It’s been a crazy couple of months since I left Jordan. Crazy, as in, a lot of emotional ups and downs, with some travel mixed in. I was home for less than a week before I had to take off for Europe for the next week of in-person classes for my master’s program – that trip took me through Chicago, Amsterdam, Münster, and ICELAND – which I’ll get around to writing about one of these days (yes, it is worth the hype, and I definitely need to go back).
Since I’ve been back in Las Vegas, I got a bicycle, and so far I’ve gotten to take it out on rides in nearby Red Rock Canyon and to Zion National Park in Utah. Oh, and a couple weeks ago, my mom and I took a weekend trip to Disneyland together. All in all, I can’t really complain.
For Thanksgiving, I’ve decided to head to Rochester, NY – home to my alma mater, RIT, and a dear friend I met in Turkey. I’m a little terrified about how cold it’s going to be, but I can’t wait for some girl hangout time and wine tasting in the Finger Lakes. Continue Reading
I’ve just returned to Amman after four weeks of traveling in Germany and Turkey – mostly for grad school and work, with a few days of relaxation in between. I couldn’t wait to be unpacked and back home – and I did unpack very quickly – but now I’m continuing to pack for an eventual move back to the United States.
A few months ago I was interviewing for a job in New York that unfortunately didn’t work out. But at that time, I started getting ready to move by packing up all my winter clothes and trying to get more organized. Now I’m interviewing for two more jobs (and applying for more); I’m considering heading to the US in the near future, with or without a job, mostly due to some family concerns. So I’m again in the situation where I could be moving in three weeks, or waiting a bit longer.
Fortunately, last year I went through a major purge and got rid of probably 75 percent of my wardrobe. I’ve bought some things since then, but I expect I can fit all my clothes, shoes, bags, etc., into 1.5 large checked bags. Half of my wardrobe (winter clothes) is packed into one suitcase with room to spare. I’ve started packing up non-essentials like carpets, pillow cases, and a few decorative items that I don’t need everyday right now.
This is me with one of my best friends, loading up the car in January 2015 when I was moving from DC to Turkey. I traveled with one large Samsonite suitcase, an Osprey 65L backpack, and my carry-ons were a small blue suitcase and another smaller backpack.
Looking back, I’m not sure what all I came with, but I remember packing a fair amount of unnecessary things out of sheer panic. Almost four years later, I feel ok about moving with three checked bags – full of things I like, that have memories and will help me set up a new home – and with a carry-on suitcase with my camera gear. Going with only two bags would mean leaving behind a lot of stuff that I like, and four feels excessive. After all this time abroad, and perhaps with getting older, I feel like I have clothes that suit me in either environment (when I moved to the Middle East, I came with lots of outdoor clothes/gear that for some reason I thought I needed) and that are better quality and worth moving halfway around the world. So far, I don’t think it will be necessary or worth it to ship anything, but obviously some people choose to do that. Lots of stuff is just easier to buy once you land, especially if you’re moving to the US, where clothes and household goods are cheaper than the Middle East (I’ve brought bedsheets from the US, but I’ll never understand people who fill an entire suitcase with just a duvet). Basically, I’ll be moving with the same amount of suitcases an Emirati lady takes on a weekend trip to Beirut!
About a week ago, I came back from traveling in Sri Lanka with Layth. This was our second trip there – we went two years ago for a friend’s wedding – and I guess we liked it so much we decided to go back. We also just needed some beach time, tickets were reasonable, visas are easy, and it’s not that far from Jordan, compared to flying to Thailand or somewhere.
But – have you ever gone on vacation and gotten stressed because there’s nothing to do? I think we were both in that position – we were both anxiously thinking about upcoming job interviews, and I’d been working on a paper for school down to the wire (see below), needed to make revisions and just couldn’t work on it without a computer. So instead I spent a lot of time reading what turned out to be a very stressful Japanese novel, before I gave up on that.
Anyway – last time in Sri Lanka, we started with a few days in Colombo, took the train to Kandy, then went on to tea country in Nuwara Eliya, then had some harrowing bus rides down south to Matara and finished in Galle. This time, we opted to stay close to the southern beaches – from Colombo we immediately hopped on a bus to Galle, where we stayed the night in this super pretty art deco-themed hotel inside the old fort.
When moving between countries, I don’t always succeed in packing light, but I kind of feel like I’ve mastered packing my under-seat carry on bag. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten something out of the overhead bin during a flight, so I always like to have these items ready to go, easy to access from my seat. Some of these are necessities for any trip, but others will make long-haul flights in coach ever so slightly more luxurious, or at least comfortable. Continue Reading
I’m not the kind of person who travels 80% of the time for work, but living in Jordan and doing a master’s program in Germany, I do travel internationally several times a year. It’s great, but costs add up (which I know now, since I made a grown up budget in Excel today) – and one way to save yourself time and money and general frustration is to pack light. Says the girl who almost never succeeds at this.
This New Year’s Eve was spent almost exactly the same as the previous year: me and Layth on the couch, under blankets, watching movies until we dozed off. Since he’s recovering from a cold, that means he was snoring by 8 pm.
But this time last year we were bracing ourselves for him moving to Saudi Arabia for work, which meant I’d be more or less on my own in Jordan. We dated long distance for a long time, but after a year or so when we hadn’t spent more than a few days apart, the distance was daunting. But we both knew it was the best thing to do. At first, I cried a lot and kept making coffee for two people in the morning instead of one, and cried over the wasted coffee.
But family invited me for lunches and sent me home with tupperwares of leftovers to make sure I wouldn’t starve, I still had my job and friends, and in mid-January, I brought a pet rabbit home to keep me company. Said rabbit is now best friends with my mother in law’s cat, and they hang out on the regular.
2017 took me to Jordan, Turkey (twice), the United States, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Germany.
So, it’s been a while, and I’m not very good at blogging unless momentous life changes are taking place, or if travel is on the horizon – and both are true at the moment.
More on the life events later, but in less than three weeks me, Layth, and our friend Mohammed will be off to Malaysia for 10 days of city sightseeing, jungle trekking, beach time, and eating all the food. And we’ll all be coming in from different places: Amman, Riyadh, and Singapore.
So naturally, my backpack is nearly ready to go already – but this isn’t totally ridiculous given the amount of shooting and editing work I have to wrap up before I jet off and leave my laptop at home. And actually, since we did make our plans a bit last minute, we just barely made the cutoff to sign up for our trekking tour.
Ta da! The lightest I have ever packed – I get to automatically shed 20 pounds just by not carrying my computer and camera gear. I also have an awesome, giant purple Osprey Aura 65L pack, but I think I am gonna go with my smaller 40L backpack from REI. This one is solidly carry-on size, will keep me from bringing too much there, and will be easier to lug around for the hiking portions.
Windbreaker jacket (will wear on the plane)
Black cardigan (for cooler weather in the highlands/ covering up for mosques and temples)
2 pair cotton pants
1 pair Columbia pants for hiking (quick dry)
1 black knee-length dress (might wear with leggings)
1 pair cotton shorts
1 pair athletic shorts (not pictured; for sleeping and/or getting wet)
2 cotton t-shirts
1 athletic shirt (quick dry)
2 tank tops
1 scarf (for covering up in mosques and temples)
1 swimsuit (not pictured)
1 Turkish hamam towel (Layth decidedly does not believe in towels, so I’m not packing one for him)
1 REI quick dry travel towel
2 Buffs (one for me, one for Layth)
Bandages & basic first aid supplies
Glasses & Sunglasses (don’t want to deal with the extra liquid involved in carrying contact solution, keeping them sanitary, etc)
Umbrella (not pictured, stowed in the water bottle holder of the backpack)
4 pair socks
1 pair Merrell Tough Mudder trail running shoes (for hiking and such)
1 pair Crocs sandals (surprisingly comfy and lightweight – may look around for other sandals in KL)
Kindle Paperwhite Fujifilm X20 camera + charger and extra battery
Small crossbody purse
Canvas tote – extra space for souvenirs on the way home (yay Trader Joe’s)
Even looking at this now, there are more odds and ends I need to bring, which might push the bag to the limit, or force me to ditch a pair of pants or the cardigan or something. Then there’s all the toiletries (planning to pick up shampoo and soap there), migraine medicine, Cipro and water purifying tablets just in case…
But considering at any given time I’ll be wearing one of these pairs of pants, a shirt, and shoes, I think this’ll be ok.
This weekend I was on the road with the European Union Election Observation Mission, traveling around southern Jordan on a field visit. We met with political and tribal leaders in Tafilah, Aqaba, Maan, South Badia, and Karak, and I tagged along to take pictures. While most of the time was spent driving or in offices for meetings, these are some of my favorite images, including a huge tent for campaign rallies outside of Karak, training election workers, Bedouin guys sitting at a coffee stop, and a Roma family.
A four-day Eid weekend took us south to Petra, Wadi Rum, and Aqaba and the Red Sea, with a fair amount of off-roading along the way.
Layth took us on the scenic route to Petra, via a turn-off south of the Dead Sea – and luckily we we were in the trusty Feroza, and luckily Layth knows these roads really well. We passed quite a few “road closed” signs, but pressed on as it wasn’t physically blocked, and it was actually paved for the first part – I guess this road was pretty much unpaved until quite recently. But we came to the unpaved part, and going up the steep switchbacks made for some stunning views of the valley as we made our way to Petra. Continue Reading
Sometime last year my friend Kathleen invited me to her and Niluk’s wedding. I didn’t think we’d both be able to make it to San Diego this spring, but as Niluk’s family hails from Sri Lanka, and Layth had wanted to visit Sri Lanka for a long time, this was the perfect excuse for us to hop on a plane and go have an island vacation.
It also happened to be Layth’s birthday while we were there, and since we won’t be traveling anywhere right away after our wedding party in July, it was kind of a birthday trip/honeymoon/much-needed vacation all in one.
We spent our first three nights in Colombo in a little hotel called Lake Lodge, which I chose for its price, its proximity to the Cinnamon Grand Hotel (where the wedding would be) and for the fact that I wanted us to have a few days in a nice hotel before we started shlepping it across the country on un-air conditioned trains and buses with our backpacks.
And as you can see, the hotel was perfect. We were greeted with cold face towels and lime, ginger and mint popsicles. Breakfast was delicious and served by staff who seemed to radiate pure happiness. The place is tucked away down a quiet street, with fish ponds that come alive with frogs at night, and several seating areas. Only a swimming pool would have made it better.
We were close to this little lake, which was home to birds like this (this photo is by Layth, I didn’t want to get so close to this guy), and were also near Gangaramaya Temple, which was a very relaxing, yet kind of hodgepodge Buddhist temple. There were of course many statues of the Buddha, flowers and incense for prayers, but there were also a few rooms of antique collections – old photos, plates, bowls, watches, religious figurines – along with this life-sized elephant head statue.
If you’re traveling to Sri Lanka, especially on a short trip, I’d highly recommend looking up a calendar of their holidays beforehand – including the lunar phases. We happened to arrive on the Sinhala and Tamil new year, and while we were driving into the city, marveling at the lack of traffic, once we arrived in town it hit us that nearly every shop and restaurant was closed. The next day, some of the more touristy shops re-opened, and big shopping centers were open, but we still couldn’t visit a lot of shops or markets we’d read about.
And then, just when we thought the holiday was over, a full moon happened, bringing the country to a halt again. I think many of the restaurants we went to were owned by Muslims, since – perhaps with the exception of a couple hours for Friday prayers – they stay open the most. As one Muslim business owner there told us (in slight exaggeration), “Buddhists – they’re on their own path, they don’t want to bother anyone. But how can they be successful businessmen when they go to bed at five?”
Also, before we left I’d read somewhere that if you wanted to eat Sri Lankan food at a restaurant, you’d have to order it the night before. Someone else told me not to worry about it, but it ended up being kind of true. It’s something that still sort of baffles me – I know all food needs time to prepare – but usually when you travel, local fare is what they have on hand, ready to go. But if you want Sri Lankan breakfast, you have to order the night before. If you want Sri Lankan dinner, find a halal restaurant (aka “Muslim Hotel,” a local quirk of calling restaurants hotels).
But then we had a pre-wedding dinner to go to, where we got to meet some of Niluk’s family, and where we did finally sample some Sri Lankan cuisine. And then the next night was the wedding.
The wedding ceremony was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Traditional dancers sang with drums and bells, even did backflips at one point. Then there was a complex ceremony of the bride and groom’s family being presented to one another, gift exchanges, prayers.
Kathleen and Niluk started dating about 5 ½ years ago, weeks before she and I found ourselves in the same study abroad program in Jordan, learning Arabic. We learned to cope with some of the challenges of living abroad, and we eventually became roommates and worked in similar fields (she in film, I in media/publishing). Most everyone in that group (myself included) went through breakups while studying abroad, but these two became closer even with all the time spent apart. And so being there with Layth, who I met around the same time, although we didn’t start dating until much later (and then had our own very long-distance time), just made it all the more special to see them get married in Sri Lanka.
We also spent a lot of time looking around for cute tea houses like this one. I had what might have been the most amazing iced tea of my life here, iced Earl Grey with honey.
Also, I don’t know what couple goes on a honeymoon and basically comes back with groceries, but that’s what we did. I stocked up on coconut oil – that bottle was about $2, but a smaller jar of it would cost about $14 in Amman – various kinds of coffee, tea, spices, chutney, fresh vanilla, etc. And we got some nice textiles and other decor for the house, but more on that later.
Next time: central Sri Lanka – Kandy and Nuwara Eliya.