Welcome

I guess you are here because you have discovered one of my books and enjoyed it enough to find out more about the author, me. Either that or you’re a potential employer who is investigating me to see if I would be a good fit for your organization. In which case, surprise, I write books as well as teach. Some might look at that as a bad thing, and if so, please explain to me how.

For whoever finds my site, I want to welcome you, and also allow you the opportunity to follow me on a regular basis. Anybody is welcome as long as you keep your posts appropriate, and respect the other followers to this site. As long as everybody follows those two simple rules, I won’t have to kick anybody off. Let the friendly banter begin.

I am hoping to create an interactive site that everybody can enjoy. Of course, I will keep you up to date on the latest writings coming out of my head, and I will also let you know when and where I will be in the world, so someday you might be able to meet me in person. Most people regret that decision, but who knows, maybe you’ll be in the minority.

I will also tell you about my world-wide travels as this is something I do on a regular basis. I’ll show you pictures from places I have been (this one is from Dubrovnik, better known to fans of The Song of Ice and Fire as King’s Landing), and tell you the exciting stories that happen to me along the way. You are also welcome to ask me any questions you may have about the place I have been, and I will try to answer them in a timely manner.

I know it all sounds amazing, and I can see you wondering why you haven’t been a part of this fantastic experience so far, but let me tell you about the most exciting part of following this site – the interactive part.  You were probably wondering when I would get to that part I had promised you earlier. Well, I plan to create a list every month, and I want you to participate in its formation. I do love countdowns, but I am always disappointed in them. So I have decided to take matters into my own hands. You will be able to post your top ten of each monthly list and at the end of each month, I will comprise the total list to give you the countdown for that subject. Look for each new subject on the first day of each month, and the final list of the previous month by the fifteenth.

Otherwise, it is very nice to have you a part of this experience, and I look forward to all of our future posts together.

The Search for the World’s Best Beer – Brussels, Belgium

There comes a time in everybody’s life when they have to stop what they are doing and go out in search of something that in the grand scheme of things is not really important. It may cause you to travel to corners of the world that you have never been before, and you may have a hard time justifying this search to the people who you have responsibilities with. But still you should put those responsibilities aside and go out on that silly quest and in the end, discover that this silly quest was more important than you originally intended it to be.

My call to adventure actually came last April when my wife and I were looking at where we would travel to in the upcoming school year. Being in Jordan, the thought of Europe always comes up, and eventually all things on the map pointed to the land of frittes, chocolate and beer, Belgium. But then we had to ask ourselves when would be the perfect time to go, and that is when we started looking at the beginning of December as a way of celebrating an important birthday, my fiftieth. Rarely do I take time off of work to go out and do stuff for myself. I figure as a teacher that I get enough time off already, and I should be able to plan around that. But considering my birthday always falls at a busy time of the year, and I never really get to celebrate it, this was excuse enough to go out to Brussels for a long weekend and take a couple of days off in the process.

It wasn’t until the dates came closer that I found the main purpose of this trip. I was always going to go out to Brussels to drink some Trappist beers. They are some of my favorite beers in the world. But I was talking to a friend of mine who used to live in Brussels, and he told me about Westvleteren. He was telling me that this is considered to be the best beer in the world, and it is hard to come across one of the unassuming bottles with this brown nectar inside. He told me about the hidden corner, a block off the Grote Markt, where I could find the local bar that serves this beer. He even warned me about the price of 17 Euros to obtain a bottle.

It was all the incentive that I needed, and I was off to Brussels in search of this perfect beer. Of course, I could not buy one early in the morning. The bar that served it did not open until three o’clock in the afternoon. So I spent the day sightseeing and enjoying the Christmas market. I was brought back to my childhood as I enjoyed waffles and my favorite Christmas cookie, the speculoos. My mom used to make these when I was a kid, and we would always enjoy them on St. Nicholas Day. I had no idea that these were common cookies in Belgium, and was happy to find them all over the place.

Speaking of St. Nicholas Day, the city of Brussels was celebrating it as well. It was almost as if they were expecting me to come to relive my childhood. Their famous statue of a peeing child, the Manneken Pis, was dressed up as the valued saint on this day, and it made me chuckle to see him this way.

The peeing child was a common sight all over the city. It does bring a lot of people to the city in hopes of watching it pee, and to see what he will be wearing on any given day. There are apparently over 1000 different outfits that he has, and there are seems to be something special going on where he is wearing one of them. The people of Brussels have also found a way to make a joke out of him in a million ways. It goes great with the attitude of the city, and allowed for many moments of laughter as I made my way around the city.

Eventually, the sun dipped below the horizon, and the bars started to open their doors. We made our way to Au Bon Vieux Temps and laid down the 17 Euros for the best beer in the world.

Was it worth it?

In more ways than one. What was a silly little quest turned out to be a memorable trip and a birthday I will never forget. I am glad that I took those days off, and maybe I shouldn’t wait another ten years to take a little side trip like this. They are always worth the quest.

The Gateway to Petra – Wadi Musa, Jordan

People travel from all over the world to enjoy the marvel that is Petra, and there is a lot that is written about this site. However there is more to the UNESCO World Heritage Site than just the city that lies behind the canyon. There is a whole city on the edge of it that is a wonderful location to set up camp before exploring all that Petra has to offer. It is called Wadi Musa and for a gateway town it does a good job inviting people in and preparing them for the adventure they will have in the park.

Of course, there are plenty of gift shops, and a few Turkish bathhouses, but one of the best places to unwind after hiking around the park is the Cave Bar. It is a short walk away from the entrance of Petra, and the prices on the drinks are a little higher than other places you will find in Jordan, but the atmosphere makes up for these small problems. It was built in an ancient tomb that used to be a part of Petra, and it claims to be the oldest bar in the world. There are plenty of cozy little corners in the bar to find a place to relax, but if you would rather sit and enjoy the company of a larger crowd, they do have an outdoor patio, and a larger room where you can watch a game or talk with other travelers.

Right up the hill from the bar, and the bigger tourist shops is the Petra Museum. This is a good place to visit before heading into the park to see all of the sites. It will take you through the history of the ancient city, and how it developed over the centuries. There is also a large collection of artwork that once graced the outside of many of its buildings, but were taken down when iconoclasts, or Christians who did not believe in icon and worked to destroy as many as they could. It is amazing that many of the statues survived because it depicts a civilization that was influenced by both the Greeks and Egyptians.

There are also many comfortable and affordable hotels nearby. We stayed at the Petra Boutique Hotel. It was a five minute walk from the entrance to the park, and served a nice breakfast in the morning. The only problem was that it sat right next to the main road of the town. At night the traffic disappears completely, but this allows for the packs of wild dogs to take over the street, and they are not very quiet. They did keep me up during my first night’s stay there, but I was so worn out from the long hike on the second night that they did not bother me anymore.

Also make sure that you have at least one of your meals at Mom’s Secret Recipe. It is a local restaurant that has really good food, and great atmosphere. It looks like the inside of a bedouin’s tent inside, and you can tell that the recipe comes from a mom who has spent many years perfecting her food.

Overall, the main attraction is Petra, but the town is a lovely place to stay as well. It is well worth staying there for a night or two because it makes the trip to Petra a little more relaxing. You will still find yourself on long hikes to amazing spots, but at least at night, you won’t have to worry about driving back to Amman or Aqaba because you will have a comfortable place to rest your head.

The Second Indiana Jones – Petra, Jordan

I know that I have a lot of readers screaming at me right now. They are all looking at this photo and they know that this image comes from the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yet, I titled this post, the SECOND Indiana Jones. You are wondering if I know the difference, and by the mere fact that I acknowledged the difference in this post, I obviously must know that Petra is part of the better installment in the series, and I should not have referenced one of the lesser adventures as the title of my post.

To those people, I must acknowledge your movie brilliance, and at the same time, hope that you have stuck with me so far, so that I may defend my choice of title for this post. For those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you will know that this is the second time that one of my adventures has made me feel like I am a part of an Indiana Jones adventure. The first one took place out side of Hua Hin, Thailand as I hiked to the Phraya Nakhon Cave. My visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Petra, in Jordan, would be the second time that I have had this feeling. This is where the title of this blog post comes from. I hope that clears up any confusion you may have experienced from reading the title, and I also hope that you continue to read to learn more about this exciting place.

Though there are many exciting places to visit in Jordan, Petra is the one that the country promotes the most, and the one that tourists make sure that they see while out here. It had remained hidden for many centuries and it wasn’t until 1812 when Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt let the rest of the world know about it. He claims that he discovered it, but considering many people still lived in the buildings hollowed out from the mountainside, and he was shown where it was from a Bedouin, it is hard to say that it really needed discovering. Soon afterwards, people would come to see the site, and eventually those people were removed so it could become the tourist destination it is today.

The site itself sprawls all over the hills in the southern part of Jordan. There are some trails that have been created from the visitor center that allows for easy access to some of the more impressive locations, and most people who visit stick to these trails. For people that struggle with hiking, donkeys and camels can be rented and there are even options for select people that they can take a golf cart, but that will only take people to the Treasury, the location that was used for the Indiana Jones movie.

There are many other smaller hikes that will take people to the lesser visited locations, but it is recommended that you hire a guide to take you to these place. The mountains out there can be deceiving and it is easy to get lost. Plus, there are so many places where things are hidden, so it is helpful to have that person that knows what to look for so you can find those hidden little gems.

The two major sites at Petra are the Treasury and the Monastery. The Treasury is pretty crowded because it is the easiest to get to. It is about a kilometer hike all down hill from the visitor center through an idyllic canyon called the Siq. I would recommend going early in the morning because it got really crowded in the afternoon, and it made it hard to navigate through the people. The Monastery is not as crowded but takes a little more effort to get to. It is an uphill hike on a series of stairs that have sometimes been worn away by heavy rains. It is hard to tell how many steps you have to take to get there because they are not always organized, but the rule of thumb is somewhere between 850 and 900. Both locations are awe-inspiring, and are worth the trip, but it can get cold up at the Monastery, especially in the months of fall and spring, so I would recommend taking layers of clothes.

There are many other places to view along the way including the Royal Tombs and the Great Temple. Some of these locations had been lost to the desert and are only being uncovered at this time. Archeologists from Brown University were at the site and discovered the Great Temple buried underneath the sand. They have been spending the couple of decades slowly digging it out and restoring it to its original glory. There are a couple of amazing corridors that you can walk down, and there is a small theatre placed right in the middle, but the most impressive part of this location is the rows of columns that are on either side of what would have been the huge foyer.

There is also the large amphitheater in what would have been the center of this hidden city. It made me wonder what the bustling atmosphere of this place would have once been like as people made their way up and down its various streets. They would have been covered with merchants selling their wares, and to an extent they still are, except now they are different variations of the same collection of souvenirs. The amphitheater is also quiet now, as in the past, I am sure that it would be filled with great speeches, and amazing performances that would be overheard by everybody that happened to pass by.

To travel to Petra is to travel back in time to a place and a culture that could have easily been swept under the stiff wind of the Jordanian desert. It truly feels like you are an archeologist that has come to find s great treasure among its many buildings. It is an adventure, and I can see why George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg chose it for their third installment of the storied franchise. If the theme song isn’t playing in your head as soon as you step foot on the dusty paths, it will soon play because there are always people singing it or humming it, so everybody else can join in. It makes you feel like you are a part of the movie, but in the end you marvel that there is so much more to it than what little they showed in that full length feature.

Petra should be on the top of everybody’s bucket list. It is an amazing place to visit, but not enough people know about it to add it to the many places that they need to travel to before they die. I am glad that I have added it to the places I have been, and I doubt that I will quickly forget its grandeur. Considering I am also currently living in Jordan, it is a place that I will go back to. I covered the more touristy part of the site, and I want to go back to travel the less explored areas. It makes it one of those places that you will always be happy to go back to, and I hope you have the opportunity to make it out there at least once.

The Great Debate

In the spirit of our competition,
I will cross the stage so I can shake your hand.
The audience has some expectation
That our exhibition will be so grand.
To see who goes first, we will flip a coin;
The other will pick the side they will take.
Ideas we’ll explore; clashes we’ll join
Will bring us to an agreement we’ll make.
Though it may seem like we are in a fight,
There is a greater purpose happening.
We will find a compromise that is right
That comes about from all this explaining.
The purpose for us to participate,
To learn what is right from our great debate.

The Rhino

I just wish to live a life that’s simple,
Roaming the plains from where I was born,
But there are those that look at my pimple,
Thinking it’s not right for me to adorn.
So I have to spend my days in hiding,
Keeping careful watch for these greedy men.
My problem is my eyes are short-sighting,
Making it hard to see where I have been.
This gives the advantage to the hunters,
Creeping nearby me in the undergrowth.
I will never know about their saunters,
Thinking of a tree as neither and both.
That’s why I keep secret my location,
Keeping horns safe from another nation.

An African Safari

I feel like I have lived a pretty lucky lifestyle. There are not many people in the world that can say that they have had the opportunity to travel to five different continents and have been able to have visited over forty different countries. Some might think that this would get repetitive after awhile, and after seeing something, it would be hard to be amazed by it the next time you came across the same kind of sight. But it is hard not to be amazed at rhinos when you come across them in the wild, or to be taken to see the wildlife of one of the most beautiful continents in the world, Africa. I have been lucky enough to be able to do this twice in my lifetime, and both times, I have enjoyed the experience immensely.

Of course, going on safari like this is not only about the rhinos. It is about seeing all of the animals as they try to survive in the wild. To be fair, where I went was not exactly a safari. I got to travel around the vast expanse of land that had been designated as a nature preserve. The same type of interaction I would have been able to see on the plains of the Serengeti are not the same where I went on this trip. A nature preserve wants to make sure that the animals do not let nature take on what it is designed to take one. They keep the predators separated from the other species to help preserve them and help them to once again grow in population so they do not become extinct.

The black rhinos we saw are a great example of this. They have been hunted for their horns because in some Eastern Asian societies it is believed that they have the power to cure cancer even though this has been debunked by science on numerous occasions. In fact, I have been asked by the nature reserve to not disclose their whereabouts because they fear the information might get into the hands of the wrong people and they would come after the rhinos that they have on their lands. They even take other precautions to help these animals survive by making sure that there is someone watching them so hunters do not try to come in and steal their horns. It is strange to think that this is the reason that these animals are becoming extinct.

They are not the only animal that they protect. There is also the African wild dog that is facing the same problems with extinction. The problem with their extinction is a little different than the one with the rhinos. There is no foreign power that is making strange claims that have nothing to do with science. Instead, there problem comes with the ranchers and farmers of Africa itself. The wild dogs are killed because they are always sneaking onto the ranches and are killing the livestock. This is just as difficult of an issue to overcome, but because of the reasons behind it, the solution to the problem is completely different.

It was a nice experience to go out and see these animals in the semi-wild. I also felt good about giving this organization my money because their main focus is to protect these animals, and work to make sure that they are not going extinct. It would have been nicer to have seen them in the wild, but at the same time, I understand why this is so difficult to do. If I were to go out in the wild, I would have had difficulty trying to see all of these animals due to humanity’s impact on their lives. It is great that these organizations exist, and I hope that they continue to do their good work so future generations can enjoy watching these animals as well.

Unraveling

It will only take a tug on the thread
Before another one will come undone,
And soon on the ground, gathered in a bed,
Will be left a weaving that was once spun.
Focusing on one not to pull and pick
Will leave someone else to give a try,
Doing nothing big, just a little flick,
Allowing the rest of it to comply.
You run over there before it’s too late,
But that will leave other idle hands free,
A battle ‘gainst inevitable fate
For a carpet that’s never meant to be.
Still you do your best to clean up the mess
As a model of calm under duress.

Forensics – A Trip Back to Normal

In a post-Covid world, t is a nice feeling to see things slowly going back to normal. It is not quite at where we were before the pandemic froze the world, but we are now taking the steps to get back to that place. For instance, I have talked about how I have moved to Jordan a year and a half ago to start teaching there, and one of the programs I picked up was the Speech and Debate, or Forensics program. It was something that had been huge at the school, and one of their prides, but when I came last year, it was hard to get students to want to participate in the event. All we had to offer was a weekend where we would meet at school and have a virtual meet where we competed against schools from India, and Africa. After being weary of being on-line all the time for classes, and not really knowing what Forensics was all about, we only had a few of the dedicated ones who helped keep the program alive for one more year. This year was a little different as we were invited to a meet in Africa, and could entice people to join by promising them that this would be the culminating event. Still participation was weak, but we the enthusiasm was up from the previous year. It felt like jumpstarting the program from scratch, but in the end everything came together to produce a great event that surprised me in more ways than one.

The first was how amazing the trip was. It was nice to be able to take a trip with students again. We didn’t just go down to participate in the meet, but we also made sure to include some cultural experiences as well. We were able to go visit a nature preserve, and explore the Apartheid Museum, two dramatically different experiences, but ones the students will never forget. Despite this, we were also able to enjoy the regular cultural experiences, nice hospitality, and a new cuisine that none of us were really familiar with.

We were also able to make some new friends. In fact, I was really proud of the way my students got out of their comfort zones and got to know the other participants around them. What I like about forensics as an extra-curricular activity is that it is not always about winning. It is more about gaining a skill set that the ones who participate will be able to use later in their lives. And they know that they are not going to be amazing at it to begin with. The whole experience is about the growth in the field, and when they go into it with that mindset, the people that they are competing against are not enemies, but other friends who are going through the same experience that they are. All it takes is the right attitude, and I am proud of my students for having that attitude. By the end of the event it was fun to see them mingling with kids from other schools, and cheering for each other at the award ceremony. They were sharing Instagram accounts and making plans to stay in contact with each other even though they lived over a thousand miles away from each other. It was what made me proud for having had been a part of this trip.

But this wasn’t the only thing that made me proud of what they were able to accomplish. Even though, for most of the students that came, this was the first time that they ever competed in a forensics tournament, they all did exceptionally well. It was fun to watch to them compete for four rounds. With each proceeding round, they did better and better. And on the second night of the tournament, when they starting naming who would be in the finals, and they could barely contain their excitement, I loved to watch them jump up and down when they got the news that they wanted to hear. And finally, when they started to hand out trophies for first, second, and third place in each category, I was just as excited to see them walk across the stage to receive their trophy as they were.

Overall, it was great to have these trips start up again, and it is also interesting to see that every school is on the same playing field. Each one of them struggled with putting a team together, and making sure that their students stuck with it through the whole season, the same that we did. There was even one school that pulled out at the last minute. Yet, it was important that we took that flight and did our best. If we backed out at the last minute then the program at the school could have faltered, the meet could have been cancelled, and then, it would have been impossible for it to start up again anywhere. It was not the most impressive meet I have ever witnessed, but considering what we all went through the last few years, there isn’t a school in the world that has been able to pull off the impressive meets that they used to have. But this is the first step of getting back to those great events. I’m glad that it happened too, because the benefits of this program is too great to let it go by the wayside. Next year will even be better, and we might even be able to build a season around this one event. I can’t wait to see how this grow over the next year, and I can’t wait to see how it affects my students again. 

I wished to add pictures of my students participating in this event, but due to privacy reasons, I declined showing any of these pictures. Instead, I have included other pictures from the trip instead to respect their privacy.

A Lazy Vacation

As the sun set over the distant hills in Egypt, and I sat on the beach in Aqaba watching it go down, I thought about the close on another vacation. It was not one of my typical vacations where I would go out and try to see as much as I possibly could. Instead, I spent a lot of my time sitting next to a pool, and reading a book. Are there things to do in Aqaba, and could I have gotten out of my seat to do them? Of course there are plenty of things to do. I could have visited the castle that was once built to fight off any invaders that might have shown up to this shore. I could have explored the Roman ruins that are being unearthed here as they are in many other places in the area. I could have booked a snorkeling trip to check out the sunken boat or crashed commercial airplane. They would have made for an adventurous holiday, but it is not what I needed at this time.

I needed a vacation where I sat around a pool and relaxed on the beach.

I will always enjoy those trips where I go out and see and do a lot of things, and there will be many that are coming up where I will do exactly that. But there also comes a time where I need to recoup, and that is what this vacation was all about. Things have been a little crazy at work, and when I get back in a couple of days, they will pick up right where they left off. There are a couple of trips thrown in there as well, one with students of mine, so I needed to make sure that I was up for the challenge of this next run.

So am I going to remember a lot from this trip? Probably not.

It is okay though. I still had the sunset. I still had the beach. I still had the couple of days of complete relaxation. And all of this allowed me to keep my sanity.

Thank you, Aqaba for the wonderful vacation. I am sure I will be back again soon since you are not that far away, and during that time I hope to see more of what you have to offer.

A Beach on the Red Sea

The thing that strikes me as being the most strange with my time in the Middle East is visiting these place that are in the Bible. I grew up with these stories from such an early age that I couldn’t think of them in any other capacity other than tales full of fantastical places that couldn’t possibly be real. Now that I see these places for myself, the first thing that pops into my head is, “This place really exists.” I have had this experience with the spot on the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the top of Mount Nebo where Moses was able to look on the promised land before her died, and now I have travelled down to Aqaba in Jordan, and can sit on the Red Sea looking over its waters to Egypt, and the place where Moses parted the Red Sea so he could bring his people over to freedom.

Aqaba is the only port city in Jordan, and give the citizens of this country 32 kilometers of beach front property to play around in. It is a tiny sliver of land situated in between Saudi Arabia, and Israel with a clear view of the Sinai Peninsula within clear view of its coastline. The Jordanians have made the most out of this little stretch of land. Not only have packed it full of resorts, and places where people can go out to enjoy waterskiing, scuba diving, and lounging out on their boats, but it is the only port city in the country. Anything that comes in or out of Jordan has to pass through Aqaba first.

A certain amount of history can be found in this city as well beyond the stories that are told in the Bible. Aqaba was used by the British during World War I as a base to help the Arabs in their fight against the Turks. T. E. Lawrence of Lawrence of Arabia fame would retreat back often to Aqaba to resupply or just collect himself before going back out to gather together forces or blow up train routes. It was the one place that they were able to hold on to and may be the reason that they were able to push the Turks out of the area, and is probably one of the big reasons that the Middle East is shaped the way that it is today.

Despite all of this that is offered, the thing I looked forward to the most was finding a beach chair next to the warm waters with a good book to keep me company. It is a nice weekend getaway place from Amman, and I am glad that I can take a quick four hour car ride down here to unwind a bit. I did get a chance to explore a bit of the town, but for the most part, it was all about relaxation this time around, and Aqaba is the perfect place for that. After I collect myself more, I will go explore more, and even if I don’t get it all in this time around, I can always make my way back here. That is the nice thing about living in a country that offers places like Aqaba, you don’t have to squeeze out every moment you are in the place to make sure you saw everything. Instead, you can take your time and savor what it has to offer. So thank you Aqaba for these days of relaxation, and I hope to dive deeper into what you have to offer soon.