Day 331: Our Trip By the Numbers

Distances

Number of kilometers we traveled. Lisa has an app called ‘Polar Steps’ that tracked many of the logistics and made it easy to keep us up to date with our trip.

Distance in Km from London to Buenos Aires This was our longest flight as we flew from Germany to London and then down to Buenos Aires on a flight that left December 28th and arrived in Buenos Aires on December 29th. Just over 14 hours flight time.

Distance in Kilometers we Drove in Morocco We drove one big ‘loop’ in Morocco that started in Casablanca and took us to Mekenes, Chefchaouen, Fez, Merzouga, Ouarzazate, Marrakesh, Essaouria and back to Casablanca over 3 weeks. Average driving time per day was 6 hours on travel days but our longest driving day was 10 hours.

Kilometers Traveled at Sea Aboard the ‘Azamara Pursuit’. This 2 week cruise ship was the most indulgent form of travel we spent money on, but it was worth every penny. From Buenos Aires, we went to Montevideo, and down the coast to Ushuaia, over to the Ross ice shelf in Antarctica, back up the coast to Puerto Madryn then Punto Del Este in Uruguay and back to Argentina.

Accommodation

Distinctly different places we slept. These included Airbnbs, high and low end hotels and friends that we stayed with/at around the world. We stayed at Airbnbs the most as they were budget friendly, but we used Hotels.com and Booking.com quite a bit to also use their complimentary free night after 9 stays.

Free Hotels Nights We redeemed 10 free nights of accommodation through Hilton honors and Hotels.com. They were 7 free nights of Hilton stays in Rio De Janeiro, Vienna and Serbia with 3 free nights of Hotels.com that were averaged across the amount of money spent per night on the platform.

Average Cost Per Night We filtered for rooms between $50 and $70 per night to keep costs down. Traveling to destinations during their ‘off’ season was key as was using Airbnb which generally had cheaper accommodation but we found some youth hostels with our own bathroom in the $40-$50 range.

Non-refundable payment we ‘lost’. When COVID-19 ended our trip a month early, we could not make it to Bonaire where we paid $550 for 9 days of accommodation, which was a splurge for us. The non-refundable rate can be used up to December 31st, 2020, but we doubt that we’ll get back there in time.

Social

Number of blog posts. These chronicled topics including travel, education, technology, memoirs, parenting and homeschooling since our trip started on June 17th. We started our ‘wordpress’ blog the summer before and coincidentally wrote 42 posts on trip planning.

1 Number of education conferences attended on our year abroad. This was not professional per se, but was rather a hiring conference that secured us jobs in Lima for the upcoming school year. We had planned to go to another conference in London as ‘back up’ in case we didn’t get hired, but cancelled this so we could travel to Antarctica.

Number of ‘Youtube’ videos made. Making videos was time consuming and lack of consistent internet meant long wait times for uploading before pushing out new content. Ava got quite good at narrating them when we started a Mongolia series in October of 2018, but after Antarctica in January 2020, we abandoned video production as even our best videos didn’t get enough views to justify continued use.

Highest amount of monthly viewers on ‘Pinterest’. I’d pin posts from our blog to our travel boards here and use ‘tailwinds’ to re-share daily to groups.

Subscribers to our blog. It was a slow but steady uptick and I was happy when friends and readers commented on posts, in which case, we always wrote back.

Number of Instagram posts. Instagram was a nice microblogging platform which was our go-to site for putting out new content quickly. 395 subscribers followed our trip around the world.

Number of ‘Twitter’ followers. We didn’t share much on Twitter, but I often joined webinars and chats from other travel bloggers on how to engage your readers with new content and search engine optimization.

8 Families we stayed with around the world for a total of 42 days. Macs in Budapest for 14 days, Fossgreens in Dar Es Salaam for 5 days, Kent in Nairobi for 3 days, Pavs in Cairo for 4 days, Vaughn and Ally in Amman for 5 days, Cabalunas in Muscat for 4 days, Smiths in Dubai for 6 days, Persauds in Curitiba for 5 days.

Friends we didn’t stay with, but met. Anita and Karen during a day trip to Helsinki from Tallinn. The Hawken family in Budapest. Steven Ashcraft from our school in Thailand met Gary in Vienna for a softball tournament. The Kumars from our early days at SSIS met us for dinner while we were in Cairo. Our friend Lori from South Korea and Vietnam who joined us for Christmas in Berlin. Jim and Michelle from South Korea who met us for dinner in Dubai. The Greenes who we worked with us in South Korea, and met us for dinner in their apartment complex. ‘Johnno’ who joined us in Rio De Janiero, and Jackie and her husband who joined us for lunch in Lima.

Number of Concerts Attended. Seeing live music over the summer has been a family tradition and we were glad to continue it on our trip. We started by seeing Bon Jovi in Warsaw, Poland and then went to two separate days of the Sziget music festival in Budapest in which we saw Ed Sheeran, 21 Pilots and the Foo Fighters. Finally, Brett and I took a train to see ‘Metallica’ play in Vienna.

Transportation

Number of trains taken around Europe. Budva, Montenegro to Belgrade Serbia, Gdansk, Poland to Krakow Poland, Krakow Poland to Wroclaw Poland. Trains were only slightly more expensive than buses and the dining cars made for a nice place to play cards and pass the time while nibbling on food.

Buses taken. Kotor to Budva, Budva to Bar, Tallinn to Riga, Riga to Vilnius, Vilnius to Warsaw, Warsaw to Gdansk, Wroclaw to Prague, Prague to Cesky Krumlov, Cesky Krumlov to Bratislava, Bratislava to Budapest, Arusha to Nairobi, Buenos Aires to Rosario, Rosario to Cordoba, Cordoba to Buenos Aires, Colonia to Montevideo, Montevideo to Villa Seranna, Villa Seranna to Punto Del Este, Punto Del Este to La Pedrera, La Pedrera to Montevideo, Montevideo to Colonia, Sao Paulo to Parachay, Parachay to Rio De Janiero, Lima to Paracas, Paracas to Huachaina, Huachina to Nazca, Nazca to Arequipa, Arequipa to Lima.

Number of cars we rented. Our first car rental was for 3 weeks in Morocco. Then, we met our friends the ‘Macs’ and rented a van for 1 week in Canary Islands. We also rented a car for 2 weeks in Cypress, a car for 1 week in Jordan, a car for 1 week in Israel and finally a 1 day car rental in the United States to drive us from Salt Lake City to Ontario airport in Ontario, California.

Number of ferries we took. While in Tallinn, Estonia, we took a round trip ferry to Helsinki, Finland to meet some friends and come back later that afternoon. We also also took a 1 way ferry to Stone Town on Zanzibar, but flew back and took a round trip ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia in Uruguay.

Number of electric scooter rentals. These were primarily in Europe, but with some were in Brazil with friends. The ‘big 3’ for us were Lime, Bird and Hive and saved our legs for walking around tourist spots.

Number of flights we took. Seoul to Kotor, Belgrade to Istanbul, Istanbul to Tallinn, Budapest to Istanbul, Istanbul to Dar Es Salaam, Stone Town to Arusha, Nairobi to Dubai, Dubai to Casablanca, Casablanca to Lisbon, Lisbon to Tenerife, Tenerife to Brussels, Brussels to Malta, Malta to Istanbul, Istanbul to Muscat, Muscat to Dubai, Dubai to Cairo, Cairo to Luxor, Luxor to Cairo, Cairo to Lebanon, Lebanon to Larnaca, Larnaca to Amman, Tel Aviv to Berlin, Berlin to Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires to Iguazu Falls, Iguazu Falls to Curitiba, Curitiba to Sao Paulo, Rio De Janiero to Lima, Lima to Salt Lake City.

Flights from the number above that we got free on points for all three of us. Belgrade to Istanbul and onto Tallinn on Turkish Airways, Budapest to Istanbul and onto Dar Es Salaam on United, Malta to Istanbul and onto Muscat on United, Rio De Janiero to Lima on United.

Complimentary flights we received. While standing in line waiting to be evacuated from Lima, Peru we received notification that we had been selected to join the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints for a repatriation flight back to Salt Lake City. Saved us $7,000.

Number of Ubers we took. Uber was our global ride sharing platform and prevented us from getting price gouged by taxi drivers. Uber operated in most countries of the world that we traveled to, but ‘Bolt’ was the only ride sharing platform in Malta.

Different forms of transportation. These included traveling by camel, donkey, cruise ship, ferry, water taxi, subway, train, trolley/tram, jet plane, prop plane, speed boat, car, pick-up truck, bus, safari-car, minivan, horse, electric scooter, funicular, cable car, gondola, shore boat, dune buggy and lots of walking. Interestingly, we didn’t ride a motorcycle or bicycle once.

Destinations

Number of countries we transited through. Russia was a quick overnight en route to Montenegro. We touched Bosnia on the train to Belgrade and flew through Istanbul, Turkey 3 times. Our bus from Lithuania to Warsaw took us just over the border of Belarus and we had stop overs in Portugal and Belgium on flights around Europe. We also had stop overs in Lebanon, Palestine and London, but did not visit them.

Number of countries that we visited. After starting in South Korea and ending in the United States we were fortunate to visit Montenegro, Serbia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Tanzania, Kenya, Spain, Morocco, Malta, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Cypress, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, Antarctica, Brazil and Peru.

Number of countries we missed. Lebanon was on our list, but anti-government protests diverted our two weeks there to nearby Cypress. We also missed the Falkland Islands on our Antarctica cruise because of rough seas and we had to shave just over a month off our trip due to COVID-19 which caused us to miss Colombia, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

Longest time in one country. We spent nearly a month in Tanzania. We flew into Dar Es Salaam, spent 2.5 weeks on Zanzibar island and then a week in north on safari.

Shortest time in one country. We took a ferry from Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland to visit 2 friends of ours. The same day ferry was just 100$ for all 3 of us. Fun fact: Finland boasts 1 sauna for every 2 people in the country!

Longest time without packing. Repacking our bag was exhausting so it was nice to settle in when we could. The two week stay in one place was a tie between Budapest and our 2 week cruise on the Azamara pursuit.

Continents visited. These included Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, Antarctica and North America. Ava was bummed we weren’t going to visit Australia, but as Lisa and I have both lived there as foreign exchange students, we’ve seen a lot of the ‘land down under’ and thought we could send Ava there to study when she gets older.

Wonders of the World Visited. Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Petra in Jordan, Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Jersualem’s Old City in Palestine, Great Migration of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in Tanzania and Kenya, Natural Harbor of Rio De Janeiro, Polar Ice Caps in Antarctica, Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. We missed Machu Picchu when were were forced to evacuate Peru due to COVID-19.

Currency and Costs

Polish Zlotty cost of a slow train ride from Warsaw to Gdansk. This train ride in Poland came to about 30$ The trains were comfortable and easy to get around but the ‘fast’ train was about 50$ and shaved one and a half hours off the trip, but as we had nothing but time, we just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Health Insurance Costs for a Year. Our previous employer had health insurance for us through the end of July, but after that, we bought travelers health insurance through ‘World Nomads’ for coverage outside the US and on the open exchange for the two months were were home in the United States. Total hospital or Dr. visits on our year abroad? Zero.

Average Cost of Speeding Ticket in Moroccan Dirhams. Morocco led the trip by highest number of speeding tickets, in which case we got 3. They were actually bribes and we ended up paying less if we declined the paperwork! With 150 Dirhams amounting to $15 USD, we didn’t mind it much.

Cost of Argentinian Steak Dinner. Despite using the Peso, Argentina’s currency uses the same US dollar sign symbol. We had more than a few steak dinners that came to this amount ($40 USD) which included delectable chimchurri sauce, a variety of meats and a nice wine or IPA.

Serbian Dinars we couldn’t exchange. Serbia uses a closed currency which means you can’t exchange it back to any other currency unless at a bank downtown, so when we got to the airport, we were stuck with the amount we pulled out of ATMs (about $160 USD) Luckily, one of the travel shops sold wireless, noise cancelling headphones so I got a set that doubled as an early birthday present with this leftover money.

Jordanian Dinars for road-side Cardamom Coffee. This was one of the more peculiar coffee drinks we had on our trip and got one with our friend Vaughan en route to a Wadi hike. This coffee is the most pungent we’ve ever had and the spices make it taste like drinking a cup of ‘potpourri’. Not bad for only $1.50

Price for a 2 Week cruise down to Antarctica from Buenos Aires Argentina in USD. This included berths, unlimited food and drinks, gym access and $1,000 of onboard credit.

Cost in Egyptian Pounds to Charter a Driver for the Southern Pyramids. This amounted to $80 USD and we had a driver drive us to the Saqqara or ‘step’ pyramid, the Red and Bent Pyramids south of Giza plateau in Cairo. These pyramids were great for exploring!

Cost of Sending a Package in Tanzanian Shillings from Zanzibar to the United States. Tanzanian Shillings pronounced ‘Tish’ are the local currency but USD are also widely accepted, so when paying, you have to say ‘Tish’ or ‘Dollars’. In this case, sending a package from a post office in Zanzibar (that, coincidentally was next to Freddy Mercury’s childhood home), was $6 USD.

Day 323: Our Favorite Experiences on a Year of World Travel

100: Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

This was one of our first experiences in Peru. Being driven around the sand dunes at high speeds and then taking a snowboard down the sand for a painful face plant doesn’t sound like most people’s idea of ‘fun’, but for us, it was fantastic.

99: Mall Hopping in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Although it may sound lame, visiting the malls in Dubai was a nice respite from the heat. Inside these megaliths, we experienced comfort food, massive aquariums, and even saw our first indoor ski hill!

98: Sleeping in a Pod Hotel in Moscow, Russia

Although this was a short stop over on the way to Montenegro, crawling into a tube with a charging station, reading lamp and warm blanket was a novel experience.

97: Waking up to Zebras in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

One morning while camping in the national park, we awoke in our tent to a sound outside and stuck our heads out to see a herd of Zebras surrounding us which was a lot more relaxing than waking up to the roar of lions, which we heard later on a morning in Kenya.

96: Sampling the World’s Best Chocolates in Vilnius, Lithuania

We went into the Sokolades chocolate shop in Vilnius just because we had to use the bathroom. We stayed to sample their delicious cacao treats and went back again and again to have some of the best chocolate of our life.

95: Picnicking with friends in Budapest, Hungary

We met up with two family friends of ours from our Vietnam years and spent the day at Margaret island flying kites, throwing the frisbee and having a snack lunch in the sun while the kids played, husbands snuck away for a beer at the refreshment kiosk. Magic day.

94: Day Trip to Helsinki, Finland

While staying in Tallinn, we took the ferry over to visit our friends Anita and Karen in Finland who took us for electric scooter rides around the city culminating in the city’s famous new library.

93: Beach Hopping in Budva, Montenegro

Every day was a new beach in Budva. We would head out for the sand after breakfast and search out falafel or gyro wraps for lunch before heading back to our apartment for an afternoon nap and break from the sun.

92: Seeing Metallica Live in Vienna, Austria

My friend Brett and I went to Vienna for two nights to see the gods of thrash metal. My third time seeing the Metallicats in a fandom that has spanned 3 countries in which I’ve seen them and a timeline going back to high school when I first saw them after the debut of their black album.

91: Train Trip from Bar, Montenegro to Belgrade, Serbia

We had a full day of taking a bus to a seemingly abandoned train station that was in fact functional and the start of a 10 hour train trip through some of eastern Europe’s most beautiful valleys and mountain ranges.

90: Tide Pooling in Nungwi, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania

One morning we woke up to extreme low tide while we were on Zanzibar for two and a half weeks. Lisa and I cobbled together a science lesson that had a unit’s worth of content in a short couple of hours. And it was fun too!

89: Watching Extreme Beach Volleyball in Tel Aviv, Israel

Watching expert beach volleyball players in Santa Monica or Venice is impressive enough, but the Israelis play volleyball…with their feet! Seeing teams volley a three kick delivery back over the net was beyond amazing.

88: Craft Beer Sampling in Tallinn, Estonia

Lisa had read that Estonia is a new destination for beer lovers around the world. While there, we had some of the best kriek and IPAs of our lives. Who would have thought this tiny Baltic country would be such a treasure?

87: Swimming by Day, Barbecuing by Night at the Tigre River Delta, Argentina

We stayed at a house on stilts in Tigre for 4 days and cooled off with a daily swim in the river followed by a grilled dinner of whatever we could purchase from the local Almacen (market) boat.

86: Seeing the Murals of the Berlin Wall in Berlin, Germany

The remainders of the wall which cross the city serve as artist’s reliefs who use the concrete as a canvas to speak out against oppression, corruption and advocate for change.

85: Visiting Portuguese Ruins in Colonia, Uruguay

This little town between Montevideo and Buenos Aires was more than a little stop over. We spent a few days here exploring the ruins including the old slave quarters and merchant shops that have endured.

84: Playing Music Into the Night in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco

Our Touareg hosts in Merzouga taught us musical beats using primitive instruments that we belted out around the fires in a fantastic crash of sound. We stayed in a luxury camp, if even for a night, to make us feel like royalty.

83: Visiting our New School in Lima, Peru

We visited our school for two days while in Peru in early March. The facilities were amazing, Ava made some new friends and we met the wonderful people we were going to be working with in the near future. With distance learning a possibility until December, who knows when we’ll see them in person?

82: Taking in the Views from Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Rio just might be the most beautiful city in the world. The catch is to buy tickets on a day when it’s not too cloudy and buying them in advance so you can avoid the crowds. We were one of the first groups up and the vantage point was spectacular.

81: Snorkeling with Sea Lions, Puerto Madryn, Argentina

This little beach town was a stop on our cruise back up the coast and gave us the opportunity to swim face to face with sea lions. The visibility was terrible, and water freezing cold but the wildlife more than made up for it!

80: Visiting the Valley of the Kings and Queens, Luxor, Egypt

We splurged on a nice hotel and then used it as a base to see the valley of the Kings and Queens on the other side of the river. Going inside tombs that was thousands of years old made us feel like modern day archeologists.

79: Exploring the Souks of Muscat, Oman

We drove to downtown Muscat and explored the souks by the bay followed by a city tour. Afterwards, we quenched our thirst with lemonade and some of the best hummus and pita bread that we had in the middle east!

78: Visiting ‘Game of Thrones’ filming Sites in Essaouria, Morocco

This little beach side town has a beautiful old fort which HBO’s series used for shooting locations. Essaouria had a great fish market down by the harbor and also had a nice esplanade that we walked multiple days in order to find a tasty lunch spot.

77: Visiting Eva Peron’s Grave at Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

“Don’t cry for me, Argentina!” as the famous phrase goes is the person behind it. Peron is entombed at this famous resting place for most of Argentina’s elite and whose family has the wealth to afford an expensive mausoleum here.

76: Copacabana Beach, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

What was better than visiting Copacabana was getting four free nights on points and upgraded to a suite on the top floor at the Hilton. The big decision of the day- to hang out on the beach or roof top pool?

75: Los Gigantes, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Although this sprinkling of islands is off the coast of west Africa, Spain lays claim to them. Our apartment that we stayed at with friends sat at the base of these huge cliffs and was a humbling experience every day.

74: Coffee with Friends in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Our friends ‘The Fossgreens’ came over from Dar Es Salaam to spend a few days with us in the capital of the island, Stone Town. Here, old merchant shops have been gentrified into modern eateries while still clinging to their past.

73: Photographing the Painted Facades in Gdansk, Poland

Gdansk is a college town, but has some of the most beautifully painted houses and shop fronts. The canals are especially interesting so we rented a boat and gave Ava her first driving lesson.

72: Seeing ‘The Kiss’ in Vienna, Austria

Gustav Klimt is one of the art world’s famous artists. Although the museum had some interesting modern instillation work, some of Klimt’s work that we had only seen in art books were here on display. His most notable is ‘The Kiss’.

71: Watching the USA Women’s Team Win the World Cup, Riga, Latvia

We were in Riga when the United States team played and won the world cup of soccer. We found a pub that had some tasty burgers and spent the afternoon and evening cheering Megan Rapinoe and showing our daughter how strong women can be.

70: Seeing Jon Bon Jovi, Warsaw, Poland

Our arrival in Warsaw coincided with this 80’s crooner who is still rocking hard. His band played some favorites from ‘Slippery When Wet’ and ‘New Jersey’ and Ava had a ball!

69: Visiting the Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade, Serbia

Thomas Edison gets all the love from the US education system, but Serbian inventor Tesla was a much better scientist. His alternating current was far superior to direct current and it was great seeing his early inventions, models and Tesla coils.

68: Exploring the Ancient City of Jerash, Jordan

This roman city was at a historic crossroads of roads between Damascus, Jerusalem and many other ancient cities. The intactness of the hippodromes and porticos made for one of the most amazing ruins we’d ever seen in the world.

67: Craft Beer Sampling in Bratislava, Slovakia

This little town had a great restaurant and craft beer scene. One evening at a pub, I met a guy who graduated from my high school back in White Bear Lake, Minnesota just two years before me so we were instant friends. Small world!

66: River Rafting in Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

We rented a river raft, got driven a few hours outside of town and spent the afternoon making our way back. The best part was cruising down the flume shoots in a controlled white water experience.

65: Desert Camping in Wadi Rum, Jordan

Although it was early December and we froze our butts off, spending a night in the red desert was worth it. Watching the sun go down and having tea while playing cards with our Bedouin hosts and hearing their plans to add more wives to their harem reminded us we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

64: Road Trip from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas, United States

It was serendipitous that we got a flight back to the states to the Mormon capital of Salt Lake City completely for free on April 4th. Even more amazing was the beautiful drive from this mountain city through the hills down through the desert.

63: Thrift Store Shopping, Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv was a great city for so many reasons- the food, the sun, and the beach make it worth the trip alone. However, the thrift store shops made it really fun and we were able to stock up on cold weather gear for Germany and Antarctica.

62: Scuba Diving in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Even though the water was cold, it was good to be back in the water with my boy Brett with whom I’ve done hundreds of dives with in southeast Asia. In the Canary Islands we saw some giant stingrays and huge schools of jacks.

61: Exploring the Medina, Fez, Morocco

The old medinas (walled forts with public markets) are a staple of most medium to large Moroccan cities but the one in Fez was one of our favorites. The tannery and shop owners were some of the hardest vendors with whom to bargain.

60: Gnome Hunting in Wroclaw, Poland

The small town of Wroclaw had hundreds of cast iron ‘gnomes’ about 8 to 10 inches in height that were scattered around the old town. Spotting them and keeping a running tally was a fun family competition.

59: Escape Room in Tallinn, Estonia

We’ve been to more than a dozen escape rooms in Europe and Asia but this ‘Harry Potter’ themed one where we went for my birthday before a Thai dinner in Tallinn was one of our favorites and most memorable days of our trip.

58: Visiting Old Film Sets in Ouarzazate, Morocco

When in Ouarzazate, Morocco, we happened upon the ‘Atlas Studios’ filming sets that were used to film a number of feature films and TV shoes such as Kundun, Gladiator and the ‘Game of Thrones’ series.

57: Visiting the Jewish Ghetto, Riga, Latvia

There was an amazing museum made out of the ghetto that was basically an internment camp for jews who were about to be shipped off to the concentration camps in eastern Europe. The artifacts and memorabilia made for great testimonials and instillation art.

56: Drinking Cachaca Rum, Paraty, Brazil

Even though it rained on us the entire time, sampling rum from one of Brazil’s last sugar cane distilleries was very warming after spending the morning swimming in waterfalls.

55: Hiking Around Kotor, Montenegro

Our first stop on a year abroad was this tiny town. After 4 days we got over our jet lag and spent the days hiking, walks to beach, and visits to the local market for fresh fruit.

54: The Roman City of Volubilis, Mekenes, Morocco

This old city has endured and ended up being more than a stop to break up the long drives across the country. Volubilis has some beautiful arches, and esplanades to inspire people of any age.

53: The Ethnographic Museum, Riga, Latvia

This open air museum is a collection of homestead cabins, barns and buildings that took us back in time when horse drawn carriages, looms were in vogue to show us how early settlers lived.

52: Baobab Trees at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

The Dr. Seuss like baobab trees are a mainstay of this national park and we were surprised how giant they were. In Tarangire national park, we got up close to huge herds of elephants.

51: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, Germany

A stark reminder on a nation divided in history. This historic crossing was used to cross from east into west Germany and was heavily fortified. Makes you wonder how many people lost their lives nearby in a last ditch run for freedom or when spies were traded like baseball cards.

50: Fishing Trip off the Montenegro Coast, Montenegro

While in Budva, I chartered a fishing boat for a day out that brought home a bag of small fish for dinner that evening. Although our apartment smelled like fish guts for 2 days afterwards, I knew my father would be proud.

49: The Hippy Commune in Villa Seranna, Uruguay

This stay in the rural campo was all about vegan dishes, walks to the local lake to feed the geese and spending the evening in the hot tub staring up at the stars. A gentle breed of people were our neighbors here.

48: Horseback Riding in Curitiba, Brazil

Staying with our friends in Curitiba and catching up over meals, trips to the weekend craft fair and visiting their school which was beyond great. Ava joined the girls for a morning of riding, which is a common tradition in Brazil.

46: Wine Tasting by Mount Olympos, Cypress

Cypress had some amazing wine and we sampled some at a winery right at the base of the greek god mainstay of Mount Olympos. I wonder if this is where the phrase: ‘nectar of the gods’ caught on.

45: Flying Over the Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru

These animistic geoglyphs look like nothing from the ground, but cruising overhead on a bumpy plane ride as the plane banked and your stomach churned was a test of of one’s fortitude and strength of their constitution.

44: Catching a World Wonder of Christ the Redeemer, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Looming large over the city as if to give it a warm embrace or welcome those in need, this 30 meter state doesn’t disappoint those who take the tram or make the long hike up.

43: Seeing Art and Modern Architecture in Museuo Del Arte, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Equally as amazing as the artwork inside, Lino Bo Bardi’s museum which is supported by two massive beams and an open air administrative center is a testament to what buildings can look like.

42: Visiting Crusader Forts in Akko, Israel

This old city up the coast had a hidden labyrinth of tunnels underneath it for smuggling people in and out of the city during its occupation. The roman era aqueducts were the longest we’ve seen in the world.

41: Snorkeling and Scuba Diving Zanzibar, Tanzania

We took a boat trip to a nearby island on Zanzibar’s east coast for some of the clearest water we’ve every seen. A few days later, I went a little deeper on SCUBA to see some of the more elusive denzins of the deep.

40: Paragliding in Budva, Montenegro

We sprung for Ava to go paragliding behind a boat one afternoon at the beach in Budva and she loved it. She took the ‘Go Pro’ and got some good footage as well.

39: Floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan

The high salinity gives floating in the Dead Sea a surreal experience. Floating upright at chest level and lying on your back and being able to stick your arms and legs out of the water is one of life’s unique bucket list items.

38: Thanksgiving in Limassol, Cyprus

Although we intended to be in Lebanon at this time, anti government protests diverted us to this island country in their off-season. We found some good rotisserie chicken, made stuffing, mashed potatoes and 2 pies to give a taste of home.

37: Getting Jobs in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Going to the GRC fair in Dubai to meet potential employers was a nerve racking experience. In the end, we had wonderful conversations with administrators from FDR- The American School of Lima, Peru that resulted in jobs (and relief that the search was over) for the upcoming school year.

36: Seeing the Carnival Parade, Montevideo, Uruguay

When we arrived in Montevideo, we walked into the start of the month long, carnival celebration. The opening parade in Plaza Independencia had elaborate floats and dancers adorned with body paint and outfits that were out of this world.

35: Antiquing in Marrakesh, Morocco

“We have to come back here and go shopping!” was a common refrain when we were in Marrakesh. The souks had the most beautiful lamps, furniture, carpets and decorations and we didn’t buy any of it. Still, one can dream.

34: Street Buskers, Worldwide

From Djemma El Fna in Marrakech, to the Plaza de Armas, in Argentina and on to Alexanderplatz station in Berlin, we were entertained by the singers, dancers, bubble makers, musicians and performance artists that shared their talents with the public.

33: Family Dinner, Marrakech, Morocco

We enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip in the home of the brother of a family friend. ‘Salah’ invited us over for a pork tagine that was cooked to perfection.

32: Khan’s Barbecue, Arusha, Tanzania

An auto parts store by day and a busy place to grab a plate full of grilled goodness by night. We were licking our fingers clean after enjoying Papa Khan’s secret recipe chicken that was grilled to perfection and went back a second night.

31: Meeting Antarctic Scientists, Deception Island, Antarctica

It was blind luck that a crew member knew a scientist on nearby Deception Island when we were visiting this old whaling station. So, the researchers came aborad to present on the work they did and challenges of living in such a remote location. Ava even got in a question during the Q and A session!

30: Airlines Lounges, Istanbul, Turkey

We flew Turkish airlines a lot on our trip and thus went through Istanbul more than any city of the world- 3 separate times! The middle east has some fantastic airline lounges and if you have priority pass, baklava and Turkish delight can sweeten your layover.

29: Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt

We had just watched the old version of ‘Death on the Nile’ which was filmed heavily around the columns of the Temple of Karnak on the east bank of the Nile. Around this modern city of Luxor, its ruins are still very much alive.

28: Camping at Kilimanjaro, Kenya

Although the wildlife of Amboseli National Park wasn’t as impressive as the Masaai Mara or Serengeti National Parks, the backdrop of Africa’s highest peak completed our “Out of Africa” moment.

27: Argentinian Steak Houses in Buenos Aires, Argentina

We had our first Argentinian steak at San Telmo market after arriving in South America after a long flight and it couldn’t have been tastier. Fried cheese with ‘Chimchurri’ salsa is a staple of the country; along with a nice wine.

26: Birdwatching at Lake Naivasha, Kenya

Boarding jon boats to skirt around Lake Narivasha brought us face to face with flamingos, pelicans and cormorants all drying their wings after a morning of fishing.

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Cruising around lake Naivasha.

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25: Tiny Beers, Rooftops, Morocco

There is something about sipping a cold beer on a hot day, made even better by rooftop views of the local Medinas. These little gems were like finding a needle in a haystack, in a country that is typically “dry.”

24: Photographing Murals, Belgrade, Serbia

More than any other city in the world (other than Berlin for the Wall) Belgrade had beautiful graffiti art and improvised street murals. Every day we went out and added to our growing street art collection.

23: Walking the Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic

The vendors and street artists mingle with statues lining the bridge across this iconic landmark. A walk over the river rewarded us with a walk up to the local castle overlooking the city.

22: Pinball Museum, Krakow, Poland

Just down the street from our flat in Krakow was a game room that had 30 to 40 vintage pinball and arcade games. A 10$ entry fee gave you unlimited play for 24 hours, so we went back, again and again.

21: Reuniting with Friends, Worldwide

Seeing old friends was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. With everyone with met or stayed with, we picked up right where we left off despite not seeing other for years. In a profession where good people come and go quickly, meeting up with those you love is the best reason for travel!

20: Softball Game, Vienna, Austria

After seeing Metallica the night before and getting only a few hours of sleep, we walked to a nearby park complete with baseball diamond and played in a slow-pitch softball tournament with teams comprised of international school teachers from all over Europe.

19: Camel Safari, Sahara Desert, Morocco

We met our guide and rode dromedaries over the dunes towards the Algerian border while the sun went down behind us. It’s not every day you get to travel through the desert as people have done for thousands of years.

18: Fort Hopping, Valetta, Malta

The peninsulas in Valetta were all fortified as defensive positions for thousands of years. Their strategic use as a harbor and staging place across the Mediterranean was used going back to a time when Greeks ruled the sea.

17: Photoshoots in Chefchaouen, Morocco

This Moroccan city uses the most beautiful cerulean blue to paint its walls and give it the most unique feel. We spent every day doing instagram shots where every alley and pedestrian path was a masterpiece.

16: Christmas Markets of Berlin, Germany

In our 5 days in Germany for Christmas, we spent every day we could exploring the dozens of markets around Alexanderplatz station sampling gluwine, chocolate and sausages with sauerkraut.

15: Our Last Day in Seoul, South Korea

Despite looking forward to a big trip and eager to get on the road, our last night at our apartment in South Korea gave us a beautiful sunset and a reminder of all the fond memories and wonderful people we’ve met while living there for 4 years.

14: Seeing Religion’s Epicenter in Jerusalem, Palestine

Visiting the western wall, dome of the rock, El Asqua mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were sites that we learned about as far back as Sunday school. Each of these sites gives devotes a sense of solidarity about their most cherished beliefs.

13: Surfing at Punto Del Este, Uruguay

We spent just over a week at Punto Del Este and La Pedrera in Uruguay and spent nearly every day at the beach so we bought Ava a boogie board and lots of sunscreen. A beach vendor sold us tacos for lunch every day that we still miss to this day.

12: Peering Over Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina

We visited the falls on both sides and we’re glad we did. The Argentinian side had more people and a more extensive hiking trail network but Brazil had better facilities and views.

11: Visiting Auschwitz, Birkenau Concentration Camps, Krakow Poland

This heavy experience was one Lisa and I took turn visiting so the other could watch Ava and spare her the lesson until she gets to high school and learns that evil happens when good people do nothing.

10: Exploring Petra, Wadi Rum, Jordan

Spending a day at Wadi Rum to see the Nabatean kingdom of Petra was amazing. It was a long hike into the canyon, but the views of the library open up like in “Indian Jones and the Last Crusade” and makes one feel like a modern day explorer.

9: Seeing Rhinos at Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Ava has fallen in love with Rhinos and cared about them deeply after learning of their plight due to poaching. We went to 8 national parks in Tanzania and Kenya and this was the only park where we saw not one, but many rhinoceroses. I hope they survive so future children can see them.

8: Live Music at Sziget Festival, Budapest, Hungary

We went to this famous outdoor music festival for 2 days and saw Ed Sheeran, 21 Pilots and Foo Fighters just to name some of the headline acts. The vibe was friendly and getting our groove on is a summer tradition we’ve enjoyed for years!

6: Being Evacuated from Lima, Peru

We made a 17 hour bus trip back to Lima when the president shut down the country due to COVID-19 and we were stranded for nearly 3 weeks, unable to go out with the exceptions of groceries, the pharmacy or the bank. Getting a flight out to Salt Lake City on April 4th was a godsend.

5: Boat Trip with Friends in Gulf of Oman, Oman

Our friends had bought a boat and took us on a day trip to a deserted beach. We carried our gear to the beach and set up a camp with a shade tarp. The adults talked in the shade while the kids played and the dog found new bones to chew. As the sun went down we played ‘keep away’ in the ocean in one of our favorite afternoons on our trip.

4: Pyramid Hopping in Giza Plateau, Egypt

We thought the pyramids would be cool, but it was a serious understatement. The size and scale was an awe-inspiring experience but we really enjoyed a day trip to the ‘Step’, ‘Red’ and ‘Bent’ pyramids just south near the nile where we could climb inside to the antechambers!

3: On Safari in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

Maasai Mara was the last national park of east Africa and it didn’t disappoint. We witnessed two lions kill a zebra before our eyes and wildebeest cross the famed ‘Mara River’ eluding enormous crocodiles.

2: Cruising on the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ Iceberg Alley, Antarctica

A two week cruise to the southern continent was not only relaxing, but informative. Every day, we had wonderful buffet meals with access to a spa, gym, and afternoon games to make warming up after a brisk trip outside to see whales, penguins and icebergs worth every penny.

1: Reuniting with Family in Los Angeles, California

After 15 months away from home, we arrived in Ontario airport and were scooped up by our parents for a summer that could best be described as a long awaited reunion. Ava had some much needed ‘grandparent time’ and we spent summer days playing card games, cooking for one another, and savoring every moment and giving thanks for the people in our lives.

Day 296: Home Safely in Los Angeles

Mr. Johnston, my name is Elizabeth and I’m calling from the United States embassy here in Peru to see if you’d like a free flight home to the states for you and your family.” The voice said on the other line.

I’m sorry.” I said in disbelief. “Who is this?

I work for the embassy here and I’m calling to inform you that your family has been selected to fill extra seats on a charter flight for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints who are repatriating dozens of their missionaries from Peru back home. If you accept, the flight will be free and you’ll be flown to Salt Lake City.

But, I’m not even religious!

No one’s perfect sir. They’ve offered to repatriate Americans on their under booked flight.”

Just before the phone rang, we had been standing outside the US embassy in downtown Lima for hours along with 400 other Americans trying to frantically get home. Just a day before that, the Peruvian president announced that in addition to the lockdown, men and women would be permitted on the street only on alternating days and the coming weekend would be the last for flights back home. Our strategy up till then was to wait for an email announcing we had gotten on a flight, but after nearly 3 weeks, we heard nothing.

We decided to gamble and just ‘show up’ at the embassy hoping to get on a standby flight the next day which were open seats for passengers that had not made it to the embassy or had not received the message that they were selected. Up till this point, I had rated the embassy’s efforts to get us home as a generous ‘7’ on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a complete shit show, and 10 being an absolute cluster-fuck. Two weeks ago, as many as 80 people were being selected for standby flights, but as the system administration improved, only 10 to 20 seats were filled with standby travelers prioritized in order of who was first in line. There was no way we’d get on a standby flight that day, but after meeting with embassy officials, we were hopeful of getting out the next day or the day after that before being trapped indefinitely. We had abandoned our comfortable apartment in Miraflores for a stay in the ‘El Polo’ hotel across the street from the embassy where we could queue up in the morning for a better shot at getting on a standby flight. Curfew lifted at 5:00 am but people were lining up as early as 4 in the morning. Staying at a local hotel meant Lisa and I could alternate waiting in line before embassy officials made rounds at 10:00. That was our plan before the phone call came.

When I told Elizabeth we were waiting in line, she came out to meet us and confirm both our contact details and that this was in fact not a scam. We got some ramen noodle soup packets from the local convenience store for dinner before it closed at 4:00pm as our hotel had suspended all food services.

Leaving Lima Via Military Base

Desperate Peruvians waiting outside the military base to get on a flight.

The next morning, we chartered a taxi to pick us up at 5:30am and drive us 40 minutes through a dozen checkpoints to the church who had chartered a bus which was taken by police escort to the military base near Jorge Chavez International airport. Upon pulling in, we were greeted by a Marine that walked us through the procedure of going through a makeshift customs office wherein we’d sit in chairs in an airplane hangar, distancing from one another and the officials would come to us to check passports. After a hour and half wait, we walked to a LATAM plane on the tarmac and boarded a 9 hour flight with the Mormons to take us home.

Arriving in Salt Lake City

I always wondered what it would be like returning to our native country after 15 months abroad. I was starting to think that our arrival would be met with our parents and a mini ticker tape parade of people that would recognize us as world famous travel bloggers. “Isn’t that….is that them?” they’d say pointing in our direction as we strode proudly to the baggage claim. I had a prepared speech of what I’d say to the customs official when he or she would ask why I filled in the word ‘a lot‘ in the box for: “Which countries have you traveled to prior to this visit?”

Alas, this was not to be. Instead, we were met by a friendly TSA official who checked our passports and waved us through rather unceremoniously like we were any other passengers. Which we were.

What surprised me the most about being back home was the appearance of how everything seemed so ‘normal’ compared to life in Peru. We had read that the US was practicing social distancing and encouraging face mask usage, but enforcement was spotty and dependent on regional mayors and local governors. We immediately drove to a ‘Target’ store to stock up on underwear which we left behind after the evacuation in Arrequipa and lightning cables which were showing wear; both of which were not available in Lima. Back in Peru, the national guard was on nearly every street corner ushering you either home or to the pharmacy, grocery store or bank. Walking you dog was prohibited. A bike ride was sent home. Here in the states, people seemed to be driving around freely and walking the streets like it was just an ordinary time. Even in times of crisis, the ‘land of the free’ trumps public health and wellbeing.

Salt Lake City might just be the most beautiful city in the country. Unlike Denver which has the beautiful rocky mountains to the west, Salt Lake City is surrounded by snow capped mountains in a giant bowl, at the bottom of which sits great Salt Lake. The next morning we took the most beautiful drive from this elevated city of God past dozens of billboards extolling Jesus’s virtues slowly downhill to the sweltery city of sin known as Las Vegas. The contrast between the two places couldn’t have been starker and I wondered how many Mormon teenagers did Vegas weekends of debauchery before a mission or if they were too pious for such affairs.

We pulled into Ontario International Airport to drop off our rental car and were soon in the arms my parents Shirley and Gary to officially announce we were home. Soon after, we were reunited with our two cats, had a home cooked meal and had begun the two week process of self quarantine with all the comforts of home such as a well stocked library, cable TV and afternoon card games with grandma and grandma. We resumed our routines of daily exercise and online learning to fill our mornings and afternoons and spent the evenings watching Trump’s coronavirus briefings followed closely by journalists trying to make sense of his blundering statements.

In a few days, we’d make the 2 hour drive to Lisa’s parents house and spend the next 10 weeks driving back and forth between the two, waiting for this pandemic to pass and life to get back to normal.

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Day 219: Antarctica- At World’s End

A trip to the local K-mart near my in-laws house in Tehachapi planted the seed for the ice kingdom 4 years ago.

Walking around the aisles that day long ago, I came across a bargain discount book bin and found a Lonely Planet Antarctica edition for 2 dollars. I laughed out loud at the notion of actually going there, but scooped up the book nonetheless thinking that it would be an entertaining read. 

Most guide books start with suggested itineraries, highlights and then country history. The history of our southernmost continent however, is quite short, as the lack of civilizations means that its history starts with notable explorers like Shackleton, and then moves on to more familiar names like Amudsen and then to those who braved routes to the pole first as a team, then individually. One of the more curious endeavors in a series of ‘firsts’ for the continent were the intrepid folks who set out to coin themselves the first skydivers over Antarctica. Sadly, the first attempts killed the first jumpers as at the altitude, cold and lack of oxygen caused the first skydivers to lose consciousness and fall to their deaths. The next batch utilized automatic parachute deployment devices which worked, but brought their lifeless bodies down with a hard thud, immortalized in a way they had not envisioned. 

Antarctica is a land of extremes. Extreme cold. Extreme weather. We set out on the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ from Buenos Aires for a 14 day cruise down south and back up with a stop in the Falkland islands. Although January in Argentina is officially summer, after 3 days at sea of chugging south, we were in 10 foot, white-capped swells with biting cold, whipping winds and constant rain. Despite the Pursuit’s hulking 180 meter length and 30,000 tonnage, the grey horizon line tipped up and down causing everyone to keep a free hand to brace themselves every time the heavy plunge of our bow crashed into a trough causing the boat to shudder and shake. Seasickness bags went faster than a box of Krispy Kreme donuts in the teacher’s lounge.  

Big cruise ships do have a distinct advantage: they’re built around customer service and know how to keep their guests occupied. Every day at 10 am Ava and I joined a bridge class which was followed up by weightlifting in the gym, lunch at noon and afternoon trivia at 4:00pm. By the 4th and 5th day, we had befriended other guests (and a few characters) that made up our traveling community. There was Robin and Alex, from our bridge class with whom we played Euchre everyday just before lunch. There was also Jutgart and Elsina from Brazil, who, never once did we see without drinks in their hands. There was also Debbie, the solo Hawaiian who excelled at dizzying storytelling and the Australian ladies who took Ava out for a couple evenings so Lisa and I could have some ‘adult’ time. As our cruise was in January when school was in session for North American kids, children were mostly absent with the exception of a couple of Kiwis, Argentinians and an Australian boy. 

Thus, the trip was dominated by the kind, genteel, well travelled senior variety. “Old fogeys” my 73 year old uncle characterized of cruise ship passengers. He might have a point. Waiting for a 80 year old to fill their soup dish with a small ladle in the lunch line can test one’s patience and sometimes passengers would not know when to get off the elevators. “Is this our floor?” They would ask of one another when the doors opened. “I don’t know. Where are we going?” Another would ask. I sometimes stepped up to the role of tour guide by shepherding them around when needed while macabrely wondering which of these frail and feeble passengers around me would be next to die. I then quickly shut such thoughts out of my mind, knowing that I’d probably go to hell for thinking such things, or worse, incur the wrath of my mother for not respecting my elders. 

Ushuia and Cape Horn

We rounded Isla de Estados and made port in Ushuia up the Beagle channel (Named after Darwin’s voyage) on day 5 which is the southern most point of Argentina and the common expedition port across the Drake passage. The first time I’d heard about Cape Horn was from an old salty sea dog co-worker named Henry when Lisa and I worked as summer camp directors back on Catalina Island. Henry had gotten hold of some old historical black and white footage of sailing expeditions from the mid 20th century, and couldn’t wait to share it with all of us. His enthusiasm of the video was overzealous but we unfortunately misheard him initially, and thought he was saying ‘gay porn’ instead of ‘Cape Horn’ (as they do sound identical) but he gave us no context so the conversation sounded like this: 

You guys ready to watch my gay porn video?” Henry asked. 

Well, thanks for the invite Henry, but we’re not really interested.” We said back. 

Cmon! Here at summer camp you should stretch your horizons. You should be open to learning new things!” 

We’re not judging you buddy and everyone has the right to live their own life.” 

What are you guys talking about?” 

What are YOU talking about?” 

Cape horn and Isla de Estados is not just a geographical location, but a resting place for more than 130 overconfident ships that are now playgrounds for sea urchins and hallowed sea. The ‘Logos’, ‘Sarmiento’, ‘Estancio Remolino’  and the “Duchess of Albany’ are just some of the footnotes in the local maritime museum that undoubtedly helped make sea travel safer for the rest of us.

Tourism to Antarctica is highly regulated and everyone who touches foot on the continent has to undergo a strict quarantine process to ensure they’re not taking any invasive plant species or other contaminants between their boot treads that might upset the ecology of the area. Because of this, there are 2 ways that you can travel to Antarctica:

The Easier and More Luxurious Way The first (and ironically cheaper) option which we took was a cruise which takes you around the icebergs and landmasses without setting foot on them. Cruise ships leave Chile, Argentina and are actually a very comfortable way to travel. We booked passage on the ‘Azamara Pursuit’ through Affordable Tours.com which got us passage on the 2 week cruise for $10,700 for all three of us which included unlimited food, alcoholic beverages and $1,100 in ship credit that we could apply for shore excursions and spa packages. A kings ransom no doubt, but nothing compared to:

The Harder and More Authentic Way Boats with more than 500 passengers can’t make landfall in Antarctica, so boats that do tend to be smaller and catering to the ultra rich and undergo strict quarantine when boarding or disembarking. These expeditions have a longer queue (sometimes a few years) and cost 5-7 times the price. (We spied The National Geographic boat in Ushuia which costs $14,000 a person and that was considered a very ‘budget’ option) Another popular way for solo travelers to see Antarctica is to stroll into Ushuia (Or Google ‘Last Minute Antarctica Expeditions’) and check upcoming departures to see if there are any last minute open berths trying to get filled at fire sale prices on scientific boats which effectively use tourism to help subsidize their research. I asked around in Ushuia and found trips 10 days to 2 weeks out going from between $5,500 to $8,000 a person and 1 flight option departing from Punta Arenas which spent 5 days at a research base.

Neko Harbor and Deception Island

Our second day cruising around the peninsula, we were met by 4 members from the Spanish research base at Deception island who came on board and shared their experiences doing climate and seismic science for the 3 months of the year that they were here. “What is a typical day like for you?” Ava asked during the Q and A session afterward which most people thought was a great question.

Ava receiving a pin from the Spanish research base.

Our visiting scientists noted that due to international treaties, Antarctica is both protected and not owned by any one country. That, coupled with the inhospitable conditions (Minus 153 in the wintertime) means the continent is our planet’s most pristine and most unspoiled. The ice skirt around the continent bulges to over a hundred miles from its shoreline in the wintertime.

As we set our course northeast to Elephant Island (where Shackleton and his men were marooned after their ship was crushed after 147 days at sea), we settled in ‘Iceberg Alley‘ where the blueness of the ice was beyond belief. Some icebergs next to us were the size of city blocks and is was both humbling to see and also know that 90% of their mass lies underwater. Penguins stood sentry as they floated by and pods of Humpback whales spouted exhalations in the cold air as if to welcome us. Most people waited their entire lives to see this. Ava saw it at 10.

Puerto Madryn

By now, we were used to 11:10 pm sunset and 3:15 am sunrise so we tacked a course north. The captain said that swells around the Falkland Islands had gotten to 9 meters in size so we made port in Puerto Madryn instead of Port Stanley and would have to visit that another day. Puerto Madryn gave us the ability to snorkel with Sealions (a first for Ava) in the frigid, 16 degree Celsius water. “Welcome to Patagonia” said Jorge as we bobbed up and down in our double layered, 7 mm wetsuits.

After 3 more days at sea we were sadly back at port in Buenos Aires and I couldn’t believe our 15 days at sea had come to a close. We said our goodbyes to our many friends and Ava said her farewells to her fan club which swelled to encompass half the ship. “Are you Ava’s parents?” we were commonly asked.

After getting catching a train to take us to the fronterra for a few days of camping and fishing, I made some small talk with a local in espanol:

Where you are going?” He asked.

Al norte” I replied in Spanish. “We’ll be visiting Tigre for camping and some peace and quiet too.

You know, if you have time, you should go south. It’s quite cold down there, but very beautiful I hear.

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Day 203: Beautiful Buenos Aires

A two hour hop to Heathrow from Berlin and another fourteen hour flight heralded that a new leg of world travel was about to begin.

South America has always proved elusive. Visiting the americas during summers and Christmas meant catching up with family and friends and not leaving much time to explore our sister continent south of the equator. Boarding a plane in Germany in the middle of winter and stepping off in Buenos Aires in the middle of summer was a bit confusing for Ava as we usually hugged lines of latitude with trips across the big pond of the pacific ocean.

“How can it be a summer here?” She asked.

It has to do with the tilt of the earth.” I told her. “The northern hemisphere is farther away from the sun in its winter, but the southern half is closer.

I don’t get it.

The former science teacher leaped into action as I then proceeded to model the earth as an apple with a nearby lamp as the sun and she understood completely. Take that flat earthers.

San Telmo Market

Buenos Aires is the land of Malbec, tangos and steak and we sought to try every one. Whereas in Berlin my blond beard and blue eyed appearance made me look like a German (Guten tag herr…?), Ava and Lisa looked the part with their olive skin and dark hair so locals would start up with them in Spanish at every turn. Being in a region where we could speak the local language was immensely insightful and I regretted not learning more Arabic while in the middle east.

Our Airbnb was a 10 minute walk to the historic San Telmo Market and we were lucky enough to arrive on market day when the streets were aligned with artisans, antique sellers, and clothing shops. The indoor market has a number of shops selling produce, flowers, but the food kiosks are the real pull. Empanadas with cheese and chorizo. Grilled rib eyes with potatoes. We even found a Vietnamese restaurant that served up a pretty good ‘Buon Tit Nuoung‘. We were home.

Casa Rosada

The presidential palace is one of the most iconic buildings in Buenos Aires and gets its name from the rose colored bricks. Sitting at the east end of Plaza de Mayo which hosts demonstrations and political rallies, this might be one of the more intricately carved facades in the world and evolved from first a fort to customs house, post office and eventually the building which it is now. The old colonial architecture of Buenos Aires was completely different than anything we’d ever seen thus far on our trip.

Khan Academy Comes to a Close

We’ve been using ‘Khan Academy’ to support Ava’s math curriculum and since she finished the last of her 14 units of study it was time to take the ‘end of course challenge‘ after reviewing over the last few weeks. With so many units of study, some topics only gave 1 or 2 problems to show ‘mastery’ so a simple error could incorrectly gauge that a student didn’t learn a topic at all.

Khan Academy

As a teacher, I’ve always believed that students should be given multiple opportunities to show their learning and teachers should assess learning when the student is ready, not vice versa. Ava’s early attempts at passing the course challenge were met with failure but retakes allowed her to learn from her mistakes, improved her self confidence and raised her course understanding with every attempt.

The mission of education should not be to separate students that learn quickly from the ones that don’t; after all, all students are different and learning is anything but static. Don’t you think?

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Day 196: A Christmas Present from Berlin

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Day 196: A Christmas Present From Berlin

Lisa has always wanted to experience the European Christmas markets for the holidays. So we went to Germany.

Despite many cities having legendary Christmas markets such as Vienna and Budapest, (not to mention cities across Italy, France and Spain) we settled on Berlin to greet December the 25th, and meet our friend Lori for a few days of indulgence and sightseeing.

With over 60 Christmas markets popping up over the city in the days leading up to Christmas and continuing for days after, Berlin makes for a fun place. Our apartment was a short tram ride from Alexanderplatz station where two separate markets straddled the tracks and the nearby market of Roten Rathaus offered ice skating. The food alone was worth the trip alone. Every day, we devoured bratwurst, gluehwein, waffles, and potato crisps before finding such delicacies such as fried cauliflower with garlic butter, eggnog, and raclette. We found kiosks selling gingerbread which we took home for breakfast which paired well with crepes (a Christmas family tradition), pork sausages and pots of brewed coffee. We ate well.

The markets are set up to look like little Germanic villages in the mountains with icicles hanging from facades, boughs of pine trees festooned in every possible nook and proud vendors wearing lederhosen to show off their virility and brawn. Between snack sessions we took advantage of the following which made fun day trips:

  • A visit to the Berlin Wall and taking in the beautiful murals that have transformed monuments of division to art and expression.
  • Reading up on the history of “Checkpoint Charlie” and seeing the infamous crossing between East and West Germany
  • A walking tour between Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and Memorial to Jews killed in WW2.

“Listicles”: Deceptive Click Bait?

On the travel blogging front, my PLN of travel bloggers and their quest for search engine optimization and a recent Huffington post article confirmed what I suspect we already knew- listicles are the new format of the internet. For a populace that is continually bombarded with content, how to get consumers of media to click, scan and share is the ultimate ‘brain hack’ so titling your articles with “Top 10 things to see here” or “Top 5 things to do there” is the new norm.

It makes content an easy pill to swallow. You know exactly what to expect after a link click and it keeps the reader scrolling to see if their experience was similar to the authors, or how many days they should allot to a destination on the horizon to prevent FOMO. It makes Pinterest boards easy to build for an upcoming trip, house remodeling or reminder list of what to buy your children when you take them out for back to school shopping. Ironically, a number of travel bloggers in my circle have built travel blogs and Pinterest boards flush with articles with such titles and haven’t even been there themselves! Posts are put together from lonely planet highlights or trip advisor recommendations so many of these so called ‘experts’ are really fraudulent fakes as demonstrated by destination photos with them notably absent. Some even go so far as to pathetically photoshop themselves in. For many, it’s not enough to merely experience a new destination but reduce travel to a series of checkboxes, tweets and likes that can be quantified. If you didn’t instagram your great meal, it didn’t happen.

One of my favorite reads this fall was an article from the NYT on how this decade was shaped by scammers, fake news and bots and that the future will be just as bad especially with ‘deep fake’ technology. This will affect the way we live, the way we think and what we ultimately believe. Because people are increasingly unable to distinguish truth from fiction, more and more are dismissing truth all together.

So, go spend time with your family. Pick up the phone and call your mother. Reach out to an old friend. Don’t waste time reading some self-proclaimed prophet on what they think you should see in Berlin after they they themselves have been there for only 5 days.

That’s our gift to you. Happy holidays.

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Day 185: Jerusalem- The Holy Land

This is where Jesus Christ was buried and some say resurrected after.” I told Ava.

THE Jesus?” She asked.

The one and only. All the churches we’ve seen in Europe have been a testament to his teachings. The Roman empire installed a governor named Pontius Pilates to enforce their rule and beliefs onto the population, but Jesus and his disciples had their own beliefs, and one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him and he was later crucified which was a common form of punishment at that time.

The first thing you see when entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the anointing stone where Christ’s body was cleaned before burial. To the left is the chamber where he was entombed and the writings of Paul decades later reveal post mortem appearances giving the appearance of his resurrection and cementing him as the messiah for all his believers. A few hundred years later, the Roman empire would adopt Christianity as its official religion and six hundred years later, attempt to take back the holy land from Muslims in a series of conquests known as the crusades. The history of Jerusalem goes back much farther though, but its future was also just getting started.

Jerusalem: A City Divided

For all the peace, tolerance and unity that organized religion promises, the capital of the region is a very tense place. Coming from Amman into Jerusalem was a 4 hour process of tedious checkpoints rivaling the thoroughness of airport security with flak jacket clad agents and soldiers armed to the teeth inspecting bags and visitors. It’s reported that unclaimed items are simply taken away and blown up.

The city walls of Jerusalem have been razed and rebuilt over the years, but the city as a whole is divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters all having a legitimate claim to their homeland through some era in history. Walking to the Haram esh-Sharif, the words ‘Temple Mount’ were scratched off the navigation signs in the Muslim quarter attesting to its place as a ‘Muslim’ place of worship. The Dome of the Rock, where Abraham was told by God to sacrifice a son to show his faith was also the place where the prophet Mohammad had his night journey to heaven. You’ll seen T-shirts with “I love Palestine” in some quarters, but “I stand with Israel” in others.

Most people have a dim view of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The World Zionist Organization under Ottoman and British rule funded land purchase in Palestine giving Jews safe haven from growing antisemitism in Europe and Russian going back as far as two centuries, but the official establishment of the Jewish state was post world war 2 in 1948. Slow encroachment of Israeli settlements have given rise to Palestinians protesting the land grab, sometimes violently, and petty attacks going back and forth have grown militarily in scale. Palestinians firing homemade rockets into Jewish neighborhoods are met with disproportionate air raids by Israeli gunships in the Gaza strip. Just last month, an Israeli airstrike killed suspected Hamas fighters along with dozens of Palestinians including 5 children. “Sorry about that, we’ll look into it” is always the official statement with the unofficial one being ‘collateral damage‘ and payback for Munich and 2002-2003 when 383 lives were lost by suicide bombers. The stories don’t even register on Western news outlets anymore as motherless and fatherless children on both sides grow up without love in their hearts; so evil fills the void and the circle of violence continues.

Someone once said that being ‘educated’ is being able to listen to a point of view contrary to your own and not lose your temper.

Since we arrived here, I have been thinking a lot about the word ‘hatred‘. Back home, as the seemingly ‘United States’ are becoming increasingly divided during the impeachment proceedings, it’s becoming hard for political groups to even tolerate one another in this current political climate as they are fed deep fakes, selective reporting, and alternative facts that cause them to see only one ‘story‘. It’s easy to fool someone, but impossible to convince someone they’ve been fooled.

The New City

We met our host ‘Lior‘ in the so called ‘New City’ just west of the old town where yamakas and peyots were proudly worn by boys and men of all ages. College students and young hipsters lounged among the pastisseries and art galleries and with the wide variety of restaurants and modern development, you wouldn’t think we were still in the middle east. We had a tiny apartment above the Sira Pub on Ben Sira street and enjoyed deli sandwiches, cheap beer and a great Mexican taco place with cooks from Oaxaca that knew how to make corn tortillas like jack ballin motherf&#@ers.

We used our apartment as a base to explore the old town and area west of us which took us through ‘Zion Square’ to the happening downtown triangle and ‘Ezrat Yisrael’ for evenings and the nearby shops for Christmas gifts. Ava and I finished ‘Number the Stars’ by Lois Lowry and she is near preparing for her final course challenge for mathematics which she’ll take in a couple days.

Highlights in and Around Jersualem

  • Getting lost in the old town
  • Rising early to visit the ‘Dome of the Rock’ and ‘Al Asqua Mosque’
  • Visit the ‘Church of the Holy Sepulcher’ to see the tomb of Jesus Christ
  • Trying ‘Shakshuka’ or poached eggs in a rich tomato sauce on a cold morning
  • Day trips to Bethlehem and Jericho
  • Giving pause at the Western Wall
  • Taking in the mosaic of history at the Museum at the Tower of David
  • Visiting King David’s tomb and Oskar Shindler’s grave south of the city

As we head to Tel Aviv and the coastal areas tomorrow with Christmas only a week away, we’re increasingly counting our blessings and reasons to be thankful and grateful for the many good things in our lives. What Jerusalem taught us was a heightened level of ‘empathy’ and the importance of trying to understand the views and beliefs of others whose values run so counter to our own.

After all, if you are ignorant of a man’s understanding, you will remain ignorant in your understanding of the man.

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Day 181: Jordan- More than Petra

Day 156: Egypt- Older than Time

Day 102: Kenya- Roads Less Travelled

Day 22: Teaching Tolerance in Riga, Latvia

Day 181: Jordan- More than Petra

With all the conflict nearby, Jordan has been a real uniting country for the region.” Our friend Vaughn said while driving us to a Wadi for a day hike just outside of Amman.

You have Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, and Saudi Arabia to the south with Israel to the west of the Jordan river.” He pointed out. “Jordan is not a rich country and doesn’t have oil reserves like the Arabian peninsula, but they are a very hospitable people and take in those in need. People here have nothing, but they are always mindful of those less fortunate.”

There are dozens of refugee camps in Jordan and the Zaatari camp in northern Jordan is the sixth largest refugee camp in the world. Since 2014, Jordanians have been taking in Syrians displaced by war and the Assad regime because taking in people fleeing violence is, in their opinion, the right thing to do. A far cry from the populist and nationalist rhetoric that is growing around the world.

Landing in Amman with the ‘Jordan Pass’

We had a Royal Jordanian flight from Larnanca, Cypress to Amman on December 4th and bypassing immigration couldn’t have been easier with the ‘Jordan Pass‘. Our friends in Amman turned us on to this find which costs 70 JD (about 100 dollars) and includes your visa and entrance to 40 sites around Jordan including Petra, Wadi Rum and dozens of ruined cities. Overall, it reduced our entry fees by 50% and although it was a big chunk to pay up front, it reduced costs down the road.

We met our friends from Saigon (Vaughn and Ally) who work at the premier international school in the city and used their house as a base for exploring the city. The first day, we visited the Citadel and walked down the hill to the souks and roman era amphitheater with a stop at the Afghan market and ‘Hashems’ for lunch with some of the best hummus we’ve had in the middle east. They call Jordan “The City of 7 Hills” as the city’s neighborhoods sprawled out from these notable hilltops which gives Amman a feeling of being at sea with the peak and troughs of waves covered by domiciles and houses in every direction.

What really amazed us was the hospitality of the Jordanians as a whole. We would frequently be asked by locals: “Where are you from? Oh really? Welcome to Jordan!” without any hope of reward, baksheesh or patronizing their establishment. Being badgered by touts in Egypt made us hard and suspect of strangers and it took a couple of days for us to let our guard down.

Jerash

Our dollar rent a car rep came to our house and dropped off our car and we were off to Jerash. Like most places in the region, cities were clogged with traffic and getting around was a little bit of struggle, but once were outside the city center, things opened up. It was nice to drive on the right side of the road again and not have to content with driving a manual transmission with my left hand. I had to force myself to stay right at roundabouts (which was the opposite in Cyprus) and use my horn fastidiously when cars veered into my lane which was…all the time.

We’d never heard of Jerash before coming here, but it was the best preserved Roman city we’d ever visited. Entering through Hadrian’s gate (pictured above) through the southern entrance gives you a view of the best preserved ‘Hippodrome’ in antiquity complete with spectator seating for the chariot races . The similar ‘Circus Maximus’ in Rome with its broken down arches and grass taking over the stone blocks gives you a footprint of what such a site could have looked like, but in Jerash you see what it was.

From the ‘Oval Plaza’ and it’s dozens of columns, it’s a long walk along the beautiful ‘Cardo Maximus’ which takes you to the north gate where market vendors once sold their wares to the north amphitheater, Nymphamium and the Temple of Artemis.

Floating the Dead Sea

We found a good hotel deal at the lowest place on earth which broke up our trip down to Petra. At 400 meters below sea level, the dead sea with its shrinking and ever receding coastline must have looked like an oasis to water starved travelers in the ancient desert and filled them with false hopes of nourishment. It’s 9 times saltier than the ocean and its salinity allows only a few forms of resilient bacteria to thrive. Because salt is more dense than freshwater, it gives a bather a buoyancy unlike any other place in the world.

Walking into the water, you first feel the soft mud on the bottom and chunks of salt crystals squishing between your toes. Upon getting ‘waist deep’ you can simply sit down and raise your arms and lets above water level. Wading out to deeper water, one floats at mid chest level verses the neck when treading water. The ‘Hilton Dead Sea Resort and Spa’ had staff down by the waters edge that covered us in mud and then gave us salt scrubs taking off 2 pounds of dry skin from as far back as Morocco.

Petra- Nabatean Perfection

We drove down to Wadi Musa and spent the night there before the long walk to Petra- the crown jewel of the Nabatean kingdom and they carved out (literally) a civilization in the sandstone walls across the wadi valleys.

It’s a considerable walk downhill through the narrow Siq, but after the last turn, the most iconic structure, (the treasury) appears between the sinuous canyon walls and you can’t help but feel like explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt did in 1812 when laying eyes on it for the first time. Petra’s other notable structures are the beautiful royal tombs and Monastery which open up in the valley below. Gazing around the cliff faces, you see hundreds of hollowed out holes where whole families must have lived and interestingly, many modern day Bedouins have taken refuge. Visiting the royal tombs, I spied some small make shift kitchens and sleeping cots for the touts and vendors that still this day call this place home.

We chartered mules to take us up the 800 steps to the Monastery and save us 3 hours of climbing. Our guide ‘Mohammad’ was only a kid, but helped us mount ‘Champagne’, ‘Shakira’ and ‘Katy Perry’ for the long trip up.

Don’t have your feet all the way in the stirrups, just have the tips of your toes in.” I told Ava.

Why not?” She said back.

Because if the mule falls over the edge, you can jump off more easily.

What!?

Well, accidents DO happen, and chance favors the prepared.

Sure enough my foresight didn’t assuage her fear, but heightened them and as we climbed up, our mules toed the edge of hundred foot canyon wall drops by mere millimeters.

Daddy I’m freaking out! Why did you tell me that!

Well, I just wanted you to feel safe!

Wadi Rum: Desert Camping

We drove two hours south to Wadi Rum from Wadi Musa to try some desert camping. When looking for a desert camp in Wadi Rum, I was pleasantly surprised to see amidst all the luxury camping options, Bedouins renting out their caves in the desert on Booking.com. We were given GPS coordinates to a gas station in the middle of nowhere and were met by our hosts that drove us to their family’s camp snuggled in at the base of a huge sandstone monolith amidst the red sea of sand dunes.

Our first night gave us one of the most spectacular sunsets we’d ever seen in our lives and we spent the evening with other guests sharing our stories, and playing card games. Ava won a memory game that night, beating out all the adults and our hosts gave her complimentary meals for the duration of our stay as reward.

In Comes Google Lit Trips

As Ava finished her year long Math curriculum five months early and started to review for her final course test, we started reading ‘Number the Stars’ by Lois Lowry with ‘Google Lit Trips‘. Google lit trips layer Google earth images with the storyline to give the reader some discussion questions that relate to the text but also with images for reference that come up in the reading. In the case of ‘Number the Stars’, the story takes place in Denmark at the start of Nazi occupation and cites castles and places were new to both Ava and I.

A chapter summary for “Number the Stars’ with discussion prompts.

So Ava, what were your favorite parts of Jordan?” I asked.

I loved floating in the dead sea, playing with all the kitties, and Petra

What did you like most about Petra?”

Taking the mules up to the Monastery was amazing don’t you think? Daddy?…..Daddy?…..Daddy?

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Day 156: Egypt- Older than Time

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Day 108: Under the Moroccan Sky

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Day 38: Poland Part 2- Auschwitz Birkenau

Day 156: Egypt-Older than Time

I now know the significance of the phrase: “Balls like a Cairo taxi driver.

Driving in Cairo is more like living through a scene from ‘Mad Max‘ where everyone is escaping near death on a daily basis in a post apocalyptic dust cloud of dented cars and trash lined roadways. Lanes are completely optional. If two cars are driving down designated lanes and there is space between them, shooting the gap is fair game. Horns are used as religiously as the Koran. Most cars we rode in didn’t even have seatbelts.

Don’t try to cross the road here with heavy traffic.” Our friend Susanna said.”It’s not like Vietnam, where they’ll swerve around you. Here, they’ll run over you.

And run over people we did. Because pedestrian cross walks are non-existent, people are forced to find gaps in the traffic and play ‘frogger’. On our second Uber trip in the city, a pedestrian bounced off our hood and neither him or our driver didn’t even stop.

Shouldn’t you check to see if he’s OK?” I asked.

No, he’s probably fine.” The driver said dismissively with a wave of his hand.

The next day, we came to a screeching halt just inches in front of a man escorting an elderly woman across the street. Her guide shook his cane at our driver and our driver shouted back while casting obscene hand gestures. Luckily, Ubers were cheap. Some rides around the less touristy sites came in at less than a dollar, so after getting a ride to our friends Anton and Suzanna’s house, we knew we could rest easy for 3 days with old friends and catching up.

Giza Plateau

If you ask people: “What do you want to see before you die?“, many will answer the Pyramids at Giza.

Of all the historic sites we planned to see on our trip, the pyramids in Cairo and ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru were at the top of our list. Learning about these structures as young children filled both Lisa, Ava and I with such an awe, that the night before we actually felt nervous; like you do before delivering a speech or a job interview. It was almost if we were afraid of disappointing the pyramids themselves and had anthropomorphized them into judgmental monoliths whose journey through time brought them to life.

The size is the first thing that strikes you. You know they’re going to be big, but nothing prepares you for the size of seeing 2 million blocks built over 20 years with primitive tools that has lasted for 4000 years with only 58 millimeters of variance. Many of the blocks were as tall as me. We did a figure eight around Khufu and Khafre before we walked down the causeway to the great Sphinx.

Wow, the Sphinx is smaller than I imagined.” said Ava. “And it looks like Imseti. Don’t you think daddy?”

Who is that?

Imseti is the egyptian man that guards the liver in the canopic jars.

Since she had been reading the ‘Horrible Histories’ version of “The Ancient Egyptians” our daughter would come to teach us much about ancient Egypt and served as our family’s own personal guide.

Saqqara Complex

Our friends in Tanzania (The Fossgreens) whom we stayed with while there and who lived in Egypt for a time told us not to miss the Saqqara complex.

And the Red Pyramid too.” Bill told us. “You can go down into the antechambers and there is nobody there.

We chartered a driver for 800 Egyptian pounds to pick us up from our house and drive us south of Cairo to visit the Saqqara (or step pyramid), Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid. Bill was right. There was hardly anybody there.

What made the Saqqara complex so amazing is the tombs of the viziers. The royal viziers were the most trusted counsels of the kings in ancient Egypt and although they weren’t given pyramids, trusted viziers commanded respect in the form of large tombs, and carvings worthy of a Pharaoh. While in Saqqara, we visited the tombs of viziers Kagemni and Mereruka, counsel for King Teti in the sixth dynasty which was around 2,400 BC. King Teti’s tomb was also there and in typical fashion of tombs in the pyramids, you have to crouch and descend down a long chamber to the main corridors and interior chambers that were adorned with wealth.

The red pyramid was a harsh lesson in physical fitness. It had a 65 meter descending tunnel into three massive corbel vaulted chambers. By the time we got down, I was dripping in sweat and needed to stop twice on the way out. Our thighs were sore for 3 days afterwards.

Scams to Watch out For

By now, we had gotten pretty accustomed to scams in Egypt, which we read were too numerous to print. Around the temple areas, the scam plays out the same: some guy will be lurking near an off the beaten track part of the complex and tell you your ticket does not cover these rooms and if you want to see them, you have to pay extra money. Or, a guide will miraculously appear at your side and start talking, and after waxing on about the history of the area, ask for a little ‘baksheesh‘ by rubbing his fingers together. Another is a vendor who will give you a shirt for free, and then his thugs will appear a minute later asking for money now that you have soiled his shirt.

I heard from others that ‘Baksheesh‘ was a dreaded term in Egypt and many locals would not do their job unless some gratuity was promised or given for their meager efforts. Upon landing at the Cairo airport on day one, a bathroom attendant pulled a paper towel down from the dispenser so it was easier for me to grab and wanted baksheesh. I would ask guards and attendants for information on this or that and they wanted baksheesh. As tourism is just starting to rebound since the revolution of 2011 when tourism revenues fell by 95%, many locals are still hurting for money and jobs and appreciate every little bit.

Luxor: Time to Relax

Since we had been staying with friends in Oman, Dubai and Cairo, we decided to splurge for our 4 nights in Luxor by staying at the Hilton Luxor Spa and Resort and celebrate having gotten new teaching positions in Lima, Peru starting next summer. Although the rooms were $140 a night, we got 3 times our normal 14 times points as this was the low season and with our diamond status got free room upgrades with breakfast and complimentary cocktails in the evening and the point tally would push us over the amount needed for a free 4 night redemption in Brazil in March. Having 4 full days to lounge around the pool in the afternoon with room service, massages and spa access was the cats whiskers and just what we needed to unwind after the emotional rollercoaster of an international job search.

Before entering the temple of Karnak, Lisa and I bought checkered ‘Kieffer’ headscarfs to keep our pates out of the scorching heat. Kieffers are commonly worn by locals in the Arab world and they vary much on the fabric, size and design depending on whether your intent is style or function. Ours were made of cotton and were a slightly heavy weave to absorb the sweat and were just under a meter square to allow us enough material to wrap securely around our heads but allow enough material to drape over our neck and ears to keep the majority of our heads shaded. Many locals volunteered to show us different head wrapping styles that they themselves had favored over time.

Valley of the Kings and Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple

We chartered a car that took us to the west bank of the Nile to see the Valley of the Kings one morning while in Luxor. The valley is pretty unseemly, and what surprised us was how many people were buried in the region. We had thought going into it that a dozen or so kings and queens lie buried in ancient tombs, but it turns out that there are thousands of people from upper and upper middle class Egypt that had been laid to rest over the centuries. Some modern villages were built on top of the tombs and after UNESCO declared the area a world heritage site, the local homes had to be demolished and moved to a new area that complied with conservation mandates. 24 hour video cameras keep an eye on the huge area to prevent further grave robberies.

Valley of the Kings was pretty spectacular. Admission gains you entrance to 3 tombs of your choice, but some of the more decorative ones like Seti and Aphrodite have additional, eye gouging fees. We visited the tombs of Ramses the III, IV and IX and the carvings were exquisite. We didn’t visit King Tutankhamun’s tomb as there was an extra fee and as he died young and rather unexpectedly, so there wasn’t time to make his tomb as large and elaborate as the other kings of old. His claim to fame was the tomb itself escaping burglary and being only discovered in 1922 with all his possessions still in the chambers. His golden mask at the Cairo museum might just be one of the most beautiful artifacts we’ve ever seen.

On the way out, we stopped at queen Hatshepsut’s temple which was anything by subtle. The mortuary temple at Deir El-Bahiri is a colonnaded symmetrical entrance with that is a grand gesture to her time as ruler and her achievements such as her fairly long reign and expansion of trade routes and building projects within the Egyptian civilization.

Our Middle East Trip Takes a Turn

While in Luxor, we decided to take the next portion of our middle east trip off our journey. Although Lebanon was a place we’ve wanted to visit for some time, travel there had recently become a headache since anti-government protests started mid-October and the country was starting to suspend basic services and roadblocks were making it difficult to get around. Our friend Damon who is a teacher there relayed that his school had been cancelled, banks were shutting down, and kidnappings were up around border areas near Syria and Israel so we decided to avoid it for the time being. Even the US state department raised their travel advisory one notch below the level: “Avoid all travel

So, while in Luxor, we cancelled all our Lebanese bookings and researched an island in the Mediterranean sea we knew nothing about which we would come to discover soon: Cyprus.

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Day 148: From the Nothing Springs Dubai

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Day 148: From the Nothing Springs Dubai

20 years ago, there was nothing here.” Saaid, our Uber driver told me.

Like, which buildings, do you mean?” I asked looking out over the vast expanse of development and construction projects.

All of them.

The rampant rise of turning a desert into a booming world economy that is hosting the World Expo next year is no small feat. Emiratis are some of the wealthiest citizens in the world and their rich oil reserves have created infrastructure that would make your head spin. The population of Dubai is made up largely of immigrants from the Philippines, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan all working across service and labor industries. Local Emiratis makeup only 10-15% of the actual population so it’s evident that everyone is coming here for their own slice of the pie. A non-existent crime rate, excellent health care and luxury villas give Dubai an appeal to the ultra wealthy and its location as a business hub means Europe, Asia and Africa are all within an arms reach.

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Standing tall in Dubai.

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I’ve heard that living in Dubai is like living in a mall. Everything is new, constantly being manicured and well put together. It turns out that a trip to Dubai means visiting the mall, and with dozens to choose from, it’s actually a nice way to spend a day. The air conditioning and almost theme park like attractions (The Emirates Mall had a downhill skiing hill!) make it a nice respite from the sun. Another thing that was nice about visiting the mall are the international restaurant franchises that offer us the comfort food that we longed for after having been in Africa for two months. TGI Fridays, Cheesecake factory, PF Changs, Din Tai Fung, Chili’s, and Cinnabon were just handful of the shops that promised massive portions, loosening of belt buckles and good old fashioned gluttony. Sights like ‘The Frame’, Burj Al Arab and Burj Khalifa are quintessential world landmarks.

Ava Takes a Field Trip

While we were at the GRC job fair, Ava joined our friends (the Greenes) to ‘Bounce’ and to the Mall of the Emirates for a spin in their bouncy room and lessons on Chemistry and Space. Ava had the opportunity to program a rover to retrieve a satellite from space and for physical science, used chemical reactions to fill balloons. Fun stuff.

The Job Search Comes to a Close

The week before the GRC fair in Dubai was crazy busy. Schools in attendance were updating their vacancies frequently and we had skype interviews with schools nearly every day the entire week before the fair even started. My first interview was back in August, so I had months of interviewing practice which made me a well oiled machine complete with a succinct elevator pitch, and how to make the right impression. Despite the hectic pace, it was nice to reconnect with friends from Korea and administrator friends all over the world when we had a moment between interviews.

At the GRC Fair in Dubai with Ava’s French Teacher in Korea: Mademoiselle Luu

We are happy to report that we signed with a fantastic school Saturday night, so our our job search is officially over and a huge weight has been lifted. Sometimes, international school teachers will have to take positions for which they are not ideally suited or in locations that are not pleasant but in our case, we’ll be moving to a new continent to work in a school that has a great reputation with administrators with whom we had instant rapport. With that, we can breath a sigh of relief and focus on more homeschooling and enjoying the sights around us.

Where are we going? You may ask, would be a story for another time.

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