Friday, February 26, 2010


Hey Everyone,

Just a quick note to say that I am in Morocco. It has been wonderful to stay with Kevin and Keely and relax a little (especially since I got sick about the same time I got here). I didn't have much to report from my time in Casablanca, but these last few days I have been traveling with Ryan and our new addition, Michelle, and have had some fantastic adventures!!!

I don't have time to write now, but did just want to check in (I realized today that I passed my limit between blog posts again), so I owe some stories... so please check back soon. I'll tell you about my first Hammam (bath house) experience, which was quite exciting, as well as my first experience eating escargo, lamb's head, and a few other things, and my experiences in several Moroccan towns. Please check back soon -- I'll post Sunday if not before.

So you know, I am doing well, having a great time here, and am getting excited about coming home before too long. I'll write more about that as well!


Friday, February 19, 2010

Egypt Adventures!

Hi Friends!

After our "underwhelming" experiences (as a fellow traveler so eloquently put it) with our visits to the Valley of the Kings and Queens, I didn't expect too much from the remaining sights in Egypt... but I was wrong!

Our final day in Luxor (Wednesday), however, I had a great time. Ryan and I decided to rent bikes in the early afternoon and rode along the Nile to Karnak at the recommendation of some other people at our hotel. It was a nice ride and the breeze was wonderful since it was about 100 degrees there.

I wasn't sure if we'd be able to see Karnak from the outside, so we tried riding around it. We ended up riding through a residential village. At one point, I went to put my camera in the side pocket of my backpack and dropped it. I stopped my bike to get it, and a group of guys working on a building got our attention and asked me to take a picture of them. They were so fun... posing for the camera:

Ryan didn't want to go into Karnak. I thought it looked cool from the outside and felt like I should see it since we were there already, so I went in alone. I am soooo glad I did -- it is one of my favorite things I've ever seen!
(My attempt to "walk like an Egyptian")

Karnak is a fantastic temple built over the reign of many Pharaohs and more than a thousand years (I think). And it was AMAZING. I was in for about an hour and didn't see the whole thing... and I was moving pretty quickly. You walk in through a row of statues, and into this room with hundreds (again, I think) of enormous pillars all covered in pictures and hieroglyphics. Then there are rooms and rooms off of the sides, all different and interesting... With pictures like in The Prince of Egypt. From the pictures you could probably get a gist of the story being told even without being an Egyptologist. I was moving too quickly to come up with too many stories, but could have been entertained for a long time.  I like places where you can just explore, and it was like that:-).

While I was there, the cutest group of pre-teens came up and asked to take pictures with me. They practiced their English (What is your name?, Where are you from?, etc). And waved and said hi every time I saw them afterwards. I was continually impressed wih the gracious openness and kindness of every Egyptian I interacted with who was not trying to sell something, and even many who were. Apparently while I was in Karnack Ryan was getting his picture taken with 30 Cairo University students in the visitor center area:-).

After riding our bikes back, we went to buy train tickets -- intending to take an overnight train for the 11 hour trip back to Cairo. However, we found that there were no tickets on any train that evening, and foreigners were having trouble buying tickets for the next few days of travel, also. We went to the Tourist Information Center where an extraordinarily helpful man there tried pulling strings, and called the bus companies to see if we could take a bus back. Ultimately, we had two choices. The first was to take a bus to another city and then another bus to Cairo. The second "adventurous" (according to the guy helping) option was to get on the train and buy tickets en route. The risk with that option was that we wouldn't have assigned seats, so we might end up standing or on the floor. Neither of those options sounded good (especially knowing what the train was like)... but we opted for the train anyway since at least train travel was familiar, and because the guy called it the adventurous option (haha, if you know me that will make sense) :-).

I am soooo thankful that, by the grace of God, things worked perfectly on the train. We had to move a few times, but were in seats the whole time, and slept pretty much the whole way. Turns out trains lull me to sleep no matter how awake I am when I get on... what a blessing!!! We got to Cairo about 8:30 yesterday morning and easily found a good hostel with rooms. We were able to check in early, eat some breakfast, and shower before beginning our Cairo sightseeing. So nice!!!

Everyone kept warning us against high expectations for the pyramids, and we ultimately decided to see them more because it seems criminal not to go once you are in Egypt. I had lowered my expectations more than necessary... I thought they were really cool. They are absolutely huge!!! 

 (I'm the little pink and black person in the middle)

We decided to go in the smaller of the two large pyramids. I didn't expect this, but you have to walk waaayyyy down through a steep tunnel, crouched over because it is only about 4 feet high, and probably 4 feet wide also.

Once we started going in (with many people in front and behind us, and with no end of the tunnel in sight) I realized that I might have a problem with claustrophobia:-). I realized I was starting to panic... and then started imagining what would happen if I did lose it completely (which seemed quite possible at the time). Realizing how irrational my panic was but not sure if I was going to make it I started thinking of scenerios where people had to sedate me to get me out. Haha! Praise God that He gave me calm long enough to see the room in the middle and get back out. I was SO glad to see the sunlight again!

It was a perfect day and we enjoyed walking to a lookout point before seeing the Sphinx and leaving.
Finally, we took a taxi to the biggest mall in Cairo to meet Sherin, an Egyptian friend of Cara's, for a late lunch. She was so sweet and it was a wonderful finale for our time in Egypt!

Now I'm on a plane headed for Morocco, and look forward to seeing Kevin and Keely today! Hopefully I can get this posted this afternoon.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Hi Everyone!

I hope you are well today! I'm sitting on the rooftop of my hotel in Luxor, Egypt, and am SO hot! It is now 95 degrees (but feels like 98, according to I was prepared for warm weather but WOW!!! This heat wave is quite the opposite of what has been going on in my homeland!

Ryan and I have covered a lot of ground over the last few days. We flew into Egypt on Friday and after finding a potential hostel decided to opt for a sleeper train and head south to Aswan immediately, and then work our way back to Cairo for our last day. I think I wrote something about that in my last post... the sleeper train was a no-go but we made it anyway.

Aswan was nice -- a fairly large city on the Nile with several islands. On our second day we took a ferry to the main island and decided to walk around rather than take the recommended (by boat captains) course of sailing around and between the islands. We started walking and were soon climbing some stair-like rocks, suddenly finding ourselves in what seemed to be the island's Egyptian ruins. We kept walking and came upon a poor village, with trash and animals around everywhere. We wound through some streets trying to get back to the ferry, and eventually made it onto a small street (about eight feet rather than the former four feet wide).

As we walked we met some other Americans who are traveling through Egypt. The girl has been traveling for about 11 months all through this region as a couch surfer, and her boyfriend met up with her for a few weeks of vacation. She seems to have had many interesting experiences! It was fun to hear stories and connect a little with others on the road.

Yesterday (Monday) we got up at 5am to go to the train station. We traveled for about 4 hours, during which we were moved to different seats in the train twice, and arrived in Luxor in the late morning. We came to our first-choice hotel and had to negotiate for two rooms, and then hung out on the rooftop for a while while they decided if they would let us stay. This hotel is not very nice, but has wifi and a nice rooftop where they serve cheap food and many travelers hang out. It is where I am now

We went to a western-style cafe for lunch and walked around to see the city for much of the day. At sunset we joined the other guests on the rooftop for a "sunset tea" included in our stay, and used the internet more.

Today we went on a tour to see most of the main sites in Luxor's West Bank. We had a guide and about 15 others on our tour, and saw the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and the temple of one of the few women who reigned in Egypt "as a man." It was interesting. Haha, I admit one tomb looks like the next to me. I guess I'm not cultured enough for Egypt:-).

During lunch we ran into our friends from Aswan again, which was fun. There seems to be quite an international backpacking community, and it makes sense that you'd run into each other fairly frequently.

Tomorrow we plan to rent some bikes and see more of the city, and then take an overnight train back to Cairo tomorrow night. Thursday we plan to see the pyramids, and Cara and Luke have an Egyptian friend who now lives in Cairo who we hope to meet up with. Friday morning we will go to Morocco to see Kevin and Keely. I'm really excited for that!!!

Thank you so much, again, for following my trip, for your prayers and for your encouragement even from a distance. I have needed it this week and I have been really blessed through you.


PS: In case you were worried... the henna tattoo is not permanent:-)
PPS: I'm having trouble uploading pictures right now, but will do it when I have a better connection (possibly soon)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Pictures to correspond with the last post...

 Hi everyone,
Here are some pictures to go along with my last post.

These are from the desert safari:

 I thought it was SO beautiful!

These guys were crazy... the driving was so fun. You can't tell, but that is a REALLY steep hill.

Desert sunset.

We got to dress up as locals.

I liked hanging out with the camels. They were actually pretty sweet:-).

I also got a henna tattoo on the safari.

 This is today -- my first Egyptian ruins!

Traveling to Egypt

Hi Friends,

I hope you are all well.

Today I am in Aswan, Egypt. Here is the update:

Thursday Luke, Cara, Ryan and I went on a "Desert Safari" in the desert near Dubai. It was awesome. A local man drove us in a land rover from their house to the desert where we did some great off-roading on the way to the desert camp. We saw camels and experienced many local traditions in one shot, which was great. I'll post pictures when I can.

On Friday Luke and Cara took Ryan and me to the airpot early, and we flew to Kuwait and then to Egypt. When we got to Cairo, we decided to hop on a train for Aswan (way south) and then work our way north, ultimately seeing the pyramids in Cairo on Thursday. We tried to get on a sleeper train, but there were no spots available, so we got "first class" seats and decided to travel all night anyway.

It ended up being a six-person room -- not exactly the most cumfortable place -- but was an OK trip for being 15.5 hours long -- at least for me -- since I slept (uncomfortably) about 14 of those hours (I didn't really sleep the night before we left Dubai). I don't think Ryan slept much so I felt bad about that.

Yesterday we arrived in Aswan in the afternoon. After unsuccessfully trying several hotels we finally found one with a few rooms available, and I was SOOO thankful to get a shower! Then we made our way to McDonalds, which was supposed to be the best place for wifi in the city. Sadly, it wasn't working, but we did at least get some food. McDonalds ice cream and various types of bread have been the majority of my diet these last few days. We hired a falucca (sailboat) and went out onto the Nile around sunset, which was nice. Well, it was nice until our captain changed the price at the end of our ride. I'll post the pictures... it really is beautiful here.

We walked through a bizaar in the early evening and then tried to find a resturant, and were amazed that everything was closed at 9pm -- even though there were TONS of people out! The only resturant we could find open was... McDonalds:-). Apparently it is the place to be... it was packed with local people!

This morning has been good so far. Our hotel served breakfast, which was OK, and then we came across the street to an internet cafe. We plan to see the rest of the sights in Aswan today before heading north to Luxor tomorrow.

I appreciate your prayers. I have been feeling pretty homesick the last few days, and am realizing that I enjoy traveling to see people rather than sights quite a bit more. I want to enjoy this trip and need to have a better attitude to do that. Thanks for reading my blog and for your friendship. And have a wonderful Valentine's Day!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Final week in Dubai

Hi Everyone!

I apologize for my shameful delay in posts. This has been an eventful last week in Dubai! Three weeks seems like a long time until the end when you realize you have left quite a bit to do!

This has been another great week. A highlight for me was on Friday when Luke and Cara left me with some friends from church for the day while they went to a childbirth class. I had a wonderful day visiting with some wonderful families and getting some great insight on what life would be like here if I were to move to this part of the world. I'm very thankful for that -- as it is one of my primary objectives for my trip.

Here are some pictures with a few stories:

Last Thursday Luke and Cara took me down to the Creek -- the oldest part of Dubai. We first went to the great museum (entry was less than $1) about the history of Dubai, and this is me in a traditional hut. It was hot for me in the middle of January... I was trying to imagine it in hot summer temperatures! Really... I can't imagine.

After the museum, we went to the textile souk, where we did a little shopping in the traditional barter style. We felt like we got good deals about half of the time.

On Sunday, Cara dropped me off at the beach while she tutored. Beautiful, isn't it?

Luke met me there and we visited a "historical village" set up for the shopping festival which is going on right now, and we saw some great traditional things like this Arabian horse, falcons, and ate some traditional food. Cara met up for us and we went to On the Border for dinner :-).

Ryan, who will be traveling with me for at least the next few legs got to Dubai on Tuesday and I met up with him several times to see parts of the city and plan our trip. We were right next to the Burj Kalifa, so here is a daytime shot.

This is the historical part of the city, the Creek, which you can cross on abras. I really liked this part of the city (it felt more authentically international to me).

This is the whale shark in the aquarium at Atlantis, the beautiful hotel at the top of the Palm. We went with several friends. It was really nice!

I'll write more later... I'm running out of time in Dubai, so I'll need to fill you in on the rest soon. I have made a commitment to never wait so long to blog again while on this trip if at all humanly possible (which it should be), so you can hold me to that. Thanks for those of you who have emailed and commented. I really love hearing from you!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Week Two Update

Hi Everyone,

I hope you are doing well! I hear there is a lot of snow in Maryland... very different from the dry, warm winter weather here in the Arab desert!

This week has been very eventful. Here is what we've been up to:

The second day of the weekend, Luke and Cara invited me to join them for their 32 week ultrasound. It was the first one I've been to, and it was so amazing to see their little one!

In the afternoon, Luke went go-cart racing with some locals and expatriate friends (all men), and Cara and I hung out looking at baby things with her friend who is also pregnant and preparing dinner for the group. When the men got back we ate together.

A British friend of theirs was talking about his life and I (innocently) asked, "What's your story?" and the whole group listened to his answer. I was caught off-guard when the question was reversed to me, but enjoyed the opportunity to share about how God taught me a great deal about trusting in Him through my experiences with my mom's battles with cancer, as well as some other pieces of my story. Overall, it was a really fun night.

Sunday is a workday here, so Luke went to work and Cara and I had a restful morning. In the afternoon, Cara dropped me off at the Mall of the Emirates while she went to tutor her student. I made the mistake of starting my shopping in the extremely high-end parts of the mall, and felt very conspicuous in some borrowed ripped jeans and a not-so-nice shirt.

Eventually, though, I found a few stores with some items I was looking for: a long skirt, some long-sleeved shirts to wear under things, and a long shirt to wear with pants. I really respect Cara's intentionality in dressing in a culturally-appropriate, modest way, and thought these items would be helpful to me for the rest of my travels throughout North Africa as well as here in Dubai. So far they have served me well.

When Cara came to pick me up I realized I was a little lost -- that mall (which houses an indoor ski slope) is enormous! I was able to find her without too much trouble, and we headed home for a nice evening in.

Cara's friend, Karima, came to start our Arabic lessons on Monday morning. She is in her early thirties, single, devout, intense, and very funny! Within a few hours I was completely exhausted from trying to understand the fairly advanced lesson (at least to someone who knew almost nothing). Cara did a great job keeping up.

During Cara's tutoring, I asked if I could be taken back to the mall to return one item of clothing which didn't work once I got it with my other clothes. It was the first thing I bought and I had spent more on it than I should have (after finding a store with things I liked better with lower prices), so I hoped to return it. I was tired, and anticipated returning the dress, going to Starbucks, and doing some reading. Sadly, my outing did not go that way.

When I found the store, I went in and let them know I wanted to return the dress. Everything was in order, but the ladies said, "Sorry, we only offer exchanges," and implied that if I had spent more I could have gotten my money back. This was a problem because it is a small boutique store, and I had tried on everything I thought I might like the day before, and this dress was the only thing that worked. I proceeded to look through everything again, trying to find something.

Finally, I found a possibility, but was frustrated because I don't need extra clothes at this point in my trip and really wasn't thrilled with the item. There was a man there who seemed to have some authority, and I proceeded to ask him if I could please return the dress. As I stood there, I saw the posted return policy which specifically stated that I could return a sale item within seven days. It had been less than 24 hours. Finally, he told me he would give me store credit, which could be used at any one of seven stores owned by the same company. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue shopping at that point, but I took the deal and proceeded to try to figure out how to spend the credit, since I wasn't sure when I'd be back in the mall.

I eventually found some clothes that worked OK. It was an interesting lesson in non-western policy... stores are not accountable for what they post... oh well.

Karima came back on Tuesday for another lesson, and stayed with us from about 11:30 until after 4, teaching most of the time. I felt much better about the lesson -- I think I learned a lot of Arabic in the time she was here.

I went with Cara to her lesson and ran on The Palm, which was great. I've been doing some plyometric workouts indoors several times a week, but it was great to get outside and get moving. The area where we are living houses mostly men, so it is apparently not possible to run or walk outside without being ostentatious.

We came home to a spaghetti dinner Luke had prepared for us, Karima, and our Kyrgyz friend. It was a fun night, but we were all exhausted!

Yesterday Cara and I went to a class in the morning, and then had lunch at another new mall before going to a doctor's appointment. In the evening we went to another friends' house for dinner, which was fun. I've really enjoyed meeting lots of people in Luke and Cara's life, which has been great for giving me an idea of what it would be like to live here -- one of the main points of my trip.

Today is Thursday, and we have plans for this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

One more pic

In the other direction!

Sent from my iPhone

The Palm

Hi friends!

I am writing from The Palm Jumeirah, where Cara is tutoring and I just finished a run down the frond which houses her Kazak student -- a six year old working hard to learn English so he can be his parents' translator.

If you have heard about Dubai, it is likely that you have heard of this man-made palm tree shaped land providing beach-front property to many opulant people (apparently including Beckham). It also has the ritzy Atlantis hotel at the top.

It is a beautiful afternoon! Here is a picture I just took with my trusty iPhone:
This is facing the mainland from the end of the frond I'm on, and you can see the Burj Al Arab on the left.

I will send more pics to blogger momentarily. I'm having trouble posting multiple pics at once from my iphone for some reason. Also, I'll do a post about some of my other adventures of the last few days soon. They have been eventful, including Arabic lessons, shopping, sharing my story with a mixed group of friends, and some other things :-). I'll post more pictures when I have access to a computer as well.


Sent from my iPhone