Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hot Women In Iceland?

Pretty Icelandic Women?

Q: I hear the women in Iceland are the most beautiful girls on earth? Is this true?
A: Honestly, while without a doubt there are some beautiful girls here, the overall breakdown I witnessed is not all that different than other places. I still maintain the best looking girls in the world inhabit Los Angeles as the entertainment industry brings them there like a magnet.

Q:Are girls in Iceland easy? I mean, I hear they are really slutty?
A:They are more aggressive than American women, and if they like you, will come up and introduce themselves. It happened to me twice at clubs, not that much, but it’s nice. The reputation that Icelandic women are easy generally holds true according to many of the Icelandic men I spoke with. Icelandic women are proud of their liberation as well.

Miss Universe- Icelandic Beauty

Q: What are the girls like outside Reykjavik?
A: Iceland is nearly a 100% homogeneous population, often interrelated from years ago. I don’t imagine the girls outside Reykjavik are any different, but the population is so small, you are better off hanging out in the capital city.

That's the general scoop as I see it/ experienced it. That said, a short stint in Iceland might be fun, and you can experience for yourself.

Here are our other entries about Iceland

Heating Up Iceland- Fire and Ice
Iceland Declared a Terrorist Nation
This is a short entry. Generally we have funny stories from our adventures. Subscribe to our blog/ read more!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Iceland Declared A Terrorist Nation!

Icelandic Terrorists 
We rejoin Rich being interviewed by Lonely Planet as he flexes his historical knowledge and expert opinion on Iceland ...
LP: Is it true that tiny Iceland was declared a terrorist state? I mean, what the hell were they exporting, incest?
Rich: Yes, the poor, well mannered, Icelandic people were declared a terrorist nation in 2008 by none other than Great Britain. See, once Iceland’s banks were deregulated, they realized that they could expand rapidly, and to get money to lend, they started offering higher and higher interest rates. Seeking the highest rate of return, and assuming they should take zero risk to get it, investors, predominately British, who must have had their heads kicked in at some point by soccer hooligans, poured their money into Iceland’s banks, until the value of debt held was an astronomical multiple of the GDP of this tiny country. Additionally joining the campaign of easy credit, were some of the regular Icelandic population who took out Euro and dollar denominated loans to live high on the hog. The financial crisis comes (a near Ponzi-scheme of borrowed money unravels) and lo and behold, Iceland can’t repay their creditors. Iceland’s government says ‘tough luck,’ causing the greedy British depositors to go bananas, and so Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, declares Iceland a “Terrorist Nation” (because we have all seen the gruesome online videos of Icelandic Terrorists threatening to take down America with a jagged fishbone,) and with Iceland now “legally” a terrorist nation, Britain is able to seize whatever remaining assets Icelandic Banks have to ensure their people get their money back, which causes the Icelandic Krona (currency) and their stock market, to CRASH—
LP: Geez, it sounds like an Economic Horror Film!
Rich: Oh, it gets worse! The Icelandic stock market collapses to the tune of 90%! Remember the panic in America that ensued when the Dow dropped like 7% in a day, and broadcasters were wondering whether this was the end of the world? Now imagine how the US would behave if virtually the entire market cap of the nation were to be wiped out, your life-savings gone, and the free-falling US Dollar being treated like a dog with rabies---
LP: They might try to re-elect George Bush. Why did Gordon Brown legally declare them a “terrorist nation?”
Dressed up by Norweigens, like a Russian. I tried to scowl
Rich: Because he could. He was the big bully on the block, and might made right. Survival of the fittest, game theory, all that … So Iceland goes out and begs the West for a bailout. No takers. Without hard currency, Iceland can’t import anything, and seeing that they are unable to grow their own food, they are realistically going to starve to death. Now comes that moment in the horror movie where everyone in the audience senses the pretty starlet is about to have her head lopped off, and black members of the audience, in unison, stand-up terrified, and yell helpful advice at her: “Bitch, don’t go in there, he gonnnnaaaa kill you!!” That moment is of course the on screen appearance of Russians, who “generously offer” to bail out Iceland. If I know anything from all the movies I’ve watched, it’s that you don’t want to be in debt to Russians. To quote the Icelandic Premier, “We went to our friends for help, we got none, so we had to make new friends.” I’d rather be in debt to Tony Soprano. 
LP: Can you turn this into a NASCAR analogy?
Rich: It’s the equivalent of watching your 16 year-old redheaded neighbor, who you always felt sorry for cause your fairly certain he’s the product of incest, win a go-kart race, and he promises you 50%, (you walk away) “no wait, 75%!” of his winnings after he wins the Indy 500, and all he needs are the keys to your Honda Accord. Of course, on the way out of the parking lot, he totals your Accord in a five car pile-up, dizzily gets out of the car, and squeaks that he has no insurance. So you cry to your Daddy, who happens to be the Mayor, who uses some zoning ordinance to repossess your friend’s parents’ house, putting the entire family out on the street in the dead of winter. They go begging, but as no one is willing to help them, they go to the Russian Mob headed by Vladamir Putin, who twirls his long moustache, and out of “philanthropy,” lends them money.
LP: So the moral is, “Raise the driving age?”
Rich: You know the total number of honest people in all of Russia? You can count them on one hand.
LP: Ummm … you know there are over 140 million people in that country?
Rich: I know that.  

Still light out at 11:15 PM on Iceland's Main Drag and party street

LP: Okay, before you go on one of your Anti-Russian Cold War like rants, one of Iceland’s most famous destinations is the Blue Lagoon.
Rich: The cheapest tour there costs $65, which includes a round-trip bus ticket and entry to what is essentially the world’s the largest outdoor, geothermically heated hot-tub. It was nice though, to jump from the cold air into the warm water.
The Blue Lagoon in Iceland
LP: Is it naturally occurring?
Rich: Yes and no … Mainly no. Apparently a company was drilling to be able to extract some geothermal energy and they were too close to the sea, and a bunch of salt water seeped into a formation of lava rocks, creating several pools. They walled off the area, as some parts were simply scalding, but teenagers kept tearing down the fences to get in and bathe in the hot outdoor pools. By the fourth time they had to repair the fences, it finally donned on the Icelandic geniuses that they actually had something people wanted to go to, and they could Charge, so they renovated, smoothed the bottom, and regulated the temperature. 
Yes, Icleandic people eat whale!
LP: Did you see anything else?
Rich: Well, I took a tour to see some of Iceland’s nature. Funny thing is, normally I assume the possibility of seeing wild animals when I’m in an utterly unpopulated, large National Park, but Iceland has almost no naturally occurring wildlife, just migratory birds. It’s such a barren barren land. You realize that there are almost no trees on the entire island. The trees that exist there are ones that grow in other parts of the Arctic, imported to Iceland, and planted in a few select spots. Really all they have are rock formations and water. The first stop on the tour was a tiny little waterfall, and I was like, “Oh my God, I paid $80 to see this?” but in fairness the tour got a lot better from there. The highlight for me was the BIG waterfall. I mean, it’s not close to comparing to Iguazu Falls in Brazil, but the power and amount of water there simply takes your breath away.
Rich: Where does that water come from?
One of the bigger freshwater lakes in the world
LP: Glaciers cover 11% of Iceland, and this water is largely glacial run-off, and when you think about how much water pours over those falls, and at what a velocity, twenty-four hours a day, you realize just how HUGE those glaciers must be. I actually had a really interesting realization standing under/ admiring those falls.
Rich: What was that?
LP: When you stand in front of something that leaves you in absolute awe, your mind, for a few moments, disappears. It’s like a microwaved meditative experience, and by that I mean an instant opening. For a few moments your mind ceases its incessant jabbering about your petty problems, while you bear witness to just how powerful and boundless is the energy you are made from, your infinite possibilities, and just how tiny you as an individual and all your small thoughts are in relation to what you truly is.
LP: I think that might’a gone over a few peoples’ heads.
Rich: That’s okay, I think most people will recognize some nugget of truth there that might get lodged into both their conscious and unconscious minds.

Glacial waterfall in Iceland. would be very impressive without vapor

LP: Ummm … okay … So what’s it like at the top of the world?
Rich: The first thing I can tell you about being that far North at the edge of both the Arctic Circle and summer, is that darkness nearly ceases. You can party from sunrise to Sunset at the beginning of May and you’d only be out for a few hours. While I was there, the sun fell asleep at 11:30 PM, and woke-up just before 4 AM.
LP: Winter must be bad?
Rich: Well, it’s almost perpetual darkness, which is only any good if you want to get your beauty rest. I was told that it is very difficult to stay awake. Like just about everyone, I like the light and the long summer days. I think to live in continuous darkness would be very depressing. Swedes tell me it’s why they consume so much alcohol in the winter.
LP: They call it Iceland, must’a been cold.
Rich: My second day in Iceland was the warmest, nicest day of the year there, and it was literally freezing (13 Celcius) That “brilliant” day, by Icelandic standards, would make for about the coldest day of the year in Los Angeles, where, and I am not making this up, a weather advisory warning is issued any time the temperature drops below 60  (16 Celsius) The winter apparently, due to the warm Gulfstream current, is relatively mild, on the coast generally doesn’t drop below (-5) Celsius often, though it does get colder inland. The weather is quite finicky, and can change on a moment’s notice, any day of the year, as blasts of cold Arctic air, battle against the warmer Gulfstream.  In Iceland they have a saying, “You don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”
LP: Okay, so what’s the bottom line on Iceland? Like, should I go?
Rich: If you can absorb the financial hit of the sky-high prices, then Iceland is a great getaway for a long weekend in my opinion, during the summer only. Go party on the main drag, go see some glaciers before they disappear, and enjoy the midnight sun. I suggest, however, that you go soon. My bet is that any day, Russians are going to repossess the land of fire and ice, plant their flag, and kick the natives out into the sea. If they are lucky enough to be allowed to leave by boat (assuming Putin is in a good mood,) perhaps the 300,000 Icelanders might make it to Canada, doubling the population of our Northern neighbor.
LP: I think you’re being a little unfair to the Russians.
Rich: Think again.

PD'ing my Goddaughter in Iceland- she's the Bestest!

Good suggestion: Subscribe to blog, forward it to friends!

Heating Up Iceland- Fire and Ice

Getting Hot in Iceland

The expert panel here at Adventure Lovers is pleased to present to none other than famed explorer—Richard B. 
Icelandic Landscape

Adventure Lovers: And Rich, pray tell, Iceland, first impressions?
Rich: Well, my first impression came on the plane over while watching a promotional video for the country on Icelandic Air. The host was speaking to the owner of a famous seafood shop, and asked how people enjoyed a special type of dried fish. “Some like it, many hate it … but most people are willing to at least try it,” the shopkeeper answers. I had to laugh. “Many hate it,” was the best sound clip they could come up with? What does that say for the food they didn’t bother to ask about? Then, as the video ends, as Reykjavik is an international hub for planes before they depart for the rest of Europe, they request, “We hope that you choose to make a couple day stop-over in Iceland before continuing onto the rest of Europe,” which, to me, implies there really isn’t much to see ...

Adventure Lovers: Are first impressions correct?
Rich: Pretty much. Iceland is the newest geological  formation on earth, at a youthful eight million years of age, and also one of the most desolate, as not much grows in volcanic rock, especially with continuous eruptions and the ensuing lava wiping out any freshly wooded hillsides. The entire population of Iceland is 320,000, and 60% of that lives in the capital city of Reykjavík. The rest of the inhabitants live in small fishing villages dotting the coast, with a few farmers several miles inland. Now, when I say farming, I don’t mean vegetables, we are talking sheep, horses, and a few cattle. There are some mossy and grassy areas, but when you go further inland the only thing you’ll find is barren volcanic rock, possibly layered in ice-age glaciers. The only vegetables they grow are in greenhouses. Furthermore, even with the collapse of their currency during the economic crisis (it has since staged a sort of comeback) things here are still ridiculously priced. We are talking $9 beers, and $22 small pizzas that are essentially just flavored bread, and pre-planned glacier snowmobiling excursions starting at over $400.
AL: What did you like about Iceland?
Rich: Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like. The party scene in Reykjavik is off the hook, (weekends May to September only) The landscape has a certain rugged, moonlike charm, and the massive glaciers here make for some wonderful views. 
Two Norweigen Girs and yours truly
AL: Many people dream about going to Reykjavik to “party with the hotties.” Tell us about the party scene there.
Rich: Well, if you are going to drink, you’d better bring a fat wallet. A round of drinks for four people will cost you close to $50. But, most people who go out, are there to party, and party hard. Maybe too hard in as much as you will hear the tinkling of shattering glass on a regular basis. Girls here have no problems coming up and introducing themselves to you as a guy, which was a refreshing change. Not all girls act as such, but it’s nice.
Marcus, Steve, Tom (sooo gay), and me
AL: Maybe those other girls just didn’t want you?
Rich: Maybe they were married.
AL: Haha.
Rich: No, honestly, there are no cover charges to go into bars, but 95% of the clubs in all of Iceland are on one street, and I am lucky that I spent the weekend here, because every other night the clubs are almost completely dead.
AL: What about the music scene there? Bjork and all?
Rich: The music scene here is pretty kicking. The Icelandic people love their music, and there are some really excellent bands. I listened to a set of songs that were just fantastic. Also, a pretty blond girl who finished in second place in Euro Vision during the 2009 contest (Europe’s version of American Idol) got up and belted out a couple tunes.
AL: Are Icelandic women as hot as Norse mythology would have us believe?
Rich: Are there hot women in Iceland? Sure. But honestly, the distribution is not that different between here and elsewhere. People always say, “Oh my God, I hear the women there areee soooo hot.” I have yet to see a place that beats Los Angeles, if for no other reason than so many beauties move to Hollywood to break into the entertainment industry.
AL: What about the Icelandic economy?
Rich: Iceland is essentially a poor country. They have to import almost all their food except fish, and to purchase fish here is very expensive because this is the one commodity that Iceland can export. The only resources that Iceland is truly blessed with are a seemingly limitless amount of water (glaciers/snow/rain) and nearly free electricity. In fact, Iceland gets close to 100% of its energy from renewable sources, namely geothermal. Because Iceland is still very active volcanically they are able to turn the heat underground into all the electricity they need and more. They also have a tremendous amount of hydro-electricity at their disposal, and were able to lure some energy intensive industries, an aluminum smelting operation for example, to their island, which is an indirect way to export their over-abundance of super cheap green electricity , which I thought was pretty cool. On the whole though, Iceland is not far away from being a large desolate rock at the edge of the Arctic Circle.
Crystal clear water, no greenery anywhere
AL: How big is Iceland?
Rich: The size of Kentucky. The Blue Grass state is known for its expansive open areas and still has a population of 14 million people- making it 43 times as densely populated as Iceland. Funny enough, due its relatively size and the fact that it doesn’t reside on the same tectonic plate as either North America or Europe, some of the Icelandic crazies have been advocating that Iceland should be named a separate continent.
AL: That’s not going to happen.
Rich: I said they were crazies.
AL: With a population so small, and I’d imagine very little intermingling with the outside world given its location, are most of the people related to one another?
Rich: Not only is the entire population related one way or another, Iceland has the Arkansas “Uncle Daddy” problem. Throughout the history of Iceland, laws against incest were passed over and over and over again, but "special interests" created a lot of wiggle room, so finally Iceland’s leading politician declared: “Thou shall not have relations with thy daughter.” Of course, immediately upon its pronouncement in the legislature, grumbling could be heard from all members, and some-sicko Viking slowly rose, looked around, and whined, “But come on, we’re only human!” and as most of the heads around him nodded … the law was amended to: “Thou shall not have relations with thy daughter … Well, at least not more than two times per annum,”  and that’s where the law stands today. It’s in the Icelandic Constitution. They are quite proud of it.
 Here, since I have made fun of Iceland, you guy can make fun of me as I display a traditional Icelandic dance I learned. :) 

Click here for Part II- How Iceland Was Declared a Terrorist Nation

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tips On Getting Around Prague

Tips On Getting Around Prague
Okay, if you are new to Prague, or just here for a few days, here are some travel tips from an insider on getting around Prague.
Tourist: Where is the best place to stay in Prague?
Answer: Around the center, in Prague 1. If you are using booking.com you can choose to eliminate all other areas, but if you stay Prague 2, 5, or 7, you won’t be too far away. Personally, my favorite hotel, especially for the money, was EuroStars Thalia on Narodni, close to the National Theater.
(Update: Eurostars has gotten much more expensive of late. Not the value it once was)
Tourist: can you recommend a great place to eat in Prague?
Answer: Café Louvre on Narodni near the National Theater has very good food at very reasonable prices. Also, there is a place called “Touch” which serves excellent healthy food. It is on Jakubska I believe, close to the old Town Square, but isn’t the easiest to find.
A tasty, and cheap Indian place is Tikka Tikka on Konvistka in the center.
My #1 recommendation If you want a really great atmosphere, an  utterly romantic restaurant with a cave theme, that is reasonably priced, but expensive by Czech standards, then I recommend Triton in Wencelas Square.
Tourist: What should I see in Prague?
a)      The Charles Bridge at night- seeing the castle lit up one side, the national Theater on the other, standing over the water, is the most beautiful site I have ever seen in a city. It is a great and popular kissing destination, and it’s easy to understand why.
b)      Prague Castle. Touristy, but still cool.
c)       Monument to Communism- on the base of the hill, opposite the castle side of the river, is perhaps the most beautiful piece of art I have ever seen, in terms of the fact that it says SO much with so little. Magnificent.
d)      Old Town Square and the astrological clock
e)      UFlecka Brewery—also in Prague 1, center. The oldest brewery in Czech. Fun, lively, if you like beer it is, and Czechs KNOW their beer, excellent.
Tourist: What scams should I watch out for?
Be careful when you change money. A lot of places advertise VIP rates when you exchange like $1,200 at a time, but when you slide like $300 over, as it is not “VIP” you can see a whopping 40% of your money disappear. Like if the real rate is 18, they’ll give you 12. It happens, believe me.
Prague by the Vlatava river
The best and most fair exchanges are run by Arabs, outside of the main tourist zones. There are some close to the train station that give very competitive rates. 

Actually, if you want to know the Money Cons and Romance Scams of Prague in greater detail, visit this link.  

Great Day Trips

1) Czech Paradise - a two hour or so drive to this wooded area with the iconic cliff formations.

2) The Bone Church of Kutna Hora - about 90km outside Prague, a charming small town with a church built in the Middle Ages with the bones of those who fell victim to the plague

What Is Cheaper in Prague

1) Well, your restaurant bill for one will be substantially cheaper than in Western Europe. 
Also, things like dental procedures are way cheaper. 

2) An excellent place to have laser teeth whitening/ maintenance work done is 

Smille- Laser teeth Whitening Clinic

which has a location in Prague close to the major shopping center of Smichov, in Prague 5
Okay, I sincerely hope this helps makes your stay in Prague a little bit better!

Don’t forget to read our funny adventures and SUBSCRIBE TO OUR BLOG. Funny travel adventures!!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

God asks Rich for Advice on The Holy Land- Israel

God asks Rich for Advice
I recently received a one way ticket to heaven, where I was given a very handsome consulting contract by God Almighty, who wanted my take on what’s going on in the Holy-land. In case you missed the broadcast, here is the transcript.
God: Welcome sons and daughters. I have called this special counsel today, including all the angels in heaven, to listen to one of the world’s pre-eminent minds as well as one of its famous explorers, Rich Birecki. The reason I’ve called him here is that I was shocked to learn that over the last 60 years, there has been a preponderance of murders, war, and general unhappiness created by all the fighting and posturing over the land now called Israel. Since it seems I have been asleep at the proverbial switch, I thought I would bring Rich in here to help me out, and let me know how I could do a better job.
Rich: No problemo God. That’s what I do, I solve problems.  
God:  Of course. So, tell me about your trip to Israel.
Yoni, Zuzka and I having walked across border
Rich: Well, we cross the Jordanian border without incident. Yoni, Zuzka, and I walk over to the Israeli side of the border. Yoni, being Israeli, gets his passport stamped in 24 seconds. For Zuzka, who is Czech, it takes ten minutes. Being an American, my tax dollars keeping the country afloat, I figure entry would be a breeze … more like a hurricane. Fifteen minutes pass. The agent confirms my suspicions that Israel is not exactly partial to entrants with a Syrian stamp and visa in their passport. I guess the countries aren’t exactly “friendly.” They're checking databases going back as far as the Middle Ages, checking if my name shows up in any Pentagon terrorist database, my credit score, outstanding library fines I have from when I was 6. Forty-five minutes later, Yoni goes and speaks with the immigration officer. “Why didn’t you tell me you were traveling with an Israeli when you first got here? This will speed things up a lot,” she tells me.
God: How much longer was it?
Rich: Another forty-five minutes.
God: And if you hadn’t known Yoni?
Rich: A week … Look, I don’t begrudge the Israelis for making it tough for people to enter, there are a lot of crazies that would love to get inside Israel and do harm to innocent people … So from the border, we hiked like a kilometer to the main road in hopes of hitchhiking, which Yoni told me was common and simple in Israel. Well, maybe not so simple when you have three people plus luggage. After a half-hour, I thought it would be easier for us all if I found my own way.
God: So what happened?
Rich: Well, my goal was to get to Eliat, which was only a few kilometers away, so I hailed a passing cab. “Where are you going?” asks the cabbie. “Eliat,” I respond. He rolls up his window without a word and drives off in the opposite direction. So my first impression of Israelis is, “Oh my God, what pricks. I mean, they barely let me into their country, and now this.”
God: Is it fair to judge any country by their cab drivers?
Rich: I might as well just start walking, I head on down the road. I walk maybe a quarter kilometer, and this car pulls over up ahead. It’s an Israeli couple. “What are you doing walking with all that stuff? Get in, get in, we’ll take you to Eliat.” These two were jovial, warm, and kind. Suddenly my opinion reverses course. If everybody’s this warm, who could hold anything against the Israelis.
God: And the final verdict?
Rich: Suffice to say for now that really kind, nice, warm people also exist there. So, they drive me to Eliat and drop me off at the bus station, where, with a little difficulty, I book a ticket to go float on the Dead Sea. The most notable thing I saw while waiting was a female Israeli soldier holding a rifle while eating. I am told that each member of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) is issued a rifle. Lose it, and you go to jail. Guns are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East, it definitely takes some getting used to. Eventually the bus driver drops me off at the Dead Sea resorts area. Israelis are impatient people, he almost took off before I could get my suitcase out of the luggage compartment which would have been a disaster. I had to pound and yell as he started to move to get him to stop.
God: Why do they call it the Dead Sea?
Rich: Because the concentration of salt in the water allows for no life. In fact, as water sources, like the Jordan River, dry up in the Middle East, this inland body of salt water is deprived of fresh water to replace that which evaporates. The sea is shrinking in size every year; the Dead Sea is dying … So there I am, with my big suitcase and backpack, and I don’t want to take the suitcase to the beach, so I walk into one of the expensive hotels, and I’m figuring out how to sneak my case into the luggage room, when I get approached by a bold 15 year old Israeli who asks me where I come from. Of course, he loves that I’m American and immediately offers me his help. Waving his hand, “Come, let me show you where the luggage room is.” I follow him, and place my suitcase in the unlocked room. Then I remove my fanny pack, not quite sure what to do with it. Sensing this, he inquires, “What do you have in there?” I answer, “Passport, money.”  “Oh no, you don’t leave that here, we Jewish people, we love money very much.”
God: He didn’t!
Rich: Oh he did. Just like that, indicts his whole country.
God: So?
Rich: I took it with me. It was 50/50 he was going to through my suitcase if I left my cash inside. So I go down to Dead Sea and wade in. The water has a slimy, viscous feeling to it; actually for the same reason you don’t want to ingest any of the water, because of ultra-high concentration of salt. I suppose swallowing Dead Sea water is equivalent to swallowing the contents of a tall salt shaker. Not exactly good for you.  On the plus side, you can experience what it’s like to be a cork. You float. It’s quite a paradigm shift because normally you fall back into the ocean, you expect to sink; here, you almost bounce off the water like a basketball on a gym floor.

(check me out floating on the Dead Sea)

God: Did you try skipping a stone on the water?

Rich: My one regret, it would have likely ended up back in Jordan. So, I get out of the Dead Sea, and I start talking with 4 twenty-five year old Israelis, who have fairly recently completed their required service in the Israeli Army. Every single one of them is super cool, very real, and down to earth. It’s a pleasure speaking to them.
God: What did you speak about?
Rich: Life in Israel, which for them basically is pretty chill now that they are done with the army. When they thought it would come to Palestine/Israel, on the notion of peace, Gil, one of the soldiers looked down at the ground  and said, “not in my lifetime.” I asked him why. Though he remained hopeful that his generation was different, he told me there were still too many people on both sides who simply didn’t want peace, the odds of this going up as age of the individual increases. On the whole, they were a very friendly bunch. They even invited me to come to the concert of a famous reggae artist from New York City, who it turns out is an orthodox Jew, and hugely popular in Israel.
God: Did you go?
Rich: Well, my natural inclination when presented with such offers is to say “yes,” and this time was no exception. The complication was there was no way that my suitcase would fit in their car, we tried. I thought about leaving it at the hotel, but they weren’t coming back here, and the concert was supposed to be sold out, so I decided it would be better if I were to head up the road to Jerusalem—
God: So where’s the spice you're so famous for? You haven’t said anything all that controversial.
Rich: Well, let me tell you about Jerusalem. I’m just afraid after hearing what I have to say, the Jews might nail me to the cross ... I'll pause now, so that I might live another couple days ...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Aqaba, Jordan- Burkas, Purity + Environmental Degradation

With Mahmoud performing his stand-up comedy routine, deploying his mega-million catchphrase, “Big asshole,” like a laser guided missile striking our laugh centers with perfect accuracy, the two hour ride into Aqaba passed quickly, its enjoyment tempered slightly by the gray sky outside: the perma-cloud cover of heavy pollution that covers all of Jordan, even fifty miles from the nearest town.
Mahmoud drops us off with a huge smile and a hug. He speaks with a local cab driver to insure we won’t be cheated and instructs him to help us find our budget accommodations. 
Yoni and Zuzka in dry Petra, Jordan
The Red Sea port of Aqaba is scorching. I love hot weather, but being from California, I’m used to dry heat: the weather here is over 100 Fahrenheit, with 95% humidity. I’m a normally super energetic guy, but I have zero desire to move. I cannot ever remember feeling so lethargic.
The Red Sea is world renowned for its diving sites, but as a sample I merely rent flippers and a mask and venture out onto the local beach. There were wonderful sites to be seen in the Jordanian waters: colorful fish, sea urchins, reefs; also used tires, beer cans and bottles, and plastics that had descended the twelve feet to the bottom. The beautifully colored water atop is merely a veneer for what lies below. Mankind’s assault on Mother Nature continues.
I left the water a half hour later, and sat reading a book on the sand, feeling fully refreshed. It took an entire ten minutes for the sun and humidity to wear down my shield of cool.
I look around, and spot women in full burkas resting on the sand. I find it intolerably hot, and I am freshly removed from cool water, I cannot imagine how these women are surviving. Now here comes Zuzka, my pretty Czech friend, jumping into the ocean in a long, one-piece bathing suit. I watch all Arab eyes swing her way, both male and female. Such a site is rare. Zuzka later related how uncomfortable she felt, like the whole world was staring at her.
She towels off and throws on a shirt. Even dressed, this blond still stands out amongst the dark population. We walk to the group of burka clad older women.
“How do you remain covered head to toe, in black, on a day this hot?” I inquire.
“We do not have a choice,” comes the difficult translation, “It is our culture. We MUST dress this way. Even in this heat.”
“My friend Zuzka, is able to swim and wear a bathing suit, would you like to as well?”
It is difficult to understand them, but I gather that they don’t like the fact that Zuzka is here “parading around” in such skimpy clothing, which in California would only draw a second glance if it were worn to a board meeting. I couldn’t understand for sure what they meant, but Zuzka wasn’t terribly comfortable, so we went back to the hotel so she could dress more “appropriately.”

a razor thin edged limestone cliff in Petra
We stop in a local store to purchase some sweets. I’m twenty-five cents short. A man visiting the owner inquires where I am from. Turns out that he recently returned from the US, having studied environmental engineering. I’m excited to speak with him, explaining my surprise at the utter environmental degradation I have seen throughout the Middle East, explaining to him what I had just witnessed in the water.
He shakes his head, and nods in assent. “It was not like this years ago,” he states, “We have a long ways to go as a society to catch-up with Europe in our policies and consciousness.” It’s a very pleasant conversation, and at the end of it, the store owner waives off the twenty-five cents I owe him. When you are friendly with Arabs, what’s theirs is yours. 
Me exploring Petra, rugged terrain
At night we find an Internet Café. The girl there is not wearing even a hijab. She’s the prettiest girl I have seen so far in the Middle East. Turns out she is a Christian, and thus has no religious reason to wear the hijab. She tells me she is often hassled, and called “impure.”
How dare anyone be different, and that most goes for most societies, not just conservative Islamic. Express yourself differently than the herd, and be prepared for generally un-wanton attention.
There isn’t a lot to do at night here. Thank God it cools off, at least a little. The next morning we are set to cross the Israeli border, which, as you’ll find out, while it takes longer than building the pyramids, it is also more of a hassle. (but in all fairness, it's a lot less pleasant too)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Nearly Fact Free History of Petra, Jordan

The magnificent treasury of Petra
While standing spellbound in absolute awe, a guide approaches and offers to give me a full historical account of Petra; I counter that I am far more interested in locating Pharaoh's treasure, which is why, the best I can offer you, history wise is …

A Nearly Fact Free History of Petra
The Treasury is carved directly into the limestone rock, and received its name because it was rumored that an Egyptian Pharaoh had hidden his wealth inside.
Petra, which means “rock” in Ancient Greek (fitting as the entire civilization was chiseled out of limestone cliffs) was founded by a nomadic people called the Nabataeans only days after the Big Bang, or to be more exact,  a long time ago (which ever comes first) and existed until a major Japanese style earthquake destroyed their nuclear reactor which lead to a mass exodus of Nabataeans out of the mountains. Petra stood empty, until being rediscovered in 1989 by the famed swashbuckling archaeologist, Indiana Jones, (Source: the documentary “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade,”)  where we learned that Petra was the last known resting place of the Holy Grail. Ending up in the safe arms of Indy, he successfully hid the sacred vessel in Peru until 2008, when the vengeful Steven Spielberg and George Lucas finally tracked him down and repeatedly raped poor Indy in retaliation for his hording of the relic, even having the temerity to film their heinous crime for the whole world to see (Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of Crystal Skull)   … God dammit, Aliens DO NOT belong in an Indiana Jones movie! And how the hell do you survive a nuclear blast by hiding in a refrigerator?!  You deserved so much better Indy! Thankfully, Spielberg and Lucas were arrested for their monstrous crime (source: South Park season 12 episode 8.) and are serving the rest of their lives in a federal penitentiary. 

Nevertheless, Petra is WELL worth the visit! Superior to see than the pyramids, and quite an adventure ... 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

CIA Investigates Missing American in Middle East

Petra Overnight

the narrow mountain alley leading to the Treasury
Atop the limestone cliff, 300 feet above the ground, after having hid from what we thought were police spotlights (it turns out they were!,) in a Petra cave, we awoke on the limestone cliff, with the gentle nudge of the dawn sun, marveling at just how caked in dust and dirt we were. I think even a heroin addict placed in our grimy shoes would choose a shower over actually catching the dragon.
I used to believe that if I lived in the time of Lewis and Clark, I would be the first to volunteer for their expedition. After one night out in the wilds of the Jordanian mountains I might be reconsidering my application. “No Richard, you need a 
real job! Apply dammit, apply!” I can hear my Father yelling in the background.
Strategizing our departure from the Petra, we decided to wait until the gates opened at 7 AM, and then proceed out as other tourists entered to avoid being arrested for our overnight activities.
We came, we saw, we left. Sooo lame,” I informed utterly confused tourists as we walked the trail away from the Treasury during the first few minutes of the park’s opening.
I thought we were the first people in line,” remarked the British woman to her husband.
Mommy, how did they get so dirty?” asked their little girl.
We arrived at the park entrance, trying to sneak out as casually as possible, but the guard got very excited upon spotting us. “You are the American!” he exclaimed.
The American?” I responded, feeling as though I had just been picked out of a police line-up for a robbery I DID commit.
 “You spent the night here last night?” The evidence was all over my clothing. I nodded. He animatedly shouts Arabic into his walkie-talkie.
The tourist police will be here shortly, please wait here.”
The police. After us. In the Middle East. And we knowingly broke the law … This would bode a lot worse if not for the fact that the guard seemed genuinely happy to see us.
Ten minutes later the police haven’t shown up. Zuzka walks away, then doesn’t return. Yoni and I are confused. We begin to look for her, and not finding her, I hire a cab for a couple dinars in hopes of chasing her down. On the second time up and down the hill we spot her. She’s furious with us, apparently having told us “let’s go,” and neither of us following. She refuses to get in the cab. I leave Yoni to deal with her, agreeing to meet them at their hostel in an hour or so.
I walk into my hotel. (the hotel owner who I described in this post) Mahmoud’s jaw drops when he sees me. “That wasn’t nice,” he states.
I am momentarily confused, Mahmoud explains: “Last night I made dinner for you. The park closes at 6. I thought you’d be back by 6:30 at the latest. 7 o’clock arrives, and you still aren’t back. No doubt he’ll be back at 7:30. 8 PM and you still are not here. He MUST come back by 8:30, there’s nothing to do in this town for God’s sake. 8:30 comes, dinner is totally cold, I haven’t eaten because I  am waiting for you. 9:00, I call tourist police and report you missing.”
I spent the night in Petra,” I explained, “Surely someone has done that before.”
No!” bellows Mahmoud, “Aside of the fact it is illegal, No one else is stupid enough to pay $50 for a bed so they can sleep out on a dusty cliff with scorpions.”
As if on cue, two policeman enter the hotel. They point to me and utter, “The American!”
I haven’t done anything that bad, have I? They aren’t going to cut off my feet for stealing a few extra steps in Petra after closing time? I mean, this isn’t Saudi Arabia, right??! Hell, they already tried to gas me. I stand frozen, no place to run, no place to hide.
They walk over to me, and honestly, are beyond polite. They explain that I was reported missing, and that they just wanted to make sure I was alright. Tourism is one of Jordan’s few forms of foreign currency, and they take the protection of travelers very seriously, not wanting to have their reputation as a safe destination stained. They laugh when I tell them I spent the night in Petra, shaking their heads at the crazy American Cowboy. They leave soon after.
Mahmoud shakes his head. “You make me worry about you. You big asshole. I wake up at 2 AM and call to find out if you came in. I don’t sleep.”
I’m really sorry Mahmoud.” Really I was. How could not be for putting out someone who cared for my well being and had made me dinner. “Is it okay if I go shower?”
Mahmoud dismisses me. I go upstairs and allow the cool water to wash away the dusty sin from my heinous crime. Re-birthed, I walk downstairs.

Mahmoud’s cell phone rings. He immediately switches to English. “Why should I call you? Police call you …” Suddenly I wonder if he’s talking about me. “No, no, you big asshole,” he yells into the receiver. “Okay, okay, I call you next time. Bye-bye big asshole.” He hangs up.

Exploring Petra
That was CIA,” he explains. “My friend mad at me for not calling him the moment you got back. They were about to call your parents to tell them you were missing.”
I couldn’t imagine my poor, overly worried Mother reacting to the news that I was missing in the Middle East, on a trip that she begged me not to go on, telling me she had a “horrible feeling” about it. Turns out that while working with the American army in Fallojuh, Mahmoud had made friends with CIA operatives and had also called them to report that I was hadn’t turned up last night. They were mad that they weren’t the first people he called upon my return, and that it was rather via contact with the Jordanian police that they became aware of my reappearance.
For my part I can only thank God they didn’t call my Mom.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Exploring Petra, Jordan + Spending a Night Illegally in Cave like Al Qaeda

The Magnificence of Petra
Mahmoud drove me to Petra’s gate early in the morning, where I parted with the rather hefty $45 entrance fee, thrilled however to be seeing one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
As I hike the trail, the mountains slowly close around me like the coils of a snake, until I am walking a winding path just a few feet wide, sheer cliffs on either side of me. Ahead, the tunnel opens, sun shining through, its golden light illuminating The Treasury.
Petra's treasury, discovered by Indiana Jones
The Treasury is carved directly into the limestone rock, and received its name because it was rumored that an Egyptian Pharaoh had hidden his wealth inside.
Check out the Treasury!! Move over Indiana Jones

(To see The treasury in person is jaw dropping.)

The magnificent treasury of Petra

Yoni and Zuzka
While admiring the Treasury, a 25 year old Israeli, Yoni, asks me to take a picture of him and his girlfriend, Zuzka.  We start walking around together, agreeing to jointly undertake the exploration of this ancient civilization, with me getting dibs on pharaoh’s treasure.

The many hones in the carved in the mountains of Petra, Jordan
Chiseled in the cliffs are the former residences of these long lost people. We pass by an outdoor coliseum, I daydream about what spectacles were once witnessed here: Gladiator fights? Public executions? Unveiled Muslim women? My fantasy comes to an abrupt end, as none of these are exactly appealing visuals for the imagination.

The coliseum of Petra
We climb the cliffs and admire the surrounding view of the parched mountains, enjoying a lunch consisting of canned tuna and pita bread. As I listen to their travel stories, I realize what I love about trekking the globe are the variety of adventuresome people you meet.
Yoni, in Israeli tradition, is intense, loud, and attempting to renegotiate my claim to pharaoh’s gold. He recently completed his required service in the Israeli army, and is looking forward to marrying his salsa dancing Czech girlfriend, Zuzka, whom he met in South America, the announcement of which I predict will be deemed by Yoni’s mother akin to dropping the Hiroshima nuclear bomb directly on her head, and the radioactive guilt she will release will have a half-life equal to her own.
Zuzka for her part, is a software engineer living in Canada, who lives to travel. She has a very nicely shaped face with a squarish jaw, and being adventurous, open, smart, and brave, I dub her as one of the coolest girls I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

A Brush With Death
We climb the cliffs up and down, dipping into caves, admiring the scenery, exploring as much of Petra as anyone could hope to. Yoni is the best mountain climber of the three of us, and generally leads. The cliffs are generally quite steep, and it becomes important to plan your moves in advance, not to just take the next easiest step.
We begin to climb another mountain, far beyond the path most tourists take. This time I lead. Near the end, the cliff becomes nearly vertical, with few places to grip or place your feet. I’m only ten or so feet from the top. It looks somewhat daunting, but with resolve, I push off from my resting place. I climb the first half with ease, but around ¾ of the way, my grip of the rock starts to slip.
My heart skips a beat, a fall here likely means death, not only for me, but odds are I’ll be taking Yoni and Zuzka with me as they are directly below me. My hand continues to slide off the rock. 
Do something!  
I can’t breathe. With seemingly no other option but to take a mighty gamble, I use what leverage I have from my legs to push upwards on the rock, I rise just enough for my hand to find a slightly better grip. I push off with my legs again and scamper up the remaining distance, and onto a small overhang.
A minute later we are all resting safely on the ledge. I’m not sure if Yoni and Zuzka have any idea how close we were to disappearing in the Middle East, likely to be found by flies and scorpions long before any human.

Middle East Politics
Having survived another cliffhanger brush with death, I throw caution completely to the wind and start discussing politics with an Israeli.
Yoni tells me that he used to dislike thinking of himself as an Israeli, with most of the world hating his country, but today he’s proud of his heritage. I wonder whether just having completed his service in the Israeli army has anything to do with his changing mindset.
He wishes there was peace in his land. He doesn’t like the old guard or the fundamentalists, on either side, that help foment this never ending struggle and hatred. He is hopeful that his generation can do something to change that. He hopes to be one day involved with the political process.
He says that part of the reason the world hates Israel is that the Palestinians have a better PR machine, and control the story much better than the Israelis do.
“I want peace,” states Yoni.
“How would you accomplish that?” I inquire.
“I have a plan,” reveals Yoni, “When I arrive at the forefront, I will change the narrative the world hears. I will tell the Israeli side of the story and as the world understands the Israeli position, the Palestinians will not have the same leverage in negotiations they have now.”
I’m shocked by this response. Changing into a fancier suit and hiring a publicist to sway the opinion of your peers, is a positively futile undertaking, and will never change the underlying relationship between you and your wife, if she continues to show up for events with bruises all over her face. (and of course this goes vice-versa for the Palestinians, as both sides are guilty of shameful deeds)

Residence of ancient Petra
Later on in the conversation, Yoni does an about face, asking whether I know who Gilad Shalit is.
“Yes, the Israeli soldier who was abducted by Hamas in a cross border raid, and sadly, continues to be held, victim of the political struggle.”
Yoni pauses, and then says, with a seemingly guilty conscience, “One Israeli is kidnapped, and we go beserk as a nation. Most days, the IDF, (Israeli Defense Force) kidnaps three Palestinians off the streets, and interrogates, sometimes tortures them, because we think that those individuals will be able to provide intelligence on where the next attack on Israel might come from.”
Violence, coupled with the need to survive, begets more violence, and decency and morality are the first to be thrown by the wayside. Both sides are at fault, in this seemingly ceaseless ideological, egoic struggle for this “holy land.”

(Check out what lies outside the Treasury)
Overnight- Sadaam’s Chemical Weapons
It was getting late, and the three of us were sitting on a ledge high above the ground, playing a game of chicken to see who would buckle first at spending the night in this ancient civilization. No one blinked.
We had water, and some pita bread to last the night, and with the park now closed and the sun setting, and the government workers, apparently unaware of our remaining presence, unleash Sadaam Hussein’s chemical weapons.
A truck, drives down the gorge below, spraying the entire area with a thick poisonous cloud meant to eradicate flies from Jordan’s #1 tourist destination. It seems like overkill, literally, as the toxic haze drifts towards us, causing us to violently cough and flee to the other side of the mountain, moving as quickly over the rocks as the combination of low light and lethal gas chasing us will allow.
Eventually, we reach the peak and descend to the other side, finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. Twenty minutes later, a series of SUV's clamber down the road, shining search lights on the rocks. Are they looking for us? Quite possibly, it’s illegal to spend the night here, not to mention dangerous. Perhaps we should hide.
We duck into a cave, and wait for an hour, murmuring amongst ourselves. The search lights disappear, we head out onto a limestone ledge, a couple hundred feet off the ground. We lay down on the flattest places available and look up at the stars. At three AM the full moon rises over the mountains, showering us with translucent light. Slowly, we go fall sleep, not knowing that the CIA is already working on the case of the missing American in the Middle East(follow up story link)