Snapshots of Humanity

 

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The writer in me has always appreciated hearing other people’s stories. When I drove for Lyft a few summers ago, I picked up one passenger after his shift at a suburban AT&T store. He soon told me about his trials attempting to make the Kansas City Chiefs, an NFL team. “I just wasn’t quite good enough,” he admitted. There are plenty of reasons why people don’t drive; I never learned his reason. I dropped him off near a Louisville high school, where he promptly started jogging to the school’s football locker and training room facility.

I also picked up a belligerently drunk man at a Mexican restaurant who admitted that he’d “work” remotely from home the next day, undoubtedly hungover, by activating his work chat window on his laptop with his big toe while sprawled out in bed. He also confessed he was avoiding downtown Louisville because of “all the blacks” who’d be lining the streets for Muhammad Ali’s funeral procession. These two details seemed to speak volumes about him.

To some, both of these accounts might be mundane. But to me, they are snippets of a larger tapestry about who we are–for better or worse. The diversity of human experience is all around us in our hometowns; while traveling, it can be in your face when you’re often surrounded by people whose day-to-day lives and cultures diverge greatly from your own. This post is a visual appreciation of just a few folks we’ve encountered over the past six-plus months. They–and countless others–have enriched our journey, and we’ve been lucky to have many affirming moments through smiles, gestures, and nods even when the language barrier stands tall.

There’s no doubt my general understanding of humanity has been enhanced by this experience, but it’s also humbling to know how many more people and places are out there. So many more stories. So many perspectives. So many more interactions to be had both in our backyards and abroad. While these interactions might only represent slipping into someone else’s shoes and standing still–or perhaps taking a few small steps–I’m not sure there is a better way to gain empathy than by putting in the effort to interact with open-hearted curiosity.

 

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Two Tanzanian Safaris and Five Observations

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Rebecca and I both feel extremely fortunate to have spent six weeks in Tanzania, and we decided that we’d be foolish to pass up observing some of the world’s most awe-inspiring creatures in the wild while we were there. Our travel funds may have taken a huge hit, but two different safari experiences in both the northern and central regions of the country proved to be worth the expense. That said, we didn’t really know what to expect! Below are some of our takeaways:

Seeing Big Game in the Wild is Magnificent

Don’t expect to see a lion chase down a lithe Thompson’s gazelle and snap it’s spine with one crushing bite. Or a cheetah up close and personal when it jumps onto your vehicle. But damn, it was amazing seeing such a variety of beautiful creatures–both large and small, land-bound and in flight–up close in vast and varied natural environments. Lions don’t seem to be afraid of anything, and we lucked out with several opportunities to observe them up close. Hard to forget the gaze of a male lion seemingly looking right at you. But the warthogs, Marabou storks, and other more obscure animals provided just as much delight.

It’s impossible for me not to think differently about zoos; while they have their place for education and conservation of truly endangered species…I don’t know. At the rate human consumption, greed, and population growth are screwing up and straining the planet, zoos are probably the last hope for countless creatures.

Don’t Waste Your Money on Special Clothes

The safari fashion industry is a massive racket. During a safari, you spend your time in a four-wheel drive vehicle. If you’re lucky, you view wildlife from the comfort and confines of said transport, and despite the heat, you won’t exert yourself. You probably won’t be battling creepy-crawlies or trekking through the jungle. Since you’ll probably be traveling in proximity to dirt and dust, I understand buying clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty. But the multi-pocketed, zip convertible pants, vests, floppy caps…all over-the-top for a traditional safari.

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Safari outfit? The same Hawaiian shirt that, to the chagrin of Rebecca, I managed to wear almost daily for six weeks.

The bottom line: wear comfortable clothes for what will likely be hot weather.

Mix Up Your Itinerary

As mentioned above, most traditional safari experiences entail a lot of time spent in a vehicle. Since you’re likely seeing elephants, giraffes, zebras and, other iconic creatures at close range, you probably won’t mind being in a car. You aren’t allowed out of the car in these national parks–at least in Tanzania. That said, when my dad and his partner visited us during our last week, we had an amazing time doing both a traditional safari at Mikumi National Park and a jungle/waterfall hike in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, which turned out to be one of the most memorable days of our entire journey.

 

Dozens of monkey sightings, a black mamba snake, bushwhacking a bit due to a gargantuan tree blocking the trail, the most reinvigorating and refreshing swim I’ve probably ever had once we made it to the top.  If I planned another safari experience, I’d combine several days in the jeep with several days visiting villages, hiking, etc.

It’s Expensive But DIY Isn’t A Realistic Option

We learned quickly that unless you’re an expat living in an African country, with deep knowledge of the politics, language, and bureaucracy, a DIY safari would be a nearly impossible venture. I initially cringed when paying fairly exorbitant sums, but it quickly becomes apparent why you pay so much. We did hire a private car, which is another expense worth the price. Anyway–there are park fees, police checkpoints with possible bribes, food, fuel, knowledge and know-how. 

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In the Serengeti, imagine the vastness of the American great plains, a network of dirt roads, and potentially no idea where animals are migrating, mating, or just hanging out. It’d get challenging really quickly. The guides in the Serengeti communicated on a CB radio to help locate animal activity worth checking out, and they were adamant that multiple vehicles converging on a certain spot wasn’t stressful to the wildlife.

It’s Nature–You Don’t Know What You’ll See

Both of our guides told us about groups who expected to see the most dramatic animal moments, especially big cats stalking and killing their prey. Sorry folks, it doesn’t work that way. These are wild-ass animals, and depending on factors such as the weather, moods, and time of day, lions could very well be hiding in tall grass. That said, if you are at a park with healthy populations of giraffes and elephants, you will see them. They spend so much time grazing and they’re too large to hide. Plus, they aren’t too shy, so up close and personal experiences are likely. Towards the end of our last safari drive, a young female elephant postured and gave us a warning charge. Even in the confines of a sturdy Landcruiser, it was a great reminder that we were visitors in their land.

 

 

The Pull of Community and Routine

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We were warmly welcomed to multiple supras with Natia’s family in Western Georgia–experiences like these help make up for missing our communities and family back in the States.

I miss strolling around Bardstown and Douglass Loop Farmer’s Markets in Louisville, KY, my adopted hometown for over 13 years. Even if I didn’t run into anyone I knew well, the familiarity and routine of being in a place where people share at least some values is something that’s tough to capture with a transient lifestyle. I miss waving to neighbors in Clifton, chatting on front porches of shotgun houses, maybe enjoying a bourbon on the rocks as the freight trains rumbled by on the elevated tracks. Or enjoying collegial relationships at work, when simply socializing for five minutes or productively troubleshooting about how to improve curriculum during a meeting provided a balm for other stressors.

I think about other routines. For Rebecca and myself, we enjoyed Saturday morning hikes on the Red and Orange trails at the Horine Reservation area of Jefferson Memorial Forest. Afterwords, we’d be relatively near the Vietnam Kitchen and other delightful ethnic eateries, justifying our gluttony after a moderate workout on the well-worn trails. Last winter and spring, we spent our Tuesday evenings volunteering for Kentucky Refugee Ministries, helping American newcomers study for the citizenship test. Mitra, an elderly gentleman from Nepal, had an infectious grin and steady work ethic. Despite this elementary English skills, he always showed up to class–walking rain or shine–and interacting with him and others under the sometimes-flickering fluorescent church basement lights inspired us on a regular basis.

There are, however, fleeting moments of immersion into community and satisfying short-lived routines found while on the road.

There’s sharing a meal–and countless toasts–during a supra, a large traditional feast in rural Georgia. There’s joining a gym in Tbilisi, even if just for a month, using the 10 minute walk through bustling streets and past traditional shota bread ovens and other vendors as a warm up. There’s conversing with longtime expats in an Irish pub in Dubai, a place providing comfort for countless folks living thousands of miles from home. It’s especially festive during the second Saturday of every month, when a traditional string band plays standards and originals, drowning out the raucous clinking of pints and boisterous chatter. Now in Tanzania, we’ve found ourselves welcomed into Zoe and Roy’s home along with their two kids, four dogs, and two cats. When we make the 20 minute walk to the village for fresh avocados, mangoes, and pineapples, we wave and say jambo to familiar proprietors.

Sometimes, I think I could embrace fleeting routine and bursts of community for a much longer stretch than our current journey; at other times, I’m not so sure. But I am convinced that very few people are cut out to be permanent vagabonders. This is despite messages inherent in the glamourous accounts of some travel bloggers out there, who are trying to convince all of us–and perhaps themselves–that being on the road is a dream lifestyle worth emulating and easily attainable.

I’ve also been thinking about Sebastian Junger’s outstanding book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In this short but powerful text, he asks why so many American servicemen long for combat upon returning from overseas. They miss the brotherhood. It’s all about the shared sacrifice, being part of something larger than oneselves. Thousands of combat veterans experience living in the modern American world of me me me and the pursuit of comfort convenience comfort convenience and more comfort as vacuous and profoundly depressing, according to Junger.

Junger writes, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”  While it might seem glamorous, I’d feel empty simply gallivanting around the world, staying in fancy hotels and airbnbs without having to pay our way or work remotely. (Please note: we can’t afford to do this, but you get the idea). In Vagabonding, Rolf Potts writes scornfully about people who travel without having made any personal sacrifice–“trustafarians”–and this resonates mildly with Junger’s musings about hardship and living with purpose.

While testing the currents of long term travel, we have come to cherish the novelty of arriving in new places and attempting to soak up sensory bombardments, gaining insights into people and place as we can.  The opportunity for personal growth and escape from the daily modern grind. We are blessed to be accumulating a lifetime worth of adventures, insights, and tastes. You can’t put a price on the memories and stories we are stockpiling as the stamps graffiti our passport pages.

But again, the pull of community and routine…which is sometimes a tease but at other times is a persistent itch, especially when your family and best friends are only accessible via a pixelated screen. Ruth Whippman writes in the New York Times, “Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.” We’re maintaining social relationships with those closest to us, and we’re forming new bonds with people in each of the four countries we’ve traveled. Fortunately, Rebecca and I are best friends and must put up with inordinate amounts of time together–our social relationship is crucial!

I still follow tweets from my former employer, Fern Creek High School in Louisville, KY. And follow the local news. Thirteen years in a given place means–at least for most people–some sense of community. Relationships. Familiarity. And we all seek a belonging.  So after more than five months on the road–and nearly eight months since we left our home and began inhabiting friend’s basements and family guest rooms–the pull of community and routine keeps tapping us on the shoulder, beckoning us to turn around and consider putting down roots again, despite the inevitable revelations ahead and the precious opportunity to keep on truckin’ if we so desire.

Resonance and Revisiting Past Travels

 

For this latest dispatch, I’ve decided to revisit some travel posts from years past, in addition to sharing a few essays I’ve read while on our current journey. So far, many of the themes and questions found in the posts below–the ridiculousness of American exceptionalism, valuing experience vs. material comfort, mindfulness, and human decency–continue to churn around in my head as we confront new experiences daily.

Thailand: Idealism and Reestablishing the Travel Bug: For our honeymoon, Rebecca and I journeyed to Thailand over Christmas in 2013. As I look back at this post, the themes continue to resonate: while traveling, it’s natural to imagine new possibilities, but with this idealism comes reflection about what it would really look like to move thousands of miles from home.

“Certain travel experiences undoubtedly unearth a sense of idealism and adventure, providing visitors to new places the sense the grass is greener. I couldn’t help but feel this at certain times in Thailand.

But after we began considering the possibility of living in such a different place, we realized we’d probably never learn much more than how to say hello, thank you, and where is the bathroom? in such a challenging language.  And it’s so far from our home in Kentucky and families in New Hampshire. We even got tired of eating delicious coconut, lemongrass, chili, and lime infused flavors by the end of the trip. (But if I had to only eat one type of food the rest of my life, Thai would be high on the list.)”

Why You Should Rent a Car in Europe: Or just about anywhere else where the driving isn’t too chaotic (Georgia tested my limits a few months ago!)

“Driving led us to places I never imagined we’d go. We talked and laughed with an elderly man in the stunning wine country of Jeruzalem, Slovenia. He had barely spoken English during the past forty years, but filled us in on regional history and insights into the work of a vintner over countless glasses of local wine. We explored the Istrian Penisula of Croatia, where ancient Roman towns dot hillsides surrounded by olive groves and grapes and the cuisine is superb. We awoke to the clanging of cowbells and the rich scent of Eucalyptus groves in Sao Luis, Portugal.”

Europe, 10 Years Later, in the Moment: One decade after my study abroad experience, I found myself back in Europe, finishing a degree in Oxford during the summer of 2013.

“I’ve attempted to allow myself to be in the moment this summer: to hear the Wood Pigeons cooing in the 14th century courtyards of Lincoln College; to see the egalitarian cyclists of all shapes, colors, and sizes jockey for position on narrow Oxford streets busy with double decker busses; to taste braised pork cheeks cooked in brown beer sauce in a local restaurant in Ghent; to feel the vibrations of the oncoming trains at Paddington Station in London; to read and reread 16th century English Literature without the rhythms and demands of multitasking that can become commonplace during the teaching year.”

And here are a few travel essays worth checking out:

Dave Eggers, on traveling via taxi across Saudi Arabia

“When I first traveled, I was naive, sloppy, wide-eyed, and nothing happened to me. That’s probably where the dumb luck came in. Then I began to read the guidebooks, the State Department warnings, the endless elucidation of national norms, cultural cues and insults and regional dangers, and I became wary, careful, savvy. I kept my money taped inside my shoe, or strapped to my stomach. I took any kind of precaution, believing that the people of this area did this, and the people of that province did that. But then, finally, I realized no one of any region did anything I have ever expected them to do, much less anything the guidebooks said they would. Instead, they behaved as everyone behaves, which is to say they behave as individuals of damnably infinite possibility. Anyone could do anything, in theory, but most of the time everyone everywhere acts with plain bedrock decency, helping where help is needed, guiding where guidance is necessary. It’s almost weird.”

Michael Chabon on Traveling in Van with Family in Morocco

Nothing moves me more profoundly, I hasten to add, than discovering the extent of my own ignorance. That is why I travel—by nature I’m a homebody—but sometimes it can be hard. Some days you get tired of decoding, of interpreting, of working to understand, of constantly orienting yourself, or, to put it another way, of being constantly lost.”

 

The Only Mzungus At Market Day

Hawkers selling garlic, fresh ginger root, vividly colored fabrics, flip flops manufactured from recycled tires, and second-hand clothing lined the muddy thoroughfares as Rebecca and I soaked up another sensory-laden scene in Tanzania. The steady Indian Ocean breeze didn’t reach the inland market; the sun beat down on my uncovered head (thank you 50 SPF).

When you’re the only mzungus in a place, you’re going to attract attention, regardless of where you are in Africa. (As a side note, mzungu means “those who wander without purpose” in Swahili and is a term applied to just about all white people in East Africa–this is confirmed by both Urban Dictionary and our host Roy). But we were also with Agnes, our host’s wonderful Malawian housekeeper, who had generously agreed to accompany us; luckily, she likes outings and it’s clear she enjoys showing Western visitors the lay of the land. This made the experience a little less intimidating for us.

Visiting local markets is something we enjoy doing in every country we visit, but this one was the only one we’ve been to as the ONLY visitors/tourists/travelers (at least that I saw), and we did attract attention, some of which didn’t feel positive.

It was certainly a strong reminder of what it can be like to be an outsider, a position that privileged white folks like us rarely find ourselves in by choice or chance. And we have chosen to be in this position. There’s little equivalency between our own feelings of discomfort compared to those who have no choice whether or not to be persecuted/critiqued/harassed/questioned based on their skin color.

Imagine being the lone person of color in a classroom, working in a small office, or married into a racially homogeneous (lily white) family. There’s no doubt that skin color is noticed first, versus the other facets that make you human. Over thirteen years in the classroom, I saw assumptions about skin color play out class after class, day after day, semester after semester, both among students and towards teachers–including myself. Educator Rafranz Davis, who was often the only person of color in her classes growing up, sums up the phenomenon quite well:

Anyone that says that they “don’t see color” is lying. If you say that…stop saying it. You do. Try placing one color of skittles in a bowl. Now place one skittle of a different color in the same bowl. Shake them up and I dare you NOT to see the difference first. That doesn’t make you racist. It makes you aware and that is okay. On the other hand, put yourself in the position of “the different skittle”. You are also fully aware that when people see you, they see that you are different first before really “seeing you”.

That is what it is like as the only person of color in the room.

There’s no doubt that the locals at the market saw our whiteness first. It’d be impossible not to. And with that whiteness undoubtedly comes assumptions about wealth, money, etc. In East Africa, mzungus, almost by default due to pervasive poverty, are extremely privileged.

Taking pictures in this market also felt inappropriate, if not tacky. People trying to scrape by and make a living aren’t at the market for foreigners like us to gawk and document. But being in a place like this is also completely exotic for me, and I enjoy sharing our impressions of places and people. I tried to be discreet in taking some of these images and after our excursion, I came across this blog post by Amanda Machado explaining six questions you should ask yourself before taking pictures in developing countries:

  • Are my intentions for this photograph only about myself?
  • Does this photo represent a stereotype of people from this country?
  • If a tourist in my home country took a photo of me in this same situation, would it make me uncomfortable?
  • Do the photos represent people with dignity?
  • Have I tried building a relationship with the person I’m photographing?
  • (Most importantly) Have you asked permission?

During the market trip, I honestly didn’t ask for permission, but I tried to capture “scenes” representative of the feel of the place, and I can say with a little confidence that if I were a random person going about my business in a market at home and ended up in a tourist’s photo, it wouldn’t bother me. Overall, I feel OK about the images I took. And the above list is a good one–these questions are among those that swirled in my head during the market excursion.

The bottom line is this: For Rebecca and myself, being in a non-touristy place in Africa provides endless opportunity to reflect upon our privilege, issues pertaining to race, and what it means to be in a minority group, among other things. There’s no better educational curriculum than traveling on the edge of your comfort zone.

Working To Live Is Worth A Try

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We try to work enough to pay the travel bills and little more. Here’s one remote “office” we utilized in Oman.

We wake up, and I make some coffee in a French press. We skim the news online, which is sometimes curtailed if the daily barrage of American political madness is too much. We play with Mrs. Norris the cat. I usually drink two cups of coffee and enjoy a light breakfast. I step outside on the balcony to check the forecast, then we settle into our respective workplaces on the large brown sectional couch in my aunt Jane’s Dubai apartment. Depending on what remote work assignments we have, we take care of a few hours of focused work–at least we try. And after a late morning workout, we do whatever we want.

We are working to live rather than living to work. I don’t know how long this can feasibly last, but for now it’s sparking plenty of reflection, possibility, and gratitude.

I know this isn’t commonplace and our current situation comes from a serious place of privilege, as our employment status isn’t a matter of survival and realizing our basic needs. But it also emerged after dealing with fertility challenges in our quest to start a family and also some bold moves–jettisoning half of our belongings, renting our home out, quitting our full time jobs, and embarking on a journey with no itinerary. We had very comfortable lives in Louisville, a small, vibrant, and affordable city. Great friends, good jobs, and benefits.

After all, once you get into the American work grind as an educated professional, everything feels like default. There’s no obvious “opt” out clause: You’re going to work at least forty hours a week, likely having a mortgage or rent payment that requires both you and your partner work full time. Hopefully squirreling money into retirement accounts. The relentless march towards upgrading homes, cars, and toasters.

It has always felt like bullshit to me, at least to an extent.

I don’t like the idea of a constant striving and material accumulation, with the possibility of free time, adventure, or even following a passion being reserved for some distant future, during which old age and other inevitabilities make it less likely to realize these dreams. As Rolf Potts encourages in Vagabonding, you can “take control of your circumstances instead of passively waiting for them to decide your fate.”

Accordingly, I’ve always admired those bold enough to live off the grid, embrace minimalism, or leave desk jobs to become organic farmers, among other lifestyle choices. Even the tiny house movement has some appeal to me, though this escapist fantasy comes with plenty of challenges.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone on a default “American Dream” path–had we gotten pregnant and had a two-year old child right now, I’d probably put health insurance, future college and retirement accounts on a higher pedestal. Due to our love for travel, I suspect we’d be considering what it might look like to live abroad, even with a growing family, but who knows? There are long term world travelers with kids out there, and that’s awesome.

While it’s highly possible that we’ll reinsert ourselves back into a version of the “grind” sooner rather than later, traveling has opened up new thinking about what it could look like when we settle again more permanently. Will we both try to have full time jobs? Since we own barely any furniture, would we really want a large apartment or home and the cost/stress of filling it up? Do we desire the flexibility that being self-employed allows?

And I’m not sure that my reentry to the workforce be as a classroom teacher. It’s tough to avoid feeling overworked, overburdened, and overcommitted as a public school educator, and I was always cognizant of a work-life balance–whatever that means. A few years ago, I blogged about the idea that being busy is a badge of honor for so many Americans, often manifesting itself, perhaps, as a form of humble bragging, a way of showing off of how many plans, family obligations, work e-mails, and dinner parties one manages to cram into a hectic schedule.

Yet ironically, many professional Americans actually have more leisure time than they think. “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day,” Tim Krieder writes.

I’ll pass, thank you.

Can you imagine what your life would be like if you weren’t so busy? What would it look like if you cut your work hours in half? Where would you have to live in order for this to be feasible? How would you spend your time? What choices would you now be able to make and what would you sacrifice? If you jettisoned more than half of your belongings, what would you dispose of and what would you keep?

Almost four months into our travels, we are nearly even, finance-wise, chipping away on various remote projects in order to sustain our temporarily nomadic lifestyle. For the first time in my adult life, I’m not worried about stacks of bills. Or sifting through mail. We’re never busy in the way modern life often saturates us with “to-do” lists. I’m not trying to save money for my retirement fund or for the down payment on a bigger house that I’ll have to put more stuff in to make it look presentable. We are, however, making some kickass deposits into our experience account.

I find great joy in recollecting and retelling poignant experiences stumbled upon or planned while on the road. Meeting the local vintner and sharing many glasses of wine in a Slovenian village, as he smiled and scrolled on my Google maps app trying to locate his home. Playing Bananagrams with the proprietor at a bed and breakfast in a holler at the edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. Zooming on a motorbike up a hill on Thailand’s Koh Mook island, with the final treat a delightful family-run restaurant and the best green curry I’ve ever had. And the list goes on…

On the Road in Oman: Insights and Tips

You can pack in many unique experiences in Oman within a week or two, and we tried our best to do just that. It wasn’t a perfect trip–it’s silly to have that expectation, but I hope to visit Oman again someday or at least host some of our new Omani acquaintances if they ever visit the States.

Here’s a gallery of more images if you care to check them out! 

You can navigate without a GPS:  Despite a few detours, a nonworking Google Map–the blue dot flickering and slowly following our Toyota Fortuner’s progress–was enough for us. This wasn’t by design. That’s another story. But we were on a well-traveled loop, from Muscat down the coast to Ras Al Jinz, back up through the Wahiba Sands, up to Jebel Shams, then back to Muscat. The roads are mostly new, but signage doesn’t always match up with expectations. Luckily, the Omanis were always willing to help, either in English or enthusiastic Arabic, even though we only knew a few words. 

Definitely rent a 4WD:

If you have an inkling of adventure in you, you’ve got to rent a 4WD in Oman. For us, it was especially handy over several days. We needed it for our drive out to a fancy desert camp in Wahiba Sands, 11 km on mostly level ground between the dunes. And once you get into the mountainous region, even the paved roads have some serious grades. Driving up to the village of Al Khitaym for the “Grand Canyon” walk is dirt road part of the time and steep. But the highlight of our 4WD adventures had to be the drive from Al Hamra to Bald Sayt–a truly spectacular and adrenaline-pumping journey. After enjoying a walk around Bald Sayt, we ended up giving a lift to a hitchhiking Egyptian family who were leaving the valley enclave, heading to the nearest city of Rustaq for their monthly trip.

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Our passengers from Bald Sayt to Rustaq.

The Jebel Shams area is sweet:

While Oman’s coastal area is picturesque in places, and the wadis a highlight for most visitors, we were most impressed by the mountain region. Misfah Al Abriyeen village is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited–the walk along the Falaj (irrigation canal) is really beautiful. Just be respectful of the local farmers tending their terraced plots with date palms and other crops.

There is also a sweet little museum in Al Hamra called Bait Al Safah, which is enclosed in one of the oldest homes in the village. It provides a glimpse into traditional Omani culture–there are live demonstrations of cooking, medicine-making, and other crafts. Very cool.

Then there’s the “Grand Canyon” of the Middle East. You can park at Al Khitaym, where goats acclimated to getting treats from visitors might even try to get in your car. The trail from this village gradually descends to some ruins tucked along the cliff. And there’s reportedly a nice swimming hole at the end of this walk. We couldn’t find it, which was the only disappointment during this fairly strenuous 3-4 hour round trip. (Someone had told us it wasn’t much of a hike…not true, you need to be in decent shape for this).

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Not shy.

Omanis are off-the-charts hospitable:

I don’t say this lightly. After our honeymoon in Thailand, during which a man zoomed our lost selves around on his motorbike for an hour, trying to deliver us back to a guest house, and another family hosted us in their traditional countryside home, treating us to grandma’s homemade chili paste with fish, boiled duck eggs, noodles, and other delights, I figured the Thai people were the friendliest on the planet. Now I’m not so sure.

Our first airbnb host Mohammad is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, full of wisdom and open to cultural exchange–he even went snorkeling with us.

We then met Abdul, an Omani Special Forces paratrooper, while wandering around in Al Hamra. We were looking for the old section of the town, photographing goats in the alleyways. He asked if we needed help; we said we didn’t, thank you. But he then ended up inviting us for dates and coffee on the ground with his mom and sister. This led to two trips to his home, where we enjoyed conversation and received some generous gifts of traditional Omani clothing and aromatics. Like I said in the intro, I hope we can reciprocate someday. Inshallah, as Abdul told us.

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With Abdul.

It’s such a chill place compared to Dubai:

Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, ruler for the past 47 years, determined that he wanted to keep Oman’s traditional culture intact, developing slowly and sustainable. As a result of this leadership, you won’t see gleaming skyscrapers in Muscat, or over-the-top theme parks. There is a coherence to the place that you won’t find in Dubai, where anything goes architecture and rampant development can make you feel like you’re in the midst of a kid going crazy playing SimCity.

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Muttrah (old port area), Muscat

Avoid visiting the wadis on holidays and weekends:

We unknowingly booked our rental car during Oman’s long holiday weekend in early December. This caused the wadis to be overflowing with people. If you are looking to experience the wadis during a less hectic time, try to visit them on the weekdays and get out early.  Nonetheless, we loved swimming at Wadi Bani Khalid, where there are plenty of pools to explore (keep walking up the valley to avoid crowds and explore more pools).  If you are a woman, plan to swim in your clothing or shorts and a one-piece bathing suit; as it is considered disrespectful to strip down to a bikini. You will likely receive some stares no matter what; Omani Muslim women do not swim in public places.

Visit the Ras Al Jinz turtle reserve in the early morning:

A few other travelers that we met during our trip also encountered a chaotic crowd at the turtle reserve for the nighttime viewing. We were advised by an expat who has lived in Oman for 20 years to opt for the reserve’s early morning tour, which begins at 4:45 am. According to him, you have a better chance of seeing the turtles with a much smaller group.

Don’t Miss the Souk in Muttrah

The enclosed souk in Muttrah, the old port in Muscat, should not be missed. It is an endless maze of vendors selling a combination of inexpensive tourist knick-knacks and more authentic items. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.

 

 

Oman Road Trip Blunders: An Imperfect Travel Tale

Before Paul and I started our adventure, friends and family implored us to keep them updated in one way or another. The easiest, and perhaps laziest, way to do this is via social media. And admittedly, I’ve wholeheartedly said “yes” to this type of sharing. Each time I post a pic of where we have been, which is quite regularly now, I am cognizant of how difficult it is to avoid extreme ends of the perception pendulum, either trying to present a flawless portrait of our experiences or doing the opposite, cramming people’s feeds with complaints and irritations.

And so, in the spirit of being “real” and presenting a more balanced view of things, I am choosing to share the first day of me and Paul’s self-drive road trip in Oman, which was full of blunders and tested our resolve to embrace the unknown.

To preface the story, I will admit that Paul and I travel well together. It’s a good thing, because if not, this little global jaunt that shirks concepts such as long-term planning and certainty would have stalled out pretty quickly. That being said, spending most of your time with someone in spaces much smaller than your prior residence certainly magnifies specific behaviors and conflicting preferences. For example, Paul has this otherworldly ability to torpedo out of bed in the morning, energy radiating off of him in waves. I really prefer to ease into my enthusiasm for the day, meaning that I don’t really want to vocalize anything but grunts and yawns for at least a half hour after I wake. Paul and I also have very different work styles. He can concentrate in the midst of any distraction. Other people talking loudly. NBD. Playing music with words in it. A cakewalk. A 50-pound jackhammer motoring away next door. Child’s play. To put it simply, I prefer silence. Prolonged, uninterrupted, pure silence. This can make me a barrel of laughs to be around when I am working, as you can imagine. So, you can see how things can get a little dicey.  

Paul and I had high expectations for our self-drive Oman tour. Preliminary internet research talked about the country’s diverse terrain of mountains, desert, and coastline, as well as its warm, welcoming citizens. Bloggers specifically raved about the picturesque wadis (valleys) dotted with deserted turquoise swimming pools. All one had to do was rent a 4 x 4 and venture onto the road. This immediately conjured up images of us being amatuer explorers, stumbling upon previously undiscovered areas of inimitable beauty. We would arrive and bask in the utopia we found, gazing over the pools, untouched and stippled in just the right amount of sunlight.

Airport Delays

We got a late start the day we planned to pick up our 4 x 4. We had been spending the last three days in Muscat with potentially the nicest airbnb host ever, Mohammed, an incredibly wise, 45 year-old Omani man who speaks quietly and listens intently. Mohammed truly delights in deliberate and enthusiastic cultural exchange. He went snorkeling with us, he brought us dolphin watching, he introduced us to his acupuncture tools, and finished off our stay with one of his favorite hobbies, massage. On the day of our departure, we of course wanted to share one last homemade breakfast with him, even though it changed our schedule.

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Early morning breakfast with airbnb host, Mohammed. Feeling good about the day.

By the time we arrived at the airport to pick up our car, we were met by the grim faces of the people waiting in line in front of us at the rental kiosk. One individual exuded the stereotype of a tightly wound, reserved, middle-aged white guy who is used to optimal efficiency and logic at all times. He paced back and forth, sitting down with an audible sigh and then standing up to hover over the rental car counter where a delayed transaction was taking place. The other man was grumbling about how they were renting out cars with over 120,000 miles on them. Figuring we were in for a wait, I asked both of them how long they had been standing in line. Uptight guy was apparently too worked up to respond (Yes, he did speak English). The other guy shrugged his shoulders in exasperation and said, “I don’t know! Too long!.” So that was that. “Well,” I thought, “Paul and I are in no hurry. We aren’t tethered to silly conventions such as time!”

Thirty minutes later we made it to the counter, only to find out that there were no GPS gadgets remaining. Undeterred, we figured it would not be a problem; we could buy a map since our international data plan was mysteriously not working in Oman. Besides, this was a freewheeling ADVENTURE. If we had too many directions we may never happen upon previously undiscovered locations!  The rental car attendant, clearly not privy to our visions, looked a little concerned and suggested that we buy a SIM card.

Heeding his advice, we picked up a map and went over to the appropriate counter to buy one. Seventeen dollars and an introductory lesson on SIM cards later, it was becoming apparent that it may not work for us. Everytime we inserted the delicate piece of plastic in one of our phones, an error message popped up on our screens, taunting us with its power. The employee who sold us the SIM card brushed these error messages aside, all we had to do was go somewhere with free wifi in order to activate the SIM card and it would work.

Problem was, the free wifi in the airport emitted a very weak signal, and was not registering on our phones. We were directed to the airport information booth, only to meet with a befuddled employee who recommended we revisit the SIM card booth. At this point, we were making slow, stumbling laps around the arrivals section of Muscat’s Airport. Attempts to get password and login information from any of the independent businesses in the airport failed. After a friendly Omani/American citizen (a totally different story that deserves another blog post) and his brother took up our cause with marginal success, our hopes for the SIM card solution dwindled and we committed to the paper map.

On the Road

Finally on the road, our next step was to get ourselves out of Muscat. With Paul manning the wheel, I was in charge of the navigation piece of our journey. Maybe not the best arrangement. Can I please point out that paper maps can be quite unwieldy? Unfolding and refolding our primary navigational tool, cursing it as it crinkled itself into different, awkward shapes, I anxiously scanned the area of Muscat as Paul whizzed on down the highway, guided by my instructions, which included precise phrases such as, “Ummmm…there may be a roundabout coming up, er, OK, not for awhile, wait, Oh, here it is!  GO RIGHT!” Needless to say, if we were contestants on the Amazing Race (which I sometimes like to pretend we are in) we’d be packing our bags. After a tense 45 minutes accompanied by a bundle of expletives, we spit out victorious onto the coastal road. Our road warrior journey was beginning! On to the wadis!

Our general plan was to meander down the main northern coastal road, traveling east, until we reached two destinations, the Bimmah Sinkhole and Wadi Shab. Type these names into Google and you will find an endless screen of idyllic images, an explosion of sparkling pools, brilliant sunlight, and palm trees, all ensconced by rugged mountains. Things were going well, we had found “The Nation’s Station,” the English-speaking radio station in Oman where no musical genre is neglected. Bopping along to tunes that ranged from Celine Dion to early Dr. Dre to Christmas carols, we felt redeemed after our morning delays.This was until we noticed two things: 1) That the names on our handy-dandy paper map were not exactly matching up with the road signs that we were passing and, 2) That the coastal road was the opposite of isolated.

Road Trip Reality

Bloggers had mentioned how you can camp anywhere in Oman, finding yourself the only one on a long strip of beach. As we drove, we were realizing that EVERYONE must have received this memo. Tents and families lined the coastline. It’s funny how you can hear things and completely dismiss them until their sudden importance smacks you in the face. Airbnb Mohammed HAD mentioned to us that it was a long national holiday weekend. The reality of this fact became apparent as we passed teeming crowds of holiday revelers.

Our radio station sing-a-long quieted by the scene outside of our car, we managed to find the Bimmah Sinkhole, whose signs spelled it differently and did not refer to it as a sinkhole. Due to this, the crowds of people were a boon, as all we had to do was follow the line of cars streaming into what looked like a park of sand and shrub. Despite the fact that the Bimmah Sinkhole was clearly a favorite holiday destination, we decided to take a look. The area around the site has been built up for tourism, and loads of large families were sharing meals under the shade of small trees.

In retrospect, it was nice to see people spending quality time together with their loved ones, but at that moment, we were inwardly cursing these family gatherings. This was not the type of destination for daring adventurers such as us! The Bimmah Sinkhole is stunning, even though we were seeing it flanked by teenage girls posing for 10 minute selfie sessions. Men jumped into the naturally occuring ocean pool from daring heights, prompting yells of encouragement and clapping from the crowd. Paul took a dip in the delightfully warm water. I snapped a few pics. And then we left. Don’t get me wrong, the Bimmah Sinkhole is an unforgettable sight even when it is swamped with people; however, we were a little deflated that we did not have the more isolated experience that we had constructed in our minds.

Onward to Wadi Shab, a valley where people had told us you can swim through a cave and be gifted with pretty much a modern-day version of Eden. Ever the optimists, we actually believed that Wadi Shab would possibly not be enveloped by holiday throngs. Once again, the enormous amount of cars, not the road signs, guided us to our destination, only to be presented with lines of people waiting eagerly to aboard small boats that would drop them off at the entry of Wadi Shab. Allowing our frustration to get the best of us, we decided not to venture into the chaos. I briefly got out of the car to take a few snaps of roadside goats, only to be met by impatient honks from the traffic jam of cars behind us, and then we hightailed it on out of there.

Goats

Goats. The only thing we snapped a picture of at Wadi Shab. Insert car honking in the background.

Turtle Reserve Redemption?

It was now almost 4:00 pm, and so we decided to drive to our hotel for the night, sulking in a soup of disappointment, and nervously wondering if this was an omen for the next nine days of our trip. Although we had 99% surrendered to the limited success of the day, we knew there was still time to turn it around. For tonight, we had plans to visit the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve, and if mama turtles laying eggs on the beach can’t turn a frown upside down, I don’t know what can.

Prior to embarking upon our Oman adventure, I had scoured the internet for details about the turtle reserve and found that it is somewhat controversial, at least for the Trip Advisor set. Although there were positive experiences, many reviewers complained about the beach’s upkeep (where the turtle’s nest) as well as the potential stress felt by the turtles from being gawked at by enormous amounts of visitors. These concerns resurfaced in my mind as we drove to the reserve. Paul and I were planning to eat at its restaurant (it also has a hotel), as in another falter for the day, we had run out of cash and discovered that the limited meal options in the area typically did not take credit cards. An ATM was nowhere to be found.

Arriving around 6:30 pm at the reserve we were told by the front desk employee that we had been assigned to Group Two for turtle viewing and that, “At some point around 8:30 pm,  maybe 9:00 pm, maybe 9:30 pm, all individuals who were assigned to our group would be called to then come back to the counter to purchase tickets.” I found it a little odd that we could not just buy them at that moment, but was distracted by the fact that I was hungry and wanted to eat my increasingly gloomy feelings. We sat down to the buffet provided by the restaurant, which was good, but certainly not worth the 50 dollars it ended up costing.

By the time we re-emerged from the restaurant, we were greeted by pandamonium. The reception was crammed with people all clamoring for a chance to maybe see some turtles. Children ran around, people cut in front of me as I tried to wait in line for the internet passcode,and cars continued to flood the already full parking lot. As Paul and I read the rules for turtle viewing, which stressed how imperative it is for viewers to be quiet as to not stress out the turtles, a crescendo of kiddie cries filled the air around us. There was no way viewing was going to be quiet. We also predicted that when a group was called to purchase tickets at the counter, any attempt at orderliness such as lines would be pushed to the wayside. Giving each other looks of surrender, Paul and I promptly turned around and left. We had been hemorrhaging money all day and figured that we would just need to let go of the fact that we visited the turtle reserve just to eat a mediocre fifty dollar buffet.

On the way out, the road in to the turtle reserve was illuminated by the headlights of a long line of cars. Feeling tired, annoyed, and clearly INCREDIBLY melodramatic, Paul said something like, “Well, at least we still have our health.”  I slouched in my seat, thinking mean, undeserved thoughts about holiday goers who just wanted to create memories with their families. It was not our best travel day and we were not at our best. Luckily, by the time we settled in back at the hotel, we could laugh about it, promising ourselves that we would make the next day, no matter what, better. Because if this was a bad day for us, we are doing pretty all right.

It turns out that our first day on the road in Oman was anything but indicative of the rest of our trip. We more than redeemed ourselves over the next week, and plan to share more about how amazing the country is in a future blog post, accompanied by some road trip tips that we learned along the way.

The reality is that the sticky, uncomfortable parts of travel, the ones that include getting sick, getting lost, or just plain getting tired, are the ones not frequently displayed via social media, where photos undergo a digital form of plastic surgery before being posted, accompanied by a series of comical, inspirational, or philosophical remarks. People embarking upon their own travel adventures, including myself, fall into the trap of romanticizing the entire experience, and turn optimistic hopes about travel into rigid expectations. I’ve fallen victim to curating that one, envy-inducing travel shot, maniacally scrolling through the Insta filters and brainstorming various witty one-liners before sending it off into the digital stratosphere. Just as there exists a cult of satiny suburban mom accounts (How is she perfectly toned, impeccably dressed, and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when she has three kids!?), Instagram and Facebook are also filled with flawless photographs documenting the wanderings of seemingly unburdened travelers.

Travel IS awesome, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that Paul and I have. But it’s not just awesome because it has the ability to introduce you to new and wonderful people, experiences, environments, and ideas. It’s also awesome because it can be hard, unexpected, and is always imperfect. I’ve found that it’s these aspects of travel which have left some of the most indelible marks on my perspective and overall mindset, and have benefited me in enormously positive ways.

Five Early Insights From Novice Vagabonders

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In addition to deeper reflections on lifestyle and place, the logistics of traveling–booking accommodations, arranging transport, navigating day-to-day errands–present opportunities to consider how you travel. This is subjective based on your goals, of course. We are certainly “green” travelers compared to other adventurous folks, but after about nine weeks on the road, we’ve got a few insights we’d like to share.

Pack less than you think you need. In late August, we created a staging area on a bed at my mom’s house in Concord, NH, laying out some mono toned quick dry clothing, multiple adapters and cell phones chargers, and everything else we thought we’d need for our journey. My romantic vision of carrying one small duffel bag around the globe soon seemed to vanish by the minute. Even though we seemed to have done alright packing, it could have been a little better.

Among several other items, my nifty orange and gray nylon hammock and our microfiber travel towels can be crushed up into small sacks, but they’ve languished in the bottom of my bag for over two months now. If we end up camping in a remote area on an island, I’m sure they will come in handy.  Probably not going to happen.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to travel light. Dragging an enormous pack full of junk is the surest way to hamstring your flexibility and turn your travels into a ridiculous, grunting charade,” Rolf Potts writes in Vagabonding.

But do pack a tennis ball, eye masks, and earplugs.  These are lightweight and critical items. The tennis ball: Thanks for the tip, mom! After seemingly setting pedometer records during a typical day walking in Tbilisi, rolling my feet on a tennis ball provided serious relief. I tend to have foot, leg, and hip ailments perpetually hound me, so I appreciate this ubiquitous sporting object that doubles as a massage tool.  

Eye mask and earplugs? Nothing revolutionary here, but when traveling, you’ll obviously become exhausted and also find yourself in less-than-ideal situations when you’re seating in the same row as a wailing infant or are your brain is so addled by changing time zones that you need to create darkness and try to summon a nap.

Osprey bags are awesome. I’m not getting paid for this endorsement:). I stumbled across this company  but during a search for new luggage, and it has been well worth the cost for these bags. We carry a 70 and an 80 liter bag; If we venture on a little expedition to a vineyard for a night or two, for instance, then we have more than enough room in either bag to just take one.  The backpack straps can be exposed for use or neatly zipped away, which rocks.

Embrace negotiation. Many Americans, like myself, aren’t often in a position to haggle in our day-to-day lives. But out in the world, it seems like everything can be negotiable. In Tbilisi, there were no taxi meters, so before we hopped in the back of cigarette-saturated cab, I used a combination of gestures and grunts–many drivers spoke little English–to agree on a price. These were low stakes as most rides were $2 to $3 dollars.  When we visited a souk (market) in Sharjah the other week, our new friend Sultan helped wheeled and dealed to help get us a discount on a few items, including a traditional Emirati male robe called a jalabiya.

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Trying on what soon became my jalabiya. Thanks to Sultan for helping negotiate a fair price!

You will be ignorant at times. When you’re traveling, you’re obviously going to make mistakes and not know what the heck is going on. We’ve avoided significant gaffes so far, but we’re ready to laugh at ourselves or just learn and move on. Yesterday, I was attempting to share some bluegrass music with our new acquaintance Sultan–who was giving us a tour of his home Emirate, Ajman. I started playing the music during the call to prayer, which we could faintly hear through the windows as we cruised along a coastal road. Big no-no. I’ve found that people are generally forgiving if you show a willingness to learn and express interest in local culture–this has certainly been true in Georgia and UAE so far.

What have you learned while on the road? In hindsight, what would you do differently relating to travel planning or execution?

If you didn’t see Rebecca’s last post, please check it out–it’s an incredibly powerful reflection on circumstances influencing our current journey.

Hello Carbs, Goodbye Control!

“A breakfast bowl with chia, organic pumpkin seeds, AND sheep’s milk delivered here in high-tech containers that enhance its nutrients ALL the way from New Zealand?! I’ll take that one!,” I exclaimed, wide-eyed and completely in awe of the menu choices spread before me. Paul and I were in a San Francisco cafe, enjoying one last visit with family before we hopped on a plane to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Ever since leaving Kentucky, we had been bouncing around for a few weeks visiting friends and family, making it difficult to maintain a consistent, healthy diet. I figured that this one breakfast bowl would surely make up for the late-night hamburger and chili cheese fries run I had made in my hometown of Portsmouth, NH, along with the uptick in alcohol consumption that accompanies reuniting with old friends. With every spoonful of the chilled, creamy concoction, I imagined the cells in my body were exploding with pink unicorns representing health and goodness.

Welcome to Georgia – Land of the Carbohydrate

Fast forward one month. Paul and I tuck into a homemade breakfast at a local Georgian winery. The matriarch of the family has proven herself to be a culinary force – we had been gorging ourselves on her traditional Georgian dishes for a few days now. I wait in anticipation for what I know will be arriving at the table in no time – Imeretian Khachapuri – a delectable Promised Land of cheese and bread. The steaming hot pie comes in different regional varieties, and is a staple dish in Georgia.

After an unofficial taste-test that I had been conducting with disturbing vigor, this woman’s Khachapuri won first prize. I wondered what made hers SO delicious, such a perfect combination of fluffiness and gooeyness. I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I am guessing butter has something to do with it. During our stay I caught a glimpse of freshly made Khachapuri emerging from the oven, when I witnessed AN ENTIRE STICK OF BUTTER being slathered lovingly atop the pie, causing it to glisten enticingly in the sunlight. My health radars instantly sounded – I was not sure if I should be eating what felt like a pound of bread, cheese, and butter every day. Fortunately, and probably far too easily, I managed to quiet these concerns. When was the next time I would be in Georgia on a family vineyard indulging in some of the country’s best food? I figured I might as well suck it down and worry about it later.

Both in 2015, when Paul and I traveled in central and eastern Europe for six weeks, and now in Georgia, we have noticed behavioral similarities regarding food and health, mainly that in comparison to the United States, the average citizen seems considerably less obsessive about them.

There are likely many social, cultural, and economic reasons for this. Much of America’s health and wellness industry is dominated by choices that can only be easily accessed by the privileged. In comparison to the United States, Georgia is not a wealthy country. Far less people have the disposable income to spend on products such as gluten-free flour and almond milk, if they even have access to these items in the first place. Other factors could include a population’s perspectives on what it means to be healthy, what food is considered to be healthy, as well as differing beauty ideals.

In the United States, one is bombarded with an onslaught of neverending health and wellness remedies. Fats were bad in the nineties, then it was about calorie counting, followed up by eliminating carbs and increasing protein intake, and today whole foods are in and sugar is out. All of this and our obesity rates still soar, along with the high prevalence of eating disorders. In Georgia, Paul and I have noticed less extremes when it comes to people’s bodies. It’s far less common to see a severely obese person or someone who is rocking emaciated-chic. I have no doubt that both ends of the spectrum exist here, but they don’t seem pervasive.

Embracing the Bread

What I love about traveling is that you have to relinquish control of many ingrained beliefs, including those about food, or you are going to drive yourself crazy. This is particularly true in Georgia, where carbohydrates, salt, and meat are culinary heavyweights. You can manage to avoid them, but it takes some effort and you may end up offending a gracious Georgian host who has spent the last two hours toiling over her signature meat Khinkali (pork dumplings with soup broth). Also, it would be a grave mistake, because the food here is immensely satisfying and delicious.

For an American woman who is a self-professed exercise junkie and most certainly not immune to societal pressures, this situation could be anxiety-inducing, but I’ve actually found it to be refreshing. It’s hard to ignore the constant barrage of in-your-face nutrition and exercise trends in America, so-much-so that the process of choosing food and trying to enjoy it can seem like a chore. In Georgia, where NOT eating carbohydrates daily would be abnormal, I feel a little more liberated.

In addition, with the alteration in our dietary habits, Paul and I have also observed a change in our bodies. Shockingly, we both seem to have lost body fat. We are perplexed by this phenomenon, but our fairly uneducated guess is it likely can be attributed to a combination of a less sedentary lifestyle, our gym membership, minimal stress, and less preservatives. Then again, this could all be a grand delusion that we are feeding ourselves. I’m not asking too many questions; I’m going with it.

A Smorgasbord of Satisfaction

To be honest, I think I have reached a peak of carb-consumption while in Georgia that I may never again attain. The other day I picked up two loaves of piping hot bread baked in a tone (a tandoor-style oven) and realized I had absentmindedly eaten half a loaf while walking back to our apartment. My vitamin levels may not be optimal right now, but my happiness sure is!

Paul and I have nine days remaining in Georgia and then we are off to Dubai. In all likelihood, I will probably try to reduce my carb consumption and up my vegetable intake once we leave. I am almost positive that when we finally get back to the States, I will revert back to smoothies, salads, and whole foods, I am a middle class American white woman, after all. For now, I am going to savor our last days eating authentic Georgian food, including these ubiquitous and cheap bread-oriented snacks.

Lobiani

Lobiani

This is my absolute favorite breaded delight – smashed kidney bean filling wrapped in a buttery bread pocket. I refer to it as a Georgian burrito, and it fulfills my occasional craving for Mexican food, which is nonexistent in this country.

Adjarian Khachapuri

Exhibit A: Enough said. 

Khachapuri

Buttery bread with mashed potatoes and a hot dog (aka, the Double Carb Whammy)

Sausage_bread

The title says it all. Genius!