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Category Archives:Middle East

Anzac Day in Gallipoli: Why every Australian Should Make the Journey

This story actually begins the week before my trip to Gallipoli, at the tail end of a whirlwind 4-week tour of Europe in Spring 2010. This very trip culminated in my being stranded in Brussels then Amsterdam the week prior due to a volcano eruption, and it left me wondering if I was going to make my flight from London to Istanbul for the Anzac Day Service in Gallipoli, Turkey.

Spoiler alert: I did make it, but only by a whisper.

I was living in Leeds, England at the time and I eventually got in on Thursday night and I went straight to the pub (The Eldon) to meet my friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. On Friday I unpacked, went to class, repacked, back to The Eldon, then caught a train back down to London from Leeds at 8:40 pm, arriving at 12:30 am for out 6:30 flight. The things you do as a poor student!

Beautiful buildings along the Bosphorus

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Jerusalem: Retracing the Steps of Christ on a Cruise Shore Excursion

A few years ago, at the tail end of my semester in England I spent a week on board a cruise that went around the Mediterranean. As a poor student traveler it was a taste of the luxury life and was very inexpensive. One of the highlights of the cruise was the day spent ashore in Israel.

In particular, we hit sights in Bethlehem and Jerusalem, crossing the border between Israel and Palestine in the process.

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem Israel
Church of the Nativity.

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Visit Iran with Ása of From Ice To Spice | The Nomad Files

asa and andri of from ice to spiceToday I have the privilege to introduce you to Ása, of From Ice to Spice. In my opinion this is one of best up and coming travel blogs I’ve seen in the last few months. Ása and her partner Andri left Iceland and have been slow traveling through Asia and already have some pretty incredible stories – and some incredible pictures! Be prepared, I included a lot! But I’ll let Ása tell the story, please make her feel welcome.

When did you discover that you were a travel fiend and what was the influencing factor?

The travel bug has followed both of us for quite a long time. Before we met we were always searching for an opportunity to escape our little island in the middle of the Atlantic, trying to trick friends to join our adventures. Coincidentally both of us decided to find work abroad during summer holidays back in 2010 and we both ended up in Norway, where we first met. Since then we have exploited every opportunity to travel together, the thing we love most! Continue Reading

Socotra, Yemen with Lil Nicki | The Nomad Files

As I scoured Twitter last week I stumbled upon a travel blog called Adventures of Lil Nicki, who is from Alaska and has been to some incredible places. As I read I was entranced and I realised I just had to get her onto the Nomad Files. Nicki was more than happy to oblige and I think you’ll really enjoy her story, I know I did! Nicki visited Yemen a couple of years ago as a solo female traveler, and despite stricken by war and poverty, she still came out the other side unscathed and with an incredible story.

Hi Nicki, when did you discover that you were a travel fiend and what was the influencing factor?

My parents were always dragging me and my little brother all over Alaska since we were born, and I loved it.  We always had fun and always had crazy stories, but I knew that I wanted to see what else was out there besides my little corner of the Earth, even when I was little. 

When I was 14 years old I left the country for the first time.  We went to a border town in Mexico.  I thought it was absolutely terrifying.  I’d never actually seen real poverty before, not quite like that anyways.  It really bothered me.  I was also 14, when you’re 14 the world still revolves around you, this was the changing point for me and this, this was eye opening.

Right after I turned 16 I was given the opportunity to go down to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico with a girl I did gymnastics with.  I gave international travel another attempt.  I was sold after that.  It turned everything around for me.  I met some great people, realized that poverty isn’t all that scary, it’s just people doing what people do best: surviving.  Surviving isn’t all that terrifying. 

At that point I knew that I would see what else it out there.

Do you have a particular song/video/poem/quote that particularly inspires you to travel?

“If you don’t have a plan, you can end up doing some interesting things.”

             -Karl Pilkington

That quote pretty much sums of my life.  I think if I had followed the plan of action that you think you’re going to do when you’re a kid.  I’d be a musician, first female president of America, kabillionaire, olympic gymnast, married woman with kids. Clearly, I don’t adhere to a plan.

Dar al-Hajar- The Rock Palace, Yemen
Dar al-Hajar- The Rock Palace, Yemen

Can you let us in on a secret? What is one discovery you have made through your travels that really felt like ‘the road less traveled’?

I went to Yemen in early 2014.  Not many make it here.  The fact that every government out there has an advisory out vehemently warning against all travel there, coupled with the fact that the country is viewed as an Al Qaeda militant hotbed is a red flag that it’s going to be void of package holiday tourists.  I was 49.5% convinced that I would be beheaded or kidnapped by what the advisories said.  I was 50.5% convinced I’d have a grand time.  Majority rules.

I even thought I was slightly losing my own damn mind for going there. I wasn’t sure that I should go. I could die over there, I could be kidnapped. But then again that could very well happen at home, hell it may even be more likely that I die at home. I live in the most violent place in America (if you look at it per capita).

When I got onto the island of Socotra was what made me very aware that I was somewhere that only a handful of travelers had made it to.  People lived very traditional lives and are nearly uninfluenced by the outside world. 

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who has been to Yemen before. Apart from neighbourhood Al Qaeda training camps and impending doom, is Yemen known for anything in particular?

There are so many reasons, it should be known.  Not many know what’s there or why it’s relevant in history.  People seem to only know it now for being home to many members of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which was known to be one of the most ruthless terror groups, that is until the Islamic State gained a good foothold and AQAP even stepped aside and said they aren’t even ethical enough to be associated with us.

Sana’a is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.  It clocks in at over 2,000 years old.  The Red Sea port city of Mocha is home to the original mocha coffee beans that were worth some insane amounts of money in 17th century France. 

Yemen, along with Ethiopia claim that the Queen of Sheba (or Bilqis) hailed from there.  It was referred to as The Land of Milk and Honey by Noah’s sons.  It was once a place people came to from all over to gather frankincense and myrrh.  While a place called Shibam is nicknamed the Manhattan of the desert because of the hundreds of years old mud skyscrapers.

Then there is Socotra.  An island that is a world away from any of its neighbors.

A view of the Arher sand dunes from Arher Beach in Socotra
A view of the Arher sand dunes from Arher Beach in Socotra

What did you do there and (why) do I want to visit? 

I got to wander the maze that is old Sana’a with its tall mud buildings that looked like what I had always thought a scene out of Arabian Nights should have looked like. And seeing people carrying about their days for the most part as they would have long ago, although with cars parked along it’s narrow alleys and radios playing.

Then I arrived in Socotra.  The entire island has been preserved as a UNESCO world heritage site.  Much of the islands flora and fauna are found nowhere else on Earth and is described as the ‘most alien looking place on the planet’.  It is home to what without a doubt in my mind are the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the world. 

What took you to Socotra and how did you find out about it? 

I first found out Socotra existed a few years ago, I think in 2011 maybe.  I stumbled across a slideshow list online of unusual places to visit and it popped up.  The pictures of the this strange place stood out from anything else on the list.  I never forgot about it. 

In late 2013 I started thinking of where I should take my next adventure to, and I thought to myself why not Socotra? Which led to ‘well if I have to go through Yemen to get to Socotra, why not see something there too?’.

Endemic Dragon Blood Tree of Socotra
Endemic Dragon Blood Tree of Socotra

Tell me about the food. Was it different to anything you’d experienced before?

The food shares some similarities to their neighbors in the Arabian Peninsula while at the same time having vast differences because of Yemen’s historic isolation from the rest of the peninsula by means of mountains. 

The food was amazing.  I smashed down a lot of Yemeni flatbread while there.  Yemen is known for having the best honey in the world, and rightfully so.  Fuul which is a bean dish made of fava beans and Saltah a meat stew are staples.  Everything is spiced with chilis, and every meal is accompanied by a hot cup of Shai (sweet Yemeni tea).  Goat, lamb and chicken the most common meats to be eaten here, along with seafood in coastal areas as well as Socotra.

The best lobster I have ever eaten was in Socotra.  A local had caught it early in the day and sold it to me, and a local family prepared it. 

What was the culture like? Did you have much interaction with the locals?

I had plenty of interactions with the locals.  People in both the mainland of Yemen and Socotra were very friendly, along with being curious about me.  While in mainland Yemen I chose to wear a long black dress and a black head scarf (it’s not required).  I didn’t want to stand out any more than I already would. 

People would come up and say “Salaam Alaykum” (meaning “peace be unto you”).  People would say names of other countries and cities in the Middle East in an attempt to guess where I was from (I was told I looked very Lebanese by a couple of people, and also was pegged as being from Tehran and Morocco from a number of people).

In Socotra I got to know my guide and driver very well.  I got to hear about their families and meet their friends.  I ate all my meals with them, I actually even still keep in contact with them.  I got to meet villagers.  Kids were very curious, and all wanted to me take their pictures to bring home with me.

Catching fish in the Detwah Lagoon in Socotra.
Catching fish in the Detwah Lagoon in Socotra.

Beyond eating copious amounts of flatbread and finding ways to avoid being captured by terrorist militants, do you have any tips on how to get the most out of Yemen?

Well I would wait for the current upheaval to end in Yemen.  They have been teetering on the brink of civil war even before the Houthi’s overthrow of the Saleh government in September of 2014.  It’s extremely volatile there as of now.  Along with a bombing campaign led by Saudi Arabia to take out Houthi targets and the alleged on the ground proxy war being fought between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Your only option to visit Yemen is to book through an authorized tour agency. You must be accompanied by a guide.  Since I was headed to Socotra, I booked with Socotra Eco-Tours.  They arranged everything including my guide in Sana’a.  They also arrange your visa for you. 

For the best experience after arriving I would recommend being open minded to everything.  It’s a vastly different place from your day to day life in the western world, all while having plenty of similarities.  At the end of the day people are people no matter where in the world you’re at.  More than anything else just take in everything around you.  It’s a truly beautiful and unique place.

Old Sana'a, Yemen
Old Sana’a, Yemen

Last question, where do you live on the internet and social media for us to all come visit?

The Adventures of Lil Nicki blog at www.adventuresoflilnicki.com

As well as:

on Facebook at www.facebook.com/adventuresoflilnicki

Twitter as: @advenlilnicki

and Instagram as: @adventuresoflilnicki

Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your adventure to Yemen, Nicki. It sounds like you can’t get much further from the beaten path than Yemen so it was great to hear about it from the inside. 

If you would like to be a part of the Nomad Files, send me an email to luke@backstreetnomad.com, and we’ll get started.

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Culture Beyond Cairo: Exploring the Rest of Egypt

Culture beyond cairo

About a year ago I began a three part series on Egypt that I deemed to be as sporadic as it was un-chronological. True to my word, just over a year later I have returned to the theme to finish what I started.

As any trip to Egypt will, my adventure began in Cairo, which you can read all about in Part 2.

I was a part of a 9 day Top Deck Tour and after 2 days and 1 night in Cairo 11 of us boarded a night train bound for Aswan. It took 15 whole, damn, bloody hours but as promised on my ticket, eventually we got there. I was lucky enough to get a few hours sleep, but they weren’t good ones.

Not being an engineer, it was hard to really appreciate  the beauty or the scale of the Aswan High Dam, which was our first taste of Aswan after the hotel. Physically speaking, the dam looked like a damn dam, but I look at numbers for a living. Not a bad view though.

Aswan High Dam
Aswan High Dam

Thankfully, our tour of Egypt would be more than just modern engineering feats. In fact come to think of it, much of it is actually ancient engineering feats – but at least I understand that that the were about 5,000 years behind in technology. We boarded a small boat and landed not far away at Philae Temple. After they dammed the Nile in the 1960s this temple was flooded, which you can actually see from the water marks on it. Not to be deterred, and ever proud of their ancient history the Egyptian government and UNESCO moved it to this site in higher ground. Piece. By. Piece.

We had the most amazing Egyptologist take us through as well. His name was Nuby, he was about 60 years old and just like an old storyteller. At the temple we all sat around him for him to tell us all about it. We also helped him with his English as he is writing a book. As you would learn in my first post in this series Floating on a mattress down the Nile, half what I loved about Egypt is the people. The ones I came across were so kind, always wanting to meet you, play, dance and interact. Nuby was no different.

In the morning we caught a boat down the Nile towards a Nubian village. On the way out there we saw a most unusual sight: 5 boats tied together, motoring down the river. It was hard to make out but I think it was some sort of wedding. Regardless it’s a pretty cool way to party.

5 boats together in Aswan Egypt
Boat party down the Nile

As we neared the village we dropped off early and took a camel the rest of the way. Again, all the locals were really helpful and were loving taking photos for us. Perhaps they wanted a tip but unfortunately I left my wallet in my other pants.

Riding a Camel in Aswan
Riding a Camel in Aswan

In the village we were shown through a primary school and in a classroom a Nubian gave us a short lesson in Arabic and Nubian, of which I now remember zero. It was light and entertaining and somehow I ended up getting the cane.

Learning Arabic in Aswan Egypt
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Nearby was a local’s home where we had organised to have a traditional dinner. It was a really interesting day and so different to the rest of my trip. A real experience of a local culture which I had never experienced anything like before.

I want to say the next day, but it was practically that night, at 2:30 am we got the wakeup call to join a police convoy at 3:30 to Abu Simbel. It was a 3 hour drive there to see 2 temples that at the time I did not appreciate, and therefore thought 6 hours in a cramped minivan (and being woken up at 2:30) was not worth it.

But hindsight is a beautiful thing. I don’t even remember what that drive was like.

But what I do remember is being in awe of the sunrise as it majestically rose over the Sahara Desert.

What I do remember is learning about the significance of the site which also had to moved piece by piece to save it from flooding.

What I do remember is having an experience of cultural significance that I will never forget. How tired was it? Couldn’t tell you.

Abu Simbel - To give you an idea of scale
Abu Simbel – To give you an idea of scale

We returned to Aswan and taken aboard the least luxurious (but also the most luxurious) cruise you’re likely to ever set foot on. And you can read all about that in Part 1. But after 2 nights of relaxing on the felucca, football with local Nubians, dancing with local kids around the fire and drinking beers in the Nile, I was not ready to disembark.

We boarded the bus bound for Luxor, first stop: Karnak Temple and Luxor temple. Our Egyptologist told us so much info about it but have no idea what. Sometimes you just tune out ya know?

He could read hieroglyphics pretty well though and that was very interesting to learn about how to interpret them and how the Rosetta Stone taught us how to translate.

Statues at Karnak Temple
Statues at Karnak Temple

After more Egyptian food for dinner, a walk through the markets was required, where it legitimately seemed that at least 2 people from each shop invited us to “spend our money” there. They weren’t real creative with their marketing.

It wouldn’t be a trip to a Muslim country without trying some shisha though. Like with most things that are bad for your health the name of the game is perseverance. Keep trying until you can puff without coughing. And having now done so successfully, I just wish I brought some back.

Getting the hand of shisha
Getting the hand of shisha

Next morning, another early start brought us to the Valley of the Kings, which was really something special. We visited 3 tombs of ancient Egyptian kings: Thutmosis, Sethy II, Ramses III, and of course the one and only King Tutankhamen, who was easily the highlight. When he was buried he was put inside four coffins, I saw 2 in the Cairo museum, the other 2 were in this tomb along with his mummy, which is kinda creepy: I was literally looking at a 4000 year old dead guy.

Literally around the corner is the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut’s (who we nicknamed Hotchipsoup), which was created solely because, being a queen, she could by definition not be buried in the Valley of the Kings. There was ample opportunity here to take an epic amount of touristy photos. I mean, generally, it feels tacky doing it then looks tacky in the photos but for some reason on this day, a total of zero fucks were given.

Epic Tourist photos at Temple of Queen Hatshepsut
Epic Tourist photos at Temple of Queen Hatshepsut

By nightfall only three of us were left on the tour and we boarded another train that would take us the 15 hours back to Cairo. What I didn’t realise was that, as a rule, these trains are often oversold. My friend had decided to continue the tour and not return to Cairo and being a naive 21 year old I figured “woohoo, now I get a spare seat to spread out across”.


Within minutes I had denied 2 people access to my seat, because I figured “I have two tickets, so I get two seats”.

What was I thinking?

After a couple of times I realised that the alternative for these people was spending the next 15 hours on the floor near the doors. So I ended up being generous and letting someone have my spare seat.

I’m glad I’ve matured since then.

Well, it’s been a year but I’m glad to have finished the saga. The tale of my adventure in Egypt has come to it’s rightful end, right in the middle.

Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 in case you need catching up.

And if here’s a slide show of pictures from the same trip as posted on Showzee.

Have you been to Egypt?

If you’ve been I’d love to hear about some of your experience. Let me know in the comments below. And if you really liked this (or even just somewhat) sign up to my email list below for monthly(ish) updates. This will also open the door to a mini ebook I wrote filled with the Essential Travel Apps I cannot travel without.

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