Pre-Trip

Road Trip to California

After finishing up grad school, I embarked on a road trip from South Bend, Indiana to San Francisco.  I of course didn’t want to take the most direct route, but instead choose a much more circuitous route that led me through North Dakota, Glacier National Park (nearly at the Canadian border), and many other out-of-the-way-but-still-worthwhile spots (at least in my unique travel opinion).

map

Wisconsin

The first stop from South Bend was Milwaukee, but because that happened to land at about 7am, there wasn’t much open.  Though seeing the Pabst Mansion from only the outside (because it was quite early) was interesting and the waterfront area serene there wasn’t a lot to see or do.  So onward to Madison.

Ella's DinerThanks to a great app, Roadside America, that describes itself as “A Guide to Uniquely Odd Tourist Attractions”; I found a restaurant that definitely fit that bill – Ella’s Deli.  Between the robot that greets you, the animatronic dancing feet, and the flying Dumbo that flaps his ears, it was the most entertaining kosher deli I’ve ever been to.

Having never really been to Wisconsin before, I was of course excited to try the famous cheese curds.  A farmer’s market set up outside of the capital building seemed like a great opportunity to try some that had very good reviews on Yelp.  While this new delicacy (using that term loosely…) was quite tasty, it still just tasted like fried cheese to my unsophisticated palette.

photo 2 (2)Despite these rather odd adventures, the highlight of the day was definitely the National Mustard Museum, yes there’s actually a whole building devoted only to mustard.  The lower level consists of a collection of 5,676 mustards from each state and throughout 70 countries as well as the theater area.  There was a movie titled “A Spice of Nations” which explained the origins of mustard throughout the world and the process of making it.  Apparently there are medicinal advantages to the condiment, who knew?  The second level was the sales floor which sold an extremely extensive variety of mustards and allows you to taste any and/or all of them – not too shabby.

Minnesota

photo 4 (3)Continuing along similar lines of unique experiences the next destination was the SPAM museum located near the Hormel Packing plant in Austin, Minnesota.  For someone who refuses to eat the processed meat product, it may be a surprising stop.  However, in my negotiation class we negotiated a lengthy Harvard Business Review case based on the real-life 1985 union strike after negotiations between Hormel management and the United Food and Commercial Workers union leaders broke down.  So after spending weeks acting as Hormel management, seeing the site was more intriguing.  The museum itself was well-done including the product’s history, WWII Spamville (emphasizing that GI’s ate a lot of SPAM), and my personal favorite – a mock production site where you could assemble plastic containers of bean bag ‘SPAM’.

The half day in Minneapolis didn’t really result in any noteworthy activities.  The bocce ball restaurant had a monstrously long wait to actually play and I couldn’t find the “mysterious small creatures” statues.

North Dakota

In my quest to visit all 50 states (currently I’m only missing Hawaii and New Mexico), North Dakota had yet to be checked off so was next up on the journey.  Bordering Minnesota, Fargo was the first stop.  Best known from the Cohen Brothers’ 1996 movie, the city actually very pleasantly surprised me.  Though to be fair my initial impressions were solely based on the movie which hardly takes place in North Dakota, but instead mostly in Minneapolis and Brainard, Minnesota.

The Woodchipper from the movie 'Fargo'

The Woodchipper from the movie ‘Fargo’

Fargo can be summed up by the word “surprising”.  The visitor’s center seemed like the reasonable place to start, especially because it contains the famous “Woodchipper”.  Not only was the staff extremely helpful, but also provided flannel hats to make the scene with the foot and the woodchipper a more authentic photo opp.  The downtown area actually consisted of more development than I anticipated, but of course with a North Dakota flair, the Smiling Moose Deli is a good example.  For some reason I assumed that Fargo would be a cooler climate in the early summer because it’s legendary frigid winters.  However, that wasn’t at all the case.  Memorial Day had temperatures at about 88 degrees.  Also surprisingly, the visitor’s center claimed that the Dilly Bar was invented in Fargo, which necessitated an adventure to find one of the first Dairy Queen locations because I obviously I couldn’t pass up an excuse for dessert.

Driving the lengtIMG_9038h of the entire state via Interstate 94, was a long and relatively uninteresting journey.  Stopping at random spots along the way broke up the drive a bit.  One such stop was in Jamestown for the “World’s Largest Buffalo”, which is exactly what you would expect.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was the first National Park of many in the coming days.  Though it is nearly on the border with Montana, the landscape closely resembles that of the Badlands of South Dakota with expansive rock formations of various shades of brown, tan, and red.  The prairie dog towns along the 30 mile paved loop were a cute surprise, as the little guys were quite active burrowing and romping around.

 

Montana

photo 3 (9)Glacier National Park is near the border of Canada and is described as one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, and thus was worth going so far out of the way on my road trip.  Despite being early June, a lot of the park was still closed due to snow.  I actually just saw a clip on the news that Glacier just received 16 inches of snow in only 24 hours – in mid-June.  Even though I only got to see a portion of the park it was still worthwhile; snow-capped mountains among a national forest.  A  couple mile hike to see a lake formed by an avalanche was cool, but unfortunately the wildlife consisted only of a few pretty persistent and hungry chipmunks.

IMG_5979After Glacier I ventured to Great Falls, Montana.  After being named #1 bar worth flying to by GQ magazine in 2003, the obvious nightlife choice was the Sip-N-Dip Tiki Lounge inside the O’Haire Motor Inn.  This was no typical bar.  Complete with an octogenarian piano player, Pat, and of course the glass wall between the bar and the swimming pool where a mermaid swims around presumably for tips.

 

Wyoming

Yellowstone is the big draw in Wyoming, and for good reason.   The nearly 3,500 square mile park has everything from mountains, lakes, geysers, thermal pools, and wildlife.  By staying at the Old Faithful Inn, I got to see the sunset over Old Faithful, a geyser that true to its name erupts “faithfully” every 90 minutes or so.  However, a much rarer geyser eruption, Beehive, was a more impressive sight.  At nearly 200’, it’s significantly higher and more powerful.  With the right sunlight, a rainbow even appeared.

IMG_9197Just south of Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons are another national park with beautiful sights.  The mountains are great, but the definite highlight was the bear on the side of the road.  Though it was likely only a teenager, it could still destroy a human – though the people getting out of their cars and walking closer to it apparently wouldn’t agree.  Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your views), a great YouTube wasn’t filmed that day.

 

Idaho

IMG_6093Continuing the trend of daily visits to National Parks, Craters of the Moon was up next (though it’s a National Monument, not park).  Though it’s only about 200 miles east of Boise, it more closely resembles the landscape of Hawaii.  Craters was established in 1924 by President Coolidge in order to “preserve the unusual and weird volcanic formations”.  Sounds about right… It consists of hardened lava flows and lava tubes, though unfortunately no live volcanoes.

Nevada

IMG_9206The Biggest Little City in the World – Reno.  10am on a Sunday isn’t the most lively time to visit a locale best known for its second tier casinos.  Wandering through the Circus Circus casino there wasn’t a lot of activity because apparently everyone was at the National Bowling Stadium just down the street.  The USBC Open Championships (Bowling) was taking place and that place was pretty crazy.  I wasn’t sure what to expect of the National Bowling Stadium, but it turns out there are multiple levels of bowling alleys and the Bowling Hall of Fame.

The final stop before San Francisco was Lake Tahoe.  Unfortunately my mighty prius (with all 110 horsepower) had some trouble with the steep mountains to get up to the lake.  Then once my glorified golf cart made it to the 6200 foot elevation, there happened to be a bike race going on with riders that didn’t seem to care about the vehicle traffic.  And although it was too cold to actually go in the Lake, seeing the picturesque waterfront was cool but maybe not worth the hassle.

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Some final thoughts about my trip.

Now that I’m settled into my new home (apartment), these are a few last contemplations about my journey.

A few indispensable items 

1)      Black fleece.  It appears in 99% of my pictures, but I swear I did change the clothes underneath it.

2)      Kindle Fire (a mix between an e-reader and a tablet but at a fraction of the price of an iPad).  This was amazing not only for checking email at wifi spots, but mainly for reading on buses because the font can be made extremely large so that it doesn’t aggravate motion sickness.  I have managed to read over 5000 pages in the past six months and for the most part kept up with the Wall Street Journal digital edition.

3)      Peanut butter because it’s stock full of protein and a cheap easy meal to take along on my 10-15 mile urban hikes I’m so fond of.

I have learned a lot (because I do truly view this as an educational experience – it’s definitely not all fun and games).  At a minimum they have been “character building” exercises, and hopefully these skills will be transferable into my new career.

1)      First and foremost is becoming comfortable while being in uncomfortable situations.  This sounds like an oxymoron, but I assure you I was constantly testing and expanding my comfort zone, so that it’s like my brain has been lifting weights continuously for five months.  My mind has no doubt gotten stronger – though right now it just wants to rebel against me and hibernate.

2)      Problem – solving.  Traveling, especially in developing countries, you learn very quickly that things don’t always go according to plan, and thusly you have to be flexible enough to adapt to the current situation and creative enough to problem-solve your way out of it.

3)      Cultural exposure.  As the cliché goes:  the world is a global place and I’m optimistically a step or two ahead with understanding different cultures and people.

4)      Patience.  Ok, I’m still working on that one because I still get very aggravated at inefficiencies.  In my mind everything should run like a well-oiled, profit-earning company, but obviously that’s not how the real-world actually works.  But at a minimum I am aware of my shortcoming…

Differences from my trip a couple of years ago.

1)      This time I am coming back to something – grad school.  To know what is coming next provides a huge sense of relief and purpose.  Though unfortunately this choice is not a boon to my bank account…

2)      I did much less planning this time around.  Part of this is because I am more comfortable with uncertainty now, and part of this is because of the locations I visited.  Not having something booked in Australia could result in the decision to either sleep in the car or spend a fortune on a fancy hotel room which would blow the budget for the entire next week.  Not having something booked in Egypt allowed me to negotiate a better deal than websites listed…

3)      Traveling by myself.  I met so many more great and interesting people on my trip this time around than I did the first time.  Though it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, I feel I learned a lot more going it solo.

Unfortunately my travel habit/addiction will have to be curbed for a couple of years while I am in school and then while I’m paying back my private school tuition…  However, if all goes according to plan, I will get a job with an international portfolio of projects.  Then I will still get to travel, but this time on an expense account and getting paid for it!

My final thought is that I’m more than happy to dole out advice/opinions/etc. about traveling to anyone who is interested in listening to me ramble – so just ask!

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New 7 Wonders

For those that don’t know, my goal of this trip was to visit the New 7 Wonders and the other 14 finalists (which helps explain some of the randomness of my location choices) that were determined by a world-wide vote several years ago.  The premise was that these are the 21 coolest things in the world.  As of right now, I have seen 20 out of 21.

New 7 Wonders

Great Wall of China – July 2007

Christ the Redeemer (Brazil) – February 2008

Petra (Jordan) – August 2008

Chichen Itza (Mexico) – April 2011

Taj Mahal (India) – February 2012

Pyramids of Giza (Egypt) – February 2012

Macchu Picchu (Peru) – June 2012

Finalists

Statue of Liberty (New York City) – June 1996

Eiffel Tower (France) – May 2005

Newshwanstein (Germany) – May 2005

Colesseum (Italy) – June 2005

Kremlin and the Red Square (Russia) – November 2006

Anchor Wat (Cambodia) – February 2007

Sydney Opera House (Australia) – April 2008

Stonehenge (England) – June 2008

Kiyomizera (Japan) – May 2010

Acropolis (Greece) – March 2012

Alhambra (Spain) – April 2012

Easter Island (Chile) – May 2012

Left to See

Timbuktu

My only remaining wonder is Timbuktu.  Unfortunately while Morocco (I was there in March) is geographically close to Mali, it is worlds away in safety.  There were regular reports of kidnappings in broad daylight in and around that area, so that my “last wonder” will have to wait until the political situation changes or I win the lottery so I can hire a private army to protect me.   And apparently rebels are currently destroying parts of the adobe village, so I may not ever have this opportunity.  The lesson I took from this is that I shouldn’t have waited.  The lesson my mom took from this was that I should never go there…

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The Price Is Wrong, Bob!

To make the journey from Lima to Los Angeles, I had four flights (layovers in Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, and Las Vegas).  I can’t complain though because those flights cost less than half the price of the other more-direct options.  So after literally sprinting through the Fort Lauderdale airport immigration and customs (because of a mere 45 minute layover) I was back in the good ole US of A!

I found it necessary to rent a car in Los Angeles, and found that after a couple of months of not driving, it was a shock to suddenly deal with the notoriously horrible traffic in the area.  I also very much missed my car, mostly because it’s a hybrid and that would allow me to drive in the carpool lane by myself.  Every time I see the high-occupancy-vehicle signs I think of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode where Larry David picks up a hooker so he can drive in the carpool lanes…  Just to be clear – I did not use this loophole.

I wanted to make the most of my time in LA and do some fun stuff before the “real world” and networking conference began.  My first fun stop was to view a taping of the game show “The Price is Right”.  The whole task of viewing the taping was a cumbersome and inefficient process.  After reserving a voucher a month in advance for the specific show, I was still obligated to show up nearly four hours before the scheduled time in order to actually preserve my slot.   The people with “priority” (given after showing up early) got shuffled to some benches within the CBS lot.  In the next six hours we had to fill out paperwork, have our picture taken, be “interviewed” by the producer (so he could hand-pick the contestants), and then hand over all electronics before being allowed into the studio for the 41 minute show.   After this arduous process, I got seated in the first row!  I was actually hoping to just anonymously sit in the back, and not have to become an unnatural version of my “cheerleader” self; continuously clapping and high-fiving everyone.  By the end of the show my hands were swollen from clapping so much and I lost my voice from hooting and hollering, but I think I successfully fulfilled my role in “winners’ lane” (as the producer called it when he came down and told the group of us to be ‘extra energetic’ because we’re on camera a lot).  I guess I’ll find out how I actually did when the show airs in January…  Unfortunately I didn’t get called to “come on down”, so I didn’t win anything…

My next fun stop was to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.  And to explain, I really do think that this is a fun activity.  It was definitely a fantastic place!  Probably the best library I have been to, and that list is fairly extensive so there is some competition…  The setting overlooking the Santa Susana Mountains was specular and the guts of the museum were very good as well.  Probably my favorite part was reading the script of Knute Rockne opposite Reagan and then viewing the ridiculous playback; it’s a good thing I’m going back to school because it’s pretty obvious I have no future in acting…

My conference involved two and a half days of seminars, lectures, and networking receptions at UCLA (a very pretty campus, fyi).  The conference was for the Forte Foundation – a group that emphasizes giving women opportunities in the business world.

My final stop before heading home was in the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda (south of LA).   So yes, I choose presidential libraries over Disneyland, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, etc.  One of the many ways that my nerdy travel habits sets me apart from the norm…   But bonus, libraries are air-conditioned and have far fewer lines!

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A few things that I should clear up about my trip

I feel there are a few things that I should clear up about my trip…

An important item to clarify is that despite the general tone of some of my posts, I am not a masochist.  But I do think that it is important to portray the fact that I am neither traveling on an expense account, nor on a trust fund.   My family has provided valuable support in various forms including scanning and emailing my W-2’s so I could do my taxes while in Egypt or mailing dress clothes to my hotel Los Angles so I could still go to Machu Picchu before having to head to my conference.  However, every last cent of my travel money has come from scrimping and saving in my “everyday” life; not from credit card debt or financial support of others.  And while I feel that traveling financially independently is a very important part of the adventure, it does lead to having to “count pennies” where a lot of other vacationers have many more luxuries available.  So that while overnight buses are not necessarily my preferred method of travel, it is compulsory in order to see all of the places and do all of the things that my vast travel checklist contains.  I feel its a very good trade-off!

Secondly, despite an apparent stereotype of long-term travelers, I can absolutely guarantee that I have not turned into a hippie, living the bohemian lifestyle.  I have maintained and probably intensified my strong desire to attend (business) grad school in the fall and my super nerdy reading list over the past several months can definitely attest to that.  Additionally, I have successfully submitted and gotten both site and construction plans approved for my civil engineering job (and ahead of schedule I might add, despite being thousands of miles away…).  So rest assured that my hair is not in dreadlocks and I haven’t traded in my ratty running shoes for a pair of birkenstocks.

And lastly, is the aspect of travelling alone.  When I initially told people about my second trip, they reacted with a mix of surprise and shock, and then when they found out that I was heading out alone I got the distinct impression that most thought I was nuts.  Which, yes I realize that traveling like I do is relatively rare in the US, but for the rest of the world I would not be considered nearly as much of a leper.  In essence, there are lots of people who traverse the world for extended time periods, and consequently meeting people is relatively easy.  Protocol dictates that you hang out with people while your schedules and wish-lists line up, and then move on either on your own or with your new friends.  So that while I may be officially traveling alone, you make friends along the way and I don’t spend all of my time alone – though I make certain that I get enough “Jill” (alone) time to maintain my sanity.  It does take a certain personality type in order to successfully deal with this situation though because there is no one there to take care of you when you get sick (in India…) or to complain to when your feet hurt because your bag is too heavy.  But on the other side, while traveling alone you meet many amazing and interesting people that most likely you wouldn’t have met with the comfort and convenience of a travel companion.

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Europe vs. Developing Countries

I figured I would write an editorial about my overall experiences in various countries…  I leave for Easter Island on May 1, so check back next week for better updates…

First to clarify, the term “third-world” countries is being phased out and replaced with the more politically correct “developing countries”.  My rudimentary criterion is if you can drink the tap water (without getting sick); so basically everywhere outside of Europe I traveled on this trip (with the exception of Singapore) was “developing”.

Ease of Traveling: Advantage Europe

After spending a decent amount of time in developing countries, getting around in Europe was a breeze.  There are road signs identifying streets, and they have visitors centers that give out accurate maps (unlike the unreliable maps found in Lonely Planet guide books that routinely have the wrong scale, which obviously bugs me as a civil engineer and as someone who walks to places a lot…).  On the rare occasion that I did need to ask for directions, I had forgotten how nice it was to have someone tell you the truth without expecting a tip.    And Europe has public transportation!  I dislike taking taxis (not just because of the expense, because anywhere I actually would/did take them they were cheap), but because that means that you are transported around in a little bubble and don’t get to see and experience a lot of what makes traveling worthwhile for me.

One of the biggest hindrances I encountered in developing counties was the aggravation of being constantly harassed.  It’s amazing that people in Europe understand that they can go into stores, look around, and then buy stuff without the touts outside hassling everyone to come into their stores.  And though I love getting good deals on things, which makes negotiation a necessary task, arguing over the price of toilet paper (because that wasn’t included in my $8 a night hotels) got to be an annoyance.

Overcoming a Challenge: Advantage Developing Countries

Going to Europe doesn’t offer the same culture shock as many other places.  Though the languages are varied, the buildings are older, and the politics are different (though becoming more similar), Europe as a continent doesn’t seem very different than the US to me anymore.  Going into countries that have completely different religious affiliations or that don’t use the Latin alphabet offer much more of a challenge and then a sense of accomplishment for making it through.  The things that I learn being in uncomfortable situations are valuable lessons in my opinion.  To quote a friend “these are character building opportunities”.

Cost: Advantage Developing Countries

Huge difference here…  It’s not that my budget is that tight, but my general theory is that the cheaper I can get around/sleep, the more stuff I can see.  My daily spending average in Greece and Spain was twice what I spent in the developing countries I visited.  And France was nearly four times more expensive.  I know this because I keep an extremely detailed spreadsheet tracking my spending in a variety of categories: basically I’m a super nerd (and pre-mba student, so it’s good homework).  What it boils down to is simple: everything in Europe costs more.  A great example is in Paris I paid $37 a night to share a room with 9 other people.  In Morocco I spent about $8 to have my own room.  This trickles down into everything: trains, buses, food, entertainment, etc.   In Spain I paid $6 for a happy meal at McDonalds, in Egypt (with the necessary negotiation) $6 got me a three course meal plus desert.  This is probably why my pants don’t fit anymore…   So while I’m not willing to sleep on crack-house mattresses in roach infested hostels, I do like the idea of living frugally.  And this habit in turn allows me to continue traveling far beyond the standard two weeks of vacation time in faraway, exotic locations.

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Morocco

I found a really cheap flight from Paris to Fes on Ryanair, a very, very low cost European airline.  Think along the lines of Spirit Air, but on steroids for cost cutting measures (and thus nickel and diming you).  You may have heard the rumors about standing room only seats or having to pay to use the restroom on the flights: yea, its that airline, but no those rumors aren’t true (at least not yet anyway).  They offer super-low base fares and charge for all of the extras.  So if you play by their rules you can get flights for as cheap as $10 (but don’t worry Mom, their safety record is superb).  But because of their very strict restrictions for bag weights (including carry-ons), I spent about 20 minutes in the airport using their scales re-shuffling my bags, and putting on additional sweatshirts in order to make the weights of both my checked and carry-on bags acceptable.  But in the end it saved me 50 euros (~$65) in fees.

Fes

I got to Fes and the dizzying labyrinth that is the medina.  The most interesting part of Fes for me was the tannery.  Though it smelled as absolutely horrible as you would expect; it was fun to see how they prepare leather right in the heart of the medina.  I was thinking about buying a new leather purse, until the guy explained that they use pigeon poop to make it soft…  Not the best sales technique I witnessed.  Nor was the guy who yelled at me “if you don’t want a guide, go back to your own country”, when I refused to pay someone to walk next to me in the medina and steer me towards their cousins shop under the pretense of being a “guide”.

Rabat

The trains in Morocco are surprisingly efficient (and cheap!).  So the next stop for me was Rabat, the capital.  There isn’t a whole lot to do there, but it is on the Atlantic coast, so seeing the same ocean I had seen in France a couple of days ago was cool, and much warmer this time!  Wandering through the winding and narrow streets, I came upon a very pretty area of buildings.  The top half was painted white, while the bottom half was blue.   The best explanation I have heard for the reasoning behind this unique color scheme is that you have white on the top so that it won’t absorb the sunlight (and thus keep the building cooler), but you have blue on the bottom so that the white isn’t blinding you as you walk down the street.  It seems to make sense in a weird kind of way, but I can’t verify that that is really the reasoning.  Nevertheless, it was a very pretty site to stumble upon.

Casablanca

Even though Casablanca, as the financial capital of Morocco, doesn’t offer tourists much more than a modern city; I felt compelled to at least stop by for a day because it’s such a famous city (though I haven’t even seen the movie of the same name).  The port seems to be operational because I got a finger wagged at me when I tried walking in the general vicinity of the shipping containers.  But I’m certainly no expert on port operations, as the only knowledge I have is from the HBO series “The Wire”, season two.  Also along the coast line is the Hassan II Mosque.  It is the world’s third largest mosque and can hold up to 25,000 Muslims inside (as its only open to non-Muslims on an expensive guided tour), and an additional 80,000 in the courtyards surrounding it.  It was built to commemorate the former king’s 60th birthday.   This is an undeniably beautiful building with more intricate details than the Taj Mahal contains.

Essaouira

Essaouira is another beach-side city.  As a non-“beach person” and a non-seafood eater, it didn’t have much to offer me but more views of the Atlantic, and of course another medina.  Seeing the freshly caught seafood proudly displayed, some of which I would swear was still wiggling around on the tables, combined with the atrocious smell of the boat area made me nearly throw up.  But apparently that looks appetizing to some people…

Marrakesh

The city of Marrakesh has by far the greatest number of tourists in Morocco.  This translates into more hassling for the accompanying tourist dollars (or more commonly, euros).  Djema al-Fna is the epicenter of Marrakesh.   This square has the snake charmers, jugglers, acrobats, and musicians – basically probably what you think of when you think Morocco.  The medina that is located to the north is yet another maze of shops selling everything from leather goods, lamps, pottery, and of course the knock-off imports from China.  Since it is so hard for me to find shoes that fit in the USA because of my extraordinarily narrow feet, which in Morocco are called “Arabic feet”, not the wider “Berber feet”, I finally gave in and bought some leather shoes because they actually stay on my feet!

Desert Safari to the Sahara

I booked (after intense negotiation of course) a three day safari out into the Sahara Desert.  Because you drive basically to the border with Algeria, I got to see a lot of stuff along the (very long) drive.  The Atlas Mountains were very pretty to see, even though driving through them was a little nerve-wracking at times with the crazy Moroccan drivers.  Then was Ouarzazate, the “Hollywood” of Morocco.  Actually some pretty famous movies, including Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars, and The Mummy were all shot in the area (none of which I have actually seen – apparently I need to stop traveling so much and start watching movies).  I went to the Musee de Cinema which could quite possibly take the title of worst museum I have ever been in.  There were only a couple movie sets, and those were from some movies I had never even heard of.  I think the best part was the posters of the movies I had heard of…

They took us to a Kasbah, which is a traditional Berber (the local, indigenous people) community.   The houses are made of a mud-type stucco material mixed with straw (for tensile strength I’m assuming – engineering nerd alert!).  They showed (well more like attempted to sell) their Berber carpets.  While I’m sure they were good quality and a “good price”, but trying to sell large carpets to a bunch of backpackers headed into the desert on camels isn’t the most logistical idea.

Then finally came the desert!  Sleeping in a Berber tent out in the middle of the desert wasn’t roughing it nearly as much as I had expected.  We actually had mattresses!  Though when I asked where the “bathroom” was (usually when camping you designate a specific area, though there are obviously not actual facilities), and the guy replied “everywhere”.  Consequently, people were peeing outside my tent all night, so the morning became a game of jumping around to avoid the “land mines” people so kindly left so close to the camp.   Riding a camel for an hour and a half from the van to the camp site was a fun novelty at first, but after about a half hour my legs and butt went numb, which was not quite as pleasant.  But still, riding a camel through the Sahara Desert amongst the dunes was a very cool adventure.  Rain has seemed to follow me around pretty much everywhere I go, and the desert was no exception – it actually hailed!

Overall

Overall Morocco was more challenging to travel than most places I have been.  The language barrier was much larger than average for starters.  Because the country was under French control for so long, the main languages people speak are Arabic and French – neither of which are very useful to me.  I actually had to communicate in my broken Spanish (usually more like Spanglish), because on occasion somehow my Spanish was better than their English (which I would have never ever assumed).   And secondly, but a much more annoying feature was the hassling factor.  I had been warned that Morocco touts were as bad as or worse than Egypt and I definitely found that to be true.  It’s one thing if I enter the souqs (markets) and people harass you to buy stuff, but it’s completely another to not be able to sit in the Cyber Park (which true to its name actually has little internet terminals!) and eat an orange without multiple people pestering me for absolutely no reason.

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Around-the-World Part II

So once again, I’m taking off on an extended adventure.  Already having done this before provides a good base line for planning, preparations, etc., even though so many things are different this time around.  For one, I have a definitive plan for when I come home.  Going back to school for my MBA provides a distinct direction for my life that I had been missing for a long time.  Secondly, this time around I am headed out on my own.  A few friends are planning on meeting up with me at various points on my trip, but on whole, I’m venturing it alone.  Most people think that is crazy, but you meet a lot more people this way, which I’m hoping will enhance the whole travel experience.   And thirdly, I am going to be working while on the road.  Though it won’t be a typical 40-hour workweek, nor will the paycheck come close to that, it will definitely be an experience working on construction drawings from an internet café in New Delhi (a whole new take on outsourcing to India…).

I look forward to both hearing from everyone on the road (and please do write because it will get lonely!) and sharing updates and pictures via this website with anyone interested enough to log on.   I’m attempting to make my website “more user friendly”, so any comments or suggestions would be appreciated!

See Ya!!

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Walt Disney World

Jill has been telling everyone that I am the one that wanted to come to Walt Disney World. And it’s essentially true. I haven’t been here since I was 12 and only went to the Magic Kingdom at that time. The time before that I got lost at Epcot when I was 3. So it’s been awhile.

We stayed at the economical “All Star Music” Resort on Disney property. Our first day we went to visit the Magic Kingdom where I tried to attain “Galactic Hero” status by scoring 999,999 points on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Unfortunately, my shooting prowess was no match for the Evil Emperor Zurg, where he stopped me cold with 752,300 points that promoted me from Space Cadet to the second highest rank of “Cosmic Commando. The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square was probably my favorite attraction at the Magic Kingdom behind Buzz Lightyear…

Another honorable mention was Epcot, where I didn’t manage to get lost this time. Epcot has the “World Showcase” where they have areas set up for many countries (no, this isn’t our trip around the world). They had an exhibit where you could try all of the Coke products from around the world. The drink “Beverly” from Italy is by far the most disgusting drink in the world -it tops straight hard liquor. Jill tried it in Atlanta at the Coca-Cola museum and found how disgusting it was. And low and behold, Epcot had the same exhibit, and Jill thought for some reason that Beverly was going to somehow taste better. Enjoy the video below.

In any event, we are headed to the Miami area, the Florida Keys, and the Everglades. On Friday night, we head to our first “real” destination, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Pre-Trip

An excerpt from The Alchemist:

A certain shepherd sent his son to learn about the secret of happiness from the wisest man in the world. The wise man listened attentively to the boy’s explanation of why he had come, but told him he didn’t have time just then to explain the secret of happiness. He suggested that the boy look around the palace and return in two hours. “Meanwhile, I want you to do something,” said the wise man, handing the boy a teaspoon that held two drops of oil. “As you wander around, carry this spoon with you without allowing the oil to spill.” The boy began climbing and descending the many stairways of the palace, keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the room where the wise man was. “Well,” asked the wise man, “did you see the Persian tapestries that are hanging in my dining hall? Did you see the garden that it took the master gardener ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?” The boy was embarrassed, and confessed that he had observed nothing. His only concern had been not to spill the oil that the wise man had entrusted to him. “Then go back and observe the marvels of my world”, said the wise man. Relieved, the boy picked up the spoon and returned to his exploration of the palace, this time observing all of the works of art on the ceilings and the walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around him, the beauty of the flowers, and the taste with which everything had been selected. Upon returning to the wise man, he related in detail everything he had seen. “But where are the drops of oil I entrusted to you?” asked the wise man. Looking down at the spoon he held, the boy saw that the oil was gone. “Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you”, said the wisest of wise men. “The secret to happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.” The shepherd said nothing. He had understood the story: a shepherd may like to travel, but he should never forget his sheep.

After about six months of planning destinations, transportation, vaccinations, etc., the countdown is at last, just a single day. As I finish up the final details, I am overwhelmed with excitement mixed with a little apprehension. Have I overlooked something important? How am I going to lug around all of my belongings in a single bag for eight months? How are Matt and I going to put up with each other for that long? This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with the chance to see world-class museums, architecture, and learn about fascinating cultures. This doesn’t come without sacrifices though; when we get back, we will both unemployed and homeless… Hopefully it is worth it…

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