A Travellerspoint blog

November 2017

Chapter 31 - Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda, plus Uganda & Kenya

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 26 °C

Introduction

Trekking up to see the highly endangered gorillas of northern Rwanda has been an absolute highlight of our trip. We spent an incredible 1 hour sitting with the Amhora family, that included one huge silverback, about eight female gorillas (that we saw) and the most adorable and playful baby. To see a family of Gorillas from a distance of a few metres (when they weren’t rolling over the ground toward you!) is to have an ancient connection with our humanity. And, yes, that bundle of curly black fuzz was the star of the visit! She was so playful and full of energy. So cute!

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The beautiful baby gorilla, about 5 months old, stole the show jumping on this elders, rollicking around and putting on a show for the tourists.

After a fantastic time with Jacob and Anne in Cameroon, we jumped onto a 16 day truck trip run by Intrepid to Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.

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A map of our overland trip from Nairobi to the National Parque de Volcanes in northern Rwanda.

Intrepid, and various other companies, run overland trips around various parts of the world using vehicles like this:

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That’ll be Reah with the truck then! Twenty’ish seats, internal lockers for backpacks and external compartments for tents, cooking equipment, tables, chairs, food, etc.

The group can be up to 22 people but fortunately in our case it was only 15, which was the perfect number, and a great group of people.

We booked two overland trips in Africa before we left home. One through Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda to visit the mountain gorillas and the other from Nairobi to Cape Town via Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The tours ended up being compromise between myself and Nik. I originally wanted to do an overland camping trip all the way to Cape Town. Nik gave me a look. The look said we will have been on the road for 10.5 months by that stage, we will be quite tired, and you want me to put up a tent for 57 nights. The look promised death. So, the compromise was to do a 16 day camping trip to Rwanda and then an accommodated tour (i.e. budget lodges and rooms in camp grounds) to Cape Town. We would camp at the beginning and have some luxury at the end….

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The Intrepid travellers on our Rwanda gorillas trip, including our cook, OT (middle front), guide Edwin (middle back) and driver Ben (sitting in the truck!)

The first thing that got me when we started the Intrepid tour was the high elevation of East Africa. Having come from Douala which is at sea level, I didn’t understand that East Africa is on a massively high plain. This means cooler weather and less humidity, which made the whole trip much more bearable, particularly when we had to camp in tents. Take a look at this elevation map of East Africa.

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An elevation map of Africa. As you can see East Africa is quite high and therefore, thankfully, cooler than we anticipated.

The next thing is that we noticed was the lack of humidity which had a huge impact on the appearance of buildings and infrastructure in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. The entire time we were in these countries we didn’t go below 1000m in elevation. What we saw in Cameroon, also on the equator where land was at sea level, was a losing battle against mould and damp. After only 12 months all of the buildings would start turn black, even where they had been painted. It is amazing the difference that the lack of humidity made to the presentation of the buildings in these countries. They just looked better maintained and hence there was certainly the appearance of greater wealth.

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Kenya

How’s your geology knowledge then? Seldom is geology as stark as it is when you look down at the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi.

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Our second view of the Great Rift Valley, about an hour north east of Nairobi. Our first view was of course from Palestine looking over the Dead Sea.

What happened? Well, I’m glad you asked! It started about 22 – 25 million years ago when the Somali and Nubian plates started to move apart. It is estimated that in another 100 million years, the African continent will split apart completely! For now, it is a truly stunning natural wonder of the world.
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A diagram showing the extent of the Rift Valley within Africa. It actually extends all the way up to Syria. We are following it from Nairobi to the Okavango Delta.

After the Rift Valley we headed off to Lake Nakuru National Park. It’s Kenya’s second most visited National Park and for good reason. Take a look…

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Looking out onto Lake Nakuru. If you have x-ray eyes you be able to see three blobs to the right of the lake. They are two adult White Rhinos and a baby Rhino.

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No, honestly! There are White Rhinos in this photo!

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And a mother and juvenile zebra!

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And giraffes!

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And Antelopey things!

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And other wildlife!

After a rather fabulous game drive we reached our first camp site of the trip. We knew it was going to be basic, but that night the generator and water didn’t work, so things were a little more basic than we expected, especially the whole needing to go to the loo in the middle of the night! The up side of staying in a game park is that you are surrounded by wild animals such a buffalo, baboons, hyenas, lions and rhino who will come and explore your camp during the night. The downside is that you are surrounded by wild animals who will come and explore your camp during the night when you wish to go to the toilet. We held on…..

I also rediscovered the joy of camping again, a thin mattress, cold tent, no shower. Yup, we lasted one night before I snapped and went for the upgrade. Out of the 16 nights on tour, we camped two. It turns out we are not such intrepid travellers….

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The next stop was the Kalinzu Forest Reserve to have a look for some chimpanzees.

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We got up at 5.30am to do a walking tour in the forest to find some of the families of chimps that live there. It turns out that they find the chimps on most tours. What they didn’t tell us beforehand was that you would wander in circles in the hot and humid forest for 3 hours in order to find them and that they would then be at the very top of some high trees. You know we like to play spot the animal in our photos, but these were not even worth the effort. So here is a chimp hand print instead….

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That’s a chimpanzee hand print. Its about as good as it got. Moving right along…

We then had a bit of a drive for a couple of days to the Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda, via overnight stops in Eldoret in Kenya and Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

Political situation in Kenya

Last time I was in Kenya with my sons Alex and Michael, the election process resulted in bloody conflict between the two major tribes in Kenya.

Once again with my superb timing we managed to arrive in the country again at election time. However, while the process was once again contested and for the first time in African history a Supreme Court annulled an election result, the second election came out with a clear decision that Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, had been re-elected President. The process was to a large extent peaceful (there were riots leading up to the first election in which some people were killed, but not after the second) and certainly we saw no conflict during our stay in Kenya.

How is life for the average Kenyan?

- HIV/ AIDS infection rate is 6.3%
- Life Expectancy = 55 years
- Literacy Rate = 61%
- Doctors/ 5,000 people = 0.8 (Cameroon = 1 doctor/ 5,000 people)
- GDP = US$75 billion (Cameroon = US$29 billion, Australia = US$1,260 billion)
- GDP/ person = US$1,610/ person/ year (Cameroon = US$1,240, Australia = US$51,000).
- Corruption rating = 144th out of 176 countries (Cameroon = 144th, Australia = 12th)

Uganda

Uganda wins the prize for having had probably the loopiest, most violent, most xenophobic of African dictators (I know there is a line up for this, but bear with me). This psychopath:

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Psychopath Idi Amin or, to refer to him as he preferred people to refer to him:

“His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa and in Uganda in Particular”.

Those of you who’ve read or seen the fictionalised work “The Last King of Scotland” will know what I mean. He led the first of Uganda’s reigns of terror. An estimated 300,000 people were murdered over between 1971 and 1979, often in really terrible ways. In 1972 the 70,000 citizens of Indian ancestry were given 90 days to leave the country. Inflation ran at 1000%. People left he country in droves. Animals in the wildlife parks were slaughtered. Eventually he attacked Tanzania and that was his downfall. The Tanzanians invaded Uganda and deposed Idi Amin who retired to Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003.

HOWEVER! After a decade of hideousness Yoweni Musuveni got into power and Uganda has been going from strength to strength ever since, notwithstanding that his rule can best be described as a “benevolent dictatorship”. Looking at the important statistics, here they are:

- HIV/ AIDS infection rate is 6.8% (down from 30% in the 1980’s)
- Life Expectancy = 53 years
- Literacy Rate = 67%
- Doctors/ 5,000 people = 0.4 (Cameroon = 1 doctor/ 5,000 people)
- GDP = US$26 billion (Cameroon = US$29 billion, Australia = US$1,260 billion)
- GDP/ person = US$640/ person/ year (Cameroon = US$1,240, Australia = US$51,000).
- Corruption rating = 151st out of 176 countries (Cameroon = 144th, Australia = 12th)

Once again, and extraordinarily disappointingly, there is vast amount of money going into the pockets of corrupt people.

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Our first tourist stop in Uganda was the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

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Looking over Queen Elizabeth National Park, Western Uganda

QE National Park is located in the south-west of Uganda, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC - formerly Zaire). The conflict in the DRC makes the conflict in the Central African Republic look like a minor disagreement in a kindergarten.

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Here is a map of Uganda showing QENP, bottom left, the capital Kampala, as well as Mbarara and Jinja that we visited on our return trip.

The wildlife in Queen Elizabeth NP was wonderful and startling up close and personal:

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Elephant crossing! We sat in awe watching him wander across the road, stopping for a munch and drink from the puddles.

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And this beautiful guy (the male bulls tend to live a solitary life) who sat next to our truck and had lunch for 10 minutes before moving on.

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A cheeky black baboon who had stolen some watermelon and was hiding from his friends. Every time we vacated a camp site families of baboons would turn up and start to scavenge anything that had been left behind. We were very careful!

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And hippos in Lake Edward….

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But the weather looked to be closing in and is that a tornado?

How about a spot of lunch?

What about food I hear you ask? Generally, we’d stop somewhere on the roadside to have lunch involving sandwiches or salad. We were on a roster and each day you would help cook, wash the utensils, wash the pots and pans or clean the truck. It was a great way for everyone to contribute and make our lunch and dinner stops much quicker. Here we are at a random road stop:

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With our big white truck, we were quite the spectacle and the kids could see us coming from miles away…

Sometimes the guitar would come out when we stopped, which would encourage the local kids to come for a sing and a dance.

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I think we might have created a new category of crimes against humanity as we have only one kids song with actions and we have now indoctrinated children across Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda with the Wiggles!

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Although looking a little shy here, the kids came up afterwards to each have a turn on the guitar. They also sang a little song for us too.

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And wanted to pose for the camera. They loved to see themselves on the screen. We had lots of school children in uniforms wander passed when we were with this group in their mismatched clothing. It made us wonder why they were not in school but we had problems communicating with them in order to ask. They were beautiful and friendly though.

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Rwanda

This country is beautiful. The laws around safety and littering are the most stringent in Africa and it has repeatedly won the cleanest country in Africa award for the last few years. Everyone leaves whatever they are doing every Thursday morning, whether they are at work or home or school, and cleans their local area. There is no litter. It is cleaner than Australia.

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However, it is the events of the 100 days after 7th April 1994 that are at the front of everyone’s mind when Rwanda is mentioned. It is very sad that such a beautiful country is synonymous with such appalling events. Our first visit after we arrived in the country was to the genocide museum in the capital Kigali.

Rwandan Genocide – A Million Tutsis and moderate Hutus murdered in 100 days.

I mentioned in Chapter 23 of this Blog “Riga to Berlin” that, despite the genocidal murder of 6 million Jews during the Second World War, there have been between 1956 and 2016 Forty-three, yes 43 further genocides resulting in the murder 50 million people! One of these is the Rwandan genocide where in the 100 days after 7th April 1994 one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered by Interahamwe militias – gangs of youths armed with machetes, guns and other weapons.

The Rwanda Genocide was extraordinarily brutal; churches full of people – men, women, and children burnt to death, men, women and children hacked apart with machetes by rampaging mobs. Rape, torture, humiliation.

It was beyond my comprehension.

What was so sad about watching the testimonials from survivors and the hope they had about heling prevent this happening again was the fact that the front of the newspapers is currently covered with the genocide currently happening in Myanmar.

Here is a view of one of the mass graves at the Rwandan Genocide Museum where TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY THOUSAND – 250,000 people who were murdered in the genocide were buried. Most are unidentified

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The gardens of the Rwanda Genocide Museum. A sobering experience…

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The Gorillas!

However, as I said, Rwanda is a beautiful country and much has been done to rehabilitate both the community and country since 1994. The biggest drawcard for tourists into the country is by far the mountain gorillas. First discovered in 1906, and later made famous by Dian Fossey, the mountain gorillas extend across the highland mountains of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda. You can visit the gorillas in both Uganda and Rwanda, although the latter has a reputation of a greater experience, probably due to the ongoing research and facilities enabled by Fossey’s legacy.

Visiting with our gorilla family was absolutely the highlight of the trip. There are less than 400 mountain gorillas living in the Parc National des Volcans, and only 800 remaining in the wild. Each day up to 10 groups of 8 people are allowed into the park to visit with a one family of gorillas each. There are 22 gorilla families, with the remaining 12 only kept under remote surveillance, with no interaction with tourists or guides.

Each trekking group has two guides, a group of optional porters for those with heavy bags and a team of 2 - 4 of trackers. The trackers are permanent trackers for each of the gorilla families and each day they track their movements from afar and record their observations. As the gorillas do not move at night, the trackers follow the gorillas to their sleeping point each day and then go back and find them in the morning to keep an eye on their movements. When there are tourist groups assigned to their gorilla family, the trackers phone through the location to the guides.

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This elevation map shows the mountainous highlands in the west of Rwanda. The gorillas live in the mountains at the very north of the country where it intersects with Uganda and the DRC.

There is the option of doing a short, medium or long walk in order to visit with the gorillas. We chose the medium walk which was supposed to be about 3 to 4 hours long. As there had been rain every afternoon, we thought this would be the best chance for us to see the gorillas and get back before the daily inundation. The short group expected a walk of 1 – 2 hours and the long group 5 -6 hours.

For us it was a 45 minute drive from the guide headquarters to the trek start point. We started the hike from about 2500m elevation and then walked for about 2 hour walk up through the forest. It was a muddy and slippery hike up. We were looking for a group called:

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We were looking for the Amahoro group of Gorillas

It was a good hike and at times a bit challenging due to the mud and the stinging nettles. We had been warned about the nettles but nothing quite prepares you for the first sting, which can make it through trousers, shoes and shirts! Long trousers were definitely necessary and I would have worn thicker ones had I known.

However, it was completely worth it as the first sight of the gorillas was wonderful.

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The silverback of the Amohoro group watching over the female and baby gorillas in his family.

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This little one completely stole the show!

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They were happy to simply lounge and roll around with each other for about half an hour before they decided to move off to eat.

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We were meant to stay about 7 meters away from the family although at times this was not possible as they moved and there was little room in among the bamboo. But one look from the silverback and you would quietly move back as far as possible to give them space!

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The guides communicated our presence to the gorillas using grunts and other noises. They seemed very comfortable with us being there as we huddled at one end of the clearing to simply watch and take photos. I have to say the videos were the best, as they capture the movement and fun of the group. We will try post some up soon!

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This was our tracker that sat with us while we watched the family. He communicated our peaceful intent to the silverback and, as you can see, was rather relaxed about the whole situation….

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And our guides who led us up to have this great experience...

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I don’t know how these clowns made it into the group!

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And Nik and me after we came down the mountain. You can probably see from the look on our faces what an amazing experience it was…

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Rwanda – The Statistics

And just in case you were wondering, here are those statistics for Rwanda….

- HIV/ AIDS infection rate is unknown.
- Life Expectancy = 60 years
- Literacy Rate = 71%
- Doctors/ 5,000 people = 1.3 (Cameroon = 1 doctor/ 5,000 people)
- GDP = US$8.4 billion (Cameroon = US$29 billion, Australia = US$1,260 billion)
- GDP/ person = US$730/ person/ year (Cameroon = US$1,240, Australia = US$51,000).
- Corruption rating = 55th out of 176 countries (Cameroon = 144th, Australia = 12th) - HOOORRRAHHH!!!

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The Intrepid trip and the way back.

Nik and I have both been on overland truck trips run by Intrepid before and there is no question they run a tight ship.

The truck is as comfortable as it can be and spacious. There was a locker for our backpack and, importantly nowadays, lots of power points for computers, phones, etc. The hygiene procedures; hand washing before eating, as you get on the bus, before food preparation, washing food in sterilising water before preparation, washing of dishes in soapy water, rinsing, then rinsing in boiling water and “flapping dry”, is excellent.

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The crew making lunch at one of our many pitstops along the way. On such a long overland trip, these breaks from the truck were a blessing.

We were lucky on our trip to have a particularly good group of people. A mix of Aussies, an American, some POMs, and a Kiwi. As you’d expect there were some of the group that you “click” with. For us the first day was a crack up. I’d been working in Queensland with a great bloke called Stu. He and his wife Kylie had come down to Melbourne for a weekend and we’d had a great time.

Day one and we’re sat next to a couple from Brisbane. It took about two hours of chatting away before Justine says to us “Are you ‘Cape to cape’?!?!” It turns out they are best mates with Stu and Kylie and had heard about this crazy couple traveling from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope! What were the chances we would be on the same tour?!

The rest of the group were great too! On these trips you meet so many interesting people. Knowledgeable. Intelligent. Fun. And my advice is, if there is someone you don’t get on with you just focus on the people with whom you get on with better!

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Our intrepid group of travellers enjoying a well earned beverage at the end of a long driving day in the Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Of course, with all the driving we were doing, we saw a lot of road action. In fact, we saw countless trucks which had rolled off the roads, nearly all of them petroleum tankers! Which of the 6 accidents we saw should I write about? The one where a car tried to overtake us and had a head on collision with a truck right next to us?! That really was a shock and all of us had our seatbelts on after that one.

Our driver Ben was really good. Careful. Not too fast, not too slow. Plus it also helps being in a truck. If you do hit something, or something hits you, the truck is rather big! In all it wasn’t nerve wracking but we would never drive there ourselves!

We crossed the equator 4 times on the trip, as well as making 4 border crossings! Uganda was country 41 and Rwanda country 42!

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Hamming it up on the second equator crossing in Uganda.

On the way back we had a full days stop in a place called Jinja, famous for white water rafting and bungee jumping. We decided to take this as a down day.

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The obligatory toe shot….

However Jinja is also located on the Nile and there was a cruise and walk that you could do to the source of the Nile. We were going to go on a sunset cruise but the heavens opened and it absolutely TIPPED down with rain!

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Down there is the Nile!

So we decided it was best to stick with the Gin & Tonic and the Guinness and leave the source of the Nile till next time…

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A bonfire, cheese, olives and a little bit of guitar for our last night together.

Safe and sound back in Nairobi, we had a day off before starting our LAST HURRAHH! After 323 days it was time to head down to Cape Town! 41 days on a truck! Cant wait…..

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Posted by capetocape2017 10:02 Archived in Rwanda Tagged kenya rwanda gorillas uganda amin idi Comments (1)

Chapter 30 - Cameroon, West Africa

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 28 °C

Introduction

I love Africa. And it was wonderful to travel once again to Cameroon to meet up with my good friend Jacob Bah Njeko and his wife Anne.

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Why Cameroon? I first landed in Douala, Cameroon in 1991. Since then, it’s had a big place in my heart. I have been regaling Nikki (and everyone else!) with stories about Cameroon for the past 10 years, as well as Kenyan and Nigerian ones. What was I doing in Cameroon? It all started with this:

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Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

It was our German friends in about 1700 who discovered that hops, as well as giving beer a bitter taste, also helped to preserve the beer. Bitterness is measured in “International Bitterness Units (IBU’s). Victoria Bitter (Australia), Budweiser (USA), and say Stella Artois (Europe), all have an IBU of about 12. Guinness has an IBU of about 45. This meant that it travels very well. Guinness in the 1800’s exported lots of beer. Up until about the 1980's, when the volume drunk in a particular country reached a certain level, Guinness would build a brewery there. It was probably helped by this label:

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One of the slogans that was put onto the necks of Guinness in Africa up until a few years ago. Another that I saw when I was working in Cameroon, but that has strangely disappeared, is “Guinness. A baby in every bottle”. Even today Africans are still of the belief that Guinness helps a man’s ‘vigour’.

Guinness built breweries in Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon in Africa. By the way, the country that brews the most Guinness in the world is, of course, Nigeria. There are 6 Guinness breweries in Nigeria.

I worked at Guinness Cameroon with my best mate Dave and, after 26 years, we still meet up regularly to discuss life, the universe, and everything! Whilst we were in Cameroon the Assistant Personnel Manager for Guinness was Jacob Bah Njeko and he invited Dave and I to visit to his village, Ngyen Muwah, in the north-west of the country. At the village we were received by His Royal Highness Fon Teche, the chief of this village and now senator in the Cameroon parliament. And, we were honoured by being made nobles of the village.

In 2008, I returned to Cameroon with my then 9 and 12 year old sons, Alex and Michael, and we stayed with Jacob and his wife Anne, visiting the village again, as well as climbing the 4,100 metre high Mount Cameroon.

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So, of course Nikki and I wanted to travel to Cameroon again to meet up with Jacob and Anne again….

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Back in Douala, Cameroon. Nikki’s first real taste of Africa.

Having overnighted in Nairobi, where the presidential election was being re-run after the Kenyan Supreme Court had deemed the first election result invalid, the Kenyan Airways flight to Douala was via Bangui in the very troubled Central African Republic. On the ground in Bangui the only planes at the airport were those from Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) and the United Nations Food Program. One of the largest groups of refugees coming to Europe at present are people fleeing the violence in the Central African Republic. Now, let me show you where Cameroon is:

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Cameroon is in the west of Central Africa and is bordered by the troubled countries of Central African Republic, Congo and Nigeria. It also shares it’s currency, the Central African Franc with the first two countries, and as we found out the hard way, it is worthless the moment it leaves the country. We tried to exchange it in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to no avail!

And also, a map of Cameroon:

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Cameroon. The south is largely Christian and is a bilingual country with 10 regions; 2 speaking mostly English and 8 speaking mostly French. The north is predominantly Muslim and has been affected by conflict caused by Boko Haram spilling across the border from Nigeria.

We landed in Douala (on the coast) in the morning and our hard-won Cameroonian Visa worked a treat. (Similarly to Russia, the only way we could get our Cameroonian Visas was through the Cameroonian Honorary Consul in Australia. Hence, we’d had to give our second passports to Nik’s parents when we met up with them in Bordeaux to take them back to Australia. They then posted them to the Consul, who sent them to our friend Mel, who we met in Greece and Bob’s your uncle! Piece of cake!)

My old friend Jacob met us at the airport. After first meeting Jacob 26 years ago, it was great to meet up with Jacob again and for Nikki to meet Jacob for the first time!

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My old friend Jacob who I met over 25 years ago, when he kindly invited two young 20 somethings up to his village for an experience that would last a lifetime. This picture was taken in the village a few days after we got to Cameroon.

Jacob and Anne had again, similarly to a decade before when my sons and I had visited, invited us to stay in their welcoming house in Bonaberi, a suburb of Douala. It was good to be back!

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Anne and Nikki enjoying the sea breeze in the evening out the front of Anne and Jacob’s house, in Bonaberi.

We were welcomed into the heart of our Cameroonian family with hugs and laughter.

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At Jacob and Anne’s house with Anne’s sister Miryam and her daughter.

Ah, Douala. I was expecting the heat to be stifling; 35 C and 95% humidity, but I’d never been in Douala in October. It was hot, but not stifling. How to describe Douala? How to describe Cameroon? The Lonely Planet has an apt description of Douala; “sticky, icky, and frenetic”.

Hordes of motorbike taxis carrying two or three passengers. No-one wearing a helmet. Pavements are non-existent. Rubbish is everywhere. Roads in a desperate state of repair. Markets crammed with one metre square stalls selling plantains, peanuts, papaya, clothes, haircuts, dried fish, rice, coco yams, bananas, ….. TV repair huts. Metal workshops. Oh, but wi-fi is available. You just have to go to the Internet “shop”.

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Me accessing the wi-fi.

Nik and I had remarked that in the tropics keeping mould at bay is a titanic battle. The maintenance needed is three of four times what would be needed in a non-tropical area. This was true at sea level at the equator in Brazil or French Guiana in South America and it was true in Douala.

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Up to the Village – Ngyen Muwah, North-West Cameroon

Upon leaving Douala, however, things quickly improve. The roads are good. We pass kilometres of palm tree plantations (for palm oil. Does the brand “Palmolive” ring a bell?), rubber plantations, plantain farms, banana farms, maize.

Infrastructure is being built:

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Jacob and Anne on a bridge on the way to Ngyen Muwah.

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Us with Anne. Note the rainforest in the background.

Ngyen Muwah is about 350 km from Douala and is at around 1,200 metres elevation. On the map above it is close to Bamenda. Look north of Douala.

After a 7 hour drive, we arrived at Jacob and Anne’s house in the village.

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When my mate Dave and I first went to the village with Jacob in 1992, we drove for hours on a dirt road. There was one school room in a mud brick house with a blackboard and a dirt floor, and the village did not have a water supply. 10 years ago, me and my sons Alex and Michael arrived on a tarmac road and there was an infant, junior and senior school in the village. I do remember the school principal saying that the school would be better if it had electricity.

This time, whilst the village was much the same, the main street of the village was just about to be paved. There are about 4000 people living in the village proper and the surrounds that make up Ngyen Muwah.

We went for a walk around the village:

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Us with one of the oldest men in the village

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A view over Ngyen Muwah. The white roof you can see in the background is the school.

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I mentioned the Palm Nut plantations earlier on. In the foreground of this picture are the palm nuts and I’m standing by the machine that crushes the nuts into palm oil. ‘Red oil’ as it is known in Cameroon is used for cooking and is an important part of the local diet.

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Ngyen Muwah, and Cameroon in general is incredibly fertile. Virtually all you have to do is throw a seed on the ground and in no time at all you have a banana tree, a plantain tree, a coco yam plant, etc. It is a vibrant and colourful place!

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So it’s just a chair right? No. Well, yes. It’s a chair made out of old conveyor belt from the brewery.

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Nikki made a new friend in Ngyen Muwah. Cats have the sole function of catching mice in Cameroon and this one was beside herself at getting cuddles and some protection from the broom…

In 1992, Dave and I were made noble’s of the village by His Royal Highness Fon Teche, the King/Chief of Ngyen Muwah Village. His Highness, now a Senator in the Cameroonian Government, very kindly agreed to meet with us in the village and it was fantastic to meet up with him again. His Highness gave us a very warm greeting and showed us through to his audience room.

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Us with His Royal Highness Senator Fon Teche of Ngyen Muwah Village. He travelled back from the capital of Yaounde where he spends much of his time as a senator in the Cameroonian parliament, to receive us at the village.

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Us with the Cameroonian statue outside of the Palace. I know it is very important, I just don’t know why. Although as a noble of the village, I had better find out!

We were invited to dine with His Royal Highness, his wives (he has four) and some other senior people from the village. He gave us interesting insights into Cameroon and his work in the Government. He kindly also gave us some beautiful gifts of a mask, a drinking horn, and a traditional bag.

Afterwards, there was a get together at Jacob’s house. As the Senior Noble of the village he is, after the Fon, the most important person in the village and many people came to show their respects.

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An impromptu gathering on Jacobs porch, which involved stripping huckleberry leaves, playing guitar and general discussions about the day. The kids in Ngyen Muwah will be singing Wiggles songs for years to come….

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Some guitar playing and a sing a long. Anne has a beautiful voice and sung for us.

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The Church

The Church is very important in Cameroon, Ngyem Muwah and in the life of Jacob and Anne. In 2008 my son Alex and I attended a service of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon in the village. The church at that time was in a mud brick house in the village. However, about 5 years ago a new church started to be built:

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Jacob and Anne in front of the new church in Ngyen Muwah. It is now located up on the hill overlooking the village, catching the breeze as well as the view.

The ringing of the bell to announce the service was unusual.

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The church bells are an old tyre iron and a metal rod. As the ringing sounded out over the valley, people started to trickle into church. The service went for about 3 hours and people continued to arrive throughout the morning.

Anne had kindly got Nikki a dress for the occasion:

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Anne and Nikki sitting among one of the groups of women in the church. There were different groups sitting around the church (the Christian Women's Fellowship, the Christian Men's Fellowship, the Christian Youth Fellowship, the Alliluyah Choir, and the Youth Choir!) and each one would in turn lead the congregation in song throughout the service.

And Jacob had kindly given me a new shirt for the occasion.

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Jacob and I in Church in our fine Sunday threads.

Nikki and I were welcomed to the church by Jacob. We had bought a cross in Bethlehem made of olive wood from Bethlehem olive trees and containing some earth from Bethlehem. At the service we presented it to the Chairman of the church along with a donation towards the completion of the church.

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A very important part of the journey to the village is to pay ones respects to the church, which forms the centre of this community.

The atmosphere in the church was wonderful and there was no doubting that the church is very important in the lives of the congregation.

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The congregation singing, clapping and playing instruments during the service. It was a very joyous affair!

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Limbe

After our return from the village, we headed to the beach town of Limbe for a couple of days. Limbe is on the coast and is marked on the map of Cameroon above. Limbe is on the foothills of the highest mountain in West Africa, the 4,095m high Mount Cameroon.

Mount Cameroon last erupted in 1999 and the lava flow was about 70 metres high, 200 metres wide, and 3 kilometres long.

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Me at the top of the lava flow from Mount Cameroon’s last eruption in 1999. It travelled for many kilometres through the plantations for over 3 months after the eruption, stopping just before the road. The light green patch that you can see stretching into the distance is the old lava flow, cutting the palm plantations in half. Now overgrown this was for many years a black smouldering hill.

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Looking from the lava flow towards the sea and Limbe in far distance.

We also went to the very interesting Limbe Botanical Gardens where we had a tour of the various Cameroonian medicinal plants including ones used to treat malaria, yellow fever, eye infections, skin rashes and, importantly, increase a mans “vigour”….

The Land Rovers needed a bit of maintenance though….

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A Land Rover at the Botanical Gardens that needs a bit of work….

The wildlife refuge in Limbe acts as a home to injured and rescued Gorillas and Chimpanzees although the release of the animals to the wild appears a little hamstrung by funding.

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All of the animals in the sanctuary were saved from poaching, injury or cruelty and bought to Limbe for treatment. Whereas many of the reptiles and birds have been released, there are challenges finding safe habitat to release the gorillas, chimps and monkeys and many have been here for decades.

Certainly one Silverback was looking for a way out….

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The sunset at Limbe was spectacular:

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As was the snapper fish at on the foreshore.

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Jacob took us out for a fantastic fish dinner (Nikki, alas, had to be content with Plantains, Chips and Guinness). It was brilliant! A nice 1.5 kg Snapper, slow roasted over a cool BBQ and regularly basted with a peanut oil, ground herbs, carrot, and capsicum baste, and eaten with the right hand. Truly spectacular!

We drove towards the Cameroon/ Nigerian Border past Debuncha which has the second highest annual rainfall in the world. I think it's around 7 metres/ year!

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Back in Douala, we spent our last evening with Jacob, Anne and Liz, playing guitar, having a sing and drinking champagne that Jacob very kindly surprised us with for the celebration.

And in the spirit of cultural exchange, we shared our only consumable possession. And we found a convert! To Vegemite! Anne loved the vegemite almost as much as Nik does, and so in the spirit of friendship, Nikki gave Anne her second to last tube of Vegemite! Now there is a friendship for life….

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The Political, economical, corruption and “wellbeing” situation in Cameroon.

The Political situation.

Crikey. The politics of Cameroon. To explain the present, we have to go back to a bunch of old European blokes sitting around a map of Africa in Berlin in 1884.

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You see the Europeans (the main protagonists were France, UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, and Italy) had been having a bit of a bun fight over bits of Africa for quite a while and decided to get out the ruler and divide it up.

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Map of Africa that resulted from the Berlin Conference in 1884 – The split is; White – Ethiopia, the only country that remained independent!, Yellow – Belgium, Pink – Great Britain, Blue – France, Green – Germany, Light Purple – Spain, Olive Green – Italy, Dark Purple – Portugal.

For Cameroon, this meant that Germany got it, an area called Kamerun that included part of what is now Nigeria, what is now Cameroon, and bits of what is now Gabon.

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German “Kamerun” as defined after the 1884 conference

Then along came World War I and Germany didn’t do so well. German “Kamerun” got split between the UK and France in 1918.

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In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there was a movement within many African countries for independence and Cameroon was no different. In 1960 French Cameroon got independence and in October 1961, a UN sponsored referendum, the British part of “Kamerun” got split into two with part going to Nigeria and part to the federal state of Cameroon.

All was hunky dory, with Cameroon having an Anglophone area and a Francophone area, until June 1972 when the federal structure of the two Cameroons was replaced with the centralised United Republic of Cameroon. This move was particularly resented by the Anglophones, who have felt like second class citizens.

Following independence, Ahmadou Ahidjo became President, followed by his hand-picked successor Paul Biya in 1982. President Biya, at the age of 84 is still president.

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Now to the tricky bit. In Chapter 24 of this Blog “Bordeaux to Krakow”, I wrote about how our French friends and British friends having been have had a bit of an, er, tense relationship for, well, a thousand years or more. But then I wrote that we are like bread and butter, grapes and wine, malted barley and beer, like avocado and vegemite (??). We are better together.

However, the underlying tension between the Anglophone and Francophone section has been inflamed recently and now reached the point of being a crisis…

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Yes, it’s tense at present. But talking is better than shooting. Peace is better than war. And I want to believe that peace will prevail. But its like a tinder box…. I’m really worried….

Both sides need to talk and resolve the issues. There are no winners in conflict. Only losers….

We are keeping our fingers crossed and Jacob and Anne in our thoughts…..

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Economical situation in Cameroon.

This is a happier situation. The Gross Domestic Product increase over the past 15 years is shown below

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And has averaged about 4% which is good. Ok, the total GDP is US$31 billion, which with a population about the same as Australia (24 million), is not very good (Australia’s is US$1,200 billion). So overall, the country is doing ok. The main sources of income are Agriculture (20% - Palm Oil, Bananas, rubber, coffee, plantains, and sugar), Forestry, and factory-based industry. Oil is also a noteworthy contributor to Cameroons wealth creation.

Corruption.

Oh dear, oh dear. My lord. Cameroon ranks 136th out of 176 countries in the list put together by “Transparency International” of the world’s most corrupt countries (where the 1st – Denmark, is not corrupt at all). I don’t know how much money “disappears” but it’s a lot. And it’s a tragedy. Particularly for the average Cameroonian. Cameroon is visibly poorer than all of the other countries we have been to so far in Africa, which should not be the case in light of its economy.

We witnessed some of the everyday petty corruption during out visit, such as local government officials fining motorists for non-existent infringements and pocketing the money, but it is the corruption at the highest levels which is depriving Cameroonian’s of opportunities.

Wellbeing.

Education, as I wrote earlier about Ngyen Muwah village is quite good with a literacy rate of 75% and one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa.

Health care, on the other hand, is poor with only one doctor for 5,000 people. The reason? Not enough money. Why isn’t there enough money? Please read the previous section…..

Life expectancy? 55 years. HIV/AIDS? 5.5% but there is a strong stigma against discussion and awareness, so this rate is probably artificially low.

So, it’s just really, really sad.

Crikey, I’m trying to be positive and optimistic, but with Cameroon, it’s pretty tough when there is so much opportunity which is being squandered by those who are meant to be looking after the country.

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After 10 fabulous days in Cameroon, our true African experience, we returned to Nairobi to join a tour and visit some gorillas in Rwanda, the source of the Nile in Uganda and some white rhinos in Kenya….

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Posted by capetocape2017 19:50 Archived in Cameroon Tagged mount cameroon douala fon ngyen muwah teche Comments (1)

Chapter 29 - Jordan

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 26 °C

Petra - One of the Wonders of the World.

Petra, the ancient Nabataean city carved into the red sandstone cliffs of southern Jordan, is one of the wonders of the World. The iconic Siq, the 2km long narrow sandstone rift that you must pass through to reach the remains of the city, has retained the grandeur and mystery of the site, despite it being made famous by movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

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Wadi Rum

Just like, perhaps blasphemously, our preparation for our visit to the Holy Land was this:

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Our preparation for our visit to Jordan was the slightly less blasphemous Lawrence of Arabia. A magnificent film with a spellbinding performance by Peter O’Toole. If you haven’t seen it in the last 20 years, get a copy and settle down for 3.5 hours…. It is basically the story of the Arab rebellion of about 1917 to 1920 against Ottoman rule, as assisted by T.E Lawrence.

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With this preparation in place, we travelled from Jerusalem to Jordan via the border crossing between Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan.

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Looking from Eilat to the hills of Jordan less than 10 km away, over the Red Sea.

First of all, a map to allow a bit of orientation…

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Rather than run the gauntlet of the taxi mafia at the border crossing in Jordan, we had arranged a transfer to Petra, via Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum is a protected national park between Aqaba and Petra, and is the quintessential landscape of the Bedouin people and the Arab revolt. Indeed, the area was made famous by Lawrence’s book about his time in the desert and you can still visit today the springs he drank from and places he stayed. Some of the movie was also shot in this area.

However, it is the stunning desert landscape that draws people out to this remote wilderness. Towering cliffs, sandstone rifts and rolling sands that give an incredible sense of immensity, as well as a small taste of the harsh desert life of the Bedouin.

It’s best described in photos….

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A view of a Bedouin encampment and desert sands from Lawrence’s spring.

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For the more adventurous (or foolhardy) traveller there was the option of tackling the desert by camel.

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We opted for the open back ute with a local Bedouin driver for the day….

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Umm Fruth Rock Bridge, providing beautiful views over the desert.

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Including some foreign wildlife….

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The contrast of the blue sky and red sandstone was breathtaking.

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Even in the cool season, it was hot in the sun, and the sandstone cliffs provided the perfect relief.

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The siqs were not only cool, but contained amazing rock carvings of the Bedouin people.

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Needless to say, it’s incredibly picturesque

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Petra

Petra is truly one of the wonders of the world and for us exceeded all expectations. The original Nabataean structures are carved directly into the sandstone cliffs, with the only free-standing buildings constructed later by the Romans. Petra was built by the Nabataeans between the 6th and 1st centuries BC. The Nabataeans controlled important trade routes to Gaza in the west, Bosra and Damascus in the North, Aqaba on the Red Sea, and across the desert to the Persian Gulf, and built Petra at the height of their influence. Petra is in fact a city of tombs and sacred places, although there are some houses and other structures. Many facades have now deteriorated or disappeared entirely, although it is amazing how much remains in light of the soft sandstone and torrential rains.

The city of Petra is accessed via an incredible canyon path, called The Siq (this term in fact applies to all such canyon rifts). This amazing path winds through the surrounding mountains for 2 kms before suddenly depositing you in front of the breathtaking Treasury façade.

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We set off in the early dawn light to miss the crowds. The Siq was almost deserted (unlike the hordes that we had to fight our way through when returning in the early afternoon). It was such a special feeling to have this amazing place to ourselves!

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One minute in the cool shadow of the Siq, the next the morning sun would catch the top of a cliff and burst through.

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It was the Nabataeans ability to collect and control water that allowed the civilisation to flourish. You can see here the drainage channels carved into the walls of the Siq, stretching the full 2kms, bring precious water to the city.

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That special moment approaching the Treasury building.

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The Treasury facade just as the sun came over the tip of the mountains, lighting the crown.

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The Treasury is in fact the tomb of a Nabataean King, which became known by this more colloquial name due to legends that an Egyptian pharaoh hid treasure here when pursuing the Israelites.

We then wandered down the Street of Facades, where tombs and other buildings cover the cliffs in all directions.

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The facades of the tombs and temples were not only immense but had the stunning natural decoration of swirling red sandstone.

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Crumbling facades stretching up the cliff faces.

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Many of the street level temples now have new residents.

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Looking back toward the Siq from the Street of Facades as the sun finally crests the mountains and settles on the city of Petra.

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The amphitheatre is the only one known in the world to be entirely carved from stone. This one was originally created by the Nabataeans, but later enhanced by the Romans. You know how they like a good amphitheatre!

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The Royal Tombs towering over the street and tents of the Bedouin hawkers.

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More wildlife!

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Looking up from street level at some of the rooms that once would have had a façade enclosing tombs and temples.

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The colours and patterns of the sandstone, weathered over thousands of years, was jut incredible!

The Romans took over the city of Petra in the 1st century AD and decided to expand and add their own unique style. The main street definitely has more of a Roman influence:

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The colonnaded Roman street leading to the mountains holding our ultimate goal, the Monastery.

And then we completed the long winding walk up through the hills to reach the secluded and magical Monastery. A leisurely 800 steps! Donkey rides were on offer, but we prefer to use own legs instead of poor animals and so, just enjoyed the walk.

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Some exhausted donkeys that haul tourists up the hills to the Monastery. Not an option we are comfortable with...

Of course, it was all more than worth the effort….

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The first view of the Monastery after a long hot trek up the hill. It would have taken our breaths away if we had any left!

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A magical place perched up on top of the mountains above Petra. It is in fact another tomb, but is thought to have derived its name from the Byzantine crosses carved into the inside walls and the possibility it acted as a church at some stage in past history.

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Cooling ourselves in the shade soaking in the atmosphere.

Alas, the rise of a trade route on the Nile diminished the importance of Petra. Its decline was exacerbated by earthquakes in 363 and 551 AD, until by the 5th century AD the Nabataeans had largely abandoned the site although still living in the surrounding area. For many centuries it was only known to the local Bedouin people.

The city of Petra was eventually brought to the attention of the world by this bloke in 1812.

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Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, born 1784 – died 1817

After an incredible morning wandering and hiking through the site, we pointed our weary feet back toward our hotel for a late lunch and a nice cup of tea….

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A nice cup of coffee for me (also known as (aka) beer), and a cup of tea (aka white wine) for Nikki. There’s a bit of a thing about alcohol in Jordan, so we had to be a bit subtle about it….

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Ending our time in Europe and the Middle East on such a high was a real treat and it was with some regret that we then had to turn our thoughts south to Africa. However, the regrets didn’t last long as we started our journey via Amman and Dubai towards Cameroon, the Serengeti, gorillas in the mist and all of the incredible experiences Africa has to offer!

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Street Art in Amman apparently celebrating differences and equality….

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The Roman amphitheatre in Amman, taken from the roof of our hostel.

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The Al-Burj in Dubai where we met up with friends Dece and Antonio, formerly of Oz, for a great evening.

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Posted by capetocape2017 03:15 Archived in Jordan Tagged amazon petra wadi rum Comments (1)

Chapter 28 - Israel and Palestine

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C

Introduction

Wow! Our time in Israel and Palestine was amazingly intense and incredibly thought provoking.

We started in Tel Aviv before heading off to Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank.

The political and security landscape in Israel and Palestine is very complex and for this blog we’ve decided to split the blog into three main sections;

- the religious/archaeological sites of Jerusalem and the West Bank;
- the political, land and security aspects; and
- our impressions of Israel and Palestine.

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Jerusalem

After a great meal and conversation in Tel Aviv with Uriel, an Israeli bloke we met in Nicaragua, and his wife, we headed off to Jerusalem, and Nik got a bit of an understanding about the size of Israel. It’s tiny. From the north to the south is 424 km and its widest point is 114 km. It has an area of less than 21,000 square km’s. Victoria, our home state in Australia, is 482,000 square km’s. The distance from Tel- Aviv to Jerusalem is just 67 km. It took an hour on the bus.

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Because the politics in Israel and Palestine is, to say the least, complicated, I’ve included a map of the area from 1947, before partition. During our visit, we spent time in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Jerusalem and drove though Beersheba to our border crossing at Eilat/Aqaba in the south. Tel Aviv is near Jaffa.

Ah, Jerusalem, the ‘Holy City’! The centre of Christianity, the third most holy site in Islam, the most holy place in Judaism. An ancient city that has, for 4,000 years, been under the control of dozens of kings, patriarchs, caliphs, commanders, governors, sultans and colonial powers, of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Polytheist faiths. And very rarely in this long history, have they co-existed peaceably. There is nowhere on earth to which the term ‘melting pot’ would better apply.

Jerusalem has been built, destroyed, built and destroyed literally dozens of times.

Unbeknownst to us, we happened to arrive on the first day of Sukkot, the weeklong Jewish festival of the Tabernacle. As one of the three holy festivals in the Jewish calendar, Jerusalem was absolutely crammed full of Jewish locals and visitors, of the moderate, orthodox and ultra-orthodox persuasions. Women in their headscarves and men in yamaluks or other headwear depending on their sect. This also coincided with an annual Christian march, with hundreds of overseas visitors from many countries bustling to take part.

Nowhere better tells the story of the history of Jerusalem than the historic quarters of the Old City, as you can see from the map below. There are distinct Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and Christian areas within the city, that have existed for millennia.

We stayed in the Old City, near David’s Tower and the Jaffa Gate. Our hostel was surrounded by the Muslim souk (market), pilgrim route to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and main path to the Western Wall. We went to bed to the sounds of worship and celebrations and woke to the early morning call for prayer.

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Map of the Old City in Jerusalem with its distinct quarters. The Armenians have over the centuries become a natural buffer between the other sectors of the population, and are friendly with each of them.

Neither Nik or I have ever been to another country where there is so much history, be it cultural, political or religious, to be absorbed in such a small space. From top to bottom both Palestine and Israel are dotted with sites of huge historical and religious importance. We covered a lot of ground in our eight days, but had no hope of seeing all of the sites we wished to, especially at such a busy time of year. We had to forgo the iconic immersion in the Dead Sea, a tour to Nazareth and visit inside the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock, although we had an amazing view from our vantage point on the Mount of Olives.

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A view of the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, with a Jewish cemetery in the foreground. The golden roofed Dome of the Rock is in the centre, atop the Temple Mount and still surrounded by the base of the walls of Herod’s Palace.

Although now a place of Islamic worship and not accessible to non-Muslims, the Dome of the Rock is the most holy site for both Jews and Muslims. It is the site where Adam was created, Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, as well as the where the original temple of Solomon, containing the Holy of Holies (and Ark of the Covenant), was located. It was also visited by Muhammad on his night journey. Herod built over the site about the time of Christ with his Palace and Temple, the walls of which still survive today, nearly all buried under millennia of building and re-building in the Old City.

It is for this reason that the Western Wall, sometimes referred to as the Wailing Wall (for the sounds of Jewish prayer emanating from this site), is such an important site for Jewish people. It is the ‘Western Wall’ of Herod’s enormous temple and the closest that they are able to pray to the Temple Rock. Today this is where Jewish people come to pray every single day.

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The Western Wall of the Temple Mount, the closest site to the former Temple of the Rock that Jewish people can pray. Men (foreground) and women (background) pray separately.

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A view of the Western Wall from the tunnels beneath the Old City. Originally a part of the enormous Palace of Herod, the city has slowly been built up around the ancient remains of the walls, eventually swallowing them almost completely. They were rediscovered again in the 1800’s and have now been excavated down four or five stories under the existing Old City.

One of the holiest sites for Christians in Jerusalem is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church surrounds the agreed site of Jesus’ crucifixion, the slab that he was laid on after being taken down from the cross, and the tomb from which he arose. It is a place where you can feel the history and importance to many denominations of the Christian faith.

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Due to the desire of each arm of Christianity to control the church, each room is under the specific control of the different sects, including Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Copts. The different sects are incredibly protective of their allocated share of the church and, in 1853, a conflict that has been called World War Zero, started because of some argy bargy between the sects. At the end of the war in 1856, the control of the church reverted to what it was in 1853 and no changes were allowed to the church. Hence the story of the LADDER. You see it there against the upper window. It’s been there since before 1853 and no-one can move it! The key and responsibility for access to the door of the church was also given into the custody of two Arab families in the 12th Century, who lock and unlock the church every evening and morning, to ensure no one sect controls access to the Church.

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The glass in the bottom left covers the stone where it is believed the crucifixion of Jesus took place. There is a place where the pilgrim is kneeling that one can reach in and touch the original stone.

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This stone immediately inside the Church door, is believed to be the stone that Jesus’ body was laid on when brought down from the cross. It apparently only was placed in the church in the 1800s and so there are some questions about its authenticity. However, the important issue is what people believe in.

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And this is small chapel inside the Church contains the grotto where it is believed that Jesus was buried and the stone which covered his tomb.

The Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, is the path that Jesus took from when he was sentenced for crucifixion to Golgotha, where he died. There are 14 stops along the Way, marking different events in this path, such as Simon assisting Jesus in carrying the cross, and it culminates at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We wandered along the Way as we headed out to the Mount of Olives.

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Station three of the Via Dolorosa.

We even accidently stumbled across the Garden of Gethsemane! For those not in the know, this is the site where Jesus prayed and the disciples slept the night before his crucifixion. As is the case with many holy sites in Jerusalem, there are a couple of proposed sites for this event, although this one seems to be the once most accepted as likely. The trees in the garden have been carbon dated to 3000 years old and would have been standing in this location at the time of Jesus.

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The Garden of Gethsemane. Some of the trees have been carbon dated at up to 3000 years old, and as you can see from the girth of some of them, they are ancient.

The latest time the Jewish Quarter was destroyed was in 1948 and when Israel got control of it again in 1967 they started to rebuild. During the reconstruction they found part of the city wall dated from the period 1000 to 586 BC. It’s interesting how Jerusalem has moved west over the past 3000 years. The ruins of the City of David in fact now sit outside the current walls of the old city.

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Remnants of the City Walls uncovered when the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt after the Israel/Jordanian War.

There is religion in Jerusalem and then there is something that crosses all religious boundaries; Hummus! The exact formula with which it’s made (basically it is chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil and cumin) can be a closely guarded secret and there is much discussion about which is the best hummus in town….

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Hummus Heaven. A religion unto itself.

The West Bank

During our stay we joined a number of tours to take us into the West Bank. For two of these days we had a Palestinian guide and on the third, when in highly disputed Hebron, we had a local Palestinian guide in the morning and a Jewish guide from the settlements in the afternoon. It provided a fascinating if stark contrast.

On the first day in the West Bank, we started with a visit to Ramallah before moving on to Jericho. The land immediately surrounding Jerusalem is dry and harsh, but inhabited by local Bedouin tribes who can been seen herding goats and living in basic settlements.

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The hills of Judea, looking down towards the Dead Sea, with a Bedouin Camp on the far left.

This is the area where Jesus, having been baptised by John the Baptist, spent time in the wilderness and was tested. Looking up from Jericho, the lowest city in the world at 480 metres below sea level, we looked up to a hill called Mount Quarantina where Jesus fasted for 40 days after his baptism. The cave where Jesus fasted is below the Monastery of the Temptation you can see halfway up the hill on the left hand side.

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The Monastery of the Temptation on Mount Quarantina.

Archaeological excavations have shown evidence that Jericho is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Now located to the north of the new town, the excavations at Jericho have revealed that 23 different civilisations have lived contiguously on this site, including in a walled city as early as 3000 B.C. The round structure below is a grain silo dating from 10,000 B.C., one of the oldest known manmade structures showing a settled civilisation with agricultural skills.

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Excavations at Jericho showing the site of the Old City of Jericho.

Next to the archaeologcal site is Elisha’s Spring. In the Bible, Elisha was a prophet and the spring in Jericho was no longer producing sweet, or good, water. The people, to test Elisha, asked him if he could make the water sweet. He did, and the spring is still flowing.

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Visitors are welcome to drink from Elisha’s Fountain, with the spring still providing water to the local town.

On driving through Jericho town we saw sycamore trees that have been dated at over 2000 years old, and would have been here when Jesus walked this path to the Jordan River and a Roman tax collector climbed a tree for a better view. We then went to the site on the River Jordan where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist.

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This is, now, the River Jordan. On the far side is Jordan. For a long time Israel did not allow access from their side, so various Christian groups, Greek Orthodox etc., built churches on the Jordan side.

Also located in the West Bank is Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where it is believed Jesus was born. As you can imagine this is a significant pilgrimage site for many Christians. It was very interesting to visit and witness the fervour which it inspires.

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The Silver Star in the grotto under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem indicates the place where it is believed that Jesus was born. This appears to be one of the least disputed of the Holy sites in Christendom.

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And this is the site of the manager where Jesus lay when receiving the three wise men.

The following day, we headed across to the West Bank again this time to Hebron, which was where Abraham lived. He and his wife, Sarah, had many children one of whom was Isaac. Abraham purchased a cave for her burial and this is now located under the Temple of Patriarchs and Matriarchs built by King Herod. It is now half a mosque and half a synagogue. Depending on who you ask, the other half is bigger…. It is the oldest temple in the region and is about 2000 years old.

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Inside of the Mosque in the Arab ‘half’ of the temple to the Matriarchs and Patriarchs, with a view of the cenotaphs of Isaac and Rebekah.

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The outside of the Temple of the Matriarchs and Patriarchs that was built by King Herod and completed in 65 A.D.

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We were in Israel and Palestine during the festival of Sukkot. Now in the Synagogue half of the Temple, our Jewish guide shows us how he prays with the ritual Palm, Willow, Myrtle and Citron specific to this celebration.

Also on our walk through Hebron there are the ruins of the city wall and the steps leading to the city gate, both of which are about 4,500 years old.

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Tel Hebron, excavations have revealed steps that have been aged to the time of Abraham and Sarah, who would have walked these streets.

Our final day in the West Bank saw us travelling north to Nablus and Jenin. In Nablus we encountered more biblical history, this time in relation to the Samaritan people. Samaritans are a religious sect that at this site can trace the lineage of their Chief Priest back to Ancient Times. There numbers are now down to only a few hundred in this location, mainly as a result of not allowing intermarriage with any non-Samaritans. Due to their insular ways, they were often a reviled people and were shunned by the other religions. We visited Mount Gerizim which is the Holy place for the Samaritans.

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The steps up to the Samaritan Holy place of Mount Gerizim

A familiar biblical story to some may be that of the Samaritan woman who offered Jesus a drink from a well. We visited this well, built by Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebecca and the father or Joseph of the Dreamcoat fame. Jacob dug the well, and it was here during the start of Jesus’ ministry that he drank at the well after having asked for help from a Samaritan woman. Interaction between Jews and Samaritans was banned at this time in the Talmud.

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Jacob’s well near Nablus.

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The political and security aspects of Israel and Palestine.

Crikey. As we are writing this, it’s a week since we’ve left Jerusalem and the West Bank and, as we wrote earlier, the situation is complicated. However, the job of this blog, partly for us, partly for you, is to give an overview, and our view, on what we have seen and our thoughts.

In Chapter 26, our chapter on volunteering in Greece, we wrote that we believe that there will be peace in Syria, it is purely a question of how long it will take. And yes, how many lives will be destroyed, or changed forever, and how much of Syria is destroyed.

With the Israel/Palestine conflict, we have to believe that there will be peace, however, there are clearly some things that need to happen. I’ll come back to that later. First of all though, let’s take a look at the history. Well, sort of, let’s go back 100 years.

Following the First World War, the British and the French divided among themselves the Arab areas that had been under the control of the Ottomans, and Palestine came under British rule as the British Mandate for Palestine.

Between 1918 and 1937, there was a simmering war between the Jewish and Muslim people in Palestine, partly due to the significant immigration of Jews to Palestine, and by 1937 an idea for partition had gained favour, with the thoughts that it should look like this:

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The Palestinian Partition was adopted by the UN on 29th November 1947, and Great Britain announced that its mandate would end on 14th May 1948. Immediately after the adoption of the resolution to partition Palestine on 29th November 1947, civil war broke out between the Jews and the Muslims. Upon the end of the British mandate on 14th May 1948, the State of Israel was declared, and the Arabic nations started their invasion in June 1948.

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However, with the memory of 6 million murdered Jews on their mind, and their backs to the Mediterranean, the Israeli’s fought back and the borders from 1949 were:

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In 1967 there was the 6 day war, and in 1973 the Yom Kippur war.

After all of that the map looked like this:

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In 1979, there was the Egypt – Israel Peace Treaty which resulted in the handback of the Sinai.

In 1993 and 1995, there were the Oslo Accords. These were significant because:

- Israel recognised the Palestine Liberation Organisation as representative of the Palestinian people.
- The PLO recognised the State of Israel.
- They split the West Bank into Areas A (controlled solely by the Palestinian Authority), Area B (controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Israel), and Area C (controlled by Israel).

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This is when it all turned into a hideous, horrible mess. Ok, a more hideous, more horrible mess. And this is where we come back to our earlier comment about the precursors for peace, and for the peace to continue.

In order for there to be peace, there must be certain conditions in place, including:

- Both sides must want peace, it may sound trite, but it’s true;
- Both sides must need peace more than they need war. There can be drivers for or against war; for example, politics, financial gain etc.;
- There must be a leader on both sides who has the respect and authority to not only negotiate the peace, but to drive the actions that will be required by the peace agreement;
- There must be an extraordinarily skilled mediator to lead the parties through the process.

And, with the Oslo Accords, the following is where it fell to pieces.

On the Israeli side, Yitzak Rabin, the Prime Minister of Israel was assassinated by Jewish extremists shortly after the peace accords were signed. The aftermath of this bought into power Benjamin Netanyahu, who has a disdain for peace and Palestinians. His support for the building of settlements in the West Bank, the massive security effort that entails, the building of the wall (and the building of the wall where it is), the exclusion of the Palestinians from Area C, the limitation of the supply of resources (water, etc), has been appalling, shocking and antagonistic.

On the Palestinian side, the inability of Yassar Arafat to control the Palestinians to not attack Israel, was awful, provoking, and left the Israelis with little choice but to defend themselves.

The Israelis provided the coffin for the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians provided the lid and nailed it down.

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Our experiences on the West Bank

We wanted, during our time in Israel and Palestine, to try to get as much of an understanding as we could about the situation. To do this, we spent three days in the West Bank and four in Jerusalem and Israel. In the first section, we showed you the religious and archaeological sites that we visited, in this section we want to share what we saw and what we heard.

In Ramallah is the tomb of Yassar Arafat. He is a fascinating figure that had peace in his hands with the Oslo Accords and either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, keep the paramilitary sections of the Palestinian people from attacking Israel (notwithstanding that there was significant Israeli provocation). To some he is a murderous terrorist, others a leader to liberation.

He wanted to be buried in Jerusalem but the Israeli’s wouldn’t allow this so the Palestinians dug up soil from the Mosque area in Jerusalem and brought it to Ramallah and buried him there.

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Note that there is a temple next to his tomb but there is no minaret (as would be typical on a mosque). Yassar Arafat said that he wanted the temple to be for all Palestinians; Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

Driving around the West Bank, we saw this sign:

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Israelis are not allowed to travel in Area A. Well, sort of. Unless you’re an Israeli settler and then the Israeli Army supplies a massive armed force for your protection.

We thought that this was a provocative sign placed by the Palestinians, but in fact they are signs put up by the Israeli government, discouraging any travel (including tourism) into the West Bank. We felt incredibly safe the entire time we were in both Israel and Palestine. However, we were tourists….

Banksy has both painted and inspired many images in the West Bank, which we were lucky enough to visit…

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Iconic Banksy painted on the side of the mechanic store on the Road from Ramallah to Bethlehem.

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More Banksy, with some interesting iconography…

Others have painted brilliant images too.

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Street art abounds in Palestine, with one resounding theme.

We went to see a section of the Berlin Wall in July. That’s not a wall. This is a wall…

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The wall separating central Bethlehem, splitting the city in two and separating families.

With the wall, there are two aspects, the first is that there is a wall. To an extent, with the security issues that Israel experienced, I can understand that the wall has increased that safety of the Israelis. What is provocative and unforgiveable is that they have been built through Palestinian Areas, dividing families and making it incredibly difficult to get anywhere. I find it aggressively antagonistic. And I’m not Palestinian. Take a look at the map above showing the Oslo accords and it’s marked on in a red line.

Also, a picture can portray a thousand words.

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It is clear that Trump has a view about Israeli’s and Palestinians that is similar to Netanyahu’s. The concept of Trump driving peace discussions is patently absurd.

The Key is a powerful symbol to the Palestinians. When Israel declared itself a state in 1948 many Palestinians fled the bloodshed, locking up their homes. The key became a symbol of the Palestinian refugees.

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The symbol of the Palestinian refugee struggle – the key to the houses they left at Partition.

When we visited Jenin, we also visited the refugee camp for Palestinians displaced when the partition took place 69 years ago. Each family was allocated a space for a tent. As the years stretched on, the families joined their allocations together and built share houses on them, as you can see in the photo below. These houses have apparently been removed a number of times and you can see bullet holes in the walls from the conflict that has happened here over the last seven decades. Their perspective is that they remain displaced internal refugees. Others believe that they should consider themselves resettled.

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The Jenin refugee camp.

However, even in this situation there are some who can see an alternative viewpoint.

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The messages on the wall are predominantly peaceful, and it has to be believed that the majority of Palestinians and Israeli’s want peace.

As mentioned above, Hebron is one of the most contested cities outside of Gaza. It is the site where Israeli encroachment into Palestinian territories have caused incredible violence over the years. Walking through Hebron we saw this note.

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An Israeli sign giving their perspective on the events in Hebron. The reality is very different, with the sectors of the city divided by barbed wire and check points. We were told that the areas ‘off limits to Jews’ are in fact visited by settlers with a huge armed contingent that confine the locals to their houses and stores during these visits.

Hebron is on the front line of the conflict between the Israeli’s and the Palestinians. In 1929, 67 Jews were slaughtered by Muslims and their Synagogue destroyed. The Jews started rebuilding in the 1970’s. They took over various buildings including the apartments above a Palestinian market. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) state that Palestinians and Israelis cannot live together so if an Israeli takes over a building the neighbours have to move out. There have been incidents of Israelis throwing things onto the people in the market so wire has been put up.

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A view from the Arab market place to the Israeli checkpoint and settlement which has been built atop a Palestinian house. We were not expecting the proximity of the settlements to the Palestinian sectors. They are literally living on top of each other. In the case of the markets, there was a huge amount of rubbish on top of the wire roofing, which the Palestinians claim is thrown by the Israeli settlers, as well as hot liquids and effluent. The Israeli’s deny this allegation, and claim that most of it is wind swept rubbish or placed there by Palestinians to support their claims.

The IDF also closed down the gold market due to security concerns.

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The old Arabic gold markets in Hebron that have been closed down by the Israeli military. Clearly not the thriving commercial centre mentioned on the sign above.

There are still stores that are open in the market, although it is becoming increasingly deserted. This store below has been functioning in this place for over 500 years. Most store holders told us, however, that they expect to be the last generation to operate here due to pressures to move away from the settlements and checkpoints.

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A spice stall in the Arab Hebron markets. Most stalls in the market are now closed.

Our Palestinian guide also spoke to us of the terrorist attack which occurred in the Mosque at the Temple of the Patriarchs in 1994, when an Israeli gunman entered the mosque during prayer and opened fire, killing 29 worshippers. This event resulted in a four month 24 hour curfew on the Palestinian population to prevent retaliation.

However, on the Israeli side, as revealed by our guide from the settlement, there have been numerous attacks on them, which has made life in Hebron precarious. The Jewish family group below has stopped to pay respects at the memorial for a Rabbi who was killed by Palestinians who burst out of the market area behind and murdered him on the way home from synagogue.

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A memorial to a murdered rabbi in Hebron.

And below is a memorial to an Israeli baby girl, shot and killed by a sniper while being held by her father near a playground in a settlement in Hebron.

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The baby girls name was Flame, hence the image on her memorial. Her father survived although he was badly injured.

We were shown by our Israeli guide this image painted by Israeli school children of the different characters in Hebron and how they all can live together. Notice the only picture of a Palestinian is of a suicide bomber. We found this particularly disturbing because it was painted by children and our Jewish guide thought that this was perfectly acceptable….

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Street art by local Israeli school children, including a rabbi, tourist, soldier and suicide bomber chickens. Apparently, the path to peace….

Below is a checkpoint in Hebron between the Israeli settlement and the Palestinian area. Our guide told us that in one year alone, there were SEVENTY – 70 knife attacks on the Israeli soldiers here. And the policy here is to shoot to kill. One case got particular notoriety in Israel when one attacker was shot dead, but the other only injured. An Israeli soldier who arrived after the event, then shot the injured man dead too. The soldier was eventually sentenced to prison but not before huge public debate. All Israeli’s have mandatory military service from the end of high school; 3 years for men and 2 years for women. There was an uproar about charging a soldier for “just doing his job”….

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The military checkpoint where the infamous shooting took place that nearly divided a nation. The importance of accountability versus “just doing your job”…

We passed by this too….

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This is a site that Jewish settlers claim belongs to them. The government is not allowing them to settle on the land in fear that any further incursions will result in the ignition of the simmering tension in Hebron. Violence seems never far away.

There seem to be innumerable examples of atrocities on both sides. The stories we heard from our Palestinian and Israeli guides in Hebron seemed to disagree on every fact, even when discribing the same events. It was an incredibly enlightening, but simultaneously discouraging day.

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Future opportunities for peace.

This goes back to the points above.

- I think both sides have a reason to want peace. The military effort that the Israelis have to put in to maintaining and protecting their territory is enormous. I have never, never, ever, seen such a massive number of guns, soldiers and security forces within a civilian population. There must be 10,000 security/soldiers on the streets of Jerusalem, all armed with sub machine guns. The forces the Israelis have in the West Bank, the number of young Israeli’s in harms way, trying to keep the Palestinians caged in their towns, is huge.
- For the Palestinians, the prospect of continuing to live in the present conditions is extremely hard. Having accepted the Israel’s right to exist and Israel having accepted the PLO as the negotiating entity for Palestinians, they also want there to be peace.
- However, on the Israeli side there are, I believe, more reasons to not want peace. Look at the changes in Palestine over the last 100 years.

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It appears to me that Israel wants Palestine. All of Palestine.

- For peace there needs to be leaders on both sides that want peace and that can represent and control all of their people. I believe Netanyahu doesn’t want peace. As for Abbas, I don’t know.
- As for the mediator, there are mediators that have the skills, but it is the leaders and the want that needs to be there first.

To the Israelis and Jewish people out there, I beg that you put whatever pressure you can onto Jewish entities, the Israeli government, and regular Jewish people to strive for peace, to stop and reverse the settlements in the West Bank, and to move forward with the return of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

To the Palestinians out there, I beg that you continue to work through peaceful means to get your story across to the world, to work with the UN, to work on building a prosperous Palestine, no matter how hard it may be.

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Posted by capetocape2017 06:06 Archived in Israel Tagged oslo palestine jews accords Comments (0)

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