Sunday, January 22, 2012

Well life is still good here in Saudi. Even though we may not have the most exciting life, we are happy and still enjoying it. Our life is quite simple here but is filled with enough quality things that we can enjoy as a family.

Rachel has been here for 6 weeks and was supposed to go home this Thursday, February 2 but decided that since her new semester at BYU-Idaho doesn't start until April 14 that she would stay longer. She came in our room a few days ago and said that her job back in Utah was really slow right now and they didn't need her to work so she wanted to know if she could stay. Of course we said, YES! The next day I changed her flight and she now is going to stay another two months here. WOO HOO!

She has adapted to our simple life style here and having to wear the Abaya. The Abaya was the first gift we gave her when she arrived here. We really don't have to wear it that often because most of our time is spent at school or in our compound where it isn't required but she is getting used to it.
Nicole taught Rachel how to cover her head and face using just a scarf. We never have to do this or should I say we have never been asked to cover up. Technically they could tell us that we need to cover our hair but usually they leave the Westerner's alone.
Yes, Rachel can even make an Abaya and scarf look good.

One night we went out to dinner with our neighbors the Gerber's and the Brown's. We went to an Arab restaurant in the cultural section of town. They put us in this large room where they had pillows along the walls and carpets on the floors. Very traditional.
The came in and rolled out a long piece of plastic and set the table right on the floor.

We then all gathered around and ate right on the floor. Not quite the most comfortable way to eat for us old folks but we had to experience the traditional Arab feast. Of course the food was AWESOME!!!!!! We haven't yet tasted anything here that we didn't like.
Rachel being goofy. She caught this picture right as I was yawning. We were at Nicole's band concert at school and I guess Rachel was bored because she started taking goofy pictures with my phone. I really wasn't bored but obviously very tired.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dead Sea and Karak

While we were in Jordan we went to the Dead Sea. Even though it was December the water was still warm enough to swim so we took the opportunity to do just that. We found a place that had little chalets on the beach where we could pay a daily fee and use the showers. It was a little more than just paying to go on the public beach but we wanted to make sure we could shower off all the salt water afterwards. We were told the salt can really do some havoc to your skin if you left it on.
We had to walk down a little hill to get to the beach below. It was very rocky and with the waves and currents we had to be extra careful not to cut our feet or hands on the rocks in the water which were covered with very sharp salt crystals. We also were told to make sure to keep our mouths shut and not splash water into our eyes.
The rocks on the shore and under the water were covered with these sharp salt crystals.
Gavin, Rachel, and Jonny were the first to brave the conditions. The water was warmer than the air so it actually wasn't too bad. The hard part was walking out into the water and not falling on the rocks when the waves came in.
It was very strange once you got into the water. We jumped expecting to have to swim and paddle to keep afloat but that wasn't necessary at all, in fact, it was difficult to try not to float.

After a few minutes in the water, Nicole started complaining about her eyes stinging because water accidentally splashed in her eyes. We were giving her a hard time and telling her to stop being a baby about because it was just a little salt water. She had a hard time getting out because she couldn't open her eyes. A few minutes later water splashed in my eye and I felt bad for getting mad at Nicole because it really hurt BAD!!!! It was like someone literally poured a teaspoon of salt in my eye and there was nothing you could do about it but let it wear off. Not a pleasant feeling. Jonny, Nicole, and Gavin all got little scratches from the rocks.

After spending a few minutes in the water we showered and were off to see the crusaders castle in Karak.
We didn't spend too much time here because it is nothing compared to Jerash or Petra.

They even had double sinks back in 1400 AD.
Our tour guide helped us take some cool pictures with the different lighting coming into the castle.

Vika's hand is glowing!!!!! WOW!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trip through the desert to Jordan and the Holy Land

We decided that since gas prices are insanely cheap here, about 35 cents a gallon, that we would take a road trip this year during Christmas break. Rachel came to visit us during her break and so with six people, air flights can get pretty pricey. Gavin researched and talked to several people who have driven to Jordan from here so we decided to give it a try.

Rachel arrived here on December 19. She was a little jet lagged but since we weren't out of school until the 21st, she had a few days to get over it until our big adventure.

We were told that you could do the drive to Amman, Jordan all in one day. We got several different versions as to the amount of time. Some said 13 hours, others said 17 hours. We decided to give it a try.

We packed up our car with the basic necessities and were on our way at 4:30 in the morning. We had maps to help us along the way since our GPS chip for the Middle East was shipped to Gavin's sister's house in Utah and she didn't get it in time to send with Rachel. The road to Amman from Khobar is pretty straight going along the Iraq border so we weren't too worried about getting lost.

The terrain was very flat with lots and LOTS of sand and desert. Still we were able to see and do some interesting things along the way.

Along the highway are posted signs warning about camels crossing the highway. Not cattle crossings, but camel crossings.
Camels were walking all along the side of the road. They were in herds and seemed to mind their own business as they traveled next to the road.
We still couldn't believe that Rachel was finally here with us. We kept saying "Rachel is here". It was nice to be able to talk to her without the use of a computer or cell phone. Many of our conversations over the past few months were texting using Whatsapp or Skype. We sure have missed her and were so excited to have her here with us for 6 weeks.

The terrain was very dry and occasionally a small butte would appear. There were areas with sand dunes but Saudi isn't just that. Most of the area we traveled through was similar to driving through Las Vegas or Phoenix. Dry, rocky and very little vegetation.
The speed limit sign caused a little problem for us. We have tried learning to read at least the numbers and what looks like a 7 to us is actually a 6 in Arabic and a backwards 7 is a two. Well we must have been extremely tired or dyslexic because both Jonny and I read this sign as being 160 kph. Gavin kept asking us are you sure? And we said yes, it's 160, so........
He went 160 kph. We thought, "cool we can get there faster at this speed". So, for several hours we were cruising at 160 kph until a cop had to flash us down with his lights to pull over. We weren't sure why or what we did but with his broken English he explained " 120 speed, 130 ok, 140 ok, but 160 NO" Our act of ignorance didn't get us out of a ticket. Not sure what the fine will be since the ticket is all in Arabic. Not even sure how we are supposed to pay it. Good thing we have a Government Relations department at our school who will help us out.

We were a little embarrassed that we didn't read the sign correctly. Oh well, I don't think we will ever get the 6 and 2 mixed up again in Arabic.

Our dear sweet Rachel brought one of my favorite things in the world to us...Spitz Sunflower Seeds. I could live on these back home. We call them our "additional insurance policy" when we travel because they are perfect to keep you awake on long drives.
We saw miles and miles and spent hours and hours looking at this out the window. Sand, sand, and more sand.

The kids watched movies, read, listened to Ipods and slept most of the time. Vika thought she owned the seat. She has such a loving brother to let her sprawl out all over him.
We thought this was a funny picture. A pick up truck with two camels sitting in the back. I guess since they don't like dogs here, pet camels ride in the back of the truck. The guy wasn't the friendliest person and was getting mad at the gas station attendant so Gavin didn't want to get too close to get the picture, but it was very strange to see.

Yes, I know this is a gross picture but we had to document the entire trip...even the roadside toilets at the gas stations. Remember we were travel out in the middle of no where so we had to take any type of toilet we could get. Still these were much cleaner and nicer than some that we saw in China but thank goodness for hand sanitizer. We learned in China to never leave home without your own tissue or toilet paper and hand sanitizer. That is true here as well.
The driving was very long. We got to the Jordanian border around 7:00, 14 1/2 hours later. We pretty much were the only ones at the border but it took us about 45 minutes to cross because we had to get a visa for each of us, car insurance, inspections, and paper work. We still had about 2 hours of travel time to go. It was a little unnerving at times because it was dark and we were in remote areas so the roads weren't lighted very well. We had to slow our pace down and just prayed that we were taking the right roads. Most of the signs are in both Arabic and English so we just followed the signs to Amman. Once we got to Amman we were unsure exactly how to get to our hotel. We had the address and names of the streets we needed to take but couldn't figure out the street signs. Someone must have been watching over us because we just followed the signs towards the city center and prayed it was the right direction. Fortunately we happened to be on the right road and drove right to the hostel. We arrived around 9:30 (really 8:30 in Jordanian time because they are an hour ahead of us here in Saudi). The total drive time was 17 hours which included stopping at the border and all our potty stops. It was a very long day.

When we woke up the next morning we had a nice view of the city and were ready to go explore.
Above the city on the hill is the citadel which was an old site that Romans, Byzantines and Muslims built a temple, church, and a mosque.
As we were walking to the Citadel we were trying to find an old Roman amphitheater. We saw this site that was all chained up and thought it was it so we took a picture. We couldn't get it and thought it was just closed. We found out later that this wasn't the amphitheater and was just some old site with no meaning. Silly tourists!!!!! No wonder people were looking at us strangely when we were taking a picture.
This picture is out of order but is another shot of the lovely road side toilets we had the privilege of using on our trip.
This is the actual amphitheater that we were looking for. Why in the world did we think it was that other small site. This was huge and was right across the street from our hostel.
My pictures are a little out of order here but we were able to visit Mt. Nebo in Jordan where they believe Moses is buried or died. He left the people and walked up into the mountains and was never seen again. This is where they believe he went. Not much to see here except a memorial sculpture of the serpent staff.
Mt. Nebo overlooks valleys on one side and the Dead Sea can be seen in the distance on the other side. We can now say that we have been to the top of the original Mt. Nebo in Jordan, not Utah.
Back to our first day in Jordan.

On our walk up to the Citadel we passed a little meat shop with these in the window. Yummy!!!!! Are they lambs or goats? Anyone want some roasted goat or lamb head for dinner?
We were trying to find the way up to the Citadel and stopped to ask several people. The people here and in Saudi are some of the nicest people we have ever met. We were told to just walk up the hill and we would see the Citadel, so we did. We got to this fork at the road and couldn't decide which way to go so we guessed. A man called to us from an old abandoned building on top of the hill and motioned for us to come up that way. We weren't sure but we followed him. He was a very nice homeless guy and actually was showing us a short cut into the Citadel. We actually ended up jumping a fence into the area and felt bad so we walked back towards the entrance to actually buy an entrance ticket.

As we were walking to the entrance, there was an amazing view from an old wall of the abandoned building where each of the kids went out on.
Jonny overlooking Amman.

The Romans built a temple for Hercules in the citadel. Of course all kids have seen the Disney movie Hercules which gave this some sort of meaning.
Gavin....king of the hill.
The columns at Hercules temple were HUGE. The temple was destroyed by earthquakes which is amazing that and earthquake could actually knock over these huge columns. The crash of the columns alone could create an earthquake.

This is part of the hand and behind it is part of the shoulder of a statue of Hercules that stood 13 meters high here by the temple.
The kids were pretending to hold up the columns here.
The temples were all built with huge columns which are so inspiring as they rise up to heaven. These places are absolutely amazing.
We walked up to the Citadel and were amazed at the sites here. Little did we know that this was small potatoes compared to what we were going to see later in the day and in Petra. None the less, it was rather spectacular.
They had quite a few different artifacts here at the Citadel. This looks very Egyptian.
The mosque was built hundreds of years ago here at Citadel by the Muslim people. Just some incredible details everywhere we looked.

After spending about an hour at the Citadel we headed off to Jerash which is about an hour north of Amman. Jerash is a site of one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world. We were given directions on how to drive to the city but had a hard time finding the entrance. We took a wrong turn through the city that took us on some VERY narrow streets up and down hills. We were a little worried that were would get stuck because the streets weren't necessarily made for big four wheel drive vehicles like our Honda MRV (Passport). Fortunately we made it out of that area and asked some Jordanian police officers sitting in their car. They spoke very little English but were able to say "back, lefty, righty. Welcome to Jordan". That became our joke the rest of the trip. Whenever we didn't know where to go we'd say "back, lefty, right. Welcome to Jordan".

We finally found the entrance and spent the next three hours exploring one of the most spectacular places in the world.

This is the gates entering the city.

Everything here is huge. The Romans knew how to do things on a grand scale.

After entering the city gates, they had a chariot race arena. We missed the chariot races by about 30 minutes.

This is the road leaving the arena into the oval plaza at the entrance of the city.
It's all greek to me!
The oval plaza was surrounded by 64 columns to represent the year the city was built in 64 AD. The columns all had a rectangular stone which is hollow to make a musical sound when they were hit. When there was an earthquake, they would move and hit against each other to create a musical sound to warn the people of an earthquake.
This is the city road leaving the oval plaza into the shopping area. All along the sides of the road were once merchant shops. They even had sidewalks for pedestrians.

In one of the shops was this stone which was once a chopping block for a butcher shop. It's hard to see in the picture but you can actually see the knife marks made from chopping meat.

The streets were paved with large stones that were normally place diagonally. These stones were placed straight which indicated a cross walk for pedestrians. Even back in 64 AD then had crosswalks.
This was the plaza of a market place. In the center was a large fountain which the stones formed a cross in the center. While we were here in the plaza we met a young Jordanian boy who was about 16 or 17. He told us some interesting facts about the city and knew what he was talking about. He asked if we wanted a guide. At first we were hesitant but after talking to him we realized he knew a lot about the city. He worked selling souvenirs at Jerash but taught himself how to speak English, French, and Italian so that he could be a guide. He was only going to charge us half of what the official guides charged so we said yes. He was the nicest young man that we spent the next two hours with.

On the stones in the streets you can actually see chariot wheel marks. It is a little hard to see in this picture but these marks ran all along the street.

There was so much detail in the architecture here.

Another shot of the city street or colonnade.
These are corner markets on the colonnade. I'm guessing these are their version of a convenient store.
Vika always being her cute self.
Romans loved columns. They were everywhere and huge.
Along the street they had this small church.
Again...the details were amazing. They went all out in their decorating.

Up on a hill overlooking the city was a temple built for sacrifices. We took a little break here with our tour guide and some of his buddies who were selling tea. We had some sage tea which was very good and just sat and talked. One of the boys who was about 19 asked how much for Rachel? We told him "A 1,000 camels". He said he didn't have that much. They were very funny and we really enjoyed talking with them. We laughed at the phrases that they knew in English. He said "oh my gosh" with a perfect American accent. We taught them how to say "What the heck?" and "Sweet".
The Byzantine's built a church here that once had a huge mosaic floor. It was buried under dirt and once the dirt was removed they found this huge floor still intact.
Another shot of the temple built for sacrificing.
In the center of the city they had four roads meeting int he center coming from each direction. Traders and merchants would come from all over to sell and trade in the city. The road here once led to Iraq.
The kids climbed up part of the remaining wall at the Temple of Zeus.
Near the Temple of Zeus was a large amphitheater. What's so amazing about this is how preserved it all is. It is nearly 2,000 years old but looks like it still can be used today.
In the amphitheater there is a certain spot in the center of the lower level. It's hard to see in the picture but it is just below the man standing in black to the right. When you stand on this spot and speak, your voice echoes back and sounds like you are speaking in a microphone. It was so weird. Your voice sounds normal to everyone else but as you are speaking it is amplified back to that spot. Amazing!
This is shot from the Temple of Zeus looking down on the oval plaza. Had to give Zeus the best view in the city.
Vika loved climbing up and down the seats in the theater.

Like I said before...everything is huge here. This is a stage door.
While we were in the amphitheater there were some Jordanian men playing bagpipes. Go figure...but Rachel started just goofing around and clogging so the man came over and played right next to her while she danced.
The seats in the amphitheater were even numbered. Can't quite read greek but each seat had different characters or numbers.
Another view of the oval plaza.
The city was destroyed due to several severe earthquakes of the past two thousand years. They are slowly excavating the sites but it's amazing how much of the city is still in place.
City view from the Temple of Zeus.
Jerash was a very cool place. There is so much history in this part of the world that many people don't know about. We feel fortunate to be able to experience these places.
On Christmas Eve Day we traveled across the border to Israel. We had to be careful and make sure they didn't stamp our passports with an Israeli stamp because then Saudi wouldn't allow us back in. We knew several people who live in Saudi who have traveled to Israel so we knew it was possible, but still a little unnerving knowing that if something went wrong, we wouldn't be able to return home without a huge hassle.

We left our car in Amman at the hostel and arranged for a driver to drive us to the border where we had no problems crossing. The border opened at 7:30 a.m. so we got there at 7:00 so that we could be the first ones and could possibly get across in time to go to church at the BYU Jerusalem center at 10:00. Unfortunately our plan didn't quite work that way. We had arranged for a driver to pick us up on the Israeli side at 8:30 but we didn't get over the border until after 10:00. When you cross the border they put everyone on a bus to drive them the short distance between the Jordanian and Israeli side. Even though we were one of the first ones across from Jordan, we had to wait until the bus was filled before they drove us over, which took nearly an hour. Then we had to wait in lines on the Israeli side.

Our driver took us to the BYU Jerusalem Center anyway. Since it was Christmas Eve, they were only having Sacrament meeting so we arrived at the end of the meeting. The center is set up on Mt. Olive overlooking Old Jerusalem. We took a few pictures and met a girl that attended the last fall session there with Nick and knew him. What an amazing experience to be able to study the scriptures living right in the middle of it all. Nick was very fortunate to be able to do that. It has inspired Rachel to apply to attend at BYU Jerusalem sometime next year.

After visiting the center our driver took us up to a spot on Mt. Olive where we could see a beautiful view of the city and wall.
We are on Mt. Olive with Old Jerusalem behind us.

The driver then took us to our hostel in Jerusalem where we checked in and then headed off on foot to explore the city for the day.
We first walked through the Old City towards the Garden tomb. We came out of the Damascus gate then headed a few blocks to the place where the crucifixion took place and burial tomb of Jesus.
This is Skull Hill where they believe the crucifixion occurred.
While at the Garden tomb we followed a tour group from Nigeria around. They were some very cool people. They all wanted to take Vika and Nicole with them down into the tomb and a man started talking to Jonny. His name was Praise and kept telling Jonny that he needs to visit Nigeria. He said "You come visit my beautiful country and stay with me. I show you my beautiful country of Nigeria" They exchanged email addresses.
It was very humbling to be in these places knowing the history and story, but the one thing that seemed to be lacking was the spirit. We were reminded over and over throughout our trip that these were just places. Yes, miraculous events occurred here but it still is only a place. The spirit comes from our testimony, not necessarily from being in the place. It still was very cool to be here and to be able to put a place with things we have studied and learned our entire lives.
Here is the tomb and actual place where they believed the Savior was laid to rest. As we walked into the tomb, the group from Nigeria all started singing hymns. It was very touching.
After visiting the Garden Tomb, we walked back through Old Jerusalem. The old streets are filled with merchants selling just about anything you could imagine. Some streets had souvenir shops, while other sold your normal everyday items, other streets had restaurants. Earlier in the day it was packed and we could barely walk through the streets but later in the evening it slowed down a bit.

As we were walking through the streets filled with lots of vendors, Rachel looked up and saw a BYU pendant hanging from one of the shops. She stopped and commented about the BYU pendant. The shop owner happen to hear Rachel and asked if we were mormon and invited us in. He said he had many things for mormons in his shop. We were surprised that he knew about mormons. He pulled out some BYU Jerusalem sweatshirts and t shirts that he said he has made for the students that come from the center. He said they all know about his shop. He then showed us a papyrus copy of the drawings in the Pearl of Great Price pertaining to Abraham. They were so cool. We spent quite a bit of time talking to him and bought some widows mite for Gavin and Jonny. Then he pulled out this BYU banner with Steve Young's autograph on it. He said that Steve Young has visited his shop many times. It was so cool. He had scripture covers made from leather that say Jerusalem on them which we bought for Rachel, along with a t shirt that has BYU Jerusalem written in Hebrew with a picture of the Tree of Life from the Book of Mormon and the papyrus picture.
After visiting the Garden Tomb we walked along the Via Delorosa through Jerusalem to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was built in the early 600 AD. Some believe that the church was built on the site where the tomb of Christ is.

We happened to be inside the church when they began the Christmas Eve mass. It was very crowded so we didn't stay long.

The next morning, Christmas Day, we had arranged to have a tour guide drive us around to other sites near Jerusalem. It was very rainy and cold which we really weren't prepared for but this was our only chance to see some of the sites.
We went to the Garden of Gethsemene. This is probably the most important site for us because of the Atonement of Christ. It was here that the most miraculous event occurred that saved all man. We were very humbled to be here.
Some of these olive trees are thousands of years old and were actually here at the time Christ atoned for our sins.
Near the Garden is another church.
Next we visited the room of the Last Supper. Above is the doorway into the room.
The room is very small and not what we had expected. It was just a simple room. Most of the pictures that portray this event show a fancy table that they sat around. After living here in the Middle East and seeing the size of the room, I imagine that it was similar to the traditions of this area with just pillows and blankets surrounding the room and food being served on the floor in the center of the room.
An interesting addition to the room of Last Supper was this column that was built later. On the column are three ravens. The two on the side are eating the heart out of the one in the center. This is supposed to represent the sacrifice of the Savior. One giving his life to save others.
We then traveled to the tomb of Lazarus. It was interesting that this tomb is now owned by a Muslim family who maintain it purely for monetary reasons, yet it seemed to be the most authentic.

We also visited the tomb of King David. This is owned by the Jews, hence the head coverings on Gavin and Jonny. At first this didn't mean much to the kids until we explained that this is the same David that slew Goliath. Then is clicked who King David was.
We traveled out to the area where they believe that John the Baptist was born. It was a little village outside of Jerusalem in the hills. When I heard or read the story of Mary visiting her cousin, the mother of John the Baptist, I imagined her traveling for days out to the middle of nowhere when actually it was only about a 20 minute drive from Jerusalem. I'm sure it was a long distance to travel and through the hills would have been difficult compared to now.
Our driver took us through a Palestinian area. Here is the wall that has been built to separate the Palestinians from the Israeli areas.
Since it was a rainy cold day, we shortened our day out and headed back to the hostel. They were having a Christmas party that night for the people staying at the hostel. We met this young man, Patrick, who has been living in Israel and working as a shepherd for the past 6 months. He had been attending West Point and decided to take a religious leave for a year to do service. He said that the mormons were the ones who started this at West Point for those cadets who wanted to serve a mission. Now they offer this option to any students who want to take time off as a service leave. He found this opportunity to be a shepherd in Israel for a year. He probably is the only West Point shepherd ever.
After dinner, the party started. They had a dj and we danced all night long...well at least until 11:30.
Nicole doing the Statue of Liberty pose.
Santa even came to visit. Imagine that....Santa Clause in Jerusalem.
Vika even had the chance to sing Silent Night and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer for the party. She had help from Nicole and another lady at the hostel. We met the most interesting people here and had a very enjoyable night celebrating both Hanakuh and Christmas.
Santa would disappear for a little while but would alway come back a little more jolly each time. He loved dancing with Rachel and the kids.
Patrick danced with Rachel all night long. Gavin and I even got out on the dance floor to show off our moves. The kids have always wanted to see their dad's dance moves which he finally let it loose and danced away. It really was a very fun and memorable Christmas. Probably one of the most unique one we have had but one we will remember. We all commented that it was the best Christmas ever. We were able to see some very religious sacred sites and met some of the most amazing people. We didn't have a Christmas tree, presents or any of the traditions we usually have during this time, yet it was one of the best times we have had because we were together as a family and celebrating with some new and interesting people.
The next morning we woke up early for our last day in Israel. Jonny is enjoying his breakfast of a Nutella sandwich.
After breakfast we were picked up by a driver to take us to Bethlehem. We originally wanted to come here on Christmas Eve but were advised that it would be very crowded so we decided to go on our way back to the Jordanian border.

This is the entrance to the church built over the cave where Jesus was born. There have been many different entrances built over the hundreds of years that this church has been here which you can see with the different stone and shapes on the wall.
Above the cave where Jesus was born is now a Greek Orthodox church that was built during the crusader time.
Above the actual entrance to the cave is a Roman Catholic church. This is part of the cave under the Roman Catholic church.
The star on the floor in the picture is the actual site where they believe the Savior was born. This part of the cave is under the Greek Orthodox Church. Since the entrance is owned by the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox church had to dig a separate entrance to this spot.
The cave was very small and filled with many different relics. It was a little distracting to have all these things around in such a sacred spot. It took a lot of the spirit out of it and just became another room.

It was interesting having the story told to us by a Palestinian. His family has lived in Bethlehem for hundreds of years and he explained how it was very common for women to give birth caves or stables. The Western perception of a stable is a wooden barn as we see depicted in many pictures and nativity scenes but the stables were actual caves under the homes. The area has many caves and families would live in the caves with their animals. Eventually they would build houses above the caves and the animals would live below the houses during the colder months of the year. He said that when women would go into labor, they would go down into the caves to give birth in order to find privacy because the homes were very small with lots of family living in them. Mary and Joseph probably weren't the only ones staying in the cave that night and it would have been very normal for Mary to go back into the cave where the animals were to give birth. Our guide said that his grandfather was born in a cave so it is very common for this to occur.

Old Bethlehem is pictured behind us. This is in the plaza near the birth site of Jesus. They had a huge Christmas Tree in the plaza that will remain up through January because their are three different Christmas celebrations. The western Christmas day is December 25, but the Orthodox Christmas is later in January and then is followed by the Armenian Christmas. Our guide told us that many don't believe that the actual birth date of Christ was in December because it was too cold for Shepherds to be out in the fields with their flocks and the weather would have made it difficult for people to travel to Bethlehem. They believe it was sometime in the Spring. I didn't realize that other religions believed that same thing.
Here is the field below Bethlehem called Shepherds Field where the shepherds were visited the night of the birth of the Savior.
The Shepherds field is behind us with Bethlehem beyond that on the hill.
After visiting Bethlehem, we headed back to the Jordanian border near the Dead Sea. We are below sea level here which explains Gavin holding his breath because we are under the sea.
Our time in Israel came to an end. It was a very educational and spiritual experience. We only had a few days here but plan to hopefully return someday.

We returned to our hostel in Amman and woke up the next morning and headed south. We first stopped at the Dead Sea and then went to Karak to visit a crusader castle. The pictures for the Dead Sea and Karak will be posted later. It took several days for me to upload the pictures for this post and I was really trying to be careful to keep everything in order but didn't realize until now that I totally left out the pictures from the Dead Sea and Karak. I've spent too much time to start this post over to get the pictures in order so they will be posted later.

We swam in the Dead Sea and then spent a few hours in Karak. We arrived in Petra about 7:00 at night. The hostel we stayed in was very backpacker style. We were able to get a private room with six beds in it but the room was just a partitioned section of the downstairs area where the kitchen and breakfast area were. It was not very sound proof so we heard every noise until around 2:00 in the morning and then the noise started again at 6:30 in the morning when breakfast started. It's true you get what you pay for, but at least we had a bed to sleep in.

We were only staying about 10 minutes from Petra so we took our time getting up the next morning. We arrived at Petra around 9:00 in the morning. We knew it was going to be a long hiking/walking day through some amazing sites but we had no idea how awesome our day was going to be.

The first part of the trail into Petra had several tombs along the roadside.
We were so excited to be here.
The road enters a canyon area where the street weaved through the canyon. They had built these troughs to collect water and transport it into the middle of the city.
The canyon looked very similar to something that we would see in Utah but better.

There were several artistic carvings along the road.
This is another picture showing the water trough built through the city.
This was once a sculpture of a man leading four camels.
You still can see part of the camel. The hooves are still visible and the belly of the camel.
The water troughs had terra cotta pipes that the water flowed through. Here you can still see a part of the terra cotta pipe.
Nicole and Vika exploring a structure in the canyon wall along the road.

After walking for about 30 minutes through the canyon it opens up into a plaza area where the Treasury is. This is the structure where Indiana Jones went into to find the Holy Grail. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the first movie that Gavin and I saw when we were dating and Gavin loves Indiana Jones so this was a huge highlight of our trip. I didn't even know there was an actual place like this until a few years ago. Then last year after we had gotten our job here in Saudi, we were traveling on Jordanian Air home to China from the job fair in Bangkok and I was looking through the airlines magazine on the plane. I read an article about Petra and realized that we could actually go there and here we cool!
It is absolutely amazing how these places were sculpted out of the mountain without the use of machines. They were all chipped away by hand by hundreds of people.

There were several Bedouin families that still live here in Petra. They get money from selling souvenirs and giving rides on their camels or donkeys through Petra. It was so cool...we were expecting Indiana Jones to come riding up on his horse any minute.

More tombs.

and tombs.

There was quite a bit of Roman influence on the architecture. They even had a amphitheater in the city.
This was believed to be the city hall and court house. The rooms under the court house were believed to be jail cells.

This road once was lined with columns such as the one in Jerash.
The colonnade was lined with street markets, churches and a temple up on the hill.
The street in this area was once paved with large stones as seen here.
We hiked several hours and miles up the mountain to reach the Monastery. Several times I was ready to hire one of the boys with the donkeys to take me to the top because it was quite the hike. We were told that it would be well worth it and we would regret not going so we persevered and finally reached the top.
At the top we found this huge amazing Monastery. Again we were in awe of the craftsman ship and details.
Although the Monastery and other buildings looked so massive on the outside, they usually only consisted of one or two rooms inside. They couldn't carve out much inside for fear of it collapsing. The picture above is inside the Monastery that only had one large room.

We hiked up to the Monastery and Gavin wanted to continue up to another section of the mountain. We were all too tired so he went up alone and had this amazing view.

It was a long day of hiking but we were so glad we did it all. We went back to the hostel and crashed. The next morning we were on our way back home to Saudi.

We left about 6:00 in the morning for the first leg of our drive home. We are going home a different way which is estimated to take around 21 hours. We thought the first day would only take about 11 hours but it actually took about 16 hours. We had booked a hotel in Buraydah which is about 4 hours north of Riyadh. It was a little scary at times on the road because it was pitch black and seemed like we were the only people on the road at times. We weren't sure what we would find in between and tried to keep our gas tank full. The road was under construction several times where we had to take detours and weren't quite sure how to get back onto the highway at times. It was rather unnerving but fortunately we were able to figure it all out. We arrived in Buraydah not knowing where our hotel was and finally had to hire a taxi to drive us there. We stopped at a mall and found a taxi but he didn't speak much English. We called the hotel and had them explain to him where they were so that we could follow him. The driver was the nicest person and when we got to the hotel he didn't want us to pay him. So many times people here have helped us without any expectations of receiving something in return. We convinced him to accept our money and were able to finally get to bed around midnight.

The next morning we took our time getting up. We weren't in much hurry because this was the first night we had comfortable beds in a really nice hotel in over a week.

We left Buraydah and headed home.
We arrived home about 5:00 in the afternoon. We celebrated our Christmas as soon as we got home. Vika was very concerned that Santa wouldn't bring her presents so the whole time on our trip we had to reconfirm to her that Santa left them back in Saudi at our house. So it was a relief to her to find presents under the tree when we got home.

Not our traditional Christmas but it was one we will remember!!!!!
A few days after getting back we went on a dune trip with several other families in the compound. We headed out in our four wheel drive vehicles for a day on the dunes.
The kids had fun sliding, boarding, and sledding down the sand.
Vika was a little hesitant at first but after a few times with Jonny she had no reserves at all.
Since we were out in the desert we were FREE!!! No abayas and Rachel, Jonny and Nicole even had a chance to drive the car.