The Thar

The Thar

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Although the Thar Desert isn’t the grand sand dunes you’d think of when it comes to deserts, it does have a few bright moments of smooth stretches of wind-sculpted sand. The famous Rajasthani desert safari gig can be made flexible from a half day trip to as many as 23 days. It costs somewhere around 500 to 1000 rupees on the first day, and 800 rupees for every extra day you stay out there.

We opted for an overnight stay in the desert. At 2:30pm we were promptly driven out into the desert where they first took us to a few touristy stops: A set of royal centographs (70 rupees entry fee) and a deserted village (20 rupees). We declined the latter and headed straight for the village that prepped our camels. After meeting a few of the locals there, we saddled up and headed to our base camp. By then it was about 5pm.

 

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Our ride.

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The Royal Centrographs.

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Arriving at the village.

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Inside a village hut.

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After an hour of slow trodding, we ended up on these small but glorious fine sand dunes, where we fooled around pretending to be Indiana Jones or Lawrence of Arabia.

 

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Let me tell you a story…


We also watched our camel drivers prepare us food; even the chapati and dal was made from scratch. The only discomfort was the scores of little bugs crawling in our shirts and in our pants as we were eating. While some of us got up and shook out the pesky insects every few minutes, I pretended I was Zen and kept eating. Not an easy thing to do.


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Breadmaking.

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Indian Christian Bale (at least we think he looks like him) makes us dinner.

 

Afterwards we went off and explored the sand dunes at night, sitting out there in silence until the moon descended into the horizon. We fell asleep as the stars emerged in the night sky.

 

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The next morning was pretty straightforward: We had a quick breakfast with our camel drivers and rode our camels back to the village. A jeep promptly picked us up and dropped us back at Jaisalmer an hour later.

 

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Jaisalmer Fort just got served.


And now we’re all taking showers, as sand has caked and bleached our bodies. This afternoon we’re hopping on an overnight 13 hour train to Jaipur, where I’ll make amends for what I missed last year and visit the Jantar Mantar and Chand Baori. I’ll also stay with Priti again this time, so it’ll be nice to see her again.


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Exploring the Jain temples within Jaisalmer fort.

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The detail of Om Hari's famous Jewelry. He can write your life story (or anything else you want) on a silver or gold ring.

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- At time of posting in Jaisalmer, it was 28 °C - Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: Haze

 

Syria, Arab Spring, And Dubai

Syria, Arab Spring, And Dubai

Syria: Not gonna happen. They’re not gonna let visa-less Americans through the border, and they won’t be issuing any new visas at the embassy for a few weeks. I tried. I failed. Wop Wop. Maybe next time.

I ended up stopping by a protest, however, while on the way to the Amman airport, the only sign of the “Arab Spring” during my trip so far.

This was at the Syrian Embassy, where people were protesting Assad’s recent speech on increased amnesty. Not as wild as what has been presented on Western media, but then again Jordan has not borne the brunt of the Arab Spring as Egypt, Bahrain, or Syria has. But people here are impassioned about reform here just as their brothers and sisters in other regions of the Middle East.

 

 

About 2 hours later I had to catch my flight out of Jordan, where I found myself in Dubai. A note about the airport cabs there: DON’T TAKE THE PINK ONES. They are reserved specifically for female passengers, driven by female drivers so that the female passenger feels safer. But for this unique service, you pay THREE TIMES AS MUCH on the meter. And that’s the mistake we made.

 

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We’re now in the care of the wonderful Mona Ibrahim, who I met a few months ago when I trekked up Machu Picchu. Even though we talked for only 2 hours that day, the undeniable spark of a connection has inadvertently led me to Dubai 3 months later, this time as a guest in the comfort of her unmatched hospitality.

If there is anything that motivates me to continue living this life with passion, it is because of people like her and the human connections we are destined to make.

 

- At time of posting in Dubai, it was 36 °C - Humidity: 74% | Wind Speed: 11km/hr | Cloud Cover: Clear

 

The Bedouin

The Bedouin

 

While taking pictures of the Monestary, I heard clop clop behind me. I turned around to find Abobad, a Bedouin selling donkey rides. Even though he was wearing a cowboy hat with a fringed leather jacket, he was somehow not the most eccentric Bedouin I had encountered. We chat for a few minutes as he establishes that Calvin is not my husband (I was tempted to lie though) and he says he likes me. and gives me some plastic bracelets. 

Fun fact. Tourists cannot climb the sandstone rock, but Bedouins have total access. So with Abobad, the security guard lets me climb up this 3 meter wall into the monestary’s cave. Its large inside. You can see the marks where the Nabotaens used their tools the hew at the rock. Abobad shows me a red cross  on the back wall, a relic from the invaders.

At this point, Calvin isn’t back from the panorama view. So we sit at the opening of the cave, in the shade of the tomb, and exchange riddles. He tells me about climbing the rock and preserving the desert. He and his family still live in one of the caves.

By the time Calvin comes back, I hadn’t answered his last riddle. What do you buy but never use?

a coffin.

Petra By Day

Petra By Day

 

Can’t help but contextualize this entry with this classic scene from a classic movie:

 

Ever since this ending scene of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, I've wondered if they were at a real place. I think this entry answers that question.

 

As if last night’s awe-inspiring moment wasn’t enough, guess what the Treasury at Petra looks like by day:

 

The road through Petra by day is unlike the quiet, silent wonder of what Petra is by night. It is instead a social affair, where travelers meet and bond over the shared experience of hiking, climbing, and ruin spelunking. Under a generous sun, we climb up and down solar-baked rocks to turn a corner so we can find the next ruin, or the next fellow hiker.

We started at the entrance to Petra at 8am in the morning. This is important because the crowds arrive at 9am and the Treasury is in sunlight only until 11am. Therefore, starting around 8am or earlier allows you enough time to have the entire site to yourself, as well as getting the ideal pictures of the Treasury.

However, the entrance fee is absolutely insane: 50 JOD ($75 USD!!!). It’s more forgiving if you do 2 days (55 JOD, so it cuts it down to around $40 USD a day), or better yet, 3 days (60 JOD, which is about $30 a day), but since we were bound to leave Jordan tomorrow, we had to bite the bullet.

 

 

After recovering from losing $75 USD over a lanky piece of laminated paper, we were led back to the 1.2km Siq towards the Treasury. No less beautiful than it is by night.

…Sorry, I know I usually don’t post videos, but when I realized I had an iPod with me, as well as the theme song to John Williams’ “Indiana Jones”….I couldn’t resist:

 

 

and if that wasn’t enough, this is the kicker. Watch as how the Treasury reveals itself in the light. Brilliant:

 

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Afterwards we took a left and continued down the Outer Siq. We ignored the Roman theater on our right (we’ve seen better anyways) and turned another left to climb up to the High Place of Sacrifice, which takes about 45 minutes on a leisurely pace. We were in a rush, so we scaled it in 30. Not bragging or anything…but you know…30 is a cool number.

 

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Then at the top I heard an American accent below where I was standing, which compelled to ask the source of that accent where she was from. Five minutes later we got known a fun group of students from Utah’s Brigham Young University, who were studying abroad for the semester. We all perched upon the cliff overlooking the view below, and we were so engrossed in conversation that I completely forgot to take pictures of the High Place of Sacrifice, not that it mattered anyways because we got to make new friends.

 

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I even did a little dance for them.

 

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See you in NYC, or on the slopes of Park City, Utah!

Afterwards we took their advice and descended towards the “long path” towards the south, behind the High Place of Sacrifice. Along every turn we ran into something interesting: The Lion Monument, a Garden Temple Complex, and a Triclinium, before we descended a little too much and got off the beaten path, literally.

 

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After some searching, we refound the path, but not without a bit of pseudo-rock climbing back up a hill.

 

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After passing by the Columbarium to our left and the Al-Habis Fortress to our right (this one is pretty cool), we took a mini break before reascending 45 minutes of stairs and climbing to reach the Monastery. Along the way, we made a few more friends from Fresno and Cal State University:

 

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The one on the right next to Stephanie: An Asian American guy who speaks Arabic? Who is also quick to correct anyone who assumes we’re all Japanese? I felt a little less lonelier in the world.

After a little bonding with the fellow recent graduates, we hiked up 10 more minutes to reach our goal: The Monastery.

 

 

It can give the Treasury a run for its money.

Afterwards I overheard a few travelers in front of me that if we hiked 5 minutes more, we could make it to a viewpoint that oversaw the borders of Jordan and Palestine. Not giving up on that chance, I left Stephanie at the Monastery (sorry!) and ran up another hill to reach a very lonely tent, who had the privilege of getting some pretty awesome views below:

 

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After taking a moment of pause, I ran back down and we begun our journey back home.

This is where the plan got tricky. We had to catch a 5pm JETT bus back to Amman, but at this point it was already 3:30pm and according to the bedouin locals, it would be very lucky for us if we could take about an hour to reach the exit, which left us only 30 minutes to cab it back to our hostel, pick up our stuff, pay the bill, and cab it back to the bus station.

So we did just that.

 

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After getting to the exit in exactly an hour at 4:30pm, I left Stephanie behind to get some water and food while I would go back to the hostel and pick up our stuff. We would meet 30min later at the JETT bus station. And really, it wasn’t a big issue, because by 4:40pm I was already waiting at the hostel, checking my e-mail and waiting for a cab. But when it was 4:50pm and no cab had arrived, I ended up hitchiking on a pick-up truck to get to the bus station. Word. My first time hitchhiking. Thank you, thumb.

When I got on the JETT bus, it was exactly 5:00pm and I was ready to go. Except, however, Stephanie wasn’t on the bus. Going into panic mode, I ran back out the bus telling them they could go on without me (I felt a little cheesy saying it, as if I was in some disaster movie: “Go on without me! save yourselves!”) and ran back down the hill to the Petra entrance gate, searching for Stephanie. Not a sign. Ran down to the taxi stand and there she was, asking for directions to the JETT bus stop. As we reunited, we decided to strategize how we were going to try to make it to Amman the next morning at 6am so we could catch a outbound 12pm flight, until I saw the JETT bus still there. So we ran back up the hill and caught it just as it was about to drive out of the parking lot.

 

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That was close. And now we’re on a 3 hour bus ride back to Amman, looking forward to some real food. We’ve been subsisting on cookies and chips the last 16 hours, except Steph just had some nasty SPAM salami sandwich from a rest stop (yeah I wasn’t that hungry).

 

- At time of posting in Amman, it was 22 °C - Humidity: 41% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: Haze

 

Aicha

Aicha

 

When I first heard Cheb Khaled’s “Aisha,” I had promised myself I would listen to it again whenver I reached the deserts of the Middle East. I always keep my promises.

Comme si j’n’existais pas
Elle est passee a cote de moi
Sans un regard, Reine de Sabbat
J’ai dit, Aicha, prends, tout est pour toi

Voici, les perles, les bijoux
Aussi, l’or autour de ton cou
Les fruits, bien murs au gout de miel
Ma vie, Aicha si tu m’aimes

J’irai a ton souffle nous mene
Dans les pays d’ivoire et d’ebene
J’effacerai tes larmes, tes peines
Rien n’est trop beau pour une si belle

Oooh ! Aicha, Aicha, ecoute-moi
Aicha, Aicha, t’en vas pas
Aicha, Aicha, regarde-moi
Aicha, Aicha, reponds-moi

Je dirai les mots des poemes
Je jouerai les musiques du ciel
Je prendrai les rayons du soleil
Pour eclairer tes yeux de reine

Oooh ! Aicha, Aicha, ecoute-moi
Aicha, Aicha, t’en vas pas

Elle a dit, garde tes tresors
Moi, je vaux mieux que tout ca
Des barreaux forts, des barreaux meme en or
Je veux les memes droits que toi
Et du respect pour chaque jour
Moi je ne veux que de l’amour

Aaaah !
Comme si j’n’existais pas
Elle est passee a cote de moi
Sans un regard, Reine de Sabbat
J’ai dit, Aicha, prends, tout est pour toi

Nbrik Aicha ou nmout allik [Je te veux Aicha et je meurs pour toi]
‘Hhadi kisat hayaty oua habbi [Ceci est l’histoire de ma vie et de mon
amour]
Inti omri oua inti hayati [Tu es ma respiration et ma vie]
Tmanit niich maake ghir inti [J’ai envie de vivre avec toi et rien
qu’avec toi]

Lalala….lalala…


Translation:

As if I did not exist,
she passed me by,
Without a glance,
Queen of Saba. I said:
“Aisha, take: all is for you.”
Here the pearls, jewels,
Therefore gold around your neck,
the quite ripe fruits with the honey taste,
My life, Aisha, if you like me.
I will go where your breath carries out us
In the ebony and ivory countries.
I will erase your tears, your sorrows.
Nothing is too beautiful for so beautiful.

Oooh! Aisha, Aisha, listen to me.
Aisha, Aisha, please do not go.
Aisha, Aisha, look at me.
Aisha, Aisha, answer me.

I will say the words of the poems.
I will play the musics of the sky.
I will take the rays of the sun to light your eyes of queen.

Oooh! Aisha, Aisha, listen to me.
Aisha, Aisha, please do not go.

It said: ” Guard your treasures.
Me, I want better than all that,
Of the strong bars,
the bars even out of gold.
I want the same rights as you
And of the respect for each day.
Me, I want only love.”
Aaaah! As if I did not exist,
she passed me by,
Without a glance, Queen of Sheba. I said:
“Aisha, take: all is for you.”

Aisha, Aisha, listen to me.
Aisha, Aisha, listen to me.
Aisha, Aisha, please do not go.
Aisha, Aisha, look at me.
Aisha, Aisha, answer me.
Lalala… lalala…

 

 

- At time of posting in Amman, it was 24 °C - Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: Haze

 

Where Do Dreams Come From? Petra

Where Do Dreams Come From? Petra

My turn:

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What I pulled off w/o a tripod: Hold your breath like a sniper and go for a fast shutter.

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If an experience is unwriteable, how about a place? Or how about a place at a specific moment of the day? Far far from a tourist trap, Petra by Night is something everyone has to do at least once in their lives. You take one of the most beautiful places in the world, and you make it more beautiful by seeing it when the sun goes down…and then you add in 1.2km of candlelight and a star-filled night sky.

Petra by Night only happens 3 times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Since we arrived in a Monday, we were lucky to make this happen. For 12 JOD, and starting at 8:30pm outside the Petra gates, you are led to probably what would become the most memorable 2 hours of your life. The following pictures most likely won’t give you half the idea of what it was like to be there, but I hope the pictures in themselves will fill you with the same sense of awe as I felt a few hours ago.

 

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Driving from Wadi Musa to Petra

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The effects of tourism

After waiting outside, they opened the gates at exactly 8:30pm and off we went!

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and then…after 1.2km of walking and following the lights…

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Literal wonder.

We were then asked to be as silent as possible, as we sat in rows in front of the candles and were offered free tea. Then we were treated to 2 ethereally atmospheric performances of Bedouin music.

 

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and then I looked up…

 

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...can you find the Big Dipper?

 

After the performances and a somewhat cheesy (sorry!) yet rousing speech about what life was like in Petra back when it was the formal capital of the Nabataens (who controlled all of the caravans moving along the Silk Road from here to China), we were left to wander among the candlelights…

 

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Afterwards, we retraced our steps and walked back to the entrance gates. All in all, the entire experience lasted 2 hours.

 

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And with only pictures and our memories to fall back on, not yet ready for sleep, we reflected on what we saw with a bit of shisha and chilled juice at “the oldest bar in the world” at Cave Bar.

 

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Suffice it to say, not any dream tonight will be able to live up to what we just experienced at Petra.