A Travellerspoint blog

A Woman in Jordan

By Lis


View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

Jordan was our first foray into the misunderstood Middle East. Many people imagine scenes from their nightly news broadcast, as there is currently much turmoil in the neighbouring countries. Jordan is a safe country to visit, with political and economic stability. It is a small country, with enough sites to keep a tourist busy for a few weeks. We based ourselves out of the capital, Amman, for the first few days, and took day trips organized through our guesthouse. From Amman we visited Jerash, an ancient Roman settlement, Medaba, with a Greek Orthodox community, the famous Dead Sea, where you float with ease, and Mount Nebo, where Moses saw his promised land. In Amman we had the best (and cheapest!) falafel and hummus. Next we took the scenic route to Wadi Musa, to visit the colossal ruins of Petra. The cost of the ticket, the temperature at midday, plus the size of the site, encourages visitors to spread their visit over several days. After that, we spent the night in the red-sand dessert of Wadi Rum, where images of Lawrence of Arabia are easily conjured, and awoke in a Bedouin tent on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. Aqaba was our last stop, which had record high temperatures, but was the perfect location to snorkel in the Red Sea. Best of all, the people of Jordan are some of the friendliest we’ve met, and they will literally yell at you down an alleyway, “Welcome to Jordan!” It is also inexpensive, though the limited public transit system meant that the private transportation we opted for increased our daily budget substantially.

In Jordan, walking among ladies in burqas and veils, I started to give more thought to what it means to be a woman in this world. I felt it was really important for me to know and follow the norms of Jordan in terms of proper behaviour for a woman. While Western women in Jordan sit somewhere in between male and female status, I tried to err on the conservative side. All this meant was that I wore clothing that covered my shoulders, chest, and legs, I did not touch any men (i.e. no handshakes unless they initiated it), and I let Toby take the lead. I felt that, after observing these norms, I earned respect from the men (and women) that we met, and I was representing Canadian women well. It was not uncommon to see a Western woman, sitting in the front seat of a taxi (not okay), showing her shoulders and legs, talking in a loud voice, visibly upset or annoyed. I couldn’t help wondering what impression that woman was leaving on Jordan, and vice versa. Perhaps these ladies think that they are making a statement about the freedom afforded to women in the West. I fear that their message will be lost while the locals assume the worst about the ladies’ characters, perhaps drawing conclusions about all Western women. I am not suggesting that I prefer or condone the gender roles in Middle Eastern societies; merely that I found a way to live comfortably in this one.

So, in honour of my stay in Jordan, something a little different from me: a poem :)

How to be a Woman

I learned how to be
A woman in the West.
My mother, my role model, said to me,
“You are strong and you are smart.
You can be whatever you want to be.”

I learned how to be
A woman in the West.
The media, my role model, said to me,
“You are strong and you are smart.
But you also need to be beautiful.
Your presentation at work will go well, but maybe you should paint your nails?
Pay more for haircuts and drycleaning, but get paid less than a man.
Your father will give you away at your wedding, just stand there and look like a princess.
You can’t have a job and a family without missing out on both.
Still single? No kids? What’s wrong with you?"

I learned how to be
A woman in the Middle East.
Ushered through the restaurant to the family section.
“Let me choose where to sit!” I screamed silently inside.
But the family section was full of smiles instead of stares
And it quickly became my choice.

I learned how to be
A woman in the Middle East.
Questions to my husband instead of to me.
“I can speak for myself!” I screamed silently inside.
But my husband knows all the answers
And instead of feeling insignificant, I felt like a VIP.

I learned how to be
A woman in the Middle East.
Long sleeves and pants, other women in niqab and hijab.
“Don’t tell me what to wear!” I screamed silently inside.
But they looked past me or into my eyes.
My beauty was not determining my worth.

Images flash on the news: those poor women, they live such a different life.
Images flash on the Hollywood screen: those poor women, they aren’t valued as equal.
Who is repressed? Who is free?
I’m still learning how to be
A woman.

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Posted by Lis.L 03:46 Archived in Jordan Comments (1)

Greek Island Hopping

By Lis


View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

Travellers are spoiled for choice in Greece! Which of the many islands do you want to explore? The only drawback is, if you're travelling in the summer months, you have the best weather for swimming but the worst crowds and highest prices. If you travel in the off-season, ferries run on irregular schedules, and it's likely you won't dip your toes in the turquoise water - it will be too cold! As it is, the ferry schedule will likely dictate your path, as it did for us. Here was our route, coming from Turkey.

Rhodes

This large island feels more like a coastline than an island and features a large, modern city. The old town is very well preserved and there are lots of sights to see. This is a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, so there is a noticeable influx of people during daylight hours. The new town has many shopping and eating choices, but many tend to be touristy and expensive. There is a small, busy beach just North of the town, and people eagerly find any small strip of sand - even the one between the pier and a busy road! From Rhodes you can take a day-trip to Lindos, which features an acropolis at the top of a picturesque town.
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Patmos

It was on this island that John the Divine received the Book of Revelation and, as such, the island attracts a different kind of tourist. Christian pilgrims and families come here, and the island has a solemn, family vibe. There is a small pier area with restaurants to choose from, but undoubtedly the best place to eat on Patmos is called Ta Souvlakia Tou Pappou - out of 45 days of Greek food this restaurant served us the best Greek salad and the best grilled veggie pita. Friendly owners and good prices meant we ate here every day. If you're staying in town you can take a quick bus ride to the monastery on the hill or another bus to some nice beaches. The island is small and easy to navigate. From town, pretty much every building has a great view of the monastery and the water.
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Samos

We stayed in Pythagorio, which has a large pier area with a good choice of shops and restaurants for all budgets. There were grocery stores for self-catering as well. The slope of the town means that almost everyone has an amazing view of the water. There is a small beach by the pier, and another a short walk or bus ride from town. There are many attractions to keep you busy on Samos, including a monastery, ruins of Ireon, a museum, a castle, and a tunnel. Samos had it all - sights, choices, and the right vibe for relaxation - so this was one of my favourite spots.
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Mykonos

The old town on Mykonos is completely touristy, but for a good reason - it really is beautiful. The beaches in the South offer choices (including nudity), and you can walk or take a bus if you want a change of scenery. There is a definite party atmosphere on this island, with many of the beaches equipped with discotheques. Mykonos is the most expensive island in terms of accommodation and food. We also took a ferry to Delos, which had some of the best ruins of the islands.
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Santorini

Renting an ATV is perhaps the best way to see this medium-sized island, as you can explore at your own pace and stop wherever there is a great view. Thira is very touristy, and we had our fill in a few hours. The Southern beaches and towns also cater to tourists, but allow you to glimpse into village life. Oia is the most beautiful spot on the island and THIS is where all the famous postcards are shot. Watching the sunset from Oia is a must-do. We liked that the island had choices for accommodation and food, and the colourful volcanic sand was unique to Santorini.
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Crete

Gritty Iraklion feels more like a real city than some of the other towns polished for tourism. Graffiti adds to its charm. A few friendly people here made this a great experience for us. We took a day-trip to Knossos, which is artificially recreated and looks more modern than its actual age. Chania is a cute port town with narrow old town streets to wander in before hitting the new town. From here we trekked the Samaria Gorge, which was tough but well worth it.
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Peloponnese

After a brief stop in Athens, we said goodbye to our travelmate Tricia and went South to the Peloponnese Peninsula. Monemvasia was our first and favourite stop, as we explored the old town on The Rock by foot. This unique area has some nice beaches as well. Sparta was quite 'spartan' (sorry) as little remains as evidence of the soldiers' famous battles and way of life. It was, however, a link to the ruins of Mystras. Nafplio was a cute town with easy links to Epidavros, Mycenae and hill-top castles. Last, we spent a night in touristy Loutraki, thinking it would be a better link to Athens, but in fact, Corinth would have been a better choice.
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Posted by Lis.L 02:25 Archived in Greece Tagged beaches Comments (0)

Eastern Turkish Delight

By Lis


View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

After waving goodbye to Toby's parents in the window of their Istanbul-bound bus in Goreme, Turkey, we boarded a different bus. This one was en route to Kahta; further East, and less often visited. Here is a recount of our brief detour from Turkey's tourist trail.

Two weeks prior, we had met with Toby's parents in Istanbul. We loved this ancient but modern city, straddling Asia and Europe, with architectural icons representing different eras of reign. Aya Sofia and The Blue Mosque were highlights, naturally, and one can get quite a kink in one’s neck from admiring these massive buildings. Next, we had a quick stop in Cannakale, where a disappointingly short and expensive tour to the disappointingly bare ruins of Troy unexpectedly became an inside joke (“Yeah, but at least it’s not Troy.”) Next, the party town of Kusadasi was our base for exploring Ephesus, some of the best ruins we’ve seen. Pammukale was a cozy, picturesque town at the base of ruins and natural travertine pools. Last, we spent an extended stay in Goreme, where a hot-air balloon ride, Green Tour and rental car allowed us to take in the out-of-this-world scenery from every angle possible.

On our overnight bus to Kahta, we waited for a while at the bus station in Kayseri with a handful of other tourists. On the television sets in the tea shop, Fenerbahce’s recent cup win was glaring into the attentive eyes of men. Outside by the bus platforms, groups of young men hoisted friends into the air with rounds of cheers. At first we thought the two activities were related, but a friendly local told us that the groups were seeing off a friend before he joined the army. Entire families joined in this joyous occasion, oblivious to the ungodly hour.

The next morning in Kahta, our shabby budget hotel hooked us up with a late afternoon tour to Mount Nemrut. First we needed to eat. We went into a restaurant, where the friendly English-speaking waiter explained the dishes and gave us the local treatment: free Ayran, free tea, free bread, free salad, and low price. We returned several times while in Kahta, as we couldn’t believe it was possible to eat like this.

With Drew, our Aussie travel-mate, and Dimitri, our driver/guide, we drove into the barren landscape outside of Kahta and saw a Roman bridge, abandoned castle, cave dwelling, and finally, the famous Mount Nemrut, where the massive heads of ancient statues provided the backdrop to sunset. We were dismayed to find that “package holiday makers” were on the mountain in droves.

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On three separate occasions that day, people had recommended we visit the South-Eastern town of Sanliurfa, or Urfa for short. We got on the local dolmus and a short drive later we were there. Sitting in the park by the birthplace of Prophet Abraham, we watched the Turkish locals and Turkish tourists as they fed the sacred carp swimming in shallow pools. I noticed that the most conservative women were wearing chodors in either black or white, but most women wore a colourful satin headscarf and a perfectly tailored beige trench-coat. Men wore dark colours like black and grey, and almost always finished their outfit with a pair of pointy leather shoes, recently polished by the neighbourhood shoeshine. They didn’t pull out umbrellas when it started to rain, knowing that it wouldn’t last long and wouldn’t be heavy. I followed suit and sure enough the drops on my clothes quickly dried. While Toby explored a lookout point, I sat by myself on a bench. Three women sat to my right and my left, and had a conversation around me in Turkish. No, I was not occupying the only bench in the area; something else, perhaps the desire to be my temporary escort, was motivating them.

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Exploring the bazaar, we pondered how age-old traditions still fit in a modern life, as the city of Urfa was quite large and developed. We watched as craftsmen created pieces of art out of metal, wood and sides of meat.

Our hotel owner personally drove us and a photographer from Poland to the village and ruins of Haraan, a mere 10 km from the border with Syria. On this day trip we also saw beehive houses, ancient castles, an ancient quarry, the oldest temple in the world (9000 years old) and some spectacular desert landscape. While the ruins were impressive, and the landscape surreal, once again I was moved the most by the local people. Beautiful women with tattooed faces let us watch as they herded and milked their goats. Men waved and offered us tea. Children, curious and bold, followed us around a site. As a result, I have no memories of the historic details, but vivid recollection of the girls' piercing light eyes. A handful of girls tried to teach me some Kurdish and I reciprocated with English words. They studied my earrings and my shoes. In a symbol of hospitality, they plucked berries from a tree and gave them to me in handfuls. Eager to be a gracious guest, and sensitive to children's feelings of pride, I gobbled the berries without hesitation.

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Hours later, while waiting for our food to arrive at a local restaurant in Urfa, my stomach turned in a way that was not quite right. I ran to the toilet and made it just in time. Our dinner was taken "to go", and the next 24 hours were spent in bed. It was a price to pay for kindness, and I don't regret it at all.

The one regret, however, is that since I was ill in Urfa, my eagerness to travel further East, away from the comforts of the tourist trail, diminished. Instead, we stopped at the hidden gem of Amasya. If the "touristy-ness" of a place can be measured in souvenir stalls, then this place was a "two" :) It was well worth the time to climb to the Lycian tombs to get an amazing view of the city. Here, a friendly local helped us to see the real Amasya; he used his connections to show us a Koranic school, music school, and other sites along the way.

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Once back on the tourist trail, we enjoyed each of the cities we visited as we made our way South-West along the Mediterranean - from Safranbolu in the North to Konya in the centre, then Antalya, Olympos, Kas, and Fethiye along the coast. But I am also thankful for the short time we spent in the East.

Posted by Lis.L 06:01 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

By Lis


View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

Before we left for this trip, Toby spent an immeasurable amount of time doing research. Out of one enormous wish list came “The Spreadsheet”. The Spreadsheet listed each country we wanted to go to, cities within each country, number of days in each place, approximate cost per day, cumulative cost for the trip, and approximate dates for each country.

We pretty much followed the Spreadsheet as we toured China, mostly because every 30 days we had to renew our visas. But once into SE Asia, we started adding cities, staying longer in each place, and slowly the spreadsheet started to morph. The place where we thought we’d spend Christmas was finally reached in May. We really enjoyed this new style of travel, one that gave us enough time in each country to really absorb the culture, learn words in each language, and venture off the tourist trail. It also gave us a less frantic pace, which helped ensure that we would enjoy travelling longer.

Once we arrived in Malaysia in the month of April, we had a good hard look at the Spreadsheet. Did we really want to spend an entire year in Eastern Asia when there was so much more to see? Did we really need to see Indonesia during this trip, when already we were feeling a bit of repetition in terms of scenery? Did we really want to visit India in the hottest months of the year? Did we really want to trek Nepal in the wettest month of the year? The answers were a resounding NO. And so, we began to make changes. Where would we go next?

The price of flights was a factor, since we didn’t count on that in the initial budget. The summer weather was another big factor. One last factor was that Toby’s parents had some vacation time in May and wanted to meet us somewhere. At first we suggested Egypt, but then the revolution happened and it became less safe for travel. Then we suggested Jordan, but they also had conflicts around that time. Adamant that they were not going to venture into a potential crisis, we settled on Turkey. We had no idea how much it would have to offer, but for more on that you’ll have to check out my Turkey entry (coming soon).

We debated heading into the Middle East after Turkey, but that would also be during the hottest months of the year and the holy month of Ramadan. So, we decided to go into Greece next and then see as much as we can of Eastern Europe. Writing this entry from Greece I can say that there is a good reason why it is such a popular destination, as it is just beautiful. But being popular and easy to travel to means that the crowds flock here during the busy season and prices soar. We were shocked by our new daily budget in Turkey, but were often doubling that in Greece, just by adding a ferry ride or short day excursion. It was frustrating to calculate that the budget meal we just found in Greece cost twice as much as a splurge meal in Asia. Another revelation was that most of the travellers we saw in Greece were in their golden years, making it clear that Europe is a destination for all ages. Why do we have to see it now with our backpacks?

This sparked the latest wave of decisions. If we didn’t see Europe now, where could we go that would allow us to be in India and Nepal at the best time of year (Fall)? The answer became clear: Africa!!! But first, to two attractive destinations that have been calling us for a while: Israel and Jordan. Let Year Two begin!

Posted by Lis.L 08:02 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

Singapore and Brunei: Nice Things Come In Small Packages

By Lis


View World Tour 2010-2012 on Lis.L's travel map.

It's really not fair of me to keep lumping Singapore and Brunei together, simply because they are both small countries in the same area of the world. Each destination is unique - or not - in the following ways.

Singapore is a mega-city, or rather, a mega-city surrounded by green space that is less often visited. The city is known world-wide for its cleanliness and rules. I think that like all good reputations, each was a bit of an overstatement. The cleanliness was not glaringly obvious, and we saw dirty areas just like in every other city. The rules, while posted everywhere, were not rigorously enforced. One might expect to have "etiquette police" everywhere, which we didn't see. I use the term etiquette because refraining from eating durian on the metro is not a matter of safety. :)

It was a great place for a weekend, as you could easily spend hours exploring and admiring the different areas of the city, but after coming from Malaysia it also seemed like more of the same, but at a more expensive price. We liked the mix of colonial and modern, Chinese and Indian, but we had also seen that in Malaysia. It seems as though Singapore would be a great place to live and work, but for travellers touring SE Asia it is often simply another country to check off their list.

I recommend booking your accommodation in Singapore in advance, as budget places fill up fast, and we were left with a mid-range option that ate up most of our daily budget. If you're flying to Borneo next, it may be worth the effort to cross back into Malaysia first to save some money, as flights from Singapore tend to be more expensive.

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Brunei Darussalam - the tiny Sultanate on Borneo surrounded by Malaysia - sounded extremely exotic at first, but was much more liberal and modern than we expected. The main purpose of our stopover was to visit with friends living there with their three children. They often deal with misconceptions about what Brunei is like. It is very developed, but not overly so; driving from one location to another on a nicely paved highway we could see wild jungle on either side. The large expat community of Shell employees is set up with all the amenities of home, including a country club, golf course and private school, but minus the shopping options and the alcohol, which you have to bring in from Malaysia for personal consumption and declare at the border.

It sounds like the Sultan really takes care of his people, providing them with free health care, education, occasionally housing and gifts during Hari Raya, but he also keeps a tight rein on things, including the media and who gets to stay in or exit his country.

As a tourist we spent a day in Bandar Seri Begawan to see the amazing mosque and floating village, and we had dinner in the Empire Hotel. We spotted proboscis monkeys on our boat trip, and saw many hornbills in the nearby trees. Transportation was a breeze for us because of our awesome hosts, but I'm not sure how independent travellers would get around outside of BSB.

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Posted by Lis.L 07:02 Archived in Brunei Comments (0)

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