world heritages

Entry Info

Balabakk and the God of ThunderSince spending one week only in Beirut seemed to be bit too long, I decided to go to Balabakk to see the old temple when I switched the accommodation. The main transportation I used was of course Service. In the other countries, Service means a shared taxi operated with a normal car but here in Lebanon, the term covers a mini bus which carries about 10 people as well. Basically they are mostly used by the local people and not by foreigners except for the budget backpackers like us.

Almost all local people in the Middle East countries don't speak English but how do we manage to get in the local bus used by such people only. The basic strategy is quite simple; just repeat the name of the destination. Like "Balabakk? Balabakk?". If the driver beckons, this must be the bus you can use. On the payment, probably people around you help counting the notes. While the private taxi drivers often try to rip you off, this kind of thing usually wouldn't happen in Services as you just need to pay the same amount as the other people. Besides, in order to make the trip safer, it's quite effective to get notes of your destinations' names written in Arabic from the accommodation. Showing the notes, you can make sure the driver would drop you off at the destination. Oh, don't forget to get the name of the return trip's destination as well.

Temple of the God of Thunder

Balabakk and the God of ThunderThe ruin of Balabakk is very famous for the well preserved temples which were originally built in the ancient Roman era. The temple appeared absolutely magnificent even for me who is not usually engrossed with those kind of ruins. How come the ancient people could construct such a huge building? What's more, there were just a few tourists on the site and I could peacefully stroll around and shoot photos. This is very important as the tremendous number of tourists often spoils the atmosphere of the place though I know I'm a part of them.

However when I was enjoying photo shootings, the sky was getting darker. Although it was a beautiful sunny day in the beginning, before I noticed the sky had became gray and finally the big rain drops started falling with thunder and lightning. Coincidentally, the name of the temple I visited was "Jupiter Temple". In a way, this is a very well made story as Jupiter is known as the god of lightning. But I had to take shelter from the rain at the museum on the site for 2 hours. According to site managers, it hardly rains in the area, probably a few times of precipitations per year. Well, I should feel honoured for this rare experience.

Incidentally the name of accommodation I stayed at that night was "Jupiter Hotel" too. The price of 15USD for a dorm room without hot shower system was quite touristic but as there were no other visitors there I could use the room privately. Though they had a decent private room with shower, I'd rather go back to Beirut and eat something nice than spend 40USD for a mediocre room. There were nothing special to do at night and I was just reading book on a shabby bed. At the time, I was reading the Lord of the Rings on my iPhone and the adventurous story cheered up my heart towards travelling.

Meeting with a Nice Guy.

Next morning, the rain stopped and the sky became clear again. After walking around the area for a while, I made my way back to Beirut by Service as usual. After a while of the departure, the middle aged guy next to me tried talking to me with his little broken English. He said he was a lawyer living in the next town of Beirut. After chatting idly like "Where are you from?", "How's Beirut" and such, the guy suddenly offered me a lift to Beirut. In fact, the Service we were on would terminate on the outer edge of Beirut and I had to change the bus to go Downtown. Immediately the bad memory of being severely ripped off in Bangkok flashed into my mind but considering the circumstances, a guy who accidentally sat next to me on a local bus wouldn't be that kind of fraud. Besides, Lebanon was the country of Muslims whose principal is "Be gentle to travellers". Therefore, I got up my courage to follow him. Anyway, I can manage most troubles if I get seriously involved with some.

Somehow we went to his office at first and drunk tea together and after that he surely took me to the Beirut downtown, precisely in front of the accommodation. What a nice guy he was! In reality, the local people in this area were absolutely kind to travellers. I couldn't count how many times they helped us. For instance a man walked with us to the accommodation in a minor town; a lady tried to find someone who could speak English to help us. It was definitely because of their kindness that I could safely travel though the area that the language was totally different from ours. Thanks to them, I started thinking about being gentler to the foreigners coming to Japan after this trip.

Entry Info

Started Up North - PetraWith the four friends met in Dahab, I departed up North to Jordan. Firstly we had to cross the Red Sea by the ferry which runs between Nuweiba, Egyptian side and Aqaba, Jordan side. Mostly, foreigners are forced to use the "high speed ship" but it costs 60 USD(+exit tax 10 USD). By Egyptian standards, it's a super expensive transportation. It's more than triple my daily spending in Dahab! But thanks to the surprisingly clean interior, it was by far the most comfortable trip ever in Egypt as well.

Yet unsurprisingly the ferry was running on the Egyptian quality schedule. Although we were rushed to come to the seaport as the ferry was supposed to leave by the noon, there were no hints for the next movement on time and we had to wait the next few hours there. What's more, even after boarding the ferry didn't start immediately and it was already very dark when we arrived at Aqaba. At length, the time we exited the passport control was after 9 o'clock.


If I'd travelled on my own, I'd given up going further and tried to stay there one night but I was with my friends who were also very experienced travellers. We knew that it wouldn’t cost too much even if we used the taxi to Petra directly and therefore started negotiating with the drivers there. After a 15 minutes tough negotiation, one driver yielded to our request with 40 JOD(40 EUR) for 5 passengers, which was about half his first suggestion. Well, how wonderful that I have dependable company.

The roads in Jordan were very well paved and much cleaner than Egypt. Also the cars themselves looked in good condition and there were traffic signals too. Well, it sounds like we, who were so excited about these normal things, came from very countryside. After two hour driving on the wagon, we noticed it was a bit chilly outside and it was the arrival of Petra which is located on 1000m altitude. This time, we checked in at the"Valentine Inn" which is very popular among backpackers for their very affordable price. 3 JOD for the dorm room is a pretty good deal.


The next morning, we went sightseeing immediately. Thanks to the free shuttle bus from the accommodation, it took only 5 minutes instead of taking 30 minutes on foot. But there was a small pitfall with it. The bus was supposed to depart at 7 and 8. As we arrived there very late last night, we decided to join the bus at 8 and went to the bed straight away, taking it for granted that there is no time difference between Egypt and Jordan. However, there is indeed due to the day light saving. Not realising the fact, the Japanese group got together precisely at 9 in Jordan time. Though the guy in the accommodation graciously helped us to get there, we learnt that we must check the time difference after passing the country borders.


Started Up North - PetraThe entrance fee of Petra is in fact notoriously expensive. It costs 33 JOD, matching it to a decent theme park. What's more they are planning to raise the price to 50 JOD as of November 2010. What great confidence the Jordanian government has. Nevertheless, if I'm asked "Would it be worthwhile to go to this site?", I would still answer "GO". (At least, providing it is 33 JOD. 50 JOD is very high.) Actually, this ruin site is bigger than ordinary theme parks and takes more than one day to walk around the whole are. Plus, it would cost anyway the same if we go to on a one day tour.


Started Up North - PetraWalking along a flat road, sheer cliffs came into my view and making the way further a huge caved temple "Al Khazneh" suddenly appeared from the break in the cliffs. The BGM playing in my mind was of course the theme of Indiana Jones. Well, I did come here in order to see the temple. Although the atmosphere was slightly spoiled due to the number of tourists there, the huge temple was absolutely overwhelming. Also there are various ruins and theatres along the road, and looking at them, I moved on my way further.


Started Up North - PetraAfter walking for a while, I found a small sign in the middle of the cliff and it read "fortress" with an arrow. Although the other tourists simply disregarded the sign and went on the main road, I preferred less people and tried to go with the sign. Walking half an hour and following several signs, I found that I was on the route to the other side of the mountain. Though I could see so many tourists walking far beneath, there were only a few people on my course. Well, my sense of travelling worked well this time. It was nice to have less people for the photography indeed.


I guess I walked much more than 10 km in total. When the shuttle bus came to pick us up, I was so exhausted that I didn’t feel like going out afterwards. So, we joined the buffet provided by the accommodation and it was surprisingly tasty. The lack of proper foods since the previous day might have affected my taste though, I enjoyed the typical Arabic foods from them. Also playing cards with beer with the friends was so much fun too. As Petra doesn't have any special places apart from the ruin, we were leaving on the next morning to Amman.

Entry Info

27th (Thu)
May 2010

[day70] Sidetracked to Luxor

Sidetracked to LuxorI was actually planning to stay only Cairo for a week. That's all in Egypt. However as the guy at Cairo's accommodation tried to sell a tour to Luxor and Aswan, I changed my mind and bought a train ticket to Luxor by myself. Well, in vain his effort was. It takes about 12 hours from Cairo to Luxor by a night train. Even though I’d have preferred to take a day train with nice views through the window, for security reasons only the night train is available for foreigners. I chose the compartment car over sleeping car as it was cheaper.

The train arrived Luxor when I was talking with Japanese university students. There were more than 20 people welcoming us when we left the train though as you guessed those people were just trying to pick us up to their tours or hotels. I'd known this but it was much noisier than Cairo. I told one of them the name of the hostel I'd booked already and he brought his mate. According to him, he would lead me to go there. It was obvious that he would require some amount of tip after the guiding but I decided to follow him as I rationalised myself that I was buying time from him and the price wouldn’t be too bad. After all I realised that when I was with him apparently the other people wouldn't try approaching me. I saw many visitors had difficulty to get rid of those annoying people. In a way this could be the best to avoid stressful time there.


Sidetracked to LuxorLuxor is divided to East and West by the Nile River, and the city including my accommodation is located at the East side. There are two phenomenal temples at the East side and I went to both of them by bicycle on the day of the arrival as they were located at reasonable proximity to the city. In fact they were surprisingly impressive. Both of the temples, Luxor and Karnak were so gigantic that I didn’t care about my lack of historical knowledge. I was just overwhelmed. What’s more, somehow only a small number of people were there despite the fact those two are a very famous tourist spot. So I could walk around there without irritation.


On the other day, I went to the west side with a charted taxi. The taxi just brought me to the entrances of main sites and waited until I came back to the parking. It was the same pattern as I used in Ayutthaya, Thailand. For costwise, it could be wise to join a group tour but I don't like those tours as I need to settle one place until I get a really nice photo and I don't mind to cover all the tiny detailed places. I could've picked up the other tourists to my taxi and reduced the cost but failed to find the ones who were willing to go with me. Anyway the taxi didn't cost too much for me as it was based on Egyptian price.


Sidetracked to LuxorUnfortunately all activities of photography were forbidden at the Valley of the Kings where I went first. Though I entered paying quite a high entrance fee the old cave paintings and coffins didn’t arouse my mind. I felt the same as the Egyptian Museum I went at Cairo. And at the next destination Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatsheptsut, I even didn’t dare to enter the site as it was way too many people. In a way, it was quite impressive to see the numbers of buses lining up at the parking. And strange to say, there were no people at the ruins, which are in fact Tombs of the Nobles, just around the parking. According to the guards nearby, unless I enter the inside of the tombs I was free to walk around the site and no problems for photography either. As usual, an old guy tried to give me a guide but ignoring him I enjoyed walking and photo shooting alone.


Sidetracked to LuxorI also went to two rather minor sites, The Ramesseum and Medinet Habu and I found them better than previous ones. Sitting on a stone in the middle of deserted ruin, I felt as though I'd been transported through time to 4000 years ago. It was indeed worth coming with an extra cost. I heard many people would skip these two places but I strongly recommend them over the other famous spots like Valley of the Kings and Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.


Sidetracked to LuxorThere was an interesting moment at the exit of The Ramesseum. Local kids coming by a school trip suddenly surrounded me and asked me to be in the photos with them. Also they made a scene being aimed by my camera. I think meeting with Asian people was a quite rare occasion for them. I'd wholeheartedly welcome this kind of noise for those kids were totally different from people lured by the smell of money. Their teacher who tried to speak to me with a little broken English was nice as well. Indeed, except for the people working for the tourism industry, most of Egyptians are nicely ingenious.


I was actually planning to go back to Cairo at once and going to Nuweiba which is a border town next to Jordan. However as the guy at the accommodation told me “It would be cheaper to go to Nuweiba via Dahab by bus. We can help you to buy the ticket”, I bought the bus ticket to Dahab by myself. Well, in vain his effort was. According to information, it would take about 15 hours to go there. But I didn’t know about Dahab very much and couldn’t guess what was waiting there at that time.

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