Sunday, December 27, 2009

Jordan Trip

We went to Jordan a few weeks ago for a 4 day weekend. It was a lot of fun! We rented a car in Amman and drove down to the Dead Sea. There was a sign just to the north pointing towards the supposed baptism site of Jesus (by John). We figured we could check it out. A pleasant hour and a half walk later and we had seen the spot that early christians believed was where Jesus was baptized, and also visited the Jordan river, directly across from the big Israeli visit site. Very interesting.

Then we headed back south as originally planned and found a the publicly accessible Amman Beach (costs to get in, but not too much). This has showers and towels and a changing area. We dipped in the Dead Sea for an hour or so, which was a blast (though personally, I couldn't stay in long...certain orifices began to burn....). It's like sitting on a basket ball in a regular pool, your feet keep wanting to float up more than usual. They recommend staying on your back and not trying to swim normally because lots of people drown when they can't turn back over. We didn't have any trouble with that though.

After that we drove back through Amman to get on the Desert Highway and drive south to Petra. Arriving in the evening, we took our time checking out hotels, both our usual backpacker types and the ultra nice Movenpick and such. We were willing to pay more for a nice stay, but when we saw the rooms at the "nice" hotels we just couldn't justify the price they were asking. Instead we found a really nice medium sized place called the Silk Road Hotel. It was walking distance from the entrance to Petra, right down on the main road where all the restaurants and things are. There was even a Turkish bath in the same building that Kerri visited. Our room was a very reasonable price and much larger than the expensive hotels. Free breakfast upstairs and the bathroom was good too. We did check out some other "cheap" hotels in town and were shocked at how expensive and nasty they were. Silk Road was a good compromise (at least, the room we stayed in was).

Next day we got up early and walked down to the Petra entrance, got a day pass and started in. Wow...we were all blown away by how incredible it was. The geological formations alone are stunningly beautiful, but the amazing part was of course just thinking about how people made this area into a fortress and had thriving civilization for several hundred years, holding off the Romans as long as they could. The Nabateans were their name I believe. It was pleasantly cloudy in the morning and we walked the several kilometers in just fine, making our way through the kilometer long canyon and then investigating the many rock-hewn dwellings that came after. About noon we found ourselves as far in as we were willing to go...and there was plenty more to see! We ate lunch and made our way back, thinking to take an alternative route back through a gully that the Nabateans had redirected the local flash flood waters into. When we inquired of the locals as to the direction to take, they warned us not to go that way as it was likely to rain that day. Seeing the dark heavy clouds above, we took their advice and were glad of it as it began to rain very soon after. We walked all the way back in a light drizzle, which turned into a downpour that lasted all afternoon. It was still going strong that evening when we went out to find a restaurant that served local Jordanian food. Mind you, we were not put out in the least as we don't get rain like that in Kuwait ever. As most people here say, it doesn't really rain "muds." Literally, when the drops of rain dry up, there is left behind a splotch of dust. Ick. Anyway, the restaurant was quite cozy and we had a yummy Jordanian stew-like dish that was perfect for the weather.

The next day we slept in and then departed back for Amman, this time taking the road heading west of Petra towards the southern part of the Dead Sea. The road was really windy and there were incredible views as we wound through the hills and eventually found the Dead Sea and headed north. It is an incredible site. There is a Dead Sea Center built on the top of one of the cliffs by the road that we were able to stop at and peruse for an hour or so. Then it was all the way back to Amman to our hotel (finding it was kind of fun!). We spent one more night there, didn't really see anything though as we had turned our car in. Then it was back to Kuwait the next day.

All in all one of our favorite trips that we've taken, I would recommend Jordan to anyone looking for a pleasant short trip with some amazing sites. And there were tons more things to see and do that we didn't have time for, so multiple trips are certainly a possibility.

Christmas was a few days ago, but as I was working we decided to postpone our celebration til the weekend which is now. Today is Christmas Eve, tomorrow Christmas Day, and the day after is...well...the day after Christmas!

Our next trip will be 10 days in Ethoipia, starting Jan 10th. That should be fun!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

United Arab Emirates

About a month ago we visited UAE. We haven't posted about it because I lost the cable for my camera to transfer pictures to my laptop. Also, our left fan on the macbook pro started making horrible noises and then stopped spinning in general. I managed to fix it using the website and ordering the parts from them (though I made a mistake on the first fan and had to re-order). Now it's up and running and I have a card reader, so we finally got the pictures loaded and synced to the web.

We had to go to Dubai anyway as I needed to take a test for work, so we figured we'd make a trip of it. Abu Khaled, my Kuwaiti friend who I met way back when I first arrived, has always wanted to show us around UAE, so we let him know we were going to be there for 5 days or so. He proceeded to bargain us up to 10 days.

Arriving in Dubai, we stayed at a hotel that was on the campus of the school where I needed to take my test. We spent about 2 nights there, not really seeing much. We did manage to take one day and go down to the new mall that is right below the Burj Dubai (freaking tall tower). They have a gorgeous aquarium in the mall, absolutely huge tank full of large fish and sharks. Also, we paid to go through the other aquarium section which has some amazing freshwater fish from around the world. While in the tunnel under the big shark tank, Rowan so impressed the local expert with his knowledge and enthusiasm that she gave him a tooth from a Ragged-toothed Shark (much to his delight).

A couple of days later, Abu Khaled and a friend of his arrived and picked us up in a rented (small) car. We then drove north along the coast, passing through rapidly changing landscapes (City to yellow sand desert, to red sand desert, to rocky desert) til we arrived at Ras al Khaimah. RAK is one of the poorest and least developed emirates in the UAE, but it's where Abu Khaled likes to base out of. We found a hotel there and from then on we went out on day trips and ended up back at the hotel at night. The next 5 or so days were spent driving around northern UAE and Oman (which has an odd separated section at the northern tip of the horn of land that forms one pincher of the entrance to the Arabian/Persian Gulf. We traveled through Al Fujeira, Sharjah, Umm al Quawain and of course Ras al Khaimah. Sometimes it was just with Muhammed, sometimes with some of his local friends.

Some of the more memorable moments:

- Sharjah has some wonderful museums and we went to the Natural History and Wildlife museums. Rowan was in heaven.
- Al Fujeira is on the Indian ocean side and it was a very pretty nicely laid out town. Kind of wish we had more time there.
- Oman was beautiful. We stopped at a resort called the Golden Tulip for lunch and a swim in the ocean. Lovely spot that we might return to some day. There are lots of things to do in the area including taking boat trips into areas you can't get otherwise, swimming with dolphins, great diving and snorkeling, etc... It's definitely a bit out of the way though.
- Some interesting cultural incidents that were mostly interesting for me, but rather difficult on Kerri and Rowan as we were hanging out with Arab men mostly and it was a bit uncomfortable at times. Mainly as we kept stopping and having shisha and leaving them in the car. They kept inviting her to come in, but she just wasn't comfortable with it. We were invited to a meal at one of Abu Khaled's friend's farms, and I went along. It was an incredible meal of 2 boiled baby goats on a literal bed (Rowan could have laid down on it, head to toe) of saffron rice. Abu Maen was kind enough to crack open the skull so I could have some brain and the eyeballs.
- The crazy crowning moment occurred after the full day of driving through Oman. We arrived back at RAK and Abu Khaled mentioned there was a wedding going on that evening and we should stop by and shake some hands just to see the culture and the singing and dancing. Of course, Kerri couldn't come in to the area proper as she was a woman and they do their thing separately, but Abu Khaled wanted her to stay in the car so she could at least see it. We went along thinking this would be a short affair, say hello, and then leave. After arriving and going down the line shaking hands, we sat down and became part of the line, shaking the hands of every arriving visitor. My legs were very sore the next day from standing up and sitting down. I was not at all dressed for this as I hadn't planned on going to any *weddings* on my trip! I told Abu Khaled that I really needed to go see about Kerri and at least take her back to the hotel. He said ok, but just wait for Abu Maen to arrive and then I could slip out. Just as Abu Maen did the Sheikh of RAK! I couldn't just leave. I had to be sent directly up to shake his hand and mumble some kind of "hi there". Then we had to sit about for a while longer. Finally Abu Khaled told me to follow Abu Maen, which I did thinking now was the time to escape, but instead we ended up following the crowd into the banquet hall where we ate more delicious goat and camel and other yummy stuff. Finally we came out and then couldn't find Kerri or Abu Khaled. At last, he showed up and said he'd gone over to see about Kerri and that she had taken the car back to the hotel. We hung about a bit more listening to the incredibly loud music and singing and dancing (lines of men, holding canes, doing a kind of head-bob), and then left. Luckily, Kerri wasn't exactly furious, but certainly not happy about the whole event, which from her point of view and been one of the most miserable waiting experiences of the day (following on from 4 or 5 other times of being left in the car to wait that very day). Rowan was about to lose it. But we were safely ensconced back in the hotel and could decompress.

Events like that and others prompted us to cut the stay in northern UAE short a bit and head back to Dubai to have some "just us" time. We are very grateful to Mohammed for all he's done for us and shown us, but there is a point at which we just need to do our own thing.

We found a hotel in an older section of Dubai (Deira) right next to an underground stop. From there we discovered we were near several *real* chinese restaurants and had some fabulous food (Kuwaiti chinese food is not real chinese food). We wandered down to the Gold Souk area and were impressed. Next day we took the underground/lightrail all the way to the mall with Ski Dubai and were impressed again (no, we did not partake).

I think we found Dubai more fun than we thought we would, so who knows, maybe we'll go back again some day to take more of it in.

We are leaving next weekend for a short trip to Jordan, not going anywhere else til the second week of January when we'll be going to Ethiopia for 8 days. We're hoping to hit Beirut also. Next year we may go to South Africa for summer (somewhere cold!!!!). We're trying to hit those areas of the world that it will be difficult to come back to when we move on.

Speaking of which, we are hoping to finish this final year in Kuwait and find something somewhere else. Our preferences right now are Japan or South Korea (in that order), something in Eastern Asia. We've also been thinking about getting into the DoD employee system, which I'm told is easy to do in Washington D.C. Someone at work recommended doing a year in DC and then moving on to other international options from there. We're not exactly thrilled about going back to the states so soon, but it might be better for the long term. Also, Rowan would be about to start US history in homeschool and I hear DC might be a good place for that.

Ok...finally got that post out of the way. I'll try not to take so long to get the Jordan post up.