As the World Turns - Play Hard Have Fun

As the World Turns

I asked Catherine for a title idea this time around and after reviewing what we will be doing for the next 30 days she came up with, As the world turns. I could go on for hours how this relates but will try to restrain myself. When I was a Pilot/Manager at UPS I did not fly to Asia much. First I did not like the idea of having problems figuring out what time or even day it was back at home. We are presently 11 hours ahead of the east coast over here in Vietnam.

Most importantly is the fact that if something was to happen over here I am a long way from home. If something was to happen at home I am still a long way from home. Since we no longer have a home and the kids are all grown it does not matter so much but it still took us forever to get here.

With North Korea and Trump saber rattling the fact that we are 2K miles from NK and over 8K from the USA, it does make you pause and reflect.

I must be getting old, which is a good thing, but I had to break up this sojourn over here. First, we went to Paris and stayed there two nights at this great Marriott near the airport in an area called Roissy en France. They must have over two dozen top shelf hotels in the area and plenty of places to eat nearby and a grand mall about a mile away with a paved path to its door step.

Across the street from the Marriott is a small park dedicated to Air France which included big posters throughout depicting the history of the airline and they even threw in a landing gear from the ill fated, Concord. Adjacent was a gigantic structure that clearly made no sense to me.  They say this is part of the ruins of the castle of the lords of Roissy which parts lie underneath the Marriott Hotel.

Sometimes you just need to stop and smell the roses or whatever

The next leg was from there to Dubai on Emirates. This was my first time on them and after seeing their commercials with Jennifer Aniston, I went for the upgrade to Business class, to see how the rich and famous travel. First Class was a bit pricey and who needs a sleeping pod and shower for a 7-hour flight on an Airbus A380.

The only way to fly

They sure do know how to run an airline, a private chauffeur from the hotel to the airport is included. Strangely, however, in Dubai, they have their airport lounges designated by what class of service you are traveling on. The 3-hour layover went by quickly and can’t imagine what extra benefits that await the first class folks.

The next leg was another 7 hours on a Boeing 777. The service once again was top notch. Getting thru immigration was easy enough so no complaints there. I should hope so since the Visa’s for Vietnam and Cambodia were about $1500. That included all the special handling charges since I could only be without our passports for 3 weeks prior to the trip.

Getting the local currency threw me for a loop especially since my currency exchange app kept telling me that I needed to get 4 million Vietnamese Dong from the ATM for the equivalent of 200 US. I understand now why they say most Vietnamese people are millionaires.

30 minutes later we were sitting in the bar for our complimentary welcome drink, thanks to the Sofitel Saigon Plaza hotel. The taxi ride from the airport was an experience as they really believe in transportation on two wheels over here. The sounds of horns are constant since they use them to tell other vehicles and people to watch out.

The next day we were transported by bus to the port for us to get on board the AMA Waterways Ama Dara river cruise ship, our home for the next 7 days. We picked this itinerary in somewhat of an out of the ordinary way.

Graves in the middle of the rice paddy

Last October we were on another AMA Waterways cruise along the Rone river from Marseilles to Lyon with our old friends of Runningcrise.com. You can read about that adventure in my blog entry called, Why do we travel?  During that cruise, you could fill out a card and for a $200 deposit person, you get a 5% discount for a future cruise within 2 years plus a $100 per person shipboard credit. That seemed like a no brainer since we don’t have a home and have to live somewhere.

About 2 months ago we got an email talking about a deep discount for this particular cruise. Our plan was to do the Petra Half Marathon near the end of August and we were still working on what we were to do prior to that. After a few phone calls with AMA Waterways and looking at flights we were able to put this cruise on the schedule. Turns out that with the 5% percent discount for filling out the card and the discount for this particular trip it ended up equaling a 2 for 1 cruise.

Turns out it was the beginning of their cruise season for this itinerary and the owners were on board the ship. They were joined by the gentleman that handles the hiring and training of all the wait and housekeeping staff on board. AMA Waterways out source to this company for those folks on all their ships. They also outsource the actual crew on board from another company. Only the Hotel Manager and Cruise Manager actually work for AMA Waterways.

Needless to say, with all that oversight. all the passengers were pampered beyond belief on this trip. They have a rather unique and delightful way to handle alcohol, the internet, and excursions on board. A pet peeve of mine is how other cruise lines like to add these items on and use them as a profit center.

On this particular trip, the internet is included and was very reliable. They have individual routers in each room and public places which made getting on line very easy. Wine and beer are included during lunch and dinner and house brand beer and liquor is free flowing during other parts of the day. All of their excursions are also included which was a very nice touch.

This area of the world has a lot of history and their local tour guides do a great job going over that history in detail. I am not going to bore you with all the facts and figures but will give you an overview of what we did get to see.

Our cruise took us along the Mekong River from Vietnam to Cambodia. Along the way, we got to see the floating market, 19th Century Gothic Cathedral, rice paper mill and coconut candy workshop. There I got to sample some of their exotic snake wine. They say it is a cure all and has other benefits for the male persuasion.

A must see is the lively local market along the river banks where we found buckets of live frogs eels and baskets of beautifully displayed skinned rats and snakes. Turns out rice paddy rats are very tasty, but not from my personal experience.

You can tell what they are selling by what is hanging on their poles

The snake wine was yummy

The original thought was that the eyes on the front of the boat will protect them since they look like a bigger animal

Rice paddy rats anyone?

Different varies of rice

Speechless

The next day we were off to see the many rich, green rice paddy fields of the Mekong Delta, known as Vietnams’ rice basket. The district capital is Tan Chau and it’s famous for its silk. The products were so good we even bought a few items. I made an exception to the rule that if we can’t eat it or drink it we don’t buy it. Needless to say, that place made a killing estimating 90% of our 80 some passenger ship made a purchase.

Cao Dai Temple

The Lord Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, and Confucius, in addition to Joan of Arc and Julius Cesar, are all honored at this temple.

Local transportation while on land that day was by Rickshaw. Ours were bike powered and was a hoot to experience. It took me awhile to figure out where to put my long legs but managed not to drag them on the ground beside me.

On the back of a rickshaw

Once back on board they had an, to die for, local fruit demonstration. I was not fond of the stinky fruit called, Durian fruit. They say it is a required taste but for me, the taste was as bad as the smell. No big deal as long as you are up wind and they had at least a dozen other fruits to enjoy.

The next day was the most emotional part of the trip. From the port of Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, we traveled south to visit two sites that recalled the dark days of the Pol Pot regime. Those being the Khmer Rouge’s grim Tuol Sleng (S21 detention center) and the Killing fields. Everyone really needs to see these two sites in their lifetime. In the afternoon we got to visit the Royal Palace and the spectacular Silver Pagoda. The palace is on the list of the 1000 things you should see before you die.

Phnom Penh is also noted for their Tuk Tuks (Motorcycle trailers) and Central Market. We did have a brief tour of the city where we got to ride in one but mostly we walked around the city. I must admit the Central Market was worth the visit just because of its sheer size. There was one area where you could pick out you fabric and then hand it to someone to take your measurements and make the garment on the spot.

A monument located on one of the killing fields sites.  It is filled with skulls and bones found on the site.


A few pictures of the Grand Palace

A few sights to see during our Tuk Tuk tour

The transportation system in Cambodia has a long way to go but with China’s help, there are plans a foot to keep complete gridlock from completely shutting it down. They now have a fleet of brand new buses, thanks to China and a 2-year plan to put up an overhead rail system. As opposed to Vietnam where they basically use the Mekong river for transportation Cambodia is still way behind. With an average GDP of 7%, I am sure they will figure out a way to stay ahead of the curve.

Not many riders yet

We pulled off just before lunch headed for Koh Chen where we experienced our first docking of the ship right along the river bank. It was so bizarre since prior to that we were either anchored or actually docked at a port. As we arrived I could not imagine where we were going to put this thing and it turns out all they needed were two big trees to tie ropes to.

In our travels, we have seen a lot of begging by the locals but here the kids had a unique approach. Their unemployment rate is only 1% since most work in the agricultural industry so they kids approach you with something to sell. If they don’t have anything they will pick a flower to offer you along with their huge smiles. They also would practice their English by asking you questions like salesman do.

Here we had the opportunity to visit the one school for the nearby villages and they sang Old McDonnell to use in English. We reciprocated by doing the same to them. We also visited the one of the local copper and silver plated shops and learned how to tell the difference from silver plated and real silver.  All you need is toothpaste and brush to find out which the item might be.

The next morning we were off by motor coach to Oudong, the former capital of Cambodia. There we visited a Buddhist Monastery with one of the largest pagodas in the country. We were blessed by the monks where they chanted for around 15 minutes and in turn, we participated in their daily lunch time arms ceremony. Basically, we lined up and gave each of them as they passed by a spoon full of rice into each of their dishes.

IMG_5394  Here they sang for us

Another highlight of our trip was the short ox cart ride of the local area. As we started out on the ride the local children would pick a cart to run along side and talk to you in very good English. The little girl along side ours first offered up a couple of pieces of grass.

No dock required

While in Vietnam we had Vietnamese tour guide and in Cambodia, we had locals from Cambodia. Our Cambodian tour guide, Adam had many words of wisdom for us along the way.  The one I thought was worth repeating, was, if you travel you are reading a book. If you don’t travel you are only reading one page.  I find that to be so true.  You expand your knowledge and horizons when you travel.  I must say that this trip to Vietnam and Cambodia have certainly done both for us.

Last night we got the opportunity to sit at the Owners table for dinner.  That was a new and fantastic experience to be able to swap stories with the folks that not only started AMA Waterways but also Viking cruise lines.  I had always wondered where the AMA in AMA Waterways came from and it turns out by talking to them that it was only part of the name they originally wanted.

The evening came to a close with me being the Simon Cowell character as a judge of the crew’s version of America’s Got Talent. Since my scoring was not so kind to the restaurant and bar staff I now have to have someone taste my food and drinks.
I understand many stayed up to the wee hours dancing.

Alexis was one of them out late the night before

While on the cruise we were able to run into another couple, Mark, and Terry that has also been on the road for 2 1/2 years.  They were a plethora of knowledge.  They hardly ever go back to Canada, where they are from and will be revisiting their plan after a total of 5 years when the condo they are building in Panama City, Panama is finished.  Then they will either move in or rent it out and stay on the road.  They seemed a bit more adventurist than us.  Where as we usually go places that we have heard of they like the off the beaten path type places.  They gave me a lot of different websites and blogs they use for various different things one needs while on the road.

They have one adult daughter and since they rarely go visit her they arrange to have her and her family come meet them while they are away. They eased my mind on health care and gave some great ideas for how to solve the prescription drug problem we sometimes face when we are on extended trips.  Surprisingly enough they just show up to the local pharmacy, hand them the empty bottle and can get as much of what they need without a prescription and on the cheap. I am sure our paths will cross again sometime in the future.

Today we got to see how around 5k people live on a floating city at the mouth of the Tonie Sap Lake which the Mekong river flows into and out of depending on the time of the year.  Fun fact, Me stands for Mother and Kong stands for water.  It is the 12th longest river in the world.

The population of Cambodia is rather young with over 50 percent of them are younger than 25 and have an average life expectancy of only 63 years old.  That is understandable with all they have had to go thru over the last 60 years.  They still have somewhere between 2-5 million unexploded land mines in the area and 200 people are killed by them yearly.  Last fun fact.  Only 1/2 the population have electricity but 95% have a cell phone so many use either solar panels or car batteries to charge them.

All the comforts of home

The river cruise portion of this 13-day tour is coming to a close so overnight we repositioned to another river bed for a 6-hour motor coach ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the former capital of the Khmer Empire.  AMA Waterways does a great job and have an impeccable eye for customer pleasing details. With that said I did fill out a card so we can get another discount on a future cruise. I have my eye on one that goes to the southern part of Africa and if I can couple it with the Cape Town marathon that would be great.

Along the way to Siem Reap, we made two stops and they even provided a box lunch. Reflecting on all that I have seen so far the title, As the world turns is becoming even more appropriate. Times have changed for the better for the people in this part of the world and tourism plays a big part of their daily lives.

With all the rich fertile ground and fish abundant waterway you really got the feeling that no one is going hungry here. They all seem so happy here but wonder if Buddhism has anything to do with that. With it being more of philosophy as opposed to the religion and that 96% of the population are classified as Buddhist there might be some correlation.

Down the hatch Mr.Tarantula

This is the first time I have been on a cruise where you continue with the companies’ tour off the ship.  Our cruise manager, Son, stayed with us and lead us around for 6 days.  3 days in Siem Reap, 2 days in Hanoi and one day in a Luxury Junk on Ha Long Bay.

Siem Reap’s claim to fame is the renowned Angkor Wat.  Here we visited three different historical archaeological temple sites.  This was the former capital of the Khmer Empire where we stayed at the Sofitel Royal Phokeethra.  The wow factor was in full effect at this hotel.

The first site was Angkor Thom where 1.2 million folks lived over 1,000 years ago.  It was made with over 500 millions of tons of sandstone slabs that were brought from an area over 40 miles away.  I called this place Angkor town since out of the three this is where the civilization from that time period lived.

The next was Angkor Wat Temple, temple-mountain, which was jaw dropping.  The sheer size was one thing, the largest religious monument in the world, but the carvings on the walls through out were amazing.  Each told a story and I was very surprised how much detail of those carving was still there.  This site took 35 years to build and actually was not finished since the ruler at the time died during the construction.

Most temples face to the east and this is the only one that faces the west.  The thought was that this would help them go back in time and bring the dead back to life.  Since the ruler had died and we have not seen him since I guess that did not work out for them.

Most on the tour got up way early to see the sun rise over the temple but unfortunately, it was a cloudy morning so I was glad we slept in.

These cute guys will steal your sun glasses and then beg for food to give them back

The last but not least was Ta Prohm Temple.  I called that one Angkor Jungle because they decided to leave it mostly like they found it.  I would have to agree with the tour guides that this was the most impressive.  I am afraid that the pictures did not do what we got to see, justice.

While we were there we able to see a traditional Apsara Dance show, walk around the city which included the night market and Pub Street.  Most of the pubs there had 50 cent draft beers and two of the best expresso martini’s and Mango Margarita’s I have ever had.

We were also able to listen to some great dance music, where it filled up, by the time we left at 11 pm.  Unfortunately, one of the two establishments that I used my credit card decided to copy down the numbers and tried to use it while I slept that night.

Over the last 2 1/2 years of being on the road this is the around the 6th time this has happened.  When I woke up the next morning I had several text messages, emails and phone calls from Chase asking about what they thought were fraudulent charges to my card.

It is a hassle but it is what it is.  No skin off my nose since they turned it off right away.  I do have a few automatic drafts on that card so I will have to give them a call to switch it over to the other card that I carry around as back up.  The new card will be waiting for me when I get back to Atlanta the first week of September.

From there we caught a very nice hour and thirty-minute flight to Hanoi.  I thought the last hotel was something but the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, took the cake.  It was recognized as the top 6 Sofitel hotels in the world, thus the name, Legend.  I think I now know what it must be like to be rich and famous.  When they were doing some renovation of the restaurant a few years back they found a bomb shelter underneath the floor and now have tours of that area.

We arrived at the hotel around 9 pm so not much for us to do or see the first night.  Tours the next day consisted of us seeing the famous Hanoi Hilton where John McCain spent some time as a POW.  Little did I know was the fact that it was originally built by the French during their occupation of Vietnam in the mid 50’s.

John McCain’s suit

We also got to visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum from afar since it is closed to the public on Monday and Fridays.  The afternoon we got to experience the real life of the people of Vietnam during a cyclo tour to the Old Quarter.  The Old Quarter is somewhat hard to describe.

Uncontrolled chaos is the best I can do.  No stop signs or lights at each intersection and thousands of motor bikes and pedestrians, what can go wrong.  Each street was named for the items sold on that street, example copper street, sold all items made of copper.  That was a lot of fun to see and experience especially since no one was hit.

I guess he had a drink there once

The evening was finished up near the lake area to see the Vietnamese traditional Water Puppet Show.  Supposedly back in the day, the ruler wanted entertainment for the people so they came up with the idea to have this type of show in the lake.  Now they do it in the nearby theater and is still done in water.  I was unable to figure out exactly how they were able to make all the puppets move like they did but it was very enjoyable.

We are now on our way to a very popular and treasured landmark/tourist attraction of Halong Bay where we will spend 24 hours on what is referred to as a Luxury Junk.  I am not sure what to expect on this final leg of our AMA Waterways adventure but I am sure, just like everything else on this trip, it will be memorable.

Halong Bay is in the Gulf of Tonkin, known as the Baby of the Descending Dragon and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is famous for its dramatic limestone cliffs, thousands of islands and islets and groups of floating villages.  Multiple generations live and work aboard small wooden Junks dotting the bay; fishermen cast their nets and tend to pearl farms; women tend to giant woks and curious children hang over boat railing to greet new faces.

The world is getting smaller and smaller as we run all over the world.  Not sure exactly when, visiting this part of the world, became something I wanted to do.  I can’t say it was something I always wanted to do but must say it is something I am so very glad we did.  In some ways, I have a desire to return but know that most likely that will not happen.  There are so many places I still want to see and I am sure Vietnam or Cambodia is not a place I would not want to live full time.

There were 30 some things everywhere with their backpacks and in small groups.  I guess this part of the world is on their bucket list or just the fact that it is relatively cheap. I did not enjoy the food much and sometimes it did not agree with my stomach either.

Turns out the Luxury Junk was a smaller version of other cruise ships we have been on in the past.  The accommodations we impeccable and the crew bent over backward to make us feel at home during the 24 hours we were on board.

Soon after we got on board we had a quick safety briefing and lunch as we cruised around the bay.  There are over 600 vessels of different shapes and sizes that routinely cruise around the nearly 2 thousand limestone islands in the area.  Our boat, the Paradise Elegance, is docked on the only island made of soil.

Later that afternoon we got to tour Hang Sung Sot cave which is the largest cave in the bay, and the locals call it, Surprise cave, because of the huge third chamber.  It was spectacular and had great panoramic views of the bay from the top.

Look what is growing larger

What a sunset on the top deck of the Luxury Junk Boat

Once back on board we continued to cruise to a spot for a breath taking sunset followed by a cooking demonstration, wine tasting, dinner, and dancing.  We were up early the next morning for a hike up to the top of Ti Top Island where some went swimming on the adjacent beach.

After a quick shower and breakfast, they bid us farewell promptly at 10:30 am for our 4-hour ride back to Hanoi so we could catch our flight on to Dubai at 1:30 am.  It will be a long day for us and should have planned better before we stayed up late dancing the night before.

Right before they kicked us off

Sign prior to the climb to the top

Luxury Junk Boat, Paradise Elegance

This has not happened very often but once again I got writer’s block for awhile.  I think this time it was because of the sheer contrast from the sights, sounds, and smells of South East Asia to those of United Arab Emirates.  I was not prepared for the stark difference.

I was having a hard time getting my thoughts together since I had been experiencing a lot of poverty to now seeing only wealth and opulence.  I have seen commercials about Dubai on TV but to actually experience it first hand was simply mind blowing.

There was so much to see and do and with only two nights there it was very hard to pick and choose what to do.  Of course, you can not go to Dubai without seeing the tallest building in the world standing at 550 meters, 1804 feet, The Burj Khalifa.  We opted for the fast track tickets so off we were to the 148th floor and a stop at the outside observation decks at floors 125 and 123.

Very hard to get the entire building in one shot

I will save you the boring details of the when, how and why of the construction of the building but it is differently a must see.  Catherine coined the phrase while there of, build it and they will come to Dubai, and this is no exception.  You have to go thru the largest mall in the world to get to the entrance to, At the Top, which they call it.

Dubai is noted for having the biggest, tallest, largest, fastest and of course the only of whatever in the world.  I really enjoyed watching all the different outfits the people from this region were wearing.  My favorite was the guys in their long white garbs and baseball caps.  I guess that was their way of being their own rebels without a cause.

With so much to see and so little time, we opted for their version of the big red bus to see as much as we could.  The top deck did have an enclosed Air Conditioned section up front so you got to see all the sights without the oven baked 109-degree heat.

The two main loops take about 2 hours each and depart from the Dubai Mall.  We did walk around the mall for a few hours and I only think we saw about half of it.  Some highlights were the waterfall, indoor aquarium, an ice skating rink to name a few.

Of course, we had to stay at the tallest Marriott in the world which was the JW Marriott  Marquis.  If you fly business or first class on Emirates they also provide a car to pick you up in both Dubai and Paris.  That is both to and from the hotel.  You go to a special section after you get your bags to get the car service

That was a very nice touch after a very long day and also Marriott having a room for us at 6 am and an out of this world upgrade was the cherry on top.  We were able to get a run in right after we arrived and no need to eat out when the Executive Lounge had both breakfast and dinner, (cocktail hour) each day.  They also provide a shuttle to and from the Dubai mall.

After our run along the man made Dubai with the JW Marriott behind us
I have a few things I want to see and do when we come back to Dubai and that will probably be December of 2018 to run the Half Marathon there.  I understand they have a pretty scenic route for that race.
Here are some interesting facts, figures, and observations I made note of while we were there, in no particular order.

98.2% of their drinking water is from boiled sea water.

There are cranes and construction everywhere.

The visibility is reduced by airborne sand particles.

Not many people smoke, too damn hot, but they do allow those that do to smoke indoors.

Very few motor bikes and those are for food delivery folks, too damn hot.

Did not see a single dog or cat and very few birds, too damn hot.

No beggars, too damn hot or any signs of poverty.

The locals were not very friendly.

The Palms Island where Atlantis resides is a made island from reclaimed sand and they call it the 8th wonder of the world.

They have another mall that is adjacent to the only indoor ski slope.

Foreigners can only buy Alcohol at the duty-free store at the airport, locals, men only, have to have a liquor license and it is taxed at 26%.  All bars must be in a hotel.

They are building another mall that will be finished by 2020 and will be a city within a city.  In other words, you could live, work, shop and play without ever going outside, too damn hot.

One of the major streets in Dubai

With all that said, I really do not understand why anyone would want to live here.  The service industry folks, at the Marriott, are like cruise ship workers.  They are all from somewhere else, are provided housing food and transportation and get 1 month off a year to go back home.

The Executive Lounge folks presented us with a hand written, Thank you note, they all signed and a really nice fruit plate on our last night there.  We topped off the evening, pun intended, at a place called The Vault.  Our room was on the 67th floor and you take an elevator to the 68th floor where one of their 14 restaurants resides and then take another elevator to the 71st floor.

It was ladies night so Catherine got her drinks free and I had a drink that came in a smoke filled box.  They had a DJ but no dancing and plenty of room to sit since you could also go up to the 72nd floor, where we sat, and watched all the lights from the city, mostly below.

Back at the airport, in Dubai, Emirates has a special area to drop off First and Business Class passengers with someone waiting to take your bags to the ticket counter with their own customs and security screening area.

Once again we opted to spend the night in Paris before we continued our trip on to Petra for the half marathon on Saturday.  We are sort of using a different tour company, Albatros, where their slogan is, pushing your limits, since they are the ones that organize this race.  Marathon Tours did send one of their best, Scott, to oversee the folks that booked the trip thru them.

Looks like the weather won’t be too bad with 70 degrees at the start and around 80 by the time we finish.  Turns out the heat will be the easy part since there is a mountain we must climb for about 2 miles in some pretty challenging terrain.

This should get us ready for a fun filled fall race schedule where we will do 5 half marathons and two marathons.  Catherine only needs 5 more states to have all 50 completed so we are scheduled for New Hampshire on the 30th of September and Rode Island 8 days later on the 8th of October.

We have done several a week apart when we were younger so interested to see how this is going to work out.  I decided to finish up my last 11 states and I have opted to do some of them as half marathons with Minnesota and North Dakota a week apart in September and Oregon in October.

We finish off the race season with New Zealand in November and that is where we will both get our 7 continent medals.  We actually already completed all seven but you have to do each as either a half or a full and not a combination.  I did the full in Australia last year where as Catherine did the half.

She was healing a broken ankle so dropped down to the half since she was still wearing a boot but still managed to finish in the sand of Ayers Rock.  So if all goes as planned by 2019 we will both have completed all 50 states, all seven continents and all 6 of the major marathons.

Thinking back to the title of this blog entry, As the World Turns, it is very clear in my mind as I was able to see how two very different societies deal with the everyday challenge of trying to find something to eat, someplace to work and someplace to live.  I saw a lady that had a t-shirt on that said, “eat, sleep and travel,” which is right down our alley.

As we were on the bus from Halong Bay back to Hanoi the executive vice president of AMA Waterways, Kristin, said her farewells to the group and left us with some words of wisdom.  She felt if more people traveled then this would be a much friendlier world.

I know that in some places we have visited these folks have been fighting someone for centuries and the US is on that list but it is hard not to like someone when you have witnessed how they live close up.  It might not be your cup of tea but it does give you the sense of how small and diverse this world really is.

I know that I have mentioned this before but I really don’t like Air France.  They are part of the Delta Alliance but Air France and KLM are my least favorite Airlines.  I only travel 0n them so I can get mileage with Delta and this time they did a classic bate and switch.

I booked business class for the trip to and from Petra and when I picked my seats it said we would be traveling on a triple 7 and that is a pretty sweet ride.  Two across and looked like a doable 4-hour flight.

When we were checking our bags the ticket agent went out of his way to explain the actual layout of the Airbus 320 aircraft.  Turns out the two across was actually three across but they just don’t put anyone in the middle seat.  I was unable to face forward since the seat in front of me was so close that it was impossible.  On top of that, they barely reclined and were very narrow.

The service was so so but there were not many people in Business Class so I could have gotten a whole row to my self if I wanted to.  Hope the same is true on the way back since that flight leave at 1:30 am. We layover in Paris once again so all should be good.

Overseas, in order to save on electricity, you have to use your room key to turn on the lights and AC.  When we arrived in our room at the Dead Sea it was hot as hell since the AC had been off and it had gotten up to almost 100 degrees during the day.  It was all worth it since we got to float effortlessly the next day in the Dead Sea.

That was amazing and we even put sentiments they dig up from the bottom all over our bodies and faces.  Here we were 420 meters/1377 feet below sea level.  Not many people can say they were at the tallest building one day and the lowest point in the world a few days later.  A change of 970 meters or 3182 feet.

If you zoom in you can see the sea bottom on my face

The rest of Jordan is not very impressive, so far, as we do the 4-hour drive from there to Petra.  They love to control the speed of traffic with speed bumps everywhere.  All there is to see is sand and when passing a town a lot of trash, mostly plastic on both sides of the street.  Looks like they are having their own bio hazard going on.

We did meet a couple, during our lunch stop that has been living in Dubai the last 7 years and asked them why anyone would live there.  They say that there is a lot to do there and most importantly it is a very safe place to live.  I understand that it is so safe that the current ruler of Dubai drives himself around town himself without any body guards.

The race itself is one for the books.  To put it simply, it was the hardest half marathon I have ever done.  I hesitate to say race since I have completed an Iron Man and a 50 miler.  I had prepared for the heat but unfortunately not the terrain or the climb of the mountain.

We started off meeting at the Petra Visitor Center and the 200 of us walked, as the sun rose, to the very famous Treasury, which is one of the new 7 wonders of the world.  We stopped there for some pictures then continued on to the start line.  That is the moment I really started to wondered if we had adequately trained for this adventure race, it was already 75 degrees.

They had a very strict 7 hour cutoff for the marathon and if you were not at the 30K point in 5 hours the medical team were there to pull you off the course.   A few, unfortunately, experienced that but at least they got credit for completing the Half Marathon.  That was not a problem for us since we were only doing the half but I know there was no way I could have completed the full even in my prime.

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I do not really like trails since for me, I like to keep my head up and watch the scenery instead of having to watch my feet.  Our goal was to stay upright the entire race so I was very pleased that neither of us took a spill.  The down side was that some of the hardest terrains were coming down off the mountain, mostly rocks and gravel, so, unfortunately, we had to walk most of that portion.

Hell of a climb from the city below

We started at 2870 feet and climbed to 4839 which was only 1968 feet but the grade both up and down was unlike anything I had ever experienced before 20-degree plus.

Catherine was very apprehensive about running in the desert during the summer but was a real trooper and kept moving forward.  I do think I saw her head spin completely around once and she cracked me up saying, “I am never running again”.  It is all retrospective as we continue to plan for the upcoming fall race season.

I, on the other hand, felt that this was a great training run for the two full Marathons we are to do the end of September and the first of October.  It has been over a year since our last marathon in Prague.  All that does not kill you makes you stronger, is my motto.  You still have to prepare and be very careful since I am sure some have said the same thing right before they did something stupid and ended up killing themselves.

At the finish with Mike

We did, once again meet up with some folks that we had been on trips before, Gary and Karen were with us in Madagascar.  Mike, we had done a trip with on Easter Island and Louanne be were with on the South of France river cruise with runningcruise.com.  We will see Gary again next year in Jerusalem and Louann later that year on a Hawaiian running cruise.

Prior to the start with Louann and photo bomber, Karen

Of course, we met and made friends with some great people and had a great time swapping stories with them.  This was probably the most diverse group of folks on one of these racing tours when it comes to the different nationalities.  There were 38 different countries represented and was fun to listen to all the different languages around the table during meals.

After race celebration at the Cave Bar, a converted 2000-year-old tomb

The day after the race we had the official 4-hour tour of all of the historical sites.  Many continued on to see some sights that required 7 to 8 hundred steps for some incredible views but Catherine and I opted for the view from the pool and roof top bar.

On his cell phone

Roof top bar with Catherine’s favorite bartender

We ended the evening with a gala dinner in Little Petra where they had all the surrounding caves lite up and a rock formation light show.  I could not get any good pictures due to the fact that it was at night but believe me it was spectacular.  They had a slide presentation and one of the pictures was of Catherine and I crossing the finish line once again hand and hand.

Gala dinner with Gary and Mike

Thanks, Gary, for taking a picture of us during the Gala slide show

The following day the group split up with some going home or on tour of the area on their own.  There are two tours provided by Marathon Tours, Adventure, and Cultural.  Getting a bit too old for Adventure tours so we opted for the Cultural tour.  I hear the true adventurous ones will be doing some more hiking and camping.

Our Cultural tour consisted of some stops along the way back to Amman, the first day and tours around Amman the next 2 days.  Since this blog entry is getting a bit long, I will do my best to condense it for you.

Crusader fortress, the Shoubak Castle from the Mamluk Period.

Mt. Nebo, the mountain where Moses saw the Holy Land before finding his final resting place on the mountain. It had great views of Israel and the Jordan Valley.

The historic city of Madaba, famous for the ancient “Mosaic of Jerusalem,” which is one of the oldest pictured testimonies of the Holy City.

200 K of the 2 million pieces all missing

From the hotel the next day we went down the Jordan Valley to Bethany Beyond the Jordan, or better known as the Baptism Site. The place has been identified as the site where John the Baptist preached and where Jesus was baptized by John.

Where they say Jesus was Baptised

Filtered water from the Jordan river

Our feet in the Jordan River

Folks being Baptised in Isreal right across the Jordan River

We then went to the small town As-Salt.  As-Salt features old lanes and dazzling houses from the late Ottoman Period.  A walking tour through this inviting community showcases some of Jordan’s most charming buildings and bazaars.

In As-Slat, many traditional businesses and skilled artisans enrich the city’s cultural life, and as we walked down the street we saw a variety of different trades and shops, including blacksmiths, shoemakers, barber shops, Arabic sweet stores, and herbalists.

For lunch, we were fed a delicious traditional lunch by a local family.  The main dish was called up side down as you will see in the pictures below.

First, she cooks the meal in the pot and then puts the other pan on top then turns it over her head

Before and after, our new best friend, Sara, models the traditional garb

On the final day of this tour, we headed north through the Jordan Valley to the city ruins of Jerash. These well-preserved ruins were once the ground pillars of a Roman Decapolis city built in approximately 330BC. During its peak, the city flourished from trade with the Nabateans from Petra and was one of the most important cities in the Roman province. In 747AD Jerash was hit by an earthquake and the city was slowly abandoned.

As the years went by, sand covered the columns and buildings, which is why everything was so well preserved when a Russian expedition excavated the city in 1878. After our visit to Jerash, we drove back to Amman for a tour of the capital’s most prominent sites and buildings.

These columns were built to float so that they could withstand the wind and the elements

Use to be the tallest flag pole in the world. That record is now held by Mexico

The view of the Roman Theater from the Citadel Hill of Amman

Their yearly festival is coming up this Friday where everyone will be sacrificing goats and sheep as Mohammad did back in the day.  That is why we saw so many pins along the streets for all to buy.  The food here was the best out of all the places we have visited so far.  My favorite dessert was called Umm Ali, a type of bread pudding served hot made with flaky pastry, nuts, and raisins.

I am going to try my best to continue the Egyptian/Mediterranean type diet when I get back to the states.  Here they also have KFC but here they call it Kentucky Fried Camel.  My favorite beer was named after the original name of Amman, Philadelphia.

I must admit that it was nice to have Wifi on the tour bus since we did travel a lot in it over the last 4 days.  It was helpful to keep this very long blog entry up to date.  The men here love them some women.  They mostly stared at me but were constantly chatting up all the women on the tour.  I guess it is because they don’t get to see so much skin on a daily basis with their women covered up from head to toe.

During this 30 day jaunt, we got to see and hear about several different religions and taste a variety of foods.  I am all toured out and so glad to be heading back to the states, where we will just be running from place to place.  It was a great experience and we now have an even bigger list of places to visit from others on the various tours.

I am really looking forward to only having to set an alarm occasionally instead of daily.  It was a bit difficult to get our runs in and our daily endorphin fixes so really looking forward to that also.  Once again we met some great and interesting people along the way and made some, new best friends.

Louise and Wendy wanted to be included in the blog 

The picture was taken on Sara’s camera. I love to do that when asked to take a picture of someone

It is really hard to hate someone when they offer their home to you for a meal so going back to what Kristin stated earlier, the world would be a lot friendlier if more people traveled.  You don’t have to do it in as intense a fashion as us but getting outside of your comfort zone is good for your mind and soul.

As the world turns

No matter where you are, what time zone you might be in, what your religion or beliefs might be, everyone is trying to accomplish the same things.  Some are more successful than others and it is a lot of fun to watch and experience first hand.

I am one blessed man

Good bye, Amman, Jordan

 

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