2010: A Year of the Travels

Below is a rundown of my international travels, listed chronologically by country, in 2010. I don’t count the UAE, since, y’know, that’s home, and I don’t double-count places (like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the US) that I visited more than once… those are my rulz, y’all.

Tanzania: Alex and I kicked off 2010 on the island of Zanzibar, in a little down-market beach resort where we made fun of Italian package tourists and lamented the lack of good food and decent customer service and the fact that we are terrible, incorrigible brats. It was the first of many “Obscure Foreign NYEs” I hope we spend together as an international expat couple.

Saudi Arabia: after spending a lot (too much?!) of 2009 in the Kingdom, I returned to Saudi for a work conference in January and promptly had my first-ever run-in with the mutawa, i.e. religious police, who accosted me for not covering my head while trying to order McDonald’s in a mall food court. Needless to say, this set the tone (“maybe I could work somewhere BESIDES one of the most misogynistic country on the planet?!”) for the rest of my work year, and alhamdullilah (thank God) I only made one more trip back to the Magic Kingdom in the ensuing months. 

Lebanon: my Moroccan BFF who lives in Germany was in Beirut for work in February… so how could I not take the quick 3-hour flight across the Arabian Peninsula and join her for a weekend in one of my fave cities?! Chaos and obsequious Lebo men and mad catch-ups and long walks along the corniche ensued, and it was glorious. I miss you, K!

Oman: It wouldn’t be a year as an expat in the UAE without a coupla trips to neighboring Oman, and this one - for the annual February Wadi Bih 72 km relay race - was as good an excuse as any. Who says running skirts and keffiyehs don’t go together?

China: my Dubai running BFF sold me on the Seoul marathon in March by telling me we could stop off in China along the way. Never one to miss an addition to my “Countries Visited” list, stop off we did, taking in Beijing and the Great Wall in a 48-hour whirlwind and guaranteeing that I never have to go to China (I’m sorry, but I’ll just never be a great lover of East Asia) again. Mission accomplished.

South Korea: we came, we saw, we ate galbi and we drank soju and we sang karaoke and we shuffled through the marathon despite our hangovers, just fast enough to qualify for Comrades (which we didn’t end up running) later in the spring… this is how we do.

Sri Lanka: because I’m the cheapest traveler ever in the history of airfare, I insisted we save a couple hundred bucks (and pick up another country visited!) en route to our friends’ wedding in the Maldives by transiting through Sri Lanka. Which meant we had a fortuitous 36-hour layover in Colombo, and you know what? It’s an awesome city. Ain’t no shame in good beer and good beaches, that’s all I’m sayin’…

The Maldives: quite simply, the most amazing place I’ve ever been in my entire travel-life. Not in terms of culture or history or civilization (sorry, Maldivians), but in terms of sheer, unparalleled, incredible vistas of beauty… I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m rarely a repeat traveler, but I’d end up there for my honeymoon quite happily. (Alex, can you hear me?!)

Iraq: this June trip lent further credence to the travel philosophy I started building a couple years ago when I went to Afghanistan on holiday - you can go anywhere you want to go. Just book the tickets on a whim and don’t overthink it; you’ll be fine, I promise. Our voyage through Kurdistan (while not the most badass part of Iraq, fair enough) was amazing, and really helped put what I’ve read and studied about the country into focus. Plus I love any opportunity to display gratuitous patriotism (seen here in the form of the ubiquitous Kurdish flag), even when it’s not my own…

Turkey: a beautiful July week of Mediterranean sailing, culminating with an even more beautiful wedding of two good friends in Bodrum. I love Turkey, and we may or may not have hatched a plan to move to Istanbul during this vacation with the help of the bride’s meddlingly pro-Turkish father. These things happen.

United States: mid-August sojourn back to the motherland. I toured the Jack Daniels distillery outside Nashville with my mom and my newly 21 year-old sis on what happened to be the first day of Ramadan… sure beat being in the Middle East during that time of year. 

Nigeria: oh, West Africa… you’d been a thorn in my proverbial travel paw for so long! And what better way to first experience you than with a work trip to the kraziest, hardest-core, most populous country in the region… Naija, you did not disappoint.

India: another amazing trip for another amazing wedding, this time featuring fantastic outfits - or as Alex described it, “I look like a rainbow wonton!” It’s all about perspective, I suppose…

And there you have it, dear blog readers… my travel year in 2010! Here are very extremely crossed fingers for plenty more international adventures in 2011!

Happy Almost-Weekend, Kids!
(Shot two weeks ago in Northern Kurdistan, Iraq.)

Happy Almost-Weekend, Kids!

(Shot two weeks ago in Northern Kurdistan, Iraq.)

Battered, bruised, tired, and headed back to Dubai on a flight that lands at 4 AM… but man, what a weekend!

Battered, bruised, tired, and headed back to Dubai on a flight that lands at 4 AM… but man, what a weekend!

Back in Erbil and heading to the bazaar with a Kurdish guy we met Thursday night. His name is Blnd (that’s right, he doesn’t need vowels) and he rolls in a year-old Hyundai with the plastic wrap still on. Epic.

Back in Erbil and heading to the bazaar with a Kurdish guy we met Thursday night. His name is Blnd (that’s right, he doesn’t need vowels) and he rolls in a year-old Hyundai with the plastic wrap still on. Epic.

"Starbucks? No, we don’t have it in Iraq. But I’ve seen it in movies!"
New Kurdish friend Blnd, an authority on all things American

So… this happened yesterday in Iraq.

Roadside views en route to the cliff-top town of Amadiya.

Roadside views en route to the cliff-top town of Amadiya.

The Kurdish take on Arab falafel: in thicker Iranian-style lavash bread, with thin pieces of fried eggplant and potato. WIN.

The Kurdish take on Arab falafel: in thicker Iranian-style lavash bread, with thin pieces of fried eggplant and potato. WIN.

According to an old Iraqi saying, “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” So I present to you: friends o’ the Kurds.

According to an old Iraqi saying, “the Kurds have no friends but the mountains.” So I present to you: friends o’ the Kurds.