Travel

Adjusting to the Weather.

It’s been a minute since I’ve left, what had become, my desert home. I have to say that of the small number of things I enjoyed about the desert, the heat would be number one. It’s interesting to me how something like the weather can have a lasting effect on people’s impressions of a place.

For the record, I grew up in the northeast. The winters were snowy and blisteringly cold. The summers were nice and sunny. Neither of these settings produced the hot heat that I found, once I started to travel. Admittedly, the northeast has much more to offer than snow, but that is the relevant part for this post. I still enjoy the change of the leaves in the fall, and the way the woods gives way to winter as that happens. It is a cycle of life thing, I guess?

I loved the cold, when I was younger. resisting it was how you measured up against your friends. Work had to be done, cold weather or not, so you just got used to it. As I began to travel for work, I got exposed to other climates. Climate that, now a much older individual, I enjoy better. There is something about the heat that is much easier on me, than the cold is. There is an old joke up home that says, old people go to Florida for the winter. Though a joke, there seems to be some truth in it all.

I bring this up today because, well, it’s cold out. I came back to the USA about two weeks ago. It was still summer in the Middle East. The heat was still on. I was hoping the same would be said of Texas, even though it was coming on to fall here pretty fast. I can say it was nice for a couple days. The sun was out, and the heat was still here. That, however, has changed. The last week it has been raining basically non-stop, and the heat has left the land. Yesterday, I was wearing three layers of clothes (though one was for the rain).

I not really a complainer. I tend to just accept things as they come along. I’m just shocked by the change in affairs. When I first moved to Texas, it was SOOO DAMNED HOT down here that I wasn’t sure I was going to stay long-term. Now, after a year in real heat, it just feels wet and cold.

Of all the memories I have from the last year wandering around the Middle East, I think that the feeling of the deep dry heat might be the one that stays with me the longest. The dry heat, like standing inside an oven, will hopefully stick with me as I re-climatize to a cooler climate. or maybe, it will be the catalyst to get me travelling again? Right now, it’s hard to say.

Remember, its the experiences you have that make traveling the world worth while. There is absolutely no substitute for actual experience. now, get out there. Have some great experiences!

Sunrise in the desert. Circa 2017, Kuwait.

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Travel

Excited by Airbnb!

With my tenure in the Middle East coming to a close, I have set my mind on new adventures. My current musing have me, in my mind’s eye, backpacking around Europe. A Europe of the summer type of event. This, as we all know, is not the cheap time to be in Europe. Normally, I would consider the shoulder season, unless there is a specific date range that I need to be in a specific country for. Shoulder season is the better time to be in the land of the Euro. The prices are cheaper, the crowds are less, and the weather is still pretty nice. Current planning still has me heading back across the Atlantic in the spring shoulder season. That will allow me to cover some ground before prices start to climb. After the prices start to climb, I have been researching options to keep the overall cost down to a reasonable extravagance.

This research has led me to become extremely curious about Airbnb. I have heard a lot about Airbnb over the last couple years but have never tried them out. I tend to just find low cost hotels and consider that good enough. I’m not a hosteler. I’m too old for that experience. So, it’s usually hotels.

I was reading a good piece on keeping things within budget from light-travels.co. It is a great blog, full of good advice, and a breeze to read. In a section regarding maximizing your travel money, Carly (the blog’s author) was a great proponent of Airbnb, as their pricing for stays of more than a couple days was a good cost savings. This article led me to their website. Since then, I have spent many hours on their site typing in different cities and date ranges to see what is on offer. I am continuously amazed by the difference in pricing they offer compared to even low-grade hotels in the same cities.

I have to say, this has me very excited. I even changed my way of thinking about the trip to incorporate more week-long Airbnb locations, as opposed to 2 and 3-day hotel stays. I’m hoping that this will extend out my available travel time by keeping the cost down. I will definitely be letting everyone know how things are going once I get out on the backpacking trail. Until then, I’m just super excited about looking at the website and seeing what the available options are.

Hopefully, this gets you thinking about ways you can stretch your travel budget. Travel doesn’t have to be overly expensive. It just tends to end up that way via the path of least resistance. If you look around for options, they are usually there for you. Definitely look around before you just book that all-inclusive vacation package. A little research will save you some money.

Now get out there. Go vacation and stuff.

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Travel

Just Say Yes.

This post isn’t really a travel post. It’s more of a mindset post. It’s about how you end up doing the things you end up doing.

Generally, I find that my friends fall into one of two broad categories. There are people that take the chances, go do the things they want, and generally have a good time. Then, there are those that are set back more, always justifying why they shouldn’t do something, and are generally sedentary. I have a lot of people in this second group that will say things like: “I can’t believe you did that.”, “I thought about doing that, but…”, “I don’t know how you do those things or go to those places?”, and a host of others. In my distinct opinion, they all boil down to meaning the same thing. When the opportunity came along, for whatever reason, they said no. It’s as simple as that.

I admit that I’ve done a few crazy things in my lifetime. How this happens to me, and why I am never at a loss for a story in a bar can be summed up pretty easily. When the universe offers me a new/stupid/crazy/exciting opportunity, as a general rule, I say yes.

It’s that simple. When I stumble across things that look intriguing, I decide if I can pull it off or not, and I say yes. By pull it off, I don’t mean succeed at it. I have failed in multiple different things, after repeated attempts to do them. (Sometimes, I learn slow.) I have made numerous bad decisions, but I have also made many, many more good decisions. Repeated attempts to learn to surf, maybe a bad decision. Trying to climb Mt. Rainier and failing badly every time, maybe a bad decision. Running with the bulls, awesome idea.  Riding the motorcycle to Sturgis, awesome idea. Heading down to Machu Picchu, awesome idea. And so on, and so on, and so on.

I find that most people say no, by default. They almost don’t even know they are doing it. They rationalize away their decisions, “with maybe next year”, or “it’s not financially a good idea right now.” All the rationalizations people use are simply ways of saying no. I think it’s somehow a learned response these days. Society has trained people to hold off, or to prioritize things so they are better for society. I tend to see things as what’s best for me? What new adventure can I have? What’s exciting that can be accomplished? Not being open to the idea of saying yes to things as they are presented to you, will just end up putting you in a position where less new things are presented to you. Or, that my view of the universe.

I check myself after saying no, and ask why not? It forces me to keep the idea of saying yes, in the present. I have made myself relearn a couple of important lessons over the years. I usually do the relearning once I am in the middle of the next grand idea. Those two lessons are as follows. One, Time is not the same as money. Time is life, and you only have a certain amount of it. Two, if you’re only worried about the money, don’t. the money will come back, but the time never will. Both are true, whether or not you buy into the ideas.

This is another one of those posts that was supposed to be happier in its tone than it came out. Odd? So, look at what you want to do, and say yes. It’s that simple, say yes. Don’t just dismiss ideas as not obtainable. You can have all the adventures you want to have. You do all the things you want to do. Some things will require more work than others, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. Seriously, one day I’m gonna learn to surf! It will happen. I may be 80 and on a long board, in the kiddy waves section, but it will happen. When Chance offers you a choice, SAY YES. (Seriously, that’s how I ended up working in the Middle East.)

Topside after my first dive. Great Barrier Reef. 2015. Definitely, a good yes idea!

Now get out there. Live your own adventure. Say yes to life. You’re gonna die at the end. Don’t die with things still unaccomplished.

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Travel

Quietly Waiting It Out.

My last day in Jordan has been pretty much a waiting game. The best flight I could get back to Kuwait was at 5pm, so the day was really kind of a bust. The real point of this adventure was seeing Petra. That being done, going back to Amman to catch the plane out of town was strictly logistical. Now, I understand that I could have made a transfer straight to the airport from Petra, but you learn things by doing.

First thought. Jordan is not a cheap travel destination. Their currency has a strong value, compared to the US Dollar, and that affects what things really cost. Also, I went higher end than I normally due. Like I said earlier, it’s not necessarily the safest of places. You have to pay a little bit extra for a certain level of surety.

Also, be prepared to pay extra for everything. The country has steep taxes on everything. And, there are all sorts of hidden fees designed to separate you from your money. Make sure to ask what is included in the price whenever you are getting something. This is especially true at the tourist sites. And, look out for the totes trying to sell you something extra you don’t need at every tourist site.

And — the taxis! I was never charged the same amount for two trips during this whole journey. There is always some reason the meter either doesn’t work or is inaccurate. They just pull a number they like out of their heads. Its a little aggravating.

Okay, rant over. My morning was passed happily at the hotel. A little tv, breakfast by the pool, and some more tv. I made proper use of the nice bathrooms before I checked out. (Hey, its a third world country.) The remainder of my time at he hotel has been spent lounging in the piano bar.

One final thought/opinion. On the whole, Jordanian women are quite beautiful. I haven’t been able to comfortably make that statement with regards to other middle eastern countries I have been to. I’m not sure what the difference is. I suspect it is due to more of a Mediterranean influence.

Now, if I can find that airport shuttle, I’m headed off on a jet plane.

You too can to this. Just get out there. Go see stuff!

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Travel

Petra, the Almost Grand Tour.

I stayed the night in Wadi Mousa, so I could be in Petra when they open. Getting in before the tour buses arrive with day-trippers helps me see it they way they show it on the Travel Channel.

Petra opens at 0600. After I had breakfast and checked out of the hotel, it was 0715 before I made it back inside the gate. Even that late, I could tell I was still ahead of the game. Most of the ‘camel ride mister’, ‘you need guide mister’, ‘you want to go to High Place’ people weren’t out for the morning yet. It made for a quiet walk in.

I stopped and got the obligatory selfie in the Indiana Jones gap in front of the Treasury. This time it was sans other people. (It was the only picture I wanted, and represented the whole trip. It just is what it is.)

Okay, I actually took half a dozen. But, who’s counting?

From this point, the rest of the place was new to explore. There was the Street of Facades, the Theater, the Colonnade, the Temples of the Kings, and the Basilica. There was a bunch of other stuff too, but I don’t remember the names.

They say that most tourists don’t go any farther than the Treasury, and then they head back out. That’s sad. There is so much to see that you need to go deep into it and look around. From the Basilica hill you can get good pictures of several things that are too big to do up close. This is especially true of the Great Temple, which is a multi-terraced affair.

I made it almost all the way to the Monastery. I turned back from the heat and steepness of the trail. Sorry Travis, I almost got pictures. That being said, the Middle of the complex rests in an open area between two sandstone formations. It holds the bulk of the stuff to see, and offers the best picture taking. Do yourself the service of at least going in that far.

Mission complete. I made my tour of the Canyon of the Crescent Moon and returned out before the heat of the day really got brutal. (Okay, I know it’s not a crescent moon, but I couldn’t resist the Indian Jones reference,)

Now, to kill 5 hours somehow, until my bus heads north to Amman.

As a side note, you can catch a taxi straight to Petra from the airport. They have it listed with a standard rate on the taxi stand board out front on the arrivals level.

Now, only 3 hours left to kill.

I found a quite spot in the back of the museum that nobody was using for a bit. Only 2 hours to go now.

And … I’m in a bus! There was a little bit of In-Sha-Allah in this last part, but that’s what makes life interesting.

Now, get out there. Do stuff!

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Travel

On My Way To Petra.

So…today started out as chaos. I got up super early, so I could get to the Jett Bus station and be the first one in line. The man I talked with yesterday on the phone said to be at the bus station at 0600 to get a ticket. Figuring earlier is better, I decided to get there at 0530. By the time I checked out and caught a taxi to the bus station, I got there at 0510. (If you read this blog a lot, you’ll notice I tend to be early for things.)

The scene out front for the little bus station office was something akin to a scene from The Warriors. Dark, shuttered store fronts, trash blowing randomly about, and not a soul to be had save the dude that was opening his little corner store/coffee vending place next door. I sat on the ledge of the sidewalk and waited out the sunrise.

The station opened promptly at 0600. Unlike the phone conversations, most of the people there did not have a reservation. Unlike the internet, there was more than one 0630 bus running (this may be for he holiday. I’m not sure about this part.) also, unlike the internet, it was cheaper than planned.

I purchased a round trip ticket for 18 JD, instead of 22 JD on the internet. I was glad this worked out. My alternate option was a private taxi hire for 90 to 180 JD.

As a general note, plan on paying cash for your ticket. Also plan on having exact change. They aren’t big on giving change when they first open.

The scene outside after I got ahold of a ticket was also chaos. There was a dude out at the curb attempting to act as a barker, but it wasn’t completely helpful. I had a nice conversation with a Lufthansa flight attendant who was Day-tripping on her layover. She saved me when I left my passport on the ticket counter. (I shouldn’t be allowed to function before coffee.)

Chaos aside, I got in 0630 bus number 2, and we headed south!

The trip from Amman to Petra took about 4 hours. There was one stop for snacks and suck. The roads in the middle of Jordan are not the best, so hopefully you’re a sound sleeper. If not, you’re going to be looking out at desert for a while.

The bus pulled straight into the Petra bus parking lot. Its a short walk to the entrance gate. A 2 day entry ticket cost 55 JD. It comes with a free horse ride, if you so desire.

The entry into the Petra site is filled with more totes than you can shake a stick at. The only time I think I’ve seen more totes was at the pyramids. You just have to not respond to them when they talk.

It was a 45 minute walk down to the Treasury, which is what I picked as my initial inspection point. I say downhill because it was downhill the entire way to the Treasury. 45 minutes down, and a casual 1.25 hour walk back up.

Take water, its hot out! The weather is hotter than in Amman. The sun is brighter out as well. Take the necessary precautions.

The walk down to the Treasury is the movie version of Petra. Indiana Jones took that route. Or he did, as near as I could tell.

After the walk, there was need for downtime. I picked up a headscarf because the sales guy broke me down. Then it was lunch. Local Jordanian fare. Not much for yogurt based soups, but this was pretty good. Then, it was time to head off to the hotel and chill for a while.

Get out there. Go see UNESCO stuff!

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Out In Amman For The Day.

Today kind of went a little sideways out of the gate. I got up late and wandered downstairs for the big breakfast. Hey, its vacation, right? After a suitable wait, I made a call to the Jett Bus service desk to check on a bus to Petra tomorrow. The response was; yes we are running tomorrow, and sorry it’s already full. He told me I could go on a standby list if I wanted.

At this point, I paused. Every option i could think of was bad. Check out and no bus, stuck in Amman. Extend stay plus cancel hotel in Wadi Musa plus day trip from Amman, supper bad money deal. Get a private transfer from Amman to Wadi Musa and back, expensive but maybe.

I stopped at the taxi stand in the lobby and quizzed the three gentlemen there. They seemed to like the standby and then private transfer idea. Money is money, so they say.

I decided to check the standby list later in the day. So, I caught a cab down to the Citadel and went site seeing. The Mount of the Citadel sits in the middle of Amman, and dates back to the Bronze Age, though the Romans are best known for being here. The site is sparse, but worth the time. I enjoyed it quite well.

From the Citadel, I walked down to the valley bottom and over to the Roman Theater. The Theater is well preserved and in good repair. I’m betting that it still gets use in modern times. The wood stage floor was in good repair. Due to the holiday, the Theater was kind of overrun with loud shouting groups of kids, throwing water bottles down the stairways to see if they would bust open. It brought the Guards out to yell several times and drove me onward.

As a side note, the city of Amman is founded upon seven hilltops. The terrain is surprisingly steep and changing. You should not look at google maps and assume the you are strolling down a semi-level grade. You, most certainly, are not. The streets are twisting and turning affair that constantly double back on themselves. Between the streets are small sets of stairs ways that allow you to go semi-straight up and down.

The downhill sections are as demanding as the uphill section of the city. It is really designed for taking a taxi or driving a rental car.

From the Roman Theater, I made my way on foot across town to where google maps said the Harley Davidson shop was located. It was not. Also, the up and down steep sections of twisty roads and steps almost gave me Heat Stroke! By the time I found a corner shove to buy water, I was about done for. Half a liter of water and a shady corner led to a wait for a passing taxi. Taxi guy spoke no English. I speak no Arabic. Nevertheless, I made it back to the hotel without a lot of problems. He did super gouge me, however! Got screwed by the cabbie. Think I was back in NY or something.

Air condition and more water have made the heat issue pass. I have to stop and remind myself sometimes that I’m not 20 anymore. I survived. That’s what matters.

A cross-section of Amman, in the form of some walking around pictures.

PM follow up. Just got off the phone with the Jett Bus people. I have a seat reserved for tomorrow. Things are looking okay. I’m off to have a celebratory beer!

Keep after it. Keep the dream alive!

While you’re at it, get out there and see stuff!

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