Reaching Out 2 The World


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Picking Things Up Right Where We Left Off

Life back in Kayamandi is right where we left off. You head into Stellenbosch when IMG_6757you need to run a few errands and the afternoons are spent hanging out with the kids. On both Tuesday and Wednesday Dan and I went into town so we could gather the supplies necessary for the Halloween party we’d be throwing on Thursday. This is much easier said than done when you’re in a country that doesn’t really celebrate Halloween. I say not really because there were a couple stores that sold some costumes and a few decorations but nothing like we have back home. As a matter of fact they already had all their Christmas decorations out on display!

I like to throw good parties but Dan only knows how to throw great parties! This is probably why we spent two days looking in every store that may have something we could use for our party. We bought loads of candy, snacks, and drinks, as well as spider webs, wall coverings, banners, and even a blacklight. The blacklight was one of the more difficult items to come by but we lucked out just before giving up and going home. We also made sure to buy loads of props for costumes and face paint so we could transform the kids. Once we were satisfied we made our way back to Kayamandi.

IMG_6723On Tuesday a few kids came over and we discussed their options for costumes. We made sure every child knew that they were definitely invited… but they weren’t getting into the party without a costume. IMG_6721We weren’t going to provide the costume but we’d certainly help with ideas, creativity, and of course facepaint. By the sounds of it, it seemed like we were going to have a couple ninjas, a superhero, and possibly a cat. All that matters is that they were excited and that’s what Halloween is all about!

While we were discussing our costumes I found out that one of the boys is a gymnast. I found this out while watching a dance off in my bedroom and seeing this little guy drop right down into a split! We immediately went outside where he could show off the rest of his skills. All the other boys tried their best but not just anybody can do a split! IMG_6719Even Butsha gave his shot at a couple handstands when he saw us all having a contest. This really made me miss my diving team back home! I’m really looking forward to seeing all my divers!

On Wednesday afternoon I went with Eric to Judo. I hadn’t been there in nearly a month because of the ReachingOut trip and the 3 weeks we spent traveling up north. I felt bad for not seeing them in so long but really wanted to spend at least one more practice with them before I’d have to head back home. The first practice is for the younger group and a few IMG_6752of the kids I was looking for weren’t actually there. It’s alright though because Eric and I went outside with a few other kids for an ‘advanced’ workout. Eric’s my German buddy who lives across the hall from me back at Mama Zulus, and he is one of the coolest guys I know. He’s been going twice a week to Judo for nearly 2 months and has a lot to show for it! But today was different because Eric and a couple of his students were IMG_6756outside working to the extreme! After a mid-distance run these guys did pull ups and then flipped giant tires across the entire field. I’m sure after you see the picture I attach you’ll be able to make sense of their craziness. I filmed the whole thing though and rooted them on! Before leaving Judo the rest of the students I was hoping to see showed up for the later class. As hard as goodbyes are I still find them very important and I’m glad I was able to see them off. I’m hoping to keep in touch with everyone I can this time around!

After getting back to Mama Zulu’s and having a greatIMG_6759 dinner Hanneke, Mieke, Miriam, Eric, and I went back into town for a few drinks at the Cubana. This was pretty fitting since it was the first place we all went together back when we first met in September. We shared a couple hookahs and played many rounds of cards. The night was so great but there was something even better waiting for us back in Mama Zulu’s kitchen! I still had a mug full of that delicious chocolate mousse and it had my name written all over it! Literally, I carved my name in the top of it with my spoon before putting it back in the refrigeratorIMG_6763 the day before. And with Eric at my side I couldn’t think of a better person to share it with! Cheers to another amazing couple days back in South Africa! Tomorrow would be Halloween and I promise the party lived up to all it’s anticipation! IMG_6762

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A Few Days to Relax in Spain

Rather than going to bed, Dan and I had a train to catch at 1am that would take us through the night up to Tanger, the northern port in Morocco where folks cross over to Spain. Again we weren’t too sure what to expect for our ride but wanted to get there ahead of time to make sure we didn’t miss our train.

When our train finally arrived we had a bit of trouble locating our seats but eventually found them near the front of the train. We had the entire compartment to ourselves which was perfect because we were both very tired and could lie down along all the seats. Before drifting off to sleep we made sure to set a few alarms for ourselves to make sure we didn’t sleep through our stop. The next 6 hours was a lot of stop and go traffic along the rails but I didn’t have much trouble sleeping. If I can lay down, and cover my eyes, chances are I’ll be able to sleep.

Things got a little crazy when we got off the train in Tanger, just after 7 in the morning. IMG_6563We were both a bit groggy from the trip and caught a taxi to where the ferries take off from. As soon as our taxi pulled up we were ushered through the gate by a very panicky employee who was imploring us to hurry up. The boat was leaving at 7:30 and he didn’t want us to miss it! We ran through customs, upstairs, and down corridors until we were just about to board the ship. We even already had our tickets when the guy finally asked for payment. We never intended to pay with cash so we were at a bit of a setback when we found out he didn’t accept cards. Thinking quick, Dan left me with the bags and ran back through the port where he located an ATM to get the cash necessary for our trip. You think the guy could have mentioned that before rushing us through everything!

It was just after 8 in the morning by the time our ferry pulled up to Tarifa, Spain (I even slept for our 30 minute voyage across the Strait of Gibraltar). Once in town we caught a taxi to our accommodation and both went down hard for a nap. Traveling is exhausting, even when you are able to get a little sleep along the way!

IMG_6453For the next 5 days we’d be hanging around Spain. With no intentions of exploring this incredible country we set our sights on just plain old relaxing. You may call everything up till this point an extravagant vacation, but it’s hard to relax when you’re constantly on the move. Don’t get me wrong, I fully intend to explore Spain one day but now was not going to be that time.

We were stationed in Tarifa, a small town in the southernmost part of Spain. This is typically a tourist destination but since it was October there weren’t nearly as many people, with the exception of the first day we arrived. Because it was the last day of the weekend and there was an ample amount of wind the oceans were loaded with kite surfers and the beaches were lined with onlookers. It was an incredible sight to see so many kites flying through the sky and I was very interested in joining them. It turned out to cost more than I could budget for and required a series of lessons that I didn’t have the time for, but one day, I’d like to learn to kite surf!

IMG_6460The first place we stayed with was a bit detached from the main city of Tarifa 1378550_10151785447919926_2001282457_nbut offered incredible views, sunsets, and just a short walk to the beach. Even with all the beauty that I was surrounded by the highlight of my days there was video chatting with my sisters. I spent sometime in the early afternoon talking with Anna and Charlie before she had to go into work. They are both doing great and Charlie is the cutest baby around! I’m excited for Charlie to get to experience his very first Halloween this year as both of his parents are major fanatics!

IMG_6501Later on in the day I was able to call up and talk to Rebecca and the rest of her family! It was her birthday and she was joined by her husband, Ed, her two amazing children Sarah, and Evan, and her parents Nancy and Ed! It was so great to catch up with them and hear how everyone was doing. Sarah turned 5 back at the end of September and they were both very excited about a trip they had planned the upcoming weekend to see Cinderella on Broadway in New York!

As much as I love traveling it’s difficult to be away from the ones you love for so long. I’m really looking forward to getting home to see my niece, nephews, and of course the rest of my family and friends as well.

So one thing we learned about Spain, which we had IMG_6513known about but never experienced, was their crazy eating schedules. From what I understand they don’t eat breakfast till early afternoon, skip lunch, and eat dinner sometime between 9 and 10. Walking around looking for a place to eat lunch and dinner was one of the more difficult things we had to do. On one occasion we walked around the city of Algericas for nearly an hour trying to find a place to eat. Everything was either closed or not serving meals. It was maybe 6pm when we got started and closer to 8pm when we were finally eating our hamburgers at what seemed was the only place in the entire city selling food, Monet. I’m sure if we stayed there longer we’d adapt to the eating schedules or find ways around starving for most of the day, but it was a little frustrating when we were hungry and nothing was working out.

IMG_6568Of course when we did find a place to eat the menus were in Spanish. Dan knows a bit of Spanish, and I studied it in high school but I’ve never been immersed in it and it’s been years since I’ve had to speak it. We got by for the most part but ordered a basket of fish by accident at the first place we ate. Neither of us likes fish so the basket went untouched.

On one of the days we toured IMG_6564the Castillo Guzman El Bueno, an old castle by the port of Tarifa. It was nice to check it out and take a few pictures around the place but the doors to go inside weren’t open. Oh well though, we made the most of our castle tour and took some cool pictures with the sun setting in the background!

IMG_6638Our last night in Spain was the best. We had plans to go see flamenco dancing at a small restaurant in the heart of Tarifa. To me, Tarifa reminded me of a much older version of an ocean city along one of our coasts, a similar atmosphere but a much different look. The streets were filled with places to eat, and musicians in the streets, but after grabbing some dinner we made our way to where the flamenco dancing would be held.

I didn’t really know what to expect but we were determined to arrive early so we could have the best seats in the place. It was a good thing we did too because the restaurant filled up to its max capacity. The show began with two gentlemen taking a seat in the front, one with a guitar and one with just a bottle of water. Once the guitarist began playing he was accompanied by some spectacular singing. I couldn’t tell you what he was singing about, but it was mighty impressive. Not long after those two began were they joined by a young lady who was dressed to impress. Once she began dancing the show truly was underway. IMG_6647Three performers, all working at the same time, all doing completely different things, but in perfect harmony. I couldn’t tell you who was the most skilled amongst the three because they impressed me thoroughly from start to finish. If you ever have the opportunity to watch some authentic flamenco dancing, you don’t want to pass it up!

IMG_6645The following day we packed up and began our trip back to Casablanca in Morocco, where we’d be taking a plane back to South Africa. We stayed a night in Tanger, a city in the northern part of Morocco, and bought a few souvenirs for our travels. In the evening we practiced a bit more with the light painting but all in all it was a fairly easy trip back to Casablanca.

I’m also pleased to say that the flight back to South Africa was pretty uneventful and my time was passed watching a couple movies and reading Ender’s Game. I think this book is being made into a movie, if it hasn’t already, and I wanted to read it before seeing it.

Overall, our three week trip was pretty awesome, and I was able to see places I IMG_6557never thought I’d be able to see. From the mega city of Dubai, through Morocco, a trip into the desert, and a few days along the beautiful coast of Spain, this trip covered a lot of ground and will leave me with some incredible memories. Be sure to let me know if you’ll be headed to any of those places and I’ll be sure to tell you what I know. The next few posts will cover my remaining days in South Africa. I have a lot I’m still looking to do but only a minimal time to do it. One thing for sure is though, we are all very excited about our Halloween Celebrations coming up!


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Oh the Places You’ll Go & and the People You’ll Meet

Our goal for Friday was to make it up to Rabat to visit a friend of Dan’s. In order to get there we’d have to take the train and we wasted no time getting up and packed so we could begin our journey north.

We were originally looking to buy first class tickets because of how great our first experience was but those tickets ended up being sold out. As we walked down the platform for our second class seats I think we were both thinking the worst. Down in South Africa the second class seats are a hard plastic bench seat and typically very over crowded. This isn’t a problem on short rides but we were under the impression the trip to Rabat would be quite long. When we neared our train car there was a friendly woman standing outside who confirmed we were in the right place and that we should sit near her and her daughters who also spoke English. This sounded like a good idea to us so we decided to join them.

One of my favorite things about traveling is meeting new people.1395367_10151649906501975_1155543292_n It seems like you can’t go anywhere without running into awesome people who live very interesting lives. Jeannine, Nicole, and Barbara are perfect examples of such remarkable people. For the next several hours we talked with these three about their past, current, and future travels. Nicole has been teaching English in Casablanca for nearly two years and is considering teaching in Dubai once she has her two year requirement completed. Her mother, Jeannine, and friend, Barbara were both in Morocco visiting her. Between them, it’s probably easier to count the countries they haven’t been to, or at least it seemed that way. Barbara is on the verge of some major traveling come the start of the new year and Nicole is always on the go. Hopefully they’ll take our advice and start writing a blog so that we can continue to follow along with their travels. In addition to the ladies was Nicole’s pooch Beso who traveled all the way from California with Barbara to visit his madre. This dog was as cool and collected as I’ve ever seen and apparently has been a star at traveling. During our train ride Beso chilled on the table and IMG_6393let anyone and everyone pet him as they walked by. Kids from throughout the train would sneak away from their parents so they could spend a little time with this awesome pup. So far, second class was even better than first class and our seats were more comfortable as well. Before long the girls and Beso had to get off in Casablanca but it was a real pleasure meeting them, and who knows, maybe we’ll meet again?! Until next time, take care ladies!

With the first part of the ride over we only had about an hour or so till we’d be arriving in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. I used that hour to do a bit of writing but with no place to plug my laptop in I ran out of juice before I could get much done. No worries though, the ride ended up being considerably shorter than we thought it would be and we were in Rabat several hours before we thought.

When we arrived we walked out into the cleanest city we’ve been to while inIMG_6435 Morocco. After finding some Wi-Fi we booked a room for the night and made plans to meet up with Lisa in the evening. Lisa and Dan worked together back in Michigan and she just recently started a volunteer stint in Rabat where she’s living with a host family and working at a women’s center. From what I understand, she’s done a bit of traveling but never anything quite like spending a month in Morocco with a host family. I could tell Dan was looking forward to meeting up and checking in on his friend and I was looking forward to meeting her.

IMG_6433Lisa told us that she’d be with some friends drinking at a bar on a boat and described to Dan, in a facebook message, how we’d find it. It took us a bit of a walk and a short cab ride but we eventually found them. Lisa was joined by Capucine and Mariah, both volunteers who arrived in Morocco the same time Lisa did. The three of them were sitting at the front of this beautiful ship sipping on wine and enjoying the night. After a day of traveling it was great to sit back and meet some new friends.

I guess it’s easier to befriend someone when traveling because you already share something so huge in common with them. The fact that you are both away from home, and experiencing a new culture is generally enough to bring people together. Conversation is always easy because it’s always interesting to hear IMG_6434someone’s story as to how they ended up where they are or maybe where they are headed next.

Lisa has plans to head to Paris after her time in Morocco and is hoping to intern at a French bakery! She’s got a passion for pastries and is chasing after her dream… it doesn’t get much better than that! I’m still looking forward to tasting one of her treats, even if I’ll have to travel halfway around the world to do it!

Capucine is the most traveled of our group and has had the chance to do some pretty incredible things. Capucine’s first language is French so she’s also been a huge help to everyone she’s been with while here in Morocco. She also loves photography and has begun documenting her travels at http://footloosediary.wordpress.com/ . I’m definitely planning on keeping up with where she heads off to and I already told her I’d be visiting her again! From what I grasped, she’s a bit of an expert snowboarder in Whistler, Canada and I just recently rediscovered how much I love snowboarding! I think her next destination is Central America where she’s looking to reside for some time. From one extreme to the next Capucine seems to be on the right track! Good luck with everything!

IMG_6403Mariah, my new California friend, may have been the youngest of our group at just 19, but she’s got an impressive resume. She’s been studying Arabic and for her current travels and is fluent in sign language. I think her travels are just getting started but I’m sure they are far from over.

Before our night was over we all walked over to a small fair that was nearby and did a round of bumper cars. What better way to get to know someone than by trying your hardest to crash your car into them? These cars were a bit whacky too because the wire mesh on the ceiling wasn’t completed and there were sparks flying all over. Luckily no one was harmed and we all had a great time.

After our fun-filled evening we made plans to all meet up for lunch the following day. Dan and I would be leaving on an overnight train to Tanger before taking a ferry to Spain but we still had the entire next day ahead of us before any of that.

On Saturday we met the girls in the Medina and they took us back to their homestay to give us a IMG_6429tour. Their home was nice and cozy tucked into the alleyways just off the main street but it seems to suit them nicely. The family they stay with is very accommodating and their home has Wi-Fi. When traveling abroad, those are two very special things that are sometimes hard to come by.

From their homestay we walked the streets of the medina a bit before finding a place for lunch. With the menu being in French, it was extra nice having Capucine there to help make sure we ordered what we wanted. I’ll eat just about anything that’s in front me but there are certain things I’ll generally avoid when ordering at a restaurant. Champignons almost snuck one past me and ended up on my burger but the crisis was averted. Never been a big fan of mushrooms…  For dessert we ate delicious ice cream that was served in flavors a bit new to me. I tried a few different flavors but my main focus was the slice of triple layered chocolate mousse cake I had in front me. Oh how I love chocolate mousse!

IMG_6427Our highly satisfying meal left us all very full and in need of a walk. With it being such a great day out we decided to just pick a direction and begin walking along the beautiful coast line. Along the way we came across people swimming, surfing, boating, fishing, hanging out, playing soccer, and just about anything else you can think of that would be fun in the sun.

Rabat may not be the most popular place IMG_6425in Morocco to visit but so far it was one of my favorite places! For the rest of the day we strolled around the city, and met up with the girls for a few more drinks in the evening. It was so great to meet you all and I’m sure we’ll see each other around!IMG_6424


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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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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!