Petra Jordan Prehistoric Nabataean Caravan-city and Wonder of the World (4 of 7)

Petra Jordan the Treasury

The Treasury at Petra in Jordan

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

When I left Microsoft in 2008, I was planning a major trip.  It was my first trip to the middle east, I was to speak in Dubai and Istanbul.  I reached out to my technical blog audience at the time and asked the question… Where should I go… Petra, Jerusalem, or the Pyramids?  A Facebook friend of mine from Jordan named Mo, responded… come to Jordan and we’ll take you to Petra and setup a meeting with our user group… and more!  I was crazy excited such a simple question could be answered so well. As well a blogger in Israel offered up a visit to Jerusalem and opportunity to speak at the User group in Tel Aviv.  What a great opportunity to visit the middle east and really see it from a local perspective.

When I laid out my plans originally I would spend a week between Jordan and Israel.  The first plan involved me flying between Amman and Tel Aviv, but my time in Jordan wasn’t enough to spend the time I wanted to at Petra, so I changed my plans to meet my Israeli friend Avi, at the border.

Amman is a fascinating city.  It is a great modern city, but has a great mix of the old as well.  The shops alone you get a mix of modern and ancient.  There are places were you can easily find people doing trades such as selling clothes, handicrafts, but my favorite is the food.  In Amman there is great humus, meats, and breads.  Some say a lot of the food has it’s roots in Lebanese food.  It’s common to start with finger foods and then work to the beef, and lamb.  You can also find great chicken and turkey.  No pork!

Very common to have big platters of food where you can decide what you want.

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

There are remnants of Rome, and old ruins throughout the city as well.  This Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the before the time of Christ and has some amazing acoustics.  I’m pictured here with my friend Mohammed Zayed from Microsoft, who helped setup a lot of my appointments in Amman, he kept me very busy, and personally made sure I was well taken care of and safe.

As well, there are lots of flavored smoke, Houka, hubbly bubbly, smoke shops for just hanging out and chatting.

For tourists I recommend the King’s car collection.  One of the best exotic car collections around. Bugatti’s, Ferraris, Rolls Royce, and more…

Well, after spending a couple of days with the technical community with a little tour here and there, and some great food.  I was ready to go see Petra.  I couldn’t wait!  My Jordanian friends suggested that I would really like to see the Dead Sea after all our meetings to relax… So I took their advice, and we headed for the Dead Sea.  Once we got there I covered myself head to toe… literally in Dead Sea Mud.

Dead Sea Mud
Dead Sea Mud

It was all the rage.  I did get some footage of a family getting all muddied up.

Having Fun with Dead Sea Mud

Being so close to the holy land it was fascinating to imagine that Moses, Jesus, Elijah, and so many of the ancient prophets use to walk these lands. My Muslim friends were so kind as to take me to the River Jordan where Christ was baptized, and the same river where Naaman was told to dip in the River Jordan 7 times in (2nd Kings) to be healed of Leaprosy.  You can see the milky muddy river wouldn’t be that appealing.  This little river is the border… right next to this platform is an armed guard, and right on the other side of those reeds is an Israeli fort with its flag waving.  I’m sure both sides were watching my move.  A catholic priest who was part of our tour group offered to baptize my Muslim friends.  Poor timing?

Waters of the River Jordan

After the Dead Sea, and Jordan River, we headed out toward the desert to go track down Petra.  We wanted to get into Petra the city and spend the night there to see it at first light.  That was a great recommendation… although the route was a bit challenging.  On the road, my friend got a flat tire.  We had a rough time getting the tire off, and while all of us, and the military that happened by couldn’t get it off, a couple of friendly neighborhood chicken farmers figured it out.  This one guy got under the car, and was kicking it so hard I was sure we was going to knock the jack out.  I thought he was going to get crushed.  I tried to stop him, and warn him, but he didn’t understand me.  It was through his efforts we got back on the road with a donut for a tire.

After a number of check stops it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer.  Hours passed, and we started getting to know each other better.  In this chatting, something came up about Palestinians.  What?  After being with these guys for the past few days I thought for sure they were Jordanians.  They were, but their Parents were displaced.  Their parents were refugees from Palestine and had built homes, and families and lives in Jordan.  Wow.  Amazing.  At first I was a little shocked, and scared, but that was simply a media response.  It wasn’t a year earlier I had been watching footage and hearing about what Palestinians teach their children about life.  It was my first experience with Palestinians and since I felt like I knew these guys I really wanted to know what their perspectives were.  It was extremely enlightening to hear how they both knew where their families homes were in Jerusalem.  They both were from the same neighborhood even.  They had different perspectives on the war and the post war effort of how things were dealt with.  I think that’s something that is often overlooked is the literally dozens of collective perspectives of how things are currently being dealt with and how best to end the occupation (as it is explained by most in the West Bank and Gaza), and how to arrive at peace.  While I didn’t have much of an opinion on this, I was eager to understand as much as I could.  I was after peace, and felt like the better educated I was, I could share what I had learned.  A few days later, I’d find out the perspective of my Jewish/Israeli friends, and again in Dubai with even more Jordanian and Palestinian friends, and a year or so later with friends in Egypt, and then even more in a visit to Ramallah.

There is still a lot of animosity.  Most wars end with clear lines and boundaries, and some kind of plan to work toward.  Instead there’s a lot of confusion, and neither side has found an arrangement that works for the other.  It’s a bad situation and the leadership on both sides of the last few decades hasn’t allowed it to work out for either side.  Those in the West Bank have tried very hard to make a better life for their families.  More on that in my blog on Palestine… to be written.

I’ve made a lot of Palestinian friends… My second trip to Jordan I had a whole crew that made a special trip to see me.  I was so touched by their sacrifice, I made a special effort to visit them.  There are some very special people and when you get to know them individually, you start putting stories to faces, and see different perspectives… it’s all eye opening and touching.

Evil Camel in Petra Jordan
Evil Camel in Petra Jordan

After driving into the desert and realizing this wasn’t the best idea with a donut on, we drove back to Amman and found another more direct route and arrived in Petra at around 5am.  We crashed on a couch at the Marriott, which was also the resort we used when we were putting on the mud.  It was great to see Marriott was doing so well. (I collect Marriott points.)  We washed up, and after some breakfast, we got entrance tickets and started down the canyon.  The sun was coming up, and we were alone as we arrived at the Treasury.  WOW!!! It was so amazing.  What an incredible building carved right into the stone, a building cut out of a cliff.

The Monastery at Petra Jordan
The Monastery at Petra Jordan

Petra was as amazing as it looks and as Indiana Jones makes it look.  It’s awesome.  Totally worth the trip.  Wish I could have spent more time exploring.

Walking up through the high walled canyon to Petra… as it is revealed

After seeing the Treasury, I really wanted to see the Monastery, but I knew it was a lot of hiking with steps involved.  I had very little time, since I was going to need to rush off to the border.  I was way behind, and I was fascinated by the Donkey ride idea so I talked my friends, one of them at least into riding Donkeys.  To this day, he won’t ride the donkeys to Petra.  It was a very scary dangerous ride up steps, on cliffs, with a saddle that looks like it could choke the poor little donkey.

Jordan Travel Tips:

1. You MUST see the Treasury.  That one is required.  The second best is the Monastery.  Once you arrive at the Monastery you should go and look at it from various points of view.  There are some great places to view it on the hills.

2. Early is best.  6am is the preferred time.  Ideally you want the experience of walking through the canyons and it seems dark because of the canyon walls, and as you walk out the sun is shining brightly on the Treasury.  Early light is best.  The crowds will come as the tour buses arrive and people start coming in on carriages and the routes fill up fast.  We didn’t see anyone when we first headed out, but on our way back the Treasury was packed with people and they had a hard time getting pictures without people in their pictures.

3. The Dead sea is worth it.  The MUD is amazing!  You should definitely try it.  The Sea doesn’t stink.  It is very relaxing and yes, you can float!  Very cool feeling.  Keep the water out of your ears and out of your eyes.  It burns like crazy.

4. The Jordan River did feel more authentic in the Jordanian natural setting than the one on the Israeli side.  In Israel they have a place where people line up to do baptisms, and groups gather to collect vials of water, and have spiritual experiences.  The Jordan side was not crowded.  There was an orthodox church, and you can ride in the back of a truck to see the ancient steps that show ancient proof that this could be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

While this footage doesn’t look that bad.  You can tell by my expressions that the cliffs and the steps are crazy on the back of a little donkey.

Insane Donkey Ride in Petra

If you’ve got the time, you don’t need to ride the Donkeys.  There were also camels… but it wasn’t my day for camels.  After my amazing tour of Petra, I flew in a taxi to the King Husain Bridge crossing where I’d find that I was crossing not directly into Israel, but into the West Bank…

Read more about my adventures in the Palestinian Territories & West Bank…

New Baby Penguin First Encounter Footage from Antarctica

Cute Little Baby Penguin Chick

Mother feeding baby penguin
Mother Gentoo Penguin Feeds Baby

The most popular comment right now on my baby penguin youtube video is an upset viewer comment saying… “I can’t believe you &^%$ stopped filming!”

A lot of the traffic I’m getting right now is traffic from my popular baby penguin video filmed on a trip to Antarctica where I met a baby penguin that has never met humans.  The baby penguin video has gone viral.  My encounter was surreal.  I was given the advice to not approach the penguins, but it was ok for them to approach me.  Additional advice was to kneel to as to avoid looking tall and intimidating.  I took the advice to the next level and laid on the rocky shore.  What ensued was an amazing encounter of man and bird.  We calmly spent an hour on the beach interacting with our new found friends.

Here’s a video where my baby penguin friends get comfortable and jump on my stomach.  Very close up footage of the baby Gentoo penguins.

Curious little baby penguins

These cute little guys were curious.  They pick at my clothes and in waiting for their parents to bring back food they are looking for anything they can get.  This little one jumps on my legs.  In the background on the water you can see a research vessel.  As well you can see the older penguins waddling around.

Chubby little gentoo penguin jumps on my legs. Sorry it’s only 23 seconds.

In this next video you get a more holistic view of the beach.  There’s Paul and Ricardo, with Michael off further in the distance having his own encounter.

Baby Penguins just chillin on the beach… not threatened at all. Just curious.

I hope you enjoyed the new footage.

Bali Indonesia Land of Peace and Land of the Monkey King

Bali Indonesia Culture

Bali is clearly one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  Beyond that the people and the culture there is the richest I’ve found in all my travels.  The people are so humble, so nice, and so culturally rich.  I had the chance to witness a Balinese wedding.  Bali is far from where I live, and yet I still feel a very strong longing.  I find there’s a real peace tangible there.  Life in Bali is simple.  The word simple doesn’t do it.  It’s something much more pure, it’s not about how rich you are, it’s not about how smart you are, you feel that it’s not about judgment either.  It’s more about understanding sincerity.  It’s about being true to yourself, and respecting others.  I understand why Eat, Pray, Love ends in Bali.  The protagonist really finds something about themselves that they couldn’t find otherwise.  I don’t care if you liked the movie or thought it was long and boring.  The beauty in Bali in the movie was great, but what you really didn’t get to fully realize it there is something about it.  Something special there.  I hope I can covey a piece of what I experienced.

When I arrived at the airport in Bali, I was already feeling very relaxed.  I hadn’t decided yet how I was going to get to my $6 hostel a block from the beach in Kuta.  I was still at the airport, looking for some wifi when I was sitting in some little café when I noticed a young girl was staring at me.  I’d look back and she was really staring at me.  I smiled and she smiled back.  It was great.  I think I figured it out.  I was strange to this young girl.

Later on, my first stop of my personal tour.  In fact I hired a driver from the airport to take me to my hotel, drop my stuff and then we’d go visit a large torso statue.  While I was taking pictures, a man approached me and asked if his daughter could take a picture of me.  I was a bit shocked, but remembered the girl from the airport.  Sure.  I replied and handed him my camera.  The girl took a picture, but didn’t seem ok.  I asked what was wrong.  He then explained she wanted to be in the picture with me.  She then approached and was much much happier as she stood next to me and her father took a picture of her.  This would repeat itself multiple times, and in other parts of Asia.  I have learned to embrace it.  It’s gets even better when I have my kids with me.  It’s much more “lucky” to have pictures with my pale skinned kids.

Now let me tell you about Kuta.  Kuta is known for it’s surfing, it’s a great tourist town, great shops, relaxing atmosphere, and it really attracts the tourists.  Lots of Australians, lots of Japanese, and Koreans.  Kuta is becoming more of a resort area.  Most of the hotels on the island are in Denpassar, Ubud and Kuta the beach suburb.  Ubud has everything a tourist could want minus the beach, which is why Kuta is popular… the great beaches.  Bali is a very cheap place to learn to surf.

The south end of the island is Uluwatu.  An incredibly beautiful Hindu temple on a cliff overlooking an amazing rocky shore.  The sun begins to set and monkeys run around.  A troop of monkeys including itty bitty little monkeys.

I was walking around, soaking up the sun and taking some video when this little monkey jumped onto my shoulders.  I was taken by surprised as he treated me like a fellow monkey and started picking at my hair, face, and ears.  It was then he started climbing down my arm to check out my camera.  He was really getting quite comfortable, and I was definitely enjoying it when I started walking and he got freaked out and jumped back off.

Continue reading “Bali Indonesia Land of Peace and Land of the Monkey King”

Viral Baby Penguin Travel Video Goes Mainstream


In my previous post, I shared how my traffic on my baby penguin video started to take off.  I was getting requests from various people asking them if they could use my video, and others looking for rights.  Analyzing the traffic was fascinating.  The 15 minutes of fame as one commenter mentioned continues as the baby penguin video really takes off.  I knew this was going big when I was getting requests from ABC Good Morning America and Yahoo.  What I didn’t know was when it would end and I sure wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything to make it end early.

It was this morning, that I got a tweet from someone saying… they came across my video not only on Yahoo, but on their home page!!  I was super excited.

One thing I’ve been careful about it making sure to have them include this, my travel blog http://travelingepic.com in the credits.  I’ve been traveling for years, and have visited over 120 countries since 2008.  Many recent comments ask how that’s even possible.  Five years ago I left Microsoft to pursue more travel.  I was traveling once a quarter or so during that time mostly to Europe or Australia, and about once a year to Asia, but I was very anxious to see South America and more of Asia.  I left Microsoft and started at Quest Software where during the first two years there I was on the road over 200 days and travelled outside the U.S. during about half that time.  As a software evangelist, I would speak at over one hundred conferences of my choosing including nearby SharePoint user group communities. (SharePoint is the product I have built expertise in, and have been working with nearly 12 years.  Hence the name of my technical blog http://sharepointjoel.com, rated the best SharePoint blog recently by the community.)

The requests keep coming in.  Being on the homepage of Yahoo this morning was huge for me.  I was really hoping that the ABC World News Diane Sawyer would go through, but I’m sure some more important news bumped the penguin video.

I’ve been working on a new Video that I hope you’ll enjoy.  If you like Baby Penguins, you might like Wild Baby Monkeys from Bali.  Would you guess he jumps on my head?

This cute baby monkey surprised me by jumping on me and trying to take my camera

Here are a few other places where my baby penguin video has been showing up…

Serious Mainstream Press: CBS, ABC, FOX

including a few places in the UK.  ITN actually added music and voice over, the stories themselves have been getting richer and richer.

I’m really pulling for the Ellen Show or Tosh.0, if they are listening.  I’m in love to tell my story!

Behind the Scenes: Baby Penguin Meets Human for the First Time


joel and penguin

On Saturday I noticed I was getting a bunch of comments on my baby penguin video, a video recorded from a SharePoint trip to Antarctica.  I blogged about my travel, photos, and videos on a travel post Antarctica the final frontier.

I LOVE to travel and hope you enjoy my travel blog http://travelingepic.com .  I’ve traveled to over 100 countries and this blog is focused on sharing the best of what I discover and share my adventures.  You can follow me on twitter at @travelingepic

 

 

I’ve uploaded 80 videos to Youtube.  Up to this week I was feeling a little better than average with over 100,000 views to my collection of travel videos and assortment of a few tech videos.  Today I’m at a quarter of a million, and trending upward fast!

 

I figured something had to have happened.  I found a couple of clues that many of you might be interested in.

1. My video was listed on youtube.com/videos through a featured area called “Tastefully Offensive,” this is where my search for answers began.  From there I found it was proudly displayed along with a number of other videos.  The number of likes at that time in the hundreds made me realize it was getting an unusual amount of traffic.

2. Next I turned to the newer analytics platform for answer

I can clearly see the number of views, but right next to the number I see a little stack diagram. Clicking on that… you can show video statistics.

3. In the statistics we can clearly see an incredible spike.  On the 18th I had about 500 views on this video, and the 19th multiple activities stemming around sayomg.com, which then led to dailypicksandflicks.com picking it up, and then youtube /videos.  While the numbers in the chart seem trivial, the answer is that’s really where the spark came from.  I am now getting at peak around 10,000 views per hour, and it’s hard to tell if it’s slowing down or if it’s just an around the clock thin

4. Many would think that’s where it ends.  It’s not.  These sites helped spark off some larger ones.  The media feed off of users and the liking, and commenting.  When a certain volume gets reached, the video is seen as more viral.  I have google search alerts setup for when my name or username is used on any web page and sure enough, I was notified when CBSNews posted a blurb about my video.

5. Today some very interesting email from a variety sources started flowing in.

Viral Spiral

“I am Head of Research at Viral Spiral, the world’s leading management company for YouTube videos- including “Charlie Bit My Finger”, the most viewed viral video of all time.
I have recently seen your “Baby Penguin meets human for the first time” video and we would be very interested in representing you, as we feel your Channel has real commercial potential.”

I replied.  Let’s discuss.

Good Morning America & ABCNews

I’m writing on behalf of Good Morning America and ABC News. We absolutely love the video you posted on YouTube showing “Baby Penguin meets human for the first time,” ([http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdmQ9nMkI-g]) and we’d like to share it with our viewers!

We would like to request permission to show this video on GMA (and across our ABC News shows and platforms, which is seen worldwide and on all media).

I replied in the affirmative and answered the follow up questions around ownership.

Yahoo! Video

Hi Joel,

I work with Yahoo! Video and we are interested in featuring your video where you meet the penguin.

We want to feature it on Yahoo!’s Network (Yahoo’s owned, operated, and partner websites, applications, programs and services using Yahoo’s embeddable video player). This email is our request to use your Video.

If you agree to grant Yahoo! an irrevocable, world-wide, non-exclusive license to exhibit your Video, by any means and in any media, on Yahoo!’s Network, please reply to this email with the term AGREE in caps.

Since this wasn’t going to be exclusive, I didn’t see why not.

Cheezburger

Hi,
I work for a network of websites, Cheezburger, and we are interested in purchasing the rights to your video “Baby Penguin meets human for the first time.”

Purchasing the rights, sounded much more involved, and I was just beginning to enjoy the viral parts of this… why sell?

(Emails all trimmed to secure the privacy of those I was communicating with)

6.  Clicking Youtube’s watch page vs. Embed player.  Click on the words embedded player for much more detailed referral statistics, but also note more than half of all views make it through the watch page.

 

7. Is a video viral if it’s only on one website?  Probably not.  Well here we go…

 

Now we can clearly see the video was picked up on all sorts of sites, and while the numbers may still not add up to 116,000 it’s a good start.

 

In the analytics we can see the referral information as well as it relates to Youtube itself.  While the users may mostly be using the YouTube player, the vast majority of referrlas are coming from outside travel including mobile, and many many referrals outside of YouTube.  We get an idea of who those people are by looking above.

As well I look at likes, favorites, and watch closely on percentage of likes to dislikes.  You want to keep the ratio high.

Doing a search on google, I can see the stories are going live and the video is popping up in all sorts of interesting places…

Huffington Post UK

 

 

 

CBSNEWS

What’s Next?

<Update 6/3/12>

The video went mainstream.  Home page of Yahoo! Discovery, Fox News, Fox News TV on “Red Eye,” KSL News Radio Interview with me about my video (radio program here in Utah).  It’s been on TV in Japan and Costa Rica as per friends in those countries.  Just got an email from Nickelodeon.

My channel is up to 600,000 views.  This includes the 100,000 prior to the penguin release.

Traffic has slowed down, but that is bound to happen.  Now it’s much more selective conversations on bigger deals.  I’m also learning a lot about monitization on YouTube.  I hope to have a post on the results of those tests.

 

<7/21/13>

Update I debate how I should have handled the promotions.  It seems the ads seem to discourage sharing.  For this reason I have been considering turning off ads across all of my vids.

I’m up to over 800,000 views on the baby Penguin video.  Amazing.

Machu Picchu Spiritual City of the Sky and Wonder of the World (5 of 7)

Spiritual Machu Picchu

This post is in a series of 7 posts on the 7 Wonders of the New World

The lost city of Macchu Picchu.  What an amazing and historical place filled with mystery.  The Jewel of the Incas is spectacular.  Definitely one of the coolest places to hike, explore, and take in the spirit.  Lots of great photos to take, people to meet, cultures to explore.  (Pictured below is the city of Cuzco with a nice llama in the foreground along with my baby Dean, a favorite among the locals.)

saqsaywaman

I flew into Lima, Peru which was already a pretty long flight.  Lima is a fascinating city it’s own right.  It was my first city in South America, but what a great first experience it was.  All of the modern amenities, great hotels, great museums, lots to see.  I hope you like cathedrals, and gold, and the mysteries of the Incas.  There’s some great food, great get aways.  Lima is on the coast, and there are some awesome restaurants and great board walk.  Too many think that south of Mexico is more Mexico.  In the U.S. and likely much of the world has Mexican restaurants helping the world appreciate burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, but it takes a little digging to find Argentine and Brazilian steak houses.  What of Peru.  What you definitely find in South America is very distinct cultures, very different food, and even clothing.  If you haven’t made it yet to South America, I recommend Peru as a great place to start.  Peru has Amazon Rain forests, Andes Mountains, and desert and beaches. (Pictured: Agnes, Michael, me, David, Tony, and Jose)

Continue reading “Machu Picchu Spiritual City of the Sky and Wonder of the World (5 of 7)”

Thailand Trekking: Traveling by Elephant in the Land of Smiles


I grew up really LOVING “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, reading the comic strip, reading the books, and later watching the shows.  I imagined myself having a job like his.  Travel the world and capture images and stories the bizarre and fantastic.   My trip to the golden triangle of Thailand included amazing animals including elephants, tigers, monkeys, and cobras, with people so far removed from my world, from indigenous people living off the land, to refugee hill tribes are simply happy to find peace.  The refugees escaping oppression and seeing extreme contrast in Thai joy and Burmese oppression. Visiting the hill tribes especially the long neck Karen tribe was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.  What a joy to spend time in the “Land of Smiles.”

Long Neck Karen - Giraffe Hill Tribe

The big question is why did they start putting these rings on their necks?

Long Neck Karen Children Weaving

There are a number of reasons to describe why they have the rings on their necks.

  1. The rings actually coils make them more beautiful are a sign of beauty and wealth
  2. The coils are designed to protect their necks from tigers!
  3. The coils make the women unattractive to the nearby tribes.

Continue reading “Thailand Trekking: Traveling by Elephant in the Land of Smiles”

Cultural Philippines in the heart of Manilla


Getting Ready for Battle

I really, really love South East Asia.  Going to Manila was a huge treat.  One thing that’s always important to me whenever I visit a place is to see the place in it’s authentic beauty and warts.  I want to see the best and not best of a place.  We were staying at the amazing Shangri la hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels in Asia.  They are famous as having 5 and 6 star hotels in the big capitals in Asia.

Paul (black t-shirt) and I (in the red shirt, yes flash, and yes Big Bang Theory) were happy to pose with the staff.  Beautiful hotel.  Very posh.  We were definitely very pampered.  One thing you should know about Manila is it is very easy to spoil yourself.  Manila is very modern, and you can get anything you need.  My friend Dux Raymond Sy, who is very popular in the SharePoint community grew up in Manila.  It was great to meet his family.  Dux moved to the U.S. and if you talked with him you’d have no idea where he came from in fact he speaks perfect English.  No accent at all, and smart, very smart guy.  We were all in town for Sharing The Point Asia which would get us to China and Vietnam as well.  Fabulous tour.

We had a day in the nicer parts of Manila, and had some amazing food.  I was then very anxious to try other foods.  One early morning Michael, Dux and I escaped early to catch the sunrise over the sea.  We got up early enough we could get the first catch.  We had squid in it’s ink, prawns, and very fresh sushi.  Amazing seafood breakfast.

Continue reading “Cultural Philippines in the heart of Manilla”

Rock the Kasbah, Marrakesh Morocco


Let’s go back in time… to a more simple time, with rich flavor, and a close knit community.  Imagine the farmers near your home growing your food, you go to the market and find things that are both grown locally, but with no chemicals, and any meat you eat you can first look it in the eyes.  Go back in time with me to Morocco, I’m you’re guide Joel of Arabia.

I also wrote up about travel in Fez another look at time travel back 2000 years.

Ait Ben Haddou - Donkey Ride

We rode donkeys across the river and helped a Berber trader write a post card to his friend.  He’d been traveling across the Sahara for the last few weeks.

 

One of the most fascinating things about Morocco is the fact that at times you definitely feel like you’re in another world completely.  There are time warps you jump through as you see different parts of Morocco.

One place you must visit is the Atlas mountains.  The people of the mountains live like they do in Tibet.  They live off the land.  They eat their animals.  Life off the land despite the harsh conditions.  They walk up crazy steep slopes along goat and sheep trails.  This is the kind of place where if you visit a family, they may take a goat out and slaughter it for the meal in honor of your visit.  The culture is rich, the people are fascinating, and their lives reflect our heritage and history of 1000s of years ago.  What you expect to find in Jerusalem of the old way of doing things is in Morocco.  Part of that reason is literally hundreds of Christian films use this area for their life of Christ movies including, Jesus of Nazareth (1977) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

Kasbah

 

An incredible day trip you MUST do is to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of kasbah-town of Aït Benhaddou. The city looks like it’s 2000 years old, and many of these buildings feel that old, and are built like they were.  It was used as a backdrop for more than 20 films including Films such as The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and the recent Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011).

One of the most important fortress strongholds on the old Salt Road where camel caravan traders brought slaves, gold, ivory and salt from Saharan Africa to Marrakech and beyond.  You gotta get out of the city and you can really see amazing things on the trip over the mountain to Ouarzazate.  Pronounced War-za-zot. These include trips to Zagora, an oasis town surrounded by palm tree plantations and a departure point for camel trains to Timbuktu, a journey that would take about 52 days. (Not yet recommended)  Careful on multi country treks as the Algerian border is some times closed.  Most would consider the 1 day, 3 day and 7 day caravan trips.

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The Berber people are from the desert.  They are nomads.  They trade and barter.  Every Berber has things he wants to show you, and you are his guest.  He’ll invite you in for some amazing and sweet mint tea.  As his guest he will roll out his dozens of carpets, and show you his finest jewelry.  It’s customary for him to show you everything, and you pick out various things you like, and then the bartering begins.  It’s natural for it to start out high, and then as you negotiate, you can take things out and barter for the things you really really want.  It seems like with me, I always win and they always tell me I’m a shrewd trader.  After that, they make me feel at home and we exchange gifts.  It’s good to bring something small from home that you can give to his wife, like makeup or perfume, or something for his kids.  It’s a bit embarrassing when he gives you a gift and wonders if you have something for his wife.   Be more prepared than I was.  One strategy I’ve learned from berbers and taxi drivers around the world is they like to be right, but they want to make sure you’re happy.  Learn that you don’t have to have the last say, and you’ll make your host a lot happier and you’ll get much better service even if you are a very shrewd trader.  In Morocco it’s not unusual to get 70-80% off.  I got some incredible massive fossils for about $20 and less.  The prices often start in the 100-200 range.  Something in the states that would cost me closer to $100.  One thing you do learn is you don’t ask the price unless you really want the item.  That often means, don’t ask unless you want to spent the next 10 minutes bartering.  It’s not customary to just make one offer and walk away.  They like the sit down and relax… you are my guest kind of bartering, not I’ll make you an offer and then walk away.

 

You feel like you must be Lawrence of Arabia, or the Prince of Persia a couple more of the many films that was filmed here. Be sure to wanted around Ouarzazate an important trading city on the edge of the Sahara desert. Get lost in the old Kasbah.

222596_4954813782_1933_nI encourage you to get a variety.  Across everywhere you’ll visit there are few shops with set prices, and even more rare in the villages.  For food you don’t have to do  bartering.  If you’ve ever had Moroccan food in your life you’ve likely either eaten dates and finger food on large platters sitting on big cushions and relaxing to music.  When the main dish comes out it’s smothered in amazing stewed carrots, zucchini, or egg plant including lamb, beef or chicken with the tender meat cooked in large clay pots over coos coos.  This earthen method makes it all very tender.  Incredible food.  As we ate we watched to storks making a lot of noise in a massive nest.  The city is made of the soil as well baked mud bricks… the pottery is everywhere.  Pride in every bite.

You can eat at a fine restaurant and spend $50 for amazing Moroccan food or spend $2 and pick the meat in skewers and sit under a tent near the square.  As well, stop at a café for a an amazing meal.  The salads are fantastic with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, black and green olives and of course Oranges!  An incredible Mediterranean meal.  I hear you can even get camel meat.  Andrew Zimmern style meals are within reach, but even without stretching your pallete, you can have some of the freshest, best food you’ve ever tasted.  I seriously think we have a LOT to learn from the simple ways.  Our food has been messed up, and Marrakech and surrounding area and likely much of Morroco has got it right.  Western Europe and the US is missing out.  There are now restaurants who try to mimic this, that try to get back to eating local, but they may be missing elements.  The owners would do well to spend some time in Morocco to learn what it is that makes the difference.  There is something to be said of organic, locally grown, no chemicals, and that connection with the earth that’s in the oven, in the pots, and the open flame.  Turkey, Bulgaria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel… there are others that have this figured out as well.

 

Djemma El Fna – Currently my favorite market in the world! I LOVE the town square of Marrakech. Before there was TV, Radios, Phones, and iPads.  A thousand years ago, on the edge of civilization there was a mystical place.  A place with story tellers, snake charmers, acrobats, fresh fruit juices made by hand with fruit from the trees in the town you were in.  This place still exists!  Every day after my trips around the city, I would end my day in this place.  It was packed with locals.  The best nuts and juice in the world is available for the taking.  One amazing thing about Marrakech is the fresh smell of Orange.  The trees that line the streets are Orange trees.  I don’t know a city anywhere else where Orange trees are scattered throughout the city.  It’s like Johnny Appleseed had a counterpart in Marrakech and all he did his whole life was plant Orange trees in this one city.  While I’m sure it could make a mess in some cities here they gather them up and there is fresh orange juice anywhere you want.  We paid 35 cents (.35 USD) for our glass of orange Juice.  It continues to be the best glass of orange juice I’ve had in my life!

 

The square is filled with locals listening to these stories and watching what’s going on.  I wish I could be invisible and watch the goings on of that square.  Instead, I walk up to see the crazy acrobat, similar to those “artists” who do tricks or play music in most large cities around the world and collect money, but I barely get a chance to see what the tricks are, and they are up in my face asking me for some money.  Despite the fact that I’m happy to contribute a coin.  I just visited an ATM and I have no change.  No money no show, but wait I haven’t seen anything yet.  Tip: bring small change, and expect for them to seem a little insulted, but really that’s just the whole bartering pattern.  I’m sure if you gave them a dollar or more they’d be much happier, but maybe it doesn’t matter.  The first answer is always to ask for more in that culture.  Either way, I come back later with change, and I am fascinated by the diversity of what comes.

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It’s cool to see the cobras being charmed and then a harmless water snake strung around my neck without asking for it… Yes, I’ve seen a snake before, but I’m happy just watching you charm the Cobras.  Really it is an amazing place, but there are surprises.  You’ll see things here you won’t see anywhere else.  Just like mimes that want money from you if you take there picture, there’s these very colorful characters I call the Water guys, who want the equivalent of a dollar/euro/pound for a picture.  If you sneak a picture be really careful they don’t notice.  I didn’t pay.

One guy on the square is “the dentist.”  He has his crude tools to pull out your tooth.  Of course you go back a hundred years and a guy like this could come in handy.  He’ll really take care of that aching tooth.  He has a few hundred teeth to prove he really will do it.  If you look at his collection of teeth pulling equipment and hear his story, you should contribute to the cause.

Clips from our family trip…

Not far from the square is the souks and the medina.  The Old city.  I love telling people that if you went back in time, it would be no different than walking through these old streets.  The souks are walking only winding alleyways of a sort where you can go to amazing shops, and markets and see how the people lived 1000 years ago.  There are a lot of locals who are happy to be you’re guide for a small fee.  If someone wants to show you around, you can tell them, I don’t need a guide… but expect to be asked 5-10 more times.  I found I would get someone who spoke good enough english and negotiate some time.  It was worth it.  We visited a bakery, where the there is a community adobe oven where people who need a stove do their cooking old school.  There’s the chicken place where you can pick out your live chicken.  Simply tell them which one you want and how much preparation you want.  One word.  FRESH.  Just like the high end stores where you can pick out your fish.  Here you can get a chicken to take home with you…

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As well, we came by the baths and water place.  People come from all over to collect water to bring home.  It reminds me of the lady by the well, in Christ’s time.  People come water their animals, but also collect water for drinking.  The homes really are for sleeping.  The entertainment is in the streets, why do you need a kitchen when you can get it all fresh and local?  The people are simple, but it’s amazing to me the principles of life they live.  They eat better than we do, they eat local, they eat food that has been gathered or grown within less than 20 miles of the city.

As you wander the city don’t be afraid to slow down, and talk with the people.  They want to talk to you.  They are very interested in where you come from and how you are enjoying yourself.  Slow down and enjoy the mint tea.  There’s a fast pace of the city and there’s the slow pace of the desert.  Both of these cultures clash to make Marrakech as rich as the dyes in the colors of the carpets.  If you feel so inclined you can visit the place where they mix the dyes.  Again a place that will take you back thousands of years.

 

Marrakech MosqueLose yourself.  That’s the goal.  Go back in time.  There are so many adventures to be had here.  This is a place with a different pace, but also various modes of transportation.  Getting off the plane at the Marrakech airport, we were rushed off in a taxi that seemed put together with bailing twine.  You don’t just have to take taxis, in contrast to the western world where a carriage brings up memories of being a Prince and Princess.  Here a carriage is a good alternative transport.  There is no difference in price.  They both can be negotiated with.  When you slow your pace, you’ll definitely have to give it a shot.  It’s an oldie, but goodie.

The’s one story of Marrakech, that blows my mind, and my eyes.  The Saadian tombs were build in the 16th century, and lost to the world.  They were rediscovered in 1917 with a fly over.  Can you believe that?  A 15 minute walk from the town square and these tombs were simply walled off.  The colored tiles are beautiful and intricate designs.

Call to prayer echoing over the city, some westerners may be intimidated in this Arabian city.  Personally I think the singing brings an element that helps remind me I’m not at home anymore.  That’s a very good thing.  Jews live side by side with Muslims.  The locals tattoo themselves with their faith.  The door handles and markings on the hundreds of year old doors in the old city.  You can tell a lot about the people.  Marrakech is an old capital city and center of a major trade route a very old trade route that would bring in goods from Africa and goods from across the desert.  If you feel so inclined you can spend a week on a real desert excursion into the Sahara.  Live with the Berbers, live like the Bedouin people.image

Camels are majestic animal.  They meant the difference between death and survival in the desert.  An animal that was built for the conditions.

 

If you see a large group of camels.  The people with them will give you a small ride for a price.  There is actually very little difference in price for an hour ride and getting on for a picture.  They’ll get you loaded up and walking and tell you the price doesn’t matter.  It’s a good price for you.  Travel Tip: Always always negotiate before you get on the camel’s back.  It’s in their interest to have you think price doesn’t matter.  Negotiating Similar to the carriage ride.  They don’t know that you know that they are willing to take a local price.  Sometimes it even helps to say… I don’t want tourist prices, I want local prices.  The price will drop in half or more.  For camels you can end up paying easily $50 USD if they get their first price.  Instead be willing to walk away and you can get a good ride for $5.  They’ve been standing out in the heat, they want something fair, and depending on the time of day and how business has been really impacts their willingness to accept various prices.

Morocco, is one of the richest accessible and inaccessible place in the world.  It’s a world of extremes.  It’s the place of adventure.  Just the name sparks imagination of a country of Muslims poorly portrayed in Babel.  While I loved the scenes of Morocco in Babel, I fear the stereotypes create walls and prevent people from experiencing the richness that is so accessible.  Morocco is a bridge to our brothers in the Middle East.  If the western world is to ever understand the Arabic world, it begins by understanding, and the spice of Morocco is an incredibly colorful place to start.  As France struggles with it’s imperial past, and seeks to understand what it’s future is Christian, Jew, and Muslim have much to learn from the gateway to the Sahara.

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Pictured Above: My boys are getting a personal tour of the mosque from one of the boys of the souks.  They didn’t speak the same language, but they did communicate… volumes.

Antarctica the Ultimate Final Frontier in Travel


Baby Penguins
Baby Penguins

As a global traveller, on this planet there is nothing more remote than Antarctica.  It is way bigger than it looks on any common map.  That place is just so vast. 14 million square miles and 1.5 times the size of the U.S. and is 98% ice and 2% barren rock.  In fact we learn that the largest countries in the world are Russia, China, Canada, but actually if Antarctica was a country it would be #2! See largest countries by area.  According to the CIA’s World Fact Book there is a population of 4,400 in summer to 1,100 in winter, with an additional 1000 in research boats off the coast.  In January, I had the chance to visit Antarctica on a research and speaking mission.  I wrote about the background details of this trip on my technical blog in a post called – Sharing The Point Antarctica.  We stayed on the Antarctic Russian base right next to the Chilean base and small Chilean village Villa Las Estrellas, and visited the Chinese base “The Great Wall” station, and saw the Uruguayan base.  It was an incredible experience as you can imagine.  Ice and barren rock sounds pretty boring, but this was anything but boring.

Villa Las Estrellas

The recent 100 year anniversary of the race to the south pole, and the Russian drilling at lake Vostok with 400,000 year ice history that may have been burried in ice for 15-25 million years, have put Antarctica in the media.  In 2012-2013 the Russians want to put a robot in the massive lake under the ice.  The lakes in Antarctica are recognized as the most ancient and inaccessible ecosystem. Exciting times! (Villa Las Estrellas  Chilean Base and village with blue roofs, grey buildings in the back is the Russian station)

If you’re planning on going to Antarctica there are a few ways to do it.

1) Cruise – There are a number of cruises that cruise around Antarctica.  The best way to reach Antarctica is by small-passenger cruise ship. Many tour companies run Antarctic cruises and expedition programs, providing a wide range of Antarctica travel options, ships, itineraries, dates and prices.  Pay particular attention to the excursion options.  Some, especially many of the large cruise companies do NOT include the ability to go to the mainland or even stop at the Antarctic islands, but just allow you to see it.  You want to look for Zodiacs that shuttle passengers from ship to shore and provide scenic tours or helicopter shuttles or flight-seeing… just depends on if you want boots on the ground. There are various options from Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia.  Antarctic Peninsula trips usually start from Ushuaia, Argentina. That’s the worlds most southerly city, known as the end of the world and is a great destination in it’s own right.  There is a limited number of visitors to Antarctica to help preserve it.  Something to be aware of is the Drake Passage can be pretty choppy. Those that don’t need the excursions may like the bigger boat.  Just do your research, so you’re not disappointed.

STP Crew
STP Crew

Our STP Crew on the gravel runway in Antarctica (l-r): Mark Miller, Dan Holme, Paul Swider, Ricardo Munoz, and Michael Noel

For our research and speaking engagement we chartered a 6 person jet with the help of our sponsors: AvePoint & fpweb

2) Plane – There is a gravel landing strip on King George island at Frei Base, Teniente Rodolfo Marsh, which houses the Presidente Frei Meteorological Center, one of the main meteorological and navigational stations in the Antarctic. In our research we went with Victory Adventure Expeditions which offers both cruise and fly options.  We were doing a number of stops in South America and decided the overnight option would give us the most flexibility and keep our entire trip under 2 weeks.  You do really have to plan ahead.  The plane we went on had minimum and maximum 6 passengers. The step up from that was min 33 max 70.  As well, there is a narrow window of end of Nov to early March for trips and they fill up. There are day trips as well as overnight.  We did the overnight option.

Antarctic Ice Field
Antarctic Ice Field

The scenery, fauna and marine life are the main attractions for the tourist; this place is one of the few in the world that has remained untouched by men, this is why it constitutes one of mankind’s most important biosphere reserves.” I agree.  The animal life is wild.  Mind blowing in terms of the diversity and how protected it has been over the last 100 years.  I hope it does continue for many generations and forever.

Really, we just laid down and these imagebaby penguins came right up to us.  On day 2 we visited a penguin colony with 3 different types of penguins a very rare occurrence. (Gentoo, Chinstrap, and Adele)

As well, we visited the other side of the island where we ran into a herem of elephant seals.  One male and 13 females.  Apparently that’s it goes.  We thought we’d join in the fun.  It was interesting to see that only the male had the major long elephant snout.

Curious little baby penguin

The penguins were amazing.  We went around in Zodiak’s and would see penguins swimming along with us and jumping out of the water like dolphins.

For me it was seeing the animals in their habitat and walking around on Antarctica which felt like being on Mars.  Not that I’ve been on mars, but definitely felt like another planet.  There aren’t any trees or bushes, just liken, moss, and strange grasses.  While some would describe it as a barren wasteland, the reality is it’s some of the richest fauna on the planet.  Tons of different kinds of whales, various seals and sea lions, elephant seals, various sea birds including various cormorants,  sea eagles, and we saw a huge albatross.

The conditions were great while we were there.  While we were glad we brought our snow clothes, the wind wasn’t too bad.  Our Chilean guide brought us to a couple of different glaciers.  For the zodiac rides we wore these orange Life suits that apparently can float.  They did give us the suits and we wore our normal clothes under them.

Zodiac Rides in Antarctica… Unreal

It was like a cartoon.  We rode past massive glaciers with penguins following us jumping out of the water at one point we had 40 of them jumping along.  As we approached one small glacier we saw two penguins perched on top.  We even witnessed one of the large glaciers calving.  The sound we first heard was this very deep moan and cracking sound.  It was a bit freaky.  Then we all started looking and finally large chunks busting up into the water which then created a pretty good swell which reached our boat.  Our guide knew how far to stay back.  He was smart.  I really wanted to get closer, but he knew the safe distance.

The biggest surprise to me was the flora.  I knew there were penguins and different types of whales and seals.  Tons more than I imagined, but what I didn’t know is that 2% of Antarctica is currently rock.  What is exposed during summer isn’t just barren.  There is green!  The plants are extremely hearty, these plants aren’t much of plants anyway.  They are liken, moss, and algae.  There is moss that even looks like grass!

This incredible penguin colony looks like they are hanging out in grass.  What I found fascinating was these baby penguins.  They haven’t learned to be afraid of humans.  There’s been so little interaction that it must feel like what Darwin experienced when he went to the Galapagos and studied birds of different islands coming up with “the origin of species.”

Baby Penguin sleeping on me
Baby Penguin sleeping on me

Interesting to be talking about Darwin as on this same trip I’d visit the Beagle Channel and see all sorts of birds and nests that have been in the same area for hundreds if not thousands of years.  This little guy and I would check each other out including having him jump on my chest.  In the course of the exchange I’d have his baby fur up against my face.

Life in Antarctica… can you imagine?  What would life really be like? A Bank, a post office, a cafeteria, a school.  Yes to all of these, the Chileans have really built a village that the other stations use. We saw a couple of Chinese Great Wall Station workers come and barter with the Chileans.  Apparently they don’t stay isolated.  Despite the fact that these are different countries, the lines are very blurry when it comes to Antarctica.  The Antarctic treaty keeps the peace, it doesn’t solve any of the disputes.  We visited the monument that marked the nations that signed the peace treaty including Russia, China, U.S., Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and more.  Michael provides more detail on this.  A link to his blog is at the end of this post.

We all sent post cards from this post office. My kids got my cards in the mail… 3 months later.

I built a series of videos to answer some of these questions… What is life like in Antarctica. (Most of these are less than 1 minute.)

One night, the one we had, it didn’t get darkish until around midnight.  Michael and I both were thinking, come on this is the place to take the polar plunge.  With all the ice in the water, this has to be the ultimate travel challenge of either pole.  We did it.  We both encouraged each other and ran into the water and dunked and threw water all over ourselves and ran back into camp half dressed or less.  One tip for you if you visit the stations and bases.  Bring gifts.  Michael had all the Russians we met getting really friendly.  He brought vodka.  One of them had mentioned we could use their Banya.  This was the perfect moment to jump in the banya (spa) and warm up… Unfortunately our directions weren’t as clear as we thought they were and we were afraid to knock on too many doors to cause suspicion.  What an incredible moment it was though!  I feel more like a man.

As I wrap up this post I reflect on the Titanic and it’s media mentions and fanfare.  Have we advanced as a society in relation to water travel?  I have to think it’s very ironic we had a cruise ship go down this past year when our cruise ships are unsinkable.  I think it’s important to reflect on our infalibility.  We have weekness, we do stupid things.  The captain and his men failed to correct.  I don’t know the whole scenario of either incident, but I do know we must learn from our mistakes or will we repeat them.

Penguin Skull
Penguin Skull

In conclusion. Antarctica is truly a life changing experience.  You really do leave life as it is, and look back at it from another perspective.  Travel does that to people, and Antarctica, the final frontier does that to the extreme.  Many ask how to top a trip like this… space? the Moon? Mars?!!  I definitely felt like that after this trip.  All trips will be compared from a nature perspective for sure.  I went to extremes to the ends of the earth and I came back a changed man.  I think you will too.

Enjoyed my post?  I recommend reading these other posts on this fantastic trip.