24 Hours Camping in Wadi Rum

There’s a surprising number of options for overnighting in Wadi Rum. Everything from sleeping directly under the stars to keeping that view of the sky, but tucked up nicely in your own bubble tent, complete with indoor plumbing.

We fell in between. While no longer backpackers (and definitely never campers), we also realized that we had been chopping money on our three-week vacation through Egypt and Jordan. So we forwent the bubbles and booked our overnight with Wadi Rum Bedouin Camp. Around for 10 years, the camp offered well-reviewed jeep tours and an overnight in their private tents:

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But lets rewind seven hours. We’d been up since 5:45 am and had already spent nearly two hours on a bus. There are other ways to get from Petra (Wadi Musa) to Wadi Rum, but this was the cheapest option at 7 JD/person (heads up, when the bus isn’t full, tickets go up to 10 JD).

Then we had to pay another 5 JD/person to enter Wadi Rum – in addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also a protected area. That means that even if you have a private car, you still need to rent a tour with the Bedouins, as they’re the only ones legally allowed to drive in Wadi Rum (and you’ll have to pay to park your car in the meantime).

We hopped off our bus at the Rest House and met our organizer, Mohammad. We collected another group – a French family of four – and made our way to Mohammad’s house so he could offer us a traditional cup of tea while our lunch supplies were gathered. After that, we were left in the charge of Mohammad’s university-aged nephew.

This kid served as driver, guide, and chef, all rolled into one.

Our first stop was the Lawrence’s Spring – an unassuming place named after Lawrence of Arabia. Only animals are allowed to drink from the spring now and there are Nabatean inscriptions on some of the rock face. But a short hike can take you to the start of the spring and, of course, the views of the desert are beautiful no matter where you stop.

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We quickly saw that our truck accommodations could have been much worse (see previous photo). And we happily drove off in our Mitsubishi for our next stop: Khasali Canyon.

Our guide claimed that the Nabatean carvings were 1,700 years old and the Muslim inscriptions could be dated back 500 years. But what struck me was the rock itself. The canyon looked like melted wax dripping down from a candle.

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Just like that, we were on the “road” again. It was starting to feel a bit odd. Drive, stop, photograph, repeat. But with the gorgeous desert all around us, it was hard to argue. And luckily, our next stop involved a wee bit of climbing.

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The Best Way to Cruise the Nile: Part 1

Let’s rewind to spring 2014: Chandler and I wanted to travel somewhere for spring break…but we needed to be thrifty (upcoming wedding in July & our move to Accra just a few weeks after). However, we didn’t do much advanced planning and the only thing that really fit our budget was a Caribbean cruise.

And…I hated it.

I tried to keep an open mind, but it just wasn’t for me. The stops were interesting (Chichen Itza was incredible!), but the sea sickness, lack of space, and absence of decent vegetarian food made the trip less than spectacular.

So when Chandler mentioned a cruise on the Nile, I was even more skeptical. Which, of course, he had already taken into consideration. He had done his research and National Geographic had recently listed the 21 Best Cruises in the World and, wouldn’t you know, they had one on the list that took you up the Nile River in Egypt.

The photographs were stunning and we couldn’t find a bad review about the company: Nour El Nil. Despite it being pricier than our average vacation (plus we still had to pay for a week in Cairo and a week in Jordan!), we decided to book a week-long cruise on their most affordable boat – the Assouan.

At 1,100 euros a person, it was hard to deem it “affordable,” but after our last cruise, I wasn’t going to save a few hundred on a cruise that had likewise cut corners to save a few bucks as well.

Plus, the Assouan had something no other boat on the Nile could offer: intimacy. With only eight rooms onboard, we’d be sharing the space with a maximum of 14 other guests.

We were picked up at our hotel in Luxor on Monday, December 18th. As soon as we saw the boats, we knew we were not going to be let down:

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We’d been upgraded to the slightly larger El Nil, which holds up to 18 passengers, but were pleasantly surprised to find out we’d be sharing it with just six other people: An American couple from Seattle, a French & British couple from London, and Tunisian sisters from Paris.

And, for once in our lives, we were the least traveled people in the group! That alone made the trip worthwhile – hearing everyone’s stories and adding more trips to our bucket list. Many dinners were followed late into the night with wine, memories, and plans for future adventures.

Most days involved a stop at a historical temple or tomb, but even the scenery as we sailed our way up the Nile was spectacular. We had foolishly believed that so much of the river would be industrialized, but due to the Nile’s unpredictable flooding, very little was built within a mile of its shores.

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And what was built, usually added to the ambience. Whether it was ancient tombs or the more practical floating petrol stations:

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It was never too much time on the boat (which, anyway, is probably the most relaxing place I have ever been). Even on full sail days, we still stopped for some fun in the sun & Nile:

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On How to be Swiss in Zurich

I can’t believe how far behind I’ve gotten on these summer posts! It seems like once again school starts and everything else falls to the wayside. Perhaps my next few posts should be less chatty and more photo-filled. We all know a picture’s worth…

A few weeks into our time in Leysin we popped up to Zurich for a fast weekend. We didn’t have much time…Chandler had classes until early evening on Friday and had to be back by 8:30 am Monday morning.

But we already had our Eurail passes and I had a friend from high school living there whom I hadn’t seen in four years – our last sighting being happenstance when we were both vacationing in Rome, summer of 2013.

We made it to Zurich shortly before sunset and my friend’s incredibly kind husband met us at the train station and took us up to a viewpoint:

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It was a great introduction to the surprisingly small city and then we went for drinks, walking through Old Town along the way.

Instead of an up at ’em Saturday morning, we did something we hadn’t done since we started our European adventure: we slept in. And it was glorious.

My friend offered to walk us around the city, and after a quick train ride, our tour began. We saw more viewpoints (these ones filled with ingenuitive pigeons):

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And wandered along the banks of the river:

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Past churches with amusement parks set up right outside their front doors:

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And all the way down to the lake:

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We picked up some especially good chocolate along the way and ate it while soaking up the view (and the fresh air that we still couldn’t get enough of).

The whole day we had been contemplating a swim. The day was a bit warm by Swiss standards (though not nearly as hot as it had been in Paris), but we also had a time limit. Krystle had to get back for a performance that evening and Chandler and I had dinner plans at Hitl, supposedly the oldest vegetarian restaurant, open since 1898.

But, when you’re in Switzerland…

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Vegetarians eat ham, right?

Moving on from Paris, we made our way to Leysin via train. Now I have to say, trains are my favorite way to travel…to most places. We did take a pretty terrifying sleeper train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi back in 2014 on our way to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. I’m pretty sure I shared a bunk with a rat – a top bunk that I somehow got placed in even after paying the upgrade for the bottom bunk. So that train sucked.

But European trains are incredible. Especially when traveling first class, something we were forced to do when purchasing our Eurail passes. At the time, we thought the train passes were a little pricey – $812 for both of us to take trains on 5 separate days anywhere in France, Switzerland, and Italy (next year it will be $900, because I’ll be 28 and no longer considered a European “youth”).

After that initial fee, anytime you travel between countries you have to pay a reservation fee of $20-$50, it was starting to feel ridiculous. Until we traveled round-trip from Leysin to Zurich and learned that those tickets alone would have cost almost $800. That was when we realized that Eurail is actually quite reasonable! But more on that in my next post.

First things first, we settled into life in Leysin. Chandler had grad school classes Monday-Friday, usually from 8:30-5:00, with homework half the nights during the week. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of each other.

While he was gone, I was in my Swiss paradise. An Airbnb that was nice & cozy with a great view of the mountains.

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But as lovely as the apartment was, I didn’t want to spend all of my time there. Our first full weekend in Leysin (after Chandler’s first week of classes), a colleague from our school in Accra was in town on her way to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Another colleague from Accra was also in the program with Chandler and so the four of us set off on a morning hike.

Lazy things that we are, we took the cable car to the mountain peak and planned a hike that wound around and back down. I should also probably admit that the route was chosen very specifically because it passed a fromagerie that we had every intention of stopping in when we came across it.

The views from the top were stunning, but a bit limited due to the fog/clouds that surrounded us during our hike. That said, it made the temperature quite enjoyable for the four hours we spent strolling along.

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We finally made it to the fromagerie about two hours in and were pretty hungry. We looked at their chalkboard menu and one thing stood out: Fondue. But no matter what we said, they wouldn’t serve it to us.

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Resort Hopping in São Tomé

I learned a lot about myself this week. I learned that I’m over “roughing it.” I learned that sometimes, when I want to relax, a resort will suit me just fine.

This year, we decided to spend spring break in São Tomé. If you’ve never heard of this country, don’t feel too bad. I hadn’t either before moving to Ghana. It’s a small set of islands (São Tomé and Príncipe) located west of Gabon and south of Nigeria.

We went with four other people, and to cut down on costs, decided to share an Airbnb. We thought we’d have a low-key, quiet week at the house. For anyone who’s ever spent any time in Africa (I hate to generalize, but for me this has usually held true), something will inevitably go poorly. Whether it’s power outages in Ethiopia, a city-wide day of rest in Djibouti, or Ghanaian food that can’t be made fish-free (a moment of truth: Nothing went wrong in South Africa).

In São Tomé, it was 24 hours without running water. And as much as I’d like to blame the Airbnb for this, it’s definitely a country-wide problem. Also, for as beautiful as the house was, it had been built by the ocean in 2002 and was, 15 years later, absolutely falling apart. The downstairs hosted every kind of bug imaginable, and our bathroom was even home to a very large roach and a very small crab.

That said, the upstairs was light and airy and had wonderful views. I read three books while on vacation here : )

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Eventually, however, a girl needs some water (and light to read by in the evenings – man that house was as dark as a dungeon at night!).

We ventured to Omali Lodge on our second day in São Tomé. As you can expect, island food isn’t very vegetarian friendly, but we were able to dig into some homemade mac & cheese, rice & veggies, chips, and of course, dessert – a brownie with peanut ice cream. However, the real reason to go to Omali is for their cocktails. Their passion fruit margarita was divine.

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A Day in Accra: The Natural Expo at the Legon Botanical Gardens

We had last Monday off, giving us my favorite kind of weekend – a long weekend : ) And while we were certainly too lazy to get out of town like some of our fellow colleagues, we did, at least, get out of our apartment.

One of the events we went to was the Natural Expo at the Legon Botanical Gardens. First, we wandered through the stalls (a little too cramped and a LOT too hot), and encountered so many great all-natural or made out of recycled goods products. Shea butter, fresh bread, dried mangoes, essential oils, and these beautiful cards made out of fabric scraps:

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Of course, there was tons of clothing to pick through as well, Chandler probably appreciated that part the least. I’m still trying to find my “Ghanaian style,” which means I always want to try things on, but I’m never comfortable enough in anything to buy it. But it’s always beautiful to look at!

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After that we finally took a break for some food. I tried my first kombucha (late to the game, I know), it was berry flavored and delicious! We also ate these incredible fresh veggie sandwiches (and loved them so much we bought more to eat for lunch the next day). Chandler ate spicy tofu kabobs while I ate breaded seitan ones. And we finished the meal off with vegan brownies. Everything for sale was vegan – it was amazing.

Our last stop and what blew me away the most was the playground at the gardens! If it hadn’t been so hot and directly under the beating sun, I’d have spent the rest of my afternoon there.

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Now yes, like true Americans, we immediately went home, showered, and then, like we always do, spent the rest of the day reading. But it was nice to get out for a few hours and experience a bit more of what life in Accra has to offer.