Cappadocia Turkey Underground Cave Cities


It was while watching a SCI FI Ancient Aliens show I first heard about the underground cities of Derinkuyu, Kaymakli and Ozkonak.  These and the other 200+ Underground Cities are a huge mystery that may never come to full light.  Everything we know is just from what has been found in excavating what remained.  This could be remnants from those who were last there, as these caves could be much much older. There really are so many cave systems and underground tunnels and essentially full cities underground that it may never be fully excavated.  These cities contained wineries, stables, churches, school, cellars, storage rooms.  The largest of the underground city of the in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province, Turkey.  It’s only been open to visitors since 1969 and less than half of what has been excavated is accessible to tourists.  At peak this city could have supported 20,000 residents and was up to 85 Meters deep!!!  According to the Turkish department of culture the cave is 8th to 7th century possibly built by the Phrygians either for religious purposes or refuge. 

Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri

 

Now if you’re looking to visit this region, Goreme, Turkey is a great central location and really setup well for tourists where you can sleep in your own cave, but not part of any major tunnel system.  Goreme has shuttles to and from the airport.  Warning: If you are planning on not renting a car (which you shouldn’t need to do), you need to make sure you arrange ahead of time with one of the shuttle companies, the small airport in Kayceri has no ticket desk for shuttles and the taxi ride is pretty steep comparatively.  I was denied entry into a shuttle bus even after offering to pay him his price.  The driver won’t take money, it has to be pre-arranged.  I ended up catching a ride with an older couple that was headed into the city.  Really I got lucky, I didn’t want to pay the high price of the taxi, and there were no bus options that were convenient.  It was going to be a long walk and an inconvenient trek to the bus station, and who knows how long I may have had to wait.  WIth as many tourist shops and vehicles as there are in Goreme it was amazing to me how there was really NOTHING at the airport.

 

461479_10150787038598783_472927950_o

On the surface you really wouldn’t even know it was down there, save the entrance sign and a few air vents that look like wells.

459255_10150787035188783_670035234_o

Based on the size of the 500KG door that’s only able to be opened from the inside, I can definitely imagine it being used for refuge and for hiding from someone or something.

562343_10150787036148783_940521962_n412641_10150787037138783_573106031_o

There are some spaces that are very wide open such is just outside the church which makes the shape of a cross, underground, or the very tight spaces that is speculated as being a doorway that forces the person to be penitent.  They must go onto their knees to enter.  The self inflicted punishment is they would go around and around through the small tunnel to learn humility, kind of like the hail Mary or doing rosary beads.

When inside unless you’re claustrophobic, you feel very safe.  The walls seem very solid and there isn’t any crumbling rock.  There are some areas where you need to bend over to avoid hitting your head, but the hall near the church has a lot of room, and supports really large gathering of people.

You can take a virtual tour of the caves at http://www.muze.gov.tr/derinkuyu

413109_10150787031988783_1758437263_o 

Look closely at these boards and you have one of the primary tools used to carve the stone with much sharper stones.  The would drag the board across the softer stone and it would essentially carve away the stone.  In this way they could remove the stone in large swaths.  For smaller areas, they would use smaller tools.

465935_10150787036928783_1126015787_o

Those who speculate that it was designed to be very temporary need to explain the graves in the area called the Morgue.  Here the rooms in this section of the cave are designed to handle the dead… Is it possible these graves were temporary holding places for the dead until they could find peace long enough to bury their dead.

 

 477691_10150787037448783_859299840_o

Yes, it was very dark 7-8 stories down.  The little lights are wired up and brought in through wires attached to the wall.

457769_10150787037763783_1350265146_o

Nevşehir Province has several other underground cities and Derinkuyu itself connects to Kaymakli via an 8 km tunnel. The deepest cave city is Derinkuyu and the widest is Kaymakli.  You can’t travel the tunnel between them.  Derinkuyu is about 30 minute drive from Goreme, which is the city where most of the hotel and tourist support is.  Access to these cities is no longer open to local residents without going through the main entrance. They remain generally unoccupied. In excess of 200 underground cities containing a minimum of two levels have been discovered in the area between Kayseri and Nevsehir.  Some 40 of those contain a minimum of three levels or more. The troglodyte (underground) cities at Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu are two of the best examples of habitable underground structures.  Reaching Derinkuyu or Goreme and the underground cities and cave churches, one can purchase a domestic ticket on Turish Airlines to Keyseri or Nevsehir. There are overland bus routes as well from across the country with flying being the shortest and not a bad way to reach the city.  Turkey is a big country so plan accordingly.

 

476491_10150787038788783_1297159923_o (1) 

Why you need to visit Cappadocia the Underground Cities and Cave Churches

There are so many incredible things to see in Cappadocia that you could spend a weeks here and still discover new places. The main ‘must-see’ attractions are the open-air museums which are essentially groupings of caves, cathedrals and homes and the two best underground cities. At the same time it wouldn’t make sense to go this whole way and not see the incredible Rose Valley, the Ihlara valley which has many of its own small cave churches, but even just outside the Goreme Open Air museum is one of my favorite cave churches.  What you’ll find when you arrive is there are many tourist companies that have organized the tours into the blue route, and red route, and so on, to group the various activities for those with limited time.  As well, don’t forget to get up as high as you can to check out the valley, this may be in a hot air balloon or on a hike to the top of the canyons.  One thing you must do is explore.  There’s so much to see and not everything is behind closed doors.  Even just hiking the valleys, you’ll be amazed to find abandoned caves.

  • Goreme Open Air Museum: cave churches with frescoes
  • Zelve Open Air Museum: an empty cave town with churches
  • Kaymakli Underground City: the largest underground city
  • Derinkuyu Underground City: the deepest underground city
  • Ihlara Valley: the deepest gorge of Anatolia
  • Uchisar: Roman rock-cut castle. You’ll see it driving back and forth.  Very cool looking. 
  • Ortahisar: Roman rock-cut castle.
  • Pasabag: mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys, monks valley
  • Devrent: animal-shaped fairy chimneys, imagination valley
  • Hacibektas: center of Bektasi sect of Islam
  • Gulsehir: first settlements in Cappadocia

I shared some of my stories on the Open Air Musuem, the Ihlara Valley and Monestary in “Early Cave Churches of Cappadocia Turkey” and more on the “Underground Cities

Christian Cave Churches and Monasteries in Cappadocia Turkey


Iconic Early 5th Century Christian Cross

As a traveler one of the thing that really stands out in digging in to understand a people is how much of culture is influenced by faith and religion.  In Europe you must visit the cathedrals because it was the center of the universe for the people.  In Istanbul you must visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia or you haven’t seen Istanbul. I have found Israel, Jerusalem, Bethehem, and Jordan to be quite amazing.  Even Cairo had places that reminded me of Moses and the red sea.  I have found the cathedrals across Europe to be quite amazing, even Ireland had some amazing history as it relates to early Christianity.  Rome and the catacombs.  Early Christians in Ireland, or Monserrat in Spain… incredible.  These early Christians driven into caves and into the mountains the hermits of Bulgaria and Macedonia are fascinating and must see.  The monasteries in the cliffs of Meteora where they survived from decimation for more than 500 years.  I love thinking about Thessaloniki or the Thessalonians.  My visit to Armenia and connecting with locals and making friends the thoughts and attitudes of the people cannot be separated from their faith as a people.  Mount Arrarat and Noah’s Ark and God’s dealing with the Armenian people is so deeply ingrained in their art, their life and spirit.

A One trying to understand the mind of the pre-Nicean church can do much study the rich art and paintings captured on the walls of the hundreds if not thousands of painted caves now abandoned art work of Cappadocia.  The cave paintings while much has been destroyed have preserved a lot of history and messages through the images.  I find it quite inspiring and very peaceful.  In some of the churches that you pay to see one with no cameras allowed.  I could easily spend an hour staring at the ceiling and unweaving the thoughts in the heads of these early christians.  Their faith, their perspectivies, their stories.  Much of the tradition has been preserved, but a lot has been lost as well.  Lots of contemplation are required to understand not just the story, but the perceptions of the artist.

Cave homeMary the mother of Jesus

This photo is not a direct photo, but actually a photo of what I saw, but photographed from a book at the gift shop, or a post card.  You can see how much color is still in the images.   The color alone is quite the story as the paint was made from pigeon poo.

My travels took me to Goreme, in central Turkey.  These natural occuring ferry chimneys are amazing.  I’ve only been in a few places in the world where they have these, Utah’s Goblin Valley, and Bryce Canyon, but what those places don’t have are the primitive Christian churches and the underground cities.  The Tuff left from the volcanic ash turned rock helped provide a substance that was very easy to carve, but also very strong, like a more dense pumice.

Goreme Open Air Museum Entrance

There are multiple locations in Cappadocia where you can find these cave churches.  First the largest collection in a small area is the Goreme Open Air Museum.  There are lots of great cave hotels in Goreme.  I recommend staying in a cave at least one night.  It’s a unique experience and it’s quite affordable.

Unfortunately nearly all of the churches would not allow photography or video cameras at the Open air musuem.  You could take pictures outside, but definitely not as  compelling.

high cave churchThe Snake Church

There were a few select churches that they allowed photography in.  The names of the churches come from the art work inside.  Apple church, snake church, etc…

Christian Column Inside the cave church

While these may look impressive, the reality is these were pretty bare.

On a walk through the various churches you’d mostly get directed at the various figures and stories from the bible, but it was stories like the animal below that represents paganism that really caught my interest.  I was interested in the explanations of what was different and how they lived and what they believed.  Like can you believe that most of the well preserved cave paintings have the eyes of the people carved out.

Pagans

I was told the local muslim people felt threatened and the eyes alone could convert.  So you have these scary pictures where the eyes are carved out.

Greek Influece on Caves in Turkey The Hive of Caves

Not only were the churches carved into the stone, the people as well lived in caves in stone where archways could be fancied up.  On the left you have the homes of displaced Greeks in Turkey.  Most of them moved back to Greece.

Next we travel to the Ihlara Valley were over a dozen caves were turned into churches.  One of the most amazing hikes… Combines peaceful walk along a stream with basalt canyon walls like the snake river valley in Idaho or, and pillars of the Giants Causeway in Ireland.

Ihlara Valley Map

As you can see by the little yellow dots along the slides of the river in the Ihlara valley, for miles along the river, caves were turned into places of worship.  If you were simply walking along the river, you would have really No idea this was happening.  It’s Fantastic!!

Ihlara valley cave churchesPainted Cave

Do these caves above look like they might contain this… image to the right.

Beautiful art still remains on the walls.  Much has been destroyed or defaced.  Eyes of the saints in the pictures are scratched out.  One guide told us that the people were worried about how the beautiful icononic art might convert them.  The watching eyes were just too powerful.  So much so that for much of what you see there are few eyes you’ll find.

The Three Magi

Below the three magi or wisemen and their gifts for the birth of the savior minus their eyes.  If you look near the hat you can see names in Greek.  It looks like the names of the magi were added afterward. The shape of their hats is interesting.  It brings a historical understanding.  Studying this brings much more understanding of the early 6th century church.

Mary on a donkey

Mary on the Donkey… Did you know the reference to Mary riding a donkey is actually not found in the bible, but in apocryphal writings in the text the Infancy Gospel of James?  This may be one of the earliest paintings that exists showing Mary on a Donkey.

The dome in pigeon poo

It is very incredible to think of the condition that these paintings were made.  These were painted many many years prior to the crusades, and the spread of the ottoman empire.  These were made at time when the Christians were hiding in caves.  The paint was made from pigeon droppings.  To think about that part of it it’s really very remarkable much remains at all.

Open Air churchesGoreme

When in Goreme and surrounding you’ll find that you need at least 2 to 3 days to simply race through everything.  4 days to a week will allow you to take a slower pace to really enjoy the valleys and take more in.  The tours are very inexpensive, and they are organized into the blue tour, the red tour and so on, and they really are packed with places to see and visit.  One morning you need to do the balloon ride for the adventuresome.  If you are thinking about the balloon, don’t wait till the last day because they are frequently cancelled due to weather conditions.

Goreme from above

View of Goreme from the top of the hills.

Abandoned fairy homes

The Fairy chimneys… turned home and now abandoned. A honeycomb of mystery and intrigue.

The Messiah scratched out

The Messiah, with a scratched out face…

Selime Cathedral

For more adventure… On one end of the Ihlara valley is the Selime Cathedral.  Walking to simply get to this Cathedral makes you feel like you’re rock climbing.  It isn’t for little old ladies or old men.  This requires a little bit of skill to navigate across the rocks, through tunnels and a bit of scrambling…

Selime Cathedral

But the payoff is big.  Huge rooms with archways and columns still remain while much of the artwork is destroyed and soot covers the ceilings.

Selime Cathedral

If you look closely you can still see remains, of what was once majestic.

Cappadocia Central Turkey Valleys and the all seeing eye

If there was any doubt that this valley wasn’t backed with mystery, intrigue and wonder… I hope a few of these picture have opened your mind.  Goreme and Cappadocia still remains one of my favorite destinations and the my appreciation for the early church and their cave dwelling days has shaped what we think of even as a catheral or church.  We have much to share in appreciation for these devoted follower of central Turkey.

Yosemite Valley Natural Wonder

Yosemite Valley

I’ve been to California many many times, but it wasn’t until I explicitly planned to go to Yosemite that it happened.  I’ve seen pictures, and heard stories about it’s beauty, but it never popped until this summer.

Our family had a family reunion in Lake Tahoe, and with an open weekend, it took a little convincing, but we were all in.

I knew I wanted to have a full day in Yosemite and not just plan to drive through.  This was smart.  You really do need to plan to spend a full day to take advantage of what is there.  Imagine Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon… it’s one of those type of places.  You’re essentially 3-4 hours from civilization in any direction.  The good news is, there are options, but planning is important.  I found that common travel sites would easily put you 2 hours away from the park when booking a hotel, so you have to be careful.  The hotels, motels and lodges in the park go quickly and are quite expensive.

We stayed at the West Entrance to the park at Yosemite Riverside Inn.  It met our needs, and even included breakfast.  We were most happy with the distance to the park and being able to wake up and begin our journey into the park.  The first sight of Yosemite valley was incredible.

Yosemite valley

Half Dome in the Distance… My first view of it. Inspiring!

Personally it only took this one view, to know that I had found what I was looking for.  Yosemite was a natural wonder.  This was an ancient canyon with God’s fingerprints on it.  This place has serious earth history and a magical valley that would attract earths inhabitants all over it.  This special valley would awe and inspire and enchant anyone who sets their eyes on it.  In many ways simply traveling through this valley can bring one closer to God, because it makes man feel small.  In so many ways the pride of man can be stilled by standing on one of these rocks.

yosemite

El Capitan – What a Serious Megalith

While I didn’t really take the opportunity to climb these mega stones carved out of the valley, I did spend hours driving around them and went on a couple of easy hikes up to the falls, and one to a lake.  I spent most of the day in the valley with a bunch of other people I was trying to ignore.  You can see a few of these insignificant creatures in my picture.  Ignore the crowds, it’s still worth it. There are times of the day when you can get there ahead of the crowds, but still you have to do it anyway… It’s amazing and it does bring one closer to ones creator.

yosemite bridal veil

Yosemite Falls is 2,425 ft.  The highest waterfall in North America and in the top 10 in the world.  I’m going to be visiting the highest in the world, Angel Falls, in Venezuela and planning to spend 3 days to see it.  Had I known how amazing this was and how many of the top waterfalls in the world are in this park I would have given it more priority.  When I think of falls in the US, I think of Niagra, but that’s a volume thing.  Here you can plan to go when the run off is at it’s highest in the spring and get a real show.  Remember this park reminds man, that he is insignificant.  Some people get hurt or worse, trying to prove they can conquer these things.  With over a dozen falls, and hikes to nearly all of them, there are tons of things that people will do.  I would have liked to have tubed the river, or rode horses… lots of great activities in the park.

Things to do:

  • Horseback riding
  • Rafting
  • Hiking (Falls, Trails, Loops)
  • Rock Climbing
  • Biking
  • Tours
  • Loops Drive
  • Walking

1019975_10151760237253783_191002207_o

If anything Yosemite reminds us that there are things bigger than us in life.  Anytime you want to feel small. Visit the Yosemite Valley and it’s 1000 square miles of National park.  While you may feel like you weren’t alone while you were there.  You won’t regret it.

Plan Your World Cup 2014 Trip to Rio Brazil with 5 Adventures and Tips

Rio is amazing!!

469777708782

Rio is world famous.  Even beyond the wild and amazing cultural customs and tradition of Carnival, Rio is an incredible city.  The world will be looking at Rio as FIFA Host city in 2014 World Cup and holding it to a very high standard in 2016 when it hosts the World for the Summer Olympics.  the 2014 FIFA World Cup will be the 20th FIFA World Cup, an international football or soccer tournament that is scheduled to take place here in Brazil from June 12 to July 13 in 2014.  I hope this blog helps you make up your mind.

In my travels, Rio stands out as a big highlight, amazing city.  Some will ask if it’s safe.  Rio, every year as it gets closer to the world cup and the Olympics is worlds of change for the better.  While pick pocketing or mugging out at night on the beach in the dark may have been more common place in the past, this is now no longer happening.  The streets have been cleaned up and crime is getting stamped out and pushed back into dark areas of the flavelas.  Even these have undergone much change over the years.  Brazil and Rio care very much about their reputation and as the world is looking to see if Rio can stand up and be the world destination is it destined to be… it is accomplishing just that.  Yes, you should take care and don’t do anything stupid, and take the advice of your hotels.  Be smart and be cautious of what your plans are at night and you’ll be fine.  I went to some night markets near the beach and made sure to stay in lit areas where people were and was fine.  Those were both tips I got from locals.  The people are extremely friendly and there’s so much to do.  Rio is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  It’s in my top 3 most beautiful cities in the world and may be #1.  You will not be disappointed if you plan your world cup travel to Rio.  It will be amazing.  Planning for the Olympics and on the fence?  Rio will fulfill all your dreams!

Rio is really working on response and planning for these major events.  See Rio Goes High-Tech, With An Eye Toward Olympics, World Cup

Copacabana at night - welcome to rioCopacabana beach

Beaches!

Rio is known for it’s beaches some of the best known are Copacabana and Ipanema, but Botafogo, Praia da Barra da Tijuca, and Praia do Flamengo are also amazing beaches and there’s even more.  There are lists of top ten beaches in Rio.  The beaches are long and have long stretches of sand and boardwalks with varying population, some can get quite crowded.  It’s not hard to get a hotel right across from one of the beaches.  There’s water beyond the beaches as well with places like parque lage

 

Corcovado Parque Lage

New Wonders of the World – Christ Redeemer Statue

Rio has very unique topography.  Huge granite hills, but one of them has the world famous Christ Redeemer statue.  Corcovado, is the destination.  It’s not to miss.  Incredible views, amazing views of pristine beaches.  Some of these stone hills have special access with funicular and others with chair lifts.  You must get up on Sugar Loaf.  Day or night… the views are absolutely incredible.  You can even hike parts of it. There are tours you can take from your hotel, or bus routes to the funicular.

Visit Christ the Redeemer Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio

The views are unlike anywhere else.  You feel like you’re on another planet.  The closest examples I’ve found to the rocks are like haystack rock in Oregon, and Meteora in Greece, and feel like Capetown, but ultimately it’s more than all of these.  Bigger variety and 6 million plus people spread across over a dozen of these huge rock mounts that have been carved out over thousands or millions of years.

Hang gilding and Paragliding

Jump off this mountain as a paraglider or with a hang glider

I’ve jumped off that mountain.  That grassy area is where I landed.  For around $100-150 you can hang glide or paragliding as a student of the art.  You get a special license to do the jump.  The prices vary greatly at different hotels.  Different companies charge different rates. I even found there was some flexibility and was able to carve off a little off the price.

looking down on the worldGliders

Soak in the culture, the music and dancing… Let loose, relax and feel the Carnival spirit…

For the most lucky watch the two weeks of Carnival on the streets, where it all happens.  Then at night settle down to dinner and Samba Music maybe some Brazilian kick boxing.  Find a samba school for the most authentic experience.  Also watch in addition to samba, the choro, and bossa nova music.  Rio is the birthplace of all of these.

Carnival DancersCarnival Costumes Amazing Brazil at Night

 

There are a lot of reasons to visit Rio.  You’ll be sure to experience the relax attitude of the people and learn to enjoy yourself one way or another… either sitting on the beach, enjoying the music or the fresh meats and seafood… amazing food!  My favorite was the beans stew feijoada.  Ask a local for the story.  They have a long history. Don’t miss the Brazilian most famous dish, the feijoada (fay-zho-AH-da), a black bean stew filled with big chunks of meat, like chunks of sausages, pork or beef.  Rio is famous for it’s seafood as well.  The fresh juice bars with fresh coconut are also so fresh and great.  Very refreshing after a good surf or after soaking up the sun sitting out on the beach.  Enjoy a fresh one for me.

 

Looking for more details… visit the wikitravel page for Rio.

 

Estádio do Maracanã - panorama

Picture courtesy wikicommons

The Estádio do Maracanã is incredible.  Huge stadium that has undergone special renovations to make it a top stadium in the world.  Following its 50th anniversary in 2000, the stadium underwent renovations which would increase its full capacity to around 103,000. After years of planning and nine months of closure between 2005 and 2006, the stadium was reopened in January 2007 with an all-seated capacity of 82,238

Planning for the games or not, it is one that the locals would tell you not to miss… You can visit the Maracana, once the largest stadium in the world and currently largest in all of South America will be host of the FIFA 2014 World Cup and final.  Maracana MuseumIt even includes a museum!  The tiny picture to the right from the museum has photo ops.  Yeah, it’s a little silly, but football fans love the shrines to their favorite players and the chance to be part of the action.

As a frequent global traveler, let me share a few tips for a successful trip to Rio, Brazil…

5 Tips to Prepare Your Trip to Rio de Janeiro

1. You may need a visa.  US Citizens NEED a visa.  This is something you need to prepare for around a month in advance.  Hopefully around the time you have your travel plans.  There are express visa options, but don’t delay.  Getting the visa MUST be done in advance and can not be done at the border.  You’ll be looking for the tourist visa. You’ll need at least 2 blank pages in your visa and 2x2in photo.  I recommend the 10 year visa.  The cost difference between the shorter visa doesn’t warrant it.  It will cost you around $200-300 USD to get the visa and could easily take 2-3 weeks to make it all happen.  You will be sending a copy of your passport to get the visa, so make sure you plan accordingly. If this is your first trip, you’ll want to get your passport months in advance.  Even if you’re from Canada, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Japan, or Mexico you NEED a visa.  Citizens of the UK and EU including Turkey are exempt and don’t need a visa.  So check to make sure.

2. Prepare to pay – Brazil isn’t a poor country, despite what you hear in the news.  Food can be quite expensive.  The Brazilian Reals are a strong currency.  You will definitely love the experience.  It’s a tourists dream to go here, but you may have to shop around if you’re coming from a poor country to see the match.

3. Hotels – Prepare way in advance for hotels and hostels.  Do your research. These will fill up fast for the World Cup and Olympics or Carnival.  Consider options like AirBnB and VRBO as alternative to the typical conventional options sometimes these can even be cheaper than hotels.com.  If you don’t mind paying in advance, Expedia and Priceline can save you a lot in some of the major hotel chains, but there are a lot of options, so you’ll need to shop around.

4. Bring your swimming suit and a jacket – while Rio seems like it has the perfect weather.  The nights can be cool, and you may end up in the hills where it’s chilly.  Don’t forget your suit and sun screen.

5. Travel and Money strategies – I spoke in length about how to put money in more than one place such as some in your carry on bag and NOT in your back pocket.  With the events you don’t want to be sorry about having all your money getting swiped in one place.  You should visit my 10 simple tricks for world travel, so you’ll be thinking wholistically about how you pack and what your backup strategy is on money.  The way you pack can make a big difference on your flexibility for a trip to Brazil.

If you’re debating between adding on excursion trips to Sao Paulo or Iguazu Falls.  Iguazu in my opinion is the best waterfall in the world from a tourist perspective, and I’ve seen 4 of the top 5 in the world.  It’s awesome.  Sao Paulo, while a great city to do business in, wasn’t that exciting from a tourist perspective.

Petra Jordan Prehistoric Nabataean Caravan-city and Wonder of the World (4 of 7)

Petra Jordan the Treasury

The Treasury at Petra in Jordan

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

When I left Microsoft in 2008, I was planning a major trip.  It was my first trip to the middle east, I was to speak in Dubai and Istanbul.  I reached out to my technical blog audience at the time and asked the question… Where should I go… Petra, Jerusalem, or the Pyramids?  A Facebook friend of mine from Jordan named Mo, responded… come to Jordan and we’ll take you to Petra and setup a meeting with our user group… and more!  I was crazy excited such a simple question could be answered so well. As well a blogger in Israel offered up a visit to Jerusalem and opportunity to speak at the User group in Tel Aviv.  What a great opportunity to visit the middle east and really see it from a local perspective.

When I laid out my plans originally I would spend a week between Jordan and Israel.  The first plan involved me flying between Amman and Tel Aviv, but my time in Jordan wasn’t enough to spend the time I wanted to at Petra, so I changed my plans to meet my Israeli friend Avi, at the border.

Amman is a fascinating city.  It is a great modern city, but has a great mix of the old as well.  The shops alone you get a mix of modern and ancient.  There are places were you can easily find people doing trades such as selling clothes, handicrafts, but my favorite is the food.  In Amman there is great humus, meats, and breads.  Some say a lot of the food has it’s roots in Lebanese food.  It’s common to start with finger foods and then work to the beef, and lamb.  You can also find great chicken and turkey.  No pork!

Very common to have big platters of food where you can decide what you want.

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

There are remnants of Rome, and old ruins throughout the city as well.  This Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the before the time of Christ and has some amazing acoustics.  I’m pictured here with my friend Mohammed Zayed from Microsoft, who helped setup a lot of my appointments in Amman, he kept me very busy, and personally made sure I was well taken care of and safe.

As well, there are lots of flavored smoke, Houka, hubbly bubbly, smoke shops for just hanging out and chatting.

For tourists I recommend the King’s car collection.  One of the best exotic car collections around. Bugatti’s, Ferraris, Rolls Royce, and more…

Well, after spending a couple of days with the technical community with a little tour here and there, and some great food.  I was ready to go see Petra.  I couldn’t wait!  My Jordanian friends suggested that I would really like to see the Dead Sea after all our meetings to relax… So I took their advice, and we headed for the Dead Sea.  Once we got there I covered myself head to toe… literally in Dead Sea Mud.

Dead Sea Mud
Dead Sea Mud

It was all the rage.  I did get some footage of a family getting all muddied up.

Having Fun with Dead Sea Mud

Being so close to the holy land it was fascinating to imagine that Moses, Jesus, Elijah, and so many of the ancient prophets use to walk these lands. My Muslim friends were so kind as to take me to the River Jordan where Christ was baptized, and the same river where Naaman was told to dip in the River Jordan 7 times in (2nd Kings) to be healed of Leaprosy.  You can see the milky muddy river wouldn’t be that appealing.  This little river is the border… right next to this platform is an armed guard, and right on the other side of those reeds is an Israeli fort with its flag waving.  I’m sure both sides were watching my move.  A catholic priest who was part of our tour group offered to baptize my Muslim friends.  Poor timing?

Waters of the River Jordan

After the Dead Sea, and Jordan River, we headed out toward the desert to go track down Petra.  We wanted to get into Petra the city and spend the night there to see it at first light.  That was a great recommendation… although the route was a bit challenging.  On the road, my friend got a flat tire.  We had a rough time getting the tire off, and while all of us, and the military that happened by couldn’t get it off, a couple of friendly neighborhood chicken farmers figured it out.  This one guy got under the car, and was kicking it so hard I was sure we was going to knock the jack out.  I thought he was going to get crushed.  I tried to stop him, and warn him, but he didn’t understand me.  It was through his efforts we got back on the road with a donut for a tire.

After a number of check stops it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer.  Hours passed, and we started getting to know each other better.  In this chatting, something came up about Palestinians.  What?  After being with these guys for the past few days I thought for sure they were Jordanians.  They were, but their Parents were displaced.  Their parents were refugees from Palestine and had built homes, and families and lives in Jordan.  Wow.  Amazing.  At first I was a little shocked, and scared, but that was simply a media response.  It wasn’t a year earlier I had been watching footage and hearing about what Palestinians teach their children about life.  It was my first experience with Palestinians and since I felt like I knew these guys I really wanted to know what their perspectives were.  It was extremely enlightening to hear how they both knew where their families homes were in Jerusalem.  They both were from the same neighborhood even.  They had different perspectives on the war and the post war effort of how things were dealt with.  I think that’s something that is often overlooked is the literally dozens of collective perspectives of how things are currently being dealt with and how best to end the occupation (as it is explained by most in the West Bank and Gaza), and how to arrive at peace.  While I didn’t have much of an opinion on this, I was eager to understand as much as I could.  I was after peace, and felt like the better educated I was, I could share what I had learned.  A few days later, I’d find out the perspective of my Jewish/Israeli friends, and again in Dubai with even more Jordanian and Palestinian friends, and a year or so later with friends in Egypt, and then even more in a visit to Ramallah.

There is still a lot of animosity.  Most wars end with clear lines and boundaries, and some kind of plan to work toward.  Instead there’s a lot of confusion, and neither side has found an arrangement that works for the other.  It’s a bad situation and the leadership on both sides of the last few decades hasn’t allowed it to work out for either side.  Those in the West Bank have tried very hard to make a better life for their families.  More on that in my blog on Palestine… to be written.

I’ve made a lot of Palestinian friends… My second trip to Jordan I had a whole crew that made a special trip to see me.  I was so touched by their sacrifice, I made a special effort to visit them.  There are some very special people and when you get to know them individually, you start putting stories to faces, and see different perspectives… it’s all eye opening and touching.

Evil Camel in Petra Jordan
Evil Camel in Petra Jordan

After driving into the desert and realizing this wasn’t the best idea with a donut on, we drove back to Amman and found another more direct route and arrived in Petra at around 5am.  We crashed on a couch at the Marriott, which was also the resort we used when we were putting on the mud.  It was great to see Marriott was doing so well. (I collect Marriott points.)  We washed up, and after some breakfast, we got entrance tickets and started down the canyon.  The sun was coming up, and we were alone as we arrived at the Treasury.  WOW!!! It was so amazing.  What an incredible building carved right into the stone, a building cut out of a cliff.

The Monastery at Petra Jordan
The Monastery at Petra Jordan

Petra was as amazing as it looks and as Indiana Jones makes it look.  It’s awesome.  Totally worth the trip.  Wish I could have spent more time exploring.

Walking up through the high walled canyon to Petra… as it is revealed

After seeing the Treasury, I really wanted to see the Monastery, but I knew it was a lot of hiking with steps involved.  I had very little time, since I was going to need to rush off to the border.  I was way behind, and I was fascinated by the Donkey ride idea so I talked my friends, one of them at least into riding Donkeys.  To this day, he won’t ride the donkeys to Petra.  It was a very scary dangerous ride up steps, on cliffs, with a saddle that looks like it could choke the poor little donkey.

Jordan Travel Tips:

1. You MUST see the Treasury.  That one is required.  The second best is the Monastery.  Once you arrive at the Monastery you should go and look at it from various points of view.  There are some great places to view it on the hills.

2. Early is best.  6am is the preferred time.  Ideally you want the experience of walking through the canyons and it seems dark because of the canyon walls, and as you walk out the sun is shining brightly on the Treasury.  Early light is best.  The crowds will come as the tour buses arrive and people start coming in on carriages and the routes fill up fast.  We didn’t see anyone when we first headed out, but on our way back the Treasury was packed with people and they had a hard time getting pictures without people in their pictures.

3. The Dead sea is worth it.  The MUD is amazing!  You should definitely try it.  The Sea doesn’t stink.  It is very relaxing and yes, you can float!  Very cool feeling.  Keep the water out of your ears and out of your eyes.  It burns like crazy.

4. The Jordan River did feel more authentic in the Jordanian natural setting than the one on the Israeli side.  In Israel they have a place where people line up to do baptisms, and groups gather to collect vials of water, and have spiritual experiences.  The Jordan side was not crowded.  There was an orthodox church, and you can ride in the back of a truck to see the ancient steps that show ancient proof that this could be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

While this footage doesn’t look that bad.  You can tell by my expressions that the cliffs and the steps are crazy on the back of a little donkey.

Insane Donkey Ride in Petra

If you’ve got the time, you don’t need to ride the Donkeys.  There were also camels… but it wasn’t my day for camels.  After my amazing tour of Petra, I flew in a taxi to the King Husain Bridge crossing where I’d find that I was crossing not directly into Israel, but into the West Bank…

Read more about my adventures in the Palestinian Territories & West Bank…

Machu Picchu Spiritual City of the Sky and Wonder of the World (5 of 7)

Spiritual Machu Picchu

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

The lost city of Macchu Picchu.  What an amazing and historical place filled with mystery.  The Jewel of the Incas is spectacular.  Definitely one of the coolest places to hike, explore, and take in the spirit.  Lots of great photos to take, people to meet, cultures to explore.  (Pictured below is the city of Cuzco with a nice llama in the foreground along with my baby Dean, a favorite among the locals.)

saqsaywaman

I flew into Lima, Peru which was already a pretty long flight.  Lima is a fascinating city it’s own right.  It was my first city in South America, but what a great first experience it was.  All of the modern amenities, great hotels, great museums, lots to see.  I hope you like cathedrals, and gold, and the mysteries of the Incas.  There’s some great food, great get aways.  Lima is on the coast, and there are some awesome restaurants and great board walk.  Too many think that south of Mexico is more Mexico.  In the U.S. and likely much of the world has Mexican restaurants helping the world appreciate burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, but it takes a little digging to find Argentine and Brazilian steak houses.  What of Peru.  What you definitely find in South America is very distinct cultures, very different food, and even clothing.  If you haven’t made it yet to South America, I recommend Peru as a great place to start.  Peru has Amazon Rain forests, Andes Mountains, and desert and beaches. (Pictured: Agnes, Michael, me, David, Tony, and Jose)

Continue reading “Machu Picchu Spiritual City of the Sky and Wonder of the World (5 of 7)”

Secrets of Cambodia from Angkor Wat to the Killing Fields

Tomb Raider

The largest religious complex in the world.  Angkor Wat is one of the most amazing structures in the world.

Sure, Karnak in Luxor, Egypt is the largest religious structure, but Angkor Wat stretches over miles and miles including many many buildings.  I’d like to see a comparison of Tikal to Angkor Wat.  It’s a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason.  The complex itself was built 1110-1150.  It’s estimated it would take 300 years to do today, but took 40 years back then with thousands of workers brining in stones from all over.  Ok, read more on Wikipedia article on Angkor Wat beyond my research… If this was the only building that was constructed it would still be one of the most amazing in the world, but it is among 74 others in the complex of buildings many many miles apart.

This is definitely a bucket list item.  A New Seven Wonders runner up.  One of the most amazing places in the world!

Continue reading “Secrets of Cambodia from Angkor Wat to the Killing Fields”

Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)

pyramids of chichen itza

Visit of Christ to the Americas

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

 

When I was planning our Cancun vacation, my wife was thinking… we’ll chill on the beach at an all inclusive resort, and I was thinking… we’ll grab a rental car and pick up as many of the Mayan temples as possible within a 2 week period.  Finally I can see one of the 7 finalists of the new 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza.  As a traveller I was anxious to see real wonders of the ancient world. I love temples, I love archeology, and I love the mystery that surrounds these massive new world temples. I also was incredibly interested in Tulum on the coast, and my ultimate Tikal the Mayan Capital.  We know so little about the Mayans, but I was surprised to find out they weren’t totally wiped out.  There is a group of Mayans that give the tours in Tulum, and they speak the ancient Mayan language.  It’s so, so sad that the culture has so much of who they were.  They lost everything.  A few documents recently were rediscovered in Germany referred to as the Mayan Dresden Codex.  Mayan Temple of Chichen ItzaWhich some point to as the source of the 12, 21, 2012 apocalyptic date or the beginning of 1000 years of peace, but “A German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it…The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer…He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god. Continue reading on Examiner.com German Mayan researcher’s 2012 conclusions.  Cool.  Beginning of the end of the world or return of a Mayan god… Bearded white god?  (By the way, ask to see the rock carving of the bearded god at Chichen Itza.  It’s pretty cool.  If it’s Lief Erickson or Jesus or insane stone carver it’s mind numbing given the carvings all around it.  Seriously fun stuff.  You gotta enjoy the speculation and not get too caught up either way, since we can’t know.

While I don’t think the end will happen in December 2012 (No one is suppose to know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back Matthew 24:36), I have used it as an opportunity to be prepared for disaster.  In my church, we have been asked to have a year supply of food on hand in case of disaster.  It has paid off with members all over the world.  As recent as the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Hati, the members who obeyed have been blessed. As a member of the LDS Church there is a fascinating Book of Mormon back story of Christ in the Americas and Artists often paint pictures of Christ appearing to the righteous people in 3 Nephi 11 with the back drop of Tulum.  There are Mormon tours all over this region.  In fact we discovered that more Mayan Temple of Tulumthan 30% of the guides in Tulum were Mayan members of the LDS Church.  It’s understood that there really hasn’t been any LDS revelations on the locations, and anything discovered is purely speculation.  Our guide at Tulum was actually a Mormon Bishop named Mosiah.  It was a quick tour, which really didn’t add any info on what we had already got from our tour in Chichen Itza.  He shared pictures of Tulum where light shines through specific building on April 6th, and sold us a tree of life medallion.  Great stories.  Amazing place.  While I didn’t necessarily subscribe to all he shared, I was fascinated with the history of the Mayans, he being one himself.  The PC accepted story is that Mayan calendar simply points toward a new era.  Great.  Others are looking for the Age of Aquarius.

Dean%2520taking%2520it%2520inThese grandios temples are mucho bueno.  Very incredible.  Left: My trooper, Dean at Chichen Itza.  This is 3 of 7 New Wonders for him.  He’s been to Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Travel Tip: I do recommend highly recommend seeing Chichen Itza.  I do recommend getting a negotiated tour there.  There are some inscriptions and history that you’d miss otherwise.  There are a lot of things to point out in the area.  There are half a dozen buildings and a great ball court area, and you need to know more about the rules of that game and what happens to the winners and losers.  Those stories you must hear.  There’s a lot of inscriptions and interpretations and stories you need to hear.  We got the 2 hour guided tour, that we negotiated on the spot after we arrived.  It wasn’t too outrageous.  There are a lot of people that can give tours, so shop around and negotiate.  Don’t take the first rate you hear.  Many hotels in Cancun can arrange transport and tour as well.  Just don’t over pay.  There is a lot of cushion.  In relation to Cancun both Tulum and Chichen Itza are both day trips. There is a toll road all the way to Chichen Itza from Cancun. You’ll pay 20-30 USD for that trip one way! We decided we’d take the scenic route on the way there, and hurry back. It is a difference of about an hour. You can get to other ruins as well including Coba. I didn’t make it to Coba, we were with my wife’s family and Jeff got sick, so we missed out on that one, but that’s ok because my eye was on the ultimate prize of Tikal, Jaguar temple the largest temples in the new world.  In contrast to Chichen Itza, I do not recommend the tour in Tulum.  The buildings are a lot smaller, things are close and if you did this one after doing Chichen Itza there’s a lot of overlap.  Our tour may have ultimately been 15 minutes of explanation and he didn’t even walk the whole thing with us.  Don’t miss the views from either side of the temple near the water.  There are some great photo shots by of Tulum by the water.  Another reason to do your research of Tulum ahead of time and get the guided tour at Chichen Itza.

Continue reading “Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)”

Post Revolution Egypt – Am I Safe?


It seems like Egypt has for the most part fallen out of the news.  Is it safe?

tanks in egypt

A couple of quotes from an article on Egypt welcomes tourists and affirms safety.

Travel warning lifted

“Ambassador Scobey met with the heads of U.S.-based travel associations NTA, USTOA, ATTA and ASTA, along with tour operators and journalists, at the American embassy in Cairo.

The group was on a six-day, fact-finding trip to investigate travel safety in Egypt and Jordan. I traveled with the delegation as they met Egyptian officials and toured Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Museum and other cultural attractions.

“Our recent visit to Cairo confirmed that Egypt is safe and ready for tourists,” said Lisa Simon, president of the NTA, in an email. “The Egyptian people welcomed us with a renewed spirit and pride resulting from the revolution – they’re ready and anxious to show off the ‘new Egypt.’”

British tourists “never stopped” coming to the resort areas and were motivated by great deals, according to Egyptian tour guide Mina Mamdouh Edwar.

Before the revolution about 270,000 Americans visited Egypt each year, compared to nearly 3 million Russian and 1.5 million British visitors, said the Egypt Tourism Authority’s Samy Mahmoud.

“Foreigners have been coming back steadily [and] there have been very few problems,” noted Ambassador Scobey.”

While the elections press on, Egypt itself is definitely on sale.  Tourism is such a huge part of Egypt’s GDP.  Egypt has had to borrow money to sustain the governing that is going on.

I personally toured Tahrir square, Egyptian Museum, about a dozen Pyriamids, Kahili Market from the north into Alexandria to the far south in Abu Simbel.  The people are very welcoming, and they want to share their “New Egypt!”

I was there over a year ago, so it’s only gotten better in the last year. This picture was a rare one of a couple of tanks.  Life is back to normal.

As a traveller looking for the place without the crowds I think you’d find there are tons of reasons why you’d want to go while it’s still fresh in others minds, and would consider somewhere else.

If I told you there were no police or the police was the army, but you are in one of the safest places… you might not believe me.  I visited Egypt following the Jan 24 Arab spring.  In fact I visited in Spring 2011, in April.  The taxi driver we were working with was picking up people at the Libyan border and providing transport.  Now you’ve got resolution in Libya and Tunisia.  Syria is having issues, but that’s north of Israel.  Look at a map, it’s not that close.

If you are considering a trip, I’ve got a few twitter friends who live in Cairo that could give us the on the streets update.  You can ping me on twitter @joeloleson or just add it to the comments.

My kids got into the spirit of it.  In fact, Jared pictured on the right is wearing the shirt of the revolution.

Happy New Egypt

In Arabic #Jan24 and New Egypt.  You can see the guard here is pretty excited about his choice of clothes.  Another worker same day asked if it was ok to take a picture and post it to facebook!

Continue reading “Post Revolution Egypt – Am I Safe?”

Cappadocia Turkey: Underground Cities and Cave Churches

Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys

Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys
Cave Houses and Ferry Chimneys

When I first learned about Cappadocia, I was up late watching a late night Sci Fi show on Ancient Alien God theory.  The spokey of underground cities where 20,000 people could live in caves.  The spoke cave cities of 13 levels deep and how for thousands of years these caves had lasted time.  No one really knows how old these caves are… you can’t carbon date a cave.  They think they are at least 1700-2000 years old.  These caves helped save Christianity at a time where it was illegal and the Romans were looking to wipe it out!  How do we know?  There are hundreds of early 3rd and 4th century cathedrals built by these Christians.  IMG_6663They went on to say there are 36 such cities that could support a hundreds of thousands of people…. underground!  Some cities are connected by 9 KM tunnels.  Only 10% of the caves had even been excavated.  What!!?  Seems to me like we’d learn more about ourselves and where we came from if we knew more about these caves.  Why have I not heard of such an incredible place before?  I immediately added it to my list.  About 6 months later, when I was planning a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria I remembered these incredible stories and decided… I must go.  I priced it out and for less than $200 I could visit this place.  You can fly to within an hour of the place.  I decided I needed to see how much of this was real.  Much to my surprise, these crazy facts were real!  I read as much as I could and gasped at the amazing pictures on any image search.  I dare you to look.  If you’re a world traveller, you’ll immediately add this to your list, and if not it will be a bucket list item.  Don’t wait till you’re too old for this one.  Remember there’s hiking and walking in caves.  You don’t want to hurt your back.

How this destination of underground city supports a population larger than most civilizations at the time still boggles my mind.  No way.  Too incredible.  Who wiped out these ancient people?  Who were they, what did they believe?  Was it an attempt to escape an alien overlord?  Doesn’t matter.  Despite whether you believe aliens built the multiple thousand year old tunnels or believe it was the Hittites an ancient civilization that’s no longer around, the mystery of these crazy tunnels and underground cities are no less of a wonder.  There’s a lot you can read about Derinkuyu, the largest underground city in the world, less than 30 minute drive from Goreme.  562343_10150787036148783_613898782_11776192_940521962_n[1]It’s only been available for tours since 1969.  There are plenty of tours that take you on organized tours or you can rent a car and take it at your pace.  The tunnels are excavated.  I went 8 levels deep on my tour and there were at least 4 or 5 tunnels that went off into the dark, one such tunnel my guide explained went to the next city.  In the underground city you’ll find a winery, church, animal stalls, wells, ancient phone system, ventilation shafts,  and a morgue.  I visited all of these places on my tour.

Continue reading “Cappadocia Turkey: Underground Cities and Cave Churches”