Saturday, November 21, 2015

Back to the United States of America!!

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Home Sweet Home

Look where we're going today!!
We are on the plane heading back to the United States of America.  

In summary, I've just visited ten countries on 4 different continents, crossed the international date line,  as well the Equator 4 times,  travelled through 24 different time zones while circumnavigating the globe over 30,000 miles on this journey in just 24 days.  It took Magellan 3 years to accomplish this.  He probably didn't ask anyone for directions!

This has been the most interesting trip I've ever experienced.  National Geographic is an excellent group to travel with.  They didn't overlook a single detail, making certain we had the time of our lives.  Amazing, really.  When I think about how they managed to move 76 people and all of their luggage around the world and make it look so effortless is mind boggling!   Nobody was left behind, (although, there were a few that I wish we could have voted off the island!)  no bags were lost, there were no major disasters, no task or request too large and they never lost their smiles.  I can't say enough about the NatGeo staff.  

From the "pillow gifts" to the detailed itineraries that awaited us at each hotel, where our luggage arrived before we did, to the $10.00 in local currency that was issued to us in each country, and pre-stamped post cards awaited at each stop and after we wrote these cards, we simply dropped them with the staff and they made sure they were mailed.  They did it all!!  Well, we did have to write our own postcards. 

No matter where we traveled by plane, bus, train or car, there was always cold bottled water available.  Oh yes.  This is huge ... upon arrival at every country, they passed out our immigration cards ALREADY COMPLETED.  All we had to do was sign the card and zip through immigration.   We didn't want for anything.  They even had engineers on board to replace batteries for us and repair iPad problems.   

Dr. Nelson kept us all healthy.
And how about having a doctor along to care for all of us.  I'll be forever grateful for Dr. Nelson's help at the Cambodian hospital.  

The NatGeo experts were incredibly informative.   One was an excellent "sleeping aid."  After two sentences, most of us were off to dream land.  Although he is a brilliant historian, he definitely lacked the ability to read his audience.   Today, he passed out a summary of the places we visited and I noticed Pat fell asleep after 
reading the first paragraph!!  True!!

Even Jack's handouts put us to sleep!  Better than Ambien.

I can't say enough about how well organized these folks are.         

Fly-swater Hat for the Serengeti.
The flight attendants were incredible.  They kept us fed and entertained.  My favorite arrival to our plane was Halloween, when they were dressed in costume and decorated the plane.  When we boarded from India, they were dressed in Indian regalia.  

Our Flight attendants dressed Indian style.
They captivated our attention with interesting ways to present the pre-flight safety information.  In fact, they opened the presentation this morning with the following:  "There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 8 ways to leave this plane."  This afternoon, after a brief fuel stop in the middle of the Atlantic at Terceura, Azores, one of the passengers opened the overhead compartment to place a bag in the overhead and a flight attendant was hugging a Panda and taking a little nap.  
SURPRISE!!  Our Flight Attendant was hiding in the overhead compartment.
The passenger screamed and the rest of the plane screamed with laughter.  They did so much for us, including storing all the treasures that I bought ... someplace.  It's just been a wonderful experience.  

There are still some places I haven't visited, but I think I've put a pretty big dent in this planet of ours.  Waking in the morning to the beautiful Taj Mahal to wandering the Serengeti Plains the same afternoon.

Serengeti Plains in the afternoon.

Sunrise at the Taj.


Prostrating Pilgrims.
We've seen everything from Pandas to Prostrating Pilgrims.  Hugged Koalas and Kangaroos to SAMoan Chiefs.  I've seen a lot, but I've missed a lot, too.  I think the most special thing about this whole wide world, and the greatest gift ... my friends and family.  I can't wait to see you all again.  I'll be looking at you through different, more appreciated and grateful eyes.

Hugging Kangaroos in Australia.

To SAMoan Chiefs

And Koalas.  

That being said, when I was a child, my mom would sing a song to me called "God's Beautiful World."  I believe the author of that song must have written it about the United States of American.  To quote my friend, Haynes, "IT'S GOOD TO BE BACK!"
On that note, I also need to add that I feel I've gained a new friend, Pat.  I've enjoyed traveling the world with her.  She's a great traveling companion.  She has great spirit, no drama, low maintenance, generous, helpful, and she has a wonderful sense of humor and is just fun to be with.  My favorite "Pat" quote came early on at a dinner in Tibet, when the waiter informed our table that we were out of wine.  Without a moment's hesitation, Pat responded, "Well, are we out of money?"  The NatGeo people responded by miraculously turning the water into wine. Thank you for joining me on this trip, Pat.  I hope we enjoy many more!  Where to next???

Bruce and Gail, who invited me to go on this trip with them, couldn't have been more fun!  Being thrown together for weeks, hopefully, I didn't wear out my welcome with B&G.   Bruce was so generous with his time and sort of adopted Pat and I.  He must have felt like a Bedouin man with 3 wives ... all giving him instructions.  But he was such a good sport and took such good care of us and made us all feel welcome and special.  Thank you Bruce.  

Gail, I can't tell you how much fun I had with you and how much your friendship means.  We just connect on a different level.  With the raise of an eyebrow, you speak volumes and I totally get it.  You are such a dear friend.  I'm blessed to know you.  My world is a better place because you're in it.  Thank you.

To my other friends and family, thank you for joining me on this journey.  I hope you shared my joy and laughed along with me.  And for those of you I've offended with my political or religious remarks ... I'm kind of sorry.

I am on my last flight of this journey from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles, where Jacqueline will arrive tonight for a Thanksgiving visit.  Boy, do I have a lot to be thankful for!!  This brief summary of my National Geographic trip doesn't do it justice.  But I don't want to be like historian, Jack and loose my audience.   

As the airplane banks hard left to land at LAX, I am listening to my music ... One Republic's song, "I Did It All."  We sure did!! 

Interesting folks we met along the way. 

Young girls sell necklaces in Petra


Check out this little girl in Peru

This little boy was checking out the Pandas in China sporting a NY Yankees cap.

We met this little boy in a temple in tibet

I love Pat's photo of this little girl in Peru.

Young boys in Peru try to make money posing for photos instead of going to school.

Spice merchant in Jorddan

Really angry merchant in Jordan

Little boy in Jordan tries to sell me a rock.

Maasai Warriors in Africa
Pilgrims in Tibet taking their morning walk.

Lady in Tibet.
Pat's photo of lady in Peru.

P.S.  Follow up to my Cambodian hospital visit half way through this trip.  I visited a Vascular Surgeon here in California yesterday only to find I was misdiagnosed in Cambodia.  I do have a DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis), which is serious shit.  I've been placed on a regimen of injectable blood thinners and Coumadin and I am officially grounded until the clot dissolves.  How lucky am I that I had no major problems ... like death ... during the additional 15,000 mile trip.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Marrakech, Morocco

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Flight track from Jordan to Morocco.
We left Jordan this morning, arriving in Marrakech mid afternoon.  The La Mamounia Hotel is exquisite!  I could stay here and be quite comfortable.  Stunning is another way to describe our accommodations.  The beautiful warm dark wood accented with  deep colors characterize the Moroccan architecture along with elaborately carved archways and domes.  The ornamental hardware of doors and colorful fabrics complete the look as well as lots of gardens filled with roses and date palms.  

This evening, we had dinner at the hotel and turned in early to rest up for our tours of Marrakech in the morning.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

I was awakened this morning by Muslims chanting their "call to prayer" ... at 5:15 a.m.   The call to prayer chanting and humming is eerie and mysterious, but quite pleasant.  But 5:15 a.m.??  Really??

Our tour around Medina (the old city) was uneventful, but quite pretty. We visited the palace and a school.  I love the "fussiness" of the intricately carved doors, ceilings and windows.   The Moroccans didn't miss a decorating opportunity, often spending as much on the ceiling decor as the rest of the room. 

Just love all of the Moroccan architecture.

They didn't miss a decorating opportunity as shown above at this door opening.

We add to the decoration.
We've  have a listening device for this entire trip.  Everywhere we go, I've had a receiver around my neck and an earbud stuck in my ear listening to our guide tell us all about each location.  For the most part, it was really nice learning about Machu Picchu or Tibetan Monks.  But quite often, I would get distracted ... was that a chicken??  Or just plain board with an deluge of information.   OK.   I am officially "toured" out.  Time to turn in my "whisperer," which is the only thing that has not been a gift from NatGeo.   But I'm happy to see it go.  

Pat's photo made the pool look so inviting.  
After a fabulous poolside lunch, it was time to hit the Suk to mingle with the locals and one last opportunity to shop.  The Suk is a huge outdoor market where one can buy anything from Moroccan oils to shoes, to hand crafted locks, leather goods and antiques and hundreds of other "needful" things.  

As we entered the huge square of the Suk, we found women offering henna painting.  No thanks.  Already did that in India and still can't scrub if off.  There were also people wearing colorful costumes posing for photos , extending their hands for tips afterwards.  

Folks want a tip for a photo.
Everybody wanted money in exchange for photos.  Even shopkeepers wanted  money if you walked by and snapped a photo of their shops.   Perhaps the most interesting site was the snake charmer luring the snake from the comfort of his basket with his flute.  I don't know how this works.   Perhaps the same hypnotic physiology as Jacqueline's dog yawning every time she squeezes his paw.  But the snake isn't nearly as cute as Chewie!!  In fact, I didn't get close enough to take a photo of this as snakes kind of creep me out.  Especially one that's not in a cage or on a leash!!  There were also folks walking around with live snakes to be wrapped around our shoulders for a photo op.  There was no way this was going to happen to me.  Remember my B&R episode at the Cambodian Hospital?  (Bolt and Run.)  Well, that's exactly what I did when I saw a snake man coming my way.   

Discovering the colors of Marrakech.

These colorful rosettes are used in potpourri.
Pat and I were on a mission.  Earlier in the day, we walked past a blacksmith who specialized in elaborately decorated large locks and keys.   He supplies most of Marrakech with keys, door knockers, bolts 

Pat found her lock

I bought a smaller version too.
and other decorative hardware for doors.  We needed to find this shop again.  So we latched on to a local NatGeo guide who led us through the maze of shops directly to the lock maker.  Pat bought a huge lock and key.  I can't wait to see how she will display it in her home.   I bought a much smaller version, but equally as pretty.  The next stop was to find Argon Oil, which is just being introduced in the US as a skin treatment.  
Argon Oil.  Hope in a bottle!
In the states, we can buy products with a drop of Argon Oil, but here in Marrakech, they sell 100% Argon Oil.  Well, if it's "hope in a bottle," sign me up.  I bought two of them.   Our guide, Fattaha then took us to a shop to buy Moroccan caftans. 

I think the slacks hanging out distract from the beauty of these pieces. 
Didn't know I needed this either.  But I bough three of them.  Oops.  One is a gift for Jacqueline, but I think I'm safe saying she doesn't read my blog, so no harm in mentioning it here.  

We ran across several other items that we had to have, including a hand made leather puff - or hassock.  It didn't come with the "poof", but I can pick that up at Bed, Bath and Beyond when I get home.  I couldn't have packed it with the poof anyway.

With arms loaded, we headed back to the hotel.  I have to figure out how I'm getting all of this home.  

The grande finale dinner tonight was Moroccan food and bellydancers.  But the main event was Michael's slide show with photos taken throughout the trip.   Number one, it was fun reliving each place we visited.  Seems like so long ago that we set out on this journey beginning in Machu Picchu.  Number two, it was amazing to see the trip through the artful eyes of our world renowned National Geographic photographer.  Michael will be sending a DVD to each of us with all of his photos.  What a fabulous keepsake that I'd be happy to share with you.  I promise, Michael's photos will bring these places alive for you.  Thank you, Michael.  Not only for the photos, but for your time and patience helping us learn camera basics and how to get the perfect shot while on this trip of a lifetime.  I now know that an F-stop is not a place for food.  

Grande Finale dinner.  Julie, Jan, Pat, Michael, John, Janet, Yvette, Bruce and Gail.
We ended the evening as we have so many nights ... the last to leave the bar, trying to prolong the night to prevent the trip from ending.  But alas, all good things must come to an end.  (Who made  up that crap??)  Here's the quote I prefer to live by.  "You only live once.  But if you do it right, that's all it takes."   So the good times don't have to end if you do it right!!

The die hards close out another party.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Petra, Jordan

Monday, November 16, 2015

Petra, Jordan

Flight track from Africa to Petra.

We've all seen Indiana Jones run out of the Treasury Structure at Petra being chased by the bad guys.  I thought that's all there was to Petra.  I was wrong!! 
Pat and I walking from the hotel to the Siq to explore Petra.
The "other" Bruce, Yvette, Gail and Bruce as we walk through the Siq entering Petra.
Also known as "The Rose City,"because of the color of the sandstone rock cut architecture, Petra is Jordan's most visited tourist attraction and has been a UNESCO site since 1985.   Tourism used to be Jordan's main source of income.  However, tension in the middle east has halted that.  

The people in the photo give you an indication of the vastness of the canyon.

The Siq walls tower above us.
Our hotel, Movenpick Resort, is walking distance from the entrance to the Lost City of Petra.  Tourism is off 80%.  Seven 5 star hotels have closed in Jordan.   Sadly, these folks are suffering because of the acts of bat shit crazy muslim extremist groups.   Jordan is flanked by Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria, all hotbeds of terrorist groups.

The Siq, a 3/4 mile long canyon leading to the city of Petra, is the holy entrance to the city.  The astonishing erosion carved rock formations along the way are beyond belief.  
The Siq entrance.
This entrance not only served as a natural defense, but was used as a greeting to visitors,  with beautiful statues and reliefs carved along the way.  There is an area carved out which was used for wedding ceremonies.  
A typical wedding ceremony at The Siq. Jan, Smitty, Gail and Jessie pose with our guide.
Our guide explained how a typical marriage was performed with a bride, groom, 2 witnesses and the official who performed the marriage.  

If the tour ended here, after the walk through the Siq, I would have been dazzled.  But wait!  There's more.  Much more.  The Siq opens up to The Treasury.  This is where scenes from Indian Jones were filmed. 
The Treasury, built as a tomb, is the first structure to greet visitors as they exit the Siq.
Who dreams this stuff up?  It took years to chisel these buildings.  The Treasury's imposing facia leads into a very simple tomb.

Here's the part I didn't know.  After taking a good look at The Treasury, we turned to the right and found an entire city carved out of this limestone. 
The structures wrap around the mountainside.  
These folks didn't have jack hammers.  And no fancy scaffolding.  They would first carve stairs to the top of the mountain and then begin whittling away at the stone until something beautiful had been created.  I'm stunned at their determination.

We toured the ancient city for a couple of hours.  At one time, over 30,000 people inhabited Petra.  Around every corner, there was another beautiful tomb facade.  Clusters of "homes," which were really just small caves about the size of a bathroom, dot the mountainside.  This was the residential section.  Ok kids.  You think you've got it tough?  How would you like to have to carve your own home out of a mountain?  How long do you think that would take in this new world of instant gratification??  
These openings in the sandstone show homes of the wealthy people in Petra.

The natural colors in the sandstone were exquisite!  I climbed  inside a typical home.  It was kind of like being in New York ... fascinating, but I wouldn't want to live there! 

This typical home overlooks the amphitheater that seats 8500 people.  Door??

Exploring inside a small home.

These are the colors in the natural sandstone.  
In the center of town, an amphitheater was carved.  Believed to be the only amphitheater in the world that is actually carved from stone, others are constructed using stone. 

Pat wheeling and dealing with a local Jordanian Merchant.

Pat is the best bargainer EVER!  

By the way, I never trust a guy wearing eye makeup better than mine!!
Look Mom!  I bought a table cloth.
This merchant was sitting high on top of a hill at the entrance to the Urn Temple.  That's not a Koran.  It's an iPhone.  These folks have not let technology pass them by.

This guy looks like a movie prop.
View from the Urn Temple.
Security Guard in Petra.
Vendors were hawking their goods while camels and donkeys waited for tourists to load up for a ride.  NatGeo treated us to either a donkey or camel ride.  Let me say this about that ... if Jeff had offered free camel rides to customers at the dealership, he could have charged a LOT more for cars.  Gotta tell you.  It was not the most comfortable ride. Today, I actually have a saddle sore butt.  Thigh muscles that I haven't recognized in a long time are aching from clinging to the beast.  The Jordanians make this look easy!!  NOT.  Especially when your camel begins to run.  Which mine did frequently.  About the time I felt comfortable enough to snap a photo, Abdul or Airhead or whatever my camel's name was, would leap into action to catch the cute little camel in front of him.  As Gail would say, "camel ride ... check." 
It's all fun and games while he's parked on the ground!  Hang on Bruce!

Gail is a natural on a camel.  Look at her texting and driving.  
Our camels dropped us at The Treasury and then we walked out through the Siq.  The way the light hit the canyon walls, it looked like a totally different route than earlier this morning.   According to the folks who took the horse drawn carriage out of The Siq, it was a hair-raising experience likened to the jet boat ride down the Shot river in New Zealand.  The rocky Roman road was bumpy, the walls of the canyon very narrow, the buggy was uncomfortable and smelly, and flies were busing around the horse, all the while wheeling wildly at crazy speeds through the curvy canyon road.  The drivers were anxious to get people out quickly so they could return for more unsuspecting passengers.  

Horse drawn carriages ran up and down the Siq.

The Siq is so narrow at some points that it's difficult for people to walk side by side.  When these carriages met head on at warp speed ... it got interesting!!  The drivers would shout to the other in Arabic to move until one of them would back up to let the other through.  I'm sure glad we opted to walk out.  

We were scheduled to have dinner under the stars tonight in "Little Petra" about 8 miles out of town.  But the weather forecast predicted rain and flash floods.  Since Little Petra is located in another Siq, the NatGeo people "called it" and instead prepared a desert oasis in the courtyard of the hotel.  They did this with 3 hours notice.  Unbelievable.   The entire atrium was draped and tented, tables and chairs brought in and a typical Jordanian dance crew entertained us.  

We managed to close the party AGAIN.  This late in the trip, we've managed to corrupt a few others, so our group of hooligans has grown.  

Time to get back to my room, organize my "closet" (more on that later.) and get ready for a jeep ride through the desert tomorrow to visit to a Bedouin village. 

Tuesday, November 7th, 2015

On the way to the airport this morning, we stopped at Wadi Runn for jeep rides into the desert to visit the amazing mountains and petroglyphs.  Wadi Runn has no hotels, only camp sites.  It ranks as the 2nd busiest tourist attraction in Jordan.
We ran across these two camels while driving in the desert.

This desert landscape is amazing.  80% of the movie, The Martian was filmed here.
The sandstone mountains have been naturally etched by the elements over the years creating an amazing effect.  Some looked like Sanskrit writings.  Others looked like chocolate dripping off the mountain.  These formations jut out of the otherwise flat desert sand.  This is the area where Lawrence of Arabia fought battles against the Turks to liberate Arabia.

Paint peeling off the hood, tattered seats and an ashtray FILLED with cigarette butts, away we went
The "jeeps" were all individually owned by the local Bedouin people and NatGeo arranged to find 30 of the finest cars available, which isn't saying much.  In the car business, we refer to these as "beaters."  But they served the purpose.  We had a great time.

I should mention, when we arrive in each country, NatGeo arranged for us to see and do as much as possible.  There was never a dull moment.  They didn't want us to miss anything and gave us every opportunity to see and do everything.  Every day has been filled with opportunities to experience the best that an area has to offer.  This Jeep trip was an example of that.  They cram a LOT into each day and each location.

How is it possible for each place we've visited to be more remarkable than the site before.  Every country has been phenomenally special with it's own unique character and beauty.  This world of ours is pretty special.  I know it sounds trite to say, but we should do a better job of preserving it's beauty for future generations to enjoy.

We drove through the desert for miles until we happened upon a Bedouin tent where the people offered us tea and cookies and showed us an area deep within a crevasse decorated with petroglyphs telling stories of how the ancient civilizations lived. 

Inside the tent where we had our sage and marjoram tea. Yvette, Julie and Pat.
Bedouin Tent where we had tea and cookies.

The herbal tea, made of sage and marjoram was quite tasty, so I bought a couple of baggies filled with the herbs.  This should be interesting to try to bring back to the U.S.  It looks like it could easily be a nefarious product.

This sandstone looks like chocolate melting off the mountain.

Photos cannot capture the real beauty here.
After exploring the desert, it was time to head to the airport to board our jet and take off for Morocco, the last country we visit on this journey.

I've been remiss not mentioning how we have been traveling with all of our gear.  We were each allowed to bring one large suitcase and NatGeo provided a carry on bag that has been dubbed "The Wheelie Bag."  Many of our destinations have allowed room enough for only the wheelie bag.  So we leave the large bag on our jet.  The large bag has become our "closet" of sorts.  We switch out our clothes as needed for the different climates and activities.  Most nights, after a full day of touring, we stumble in for cocktails and dinner bleary eyed and wearing the same clothes we've been in all day.  Had I known, I could have left more than half of the things I brought at home!!

Next order of business is to figure out how to get all of my international treasures home.  Each country we've visited, NatGeo has a special gift native to the area waiting for us in our room.  To name a few, a beautiful hand painted boomerang from Australia, and a Tibetan Prayer Wheel from Tibet or an inlaid marble plate from India.  It's been so much fun to check in to the hotels and see what treasure awaits.  Between those lovely gifts and the things that I've accumulated along the way, It's going to be interesting getting it all packed up to take home!  Good thing we've got a big jet.  

Tomorrow ... Morocco!