The West Middle East

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The West Middle East

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Middle East Map - Cropped

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My reasons for choosing to visit this hotly contested corner of the globe were that it was pretty much the only place I could travel that would be hot enough to allow me to camp during the winter months and would also fit within the limited budget I had.

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Jordan

I flew into Amman and spent a week exploring the city and acclimatizing to the country, which included a couple of day-long road-trips to visit the north east of Jordan close to the Golan Heights area and a dolmen field not far from the border with Israel. I stayed in a hostel downtown and enjoyed mixing with salt of the earth people and trying all the food on offer, such as lambs brain and falafel. The city is interestingly built on 7 hills which allows you to get great views of a heavily built up area covered in mosques with layers and layers of history demonstrated by the Roman ruins and Ottoman palaces. On the Friday in the city there was a huge call to prayer and the streets were cleared, flattened cardboard boxes were given out as prayer mats and there was a massive communal pledge to Allah. Right after the prayer there was a demonstration about Israel’s presence in Palestine so I followed and watched as people chanted and shouted angrily.

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The main mosque in town

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The hilly downtown area

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The Roman Colosseum

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The big communal prayer on friday

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A dolmen with a door/window

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Posing with the Golan heights behind us

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The 2 day trips were very different; one was with a professor from a university in the city who agreed to help me in a film making project for the Modern Explorers and the other road trip was with 3 other backpackers who were also bored in Amman. The dolmen had really cool little doorways and were really photogenic and it was great fun driving around the Jordan valley in the back of a clapped out BMW, click for more about the Dolmen Field. The trip around the north east was great as we saw Roman ruins, the community spirit of the people (2 men stopped and fixed our back wheel), some hotly contested land on the border and we also touched the Jordan river where Jesus was supposed to have been baptized.

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From Amman I travelled south to Wadi Musa to visit Petra and volunteer in a hotel that I had arranged though Workaway – 5 hours work a day in exchange for bed and board, which really helped due to the surprisingly high prices in Jordan. While in Wadi Musa I visited Little Petra (a baby version of the main site about 12km away) and mingled with fellow travellers while working on reception in the hotel. I spent 4 days visiting the amazing ruins of Petra but you could spend months here exploring the temples and chambers carved into the rock. My friend Oddfrid visited from Norway and we filmed as much as we could in the 4 days with the intention of making a film for the Modern Explorers. We met with a local author who had some alternative explanations for the building of this magnificent site which is spread over a huge area in the desert and he showed us some of the strange standing stones and markings on the ground. – You can see footage of what I’m talking about in Corn Flakes in Jordan (There’s a link if you scroll down).

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The view over Wadi Musa

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The main temple at Little Petra

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The largest of the temples

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The pretty sedimentary rock

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Some of the many caverns

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Oddfrid and a friend we made

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Flakes above the famous Treasury

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An ancient clock

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My Film – Corn Flakes in Jordan

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The promotional video I made

From Wadi Musa I went to the Wadi Rum desert where I again volunteered for a couple of brothers who I also met through workaway. They asked me to make a promotional video for their camp, which worked out great as I got to experience all the services their customers could buy; like riding camels, sand dune boarding, eating food cooked under the ground, sleeping under the stars and riding trucks around the beautiful desert scenery, all for free.

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Me and some friends on a tour of the desert

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One of my attempts at dune boarding

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Smoking sheesha at a wedding I attended

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riding a camel around the desert

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The beautiful Wadi Rum desert

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When the video was finished I left the desert with a couple of travel buddies who had also been volunteering in Wadi Rum. We hitch-hiked from one side of the country to the other to meet Atheena Romney, an artist who was helping some Syrian refugees and also trying to save some dolmen that were close to where she lived. It was fascinating and chilling meeting and hearing Syrian refugees and their stories of how they fled their country and were then rounded up into refugee camps in Jordan, which they described as being more like prison. They told us how they had to pay bribes to get out of the camp and struggled to get-by, Atheena had raised money on a crowd-funding website to be able to make clothes for some of the families that hadn’t managed to gather before they fled.

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A visit to a family to give them clothes

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Hitch-hiking across country

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Atheena holding some of the clothes she made for the refugees

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When we visited the dolmen field we found that most of them had been destroyed which prompted me to make the following film ‘Save the Dolmen’.

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The film I made about saving the dolmen

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Spending time in Taybeh (close to the Syrian border) was fascinating as we really felt like we were in a place that most tourists don’t visit and you could tell by the reaction of the people how little interaction they have with outsiders.

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From Taybeh I crossed the border into Israel and I left Jordan liking the country more than I thought I would mainly due to the people I met during the month travelling around, I always felt welcome and I really appreciated the community spirit which I experienced nearly every day. Hitch-hiking was a great experience seeing how people would phone their friends to stop and pick us up and they always insisted on buying us food and drink. One thing I didn’t like about Jordan was the feeling of being ripped off, the prices were high and a lot higher for tourists than the locals, if you go on a budget you better get used to haggling.

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Israel

I spent 2 weeks in Israel – a week driving a circular route around the country and a week hanging out in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv and, although I always try to see a positive side to the countries I visit Israel turned out to be a country where I feel I must talk about the negative side as well. I entered the country from Taybeh in the north of Jordan and had to take a couple of buses to arrive in Tel Aviv. It was an interesting journey, particularly the 2nd bus ride because I was sat next to an 18 year old kid nonchalantly holding an assault rifle. There were quite a few of them on the bus and while I was sat there I couldn’t help but feel that something was wrong with the scene I was in and I didn’t react well when he moved and the gun pointed at my knee. This would be a negative in my opinion, a country with a population that is forced to serve at least 2 years in the army creates a certain mentality in the mindset of the people.

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Kids with guns

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Downtown Tel Aviv

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The Hectic market in Tel Aviv

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A group dance on the promenade

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Us Picking up the car

I arrived in Tel Aviv excited to meet my good friend Jay, well actually he met me at the apartment we rented for a few nights. When he had settled we went for a wander around town and I thought the vibe of the city reminded me of Los Angeles. Volley ball on the beach and loads of fitness fanatics walking and roller blading up and down the promenade showing off their amazing bodies and tans, like they do on Venice beach. We went out to a really cool bar full of cool looking people (which was very L.A.) but we couldn’t drink much because the prices were a piss-take, for the same reason we soon picked up a hire vehicle and left the city.

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We hired a van thinking it would be more spacious but we ended up with a Nissan Berlingo with seats that did’t recline very far, so our first night in the Makhtesh Ramon Crater was amazing due to the starry night but we both had to sleep curled up in the van. Me in the boot and Jay on the back seat, both with legs hanging out the door. Next day we reached Eilat, changed the van and spent a day in the touristy city picking up supplies and tourist watching, then with a slighty bigger van we drove north through typical desert scenery to reach the dead sea.

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Driving down into the crater

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Looking up at the sky full of stars

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Jay trying to capture the starry night

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my bed for the night

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Floating with Flakes

I had one of my Corn Flakes moments floating in the water, a really cool thing to do but pretty difficult as the water makes you buoyant to the point where you feel like you’re hovering above the water. It was very difficult to keep your balance and the water is so salty that it’s dangerous stuff to ingest, there are warning signs saying if you swallow some to seek medical help, I accidentally tried some whilst balancing and trying to get flakes into my mouth but nothing happened. The scenery was beautiful; mountains in Jordan on the other side, salt depositing where the sea meets the land and as the sun lowered the water seemed to change colour.

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Floating in the Dead sea

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Other People floating with a beautiful background

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We slept in the car in the car park of the Masada historical site ready to visit it in the morning. You climb to the top of a hill to see the ruins, which are nothing to write home about but are significant to the Israeli’s as this is where the Romans surrounded the fortification in 73 A.D and 960 Israelite rebels committed suicide rather than surrender. Nowadays this event is a significant symbol to the Israeli’s, as shown by the hoards of school kids walking around analyzing every nook and cranny. The ruins themselves were pretty boring except for one room which had a beam of light shining into it like in Indiana Jones, although when we were inside the ambiance was ruined by a group of students listening to their teacher and writing notes. The best thing about the visit was the view over the Dead sea which was sensational.

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The room that showed us where to find the ark

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The view from Masada

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The old boat they found in the mud

From Masada we drove into the West Bank, although only briefly to visit Jerusalem before leaving this hotly contested piece of the globe via the north border to reach the Sea of Galilee and sleep in the car park of a posh looking hotel. In the morning we were woken up by a couple of coach loads of religious tourists excited to see where Jesus used to fish. There is also an old wooden boat that they found in the mud, which is believed to have been built a couple of thousand years ago. It is now housed in a kind of museum with an extortionate entrance fee, which we managed to avoid by tagging along with the conveyor belt of tourists.

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From the Sea of Galilee we drove to the Golan Heights area to visit the Gamla National Park with vultures flying over head, ruins on top of a very pointy hill, Israel’s highest waterfall standing at a massive 50m and best of all, and the reason we were there, fields and fields of dolmen. (You can see footage of the park in the ‘Save the Dolmen’ film above) After the park we went back to sleep at the Sea of Galilee where we watched a beautiful sunset before getting comfy and sleepy in the car.

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The pointy hill with ruins on top

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The Gamla Waterfall

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A group of about 10 dolmen

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The view from the car as we slept next to the Sea of Galilee


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Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation

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The outer walls of Accra

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For the next few days we visited a number of towns, Safed high above the Sea of G. where there was a significant morale boosting victory for the Jews during the war of Independence. Nazareth – with its abundance of religious significance due to the famous carpenter who was allegedly born here. Accra – a seaside town with cutesy streets and old town walls below sea level and Haifa which was just a hotel stop before we drove to Jerusalem to spend a few days exploring.

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I liked Jerusalem despite the aggressive street sellers and the fact that millions have died over the years for this, another of Israel’s hotly contested pieces of the planet. The ancient Al-Aqsa Mosque was cool, the old market streets, following the via Dolorosa was interesting as you see the different things that happened to Jesus as he walked through the town carrying the cross. There were so many religiously significant things, almost everywhere you looked there were tombs and churches or other random sites with a story from one of the religious texts.

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The Al-Aqsa Mosque

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One of the stages along the route Jesus carried the cross

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tHE wEEPING wALL

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HasidiC jEWS WANDERING THE STREETS

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fLAKES NEXT TO A WEEPING WALL

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tHE LEAST EXCITING PART OF TOWN

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Muslims GETTING HASSLED BY THE Israeli MILITARY

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The weeping wall was interesting; watching Jews line up to kiss a big wall, a few of them took exception to me eating some Corn Flakes next to it but I soon explained to them that it’s a free planet and I’m not trying to disrespect anybody by eating delicious flakes in such a holy place. In fact I think that God, the Gods, evolution or the Aliens, whatever created us wouldn’t give a shit that I had my flakes there. The thing I liked more than anything about Jerusalem was the presence of the 3 main religions, I know it causes a lot of tension but as the church bells rang with call to prayers bellowing and Hasidic Jews meandering along the streets, it felt like the religious war days were over and everybody was living in harmony. One day maybe but nowadays the tension is obvious demonstrated by the Israeli military wandering around asking muslims for papers and the riot police hanging around outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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Jay flew back to Israel’s best friend, which led me to hire another car to drive around Palestine for 4 days, then after that I was tired of the feeling of being in a Police State so I flew from Tel Aviv to Cyprus.

So Israel (the 51st state of the U.S.A) – positives would be The Dead Sea, the interesting religiously significant places – the negatives would be the fact that the Government are performing a secretive and modern day genocide on the Palestinians and the attitude of a population (that is forced to spend at least 2 years in the military) sucks, generally the people had an attitude, they were xenophobic, arrogant, money-driven and completely full of themselves. I admit to generalising and I do have Israeli friends but this would probably go down as the first country I was happy to leave. If you go make sure you take plenty of money then the people will be nice to you and you will likely have a good time.

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A beach outside Tel Aviv

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A symbolic end to my guide book

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The place where Mary gave birth to Jesus

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A display outside the church showing the loss of Palestinian land over the years

Palestine

Whilst driving around Israel I passed through the West Bank on a couple of occasions but didn’t stay for more than a couple of hours. For this reason I drove around the West Bank for 4 days, sleeping in the car to keep things cheap and to enable me to see as much as possible in a limited amount of time (i.e. we didn’t waste time looking for hotels).
One of the brief visits was to visit Bethlehem, where we went to the Church of Nativity to see where Jesus was allegedly born, although how the accuracy of the location has been kept over the years I failed to comprehend. Not being a religious man the location didn’t mean much to me but there was spiritual atmosphere so I thought when in Rome and prayed to any god who was listening (with a capital ‘G’) and asked for a little peace for Palestine.

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When you cross the border you are instantly struck by the difference in living standards, literally the second you cross that invisible line. To begin the 4 day trip we (I was travelling with a friend I met in Wadi Rum) passed through Bethlehem and drove down to Hebron where we slept close to the city ready to pay it a visit in the morning.

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The city of Hebron

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The mosque/church/synagogue

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More Kids with Guns

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Visiting Hebron was a strange experience for me, the presence of 4000 Israeli military personnel protecting the 500 Jewish civilians (3% of the population), who I might add are permitted to carry guns, creates a really tense atmosphere. Indeed you could sense a real tension in the air and the way the populations are forced to be segregated obviously encourages an unwelcoming attitude in the majority of its inhabitants. We visited the Jewish side of the mosque where famous religious historical figures are buried, making it a significant site for the Jews, Christians and Muslims. We went inside and saw an old man kissing people on the head, god knows who he was.

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To get to the Muslim section of the city we had to pass through an army checkpoint, which was a fantastic moment as the mosques bellowed out their call to prayer just as we entered an area we were warned not to go. We probably stayed a total of 15 minutes because after walking a few blocks we were suddenly surrounded by a group of teenagers who were interested in some of our possessions, and us in general. The way they acted, with a distinct lack of respect and the fact that they seemed to think we were Jewish made us wonder what other people were thinking so we went back to the “safe” side. It was horrible to see people being oppressed and controlled and I couldn’t help but understand why they acted the way they did.

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The gate to the Muslim part of town Column
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Some kids giving us hassle

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A plaque for Yassa

From Hebron we went back through Bethlehem and down into the Jordan Valley to visit Jericho, an ancient city which has had lots of significant events in the past related to religious stories, although there isn’t much to see nowadays. Except for a plaque showing where Yasser Arafat once made a speech and a famous fig tree where Jesus showed his worth by asking a tax collector to come down from the tree and talk to him. I heard many religious stories while travelling this part of the world and must say I think they all sounded like fairy tales, they may be interesting stories but how people can let them dictate their lives boggles my mind and they are most certainly not reasons to kill each other.

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Before leaving town to sleep next to the Dead Sea we climbed up and visited the Mount of Temptation, a place where Jesus (who hadn’t eaten for 40 days) was tempted by the devil when the horny red chap gave him a stone and urged him to change it into anything he wanted, thankfully the Lord Our Savior resisted.

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Climbing up out of the Jordan Valley

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The Jewish Settlement

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Outside the brewery

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From Jericho we enjoyed spectacular scenery as we drove up out of the Jordan Valley to visit the Taybeh brewery. Along the way we passed a Jewish settlement that looked really surreal, all the houses looked the same and they all looked new, like a helicopter had just placed the town there a week ago. The brewery was great and as we found out a source of pride for the Palestinian people. We were shown a video, guided around and of course we tried their product, which was much nicer than most of the beers we get in Europe and the States.

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From the brewery we travelled to Ram-Allah, a very patriotic and traditional city where we visited the market and just had a general walk around. Between Ramallah and Jerusalem was a huge border crossing and large sections of wall which I videoed as it was such a disgusting sight. I decided to eat my Palestinian flakes next to a section of the wall where artists had covered it with loving and supportive, power to the people style messages, for example Banksy has painted 9 or 10 really cool pieces.

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My Palestinian Flakes Shot

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Ramallah Market

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The wall used to keep the Muslims out

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Claire outside her house surrounded by the Wall3. Palestine (2)

The Nativity plays with the wall included

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While at the wall we met Claire Bandak Anastas, a very courageous woman who had spent the majority of her life fighting the Israeli system because her house had been surrounded by the wall, literally 3 sides of her property. Due to its strategic location she has been harassed beyond belief by the Israeli army but despite pressure to sell her property she stays put and sells handicrafts made by local children, I really liked the Nativity scenes with a big wall in the way. We also met a young tourist guide who we interviewed as he told us what it was like to exist in Bethlehem.

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For our last night in the west bank we went to Herodian, the ruins of a fortress and Palace 5km south of Bethlehem where King Herod (the Roman king who wanted Jesus killed) was supposed to have lived and is now allegedly buried. We chose not to pay the over-priced entrance fee and enjoyed the view instead, we met some locals who were doing the same thing and although communication was difficult we managed by talking like cavemen and over using the word facebook. Our social media chat worked as they invited us back to their farm for a cup of tea and to introduce us to their family, it was another occasion where we experienced the hospitality and friendliness of the Palestinian people.

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The hill and ruins of Herodian

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The friends we made up the hill

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The next day we crossed back into Israel and I left feeling like there was a completely unjust and biased division of society occurring in this tiny part of the Middle East, but in particular of military force, work, wealth and power. And those in power seem to be encouraging segregation, tension and the inevitable fighting by keeping the populations separated and by making life full of hassle for the Muslim section of society.

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Corn Flakes in Palestine – the film i made about my trip

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Palestine is officially a territory of Israel being held under a forced occupation but after my experiences driving around the West Bank in my opinion Palestine is a separate country and became number 68 in my corn flake eating mission. After the 4 days I travelled back through Israel and a few days later flew from Tel Aviv to Cyprus to visit my 69th country.

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Walking out of the airport

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The Campsite on my 2nd night

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Cyprus

I wasn’t all that interested in visiting Cyprus, my visit was basically just a tick off the list for my Corn Flake mission but I spent nearly 2 weeks camping and sleeping in the car and found a few things to keep me entertained. After my time in what is effectively a police state I flew out of Tel Aviv feeling like a caged animal so when I landed I just picked up my bag and walked straight out the airport needing to feel free. I just kept on walking until I reached the coast and enjoyed the peace and quiet before setting up camp.

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Next day I did some hitch-hiking, with plenty of walking and slow progress, and I soon realized I wasn’t going to see the sights of Cyprus travelling in this way, especially as the island was much bigger than I had expected. After another night camping on the beach I managed to get a ride to Limassol and I arranged to hire a car for the next day. I walked around Limassol a bit, aimlessly really, then I looked for a place to camp close to the city so I didn’t have to walk that far in the morning. I found a spot behind the back of a supermarket and set up camp just before it got dark, a few hours later I was approached by a guy and asked if I would like to have sex with him. Then I realised I was camping in a meeting spot for gay guys, needless to say the volume on my ipod was pretty loud when I was falling asleep that night.

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One of the trucks that picked me up

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Limassol town centre

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The guy who wanted us to have sex

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Driving in the North side of the island

Next morning I set off in the car, first crossing to the other side of the island to visit the Baths of Aphrodite and a town tucked right out of the way where I imagine very few tourists go. Then I returned back to the other side of the island to sleep in the car near Paphos so I could visit a couple of cools historic sites in the morning. The first was the Roman ruins, which had some really cool mosaics, then the second only a few kilometres away was the Tombs of the Kings, a huge complex with underground tombs and some really interesting carvings in the rocks. Below is the film I made for the Modern Explorers if you would like to know more.

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Some of the Roman mosaics

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One of the Kings tombs

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The Film I made about the ancient site

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I passed a sacred place where Aphrodite was supposed to have emerged from the sea, then I continued on to the capital Larnaka to see a lake with Flamencos and some typical churches. Next up was Ayia Napa, which I went to out of curiosity as I’d heard so much about it from the media and friends who had been there where they were younger, and it lived up to my expectation with tacky touristy restaurants and bars everywhere. I drove out of town and went to a nearby Cave and natural bridge tosleep in the car, it was great falling asleep listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks.

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someone kissing something significant in a church i visited

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Some of the excursions available in Ayia Napa

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The natural bridge

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My Sleeping spot on the coast next to a church and a cave

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The abandoned city

In the morning I went as close as I could to the city of Famagusta, which was abandoned during the 70’s when the Turkish invaded part of Cyprus hence the city is now on the Turkish side of the border. I couldn’t get that close as there was a section of No Mans Land, probably a couple of kilometres wide but I was close enough to see empty swimming pools and how the city was decaying. I can’t understand why the Turkish army cornered it off from public use, such a silly waste so I decided to have my Corn Flake moment here and wear an apt T-shirt.

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My Cyprus Flakes Shot

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Annoyed that I couldn’t cross the border to the Turkish side without paying for more car insurance I decided to visit the capital of Nicosia, the last divided capital which has territory on both the Turkish and Greek sides. I walked across the border as I wanted to compare it to mainland Turkey and I thought it certainly could have been part of some of the cities I visited in 2012 and was at least significantly different from the Greek side.

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A Mosque

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A Turkish dance show

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People dressed up to party

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I was kind of running out of things to do so when I found out there was a street party going on in Limassol I sped back in the car only to catch the tail end of the party with drunk people in fancy dress walking away from the centre. With the party dying down I left the city and drove into the mountains, stopping to visit a few little towns and a vineyard to try some of the local wine.

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A local guy I met in the mountains

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Sleeping in the car was cold up high

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In the Troodos mountains I hiked a 14km trail to see some of the pretty forest and then after visiting a few of the typical churches in the area I took the car back and started hitching back to the airport.

So the 12 days I had in Cyprus was more than enough, by the end of the trip I was starting to get a bit bored, fair enough I could have crossed to the Turkish side but I’m not sure there’s many amazing things to see over there either. Glad to have visited Cyprus, ecstatic to have eaten flakes there but in no hurry to go back.

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The Troodos Mountains

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A break from Hiking through the forest

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One of the typical churches

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on my way back to the airport

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The view from the tent on my last night

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For More Details

My Travel Blog Link

For A country by country look at this trip with bigger photos

 Jordan   Israel   Palestine    Cyprus

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Corn Flakes Films Slider - Take 4

Take a look at some of the films i’ve made in more recent years

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