Trip to Aqaba

This past weekend, some of the CLS participants and I went to Aqaba for the weekend. Aqaba is a city in Jordan located at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea. In fact, from our hotel, we had a clear view of both Palestine and Egypt on the other side of the Red Sea! Our trip was amazing as Aqaba’s beaches are gorgeous.

We left for Aqaba Thursday evening after school and got there by bus from Amman. The bus that goes this route is actually quite nice, with air-conditioning and a few TVs from the ceilings. As it was Ramadan, people did not eat until the sunset, so it was such an interesting experience to break the fast with everyone on the bus (they even sold some food on the bus). A passenger on the bus walked around to give each person a date (one eats a date at the start of iftar), so it was such a pleasant group experience.

We got there in the night (it’s about a 4 hour drive to Aqaba) and went to a restaurant to eat some dinner before going to our hotel. Our hotel was quite cheap, and the accommodations reflected a bit of the price, BUT we had a wonderful view of the beach, as we were situated right on the beach! We hung out on the beach a bit before going to bed.

The next morning, we made some phone calls and got a deal at another hotel with a private beach. We made a few stops at some local shops to pick up some breakfast (as nothing is open during the day during Ramadan– the main souk was completely deserted!) and then headed to the beach.

The beach was so beautiful! There was a pool that overlooked the beach so we switched between swimming in the sea and pool. The water in the sea was so clear; it was amazing! In the afternoon, we went snorkeling which was so so so amazing because once one swims father out, the floor suddenly drops, and one can just see bright blue deep water as far as one can see. It was overwhelmingly beautiful.

The next day, we went to a public beach and got snorkeling gear once again. We went to see the “Japanese Gardens”, which is along the coast. It has its name because the floor is covered with different plants and fish, so it looks just like a garden. This was absolutely stunning as well. Some Jordanians started talking with us and then gave us a tour of the poisonous fish in the Red Sea (I guess good to know..?) as well as showed us a sunken tank. Not only did we also get to see an eel, but they dove down to pick different things deep in the sea and I touched various fish as well as snake skin. The craziest part was when they brought an octopus and I held it and put it on my head!!! The weirdest (and of course most fashionable) hat I’ve ever worn!

We finished the evening by eating iftar at Lebnani Snack (a Lebanese fast food place). Outside of the restaurant they were giving out free juice for people to take to break the fast and the policemen were even handing out little boxes of dates!

All in all, I love Aqaba. It is very walking-friendly as the main roads have sidewalks that are not broken or have trees planted in the middle of them (unlike the obstacle courses in Amman) and the people were so friendly. An overall great trip!!

Turtle Watching!!

This title is a little deceptive since there ended up not being turtles involved, but nonetheless, seeing turtles was our original intention.

This happened about a month ago and I’m super lazy and all, so I just got around to writing about this trip. But as always, better late than never! This trip was to the area near the city of Sur (in the Sharqiyah Region of Oman– ie: Northeastern Oman on the coast of the Gulf of Oman) to go see turtles (or as we found, a lack thereof).

We left Friday night after dinner because a) the turtle watching tours occur either late at night or at sunrise and b) we were too cheap to rent rooms in hotels, so we figured driving through the night would be the cheapest (and most fun) option.

The drive to the turtle watching reserve was an adventure in and of itself. We booked ourselves a tour (5 riales each) at a reserve called Ras al Jinz (located at the easternmost point of the Arabian Peninsula) and used google maps to for directions. The directions were pretty good until the end, when we were told to make a turn off the road and behind a Mosque. We then started driving through the sand (note, this is the middle of the night and it looked like a scene from a horror movie where the monster attacks the people in the middle of the wilderness). As I scrolled to the final destination listed on google maps on my phone, I realized that it stopped in the middle of the beach, ways away from the reserve. We decided to follow the signs on the road pointed to the reserve instead, a call we probably should have made at the beginning. Our next adventure occurred as we neared the reserve and pulled over next to a car with two Omani men to ask for directions to the reserve (just to make sure we were going the right way). They told us that we were close and that they would take us there, but that we had missed a turn and had to go back a little bit. We were about to follow them but then we looked up and saw a sign for the reserve a few feet away for the entrance to the reserve. So I’m not really sure where the Omani men were planning to take us…

Anyway, it was about 2 AM now and the tour started at 6 AM so we had some time to kill. We wanted to go hang out on the beach for a while, but could not go on the beach at the reserve (people pay to camp near the beach there) and they kindly offered to let us stay in the parking lot, but instead we drove back a little bit in the direction we came from and stopped on an empty beach. We spread out a blanket and hung out there for the next 4 hours (the sky was so clear and I saw my first shooting stars!). We also found a lot of crabs and had fun playing (errr chasing) them.

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Meet our new friend!

Right before 6, the sun started to rise and it was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced: being on the eastern most part of the Arabian Peninsula (i.e. being one of the first people to watch the sunrise), on a gorgeous beach with our new crab friends (and human friends, so that’s always good), as the Adhan (call to prayer) played on the mosque behind us. I have no words to describe this moment besides “magical”.

We then went back to the reserve and joined the other large groups of tourists there to see the turtles. A bus took us down to a gorgeous beach and a guide informed us that he was on the lookout for turtles.

Unfortunately, we did not see any turtles (the man promised us that they were there the night before— though I suspect they might always say that). I do not, however, regret the trip, because the beach was gorgeous, I got to collect some shells for my collection, and our crab friends were also present on this beach. One of my friends and I climbed some rocks on the edge of the beach and sat on the top of them to get a fantastic view of the beach as the sun rose. It was absolutely stunning.

The ride back was tiring (considering the all-nighter we had just pulled) but the drive was lovely because it the road ran along the coast. Oman’s natural beauty is stunning and I am so glad that I got to experience more of it with this amazing turtle-less trip.

Published Authors?

To introduce this activity, I should probably explain a project that we have been working on for the past few months. In our language partners (we have this “class” twice a week in which an Omani comes and practices Arabic with us, helps us with any language problems we may have, and does language activities with us. We have two groups– my group consists of Liz, Miriam, and Anna). Each group has been working on writing and illustrating a children’s book in Arabic!

My group’s book is about a little boy named Ali who lives in Oman. His mother gives him a cat, but he doesn’t really want a cat (he would prefer a video game instead), so he is unhappy. He goes to the souk to do some shopping and the cat wanders away. Knowing his mother will be upset that he lost his new cat, he embarks on an adventure throughout Oman and talks to different animals to ask if they have seen his cat. None of them have and they each recommend his next location. He returns to his house empty-handed, but finds his cat there waiting for him. At the end, he realizes that he loves his cat and animals in general! Shout out to Anna for the amazing drawings!

This past Thursday, we volunteered at a hospital and went to the section for little children who have cancer. We read our stories to them (and then later donated our stories to their library) and then played with them for a bit. They were so adorable and I had a lot of fun playing with them! Some of them were really shy at first, but we finally got most of them out of their shells by the end and played lots of games with them. It was such an amazing experience.

Spring Break

I haven’t written a blog post in a while, and I’m sorry about that! I have been pretty busy, but luckily today was a bit more low-key, so I’ll try to update my blog a little bit. Last week was Spring Break, and it was my first Spring Break in a while not with my friends at the beach! Actually, I did spend many of my days this past week at the beach with friends, but this break was definitely very different from my past vacations on the beach in Florida. At first I was not looking forward to my break at all because my break does not align with my host family’s vacations (so they worked and went to school last week) and I was afraid that I was going to be under home arrest for 10 days (since I cannot drive here, no one would be home, and there is no public transportation). Alhumduhlillah, we talked to the man who drives us to school, and he agreed to take us wherever we wanted any day for 5 riales each day ($13, but since I went with Anna and Liz, we got to split the costs amongst ourselves). This development certainly made my Spring Break amazing!

  • Thursday I went to Mac’s house and slept there. Though I have to say that my life reached a low when I went to bed earlier than her 4-year-old host brother.
  • Friday Mac, Kirby, and I took part in another modeling photo shoot (for a different salon). Again we got lots of Arabic makeup and hairstyles! It was only for head shots though, so unfortunately, we did not get to wear elaborate outfits. I am still waiting for the photos from the photoshoot!
  • Sunday I met up with Anna, Liz, and Kirby, and we went to City Center (our favorite mall in Muscat) and hung out there during the day. Since I don’t really go shopping very much here in Oman, and I am a (since Oman, recovering) shopaholic, it was lots of fun to go shopping. Though I have to say, due to my lack of shopping, my shopping stamina and interest has gone down tremendously!
  • Monday I hung around my house and caught up on some homework and reading. In the evening, I went to the US Ambassador’s house to celebrate the first night of Passover! I’m going to write a separate blog post on this experience.
  • Tuesday we had plans to all go to Wadi Al Shabb together, but these plans fell through, so I hung out in the house and finished more homework and watched a movie.
  • Wednesday Liz, Anna, and I went to Shatti Al-Qurum (the beach area with restaurants that we so love) and we hung out in a cafe, went for a long walk on the beach, ate lunch, and then walked some more on the beach. The weather was beautiful and the beach was gorgeous; it was overall an amazing day.

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  • Thursday I went to Oman Dive Center with Anna and Liz. Oman Dive Center is the beach area that our program took us to on our first day in Oman. It is a gorgeous private beach that is visited mostly by expatriates, allowing us to be able to wear bathing suits and swim. There is also a pool, so that is fun too. We hung out there in the morning and swam, ate lunch, and then swam a bit more until our hurried departure when I had an allergic reaction and had to go to the hospital. I’ll write a blog post about that as well. No worries though, I’m fine now!

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  • Friday was our last AMIDEAST excursion. We went snorkeling and it was a wonderful trip! We met up (all the NSLI-Y and YES girls) and first went on a small motorboat to see dolphins. We had to go out in the water for a bit to see them, but we finally spotted a few of them and got to go pretty close! Then we went to a calm area of the water that has a lot of fish and we got to go snorkeling, aka, I got to check off an item on my bucket list that I have wanted to do for a long time! The water was so clear and we got to see gorgeous fish—even parrotfish! Then we went for a late lunch (by late, I mean late… it was 4 PM) at a yummy Turkish restaurant before heading home. It was an amazing day!
  • Saturday I hung out at home and finished up some reading and homework. My Spring Break was already over!

Dinner with friends

Happened February 3, 2014

I might be finally making Omani friends! Living in Oman is like being on the Bachelor. Except instead of trying to impress a guy, I am trying desperately to become friends with Omani girls my age. And it seems to be almost as hard as trying to impress Juan Pablo. 

After school, I was dropped off at one of my host cousin’s house (my age!) and another one of my host cousins came over as well. After an hour of everyone getting ready, 8 of their friends came over, one of whom is a girl I became friends with at a wedding. We were all going out for dinner; one of my first going-out-with-Omani-girls-my-age-experiences! Yep, I was super pumped. 

We went to a burger restaurant in one of my favorite parts of town, Shati al-Qurum, which is a cool area full of restaurants on the beach. We all got these cool mini burgers which are special because the buns are red. Kind of scary, but everyone justifies it because it makes a cool Instagram. 

After dinner, we walked a bit on the beach and took a bunch of pictures. At first I felt kind of intimidated because I didn’t know most of the girls and did not understand what they were saying, but they were all really nice and inclusive, and most of them even spoke English!… though I did speak in Arabic for them a bit; turns out, it is a great party trick. 

Hopefully I’ll be meeting with them again soon; it was a great night!

Sawadi

December 20, 2013

Another great day! My host parents and I met up with my parents at Sawadi Beach and from the beach, we took a small motor boat to an island close-by.

The island that we went to had tall rocky hills, but was small enough to know it was an island (if one climbed to the top of the rocks, one could easily see the whole island). It was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been too: the water was very blue and clear with coral showing in some of the areas and the island gave a great view of the surrounding small islands and the vast expanse of water. It was breathtaking.

I went swimming with my host brothers and climbed some of the rocks. We then barbecued chicken and beef and ate a picnic on the beach. Next was some more swimming, and like the dweeb I am, I brought my goggles so I could look underwater. And I’m glad I did, because there were lots of small rainbow-colored fish to look at!

After spending some more time swimming, we took the boat back. At this point, the tide had receded quite a bit, so we walked the boat some ways to the shore. Many cars were driving around the beach and a lot of men were hanging out in different areas on the beach.

I said goodbye to my host parents since I was going to stay with my parents for a few days. We drove to the house they were staying at, showered, and ate at a delicious Lebanese restaurant.

My Day

Today we had a study abroad class (led by our history teacher, Jessie). We went to Starbucks (such Americans!) located on the beach. It was so beautiful! The class was mainly for us to talk about any problems we might be having/culture shock. It was really fun and I think it allowed everyone to get a lot off their chests. And the sunset over the beach didn’t hurt either.

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Back at my house, some neighbors came over in the evening. We ate dates and fruit and I got to practice my Arabic. I can’t say too much yet, but at least I can have basic conversations about who I am, where I am studying, where I live, and what I plan to do next year.

Yep, that was my day!