That time I was Stranded at the Jordanian Border

Last year we visited the middle east for a period, these are my sentiments on a portion of the trip.

Carolyn in Jordan

 

For the past week we had been traipsing around the southern half of Jordan. Snorkeling in the Dead Sea, climbing up the red stones of Petra, and quenching our thirst with sweet Bedouin tea. It all sounds like a great, exotic time, but the Middle East is an exhausting country. It’s hot, as a female I had to be conscious of my outfits, and everything is dusty, sandy, and hot. While we’re very happy to have visited, we were pretty ready to leave.

 

The Treasury!

The Treasury

 

Our last night was spent in a traditional tent in Wadi Rum. I have never seen more stars than I did that night and I’d say it was a highlight of the trip. We climbed into our Bedouin host’s SUV in the morning and we were on our way down the open highways to the Wadi Araba crossing. On the way we were pulled over and our driver ran into some issues with his registration. He argued for a good long while with the police, and finally got out of the car and paid the fine.

 

Police Stop

Arabic graffiti

 

About 30 minutes later we arrived at the Wadia Araba border and paid our tab for our desert stay. We were a few dinar short, which was ok with our host. But that meant we had zero dinar left – which seemed perfect at the time since we had no intention of returning to Jordan in the near future.

 

We picked up our packs and hoofed it to the first step of the multi-step process to cross the sad, dusty Wadi Araba border. We could see Israel in the distance. Beautiful, air conditioned Israel.

And midway through the process we discovered that we owed 10 JD per person to leave the country. Cash only. No problem, we thought, surely there’s an ATM. Surely.

 

Clearly we’d learned nothing from our week in Jordan. We started looking around for an ATM. We asked a few guards. Nothing.

 

We started coming up with crazy ideas, like buying a doodad from the duty free shop (which took credit cards, which is a relevant point in a moment) and then returning it for cash. No dice. We started reasoning with two of the guards. We asked them why they don’t take credit cards at an international border crossing and they said because there’s no internet out there. Except the duty free shop took credit cards. I made the mistake of talking to them at all – they clearly were not going to listen to no woman. Eventually Caleb told me that it’s probably better if I just stay quiet.

 

The reason we were so insistent on finding a solution at the border was because the closest town, Aqaba, was an overpriced, unpleasant 10 minute taxi ride both ways. That doesn’t sound bad, but wait until my post about the Jordanian taxi mafia and you’ll understand.

 

We finally resigned ourselves to the taxi option, the only way to get to town. But first we were going to execute a last ditch effort and dig through our bags for money. Any kind of money. Euros, shekels, something at all. And lo, behold, a 20 Euro note emerged from a tiny pocket in my carry-on. I flashbacked to me taking this note from Caleb before I ventured out in Vienna for a walk. Goodness I am glad I didn’t spend that on coffee and sachertorte. Hallelujah!

 

We proudly took our 20 Euros to the currency exchange man, which obviously we also visited earlier in our roundabout search for an ATM. He understood our plight, and gave us a few extra dinar for our Euros as 20 Euros is about 15 JD and we needed 20 JD.

 

Crossing the Wadi Araba Border

Great glorious Israel!

 

We were soon slugging our way over the 100 meters of No Man’s Land between these two sandy nations. It is an unpaved, barren bit of land, because Middle Eastern countries naturally need some buffer space. We easily went through our return process to Israel, working our way through the series of clean, air-conditioned buildings. Caleb’s passport proved to be interesting to them, as it always does – but soon enough we were waiting for a taxi on the other side to get to our hotel for in Eilat.

 

That was my hot, sweaty lesson to always research exit taxes before leaving a country. Usually I do, but I slipped up this time. Never again!

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There are no Dragons in Wales

I’m telling you, I looked. There are no dragons. Except that red dragon icon they put on everything, but don’t let that fool you. The only fire breathing going on there is from old men eating mushy peas at 9am in the pub.

So no dragons, sorry to disappoint. But there are rolling green pastures, sheep, and castles, which is really what I was there for anyway. Particularly the latter.

Let me back up. Caleb and I had left London on a Sunday evening on a train out of Paddington Station. It took maybe three hours to get from there to Bridgend, our final destination. You have never heard of Bridgend, nor will you ever again after this post. It’s just a small town in South Wales. There’s nothing there. Oh sure, a couple castles and a river live there, but that’s like all of Wales.

Guinness Chips

Guinness chips (sorry, “crisps”) that we had on the train. They were rubbish.

Anyway, we arrived in Bridgend and made our way to the hotel that Caleb’s work was putting him up in. Pretty much the only hotel in town, above a pub. Naturally.

To set the scene, I’ll start with the main core of the town. Everything is old, as Europe does, and of course lots of stone. Cobblestones, stone houses, you get it. A few fine examples are in the slideshow below.

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The one week that I spent there Caleb went to work every morning and I would see him at lunch time and again in the evening. I spent my days either in the hotel room, at a cafe, or wandering around.

The hotel room was, how shall we say it, bland. It was fine enough. They gave Caleb a “family room” so it was bigger than the other rooms. But the place was definitely old. Single-paned windows, dingy carpet, and uninspired decor. However, they did provide a tea tray. Because any upstanding member of the U.K. provides tea trays, as far as I know. Pictures related to the hotel below, though of course I never took a picture of the room or the building. Really not much to see. At any rate, the place did the job. We could even get wifi from the pub.

Random comment about Wales: they love Welsh. Sorry, it appears that they do. I never found anyone who could understand Welsh, but every sign was translated into Welsh (and Welsh was often listed first). The announcements on trains were also in Welsh. It seems that someone somewhere is trying very hard not to let the language die.

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The cafe that I went to every single day was about halfway between the hotel and Caleb’s office, really just a few blocks. It was called Bauhaus and it was run by a very kind Jamaican man who gave me a free bagel when I discovered that I didn’t have enough £. One of the best meals I had in all of Wales (well, Bridgend) was goat curry and an iced coffee at that cafe. It was just perfect.

After I spent the first half of the week on work, since I had a big project I needed to finish, I spent Thursday exploring the area. Which I will have to cover another day, but I promise there will be castles and sheep.

Cheers London!

In April and May, the husband ditched me for Wales. He was on a work trip for a couple of weeks, which was much too long for us to be apart, so I decided to visit him.

Via my miles collecting ways, I had around 50k American Airlines miles, and the dates I was looking at going to visit him fell right before the off-season cut off. You see, during the off season you can fly to Europe roundtrip for 40k AA miles. That’s a ridiculous deal. I found an easy flight from Seattle to NYC, then from there to London Heathrow. My Heathrow flight was a red eye, naturally, but it was on an empty plane – one of AA’s newer remodeled ones. So I got a whole row (my choice of whole rows really) to myself to stretch out and nap. 40k miles! So cheap.

After I landed (at 6am no less), I took a 1.5 hour tube ride (the tube is so darn easy to navigate, about 10x better than the NYC subway) from the airport to my hotel waaaaaaaay across the city. But the hotel was free via my points-gathering ways. Mwahahahaha. And a free hotel in London is worth a lot, let me tell you. That is one spendy city.

Of course my room wasn’t ready when I got to the hotel at 9am, so I dropped my bags at the front desk and then spun myself around to head off to Westminster in my red-eyed daze. I hadn’t really done much planning for this trip. I mean, I bought my flight less than two weeks prior. So Westminster was about the only place on the map I could think of to go to in my bleary state.

Coming out of the tube at Westminster you’re greeted by Big Ben. It’s just right there. 

Oh hi Big Ben!

Oh hi Big Ben!

After recovering from the overwhelming British-ness of it all (including taxis, red telephone boxes and double decker buses), I meandered across the street to Westminster Abbey.

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It’s so grand. 

Now, I don’t remember much else of this day. I know I saw those two things since I have pictures, but that’s about all I know. Oh, and I passed out when I got back to the hotel. I was absolutely exhausted.

BUT WAIT. THAT’S NOT ALL.

I just remembered (rather, found the photos) that I didn’t go back to the hotel yet. Oh no. I went to the Tower of London. Of course I did. I think it was only noon at this point and I couldn’t check in until 2.

So I paid the rather expensive entry/tour ticket ($30) and wandered right into a tour group hosted by a Yeoman Warder (A.K.A. “Beefeaters”, no one knows why…). I thoroughly enjoyed the tour as the Beefeaters are quite amusing. I’m not much of a tour girl, but this one is worth doing. I learned so very much about the Tower. It’s been kept in very good condition and apparently the Beefeaters and their families live inside the fortress. How. Cool. After the tour I wandered about and saw the crown jewels, of course. So shiny.

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The next day I went to the Edelman London office for work, which was fairly close to Westminster. I believe I got off at the stop after it. The London office is quite large, and they have a bar in the office which is pretty cool. I spent the day frantically working on a project that I really wanted to finish and then afterwards I met up with Caleb back at the hotel. He trained (it’s a verb now) from Wales that evening for the weekend.

That weekend we went back to Westminster and a few other neighborhoods so Caleb could do the touristy things too.

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We also visited this most wonderful wine bar that Saturday afternoon, the oldest wine bar in London. It was called Gordon’s Wine Bar and it was basically in a cave in the middle of the city. You can see pictures here. It was dark, very dark and rather dank. Also crowded. Apparently it’s always crowded and it’s near impossible to get a seat inside during peak times but somehow our fancy selves snagged a table and some wine. It was magical.

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Sunday afternoon we left Paddington Station to go to Wales, but that’s a story for another day.

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The Best Hotel in El Salvador

The best hotel in El Salvador is La Joya del Golfo. You’ll never find it. You could never happen up on it. And that’s what makes it absolutely blissful.

Last January we spent three quiet days lounging in hammocks, glued to our kindles and feasting on spiny lobster and watermelon frescas. Even during the holidays the place was quiet. It was like we had the whole place to ourselves most of the time; there are only four rooms.

The location was a little three story house with a wide deck area, owned by an El Salvadoran and American expat with their older children. The house is on a sizeable, remote island off of the southern coast of El Salvador, about two hours from the airport if I remember correctly. You can see Nicaragua and Honduras from the island, it’s that far south. It’s circled in red below.

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We got there via panga boat from La Union. La Union is no destination and is a bit…smelly. But as you pull out of the harbor and weave your way through the islands, the air gets so fresh and signs of life become fewer.

After 30 or 40 minutes on an exhilarating boat ride, you arrive to this.

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Photo Source

The deck you see there is where we spent 90% of our awake time. Except for maybe afternoon siestas in our air conditioned room, though it didn’t really get unbearably hot there. The cool air from the water tempered the 90 degree heat. Also not moving a muscle really helped. I love vacation.

We did so little that I think it made our hosts uncomfortable. We just wanted to lounge in the hammocks and read. And then eat. And then read some more.

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Ahhh, heavenly hammock. In the distance to the left you can see a little uninhabited island, called Bird Island. So many birds live there, a lot of pelicans and other things I can’t identify. On one part of the island, if you look up, the sky is just covered in circling birds.

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We did spend about an hour one day kayaking around the island with the sit-on-top kayaks they had on site. Once you get to the other side of the island, you don’t really see any signs of life except for maybe a boat or two. We saw some strange marine animal as well in the water. It poked it’s head up, but it was a weird head. We came to the conclusion that it was either a very large turtle, like, huge. Or a dolphin. Perhaps.

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Those little buoys in the background are an oyster farm.

Back at our little house on stilts we wined and dined on seafood every day. Caleb had lobster every day, prepared in a variety of ways. They gave us massive lobsters for only $15 each. They were huge, really really. And they had large spines. They weren’t like Maine lobster, that’s for sure. Here’s one decimated by one of us.

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The family’s older son made us sushi out of a local fish one day. talk about fresh. They also  kept us well supplied with cheap pina coladas. Because what is vacation without pina coladas?

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If anyone is reading this that wants to visit El Salvador, I highly recommend this place. Amazing, friendly service. Very nicely appointed rooms with TV, AC and comfortable beds. Great food and even greater prices across the board. Not to mention the hammocks, the kayaks, the little boat ride they had someone take us on to a secluded sandy beach. I left my sandals on that beach if anyone finds them. They were great sandals, glad it was at the end of the trip.Image

Anyway, anyone and everyone should go there. You can even just take a boat out there and have dinner, then boat on back to La Union. I don’t recommend that, I think you need at least three nights at La Joya. Now go, feast on lobster and while away your days in handmade white hammocks and enjoy that sea breeze. With a pina colada in hand. Obviously.

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Gordo, the resident bulldog, and his coconut.

 

 

Introducing Gertrude

As you know, we have a plethora of fauna in our front yard. There’s Potter the otter (and Sons, his baby otters), Scooter the sea lion, Scampers the harbor seal, and the newest member of the cast – Gertrude the elephant seal!

She’s big, she’s clumsy, and she huffs and puffs back and forth in the water. She’s a real character, and the largest pinniped we’ve ever seen in the wild (I may or may not like to pretend that it’s a walrus). I don’t have any photos of her, but here’s one I found on the interwebs of a female elephant seal.

kevincole

Photo by kevincole

Isn’t she pretty? The boys are the ones with the big, ugly elephanty noses.

The other day while Caleb and I were watching some boats go by, none other but Gertrude popped up and started huffing and puffing on by. Then naught but a moment later we saw Scampers poke his little head up! He just hung out, staring at us. The pinnipeds seem to like to come out when the water is especially choppy.

I learned through the grapevine that there have been quite a few transient orca whale sightings around the island, but Caleb and I haven’t seen anything. Though my tally of seeing whales from the water taxi is now up to two! And I haven’t even been riding the boat for a year.

Not to brag or anything, but the Puget Sound is awesome.

View from the Ferry

View of Vashon from the state ferry