Monday, April 23, 2012

And We'll All Float On Anyway...

Here's the thing.

Keaton Hudson is a wonderful photographer. He's been documenting the entire trip, and doing a great job.

Please check it out here:

Keats, thanks for the new profile pic.

Just floating in the Dead Sea.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Here's an excerpt from the official blog that I am keeping for the Westmont in Istanbul program.

For the full thing, please check out:

Please ignore the bit about me being home in 10 days, that ain't true. 

I'm staying aboard this crazy train for a few more weeks...


April 10-15    Bethlehem, Israel/Palestine

  • These five days were a welcome change of pace as we entered our last country. We settled into our digs at the Tantour Ecumenical Center, and began looking at the incredible land around us.
  • About twice a day, students would pass through Bethlehem checkpoint to enter the city itself. Some of the time was spent looking at the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the marks it has/is still leaving on Bethlehem; and part of the time was spent visiting some of the historical and traditional sites of Christianity. 
Looking at the Church of the Nativity...
(c) Kurt Walker
...And the Conflict. (c) Kurt Walker

  •  We snuck into Jerusalem for a remarkable day on Friday, April 13. Eastern Orthodox Good Friday coincided with the last day of Passover this year, and the amazing city of Jerusalem bustled with excitement. We managed to successfully maneuver through the winding streets - and even into the Church of the Holy Sepluchre in the middle of a procession - and come out the other side full of unforgettable stories. 

April 16-17    Galilee, Israel
  • We spent an amazing day and a half up in the Galilee. 
    • Visiting Campernaum, we were able to walk in the ruins of a synagogue similar to the one that Jesus would have preached in.
    • Floating on the Sea of Galilee, we felt winds like those that Jesus' words quelled.
    • Upon the Mount of the Beatitudes, we reminisced on the incredible words of the Sermon on the Mount.
  • The next day, we were honored to hear from Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian who preaches a message of reconciliation based around the events of his own astounding life.

April 18-21    Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine
  • The past three days have been a blur of site visits (the Western Wall, Garden Tomb, city rooftops, Southern Steps, etc.), street-side interactions, lectures (on topics like Jewish history and sects, Christian Zionism, and the Jewish roots of Christianity), and religious ceremonies (churches and synagogues). 
Heck of a way to end the semester, eh?

Parents, family, and friends - we'll be home in 10 days... Are you ready?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Good Friday Indeed...

Stress. I felt a lot of stress.

The plan for the day had been laid out and I was supposed to be responsible for 5 college students as they walked around a city I don't know on one of the busiest days of the year.

We got on the number 24 bus just outside of the Bethlehem checkpoint.

I just needed to pray and clear my head. 

When we arrived at Jaffa Gate, I collected our team and smiled - it was gonna be fine. We were gonna enjoy every bit of today, no matter where we ended up and how long it took us to get there.

So, I took a big breath and walked through the threshold of Earth's holiest city: Jerusalem.

We headed East. 

I had no idea that the old city is basically just a giant bazaar, but found out quickly as the small shops continued to go on for the entire street until I stumbled almost headlong into the sign that said Western Wall.

We walked down the steps and I reveled at the place. What majesty was here. It is an incredible testament to the buildings that once laid on this foundation.

You see, today was particularly special, as it is the last day of Passover. There was a large group of orthodox Jews gathered in front of the last remaining piece of Soloman's great temple. 

I found myself in the middle of said crowd who were all reading, bobbing, shaking hands, smiling, praying, and worshiping. 

There is a sort of sublime surrealism to the place.

It's humbling to say the least. 

Western Wall below and Dome of the Rock above.
After trying to process just where I was, we turned and headed North.

Our plan was to park somewhere along the Via Dolorosa and people watch. This didn't really happen.
A Russian pilgrim prays against his cross...

We found our way to the Via, but it was blocked off by Israeli Defense Force officers. So, we tried another road. Fortunately, this one was open. However, it was a tiny little alleyway absolutely swarming with people, crosses, incense, and singing.

You see, today was particularly special, as it is Orthodox Good Friday. There was a large group of Orthodox Christians processing down the road over which Jesus' carried his cross.

We were planning on just watching, but got sucked into the stream of people and before we knew it were lead directly into the church of the Holy Sepluchre.

I can honestly say I have never experienced anything like this before. It was a flash-bang grenade of sights, songs, scents, and spirits.

The church is so beautiful - and so complex and fought over - it hurts.

I need to go back so that I can actually experience the place.

The Dome of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre.
Then we headed out of the city as we were going to go to the Mount of Olives.

We didn't quite make it the way we had planned.

We happened to be leaving the city right at the wrong time.

We tried to make it through the Lion's Gate at the same time as hundreds of Muslims who had just finished praying.

You see, today was particularly special, it's Friday, the Islamic holy day, and Muslims use this day to go pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque atop the Temple Mount.

We were pressed up against a crowd of men, prayer rugs in hand, all leaving the Old City to return to their families.

What should have taken us a minute took a half hour as the crowd bottle-necked out of the city.

But frankly, I didn't mind.

I was in awe of it all.

What a day.

I later realized that in the span of one day, I was completely surrounded at three different times by Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the middle of their pilgrimages.

Now that puts this city in perspective.

Welcome to Jerusalem.

On the Banks of the Jordan...


What a trip.

Are there even words to describe Jordan with?

We spent our first three days in Amman. The capital city of Jordan was mightily unexplored by our group. We spent most of our time in the residence we stayed in. We did manage to at least walk around every night, and got out via taxis on two nights. However, I feel as though I know nothing of Amman.

Although, on our way out, we did get to visit the beautiful King Abdullah Mosque. It's obvious contrast to the mosques of Turkey piqued my curiosity and made me enjoy it's architecture perhaps more than is warranted.
That's a lot of little blue tiles...
As we packed up from Amman, there was something of a weight lifted off my shoulders. Dana and I had panned the entire 10 days of our groups' time in Jordan - which of course made me want to deliver the best product that I could. The lectures in Amman were definitely the part that was most on our backs. They went so well - the students all appreciated them and the speakers enjoyed talking.

But after Amman, it was basically all on the tour company's back.

And man did they deliver.

The Dead Sea
OK... This place is crazy.

I have never felt like I did wading in the waters of this sea. It's completely inexplicable. I spent most of my time on my back, and laughing. It's just such an absurd feeling, you can't help but laugh!

Naturally, it took about 1.5 minutes for the guys to lost their trunks.

Yup, I'm proud to say that I carried on Chris's legacy and swam nekkid in the Dead Sea.

Petra by Night

We drove from the Dead Sea to Petra and got in just at dusk. The valley - Wadi Musa (meaning Valley of Moses) - was lit in deep reds and browns as the sun set.

At 8:30 we made our way into the Petra complex, following only the light of candles laid along the pathway.

It made the whole experience so mysterious - climbing through a canyon complex that you have never been to, only by what's visible from small candles and the full moon's light.

Epic is the word.


I have wanted to see Petra since I first discovered that it was a real place after watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I had imagined riding down the canyon on horseback into a vast opening with the Treasury exploding into view in all of its glory.

I wasn't disappointed.

Well, minus the horse. There were none of those.
Choose Wisely.
What I didn't know was that this is only one small small part of Petra. We got here by noon and hiked the rest of the afternoon throughout the massive Petra complex. This is by far the most massive and impressive archaeological site I've ever been to.

When you think "meh... that's the least impressive four-story-high-ancient-tomb-carved-into-the-canyon-wall-two-thousand-years-ago I've seen today" you are spoiled.

Wadi Rum

The next day we drove to Wadi Rum to spend two nights camping with the Bedouin.

Come. On.

This is the section of the desert that T.E. Lawrence settle down in and explored/fought for in the early 1900s.

I'm not sure it's changed much since then.

We began our Bedouin adventure witha two hour camel ride. Yup. I've become a master camel rider in the past week.
The Caravan...

Our Fearless Leader

What I Saw.

No Problem for Dana.

Happy Joe Young.
 We arrived at our camp after those two back-numbing hours and then spent the next day and a half wandering, jeeping, and climbing around Wadi Rum.

I felt so at home in the desert.

Who would have thought?

I already miss the feeling of sand, the Bedouin tea and music, the awe-inspiring sunsets, the way-too-dangerous rock climbing, and the pace of desert life.

See you soon Wadi Rum...

Biblical Sites

After leaving the desert, we made it to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan.

Where John baptized Jesus.


Not sure I can capture what it felt like to dip my feet into the Jordan where Jesus' (probably) dipped his, other than to say that it was mysteriously amazing.

Then, to Mt. Nebo, where Moses caught his glimpse of the long-awaited Promised Land and finally rested his weary feet forever.

It was so chilling to look into Israel from where Moses did and know that I was going to complete the journey he never could.

Which is exactly what I did the next day.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Making Drake Proud...

How do you chart your travels?

This is my new favorite technique.


Cyrillic is a really fun script. I love it.

Mapping the journey...

This was one heck of a day (see below).
Oy... Massive task ahead. I'll get you yet Arabic!

April 1, 2012

3:30 AM  - Wake up. Groggy. Smile, cause this is the last time I will wake up in the annoying dorms at Yeditepe University.
4:00 AM  - Get on the bus. Run around herding the students into the bus. Feel terrible as it is breaking hearts on both sides of the car doors.
4:15 AM  - Cross the Bosphorus Bridge from Asia into Europe. Frown, because it hits me that this is the last time I will be in Istanbul until who-knows-when. Recognize that I love this city.
4:45 AM  - Get to Atatürk airport and try to check-in. There is no one from Turkish Air at group check-in. Uh oh.
5:25 AM  - Still no one. Don't Panic. Where's my towel?
5:45  - Finally she shows up and tries to expedite our check-in. This technique kinda works.
6:05  - Get passport stamped.
6:10  - Begin running to gate.
6:20  - Still running.
6:30  - Gate in sight. Still running.
6:40  - Get on plane for our schedules 6:45 take-off. Phew.
7:15  - Plane takes off. Birds on the runway keep us taxiing for far too long on the tarmac.
7:20  - Watch the sunrise over Istanbul. Officially miss it for the first time. That didn't take long...
8:45(Egyptian Time)  - Land in Cairo, Egypt, Africa (counting the continents?)
9:00  - Get passport stamped (#2).
9:45  - Hop on tour bus.
10:05  - Cross the river Nile. Think: 'Woah... I'm in Egypt.'
10:15  - Realize that Cairo isn't at all how I imagined it. Officially give up on thinking that I can try to transliterate any of the signs.
10:30  - Get to the Great Pyramids at Giza. Say "This is SO surreal!" for the first of at least 100 times that day.
10:45  - Climb all over the stones. Obligatory. Get caught in sandstorm of epic proportions. Perfect setting.
10:50  - Get back on bus, drive to panorama shot. Remember to get in a few photos. Proof.
11:10  - Take a bunch of pictures at the Sphinx. This is pretty awesome.
11:35  - Herd back onto bus. 
12:00 PM  - Cross back over the Nile. Still can't believe where I am.
12:20  - Start to process Cairo. Fail to understand the terrain - so much sand.
13:00  - Return to airport. Easy and successful check-in.
13:05  - See Sarah Iskander. Talk separated by glass wall. Feel particularly like I'm incarcerated.
13:30  - Get passport stamped (#3).
13:50  - Get told that since we put together Jordan, we are calling all the shots. For the next 10 days, we are the Program Directors. DON'T PANIC. Start clutching said towel...
14:30  - Take off from Cairo. Watch as we ascend in the sandstorm. Surface from the storm at about 20,000 feet. It was this serene picture of a horizon created by the sandstorm, dotted with huge clouds on top of it, and a stunning look at the full moon in broad daylight. It felt kinda like this:
That said, I have never in my life felt like Keanu Reeves. 
16:00  - Land in Amman, Jordan, Middle East, Asia (full-continental-circle).
16:30  - Drive through a city that feels how I imagined the Middle East would feel. 
17:15  -  Check into our residence for the nest four nights. 
19:00  - Mind melts from complete overload.