10 Tips for a Successful Road Trip


My 15 soon to be 16 year old son recently got his drivers permit.  Now that he’s behind the wheel, there’s a lot of interest on his part to get behind the wheel.

Here are a few tips to planning a road trip:

1. Getting from Point A to Point B: GPS Device, Maps, Smart Phone with GPS, USB on Mappoint, iPAD with GPS, Road Signs, etc… – I have used any number of ways to get across state lines.  I like having the turn by turn directions, and if you do, you will either want a GPS like Magellan.  The times have sure changed but many still prefer the maps for planning and executing their routes.

2. Plan a Route with some Fun destinations, It’s not about speed between A and B – Today I planned our road trip using RoadTrippers.com it worked great.  I put in Salt Lake City, UT as the source and the destination.  Then I added the places where I wanted to go.  I really want to see Devils Tower from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie, then Crazy horse and Mount Rushmore, and then Teddy Roosevelt Park.  The plan was to get me into North Dakota, the last state in the lower 48.  I’ll be visiting my last state in the Union, Alaska next month.  You can use Bing Maps, Google Maps, or various tools to see what the roads are between you and your destination, but how do you plan your route?  I like to have things I want to see.  Seeing something cool every day with a little hike or some fresh air is nice to plan out when doing 10 or 12 hour drives.  You really shouldn’t plan to drive more than 12 hours in a day.  Longest I ever did was somewhere around 15 hours back when I was in college, but usually it’s not about getting as fast as possible to the destination, but rather enjoying the road trip and seeing sites along the way.  The RoadTrippers app allows you to display attractions, historical, and photo areas.  As a result I added a couple of additional stops, Independence rock, Sturgis (home to the biker gathering), a Mesa falls, and 1800’s Smith mansion.  Normally I’d go through Yellowstone National Park, but I have visited the park nearly every year for the past few years.  So while I am a fan, I need a break.

If you’re traveling during the winter, watch the roads as is be sure to keep track of the pass weather, just in case it’s closed!

Mount Rushmore Road Trip

3. Be willing to stop along the route, Mix it up! – You do need to think about stops along the way that will break up the day and make it enjoyable.  Maybe it’s the world’s largest ball of twine, or Wall Drug, or even just getting slurpees for the kids, but when doing big family trips, the kids memories aren’t just about the destination.  They will remember the 6 legged cow, and the albino skunk more than they may remember the St. Louis Arch.  Same with Disneyland. If they drove 14 hours the day before they get to Disney, they will be exhausted.

4. Use the Pool – You may feel like you need to get on the road as early as possible, but an early dip in the pool will serve to wake you up, and will give you energy you didn’t know you had.  The kids will thank you for it.

5. Break it up – Rush day, chill day, Busy Day, Relax day.  When I plan a family trip, I am use to doing it my way, which is cram the days full… Packed days.  I thrive off of the destinations and adventures.  I’ve found the family prefers to spend more time on the beach and less time at the pyramids.  Less time in the caves, and more time in the pools.  Less time on the Hike and more time chilling at the cabin.  To keep everyone happy I try to mix it up so we can both be happy.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

6. Get fresh air – Seems there are less and less rest stops.  I push myself when I do long road trips, and often stop only when I need more gas.  That’s not a great practice.  You need to get the blood flowing.  There are conditions that can happen.  You’ll notice a lot of the attractions on this trip will involve some decent hikes.  I’m looking forward to doing some father and son bonding.  Hikes are a great way to get to know the others on the trip.  Often up in the hills there’s no 3G, no Wifi, and the power on the devices in the car are likely drained or having been used for the last 6 hours are now a bore.  Walking, hiking, or simply exploring around national parks, or around the downtown… there are ways of keeping the blood flowing and supporting your goals.  Think about all the junk you’re eating along the way minus your normal exercise routine.  Feels good to find balance between the long drives with a good walk or hike.

7. Plan for snacks – Gas stations ultimately are limited on the quality of food you can get.  Granola, nuts, fruit, aren’t popular in gas stations.  Pop, candy bars, and circus peanuts, and peach rings… now you know what we end up with.  Much better to plan for snacks so you can mix in some healthy stuff.  It shouldn’t be hard to find a grocery store.  They really are all over the world.  The convenience of the gas station is just too easy.  Learn to enjoy water.  May make sense to bring a water bottle and just fill up with ice.  Takes serious discipline.  I’m not all there yet, but I know I should be doing that.  Think about how you want to carry water and keep it cool.  You do need to drink plenty of water.

8. Plan your hotel, B&B or camping strategy, get a good night’s rest, if you’re feeling pain get an adjustment or massage – You may be pushing through to arrive at your destination.  Just because you arrived late doesn’t mean you need to be up at the crack of dawn.  If you do need to be up at sunrise keep your drapes open.  Natural light will help restore you and help you make up more naturally.  Careful on doing anything dangerous.  8 hours of downtime is good.  Remember it’s about regeneration.  After I’ve done some horrible thing to my body… those other side of the world 40 hour flights, I reward myself with a massage.  Easy to get in Asia, it’s becoming more and more common in many countries around the world to get a massage.  I love space tanks as well for their restorative qualities.  I bet that’s another post.

Plan your Hotels and know what you’re getting into.  Consider Bringing Your Own Pillow and a Spare Blanket.  If you’ve got the room in the car, you may want to toss in a pillow and blanket.  Great for naps, and your neck is use to your pillow.  Consistency.  There’s a lot of stress on your neck during the drive, so taking off that stress at night may really help.

Hotels – Quality *

  • Motel 6 – 1-2 stars
  • Super 8 – 2-2.5 stars
  • Holiday Inn Express, Marriott Fairfield, Hilton Garden 3+ stars
  • Holiday Inn, Residence Inn, Hilton 3-4 stars
  • Hyatt, Ritz, Intercontinental 5 stars

International folks may enjoy the http://VRBO.com and couch surfers the http://airbnb.com which both have a huge variety.  The B&B’s can be a way to combine the destination as part of the tour.  A lot of them are online these days, and it takes some research.  Top travel sites for planning include http://kayak.com http://expedia.com http://orbitz.com http://hotels.com http://priceline.com http://Travelocity.com http://tripadvisor.com they all have their pros and cons and expose most of the major chains.  Trip Advisor has attractions in it’s database.  If you can figure out which hotel you want and then call them directly, you may be able to simply make the reservation without having to pay.  They may be able to hold it with a card.  As well, lot of opportunities to collection hotel points for free nights or double dip on frequent flier miles like at Hilton depending on your loyalty.

9. Packing & Keep the Car Clean – I always pack light as a world traveler, but when I’m in my own car it’s easy to get sloppy.  I count out the days and pack minimalist, but since I’m in the car I will pack the snacks and water separate.  Putting the snacks in a small box will keep things from rolling around.  If you can think modularly of those things that are for the car can stay in the car and then only what you need for the night has to go into the hotel.  You may be driving an RV or Staying at Camp grounds.  This use to be so much easier back in the 70’s and 80’s.  Now the camp grounds are really spread out and they definitely don’t have the marketing budget of the hotels.  For cheap hotels there are those little magazines that mention the walk in rate discounts.  There are a lot of strategies to employ here.  I’ve used a dozen different strategies and I do a lot of hotels.  A lot of it is tolerance around cost, and tolerance around conditions.  In the US there really is a hierarchy on national and world wide brands.

10. Tune up the car or consider a Rental – You may end up being focused on the agenda and packing, but ultimately what can make or break a trip is the condition of the car.  Remember the vehicle you may be driving has often not been driven long distances, and may need fluids antifreeze an oil change and more.  Get that tune up that you’ve been putting off, not on the day you’re trying to get out of town, but instead a few days prior.  In road trips in the past I’ve encountered flat tire, overheating car (ended up dying), and transmission issues that cost me thousands.  Even cleaning it out and having it vacuumed can help to start off on the right foot.  Some may want to consider renting a vehicle.  In some cities the daily and weekly rate may be worth the wear and tear on your own car.  Big road trips can add a lot of miles all at once.  These road trips can be fun with the top down, and in a sports car.  For some, that is the dream.  For others, it’s about a camper or RV to get on the road… Make sure you’ve got plenty of accessing to funds.

Enjoy!!

Nicaragua: Historical Gem in the Rough

Granada Historical Cathedral

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Cathedral in Granada

Nicaragua is one of the poorest/cheapest countries in the Americas.  It’s been an underdog for a couple of decades.  As a tourist attraction it’s easily overlooked for Panama or Costa Rica or Guatemala.  Many may not even consider it.  Nicaragua is really under the radar as a tourist destination, and as someone who loves discovering places off the radar where they knock your socks off and they haven’t been discovered I LOVE Nicaragua.  I actually had doubts about writing this because some who have made Nicaragua as their home away from home or for their escape may not want extra attention, but that hasn’t stopped me in the past.  I’ve been to Nicaragua twice and love loved both times.  The first time I did a bunch of research.  In my pursuits I came across a lot of warnings and enough to really scare you.

“Armed robbery attempts have increased in popular tourist destinations where armed, and sometimes masked, assailants emerge from roadside locations to stop vehicles and rob passengers. One common tactic is for assailants to place rocks, tree branches, or other large objects along roads and wait for cars to stop. When the driver gets out of the vehicle to remove the obstruction, assailants come out of hiding to rob victims.  Criminals posing as Nicaraguan traffic police occasionally target visitors. The imposters conduct traffic stops and rob vehicle occupants at gunpoint.”

One post I read was an expat from the US that runs a white water rafting place, they had moved from central Oregon.  In the post, they went on to explain that Nicaragua gets a bad rap that it doesn’t deserve.  They compared the crime rate in the worst city in Nicaragua with an average city in Oregon and explained it was worse in Oregon.  Looking again there are horrible warnings designed to scare you.  In my research the crime rates are comparable to the US and in many cases worse.  Compare Numbeo country crime rates of Nicaragua 41.93 and US 53.44 a higher crime rate.  Hey, I’m a fan of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, they both have a lot to offer and shouldn’t be compared since they are so different in terms of what they have to offer.  Costa Rica has the beaches, and Nicaragua has the big lake and historical colonial cities.

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The cost of living is one-third cheaper in Nicaragua. Tourists are very concerned about safety, so it is necessary to look at crime statistics. The homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants in Nicaragua was 12 in 2005, 13 in 2011, an increase of 8%. The homicide rate in Costa Rica in 2005 was 7.8, with a 32% increase in 2011 to 10.3.  The ten most violent US cities each have more homicides than the whole country of Nicaragua.  Chicago a city I wouldn’t even bat an eye to visit had 50x the homicide rate.

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I hope you notice the HUGE lake, the largest freshwater lake in Central America, and really the largest islands in freshwater in the world.

Nicaragua, officially the Republic of Nicaragua, is the largest country in the Central American isthmus, bordering Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south

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In Nicaragua it’s about the lakes, volcanoes and natural beauty.  Lake Granada has hundreds of small islands in addition to the big volcano islands.  Beautiful personal islands with one house.  Jump in the water, it’s nice all year round.  I have heard about the fresh water sharks, but they don’t hang out near the city on the Granada side.  Catch a ferry over to Ometepe, and stay on the island.  I went on a kayaking excursion.  Amazing views.

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Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua

Colonial Towns Granada – Ometepe holds the distinction of being the largest island in a fresh water lake in the world. It is also full of pre-Columbian history, statuary, and other relics, plus two magnificent volcanoes.

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Granada is a very historical city.  Nothing compares with it across central america, the closest is Antiqua, Guatemala.  Incredible beauty.

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At night go out on the closed walking streets and be serenaded with incredible food from around the world.

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Managua has the big man in the hat on the largest hill in the city.  Great views. You may not agree with the politics, and some local friends of ours are waiting for change, but it’s amazing.   I personally would recommend spending your time with Granada as your base.  Don’t hang out in Managua.  It doesn’t have much to offer.  Get out to the lake and you’ll feel the relaxing atmosphere.  As a non native Spanish speaker, I still found enough people who spoke enough English to get around.  You will want to have a few words.  One of my friends only used USD while in Nicaragua.  Even the ATM provided choices for USD or local.  Our hotel took credit cards.  You likely will want to make sure you have cash before you take the ferry out to Ometepe.  On the islands things are pretty spread out and the roads are pretty rough, but that’s part of the adventure.

South Africa’s Kruger Wild Animal Park: Wild and Wonderful


I’ve visited South Africa on three different occasions and found it incredible each time.  I would go at the drop of a hat.  I still need to take my family with me, and yes if you were wondering.  I would do that.  Something that holds a lot of people back is they are sincerely worried about this world we live in and they see Africa as a whole as a place that isn’t safe or ready to be explored.  In my various adventures in Africa I’ve found South Africa to be a great hub to explore other parts of South Africa.  It does feel like that hut surrounded by barbed wire that protects me from the wild animals like in Kruger wild animal park, but then I realize I’m the one that’s in the cage.

After you’ve been to Africa and been on safari, a zoo will never be the same.  As I suggested, you are the one that’s in the cage.  During the day you venture out in your car, and in our case it was a rental car with insurance.  Our little car was chased by bull elephants a couple of times and we drove through herds of buffalo, zebra, and numerous horned antelope and other horned beasts.  Before nightfall we’d drive into a gated area that would keep the wild animals out.  We’d share stories with others and see what large animals had been spotted. 

The big 5 are on everyone’s mind.  You have to see what of the big 5 you can check off.  In our 3 days of driving around never once crossing an existing path, we saw them all but the leopard. 

  1. Elephant
  2. Rhino
  3. Lion
  4. Buffalo
  5. Leopard

Why it doesn’t include the Crocodile, the Hippo, Hyena, Giraffe or Zebra or other animals that are just as huge I don’t know, but I did see them as well.  I’d also recommend tracking down a troop of baboons.  It isn’t enough to just see one of these animals, you need to see them in hundreds and it again changes your perspective.

Kruger Wild Animal Park is a must.  If you visit South Africa you should definitely plan to do it.  There are other less wild parks where you can get closer to the big cats, but the wildness of it all will change your perspective forever.  This is the Yellowstone of wildness for Africa.  I later spent some time in Botswana that made me rethink what I thought was wild, but really this is a great introduction into the wilds of Africa.  As well having spent some time in Kenya and Tanzania, I think this is a great place to start.  Tons and Tons of animals and you can do this on your pace.  They’ve even got maps that point out the climates and what to expect in the various ecosystems.

Eric Harlan, a Microsoft engineer and I ventured out into Kruger with his massive camera and a very expensive rented lens that made the far off animals seem within reach.  It was Eric’s first foray into the wild, and he to this day refers to the changes that took place on this trip.  Not just the animal wild and crazy, but our walking border crossing into Mozambique to Maputo.  An incredible experience I’ll have to share in another post.  Eric and I have since been on a few other trips, but Kruger stands out.  We flew into Johannesburg, stayed with a good friend in Joburg.  The next morning we rented a car and were in a hut in the park that night.  It was a good drive and we barely made it before they closed the gate, but it was a beautiful drive.  After 3-4 days in Kruger we went into Mozambique and got the human side as well as in Swaziland before arriving in Durban where we did our speaking gig at TechEd Africa before flying to Capetown for the first SharePoint Saturday event in Africa… 

If you want to go on a guided safari you have lots of options.  First you can take a guided tour and they will track down the animals for you.  As well, you can take your vehicle into the park and at each of these self enclosed villages that often include bungalow, or beehive huts, and more primitive tent spaces.  You decide how primitive you want to go.  At these places you can pay to go on a morning or evening walking tour, or go out on a safari on a huge truck that can go on special routes and get quite close to a watering hole, or a night safari that has exclusive access to the routes during the dark.  They are all freaky and I highly recommend them all.  Each of them is a real experience… having a guide with an elephant gun in the front and one in the back… and walking through grass thinking wasn’t that a lion roar and it was, is truly exhilarating.  Very raw.  We tracked down some rhinos grazing who eventually smelled us and ran off, but not before we were about 10 feet away… and followed some buffalo and zebra.

When you stop for lunch at one of these rest camps you can eat gazelle or other meat that you’d never thought possible didn’t think you’d ever eat Wildebeest.

At night we tracked a lion, a bull elephant who pushed our safari truck, and spotted a family of hyenas with tiny little 3 babies.  Incredible experiences.  It was amazing to see these animals in their habitats on their terms.

It’s unreal when you see a HUGE elephant looking straight at you and there’s nothing more than a little metal or tiny little glass window between you and them.  On the walking safari, you feel very vulnerable.

Do I recommend these experiences.  Oh, definitely.  Is it safe, you’ll have to ask your guide what his stats are.  These are experiences of a lifetime… 

Kruger Wild Animal Park

Above is a video of footage from my camera mixed with some photos that Eric took.  He snagged the lion photo as well.  Getting that lion photo was a real experience.  We had gone two days without seeing a lion, and we really wanted to see one.  On our maps we tracked down the area where we should see one, and asked as well around camp.  We saw a car that was stopped and pulled up quietly behind it.  A man in the car had a camera pointing into some tall grass.  We must have sat there for 5 minutes before we saw a tail swish and realized what we were waiting for.  A group of lionesses were sunning.  Over the next half hour we’d get nearly out of the car (not recommended and anything more would be against the rules) to get the best viewpoint.  All of a sudden they jumped up looked around… (maybe smelled us?) and then ran off.. it was beautiful and an experience I will cherish.

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.

Incredible India Series: The World Famous Temple of Rats

Temple of the Rats

Our world is evolved enough people should NOT be dying of hunger any longer. End of story.  I don’t think we should put up with it any more.  If a handful of priests can keep alive 20,000 rats in the lap of luxury. We surely can apply some of these principles to help sustain communities all over the world.  In my next post I’ll tell you what we can learn from the rat temple, a place that’s one of my favorite because it’s sooo different from the culture I’m use to.  I spent a couple of weeks across India and Nepal with a couple of friends… Majid from Iran and Michael Noel from San Francisco.

While traveling in India I came across a peculiar place unique to any other on the planet.  It was the Karni Mata Temple known as the Rat Temple in Rajisthan province near Bikiner.

Karni Mata the world famous Rat Temple

The world famous shrine of Karni Mata can be found in the town of Deshnoke 30 km south from Bikaner on the road to Jodhpur. Karni Mata is worshiped as an incarnation of Goddess Durga.  This temple is famous for rats which can be seen everywhere in the temple.  The rats are treated as sacred and given protection in the temple.  Thousands of people travel to the temple by foot. The temple draws Hindu visitors from across the country hoping for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world. Inside, you are required to remove your shoes, it’s good luck to have rats run across your feet as this brings good luck.  It’s also good luck to find a white rat.  Apparently among the 20,000 rats there are 4 or 5 white rats.  We spent a while listening to the children who were telling us stories of where the white rat had hid in a wall and we waited around hoping to catch a glimpse.  The temple is an ancient building from the 1500’s built in beautiful white marble and has a silver door complete with images of rats that was donated by a rich ruler nearby.

The priests of the temple are protectors of the rats.  They bless the pilgrims and give them a special sacrament.  This sacramental food that is a mix of rat saliva and other stuff that comes out very yellow called prasadam, a candy like food for the rats. Eating food or drinking water that previously has been sampled by a rat is considered to be a supreme blessing.

Why Rats?  In India as well as in the west Rats aren’t that special.  In fact they are seen as animals that carry disease, but these rats are special.  For generations they have been taken care of in this prime state.

The story of the rat temple is quite unique.  I’ll put the story in my own words and then let you discover a number of online variations of the story.  The story goes that Karni Matta was the reincarnate of the goddess Durga.  One of her children died and she tried to bring it back to life only to be told by Death that had cursed her and her child was reincarnated as a rat and all of her clan would be reincarnated as rats.  Other versions I’ve found say she made a deal to have her clan come back to life as rats and those rats would come back as humans.  Either way, you don’t want to hurt or harass the rats here, as they are very special, but these are relatives of a reincarnate goddess.

There are a few amazing things about the Rat Temple:

  1. Look for the white rat definitely a fun and rewarding activity
  2. Apparently of the 20,000 rats it’s difficult to locate any baby or younger rats. In our trip I think we saw some juveniles, but for the most part they all did look about the same size and age.
  3. No one apparently has ever gotten sick from the rats.
  4. Careful where you lean, there may be a rat on the ledge or railing. Killing a rat would result in you needing to replace it with a solid gold or silver one.

While at the temple I saw the largest mixing bowls in my life.  These huge huge bowls are set over a fire and the priest cooks the food for the rats in mass quantities.  They are feeding 20,000 rats and for a handful of priests it saves a lot of time to work with industrial sized feeding bowl.  In my next post I’ll share a social biz idea to solve world hunger based on this amazing place.  I refer to the idea as social mush.

Read more about this very unique temple on National Geographic’s Rats Rule at India Temple

Skiing in the Desert of Dubai & Road Trip to Oman

Ski Dubai

I’ve been skiing, snowboarding, and tubing in Dubai.  It’s a surreal experience.  I do recommend it.  The novelty factor is very high given the extreme hot temperatures in desert sandy HOT HOT conditions that Dubai and the UAE is known for.

A quick tour of the Ski Hill in the Mall in Dubai

 

I’ve had some incredible adventures in Dubai speaking at TechEd Middle East and at the SharePoint Conference.  My friends L-R Michael Noel, me, and Zlatan Dznic, took our turn at Snowboarding and Skiing the great slopes of the Mall in Dubai.  It’s really a decent hill, likely better than many mountains in the East Coast.  While the snow conditions were a little icy for my taste, I really really enjoyed the experience.  While it was a bit pricey, it was a blast and a great memory.  We all were glad we did it.  By the way, don’t worry about bringing your equipment to Dubai, it’s not that much more to get the full package of the full blue suit, and the gear.

 

Todd Klindt a popular SharePoint speaker went with me tubing, he didn’t want his first experience skiing to be in mall.  For that I don’t blame him.

Todd goes for a ride

Dubai is an amazing Oasis that is so much more than that now.  The world’s tallest building definitely stands out as a must see.  It is.  I saw it going up, and saw it after it opened up, and I’ve been so impressed with the Burj Khalifa and the Burj Dubai, both magnificent buildings. 

It says so much for what is possible with passion and a little money.  Give it a few years, we’ll see if they can hold onto it or if Qatar or Bahrain or Kuwait take on the challenge to push the limits.  I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone of those rich Arab Oasis were to take on architectural feats.  They are all doing amazing things with land reclamation, and the Palms, the Pearl, the World… All these water projects with architectural marvels are so incredible.

 

Not only did I go snowboarding in the snow, I did get out on the sand slopes and had my turn at Sand Boarding as well.  Everything is great until the abrupt stop at the bottom of the slope.  Getting out into the sand and fitting in some camel rides, and having traditional

food around a fire with some possible belly dancing and dancing a bit yourself may sound like a tourist trap, and most of it is.  Which is why I encourage you to track down the real berber experiences.  The multi day trips into the Sahara from Morocco are much more authentic.  Much of what you get out of Dubai is akin to the dude ranch things they put together in the US where they let you ride a horse and show you a farm.  It’s not the same as getting on a horse for a real round up or branding session.  You’ll have to decide what kind of dose works for you on that.  It was reasonable enough and I had a day to kill so I decided to do the touristy thing and go on an organized tour that included the 4 x 4 in the sand, In fact I rode in a hummer which was that much more cool.  That was a great ride.  The camel ride I’ve done too much at this point, but they had that as well.  I always appreciate belly dancing, so that was a great bonus… sitting out under the stars listening to traditional music with the sand in my hair… it was a blast. I must admit. 

There were some campy moments walking around the tents and trying on the apparel, but it was still awesome. 

It’s quite possible to jump in a rental car and drive to Oman, which Michael and I did.  We went all the way to the coast, drove along the beach, and played around a little.  In all we crossed 4 or 5 of the Emirates, and while in Oman we saw the different facial gear the Muslim women wear in Oman.  I was fascinated.  It had more of a metallic face guard looking thing I mentioned in my Qatar post.

I really enjoyed my time in Dubai.  It’s a beautiful Oasis.  The buildings are truly magnificent.  If the Emirates were trying to send a message to the Western World that they should pay attention, I think many many more are really listening.  We are a much more global world.  The days of the Sears Tower and the New York Empire State Building had their moments.  They had their day in the sun, and I think it’s great to see more representation around the world.  America needed to make itself known and now it needs to share that stage.  The more I travel, the more I do recognize the need for self actualization for many other nations.  We need to recognize the amazing qualities of every country and feel their pains and celebrate their wins.  Dubai and all of the UAE for that matter is an incredible Oasis of the world.  They have risen out of the Sand and are a real gem.  Cheers and Congrats on the Burj’s.  Great scenes in Mission Impossible.  Was cool to see where I was.

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)

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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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Rediscovered Europe: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Island in Bled Slovenia

I had seen most of Western Europe when I visited the Balkans, but I wasn’t prepared for the beauty and raw elements of war I would see.  Mountain views, lakes and valleys that would rival the best of Switzerland, rivers that rival the beauty of Idaho’s and untouched wilderness, the bridge in Mostar rival the arches of the canals of Venice, but evoke an emotional response.  The worst of the war torn parts remind me of some parts of Beirut.  Even the West Bank has been more cleaned up than some of the pits out of the buildings in Sarajevo.  The stories of the rebuilding of the Synagogue in Sarajevo… How many times can a building be rebuilt?

Night in Zagreb, Croatia

In contrast, Roman emperors vacationed in Croatia. croatia_bosnia Dubrovnik and Split are incredibly scenic and would rival that of any ports in Italy or France, and a fresh seafood or fish dinner would cost you much less.  I guess what I’m saying is, I loved it.  Belgrade and Sarajevo are the hidden gems of Europe, the passion and life, and recent history to blow your mind.  The travelers looking for secrets in Europe.  Here’s a great place to start.  It’s the Balkans.  Some of my best friends in Europe.  There’s something that goes deeper here.  Relationships are stronger, and go deeper, you can feel it.

My trip started in Zagreb the capital of Croatia with a night tour. We met up for a great dinner and ended up walking around parliament, and old town Zagreb. Zagreb itself did avoid much of the conflict in the Balkan conficts/wars that happened back in 92-93.

Remnants of the war are still visible.  There are more reasons to come and visit than the incredible night life.  There are fresh memories that will teach the world a lesson… this lesson is war is not kind to anyone.  War should be avoided at all costs, and the horrors and nightmares of war are real.  Those who only vacation at Disneyland or Disneyworld and spend their vacations with the Grand Canyon as the ultimate bucketlist need to come for a visit.  This land has a lot of lessons to teach. 

image

When we got close to the Republik of Srpska we came across these signs.  After spending time at the Cambodia land museum, I have been convinced that land mines do more danger to the citizens that have to live with these than any good they do for the military.  There are some crazy stats on how much the people are impacted by these.

 

Now before you think it’s all doom and gloom, that’s totally not the key take away.  It’s the opposite.  In fact my friend Michael, who I was traveling with, recently wrote about his experience on this same trip.  I highly encourage reading about his writeup on the former Hapsburg empire – Serbia, Romania, Bosnia & Herz, Montenegro, and Croatia. This trip started with a fellow colleague who lived in Croatia, Toni Frankola, a speaking team of Michael Noel, and Paul Swider.

This place is amazing, but as an American tourist, that gets a rise out of seeing something unlike anything I can find within the US or Western Europe.  I get excited. This was one of the best Europe vacations I’ve ever done.  I’ve seen Dubrovnik and Mostar on the front page of Bing on multiple occasions.  They really are spectacular.  The castle in Belgrade was an awesome place to walk around.  The cultural music and dancing we got at night was spectacular.  Very fun environment.  I think it was a good thing for Toni as well, as he recognized some of the tunes, and was surprised to see the similarities between Croatia and Serbia.  Good stuff.

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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?”