The Newest Dream – Africa!

Almost exactly one year ago, I was leaving to head to Iran for the trip of a lifetime. But with luck, I’ve got a whole lifetime still ahead of me, so it’s time to start dreaming about the newest journey. Of course I have my bucket list of places still to go, Croatia, Romania, etc., but once again, I am dreaming of a more exotic locale for my next trip.

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That’s right. Queue Toto. Africa!

I started thinking about Africa because a friend of mine is in the Peace Corps in Namibia, a country in Southern Africa, just to the NW of South Africa. Of course, I could go to South Africa, but as you know, I’m always up for something a bit different. So, I’ve decided to focus my goal on Tanzania, on the East Coast of the continent, just south of Kenya.

How did I choose Tanzania?

  1. It was recommended by a friend who has been there and knows me well enough to understand that I’m looking for more than just a pretty place and a relaxing vacation.
  2. The country is a fascinating mix of different cultures including over 120 indigenous groups, Pakistani, Indian, Arab, and European. Should be enough history and culture to keep my brain buzzing.
  3.  Zanzibar (islands off the coast of Tanzania) and beaches. For some reason, ever since my trip to Iran, I’ve been craving turquoise water and palm trees
  4. Multiple National Parks and Preserves make seeing African wildlife easy and more environmentally friendly.

Now that I’ve chosen my country, I need to start narrowing down some other logistics through research and further dreaming.

  • Begin by planning some sort of itinerary. I usually look at guided tours to start, review the most popular destinations, decide what is most interesting to me, and then start looking at things off the beaten path after that.
  • Save the money. This is going to be the hard part for me. Due to rising rent increases in Portland (mine went up over 50% last year), I ended up buying a house. The American Dream, right? Not mine! But here I am, and now I need to balance savings for home emergencies with a travel fund.
  • Save my time off. I’d love to take 3 weeks for a trip like this, so I either need to save all of my time off for the year, or I need to be prepared to not get paid for a few days. Worst case, I only go for 2, but I’m going to set my goal at 3.
  • Stay motivated! Read lots of books set in Tanzania, both travel books, but also histories and historical fictions. Find blogs by other people who have traveled there recently.

Be prepared for more blogs on my planning process, hopefully they’ll be of some help and inspiration for you to explore new places. Don’t know where to start? Let me know, I’d love to help!

 

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Tulsey Town!

As you may have noticed, my posts have, for the most part, focused on International destinations. I love to travel in general, but my preference is always to go as far outside of my own culture as possible. Alas, I can’t afford to do that more than every couple of years, and then only if I’m careful with my spending. So, I’m trying to learn to appreciate traveling within my own country more. Thus, the next two posts will be a bit more “local.”

Let’s start in Tulsa. That’s right, Tulsa! Not on the top of your list, is it? Well, I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, let’s talk about what brought me to Oklahoma in the first place. My dear friend and graduate school roommate who is British was on sabbatical and doing a tour of US cities he had not been to. Long before he actually purchased his tickets, I knew I had to come see him, considering that it had been at least 8 years since I’d seen him last and he was coming all this way. The least I could do was meet him in Middle America. I had hoped to meet him in Chicago, but due to my work schedule, I had to meet him in Tulsa. It was really fun telling people in OK why a Brit and a Portlander were visiting Tulsa. We got had some laughs there for sure.

I’ll 100% admit that I did not think Tulsa was going to keep me captivated in any way, but I was absolutely wrong. Not only was it wonderful to catch up with an old friend, but there were some surprising gems. In addition, I can easily say that Oklahoman’s are the NICEST people I’ve ever met. Seriously, one woman apologized to me for not smiling back after I had smiled at her.

The Philbrook Museum of Art

First and foremost, you absolutely must go to Philbrook, a mansion built in 1927, including all of the stunning elements you would expect of an expensive home built during that time including an expansive formal garden which is a museum unto itself. If I lived in Tulsa, I would buy an annual membership just so I could go sit in the gardens any time I wanted.

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It helped that the weather was spectacular, not too hot, not too cold. Perhaps a rarity here.

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View of the house from the gardens.

The mansion itself was my favorite part, although their collections and exhibits were excellent. You can definitely get a taste for my style here.

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Bet you didn’t know that Tulsa was at it’s height during the oil boom of the 1920’s and 1930’s? The massive quantity of money coming through the area made Tulsa a shining gem in the landscape, with architecture that will make any art deco fan swoon. I definitely recommend walking around and seeing some of the art deco style buildings in downtown, but do not miss going to Boston Avenue United Methodist Church.

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If you’ve got some extra time or special interest, here are a couple more options!

Woody Guthrie Center

If you’re a fan of folk music and/or American history, you definitely need to go to the Guthrie Center. To be honest, I didn’t know much about him outside of a couple of songs prior to visiting the center. Not only did a learn about the breadth of his music, but I also learned a lot about American history during the dust bowl. Ironically, we read about how our over-use of the earth and poor farming management actually caused the dust bowl…ironic because later that weekend we experienced an earth quake caused by fracking.

Redbud Valley

Just outside of Tulsa is a nature preserve that is an excellent excuse to get out of the concrete jungle. There’s some great hiking, fascinating rock formations, and fossils to seek! Not at all what I expected to find in Oklahoma…

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The Blue Whale

And last, but certainly not least, if you’re going to check out the famous Hwy 101, you need to stop to see the Blue Whale.

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Overall, I don’t think you really need to spend more than 3-4 days max in Tulsa, but it has some delightful spots, fascinating history, and amazing architecture that I highly recommend!

Glacier National Park

Despite the face that I have been to 14 countries and have seen spectacular views, I can still easily say that Glacier National Park is my favorite place in the world. It may have something to do with the fact that I grew up coming here every summer for many years, but I think it is also just the complete majesty of the place.

The most popular campground in the park is Apgar, also my favorite because of the tall lodge pole pines and close proximity to MacDonald Lake. The water is rarely ever warm, but that doesn’t stop some people. This is the second time I have rented a stand up paddle board and gone out on the lake. This time, I went out towards the middle of the lake and laid down on the board. The mountains usually overwhelm me with their size, but this time the sky was the winner, overshadowing even the tallest of the mountains, reminding me how small we all really are.

That’s me, way out there!

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We had planned a long hike over the Highline and into the East side of the Park, but due to snow the trail was still closed. So we did the very popular hike up to the Hidden Lake Overlook. I’ve done this hike many times and it never ceases to be spectacular. This year was a particular challenge due to all of the snow though.

This was my first time (since I was little) that we also camped on the East side of the park. The wind over there is crazy, but the views…oh wow…

And then, of course, there’s the wildlife of Glacier. Don’t feed them, guys. Just don’t do it.

The Great American Railway

One of the things I love in particular about train travel is the chance to meet other travelers. On planes, the close proximity makes most people clam up in fear they will get a seat mate who is overbearing and over talkative. In cars, it is just you and your traveling kin. But in trains, with room to move around but also nowhere to go fast, people are much more open. On this trip I met a young man about to hike the continental divide trail, effectively completing the triple crown of hikes as he has already done the pacific crest and Appalachian trails. My seat mate was another woman off to spend three days camping in East Glacier National Park. While sitting in the observation lounge I met a couple who were on the final leg of a journey around the us via Amtrak starting and returning in Pennsylvania. We talked education, religion, travel, and history. A perfect conversation from my point of view!

The highlight of this particular trip though was listening to the volunteers from the Rails to Trails program. These highly trained volunteers speak about the views you see from the lounge car. I learned all kinds of history and geology about Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indians. 

Here is a picture of the Lead volunteer, Leigh on his “break” which ended up being a great conversation with me about our lives and the scenery around us! 

I have taken this particular train trip one other time, about five years ago or so, but it was in December and thus there was very little daylight. This time, however, the views were spectacular.

Mt. Hood and Hood River, wind surfer extravaganza:

Sunset over Eastern Washington:

Blackfeet Nation at the foot of the Rocky Mountains:

And my favorite, the Montana prairie, aka Home.

Women in Iran

Upon finding out that I am 35 and without children, an Iranian woman exclaimed “Inshallah!!!” with great exasperation. She was about 20 years old when she had her first of two children, not as young as one would expect from a woman living in the Iranian desert, but ultimately, not very old. In Iran, as you might guess, a woman’s role is primarily as mother and homemaker. But there are some stereotypes that are not true, and of course, some that are.

Education & Unemployment:
In recent years, women have made up more than 60% of the population of university students in Iran. They are highly educated, a shocking revelation to many Westerners. Yes, it is true that women have been barred from some courses in an attempt by conservative clerics who are concerned about upsetting the status quo and messing with gender established norms. The biggest problem, however, from a Westerner’s perspective, is how high the unemployment rate is for women compared to men, despite the educational gaps. In a country so engrained to believe that women belong in the home, only about 13% of the workforce is female. That’s not to say that women aren’t financially important to their families and country.

Work:
Many Iranian women contribute financially to the household even without holding traditional employment. I met a group of women in the desert who had begun their own business selling handicrafts, a part of the proceeds would be going to help pay for repairs to the Qanats (the town’s only water source). Women also run family businesses from home or they work on the family farms and help run family restaurants. My guide who’s full time job in tourism kept her 100% outside of the home was a female and we met other female guides along the way. Additionally, Iran does not bar women from owning businesses and women even hold high level positions in banking and government.

Clothing & Fashion:
I met an Imam in Iran who said that the majority of Iranians want to wear Hijab. I don’t know how true the “majority” part of that statement is, but I do know that some do want to wear Hijab and some do not. How women dress does depend on where they live and what day it is. For example, in a more conservative city, most women wear burkhas, but in a more liberal city, women might only wear hijab and manteau (a long coat). On religious holidays, they might pull out the burkas just for good measure. During the last Presidency, women’s clothing was policed much more than it is today. Don’t let those burkas fool you, underneath is a woman who exudes sexuality. She’s probably wearing designer jeans imported illegally from Europe, and she has very likely had a nose job. More and more women are also seen wearing makeup as restrictions have eased and women are slowly retaking their independence.

Am I saying that women’s rights are perfect in Iran? Heck no. They’re not even perfect in the United States! What I am saying is that all of our assumptions about Iran are not accurate. I do hope that as Iran opens up, more Iranian women will stand up for their human rights and will have better opportunities in the workforce if they choose. But it’s also important that we not think of them as stuck in a pit of despair awaiting the West to come free them. Iranian women are intelligent and passionate, they will find a way to protest, even if it is just a bit of red lipstick.

 

 

Esfahan

I am madly in love with Esfahan. Noted for its Persian gardens and tree-lined River, it is unique compared to the other cities I have been to which are dry and dusty (of course beautiful in their own ways). Despite being a very religious city, Esfahan is also very cosmopolitan, one can easily find high fashion here (imported illegally), right along side the chador and hijabs.

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Esfahan was the capital of Persia for many years, and it does not disappoint with relics from those times past. The Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square) is the centerpiece of the city, built in the early 1600’s as the seat of Shah Abbas’ capital. Abetting the square is the Royal Mosque, the public Mosque (Sheikh-Lotfollah) and the Ali Qapu Palace as well as a great bazaar. In the afternoons, all of the shops would close and polo matches would take place in the square.

Music Hall in Ali Qapu Palace

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Sheikh-Lotfollah Mosque

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The Royal Mosque

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Naqsh-e Jahan Square

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Also of great importance in Esfahan is the Jolfa district, the Armenian quarter which was built in the 1600’s to help Armenians of a border town called Jolfa escape persecution from the Turks and also bring trade to Esfahan.

This church is the only place in Iran where I got told to mind my hijab (it had fallen down), this despite it having fallen down in 2 mosques! I am told that the Armenians have to be more careful because the Iranian government watches them closely.

The Holy Savior Cathedral (Vank Church) is a World UNESCO site and particularly interesting with its mix of Iranian and Armenian art.IMG_4594.JPG

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Zurkhaneh – “House of Strength”

One of the most unique experiences I have had in Iran was getting to watch the zurkhaneh, an ancient mix of sport and religion that is thousands of years old. I am told that it began during a time when the Iranians were ruled by other nations and they were not allowed to train for war. They created this form of exercise to represent said training but incorporated ritual and religion into it, primarily Sufism along with Mithraism.

The one hour performance is accompanied by the singing and drumming by a leader who is singing verses from the Iranian epic the Shahnameh as well as poetry from Hafez.

Each of the exercises is designed to represent a different weapon:

Representing the Sword

Representing the Mace

Representing the Bow & Arrow