United States Utah: Top 10 Vacation Destinations

Goblin Valley Hoodoos

When I tell friends they should visit me in Utah.  They often think I’m joking.  Many of my European friends dream of visiting New York City, Los Angeles/Hollywood, or Las Vegas.  What they don’t realize is that Utah a state easily dismissed as one of those states somewhere in the middle or above Las Vegas and West of Denver… host of the 2002 Olympics Utah has a lot to offer in National parks and a lot more.

The perception of the world the US comes from T.V. and it’s amazing to me how some think that there’s really not much between New York City and Los Angeles.  As a traveller myself I first saw most of the U.S. and grew up going to the mountains and parks of the Western US.

I will continue to spend most of my blogs on non domestic destinations, but I needed to share my home to really give Utah the credit it needs.  As well, I’ll have a blog to point friends to who might consider visiting Utah… only 6 hour drive from Las Vegas which passes by some of the most incredible things our planet has to offer.  I’ll break this into a top 10 list to make it easy to follow…

10. The largest man made hole in the world.  Bingham open copper pit mine.  This huge copper mine is impressive and can be seen from space!  Complete with it’s own museum, you can see the tires of the huge mining trucks, the largest vehicles in the world.

9. Sundance, Park City, Alta, and Snowbird – Year Round Beauty.

The Best Snow on Earth, and incredible resort towns all year round.  Park City has many adventures has very visible remnants of the Olympics.  Take one of many zipline downs the ski lifts and jumps, or take the alpine coaster or alpine slide one of the longest in the world.  The Alpine coaster is more than a mile of track of loops, curves, and hair pin turns.   l couldn’t believe Sundance and that amazing natural beauty.  Known famous for the Sundance film festival and Robert Redford’s restort, conference centers and getaways.  There is a lift open year round for full moon night rides, and a 45 minute round trip ride or one way up and mountain bike down the trails. Big and Little Cottonwood canyon is a great escape for lake and waterfall hikes.

Stop by Bridal Veil falls in the Provo Canyon on your way up to Sundance, or ride the Heber Creeper, an old steam engine locomotive that rides along the rack.

8. Visit Antelope Island The Great Salt Lake is a huge remnant left over of the ice age formerly known as lake Bonneville.  Now a huge salty lake it reminds me a lot of the Dead Sea.  A place I’ve visited a couple of times both from Jordan and the West Bank.

The Mormons delivered the Saints by their Moses like prophet Brigham Young called the Salt Lake Valley “Zion,” and the Great Salt Lake was their Dead Sea and Utah Lake the equivalent of the sea of Galilee.  The Jordan River which connects the two is named the same.  Antelope island state park is one the largest of the 9 islands on the lake and a great place to view wildlife including antelope, deer, bobcats, coyotes, many varieties of birds and waterfowl.  Over 600 American Bison roam the island since 1893. Camping is available.

Directions: Take Exit 332 off Interstate 15, then drive west on Antelope Drive for 7 miles to the park entrance, then another 7 miles across a narrow causeway to the island.

Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and swimming in the lake

Contact Information
Antelope Island State Park
4528 West 1700 South
Syracuse, UT 84075

On the South side of the lake you’ll find remnants of former glory the Salt Aire.  Famous in the early 1900’s for balls, parties and even roller coasters.  Much of the area was destroyed by floods.  Now you can visit a small museum and venture out into the water if you dare.  This side of the lake has a lot of brine flies and gnats.  Unlike the Dead Sea, the Salt Lake has been introduced to brine shrimp also known as Sea Monkeys.

If you like Animals you may enjoy Hogle Zoo across from this is The Place Monument and Pioneer Village where people will dress up in period dress, or go to Provo and visit BYU Campus and visit the museum on campus to  see a real stuffed Liger.  Napoleon Dynamite was right, even take a day trip up to Preston if you’re a fan and stop by the city chambers office to get a map to locate his house, Pedro’s house and the Cuttin’ Corral.

7. Temple Square and the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The 1.4 million square foot LDS Conference Center seats 21,000 with not a bad seat in the house.  The organ has 7667 pipes!  The choir has over 360 members and sings every week they are not on tour in the longest running radio program in history… Music and the Spoken Word.  If you are in Jerusalem you can hear the pipe organ in the BYU Jerusalem Center.

Within walking distance of Temple Square you can visit the Beehive house (pictured above).  Home of Brigham Young, the first governor of Utah and Deseret and 2nd prophet of the LDS Church.  Visit the famous Christus, and answer for yourself if the Mormons believe in Jesus Christ.

The famous Salt Lake Temple is accompanied by two visitors centers where you can learn all about the history of the plight of the Saints who were expelled from the US, kicked out of Missouri and Illinois with an extermination order and later pursued by the largest US army ever assembled.  It’s all worked out.  In fact there are many Mormons in politics and in positions of power.  Mitt Romney, presidential nominee has a great shot at the white house.

In the Joseph Smith Building, Old Hotel Utah from the top floor you can see out over the Temple.  An incredible view, where I got engaged to my lovely wife.  The museum’s provide an amazing history of the settling of the West that is often overlooked.  As well, the visitors centers tell the story of faith and how this restored church of Jesus Christ sprung up in the 1830’s in upstate New York to a Church with 6 million Americans and over 14 million world wide.

Don’t miss the old Tabernacle and organ (pictured below).  Tours are available for free.  They’ll drop a pin and you won’t even struggle to hear it.  Incredible.

Be sure to stop by the Family History center, the largest of it’s kind in the world.  The majority of the worlds family history records are here in Salt Lake stored in a granite vault up little cotton wood canyon, but the records are indexed and available for search on http://familysearch.org or leverage the free help from volunteers ready and willing to help you do your family history.

6. Goblin Valley – filming location of Galaxy Quest.  I really love Goblin Valley.  It’s one where you can drive right up and be in another world.  The hoodoos are wind and rain shaped fairy chimneys.  They remind me a lot of Cappadocia region of Turkey.

As a young boy we met up with our cousins and hiked around following trails of flint.  We found a few small arrow heads and one large one.  What an incredible place to go rock hounding (outside the park of course).

Very narrow Slot canyon hike near Goblin Valley.  One of my favorite hikes is this narrow hike which completes nearly a full loop.  The water has carved out a narrow slot.  If it looks stormy at all, definitely avoid it.  You might avoid it if you have claustrophobia, but it’s amazing.  It can get hot during the highs of summer, be sure to carry water.

From I-70, exit onto Highway 24 and drive south for approximately 24 miles to the signed park turnoff

Activities
Sight seeing from the park overlook
Hiking among the goblins
Photography
Picnicking
Camping
ATV trails nearby
Mountain bike trails nearby
Slot canyons nearby

5. Bryce Canyon – Some of the most amazing vistas and canyons in the world.  You’ve heard of Grand Canyon, but this is something you should combine with that trip.

Bryce Canyon is fabulous.  It’s another place you can drive right up to incredible vistas, hop out take a bunch of photos and stop at a new view of a different part of the canyon and take in a completely different view that again will blow your mind.  You can do this for hours.  As well take a horse ride, ATVs, or hike on some of the most incredible ridges.  There are easy hikes and longer hikes… something for everyone.  You’ll definitely appreciate our world a lot more after seeing it like this.

This natural arch is just one of the stops you can do along the road through Bryce Canyon.

We’ve done family reunions in this area.  There are so many parks and outdoor things to do you can easily fill a week multiple times over.

4. Monument Valley – Near the four corners area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada meet up are some incredible sunsets and majestic plateaus including easy day trips to Mesa Verde in Colorado.  Navajo Tribal park.

4. Zion – with nearly 3 million visitors a year this is Utah’s oldest and most famous National Park.  The park is known for its incredible canyons and spectacular views. Famous hikes including The Narrows, Subway, and Angels Landing attract adventure enthusiasts from around the world.  Memories of 72 hours should come to mind.  I was going to do Subway with my cousins this year.  It’s an 9.5 mile hike through narrows, complete hiking through rivers.

(Image courtesy americaswonderlands.com)

Read this description of the Subway hike “The mystical journey through the Left Fork of North Creek involves route finding, plunging cautiously into chilly pools then sloshing, sometimes frantically, through frigid water over and through difficult obstacles. The narrow Subway section of this hike forces hikers through a unique tunnel sculpted by the Left Fork of North Creek.”

3. Arches – You may have seen the world famous Delicate Arch, but Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches. This National Park is a red, arid desert, punctuated with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”  These are great day hikes.  If you want to do biking, driving, or off roading there are lots of options in this area.  Plan on staying in Moab and spend a few days in this area.

2. Temple Hopping – There are over a dozen temples across the state.  If you simply try to visit them all you’ll see some of the most amazing construction dedicated to God, and see a variety of different communities.

Pictured below is the Brigham City Temple currently under construction which will be open for visitors this is a very unique opportunity to see an LDS temple as visitors may only enter prior to it’s dedication unless you hold an LDS temple recommend which requires you live worthily and have a temple recommend interview with your Bishop and Stake President.

The Jordan River Temple – Looks like a rocket ship

As an interesting fact… The Logan Temple, The St George Temple, and the Manti temple were all finished prior to the Salt Lake Temple which took 40 years to complete as is still the largest temple of the more than 136 temples dotting the globe.

Is it a birthday cake or a spacecraft?  Provo will have 2 temples, the first city in the world.  The old Provo tabernacle is being converted into a temple after a fire and reconstruction.

For a list of the Utah Temples and for pictures visit the ldschurchtemples.org

Photo: Stopping by to see one of the temples that dot the wasatch

Brigham City Temple Taken 7/15/12

Information below from ldschurchtemples.org

Location: 250 South Main Street, Brigham City, Utah, United States.
Site:  3.14 acres.
Ordinance Rooms:  Two ordinance rooms (two-stage progressive) and three sealing.
Total Floor Area:  36,000 square feet.

Announcement:  3 October 2009
Groundbreaking and Site Dedication:  31 July 2010 by Boyd K. Packer
Public Open House:  18 August–15 September 2012
Dedication:  23 September 2012

Public Open House

The general public is invited to attend an open house (video invitation) of the Brigham City Utah Temple. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

Reservations:  Open house tickets will be made available beginning Monday, July 30, 2012, at 10:00 a.m. at templeopenhouse.lds.org.
Dates:  Saturday, August 18, through Saturday, September 15, 2012 (excluding Sundays and Saturday, September 8)

1. Mt Timpanogos

Take a cave tour in Timpanogos Caves.  Take a ranger led cave tour through a 1/3 mile with gravity defying helectites with all the famous formations on a 3 – 3.5 hr hike and cave exploration.  The cave is great.  There are more adventuresome cave splunking if you want to get off the beaten path.  That route requires advanced permission.

If you’re a hiker, then this is the hike for you.  Alpine lakes, Glaciers, Mountain goats, and wreckage of a B-25 air force jet, Timp is amazing.  It is a popular hike, but a great workout with a great payoff and one you can do in a day, but you’ll want to start early.

The Hike to the summit of Mount Timpanogos is 11,749′, the second highest in the Wasatch Mountains. Many consider the hike from the Timpooneke Trailhead to be the best hike in Utah. Reaching the summit will require 4-5 hours. The summit is 7.5 miles one-way with an elevation gain of 4580′ on a well-maintained trail.  There are a few scary parts if you’re afraid of heights, but the trail itself is not too technical.

Honorable mention:

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument – Breathtaking views and panoramas… hiking, camping, climbing

Canyonlands – Rocky Spires, arches and canyons… Ruins and Petroglyphs of natives. hiking, biking, whitewater rafting and ATV

Salt Flats – Bonneville.  Great stop after seeing the Great Salt Lake.

Capitol Reef National Park – You’ll be getting into this when you go to Goblin Valley, my preferred spot

Cataract Canyon – whitewater rafting destination (see it when you do arches.  It’s near Moab)

Slick Rock Trail – 9 miles of rock path for mountain biking (excursion from Moab)

Consider day or overnight trips from St. George or Moab to the Grand Canyon from Park City you could go into Wyoming and even work your way up to Jackson Hole, and Yellowstone quite easily.

Floating Islands of the Uros and Nazca Lines of Peru


The Nazca lines are unique in that it built or put together thousands of years ago and then only discovered when planes were invented.  These lines are not just one or even a handful of pictures that many cover miles and miles with incredible precision.  They are truly a mystery.  UNESCO added the site in 1994.  Even in visited Nazca I was surprised to find out there are more than just Nazca.  scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 AD.  The creatures are 650 feet across.

Nazca Lines from private flight the air.
Spider Geogliph
Spider Geogliph

The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines and more complex geometric lines to hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, orcas, llamas, and lizards.  Wikipedia entry on Nazca lines provides some more detail: “the Monkey is 93 meters (310 ft) by 58 meters (190 ft), and the Spider is 47 meters (150 ft). The extremely dry, windless, and constant climate of the Nazca region has preserved the lines well. The Nazca desert is one of the driest on Earth and maintains a temperature around 25 °C (77 °F) all year round. The lack of wind has helped keep the lines uncovered and visible to the present day.”  Figures are still being discovered, and there are many universities who continue to study them.  It’s amazing you can see them from google maps. Search for “nazca lines” and it will put you nearby the spider.  Zooming in and out you can see some of the geoglyphs are marked.

The PanAmerican Highway
The Pan American Highway

UROS

One of the most fascinating cultures live on floating islands.  An ancient culture with their own language, and a history that extends back before the great Inca civilization.  They survive because of their traditions.  They built these reed islands originally to avoid the Inca.  They could simply pull up anchor and shove off.  If there are ever any major family disputes they can simply be solved by carving off a piece of the island.  The islands themselves are continuously built and added on.  They do speak some Spanish, and some have learned a little English from tourists.

Getting up close and personal with the Uros people of floating reed islands of Lake Titicaca

I personally do worry this will become a tourist attraction and not be much of the authentic lifestyle, but today it’s still very real.  There is now one hotel/hostel/hut where you can stay.  A tour can be organized from Puno.

Uros Cultural Dance
Uros Cultural Dance

I was so surprised I hadn’t heard of this place until I started researching the area.  Believe me, there is a lot to see.

We also visited an island Taquile in the middle of Lake Titicaca that is another unique culture. There are a couple of other islands in this highest freshwater lake at 3,800 meters above sea level.  50 miles wide 130 miles long.  “The society of Taquile is still based on collective work and the Inca moral code “Ama sua, ama llulla, ama qilla” (do not steal, do not tell lies and do not be lazy). Taquile is best known for its textiles, the finest crafts, not only in Peru, also in the world.”  Hand weaved by 80+ year old men.

Uros Floating Islands
Uros Floating Islands

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”

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.

Chichen Itza Mayan Masterpiece Pyramid Perfection and Wonder of the World (6 of 7)

pyramids of chichen itza

Visit of Christ to the Americas

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

 

When I was planning our Cancun vacation, my wife was thinking… we’ll chill on the beach at an all inclusive resort, and I was thinking… we’ll grab a rental car and pick up as many of the Mayan temples as possible within a 2 week period.  Finally I can see one of the 7 finalists of the new 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza.  As a traveller I was anxious to see real wonders of the ancient world. I love temples, I love archeology, and I love the mystery that surrounds these massive new world temples. I also was incredibly interested in Tulum on the coast, and my ultimate Tikal the Mayan Capital.  We know so little about the Mayans, but I was surprised to find out they weren’t totally wiped out.  There is a group of Mayans that give the tours in Tulum, and they speak the ancient Mayan language.  It’s so, so sad that the culture has so much of who they were.  They lost everything.  A few documents recently were rediscovered in Germany referred to as the Mayan Dresden Codex.  Mayan Temple of Chichen ItzaWhich some point to as the source of the 12, 21, 2012 apocalyptic date or the beginning of 1000 years of peace, but “A German expert who says his decoding of a Mayan tablet with a reference to a 2012 date denotes a transition to a new era and not a possible end of the world as others have read it…The interpretation of the hieroglyphs by Sven Gronemeyer…He said the inscription describes the return of mysterious Mayan god. Continue reading on Examiner.com German Mayan researcher’s 2012 conclusions.  Cool.  Beginning of the end of the world or return of a Mayan god… Bearded white god?  (By the way, ask to see the rock carving of the bearded god at Chichen Itza.  It’s pretty cool.  If it’s Lief Erickson or Jesus or insane stone carver it’s mind numbing given the carvings all around it.  Seriously fun stuff.  You gotta enjoy the speculation and not get too caught up either way, since we can’t know.

While I don’t think the end will happen in December 2012 (No one is suppose to know the day or hour when Jesus is coming back Matthew 24:36), I have used it as an opportunity to be prepared for disaster.  In my church, we have been asked to have a year supply of food on hand in case of disaster.  It has paid off with members all over the world.  As recent as the tsunami in Japan and earthquake in Hati, the members who obeyed have been blessed. As a member of the LDS Church there is a fascinating Book of Mormon back story of Christ in the Americas and Artists often paint pictures of Christ appearing to the righteous people in 3 Nephi 11 with the back drop of Tulum.  There are Mormon tours all over this region.  In fact we discovered that more Mayan Temple of Tulumthan 30% of the guides in Tulum were Mayan members of the LDS Church.  It’s understood that there really hasn’t been any LDS revelations on the locations, and anything discovered is purely speculation.  Our guide at Tulum was actually a Mormon Bishop named Mosiah.  It was a quick tour, which really didn’t add any info on what we had already got from our tour in Chichen Itza.  He shared pictures of Tulum where light shines through specific building on April 6th, and sold us a tree of life medallion.  Great stories.  Amazing place.  While I didn’t necessarily subscribe to all he shared, I was fascinated with the history of the Mayans, he being one himself.  The PC accepted story is that Mayan calendar simply points toward a new era.  Great.  Others are looking for the Age of Aquarius.

Dean%2520taking%2520it%2520inThese grandios temples are mucho bueno.  Very incredible.  Left: My trooper, Dean at Chichen Itza.  This is 3 of 7 New Wonders for him.  He’s been to Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Travel Tip: I do recommend highly recommend seeing Chichen Itza.  I do recommend getting a negotiated tour there.  There are some inscriptions and history that you’d miss otherwise.  There are a lot of things to point out in the area.  There are half a dozen buildings and a great ball court area, and you need to know more about the rules of that game and what happens to the winners and losers.  Those stories you must hear.  There’s a lot of inscriptions and interpretations and stories you need to hear.  We got the 2 hour guided tour, that we negotiated on the spot after we arrived.  It wasn’t too outrageous.  There are a lot of people that can give tours, so shop around and negotiate.  Don’t take the first rate you hear.  Many hotels in Cancun can arrange transport and tour as well.  Just don’t over pay.  There is a lot of cushion.  In relation to Cancun both Tulum and Chichen Itza are both day trips. There is a toll road all the way to Chichen Itza from Cancun. You’ll pay 20-30 USD for that trip one way! We decided we’d take the scenic route on the way there, and hurry back. It is a difference of about an hour. You can get to other ruins as well including Coba. I didn’t make it to Coba, we were with my wife’s family and Jeff got sick, so we missed out on that one, but that’s ok because my eye was on the ultimate prize of Tikal, Jaguar temple the largest temples in the new world.  In contrast to Chichen Itza, I do not recommend the tour in Tulum.  The buildings are a lot smaller, things are close and if you did this one after doing Chichen Itza there’s a lot of overlap.  Our tour may have ultimately been 15 minutes of explanation and he didn’t even walk the whole thing with us.  Don’t miss the views from either side of the temple near the water.  There are some great photo shots by of Tulum by the water.  Another reason to do your research of Tulum ahead of time and get the guided tour at Chichen Itza.

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Post Revolution Egypt – Am I Safe?


It seems like Egypt has for the most part fallen out of the news.  Is it safe?

tanks in egypt

A couple of quotes from an article on Egypt welcomes tourists and affirms safety.

Travel warning lifted

“Ambassador Scobey met with the heads of U.S.-based travel associations NTA, USTOA, ATTA and ASTA, along with tour operators and journalists, at the American embassy in Cairo.

The group was on a six-day, fact-finding trip to investigate travel safety in Egypt and Jordan. I traveled with the delegation as they met Egyptian officials and toured Tahrir Square, the Egyptian Museum and other cultural attractions.

“Our recent visit to Cairo confirmed that Egypt is safe and ready for tourists,” said Lisa Simon, president of the NTA, in an email. “The Egyptian people welcomed us with a renewed spirit and pride resulting from the revolution – they’re ready and anxious to show off the ‘new Egypt.’”

British tourists “never stopped” coming to the resort areas and were motivated by great deals, according to Egyptian tour guide Mina Mamdouh Edwar.

Before the revolution about 270,000 Americans visited Egypt each year, compared to nearly 3 million Russian and 1.5 million British visitors, said the Egypt Tourism Authority’s Samy Mahmoud.

“Foreigners have been coming back steadily [and] there have been very few problems,” noted Ambassador Scobey.”

While the elections press on, Egypt itself is definitely on sale.  Tourism is such a huge part of Egypt’s GDP.  Egypt has had to borrow money to sustain the governing that is going on.

I personally toured Tahrir square, Egyptian Museum, about a dozen Pyriamids, Kahili Market from the north into Alexandria to the far south in Abu Simbel.  The people are very welcoming, and they want to share their “New Egypt!”

I was there over a year ago, so it’s only gotten better in the last year. This picture was a rare one of a couple of tanks.  Life is back to normal.

As a traveller looking for the place without the crowds I think you’d find there are tons of reasons why you’d want to go while it’s still fresh in others minds, and would consider somewhere else.

If I told you there were no police or the police was the army, but you are in one of the safest places… you might not believe me.  I visited Egypt following the Jan 24 Arab spring.  In fact I visited in Spring 2011, in April.  The taxi driver we were working with was picking up people at the Libyan border and providing transport.  Now you’ve got resolution in Libya and Tunisia.  Syria is having issues, but that’s north of Israel.  Look at a map, it’s not that close.

If you are considering a trip, I’ve got a few twitter friends who live in Cairo that could give us the on the streets update.  You can ping me on twitter @joeloleson or just add it to the comments.

My kids got into the spirit of it.  In fact, Jared pictured on the right is wearing the shirt of the revolution.

Happy New Egypt

In Arabic #Jan24 and New Egypt.  You can see the guard here is pretty excited about his choice of clothes.  Another worker same day asked if it was ok to take a picture and post it to facebook!

Continue reading “Post Revolution Egypt – Am I Safe?”