Year in Review 2018 – Joel Oleson Adventure Traveler Fun Photos

At the beginning of 2018, I started working at Blizzard Entertainment and visited a couple of offices in Europe as well and now two of my oldest sons started college.  Great accomplishments for which I’m very pleased.  As a result of supporting 2 in college, I’ve had to get good at cashing in airline miles.   Our big family trip this year was to Ethiopia and Tanzania and it was awesome!  The great migration and seeing the It’s one my wife has been asking to do for years.  I finished the Western Hemisphere UN (North and South America).  I started the year with 155 to go and ended with 163… but lots of great highlights as you’ll see below.

Screenshots above are from “App in the Air” based on Tripit.  Reality is somewhere around 1.5 million miles, but who’s counting?

These stats are primarily based on flights alone since I left Microsoft about 11 years ago.  It doesn’t count the visits by car or train.

8 New UN Countries

Roadtrip from Bissau to Dakar

  • Guinea Bissau
  • The Gambia
  • Senegal

Island hopping around Madagascar

  • Seychelles
  • Madagascar
  • Mauritius
  • Reunion (TCC)
  • Mayotte (TCC)

Weekend in the Caribbean

  • Antigua
  • Grenada

Revisits and some New Areas (Some selected photos below)


The tribes in the Omo Valley were like visiting my ancestors from 5,000-10,000 years ago.  Huddling in the grass huts and talking about their experiences was surreal. Having my son and nephew experience this ancient tribe was so fantastic.  I do worry these days are limited.  Life on this planet is changing quickly… There was a group of Chinese tourists complete with green screens and lighting equipment that beat us to one of the tribes and I struggled to not be heartbroken.  Just when you think there’s no way you’ll see a tourist…

The Great Migration is one of the most amazing things on the planet, and is the largest mammal migration of it’s kind with more than 1.5 million individuals.  I was told by my driver that I would cry I’d see so many wildebeests. I think my heart was full, but it was others in the group that voted to move on. I couldn’t get enough of these odd creatures.

Travel can be so much more interesting you see a place not how it is, but how it changes… our perspective changes…  a place can be so different at different times of the year.  Our driver was telling us about the different times of the year based on baby animals, the rainy seasons with the hippos and crocks, the dry season where the animals get close and the lions have an easier time.  Imagine how the Serengeti looks if you’re standing in the middle of a meercats den… every day a different story. (Yes, I did see Meerkats and they did NOT dissapoint!) The Wildebeests were a testament to a creator.  The creations of this planet make us think of organization on a massive scale rather than pure chaos.

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Watching The Lion King… in Nature play out in front of my eyes… now that brings you to tears!

lion hunt

Watching the lions in the Ngorongoro Crater was fascinating.  The density of large mammals is the most dense on the earth in the crater.   (Minus the lemurs in Madagascar more on that later). It was incredible to see this lioness be first tracked by a male, then go hunting. 

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This massive 49 meter tall bronze statue located on top of one of the twin hills known as Collines des Mamelles, outside Dakar, mixture of corruption, Stalinist architecture, and North Korean architecture.

I LOVED Madagascar…  The Lemurs, the Baobabs, the surprise trekking of nocturnal night lemurs by flashlight… oh, so amazing… There is so much rich and unique biodiversity in Madagascar, and while it’s so difficult to get there, it ended up being more amazing than I hoped.  Madagascar as a culture is still quite primitive and not without problems, but wow what an amazing experience.   You can read more about my experiences with the lemurs and baobabs of Madagascar. I couldn’t believe I found covered wagons like those who crossed the plains to Utah in Madagascar. I’ve seen a lot of camels, donkeys, and horses, but true classic covered wagons with wooden wagon wheels… that was a first in Madagascar for me.

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Seychelles with the largest nut, the large rocks, the beautiful beaches… I had the opportunity to do some diving.

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Venice is a magical city.  St Marcos Square with it’s looming tower and incredibly ornate frescoes, mosaics,and golden horses.  It’s a must see for any traveler, and even better on this my second visit.

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The Mosaics in Ravenna, Italy seem to capture lost mysteries.  It’s super fascinating to study and wander the dozens of basilicas and churches in the surrounding areas.

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From underwater sculpture gardens, to waterfalls and sulfur hot springs, Grenada was a very green relaxing spice island.

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Antigua is a beautiful island.  It got quite a bit of destruction recently mostly on Barbuda.  This dog followed me for over an hour.  By the end of my walk I had 6 dogs following me.

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Christ the Redeemer in Lisbon was a gift from Brazil

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Mont Sant Michel France

Mont Sant-Michel on the coast of France… very appropriate given the anniversary of the end of World War 1. Our visit to the coast included a walk along the beach in Normandy and a heavy heart.

Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more blogs on some of my adventures last year…  Thanks for your support!  Here’s to travel in 2019!

Current Travel Plans for 2019…

  • Family Spring Break trip to China – Xian Terra Cotta Warriors, Heavens gate, Glass bridge, Huge Buddah statues, Avatar Forest, and Pandas (My youngest LOVES Pandas!)
  • Remote South Pacific island hopping for my birthday including Vanuatu and Tuvalu and possible diving in the Great Barrier reef
  • TBD

Hope you’ll like and subscribe for more in 2019! Let me know what you’d like to see!

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Persian Persepolis Road Trip Shiraz to Esfahan Iran

Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC). It is situated 60 km northeast of the city of Shiraz in Fars Province, Iran. The earliest remains of Persepolis date back to 515 BC

I shouldn’t be one to give advice on where to go or where not to go, because I really see the world differently than the average person sitting at home wondering where to go on vacation.  People judge a place based on politics and past events.  I judge a place after visiting it and spending time with the people.  I find much of the warnings that people pass on are really unfounded for so many places in our amazing little world.  Really, Persia, Iran WOW!  Amazing.  Mind blowing stuff.  Thanks Obama for making this possible.  In 2008 I met a fellow technology enthusiast at a conference in Dubai who had an English Father and Persian Mother.  He grew up in Iran.  He invited me to visit.  The next time I’d come to the Persian Gulf about a year later I’d exhausted every method I could find on any website to get a valid visa to visit Iran.  I even found a professor at Berkeley who had a special program, but in the end I didn’t have the visa, but I was able to get an invitation.  Unfortunately no matter what I tried I could not get in.  After refused entry I boarded my plane back to Dubai and spent 4 hours at security in Dubai airport at the end of a 36 hour day trying to explain to security that I sincerely felt like my invitation and lack of visa was a good enough reason to be allowed to visit.  The Visa desk in Tehran explained there was no way he’d be allowed to let me enter without a visa.  No matter what my techy friend would say, there wasn’t a way to make it happen.

Couple more interesting things: “Normally they ask us to start the process two months before passenger trip and if they send the documents sooner they don’t start the visa process till two months before the trip.”

At the time, this was correct, it is subject to change…

Interests Section of Islamic Republic of Iran

2209 Wisconsin Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20007

Tel  :202-965-4990



Office hours: 8:00 am – 4:30 pm (except for official Holidays)

Customer Service Representatives can speak with you Monday through Friday from 8:00am to 8:00pm EST.


Then after Obama made that agreement, doors opened.  I was able to not only line up a travel company, but was able to get a visa through the Pakistan Consulate.  In fact, I found a half dozen tour companies that were willing to take me around.  I ultimately went with one that wasn’t an American one, and was one that met the price point.  They were on the list of approved companies.  For American’s you can’t just show up, and you can’t just get a visa and visit.  You have to go on an organized tour, but this tour was not exactly your typical Japanese tourist bus or the leader with the umbrella.  We were able to say where we wanted to go and what we wanted to see and it was off the charts fantastic!!  As you can tell from the title, we flew into Shiraz and spend a few days there, then visited Persepolis, and then went on to Isfahan.


Travel Itinerary:

Day 1

Shiraz: arrive at the airport transfer to the hotel and dinner.

Day 2

Full day city tour of Shiraz including Zandiyeh Complex(Bath,

Castle, Bazaar,Mosque/Ali Ebn Hamze Shrine, Hafez tomb,

Naranjestan garden, Eram garden

Day 3

Shiraz-Isfahan: drive to Isfahan via  Persepolis, Naqshe rostam

and Naqshe rajab and Pasargade

Day 4

Isfahan:  Full day city tour of Isfahan including Imam Complex (

Ali Qapu palace , Shah and Sheikh lotfollah, Khajoo and Sio She

pol bridges

Day 5

Isfahan: full day city tour of Isfahan to visit Vank cathedral,

Jame mosque and chehel sotoun palace, Fire temple




The Most Beautiful and Peaceful Places in the World


After the visit.  I’ll never be the same.  It wasn’t any one place.  It was the people, the faith, the diversity… yes really.  Armenian Christian, Old Zoroastrians, Young Jews,



Our wheels.  One day in Esfahan we decided to get closer to the people, so for a couple bucks we were on bikes.  This wasn’t the only amazing bridge in this old incredible city.  Found something you wouldn’t find in many other places.  Found a guy singing at the top of his lungs in under the bridge.  He wasn’t a crazy guy, he was a popular singer… Everyone loved it!


Relaxing on a nice cool day.



Modern Zoroastrian Temple we tracked down… Super cool place.  Yep it’s a fire temple still in use!!  We had a very interesting talk with the Zoroastrian Priest



Atashgah – Ancient Zoroastrian Fire temple overlooking Esfahan. This religion is the oldest monotheistic religion in the world.



Kabeh-e Zarthusht – Cube of Zoroaster, Naqsh-e Rustam, near Shiraz in Iran. This building is still a mystery. Is it connected to the Zoroastrianism religion?



Naqsh-e Rostam

Tombs of the great Kings of Persia!  Fantastic!!  These are bucket list items.  Definitely a must see in Persepolis outside of Shiraz.  The great Persian Kings from thousands of years ago really left their mark.  This really is the equivalent to the pyramids left by the kings of Persia and you can just imagine how magnificent they were in their heyday.

Xerxes, Cyrus, Darius… Amazing still very popular.



Grand entrance to the Palace of the Persian Empire


Ancient Ruins of Persepolis


It’s been 2500 years since the world was making their offerings to the Persian Kings of the vast empire.  With the pictures of the offering chiseled in stone it’s easier to imagine.  From a Christian perspective of history, it’s amazing how many of these kings stories in the bible contain these kings.

Don’t let anyone tell you that Iran is a desert that doesn’t have anything worth saving.  It’s definitely the opposite.  Amazing people, amazing culture, and under rated in so many areas.  Fantastic country that has a very rich culture.

I will admit I did see a couple of concerning things.  I saw a Down with America sign at the police station where a heavily armed guard was standing.  He didn’t seem interested in us, but at this same time we got the opposite experience from the people.  They didn’t seem to care really.  Showing up during the beginning of the negotiations, the people would ask us… “Why do you hate us?”  I don’t hate them.  I’m trying to understand them just as I would any state.  Politics these days are nasty.  If the people everywhere can understand on main street people are much more down to earth and open and interested in the people and culture.  Here in Southern California I find a lot of Persian people, with access to persian foods and a wide variety of attitudes that provide diversity.


Americans? Why do you hate us?  We don’t hate you…


Really there’s a lot we have in common include a can of Coke.


In this world, we have a lot to contribute and thank the Persians in our modern society. Cyrus allowed the Hebrews to continue living and worshiping as they chose, we know this not only from the bible, but from the writings on the clay tablets.   Rather than destroy local economies for their own selfish gain, the Persians worked to increase trade.



From Mary to the Ancient City of Merv Turkmenistan

Merv Turkmenistan

If you haven’t traveled to Turkmenistan, you’re not alone. I bet they really don’t see many visitors due to the challenges of getting approval to visit.  You can read about it on the Lonely Planet guide to Turkmenistan or trust me, there is no such thing as independent travel.  You’re required to have a guide and simply taking your guide to places you decide you want to go is also off the list.  You strictly have to check in as scheduled and not deviate off course.  In our travel along the silk road, Turkmenistan was initially planned to be a quick stop, but they wouldn’t have it.  They required us to spend at least one night and even that came across as extremely suspicious to them.  I do think we had some extra scrutiny, but after all the attention, we did make it through the border fairly quickly (about an hour).  It was good to know that we could essentially got to the front of the line as “tourists.”  We didn’t see any other tourists the entire time we were in the country, but I did meet a lot of friendly people and the nicest camel I’ve ever met in my life… and in my travels that is a lot!  The opposite end of the spectrum is the camel at Petra that spit and bit at me.

Turkmen Camel

While I’m on the topic of camels which is one of my favorite things about Turkmenistan, we saw a lot of camels simply roaming through the desert.  In some countries you see sheep on the hills.  In Turkmenistan, you see groups of camels by themselves just walking along the desert.  It’s amazing how long they can go without water.  There were often 2 or 3 adults among a group which may have a handful of young ones eating near by.  For these more wild camels we never knew how crazy they might be, but we took our chances for some good shots being cautious and then snuggling up with this lovable camel.

Turkmenistan Wild Camel

Kissy Camel lips

Turkmenistan Desert

The deserts of Turkmenistan do have a lot of green in them.  Our guide was pointing that from space it looks pretty green.  Much of what Turkmenistan looked like on the drive across looked like the picture above.  I hear there are even more great adventures out through the sand, but we didn’t get to spend that kind of time.  Our trip to Turkmen was a part of a bigger trip across the silk road.


Some maybe most wouldn’t be able to point out where Turkmenistan is on the map.  It’s north of Iran, West of Afghanistan, and shares a large border with Uzbekistan and finally the Caspian sea to it’s West.  We would start our journey in Bukhara and spend the night in Mary after seeing Merv. I want you to see a few pictures of life today in Turkmenistan based on what I saw as we drove across this fascinating land.



First you do see lots of flags and statues including the famous Turkmen symbols from the special star to the Turkmen rug symbols for the tribes on the national flag.  I think every tour in Turkmenistan starts out by explaining the nomadic tribes and their tribal symbols on the flag.  Great story or unifying tribes.


These ladies were selling their wares on the side of the road out in the desert.  Most of it looked hand made from camel fur.  Pretty amazing what they could make with a little wool and camel yarn.  These ladies covered up their faces pretty quickly when they saw us take our camera’s out.


Kyrgystan has yurts in the mountains, and Turkmen has yurts in the desert.


Many muslims in Turkmenistan (93%).  They are a very religious people it seemed to me for the most part, despite being a former soviet country.


Women wear very long dresses and young girls wear their long hair down.  Once married the hair goes up.


Statue and Soviet looking bus.  You do really see a variety of old and new in the cities.


Traditional dinner in Mary.  Yep more Shishka, but these were very fresh and tender.

Now for the old.  In Merv I had two favorites both part of the ancient city of Merv which is part of the Unesco heritage site.  Merv is the oldest and best-preserved of the oasis-cities along the Silk Route in Central Asia. The remains in this vast oasis span 4,000 years of human history. A number of monuments are still visible, particularly from the last two millennia.

Clay Walls of Kyzkala Palace Unesco Turkmenistan

Clay Walls of Kyzkala Palace Unesco Turkmenistan

The oasis formed part of the empire of Alexander the Great.  Fluted Clay Wall of Kyzkala Palace

Read more about the UNESCO site on their website



Palace, Dome and Ruins… (even a little came in the photo… can you see it?)

I appreciate this quote on Merv.  While I saw there, I tried to imagine the city in it’s 12th century times as potentially the largest city in the world!!  “Merv (Turkmen: Merw, Persian: مرو‎ Marw), formerly Achaemenid Satrapy of Margiana, and later Alexandria (Ἀλεξάνδρεια) and Antiochia in Margiana (Greek: Ἀντιόχεια τῆς Μαργιανῆς), was a major oasis-city in Central Asia, on the historical Silk Road, located near today’s Mary in Turkmenistan. Several cities have existed on this site, which is significant for the interchange of culture and politics at a site of major strategic value. It is claimed that Merv was briefly the largest city in the world in the 12th century. The site of ancient Merv has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.”


Merv was home to practitioners of various religions beside the official Sassanid Zoroastrianism, including Buddhists, Manichaeans, and Christians of the Church of the East.  While in much of it now you see mounds these were once great walls.  The idea that Zoroastrians were in the same town as Buddhists and Christians is amazing to me.


“It is during this period that Merv expanded to its greatest size—Arab and Persian geographers termed it “the mother of the world”, the “rendezvous of great and small”, the “chief city of Khurasan” and the capital of the eastern Islamic world. Written sources also attest to a large library and madrasa founded by Nizam al-Mulk, as well as many other major cultural institutions. Perhaps most importantly, Merv was said to have a market that is “the best of the major cities of Iran and Khurasan” (Herrmann 1999). It is believed that Merv was the largest city in the world from 1145 to 1153, with a population of 200,000”

As we walked around trying to soak in the history and imagine the vast cities within cities, we were in awe.


Now in much of what was the largest city, you see mounds.  In 1221 Merv opened it’s gates to the son of Genghis Khan, named Tolui.


Not much to see now.  Looking from the walls of the city toward the dome at sunset.


Artists rendition of the “before”

It is during this period that Merv expanded to its greatest size—Arab and Persian geographers termed it “the mother of the world”, the “rendezvous of great and small”, the “chief city of Khurasan” and the capital of the eastern Islamic world. Written sources also attest to a large library and madrasa founded by Nizam al-Mulk, as well as many other major cultural institutions. Perhaps most importantly, Merv was said to have a market that is “the best of the major cities of Iran and Khurasan” (Herrmann 1999). It is believed that Merv was the largest city in the world from 1145 to 1153, with a population of 200,000” – Merv Wikipedia Article

Fascinating to read the largest cities of the world over time.  Surprised not to see any Incan or Mayan cities or even Angkor Wat.  I think it’s a fun list but not complete.




From the top of the tower.  Dome in the distance.


Sultan Sanjar mausoleum

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum, the old dome.  It really is the best preserved of everything we saw in Merv.  This 12th-century mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, also in Sultan Gala is the largest of Seljuk mausoleums and is also the first dated mosque-mausoleum complex.

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum old 1890


Sultan Sanjar mausoleum dome merv

The stacked rocks reveal that buddhists have visited the place and leave prayer rocks.

muslim star





The ruins of Merv were fascinating to explore.  With civilization after civilization for millinum it is overwhelming to think of this area as some of the oldest continuous civilization.


In conclusion… Turkmenistan was a fascinating visit.  I do recommend Turkmenistan on any silk road tour.  I wish I could have made it to the door to hell or derweze.  Make sure you look that up to see if it fits you’re schedule.  Otherwise if you want some history and friendly camels, Soviet city of Mary/ and Ancient city of Merv is a great destination.

Touring Iraq – Travel Adventures in Kurdistan

Iraq travel

Middle East Peace Talks - Iraq

Everyone I know who have ever visited Iraq were there for military reasons.  When I told a local in Iraq I was a tourist, they said… “Tourist?” What’s that? Tourism is really a foreign word, but no longer.  The Kurdistan region of Iraq is open.  Visa restrictions in Iraqi Kurdistan aren’t bad for many western countries.  For Americans you can currently get a 15 day visa on arrival!  I was impressed how easy it would be to get into such an incredible place.  The cradle of civilization.  Abraham himself is said to have traveled to this area.  Chaldeans, Assyrians, Babylonians, there is a serious history to this region of the two rivers.  I stayed in the Kurdistan region my entire stay, but traveled through a number of check points going both ways between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.  We ultimately took two routes between the two cities by cab.  One went on the highway and through check points.  We were worried there might be problem with driving between the cities, but the road itself was controlled by Kurdish forces.  So while we did get our passports checked a couple of times.  We did avoid entering Kirkuk and we avoided Mosul.  I really wanted to go to Nineveh and the tombs of the prophets, but instead stuck with our plans to spend time exclusively in the cities.

Iraq road map

Our route through the Iraqi-Kurdistan region.  Syria just on the other side of Mosul and the hills of Iran on the other side of Suliamaniyah.  Yep those hills!  While we were in Erbil (Arbil/Irbil) we met a man in the square who was a Syrian refugee.

Erbil, Iraqi-Kurdistan

Citadel fountain

I started my visit with the best, the ancient Citadel.  At 6000 or 7000 years old this citadel is the one of the longest continuously inhabited cities.

Erbil Iraq Clock Tower

The fountain and clock tower attract vendors and families coming to the beautiful square to shop and take pictures.

Old pictures of Erbil show the Citadel and the Minaret.  Over 500 years ago the city of Erbil was only what was on the hill protected by the city walls, and the minaret.


We walked nearly all the way around the citadel hill.  “A city on a hill cannot be hid.” I have to wonder if this old saying came from this city.  As we walked I saw a group of old men.  I needed to find a restroom.  I just had to go and decided to ask them.  We found this tea house was actually a game center.  The men were drinking tea and playing some high volume game of dominoes involving slamming tiles.  Even though they spoke little english and we spoke little to no Kurdish or Arabic we were able to build trust enough after playing a couple of games and getting tips from our new friends.  In travel I have found there are moments to really dive in.  It’s not all about going to tourist destinations.  It’s about learning to understand people and visit new people and cultures.

Playing Dominoes game in Iraq

Most people if you told them you were going to Iraq to visit.  They would say avoid crowds.  Well, in a local market in Erbil we seem to have met the real masses.

Iraq Crowd in the market

The faces on the people do seem to be hard, but I can attest that the Kurds are some of the kindest people you will meet.  They have sacrificed much.  It has not been an easy life.

Cotton Candy Kids

Life goes on… Kids on their way to school

Chaldean Christian Church in Iraq

Our last night in Erbil we went to the Christian part of town.  This Chaldean church was in service.  My friend Michael and I enjoy visiting cathedrals, mosques, temples, and find that you can learn more about it’s people by understanding their passions, their worries and their faith in God.  We stayed for the entire service.  The prayer for the Filipinos was so strong it brought tears to my eyes.  The group of minority Christians in this vast land of Muslims with their faith prayed for those suffering in the Philippines.  It was so touching to see them turn their thoughts.  They have not had an easy life here in Iraq, but many came here to provide a better life for their families back home.  They saw this as a land of opportunity.  One of the people at the church had lost 30 members of their family in the Philippines.  It made the disaster personal talking with this group and hearing them pour out their hearts.

(This picture above and a couple of the others were taken by Michael Noel travel blogger at, my good friend and my traveling companion on this and may of my trips.)

Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi-Kurdistan

When we first planned to come to Iraqi-Kurdistan we tried to find connections in our technology.  You can read more about the visit to the University and our technology sessions with the Computer Science students and faculty of University of Human Development (UHD) in Sulaymaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan.  Those who wonder how I travel the world best understand it is my passion to visit the world and connect with people of all cultures and people.  How I do it is through my connections and relationships. I sacrifice my time and money as well to visit places around the world like this, and not only are the people changed through our encounters but I am changed.  Hearing stories from the students blows my mind making Iraq real and the horror stories of Saddam’s rule.  One of the assistant professors told me about his 3 brothers being killed and how he barely escaped and just recently came back from spending many years in the UK. Amazing personal stories.  I feel for these people.  Over night I became friends on Facebook and LinkedIn with over 15-20 of the students in the room.  I hope I can help them in the future in their pursuits.

Iraq University Students

So after a couple of nights in Erbil, the next morning we left for Sulaymaniyah by cab.  We arranged for a driver to take us on the road through the hills through the Kurdistan region.  On the way back we were feeling more confident and drove back through the highway faster route through Kirkuk.

When we first arrived I did a quick search and came across the Amna Suraka Museum known as red prison or Red Intelligence Museum. This prison was the former Ba’ath intelligence headquarters and prison.  Just as some death camps and concentration camps have been preserved, this captures the essence of torture and death in the treatment of Kurds.  In my travels I have found it fascintating to visit places in the world where minorities have been treated poorly.  I see a lot of parallels in how the Armenians were treated by the Ottomans as the Kurds were by Saddam’s regime.

Amna Suraka torture

Turned into a museum at the behest of First Lady of Iraq, Hero Talabani, in 2000, the façade still bears the bullet holes evidencing the scars of its past.

Iraqi sorrow

Our cab driver shared his person experience having been there only 11 years prior.  His wife and 3 of his family were killed.

women and children suffering

You really could feel the emotion of the place. The prison was haunting with

hall of mirrors iraq

Hall of mirrors… represent those that were killed in the mass genocide

Unmarked graves

There are other reminders of mass death in this region.  So many unmarked graves, and these that are marked with simple rocks that dot the hillside.

sheep balls menu

Interesting food choices!


Hope is strong in this region.  They are ready to bring in the New…  The tower in the background which looks like it’s from Dubai is made by the same architect.

iraqi gondola and ferris wheel

It still isn’t Disneyland, but would you believe that there is an amusement park and gondola?  The construction going on is also quite impressive.  There is a lot going on here.  Change is coming.  The people are ready to see change.

gold mosque

Their faith will carry them.

cable tower

On our final departure we saw this wild tower piece of metal near the airport.  It took at least 4 scans to work our way from the street to the gate at the airport.  They are very serious about security.  I felt safe while in Kurdistan.  Speaking of God, I felt like he was watching out for me on this trip.  The faith of so many in this region is very strong, and the people of this land itself has had a strong connection Abraham’s God for thousands of years.

One of my most fascinating trips.  I thoroughly enjoyed the trip.  It isn’t for everyone, but I do see reason for investment.  I see passion and interest in the people.  People are ready for change.  As well, the Kurds are great people, a great heritage that has suffered greatly, and will rise from the dust.  I made some great friendships that will last though the years.

Technology Speaking Tour of Northern South America Kick off


STP-LogoI’m happy to announce the Sharing the Point Crew is headed out once again to connect with folks in under served parts of the world.  We are headed to Northern South America.  This “Tour” will take us across the islands of Trinidad and Tobago where we hope to connect with isolated SharePoint folks, to the only English speaking country in South America in Georgetown Guyana and from there to Caracas, Venezuela and on to popular SharePoint city of Bogota, Colombia (home of Communidad SharePoint Colombia and our final stop in Quito Ecuador.  As far as I can tell, no other US SharePoint speakers have ever spoken in these cities. It’s a great opportunity to unite the global community, and build new communities.  Our success is based on getting the word out.  Please help us!  Please share with your social networks!

Fechas de Gira/Tour Dates

STP Georgetown, Guyana                  9:00am on Tuesday, 3 September
STP Caracas, Venezuela                     9:00am on Monday, 9 September
STP Bogota, Columbia                       9:00am on Tuesday, 10 September
STP Quito, Ecuador                           9:00am on Wednesday, 11 September

Gratis SharePoint Formación De Los mejores altavoces de SharePoint!


Sharing the Point South America 2013 es una iniciativa conducida por las comunidades de SharePoint diseñada para ayudar a educar a usuarios sobre el potencial de la plataforma de SharePoint. El mejor grupo de evangelistas y expertos de SharePoint estarán en esta gira que presentara los usos prácticos para SharePoint en el mundo real.

Ofrecemos este * libre * formación y subvencionamos personalmente el entrenamiento para ayudar al crecimiento de la comunidad de SharePoint y ayudar a proporcionar oportunidades a las personas.

Special Thanks to Elias Mereb, MVP and Andres Rojas for helping us on connecting with the community and logistics in Colombia and Venezuela.  Andres is helping us look into doing a bigger event in Bogota with additional speakers and tracks.  If interested please coordinate with myself and Andres.

Ricardo Munoz, SharePoint MVP from Costa Rica is planning on helping us this time around as he did in Southern South America.  He translated our sessions last time and has plans to help us out.

Please Share the word!  We really want to connect with folks who have NEVER been to a SharePoint event, and our desire is to launch communities in all of the cities where there is no established user group or SharePoint or IT community.  All this training is free.

We are still looking for sponsors if anyone is interested please contact me.

For sure those who have put forth resources willing to sacrifice time and funds to go are:

Michael Noel

Michael Noel (Twitter: @MichaelTNoel) is an internationally recognized technology expert, bestselling author, and well known public speaker on a broad range of IT topics. He has authored several major industry books that have been translated into over a dozen languages worldwide. Significant titles include SharePoint 2010 Unleashed, Exchange Server 2010 Unleashed, Windows Server 2008 R2 Unleashed, ISA Server 2006 Unleashed, and many more.
Currently a partner at Convergent Computing in the San Francisco Bay Area, Michael’s writings and extensive public speaking experience across all seven continents leverage his real-world expertise helping organizations realize business value from Information Technology infrastructure.

Paul Swider

Paul J. Swider (@pswider) is the CTO of RealActivity an organization focused on improving collaboration, compliance and fiscal responsibility in healthcare. He has two decades of proven software and healthcare experience and is involved in many community and philanthropic efforts including a founding member of Sharing the Point, an international effort which offers free training opportunities in emerging markets. Paul is an accomplished technology entrepreneur straight from a barrier Island near Charleston, SC where he occasionally gets to chase the tides and winds as an avid boater and sailor.

Joel Oleson

Joel (@joeloleson) Joel was the first dedicated SharePoint Administrator ever. He’s been working with SharePoint nearly 13 years. SharePoint Evangelist & Managing Director at Salient6. Checkout his popular SharePoint blog at and his travel blog at

Ricardo Munoz

Ricardo is the SharePoint Consulting Manager at LatinShare, and a Popular SharePoint MVP and speaker in Costa Rica and Chile.

Registration Links (en espanol) :

Can’t join us because you’re in Spain?  Find us at the Iberian SharePoint Conference in Madrid on October 10.

The Quest Has Begun – To See Every Country in the World by Age 50

I started my global travel back in 2001 when I first visited Paris, France.  I realized I could travel with my profession by getting good at what I do, and in speaking at conferences.

Since that time I made a number of personal travel goals.  It started with a personal Goal in 2002. To travel to a new country every year – ongoing

You can follow my travels on my blog here at

the World

My “Where I’ve been” map…


  • Travel to a new country every year – ongoing
  • Visit the 7 Wonders of the World – complete
  • Qualify for the Travelers Century Club (75 TCC countries) – complete
  • Visit 100 TCC Countries according to TCC rules – 100 TCC countries – complete
  • Visit 100 UN Countries – complete
  • Visit all the states in the US 48/50, Australia 6/8, and Canada 8/14 and island nations around the UK and in the Med
  • Visit all of the UN Countries – Making progress, over 100 More than half way!

After reading Chris Guillebeau and his quest to visit all of the countries in the world and seeing his cool infographic, I decided I needed to make my new goal official… before I was saying things like… I want to visit all of the countries in the world before I die.

New Goal

To visit every Country* in the world by my 50th birthday

*Country as defined by the UN by my 50th birthday. 105/193

Yes, I’m a dad, and my family is my first priority. I won’t let that get in the way of my family life, kids school, college, missions, marriages and so on.

Speaking of which, I was doing a friend comparison on the “Where I’ve been” app on facebook.  Of the 392 friends I have that use this app, my 13 year old son Jared is #9 on my the list (of most traveled friends).  We have 33% of countries in common.  I hope this means that he’s been able to travel quite a bit with me. 

How will work handle this?  My travel schedule is already baked into the agreement I have with my fantastic employer Salient6.  They support me in my global evangelism and I can take 4 “big trips” a year.  In Chris’s world these would be similar to his round the world trips.  For me, I pick a region that I’m going to be speaking near, and work with awesome sponsors who sponsor my friends and I in building communities which bring education, connections, networking, which provide a pipeline of work and industry into their part of the world.  We continue to evolve the community building, and education part of what we do.  I hope to be making some announcements in this area for our upcoming travel to Equatorial Africa in the Fall.

Joel’s Travel Highlights 2012

Baby Penguins

Baby Penguins
Baby Penguins

In some ways, I have ultimately travelled less this year than in the last 3 years, but in other ways I really made it count when I was traveling… from visiting new countries to building new communities.  This post is a cross post from my technical world and my travel world in a wrap up of my travel for the year.

Taking someone who loves travel more than nearly anything and saying be very selective about where you go. You end up with some incredible trips. In my quest to combine my love for exploring the unknown and building and creating communities in places where they don’t exist has been an epic journey which inspired and kicked off my travel blog this year…  Can you believe I’ve posted over 30 travel posts since April 2012 when my travel blog launched?

Here is a list of some of the Epic places along with the incredible new communities launched in this beautiful world of ours.

1. #STPSA Sharing the Point South America and Antarctica – HUGE Kudos to AvePoint and Dan Holme. Ricardo MVP from Costa Rica/Chile was our regional host. We spoke in Santiago Chile, Montevideo Uruguay, and Buenos Aires Argentina and even spoke to the Penguins. The first community gathering ever in Uruguay and the largest gatherings ever in Argentina. One baby penguin launched me into Youtube stardom with half a million views and video and personal mentions on Huffington Post,, ABC, CBS, FOX, and viewed on TV on FOXNews, and mentioned by friends on TV in Japan and Costa Rica and more. Dave Rubenstein was gratious enough to allow us to give the debrief of the Community Building Activities in South America at SPTechCon in SF following a Seattle/Redmond trip reconnecting with a lot of MS friends including night out with MVPs gathered for MVP Summit and flight with Ricardo and share some select photos and videos.



2. Microsoft Bulgaria #MSDAYS made the next community building trip happen. Radi and Tihomir were amazing hosts. Was great spending time with Radi (SharePoint MVP & MCM) and his team… and I *really* enjoyed meeting the SharePoint User Group at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant in Sofia Bulgaria. Amazing food. Amazing place. It was Darko who helped organize and with our help launch the Macedonia community. That was a big highlight of that trip. Their first and largest SharePoint gathering. Darko a SharePoint MVP in Skopia Macedonia took care of us, but even beyond that it was Betim and his group of SharePoint/SQL friends in Kosovo helped me understand there really are SharePoint people everywhere. Spent 3 of the 5 layover visits to Istanbul this year. Let me tell you, Istanbul is an AWESOME hub. Great place for a layover and the Turkish lounge is awesome, one of the best in the world. Anatolia and ultimately Goreme and Cappadocia are amazing. Highly recommended for your bucket list. UNESCO highlight. The underground cities with space for 5000 residences will blow your mind if the dozens of 4th century cave churches and cave monasteries don’t. Easily one of my favorites places in the world.


3. #STPAfrica Sharing the Point Africa – Africa is the place where there’s a lot of SharePoint Communities yet to be built. This would be my 6th Trip to Africa. I LOVE IT. It provided me the opportunity to reconnect with the very strong communities of Johannesburg and Capetown. I remember the first SharePoint Saturday in Johannesburg and Capetown from years ago. It’s amazing how strong the communities are with Veronique in Johannesburg. Alistair did an amazing job in Capetown. Was great to support both of their efforts on this trip. On our way over to Africa we stopped in Dubai on an 8 hour layover and helped get the community together. I’ve spent time in Dubai back in 2008 for the SharePoint Conference, and for TechEd Middle East in 2010. It’s a great venue and fascinating people gathered from around the region. This time it was just the locals and helping Mai Omar Desouki, Baraah M Omari, Usama, and Salman. Mai asked us a bunch of questions about getting the Dubai community started. After the midnight dinner and the dozen passionate SharePoint folks, I think it was enough to help her get it off the ground. With Eric Harlan’s help, Mai and others helped do their first SharePoint Saturday this past weekend and I’m happy to report the community is doing well. Another new community we launched was with the help of Jim Bob Howard. He has been pinging me for over a year trying to get a SharePoint Saturday organized in Kenya. What an event that was… over 100 people attended and with the help from locals we helped them get a regular user group organized. They’ve been able to meet since with great attendance. Hiking Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania was the peak of physical tests of my life. 61 Miles later I’d hiked the longest I’ve ever done. A side visit to Ethiopia to do some philanthropic work and vacation to visit the stone churches of Lalibela and excursion to visit the Ark of the Covenant in Axum, and great castles of Gondar.


4. Slovenia SharePoint Days 2012 in Kransjska Gora, Slovenia and SharePoint Adriatics in Zagreb Croatia both had very incredible events. The Slovenian event has been going on for years. This is my second annual, and I plan to go back next year. Branka and Urska and the whole crew at Kompas Xnet in Slovenia really know how to put together an event that makes you feel special. Toni and Nenad (MVPs in Croatia) did an incredible job. From there after a great stopover in Istanbul (site of a large SharePoint conference I spoke at in 2008) we traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia. This was SharePoint virgin territory. Microsoft themselves has only been in Georgia for 2 years with an office of 6 passionate folks. Georgia was originally planned to be a dinner. With Microsoft’s help, especially David from MS, we pulled off more than double the largest event they’ve ever had with over 50 people in attendance. We were feeling pretty good when we met our friends from Armenia. Manvel from Armenia organized a van from a relative to drive 5 hours one way to pick us up in Tbilisi. They even had to get Visas to travel to Georgia a place they hadn’t travelled prior. Huge sacrifice. When we arrived at the envisioning center in Yerevan we found they had 96 folks register and 125 people show up!!! That’s never happened in all of the SharePoint events I’ve ever attended. We’ve never had more folks show up than register. We usually assume 50% is pretty good for a free event. How about 125% on a Friday night at 7PM! We were very well received and had an incredible time with the community in our 3 hour event on a Friday night. Very humbling. I’ve seen this community getting organized. Both of these communities are packed with passionate people.


Garni Pagan Temple in Armenia

New UN Countries Visited 2012: Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Antarctica (3 TCC), Albania, Kosovo (TCC), Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kenya, Tanzania, (Zanzibar TCC), Ethiopia, Georgia, and Armenia + Family UN Travel: Barbados, St Lucia

New Communities Launched/1st Meeting: Uruguay, Argentina (there was previously an online one in South America), Dubai, Kosovo, Kenya, Georgia, Armenia

Total Countries: 126 (TCC), 97 UN strict rules (100 UN if you count airline stops)

Travel related Bucketlist items completed 2012:

  • Visit all 7 or 8 continents (that the Americans count)
  • Hike to the peak of Mt. Kilimonjaro
  • Have a Youtube Video go viral and get virtually famous Smile
  • Go on a Cruise (first cruise was to Southern Caribbean)
  • Visit the Underground Cities and Cave Churches of Cappadocia (Turkey)
  • Visit the Rock Hewn Churches of Ethiopia
  • Scuba Dive Africa (Zanzibar)

You can read about these trips and more on if you heard about something I haven’t blogged about, let me know what you want to hear more about!

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

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

Petra Jordan the Treasury

The Treasury at Petra in Jordan

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Sea Mud
Dead Sea Mud

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

Having Fun with Dead Sea Mud

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

Waters of the River Jordan

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

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

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

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

Evil Camel in Petra Jordan
Evil Camel in Petra Jordan

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

The Monastery at Petra Jordan
The Monastery at Petra Jordan

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

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

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

Jordan Travel Tips:

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

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

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

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

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

Insane Donkey Ride in Petra

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

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

Travel is the Business–The Secret to Creating the Time and Money

I made a goal for myself to go to a new country every year, about 8 years ago.  I travelled to over 100 during that time.  When you combine your passion and your career, what is stopping you.  I believe I can do whatever I want to, as long as there is passion to match the desire.

Question: I am curious about how you finance your trips, though that may be too personal a question to expect someone to explain–maybe instead, ways to travel within a budget….I am also curious as to whether you ever saw a “non-optimal” age for your kids to be traveling.

Joel: In the past nearly all of my trips are paid by my employer.  It started back in 2001.  I was invited to speak as a uniquely qualified expert in a new product that would be called SharePoint.  I was the only one who knew the product in Microsoft IT, and the European field was getting together for an event in Paris.  My manager wanted to go, but my director chose me.  He asked me to travel with him and to get a passport.  It was a unique opportunity or so you’d think.  It’s been repeated hundreds of times for me, but in this instance I had something… knowledge.  That was the difference.  So I packed my bags and got a passport.  My first real trip outside the US, Canada, and Mexico.  I was impressed with the crazy driving, and just about how everything was so different, the food, the culture, the people.  I couldn’t get enough.  I was afraid I’d make someone upset, so I only booked the time of the conference.  It wasn’t until I was headed home, and most of my traveling companions were staying for the weekend that I realized I had missed out on a secret thing known as extending.  There was no taboo for staying over and getting the flight on Sunday evening and spending the whole weekend in Paris instead of an evening or something like that.  I would never make that mistake.  I would always learn to incorporate a bit of adventure into every trip.  It’s the research… You can find out how I plan to travel: Top 10 Way to Prepare for Epic Travel

Now I find I don’t even stay in the city, I’m incorporating multiple events and multiple adventures.  The companies incentive is to support that because it costs less, and they get more out of a single trip.  If I hit London, Paris, and Prague, it’s only 200-300 for the side trips and 600-800 across the pond if not more.

When I was at Microsoft in IT I would get the Marketing product team to pay, I became an exception as someone uniquely qualified to share real world best practices from Microsoft for the field.

When working for Quest software there was value in putting together customer events around the locations I was interested in visiting.  With SharePoint (the product I am an influencer in,) it really is everywhere, and the power of community and my experience of networking and blogging has brought the world very close.  The community is extremely global.

One quick experience: I had made a connection in Egypt. I wanted to see the pyramids and speak at the user group.  I was speaking at a conference in London, and was willing to pay out of pocket to go.  The flight from London to Cairo was around $200-300 and I’m sure I could get a cheap hotel.  Instead I sold the value of speaking to the user group and $400 to reach a new community was worth it.  For me there was huge value in making connections all over the world.  Marwan the user group lead has been a great contact, and I’ve had incredible engagements with him.  He’s since moved to the UK.

That isn’t always true though.  I did pay out of pocket to fly my family to Barcelona and drove to Rome and to Pompeii.  That’s just watching flights to London and Barcelona.  It’s often cheaper to fly to London, and then fly on a discount European airline.  We did that to Morocco and Hungary and drove to Prague.

In Asia as well, I priced out flights to Bangkok one of the cheaper Asian hubs, and we spent most of our time in the mountains.  I often look at the main location of the event and see where I can fly for $300 or under per person.  It’s amazing what you can see in any region for just a little bit more.

Question: How do you make time to go on these adventures? Is your job really lenient and do you have to spend a lot to make these trips? I love to travel but I feel like I won’t be able to if I get a job and so I’ve been trying to research jobs that travel but that was a fail. What’s your strategy? (I’m a recent college graduate and I want to travel!!! Start my own adventures!!!)

Let me take this with each of my jobs.  While at MS, I would be working while traveling speaking at the conferences, and when the event is over each night or on the weekends I would be in travel mode.  I would also occasionally use vacation time or work while on the road, that was the more common thing while at Quest.  When I was at Quest software I’d be on the road for weeks at a time going from event to event, and often there would be lunches, or dinners or events and lots of filler time when I’d be doing email, working on strategies, and what things really turned to was anytime I was spending with my friends who were influencers became gray area.  Work and Play became a very thick gray area.  Now I have a hard time speaking to my arrangement because it’s one that I arranged with my boss.  There was more value to MS and Quest, and while now at the LDS Church, I believe the value is in me as an influencer and keeping connected with the community.  It doesn’t matter whether I bring a Book of Mormon with me, as that’s a different department.  I appreciate the flexibility I do have, and try not to abuse it.  Essentially I fit in extreme travel a few times a year, some of it is vacation time, and some of it is “training” or admin time.

Even if money was no object, then it’s time.  I have found that as long as my family has a big trip they are looking forward to, I can get away with some pretty incredible trips.  That’s a secret.  We’re planning on a southern Caribbean cruise, so my trip to Africa doesn’t seem as big of a deal.

Question: I also discovered Joel’s blog on yahoo and i think he is just a millionaire spending his fortune travelling the world…or maybe as he says he has some strategies that i would kindly ask him to share with us so that we can all share his experience of travel around the world or shall i say reading the full length of a book from page one to the last..

Let’s take one of my recent trips.  SLC->Frankfurt->Athens->TelAviv/Ramallah->Cyprus->Thessaloniki->London->Berlin->Tallin (Estonia)->Riga->Lithuania->Minsk->Kiev->Odessa(Ukraine)->Vienna->Bled(Slovenia)->Ljubljana->SLC

That trip happened in less than 2 weeks included 3 events that each helped cover the flights.  I shared hotels in a number of cities with friends, and ultimately spent about as much on food as I would at home. My other secret is I spend my blog sponsor/advertising money on community travel, so that’s hotel rooms, food, and expenses.  It’s all part of my business and offsets the taxes for my business.  My business is travel.  My SharePoint blog has done so well, that the ads do more than $1500 / month, and the reviews I do make more than that.  It’s a nice supplement for my travel budget, and ultimately the family cruise this summer will be paid by blog money. 

Travel tip: If travel becomes part of your business & work… the flights, hotels, and so forth become tax deductible.  Make your blog or writing, or pictures into your business.  Truth is I find that blogging, photos, videos (thanks penguin) and gathering the memories and networking is extremely valuable.  Traveling all over the world is more enjoyable connecting with people before hand through blogs, facebook, twitter and so on provide opportunities that otherwise would not be available.  No reservations is definitely how things happen.  I am a very risk taking kind of guy.  I’ve stayed with friends in Jordan, Israel, and stayed in $6 hostels in Cambodia and Indonesia.  (Not when I’m with my kids.)

Question: I just discovered your blog through yahoo’s post of your penguin vid, and since I’ve always had an interest in traveling, I subscribed via email. My very first question is the same as Sam’s – financing travel. That is the single my dreams of travel haven’t come to fruition. I look forward to reading your blogs, but I especially look forward to reading that particular blog when you write it.

Speaking at conferences as suggested above, it’s not big money, in fact the money will help you cover your main expenses and that’s if you’re a great speaker.  In the beginning I’d negotiate with the speaker manager and sometimes just get the flight covered and then work out sharing a room, or pay that part out of pocket.  To get started you speak for free, and network like crazy.  You find out who the influencers are and get to know them on a personal level.  The speakers in my community are a very tight group, we end up all connected to each other, so reputation and clout are huge.  Don’t burn bridges.  We help each other, including helping out those who run the events.  I am always disappointed when I don’t get invited, but rather than stew… I make sure the event manager knows I am interested for next year, and make sure I’ve got well prepared very early submitted sessions.  A bad reputation for doing a bad job, sticks around a long time.  A lot of that world is about timing, and who you know.  I don’t think that’s much different between industries.  My job is knowing who is doing what, and making sure they know where I stand.  Speaking in Bulgaria or Slovenia, or really anywhere on the planet is the trick.  There was an event in Bangladesh, and I was so upset I wasn’t invited even though there wasn’t anyone outside Bangladesh that was there.  I reached out to the coordinator and said, hey… I would like to speak at your next event.  Even if I can’t make it, I will make an effort.  It’s on my list of places I want to visit, and even though they couldn’t afford my flight, I may be able to find a sponsor that would want me there, and I may be able to work it out with my travel schedule.  My schedule being something that provides balance with family life, my 9-5 world, and my passion for travel that is always there.  I’ve found that my travel junkiness starts wearing off after 2 weeks of constant travel.  3 weeks without my family and I’m spent without some serious stimulation.

If you read my post on frequent flier miles, you’d see that getting the flight in coach doesn’t mean you’ll fly in coach.  There are strategies of getting status and keeping it, and leveraging those miles when you need to.

At this point I do believe I could fly free to anywhere in the world, because I know someone in that area that would have connections to vendors or events in that area.  I have a short list of places I’d like to visit and connect with people on twitter in my community in those areas.  It really is a Win/Win.  I get to visit the area and connect with the community to really understand the culture.

Lesson:  My business is speaking at conferences, money paid for sponsors on my blog/product reviews, social media consulting, I’m hoping to build not just the technical blog, but my travel blog to where I’m working with the National Geographic and Discover, and Travel Channel or vendors like ScottVest and whether it’s videos, pictures, articles or whatever, I’m partnering in that world and doing what I love.  I Love Travel and I love SharePoint which equals enterprise social networking, collaboration and Intranets… it’s awesome, but I like putting eggs in a couple of baskets, and I welcome more engagement in travel and money making ventures with vendors through this blog as the audience grows and is engaged in my trips.

My advice to anyone reading this would be to get involved.  Start a blog, start sharing your photos, videos, and begin networking.  SEO goes up with engagement.  That’s what the Google Penguin is asking for and that’s what the baby penguin delivered.  

This is what I’ve lined up for the rest of 2012:

  • I’m doing the Southern Caribbean in August including nearly a week in Puerto Rico. – Family trip, but I’ll likely be hooking up with a friend in PR.  I’ve been there once before on a speaking engagement (paid travel) that was a giveaway.  Great story for another time… a post on Puerto Rico. 
  • I’ll be doing South Africa, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, and that region including a hike up the mighty Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Sponsorships are coming together…
  • I’ll be doing Slovenia, Tunisia and Malta and possibly Gaza – I’ve got a sponsor for the long haul and for Gaza.  Looking for sponsors to help me get to Tunisia and Malta.