Tag Archives: Egypt

Tales from the Wadi Rum.

Desert Highways, Wadi Rum, Jordan.“Hard to believe there’s a war going on next door,” said my travel companion. It was 2007 and we were sitting around a small campfire in the Wadi Rum desert. It was a trip we’d hooked on to an event I’d managed in Egypt. We’d chosen that country because we weren’t sure how many years would be left for Americans to travel there before it all went pear-shaped.

After Egypt, the idea was to take advantage of being in the region so we set our sights on Jordan. Through shuttle arrangements we made our way into the desert and the land where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed.

The Wadi Rum is otherworldly and we were happy to be there. A handsome, young Jordanian guide, Ra’ed, met us along the Desert Highway. We hopped into his jeep, driven by a shy, Bedouin, teenage boy and within a few minutes were off-road, traveling through desert red sands. The world we knew disappeared, and aside from the clink and clank from his truck, there wasn’t another sound. We made out way through mountain rockscapes in various hues of crimson. There wasn’t a soul in sight and for this city girl, the empty space was liberating.

Wadi Rum

Not a soul in sight.

Eventually, a long rectangle Bedouin tent came into view and our driver swung a long arc around it and parked. We met the chef, an Egyptian, and then we proceeded to make ourselves at home.

Out came the hookah pipe. I find the sweet smoke a bit nauseating but when in Rome, right? So we sat around and exchanged the typical questions like, “Where are you from?” and “Why did you come here?” but we made quick work of that superficial talk and dove deeper, seeing as it was just the five of us. A group of tourists who’d been in camp earlier in the week had kept to themselves and barely acknowledged them. Frankly, I don’t see how it would be possible to ignore the people who were responsible for getting you in and out of Wadi Rum, feeding you and providing you a tent for sleepy time. The chef smiled and excused himself because he had to get cooking.

Wadi Rum campsite.

Making camp.

Back in the truck, Ra’ed took us through desert. We all raced up sand dunes and slid down them. Gazing around at its natural architecture, the Wadi Rum, also known as the Valley of the Moon, is hypnotic. The sunset reveals deeper shades of red on the rock walls.

Wadi Rum desert.

Not so easy as it seems.

A few hours later, they laid out a banquet table decorated with candles and tray upon tray of food. There were falafel, stuffed grape leaves, couscous with raisins, salads, pita bread, dips of hummus and baba ghanoush, rice with lentils, platters of vegetables, and lots more. I couldn’t imagine how they thought two people could make a dent in it. Ra’ed told us to enjoy the meal. My boyfriend and I looked at each other and in unison said, “Where are you going?” He told us that they’d eat when we had finished. There was no way that was going to happen. We explained that it was extremely uncomfortable for us to dine without them and after much persuading they joined us.

Dinner in the Wadi Rum.

Midnight at the oasis.

Stuffed and satisfied, we sat around on massive pillows, passed the pipe again and gazed at the stars and the shadows the mountains made across the dark sand. A full moon had risen and the chef suggested we build a fire. So we dragged our pillows into the sand around the pit he’d made. There we were, an American, a Brit, an Egyptian, a Bedouin, and a Jordanian. Through broken English, translated through Arabic and a mishmash of a few other languages thrown in, we all got on like a house on fire. There was lot of giggling, talk of what music we liked, and of what America is really like. We did indeed find it hard to believe that Iraq was next door and being made a mess of.

Eventually, things got quiet until the silence was broken by the unmistakable sound of Bill Withers singing, “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone,” followed by Ra’ed giggling. It was the ring tone on his cell phone and he entertained us by playing it over and over. That night we slept in a pup tent they’d set up and made comfortable for us.

Wadi Rum breakfast.

Breakfast.

The next morning we watched the sunrise bathe the desert mountains gold. Afterwards, we all shared a breakfast of tea, fruit, boiled eggs and biscuits. Then we hopped back in the jeep to explore, hike, and absorb as much of the Wadi Rum’s energy as possible.   They let us take turns driving and we passed camels and a goat herder. Walking, I came across a small bouquet of delicate white flowers growing out of the sand and other small wonders. Back at the tent we took pictures, exchanged hugs and were sorry to leave our new friends but we were moving on to Petra, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea.

Wadi Rum tour guides.

Our great hosts.

Jordan remains a safe and attractive place to travel. The Bedouins, whose lives have changed over time, and the Jordanians are well-known for their hospitality and tourism contributes a huge percentage to the country’s GDP. Wadi Rum attracts visitors from around globe, yet despite its popularity its pleasure for me was the sweet feeling that it existed purely for my own experience. The new friends, and Bill Withers, were the icing on the cake.

Got an itch to go somewhere? Go. And don’t forget to write.

 

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Sorry About Your Vacation But We’re Closed.

You're joking...right? (Photo credit: Laura Morales.)

You’re joking…right? (Photo credit: Laura Morales.)

Yesterday my boyfriend asked me, “How pissed would you be if when we’d gone to Egypt they’d told us ‘sorry, the pyramids are closed today’?”  I don’t think I really have to answer that question.

But that’s how it’s gone this week for millions of tourists across the United States because of the federal government shutdown.  National parks, museums, and other famous institutions that draw visitors from across the U.S. and abroad are shut out from some of the most inspiring, natural, awesome, and thought-provoking experiences this country has to offer.  For the folks doing the traveling it’s been a major disappointment.  Sure, there are some who’ve made lemonade from the lemons of our government’s internal affairs, but for others the plans they’d had to visit the country’s federally run attractions have turned out to be a bust.

Travel advisors and tour operators who are politically aware may have had a jump on things by having a Plan B up their sleeve for their customers.  I hope so, anyway.   But for travelers who like to go it alone, what started out as an eager vacation has most probably turned into a frustrating experience and a poorer view of our government.  This especially holds true for any foreign visitors.

As of today, the government is in day four of its shutdown but there’s strength in numbers. Travel agents, the travel industry as a whole, and U.S. citizens can do something about it.

How?  All you need to do is write your federal representative.

Tell them how you feel.  Especially for anyone in the travel industry whose livelihood depends on tourism.  It’s that easy.

Power to the people, and to travelers.

Fall Into It.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

Nankoweap Rapid is mile 52 along the Colorado River.

If summer’s about escapism then autumn is all about back to business. But for many, fall is the time of the year when a lot of us hightail it out of here.   The crowds are gone, the roads are clearer and we can have places more to ourselves. But what’s travel without a good book? More specifically, without a good book about travel?

Depending on the direction you’re headed, some travelers prefer total immersion. And as most travelers know, any good travel tale is not without its fair share of ups and downs.  With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for all you travel advisors and travelers to inspire travel reading, travel writing, but mostly…travel.

theoldwaysI like a guy who likes to walk so I’m looking forward to The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert McFarlane. Shortlisted for the 2013 Warwick prize for literature makes it another good reason to pick it up. A literature professor, McFarlane leads us along the paths of the British Isles in England and Scotland, where he meets people and learns the history of these places. Step by step, he experiences the meditative bonus of walking, the thinking that goes with it and shares how exploring a country on foot is one of the best ways to enjoy travel. For anyone who’s hooked on their Kindle app and can’t get away, or for travel advisors who want to check things out, you can use Google Earth to track his path and see what he saw as you read along. Pretty cool.

Collection-of-Sand-Essays-Pe“…the most important things in the world are the empty spaces,” writes Italo Calvino. In one way or another, the 38 essays that make up A Collection of Sand focus on Calvino’s visual experiences and how they inform travel. Around his pleasures and fascination of maps and books and how certain places, in this case Japan, Mexico and Iran led to contemplation on space and time and civilization. Beautiful writing.

 

robberofmemoriesSeems only fitting that since there’s a chill in the air that you should have something chilling in your hands, or on your iPad. In which case, The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Columbia may be right for you, especially if you’re heading in that direction. Michael Jacobs takes us with him on his adventure up Magdelena, a river that runs through the heart of Columbia where he charts its course geographically and emotionally. Like most first-world travelers who go it alone, he sheds himself of life’s modern comforts. His journey is challenging and dangerous but his tale, where South America is the central theme, serves up a different perspective altogether.

alexandriaEgypt might not be the first place you think of going to these days but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a taste of what it once was. A long time ago, in a land far away, an old flame turned me on to The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and this masterpiece has stuck with me ever since. Made up of four small novels, it’s a lush and seductive tale of friends and lovers in Alexandria before WWI. Its central theme is love conveyed across the different viewpoints and experiences of the characters that make up these stories and whose common ground is the city.

BehindBeautifulForeversBehind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo. I suppose the title pretty much sums up it up but don’t let that get you down. Boo won numerous book awards for this story and any traveler worth their salt knows that the closer to the bone you get to living in a country, the sweeter the meat. A journalist for the New Yorker, Boo takes us into the slum of Annawadi and its underworld of characters that make up the citizens who do what they can to make a life for themselves and their families who live on the other side of life in the shadows of shiny corporate hotels.

urbancircusAnother glimpse into the lives of others, The Urban Circus: Travels with Mexico’s Malabaristas by Catriona Rainsford takes you on a wild and wacky ride. Rainsford joined a group of young, itinerant street performers on a two-year journey across the country where she learned to live hand-to-mouth with them. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, this true story will give you a chance to see beyond the tourist zones and into the everyday lives, genuineness and character of Mexicans.

If you’re into adventure travel, or have customers who live for it, then this gripping and heart-stopping story is the perfect companion. The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko is the harrowing tale of three guides who ride the Colorado River through the heart of the Canyon.  Check it out:

There’s loads of stuff out there. Are you reading any good travel stories these days, fiction or otherwise? Let me know, I’d love to hear about them.

You Had Me At Margaritas On The Rocks With Salt.

Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)

Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)

Last Saturday a friend invited me over for a Mexican dinner.  Our meal would start on the stoop with margaritas on the rocks with salt, along with fresh guacamole and chips.  Yum…she didn’t have to ask me twice!  She makes a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guac.   I could make those things myself but why should I when those are two of her specialties. I had no doubt that the main course would also be superior.  What does this have to do with writing and travel?  A few things…

So you travel agents out there…do you have specialty? If so, do you write about it?  Before creating this blog, I shared its main objective with an acquaintance that asked, “Travel agents still exist?”  “Yes, they exist,” I answered.  “Who uses them?” was his next question.  It was easy to understand his perplexity.   Most folks book their travel online, it’s where they think they’ll get the best deals.  Sometimes they do and other times they get a raw deal.  Most people use the Internet for a majority of their transactions these days.   True, it can result in huge cost savings.  It can also result in a lot of time spent in front of a computer, especially when it comes to booking travel.  They don’t call it the “web” for nothing and even if you know where you want to travel, chances are you’ll get stuck, for at least an hour but probably a lot longer, trying to figure it out.   Everything you need these days is just a click away but price doesn’t always equal value or a great experience.

Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)

Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)

Whether it’s eco-tourism, safaris, cruises, hiking, surfing, cooking, or whatever country you can pinpoint on the map, if there’s a destination or travel experience out there that the customer wants, as a travel agent you’re in a prime position to bring them to it.  So how do you get them to connect with you instead of spending hours at their computer looking for the best deal?  Specializing gives you an edge.  Use that edge and write about the destination or experience that you’re passionate about.  Entice them.  Show them what they’re missing and how you can bring that experience to life for them.  Writing helps readers establish a relationship with you.  It’s a way to communicate your knowledge and value up front.  It’s about building trust through your expertise.  It’s about letting them know that you’re still out there rocking in the free world of commerce.  Show them your version of a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guacamole.

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)

“Two weeks ago I met a travel agent.  I thought they were all gone. Shows you how crazy I am—I’m sure there are others like me out there,” said John Walsh, CEO & President, SightSpan Inc.  He’s right—there are lots of others out there like him.  Walsh travels extensively and books online, directly with the airline.  Asked why he doesn’t use an agent he said, I don’t use a travel agent due to lack of a relationship and it seems faster for me to book business trips and vacations myself.”

Understanding this point of view needn’t be a reason for travel agents to throw in the towel, but rather an opportunity for them to understand why it’s important to leverage their expertise and assets and market themselves through writing.  Agents who specialize have a head start to differentiate themselves within the competitive marketplace to influence travelers and communicate their value.  For readers who latch on to a specialist’s insights, they won’t have to think twice about how to book their travel the next time they want to explore options about a particular destination.

Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland.  (Photo by author.)

Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland. (Photo by author.)

When I asked Walsh if he’d consider using a travel agent he said, “I would, if their services were presented with a clear value proposition and cost benefit offering.  Agents need to better state that they’re still out there and articulate their value.  They need to reeducate people of why it’s best to have a human working with you when something goes wrong—and it always does.”

Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)

Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)

The best reason for using a knowledgeable agent is that they’re there for you when the unexpected happens and you have to cancel or change your plans because an ash-cloud exploded over Europe or because you fell off your scooter in Bermuda and landed in the hospital. I hope you never have to experience having to suddenly return home from a foreign land when you booked everything on the Internet.  Any travel agent worth their salt will be able to turn you on to the best experience for your money or save you from having that “trip from hell” where perhaps your room isn’t reserved or your hotel is located in the wrong part of town.  Agents who are truly connected to a destination or travel experience can dive deep for you.  If you have any doubts, take a look at Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists Collection or Travel + Leisure’s A-List: Top 100 Agents and you’ll see what I mean.  After reading through a few of these specialists, you’ll be itching to escape somewhere.

So if you’re a travel agent or counselor who specializes, share your expertise.  If you’re a traveler, think about visiting your local travel agency and get to know the experts.

Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)

Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)

By the way, my friend’s margaritas and guacamole were excellent.  But then again, I had no doubt they would be…it’s her specialty.