Posted on | August 19, 2013 | No Comments
“I need a shower badly” I said to my friend Karin, “but I just want to take a quick photo of your view”.
“My little slice of Beirut, eh?”
We laughed as I stepped back from the balcony into the simple hostel room that has been her home for the past three months. I surveyed the space taking in the high ceilings, bare white walls and flat tiled floor which felt cool to my feet.
“There’s plenty of room for my sleeping mat on the floor, this will do perfectly”.
She hopped up off the bed saying:
“I forgot to say, I realized the room next door is empty – and the windows are never closed – the lady isn’t around today but we can sort it out with her tomorrow…”
She trailed off, grinning, standing in the doorway of the sliding window doors which partitioned the indoor/outdoor space of her hostel room, her arm pointing across the low wall between her balcony and the one next door. My jetlag-addled brain took a minute to catch up. I stuck my head past her arm and saw that the balcony doors next door were also open, the single bed, desk, chair and closet empty of any belongings.
“You’re suggesting I hop over the wall and sleep there? Good plan.” grinning myself now too, “You’re sure I can sort it out with the lady tomorrow?”
“She’s not around very much but when we find her we can get you a key. It’s only for four nights.”
“Worst case I can leave money with you, right? How much are you paying a night anyway?”
“I pay by the month but it’s only $10 a night.”
That evening Karin gave me a whirlwind walking tour of central Beirut from the Corniche, past the luxury yachts and expensive restaurants on the marina, to the newly rebuilt and eerily quiet pedestrian streets downtown.
We had dinner with some of her UNHCR friends. Over traditional Lebanese food (Best. Hummus. Ever.) I learned about the challenges and complexities of their work with Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“It’s interesting work because it’s complex. The Lebanese don’t want any more refugees, healthcare here is expensive and then there’s Hizbollah.”, said Vincent who designs and builds refugee camps.
Our dinnertime conversation ranged over everything from Karin’s research work on c-sections in Syrian refugee population to the public health challenges in these informal tented settlement camps to the practical, political and logistical difficulties of their work.
By 10pm my travel tiredness had caught up with me. We hopped in a servico, a shared taxi, for a cheap ride back to our hostel. Dizzy and barely awake, I clambered over the balcony wall and crashed hard on the bare bed in the room next to Karin’s.
Sometime after 3am I lay awake on my “borrowed” bed. Karin, in her room, soundly asleep and undisturbed by my jet-lagged wakefulness. I grinned to myself and tried to get back to sleep listening to the male voices in prayer-song at a nearby mosque, like a melody above the rhythm of the Beirut traffic.
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Posted on | April 23, 2013 | 7 Comments
Welcome to the second monthly Celebrate Travel blog carnival sponsored by The Mother of all Trips, Walking On Travels, and me, WanderMom. Every month we’re going to have a little party in honor of a different quirky holiday in the way that we best love: By sharing a curated list of themed blog posts from travel bloggers.
Earth Day was this past Monday, April 22nd. When we travel we explore this Earth and by any definition, that exploration is an adventure, whatever the destination. We go, we see other places, people and cultures and we come home with a greater appreciation of our green-blue home. Enjoy these adventure travel stories…
The dictionary definition for adventure is ‘an exciting or remarkable experience’. Hmm, well I think I can say I’ve packed in a few of those in my travels. However when I went to write this post, I found there was really only one experience that I could write about. The word association of “adventure” and “travel” related to this particular day has obviously embedded itself so deeply in my brain that it forced thoughts of all other experiences out of my consciousness.
“And what day would that be?” I can hear you asking…
Actually it was less of a day and more of a night and a day and quite a few more days thereafter…
I’m speaking of when we arrived in Quito, Ecuador on September 2nd 2010 at the start of our trip around the world with kids.
We arrived into Quito’s grungy old airport late in the evening. I think once we were waved through passport control a demon in my brain started dancing a jig to the chorus of Whiskey in the Jar (the Metallica version) screaming out “whack for my daddy-o, whack for my daddy-o, what the f**k have you just done”.
The weeks prior to leaving had zipped by in a mad haze of sorting and packing. There’d been more than a couple of loud and funny goodbye sessions. If you’d passed us in Sea-Tac when we left, or when we transited in Miami, I swear you’d have been able to see the bubble of excitement surrounding us. However, by the time we arrived in Quito there was nothing left but adrenaline and a yawning pit of oh-my-what-have-i-done fear in my stomach.
None of this was helped when I realized that I had forgotten to print out the name and address of the hostel I’d booked for our first night in Quito. Tired, scared and dumb. Not a great way to start a year of family bonding on the road.
Murph rolled his eyes in frustration. I spotted an internet cafe and paid an extortionate amount for 5 minutes online. Problem. Solved. No-one died. It wasn’t an optimal start but it worked. Within minutes we were bundled into a taxi and on our way.
And so it went, our grand, glorious adventure. Some things went swimmingly, some things didn’t. We had a couple of mishaps (like losing a child in the jungle in Laos) but none too major. We came home a tighter family unit with a lifetime’s worth of experiences that I believe we’ll still be talking about years from now.
That’s my travel adventure story. Here’s a selection from a bunch of great family travelers on their adventures large and small:
Mara, from MotherOfAllTrips has always considered herself a fearless family traveler. So she was a little surprised that when she climbed the iconic Vermont mountain Camel’s Hump with her seven- and ten-year- sons for the first time that she had to conquer a tremendous amount of fear once they reached the summit. Hanging out on a mountain top with her boys showed her something about her love of nature and wild places, of her own impulse to protect her children, and of their independence.
It’s not everyday that you come in contact with one of the ocean’s largest mammals. Keryn shares her experience in Laredo, Mexico (traveling solo with two very young children) on her blog WalkingOnTravels. She says: “The pacific gray whales that migrate off the coast of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico are a must whenever traveling to the area in the winter months, especially if you have smaller children, an age that doesn’t always lend itself to ziplining and big time adventure travel. Sometimes those little moments are just as adventurous as the big ones”.
Amie from CiaoBambino has been in Costa Rica with Kensington Tours this past week and has been continually astounded by the persistent eco-conscious attitude throughout the country. Costa Ricans understand their wondrous natural resources play an important part in the global ecosystem and they want to preserve them for their own sake and the good of the planet. She kicks off her coverage of our Costa Rica experience with a post about her lucky glimpse of a Quetzal, one of the most prized birds in Central America, in Monteverde. A perfect way to celebrate Earth Day!
“During the summer of 2009 I was a mom on a mission”, says Sandra from AlbanyKid, “traveling with two tweens on a journey I like to call the ‘Read Across America Road Trip.'” A week into the 2-month-long expedition, I arrived at Mesa Verde National Park with high hopes for an educational, life-changing experience for my children. But it wasn’t long before I discovered that I was the one who had lessons to learn.
In part 5, the grand finale of Adventure TravelingMom’s Tornado Chasing series, her storm chasing group gets to see a tornado that happens maybe only once in a lifetime. True luck was with Fran Capo, our adventurer, take a look at what she got to see up close and personal in 80 mph winds
Oregon-based Amy from PitStopsForKids focuses on Earth Day saying “If your local Earth Day celebrations are like ours: cold, rainy, and sometimes uninspired, celebrate Earth Day every day instead. We teach our kids to get outside to learn about the earth instead.”
From Gabi at TheNomadicFamily: “My family and I are in our third year of non-stop world travel. We’ve lived in the Peruvian jungles with the indigenous, skipped through Colombia with no incidence (besides Kobi driving head-on into traffic on the wrong side of the freeway), and have become full-fledged Cambodian islanders living in a shack, off a pier with no water or electricity, and a hole in a plank for a toilet. And still, I’m a walking, talking scary cat terrified of the next step we’re about to take: a two month hike through Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit with my kids. People die there from avalanches and the sheer power of Mother Nature is freaking me out. Are we endangering our offspring?”
I think we can all agree that hiking on a glacier counts as adventure, no? Terri from Travel50StatesWithKids counts their experience hiking on a glacier in Alaska as “One of our most memorable travel experiences as a family”. She says: “We hired a guide, strapped on helmets and crampons, and off we went with our guide and his dog. Seeing the blue ice up close was amazing.”
As I mention above, adventures change us. Jody titled her post on her family’s adventure in Montana “Pushing Boundaries“. “This vacation did something for my family that hadn’t happened before”, she explains, “it made us strong, as a unit. It made us see what we were capable of. And it made us enjoy being together. This vacation created memories that will last a lifetime. And, while that is what you strive for with vacations, rarely do you achieve it as completely as we did during this trip.”
“The sun is bright, the snow is cold, and the experience is thrilling; dog sledding in Banff National Park provides a travel moment to treasure forever.” Since I haven’t been to Banff, I’ll have to take the word of Jen Miner (of the VacationGals) for that!
This round-up finishes with a couple of truly over-the-top adventures. Charli describes a thrilling week sailing across the top of Australia in pursuit of a dream foiled (to dive the Great Barrier Reef). And finally, my personal favorite (and one which is on my bucket list – with or without kids), Theodora’s tale of her 19-day trek to (and from) Everest Base Camp with her then 12-year-old son.
Got a travel adventure to share? Please leave your story in the comments below.
Read more about our travels in Ecuador here.
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Posted on | April 21, 2013 | No Comments
My girlfriend is currently volunteering in Gaza. I asked her to send me the odd email with her observations as a way to share an on-the-ground view of what life is like in this embattled place. She leaves today. In this post she reflects on her experiences in Gaza.
“Where are you from?” “Am’rika”, I reply. “Welcome, welcome”. Time and time again, the same warm, hospitable message.
My stay in Gaza started at the Hamas border with the surreal witnessing of the Islamic jihad and Mujahideens welcoming a prisoner back home to Gaza after having spent 27 years in an Israeli jail. Men in full balaclavas with Kalashnikovs, shots fired in the air in signs of happiness, family, journalists. We hadn’t asked for such a fervent welcoming committee… 😉
In the countryside, the peace sign is constantly flashed when we drive by. Yet Gaza is anything but peaceful. Torn to its core by continuous wars, the latest in November of 2012, Gaza is a place on edge, where people talk about their frustration with the government as well as with their neighbor Israel.
The ever present dust and destruction permeate my daily life, it exhausts me. Everywhere my eyes track, I see iron rods sticking out of concrete rubble, dirt and garbage everywhere, plastic bags flying, chaos—it’s inescapable, pervasive. Nothing is green. Graffiti cover almost every wall at every corner of the streets –it’s truly an art form intrinsic to Gaza—their unique message a plea for peace and the right to their land. It is exhausting and depressing. To my eyes unused to war the devastation and destruction is so intense, the bombings could have happened yesterday – yet to the ones who know, Gaza is purportedly doing some rebuilding. But many things have sadly just stayed the same here, or even gotten worse, paralyzed by systemic inefficiencies, political rifts and economic blockade.
With its 1.7 million inhabitants (most of them refugees) squeezed in less than 360km2, Gaza is one of the most overcrowded places on earth. Blockaded since 2007 when Hamas was put in power and controlled by the Israeli Defense Forces by air, sea and land, Gazans experience hardships very few can imagine: unable to leave, they remain in an open-air prison that boasts over 34% unemployment and with 80% of the population on some form of aid. Compounding this situation are a fledgling infrastructure, severe electricity shortages, massive water issues, a struggling municipal service and a state of constant economic squeeze – and you may understand a little better why peace is a difficult concept here.
Yet, against this backdrop of people exhausted to struggle to survive, their resilience and kindness take over. “We are so sorry for what happened in Boston”. How many times did I hear this message…
The cacophony of horns, generators or street vendors selling their goods to the passers-by signal that life still goes on in Gaza. Driving is mayhem, with cars weaving in whichever direction, honking their horn incessantly, asking whether you need a ride. I am the rare foreigner here—most likely the only woman in this sea of humanity who does not wear a veil over my head. Walking in the streets in the old souk, I am undoubtedly noticed; the young men want a picture with me. “Welcome, welcome”. I am their window to the outside.
Every day, I have been touched by their gestures of generosity: the pita baker at the street corner invites me to make pita in his oven, and then gives me bread; my falafel hangout feeds me more falafels than I can digest – and wants to marry me; our staff at the hospital brought plates of fresh humus and olives for breakfast. They have kindly taught me Arabic words, enough that I can get my “café au lait” in the afternoon. I have been served more coffees and teas than I could dream of. At work in the hospital, they have taught me how much they can do with so little. They always readily share everything they have – and with a smile.
Even if deprived of their dignity, Gazans cannot stop to have hope. It is their only option. And they know it all too well.
Today was my last day at El Shifa hospital – today was a day of optimism. I witnessed two babies being born – two human beings who know nothing about war and conflict. As a new generation is born, each and every one of us, no matter our beliefs, owe it to them to have the the right to a future as bright as ours. It is their right as human beings.
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Posted on | April 18, 2013 | 2 Comments
My girlfriend is currently volunteering in Gaza. I asked her to send me the odd email with her observations as a way to share an on-the-ground view of what life is like in this embattled place. This is the first set of photos she’s sent from there.
All photos by Bob Haynes.
More posts on this volunteer effort are cross-posted here with additional information about the group and their work.
Photo Friday is hosted by DeliciousBaby.
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Posted on | April 18, 2013 | No Comments
My girlfriend is currently volunteering in Gaza. I asked her to send me the odd email with her observations as a way to share an on-the-ground view of what life is like in this embattled place.
It took a few minutes of observation in the Al Shefa ED to shred my plans and revisit how I can be of most use here. Aside from teaching by giving a few nursing-focused lectures at the university or at the hospital (for the future, on topics that they can really use), I know that what I can do is learn as much as I can from them and bring back their stories to share — raising more awareness about the Palestinian cause, and as far as health is concerned, knowing a little better what it is that we can share with them given their situation. It serves no purpose to go there and teach them the “American way” — things do not change in a few weeks, and their realities are what they are.
My days are spent in the ED, observing what they do and how they do it. The chaos is incessant, yet the staff seems oblivious and goes about its business; they see close to 700 patients per day there (families not included). While at home we strive for data and make decisions with data, not so much here. How can you when you have so many patients to care for. Care for? Not certain this is the right term. Overcrowding, sorely lacking resources, and a system that has no system.
Drug shortages seem to be an issue, or maybe it is culture? Pain medicine is limited to intramuscular tramadol or Diclofen. Patients just do not get pain relief the way you do in America. You can be in writhing pain, and nurses will be oblivious. I had to beg a few times that a patient seems in true agony before they summoned the doctor to ask for an IM order. Vital signs in the ER are not recorded and seldom taken. Gloves are used as tourniquets, and hardly anything else.
Handwashing is not part of the nursing care. The CT scanner has been broken for 6 months — at Gaza’s main ED (so here, where I am), patients needing a CT scan have to get it at another hospital. I’ve ridden the ambulance through town with the patients– near misses at every corner of the road. Probably the one and only public good I did so far was to convince my ambulance driver to wear his seatbelt ( Inch’Allah he wears it tomorrow…), and I held the hand of a very scared and brave 9 year old badly injured patient.
Otherwise, the falafels are out of this world, and I could eat them every day. The guy making them wants to marry me… of course. So I get them for cheaper. 🙂 He tries to impress me by dipping his hand in the boiling oil — no pain, no burns. I am impressed! Their sweets are also out of this world, and I make it a habit of trying a few everyday.
There are no tourists here — what a surprise. I walk around the block — most of the time with someone else, but today I did a long walk to the “beach” on my own.
The Gaza people are very welcoming and very kind. Today, several mentioned the Boston marathon bombings and expressed their sorrow to us. What a resilient and truly generous people.
I already feel at home here — I know I will be back.
[catlist tags=Gaza, Iran, Iraq]
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Posted on | April 17, 2013 | No Comments
The Genius Pack High Altitude Flight Bag is a novel new product. It is a cross between a tablet sleeve and a traditional laptop bag customized for people who travel.
I used the Genius Pack High Altitude Flight Bag on a recent work trip to the U.K.
I have two challenges when choosing and packing a bag that fits the current “purse, briefcase or small tote” rules:
1. Selecting a bag that’s big enough for phone, laptop or tablet, charges and personal items (wallet, lip balm, hand cream and the like).
2. Selecting a bag that’s small enough to fit under the seat in front of me while leaving enough space for my feet.
[You’ll notice that I don’t include any reference to style. I appear to be particularly lacking in that area but the Genius Pack High Altitude Flight Bag is a smart-looking little bag.]
I found the Genius Pack High Altitude Flight Bag handy with respect to the challenges mentioned above. Everything I had with me fit neatly into the labeled pockets with plenty of room for my bits and bobs – and the labels gave me confidence that I hadn’t forgotten anything in my inevitable rush out the door.
On board my flight to Dallas-Fort Worth (Boeing 737-800), I used the Velcro straps to attach the bag to the seat-back table giving me easy access to everything in the bag and every inch of available legroom. Sweet! When the table was down the bag remained attached like a cushion on my knees.
Unfortunately, on my next flight (747-300) the tray-table was of an unusual half-fold kind that did not work for this bag. However the petit dimensions of the bag are such that I was able to place it under the seat in front of me but against the seat leg leaving a reasonable amount of legroom.
For me, the true proof of usefulness of a new product is if I find myself recommending it to friends and family. Here’s an interaction I had with a friend just a couple of days ago:
Him: “I’m off to Beijing Monday, got any tips for me to help me make sure I don’t forget important things – like my passport?”
Me: “You need a Genius Pack High Altitude Flight Bag. The labeled pockets are a lifesaver – especially for last-minute have-I-got-everything checks”.
The bag I used was provided to me by Genius Pack at no charge. All opinions expressed above are my own.
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Posted on | January 28, 2013 | 2 Comments
Most people visit Ayutthaya Thailand because it was an ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam. It’s extremely pretty and historically significant enough to credit the UNESCO World Heritage Site honor it earned in 1991.
We went there to kill three days while waiting for our Chinese visas to be processed at the embassy in Bangkok.
By the time we got to Ayutthaya my kids were wat-ed out. In fairness, we were at the end of an eight week tour of South East Asia and they had had their fill of temples and ruins and then some. That said, as any respectable parent knows, expecting two children to sit quietly in a hotel room for three days is asking the impossible so I proposed a walk.
I believe I said: “C’mon, let’s go explore the ruins, it’ll be fun”.
Judging by their reaction, you’d have thought I said: “C’mon, let’s go replace all your fillings”.
I won’t paint a picture of what happened next, you’ve been there, it’s not fun.
An hour later we were inspecting crumbling 16th-century wats, my boys both exercising their rights to practice their world-champion scowling skills. So I took a different tack. Earlier, we’d passed this street sign:
“Let’s go check out that Boat Museum”.
The brothers Murphy, possibly figuring that boats had to be at least marginally better than wats, agreed.
I haven’t found a mention of this Boat Museum in any guide book. Finding and visiting it was the very definition of being sidetracked by kids while traveling. The museum takes up most of the floor space of this master carver’s home. The boats themselves are works of art, the dioramas help describe more clearly the different boat types and their uses.
Some examples of the different styles of boats on display at the museum:
As I said, the owner and his wife welcomed us into their home and proudly showed us the boats and boat models in their collection – and then posed for a photo 🙂
Information on traveling to Thailand with Children.
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Posted on | January 25, 2013 | 6 Comments
Brotherly love – while learning how to make a red curry paste from scratch at a cooking class in Chiang Mai 🙂
We took our classes at the Siam Rice Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Head on over to DeliciousBaby for more travel-themed Photo Friday fun.
Information on traveling to Thailand with Children.
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Posted on | January 22, 2013 | 1 Comment
When Visited: January 2011
Duration: 12 days
Thailand Itinerary Day 1: Train from Penang to Bangkok
Our arrival in Bangkok is always going to be a bittersweet memory for me. My husband had managed to get me a used, unlocked iPhone for Christmas. As we gathered our things after our two-day train journey from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok I realized that the phone was missing. I’d only had it a couple of hours earlier. He was mad. I was mad. I felt stupid. Like I said, bittersweet.
Thankfully we were able to get to our awesome Lub.d hostel pretty easily (i.e. without killing each other). He went for a nap. I took our kids out for our first wander in Bangkok. Given that we were based in the Siam Square area of Bangkok they were in teen kid heaven: there were malls, food courts, and familiar brands. Undeterred, I directed us to the nearest Buddhist shrine. For a day that started so badly, it was a fun afternoon.
Thailand Itinerary Day 2-4: Bangkok
So we got ripped off in Bangkok. Since this seems to be a tourist rite-of-passage in South East Asia it was good to get it out of the way on our first full day in the city. After that the next two days passed in a blur of temples and tuk-tuks with a side of tourist shopping on Khao Sanh Road. Murph and the boys also found time to visit the Center for Venomous Snake Toxicology and Research (top of everyone’s list of attractions in Bangkok, I know) while I got to spend a morning at a spa – and we got visas for Vietnam and Cambodia from a little shop next to our hostel. Like any city, Bangkok has it’s lovers and it’s detractors, we’re all in the former camp.
Thailand Itinerary Day 5: Travel day to Chiang Mai
We thought we’d booked train tickets from Bangkok to Chiang Mai but when we turned up at the train station we got shuttled onto a bus to a dingy side street. South-East Asia, it appears, has entirely different rules for independent travel than South America. You really DO need keep your wits about you at all times. My temper was flaring about this cluster when the hostess came to shoo us on to the bus. I did a double-take: the hostess was a host with an ill-fitting wig but a convincing chest. OK so. Distracted, I climbed on and helped my kids find their seats.
Thailand Itinerary Day 6-10: Chiang Mai
I detail our time in Chiang Mai in Five Days in Chiang Mai for $600 but as a quick summary: we rode elephants, took a cooking class, chatted to monks, did a cycling tour of the area around Chiang Mai and generally had an incredible time. Murph and I even got to have a date night where we had dinner at the very swish Rachamanka.
Thailand Itinerary Day 11-12: Golden Triangle
It took almost a full day to travel by bus and minibus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Saen but it was worth it. We didn’t have enough time to go into Burma but we were able to have dinner at a street side cafe at a bend in the Mekong where you can eat in Thailand but see Burma just across the river to your left and Laos across the river to your right. We spent a day exploring the Hall of Opium Museum and the next day continued on into Laos.
Information on traveling to Thailand with Children.
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Posted on | January 21, 2013 | No Comments
This review is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day 2012.
In the 17 years that I’ve lived here I’ve tried to learn more about American history. You know, all the stuff that you learned in school and already know that the rest of the world ignores, stuff like the Louisiana Purchase, the Mayflower, Benedict Arnold, yada yada.
I wasn’t even in the U.S. when I read the Warmth of Other Suns. I can’t remember how or where I came across the book but I do remember that the subtitle “The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” stopped me in my tracks. America had a great migration? When? Where? Who moved and where did they go?
The Warmth of Other Suns is a huge research work and absolutely a significant contribution to the canon of American history but it is also a book about people and it is a story that even you, who learned all the top-line history facts in school, would benefit from reading.
In this book Wilkerson chronicles a movement that impacted up to six million people. Over the course of two to three generations it changed the face of many communities and cities in the United States. She interviewed a thousand people in researching this book and it shows. In reading it, you learn about the lives they had, the places they decided to move from, the journeys they took and the lives they and their families built in their new homes.
This book is an epic yet I found that Wilkerson’s focus on the stories of three individuals who were part of this migration a narrative tool that made it an compelling and enjoyable read. This is not an easy read – as befits the experiences and anecdotes told within. These are people who were running from hate, prejudice and grinding poverty mostly to a complete unknown. But you owe it to yourself, on this MLK Day, to pick it up, read it and understand more deeply the wrongs that the Civil Rights Movement helped right.