Ah, the year-end recap. Some silly things, some momentous things–and not just a rehash of old blog posts. Genuine new material here.
1. We got a pet.
Well, not really. But we did get Sugar Duck, a very easily anthropomorphized sugar canister from Turkey. He speaks with a lisp, and sounds sweet, but sometimes he can be a bit snippy. Peter and I are rapidly progressing toward being one of those awful couples who only talk to each other via hand puppets.
3. I got a cover story in a magazine, and I won an award.
Please indulge my career brags briefly. I was moving too fast this year to fully appreciate these things at the time. Typing it now, I feel kinda bad-ass.
Both were via New Mexico magazine, where I’m always honored to be published. The cover story was this roundup of cool hotels in my home state, in the October ’12 issue.
Actually, everywhere is. I don’t think [redacted] appreciates this, and I feel sad for him.
5. I took up a sport.
If you consider hula hooping a sport. It’s certainly more of a workout than I usually get, a bit of a break from my couch-and-bonbons schedule. And, remarkably, it is the only physical activity I have ever been reasonably good at on first attempt.
6. I made friends in Arabic.
For all my years studying Arabic, I have never actually gotten to know someone in the Mid East purely by speaking in that language. That has a lot to do with studying at fancier schools in Egypt, where most people speak English as a second language.
This year, I went to more French-as-backup countries, and my French sucks. And those countries also happen to have some charming and outgoing–and patient–women I’m honored to have met.
7. I went back to Morocco with my parents.
They spent a lot of time there in the late ’60s, which is why I have the name I have. I also finally figured out what my name is really supposed to be in Arabic.
(Oh, sh*t! The book! Why am I writing this blog post when I should be writing the book?!)
8. I turned 40.
And I feel pretty good about it. Even though I almost immediately had to have my wisdom teeth pulled. Life is so much easier at 40 than at 20. And so is traveling.
9. I might have just hit my limit with traveling.
I hope this isn’t related to the previous point. But it was a long year. As I’m writing this, I should have been on a plane to Kuala Lumpur. But general tiredness and a creeping sense of responsibility made me stay home. What’s happening?!
I do have a book to write (ack, sh*t!), and that requires sitting still. I’m a little behind schedule. After this post, you might not hear from me for another month or so.
(The book, in case you’re new here, has a lot to do with “the Arab nations”–and how they’re a great place to travel.)
I dedicate 2012 to all the wonderful people I met on my adventures: Maala, Btissam, Said, Alaa, Mido and family (oh, that was late 2011–but still!), Agnes, Holly, Arva, the women behind Qatar Swalif, Habooba, the Asrani family, and many, many more.
May your 2013 be filled with nourishing food and kind strangers.
During my trip to the Emirates, one of the main things I wanted to do was drive out into the desert and see the dunes. I grew up in a desert, and I’ve traveled around the deserts in Egypt a bit, but they’re not the same. I still had never seen that super-duney, English Patient kind of desert up close.
Abu Dhabi is the largest of the United Arab Emirates, and in addition to being a pretty slick and functioning city proper, it stretches way out west into the desert, up to the undefined border with Saudi Arabia.
So I drove way out to Liwa, which is a little cluster of settlements along some oases. And because even when I’m not working on a guidebook, I’m pretty curious about fancy hotels, I decided I’d drop in to the Anantara Qasr al-Sarab resort for lunch.
There are only, like, three roads in Abu Dhabi, but I managed to get lost. My Google GPS told me to turn down a dirt road, and I did. Just about the time I was realizing that a rustic approach to a luxury hotel was one thing, but this road was clearly not right, I passed a ghost town.
I parked my car and hiked down to the trailers. Just like in a good Western, there was a door blowing in the wind, creaking and slapping against the tinny side of a double-wide.
That was spooky enough, but then I heard the faint sound of voices. As I got closer, I realized it was a radio or a TV. Somehow, an inhabited ghost town is even creepier than an empty one.
But it was just one guard, watching TV to pass the time. He said it was fine if I took some photos.
Virtually everything in the Emirates has been built by guest laborers. Thousands of people can work on a major construction project–the Burj Khalifa in Dubai employed some 10,000 people. This often calls for an independent workers’ town, with bare-bones housing and other services. Smaller projects still often have an adjoining workers’ camp.
This is what I’d driven past, on this wrong road. The guard confirmed my guess–this had been the workers’ camp for the Qasr al-Sarab, which was just over a couple of dunes ahead. It was slowly being dismantled–the good parts, like the toilets, salvaged, and the trailers carted away on trucks.
I said thanks, and then drove off back down the washboarded road and back to the highway. One kilometer farther along was the proper entrance to the resort, with a perfectly smooth black surface curving through the dunes. No eyesore trailers to be seen. The resort, when I got there, was astoundingly beautiful. The construction workers did a fantastic job.
Every construction project in the Emirates has its own ghost town, a negative form that’s destroyed once the real sculpture is created.