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Kath's ongoing adventure

Well, it's finally happened! After...what... 6 years or so of irritating group emails, I've finally taken the plunge and set up a web page!! Enjoy!

Diary Entries

Thursday, 04 May 2006

Location: Stairway to Heaven, United Arab Emirates

Well, I will concede that I haven’t really been on top of it as far as keeping this web site current. The truth is, though, that my life isn’t really very exciting. Most days I get up, go to work, come home. Sometimes I tutor a little grade three girl in the afternoon and sometimes I play football in the evening. Repeat.

However, I have been meaning to get on here for a while to write about an amazing hike I took last month, as well as my trip to China. And this weekend coming up, JP and I will be taking a dhow cruise, so I figure I better get on it and catch up with things before it gets to be too much.

So…last month, or maybe even before that, my friend Julia called me and told me that she knows someone who talked to the man who’s friends with the guy that edits UAE Off-road, one of the few really amazing guidebooks that details most of the hikes and off-road routes in the area. Anyway, this guy was organizing a hike to the STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. {Cue spooky music]

This was a real stroke of luck. In the guidebooks, any description of the stairway hike is punctuated by warnings about the difficulty of the hike, the grueling climbs, the extreme length, and most of all, the obscurity of the path. Take at least 5 L of water per person, the books warn, and always hike with someone who knows the route well. Interspersed between dire warnings are scare stories about hikers who’ve been lost. Spent the night in the mountains waiting for rescue. Perished due to lack of water. In fact, the day that we went, another group of hikers got lost and had to be airlifted out by helicopter. Scary.

But, you know me. Is it scary? Difficult? Out of the ordinary? Sign me up!

I must admit that this time I was way, way over my head. I’m a pretty experienced hiker, and my fitness level is average or above, but this hike defeated me. We climbed the mountain for 6 hours. Now, I don’t mean that we generally headed in an upwards direction for 6 hours, with some nice flat bits in the middle. I mean that we literally hiked up, up, up and again, up. Most of the time the trail was…. Ah, what am I talking about. Trail is the wrong word. We had to pick our way through rocks of varying sizes, scramble up scree slopes and hoist ourselves up on ledges.

This trail used to be a well traveled Bedouin route. To ease their journey, they constructed a set of staircases in the side of the mountain. I wish that I had some facts about how high they are, but alas, no luck. Anyway, the 45 minutes or so that we spent on the staircase part was the definite highlight of the day. Indescribable. You’ll have to check out the pictures. Rob and Mel, eat your hearts out!

So, after 6 grueling hours, we finally reached the top…plateau offering breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys below. If only I knew then that the tough part hadn’t even started yet. You know that they say if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. So, I will make my description of the way down brief.

It took us over 7 hours to get back to the spot where we camped. (SEVEN!!!!) Most of that time was spent painstakingly easing our way down through rocks and boulders. By the end of about hour 3, one of my knees had begun to ache. Most of the way down was steep enough that we made our way sideways…I usually step down with my right foot, so my left knee was bearing most of my weight. By hour 5, I wanted to weep. Around hour 6, we saw the rescue helicopter flying around searching for the other group of hikers. I stopped to watch, but as soon as I stopped walking, my knees started to buckle. I spent my last hour terrified that I would roll my ankle on a stone, because I couldn’t stop staggering.

Seldom have I been so happy to reach the end of a journey. No, never. When you look at the pictures, you may think to yourself, wow, that looks amazing! But don’t be fooled! It is NOT worth it!!! That said, though, I met some fantastic people (we were in a group of about 20 hikers), and the staircase was very cool.

Friday, 13 January 2006

Location: United Arab Emirates

Well, here I am, back in my apartment in Dubai. Congratulations to me...we got a new computer yesterday, so hopefully I will say good-bye to the annoying technical problems that have been plaguing me and preventing me from being the perfect correspondant!

I guess my last big group send-out was about Jordan, so I will dive right into the Lebanon leg of our trip.

I'm not sure what you think of when you try to picture Beirut, but if it's anything similar to my own (previous!) mental image (ie war torn, hungry looking people darting furtively from bombed out building to bombed out building, Hezbollah guerrillas running around, randomly tossing grenades and nail bombs at passers-by, the whistle of Israeli missiles overhead), you could not be further off!

Well, I will admit that there are a lot of bombed out buildings. In fact, the ariport walls are adorned with pictures like the ones you used to get in crackerjack know, if you wiggle it back and forth, the picture changes? Stand still and you see a picture of a shattered shell of a building...rubble littering the street...not an intact pane of glass in sight. Move two feet to the right, and the picture morphs into the same building miraculously rebuilt. It was unclear which scene was the before and which one the after... were the photographs of undamaged buildings taken before the war, or after the restoration?

In any case, Beirut was grand. The central district could pass for a European city, complete with cobbled streets, trendy shops and cafes, stylish people strolling about without a care in the world. Even the women with hejab (head scarves) were generally all hotted up in tight jeans and trendy shirts. We didn't do any clubbing, but aparently Beirut has the hippest, most expensive club in the Middle East, featuring underwater dancers grooving down in water-proof bubbles floating in enormous aquariums.

We saw two amazing historical sites in our travels...the first was Byblos, which is significant because it contains some of the oldest human remains, dating back about 8000 years. And not only that, but it has CONTINUOUS remains... by this, I mean that there is layer apon layer of remnants, showing how people lived at this site throughout most of human history! Cool enough? Archaologists have been able to use their discoveries there to determine how people underwent changes in shelters, technology, etc.

Baalbek, in the mountains in the north of Lebanon, is most infamously known as the home base of Hezbollah. It is also home to the world's largest existing corpus of Roman ruins, including the largest temple ever built by the Romans, the largest columns in the world, and the largest piece of stonework ever crafted. That's EVER! Words fail me in describing it, so here's a website with some interesting information:
The first half of the explanation is the history of the area...a description of the site can be found just before half way down, in the paragraph beginning "The Temple of Baal/Jupiter..." The REALLY interesting bit comes a few paragraphs down, beginning "The great mystery of the ruins of Baalbek..." This talks about how the stones used in the building of the foundation could not be crafted and moved even today, using modern building techniques. It's pretty interesting!

Our next-to-last night in Lebanon was spent in a castle in the mountains, called Mir Amin Palace. It's been restored as a five-star hotel, but because it is so quiet in low season, the prices drop enough that it's (almost) affordable, even for dead-beat backpackers like us! The best part was that we were the ONLY guests, so it was really like being a king and queen with a whole staff waiting on us! And yes, it was also a bit spooky.

Well kids, that's all for now. I'll do my best to keep this site up to date! Ciao!

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