Saturday, 28 November 2009

New Beginnings..........

Today is a special day, its Jonathan's Birthday and he is spending it in Edinburgh with parties galore by the sounds of things. He recently introduced me to Facebook, so I won't say any more on that as there are plenty pictures and messages on there for him to deal with for today.

I have had a few weeks to settle back into work and study and think about what my next challenge should be, but it has to involve The Nazareth Hospital as this is such a special place.

Here are some more pictures of our visit to the hospital, we were able to walk through all the various departments seeing where all the money is to be spent on projects and new equipment and training.

The psychotherapy unit that I am really interested in specialises in treating children who are victim to trauma through conflict and I am hopeful that I can work on gaining some knowledge of artistic expression through my counselling skills to use as a tool when I visit next year.

So firstly I am going to continue to raise awareness and money for the hospital and Tuesday December 1st kicks that off with another Candle Party, much smaller than the last, just a few friends at my home, but it will have a real Christmas theme and again all commission earned will be put towards taking with me when I go.

All my pictures and lots more that other bike ride members took will be on view, so there will be plenty to see.

My home is not very big, but I will try and squeeze as many people that come as possible in, food and refreshments and of course Christmas party games, so wear a little bit of glitter to get us all in a festive and giving spirit.

I will take lots more pics and share them later.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Challenge accomplished...

During the first few days, adjusting to the conditions and having a break

I have been back for a few days now, but have had a few technical problems with camera and photographs, but hopefully that will be resolved by the end of today and the pics can be added.

It was a tremendous adventure, but much harder than I expected and in all fairness everyone who was on the ride who had been on previous bike rides did say it was the toughest one yet and extremely hard for a beginner like me.

That said I only got on the bus twice in the whole week and reasons given shortly, but I really want to acknowledge firstly the true grit and determination of the team I was privileged to be a part of:

Jim and Jen
Anne Marie
Doc Tony
Theo and his many helpers from both sides of the Jordan/Israel Border

Safety was a top priority during the ride and our journey was aided through Jordan by the exceptional help and security of a police escort. Thankfully there were only small isolated incidents of over enthusiastic children in some of the villages we passed through and sometimes the traffic could be a bit chaotic, but the police were always on top of things and kept us safe the whole way through.
Our Police Escort taking a little break with us

Day 1

Early hours of November 1st Ernie and I left Perth and on to Edinburgh to connect to Heathrow and then on to Amman in Jordan and a coach transfer of 20 kms took us to the Mariam Hotel, Madaba where we met up properly with all our fellow cyclists for the week. We enjoyed and unwound over a relaxed dinner followed by a short service of praise and thanks, then off to bed to prepare for the cycling the next day. My room partner Kathleen was such an inspiration to me over the coming week, a very determined lady filled with kindness and encouragement flowing from her, so we have become firm friends and I am sure will share many more good times together.

Day 2 Approx 38kms

We cycled from Madaba to the Dead Sea, and what an introduction to cycling in Jordan, we dropped down a very steep decline with hair pin bends to the lowest point on Earth, this was coupled with an extremely brisk wind which constantly took sand into my face and on top of all that I had not started off with a bike that really suited me, so unfortunately my start of this challenge was not going too well and I wondered at this point if I would manage beyond this point. Several times I felt my bike lifted up and I was certain that I was going to end up over the edge, so I was pretty scared at this point. However once we arrived at our next stop The Dead Sea Spa Hotel I jumped onto another bike, shoved the other into the back of the van and things certainly started to improve the next day.

View from Hotel overlooking The Dead Sea

Day 3 Approx 68kms (plus optional 43kms)

This was an early start as there was a lot of kms to cover and the daylight hours are limited to about 5.30pm, so the pressure was on to get up and away as early as possible and we knew it was credited to be one of the toughest days of the trip in terms of steep inclines.

I found the first 68kms not too bad at all, the pace was quite fast, but it was reasonably flat and we were able to take the scenery in quite well, although it was a little damp weather wise and a little muddy as we peddled past the plantations and farm lands providing the main source of food for the region.

After a pleasant lunch stop we were all encouraged to tackle the optional further43kms, and after a few kms I was not the first on the bus, but it was a relentless uphill climb that was only achievable for those that had trained to the highest of levels.

It was quite an achievement for all those who did make it to the top, seven out of the 17 did and well done to all of them. We were following closely behind in the bus full of admiration for their tenacity and strength to complete the challenge, it was comparable to climbing Ben Nevis, hot at the bottom and icy cold at the top making it even more difficult for them.

We all arrived at the Olive Branch Hotel well after darkness had come down and were given a warm welcome of hot tea and a warm fire which was much needed by those that had not benefited from the comfort of the coach to the top.

Day 4 Approx 59kms

We had the morning off after the extremes of yesterday and were transferred by coach to Jerash which was a huge treat to visit the ancient Roman Ruins that are considered to be the largest and most well preserved outside of Italy. I loved it and could really imagine the people of those times in the theatres and arenas with the entertainment and chariots and horses racing around.

See what I mean, it is a wonderful experience to actually see all this history being unveiled through the excavation, it's like being transported back in time.

Then it was back to the hotel and onto the bikes again, we cycled on towards the ancient site of Pella and the part of Jordan where Elijah the Tishbite's home was. Lunch was brought up to the point we had stopped for lunch at, and I was really impressed at having such a great spread of food brought up to enjoy which made the hill we had climbed up really worthwhile as we picnicked and enjoyed the view and mosaic's that have been preserved there.

This was an unexpected surprise, our very own chef arrived with a fabulous spread of food to nourish us for the next stage of our cycle that day onto the Jordan/Israel Border......

....and we were really making the most of this, that's Jim far left looking very sheikh!

From here we cycled to the Jordan/Israel border and unfortunately because of the security surrounding border crossings, we were held up here for almost 4 hours, darkness began to come down and the dreaded mosquito took its revenge on me, I am still scratching today!

We still had a few kms to cycle to our Kibbutz Guest House, the police escort had to leave us at the border, so we had to cycle extremely carefully along a main road of busy traffic with the coach in front and the recovery van behind us to light the way. Thankfully we all arrived safely, just one more experience to add to the list, Theo our guide was excellent and made light of any problems we might be facing with great enthusiasm and encouragement, so I never felt that we were ever in any real danger.

Day 5 Approx 78km

Today was meant to include cycling through the rich plantations of banana and mangoes, but unfortunately some previous heavy rain had washed much of the road away and what remained may have caused the vehicles to become stuck in mud, so Theo had to make the decision that it was safer to cycle along the main road towards the Sea of Galilee. Not quite so scenic, but a fast pace kept us moving as we had a boat to catch around 4.00pm.

We all arrived safely at the Sea of Galilee and had a little time to shop for postcards and souvenirs before boarding the boat. The crossing did not take long, but timed perfectly to take some nice pictures during and as the sun was setting.

We disembarked at The Ginossar Hotel and spent a comfortable evening to prepare for the last leg of our cycle trip to Nazareth. Theo has chosen to wait till now to tell us it will not be an easy day ahead!

Israel helping keep our bikes in good working order

Day 6 Approx 65km

Theo was not kidding either half way through the morning stretch it started to climb, up and up with little sign of any improvement or downhill declines to make up for the effort of reaching the next point. I had already been troubled with a cough that had developed the day before and although Doc Tony had administered some medication to open up my lungs a bit, I was really struggling to breath and my legs had started to say enough was enough.

Despite the efforts of my fellow cyclists to keep me going, when I reached a stop point for refreshment and it was obvious that I could not even swallow the fluid through exhaustion, I was ordered onto the bus for some rest by good old Doc Tony.

I wasn't the only one on the bus, so I didn't feel too bad about it and we gathered a few more team members up along the way to the lunch stop as a wind came up to make the hills even more difficult. Well done to the fittest who made it all the way, I don't think I could ever manage enough training to be that fit.

After lunch a decision was made for some of us to stay on the bus for a few more kms and that we would be dropped 5kms from Nazareth with our bikes to enable us to all cycle in together.
It was still a steep climb, but strangely enough it seemed relatively easy as we climbed and wound our way up the slope to Nazareth.

As we entered Nazareth the traffic was mad and I have to say I really needed the confidence of the team surrounding me, at one point I jumped up onto the pavement with my bike as a bus almost squashed me to the kerb! That said it was good fun even if a little scary and we eventually started to descend through the narrow streets towards the Nazareth Hospital.

What a welcome, the local boy scouts brass band and the hospital staff and directors cheering us in with food and drinks to refresh us, it was quite overwhelming to receive such a welcome.

After refreshments and lots of photo calls, we went down to the Chapel and gave Praise and took Communion together. Jim had made a Special Cup which we all shared and was similar in design to the little jug he gave me, a very special keep sake from the trip which I will treasure forever.

We stayed in the St Gabriel Hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner, but unfortunately I was still overly tired from the cycling and retired early to bed that night.

Day 7 - No cycling!

It was a great day, we were shown around the hospital and made so welcome. We had raised over £50,000 and we were shown where the money would be spent on new building projects, equipment and medical training.

I took a great interest in the psychotherapy unit, which is the only one of its kind in Israel and having spoken to the Director, it would appear that I will be able to return and gain some work experience next year. This will work out really well with the Christian Counselling Diploma I am presently working towards. God has kept His promises and is opening the doors for me to move on now.

The rest of the day was spent at our own leisure exploring Nazareth, so I took some time to shop around the markets and have a street lunch of Falafel, a Middle Eastern speciality served with a Pita like bread called Lafa and is similar to small burgers deep fried and often served with salad, quite tasty indeed.

We were warned not to eat too much during the day as we were to attend a celebration dinner with the hospital directors and staff, which turned out to be a feast of many more Middle Eastern dishes and kebabs, very good it was too.

Kathleen tucking into those Kebabs

We returned to the hotel to prepare for the journey home and had to leave at 2.00am, so not much sleep was had, and it was sad to leave what I found to be a wonderful place and I can't wait to go back.

I am presently communicating with the hospital and believe that I will return for the opportunity to gain some work experience next year and will therefore continue to collect vital funding for the hospital, so please if you would still like to help support me and the work of the Nazareth Hospital, don't be shy and let me know.

And finally a selection from the trip..........