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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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!