The rocky path will not always be true, But it will still lead you to the same place. Out of the mountains, a wadi once grew, And hid a paradise in the cliff face. There is a stream that turned the valley green, With time, eroding away the hard stone, Leaving behind swimming holes so serene That humankind could not leave them alone. They will travel from every corner To find some fun in this famous canyon. What ails them, they think they will find a cure After a week long holiday is done. Don’t tell them that the wadi will forget Every person it helped get wet.
It is about the sand under your feet As the in coming waves wash it away. It is about the ultimate retreat You wish to find on a vacation stay. It is about time I spent with my love Without having to worry about work. It is about no new rules from above Coming from an administrative jerk. It is about time off that I deserve Because the amount of your workload. It is about the resting of the nerve Due to the fact of the stress that is sowed. It is about a moment within reach Where we can spend the day walking the beach.
You all look like ants, crawling down below When I am able to stand from the height. I can see how far that this city grew As it takes, from nature, another bite. Over the desert, the road stretches forth To the places where the Bedouins camped; You may look to the south, east, west, and north To witness how that culture has been stamped. It can now be found within the museums, Or the picture books given to children. Humankind is subjected to its whims To ignore the places where it has been. I stand atop its crowning achievement, A tower, to God’s grace, will not be bent.
As our feet slowly sink into the sand, And it squirms into the the cracks of our shoes, The wind tries to blow us from where we stand, And the sun pays off its last daily dues. I can feel the grit filling up my teeth, And my eyes sting from the wind’s and sun’s burn. I can find a resolve from underneath As why I’m on the dune ready to learn. For it is only here when I’m alone, I can contemplate things of great import That this great expanse of grain was once stone; Nature wished it to be another sort. Where will the wind send me when I am done? Will I still feel the warmth of the sun?
We all know that it must come to an end Even though we try to fight against it, But this is not a rule that you can bend, And we must allow the moment to quit. It will open us to us something new Though that might be something that is scary, But these opportunities are so few That we should not allow them to tarry. Instead we should look towards their embrace As if fate even gave us an option; It might be better what it does replace, Only if we could seek out its intention. We may think it something we nurture, But nobody can predict our future.
It may be that I was trained at an early age, but I always find it weird to be a warm location during the holiday season. Snow should be coming out of the sky, forcing me to bundle up in a warm coat, and watch the blinking lights from a safe distance. The malls should be crowded with holiday shoppers, and everybody should be in good cheer.
But when it is warm out, it doesn’t have the same feel. I want to go for hikes, and explore the world around me. This was more the focus of this holiday season, and though it may have been different, in a way, it was more authentic.
In the hustle and bustle that we lose ourselves into during every holiday season, we sometimes forget that in reality, it is not about the snow, and pine trees. It is not about the presents, and the parties. It actually started off in a very humble manner, in the place where I am now living, and traveling through during the holiday season. Maybe, instead of having this Nordic experience every year, we should turn our attention to sand, and camels.
Despite the stringing up of power lines, and the introduction of indoor plumbing, the Middle East has not changed a lot over the two thousand years since the birth of the holiday season. There are many opportunities to find small old houses to stay in, sleeping on the floor, and hearing the voices of animals just outside your window. The community still gathers together in those places for meals, and enjoys the company of each other under skies that do not threaten you with anything more than a warm day. It is completely unlike anything that we think about when the holiday season comes to mind.
Granted the Middle East is a predominantly Muslim part of the world, and the further that I get away from my home in Jordan, the harder it is to see the aspects of Christianity that I grew up with and became accustomed to. That does not mean that the holidays are not celebrated there. New Year’s Eve looks like the bigger celebration, especially in the bigger cities, but still there are aspects of Christmas around as well. It is just shown in different ways, and it reminds me of those ornaments that, as a child, we always placed on the bottom part of the tree. They were of shepherds, and camels, and donkeys, and of course, the whole crew to fill out the nativity, and those are everywhere to be seen out in the Middle East. It just reminds me of a Christmas celebration that is sometimes pushed to the side, instead of being celebrated more.
Though I found myself wandering the desert, and relaxing on the beach this holiday season, it did not mean that it wasn’t any less special. Yes, it definitely felt different than what I was accustomed to, but it was still a nice way to spend the holidays.
The beauty of the season did not come in electric systems that were put to the test to keep lights blinking, but instead from the explosion of color in the sky that came from when the sun set. The warmth of the season did not come from bundling up close to a fire, but standing in the sand letting the sun thaw me out. The feeling of the season still came from those I was able to share it with which, in the end, is what the holiday season should be about.
I did enjoy the time that I got to have in both Oman and Abu Dhabi. It is a side of the world that I have gotten to explore, and I do believe that this experience has given me a greater appreciation for the place in the world that I live in. I hope that you can come to the same agreement with wherever you find yourself. Be sure to appreciate the ones you are near, and look forward to not just the dawn of a New Year, but each day that follows it.
When people travel to Europe, they spend a lot of time in cathedrals, not because they are trying to renew their faith, but because they want to look at these monuments build to God. It is always a weird thing because you walk around this place where people go to worship while taking pictures and marveling at the art that can be found there. There is a similar tradition in the Middle East, except instead of cathedrals, you go visit the mosques.
The people of the Middle East will not allow you to visit every mosque, but their is usually one in every country that you should go visit. In both Muscat, Oman and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, it is called the Grand Mosque, and they are a sight behold. They are both still used for worship, and the one in Oman has limited times in which you can visit. Still, it is a must do for anyone heading off to either of these countries.
There are some stark differences between mosques and cathedrals. The larger cathedrals have a collection of artwork, and monuments from the people and dedicated to those who helped design and establish the cathedral in the city where it is found. There are various altars to pray at, and the architecture has a distinct pattern to it that all churches are supposed to follow. The artwork in mosques is still there, but its focus points to a love of nature and cultures instead of individuals and saints. Architecture is still a huge part of what you will see, but it is built to highlight the themes that are already a part of the design.
There is a certain symmetry to the design. It creates patterns that you can lose yourself in by trying to unravel it, and then marvel at its beauty. It is a showcase of geometry that would excite any math teacher. These features are still in a cathedral, but it sometimes gets lost with everything else going on in them; whereas, with a mosque, it is there to enhance what the place has to offer.
This all comes together at the niche that is the central focus of any mosque’s chamber. It is where the imam will come to lead their followers in prayer. The niche will still follow the patterns of geometry that are on display elsewhere in the mosque, and highlight that with richly designed artwork. Sometimes this further enhances with the use of gold, and Arabic writing. Just like an altar in a cathedral, it will direct the eye to what should always be the center of attention in any place of worship.
Both of the mosques in Abu Dhabi and Muscat boast of a hand woven carpet that stretches out perfectly over the main room’s floor. At first glance, it looks beautiful, but on further inspection, you will notice that there is something else going on with it. It is one piece of carpet which reaches perfectly to all of the edges, and goes around the columns nicely. To think about how this was handwoven and is just one piece that covers a vast amount of area makes you think about the care that went into creating its design. It boggles the mind to think about what was gone through to enhance the beauty of this place.
There are also chandeliers in both mosques, and they are something to marvel at. They are massive. The one in the center of the picture is so big that I am told it has a staircase in the middle of it, so people can enter it and maintain it. They are also strategically place, so they not only offer light, but they illuminate parts of the room, such as the niche, to enhance the artwork that was designed there.
Just like the cathedrals in Europe, it is easy to see why people flocks to these locations to tour these mosques. The reason that they are given the name Grand is easily shown while touring around them. The one in Muscat allows for more freedom when touring it, but both of them are definitely worth the trip.
Greece had always been one of the places I always wanted to visit, but it is in such a strange location in Europe that makes getting to it a little difficult by Eurorail. It became a no-brainer though when I moved to Jordan. It is a short flight to the islands, and with Spring Break being open to the world again this year, we took advantage of that fact to explore two of the islands, Santorini and Naxos. It was fun to see one of the more touristy islands, Santorini, compared to one of the quieter islands, Naxos, and get to experience them right before the Summer season started in full. It is easily a place that we will eventually come back to.
Iceland was another place that I had never been to that I always wanted to explore, and this last summer was the perfect time to do so. Covid restrictions were being loosened and we could spend the whole time outside where any exposure to it would be minimum. The funny thing about this trip is that I caught Covid right before we landed, so we were the ones that people needed to stay away from. The hike that we took on this day was absolutely beautiful, and I would have probably enjoyed it more if I wasn’t sick on this day. It was still a stunning place to visit in a country full of stunning places to see.
There are many things to do on the island of Santorini, Greece, but one that is skipped by many of the people that go there is the Akrotiri Ruins on the tip of the island. This is Greek’s answer to Pompeii. This city was destroyed by the volcano that turned the island into a ring instead of the massive mass of land that it used to be. So far, archeologists have just started unearthing the ruins that were left behind, but it is cool to see what Greek life used to be like, and imagine being a part of it.
This was one of my poems that people enjoyed a lot this year. Usually they do not make it into the top ten posts for the year, but I guess people connected with the story of Mary. I had been watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time in a long time over the Christmas holiday, and I noticed one part of the story that did not hold up as well as I remembered it to be. The awful life that Mary had because George Bailey had never been born is almost absurd if compared to today’s standards. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great movie, but I’m having a hard time getting over this little part of the story.
This is the second poem of the year that ended up on the list of top ten poems for the year. I love the snow, and I have not been able to see it much ever since I moved abroad. It was a nice treat to see it early in the year, and it made for a nice inspiration for a poem. Evidently, many of you thought the same as well because it was the most popular poem of 2022.
This last year was spent learning a lot about the Greeks, and Romans, but one of my favorite trips was to a place that many people forget about when thinking of these two ancient civilizations, Cyprus. It is a short flight from Jordan, and it is filled with ruins all over the place. One of the best places to check out is the House of Dionysus. It has mosaic floors from ancient times that are still being uncovered. They do a great job of telling old Greek stories, and are worth the time to check out.
Growing up, my family had a tradition of getting together on New Year’s Eve and playing game until we could ring in the New Year. As I grew older, my siblings kept up the tradition, and not being able to attend has always been one of the bigger regrets I have had about moving abroad. Luckily, this year was started revisiting that tradition at my brother’s house. It was fun to ring in the New Year this way, and it is amazing that this post was one of the more popular ones as the year continued.
Considering that things have started to return to normal after the couple of years of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to remember that it was still going on at the beginning of the year. This made travel exceptionally difficult. Not only did you need to be vaccinated in order to travel, and some countries had not gotten up to speed with that yet, you also needed to prove that you were Covid free. I had to stand in two line in the cold of Portland, Oregon at the beginning of the year to make sure that I could travel back to my job, and this post was an exploration of what that was like.
When summer rolled around, restrictions relaxed, and I was able to enjoy my first real travel experience after a couple of years of not being able to do so. Of course, we went big by renting a camper van and driving around Iceland for three weeks. It is a beautiful country, but we were there during the coldest June they have had in thirty years. Because of this, we got to know our camper vans really well. This post has been viewed by a lot of people who are going to travel there as they wonder which camper van company will be right for them. I hope the post guides them in the right direction and they can enjoy the country the way it is meant to be enjoyed.
My first trip of the year took me to Cyprus, only an hour flight from Amman, and a world of difference from each other. Cyprus is wine country, and one of only three places in the world where you can get the rare blue wine. This was the most popular post of the year, and I can understand why. The wine is a novelty, and it sparked a lot of people’s interest. It is fun to try, but for the most part, it is just like white wine, except the process of making it turns it blue.
This was a post from a year early that is still getting a lot of traffic. Apparently people love the combination of elk and the forests of Oregon. It was a treat for me to see them instead of the typical deer that roam the ranch, and apparently a lot of other people agreed.
This was actually a post that went live at the end of 2021. I was visiting family in Colorado, and my brother and his family took me down for the opening on Meow Wolf. I had never heard of this place, and it sounded interesting. It was cool to see the craziness that it had to offer, and it took until this year before people started visiting the post.
During the pandemic, I found my way back to hobby that I enjoyed a lot when I was younger, board games. This was a game that I got for Christmas, and I was able to play it at the end of 2021. This is the review of the game, and it has apparently helped a lot of people decide if the game is right for them or not because it was regularly visited during this year.
This was one of my biggest posts of 2021, and it continued to be a favorite of people’s again this year. It tells people how to visit this cool part of the Dead Sea that is a little ways away from all of the resorts that are further up the road. It is a great day trip and I expect people to visit it often again in 2023.
It always surprises me what people connect with and what they do not. This was supposed to be a throw away post based on a bumper sticker I saw while driving through Bend, Oregon. It has endured over the years, and is always one of my top posts. It is one of the few ones that I have posted that does not even have a picture to accompany it with, but people continue to come back to it again and again even though it has fallen off in popularity this last year.
This is by far my most popular board game review. It pits two of the top board games against each other and helps people decide which one is right for them. Even though I have been able to play Wingspan more over the last year, I still think that Everdell is the better game, and I have even started to see it for sale at Target, making it an even bigger game than when this was first posted.
This is far and away this most visited post that I have. It talks about a little hike that you can take if you find yourself in Railay, Thailand. It must be the one that people go to on a regular basis to help them find the way to the bat cave because it gets visits on a daily basis. I am glad that I have been able to help people find there way there, and I hope, if you are reading this blog, that you some day make it there as well as all the other places that I write about. The world is a great place, and you should go explore all of its nooks and crannies while you still can, especially now that travel is a thing again.
There are many wadis, or canyons, that you can hike through in Oman, but probably the most famous of them all is one that you hike along the rim of it. It is connected to Oman’s tallest peak, Jebel Shams. It is a sacred peak for many of the people in Oman because it is the first place every day to see the sunrise. It is also a great location to go to for a hike, and during the month of December, the temperatures are perfect for making the attempt.
It may look scary from the pictures I am showing, but in reality, it is not that hard or stressful of a hike. There is more stress involved by making your way to the start of the hike as you need to drive 17 km on a bumpy dirt road that is sometimes so narrow that only one car can fit through it. But the hike itself has very little elevation gain. In fact, the way in is mostly downhill, and it is a gradual uphill hike to get back out. It says it takes four hours to go to the end and back, but it only took us three, and we had a stop for lunch. I guess it depends on how fast you want to move, and how many stops you are willing to make on the way.
There are a few goats that you will run into a long the way as well. Most of the time, they will leave you alone unless you pull out some food. This one ran all the way down a cliff in the hopes of getting some food as some as we had some lunch. Just like any wildlife, they do not need to be fed. There is plenty of food around for them to much on, and at numerous occasions, we came across goats high in the trees eating the branches that were higher up. I never knew that goats could climb trees, but this was not an uncommon sight on this hike.
There are domesticated goats around as well. At the beginning of the hike, there is a small ranch, and they must have just had a litter of kids because there were a bunch of them running around. Everywhere I turned, I was able to see them playing around with each other or jumping around the pens that were set up for them. The people that run the ranch have set up a small shop at the start of the hike where they sell key chains and bracelets made from the hair of the goats and sheep that they raise. They will also sell you some bottled drinks if you need some of that for the hike. I did not find them to be too pushy, but they will work in a way to talk to whoever starts or ends the hike.
The end of the hike will take you to a waterfall. I did not get to see the waterfall. It was December when I was taking the hike, and the waterfall had run dry, but I could definitely see the place where it would usually comes down. Even missing this sight this time around did not take away from the hike, and it was the perfect weather to be doing it at this time of the year. I could imagine it being a little too hot if I were to do it at any other time of the year.
And for those of you who are campers, there are many places around where you can pitch your tent after the hike. Oman does not regulate where you can camp, so you can find the perfect place for the sunset. If you want a little more comfort there are a couple of resorts, but they are a little overpriced, and service is an afterthought at them, so do not expect a lot if you plan at staying at one of them. Whereas, the price for camping is free, and you can set up right next to them. This was you can see that the last thing the sun hits in the country of Oman is the same place that it hits when it comes up in the morning, Jebel Shams.
There are a variety of things to do in Oman. You can go to a beach, or hike a mountain. But the biggest appeal, and the one that most people think about is visiting the desert. You can make a day trip out of it, or if you are really adventurous, you can pitch your own tent and spend a night under the stars. There is a middle ground available as there are many glamping sights all over the desert, and one of the premiere ones would have to be The Thousand Nights Camp just outside of the town of Bidiyah.
It is a little bit of a hike out of town, and you do need a four wheel drive vehicle to make it out there. It is also suggested that you deflate your tires to give you a little more traction over the loose sand that will blow on to the dirt path that will take you out there. Beware that the town of Bidiyah is full of people waiting to take advantage of this. They will bug you about giving you help to get out there, and if you are a little worried, you might want to book somebody ahead of time. If you are a skilled driver and you have a powerful four wheel drive, you should be able to make it out there without a problem.
Once there, you will be given your own tent that is bigger than most hotel rooms, designed like one a bedouin would stay in, has its own private shower, and electricity. It even has a bed, and air conditioning, though I stayed out here in December and could just open the windows to get the tent to the right temperature. You are still roughing it though because there is no refrigerator in the tent unless you pay for an upgrade. If you do that, then you get your own patio, and private pool, and the best views of the dunes.
There is also plenty to do while out there. They have a small pool that is great for cooling off in. A couple of camels are available if you would like to try your hand at riding one of them. You can borrow an ATV to explore the sand dunes, or hire a local guide to drive you to the more remote places. They also have a recreation center which is great for kids, a nightly traditional Arabian fire, and an oryx farm that you can check out.
Or you could do the simplest thing of all, and put on your hiking shoes, and climb those sand dunes yourself. The first one is a bit of a trial to get up, but once you are on top of the dunes, it is a lot of fun walking along them. Within a half an hour of leaving camp, I was able to get far enough away from the camp to feel like I was the only one hiking around the desert. I was also able to find the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
And it is a great place to watch the sunset, especially in December. It was the perfect temperature out there, and the wind only came up as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon. There was even enough light afterwards to have enough time to safely back to the camp and the wonderful meal that they served for dinner that night. There are many of these camps in the desert, and they all have similar things that they offer, but the Thousand Nights Camp was far enough away to make it feel like I had really gotten off the beaten path. If you come out here, this is one of the stops that you have to put on your itinerary. You won’t regret it.