Dubai

Sean’s Top Ten Countries of the Middle East

*disclaimer #1 – All photos were taken by myself or Kim on our travels.

*disclaimer #2 – This is a (rare) blog post by Sean. Kim’s top ten could indeed be very different, and she does not take responsibility for any potential repercussions from my rankings.

*disclaimer #3 – These 10 countries are countries I have actually been to (or seen) in the Middle East. There are many other countries that are in the middle east that I am sure are fantastic, I just haven’t been to them…

*disclaimer #4 – I wanted to get to “10” countries, so I kind of cheated with 3 countries… I have never been in Iran, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, but I have seen them, in person, with my own eyes, so that counts right?

More accurate title for this blog post:

Top Ten Countries in the Middle East (that I have been to…or seen…or been 20 feet away from…)

Ok, enough with the disclaimers.

I felt like I needed some kind of closure after our 2 years of teaching in Kuwait. We have seen and done a great many things these past couple of years, sometimes amazing, sometimes horrifying, and sometimes just plain mundane. But I wanted to conclude our stay in the middle east with a look back on some of my favorite memories and reminisce with you about the good, the bad, and the ugly (but mostly the good 😉

So, for your reading pleasure, here is “Sean’s Top Ten Countries of the Middle East” ranked by my personal experiences.

#10 – Saudi Arabia (or rather the border of Kuwait/Saudi…)

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I never actually got the chance to go to Saudi Arabia, but the picture you see above is indeed Saudi Arabia in the background – I promise! This is a photo of Kim and a friend at the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It is rather difficult for a westerner to get a visa into Saudi Arabia. For a long time we talked about getting a 24hr visa (which would be much easier to get for us in Kuwait) in order to drive through Saudi to get to Bahrain. I hear the drive there is quite scenic with a 365 view of sand, sand, and more sand…

#9 – Iran (or rather, as seen from a boat in the Strait of Hormuz…)

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The photo above is the Strait of Hormuz and one of the 14 behemoth oil tankers that passes through there each day. Twenty percent of the worlds petroleum passes through this narrow stretch of sea from the oil rich countries of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi, Iraq, and UAE out to the rest of the world. On one side is Musandam, which we were visiting at the time, and on the other side is Iran. You can see the rocky cliffs between the strait leading to the “fjords of the middle east”.

We were told by local Omani fishers that the smuggling between Iran and Oman/UAE is quite frequent. We even saw some Iranian smugglers when local Omanis clued us in on how to spot them. “Look for the mustaches” they said. When we asked what they were smuggling they told us that the Iranians wanted “American Cigarettes” and what did the Omanis get in return? Goats. Lots and lots of Goats. The middle east is full of them…

#8 – Iraq (or rather the border of Kuwait/Iraq)

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I ranked this number 8 because the experience I had was so surreal and strange compared to the other “border” or “view from afar” countries.

We drove out to Mutla Ridge in Kuwait (highest point in Kuwait), and decided to keep on driving to the Iraq border, you know, to see what it was like. Maybe we’d see a tank, or fire, or explosions, or lots and lots of guns!

Nope. It was a pretty ordinary border crossing with a lot of trucks of supplies and local people going through. There was only one point of entry and only a few cars in the 30 minutes we were there.

We pulled up and parked in a flat, desert-like parking lot next to the crossing. And we just started…walking up to the gate. You know. To see how far we could get before they….I don’t know….gunned us down?

When we got to the 1 car entry point the guard you see above in the full camo smiled and waved us over. Surprisingly he knew little English (most people in Kuwait know English quite well). We asked him basic questions like “Is that Iraq?” and “Can we go?” and “Can we take picture?” Note that there were giant signs on the way up saying “NO VIDEO OR PHOTOGRAPHY ALLOWED”. He smiled when we pulled out the camera, grabbed our friends shoulder and offered to be in the picture. Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti man in the car (who wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon) got out and decided he was going to be in the picture too, just, because… (he is on the phone on the left). The guard in the camo then called over the other guard to come join us in the picture too (man in blue with gold shoulders). My friends and I then pose for what was the most surreal photo experience of my life – on the border of Kuwait and Iraq.

#7 – Kuwait

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Kim and I lived in Kuwait for two years. By the first week we had seen pretty much everything Kuwait had to offer. Unfortunately, the outdoor activities that Kim and I truly enjoy are really nonexistent in Kuwait. And Kuwait is not what you’d call a “tourist country”.

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Kuwait does have a long path along the Persian Gulf (or “Arab” Gulf as we were forced to write in our textbooks over the word “Persian”). It is really quite pretty most days. On Eid al-Adha, however, you might want to avoid this area if you are squeamish (or any area really). On Eid al-Adha, Muslims celebrate the day Abraham was going to sacrifice his son for God, until God said, “just kidding”, and so Abraham sacrificed a lamb instead. In celebration of this day Muslims kill their own sheep, and when your whole country is pretty much Muslim, that’s a lot of sheep…and blood…

So what happens to all these sheep carcasses? Well, some are thrown into the ocean and eventually wash up on shore. Then they get buried in the sand and are pulled up by middle school children during a community and service “beach cleaning” event…

…to the horror of everyone.

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A common theme in the middle east is the sometimes stark contrast of hyper-conservative tradition paralleled with more liberal western influences. The gulf countries especially are going through a clash of middle-east meets west and different countries are dealing with it in sometimes comical, sometimes depressing ways.

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The first week that Kim and I arrived in Kuwait we were taken to a bookstore to get school supplies. The only way to get to this book store, however, was to walk through an amusement park with rides and mini-roller coasters. As we walked through, there were Kuwaiti mothers completely covered in black burqas, dishdasha-ed man, and western dressed children speaking English to the Indian, Sri-Lankan, and Pilipino ride operators. As we walked through this confluence of cultures our ears were blasted by, get this, hardcore rap music. This ultra-conservative society was basting F-bombs by Jay-Z and 50 cent in a children’s amusement park. These blatant contradictions turned out to be a common theme throughout the middle east.

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Mutla Ridge, the highest point in Kuwait at a staggering “nosebleed” level of 475 feet, is one place in Kuwait that I quite enjoyed the view. At the end of our hike along the ridge which has the occasional Kuwaiti “desert camping” (see Kim’s previous blog entries for what that really means), we reached a protruding peninsula that provides one of the coolest views of the Kuwait skyline (as seen above in the picture).

Lastly, Failaka island was a very unnerving and surreal experience. Failaka is an island in the Gulf that is part of Kuwait. In the 1980s Kuwaitis lived on the island, had homes there, had cars there, mosques, banks, etc. But in 1990 Iraq attacked Kuwait, invaded the island, and drove all the Kuwaitis off of it. It was never rebuilt and remains frozen in time to 1990. It was fascinating, humbling, and horrifying to walk through people’s homes and see bullet holes in the walls, bullet shells on the ground, and see people’s clothes, books, and dishes still lying around the home.

#6 – Qatar

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Kim and I went to Qatar our first year in the middle east. We had a long weekend over thanksgiving and decided to go to Qatar because, well, when else would we ever probably be in Qatar? Qatar, although it is building up, is not exactly know as a vacation destination. In fact, when we arrived in the Doha airport, an American family that was on the same flight from Kuwait asked us why we came to Qatar. We told them vacation, they looked at us, as if we were joking, then realizing we were not, laughed and asked why, insisting there was nothing to do in Qatar. In many ways, they were correct.

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One of my favorite places in all of the middle east, however, is in Qatar. It is the beautiful and unique building you see behind us in the picture above. It is the Museum of Islamic Art. Designed by famed architect I. M. Pei, it is a spectacular building sitting on a peninsula opposite Doha city proper across the bay. Inside the museum is a collection of the most brilliantly preserved, priceless, and unique items of Islamic history and art from the 6th century to modern day. Much of the art focuses on the Medieval era, or the golden age of Islam. Most of my favorite works were from Iran. The Persian art is more relaxed when it comes to showing living things, where as most Islamic sects forbid it.

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On the top level was a modern Arabic calligraphy artist that took lines from famous Arab, Turkish, and Persian poems and wrote them in the most delicate and beautiful script. I found a quote that really jumped out at me, and had great meaning for myself. It gave me a connection to this museum I won’t long forget. My favorite quote was from a poem in Ottoman Turkish by Hami-i Amidi, translated it said,

“Some among the sensitive and cultured people come to live where they find their heart’s desire. To some, strange places will become home, and sometimes some will stay home but find it strange.”

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Souq Waqif is one of my favorite souqs in the middle east (a “souq” is a marketplace). It has a rather modern main streets but the side streets will bring you back hundreds of years to the time of pearl diving and camel caravans. You’ll find everything from Qatari daggers, to jewelry, to spices and perfume. We eventually accidentally walked into a “hawk shop”. In the picture above Kim is holding a real, and very living, falcon. The man in the shop could tell we obviously weren’t here to buy a falcon (which many Qatari’s do, and walk around with on their arm because, why not?), but he was so eager to show us his birds. So, we put on the glove, pet, and even fed the falcon. When he took the sleep mask off the falcon, and you looked into her large and beautiful eyes, you felt like she was peering deep into your soul and judging everything you had ever done. Like no animal I have ever encountered, nothing past or present gets by a falcon.

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As I said, Qatar is growing, and although it is not currently a major tourist destination, they are the up and coming in the gulf region. Walking through the streets they are ecstatic about, and make it well know to you, that they are hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The photo above is from the area of Doha know as “The Pearl”. When the construction is finished (whenever that might be…), it will be pretty spectacular and will rival the Dubai Palm in most ways.

#5 – UAE (Dubai)

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Dubai, as you may notice in the picture above, has some rather unique architecture. When Kim and I first visited Dubai we were blown away by the modernity of the place. My friend described Dubai by saying, “It’s architecture is so modern, you might not be surprised to see George Jetson fly across the sky in a spaceship.”

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Dubai is a perfect example of the middle-east meets west clash and contradictions. We would walk around the Dubai Mall (the largest mall in the world by area), and see Emirati Women, dressed in a fully covered Burqa, walk into Victoria’s Secret, with mannequins and posters of half naked women. Or we would see Emirati Men (and all Gulf coast men), drive around wearing ghutras on their head that completely block their peripheral vision. It seems rather dangerous to us.

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In an attempt by the Emirati to hold on to their traditions, they still have a traditional souq (which is mainly run by expats such as Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, or Filipinos), and they have dhows (boats) to take you across the Dubai Creek. It was pretty cool having someone take a raw coconut, chop it up, stick a straw in it, and then jump on a boat to take you across the creek. All the while being surrounded by buildings of architecture of the future.

Dubai - Burj Khalifa

You may have noticed the rather tall building in these pictures. It is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. Kim and I did take the elevator up a staggering 124 floors to the (open air!) observation deck. We watched the sun set across the desert in the distance. You can truly see for miles and miles with nothing to hinder you view (except the occasional dust storm).

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I do have a lot of respect for the people of Dubai economically. They have the foresight to realize that one day their oil money will run out. So instead of saying, “Well, let’s just live large and ride this gravy train until it derails”, (like Kuwait), they said lets use this money to invest in a tourist economy that will last long after the oil has run dry. In that regard, they have preserved the few physical cultural heritage sites that they have.

The photo above shows some of the arrowslits of a fort that was built in Dubai in 1787. They have preserved it and turned it into a museum. It was one of the most informative places I have been to in the middle east in terms of showing daily life of the Arabs long ago. The fact that it was built of rock, and mud, and even ocean coral, makes it even more impressive that it still exists today.

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(If you click on the picture above, it will open in a new page so you can view the panorama in greater detail.)

Dubai is the epitome of a city in constant contradiction. Check the news, everyday the Emiritis are struggling with the balance between, or the blatant contradictions of, the progressive nature of modernity and the western culture that comes with it, and their hyper-conservative Islamic traditions and laws. For all of its faults, Dubai has become a major player in not only the middle east, but now safely holds its own on the world’s stage.

#4 – Musandam (Oman)

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Ok, I cheated again. Musandam isn’t its own country. It is “technically” part of Oman, but it is cut off from Oman culturally, linguistically, geographically, and even physically! Musandam is a peninsula, jutting out into the Strait of Hormuz, and it is not connected to Greater Oman. The only way to get to Musandam from Greater Oman is to either drive through the UAE, fly there, or take a boat around the UAE coast. So that is why I made it my #4 country, deal with it : )

The picture above is one of my favorite photos that I have taken in the middle east. This inlet of water surrounded by the rocky fjords of Musandam is called Khor Al Najd (which possibly means “hidden place”, but I wouldn’t go throwing that around with any certainty). Kim and I flew into Dubai and rented a car. We then drove across the UAE and crossed the border into Musandam. From that point the scenery became spectacular. Giant rocky cliffs falling straight into the crystal blue-green ocean. We climbed the extremely steep dirt road from the inland side in our rented two wheel drive car and when we reached the zenith the view before us was jaw-droppingly beautiful. We stayed there for hours taking in the view and walking around the little paths from the viewpoint.

MusandamTentRockKimWe brought our tent on the plane and just lived out of our car for the weekend. In all of Oman you can camp pretty much wherever you like. In the picture above we set up camp on a rocky cliff that dropped over the ocean and watched the sun set reflect on the mountains in the background changing them from the most brilliant red, to pink, to purple.

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The next day we chartered a dhow cruise through the fjords. The best, and only real way, to truly experience Musandam is by boat. Weaving in and out of the inlets of water you dive deeper into the heart of Musandam. We explored an island with the ruins of a colonial fort, brightly colored fish swimming through coral, and small Omani fishing villages living on the edge of existence. We were able to snorkel and swim in a few places. When we got back on the boat, we had a few marine friends following us.

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At least 5 times we had dolphins skimming along next to our boat. They would go under us, behind us, jump out of the water, and squeak at us. There was a particular family with a baby that kept following us. It was a really cool experience, and the first time I have seen dolphins in the wild.

MusandamKimTentBeachThat night we asked the boat driver to drop us off at a secluded beach only accessible by boat so we could camp for the night (a common request). He dropped us off, gave us some firewood (a rarity in the middle east), we set up camp, and hoped he would remember to pick us up the next day. It was the most picturesque beach cove – I could have sworn I was on a movie set. It was called “Seebel Kareeb” – a perfect half circle of soft sand completely hidden by the surrounding mountains. We swam, cooked dinner on the fire, and slept under the shooting stars. It was unreal.

Musandam_3355The last day in Musandam we followed the one road through the peninsula as far as it goes. To our great surprise it dead ends into a forest. Now, if you know anything about deserts…there’s not a lot of forests. We got out and followed the many herds of goats through the forest, around trees, and sometimes up into the trees. Yes, these goats climbed trees. There were plenty of places to camp but we had to get to Dubai that night and so our Musandam journey had come to an end.

Musandam is quite unknown, even within expat communities in the middle east. This makes it an infrequently traveled, untouched enclave among the major tourist destinations in the Gulf.

#3 – Egypt

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Number three was a difficult choice. I was torn between number two and three. In the end, Egypt has the population factor and the stress that comes with it that pushed it to my number three.

Egypt is fantastic. Don’t let the current political situation dissuade you from any thought other than the fact that Egypt is fantastic. From north to south it has over 6000 layers of history that sometimes you literally see “layered” in the ground. Egypt contains remnants of human existence from the pharaohs, the biblical Jews, the Hittites, the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Persians, the Nabataeans, the Seleucids, the Romans, the Arabs, the Mamluks, the Ottomans, the French, the British, and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. Can any other country in the world claim that kind of diverse history. It is astounding and visible.

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When I was in middle school I went to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. I had seen many pictures of it and expected it to be huge. When I got there, it was rather incredible, but it was smaller than what I was expecting. With the pyramids, I think I’ve seen thousands of images of them in my life and expected them to be huge again. When I got there, they were BIGGER and grander than I could have ever imagined – and they are so numerous that they stretch along the Nile for miles and miles. Seeing these gargantuan stones, over 4500 years old, piled up on top of one another in perfect mathematical alignment, and then being able to actually go inside them… to me, it was like a kid in a candy store, if the store was also made of candy, and the candy could be inserted directly into your veins. I was high on history.


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In our trip we visited no less than 7 temples (I lost track). I was given free range to meander through these structures, witness the great artistic skill in carving the hieroglyphs, listen to the echos in the inner chambers bounce off Isis, Horus, and Seth, and feel the eternity of the stones…oh, if walls could talk…

In the valley of the kings there were no temples, but tombs where the pharaohs were buried. As the quality of the wall carvings and paintings got better (more preserved), I couldn’t help but realize how alike these ancient people of the past were to us today. Especially in the necropolis of the wealthy and workers tombs where they depicted scenes from everyday life on their walls. A son helping his father carry baskets of wheat, a man sleeping on the shore of the Nile while his friends fished, a wedding with man and wife holding hands surrounded by beautiful riverbed flowers. In these 4000 years, our relationships and the emotions of our human interactions haven’t changed much.

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The way that Egypt can transition so flawlessly from 4000 years ago, to 2000 years ago, to modern day, all on the same block is a uniqueness all its own. Cairo is a mega-city. It is the most populated city in Africa with streets and city planning created over 1000 years ago. Cairo hustles, it churns, it  spits, it screeches, and it does it well into the night. The streets have shops, in front of shops, in front of shops, in front of other shops and you wonder where people walk, and where they actually drive. Some parts of Cairo are a fluid of people. But then you’ll turn down a side street where cars can’t go, and you’ll find a thousand year old mosque. You wander inside and see the most beautiful stone insets, geometric shapes, and delicately drawn Arabic calligraphy. This is where the Fatimid Caliphs, the Mamluk kings, and the Ottoman Sultans prayed and meditated on their next conquest.

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Turn the next corner and you’re smack in the middle of Tahrir Square, the heart of the Egyptian revolution, where effigies hang from light poles. We talked to a lot of people throughout Egypt about the revolution and they all knew, without hesitation, that turmoil, and uncertainty, and even bloodshed were likely repercussions for the revolution, but they wanted it so badly, they  were willing to accept it. That was the sentiment when we were there in January of 2013 – now I don’t know if they would say so much. I think now they are more angry and divisive than they ever were with Mubarak. As one Egyptian dhow sailor told us in Luxor, “The Revolution is like giving birth to a new born, a new nation. It’s exciting, it’s emotional, and it’s messy!”

When I think of the revolution, I always have to put things in perspective and think, it took the United States 13 years, and essentially a civil war to get rid of a Monarch. Egypt does not appear to need all that. Inshallah.

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Visiting Egypt made me glad that Kim and I included a reading of an ancient Egyptian poem in our wedding. The following are my favorite lines from that poem, translated from the hieroglyphics on a wall in a temple built some 3000 years ago:

“With my hand in your hand
we shall wander together in beautiful places,
my soul inspired,
my heart in bliss,
because we go together.”

#2 – Jordan

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My number two, Jordan. Oh, how I love this country. It is amazingly vast and diverse for a country little bigger than Maine. Although a good area of land is desert, the remaining topography has mountains, hills, valleys, wadis, lakes, oceans, and rivers. Not only is it a beautiful country, but the people are so genuinely nice and helpful (and not just because you’re a tourist).

The above photo was taken from one of my favorite places in Jordan known as Wadi Dana. If you ever visit Jordan, please book one night in the little medieval village of Dana. If you look closely, you can see the entire village hanging perilously on the edge of the valley in the center left of the picture. The reason I say “medieval” village is because the rooms you stay in are the ruins of a village built in the middle ages. We hiked up to the ruins of a Roman bath on the left side of the picture where the water is held in an underground well and slowly trickles down a stone built aqueduct to the village and into the wadi (a “wadi” is a dry riverbed). It becomes quite green in the rainy season.

At night, Kim’s family and I huddled in a majlis tent with a few Bedouin where we smoked shisha and drank “Bedouin tea” (which was sage and sugar). One man played the oud, another drummed, while the last man danced, clapped, and sang. For a goat herder he had quite the moves.

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Like Egypt, Jordan’s history is long and convoluted. There are castles upon castles in Jordan from the many crusades and crusader states set up here. My favorite is the one in the picture above, Kerak Castle. This castle is huge, don’t be fooled by the photo. Where the photographer is standing is also on top of the castle with many rooms and tunnel ways underneath. What you see before you is only the very top of the castle. This castle is my favorite because it was attacked and conquered by one of my favorite characters from the crusades, Saladin (Salah al-Din). Saladin was Richard the Lionheart’s bitter rival, but they had a relationship of mutual respect and admiration. In fact, the 3rd crusade actually ended with a rather fair peace treaty for the middle east.

The guide told the story of Saladin when he attacked this castle. The castle was controlled by a Templar Knight named Raynald de Chatillon. He was a rather ruthless man. He used to throw Muslim prisoners off of the castle walls (into a deep valley below) with a wooden box fitted around their head, just to make sure they didn’t pass out before they hit the ground – the goal being that they stayed awake to feel all the pain associated with falling that great height. He frequently attacked Muslim pilgrimage caravans and slaughtered them. When Salah al-Din conquered the castle, he let the Christians go uninjured, except for Raynald, whom he personally beheaded. Ah, I love history!

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Step back another thousand years and you’re in the time of the Nabataeans. Petra is truly one of the great wonders of the world. When you approach Petra from the outside, you cannot see anything other than rocky hills. Then you wind your way through a narrow passageway at times only six feet wide that goes straight up hundreds of feet. You continue walking about 20 minutes like this until you reach the opening of the Siq, and you’re standing directly in front of beautiful sandstone like building carved directly into the wall. But there isn’t just one, there are over 800 carved tombs in the walls as the walls in the valley open up to the size of a football field. But soon you realize it isn’t just tombs, there was a thriving city here, complete with aqueducts, homes, and even a carved in amphitheater. We spent three days in Petra and did not see everything.

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Further north is the Roman town of Jerash. Because it was completely built by Romans, and it was abandoned and never built over, it is one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world. It even boasts the best preserved hippodrome in Asia. In fact, they even perform Roman military formations and a chariot race in the hippodrome with ex-Jordanian military men dressed in complete Roman costume. Unfortunately, it rained the one day we went to Jerash and they canceled the chariot races. Jerash was the first place I had ever seen Roman ruins, and if you know me, you know how much I love ancient Rome. It was a seminal event for me.

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Separating the countries of Jordan and Israel are the Jordan river and the Dead Sea. At 1,400 feet below sea level, it is dubbed “the lowest place on earth.” In the picture above, the rocks are not covered in snow, or sand, rather they are covered in crystallized salt. The water has no where to go but up when it evaporates, making the Dead Sea one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. We jumped in and could not sink though we tried. You just bob like an apple. As I listened to the waves lap across the salt baked rocks, from the southern shore of the Dead Sea I looked to my right at the hills of Mt. Nebo, where Moses viewed the promised land but could not enter – and I looked to my left where the light dome of Jerusalem bounded upward behind the hills of the river valley and instantly everything felt so ancient and unending. Much like the country of Jordan.

#1 – Oman

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And my number one is….Oman! People that know Kim and I are probably not surprised. Oman is by far our favorite middle east country. In the 2 years that we were living in Kuwait we went to Oman 3 times (that’s 3 times more than any other middle east country). Oman has everything an outdoors lover would want including mountains, wadis, lagoons, soft sand beaches, rocky beaches, waterfalls, caves, coral reefs, sink holes, and real wildlife (a rarity in the middle east). It is a country just daring you for adventure.

The above panorama (click to enlarge) was taken at As Sifa beach about an hour from Muscat. You have to drive some astoundingly hilly roads but your reward is the most beautiful beach I have ever been to. Flawlessly white powder sand only a tiny village nearby. There is a major hotel that just opened up and the coolest restaurant serving the freshest seafood right on the beach. You can put your toes in the sand and watch and listen to the waves lap up on the beach. We camped right on the beach.

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You can camp virtually anywhere in the entire country. In our main trip to Oman we brought a tent and sleeping bags on the plane and then rented a car when we got there. We had a long 5 day weekend and I wish it was longer. We drove all around the mountain and gulf coastal region and just pulled over to set up camp whenever we were getting tired. We camped in Wadis, on beaches, on mountains, and even once under a tree next to a mosque where we were greeted in the morning by a rather loud call to prayer and a handful of overly friendly goats.

The above photo is not staged in any way – it is me just pointing my camera down at the beach sand in a town south east from Muscat called Sur. I couldn’t believe it, there was no sand! The entire beach was shells and coral. Unfortunately we did not have time on our trip, but right near Sur is a sea turtle sanctuary where you can go with a guide and watch baby turtles hatch out of their sand nest and crawl to the ocean.

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Throughout Oman are either original, remnants, or restored sand colored forts, castles, and towers. Some are Omani made, some are Portuguese made. The oldest ones dating back to the 1200s! There are over 500 in the whole country. The picture above is the giant fort in Nizwa. In the picture below you can see a tower near the center left on the mountain. They are a cool aspect of Omani culture and Sultan Qaboos (who I am fascinated with and you should read about him) has done a great job restoring and maintaining them.

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The first time we visited Oman we went to a conference in Muscat for only a couple days. We immediately were enamored with the country. The people are so friendly. Oman does not have as much oil money as the other gulf coast countries and because of that the people seem to be more down to earth, middle class, and genuine. Oman is rich in culture and history. Even the clothing the men and women wear are colorful (unlike the black and white clothes of the other gulf countries). Trade with India over the centuries has created an infusion of outside influences.

We didn’t stay in Muscat, actually, we stayed in a smaller area that is attached to Muscat called Muttrah. The above photo is of the Muttrah corniche and we actually did a hike over the mountains you see in the background. Problem was I had just dislocated my knee the week before and had a straight leg cast on. But that didn’t stop Kim from pulling me up that hill to the reward of a breathtaking view over the ocean and Muttrah coast.

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Our favorite thing about Oman were the Wadis. A wadi is a dry canyon or riverbed. Except these wadis are almost never dry! The mountains in Oman create clouds and more frequent rain which fills these slot canyons with steams, pools, waterfalls, waterslides, and just plant life and animal life in general.

The above photo is from Wadi Shab. Starting from the Ocean where the water empties into, you step into this gigantic canyon with 90 degree angle sides. In order to get into the Wadi you have to either take a boat across the initial river of water or just wade across. Of course we waded across waist deep in the water. We were in our swimming suits anyway because at the end of the hike (after hours of pools, and canyons, and cliff climbing) you reach a few narrower pools that have an underground waterfall. The waterfall is in a cave and the only way to reach it is to swim underwater through a 5 foot wide tunnel about 20-25 feet and then come up for air once you’re inside the cave. It took a lot of coaxing but eventually I got Kim to do it. It was very cool.

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Our favorite wadi was Wadi Bani Khalid, but not the tourist side (although it is beautiful and also includes a long and deep waterless cave), the down stream side of Wadi Bani Khalid. It seemed virtually untouched and we only encountered one other group of people the whole hike. You follow the wadi which is quite dry initially until the canyon becomes much more rocky and narrow. Then out of no where the water starts flowing with huge pools and 30 foot waterfalls. We watched the other group actually jump from the top of one of the waterfalls into a pool below (Kim wouldn’t let me do it…). We went swimming and had a picnic near one of the waterfalls and about 5 lizards came out from under the rocks to meet us, eager to steal our food. I liked them but they kind of freaked Kim out.

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My last story about Oman is a bit embarrassing. Like I said, we drove around and camped the whole time we were there. We never had a problem finding a place to camp, especially along the ocean. However, one night when we were driving down from Jebel Shams (a beautiful mountain), we arrived to the village inside of Wadi Bani Khaled in the dark. We went to the Wadi pools on the tourist side and it was wall to wall people with noise and trash everywhere. This was because it was Eid al Adha and everyone was off work vacationing. We decided there was no way we were going to camp there tonight.

So we drove back into the village but the canyon walls around the city did not allow any open space for camping. We even drove back towards the highway and found a place near there that we thought might be ok, albeit noisy, but it was pitch dark and there was a human like shape laying under a tree two feet from where we wanted to camp. The paranoia got to Kim and “there is no way I’m sleeping here” she said. So we drove back into the village and looked around again. After a couple hours of this we found the Wadi Bani Khaled visitor center, which had a parking lot and we thought, whatever, lets just camp in the parking lot. A man came out and asked us what we were doing. We replied that we needed a place to camp. He told us, no problem, of course we could camp in the parking lot. So we went around what appeared to be an animal pen (with no animals) and set up camp for what was a somewhat restless night.

When we awoke, we were greeted with the most serene, awe inspiring and exquisite view. Because it was pitch black when we set up camp we did not realize that we were at the top of the valley overlooking a forest of palm trees encircled by imperial canyon walls. The sun was just peeking over the mountains and the moisture from the pools of water evaporating created this mist over the place that was ethereal and magical.

There truly is no bad place to camp in Oman.

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In Which We Meet Dubai’s Fiery Neighboor, and Stumble Into Oman Through The Back Door

Here it is, the final blog post before Egypt! Sean and I leave for Cairo on Saturday, December 22. We’ve got four days in Cairo, then a week in Luxor. We are so excited, we can barely wait. I have been writing down every Egyptian delicacy I can find on the internet, Googling “hidden Cairo” for months now, and compiled a bucket list that would make the Pharaoh tired. My parents and sister are meeting us in Cairo on the 23rd, and we are spending the duration of our travels with them. I am so excited to experience Egypt with them; neither them nor us have been there before, so it will be a first-time experience for everyone!

We’re certain we will be safe the entire time, too. We’ve booked tours during our time in Cairo, and have gotten a really good feel for the areas we will be staying in. I will hopefully post updates while we’re there! Stay tuned, and happy holidays : )

My last blog post of this year is, again, about Oman. Kind of. Before you write us off as obsessive, this trip took another format. We heard that you could fly into Dubai and drive to the Oman peninsula, where the Straight of Hormuz is located. The name of the peninsula is “Musandam”, and is known for it’s mountains, azure waves, and dolphins. Since the flight to Dubai is so short and inexpensive, and the road trip was supposed to last only two hours, we thought we’d take a long weekend and give it a shot.

We were so glad we did.
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(Click on the above photo for an awesome panorama.) This is Khor Al Najd, in Musandam. We drove the windy road down to the coast in our little 2WD rental! Twice! We visited once when it was rather cloudy, but came back on a clearer day for this fantastic shot. “Khor” is Arabic for “hidden place”.
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Here I am at sea level in Khor Al Najd. So much marine life!

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There isn’t much to do at the base of Khor Al Najd, except to wonder at the views. We walked around for a bit, took some pictures, and had lunch.

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We had company on our mountain lookout. We were eating lunch when this guy was walking around on the cliffs below us, snapping photos on his iPhone. Just another tourist like us : )

 

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Our first night, we stayed outside the village of Khasab. Unfortunately, it’s possible to take vehicles onto the beaches in Oman, which makes for crowded, loud weekends on the beach. We opted for a more secluded, “look-out” campsite, where no cars were to be found. What paradise. We just made sure that the zipper of the tent was facing inland, so we didn’t step off the cliff!

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The fort in Khasab. Oman has long-standing history of disagreements with the Portuguese (see my earlier post). These forts were built a couple hundred years ago, and renovated recently as a testament to the Omani history.

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Sean and I hanging out inside the fort.

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The bathroom in the fort. So much more exciting than the boring “girl in a dress” icon we’ve got on the bathrooms in America. Sean was obsessed with their gender identification. The woman on the right is wearing an abaya and is completely covered, and the man on the left is wearing a head scarf, a dishdasha, and an Omani dagger. So much more intricate than stick figures!

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We had to get up early to see the fort so that we could be on time to the dock for the 10am dhow cruise. As we had heard, Musandam is a beautiful landscape of “fjords”, which are best seen from the water. Therefore, we decided to book a full-day cruise on a dhow (a traditional Arabic fishing boat). Not only would we sail near the Straight of Hormuz (being only 40 miles from Iran), but would snorkel in the fjords, have a traditional Arabic lunch on board the boat, and be dropped off at a private beach to camp afterward. While we didn’t see this, we had read that the Khasab port is notorious for smuggling goats back and forth from Iran in exchange for American cigarettes (which are banned in Iran)! The above picture was taken as our dhow left the harbor.
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We took precautions and wore lots of sunscreen and covered ourselves as much as we could. Look at how powerful and arid this region is! It’s all striking cliffs, no vegetation, and beautiful, blue water. The dhow was really comfortable; it was set up with cushions for sitting on, and lots of Arabic tea for sipping. (We love Arabic tea; we think it’s comprised of saffron, black tea, sage, and LOTS of sugar.)

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Sean relaxing as we sailed further into the fjords. There were only four other tourists on the boat with us! There was an old Omani man steering the dhow, and our “guide” was from Morocco and wore a NY Yankees baseball hat. I haven’t seen anyone so knowledgeable and passionate about the ocean. He said he is a certified diver, and it sounded like he had dived all over the Mediterranean as well as the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.
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The boat had a nice canvas shade so we weren’t hit by the sun all of the time. (Look at those mountains!)

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The comfortable dhow : )

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We’re not kidding, we saw over twenty dolphins! As the boat was sailing, dolphins would swim alongside the boat with us. They loved to ride the currents created by the boat.
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It was truly magical. What happy, beautiful creatures.

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As you can see, dhow cruises are fairly popular. We ran into a few other boats during our venture. But ours was the least crowded.

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When we stopped to dive, our guide tossed a piece of bread into the water, and it sparkled with fish. The snorkeling was a lot of fun.

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There were islands in the fjords, and even small villages where people have lived for, probably, over a thousand years. The villages are just small buildings built right on the edge of the water, and they are brought fresh water from the government every month. Most of the homes are fisherman’s homes, who also have a small home on the mainland. The tour boats are forbidden from sailing too close to the villages, though, and rightfully so. It looked so quiet and peaceful from afar.

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After the dhow cruise was over, it was 4pm, and time for us to be dropped off at the beach. Since there’s only one road that winds through Musandam, it’s tough to find a completely quiet place to yourself that has road access. However, you can go to the port in the morning and pay anybody with a boat to drop you off at a secluded beach for the night. We talked to the people we booked our dhow cruise with, and they knew a great beach we could stay at. Since they were a reputable company, we knew we’d actually be picked up in the morning! The above photo (click on it for a great panorama) is the beach we camped at. What a gorgeous cove. The name of it was called “Seebel Kareeb”.

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Sean snapped a picture of me playing on the rocks at our hidden cove beach.

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Once we pitched our tent, we played in the sand, swam, and ate hummus until the sun set.

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The sun created a rosy glow on the mountain that was just beautiful.

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The guy who dropped us off was nice enough to give us lighter fluid and some old, dried up logs, so we made a campfire. (Those of you in the States may think that’s no big deal, but how many trees have you seen in the pictures so far in this blog?) As we sat by the campfire, we were treated to a beautiful meteor shower!

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When we woke up in the morning, we had to refrain from swimming. The tide must have been really rough the night before, or there was a mass birthing of jellyfish, because we found fifteen or so “piles” of baby jellyfish floating in the water. When you get stung by them, it doesn’t necesariyl “hurt”, but it’s a strange, uncomfortable, tingling, prickling feeling. Kind of like when you touch a cactus. No thanks!

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This was before we saw the jellyfish babies… we played in the water until we felt the stinging….

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We still managed to make a beautiful shell-garden before the boat picked us up in the morning.

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The next day, we decided to drive the “Acacia Forest” at the end of the road. Literally. On the map, there was a road that lead straight into the mountain, and ended where it said, “Acacia Forest”. We decided to check it out seeing as a forest in the desert sounded intriguing to us. What we found there was a herd…. no, a hoard… no, an INVASION of goats.

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The reason the forest exists here is because this area is the main water-drainage route for any rain that falls in the moutains. What I find fascinating is that no one has built homes under the shade of the trees! It was very park-like and quiet.

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We didn’t see another person the whole time, but we saw a lot of goats. Sean calls this picture, “Goat Ad Infinitum”. Can you spot the goat seemingly suspended in mid-air? How many goats can YOU count?

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They were climbing the trees!

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As I have said before, Sean likes to watch me squirm around goats. I don’t really like goats. Sean loves goats. This guy followed us around the forest for fifteen minutes. He was sad to see us go. Sean called him ‘Goaty’. Arabs own a lot of goats, as they are a kind of status symbol. Your wealth used to be based on your heard, and even though it doesn’t apply anymore, they still have herds of goats. They slaughter goats for weddings and religious ceremonies. Goat milk and goat cheese is popular. They’re everywhere!

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On our way out of Musandam, we stopped for a final picture.

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The road out of Musandam. Quite undrivable during big waves!

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One of the villages on the way to Khasab. I have never see such rich greens next to such blue blues 🙂

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As we left Musandam, we made our way back to Dubai. We loved to drive past the rolling sand dunes. We certainly don’t have these in Kuwait, contrary to what you may think. Kuwait doesn’t have any dunes – it’s much more flat, without any shifting sands or change in elevation. We were fascinated.

DubaiSkylineAs we got closer to Dubai, the Burj Khalifa sprouted out of the skyline. (That’s the tallest building in the world, ladies and gentlemen!) It was really neat to drive a rental car around Dubai; we got to see the skyline from so many interesting perspectives. We could see the Burj Khalifa on the horizon for an entire HOUR before we reached the parking lot for the mall, underneath the tower. (We timed it.) What a huge building!


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Ahhhh, Arabia. The land of contrasts. A picture says a thousand words…

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We took this picture for all of you who think we are suffering over here in the Middle East. We have TOO many options to choose from… Starbucks? Caribou Coffee? Take your pick! 

BurjAtNight1We finished off our trip with an ice cream while watching the fountain and light show at the Dubai Mall. The building on the far right is the Burj Khalifa. There is absolutely no feasible way you can fit it in one photograph unless you lay down on the ground and point your camera up to the sky. Our flight left at 11pm, so we had ample time to relax and indulge in all the things we had done without while camping in Musandam. Our trip was a perfect combination of opulent and serene!

We leave for Cairo tomorrow, so I will update you as soon as we can! Merry Christmas, or as they say in Arabic…  well, I don’t know how to say it. All of our Muslim families at school wished us Merry Christmas in English : )  I will just wish you blessings in your holiday season, Mubarak!

Categories: Dubai, Oman | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dubai: Part 3

As the weather in Kuwait gets cooler, and the clouds float slowly across the sunny skies, I am becoming more fixated on outdoor activities here in Kuwait than ever before. For example, we have a rooftop garden that I have been frequenting a lot more. It’s wonderful for nighttime cookouts, too. I ride my bike to new parts of the city (with a helmet, of course!) during the DAYTIME now – not just the brisk hours of the morning when the temperature is lowest. I can’t wait to tell you more concerning the Kuwait seasons in my next post…

But for now, Dubai! Stories remain yet untold, and souls are still undesired. You need closure, I understand that. Today, I will bring you to the end of our idyllic stay in the city of the future.

Picking up where I left off, our day began with a trip to the beach. Doesn’t the above picture look just like Hawaii?! It’s so GREEN! Hard to believe that we’re in the desert. Sean and I went first to Jumiera beach, which is the most popular public beach. It cost a mere $1 per person to access the beach, and we were met with beautiful landscaped gardens, palm-tree lined beaches, white sand, picnic tables, and little shops selling sunscreen and umbrellas. I never wanted to leave!

I love this picture because it captures the essence of Dubai; sand in the background and flowers in the foreground. It was really beautiful. At the beach, there were hundreds of families picnicking, but it’s not like what you imagine back in the States. Here, to picnic means to gather your friends and twenty closest relatives, reserve a picnic table at the beach, set up tents, bring in catered food, and sit around for hours socializing, snacking, and enjoying the company of your loved ones. It’s really cool to see! (Except when I’m on my bicycle and I have to try hard not to hit the little kids scurrying across the path…)

There you have it, the Burj Al Arab. It seems to be the staple of Dubai (excluding the world’s tallest building). This photo was taken from the monorail we took out to The Palm. What is ‘The Palm’ you may ask? Well, it is the man-made islands that you probably heard of one time and said, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it.” Well, let me give you a clearer idea of where the next few pictures are located by providing you a picture from the internet to clarify:

To quote Wikipedia, and explain what you’re looking at here:
“The Palm is in the shape of a palm tree, topped with a crescent, and has a large number of residential, leisure and entertainment centers. The Palm Islands are located off the coast of The United Arab Emirates in the Persian Gulf and will add 520 kilometers of beaches to the city of Dubai.

The Palm comprises approximately 100 million cubic meters of rock and sand.  All materials will be quarried in the UAE. There will be over 100 luxury hotels, exclusive residential beach side villas and apartments, marinas, water theme parks, restaurants, shopping malls, sports facilities and health spas.”


Now, moving on to MY photographs, because that is what I promised you once I moved to Kuwait. Only organic eye candy on this website!

We took the monorail out, which runs the length of The Palm in the picture above. It allowed us to get a birds-eye view of the entire thing, which is actually incredibly complicated to navigate. It’s huge! Here are the private communities on The Palm in the above picture. I wonder how much it costs to live on this thing…

Here is the world-famous hotel, Atlantis. It it at the zenith of the crescent in the picture of The Palm I posted above. It is an amazing hotel, incredibly opulent. I think I am going to save up and splurge next time I’m in Dubai, and spend just ONE night here! There are tropical fishtanks in every hotel room built into the wall…. You are met by endless coastline on either side of you… it is just incredibly surreal. I always say that this hotel looks like the “seamonkey kingdoms” we used to buy as kids…

Maybe only I ‘sea’ the resemblance. Ha. ha. ha.

Anyways, the hotel was absolutely amazing. I want to go back.

Here is the waterpark that’s on The Palm; it’s owned and operated by the Atlantis hotel. Notice how you can see ocean on either side of the waterpark in the background of the picture. There’s something strangely eco-sinful about that to me…

While we didn’t go to the waterpark or stay in the hotel, visiting The Palm was quite the experience. I’m glad we did. My sphere of understanding just got a wee bit larger.

Speaking of “wee bit”, now it’s time for the Irish Village! That’s right, we were recommended by at least two or three people from back in Kuwait to visit the Irish Village. We were skeptical at first, wondering why in the world would we want to go there when we’re in the diamond of the Middle East, but am I glad we did!

It really was set up IDENTICAL to an Irish town. Note the cobbled streets, facades, and pint’o’Killigans Irish Red!

Sean had a cider that he particularly enjoyed as well. The outdoor seating was really nice, and it was right next to a pond. ALSO, this place served PORK! That’s right, Sean got a ham sandwich and washed it down with cider!

For those of you who have no idea as to why I am obsessing over the fact that Sean ate pork, let me back up a little bit. Pork, in Islam, according to the Koran, is seen as dirty and ‘haram’ (forbidden). It is mega-illegal in Kuwait, along with alcohol. Even in Dubai, we couldn’t get pork in any other restaurant. This place got away with selling pork and alcohol because of two reasons, according to our waiter:

1. They are on the airport grounds, and are owned by the Duty Free company… which somehow makes them exempt from local law. I don’t get it.

2. It is co-owned by the Amir (president) of Dubai. I REALLY don’t get it.

But, hey, who cares if we don’t understand it? It makes for a good story.

The next morning, post-libations, we needed to walk off the excess weight from the night before. We went to the “Mall of the Emirates”, which is the OTHER famous mall in Dubai.

You guessed it, this is the place with the indoor ski hill! All of you Glacier National Park aficionados, note the “St. Moritz Cafe” sign and the Swiss lighting in this photograph. I feel like I should be sipping hot chocolate looking out over Swiftcurrent Lake!

The indoor ski hill in the mall was HUGE. I was going to go skiing there, but we had to catch our flight at 3pm and it would have been too short on time. Looks like we have to go back.

This is my favorite picture. There’s even a chairlift…

We then strolled past the arcade in Mall of the Emirates, and I posed on top the faux camel.

We were also rather amused by this simulation guy; he was having a lot of fun off-roading in his virtual world. Also rather appropriate for our ‘city of the future’ theme.

Well, there you have it. Dubai. Filled with world records, vices, natural and artificial beauty, and—for a short time—two cheeseheads who walked around with wide eyes and wider smiles.
I can’t believe I haven’t pitched a request to you guys yet. How many blogs have I posted and NOT asked you to come visit?! What have I been thinking. Well, now, come to Dubai! It’s a mere hour’s flight from Kuwait, and a ticket roundtrip from Kuwait-Dubai costs $75 on weekdays. You can stay at our apartment, explore the streets of Kuwait, and then high-tail it to the city of the future for a weekend of fun and record-making.

Stay tuned for next week, when I give an account of our nine-day vacation, “Eid Al Adha”. (Yes, you heard me right, nine-day vacation after our trip to Dubai. We ARE teaching over here, too, you know.) Because we had to go through all of the visa work in Dubai, our passports are now in process at the Ministry in Kuwait, and we can’t leave the country until we get them back. So our nine-day break has turned into a Kuwait ‘stay-cation’ with friends. Excitement is sure to ensue!

Categories: Dubai | 1 Comment

Dubai: Part 2

I am back to astound and amaze with more on Dubai. The photos I present today are from day ‘2’ of our trip—we visited the Dubai Mall (the world’s largest shopping mall, Wikipedia) as well as the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, Wikipedia).

Like I said, Dubai is full of superlatives.

I was so much fun to walk around such beautiful architecture, landscaping, and cultural contrasts. The strangest thing is that Sean had to keep reminding me that we were in the DESERT. Yes, even though Dubai is a modern-day oasis, it is still a desert geographically speaking.

So do I side with my mother nature, laissez-faire mentality and scorn the irrigation, pollution, and squandering of money on tourism? Or do I put aside my cultural condemnation from a Westerner’s viewpoint and embrace Dubai for what it is; a part of the world entirely new and foreign to me. It would be wrong to say, “Well, if you only did _____, the water would be cleaner.” or “Why doesn’t everyone just _______ instead?”

In the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Our walk from the metro (which, remind you, we took everywhere) to the Dubai Mall. I loved all of the plants and green spaces there are in Dubai! (Also notice the stop sign…. that’s a rarity back in Kuwait!)

Sean nabbed this photo of me walking toward the mall. what a pleasant morning… notice the palm trees dotting the left side of the picture. *sigh*. Also notice the lack of garbage on the clean, polished sidewalks…. ALSO a rarity back in Kuwait!

Never miss an opportunity for a smile and a picture 🙂 Beautiful fountain display in front of yet another seven-star hotel…

A futuristic vista…

Inside the Dubai Mall. We still maintain that there are parts of this mall we never saw, even though we spent eight hours in it… it was gigantic!

Sean had fun watching 3D television and trying out all the new tech gadgets in the electronics stores.

Also inside Dubai Mall. How calming!

Yes, there is an ice skating rink inside the mall. This got REALLY crowded at night… kids were skating, jumping, falling, spinning, and doing all of the things I miss watching kids do on the frozen lakes back home.

View from outside the mall. Sean loves this picture because you can count SEVEN construction cranes! Talk about a city that building upward!

There you have it, the Burj Khalifa. The world’s tallest building. Kudos to Sean for setting up such an awesome picture! (On a 10 second timer, too!) Did I mention that we bought tickets to travel up inside the building? Keep reading for pictures…

It’s not every day back in the states that you can stroll the mall and stop to rest in a store like this…

View from another part of Dubai mall. I love how they fused contemporary, futuristic architecture with traditional Arabic designs (like the beautiful bridge…)

All right. Let this be an introduction to our trip up the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world, don’t forget!) This plaque marked our entry into the skyscraper.

Looking down from the Burj Khalifa. Now, understand that we weren’t at THE TOP of the building. We were on the 124th floor. That’s all the higher they let visitors go. The total height of the building is 2,716.5 feet and over 160 stories. The Burj Khalifa holds the following records:

•  Tallest building in the world

•  Tallest free-standing structure in the world

•  Highest number of stories in the world

•  Highest occupied floor in the world

•  Highest outdoor observation deck in the world

•  Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world

•  Tallest service elevator in the world

The outdoor observation desk was an other-worldly experience! The cool air, breeze, and mental realization that we were that high up was really memorable.

Dubai from the outdoor observation deck.

QUESTION: Those of you who know your science, Sean and I have a disagreement about the above photograph. When looking UP the rest of the tower from the outdoor observation deck, we were able to see a dark line cast from the tip of the building. Is this dark line,

A. The sun casting the building’s shadow?

OR

B. The clouds being split apart by the wind as they blew past the Burj Khalifa?

To maintain objectivity, I will unfortunately not be able to acknowledge which of us believes the above hypothesis. The answer to that will come once we determine which of us is right 🙂

Looking down from the observation deck onto the metro. What a cool looking metro, huh? It really was an above-ground monorail. You could cross the city for the equivalent of $2.50!

Sean demonstrating the “outdoor” part of the outdoor observation deck.

We hung around until the sun set… it’s a rough life.

Back in the Dubai Mall, we found a massive aquarium… holding a world record (see plaque below). As if the world’s biggest mall and tallest building aren’t enough, it also has the largest single acrylic panel in the world!

That’s right, if you had too much money and too little desire to hoof it, these taxis would take you around the mall! Can you imagine an indoor space large enough to pay people for this?

And if you still aren’t convinced of traveling to Dubai, maybe a trip to the Rainforest Cafe would help.

A Botero statue outside the Dubai Mall. Tres chic! (Note the Burj Khalifa in the background… it’s hard to take a picture WITHOUT it in the background!)

Every night from 7-11 there is a fountain show outside the mall. It shoots water 50 stories up in the air and is synchronized to lights and music. Oh, did I mention that it is the WORLD’S LARGEST DANCING FOUNTAIN? (Are you getting sick of seeing “world’s largest” in this post yet?)

To close, I want to remind you where we are. After seeing all of these wonderful, awe inspiring things that test the forces of nature and stretch the powers of humankind, we have to remember the little things. Sean and I are in the Middle East, staying in a hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express that has—as seen in the above picture—an arrowing point towards Mecca for the Islamic prayers. Dubai is futuristic, worldly, and internationally renowned, and it’s less than a two hour flight from Kuwait.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I hope my blog unveils another element of the middle east to those of you who, like myself, are unfamiliar with it. It is a land of contrast, of rich traditions and beliefs, of beautiful cultures and juxtaposing landscapes. It is a place that Sean and I have chosen to call home.

I hope that through these blog entries you are not only entertained, but enlightened. I hope you carry this knowledge with you and spread your understanding of a place so often stereotyped and misunderstood to others. Spread awareness and spark interest.

And most importantly, keep reading 😉

 

Stay tuned for the next post, Dubai: Part 3 (the final segment).

Categories: Dubai | 1 Comment

Dubai: Part 1

Hello friends and family! Long-time-no-post. I apologize for the lackadaisical nature of my blog as of late, but between battling a terrible head cold, obtaining a working visa, and visiting the tallest building in the world, it’s been difficult to stay in touch 😉

Sean and I were in Dubai from Tuesday through Saturday, and let me tell you, it was five days of pure bliss. Dubai really is the city of the future. I half-expected to see a Jetson’s spacecraft fly above my head. It was greener, cleaner, and more modern than Kuwait. The beaches were clean with bright blue water, flowers blossomed on every manicured patch of grass, and the lack of pollution and garbage cluttering the streets was just fantastic. AND there were bicyclists everywhere! I was so envious of their ability to bicycle the clean streets of Dubai, in comparison to Kuwait—world renowned as having the highest traffic fatalities of anywhere else.

Why did we go to Dubai, you may ask? Well, long story short, we arrived in Kuwait on tourist visas. (We had trouble in the States obtaining a working visa due to high traffic at the Department of State and misunderstanding on our behalf), so we had to enter Kuwait on tourist visas. By going to Dubai, we got some blood work done (which provided for interesting pictures below), and had a few key documents stamped by the Kuwait embassy. We then flew back into Kuwait after our time in Dubai and were able to enter on working visas.

Don’t ask me how it works.

Let’s begin looking at pictures! Now, this blog is titled “Dubai: Part 1” because I am going to post Dubai in 3 parts. Hopefully I can do them all within the next three or four days. Something to look forward to!

Sean at our hotel in Dubai, reflecting on our relaxing vacation about to begin. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express… how cultured of us…

The map of Dubai. LOOK AT ALL THE ISLANDS! It hardly seems real, right? Those islands are all man-made… with seven-star hotels and million-dollar homes…

Dubai in the morning, near our hotel. I loved how it looked like something out of Tron. Futuristic buildings rising out of the mists… (and look at that large patch of green, green grass!)

Ahhhh, life in the Middle East. This is the doctor’s office where we did our blood work. It takes some courage to gather your nerves, walk into a place looking like this, and let them stick you with a syringe. As of yet, the injection site is infection free…

Don’t get me, he really was a friendly doctor. He lied to me and told me the iodine was an anesthetic to make me feel better about getting a shot 🙂

The metro system that runs through Dubai. It sure is a contrast to the above photos, hmm? We took the metro for everything—it was the cleanest, most organized metro I’d even been on.

Quick photo outside of the metro on one of the stops. I love the juxtaposition of the wall mural and the high-speed metro…

Our trip into the cultural section of Dubai… it was like an unending scene from Aladdin!

In the high-walls of the old section of Dubai.

We could get lost in all of these alleyways!

We found the Dubai historical village, which included recreations of Dubai’s first educational system!

Hey guys, look, it’s my classroom!

I am SO tempted to post this picture and ONLY this picture and tell everyone that this is my real classroom….

(Don’t be fooled; this is a recreation of the first school in Dubai. Or is it…? The guy in the back is my aide…)

As a part of the historical village, we saw how they built the first buildings—out of coral, I kid you not! Check out the picture below to see a close up.

All of the walls in the building (before it was restored) were made out of this coral. Talk about being resourceful in a land without any trees!

Sean posing in the historical village – I love the architecture.

In the historical village they had a room similar to what the Kuwaiti’s call a “diwaniya”. A diwaniya is a traditional room in Kuwaiti Arabic homes where people gather to drink tea, have snacks, and discuss current affairs. It was a wonderful surprise!

Here we venture into the famous Gold Souq of Dubai. All of the above items are pure gold! The Gold Souq was the most interesting place… aisles and aisles of gold!

The world’s heaviest gold ring. Dubai sure is the city of superlatives! See the Guiness Record below…

Can you believe that?

More of the Gold Souq… Sean got tired of me pretending to be interested in pieces of jewelry to find out their prices 🙂

We made the mistake of talking to a shop keeper for too long, who ended up outfitting Sean in what he called “the good looking style”.

He didn’t touch me, though! Surprise, surprise 🙂

Apparently this is an example of remodeling in old Dubai.

The “Creek” in Dubai is a major waterway, an inlet that serves as the major shipping artery for Dubai. You can take an ‘abra’, or a small wooden boat across the Creek for something like 20 cents!

Me on an ‘abra’ across the Creek.

Once on the other side of the creek, we found a guy selling coconuts for $1. We had fun drinking coconut juice and relaxing in the sun!

It was Sean’s first time having coconut milk. He thought it was pretty tasty…

More fun venturing into the Old Souq of Dubai.

The “fort” of Dubai is an original fort to protect the city from the late 1800’s.

We were able to tour the fort, which was amazing. We saw the evolution of Dubai, and how it has grown as a city. There were also traditional recreated rooms in the fort as well!

Dr. Who anyone?

Beautiful sunset in Dubai…

And the best part to the end of a long day? Sipping a Guiness with my wonderful husband. Now that’s something you can’t find in Kuwait… (the Guiness, that is!)

Sean finally got a Strongbow CIDER on tap! He was the happiest bar patron in the whole joint.

Tune in tomorrow for Dubai: Part 2 where we visit the tallest building in the world!

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