Introducing…Travel Unplugged

I am so excited to announce my new online travel show…Travel Unplugged!!!  Season 1 premieres April 29, 2015!  For 8 weeks, we will take an adventure throughout the UK, Europe and the Middle East.  The second trailer will be released in a couple of weeks and will explain the concept of Travel Unplugged & what you can expect.  Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel & blog!  Thanks 🙂

Hey! How Can I Travel Like You?

20130601-113254.jpgI like to think of travel as a close friend.  Someone I look forward to spending time with…and can’t wait to see again soon!  Many have asked me how I’m able to travel the world like I do.  So, I thought I’d share my journey.  If you want to travel the world…you can do it!  You don’t have to have a certain background.  Just a belief in yourself, determination, faith and a sense of adventure.

Most of the time, I’m asked “What do you do?”  It’s an innocent inquiry as to how I am able to travel to so many places.  I’m always so tempted to answer by saying “I’m an adventurer, explorer &  globetrotting travelista!”  But, while I consider that WHO I AM, it’s not the job title on my business cards…yet 🙂

So, what do I do?  I am responsible for compliance for a global company.  I know that seems really general but it isn’t really important as to WHAT I do…but more importantly, HOW I was able to transition from a job with absolutely no travel into finding one that allows me to explore the world.

I started out working in the legal department of a credit reporting agency.  I did absolutely NO TRAVEL.  Well, I did get to drive 23 miles from Atlanta to Alpharetta.  Woohoo!  Four years into this job, my mother suggested we do a family trip somewhere overseas.  We decided on Italy, booked the trip and headed off.  For those of you who have read my Roaming Thru Rome post, you know that is how this blog started. That is when I caught the travel bug.  I had such a phenomenal time.  While the post focuses on a lot of the hilarity that ensued, it wasn’t until my brother and I were walking around the Ponte Vecchio in Florence that I stopped and said, “I need a job that will pay for me to see the world.” I realized then that I had been missing out on so much.

After my trip, a friend suggested I read The Secret.  This book really helped me to shift from viewing my current circumstances in a negative light to clearly identifying what I wanted to do next and speaking that into being.  I can be Debbie Downtrodden, Negative Nancy & Pissed Off Patty all rolled into one sometimes.  I figured it was time for a change 🙂 So, I created a vision board with photos of international cities I wanted to visit and words that described my wish to find a job with overseas travel.

My desire to see the world was born in Florence.  That was July 2007.  In October 2007, I received a call from a recruiter asking me if I’d be interested in a compliance audit position.  I had absolutely no audit experience.  However, the company was looking for someone with a law degree to focus on certain legal-related audits and felt that I could easily pick up the audit piece.  To be honest, I wasn’t all that interested.  Then, the hiring manager called me and told me he had just gotten back from a month-long trip overseas to Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, France, Ireland, etc.  At this point, all I heard was “international travel.”  I was sold!  A few weeks later, I was offered a job with my current company.

It didn’t start out with the international destinations that I dreamed of.  Here I thought I’d be flying off to the French Riviera.  When, in fact, during the first 2 years, my only “international” trips were to Mexico City and Toronto.  Mostly, I had to travel to places like Louisville, Mississippi since my boss called dibs on all the interesting foreign destinations.  I was not feeling that.

As planning was underway for the 2010 calendar, a few things happened.  First, my boss was promoted out of our group and into another business.  Second, I spoke up and became aggressive about being assigned international audits.  Everything then fell into place.  I spent 70% of my time in 2010 in the UK and Europe.

At that point, I realized that I needed to figure out how to become a specialist in compliance areas that would require international travel.  It takes time but those baby steps help build the foundation to get you where you want to go.

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But the best laid plans sometimes have unforeseen pitfalls.  My company sold its European business in 2012 and I was then promoted into a compliance position within a business.  While the business segment had a sub-business that had international offices, I was assigned to the domestic sub-business.  Which meant ZERO international travel.  I was devastated.  I didn’t want to drive around the southeast to mills!  But, I dusted myself off and put together a new plan.

That meant talking with sister companies that had international offices as well as having a frank conversation with my new boss.  Sometimes, you just have to put it out there and tell them what you want.  I was clear that I wanted to focus solely on international-related matters.  Not just because I love travel, but because I’m intrigued by international business.  The nuances of laws and regulations between different countries keeps me on my toes.  Turns out, my new boss didn’t care for international travel so I was blessed to be able to shift into a new position where I am now responsible for compliance for our international business.

So, how do you get to travel internationally for business?  Here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Work for a global company.  This will allow you the opportunity to gain access to the international offices.  Think about joining a capability group (i.e. compliance, IT, law, etc.) that will allow you to work across the organization with multiple business lines.
  2. Work for a consulting firm.  This could be a law firm, forensic accounting…whatever firm offers services to companies.  Companies hire consulting firms to conduct investigations or independent audits in various areas (i.e. anti-corruption, data privacy, antitrust, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering, etc.).
  3. Research job qualifications on LinkedIn.  This will help you to figure out what skills are most often listed for positions that have international travel.
  4. Leverage your transferable skills.  This will allow you to change careers.  Maybe you are in IT and know a lot about data privacy due to the various restrictions that need to be in place when setting up email accounts for international employees or transferring data to the U.S. from other countries?  Look to join a company in their Privacy group.
  5. Become an Agent.  If you have a background in sales, this would work for you.  Typically, Agents sell goods on behalf of a company.  Find a global firm and talk the hiring manager into letting you handle a foreign market.
  6. Be fluent in another language.  You will see that most international positions prefer to hire someone with language proficiency in the countries they will be interacting with.  Knowing another language gives you a competitive edge! Companies will see that they don’t need to pay for an interpreter to go with employees or consultants to foreign countries.

heart-intuitionThese are just a few suggestions to get you started.  The biggest piece of advice I can give is to surround yourself with positive people who can encourage you when you start to doubt if it will ever happen.  Think optimistically and know that you will find a way to travel the world.  Create a vision board; tape Post-It notes with motivational quotes next to your computer screen; and start living like the job is already yours!

If you have more advice to add to the list, I’d love to hear it!  Thanks for reading and good luck!

Nikki’s Nest: Riad Joya (Marrakech, Morocco)

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

The amazing Riad Joya courtyard

Planning a trip to the majestic city of Marrakech? I recommend staying at the fabulous Riad Joya (designed by the eclectic & posh Umberto Maria Branchini). Featured on The Today Show’s 2012 “Hotlist”, this decadent riad captures the essence of different African cultures and each suite is light & airy.

Located in the very heart of the Medina (in the historical and protected area of the Mouassine quarter), Riad Joya is just a short walk from main monuments, the souk and Djemaa El Fna square (where you can buy spices, get a henna tattoo or take part in snake charming). You can also see some of the most exciting attractions of the red city, such as the Coranique School, the Koutubia and the Museum of Marrakech.This elegant boutique riad is a welcome retreat of peace & tranquility after spending the day exploring the chaotic Medina. I had the pleasure of spending 3 lovely days at this riad last year and can’t wait to visit again.

What’s a Riad?
Historically, it is a traditional Moroccan home with an open garden or courtyard. However, now most function as hotels/resorts. Riads are more inward focused. You won’t see large exterior windows. In fact, the exterior is rather plain and you are unable to tell if the home is upper or lower class. There are clay walls with a huge (and in some cases, ornate) door. Once you enter thru the massive door, you will be amazed at how lovely the interior is. This is where the magic happens..beautiful tiles & mosaics, water fountains, lush fabrics…riads offer you the opulence of a grand mansion combined with a cozy atmosphere. These lovely “homes” only have a small number of rooms (i.e. 5-10). Riads provide you with a unique Moroccan experience that you won’t get staying in a traditional hotel. You receive special attention & stay in beautiful surroundings. It’s like a slice of heaven.

Getting There

Riad Joya will arrange for a taxi from the airport, train station, or other cities at your request. Your taxi will drop you off just outside one of the gates to the Medina. The streets are very narrow inside the Medina so no cars are allowed…only push carts, donkeys & mules. They will also arrange for a luggage porter to greet you at the gate and lead you to the riad which is just a few minutes walk away. My advice…do not try to find the riad on your own. The Medina has many streets and this riad is located off a side street from another side street. A 20 Dirham (which is about $2 USD) tip to a luggage porter is money well spent. Plus, this will allow you to take in the sights and sounds of the Medina while walking to your destination.

Promotions

You can book directly via the website or go thru a 3rd party discount booking agency (i.e. Jetsetter; Trip Advisor).

The Courtyard

This riad surrounds a breathtaking courtyard that has a water fountain and beautiful plants & flowers. There are open lounge/sitting areas surrounding the courtyard. Each area makes you feel comfortable and relaxed.

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

View of the Riad Joya from the rooftop at night

Marrakesh 442Rooms & Suites

Riad Joya is an elegant 7-suite luxury boutique hotel. Each suite has a theme based on a particular African region. The riad website describes it best, “The overall atmosphere is of an elegant private house where understated luxury fuses with eclectic style and bespoke service and attentions.”

This hotel also has a “Butler service” which offers tailored services “from the assistance with transportation and luggage, to recommendations of activities, Joya’s Butler is always ready to ensure that all our guests have everything needed for an enriching stay.” We were spoiled rotten! He anticipated our needs, handled getting our laundry washed & pressed; walking us to and from the hammam and inquiring about our favorite fruits & vegetables to help with dinner selection. I really needed him to come home with me 🙂

Each suite features a private seating area and large dressing room. The bathrooms are amazing!!! They are “all made in natural stones combined with the traditional tadelak, are bright and spacious and features large shower and a vanity corner.”

Be sure to check out the pictures on the riad website (linked above) or tripadvisor.com as each suite is different. Upon arrival, we are told we can pick from a variety of suites since the riad was not fully booked (fab-u-lous!). After we chose our suite, we were taken to our room and given time to relax before heading down for dinner. Words really can’t capture how wonderful this place is.

We stayed in the largest suite — the Dar Arabe…absolute luxury!

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

A writing alcove in the Dar Arabe suite

Vanity area

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Soaps, shampoo & conditioner

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Seating area

Seating area

I was also given a tour and was able to photograph a few of the suites that weren’t in use.

The Tuareg suite (inspired by the Berber people). Love the eclectic look & feel of this room (even if it is the darkest suite of the bunch).

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Entrance to the Tuareg suite

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

Sweet dreams in the Tuareg suite!

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Check out the sinks!

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

A copper bathtub surrounded by a circular cloth shower curtain.

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Seating area

Seating area

The Naos suite – in Egyptology, naos refers to that which is hidden and unknown inside the inner sanctum of a temple (source, Wikipedia).

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos suite

Naos bath

Naos bath

The Domus suite…

Domus suite

Domus suite

Domus seating area

Domus seating area

Dining

The chef at the Riad Joya is PHENOMENAL! You can dine in their beautiful dining room or on the terrace (which is up several sets of very steep stairs). The riad provides a bountiful breakfast of fruits & pastries (you can request eggs as well) and a daily set menu.

A bountiful dinner

A bountiful dinner

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Ambient lighting in the dining room with their beautiful Moroccan lamps.

Delicious dessert

Delicious dessert

The Hammam & Spa

What better way to unwind from a day of sightseeing than to enjoy a hammam & spa? Unfortunately, the riad’s hammam was out of service during our stay but they did set us up with an appointment at another hammam a short walk away (and the massage is fab-u-lous)! You pick between a couple of fragrant oils (my choices were “orange flower” and “jasmine”). Those magical hands lulled me right into a light nap. Want to know more about what to expect when visiting a hammam? Check out my Tale of 2 Hammams post.

Overall

If you are looking for the perfect place to unwind and relax during your visit to Marrakech, this inviting sanctuary is the place. Have insightful conversations over mint tea while learning about Moroccan culture from the locals. I must warn you that this riad is not suitable to those who are wheelchair bound or have mobility issues due to the amount of stairs. Other than that, this place is perfect. Centrally located with delicious food and an absolutely phenomenal staff, the Riad Joya is a wonderful place to stay during your exotic trip to Marrakech. So forget using hotel chain rewards points and enjoy the unique experience of staying in a riad!

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Nikki’s Rating: Absolutely Wonderful 5

Rating Scale 1-5 (1 = GET OUT NOW; 2 = Seriously?; 3 = Eh, it’ll do; 4 = Fabulous; 5 = Absolutely Wonderful)

Looking for a place to stay in Fez? Check out my review of the Riad Laaroussa. Interested in visiting Morocco? Check out my travel adventures here!

The Chaotic Culture of Cairo

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Cairo…Lord help me…I wasn’t ready. Cairo is a HUGE city of over 25 million people.  It is chaotic, has the worse environmental, health and safety issues I’ve ever seen…and in spite of all that, it is magnificent.  In order to enjoy Cairo, you have to look past the current state of modern Cairo and imagine what it was like thousands of years ago.

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We start out today by taking a bus for 3 hours from Alexandria to Cairo. On the way, the tour guide gives us a history lesson (which conflicts with the history lesson from the Alexandria/Luxor tour and makes me consult my guidebook because you know how I am about details). Anyway, she does give us this tidbit as we pass this cone-shaped construction…

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It’s a pigeon coop and apparently, pigeons are considered a delicacy in Egypt. They construct these coops to trap the pigeons then kill them and eat them. I’m sure they taste just like chicken. My first thought was of Petey…the pigeon who took a dump on my coat in Florence. He better watch his back if he ever vacations in Egypt because Ahkbar will be like, ‘guess who’s coming to dinner?’

So, we get to Cairo and it’s instant chaos. Imagine 25 million people trying to get around the city. I’m going to break this post into the “good”, “bad” and “just plain sad”.

THE GOOD

Egyptian Museum
This museum alone is enough to bring me back to Cairo. It holds most of the treasure from King Tut’s tomb and words cannot describe how magnificent the treasure is. It is hard to imagine that there was that type of skilled artistry that many years ago. I expected crude drawings but this was delicate & masterful. The marble jars that held his organs were the most beautiful things I’ve seen. And, his bed? OMG. There was also a papyrus chair that looks like you can sit in it now. It’s just amazing how this stuff lasted for so long. And, how much they had! I mean, they had big patio umbrellas, boomerangs, huge beds, chaise lounges…you name it. They were living large back in the day! We were not allowed to take any pictures or even bring your camera off the bus so I apologize for not being able to show you these works of art. King Tut’s treasure does travel to other museums from time to time so I highly suggest you check it out if it comes to a city near you. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

Pyramids of Giza & the Sphinx
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Seeing the pyramids and sphinx up close was amazing. Now, I will be honest with you…you are going to have to block out a lot of foolishness and really FOCUS ON THE MOMENT. Because the hustlers are out in full force. You thought the hustlers in Luxor were bad? That was the B team. These are the professionals.

The pyramids aren’t in the desert…they are right there on the edge of town. Look to the left and there is a KFC/Pizza Hut. But, once you look right and go up the hill, it’s all pyramids. It took over 2 million stones to make the Great Pyramid.

The Giza Plateau which houses the pyramids is older than the Valley of the Kings. While Thebes and Alexandria were capitals of Egypt during pharaonic rule, Memphis may have been the original capital. The Great Pyramid was built around 5000 years ago and became the necropolis (royal burial ground) for Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. It took less than 100 years to build all 3 pyramids.
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There were also smaller Queens’ Pyramids which were constructed for the wives and important relatives of the pharaohs.
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Then there is the Sphinx which is the guardian of the Giza Plateau. It’s known to the Arabs as ‘Abu al-Hol’ or the “father of terror”.
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THE BAD

The Hustlers.

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You could barely enjoy yourself because of how commercial it has become outside the major sites. You know it’s bad when they have to prepare you and give you “talking points” before you leave the bus. The professional hustlers are in cahoots with the cops. They play this game where they will trick you into paying them more money and if you refuse, they loud talk you and the police will come over and make you pay the hustler or face jail. Ridiculous. It’s just a very aggressive peddle market and if you aren’t prepared, it will overwhelm you. So, if you ever go over there, be on the lookout for 2 hustles.

1. The Camel Ride. The hustler will start by telling you it’s $100 to ride a camel for 5 minutes. Then, you negotiate down to $5. You have to be very specific and tell them that the $5 is for the ENTIRE THING. Because, they will charge you $5 to get on the camel…then $100 to get you off. That’s right. You could be held hostage on a camel. The fair price for a 15 minute camel ride is $10. Now, since the camels stank to high heaven, I decided I’d just get my picture taken next to one. This required every negotiation tactic I possessed. See, hustlers sense weakness. You have to go in confident and not show any doubt or insecurity with them or they will loud talk you. So, I just went in with the “I’m from the ATL…I ride MARTA, you can’t hustle me” attitude. I asked Muhammed how much it would cost to take a picture with the camel and his response? “Whatever you want to pay.” Naw, playa. I’mma need you to agree to a fixed price. So, I responded with, “will you accept $2?” He was like, “whatever you want to pay. It can be free. I’m not worried about the money.” Buddy, I’m from the ATL. You can’t hustle me. I already got caught up in the sphinx booty hustle in Luxor. I’m hustled out. So, I said to him, “you specifically agree to $2 because that is what I’m paying you.” He nodded and tried to distract me. Uh uh. Buddy…I’m from the A.T.L. Home of Grand Hustle Records. Please. So, I take the pic and you can see from the smile on his face that he thinks he’s about to pull a major hustle.
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After I take the picture and start to pull out the money, Muhammed was like, “most people pay me $7 or $10”. I was like, “well, you agreed to $2”. He then proceeded to give me a look like he was about to start loud-talking me…I then looked him dead in the eye, gave him the $2 and walked away.  I’ve watched Star Wars a hundred times…I know how to pull off a Jedi mind trick.  Don’t hate the playa, hate the game. Ha!

2. “Free” gifts. After I leave Muhammed, this kid comes up with something that he says is a gift. It’s supposedly free. I already knew about that hustle too. See, I go on the Rick Steves website and see what the current hustles are in each country & city I visit. There was nothing about the sphinx booty so I got caught slipping but I was determined not to make that mistake twice. So, when the hustlers try to give you something (even a “free” gift), you cannot accept it because it magically becomes worth a certain amount of money. So, Lil Buddha comes up and is like, “my father wants me to give you this. It’s good luck and will protect you.” I was like, “no thanks” because I already bought the evil eye in Turkey. I also got Jesus and I don’t need nobody else. After telling him no, he suddenly doesn’t understand English and keeps following me around and trying to lay this gift on my shoulder then arm. I was ducking my shoulder so much I felt like I was doing the wobble. So, after about the 10th time of me saying “no”, he then tells me the gift is from his mother. I was like, “the answer is still no. I don’t want it. Back up off me little boy.” Shoot.

The Just Plain Sad

Environmental, Health & Safety
Sigh. The most shocking thing for me to see was how dirty the city of Cairo is. I cannot remember seeing a trashcan and trust me, I was looking. The canals and streets are littered with trash.

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When someone asked the bus driver to throw a can of soda and potato chip bag away since they couldn’t find a wastebasket on the bus, he threw it on the sidewalk outside the bus! I was like, ‘the hell?’ Seriously? Even the Nile River was dirty! Looking at how squalid the living conditions are and how dirty and unsanitary things are really makes you not want to eat or drink ANYTHING. I’m sure quite a few people are walking around with scavies.

Why won’t the government establish an environmental protection agency to clean this mess up? That could create thousands of jobs that are sorely needed. It would increase the life span and reduce health issues. It’s ridiculous when I can look into a river and see dead fish…or see fumes rising from piles of trash in the center of the city. I can’t get over people littering like that either. Take some pride in your city! I’ve just never seen such squalor & dirtiness on this grand of a scale. If folks are gonna hustle something, hustle some Clorox.

I was reading the Egyptian Mail newspaper which is written in English and has lots of great articles. I’m hoping they have an online edition because if you want to really understand what is going on in Egypt, this newspaper breaks it down and is totally entertaining.  Recently, there was an article of a 6-year-old boy who died because he fell out of a window at school. Where are your safety procedures? Why were kids playing around an open window on the 5th floor?

Poverty
I think this had to be the most depressing thing for me. The city is so poor. With 50% of people out of work, they struggle to survive. Of course, I did see men out smoking “hookah” and just hanging out since they didn’t have a job. Don’t they need to be on monster.com or something? I know the hookah stuff aint free so save your Egyptian pounds for food. As you can see from the pics below, it’s hard to imagine living this way.

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There is a strong history of governmental corruption in Egypt and you can see by the disparity in living conditions. You can see how most folks in the city live above. Now look at the palatial estate below.

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Egyptian officials sold a lot of land at a HEAVILY discounted rate to rich folks who aren’t using the land to help the poor but to build high-end luxury homes. You know, if certain governmental officials would stop selling Egyptian antiquities to folks in other countries for cheap and accepting kickbacks, they could earn enough money to clean the city up. Which brings me to my next point…

The kids.
There are tons of kids out hustling. They are like 5-12 years old!
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They don’t go to school because they earn so much from hustling tourists! Apparently, they end up having drug problems when they get older because they don’t know how to handle having that much money. Also, they pay off the government so they will look the other way and allow them to be truant.

Color Complex
Like just about any country on this earth, there is a color complex in Egypt. The lighter you are, the more beautiful you are by society standards. While we have a product line in the US called, “Dark n Lovely”, they have one called “Fair n Lovely”.

The Funny
So, now I’m going to get to a couple of funny things that happened. Apparently, if you are a black American, you are automatically an Obama. Everywhere we went, we heard, “Obama Family!” I’m not sure if my brother is Malia or Sasha. 

On the way back to Alexandria, we were involved in a bus accident. The bus sideswiped a car on the highway (they drive so crazy here) and instead of pulling over and exchanging insurance information and calling the police, the bus driver speeds up and runs away from the scene of the accident. So, we are now fugitives from the law. Lord help me.

Overall, going to Egypt was a great experience. I would suggest you add it to your list of places to visit…even if it is just to see the Egyptian Museum. Once you get past the hustlers and the filth of the city, you can really see why Cairo has so much to offer.

 

Photos of the Day: Karnak Temple (Luxor/Thebes, Egypt)

20130223-180612.jpgI’ve been obsessed with visiting Karnak Temple ever since I saw The Mummy Returns.  When the opportunity arose to visit, I jumped at the chance!  This open-air museum is very interesting with its decaying temples & hieroglyphics.  Located in the ancient city of Thebes, this temple is said to be the largest ancient religious site in the world & second most visited site in Egypt…behind the Pyramids of Giza (source Wikipedia).  It was even more majestic than I had imagined.  At the heart of Karnak lies the Temple of Amun…king of the gods.  Karnak has everything…endless courts and halls, a sacred lake, statues of pharaohs, etc.  This was the highlight of my visit to Luxor.  It’s AMAZING!

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Interested in visiting Egypt?  Read my review here.

Photos of the Day: Nomad Girls of the Sahara

The expression on this little girl's face really moved me.

The expression on this little girl’s face really moved me.

Nomad friendship

Nomad friendship

During my sunrise hike over the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert, I was approached by three adorable nomad girls selling trinkets. They spoke absolutely no English, but luckily, my guide was with me and able to translate for us. I was able to find out that they are between the ages of 8 and 9 and only one of the girls attends school (she lives in the city of Merzouga with her mother but visits her father in the desert on the weekends). I was also lucky enough to visit with and interview the women of a nomad family during my camping trip. You can read the interview here. I highly recommend adding a visit to Morocco and the Sahara Desert to your bucket list! You won’t be disappointed.

Photo of the Day: Felucca Ride Down The Nile (Egypt)

The Nile

While visiting Luxor (formerly known as “Thebes”…the city where pharaohs like King Tut ruled), I had the wonderful opportunity of having lunch on the famous Nile river. One of the “must do” activities in most guidebooks is to cruise down this beautiful body of water in one of the famous feluccas (a wooden boat). While I didn’t have enough time for the cruise, at least I was able to snap a picture. Has anybody taken a cruise down the Nile? If so, how was it?

Camping Out in the Magnificent Sahara Desert

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How can I adequately describe the Sahara Desert?  Awe-inspiring.  Magnificent.  Beautiful.  Serene.  All of those adjectives and more.  During our 8 day trip thru Morocco, we decided to camp out overnight in the Sahara.  Upon arriving to the outskirts of the desert, we switch vehicles from a van to a 4×4 and visit the village of visit Khamlia, a village founded by freed slaves known as the Gnawi brotherhoods who play spiritual music.  As we entered the tent, we were given mint tea then treated to a performance which was really nice! During the performance, they asked us to form a circle and dance…it sort of turned into the Soul Train line.  It was LOADS of fun!!!

dancing!

dancing!

Gnawi brotherhood

Gnawi brotherhood

After the performance, we take a 4×4 into the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara Desert to watch the sunset and spend the night in a deluxe Bedouin-style tent (because, um we aren’t really “roughing it” kind of girls).  The tent had 2 twin beds (complete with mattresses on frames), bathroom (which included a shower) and sitting room.

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dining tent

After we get settled, we head over to the “dining tent” which was gorgeous.  We were the only people in camp that night so it was kind of quiet but we ended up having a lot of fun.  After a delicious dinner and great conversation with our guide, Tata, and driver, Haji, we walk over to an area set up with pillows, rugs, a small table, lanterns and music equipment (mostly various types of percussion instruments).  Tata and the other guys working at the camp performed traditional songs and invited us to play instruments with them (and I am not ashamed to say that I channeled my inner Sheila E on the bongos…until they asked if I’d just like to clap instead…maybe it was too much, too soon and they weren’t ready for the funk I was bringing?).

Fes, Sahara 180

entertaining under the stars

I suggest EVERYBODY visit the Sahara.  At night, it was so quiet you can hear a pin drop.  There were NO CRICKETS!!!  I’m so used to hearing them that it was a jolt to my system to be immersed in quiet and complete darkness.  Once the lanterns are extinguished, you only have the moon & stars.  Tata and I took a late night hike thru the sand dunes so I could take it all in.  It’s hard to describe the experience…like you truly disconnected from the world (because you also can’t get cellular service).  I don’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed and stress-free!

tents

tents

Once I got back to the tent, my Mom was ready to turn in.  But she was having reservations about the tent because she had expected there would be a door.  Yeah, it’s a deluxe tent…but it is still a tent…in the Sahara.  I don’t know if she thought we were staying at the Ritz Carlton – Sahara or what.  Now, I had prepared myself for the fact that I would encounter a bug or 2.  I already had my Avon Skin So Soft and Off (courtesy of my Mom).  She was okay until she thought she saw a bat.  I didn’t actually see it but she claims she did and after that, it was a wrap.  She came up with the game plan that we’d just keep the lights on in the tent to keep the bats away…but then the camp operators had the nerve to shut the power off at night (they said it is to conserve energy).  So my Mom couldn’t keep the lights and now feared that bats would swoop in, turn into Dracula, and bite us.  What would happen if we turned into vampires?  We didn’t have any True Blood in our emergency preparedness kit (there wasn’t enough space with all the toilet paper).

Around 1am, I startled awake by my Mom screaming about scorpions.  She’s got her flashlight on and pointed towards her face like it’s the Moroccan Blair Witch Project.  I’m trying to figure out what is going on.  I mean, I know she isn’t serious.  I must be dreaming this.  Did my mint tea have another type of herb in it?  I’m confused.  At this point, she has moved into my twin bed and made the proclamation that she will NEVER sleep in that bed again because there is a scorpion the size of a “cow” in it.  But, before I could find Bessie the Scorpion and lead her out of the tent, my Mom wanted me to see if her arm was swelling.  Sigh.  After confirming that there was no swelling, I check the bed and can’t find the Velociraptor-sized scorpion.  I did see a big cockroach though.  Lest you think we are going to sleep peacefully together in a small twin bed, I’ve got news for you…we are not.  Labor Layaway requires counseling sessions as well (wait, you don’t know what Labor Layaway is?  well, you need to read my post Travelin’ Mr./Mrs. Daisy to find out).  And, my Mom had to question why there was no actual door on the tent.  You read that right.  And, I’m sure that will go into the survey feedback she is working on right now.  See, as you get older, things don’t have to make sense.  A tent in the Sahara to young people means just that.  But to older people?  It means a cottage with a fireplace, butler and an exterminator on speed dial.

I'm pretty sure it was the Scorpion King who came into the tent.

I’m pretty sure it was the Scorpion King who came into the tent.

After we survive the night, we wake up around 5:30am to hike the sand dunes and watch the sunrise…and it is AMAZING!  We see various vegetation and end up meeting 3 girls from a nomadic Berber tribe.  I cover our time spent them and a nomadic family in my previous blog post, Life of a Nomad.

I MADE IT!!!

I MADE IT!!!

Once we complete our morning hike, we take showers, get dressed and head off to breakfast before going on our camel ride thru the desert.  And I have to say that the camel ride was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  Unlike the camels in Egypt, ours didn’t stink (so yay for that!), they weren’t temperamental and it was a very smooth journey.  The nomad that owns the camels was very nice, spoke limited English and provided us with the experience of a lifetime!

AWESOME!!!

AWESOME!!!

After our camel ride was complete, we went 4-wheeling thru the sand dunes.  THIS WAS AWESOME!!!  I felt like a little kid!  Speeding up and down hills, making crazy turns, trying not to get stuck in sand…what more can you ask for?  But, all good things must come to an end.  Once we finished playing in the sand, we headed back to the city, said good-bye to our camp operators and guide, then headed to Ouarzazate.

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