The Difference a Year Makes

Many people think of this time of the year as an ending, and time to renew our lives to push for something new and better. Though this is a great way of thinking about the year, I rather like to look back at where I was and the voyage I have taken during the year.

The year looks like it is going to end much the same way it began, with Covid being the major concern of nations. When the year began, I was living in Thailand and the government was threatening to shut down the country at any time. We were constantly keeping one eye on the news as we rode the vacation wave that we were on touring the country.

We still had to cut that trip short. There were many places we had visited on that trip but there were a couple that we were unable to go to because we had come back early. The big one was Khoa Sok in the southern part of the country by Phuket. It was the one place that did allow us to change our date though and didn’t just take our deposits as the natural consequences of making these choices during this unstable time in the world. We were able to go back in March and enjoy the beauty of that part of the country.

In April, things around the world were starting to loosen up, but Thailand was still dragging its feet on collecting vaccines for its population and hoping that tourism could save their economy. We took advantage of this sliver of time before thing really locked down to go to the very southern tip of Thailand to the small island of Koh Lipe. It was my last hurrah in the country because I had signed for a new job in Jordan the next year, and this would be my last opportunity to enjoy the beauty that this tropical East Asian country had to offer. It ended up being one of the best trips I had taken in that country, and I felt lucky to have gotten it in.

By the time May had rolled around, the country was in complete lockdown and we were back online. It made my last few days in the country seem very anti-climatic. My last moments were a mad rush to an airport as we took one of the few planes flying out of the country to make it back to the United States. It made me feel like I had left a couple of loose ends that needed to be taken care of, but for the most part, this wasn’t the case. Thailand disappeared quickly in my memory as I made the needed adjustments for my next adventure in the International teaching scene.

But first, I got to have some time in the United States visiting with family and friends who I had not seen for a couple of years due to the pandemic. More importantly, we stopped at a couple of pharmacies so we could get vaccinated. We did spend a lot of our time away from the general population until we got this done, but it was nice to be back in America and making steps to get back to what we would hope would be normalcy again.

And for a time in July, it felt like this was the case. I spent most of that month back in Colorado with my family, getting ready to take a hop over a different ocean this time, instead of my usual voyage west over the Pacific. It was nice being back in the cooler, drier air of Colorado, and I was glad that I got to spend a lot of time outside, going back to a lot of the places I had not been to for a long time.

But like all trips, it eventually had to come to an end, and I had to pack up my worldly possessions in August to move to Jordan. As far as Covid was concerned, things were looking better in this part of the world than Thailand which had shut down completely as it had just started to get its population vaccinated. It was a new challenge moving to my new school, but one that I was happy to accept, and the best part was that the school year would be in person and no longer on-line.

The school year definitely kept me busy, but it was a fun kind of busy. I enjoyed working with my new colleagues, and we had made some good friends along the way. This wasn’t all without heartache. We had a short time where we brought a new puppy into our lives, but she had come down with distemper, and we had to say goodbye quickly. It still made me realize how much I loved having a puppy around, and it made me realize that we would need to add an addition like this to our lives very soon.

In October, we were able to have our first break since we arrived, and it was fun to get out and travel again. Leaving the country we were in was still not an easy endeavor, but it was a new adventure as we got to explore what Jordan had to offer. We instantly went back to the water and took a short trip down to the Dead Sea first.

And by November, we continued to explore Jordan by leaving all water behind, and going to the set of Dune down at Wadi Rum. It amazed me to think that I had started the year in the Tropical environs of Thailand, and ended it up in this start landscape where I had to bundle up at night to stay warm.

By the time December rolled around, the rumbling of a new variant was working its way through the news, and there were threats of going back online. Countries around the world are once again shutting their doors to travelers, and it indicates that the struggle I was witnessing at the beginning of the year is still a threat. Even though, I have made an exciting journey during the course of this year, it is funny to see that the world is still in the same place. It still does not mean that I am not excited for what the next year has to offer, and I hope to see those changes that I long for so I can get back to telling you stories about the amazing places that this world has to offer.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Jordan is the hidden gem in the Middle East. Before I came out here to live, I did not know about many of the amazing features that were held in its small borders. I have visited a couple of them, and there are many more that I will visit while I am living here, but they will have to be pretty impressive to beat out the experience I had at Wadi Rum.

It is not a hard place to find. Wadi Rum is located three and a half hours south from Amman, and if you get up early in the morning you can squeeze in a whole day of excitement. But this is not something that I would do. The experience is so much better if you book a stay with the Bedouins who live on this UNESCO World Heritage sight because you can make the most out of a couple of days, and get to experience what it is like to live the lifestyle of a Bedouin, if only for a little while.

I had booked my stay with Nomad Tour Group, and they kept my group pretty busy while I was down there. Despite this fact, they also supplied me with everything I needed, transportation around the desert, a warm tent to stay in on the cold nights down there, and some of the best food I have ever eaten on a tour group. It made for a memorable trip to a unique location.

This sights I saw did not only consist of seeing incredible formations made out of sandstone, but also a bunch of examples of the other inhabitants of the desert. There were, of course, many lizards that I had come across, and a few birds, but it was a lot of fun when I came across random camels wandering around the desert. I was told by my tour guide that they were owned by another Bedouin which it made it easy to get out and feed them, but it was still fun to get close to one of these beasts for the first time in my life.

It is also amazing to see what survives out in this harsh environment. I went down in late November, and I would highly recommend trying to make it down in the fall or if not then, the spring. Both of them will give you temperate weather, but the fall is right before the rainy season, so you won’t be in danger of getting washed out. Despite the dry climate, I still was able to come across a couple of amazing trees, and saw some desert flowers poking out of the sand in a couple of spots where I never thought life would have existed in the first place.

There is also some amazing rock formations that you will be taken to. If you get the right guide, they will get you to these places before the tours really start to pile in, so it will make you feel like you have the place to yourself.

And if the rock formations are not enough for you, there are also places where you can make your own in a crazy version of Jenga. At one time, we were taken to a field filled with a bunch of cairns that had been made over the years, and it was fun to find the right rocks to try and make your own creations. This is one that I spent a little time one, but I liked the way that I got everything to balance precariously on top of each other.

Overall, it is a must stop place if anyone ever travels out to Jordan. The sights are too many to count, and everywhere you look, you want to take another picture. I spent three days, and two nights down there, and I felt like I got a good feel for what it has to offer. If you make it here, you need to definitely mark this as one of the spots that you will want to stop at on your visit.

A Bedouin’s Lifestyle – Wadi Rum, Jordan

Wadi Rum has been one of those places that people told me that I had to visit at least once in my lifetime, but I will be honest, I did not see how visiting a desert could be that exciting. To me, it looked like a beach without the water, so why would I want to go to some place where I would have to endure the heat, and bring nothing back from the experience but a bunch of sand. But there had to be a reason for me constantly hearing about how great this place is, and why so many movie came out here to film, so I needed to come out and see for myself. Plus, it was only a three-and-a-half hour drive from my house in Amman, so when I was presented with a three day weekend, it seemed like the perfect thing to do. And I am glad that I went because I learned something there that I had forgotten.

Wadi Rum is an adventure. I had not gone on an adventure for a long time. I had spent a lot of time over the last couple of years stuck in my home, making sure I did not get exposed to the deadly atmosphere that existed beyond my door. When I did leave my home, it was to find a beach to unwind on, and I would return back home feeling refreshed, but not as if I had experienced anything. I would still be connected to the outside world while I was relaxing on the beach, and I wasn’t able to let go of all of the responsibilities I piled up on my lap. I thought that I would be able to stay connected when I went out to Wadi Rum, but I ran into a group of people that saw life in a different way, the Bedouins.

The Bedouins roam around this huge desert landscape just like they have for centuries. They might have a couple of modern conveniences like trucks, and lights, but they like to get away from these distractions and find themselves among the rocks and sands of Wadi Rum. Because of this, they are completely off the grid, and anybody that comes out to visit them is forced to get off of the grid as well.

This means that the only distractions I had on this trip were the small wonders that could be found out in the desert. I couldn’t plug into social media to see what I was missing someplace else in the world. I couldn’t tackle the stacks of work that I had to accomplish to make sure my students were getting the education I think they need. And I had to let go of past frustrations that seemed to haunt me. I could only live in the moment and make the most of it.

It is amazing what comes out of the desert when you take on this kind of lifestyle of the Bedouins. At first, they are pretty obvious such as a camel looking for a piece of pita.

But then you start to notice the smaller things that you might have passed by because your mind was in a completely different place. It might seem obvious at first that you should have seen them because green like this just doesn’t happen in the desert. But when you stop to look at them, it makes you start to wonder why there is this kind of green out in the middle of the desert, and how does it end up on top of a mountain where the harsh conditions are made even harsher with the winds that blow over the sands.

And then you start to see the strange patterns that nature makes in the rock. It seems almost too perfect to have been created by nature, but then again there is too much of a randomness to it to be created by man. It makes you wonder if mankind is only a amateur artist compared to the crazy creations that nature can put together.

It takes you on journey that you know you should have been on a long time ago, and wonder why you didn’t push to get yourself on it sooner. It gave me an appreciation for the world around me that I had not experienced for a long time, and I have to thank the Bedouins for forcing me to disconnect so I could appreciate it the way that it was meant to be appreciated.

It gave those small moments that we pass over in life the importance that they deserve. It might not have been the relaxing break that I was looking for, but it was something better. It was the vacation I needed. I needed that adventure that only a Bedouin could give me, so I could regain that appreciation for life I had lost during the last couple of years. It makes me excited for the next adventure I get to have, and I won’t soon forget the one I just experienced.

A Desert Feast – Wadi Rum, Jordan

To my American friends, I am sorry I am late, but I would like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope that you were able to spend it with good people, sharing good food with them, and making good memories. To all my friends who come from other places in the world, I hope that your adventures allow you to experience the same kind of joy that makes Thanksgiving one of my favorite American holidays.

Living away from the United States makes this holiday a little harder to celebrate. Many of the places I have worked for as I moved overseas has not seen this day as an important holiday, even though they celebrate holidays that are very similar to Thanksgiving. Luckily, I have found myself in a community that appreciates this day, and made sure that my coworkers and I were able to celebrate it in the best way we could find. I took advantage of this fact, and got up early on Thanksgiving morning to take a three and a half hour drive south to Wadi Rum, a Unesco World Herritage Sight, and the movie set for such famous films as Dune, The Martian, Prometheus, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and Lawrence of Arabia.

This desolate landscape might not be the first choice for many people when they think of gathering together for a big feast, but there is much more to this location than the stark beauty. There is a whole community of people that live nomadic lifestyles among the sand, and rocky mountains, and they welcome people with open arms to take a couple of days and feel what it is like to live this way.

It might not have been what I was expecting for a Thanksgiving dinner, but the food and the way it was prepared made for a great Thanksgiving experience. The Bedouins having been preparing huge feasts for centuries out in this desert. It basically starts when they dig a hole in the ground and fill that hole up with burning coals. They then add vegetables, and chicken, cover that hole with a blankets and some sand, and let it cook for two hours.

After two hours, they dig away the sand, pull back the blanket, and pull the feast out of the hole.

And it is quite the feast that they pull out of this hole. Just like a great Thanksgiving meal, there is not a lot of spice added to the meal. For the most part, it is about the preparation of it. Simple ingredients cooked well and combined in the right way to make the perfect meal, and though it was not turkey and mashed potatoes, it was still the perfect meal for this day.

But it was the friends I got to share this meal, and all of the other meals this weekend, that made it a Thanksgiving. Though we may talk about the food, it is the company and the experiences we remember. I feel lucky this year to have spent it with a great group of people. It may not have been my family, and I do miss sharing this day with them, but if I can’t be with them, I am glad that I was still able to have an experience that I will soon not forget.

I hope your Thanksgiving was just as good, and that continues on through the whole holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

The Mud Dance

It is time to go and play in the mud,
Lathering it all over your body.
It will help you pump out all the bad blood,
And take your living, that has been shoddy,
To allow for it to feel young again.
Getting sloppy is not only for kids,
So do not allow pretention to win,
And do as the wallowing custom bids.
If it’s too much, look to the salty sea,
And let the warm waters wash away clean
The grime of the day, leaving you pretty,
Ready to return to the adult scene.
You don’t know when you’ll get another chance
To lose yourself in another mud dance.

Salt

If I were living in the Dark Ages,
Where my feet tread would be worth a fortune.
The spice that’s collected here in stages
Would have been mined from the base of this dune.
What could be carried away in a sack
Would be stored away in someone’s attic,
And when a little flavor they did lack,
A tiny pinch from their stash, they would pick.
But it did not work well for currency
Because it would diminish when they ate,
Then they would have to go back to the sea,
So they could buy more morsels for their plate.
You cannot give them grief for this small fault,
For life is better with a little salt.

The Dead Sea, Jordan – The Kempinski Hotel

Very rarely do I talk about the hotels that I stay in while traveling, but that is mainly because, I do not go traveling for the hotel. My main goal while out in the world is to see and experience many different places. I do not believe that this can happen at a hotel because the real adventure is beyond the borders of these places. Of course, this philosophy has been tested during the Covid years. Places that would be out of my price range lowered their prices by quite a bit, and I had a hard time ignoring their attempts for me to stay with them. This was something that happened all the time during my years in Thailand, and I thought I would have to break myself of this habit when I moved to Jordan. I had built up my resolve and was getting ready to face the return to more modest accommodations when the school I have started working for had a raffle and I was the lucky winner of a night’s stay at the Kampinski Hotel at the Dead Sea. I could have run down for a quick night’s stay, but I decided to wait until my first big break, and add a couple of nights to really enjoy the place and what it had to offer. I do have to say that it was worth the extension, and it was nice to get to stay one more night at a resort before I switched over.

The resort is a sprawling complex located on the edge of the Dead Sea with its own little beach at the edge of the water where you can go down to float. There are six different restaurants, five different pools, a gym, a kid’s center, and a spa. The place, like so many other resorts, is designed to cater to your ever need so you will not want to ever leave.

And I will admit that it was hard to defy them in this attempt. The pools are comfortable and there is enough variety among them that you can find the one that is perfect for you, whether you like to hang at the lazy river designed for family fun, a long lap style pool, an infinity pool supplied with its own DJ and party vibe, or one at the bottom of the resort that gives you the best view of the Dead Sea and the land that stretches out on the other side of it.

The food options are also outstanding, but I will admit that, like most resorts, they were a little overpriced. Still the best one was the Lebanese restaurant, Code, that offered authentic Lebanese food. If you do decide to eat here, I do recommend that you make a reservation because it is impossible to get seated otherwise. If you are looking for something a little more affordable, you can find it at the mall a ten minute drive away where they have an English style pub, and an American style sports bar where the drinks and food are not as expensive.

There are also some nice day trips close by as well. There is Wadi Mujib, a biosphere reserve that offers a nice hike, the salt flats with the intricate salt formations, the panorama that offers outstanding views of the whole area, and the baptism sight for Jesus that can add a historic perspective if that is something you might be interested in. If you do decide to leave the resort to go on one of the adventures, I have found the Kampinski Resort is the perfect place to come back to so you can unwind with friendly staff and comfortable accommodations.

The Dead Sea, Jordan – The Salt Flats

There is a certain kind of beauty in Jordan that I did not expect. Once I finally got out of the city and started to explore what the country had to offer, I was shocked to find this vast expanse of desolate isolation that many would consider stark, but it holds something to it that I don’t think you can find anywhere else on earth. I do believe that this is the reason why so many movies make this the location for their filming because it makes the setting a character all its own, and Jordan’s landscape is definitely a character.

The Dead Sea adds so much to this character, and the more I learn about it, the more interesting it becomes. It has been basically retreating over the last century, and it is not near the same levels that it once was at. Much of this is due to the fact that water is taken out of the Jordan River to cultivate agriculture in both Jordan and Israel, and because of this, there is not as much water left for this huge body of water situated so far below sea level. If you look closely, you can see the scars in the rocks that has been left behind because of this retreat which present a new sense of history that I have never considered before.

But on the shore of this location there is another sight that is even more impressive than the scars in the rocks, the collection of the salt on the shores of the sea. The simplest of spices clings to anything that it can find and creates a bizarre grouping of waves that never will move, even if the water laps up against it.

It will take the forgotten branches of trees and turn them into a piece of art that only nature could create. There is a beach on the Dead Sea that is covered with sights like this one, and it makes for one of the most interesting day trips I have ever taken. It was only a fifteen minute drive from the collection of resorts that most people stay at when they come down here, and just a little south past the entrance to Wadi Mujib.

We went down on a Sunday when everybody was back at work, and there were only a couple of other cars there, and only one other couple that we came across while we were exploring the flats. It is easy to miss too, but it was free to go explore, and I am so glad that we did.

Every turn we made gave s a new view of spectacular natural structures that made we want to spend the whole day exploring the beach. I would recommend going down early in the morning because it can get hot during the day, and it does bring out the flies, but it is still fun to explore in this kind of heat.

It just made me fall even more in love with Jordan, and made me realize that this might be one of those hidden gems that not many people know about. I am glad that I have gotten to explore it, and can’t wait to see what other amazing sights I will come across while I am living out here.

The Dead Sea, Jordan

For my first trip to explore my new home country, Jordan, I decided on a must do, the Dead Sea. It was not high on my list, and I will be honest with you, I was a little scared about getting in the water. There are numerous stories about people who have dunked their heads under the salty water, or have it squirm its way into somebody’s forgotten cut, and then having to deal with that discomfort for the rest of the day. I have had several mosquito bites that have been healing, and I didn’t not want to literally pour salt into that wound.

But the salty shores are one of those things you have to experience while you are out here, and considering I won a free night at one of the hotels by the Dead Sea through a raffle at my new school, I figured this would be the perfect time to go and check it out.

First, it is quite the descent from the high elevation of Amman. The whole trip down was literally down the mountain from 1000 meters all the way to 400 meters below sea level. My ancient Mitsubishi Lancer did a great job going down, but I am worried if the two cylinder car will be able to make it back up that hill when it is time to go back home. It is something that I can’t worry about right now. Instead, I had to make the most of my time at the lowest point of land on the Earth.

The water has a very high buoyancy level. I have heard about how it is impossible to sink in it because of the level of salt that is found in the water, and there is a lot of truth to that claim. All I had to do was raise my feet off of the floor, and they floated to the top of the water on their own, and I was able to relax as if I was on one of those six feet floaties that people put into pools so they can stay dry and still read their books.

The water wasn’t that bad either. It was really warm, and though my cuts did ache a little bit, it wasn’t the excruciating pain that I thought I would have experienced. There is a little bit of a routine that you are supposed to participate in to make the most out of the experience. First, I hopped into the water to become accustomed to it. When I got out, I quickly rinsed off, and then lathered up with mud that they kept in huge stone vessels on the beach. It is supposed to be good for your skin. Some people covered themselves from head to toe, but I went for a more sparse amount, only covering my limbs and my chest. I then sat down to let the mud dry before getting back in the water and feeling the exfoliating experience that comes with the combination. Though the mud was a little slimy to put on, it was worth the experience because it felt really good when I got back into the water.

It made for a fun day that I won’t soon forget. It is not everyday that you can get slathered up in mud and float in an ocean without any assistance, and feel great out afterwards. I can easily see why it is one of the places that people make sure they visit when they come out to Jordan, and it has gotten me more excited about what adventures I am going be able to encounter.

Saying Goodbye

It is hard to believe that a short two months ago, I sat at the Bangkok airport with all of my bags packed, getting ready to head back to the United States for the first time in two years. As for most people around the world, it had been an interesting two years, and I was excited to get back to see the people I loved. It was going to be a little different from other trips back home because the threat of the pandemic loomed large over everything everybody did, and I was also going to go through the process of moving to a new country at the same time.

Despite all of this fear that was plaguing the world, there was still hope. A vaccine had become available and people were starting to take off their masks to get life back to normal. We were a little worried when we first started looking at coming back that we would have a hard time finding a shot, but by the time we landed in Portland, Oregon, there was enough vaccine in the United States to where we could walk into a local Target and get a vaccine without an appointment. We also were able to leave Thailand just in time. The numbers have skyrocketed in that country for the first time ever with the latest numbers showing over 17,000 new cases just the other day, and it does not look like it is going to slow down anytime soon. I feel for all of the people I left behind in that country, and I worry about them as they struggle through another school year. I hope that they can get things under control soon, and find a place where they can start easing up the restrictions that I got to enjoy while I was living out there.

As I went through my stuff in storage, my sights switched over to Jordan to see how they were handling this crisis. The numbers there a lot lower, but there has been a new creep up that I will keep an eye on. I also look at those numbers for overall vaccination, and though Jordan is not in a place where America is at, they still steadily move in the right direction. It gives me hope for the next year that it will be closer to a normal school year as opposed to the last two, and I will also be going on a new adventure in a new country at the same time.

The summer was still a great time to catch up with friends and family, and meet new characters along the way. I always find myself falling into that comfortability that it means being an American in America. The old relationships feel like we pick them up right where we left them off, and the conveniences that we have come to crave while away are once again taken for granted.

But we were able to discover some new ways that America has evolved as well. I remember being excited about the movie, Chef, right before we started our overseas adventures, but thinking that the land of food trucks that it described was a little taken out of context. There might have been a couple of places where these existed, but there seemed to be more of them during our return visit. It almost seemed that this was the preferred way of dining out, but summertime and Covid might have had something to do with it as well.

That didn’t stop me from searching out the more traditional way of eating out. Of course, I hit my fair share of Mexican restaurants while in Colorado because I needed to get as much green chili as I could. This is my favorite of all food groups, and everybody I meet who has ever eaten green chili understands my love for it, yet I am still confused as to why it can still only be found in three of the four states connected with the four corners region. It makes coming home that much better because I get to have this food again. I still do not believe that I got enough on this trip out, but I still enjoyed what I had.

I also love being able to see the beauty of America every time I am home as well. I am really lucky to be associated with what I consider to be two of the more beautiful states, Oregon and Colorado. I love seeing the mountains and forests that both of these places have to offer. Though I have seen some beautiful and amazing sights all over the world, my heart always returns to the mountains and I don’t think of any place better than these two for me to connect back with them. I was able to spend a good amount of time in them in Oregon, and I wish I would have ventured beyond the foothills during my stay in Colorado.

I was still able to make it outside quite a bit and enjoy the majesty that is Colorado. Whether it was taking long walks in many of the green spaces that can be found in many of Colorado’s neighborhood, or going out to Chatfield Reservoir, I was able to spend a lot of time outside. This is not something that is as enjoyable in a more tropical climate, and there are times of the year where Colorado is better spent indoors, but I was out here during the summertime and this is the perfect time to be outside there.

I was even lucky enough to experience some of the wildlife during my trip. During the last couple of years, I had run into what many would consider exotic animals, with Thailand filled with many types of monkeys, tropical birds, and a variety of reptiles, and snakes. But this is only a matter of perspective. From the other side of the world, a herd of deer or elk is just as exotic as a monitor lizard is to the people of America. Being deprived of this view for so long has made it exciting once again, and I enjoyed it every time I came across the usual herds of animals that I grew up with.

Not everything ended up in taking me to the great outdoors. There were a couple of stops that showed me other great things that America had to offer, and they were not always Target stores. The greatest had to be the new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs. It was nice to get out to museums once again, and though I had to spend my time in there wearing a mask, I have been doing it so much lately that it no longer bugs me. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon and a great way of celebrating the Olympics this year.

It has been great to get back to America, especially after two years away, but nobody can spend their whole life in rest and relaxation. Like an international school teacher under normal circumstances, I have to get back to the country where my work is, and I am complicating the process by changing schools and countries to Amman, Jordan. So I have packed up my bags, eaten those last meals, and given those last hugs to family and friends, and I have headed off the airport. I am confident that the world is moving in the right direction, and I will not be forced to stay away for as long this time around. So as I head off to a brand new adventure, I say goodbye to America, and guarantee I will be back soon.