Bemidji couple recounts adventures in the Mideast desert

The Pyramids of Giza, Karnak by night, the lost city of Petra, a cruise up the Nile -- Ernie and Patt Rall's excursion to Egypt and Jordan last month furnished a lifetime of memories of exotic places.

The Pyramids of Giza, Karnak by night, the lost city of Petra, a cruise up the Nile -- Ernie and Patt Rall's excursion to Egypt and Jordan last month furnished a lifetime of memories of exotic places.

The Ralls, along with 15 other people from Bemidji, signed on to a two-week trip organized by Cruisemasters. They landed in Cairo on March 3 after a 30-hour flight, and made the great pyramids their first Egyptian experience.

"Our hotel was originally an English hunting lodge about half a mile from Giza," said Ernie.

"We could sit outside our room and look at the pyramids," said Patt.

To reach the pyramids, they took a bus to downtown Giza and a camel across the desert to the ancient sites.


"We were up at 7 o'clock in the morning," Patt said.

"We didn't want to get there with all the tourists," Ernie added.

Inside the pyramids, visitors walk in a crouch through the passages.

"I can understand that someone with claustrophobia would have a really hard time," Patt said.

To protect the murals, the walls are covered with Plexiglas. Even so, Ernie said some pyramids have been closed to visitors because the moisture from human breath and sweat was causing deterioration.

"The thing that surprised me about the pyramids, I thought when we got in there, it would be cool, but it's not," Ernie said.

Up the river

As the excursion progressed, the group traveled south to Upper Egypt where the Aswan Dam created Lake Nasser about 35 years ago. They sailed in a falluca with a Nubian captain and visited Abu Simbel, a temple carved out of the rock for Rameses II in the 13th century B.C.


The building of the Aswan Dam that raised the water of the Nile to create Lake Nasser threatened the temple, so with the help of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the temple was sliced up in the 1960s and reassembled above the high water mark.

They also boarded a falluca, a Nile-style sailing ship, for a trip to the botanical garden on Kitchener's Island. The ship became becalmed when the wind died in the evening, and they had to hitch a tow from a motor boat.

They cruised down the Nile with stops to visit sites such as Karnak and even took a balloon ride across the Nile from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings and Queens.

Ernie said they have taken some adventurous trips, such as an Amazon cruise last year, but their March trip was different from anything that had experienced.

"This was the best because it was unique," he said. "We saw some things we didn't expect to see, and the culture and history."

Journey ton Jordan

For example, Ernie said, when they moved from Egypt to Jordan for the second half of the adventure, they were invited to tea in a Bedouin's tent.

"When we were there, our host asked if one of the ladies wanted to dress up as a Bedouin woman," Patt said.


The volunteer was Mary Ann Gesell of Bemidji. Her hosts helped her don layer after layer until the only parts of her that showed were her eyes.

Ernie said the Bedouins insist that their many layers of clothing actually keep them cool, although he found that claim hard to understand.

The main historic site they visited in Jordan was Petra, an ancient city carved out of the sandstone walls of a narrow canyon. However, they also went to Mt. Nebo where Moses could see the Promised Land he would never set foot on himself. Herod's summer palace where John the Baptist was beheaded is also in Jordan.

"So many biblical episodes occurred in Jordan," said Ernie.

Petra, the hub of the ancient Nabataeans' trading route, and subsequently a Greek and then Roman outpost, was discovered in 1812 by a Swiss explorer, Johann Burkhardt. Petra means rock in Greek.

"It was 'lost to the sands of time,' but not to the Bedouins," Ernie said. "They knew where it was."

Now, many Bedouins earn their livings selling souvenirs to tourists, serving them in cafés carved out of the sandstone and taking them on chariot rides through the streets of Petra.

"They tell you to keep your hands inside (the chariots)," Patt said. "Those chariot drivers are crazy, and it's narrow."

Gracious people

The Ralls said the historic sites they visited were great experiences, but meeting new people and discovering some of their culture were equally wonderful.

"We were warned ahead of time not to be obviously American," Patt said. "But we were respectful of their traditions."

Part of that meant wearing modest clothing - no shorts, and sleeves should come down to at least the elbows, better yet, the wrists. But, she said, the local people always know who the tourists are.

Patt also described a situation in a Petra kitchen when the tour company arranged for the tourists to cook an Arabian meal for themselves. The group insisted that their guide sit with them and join the feast. Patt asked him to say a blessing from his religion before they started on the food. The guide obliged, but apparently was surprised the Americans offered him that consideration.

"He got a tear in his eye, he was so touched," Patt said.

Contrary to what might be expected from the political tensions that make the news, Patt said everyone was friendly to them.

She said people were also immensely pleased when they tried their few Arabic phrases and greetings. For example, Patt said "Good morning" in Arabic to a security man at a hotel, and he responded, "You are like a beautiful lotus flower."

"They love the American people, and it shows," she said.

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