Jordan and the Amazing Maher

Jordan a country in the Middle East with a big heart is how I would sum up this little piece of desert paradise.  When speaking with people who had traveled to Jordan before they always led the discussion with stories about how wonderful and friendly the people are.  This was to become the theme for my story  after spending four days in this lovely country, which begins with my arrival at Queen Alia airport.

After making my way through the security checks I was greeted by my guest supervisor from United Travel.  With a big smile he welcomed me to Jordan and asked if I had already obtained my tourist visa.  ” No I haven’t, where do I get it from? Was I supposed to get before I came? My travel said I could get it when I got here”  as I rambled on and on he looked me with a big smile and just said ” Relax, no worries I will get you one for free”.   “Free? really? wow!”, instantly relaxed and pleasantly surprised.   A few moments later I had a free tourist visa for Jordan and another friendly welcome from the customs officer who stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. After collecting my luggage I was introduced to my driver  Maher,  who I call the Amazing Maher of Jordan.

 The Amazing Maher was my driver during my stay in Jordan and kept me entertained with funny stories and was so kind, especially when I was injured and unable to complete my day trip to Jaresh.  When we were driving to the Dead Sea on my last day he received a phone call from his mechanic, however it was not about the car, his mechanic was calling to see how his client (me) was doing after injuring myself.  Maher had serviced the car the day before and mentioned that I had hurt myself during my trip to Petra so of course this mechanic whom I had never met wanted to call and check if I was feeling much better.  A great courtesy that Jordanians extend to those who are guests in their homeland.

The Amazing Maher looks after all his clients like they are family and during my time in Jordan I would learn all about his and even meet one of his sons.  A clever young man named Mohammed who is on the precipice of success with a brilliant product he developed and launched.  Maher of course is a very proud farther of three sons and two daughters and I’m sure a wonderful husband too.

One of the many stories that Maher told me that made me laugh was about how his daughters came home from school crying one day.  When he asked what was wrong they explained that a man had been outside their school and was saying horrible things to them.  The next day he picked up one of his sons and drove to his daughters school, sure enough this disturbed individual was there.  Now Maher is over 6ft tall and so is his son, you can imagine what happened next.  After an exchange of words his son picked up this man and put him in the boot of Maher’s car. Crying and pleading to be let out he promised never to come near the school again. To the delight of many school girls who were watching the drama unfold and laughing at this man who had harassed them.  He was never seen again and Maher’s son become the hero of many school girls that day.

Maher’s family originated from a small village in Palestine called Wallaja and relocated to Jordan in the 1940s. Like so many other Palestinian families they were forced to make the difficult decision  to leave their land.  How heartbreaking it must have been for his ancestors to leave everything they loved behind to form a new life in a new country. They have never been back but perhaps one day they will be able to, one can only hope.

Jordan is a remarkable country not just because of wonderful places like Petra and the Dead Sea.  It’s a country that helps others in need by taking them under their wing when people need shelter.   This country has taken in over 600,000 Syrian refugees not to mention many Palestinian people who began to flee their country in the first part of the 19th century.   It has a big heart that puts others to shame.

From the air the Jordan landscape looked so flat with endless desert as far as the eye can see.  However this is not the case, Amman reminded me so much of my home town Wellington.  Anything but flat, with hills covered with houses and narrow streets that would wind up, down and all around.   Driving out of the city on one of the main highways really showcased the diversity of the Jordan landscape.  From hills covered with houses and the busy city, to a landscape so flat with fertile fields changing to barren desert, then mountainous valleys.

Diversity also exists within the people of Jordan and the lives they lead from those in the city and small towns to the bedouin people who lead a nomadic life living off the land and their goats.  The population of Jordan is 7 million with 4 million of those living in Amman, that’s pretty much all of New Zealand.  The people of Jordan are so friendly and laid back just like their royal family who you can apparently bump into at family restaurant or out and about in Amman just like everyday people.

I think one of the best things about traveling solo is that you have the luxury of connecting with people easily.  When you are in a group situation you tend to hang with the group, they become your social hub and not often do you venture out of it.  I was lucky to have such a great driver who I now call a friend and still keep in touch with.   Jordan will be a country I will visit again sooner rather than later as there is still so much to see and I know I will be welcomed back warmly as that is how this country rolls.

untitled-8
The hills of Amman
untitled-11
It was quite hazy in the city due to the heat and dry desert winds.
untitled-9
The old and the new creeping up on the horizon

untitled-10

untitled
Rolling hills just outside of Petra
untitled-5
Bedouin settlement

untitled-2

untitled-3
Why did the camel cross the road?     To escape the on coming dust storm.
untitled-6
On the way back from Petra we drove into a massive dust storm it was so dense
untitled-13
The Amazing Maher in his youth he was a hair model, true story
IMG_3107
My new friend seeing me off from the airport

Liebster Award

Thank you for the nomination,Reluctant Wanderlust now it’s time to pass on the love.

liebster2

So, here is how it works:

Once you are nominated, make a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you. Include the Liebster Award sticker in the post too. Nominate 5 -10 other bloggers who you feel are worthy of this award. Let them know they have been nominated by commenting on one of their posts. You can also nominate the person who nominated you. Ensure all of these bloggers have less than 200 followers. Answer the questions 11 questions asked to you by the person who nominated you, and make 11 new questions of your own for your nominees or you may use the same questions. Lastly, COPY these rules in the post.

Here are the answers to Reluctant Wanderlust nomination questions

1.What inspired you to write your first blog post?

There were two inspirations that led me to start writing a blog. The first was to expand my creative self. Photography was my real creative outlet, I documented what I would see and writing gives me the medium write about what I feel. My second inspiration came from a book I read on positive psychology that encouraged journaling about positive things to train your brain to focus on the positive things in life leading to a happy you.  So I combined both and now I have a great outlet for my creativity and it’s great fun.

 2. What attracts you to a blog?

The writing style and the vibe, if it’s positive and fun then I will follow you forever.

3. What are the top 3 places to visit in your list?

Cuba, Rome, Turkey In that order

4. If you had all the money you need, what would you do?

Exactly what I am doing now, just living my life and loving every minute of it.

5. Any advice to yourself, 10 years in the past?

A common belief is that if you work hard you become successful and then happy.  Don’t fall for this trap,  focus on getting happy first, then you will find yourself working hard and enjoying it, before you know here comes success.

6. What are your hobbies?

Photography, Horse Riding & Writing

7. The best place you have ever visited?

Abu Simbel, Egypt, absolutely stunning.

8. Which book are you reading now?

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg a brilliant role model for women leaders.

9. Which book is always on your to-read list, but you never end up reading it?

Steve Jobs Autobiography, interesting guy his innovation and drive is inspiring.

10. What are your personal stress busters?

Running or any exercise just as long as you are out and active, get those endorphins going.

My questions to nominees

  1. What was the best post that you feel you have ever written? Not by likes or views the one you wrote and thought ‘wow’ that is a great piece of writing.
  2. What is the best piece of advice you would like to pass onto fellow bloggers like yourself to grow and develop their own blogs?
  3. Where are you going to travel to next?
  4. What are your top 3 essentials that you can’t travel without? (Passport,laptop and phone excluded).
  5. If I asked you where I should go on my next travel adventure what would you recommend and why?
  6. Where in the world have you eaten your best meal?
  7. Whats the best travel advice that you can give other travelers?
  8. What are you doing when you are not traveling or blogging?
  9. What’s your ideal blogging space like?
  10. What inspires you to write your blog?
  11. Where is the world have you visited that you will go back to for sure?

Worthy blogs I have nominated are……..

https://hugothero.wordpress.com/

http://boardingpasstraveler.com/

https://travellersfootprint.wordpress.com/

https://theingriddiaries.wordpress.com/

http://spreadyourwingswithme.com/

https://diaryofzxq.wordpress.com/

Islam For A Beginner – Part Two

Women and Islam

My curiosity about Islam mainly focussed on a woman’s place in the Islamic world.  The way a Muslim woman dressed was something I wanted to understand more about.  To me I felt as though women were being controlled and oppressed because they did not have the freedom like I do to wear whatever they like.  However on reflection I realize that this was quite an ignorant view to have.  There is nothing wrong with ignorant occasionally as you still have the capacity to learn, which I did.

On a visit to a Mosque I was given some literature to read by my guide and by now good friend Mohamed. He asked me to read them and not throw them away as they are religious books and you should keep them out of respect. Perhaps this gift of knowledge was also to put an end to many of my questions, which were always answered kindly and sometimes with a I can’t believe she just asked me that look on his face.  For example, me ” Mohamed, are Muslim women encouraged to work and have careers?” met with a look that said seriously? and responded with  “Of course they can some of my friends wives even have better jobs than their husbands”,  me “Oh”.

One of the brochures named ‘ Secrets of A Muslim Woman’  certainly stood out for me as I found myself  looking at my original view. In the introduction the author made a statement regarding what people may be thinking when they cross paths with a Muslim woman.

Burkah clad victims who hide their bodies away out of shame, forced marriages and honor killings, suppression and oppression of women, things that Islam totally condemns but some crazy Muslims are guilty of.

This piece of literature was written by a Muslim women who is a busy mother of four and Journalist  based in London and felt it was about time that we herd a Muslim women’s perspective from a Muslim women.  I really liked the passionate way in which she talked about Islam and the influence it had on her life and as a women.  It was well written and honest even to the point to acknowledge that yes there are some crazy Muslims who do things that contradict the teachings of Islam.  Like many other religions there are always some crazy people who take their faith to a dark place by extreme actions.  Google a religion and the word extremist and you will find that each one has it own dark story of violence against women.  It is so important to understand that the actions of a minority do not define the majority.

The covering up and loose fitting dresses for women is about modesty and similar rules also apply to men. It was interesting to learn that not all Muslim women cover their hair or cover themselves completely, it’s a choice.  Perhaps a choice that is not widely accepted in all Muslims societies but it is still a choice for some and the same choice I have about what I want to wear. Just because the choice is different to mine or yours doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just different.

Another piece of literature named Women and Islam was given to me that day and had a different effect on me.  It talked about peace and equality amongst men and women and shared verses from the Qur’an to support these teachings which was great. However what left me disappointed was the way the author chose to strengthen his message about peace and equality by comparing Islam to Judaism and Christianity.  My religion is better than your religion because… is the tone he took and unfortunately is how arguments tend to start.  The previous day I had visited the Egyptian Museum and came across an exhibition about religious tolerance in Egypt named ‘One God, Three Religions’.  On display was a document of the Prophet Mohamed’s deed explaining how to deal with people from other religious faiths through applying the principle of religious tolerance.  It would seem that the author of Women and Islam had missed that completely.

I have found that taking the time learn about something completely new like Islam has helped me to have more respect and understanding for the different religions that people embrace.    I may not surrender to any particular faith as I go through life but appreciate and I am thankful for lessons and experiences of other faiths that people have shared with me.

To be continued…….

untitled-11

untitled-6
Covering up is also required for men

Islam For A Beginner – Part One

The Middle East was a truly wonderful experience and so much of my blog is about the wonderful places I have visited.  Now I would like to take the time to write about my experience with Islam.  A religion that I had rarely been exposed to or understood but was ever present throughout my entire journey. 

Ramadan & The Call To Prayer

My introduction to Islam began with me arriving in the Middle East  in the last three days of Ramadan.  On my morning flight from Amman to Cairo I watched as the flight attendant’s offers of breakfast were continuously declined as they moved down the aisle.  I had read a little about Ramadan before my trip, mainly about fasting and considerations foreigners should show for people who are observing it.

On my second day in Egypt I travelled to Alexandria,  my guide for the day was a lovely man named Mohamed who was fasting for Ramadan.  I felt a little self conscious of eating or drinking in front of him, so much so that I barely ate my lunch. He was very considerate and didn’t have to sit at the table with me to keep me company while the waiter brought out multiple dishes of food, yet he did.  From sunrise to sunset for an entire month he and millions of others in the Muslim world would sustain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations, life’s simple pleasures that some of us struggle to go without for even a day.

Fasting  is one of the five pillars of Islam and is observed annually on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in conjunction with the sightings of the crescent moon.  It is a time of spiritual reflection and growth by going without worldly comforts to gain an understanding and empathy for those who are less fortunate.  This kind of spiritual reflection and empathy for others was something I didn’t expect to be associated with Islam, it was the first of many lessons.

Eid marks the end of Ramadan with celebration and family holidays which were in full swing at the hotel I was staying at. It was quite lovely to see so many families enjoying themselves, laughing together and playing with their children in the  pool.  Also quite refreshing was to see so many people celebrating and having a great time without the need for alcohol as a stimulant.  It was a lively party with everyone high on life and so much love and gratitude for one another.

The call to prayer would become a daily reminder of where I was and the presence of Islam.  It would call out from the many Mosques in the cities and towns in unison, strong and clear.  Even as I sailed down the Nile on my cruise boat it would drift across the lush green fertile Nile valley from the Mosques that dotted the shore line.  My favorite time was at sunset, with the sky on fire  and the call to prayer echoing out  across the valley as the red sun slowly disappeared on the horizon.

I was intrigued and as time went by I was to learn more about Islam and the people who embrace and live by it.  An unexpected spiritual journey to compliment the amazing places that I would see on my travels through out the Middle East.

I welcome you to comment below and tell me about your experiences with religion when traveling through different countries, I would love to hear your story too.  Were you curious to learn more and how did it influence your travel experience ?

To be continued……

The Beautiful Blue Of The Red Sea

Yellow sandy beaches, complimented by the beautiful waters of the Red Sea are waiting for you to come take a swim.  I had my Red Sea experience at the beach resort town of Hurghada on the western side of the Red Sea Riviera.    Hurghada is a busy resort town and parts of it are quite westernized, especially the down town area which has a vibrant nightlife with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops. If you do want more of an Egyptian feel you can head to Ad-Dahar in northern part of Hurghada for more authentic Egyptian restaurants and cafes and souks.

Hurghada is about a 4 hour drive from Luxor so it’s a great place to rest up, relax and reflect on the amazing experiences you have had while traveling through the Nile Valley.  If you are coming from Cairo the trip is a bit longer, depending on traffic it could take around 7 hours but the drive is quite pretty as most of it takes you right along side the Red Sea.  Bright blue waters, giant oil rigs in the distance and if you are lucky dolphins frolicking in the waters close to shore can be seen.

Most of the resorts have their own private beach which is good if you want be able to break out in a bikini without being self conscious of offending any locals.  It is Egypt so lots of  skin on a public beach can draw unwanted attention for females, it’s nothing to get annoyed about it’s just how it is, so be respectful and cover up.  The great thing about the resort I stayed at is that it always had lots of free activities like beach volley ball, Zumba classes and water polo just to name a few, however if chilling on the beach is your thing then chill away and get your brown on.

IMG_2974
Fun in the sun
IMG_0815
Lazy days in the sun getting brown and chilling out

Hurghada is well know for it’s beautiful marine life so scuba diving day trips are quite popular among tourist and can be booked either through your hotel or from one of the many tour operators in town.  Something to note about the marine life in Hurghada is that it has suffered a great deal from the fast and steady growth of this once small fishing village.  Coral reefs close to shore have been degraded over time by building developments along the coast and illegal dumping grounds.

In the last 15 years a number of conservation groups have been formed to protect, clean up and prevent further deterioration to the marine eco system in the Hurghada area.  Progress is being made with the collaboration of hotels and tourist business in the area which is vital as tourism is this towns bread and butter or as we are in Egypt it would more fitting to say ‘pitta and tahini’.

While this town is booming with tourist you will see a lot of unfinished building work going on.  Grand hotels and apartments that are yet to finished lay practically abandoned with little construction work going on. I’m not sure if this is to do with the economy or because these projects are now surplus to requirements or both.

Egypt is still getting back on it’s feet following a few low tourist seasons but Hurghada seems to be quite popular especially with Russian’s for tourism and employment.  Living in Hurghada is quite reasonable and direct flights from Russia to Hurghada make it an easy and cost effective tourist destination for Russian citizens seeking a working holiday or a break in the sun.

The Red Sea is one of the most beautiful places I have been lucky enough to experience and relax in.  It is truly one of Egypt’s treasures but like all things in nature it does need to be respected and taken care of so we can appreciate it for many years to come.

IMG_2980
Blue of the Red Sea on the drive back to busy vibrant Cairo
IMG_3020
Crossing the Red Sea Jordan bound, just make out the opening to the Suez Canal

How To Be Fearless In A Crystal Cabin

It’s good to be a little fearless in life, that way your life will always be an adventure.

When it comes to heights I am a bit of a wuss, but keeping true to my “be fearless”  philosophy I decided to tackle my fear of heights with a ride in the crystal cabin on the island of Lantau, Hong Kong.  The 360 cable car is a popular tourist attraction that takes you on a 5.7km cable car ride over  Tung Chung Bay and up over the North Lantau Country Park to the village of Ngong Ping.  It takes about 25 minutes and in that time you will be treated to spectacular views of Lantau Island, the busy Hong Kong airport and the South China Sea.

untitled-2
Citygate shopping center, Lantau Harbor
untitled-5
Higher and higher to wear only birds fly
untitled-7
Busy and beautiful South China Sea
untitled-3
At this point the cabin begins to sway as a light wind blows through the valley, fearless..

You have two options to consider when you take the 360 cable car, standard or crystal cabin.  The reason it is called a crystal cabin is because you are practically inside a glass box.  A glass box dangling in sky for 5.7km, it’s like having an extra window except it’s underneath your feet.  Apart from the extra window another great reason to take the crystal cabin is that the line is much shorter than the standard cabin.  The 360 cable car is quite popular and queues can get quite long.  I went early to try to avoid the lines but at 9.30 a.m there were already about 300 people queuing.  They run a pretty smooth operation so the queue moves quite swiftly I only waited in line for about 30 minutes.  The first 15 minutes in the cable  car is a bit daunting but once you get over the unnerving feeling of having nothing under your feet but air you start to feel brave, well I did anyway.  It’s a great feeling to conquer a fear even if it’s just a little one.  Just take a deep breath, smile and stand up, it’s just like flying.

untitled-27
Standing fearlessly and smiling while I do it
untitled-22
Birds eye view of the Lantau National Park

Living the dream, a sunset ride on an Arabian stallion

Horses view of the Pyramids
One of the best ways to see the Pyramids on the back of an beautiful Arabian.

Galloping, no wait more like flying across the desert on a beautiful Arabian steed at sunset with Cairo and the Great Pyramids in the background was a dream come true. On the back of a horse is one of the best ways to experience the pyramids, especially at sunset.  One of the most memorable moments was being out there with the sun going down and hearing the call to prayer echo out from the many Mosques in Cairo.  At that moment I really felt the magic of Egypt come alive, it was an unforgettable experience.

Throughout the ride you will be treated to stunning views of the Pyramids and watch the sky changes from pastel blue to oranges and yellows then fiery red as the sun dips below the horizon.


Sunset over Giza
Fire in the sky as the sun bids farewell to Egypt.
untitled-10
How well behaved does my noble Arabian Stallion look, not for very long……
untitled-7
Just in case you were wondering I did manage to stay on.

The Arabian horse is small compared to the 16 hand thoroughbreds I usually ride but these magnificent horses are little pocket rockets.  So much power and lots of spirt especially the stallions as you can see but still lots of fun, however it is important to know your limits.  If you are a beginner ridder a stallion is not the horse for you.

If one of your favorite books as a kid was the Black Stallion then this is an outing for you and it will be awesome. I feel so blessed to be able to have had this amazing experience, one of my favorites so far.

untitled-4
My wonderful guide showing me how it’s done.

Tips for ridding in Egypt

  • Most import, do your research and make sure you find a stable that look after their horses well, I chose to ride with FB Stables http://www.fbstablesgiza.co.uk  as the reviews  on Trip Advisor and Facebook spoke about how well they looked after their animals.
  • Karen & Karim from FB Stables were great to deal with and  also arranged for transportation to and from the stables, fantastic service and took the hassle out of me having to do it myself.
  • Treatment of animals in Egypt is quite shocking be warned that you will see starved animals, horses with exposed ribs and hip bones, so sad which is why it is really important to do research on a stable offering riding before booking.
  • Know your limits, it’s great to have a go on a stallion but they can be temperamental and are strong.  I ride twice a week and have been doing so for about 2 years but once my stallion started playing up I swapped horses.  My guide got on him and came off him shortly afterwards.  Don’t over commit yourself as you will end up kissing the desert floor.
  • If you do want to try out a stallion but unsure of your ability let your guide know so they can ride a stallion out and you can start off on a mare or gelding and then swap over part way.
  • Insist on a ridding hat I didn’t but should have on reflection just to be on the safe side.
  • If you are ridding at sunset try to be back at the stables by 7pm as there is quite a lot of activity around the stable area especially near the entrance to the desert.  I was ridding in and a group of kids on horses just came charging towards me and neither of us had any time to move. Most of the light had gone so they couldn’t see me, keep to left side.
  • The cost to ride is usually about 150EGP per hour which will include your horse and a guide, if you want to ride inside the pyramid boundary it will cost an extra 80EGP.   It is Egypt so a tip is also expected and the amount is entirely up to you but the guides do work really hard so please be kind and tip.
untitled-9
Live the dream and smile as you do!

Hatshepsut the woman who ruled as Pharaoh

The Temple of Hatshepsut was one of my favorite temples not just for it’s impressive elegant design and beautiful murals but because of the Pharaoh it was built for.   Hatshepsut the worlds first great female leader and the epitome of girl power from the 18th Dynasty of ancient Egypt.   The only surviving daughter of the Pharaoh Thutmose I she was married to her half brother Thutmose II.

Thutmose II had a son to a minor wife who was named Thutmose III and he was named successor when his farther died but was too young to rule.  This was Hatshepsut opportunity to take the initiative.  Young Thutmose III was removed from court and his Aunty Hatshepsut who was regent at the time ascended the throne.  You have to admire her tenacity, especially considering the mens club she just gate crashed.  She was certainly one of the guys, in all the statues and murals depicting Hatshepsut she is rocking a beard.

untitled-21
Working it as Pharaoh

According to history Egypt flourished under her rule, she expanded trade routes, built grand temples and ruled for about 20 years.  Meanwhile young Thutmose III had grown up and wasn’t a great fan of his Aunty Hatshepsut which you can understand considering she had banished him and taken his throne.  He had joined the army and become a great military leader and eventually ascended the throne when Hatshepsut died.  It would seem he was one to hold a grudge, following his aunts death he tried to erase Hatshepsut from history by removing any reference to her name, image and statues.  He didn’t manage to destroy everything as we still know of her.  This magnificent temple in Luxor just around the corner from the valley of the kings still stands and is absolutely stunning.

 What an  amazing force you must have been is what I said to her as I stood over her mummy at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

untitled-6     untitled-8

untitled-9      untitled-7


untitled-13

untitled-11   untitled-12

untitled-18   untitled-14   untitled-20

untitled-19   untitled-17