The Holidays in the Middle East

Christmas decoration in the mountains of Oman

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.

Jabreen Fort in Oman

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.

Abu Dhabi’s skyline

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.

The Old House in Misfah, Oman

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.

Staircase up to the Imam’s rooms in Jabreen Fort in Oman

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.

The Corniche beach in Abu Dhabi

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.

Sunset in Abu Dhabi

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.

Al Qana in Abu Dhabi

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.

Thanks again, until next time.

The First Place to See the Sun – Jebel Shams, Oman

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.

Desert Glamping – A Thousand Nights Camp, Oman

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.

Thanks again, until next time.

Ryanair Hates You

I know that Ryanair is a budget airline, and I should not expect a lot when I board one of their planes. I also know that it is fairly inexpensive to fly and they have done an amazing job over their years in the air of creating a program that allows them to make as much money as possible while carting people all over Europe, and to other places nearby. I further know that many people have already made their complaints about this company, and there is not a lot that I can say about it that will add new insight as to who they are, but after recent experiences with them, I feel like I should at least try.

There are many things that I can forgive about them. The fact that they pack as many possible into their planes as possible without giving much leg room to people who might be taller than the average person is forgivable. I get it. The more people you can get on a plane, the more money you can make it. So the goal is to get as many people on that plane that will allow you to fly without them revolting mid-flight, and though uncomfortable, I do believe that Ryanair has found that balance.

I can also forgive the fact that they charge extra money for carry on luggage. It is a typical ploy used by the airlines to make a little extra, and considering that Ryanair charges so little money for their trips, I can see them using this method to make up that money somewhere.

I can even understand why they did away with food and beverage service unless you pay for it. The flights they have are generally short enough that you really do not need to eat or have a drink on them, and if you did not plan well enough that you do, it is your own fault that you are now subjected to their own prices. Most of their flights are within the continent of Europe anyways, so there are methods of getting where you need to go that might take a little longer, but are a lot more enjoyable.

The reason that I think that Ryanair hates is you is because of the little things that they do that goes out of their way to make your trip uncomfortable. You are not allowed to pick your own seat which I am okay with. But when you book your flight with a fellow passenger at the same time, and you have the same last names, and you show up at the airport to pick up your tickets together, you would think that the smallest thing that they could do would have you sit next to each other. But Ryanair would rather have one of you sit in the front of the plane, while the other person gets a seat in the back. There are a lot of people that this happens to, so negotiations start to take place as people move spots so they can sit next to people that they are traveling with. It makes no sense, and actually delays the airline’s ability to leave on time. I have no idea why they do it.

They also do not give you a little pouch on the seat in front of you to place something like a water or a book into. Even trash you might collect during the flight will end up on the floor so the aisle eventually looks like a forgotten street next to a city dump. Placing one of these things on each seat can not cost so much that they cannot do it. It is a simple curtesy that every airline should do, but Ryanair goes out of its way not to do this. The only explanation for doing this is that they hate you and they want to constantly remind you of this fact.

They also treat their passengers like a herd of cattle. I get that there is a process for getting on to a plane so the company can do it in an orderly and efficient manner, but the way that Ryanair completes this task does not seem to follow this sense of logic. Sometimes a good twenty minutes before you need to board the plane, Ryanair collected everybody in a holding station that subjects them to whatever weather might be outside at that time. If it is during the fall or the spring, this isn’t that bad, but when you have to endure the heat of European summers, or the cold of the Scandinavian winters, this seems a little cruel. It also seems a little pointless. They have people sitting in this holding cell for a good twenty to thirty minutes at times as the plane we are going to board is still being unloaded. They can wait until they are ready to load, and there is no really reason for them to treat people like livestock unless that is what they think of us.

Now that I am a few days after flying Ryanair, I contemplate whether hatred is too strong of a word for the way that Ryanair feels about all of their customers. I got where I was supposed to go, and back home again. It wasn’t comfortable, but I lived. Is this all I should expect from a budget airline? Or should I hope for something a little more? Maybe a little bit of love, and a little less hate. I don’t mean that they have to care about me, but I would hope that they would at least think about me before I got on their next flight.

The Comic World of Brussels

There are a lot of things to like about Belgium, the beer, the frittes, the chocolate, but the one thing that I am always surprised about when I travel out here is the comic culture. They were one of the places in the world that developed comics into what they are today, and they are proud of their contributions to this art form.

The Belgium people have created many comic titles that are enjoyed the world over, from Tin Tin, to the Smurfs, to Marsupilami. Their stories may not be the superheroes that are enjoyed by many Americans, but that should not deny the impact that these comics have had on the world. Their stories endure, and the style they employed to tell those stories should be analyzed and treasured.

The people of Brussels understood this about their national treasure. When they were looking at the blank walls of their city, they thought that the best way to beautify their city was to honor this tradition. They took the most popular of the characters that the various people in town told, and painted murals of them on those blanks walls.

It makes walking the streets of Brussels a fun adventure with every turn of the corner. You don’t know if you will see a mural or not, and if you do see one, you don’t know what character will transport you to a simpler time when stories could be told through this seemingly simple medium. There are so many of them on the wall of Brussels that you can find a map of a walking tour involving them at the local Information Center, and you can always see people making their way to discover them all.

Once you start to notice these murals, you start to notice that it goes beyond the comic culture of Belgium. There are many pictures that are painted on the sides of buildings, highlighting many different issues that are important to the people of Brussels. They are just not painted on the side of buildings, taking up the whole wall; instead, you have to look at the corners to find these great little pieces that still will make you laugh, but will also still tell a great story at the same time.

Some organizations took this spirit one step further to paint the spirit of their movement on their walls. It nice to see that this tradition came move beyond a simple idea to make the streets of the city prettier to see, but to also supply important political messages to the people of that same city.

These murals give Brussels its own distinct character that makes traveling here fun in unexpected ways. The cold winter days no longer seem daunting when you know that going from one place to another will come with it a quick trip back to your childhood. I love the way that the people of Brussels were able to take something that was completely unique to them and use it to give their city charm and character. So though I came for the frittes, chocolate and the beer, it was the murals that really captured my imagination while out in Belgium.

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.

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.

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.