Reaching Out 2 The World


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Camel-Backing it Through the Sahara Desert

After a small breakfast our group piled back into the van, everyone squeezing IMG_6388back into their original seats. We had another long day of traveling ahead of us and would be finishing our day with a camel ride into the Sahara Desert!

Like the day before our ride was filled with scenic stops along the road and even a guided tour. Our tour on this day took us through a Berber town where we got the chance to sit down and learn all about the process of rug making. The day was a bit unordinary however because it fell on their holiday. Because of this we received ouIMG_6385r rug lesson from the brother of the women that typically create the rugs. He was incredibly nice and told us that he appreciated the opportunity to practice his English. He also made sure to let us know that it was the women that were able to create all those beautiful rugs and not him. He told me that his skill was jewelry making but that all his supplies were back at his place across town. It’s too he didn’t have any with him because I’m sure he’s great at what he does.

The amount of work and effort that goes into the rugs is incredible and they each tell a story. The meaning behind the rugs is often only known by the creator but if you’re looking to purchase one you can be sure to ask what the symbols mean beforehand. A large rug could take 1-3 weeks to make if they are working at it every day. IMG_6386Seeing the rugs and meeting the locals really makes you think about the whole haggling process. So much time and effort goes into making these custom pieces only to have a complete stranger try to buy it off you for a fraction of the asking price. I understand that they start their prices high in order to still make a profit but I couldn’t help but think that the creators are still getting the short end of the bargain. A few members of our group purchased some small rugs that should make the trips back to their countries fairly easily. I really enjoyed our time in this town and appreciated the hospitality.

IMG_6277When we exited the home we were all shocked to see that the streets were flowing with blood. Today was the day that the animals would be sacrificed in honor of Allah providing Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice rather than his son Ishmael.  When we rounded the next corner to head back to the van we witnessed one of these sacrifices. I apologize if the pictures are too graphic but I felt this was an important part of their culture and not IMG_6275worth leaving out. If it makes you feel any better they use all parts of the sacrificed animal and give 1/3 of the meat to their neighbors and 1/3 of their meat to the needy or less fortunate. It was interesting being able to view the “process” but nice being able to then get in our van and drive away. There are too many parts of a sheep that I’m just not interested in seeing served for dinner.

IMG_6382Our final stop before reaching the Sahara was the mighty Todgha Gorge. Now days there is a small river that runs through this gorge but there must have been a lot more water at one point because these walls tower up to 150 meters on either side of you. It’s a spectacular hike through this canyon and a popular tourist stop on the way to the Sahara. The first thing I noticed upon arriving was the rock climbers midway up this gigantic cliff IMG_6381face. If you squint your eyes you can probably see them in the attached picture. Besides the ridiculous height they were climbing and the sheer drop they faced at any moment, I couldn’t help but think how hot it must be with the desert sun on their backs for the duration of the climb. I suppose they have more urgent concerns at hand though.

IMG_6368Finally, after the longest, most unnecessary stop for lunch (our service was just terrible), we made it to the edge of the Sahara. Our driver told us we were only to bring one bag and that we should be ready to go soon. I guess I wasn’t totally prepared to just bring one bag, as Dan and I had our things sort of mixed together amongst a few bags, but I quickly IMG_6366sorted my things out. Before boarding my camel there was still one last thing I needed to do, I had to get changed into my Sahara Desert garb. When Dan and I met everyone back outside it was easy to see the jealousy on their faces. At least I’d like to think so… because we looked great!

We were each paired up with a camel and each camel was a part of a small caravan of camels. My camel didn’t have a name, and I wasn’t about to walk through the desert on camel with no name… so I named him Wednesday. Wednesday was a great camel and second in line of the first caravan.

IMG_6342The camel directly in front of us looked to be pregnant because of how fat she was. I mentioned this to the man riding her and his response was, “I wonder if she’s thinking the same thing about me!” Gotta love British humor.

Our stroll through the desert was IMG_6348very nice and full of incredible views. The sun was setting and the surrounding dunes looked striking. With the sun at our backs, our shadows lead the way deep into the desert for what was just under a 2 hour ride. For those of you that are wondering, riding a camel is not comfortable. And after the first 30 minutes or so of our ride I could already feel my toes tingling and my groin aching. Despite the discomfort I wouldn’t have changed a thing, besides installing a cup holder on Wednesday. Every minute the sun dropped lower we were presented with different shades of color spreading across the horizon. I hope you enjoy the pictures but I’m sure you’ll believe me when I tell you that they hardly do the trip justice.

IMG_6345The last hour of our walk was lit by moonlight. The moon was almost full and was like a giant light bulb in the sky. Not only did we have no issues of seeing but we could see everything very clearly. Even once the sun was long gone we still casted glorious camel riding shadows on the dunes close by.

I guess there weren’t enough camels for everyone to get a ride so a small group had to drive into the desert on the roof of an overland jeep. By the sounds of their hooting and hollering it sounded like they were having the time of their lives. I did a bit of quad biking through the Namibian Desert back in 2011 and I can vouch for them that it’s an amazing time. It’s best comparable to a rollercoaster ride with no real start or finish. Part of me was concerned for their safety because they were just hanging onto the roof rack of the jeep but I had a feeling they were all sporting the tightest grips they could muster.

When we arrived to the camp we were told that a meal would be prepared for us. DSC_5647We weren’t really told anything else so we all just hung out and waited. As time went by we grew impatient and directed our attention to Light Painting. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, it’s when you decrease the shutter speed on your camera and wave a flashlight in front of the lens. After some practice you can really start to create some neat images. The trick is being able to picture what you’re drawling in your head as you go because you won’t get to see the finished drawling until the very end. Add this to the fact that you onlyDSC_5652 have about 20 seconds and the task at hand is no easy one. For those of you looking to try this, remember that if you’re writing words you’re going to have to write them backwards… and cursive will be your best bet for starting out. Good luck!!

While we were playing with the lights taginedinner was just being served so we joined everyone back at the tables. Our moonlit supper consisted of rice, veggies, and chicken tagine. Chicken tagine is a very traditional meal served in Morocco and this was about the fourth time we ate in two days. That’s not to say it’s not good… I’ve just had more than enough tagine!

To cook this meal you first need your special earthenware pot, aka your tagine. It’s a slow-cook method where you’ll have your meat, and veggies all mixed together. DSC_5654The cone shape helps steam the vegetables and the flavors all come together. This is generally served with rice or couscous and can be for one person or in our case a table of people. The tagine it’s self can just be placed on a bed of coals for cooking and will keep your dish hot for a lengthy amount of time. Cooking with tagines is becoming more and more popular throughout Europe so many people come down to Morocco where it’s considerably cheaper to purchase the ceramic pot.

When we finished eating, Dan and I decided that we wanted to climb to the top of the sand dune behind our tents. I forgot how difficult it was to hike up a sand dune and this one happened to be the largest one around. We took a few breaks along the way but were determined to reach the peak. For those of you that will be receiving the “very special souvenir” you’ll be happy to know we collected sand from the peak of the tallest sand dune in the Sahara Desert! The fact that it’s the tallest isn’t common knowledge but I’m pretty confident in my calculations. From way at the top we could see for miles in every direction. That’s pretty amazing considering the sun had gone down hours ago and everything we could see was thanks to the massive moon. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the moon shine so bright. The brightness of the moon did take away from the star gazing that I had hoped for but I don’t think it really bothered anyone too much because of how awesome everything else was.

The best part about climbing up a sand dune is coming down. I remembered this very well from my previous experience and I was excited to make the run. It took over an hour to climb up and probably under a minute to come all the way down. I was running as fast as I could and loving every second of it.

We were told that we’d be waking up to leave around 5:00 in the morning the following day so most of us went off to bed. A few others decided to climb the dune we had just returned from but I was far too exhausted to even consider doing it again.

Thursday

I woke up around 4:58 to the sounds of silence. I generally wake up just beforeDSC_5688 I’m supposed to, and I think it’s my body’s way of preparing me for the wake up call. I’ve always hated being woke up from a nice sleep so I think my way of coping is to just wake myself up before that can happen. This happens all the time when I’m supposed to be awake at a certain time and it’s never with the help of an alarm. My internal clock has a mind of its own sometimes. Anyway, just because I was awake didn’t mean I was ready to get up, and when I heard no one come by I drifted back to sleep. I again woke a half hour later and then an hour after that and still didn’t hear much going on outside our tent. I woke up Dan and asked him what time we were supposed to get moving and he confirmed that they had told us 5. It was now half past 6 though and everyone still seemed sound asleep. Not long after this, people began moving about and slowly be surely everyone was up and ready to go by 7.

DSC_5728It was bright outside but the sun had still not risen. We walked over to the camels and they again paired us up. I rode the same caravan of camels as I did the first trip only this time I was two camels back. It seemed like the obvious decision to name my new camel Thursday. Once on Thursday we began the long trek back to civilization. Not long after starting were we joined by the sun that quickly jumped out from behind the sand dunes.

Riding out of the desert on Thursday was about as equally enjoyable as riding in on Wednesday.

The rest of the day was spent in the van for a very long drive back to Marrakech. In total I think we were in the van for over 12 hours but I made some progress on a book I had started and was even able to get a bit of writing done. My time in the Sahara, although short lived, was truly amazing. The desert has more to offer than you think!

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A Journey Through the Atlas Mountains

We woke up around 6:30am so that we could be ready for our 7am pick up. Today we’d be joining a group of travelers on a 3 day 2 night dessert safari. Even though Marrakech is one of the main destinations to begin a trip like this, it still involves a LOT of driving. I definitely didn’t fully grasped how much driving it would be until our journey began.

About quarter after 7 we got at knock at our riad and were greeted by two IMG_6169gentlemen looking to take us to our transport. We followed them through the alleyways to the market square, which was looking completely different with all the shops closed up and no people around. As we rounded the last corner we saw a few large white vans parked in a semicircle and there were loads of travelers outside of them. I think each van was pretty much on route for the same course only some were taking as many as 4 days and some were just taking 2.

We joined the group that was on the 3 day track and were just about the last ones to board. There were 4 rows of seats in our van and the back row was still available. Once we were in and situated we were joined by one last couple before we started our trip. At this point there were 2 German girls in the front, 3 Brazilians in the first row, 1 Brazilian and a French couple in the secondIMG_6186 row, 3 more Brazilians in the third row, and myself and Dan with the backseat to ourselves. As you can imagine Dan and I took full advantage of our 4 seats and immediately went about falling back asleep.

The roads were windy and the IMG_6187driving in Morocco is a bit crazy but like the rest of our van, I was also able to fall back asleep. Not long after drifting off did I notice our van pull over for an unexpected stop. I wasn’t really aware of what the first day of traveling consisted of but apparently this was just the first of many scenic stops.

IMG_6190The Atlas Mountains run 1,600 miles across the north western part of Africa, from Tunisia through Morocco. These mountains separate the African Coastline from the Sahara Desert, so our first day of traveling was meant to travel through the Tishka Pass.

I’ve never been on a mountain and not loved the view. There’s just something about viewing the world from such heights. In the winter some of these peaks can even have snow on them, but it was still far too hot for that.

Just before lunch time we pulled up IMG_6224to Ait Benhaddou, an old fortified city. The city was built out of mud straw, and rock on a hill. We walked around the city for an hour or so learning about its history and inhabitants. These days only 8 families remain in the city and with each rainstorm the buildings take on more and more damage. An interesting fact about this city was that many popular movies have been filmed here. The Mummy, Gladiator, the Prince of Persia, and even the Game of IMG_6216Thrones were all filmed at this location, to just name a few. I got the sense that our tour guide was very proud of his village’s fame. He even mentioned to us that he’s been in a few of the movies as an extra!

After lunch we all boarded the van and continued our drive east. At one point we stopped for refreshments and to use the bathroom and were joined by 2 additional travelers. A couple from Spain would be joining us for the next part of the trip and we suddenly had a very packed van. The back seat went from being the most spacious to the most cramped which meant there wouldn’t be any more sleeping for the rest of the day’s travels. Luckily we were only a few short stops away from reaching our destination where we’d spend the evening at a hotel.DSC_5465

Before reaching the hotel we made a scenic stop along the road to watch the sunIMG_6391 set off in the distance. The colors reflecting off the wind eroded rocks were painted in magnificent shades of red. Most of our stops were to just stretch our legs, take some photos, and then hop back in the van but I could have easily spent more time admiring the beauty of the Atlas Mountains.

IMG_6273Day 1 got us halfway to the Sahara and shared with us some hidden Moroccan beauty. To top off the evening I utilized the hotels Wi-Fi for a video chat with my dear friend Patrick McMullen. Anyone that gets to end their night video chatting with this legend will undoubtedly consider their day a massive success!IMG_6389


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Living It Up In Marrakech

IMG_6051After a nice night’s sleep we woke up got our belongings together and went down stairs for our included breakfast. The breakfast consisted of a hard-boiled egg, some bread, orange juice, and mint tea. The mint tea in Morocco is very good, and an excellent starter to any day.

Once we were all set we grabbed a cab to the train station so we could ride to Marrakech. Everyone we’ve talked to has told us that Marrakech is the most popular city to visit in Morocco because it has the most to do. We also knew that most Sahara tours left from Marrakech so it was a pretty easy decision to head that way.

The first time you ride a train in a new country you never really know what to expect. You want to arrive early so you don’t miss your departure but as far as choosing seats goes, it’s a hit or miss game. When we got to the station we were told the next train wouldn’t be leaving for another couple hours, and that the train that had just left was overbooked. From what we’ve been told, you are only guaranteed a seat if you buy first class and with a 3 hour ride ahead of us we didn’t want to risk having to stand.

Our wait wasn’t so bad and before IMG_6078we knew it, it was time to board. With everything in French and Arabic we kept double checking to make sure we were boarding the correct train and headed towards the right compartment. Our seats were pretty nice when we arrived at them and our room was shared with four other riders. Right off the bat I heard one of the girls talking to her friend and targeted her as an American. When traveling in new places it’s sometimes refreshing to hear a familiar accent. Turns out I was only partially right though as she turned out to be from Canada. Her friend she was riding with was her husband and he was born and raised in Morocco. Together they married and lived in Dubai but had traveled back to Morocco for the holiday. With Dan and I just flying in from Dubai we had much to talk about with them and spent the first half of the ride sharing stories and getting tips about how to tour Morocco. During this time we were joined by another couple who quietly took their seats next to me. I think they were exhausted from their travels because it took about an hour before we learned that they were also English speaking and lived in Washington D.C. The two of them were celebrating their one year anniversary and were also planning on venturing off into the Sahara for a couple days. It was a completely coincidence that all the English speakers were placed in the same train car but it worked out very nicely!

One thing I found very interesting was that the Moroccan’s wife (sorry I don’t remember their names, but she’s also the Canadian) was vegetarian and they were in Morocco for the holiday, Eid Al-Adha. This Muslim holiday honors the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his young first-born son Ishmael as an act of submission to Allah’s command and his son’s acceptance to being sacrificed, but before that could happen Allah intervened to provide Abraham with a lamb to sacrifice instead. So once a year friends and families gather together for this religious holiday and sacrifice a sheep, cow, or a goat. As he was telling us this he went on to say that when they arrive in Marrakech he needs to go out and buy two sheep to bring back to his family. I guess being the oldest son requires him to bring home the sheep. Another thing is that the sheep will live for 3 days outside their home before their time is up. The whole time he was explaining this you could tell his wife had some major concerns. From what I understand vegetarians aren’t huge fans of sacrificing animals. We made sure to wish them both the best of luck before we departed!

As soon as we got to Marrakech it was obvious that everyone was right about it IMG_6074being more popular than Casablanca. The streets were much more crowded and the place seemed pretty happening. Dan had booked a couple nights at the Riad Hannah, which was located not far from the market square, so our first task was trying to find our way there. We considered walking but the streets were poorly labeled and we weren’t sure which way to start. Right around this time a truck pulled up to us and offered us a ride. IMG_6072There was only room for one of us to sit in the front with him so I volunteered to sit in the bed. I guess he uses the truck for transporting animals or something because the back end of the truck had a metal gate he enclosed behind me. I gotta say, I felt a bit like a sheep being transported as we drove through the streets of Marrakech, but it was kind of fun as well.

Our driver dropped us off at the start of an alley way and told us that we’d find our riad if we just continued to walk on down. On both sides of this narrow street were small stores and vendors selling everything from meat, to swords. The street went as far as the eye could see and we weren’t finding any signs for our riad. As we walked down every vendor that caught our eye would try to lure us into their shop and try their best to get us to purchase something from them. It’s amazing how persistent these guys can be. Carrying our bags around with us also made us an easy target as vulnerable tourists, so we were anxious to move on. A kid around our age approached us and asked if we needed help finding out accommodation. We told him the name and he said to follow him. He lead us down back alleys and took us right to the front door of the Riad Hannah, I couldn’t imagine we would have found the place without his help. Dan went to tip him for his service and rather than accepting the generous amount the boy asked for a figured 10 times what Dan had offered him! He was asking twice the amount our driver had even asked for! I understand they see tourists as just having an abundance of money, but you have to have some nerve to request a larger tip from someone. After all it’s a tip… not a required payment.

Anyways, our riad was really nice. A riad is the name for a IMG_6070Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard or garden. The word riad actually comes from Arabic and means garden. The walls are often thick stone exterior walls covered in tile or plaster. There are often beautiful designs and patterns found on these walls and our riad was no exception.

Once we were settled in we decided to go back out into the streets and browse through the markets. The closer we got to the market square the more congested the streets became. It was difficult to pass up all the vendors along the walk because they were all offering such interesting items and I knew I could get great prices. I just kept telling myself that I was going to be there for three days and I’d have plenty of time for buying souvenirs later on.

IMG_6093The walk to the square took about 15 minutes but it was an enjoyable walk filled with things I’ve never seen before. When we reached the square the alleyway opened up into massive gathering. I don’t think we walked more than 50 feet before coming across a few Moroccan snake charmers doing their thing. We took pictures but quickly found out that they harass you for money if they see you using your camera. You just have to be stern with them or let them know up front that you have no intention of buying anything or giving them any money.

Just after seeing the snakes we were DSC_5204walking through the square and a man came up to me and placed his monkey on my shoulder. Okay, so maybe I looked interested in holding the monkey but I promise I didn’t ask for it. Their game plan is to first put the monkey in your hands and to then ask for money. You just have to make sure to tell them right away that you either have no money, or that you aren’t interested… even if you kind of are. Because this was our first encounter with the aggressive monkey owner we opted to take a few pictures and afterwards tipped him. Of course the amount we gave him was far less than he wanted, but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.

IMG_6099Our main goal at this point wasIMG_6103 finding a nice place to sit and eat dinner. It was nearing sun down and we hadn’t eaten anything besides a light snack on the train. We set our sights on a restaurant that had a rooftop balcony overlooking the market square and ordered a traditional Moroccan meal of couscous with chicken and vegetables. I liked the dish, but can’t say that I loved it.

When we were finished eating we took a different route to get back to our riad and were beginning to understand the network of alleys that lead in every which way.

We arrived in Marrakech on Saturday and would be departing for our Sahara Desert Tour on Tuesday morning. The following days consisted of wandering throughout Marrakech, learning the proper way to haggle with the vendors, dressing up in traditional Arabic gandooras, charming snakes, hanging with a few locals, and trying a few different Moroccan meals. It was nice being able to stay in the same area for a few days and not have to worry about moving around to much.

DSC_5268How to haggle 101: When entering a store it’s important to not let the vendor know which item you are interested in. If you see something you like it’s best to pay no attention to it. You’ll be presented with a number of items that you may or may not want but you always need to act uninterested with whatever it is they are offering. When the item you are actually interested in is finally presented or you’ve given it away that you’d like to hear more about it, you need to stand your ground. At this point it’s okay to ask the vendor what his starting price is (unless you already know what you should be paying or already know how low you can get it). Let’s say they tell you the price is 1,200 Dh… You’re going to then want to counter their offer with a number closer to 100 Dh. At this point, it’s their turn to look at you like you’re crazy but you need to stand your ground! Immediately they’ll drop their price to say, 800 Dh, but that’s still not what you’re looking for. You again tell them 100 Dh and remind them that you don’t even want the item they are offering. Their next offer will be maybe between 500-600 Dh and at that point you tell them no thanks and begin leaving their store. I promise they will stop you and I promise they will drop their price by at least another 100. Even though it appears they have cut their original price in half you still have no interest in paying 450 Dh and tell them that you’re going to try a different store but perhaps you’ll be back later. They’ll ask what your max price is at this point looking for anything they can get and see if they can meet you somewhere in the middle but that’s all unnecessary. In your head you may be willing to pay up to 200 Dh for the item (about 20 USD) but you tell them the most you’re willing to go is 150 Dh. This will go back and forth for a little longer, and you may need to fake an early exit a few times, or tell them you’re no longer interested but eventually you’ll get the price you want. It’s a game with these guys and if you want to get a fair deal you gotta be tough.

The above story is an accurate account of one of the purchases I made and I still left wondering if I could have gotten the item for less haha. Another strong strategy is letting them know that you just purchased the same item at a different store for a small made up amount, and that if they aren’t interested in selling you their item for the same offer that you’ll just head back to that previously stated store. I know I’m not the best or most experienced at haggling, but I sure enjoy it!

On our last night before departing on our Sahara tour we stayed at a different riad.DSC_5323 The location and Wi-Fi were much better than the riad Hannah but there was a strong smell of cat urine in the air. Because of this, we spent a good part of our evening hanging out on our riad’s rooftop. The views from up top were enjoyable and offered a nice angle to the sun setting. While we were sitting up there listening to music and playing cards we were joined by a guy about our age. Jafar lives in Marrakech and works at the riad DSC_5348we were staying at. As it turns out, he had joined us on the rooftop so he could pay his respects to Allah. He told me that five times throughout the day the loud speaker that blasts over all of Marrakech (and every other Muslim city) is a reminder or calling for those that believe to come and pray. I think the most significant times are when the sun rises and when the sun sets. I’m glad I got the opportunity to meet Jafar because I had been wondering what was being said over those loud speakers ever since we arrived in Dubai.

The night was still young at this point, seeing as the sun had just set, and Dan and I DSC_5244wanted to explore the city square one last time. Only this time we wanted to sport our traditional Arabic clothes. After saying farewell to Jafar we went back to our room and dressed to impress. Interestingly enough we got less stairs walking throughout the square while wearing these clothes than we did in the clothes we had brought. Maybe that makes sense or maybe it was just wishful thinking but either way we had a fun time doing our best to fit in.

Before the night was over I was able to do something pretty special! Back in our riad we had Wi-Fi available in our room and I was able to video chat with my best friend Nick Sgrignoli and his beautiful wife Beth! I haven’t seen or talked to them since August so it was a real pleasure catching up. Thanks again for the call friends, can’t wait to see you once I’m home.

DSC_5254The tour would be leaving the following morning at 7:00am so we were sure to have our things packed and ready to go before going to sleep. Marrakech was a lot of fun, and I look forward to a future visit. DSC_5252DSC_5374DSC_5375DSC_5289DSC_5296


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Destination: Casablanca, Morocco

It kind of stinks having to wake yourself up at 4:30 in the morning and get out of bed when you’re staying at a 5 star luxury hotel. It’s even harder when you know that you’ll be headed to the airport to board a cramped plane for the next 5 hours and you won’t be staying anywhere near as nice as the hotel you’re leaving. It’s all part of the adventure though, and after hitting the snooze once, we were up and ready to go.

Because we were leaving so early we didn’t get the chance to enjoy the buffet breakfast44 but rather waited till we got to the airport before grabbing a bite. It’s interesting how lively airports can be at such odd times in the day. It wasn’t even 6am yet and we saw people everywhere. Some friends were even grabbing a beer at an airport bar (probably Australians haha). Whatever floats your boat. Dan and I went with a tropical smoothie and it was a pretty excellent want to start the morning.

As we all began boarding the plane I started wondering who would be sitting next to me. Of course I was hopeful that the seat would stay open the way it had for Dan on the flight to Dubai, but unfortunately luck wasn’t on my side this morning. The plane started filling up and the seat next to me still remained open. It wasn’t until just before departure that a husband and wife walked down the aisle carrying their small baby. Dan and I both looked at each other as the couple took their seats and the husband joined us in our row. I figured the baby would be with his mother for most of the flight but knew that we’d have to expect at least a little disturbance.

Off the bat, Ryan (the baby), was a bit fussy, but after his mother gave him some sort of medicine he seemed to really quiet down. He actually slept for at least the first half of the flight which we were all very happy about. That’s not to say that later in the flight he had a bit more energy and may have been the reason as to why a drink got spilled on my seat. No worries though…

During this time I watched; The Internship, The Way Way Back, and Wall E. I think I liked these three movies better than the last group I watched on the flight to Dubai. I think it’s easier to enjoy a comedy on a flight rather than a drama or action movie… but maybe that’s just me.

I don’t generally sleep well on flights but when you add in the fact that I had the middle seat it basically cancels out any sleep potential. I wasn’t too concerned with sleeping though because I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s just not going to happen when I’m in flight.

By the time we arrived in Morocco neither Dan nor I had really any idea as to what time it was. There was definitely a time difference from Dubai but we weren’t positive what it was. I changed my iphone to the time zone of Morocco but the next morning we found out that it was still an hour off.

Anyway, our plane landed in Casablanca and our first task was to head through customs before making our way to the baggage claim. The lines at the custom desks were all fairly long and we chose the line that had the slowest employee working. This wasn’t really determined until we were already committed to our line but it was pretty clear as every other line seemed to be moving more than twice as fast as us. When I finally reached the desk the man working looked as if he just plain hated his job. Sorry dude… but you don’t need to slow down everyone’s day.

At this point I was feeling a bit ill and was just trying to make it out of there without getting sick. I’m not positive why I wasn’t feeling well but it was probably a combination of the long day of travel, and the food I ate.

After what felt like forever we finally made it through customs and moved on to baggage claim. We were both thinking that this should be a fairly quick process as they have had more than enough time to get the bags off the plane, but as it turns out we were wrong. We waited and waited before we finally retrieved our one checked bag. Who knows why it took them so long to get them but at least we had ours and could finally leave the airport. I’m pretty sure we spent over 2 hours between landing in Morocco and leaving the airport.

Everything we’ve heard and read about told us to be careful with the taxi drivers outside the airport. They really will try and rip you off and you should never go with the younger guys directly outside of the arrivals area. You don’t fully understand how much you’ll be bombarded by these guys until you experience it for yourself. Every single one of them tried to stop us and ask us if we needed a ride, and every single one of them had a “great” price just for us. We set our price low and continued walking. We weren’t really sure where we were walking to but we knew it was going to be away from them. The moment you start walking away the prices will begin to drop, but these guys still were asking for too much. Finally after passing up everyone that came up to us we found ourselves alone way out in front of the airport. We hadn’t planned on it being so difficult to get a reasonable priced ride to our accommodation. As we were thinking of what to do next a cab pulled up to us to offer us a ride. Surprisingly he was only asking for a fraction of what everyone else was asking and we were quick to hop in.

IMG_6007Once in the cab and I was confident we were on the right path I closed my eyes and fell asleep. I knew Dan had things under control and I was still not feeling well from the long day of travel. It was probably about a half hour or so later that we were dropped off outside the front of Hotel Central. We were only here for one night before heading to Marrakech and had heard there wasn’t much to do in Casablanca.

Upon arrival we both relaxed and laid down for a bit. A bed is so welcoming after spending the day in taxis and airplanes.

After another quick nap (with the time differenceIMG_6032 it was only about 3:30 local time) we strolled out into town to find a place to eat. McDonalds was an easy choice because they offered free Wi-Fi and familiar food. On the way back to our hotel we stopped at a few shops to check out the local market. That’s where I bought my head wrap for when we venture out into the Sahara and Dan bought a traditional shirt that had been custom made.

IMG_6028Back at our hotel we visited our rooftop, because they often offer the best views, and were greeted with a phenomenal scene. It almost looked as if we were looking into a video game or something. The buildings were so close together that it seemed you could just leap from one to the other. I immediately thought back to my parkour friends in England and how much they would love to run this town. Any free runners reading this really ought to consider a visit to Morocco!

Before I called it a night I went back out to a corner café where a group of locals were gathered watching a soccer game. I ordered a drink looked around for a place to sit. I guess a few of them noticed I was by myself because they gestured for me to come over and join them. Their names were Awtife and Arpi and they spoke French and Arabic. One thing for sure was that a lot less people spoke English in Morocco than anywhere else I’ve ever been. We sat and talked for a while but our conversations were slow due to the language barrier. I told them how I had just arrived and would be headed to Marrakech the following morning. They gave me different tips on where to go and how to do things. When I told them about the Sahara trip I was doing they began telling me of a great place we should go and that when we get there to have them phone them. I guess they were saying they could help us get cheaper prices but to be honest I was having a pretty difficult time following the directions they were supplying. On the back of a piece of paper they actually drew me out a map of where I should go when I get to Marrakech!  I thought these guys were really nice and I appreciated even if I wasn’t positive exactly what they were telling me. After the game ended I went back up to our room and easily fell asleep. IMG_6029IMG_6034IMG_6049


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It’s Going to Be Hard to Top a Vacation in Dubai… Day 3

Our final day in Dubai started with another buffet style breakfast. IMG_5962After learning what everything tasted like we had a good idea of what we liked and what we didn’t like. Needless to say, I think we both ate a bit more of what was on our plates today.

Back up in our room we began tossing around ideas of what we should do for our last day. We had a pretty good plan for the evening but nothing booked yet for the beginning half of the day. I got on Groupon to see if there was anything that caught my eye. After pulling up about 12 tabs full of very awesome looking activities we decided to go with jet skiing. The only problem was that we were having issues purchasing the deal. I called up the ski company and asked if there was anything available for today and if we’d still be able to use the deal even without the Groupon. He didn’t seem to mind in the least bit and told us to head on over. We jotted down the address and the number of the company and went out front to grab a cab.

Cab rides in Dubai are a bit expensive but they get you where you need to go and are always readily available. As it turns out, the place we were driving to was actually located in the city next to Dubai and was about 35 kilometers away. Our driver’s name was Hamza, and he was from Pakistan. Most of our drivers up to this point have been from other countries and it seems like a lot are from Pakistan. Along the way he taught us how to say hello, and thank you in both Arabic and Pakistani. Hello in Arabic is Kif Hallek, and thank you is Shrukran. In Pakistani, hello is Kasa Haa, and thank you is Shukrea. Both languages are relatively similar.

IMG_5935Driving around Dubai is pretty spectacular in itself. Since the city is so new and modern everything has its place and you can tell that everything was well thought out before being constructed. The major highways are as big as 14 lanes going across, 6-7 going each way. Directly next to the major highway is a very modern looking metro system. I guess it helps creating a city on such a flat surface while having little to no budget. Everywhere you look you’ll see buildings constructed in a way you’ve never even imagined.  The only buildings that aren’t fixed to the grid are the mosque and that’s because they all point east. Like the rest of the buildings though, the mosques are also very beautiful.

Not long after entering the 7 lane highway headed towards our destination were we passed by a Lamborghini. By the time I got my camera out to take a picture it was just about out of sight. Hamza tried to catch up to it but it was no use. Lamborghinis are not meant to be caught… at least not by taxis. It’s difficult to find a cheap car driving about the highways in Dubai. It seems as if everyone is driving luxury or sports cars. Throughout this last day I came across three more Lamborghinis.

Finally arriving at our destination it became pretty evident that it really wasn’t IMG_5922going to matter about needing the Groupon. Along the entire coastline were Jet Ski Company’s trying everything they could to get our driver to pull into their lot. Dan and I both figured that if we couldn’t get the deal we wanted we could probably just shop around until we did. Luckily this wasn’t a problem and before you knew it we were both cruising through the water!

IMG_5926Anyone that knows me well can tell you how much I love jet skiing. I could spend all day out on one of those things just cruising around. We didn’t have all day though, we had an hour, but I think we made the most of it. The allotted area for cruising was much larger than past companies I’ve rented from and we were virtually the only ones out there. There were a couple other small groups out and about but we never really got in each others way. Dan started out with the Go-pro strapped to his chest and flew up and down the coast. The backdrop of our water ski session was really great with theIMG_5916 city skyline painting the horizon. In the not so far distance you could see the Burj Khalifa sticking up much taller than the rest of the buildings. I brought my ipone out with me sealed tight in one of those waterproof bags. When I felt it was safe I pulled it out to snap a few photos. Perhaps that was a bit risky, but I’m glad I did. Throughout the hour Dan and I took turns with the go-pro following each other around, jumping each others wakes and seeing who could splash the other more with a swift last second turn as we passed by.

Just before our hour was up we decided to try and get an action shot picture with the go-pro. There’s an option on the go-pro that takes 30 pictures in one second. The plan was for me to drive past Dan andIMG_5985 leap off the ski just as he hit the button. I knew that when I left the ski that the key would be coming with me and the ski would shut off, but I didn’t anticipate almost landing back on the ski! Had that been the original plan… I would have almost nailed it! Since it wasn’t in fact the plan I ended up having to dodge the jet ski. The worst part about all this was that when I hit the water the key, that had been attached to my wrist, had flew off and sunk to the bottom. Side note: why don’t they make those keys float? Once Dan saw that I was fine he went back to the company to retrieve a new key to bring back for me. I had to pay for the lost key, which I wasn’t happy about… but it was my fault. Looking back on the pictures though and I think it was pretty worth it. To be fair, the key they provided me with was missing the part that’s supposed to secure it to your wrist. You win some you lose some…

Our driver on the way to the jet skis also told us about this place not so far from IMG_5959where we were staying called the Miracle Gardens. He showed me a video on his phone which looked pretty cool so we decided this would be our next destination. Our original plan was to use a Groupon we had found for a 6D cinema. I can’t even imagine what the additional D’s stood for, but when I called up the place they told me that it was closed for the day. As it turns out, the cinema wasn’t the only thing closed for the day because when we arrived at the gardens the place looked deserted. Granted, it was supposed to be a fabulous garden in the center of the desert… but the gates were locked and there wasn’t a person in sight. I thought this may be due to the season, but I’m not really sure because I think the seasons in Dubai are just hot and hotter.

IMG_5956We opted to just head back to our plaza but first we wanted to stop at the Mall of Emirates for a late lunch. Feeling bold we decided to try the East Food Court rather than the west. This meant venturing over to a brand new side of the mall that we hadn’t been to yet. I think the food court alone could fit most standard shopping centers, and this one offered just about every genre of food imaginable. We were torn with our options, but ended up going with a Mexican restaurant. Dan bought 2 tacos, and I went with a fajita. Not quite as big as the portions you’d find at a Chipotle or a Moes, but still very tasty! I’m pretty sure I could eat Mexican food everyday.

Our final evening was meant to be a relaxing one. We swam in the rooftop pool, lounged in the sauna, and tested our limits on how long we could last in the steam room. All these things lead up very nicely to the massage I received in the hotel spa also located on the top floor. I’m a sucker for massages and know the good from the bad fairly well. IMG_5622This one was different, to say the least. We had a bit of a time restraint due to the fact that we wanted to head out for dinner before it got too late, so the therapist squeezed me in to an available time slot. There was a bit of a language barrier as I tried to tell her no hot stones, just a normal back massage. A few minutes into the massage she again asked me if I’d like the hot stones, telling me that she thinks I’d really like them. I told her that I wasn’t paying for hot stones and would prefer not to have them. I thought we were on the same page until I felt a hot stone in the center of my back, and then another. After my back was loaded up with stones she told me she’d be right back and left the room. I was pinned down with these stones. Not because they were heavy, but because if I moved they’d all go sliding off my back. I think it was only 5 minutes but it felt like an eternity before she returned. The stones had gone cold shortly after she left and I found myself wondering if I was being pranked, or if my wallet was still where I left it. Not the greatest things to think about, but at this point I had no idea what was going on haha. Just as I was about to get up she reentered the room, and returned to my back as if nothing had happened. Now that it’s all over I’m still curious as to what she was doing when she left so abruptly from the room. Maybe she had someone next door that she was also giving a massage to and was trying to kill 2 birds with 1 stone..?

IMG_5992Feeling confused, but mostly relaxed I went back to the room and told Dan about my experience. He was going to originally get a massage but the time restraint was making it too difficult and he opted to just skip it. We still wanted to head back to the mall for a proper dinner so we could finish our final evening the right way.

After getting dressed in the only nice clothes I packed for my entire trip (I had been waiting and waiting for the right opportunity to wear them) it was time for us to head to dinner. With the mall so close and having over 90 restaurants there was hardly a reason to go anywhere else. We even had an idea of where we wanted to go. IMG_5994We weren’t positive on which restaurant but we knew we wanted to try a Lebanese place. Right near the entrance of the mall were two Lebanese restaurants that were both catching our eye so we went with the one that seemed more popular. Neither of us had much of a clue what we were ordering but certain words caught our eye. For our appetizer we went with a hummus spread with freshly baked pita for dipping. I’ve never had such fresh pita and we ended up having to order more because of how good it tasted. For my main course I had thinly cut pan seared steaks. When IMG_5990I ordered them I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting but it they tasted fantastic. The best part was this very spicy green sauce that was meant to go with the steak. I’ve been craving some spice in my food for a while now and this was the perfect sauce. It was tasty but you needed to follow it up with a drink. Dan also had a steak dish that was marinated in some sauce and had roasted pine nuts to go along with it.IMG_5989 Before leaving the restaurant we also ordered a couple desserts. Dan had a banana split and I had a German chocolate cake. Both our meals tasted really great and were the perfect way to finish off our stay in Dubai.

We finished off our evening hanging back at our hotel, relaxing on the rooftop. We’d be catching a cab at 5am the next morning so we kept our evening as relaxed as possible. Before going to bed we packed up our belongings, and made sure we’d be ready for our early morning exit.

Dubai was really incredible and I can’t wait to go back sometime in the future. The only reason this trip was possible was because of Dan. He planned and coordinated just about everything we did and even funded our entire way. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I’m extremely appreciative of his selflessness. Thanks for everything Dan!


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The City of Wonders… Dubai… Day 2

With the help of a couple alarms we woke up Wednesday morning around 9:30. On the first floor there was an all you could eat continental breakfast which was included with our stay. Food is often the driving force that gets me out of bed in the mornings and the idea of a buffet had me quick to my feet.

IMG_5961Down stairs we were welcomed into a very fine dining area that was filled with food from all over the world. Some of the things being served I’ve never heard of before but I tried not to be biased. I filled my plate with a variety of goodies and headed back to our table. This first round of breakfast was my learning curve because I found I what I liked and what I didn’t like. Without a doubt my favorite food was crepes filled with nutella. Just writing this makes me wish I had a plate full of them in front of me. My plate was also filled with fruit, waffles, sausage, yogurt, hash browns, and several pieces of food that I was never able to determine what they were. Feeling full we went back up to the room to figure out where we’d begin our day.IMG_5845

From our hotel we could see the Burj al Arab, a building noted for its curved architecture. It’s actually located just off the coast on a manmade island. If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is, but it’s nothing compared to where we’d go later in the day.

We took a taxi to the Burj al Arab and realized that in order to get inside you’d need a reservation. This wasn’t too much of a setback though because just next door to the hotel was the beautiful Jumairah Beach. We set our sights on spending the morning at the beach and walked the rest of the way.

This was my first time swimming in the Persian Gulf and it was the warmest water I’ve ever swam in, not counting pools or hot tubs that had been heated.  I was also really impressed with the waves that were coming in. Just down the shoreline from us were a few guys surfing and it really made me wish I had a board with me. I think it the water may have been the saltiest I’ve ever swam in as well. We played around for a an hour or so before we decided to move on.

IMG_5834We were really sure where our next destination was to be but we knew we wanted to head in the direction of the Dubai Marina. When we got there we saw a sign that caught our eye. The Aquaventure Waterpark is located at Atlantis on Palm Island. It’s recognized as one of the greatest water parks in the world and has to be in one of the most spectacular settings imaginable.

Palm Island is exactly what it sounds like, an island in the shape of a palm tree. Just take that imagine and amplify it by the largest number that comes to mind! This manmade island was filled with hundreds of residences, hotels, restaurants, apartments, shopping malls, marinas, and even theme parks. Most notable is the Hotel Atlantis, a stunning hotel at the very top of the Palm Island which offers some of the greatest rooms available. They have a room located underground that has windows into the ocean! Imagine if your entire bedroom wall was like looking into a fish tank! Directly next door to Atlantis is Aquaventure where we’d spend the rest of the afternoon!IMG_5836

With over 42 acres of fun-filled attractions there’s truly something for everyone at this waterpark. There are private beaches, never-ending river rapids, the best of the best waterslides, and several aquariums located through the park. A slide named Shark Attack had you sliding through the dark tubes on your inner tube before spitting you out into a glass tube that ran right through the center of a shark tank.

IMG_5842My favorite rides were the Leap of Faith and Poseidon! Both of these slides could be found at the highest points in the park making them the fastest and most intimidating rides available. The Leap of Faith was an open faced slide that had you drop straight down into a tube that hurled your through a shark tank. You were going far too fast to even notice that you were headed through a tank but the ride was so much fun! Poseidon was a bit more intense. You had to step into a tube and stand on a plexiglass trapdoor. Once inside they closed the tube behind you and told you to cross your arms, cross your legs, and put your chin to your chest. The next thing you hear is an automated count down. 3……2….1.. the trapdoor opens and you plunge straight down. fhjhjkEverything happens so fast but you almost complete a full loop in the waterslide before being hurled towards the finish line. Earlier in the day before entering the waterpark Dan and I decided we were just going to bring one item in with us. That one thing was his Go-Pro. Each ride we went on was filmed from either a first person perspective or with an outstretched arm facing back towards our face. I’ll be sure to share these videos with you all once I’m home! I’m hoping to take a few snapshots of the footage for this blog.

For the next few hours we rode every slide available at the park! Because there were so many options there was hardly ever a line. I think the longest line we waited in had 10 people ahead of us. I give Aquaventure two very enthusiastic thumbs up!!

Feeling a bit hungry we left Palm Island for The Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world! If you thought the Mall of Emirates was big wait till you hear about this one! This mall has 22 cinema screens, 120 restaurants, and over 14,000 parking spaces. Inside you’ll find an aquarium with the world’s largest viewing panel at 33 meters wide by 8 meters high. IMG_5840You’ll also find an indoor theme park, and an Olympic sized ice skating rink.

The aquarium offered scuba diving and special viewing areas but we were hungry and ready to eat. As walked through the mall we passed by the viewing panel into the aquarium and it was certainly a site to see. There are over 33,000 animals living inside that tank!

IMG_5830Just next to the aquarium I spotted something oddly familiar. Inside a candy shop was a human sized Hershey Kiss! What the heck was a Hershey Kiss doing in the Dubai Mall? Everywhere I’ve traveled I’ve always been told by locals and fellow travelers how terrible our chocolate is compared to the rest of the world. I personally love chocolate no matter where it comes from but I never expected to see a little piece of home represented so far away. I know Hershey is well known but this was the first I’ve seen of them on my travels, and I had to get a picture with the kiss. This just goes to show that Dubai really does have EVERYTHING!

Before getting something to eat we decided to head to the IMG_5828back of the mall for one of it’s main attractions. The dancing fountains outside of The Burj Khalifa rank as one of the number one attractions in all of Dubai. These fountains are similar to the ones you’d find outside of the Bellagio in Vegas.. only bigger and better, and the Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building. Put those feats together and you have yourself a pretty spectacular show! In order to get a picture of the entire building I had to use the panoramic setting on my camera and take the photo from the ground up! I’ve never had to do that before haha. To make it even better the sun happened to be setting in the background to make for another stunning backdrop.

IMG_5827After our fountain show we went back inside the mall to find some food. This mall is so large that they have signs directing you where to go comparable to the signs you’d see in an airport directing you to your gates, or baggage claim. We followed the arrows to the foodcourt but must have been distracted by some of the amazing things we were passing by because we almost completed a full loop before realizing that the foodcourt IMG_5824had been in the center of our loop the whole time. Along our walk we saw an indoor waterfall, the indoor theme park, and the iceskating rink! When we came to a Cinnabon Dan immediately set his sights and made a B-line towards the deliciousness. He got one for me too but I waited till after I finished my dinner. I had a pepperoni pizza while Dan ate a pasta dish. Everyone knows that cinnabons taste their best when you eat them when they are warm so I decided to bring mine back over to their store to ask if they could reheat mine. I figured this would be a minor inconvenience for them. I was pretty shocked when they told me they only served them fresh and didn’t even have a microwave. Next thing I knew they were handing me a new one and asking me if I’d like extra cream. Oh how I love Dubai!

IMG_5856Now that we were both completely stuffed we made our way back through the mall and out to the taxi line. Our next stop was back to our plaza where we had set up a Skype date with our Dutch friends back in South Africa. We had a little bit of trouble with our connection but we eventually figured it out. It was great hearing from them and being able to tell them about our trip and to make things even better they were joined by Mawande, Riri, and Buscha. While online we gave them all a tour of our hotel and even showed them the pool on our roof. The whole time throughout our video chat I couldn’t help but hope that I’ll be able to keep in contact with them via video chats for the rest of their time in South Africa. IMG_5747That would be amazing to be able to check in and see how everyone is doing. It’s hard to say goodbye to the great friends you meet when your traveling but I’m usually confident that I’ll stay in touch with the ones I’m closest with. To say goodbye to the kids is a totally different level of difficulty. I truly don’t know if I’ll see them again and it’s much more difficult to keep in touch. Having the ability to stay connected for the next year sounds pretty awesome though! (Also, I forgot to mention before, but thanks so much for the card you slipped into my luggage. It was great hearing from you two and we took the liberty of filling out the card. We just tried to put ourselves in your position and complete the card based on how we think you view us. I’m so flattered. Haha)

After our video chat it was getting late and we wanted to make the most of our last day. We formulated a basic plan for the next day and went to bed… but not before using some awesome Wi-Fi.

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Expect the Unexpected in Dubai… Day 1

The day has finally come that Dan and I would be departing for our Dubai/Moroccan adventure! We woke up to the sound of knocking at our door. This has become an all too familiar habit of waking up… but I suppose it’s kind of nice. At the door Lupho was waiting to greet us and say one last goodbye before we left. Not long after Lupho came by another boy named Luthando poked his head in to say farewell. These boys came by before school and since the Zulu’s residence is not at all on anyone’s way it meant they had to leave their homes an extra 20-30 minutes before they normally would have. It meant a lot to both Dan and I to see them off before we departed, but I think we both went back to sleep for a little longer once they left!

Our drive to the airport was nicer than I expected. Our driver, Kevin, turned out to be a very well-traveled man. He told us he’s been to Dubai at least 20 times and was able to tell us all sorts of great tips. At this point, Dan had withheld all information from me regarding our trip to Dubai. He had sorted out accommodation and possibly more, but I had no inclination as to what to expect. For the past few weeks Dan has been impressively good at dodging all questions thrown at him regarding our trip. Dude knows how to pack a surprise…

When we arrived at the airport we still had some time to kill so we ate a nice IMG_5494breakfast at wimpys. I think the endless refills are what caught our attention. It’s rare to get free refills on drinks outside of the USA. In fact I think most foreigners are very shocked when they eat at a restaurant in the US because both the size of drinks and the portions they are served are so much larger than anywhere else.

A few cokes later it was time to board are flight. This would be the first time I’d be flying Emirates and hopefully not the last! Not only was this plane enormous, but it was an absolute pleasure to travel on. I’m going to skip telling you about first class because frankly it’s just not fair. The level of luxury that they fly is just at a totally different level. With that being said, our seats were nothing to complain about. Quite the opposite actually! The TV’s on each seat were much larger than any other flight I’ve been on and there were places to charge all your electronics. When you pushed the little button to lean your seat back, your butt cushion also moved forward allowing you to recline much further than expected.

To start the trip the stewardesses passed out warm damp towels so that everyone could clean their hands and faces. I couldn’t help but think there was some sort of chemical on these clothes that would force everyone to relax, but that didn’t stop me from using my warm, awesome, towel in the slightest!

IMG_5493The next thing we received from the attendants were menus. Each passenger actually got a menu so they could choose what they wanted for lunch and dinner! I can’t recall what all the options were but I went with a chicken dish for lunch and Dan went with a pasta dish. Both meals also came with salads, bread, cheese and crackers, coffee or tea, a piece of chocolate, dessert, and a beverage of your choice. Not only was the food delicious but it filled us right up. While eating I watch the movie, The Fast and The Furious part 6. It was alright, I liked the other ones a little better but it was still fun. I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculous stunts taking place throughout the full movie.

Our flight was between 9-10 hours which gave me plenty of time to watch a few additional movies. I also watched Oblivion, Guilt trip, Monsters University, and some show on brain power! At some point we were also served a dinner where IMG_5492I again went with the chicken option. I gotta say, I’m a pretty big fan of plane food and Emirates knows what’s cookin! Both my meals were just right!

Between my fancy meals I was also able to create a South African bracelet. I think this was the first time I’ve ever started and finished a bracelet in one sitting. In the beginning it would take me 4-5 hours to make just one of these bracelets, but I think I’ve cut that time more than in half. In addition to my bracelet making I also played a few games on Hearts, Spades, and Catan on my ipad. Thank you Apple, for always supporting my ADHD.

It wasn’t until about 12:30 that we landed in Dubai. Stepping off the plane was like stepping into the sauna. Even though it was the middle of the night, it was still very warm out. We took a bus from the plane to the baggage claim and I was shocked when it took us nearly 20 minutes to get there. How big was this place? When we pulled up to the airport and went inside we were all funneled towards either the elevators or the escalators. From there we went down about 4-5 stories underground into an absolutely enormous atrium where you’d find the customs and baggage claim. Welcome to Dubai, where things are going to be bigger and better than you’ve ever seen before!

IMG_5857At this point I was still in the blue as to what our plan was but Dan informed me that we weren’t supposed to be anywhere till morning and that we were just going to hang around the airport for a few hours. A couple hours later when we determined that trying to sleep in the booth at the airport Burger King wasn’t going to cut it and we decided to just head to our accommodation early. When I say early, I mean early, because at this point it was about 3:30 in the morning.

As it turns out, Dan had booked us at the Auris Hotel, located just a block away from the Mall of Emirates, a five star hotel in an incredible location. We got there around 4:30 am and had to wait a bit for our room to be prepared but we were so thankful that they were taking us early that it didn’t even matter. The fact that I was going to get to sleep in a comfy bed after traveling ALL day was just music to my ears!

When we finally got to our room on the 13th floor we were welcomed in to the chilled room with the sounds of traditional Arabic music playing from our TV. I could tell we were going to be staying in luxury for the next few days and I couldn’t have been more ready for it! After scoping our room and climbing into bed, my head hit the pillow and I was out like a light.

Tuesday

Like yesterday we were once again woken up by someone at our door. Only this time it wasn’t a young African child, it was room service seeing if we’d like our room cleaned. Not being anywhere near ready to get up we sent them away and learned that there was a button we were supposed to press when we were ready for them to come back. With the curtain closed tight we slept till about 11:00 am without even being able to tell the sun was up. To me, that’s exactly how I like it be when I sleep!

Once we were up and ready to go we decided we better walk over to the IMG_5601Mall of Emirates and see what it’s all about. Dan told me that this was second largest to the Mall of Dubai… the largest mall in the world. I’ve grew in the suburbs of Philadelphia, just a short drive from the King of Prussia Mall. I thought I knew big malls but I was very wrong. The Mall of Emirates features more than 560 brands, has a Magic Planet (Sort of like a Dave and Busters), a 14-screen Cinema, a community theater, 90 restaurants, and one more thing… I can’t seem to remember what it was. Oh right, and indoor ski resort and snow park! The mall has 3 levels, 2 enormous food courts, and outside you’ll find a parking garage that has 7,000 parking spaces. If you like to shop, you need to find a way to experience a mall in Dubai!

IMG_5587We walked throughout the mall for a bit but we both knew what we were there for. Outside it was close to 100 degrees and we were about to hit the slopes for a snowboarding session. Inside the massive facility we rented our snow suits, boards, and gloves. The gloves were actually bought after a quick journey down the bunny slope, and the recognition that it was in fact snow, and it was in fact very cold! Add on the fact that neither of us had boarded in many years and falling down was unavoidable… suddenly, gloves were sounding like the best investment ever!

Ski Dubai had a bunny slope, snow tubing, a 4 person chair lift, an expert slope, an intermediate slope, and a beginner slope. At the very top you had the option of going left for the expert slope or right for the intermediate one. The right side is also where you’d be able to find the jumps and rails, but I knew that wasn’t for me. After a few trips down each of the easier slopes I started feeling a lot more comfortable on the board. Soon enough I felt confident enough to go down any of the paths but still wasn’t interested in trying any jumps.

On the far side of the expert track was a IMG_5596drag-lift that looked enticing. I saw a few skiers and boarders taking that route to get back to the top and decided I wanted to try it. I made my way over and realized I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t even figure out how to dislodge the pull bar that would drag me to the top. After struggling for a few minutes one of the employees came over to give me a hand. The pull bar had a small bend in the bottom of it with a very tiny metal knot at its end. The idea was to put the bar between your legs, sit on the knot, and let the system drag you to the top (still standing in the upright position with your board on the ground facing up). At first this seemed pretty easy actually and I was cruising up theIMG_5595 slope, but soon enough it was time to turn the corner. It’s difficult to explain what happened but basically in order to round the corner the cable I was riding up on had to switch tracks and during that time of transition you come to a stop. What I wasn’t ready for was the huge pull I felt when my bar latched onto the new track. If I hadn’t been holding on tightly I would have been left behind. The pull also came while rounding a corner so my board was struggling to face the correct direction and things were becoming frantic. I didn’t want to let go, but I was being dragged up this slope in a very unconventional way. Finally, my efforts prevailed and I was able to face my board up and ride up the next bit of the slop with the knot at the end of the bar clasped in my hands. I’m pretty sure everyone in the snow park and chair lift watched my battle but I made it! Just over the halfway mark I was able to pull myself back into the correct position with the bar between my legs. My hands were pretty cold at this point but at least I made it. At the top I waited for a few minutes for Dan because despite my struggles the drag lift was much faster than the chair lift. We continued boarding the rest of our allotted session and I successfully went up the drag-lift at least one more time. Ski Dubai was so much fun, and I forgot how much I enjoyed snowboarding. When I get home, I’ll definitely be looking to go!!

After changing out of our snow suits and back into our summer clothes we exited Ski Dubai and back into the mall. We were near the East Food Court and ready for some lunch! It was almost 4 in the afternoon and we hadn’t eaten anything since the flight!! One of the things I was most surprised about walking throughout the mall were all the American stores and restaurants. There was a P.F. Chang’s, a TGI Fridays, a Chili’s, a California Pizza Kitchen, and literally every type of dessert stand I’ve ever come across. You name it, and Dubai had it! Cold Stones, Baskin-Robbins, Haagen dais, Krispy Cream, Cinnabon, Dunkin’ Donuts, and soooo much more.

IMG_5585For lunch we ate at Japengos, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by our driver back in SA. This place specialized in dishes from all around the world. Both Dan and I were torn over what to get so I went with a huge burger, and he went with a Chicken sandwich and we split them 50/50. After eating the best burger I’ve had in months, we decided we IMG_5584better stop and get some ice cream before venturing back out into the desert sun. I actually can’t recall the name of the place we got our ice cream but it wasn’t a company I had heard of before. I want to say it was called Marble Slab Creamery but don’t quote me on that. Regardless of its name, they provided me with the most perfect ice cream cone I could have asked for. Similar to Cold Stones they add the ingredients you’d like right in front of you. I went with green mint ice cream with brownies, cookie dough, and hot fudge all added in. This was then all put into a chocolate coated waffle cone covered in rainbow sprinkles. For me, this was perfection in a cone. I ate my ice cream as we retraced our steps back through the mall, and back out into the heat. Once outside it was more of a minty milk shake since the ice cream had zero chance against the warm temperature.

IMG_5625Back at our hotel we traveled to the rooftop where we knew a pool was waiting for us. The views from up there were really incredible and we were just in time for the sunset. Dubai can become pretty dusty sometimes but this just made for a few sweet pictures.IMG_5622

After getting cleaned up back in our room we ventured back up to the rooftop and shared a hookah. In the Middle East and Arab world, people smoke hookah as part of their culture and traditions. Smoking shisha, or flavored tobacco, is like grabbing a drink with a few friends at a bar. Drinking is prohibited in most places in the Middle East, but you’ll almost always be able to find a hookah lounge. It was pretty nice being able to relax on our rooftop with the views of the city on the horizon. With the sun now down the temperatures were much more comfortable.

IMG_5749Before calling it a night we went back over to the IMG_5619mall for a very lite dinner. We both really love Mexican food and the fact that there was a Chili’s so near was just too hard to pass up. We split the biggest bowl of chips and salsa they had and ordered a side of mozzarella sticks. Feeling bold, Dan ordered a chocolate flavored coke. I think they just added chocolate syrup to his coke but he said it wasn’t half bad.

That pretty much wraps up our first full day in Dubai. We were both still exhausted from the traveling and the day’s activities that we went to bed fairly early. Having high speed internet in my room was also a luxury I’ve missed and embraced with open arms!