Information Security Travel Guide
Stephen Northcutt, an Information Security Researcher, United Airlines
1k, Writer and Instructor, documents the struggles of the travel and
hospitality industries as we all face continually increasing energy costs.
He and his peers share their travel experiences and give you quick tips
and short reviews of the companies they do business with as they travel.
If you came across this article because of a Google search, what you
want is probably here, just use find with your browser (CTRL - F), it
is easier than reading from top to bottom; however, you may get some
useful tips if you stick around and read. Each major cluster of trips is
documented in a separate file.
Other Related Articles in Information Security Travel Guide
Information Security Travel Guide Edition 13 - Stephen Northcutt
Infosec Travel Guide Version 13
Stephen and Kathy Northcutt, your faithful security travel guides, are getting ready to leave Kauai for New York City and a tour of Israel. There will be less shop talk, but we will cover the places we go, what we learn and any food we get to eat.
[Wednesday, October 7, 2009] Happy as a clam on Kauai
There has been a stint of still air and what we call "Kona weather" locally. We saw the wall of Kona coming in on the Sunday sailing trip mentioned at the bottom of Infosec Travel Guide Version 12. It is amazing seeing the front edge, it is a visible wall - huge, thick and grey. The closest thing I have seen to it was last month when we were in Athens. Perhaps you remember the fires. We were standing at Lykavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens. I looked up and the smoke blowing towards Athens was so incredibly thick and also like a wall, difference is the smoke was pitch black and the VOG is grey. I looked up Kona Winds on the Internet and they refer to a cyclone. That is not what this is, this is when Volcanic Smog or VOG is formed by the gases of the Kilauea volcano on Big Island is blown across Kauai. Usually, the VOG congregates on the leeward side of Big Island. However, it can blow to Kauai; it does not happen that often, but wouldn't you know, Kathy and I are both allergic to VOG. I start sneezing and Kathy gets asthma. Here is what the USGS has to say about it: "Because of their small size, aerosol particles such as those in vog penetrate deep into the human lung and are readily retained. Studies of air pollution in the United States and elsewhere indicate that elevated levels of acidic particles like those in vog can induce asthma attacks, especially in adolescents, and can also impede the ability of the upper respiratory tract to remove other potentially harmful particles.
Many residents and visitors on the Island of Hawai`i report physical complaints associated with vog exposure. These complaints include headaches, breathing difficulties, increased susceptibility to respiratory ailments, watery eyes, sore throat, flu-like symptoms, and a general lack of energy. In contrast to SO2 gas concentration near Kilauea, the amount of aerosol particles in Hawaii's air does not routinely exceed Federal standards, but the unique combination of acidic particles, trace amounts of toxic metals, and SO2 gas in vog may account for the wide variety of physical symptoms reported."
Yet the title of the daily report is Happy as a clam, how is that possible? The economy on Kauai has been really bad and several of my friends who are builders have had a hard time finding work. Two of them helped me retrofit the office as a "bubble", an air conditioned, air filtered oasis. We even have a bedroom in the bubble. Granted, that is not ideal since employees show up at 8 A.M or even earlier, but we set a number of alarms and are working out a system. Living in the bubble does not mean that we are not impacted at all, we are, but it is well within tolerance and, of course, I do want to expose myself to this stuff in doses I can withstand.
Travel Tip: if you are planning a trip to any part of Hawaii and you have respiratory problems, allergies, or asthma, be sure and research the VOG issue. It can turn a vacation into a fight to breathe.
Anyway, despite the VOG, this week I have been living a life I love to live, writing and researching. Yesterday, I updated the information warfare module for the course I write and teach, SANS Security Leadership Essentials For Managers with Knowledge Compression™, it is now updated to Oct 2009, that is exciting. Today, I worked on a total makeover of SANS Leadership and Management Competencies, a core course of the SANS Technology Insitute, our graduate school. This was an interesting experience. The book cooking crew have managed to convince another one of the managing partners, Eric B. that updates come too often.
Well, I am not so sure. Long story short, I was updating a course, leadership competencies, that I had recently updated, that had never been taught since the last update. And again, this is the core course of the graduate college. And that was a Deja Vu moment, because the day before, I realized while I was updating the information warfare module WHICH I HAD ALREADY UPDATED AND HAD NOT TAUGHT. Now I am sure some reader is asking why I do not remember what I have already updated. Well the books we issue students for my main course are about a third of a meter high. And we were on the road for 61 days in our last trip; give that a try and see what you remember. I really don't mind that much, only three or so slides in the information warfare were slides that I updated twice and that was reasurring in that I was consistent in my research and focus.
Bottom line, good day. Got to research and write, updated one of my courses, kept up to date with the GIAC Advisory Board and even think I know how to apply some of their excellent advice.
[Friday, October 9, 2009] Voggy voggy day and night. We are doing OK, but we mostly are staying inside in the bubble.
There is nothing like new technology to make life fun. Kathy and I picked up two HP Mini 110's for our upcoming trip to Israel. We do not plan to take our standard boxes, just too big and heavy, but if we can get bandwidth, would like to be able to check our email. With tax and whatnot, they were a bit under $350 apiece at Costco. For Anti-Virus, I am running the free Microsoft Security Essentials. Paul Paget from Savant Protection wrote and said that he would let me try Savant version 3.0, which is a type of whitelist endpoint security package. We have Bit 9 for my SANS laptop, so this will let me be in the field with two different products. I am very excited about that. Savant now integrates with Symantec Altiris and is really maturing. The install was easy enough, your basic wizard. Since Savant locks your system down and I do not have Altiris, I downloaded Secunia PSI which is a wonderful program to help you check all your applications to see if they are up to date. I then did all the updates PSI pointed out. It was over an hour for the Microsoft updates and I have a blazingly fast Internet connection. I can only imagine what it would take over a hotel wireless. This is just amazing to me, I have a Windows XP system and I actually feel safe and in control. Thank you Microsoft, Savant and PSI.
Sneak Peak GIAC GSE changes.
Shhh, the board of directors hasn't finished voting yet, but it looks like this is going to pass. In the past you had to have the following certs as prerequisite baseline to test for the GIAC Security Expert GSE: GSEC, GCIH, GCIA, plus two gold papers. There has been a lot of discussion about requiring the GSEC, however, it as prerequisite is unique because it covers Windows and Unix (actually Linux). But, since there was such a push for it, the GIAC BOD has approved the following subtitution: if you have both the GCWN & the GCUX, the pair can subsitute for the GSEC. However, this is what I think is most exciting, they also approved allowing silver certs ( test only ) to subsitute for gold papers. The following certifications are approved as substitutes for gold papers: Forensics GCFA, Firewalls GCFW, Unix GCUX, Windows GCWN, Advanced Security Essentials/Enclave Defender GCED, Penetration Testing GPEN, Wireless Penetration Testing GWAPT, Assessing Wireless Networks GAWN, Reverse Engineer Malware GREM. I know this sounds like alphabet soup, but it leads to a lot more flexibility. Now, you can meet the prerequisites to sit for the GSE exam, with any of the following combinations:
- GSEC, GCIH, GCIA with one gold and one substitute
- GSEC, GCIH, GCIA with no gold and two substitutes
- GCWN, GCUX, GCIH, GCIA with one gold
- GCWN, GCUX, GCIH, GCIA with no gold and one substitute
I read another cautionary tale about air travel in this modern world. Lady with United Airlines 1K status goofed up a reservation and her experience fixing it. It could have been worse. United Airlines actually took care of her, though the Red Carpet Lounge part of that was very sad. I also understand most of the carriers are adding a new fee, a peak date charge, according to Kathleen Pender, "It all started on Sept. 23, when American Airlines quietly added a $10 surcharge to all tickets on three days -- Nov. 29 (the Sunday after Thanksgiving) and January 2 and 3. The other major carriers quickly followed suit. Since then, airlines have continued adding days subject to the charge. In addition to the original three days, American and United Airlines are charging it on all fares for Nov. 30; Dec. 18 and 19; Dec. 23, 26, 27 and 30; March 14, 20, 21 and 28; April 11; and May 28. Delta, Northwest, Continental and US Airways are charging it on most or all of those days." I am sure you have read about United Airlines flat fee charge for baggage, according to the Mercury News, "For $249, a traveler and up to eight companions traveling on the same confirmation number can check first and second bags without paying the baggage fee. The flat-fee covers all United and United Express flights for an entire year. Passengers must join the Mileage Plus frequent-flier program to use the flat-fee option. The $249 is good for only two checked bags per passenger and doesn't cover additional fees for oversized or overweight bags." This is a very clever idea, it reminds me of pre-paid gas in a rental car. And if you can get one client to let you expense it, you are covered for the year.
[Thursday, October 15, 2009] The air is so clear, it makes you think you can fly
And, in fact, that is just what I did. Wednesday the air cleared up so much and there was no wind so I booked an Introductory Ultralight flight lesson from Jim at Big Sky Kauai. There was practically no wind, and visibility was over 60 miles. You know the expression, "a perfect day to fly". After the safety briefing, Jim helped me get into the trike and ensured my safety equipment was as it should be. Next was the mike check, and the helmet system works very well. Then Jim did a final inspection of the aircraft, including the wing, and we taxied out the the runway; Jim broadcasted to the tower, and we were up in the air. We started out along the coast and Jim gave me my orientation. Then, it was my turn; we practiced turns, and up and down. We flew just west of Kipu Kai, a friend of Jim's has a cornfield maze and wanted a picture of it. We stayed Waialeale side of Lihue, keeping an eye out for tourist helicopters headed for Waimea canyon. Next, he let me fly over Sleeping Giant and out to East Shore. Jim took control of the aricraft at that point and we buzzed our house. Next, we followed the coast past Anahola and headed to Princeville. As we got to the Kilauea river we flew over the farm, being careful to observe the nearby Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge fly-over rules. Next, we followed the coastline along Na Pali and dipped into a few of the valleys. For this section of the trip we stayed especially alert for helicopters. I was done flying at this point, it is a wear and tear on the arms. Finally, we followed Waimea Canyon down across the last sugar cane harvest that will ever happen on Kauai and landed. Good fun!
Thursday was another perfect day to fly and Kathy and Diane both went up. Whew, I could really feel it in my arms from yesterday, but I would love to do it again sometime.
Here is Kathy's account of her BigSky Kauai ultralight flight:
After weeks of vog, the day dawned clear as pure water. Stephen called me to the deck and said if I was ever going to fly, today was my day. He called Jim at Big Sky and secured a reservation. Stephen grew up on Oahu flying with Civil Air Patrol. He’s flown gliders, he’s been in a P2, used to jump out of perfectly good helicopters as a search and rescue diver for the US Navy, so he came back stoked from his first flight with Jim. He was sharing that the control bar needs only the lightest of touch for maneuvering. He’s excited about flying the trike from the front seat. Hmm. I held on to the control bar for most of the trip, but only the only thing on my mind was stabilization.
I had no idea what I was getting into and that is a good thing, because I’m so afraid of heights I make ladders tremble violently when I attempt to go back down one. Going up is only a weensy bit easier. Nonetheless, I’d like to go up again. How many times do humans get to see the earth from an angel’s perspective?
I know where I’m going when I leave this earth, and in the meantime, I live in one of the prettiest places on it. I was sharing with my Creator on the way to Port Allen Airport that today I would be closer to Him than usual being closer to heaven.
Stephen and I have flown over 230,000 miles this year to date, combining our mileage, so flying is a routine experience, but this certainly was not. I was not prepared for the paradigm shift as I watched terra firma drop out from beneath me in the flying "trike". It’s kewl, breathtaking, definitely worth doing, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. When Hunter was deployed to Iraq the US Marine moms would all remind one another to breathe. Sounds stupid, but under high stress we noticed it was possible to spend days, weeks partially holding our breath, waiting to hear news.
I caught myself doing the same thing today. My cognitive processing was far calmer than my visceral, more primal response. Jim masterfully made my first experience up there more peaceful. He let me know when he was initiating a turn or a change in altitude. I liked turns, especially 360 degree ones. It helped me get my bearings. Living on the east shore, I really loved flying down low over it. Jim was really kind and flew back over our area a second time. My senses were reeling; there was a delayed processing time locking in even the most familiar spots.
I got to see places no one ever gets to see on Kauai. I kept thinking we were eavesdropping on the island. I’ve always identified with Nancy Drew, having devoured all of his books in the third grade, and I've always wondered, what’s it like in the sea beyond our second reef? Beyond Anini’s? Now I know, and this is the best way to find out. We saw a large sea turtle cruising about as we (ahem! Jim) landed.
Jim has been flying for 31 years with a perfect track record. He holds the highest certifications for flight instruction, and is certified to be the mechanic for his very high tech flying machine, so he knows that puppy inside and out, and his is a new aircraft. He took over 200 photos on our 90 minute flight. Halleluiah! I’ve met someone who loves to shoot as much as I do. I am very thankful for his safety rule that passengers may not operate cameras. His reason is that if a passenger were to drop the camera it would end up in the prop behind us. All the better – I didn’t want to peel my hands off that bar for any reason whatsoever, lol.
This is an experience to put on the list!
[Sunday/Monday, October 18/19, 2009] Last few days on Kauai
Kathy and I had a wonderful open ocean swim just ocean side of the Kapaa bike trail. Didn't seem to be so long, but then when it was time to take out, I could hardly stand up. Sunday night I also spent some time updating my Abraham Wanderer blog. The vog is back, it will be nice if the weather pattern will change, but we are going to Israel anyway, so why worry.
Monday I had a great talk with John Burnham and Chris Poulin from SIEM vendor Q1 Labs. I am trying to spend some time attempting to understand the latest generation of SIEMs. One of my talks that is most requested as a keynote is The History and Future of Logging, but it takes a lot of time to keep it up to date. The focus of Q1 is to provide complete network and security knowledge, delivered simply, for any customer. They have quite the story; if I get time, I will do a first look blog entry.
[Tuesday, October 20, 2009] Today is fly day!
Last day on the island. That is OK, the VOG continues to be an issue, no wind, just not ideal island living. I noticed an information security company made the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, Tenable Network Security got ranked this year as one of the fastest 500 technology companies in North America. The rankings that went live this morning at 8am and Ron Gula and Jack Huffard are attending a winner's dinner tonight to accept the award. The ranks are for the revenue growth rate from 2004 to 2008. Tenable’s CEO, Ron Gula, the guy that created the Dragon IDS, credits innovative product development ( they do a lot more than Nessus these days) for the company's 441% percent revenue growth over the past five years.
And we are off
Sue's Taxi was five minutes late, but at least they are internally consistent so Kathy simply books a time five minutes earlier than we needed to leave. They have also dorked up their web page so their phone number is not always available as a static value. I went to Sue's because a friend of mine started working there, but may go back to City Cab. Minutes count, they really do. We arrived at Lihue Airport United desk and it was a zoo. They were having computer problems and they were short staffed. But it all worked, we got on our plane United 68. There was a bit of a snafu when some standby passengers switched seats, but we got it all straight. In-flight service was fine, they were both respectful that people wanted to sleep, yet came through with water. We arrived at LAX, 30 minutes before boarding United 84 to New York JFK. We boarded, got on, and unlike the last flight, people found their seats. This is one of the United PS flights. Yummm Yummm, Kathy had upgraded us with miles. It is a Boeing 737 with three classes of service. I cannot even imagine what First is like, but we were in Business. The attendants were very professional, spot on. They have the new leather seats United is redoing their fleet with. They give you a portable entertainment device with twenty choices of movies or so. And they had wireless. To my shame, I did not test it. I was unable to sleep on the first flight. I have an allergy problem with the vog in Hawaii and, of course, the plane was loaded with Kauai air which they recycle, but clearly do not filter particularly well, so I was a sad puppy on the first flight and I noticed I was not the only one.I did test the upgraded big PS pillow though, very nice!
On the uber luxury PS flight, I had two glasses of the red wine, NICE CHOICE of wine, sorry I did not get the label or save the menu, but I was running on fumes, so I put my sunglasses over my eyes, went down hard, and reconnected with the world as we started our descent into New York.
Since we have been at Kennedy Airport before, we knew what we needed to do to navigate the train system that takes you from terminal to terminal to get to the rental car and hotel shuttle section. We are staying in the Holiday Inn (NOT Holiday Inn Express) which is on the upper end of Airport hotels. Our room is clean enough, they have room service till 10 P.M. and a restaurant bar. We are meeting up with my sister and my parents and while we were waiting for the shuttle we caught up with them by phone; they ordered Chinese take out and the hotel let us use some tables in their lounge to eat and we thank them for their kindness.
We are all at varying degrees of tiredness, I tried to catch up with my email from work, I know Suzy is doing a lot more than that. Kathy and I crashed out for two hours, but we woke back up and I worked on my blog.
NOTES: I wore a NIKE fit dry shirt this trip as my closest to the skin layer. We started out in Hawaii in the worst Hawaiian weather, vog, still winds, very humid; I needed to be able to evaporate any moisture that builds up from slinging bags around an airport and then dry out before I got on the plane where it is air conditioned. I am totally sold. As the trip goes on we will get some more data about stain resistance, etc.
[Thursday, October 22, 2009] Flight day
Kathy bought the breakfast buffet with our room and that was fun. Suzy actually worked out, go girl!, so she showed up in her sweats and had a cup of coffee with us. Hotel checkout is noon and we can't check in to El Al till 6 P.M., so the only thing to do was tour NYC. The concierge at the Holiday Inn set that up. Should be fun.
On a technology note, I have been writing the Infosec Tour Guide blog with the Nvu WYSIWYG editor, but that is an abandoned project. Diane hooked me up with KompoZer. It is the follow on to Nvu and has been very nice to work with. One more technology note, the HP Mini 110 has really been great, I am still getting used to the small screen size, but El Al has serious weight limits for both checked and carry on bags, so this is a real blessing. Finally, I want to mention the Verizon MiFi (mini wireless card), it is not perfect, but on the whole it supports both Kathy and my needs pretty well. OK, time to check out of this hotel and get on with a tour of New York City.
Great day! We got a stretch limo "cash only" for cheap (I was not told about the cash only part till the dropoff, but lucky I had been to an ATM that morning.) We went from the airport to Manhattan; did the Central Park walk; a driving tour; then we had lunch at Dervish, a Turkish restaurant at 146 West 47th Street about a block from Broadway, great food, great prices. Then, of course, Broadway, and then on to our main mission: Holly is doing a book report about the tragic Triangle factory fire in an immigrant sweat shop factory where there were 146 deaths. She asked Suzy if she could take a picture of the building. So, we headed out to find the "Brown" building. We did get the picture, today it is a science building at New York University, but there are still some brass plaques. The NYU bookstore was across the street, so we picked up NYU shirts for both girls and my dad found a book about the fire. The bookstore ships, so by the time you read this, the book should be in Holly's hands.
[Friday, October 23, 2009] New York City to Tel Aviv
The plane flight on El Al was fairly brutal, 10.5 hours cramped in a little seat, but we made it. The landing was a bad one, just one step up from a crash; the pilot hit hard and only on one side, but the wing did not hit the ground, so we recovered. We got through customs and met out tour guide, Ido. The bus trip to the hotel was uneventful. I like Tel Aviv, it is a vibrant city. Our hotel, the Dan Panorama Tel Aviv, is an awesome property. Kathy and I headed out immediately to get a bottle of wine; I find that a glass of wine, after you travel through any time zones, helps you calm down that night. It lets you sleep and also helps you to wake up and function the next day. We found a nice bottle shop about three blocks from the hotel called Jajo Vino. If I am reading the tag correctly, the phone number is 03-5100620.
I realize a number of authors say to avoid alcohol in a jet lag situation, but both my parents and sister did not do what we did and they found their nerves to be very jangly by the next evening and, no, they do not normally drink, but we got two bottles to share with everyone the next night and they slept and felt much better today, so you decide. Anyway, back in Tel Aviv, the next morning they woke us up at 7:30 A.M. and we had to get our things together and on the bus, at the end of the night we will be in Tiberias.
Saturday we toured Joppa or Jaffa, it is right outside of Tel Aviv. There is an excavation going on and they have uncovered the theater. In ancient times, Herod built Caesarea by the sea there. After his reign, Caesarea was taken over by the Romans, then when Rome fell, it was taken over by the Byzantine empire. Then there was an Islamic occupation and finally it was a Crusader city. However, it was not war that destroyed Caesarea, it was earthquakes. The masonry walls were damaged again and again. A neat highlight was the aqueduct. Herod loved the location for the city, a major manmade port on the Via Maris, the road by the sea connecting Egypt to Mesopotamia, but it had no source of water. Herod bult the city anyway and piped the water from nearby Mount Carmel. BTW, Mount Carmel is not named after candy: whenever you see a Hebrew word with "el" that means God, so Carmel means "God's vineyard". Everything that has been excavated was originally covered in sand, which probably protected the antiquities from some of the earthquakes. The aqueduct comes into the ancient city by the ocean, and, today, it is really interesting to see the beach goers camped around the aqueduct, or even under the arches to get some shade. As you look down the line of the aqueduct, it disappears into the sand, only a quarter mile or so has been excavated. Caesarea is where Phillip the evangelist came to live where he had daughters that were prophetesses. The main Biblical story that matches Caesarea is Paul, after he appealed his case to Caesar in Acts 26 it is transferred to Caesarea and is heard by both Agrippa and also Festus.
Next was up to the top of Mount Carmel. There is a monastery there and I assume they charge tour buses. It was windy and cooler up at the top. I enjoyed the drive, this was a great forest and vineyard in ancient times; today, mostly olives, but nice dense cultivation. You have an amazing 360 degree view, but every time I have been there, it has been hazy, sort of like a bad vog day on Kauai, so you are limited in what you can see, but the view is still awesome; I do not see how one could tire of looking at the Jezreel Valley, the breadbasket of Israel. I have heard different explanations, but it looks like Los Angeles did in the 60s with smog. Mount Carmel comes up in the Bible a number of times: Abigail rushes to meet King David and plead for her husband; Joshua defeated the united kings. But the big story is Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). This was essentially the big showdown between monotheism and polytheism. You will note that, no matter what your beliefs, the major religions of the world (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) are all monotheist; so, as Greece and Rome came to an end, so did polytheism effectively.
After Mount Carmel, we went to Mount Precipice for the sunset. They have done an excellent job with the lookout. There is an amphitheater that literally seats thousands that was built for the Pope's visit, but we were a bit further up. You have an excellent view of Nazareth, both upper and lower, and a great view of Nain and Mount Taber. Druze family groups gather in areas along the trail and do cookouts with those little square grills that are so popular in Israel. The dust in the air made the sunset spectacular and I even saw a few stars. With the first three stars, Shabbat is officially over and Israel starts coming back fully online. Some shops will remain closed till tomorrow morning, others will start to open.
After sunset, our tour buses headed for the Gai Beach Hotel. I have been here before, it is a comfortable resort hotel on the Sea of Galilee. The food is not as incredible as the Dan Panorama Hotel Tel Aviv, but it is well done. Some of the rooms were not ready because many of the people that check into the hotel to celebrate Shabbat do not check out until the three stars are visible in the sky. Kathy and my room was one of the last to be available, but no worries, the hotel gave us the last room on the end (quieter) and it has one of the best views of the sea. We certainly appreciate the courtesy. Kathy and Suzy hiked into town about four blocks to get the two bottles of wine I mentioned that we shared with our parents. That was fun.
[Sunday, October 25, 2009] In Tiberias and elsewhere
Wakeup was at 6:30 A.M. today and we were actually woken up by the phone; I did wake up once in the middle of the night about 4 A.M., but crashed back down. We had breakfast, again it is not on the level of the Dan Panorama Tel Aviv, but just fine. If I had a complaint it would be the coffee, everything is Nescafe powdered coffee, but they also had tea and that is good enough for me. We got on our buses and after a very short trip they dropped us off at the Holyland Boat Excursion dock. We got on a boat, they are semi-sorta replicas of ancient boats, but they have a motor and tourists like it. More signs that Israel is pulling away from the U.S. Two years ago, tourist shops listed prices in dollars, today, they are all in shekels. Two years ago, when we hired a boat, they flew a U.S. flag and an Israel flag. The signs are subtle, but they are there. We had a church service with the engines cut, then we motored across to the ancient boat museum. This is a two thousand year-old fishing boat found during a drought when the Sea of Galilee receded. It was a major deal to extract the boat and stabilize the wood enough to be an exhibit, but it really is cool. The boat is constructed of eleven different kinds of wood, which tells us a lot about boat building in the day; but, just as important, it is a clue as to the makeup of the forests of that day. During the Turkish occupation, they taxed landowners partly by how many trees they had on their land. This is why reforestation of Israel is so very important.
After this, the buses came to get the group and went up on a high part of the cliff overlooking the Sea of Galilee. This is the supposed location of Jesus' longest sermon, the Beatitudes. That was my least favorite part of the trip so far: it was hot, crowded and the folks that run the monastery are not friendly. But hey, it was only 45 minutes and we were off again to get lunch. We crossed over the Jordan River and I marveled again how small it is. Keep in mind this is a huge part of Israel's total water supply and it is about half the width of the Kilauea Stream my farm is on. As we continued along the coast, Ido pointed out why the story in Luke 8 of the demon-possessed man, whose demons, when cast out, went into pigs which threw themselves into the sea, could have only happened in one place in all of Israel. He showed us the cemetery with caves where the man came out of when Jesus arrived at the region of the Gerasenes and the cliff nearby that the pigs jumped from. Sure enough, all of the rest of the area has no cliff, pretty convincing. Then, on to a kibbutz that makes a TON of money selling fairly horrid lunches to tour groups. Their specialty is "St. Peter's Fish" (Tilapia), but they also serve bad pasta and bad pizza. It is a huge operation, they can seat and serve a dozen tour buses simultaneously. Why people go there, is beyond me. But I have been there before; three things they do a pretty good job with are their soup, fresh pita bread, and hummus. So I dip my pita bread in my soup, eat a couple bites of my fish (it is better if you squeeze the lime that comes with it over the fish) and help wipe out the hummus with a bit more pita bread.
Then on to the Yardenit, www.yardenit.com. This is almost certainly not the place that Jesus was baptized by John. I have actually been there, or at least where they think it was; it is in a mine field, and the churches are abandoned and have big bullet holes in the walls. So, they found a fairly safe place, where Israelis and Jordanians don't have guns pointed at each other, and created this huge operation where pilgrims can rent a white gown and be baptized. This too, can take a half dozen tour buses at a time. Never mind the fact that across the river they have horse pastures next to the river so that if there is any rain at all (not much of a problem in the past four years, the Sea of Galilee is three feet low due to drought), the bacteria count would go sky high. Two years ago the Jordan River actually flowed and there were tiny rapids; today it is almost still, more like the Jordan pond. Anyway, the buses come, the pilgrims in their white gowns line up and the pastors and priests dunk them in the Jordan. I realize it may sound like I am making light of things, I am not. I have seen people that are clearly touched. I have seen people that have had a long standing rift, or disagreement, settle their differences because they did not want to be baptized bearing a grudge, I have seen marriages in trouble turn around after getting baptized together in the Jordan and I have seen someone realize they have not accepted Christ and making a profession of faith right on the bank of the River Jordan. So, it is a powerful place spiritually, but I have also seen creeps that try to walk off with the possessions of the pilgrims while they are in the water, and some very, very eccentric behavior that is best left undescribed. By the way, baptism was a big deal for some of the early Jewish sects, that is how John knew about the practice in Matthew 3. After the baptisms, we hit the gift shop, where I got another copy of one of my favorite Israel T-shirts, and we headed for the hotel. I have a business dinner tonight to see about opportunities for SANS to partner in Israel.
[Monday, October 26, 2009] Last night in Tiberias
The business dinner went well, I really connected with the other CEO and we may have an opportunity to expand both of our operations. We went to Decks, a high end meat grill with concrete floors (that will come in handy in a minute) and then at the end you are on an enclosed pier over the water. It was a meatfest if there ever was one. Some enterprising guy proposed to his wife while we were there. They cut the lights off, a boat appeared, and the wait staff came out with sparklers in a Roman candle form factor that are very bright and held the sparklers on all four sides of the couple while the male suitor got on his knees and asked the damsel for her hand. I guess she said yes because they got up and started dancing; after they turned the lights back on. The financial advisor for the other company, Robert, looked up and said, "I wonder what he will do for his tenth anniversary", I have to admit I was pondering the same thing.
The wake-up call this morning was not welcome, I was so excited about the dinner and the possibilities for partnering that I had a hard time falling asleep, so it was a short night of sleep. We got on the bus and went north. We crossed fairly close to the border with Lebanon. Oh, my heart weeps for Lebanon, what a beautiful place until the craziness started in 1970. Our first stop was Banni Natural Reserve. This was originally a Greek "New Age" area devoted primarily to Pan, the half human god with the pipe flute. Arabs cannot pronounce the letter "P", or so I am told, and so the area went from Panni to Banni. It is the site of a major stream, in fact it is one of the three tributaries that make up the River Jordan. You get the idea, high enough at the base of the mountain to get a break from the heat, running clear water, trees everywhere because it is a nature preserve. Back in biblical times, this was called Caesarea Philippi and so the teaching was from Matthew 16. The real eye-opener for me was from that fragment about "gates of hell" comes from the cave above us; there is a crack in the cave where animals sacrificed to the Greek gods, especially Pan, were shoved. If they disappeared forever, it meant the gods accepted the sacrifice. Now I have no idea how deep the crack is, but it was called "the gates of hell". Then we wandered around the preserve and got to see the waterfall and the cave.
Back on the bus, still working north to the border of Israel and Syria. On the way, we stopped at Kibbutz El Rom and watched a movie with original footage of the 1973 "Yom Kippur" war, where Syria and Egypt launched a surprise attack on Israel's Holiest day. In the Golan Heights where we were, 44 Israeli tanks stood against about 500 Syrian tanks that were more technically advanced, including having infrared while the Israeli tanks did not have this technology. They held their line and prevented a successful invasion, but at a terrible cost. By the time reinforcements arrived on the third day, only three tanks were fully functional and had ammunition. As they started running out of ammunition, they stayed in the battle pretending and as the Syrians realized they could not shoot they used their tanks to ram the Syrian tanks and then finally, abandoning their broken tanks and trying to drop grenades down the Syrian tanks. Heroes, yes, but many wives became widows during that three day war.This is why they call it the Valley of Tears. After reinforcements arrived, the Syrian army was routed and Israel pushed over 30 miles into Syria, threatening Damascus.
We continued up to the Cafe Anon, (Coffee in the clouds), this is the sight of an actual Syrian bunker. We stood on the mountain top and looked down into Syria, it is a beautiful country.
Now about the Golan Heights, this small block of land, controls Israel's primary water source and we call them heights because they are mountains. Before the Yom Kippur war, Syria and Jordan used the heights to launch sniper attacks and artillery attacks on Israel. Today, Hezbollah does the same thing with rockets.
The Bible study from this vantage was interesting. It was from Ezekiel 36. Recall that the Jews were totally defeated by the Babylonians and the temple was destroyed and they were taken into captivity in Babylon. Ezekiel the prophet was taken with them. So, in captivity, he is instructed to prophesy that one day, the Jewish people will return, that the land will have an abundance of fruit and the people will return to the Lord. If you have any trouble believing the Bible is true, relevant and worth using as a guidebook for life, stand where I stood today and read Ezekiel 36. What is really incredible is the amount of plantings coming online. As we have been driving around, I see so many young apple, peach, grape, olive plantings. Israel will never have the rainfall that Lebanon has, but if they keep planting trees and learn not to waste even one drop of water (and they have a long way to go in that department), eventually they will create favorable microclimates.
We ate lunch at Cafe Anon (not really recommended, pack a picnic lunch). Now I must be vague. We went down the mountain and here and there until we ended up at a tank training range. Our tour buses very slowly picked their way through dirt roads designed for tanks and 4WD vehicles. First, they gave us a demonstration of their latest tanks attacking a training target. The church had taken up a collection for official Israeli fleece tank jackets. How they managed to purchase them, including the unit's patch, is best left unexplained. But, Israel is a poor country at the moment and they have needs. They do not have the resources the U.S. has and the Golan Heights get cold in the winter, at least to a few degrees above freezing. Then we went to visit with an operational tank group; they let us clamber on the tanks, wear the helmets, etc., and then we prayed for these soldiers.
Then we headed back to Tiberias, the day really has me thinking.
[Tuesday, October 27, 2009] Up to Jerusalem
0600 wakeup call, bus was rolling by 0730. We drove south to the Jezreel Valley, which Christians call the valley of Armegeddon, the name of the expected last battle on earth (that happens twice, the way I read things). We are going to see Ramat Dawid, a very important Air Force base. The majority of planes are stored in underground bunkers, but we are not going to see them, we are going to see the Israeli Top Guns, the guys that are on five-minute alert. Why five minutes? Geography. Both the capital of Jordan, Amman and the capital of Syria, Damascus are five minutes from the border.
We started in the pilot ready room and the squadron commander gave us a briefing about the recent events in Gaza. We went over a lot of footage taken from Unmanned Arial Vehicles, or drones. He explained the lengths that Israel had gone to in trying to prevent the loss of civilian life. I realize that is not what the news reported, but it is widely agreed that Hamas, while fighting a war, does not regularly wear uniforms; they wear civilian clothes to blend in with the population. In one video, you could see the soldier fire a rocket at Sideron and then run into the population. In another, you could clearly see a terrorist call local boys to his side as he left the house so that Israel would not shoot at him. My favorite was the destruction of a house that had munitions stored below. Israel called the house to tell them they were going to strike. The inhabitants of the house, adults and children got up on the roof. Israel then fired a small bomb in the opposite corner of the roof to let the house know they were very serious. They beat feet then, racing down off the roof. The operators counted and only after the number of people on the roof were counted leaving the building did they blow it up, and it was the classic two explosions, the first one from the missile and the far larger from the explosives stored in a tunnel under the house.
Then, we went on a tour of the launch facility. We did a few things I cannot talk about, but if we can sanitize a picture enough, I will try to post one. Since we are talking five minute turn around time, people on duty in the squadron have to live right on site. We had invested some money in improving their facilities, and it came out great. There was a big drill going on during the day and we saw some launches and some scrambling. Finally, there was a discussion about why the folks were willing to be so committed. Needless to say, being the first pilot to intercept an enemy attack is beyond dangerous. The squadron commander smiled and brought up a movie about the Holocaust, just two or three minutes of footage and then canned short interviews of other squadron members that had lost family at Auschwitz, etc. They reminded me of the wars instigated by their neighbors, one at the inception of the nation, the six day war and the Yom Kippur war. I realize there are two sides to every story, but Israel is convinced their Arab neighbors wish them dead, destroyed, gone, and they have some fairly good data to support their point. At the end, he made a simple statement, we are the shield to prevent intentional genocide from ever happening again. That was powerful.
After the Air Force Base, we headed to lunch and Gideon's Spring. We had lunch in a shopping center with a McDonald's, I was stoked. My parents love McDonald's and I wanted to see how different it was. I knew no cheeseburgers. It is crazy, if you want to order a Quarter Pounder or a Big Mac, you will score, they are the same around the world, But I wanted to order something that was local. There was no English on the board, another sign that the time of the USA in Israel is diminishing. I missed by a mile, I wanted something that looked like lamb in flat bread and ended up with this monstrosity that was more like Burger King on steroids. That had to be a pound of meat, but I heard someone else order "spicy" so I did too, woo hoo, they put some sort of non-vinegar tobasco sauce and that rocks. This will be my least healthful meal on the trip, but it really was fun.
Gideon is actually one of my favorite stories in the Bible, Gideon, a man that is none too brave, is to save Israel from the Midanites who are brutal and oppresive. He assembles an army against a far superior force and God says you have too many men. So he lets the majority go and again God says, you have too many men. Gideon's Spring was where they reduced the force to 300 men so that the victory would be God's not Israel's. As a bonus, this is a wonderful park as well, it was great to relax in the shade and sing a few songs and chew on a pepper from a pepper tree.
Now, it is up to Jerusalem. But to go up, we have to go down to 1,200 feet below sea level. And we need to go through the West Bank territory. I love seeing the Arab towns, the Bedouin communities, as well as the Israeli settlements. I wish the West Bank could be a model of how the different communities could co-exist. I hope they will continue to make progress. Anyway, after about an hour and a half, we made a bathroom and leg stretch stop, and then it was up to Jerusalem. We did not go straight to the hotel, we drove to one of the highest points and did a ceremony with bread and wine (ok, ok, grape juice, how they find non-alcoholic wine outside of the USA is beyond me), not communion, but in honor of Melchizedek, the mysterious king and priest that met Abraham after his rescue of Lot and defeat of a seemingly invincible army. He offered bread and wine to Abraham down in the valley below. Then to the hotel, we are staying in the Regency Jerusalem. People tell me it is a five star, no that is not true, this is more like a Holiday Inn on sterioids with a buffet. However, it is an OK tourist hotel, meets our needs, but of the four hotels we stay in while in Israel, this is my least favorite. I am in a second class room this time, no view of the city, but we only use the room during non-light hours. If I was visiting on my own, I would not choose the Regency.
Tomorrow is another early wake up, but I am excited, I will have to leave out a few details, but we are starting the day on the Temple Mount, ground zero for the spiritual world, and as you might have already figured out, this is no ordinary tour. I am most excited for my mother. She has been fixated on Israel for a long time so I guess I come by it honestly. She came up to Jerusalem at night, so she only saw the lights, tomorrow, she will see the city in the daylight, dazzling with all that white Jerusalem stone and then up to the Temple Mount. I think this will be a big moment in her life and that is so cool.
[Wednesday/Thursday, October 28/29, 2009] A day in Jerusalem
We started the day on the temple mount (Mount Moriah) and then drove to the Mount of Olives looking across the Kidron Valley at the old city. The teaching was from Zechariah 2. He was the prophet that went with the first team to rebuild Jerusalem after it was sacked by Babylon. The walls were destroyed, gates burned, it was desolate. And yet the prophecy in verse 4, "Jerusalem will someday be so full of people and livestock that there won't be room for everyone! Many will live outside the city walls." has certainly come true. Then we walked the Palm Sunday road to the Garden of Gethsemane. We got entrance to a private part of the garden and had time to reflect. We had lunch in a Jewish section of town, then we went back to Mount Moriah and looked at some of the excavation and then did a teaching on the Southern steps. We ended the day with optional shopping for anyone that wanted to get presents. I got a pair of earrings for Kathy and a few gifts.
On Thursday we started with an archaeological dig, that was a lot of fun. If you know the source of the material, it is a sad story, but they teach you the history of the temple mount, show you some artifacts and then you get to participate. Everybody has a station and you work in pairs. You get a bucket of material soaked in water, pour it over your screen, then rinse it off with a hose and pick out the pottery, glass, metal, special stones such as mosaic pieces, or marble. Then you call an archaeologist, they check your work, and then you put your findings in a central area and dump your picked over material into a wheelbarrow and get another bucket. We found glass bracelets, coins, nails, tons of pottery pieces and part of a flint knife (think eighth day in the life of a young Jewish boy).
Next was the City of David which is another restoration project, and we went down Hezekiah's tunnel. King Hezekiah revolted against the Assyrians and knew they would attack at some point. So, three teams worked together to dig a tunnel through the rock to assure a water supply. Two teams worked from each end and the third team banged on the route with hammers so the diggers knew where to go. It actually worked. Water still flows through the tunnel almost three thousand years later. We had lunch in the Jewish Quarter of the city. We finished off with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. That is such a powerful place. Our guide told me that every high school student in Israel goes to Europe and visits the concentration camps as a school trip. Slowly, I am starting to understand the mindset of the Jewish people. The world very nearly sat by quietly and let them be destroyed. History shows that America did nothing to help, well other than being a major force in defeating Germany, but we did not let them immigrate, not even the Jews with means and education. History also shows the Pope did nothing to help. A few people here and there, but not enough. Now it is easy enough for me to understand why Israel has compulsory military service. They know not to trust in any thing for help, save God and themselves, so they must remain a nation of warriors.
[Friday, October 30, 2009] Footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth
We left the hotel a bit after 8 A.M. and returned to the old city. Stop number one was the pool at Bethesda and the teaching was obviously from John 5. A few feet away is a Crusader era church, St. Anne's. It is famous for its acoustics, so we piled in and did some songs a capella with harmony, and that is an amazing experience. The "real" singers, people that are on key, know how to project, and can hit the harmonies, really stand out from the crowd. Back to the bus and onto the beginning of the Via Delarosa. They have excavated the Praetorian chamber and have excavated down to the road that was there in Jesus' time, so you have a very high confidence you are where the Matthew 27 description of Pilate's judgement and the flogging actually happened.
What happens next is surreal, I have done this before so I was mentally prepared. You go from this silent sober place of intense spiritual significance and contemplation into the Muslim quarter and marketplace. People want to sell you bread and knick knacks and other people are shopping and it is crowded and the streets are narrow and you are trying to move a busload of people about five hundred yards. Nothing wrong with it, it would be fun to have the time and poke my head in the shops, but the change from one situation to the other is incredible.
Back on the buses for the "Upper room" experience. Now, Jerusalem was essentially destroyed in 70 A.D. so there is no chance of the upper room still being around, but we wanted to have the teaching so there is a building you can get a pass for. It has been a Synagogue, Mosque and Crusader church in its years and has some symbols of all three faiths. It doesn't have the acoustics of St. Anne's but it rocks. The idea is you go in for about five minutes, but we sort of camped out and had church. Strong message, great worship singing and people came and go, sang along, filmed whatever. The next group to use the facility was from Sweden and their leader Father Jaqueve (I did the best spelling I could, only heard it orally) came in a minute before he brought his group and asked us to pray for him, his church, and Sweden.
Lunch was at Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz. I would love to spend a lot more time there, they teach a one week Hebrew class, that might be the ticket. Travel Tip: If you are going to Jerusalem and plan on buying any gifts, especially expensive gifts like jewelery, go to Ramat Rachel first. Their prices were less than half the cost of the place our guides took us. NOTE: I am almost at the end of the tour and that still appears to be correct, if you are going to Israel and plan to visit Jerusalem, you really should visit the gift shops at Ramat Rachel.
After lunch, we drove to a place where we could overlook Bethlehem, birthplace of Jesus. Going to Bethlehem is dicey these days, it is under Palestinian control. You can do it, but it is hard with a Jewish owned company and Jewish tour guides. Finally, we visited the Garden Tomb. No one knows where Jesus was buried of course, but a Christian group bought some property and created this Jerusalem destination. It has a feature in the limestone that looks like a skull and they have hundred year old pictures that show it used to look even more like a skull (Matthew 27:33 Golgotha, Place of the Skull). And there is an uppercrust tomb on the property which would be in line with the description of Joseph of Arimathea. Anyway, it is well run, they bring tour groups in in an orderly way. There are people that serve as guides and I am pretty sure they volunteer. The pilgrims get an orientation and then they tour the empty tomb. I know it sounds a bit corny, but the place has a strong impact on some people. It was raining so my family all went straight to the chapel. We had another nice service and headed back to the hotel as our tour guides must now prepare for the Shabbat.
On a computer security note, I have been running Microsoft Security Essentials and Savant Protection on this HP Mini 110. Savant really makes you more aware of what is happening with your operating system and I am finding it fascinating, but I do not think this is going to be popular with the average consumer unless it can be totally automated.
I had a business dinner that night with Gadi Evron. That was fun, he knew of a restaurant that does not close for Shabbat, it was an Irish pub of all things. Interesting, I have traveled around the world and it seems you can always find an Irish pub. Nice selection of beers and I really enjoyed listening to Gadi, the man is brilliant. And, he told me about a program written years ago, as well as one he knows about today that can semi-automate protecting an operation system, what Savant Protection and the other endpoint whitelist tools do. The food at the pub was so-so, but it was a pub, what does one expect *grin*.
[Saturday, October 31, 2009] Masada
No they do not celebrate Halloween in Israel. And until suset and three stars are visible it is Shabbat, so I do not think that would work anyway. In ancient days, they said there were three wonders about the land of Israel. First, there was a day where no one worked and that was unheard of in the ancient world. Second, they had a temple with no statues. Third, they have a sea in which everything floats. That is the Dead Sea of course and it is on our agenda for today, everything will be in the West Bank. We left the Regency hotel in Jerusalem at about 8:00 A.M. and headed south. Our first stop was Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. I actually prefer the exhibit of the scrolls, but that is just me. Then on to Masada. I am sure you remember the story. It was created as an emergency palace for Herod, high on a mountain that stands by itself. Herod figured out how to divert the flash flood waters into cisterns and created grain storage areas. However, he never got to use this palace. In 68 A.D. Israel revolted from Rome and, soon enough, Tiberias sent troops. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem fell and was sacked and the temple utterly destroyed. Then, on to Masada, the last stronghold. The Romans began building a ramp so they could bring a battering ram to bear against the walls. The Jewish rebels threw rocks on their heads and reinforced the gates with wood which could resist the ram. The Romans used flaming arrows and burned the wood, near the end of the day, they breached the wall. Rather than fight at night, the Romans returned to camp.
That night the leader of the revolt, Ben Yair gave a stirring speech. The group of about a thousand fighters, many with their wives and children decided to commit suicide rather than become slaves to the Romans. In his words, "Let our wives die unabused, our children ithout knowledge of slavery". They also destroyed all of the goods except the food, they wanted the world to know that they made the decision for honor, not out of want. We heard a story from an Israeli Navy Captain. He added the following. At the conclusion of bootcamp and skills training, the recruits boarded a bus to Masada. It was at night, about four in the morning when they got there. They were each given a flaming torch and pointed to the "Snake path", a winding set of steps that many young fit people use to ascend Masada (we rode the cable car). As he got to the top, there was a stage. On one side of the stage was a stack of 60 Hebrew Bibles, one for each of the recruits. On the other side was an arrangement of 60 rifles. Each man took a Bible in his left hand, it is closer to the heart, and a rifle in his right hand. And their commanding officer led them in an oath to never let Masada fall again. That they would each fight to the death if necessary. I thought that was very touching.
I gave my father a personal tour of Masada, it is a pretty big place and exposed to the sun, so we did the East, West and Northern overlooks; I explained the buildings and then we headed back. We ate lunch at the cafeteria there and then the rest of the group arrived. We boarded the bus and next we went up to Ein Geddi. It has a water supply, a spring higher up in the mountains, so this oasis has been settled forever. In the Bible it is where David hid from Saul. We got to see a nunber of gazelles and ibex. Up in the mountains they have found scrolls, including a dowry and the "secret of Ein Geddi", which was how they made a precious healing spice in ancient days.
Last trip of the day was the Dead Sea. I had decided that I did not want to get in the Dead Sea; I did it last time and it seems like it takes days to get all of the dead sea smell off of you. Kathy and Suzy went together, floated around; I took a few pictures of Kathy and then they did the mud pit thing and began the series of showers required. Kathy is taking her third as I write.
This is our last night at the Regency and I am glad. The hotel has gone downhill a bit since my last visit. They forgot to service our room one time, didn't give new water glasses, the food is OK, but not what it could be. So far, the Dan Panorama Tel Aviv is the winner heads and shoulders.
We picked up a bottle of wine at Qumran for tonight to share after dinner. It is a Barkan Classic from Galil Israel, a 2005. It aged well, a bit of musk, a dry, easy sipping wine, a hint of vanilla; not the darkest I have seen, but it avoids being thin, and I would drink this wine again. Tonight we had a private dinner up on the 6th floor just for our group. 14 of us are leaving for the airport tonight and you build friendships and it is bittersweet seeing them go. We are staying and leave for Eilat tomorrow.
[Sunday, November 1, 2009] Road trip to Eilat
Once again, a 6:30 A.M. wakeup call; I am looking for the "free day" in Eilat when I get to sleep late, but that is not today. We head down the same road as yesterday, down from Jerusalem to Israel's longest highway where we turn south, past Qumran, past Masada. It turned out to be a very long drive; farmers were protesting the increase in the price of water and were blocking the highway. Israelis have no patience, so they started driving on the wrong side of the road and head-on collisions ensued, it was a big mess. We missed our appointment to see the tabernacle and arrived in Eilat at sunset.
Eilat is cool, it is a resort town with the prices and behavior you expect in a Mediterranean resort town. Where Jerusalem is a deeply spiritual city, Eilat is party central. The hotel is the Crowne Plaza. It is a nice place, really worth staying in, though they really should not charge $24.00 USD a day for Internet acess when it is so very slow. And, while I like the hotel, don't get me wrong, it is still a tourist hotel and the crazy tourists all feel they have to butt in front of you at every turn.
The next day, Monday, we had some free time. I woke up early and did some Bible study, I have been interested in the patriarchs especially since I started the Abraham Wanderer project. Something in Genesis 26 caught my eye.
Even in the time of the patriarchs, the people living in the land are conflicted about the line of promise, Abraham, Issac, Jacob. Let me show you one more example, then I will get back to Eilat. This time, Genesis 34. Dinah, daughter of Jacob has been raped by Shechem, a local Philistine boy, but he falls in love with her and asks for her hand in marriage.
The implication is that the land has not been open to them and there were severe restrictions on selling property to the Hebrews. So it is today. If you sell land from the Muslim quarter to a Jew, you can be killed. I just had not realized this goes back all the way to the beginning with no breaks, no periods of real peace, merely disarmament. Anyway, back to the resort town of Eilat.
Kathy went on an introductory scuba dive and reports the reef is great and there are lots of fish, and I hung around with Suzy and my mother. We tried to ride a glass bottom boat, but the captain turned it around saying it was too rough. My dad is pooped, it has been a long non-stop trip, so he rested. As we were coming back to the hotel, we saw Kathy, she was just coming back from her dive and she was elated. Kathy and I went out to find the underwater observatory, but we never did. Suzy and my mom were hungry and my mom wanted to take something back to my dad so we headed over the the Passador Restaurant. They are across the street from the Crowne Plaza. Their pasta dishes are so so, but all of the meat dishes we tried were seasoned very well. They were also accommodating to people's needs. It was a lovely day in Eilat, not too hot, it was hazy this morning, but by afternoon the air was clear and the mountains are spectacular. Tomorrow is a big, big day, the plan is to head to Petra in Jordan, so let me get this posted.
[Tuesday, November 3, 2009] Jordan and Petra
We got up this morning and had breakfast at the Crowne Plaza. Wow, does the food service crew ever work hard, that is one of the best run tourist operations I have ever seen. Then we got on the bus for the five minute ride to the Jordanian border. Jordan is one of my favorite Islamic countries. They are far more moderate than most of their neighbors and have many eco-type adventures. I have a deep respect for the Bedouin that continue to live deep in the desert. Since I come from the wettest spot on earth, this is foreign to me, but they are living a lifestyle thousands of years old and that is pretty special. We are headed for Petra, one of the modern seven wonders of the world. I am sure you are familiar with it, an extremely deep narrow canyon that the Nabateans carved homes and sculpture into the rock. It is about a two hour drive to get there.
Jordan is a beautiful land that happens to be the site for ancient Edom, Moab and Ammon. Since we are in the south it is all desert, but around the springs there is water for cultivation and olive trees are a favorite. We stopped for lunch in Petra, a buffet at a clean and well run restaurant, I elected to avoid the salad bar and only go for cooked items. Then on down to Petra, the archaeological site. It costs 21 Jordanian Dinar (about $30 USD) to enter the site. That includes one horseback ride. The walk into the site is all downhill. My mother (82 years old) and I walked it together. Since we are high up in the mountains, the temperature was reasonable, maybe 23 Centigrade (the rough conversion is to double the number and add 32, so about 75 Farenheight . I read about Petra in art history and such, but nothing compares to seeing it. We walked all the way to the treasury (which actually was not a treasury, but that is what they call it) and then began to head back.
There are alternatives to walking at Petra, you can ride a horse drawn buggy most of the way down or up. The original plan was to walk down with my mother, and ride back on a buggy, but it is very bumpy and none of the riders looked like they were having fun; so, with the cool temperature, we elected to walk back. There are horses to ride at the top half of the park and camels at the bottom half. However, keep in mind that your insurance will not cover accidents concerning animals, and also, all the animal keepers are Bedouin and they will hound you for money. In theory, a tip of a few dollars is enough. But, if you flash cash there will be no stopping them, so put a few dollars (3 or 4) in a separate pocket.
We started on our way back and I unwisely chose for us to rest at the lower horse transfer point. Every Bedouin was hounding us for money, so we went further up the trail and found a bench. When we got to the top, we were so far ahead of our group, we walked into town to a coffee shop and had a mint tea to wait for them. The air is just a little chilly when you are not walking and a mint tea in the Middle East is living life large.
As we headed back to join the group, this incredible SUV drove up. Driven by a guy in the Jordanian Special forces uniform, it was decked out for the desert: water bottles hanging on the roo bar on the front, and a picture of a guy shooting an RPG on one of the windows. At first thought, I was thinking Palestinian terrorist, but he had a grin from ear to ear. Ido, our guide was with us, so he asked the guy what gives. It turns out he does adventure tours and he thinks of the SUV as advertising. Alrighty then. The bus ride back to the border was quiet, it is only a three mile walk in and out of Petra, but it is uphill on the way back, and, of course, many of the people scampered across the rocks and such. Like you, I have seen many sunsets, but a sunset in the desert is pretty special.
Clearing customs is a bit of an ordeal in both directions. It involves standing in various lines and running your bag through metal detectors, but it all works; allocate 45 minutes to an hour for each direction.
[Wednesday, November 4, 2009] The beginning of the returnI have enjoyed my time in Israel and have enjoyed having a real vacation. Kathy, Suzy and I got on line from time to time and there were a couple of hair on fires, but on the main there is enough bench strength at SANS that if one person takes vacation, things keep running; that is awesome. In a couple hours we get on the bus for the last time. We have a site or two to see, but basically we drive to Tel Aviv and the airport. We are going to take a day in New York again to rest and then finish the flight. Even though many of the sites were a repeat for me, I sense there is a lot I have not seen in Israel and I would come back. I would even consider a tour with Sar El/Mission Valley Fellowship again. The buses were the highest quality and had enough leg room. The hotels were great considering the price, I would have paid at least twice that on my own. I don't know that I would want to repeat the Jerusalem section of the tour, maybe stay in Ramat Rachel instead or volunteer to help with archeology or some such. Also, I think I would like to learn some basic Hebrew before returning, not understanding the language, not being able to read any signs gets tiring. But I wanted to be closer to God and when you read a passage like Zechariah 2 that Jerusalem will someday be so full of people and livestock that there won't be room for everyone sitting on a mountain looking at Jerusalem which is totally packed out across the Kidron valley, you start to realize just how true and how serious the Bible is.
Later in verse 11 it says, "Many nations will join themselves to the LORD on that day, and they, too, will be my people." One of the things that is fascinating is how the Jewish people are returning to Israel from all over the world.
That said, there is no need to make decisions about Israel anytime soon; Kathy and I burned through a lot of vacation time and we are not doing any long trips for a while.
The Nike Fit Dry polo shirt is great, wicks, dries fast, looks good. I brought a tank top of the same fabric, the line is called Rec Tech by Old Navy. These fabrics should be part of any travel ensemble, because if you have to exert yourself and sweat, they wick the moisture away from your body so that if you run into cold, you are better off dry than sweaty. They are also great for layering, as we will probably be reminded when we get to New York in November.
For this trip, as well as the Greece trip, my primary shoes were Skechers crossover hiker/walker sport shoes. Good footwear, but they are suede and collect dust easily and are hard to clean. As they wear out, I will look for a non-suede replacement.
My primary pants were Rail Riders. This particular model is no longer made (Rail Riders needs to learn to stick with their winners instead of changing all the time). As I understand it, the idea behind Rail Riders is performance sporting and being able to wear it in public, and they charge a premium for their products. The pants did well and also resisted showing soil and dust with the Teflon coating. They are about four years old and starting to pill on the inside, but other than that, show little wear. I also have a Rail Riders nylon shirt. It is comfortable, dries fast, but does not look sharp without ironing. The collar in particular is frumpy looking.
My second pair of pants, they ones I am flying in, are Eddie Bauer nylon zip offs. Bringing these allowed me to skip bringing shorts since the pants zip off. In addition to the standard cargo pockets, there is an inner zip pocket for cash and a small outer zip pockets to put few dollars to tip a Bedouin when you ride his horse. I was a bit doubtful about 100% nylon, but these are the pants I am flying in, so I must believe they are comfortable. They also have an internal belt, handy for when you are going through the metal detector and have to take your main belt off. What they should do though is add a pocket to each of the legs that zip off when you turn the pants into shorts. That can come in handy on a long flight.
It looks like my LL Bean money belt is going to make it back, but it will have to be retired if it makes it home, it is dying fast. They are the only company I know that makes a money belt in leather. The brown ones do pretty good, but the black ones streak on your clothes and wear out fast. I wish Coach made such a thing. On the positive side, my LL Bean 86% Polyester 14% Nylon GR 89 tall travel shirt is still my number one travel shirt for winter time. It consistently dries overnight in a hotel, does not wrinkle and has two pockets that button for securing items. Instead of a jacket, I brought an LL Bean overshirt. I have it in the outside pocket of the suiter, so when we get our bags at JFK airport, I will pull it out.
My biggest disappointment were the two rayon aloha shirts. Comfortable, dry fast, but I forgot to bring a plastic hanger and they really wrinkled.
I brought a visor instead of a hat. That was a mistake, the sun gets very bright here. I ended up buying an Israeli Park Service hat with a flap in the back to protect my neck from the sun. Speaking of sun, we ran out of sun block and bought Ahava SPF 50 mineral sun care in country. Very pricey and it does not rub in well, you look very white, I would try another brand. Bottom line, I had plenty of clean clothes while packing light so there was room to bring home souvenirs, but I was not the snazziest looking guy in the land. I will keep working on this.
[Friday, November 6, 2009] Heading for Kauai
Wednesday we drove from Eilat to Tel Aviv. We stopped in Eilat at a spice store. In Israel, actually in all the Middle East, they take spices and food seriously for their healing properties. I am basically familiar with western healing herbs, but this was all different. However, I did not buy a lot of medicine, I bought spices for Kebab and Barbecue. Then we got back on the bus and headed for the Timna Valley; this is a beautiful national park with a replica of the tabernacle. That was a great presentation, then a long road trip to Tel Aviv. The trip was without incident.
We were treated like cattle at the Ben Gurion Airport. Put in a holding line and got to watch everyone else get through security and ticketing. El Al, just a suggestion, but do the math. That is 50 seats on your airplane. Consider treating the people better. Juice on arrival or seats. It will work out for you financially in the long run.
When we got to ticketing, they had an offer to upgrade to more leg room. We bought five seats and it really made a difference. Sadly, Suzy's seat was not premium, it was the exit row seat where your knee is literally in the exit row. I think that is seat 7A on a United 737. Very bad seat. I tried to get Suzy moved, but right in front of me they sold the last premium seat to a girl that looked like she was 16 or so, leaving Suzy in the hole. I am not saying that I will never fly El Al again, I probably will, but, consistently bad service will not work as a successful business model. In the mean time, there is a United flight through New York to Frankfurt and then Lufthansa to Tel Aviv. Maybe if we visit again that is worth trying.
The El Al flight was much nicer with the exit row seats, I slept five hours. Then I watched the Julia Child movie, Julie and Julia, I enjoyed that. Is it the first blogging movie I have seen? I think so. The landing was uneventful and we all clapped, that is fun. Then we took the AirTrain back to the Holiday Inn, checked email a bit and crashed for a few hours; we ate Chinese take-out for supper as a family, and then crashed again. Everybody got up this morning to see us off. The shuttle to JFK airport and security went without a hitch, and now we are at the gate. The Red Carpet Lounge at JFK is one of the nicer ones, they even have Corn Flakes. I know they feed us on the plane, but if I start with cereal, maybe I can say no to the sausage, if you get my drift. Looks like we are booked on a Premium Service flight, I am excited about that.