I spent a few months in Madrid with Amalia and we decided to start traveling together. Don't be too surprised to see us together for the duration. Naturally, I still like to indulge my childish desire to surprise people, but it's getting harder and harder to do. I'm also trying the guessing game thing again. You can see for yourself if it's amusing and clever, or just silly. I'll accept either description :)
This is obviously the ever popular "Let's guess where Wade is!" game. In this particular edition, you also get the added extra bonus... at no extra cost to you... of playing "Let's guess who's traveling with Wade!".
OK, is everybody ready... operators are standing by:
Now on to the second part of the quiz:
OK, we're having fun now. I'll send out the answers in a day or two. If you feel like it, feel free to send me your best guess.
Wade, Amalia and ...
By now, you have probably guessed that I'm in Iran, and I have to say it's an absolutely wonderful place to visit. The people we've encountered are wonderful, friendly, courteous, honest and generally helpful. The accommodations are good, and food and travel are extremely inexpensive. The culture is very interesting, particularly in light of the last 20 years of bad relations between Iran and the USA. It's a great place to get rid of preconceptions. I think I travel with a lot fewer preconceptions than the average traveler, but I still lost a lot of them in just a few days. It's also a great place to examine how the world works and to come to understand the world and its people just a little bit better. Naturally, I'll have a lot more to say about that in my upcoming Middle East Page.
Getting a visa was a bit of a hassle for an American, but other than that this is as good of a place to visit as you could hope for. We started in Tehran for just a day, spent a few days in Esfahan and we're currently in Shiraz. We're heading down to the Persian Gulf next, and then working our way (somehow) back up to the Caspian Sea before returning to Tehran.
If you work at IMPAC, you should by now have guessed that my traveling companion is the ever popular Linda Shen. If you don't work for IMPAC, you have no hope. The attached photos have the fully disclosed members of the first photo.
If some of the clues seemed a bit obscure, let me expand a couple:
The Travel Companion
So there you have it. For those of you that are now in some kind of panic about our safety, let me just say RELAX!! CHILL!! BE CALM!! We're perfectly safe. If I ever go to Miami or Cleveland you can worry, but we're fine here in Iran and quite enjoying the trip.
We plan to tour Iran for 3 weeks (as usual plan may be a bit too strong of a word), and then we'll go through Syria and Jordan. We'll do a day trip to Lebanon if it's convenient and will probably end the trip in Israel/Palestine. We may try to visit a couple of other places if they're handy and we can get visas.
Wade, Amalia and Linda
We're all still here in the Middle East, and have had no problems at all other than too many kebabs. If you're loaded down with the officially approved negative stereotypes for this region, it's time to pack them up and take a new look. We've all been studying the region through meeting with people and reading. I'm finding that I have to rethink quite a lot of what I thought I knew about the place, and I'm having to discard a lot of media-driven impressions I had before. Of course, I'm not going to elaborate the subject to death here, but I think the Middle East Page will be pretty interesting to write.
Amalia, Linda and I traveled together through Iran, Syria and Part of Lebanon. This photo was taken at the home of some people met on the bus to Kerman, Iran. After Beirut, Linda was running out of holiday time and went on to Jordan alone while Amalia and I stayed to spend a few more days in Lebanon rather than go through Jordan. Linda has to finish up and go back home to work this Friday :( Amalia and I have another two weeks, but the work demon will ultimately catch up with us as well at the end of the month.
We're finding the Middle East quite fascinating. Despite all that I read before, I approached the area with a bit of trepidation. In the end we found that it was not scary at all. We have run into NO hostility in the Islamic world at all. I don't mean we haven't run into much... I mean we haven't run into ANY. People here are always friendly, and mostly helpful. You run into the occasional tout trying to sell something just like everywhere else, but we haven't had any real hustlers or cheaters. All in all, we've received as good of a welcome as one could hope to get, and far better than the local residents could expect in the US.
I've been more surprised by some of the things that I've learned here than I'm accustomed to. Lots of the things I've found out are exactly the opposite of what I expected... and that's after I consciously tried to get rid of previous expectations. Some things are as expected, but not as many as I thought. We're seeing places that had a nasty civil war 10 years ago that are rebuilding like mad, and places that have been at peace for 50 years that are falling apart. We've studied everything from the treatment of women in Iran (not as bad as you think), to the hair flattening effect of wearing a scarf (Amalia hates the photo above), to the politics of religion, oil and superpower maneuvering. I have a dozen books in my inbox to read, and after that I think I'll know something.
We've seen some amazing things. We've seen ruins that have been buried in the sand for 1000 years and look better than the new houses they build last week and brand new cars built using a design that hasn't changed since the 70s and only have one window crank for 4 windows. We climbed a 40 story building that was headquarters for the Syrian army in Beirut and still has bomb holes in the walls. We've seen snow capped mountains, deserts, the Persian Gulf, the Caspian Sea, Crusader castles and their Muslim contemporaries, ancient artwork and technology, entire cities made of mud and much more. Linda has been climbing, hiking and caving. We could have gone skiing if we wanted to. Dang, I'm rambling on again, so I guess I'd better slow down or there'll be nothing left to write.
Amalia and I will be in Lebanon for a few more days. We want to see the famous cedar trees and some small towns. We're both quite taken with Lebanon and Iran. After that, we'll take a short stay in Jordan, but we'll skip a lot of the places Linda is seeing. Fortunately, she'll have good photos for us to see. After that, we'll go to Israel/Palestine.
Cheers from Tripoli,
The Intrepid Travelers
I guess I'll just spit it out. Amalia and I are getting married in June! OK, everyone that didn't get the advanced notice can get up off the floor now... or quit saying "I KNEW IT!!"... whichever is appropriate. Amalia and I met just over six months ago in Madrid. We both tried mightily to resist the attraction. I even went so far as to head out for southern Spain to climb the highest road pass in Europe, while Amalia went off in the exact opposite direction to northern Spain to sit around on the beach and be lazy. We ended up almost as far apart as it's possible to be inside Spain. That was like trying to resist gravity though, and Amalia later came to meet me in Portugal. After a week together in Porto, I came back to Madrid and we've been in love and living together ever since. We just finished traveling for 2 months in the Middle East, and that's where we actually decided to get married. We'll be doing one ceremony in Madrid on June 14, and another in California when we get there.
As if marrying me wasn't enough, Amalia has also become a recumbent cyclist. On the way back home from the Middle East, we stopped and bought a Challenge Mistral SWB recumbent bike for her. The story of the purchase is kind of amusing. We researched bikes via the internet until we narrowed the selection down to this one and one other choice. Zach Kaplan gave us some great advice, but unfortunately the logistics of buying it in the U.S. when we lived in Spain proved unworkable. We found a dealer in Amsterdam that had both bikes we were considering, but alas we only had an hours layover in Amsterdam on the way back from the Middle East and couldn't change the ticket. Luck intervened though. We went to the airport in Tel Aviv on the day of our flight and found we had a ticket for a non-existent flight. We had to stay overnight and rebook the next day, and when we rebooked we just inserted an artificial six hour layover in Amsterdam. We went to visit Ligfietswinkel Amsterdam, bought the bike and took it home.
Amalia's bike is a Short Wheelbase (SWB) like mine, but it has two 20 inch wheels instead of one 20 and one 26. It also has Above Seat Steering instead of the Under Seat Steering that I have. It's lower, lighter and a bit faster but not capable of carrying as many bags or as much weight. Think of my bike as a truck, and this as more of a car. It can carry two panniers on the back rack just like mine, but can't handle the two under the seat.
Amalia and I made our first mini-tour last weekend. We went to Chinchon, just southwest of Madrid and back over a weekend. We did 65 km (40 Miles) each of 2 days, which was a pretty good start for someone that has never toured before (and someone that's been sitting around getting fat and lazy for months). We seem like we're going to be a good match for speed and endurance, which will be convenient because we're going to do a couple of real tours later this year. I would tell you where we were going, but where's the fun in that?
Amalia and I are back in Madrid now, and Linda is back home in Mountain View. I'll have to say the Middle East was an intense place, full of educational opportunities. My opinions of some places have gone up, and for others it's gone down. All in all, a fascinating trip and one that I would recommend for anyone, particularly considering how much misunderstanding there is between that region and the West.
I think that's enough news for one email!
Wade & Amalia
Next - Boda (Wedding)