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Dubai & Abu Dhabi

img_1285I was at breakfast this morning at mentioned to the waiter, “It’s already hot.” He politely replied, “It is Oman, sir.” Which was, I believe, his way of saying, “yes, you idiot. You’re in Oman in May, no wonder it’s hot. Where did you think you were?”

Oh well. It’s fun to be out, at least. It’s definitely been awhile since I last blogged. I’ve even changed jobs since then, so that goes to show how sparse the writing hsa been. But this has always been a travel blog, so I didn’t want to bore everyone with my daily life.

This trip consists of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Doha. It was spurred by my friends James and Abby, who live in Doha. Old friends from Kansas City, I really wanted to make sure to visit them while they’re abroad. We got such pleasure from having friends visit us in Paris, that we wanted to pay it back as possible. I definitely understand that Doha is a long way from KC, so it takes a certain type of crazy to come out for a short trip. We are clearly that kind of crazy.

Jamesimg_1288 and Abby met us in Dubai for the weekend, even taking Sunday off to show us the city. (The workweek is Sunday through Thursday in Dubai and Doha.) It was absolutely a blast to hang out with them and catchup, as well as get reacquainted with Ellen, who we haven’t seen for a number of years.

They chose a hotel in the middle of the marina district, which was absolutely fabulous. There was a great place to walk around the harbour/canal and see all the massive construction underway. James claims that Doha has even more underway, so I’ll be interested to see that when I get there.

While I knew that Dubai was basically a massive, modern city in the middle of the desert, I was definitely unprepared for the scale. There sheer number of 30+ story buildings is impressive, though less impressive when you realize most of them are empty. There are some artificial economic/financial conditions that are prompting all the building, but still… wow.

We only had two days there, so it was a quick look, but we did get to pass by the Gold Souk and have lunch under the Burj Al-Kalifa (highest tower in the world). I definitely wanted to see the Palm where img_1301they had lived during their stay in Dubai, so we did that. It was fun to meet their expat friends, and even here some updates on people I used to work with during my days at Cerner.

I can definitely imagine them enjoying the days around the pool, hanging out at the beach and just enjoying all the amazing amenities that expat life in Dubai has to offer. It certainly has stirred some desires to head back out for another spell. But probably not Dubai….

Erin and I went to the desert the night that James and Abby headed back to Doha. It was an adventure, to say the least. 4×4 offroading was not quite advertised as well as it could have beenimg_1382. My expectation was to head out to the desert (check), see a falcon show (check), have and interesting dinner (check) and then hopefully see a belly dance (nope), then see the stars in the nighttime sky (check).

What I hadn’t realized was that transportation out there is in the form generally called “dune bashing,” which consists of stress testing vehicles’ limits in multiple axis simultaneously. For instance, how steep a dune can the Land Rover go up? (very steep). down? (steeper still). What about sideways? (Disconcertingly/impressively). What about hitting a dune at speed to make a turn? (once again, stomach wrenchingly possible).

This was the unspoken part of the tour, which our Italian friend’s stomach promptly protested. This kept us on the milder side of the experience, which i think was ok by most people in the car.

From the desert safari, we headed down to Abu Dhabi for a couple days in the cultural capital. I’m not sure that we had the opportunity to see as much culture as we wanted, but it was certainly more diverse than Dubai.

We ended up walking the corniche down to the Emirate Palace, which was a spectacle to be seen, no doubt. The Bentleys (Bentlies?) parked outside gave a quick indication of how much money img_1465was in this building. No where else have I seen cultural and historical artifacts blatantly on sale for obscene amounts of money. Mayan ceramic? Just $50k or so. Very odd, indeed.

It was a very quick tour of the city, so we tried to make the most of it. We visited the Grand Mosque, which supposedly fits 40,000 visitors at one time. I think I believe it’s possible, but it’d certainly be a tight fit. Needless to say, it was massive. In addition, it was actually quite beautiful, characteristics which sometimes don’t marry well.

There was a great deal of intricate design both on the inside and the outside of the mosque. There were massive inlaid marble designs of flowers from the northern and southern hemispheres, asimg_1498 well as flowers of the Middle East in the center. The largest handwoven carpet in the world is there, impressive in it’s own right. It was absolutely fantastic to see something so well done, and be able to take pictures as well.

After an afternoon of walking around markets and the filled streets, we had our last night at the top of a hotel in an incredibly cheesy revolving restaurant that was clearly overpriced. But it was fun to see the entire city laid out along the corniche (boardwalk) and talk about all the interesting things we’ve experienced.

That next day (Wednesday), img_1540Erin went to London to meet up with her sisters, while I continued to Muscat, Oman, for a short weekend. Today, I head to Doha after a few days here, and will be there until next weekend, staying with James and Abby and abusing their hospitality.

It’s been an eye opening trip so far, raising far more questions that I have the time to list or let along answer. My curiosity, which was fairly vague and poorly focused, is now piqued. There are so many interesting aspects to the cultural environment here that I want to know more.

I will be covering Oman soon, but it offers such an incredibly different perspective that it warrants it’s own post. The culture is totally different, the landscape rugged and untamed. Where Dubai is reclaiming land from the ocean, Muscat is nestled into the mountains like a traditional port city under attack from marauders.

But… I will not start that yet, though I nearly did there. I suppose you could call that a teaser.

New Friends

Christmas 2011

Hello All,

As this is my first holiday letter, I’m a little unsure where to begin.  I’ve had some models to follow in the style department, but it’s always interesting and difficult to start anything afresh.  I have a full pot of dandelion tea waiting for me, which will likely be empty by the time I finished, so let us begin.

Erin and I moved to Durham, NC in September 2010, which makes it over a year we’ve lived here now.  While searching for a full-time job, we kept the bills paid by working as researchers/writers for AllTrips, an online travel site.  Erin also returned to work as a server while searching for the right position to settle in.

I landed at a startup company called ReverbNation after a few months of hard searching, which does online marketing and promotion for musicians.  I work in what I would call Infrastructure, but which is apparently being called “Dev/Ops” (Development/Operations) these days.  Notice, that doesn’t actually leave me with a title, just a department.  So I work in the Dev/Ops department, but I am nothing that you can put on a business card.  When pressed, I apply the title of Web Developer to myself, though this is mostly ornamental.

Erin passed her first level Sommelier in June, which lead her to a job with Empire Distributors, where she is an On-Premise Sales Representative.  That’s four capital letters in her title, which actually makes me slightly jealous.  She works with restaurants and other vendors to set wine menus and pairings, provide training and education to restaurant staff, and running tastings throughout the week.

My first few months of work consisted of the same 80 hour work weeks as she is working now, which provides excellent opportunities for knowledge and experience sharing.  She was concerned about drowning in her work, but then I relayed the age-proven nugget of wisdom passed along to me, “you don’t need your whole head above water, you just need enough to breathe.” She has found little comfort in this, I believe.

Her job has provided us some interesting opportunities, one of which was the opportunity to go to a spectacular charity dinner, for which the company had generously donated the wine.  As we live in the south now, we’re finding it’s a different culture that has it’s own quirks, one of which is a challenging aspect of formality.  Our fashion doesn’t quite translate well, as it was honed and perfected through years of budget backpacking.  But we put forth our best effort, not without a few wardrobe changes.

After valeting our ‘99 minivan, we found our table and were off to the side of the stage, but uncomfortably close.  A man in his 50’s came up to have a seat and introduced himself.  I barely heard his name, asked him to repeat it, and the proceeded to mangle it terribly, I’m sure.  He said it in a way that made me think I was supposed to know who he was.  I didn’t, and I’m pretty sure he figured that out.

The event starts and, had I been more observant, I likely wouldn’t have been so surprised when the man was called to the stage as the main speaker.  It was Thomas Sayre, the sculptor whose work was the inspiration for the night.  I had no clue.  Erin didn’t either, but she was much smoother about it.  Though we were at the right table according to the placecard, we were clearly at the wrong table, but who was I to argue with smoke infused truffles, hibiscus-marinated venison and a dessert called Serendipity?

On another front, we’re continuing our travel ways by exploring an entire new area of the country for us.  North Carolina has proven to have some fun camping and hiking trails nearby, which has a been escape from the city.  After spending so many nights in a tent, it feels oddly nostalgic to hop in our old faithful tent for a couple of nights.

Lisa and my new brother-in-law have recently moved just a few hours away to Abingdon, tucked in far western Virginia.  I took a quick trip out there to visit them and explore their new city, and have been introducing them to the east coast style of camping, which is not quite the same as what they were accustomed to in Idaho.  We enjoy drive-up camping with flat campsites, fire-rings and hot showers out here.  That’s roughing it, NC-style.

Thanksgiving was a blast, when my 91-year-old grandmother made it down to explore Durham.  It was a great excuse to finally pull out all our formal glasses, stemware, plates and everything.  For of our wedding gifts, it was the first time they had been used, after sitting in storage for 3 years.  We cooked up too much food and enjoyed every minute of it.

Our Christmas this year will be celebrated in Japan with the Mosier side of the family.  We will miss the Hinkens during our trip, but plan on distracting ourselves with sushi, sake, and skiing.

Hope all’s well, and have a great holiday.

Cheers,

Todd

Erin's 30th Birthday Present

Engaging life like a Bull

I quit the climbing gym today. Erin’s probably going to be a bit miffed, it’s true, but for the wrong reasons. It’s not for financial reasons, though our weekend-long budgeting session did provide some impetus for the decision. We’re trying to buy a house, and it looks like it might actually take some money. Money that we’ll have to find somewhere.

So, while finances may have spurred me on, it’s not the real reason. The real reason is that I’m not prioritizing climbing enough. I hadn’t been going regularly, I had been finding it more and more difficult to get in the car, drive 35 minutes out there and 35 minutes back. When I actually made it to the gym, I would only climb for an hour or so. I never got into the groove, never settled into a group of people, didn’t really enjoy it the way I used to. I’m not exactly the most outgoing of people, but I’m not totally social awkward, either. Two years of traveling helped me develop some skills to meet new people, but I still hang back. If I had to classify myself between the wallflower and the social butterfly, I’m somewhere along the lines of a friendly fern.

What’s the reason to quit, then? I felt bad that I was unable to devote the time to climbing that the others were. Who’s able to head out to the mountains 3 days a week? Oh, wait, that was me just a little bit ago. But certainly not anymore. It was frustrating to be in the midst of the climbing community, where total devotion is par for the course. I’ll never be a great climber. But I do enjoy it.

ChancosBut more than that, it’s mostly the fact that climbing was a way of holding onto our trip. It was a time that I could sit and remember our motorcycle trip in South Africa, where we went climbing and met a fantastic couple who invited us for a braai. I would remember climbing in Peru, where an incredibly old woman walked past us with 40 sheep while I was stuck on a wall. The multiple trips in Argentina, my two day course in Arenales, our time in Idaho. I’d even look back to the days when I worked at Ibex Climbing Gym for pennies.

It’s not a bad thing to reminisce. I know well that this recent memory of our trip, while still fresh in my mind, is a precious moment. I started my travel life long ago with my family, and I fondly remember both family and solo trips. But how fresh are these memories? How well can I remember the places, the people, their names, the details that blur into the past? It gets less and less the farther back the memories go.

I spent a year in Mexico in 2000-2001. 11 years ago this fall, I left high school, hopped on a place, and landed in Mexico City to embark on an incredible journey of great experiences, horrible mistakes, and hilarious stories that I no longer tell because the details become lost in the many stories. I’ve written most of them down, and I occasionally pull them out and wonder at my own naivety, brash behavior and beginner’s mind.

During college, I took several trips, including some incredible places like Antarctica, Peru, South Africa and a 4,000 mile solo road trip from Austin to New York City and back. After college, I spent 3 1/2 months touring SE Asia. These are experiences that I hold very dearly and remember well, sometimes laughing to myself about a joke that is one hundred percent inexplicable unless you’ve been there along the road with me.

For instance, people have asked where I learned to ride a bike. I can tell you the exact place: Vang Vienne, Laos. Even the mention of that town makes me smile with a happy memory of learning to ride a moped and getting stuck in a huge puddle of clay. I was eventually pulled free by a very old tractor. An honest to goodness diesel tractor from the 40s, pulling a cart of people who all tried to help. I rode my moped back into town by way of an hour long ride on a wooden tractor-cart.

I started up a massive Harley we had rented for Erin’s birthday, and I was immediately taken back six years to that red moto. Train rides make me think of playing my guitar on a 20 hour train ride in Burma through rice paddies. Large shrimp make me think of Zanzibar, and now make me think of my first date with Erin, where she didn’t believe that U-2 shrimp could exist. Pickles takes me back to Texas, little league baseball games and watermelon.

Having these specific items that transport me back to a certain time and place is no different than anyone else. It’s simply part of our nature to have triggers that remind us of certain things. But lately, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been remembering too much. I’ve been too strongly stuck where we’ve been, dwelling on our past events. I haven’t been preparing for our future, and even worse, I haven’t been fully enjoying the present.

I’m letting go of our trip, little by little. And quitting the climbing gym is a part of that process for me, strange as that may seem. I plan on continuing climbing, but not in the way I’ve been. I need a new gym, a new perspective on the sport, and most likely a break from it. I’m enjoying our life in Durham to an incredible degree, but I haven’t committed myself 100% to our present, which is a shame.

I’m loving my job, I even paid to have the opportunity to spend a three day weekend programming. Yes, I actually gave money to an organization to allow me to do what I do for work, on the weekend. That’s how much I’m enjoying the type of work I’m doing now. It’s fun. I get to spend 10-12 hours a day behind a computer unraveling the intricacies of electronics. It’s a fascinating and beautiful rabbit hole that engulfs me completely, to the point where I can’t even talk if I’m programming. (Ask Erin, she’ll verify this.)

We’re trying to buy a house. It’s a huge venture for us, and it scares both of us to the bones, but being scared of something certainly doesn’t stop us from doing it. It’s certainly no scarier than attending a football match in Zimbabwe. Not even close.

We’re meeting new people, slowly but surely. We’ve got some new friends here that we enjoy, we’re understanding our new city and state a little bit more each week, finding the odd quirks that keep us interested. Things like the incredible sweet tooth of southerners. (North Carolina is the south?) The terrible mash that they call barbecue. The sweltering humid air that hits you like dragon breath when you walk outside. The general fear of snow. It’s amazing.

It’s difficult to let go of our trip. But, slowly, I’m releasing my fingers one at a time to focus on what’s in front of us. It certainly helps that these are incredibly exciting times for us, so I find it easier and easier to look forward and engage life head on. Like a bull.

Montana

Life in the States Seems to be Agreeing with US

I have started to write this blog a couple of times.  The ‘we are home,’ or ‘end of the adventure,’ ‘wisdom from afar,’ blog but it just hasn’t been working.  Too much pressure to be prophetic.  Yet, the blog has been such a part of my life for the last two years.  I am not ready to let it go.  We are now in Idaho.  I started this little bit almost three weeks ago when I was trying to figure it all out.

I am sitting here in my folks kitchen the rain has been coming down for about two days now and I am home.  The dogs are wandering around not quite sure what to do with themselves.  I can actually relate a little.  We left Mendoza almost two weeks ago. This blog is a bit odd to write because it is not only a return to the states but also the end of our two years abroad.  So how do you put all that into words when you can’t even figure out what emotions are playing through your head.  Here is my go at that.

Aerobics in the ParkOur last week in Mendoza was great, minus Todd being under the weather, not full blown sick, but he was not doing well.  He used all his energy to enjoy the last days of our trip.  By keeping ourselves busy the two weeks prior we were actually able to enjoy that time without the anxious excitement and nerves that kept creeping upon each of us.

That’s as far as I got.  I don’t know how to put into words those first couple days of being back in the states.  Odd is the first one.  It’s always the little things you notice; the amount of stuff at the grocery store, the size of the cars, pedestrians having the right of way, green grass, fewer buses, bikers, and walkers.  While other things seem to fall right back into place and feel just right.  For instance, being back at my folks house.  Things are still in the same place and that is comforting. Maura Graduates Although, the knife drawer swapped with the hot pads still throws me off three years later.  So, I guess I am trying to say that Todd and I are good.  We didn’t burst into flames from over stimulation or shock from being stateside.  Basically, we fell into old comforting patterns.

Thursday Night at Cafe al DenteOur time in KC went by so quickly.  I feel like I didn’t even sleep, but it was worth it.  We partied with the clan, Maura graduated from highschool, I jumped out of an airplane with the my momma and sisters, Todd ventured to Vegas and Beloit, we hit Al Dente for the Thursday night tradition, I passed my, motorcycle class, and then we were off. From there we packed up the minivan and headed west.  First stop, Edwards, CO, where Dale and Jeanne  literally just moved into their new house the day we arrived.  It was perfect timing.  We put our hands to work and helped them get things organized.  Even though there was a lot of work, we managed to play.  Teva Game Bouldering MadnessThe highlight being the Teva Games in Vail.  These were outdoor events like kayaking, bouldering, mountain biking, etc.  I have never been to a bouldering competition before.  Even though I am into bouldering I always had the impression that they would be pretty dry and anticlimatic.  Well, I was totally wrong.  After watching the pre-lims and the finals I was hoarse from all the yelling.  Who knew you could almost lose your voice watching people boulder.  It was incredible!

Teva Game After our quick visit with the Mosiers, we headed north to Victor, ID, our summer home.  Derek and Lisa were nice enough to invite these two homeless nomads into their home for the summer.  We gladly obliged this request.  You can’t pass up a summer in the mountains.  We just passed our first week here and if it is a prediction of what the rest of the summer holds, I think we are set for a great time.

Homemade pizza night, live music at the Knotty, an awesome showing by all of us at the Teton Dam 10k, and too many hours of futbol and snacks wrapped up the first week.  And the highlight, morel hunting.  I had always heard of mushroom hunters, read about them, been frightened of the false mushroom that can lead to death. etc.  So when Lisa started talking about the hunt I was a bit skeptical.  Luckily, an ice cream bar later and I was ready to go.  After browsing the internet to figure out exactly what morels looked like, and their evil twins the false morels, we were on our way.Teton Dam 10k

We started out not knowing what to expect.  So, I wondered off the path looking around dead logs, at the base of trees, basically scanning the ground for I wasn’t really sure.  It felt like I hadn’t blinked in ages when Lisa screeched with excitement at our first morel.  Wow, we actually found one.  In total, we found 8 beautifully weird looking morels.  I can now count myself as one of the thousands of people who go out each year to hunt these prized wonders of the culinary world.

Once home, we laid them out on the counter, keenly looking over the brain like bodies.  After we finely examined our bounty it was time to indulge.  We didn’t go wondering about in the woods to give our mushrooms an anatomy test, we went for their scrumptious flavor.  A quick sauté with some butter and salt and pepper and we were licking our lips and patting ourselves on the backs.

Morels, beautiful MorelsAnd that was only week one.  Today, back to reality as I continue my job hunt.  Todd is working hard in his new office and we are already planning our first dinner party. Life back in the states seems to be agreeing with us.

Teton-Dam-10k

Lilting Gazelles and Thundering Hippos

It’s been awhile since we’ve blogged. Clearly. Sorry. And, in addition, I’m not really going to cover the craziness of being back in the states. That topic is one of those that’s going to take a herculean effort I’m not quite up to yet. (Erin, go for it if you’re ready.)

Today, I woke up a little groggy, with some funny things going on in my belly, gurgling and all sorts of remnants from our last Thursday in Kansas City. Last night was a fun crew, mixing all the senators of various sorts. (And, for those of you who slept through your computer history course, I present to you, The Lisa) Pizza, beer, and some goodbyes all made for a great night.

I decided that what I needed to do was take a run. You may remember that we ran a half-marathon in Mendoza a couple months ago. We’ve been running pretty regularly, more or less as we can squeeze it into our schedules, which are surprisingly busy. So this run was nothing special, really. I decided to run a 3 mile loop, started off and immediately cramped up. I felt like there was monkey wrench bouncing around through my intestines. So… I slow down, let my body adjust to the idea of running. I kept talking to it, alternatively giving it words of encouragement, You can do it!, and apologies, I’m so sorry about last night. Eventually, it came around after the first half-mile. I started going at a nice pace, waving to the middle-aged dog walking wives of Brookside. I preened, nearly choking on my own ego as I watched them watching me. The thoughts that go through your head while running can be pretty ridiculous. Running without a shirt on a valid form of community service, really. We just normally don’t admit them out loud, and certainly not in a public forum like the internet. Oh well.

So, I hit the midway point and was pretty pleased with how things were going and, like the horse turning home, decide to kick it up a notch. Or two. Or as many as possible. Now, I’m just flying through the streets, passing 3 deep lines of baby strolling moms. But no longer am I a gazelle, gracefully lilting through an urban savannah. Now I’m more like a thundering hippo running to the muddy river. Get out of my way! If you’ve ever seen a hippo run, it’s pretty funny and I felt pretty ridiculous, panting the entire time. You start to wonder what you’re even doing out there.

Then the eye of the hurricane hit me, calmness all around, and all I could think about was how my nose and mouth were like a gigantic stovepipe going down to my lungs. I couldn’t believe the sheer quantity of air I could move! For those who have never picked up smoking and then quit, you’ll never understand the difference. For my body to be able to pull air like this was incredible. I don’t remember being in high school and having lungs like that because I never knew there was another option. I had the tar in my lungs pointed out to me on x-ray in Paris. I trained for a marathon in college and didn’t quit smoking because I didn’t think it was affecting me that much. The debilitating change had come on so slowly, I truly didn’t recognize it. So, I know what it’s like to run, exercise, hike, do whatever physical activity and have lungs that aren’t what they could be, but recognizing the difference was a different story.

So, in this moment of calm that lasted the last mile, I just ran at full bore and marveled at what my lungs were doing. I wasn’t thinking about how much my legs were screaming or how I might throw up from the sheer physical effort. I was literally imagining the vast quantities of air leaving my lungs and forming little cloud cubes so that I could count how many cubic feet of air I was using. This simple activity of sucking air in and forcing it out became a marvel of it’s own. It was as beautiful as any African sunset, any Guatemalan volcano, any Bolivian jungle or Argentine wine.

That runner’s euphoria they talk about? Yep. That’s it.

Biopic review of travels across the globe