Discovering Dubai: Burj Khalifa

Hello Dear Readers!

Ok, I promise this is the last post about Dubai. I just really enjoyed it, ok? PJ and I had a really awesome time there, and I would absolutely go back.

I think probably the most touristy thing we did (ok, everything we did was touristy) was visit the Burj Khalifa. We lucked out, since the time it takes to get to the top usually takes around two hours. I picked a time in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, during Ramadan, which meant that it was empty and we walked on.

The Burj Khalifa is really cool, and the views from the top are spectacular:

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It’s obviously a necessary stop if you’re in Dubai.

After this are posts from my new favorite place…Tahiti! Catch you guys on the flip side!

-Carissa

Discovering Dubai: Iftar Japanese Style

Hello Dear Readers!

I am slightly ashamed of this. Like, very very slightly. But my favorite iftar meal wasn’t Arab at all. It was Japanese.

Listen, we all know that Japanese food is not cheap. Sushi rolls cost, as does sashimi, teppanyaki, and the many other accoutrements that come with a Japanese style meal.

But what…what if it was all unlimited, for one price?

What if a Japanese restaurant was celebrating Ramadan with their own version of an iftar buffet?

Enter PJ and Carissa.

Looking fly AF, we rolled up into the Kanpai Japanese Restaurant with a BOGO coupon and appetites whetted by a nearly full day without eating.

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So fly

And oh, did we eat.

We. Ate.

Did I mention that this particular iftar also included unlimited alcoholic drinks?

Let’s just say that our buffet lasted a full two hours, and spanned from an entire range of appetizers (edamame, tempura, prawns, egg rolls, pot stickers- two platters of these)

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To 5 different sushi rolls as well as sashimi (I ate it!)

And finally our entrees, which consisted of both steak and chicken teppanyaki, as well as bowls of fried rice.

This was all followed up with both desserts available on the menu- fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and also a scoop of gelato.

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Liberally mixed in with all of this were four large glasses of red wine.

And you have our Japanese iftar.

It. Was. Glorious.

Afterwards, we shambled through the Dubai Mall, trying desperately to look sober.

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Act. Sober.

I’m like 99% certain it didn’t work.

-Carissa “Why Don’t My Pants Fit?” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: The Dubai Mall

Hello Dear Readers!

For obvious reasons, we spent most of our time in Dubai indoors. This meant we were constantly looking for cool new things to do. (Thanks Entertainer app!) It also meant we spent a lot of time in the malls, where all the awesome activities are.

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Like ice skating

In fact, after our day trip to Oman, we re-showered, got re-ready, and went back out to the Dubai Mall. Since PJ didn’t really care for our Arab iftar the night before, we decided to go full American and hit up the Rainforest Cafe. Yes, it was delicious. But someone really needs to train the Emiratis on how to make chicken fried chicken. I mean, they gave us brown gravy instead of country gravy? It was a travesty, really.

Then we watched the Dubai Fountains, which were really really cool:

We also went to the ‘Aquarium and Underwater Zoo,’ which sounds really cool, right?

Yeah..so…the ‘aquarium’ part was just a single underwater tunnel that you walk through. I mean they literally have one aquarium tank. The rest of it was way cooler, but when PJ and I walked out the other side, we looked at each other confused, like “is this it?” It truly was.

To make up for it they have a gigantic crocodile, but still. Don’t sell me a ticket for your aquarium of one tank, all right?

To head off the night, we got some freshly made nitrogen ice cream, which pushed our waistbands to an uncomfortable point. Ramadan!

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Waiting for the fountains

-Carissa “Is this Authentic?” Rawson

 

 

Discovering Dubai: Daytripping to Oman

Hello Dear Readers!

After my inglorious defeat by the bunny slope at Ski Dubai, I really needed a pick-me-up. So I was looking forward to our day trip up the coast of Oman, which promised “snorkeling, banana boat rides, fishing, an international buffet, and unlimited drinks,” all in a dhow boat that sailed up the coast.

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I’m on a boat!

Well…there was a boat…and I suppose it was a dhow boat? But it was a motorboat, not a sailboat, and the temperature was roughly 100 degrees. This meant it was too hot for fishing, and since it was Ramadan all the drinks were non-alcoholic.

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And…I guess the water in Oman is not to be outdone by the temperature outside, since the water was roughly 98 degrees. Maybe hotter, even. Like getting into a really hot shower after a hard workout and you’re already overheated.

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At least it’s pretty?

Despite these things, the day was pretty fun. We spent most of it chilling on the deck, and when we finally stopped for the snorkeling/swimming/beach time, PJ and I decided to ignore the speedboat to the shore in favor of swimming there.

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Our original beach destination

……

No, we didn’t make it. If you need a speedboat to get there, you’re probably not going to have a fun time attempting to swim there.

However! We did make it to the closer beach, which was totally abandoned. We hung out there and recovered before heading back to the boat, covered in some kind of weird mud/slime that wouldn’t come off no matter how hard we tried.

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The much more attainable beach

This, we found out from the guide, was actually crude oil.

I guess that’s how you know the Middle East is literally swimming in oil.

Get it? Get it?

I felt like one of those baby birds in an oil spill except way less tragic since I washed it off later that night.

We also sailed by a limestone cave, and PJ took a thousand photos of it as quickly as possible because we weren’t able to stop. (Due to the waves).

And there’s one more thing. By the time we returned from the boat ride, all of us in our tour group were thoroughly overheated. Like, heat exhaustion overheated.

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We’re meeeeelting

So we climbed gratefully into our air conditioned mini van and cranked up the A/C. PJ and I were in first, so it was our honor to do so.

There are two levers in the van, you see. There’s one up top, with a hi-lo setting, and one, on the left, with the same setting. So I- yes it was me- flipped them both to max and settled in to cool down.

There were ten of us in the van, you see. So we just thought that perhaps our combined body heat defeated the A/C. After an hour of sweltering doom, finally, the guy in the back pipes up, “hey, the A/C isn’t working.” The driver, hearing this, immediately turns around, flips the lever on the left, and glares at me. I guess…I guess that was the heat. And I had accidentally set it to max. This was while the A/C was simultaneously blasting on max, which meant that the A/C, which came from the vents above, was trying desperately to cool the floor, which was lava, because that’s where the heat was pumping out.

It was so bad I had already taken my feet and legs off the floor and laid them on the transmission, which was only scalding instead of lava.

I tried my best to look innocent. I really did. PJ and I looked at each other and stifled maniacal laughter as everyone tried to figure out what the driver had done to save us all.

No, I didn’t claim responsibility. I wouldn’t have made it back to Dubai alive.

-Carissa “It Was Me!” Rawson

Discovering Dubai: Skiing in the Summer

Hello Dear Readers!

I’m just going to go ahead and admit now that I booked these tickets to Dubai solely on the fact that I knew Dubai was this insane city of gleaming metal and novelties, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint.

Now, Dubai may be short on the whole Arab culture thing (almost no one is actually Emirati), but what it does have is style. Lots and lots of style. Think of Dubai like a gleaming, un-trashy version of Las Vegas. Everything is huge, glittering, and gaudy, and almost everything there is built for your amusement.

Which is how we came to Ski Dubai. Surely everyone by now has heard of the mall with a ski slope built inside? I certainly had, and I made sure that I had skiing at the mall on my to-do list of UAE activities.

Shout out here to Hairless Hannah, whose advice about Dubai I stumbled across in January, and whose recommendation to use the Entertainer app saved me almost $400 between food and activities. This is her post here, if you’d like to check it out. Essentially, you buy the Entertainer app and it gives you massive quantities of buy one get one free specials, which is basically how PJ and I dictated where we ate and a lot of the things we did.

We used one such coupon for our first day at Ski Dubai, which includes a snow park as well as the ski slopes.

That’s right. We, PJ and I, bobsledded down a hill, threw snowballs at each other, rode inner tubes down a half pipe, and climbed inside an enormous rubber ball before we decided to pick up our skis and try out the slopes. I promise we are adults.

If you all recall, I’ve really only skiied once before, during a Valentine’s Day trip earlier this year. I took lessons for a day in an effort to avoid re-breaking my tailbone and ankle like I had the first time I attempted skiing. I did great! However, it had been months since that lesson, and I was feeling decidedly nervous hopping back onto skis. I think it has something to do with my tragic first time.

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Anyway, I forced PJ to go down the bunny’s bunny slope with me a few times before I finally mastered the courage to head up to the regular bunny slope.

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Also, side note here, I would just like to say that Ski Dubai is really cool. It’s got 5 different slopes, from beginner to expert, and they’ll sell you a full day lift ticket (like 9am-11pm) for 80 bucks. There’s no wind or sun, and though it’s cold, they also give you snow clothes to wear while you’re inside. The snow gets a little packed by the end of the day, but overall it’s not super busy and it’s probably one of the best/cheapest places to learn to ski.

I got my ski legs back pretty quickly, and finally felt confident enough to try out the bigger slope. There’s only one problem. The only way to get up there is via the drag lift, which is a little pole that slides between your legs and literally drags you on your skis up the mountain.

To date, I have never successfully ridden a ski lift. This now also includes the drag lift. I ate it on a corner where the lift changes pulleys (people fall so often they have someone stationed there) and was so embarrassed that I ended up trudging back down the slope. No, I couldn’t ski it. It was the black diamond slope, and I wasn’t about to attempt that immediately after beefing it on the stupid drag lift.

I returned shamefully to the smaller hill, where I immediately fell down for the first and only time of the day.

Confidence is key folks, and I know when I’m beaten. I took my skis off and went home for the day.

However! The Entertainer app had one coupon left for a BOGO full day ski slope ticket, so PJ and I decided to return for our final day in Dubai.

First, we spent the greater part of the day tanning at the pool in 110 degree weather. Then, when we were nice and overheated, we returned to the hotel room, cleaned up, checked out, and dragged our luggage back to the Mall of the Emirates (for free luggage storage) before hitting the slopes from about 5pm-8:30pm. No, it wasn’t a full day, but we had planes to catch.

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This time went much better! It took me a lot longer to get my groove back, but once I got going I started nailing the carving.

No, I didn’t try the drag lift again. I think I may be cursed.

Anyway, we had a blast and spent our last few hours in Dubai carving up the slopes before heading home.

I’ve got more stories from our trip ahead!

-Carissa “Snow Bunny” Rawson

Discovering Dubai

Hello Dear Readers!

As you all know, I had just recently hopped a plane from Ethiopia back to Dubai, in order to meet my brother PJ for our six days in the UAE.

I wrote about coming here earlier this year, and explained how I used both the Citi Prestige 4th night free and a promotion from Starwood that gave me two more free nights in order to stay six nights for the price of three at the St. Regis Dubai. This is important, because the hotel is way too expensive for me to stay at otherwise. Our room was fantastic, and I took a couple surreptitious photos of the hotel as possible, so you guys could see the kind of ridiculous luxury of the hotel.

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Now, one of the best parts of the St. Regis brand is the inclusion of a 24 hour butler service, which brings your luggage up for you, unpacks it, provides tea and coffee service on request, and presses two items of clothing per day for free. As you guys can see from the photo below, the only thing I had with me was my backpack, which was full of dirty laundry to boot, so I declined the unpacking service offered. Something about a tuxedo clad butler pulling out a plastic bag full of dirty laundry felt a little less than…luxurious. Especially when that was all I had!

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Pictured: All my luggage

However, since the hotel had me feeling all kinds of fancy, I sprung for a real wash with their laundry service, and my clothes (and nearby strangers) thanked me for the cleaning in a washing machine rather than a sink. Don’t ask me how much it cost.

I had an entire day to myself before PJ showed up, and since my flight from Ethiopia didn’t land until 4am, I slept in pretty late. That is, until a butler showed up with a fruit platter and I answered the door in my underwear. I’ve had better days.

Did you guys know it’s Ramadan? When I bought the tickets to Dubai, I didn’t even think about it, but the city essentially shuts down during the day for the entire month. Eating and drinking in public is against the law, and if you’re a dirty heathen they have special segregated areas for you to satiate your hunger if you must eat.

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Shamelessly drinking coffee during daylight hours.

However, being Ramadan meant there were all kinds of awesome feasts going on every single night. Obviously PJ and I took full advantage of it, and devoured quantities of food that would otherwise be shameful. Don’t worry, full details are coming.

Like I said, I was there alone for the first day, so I ended up doing iftar (breaking of the fast) by myself. I asked the St. Regis concierge to arrange a reservation for me, and *deigned* to allow the chauffeur service to drive me to the restaurant.

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This will suffice.

If you guys aren’t familiar with Ramadan, and iftar, it’s a time that’s very family/ friend oriented, and everyone heads out in large parties to celebrate together. So when I showed up alone, in the middle of Dubai, I attracted many strange looks. Nevertheless, the food was amazing and threw me straight back to Jordan (which I only left a little over a month ago. Isn’t that weird?) I really miss that place! Anyway, PJ showed up around 11pm, and we stayed up late before heading to our supremely comfortable beds in preparation for the busy days ahead.

Looking forward to telling you about them!

-Carissa “I swear I’m super rich” Rawson

 

Being Balinese

Hello Dear Readers!

So, now you guys know all about my sad SCUBA failures. Seeing myself incapable of accomplishing my certificate, I suddenly had two free days in Bali.

What to do?

I ended up spending the time with Steve and Deja. Our first day, we went to Kuta Beach, which is Bali’s most famous beach. It’s beautiful, but the persistent hawkers are really aggressive and won’t leave you alone. It kind of ruins the experience.

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Ruined!

We ate lunch at Tony Roma’s. I know. But it was delicious!

It also happened to be David’s birthday, so Steve and Deja arranged for a cake for him and I booked us some reservations at a restaurant. I literally googled ‘best restaurants in Bali’ and this place came up. Called ‘Barbacoa,’ it took us an hour to get there…but the food was beyond incredible. We had fresh street tacos and Cuban sliders, followed by the world’s most amazing creme’ brûlée. Not to brag, but I picked basically the best place ever.

The next day, while David went off to finish his diving cert, Steve, Deja and I headed off on a tour of Balinese Temples.

I think this was actually my favorite day in Bali overall. It took the entire day, and we stopped in so many cool places.

The first temple, named Batukaru, was located deep in the mountains:

 

Then we stopped off at Bali’s largest rice paddies to get some incredible photos:

After this, our guide took us to the top of a mountain, where we could see Bali’s twin lakes, Tambinglan and Buyan:

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And listen you guys, I’m a total sucker for animal photos. While we were walking around taking pictures of the lakes, I saw a guy advertising photos with a bunch of different animals. I mean, I couldn’t say no to holding a bat! I even peer pressured Steve and Deja into doing it, which is how we got these photos:

I still crack up every time I look at them.

After hanging out with all those guys, we headed down to the lake temple, Pura Bedugul, which is apparently really famous and iconic, but I’m kind of clueless so I didn’t realize:

Also, here’s a photo of our guide accidentally taking a selfie while trying to photograph us:

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We ate lunch here, which like all the rest of the food in Bali, was delicious. We didn’t have a single bad meal while we were there.

Finally, for our last stop, we headed to the cliff temple, Pura Tanya Lot,  which is Bali’s most famous. The reason why is obvious:

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After all this, we headed back to our villa to meet David for dinner. Yes, it was great.

 
-Carissa “Cultural AF” Ragland

A SCUBA Disaster

Hello Dear Readers!

You guys remember how I talked about going to get my SCUBA open water certificate? Remember how excited I was?

Yeahhhhh.

Our third day started all right, as David and I headed out to the dive center in order to begin our certification. After 5 hours of classroom work (sitting and watching videos), we finally managed to get out and get our gear. Every certification class starts with pool dives, to teach you all the basic skills before trying your hand in open water.

It wasn’t so bad, at first. Our instructor made us swim laps and then float around to prove our competency in water (easy), and then we climbed into our wetsuits. We figured out our air tanks, slipped into the water, and then pulled the gear on. Not bad, right?

I have to tell you, the feeling of breathing underwater is pretty unreal. Snorkeling does a decent simulation of it, but nothing prepares you for those first few breaths from a regulator and air tank.

Now, I have claustrophobia, which almost never impacts my life. I simply loosen seat belts, avoid tiny boxes, and otherwise stay out of possibly compromising situations. Do you guys see where this is going? If so, you’re smarter than me, because I didn’t.

I did all right, all the way until we were required to remove our air supplies and throw them away. We then had to find them, put them back in our mouths, and clear them of water. Unfortunately for me, my mask was crappy and ill-fitting, which meant every time I cleared the regulator, my mask popped off my face and filled with water.

This gave me the very real and uncomfortable feeling of drowning.

We had to do this several times, and every time my discomfort grew, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore and popped up out of the water. Dragging my mask off my face, I tried to calm down, while the instructor looked on in concern.

There were only 4 of us total, David and I, who were learning, the instructor, and a guy named Paul who was learning to become a Divemaster. Thus, when I had to pause, everyone surfaced and spent 5 long minutes staring at me. Anyone ever calmed down under pressure? Yeah, I thought not.

I finally managed to catch my breath and get situated again, so back down we went. Our next task was then to purposefully fill our masks with water and sit with them on your face. I did manage to do this, as horrific as it was, but my panic levels were sitting pretty near the surface.

Thus, when the next task came, and the instructor came to take away my air supply, I scrambled away.

It was too much. I surfaced again, and this time I couldn’t calm down enough to try again. The feeling of all that water overhead, with no way out and no way to fix things if something goes wrong…it was not something I could handle. I usually pride myself on being able to take on most anything, but you guys, it takes a certain kind of person to willingly fake drown themselves under 60 feet of water. I am not that person.

David is though! He successfully completed his SCUBA certification, and has provided me with lots of lovely photos for the blog:

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I spent the next two days hanging out with Steve and Deja, which I’ll tell you guys about soon.

-Carissa “Not the Drowned God” Ragland

Hiking Kawah Ijen- The Blue Fire Volcano

Hello Dear Readers!

Have any of you ever had an idea that sounded really good in theory? And then when you went to carry it out, your expectations were nowhere near reality?

Yeah, me too.

Enter Kawah Ijen, the blue fire volcano. Located on the island of Java, it’s one of two places in the world (the other being Iceland) where you can see blue flames burning in the middle of an acid lake.

Which means you have to hike the volcano in the middle of the night, so you can see the lights. It also means you get to see the sunrise from the lip of the volcano, an unparalleled view in a world where raw beauty is rapidly disappearing.

Sounds amazing, right?

Since we were on the island of Bali, we had to make the trek down to the tip of the island, take a ferry, and then drive all the way to the volcano. Our driver picked us up at 7pm, and we got to the volcano at midnight. We were early, so we sat around for an hour before finally beginning the journey.

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Now, I had read reviews of this hike, which called it “easy,” “disappointingly short,” and “not at all difficult.” So I had some pretty simple expectations for the hike. I mean, it was 1am, in the dark, and it was raining. An easy hike was what I was looking for.

I can only assume that the people who wrote those reviews are crossfitting maniacs who enjoy grueling and painful punishment. It took us several hours to get to the top, slipping through the mud and trying to work through calf, quad, and butt cramps.

But the reward was going to be worth it!

The blue flames are actually a result of sulfur gas burning, which means that the air is really toxic. Thus, they give you gas masks in order to get near the flames, which sounds really metal. So we were pretty excited when, after a few hours, we finally crested the top and caught our first glimpse of the flames.

It was unreal.

Aaaaaand that was it.

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Expectation
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Reality

Since it was raining, we weren’t able to actually go down into the crater. We didn’t need our gas masks, we were stuck on the windy top of the mountain, and it was raining. We had also gotten separated on the way up, which meant we had to wait around for over an hour to get together, at which point dawn was near.

Our guide told us we could hike another half mile up, if we wanted, to go see the acid lake and the sunrise.

So we ran up to the top as quickly as we could in order to catch the sun coming up. We needn’t have worried, of course, as the rain clouds obscured the sun anyways.

But! We did get some really cool photos of the acid lake!

It then took another hour and a half to hike back down, and we ate breakfast at the restaurant at the bottom. All told, we finally left Kawah Ijen at 7am, making it back to our villa at 4pm the next day. Yeah, it was nearly a 24 hour trip. To say we were exhausted would be an understatement.

Although almost everything failed due to the rain and cold, we still had a decent climb going up, and seeing the sulfur lake was pretty awesome. Was it what I was expecting? Not in the slightest. But pretty cool anyways.

Speaking of unmet expectations, just wait until you guys hear about my SCUBA adventures.

-Carissa “Please Let Me Sleep” Ragland

Beautiful Bali

Hello Dear Readers!

So I finally finished out my Europe/Middle East trip, and just yesterday made it home back to the United States. My flight took off from Madrid at 10am and I landed safely in Sacramento at midnight. It was a horribly long amount of time to travel, but Nala was very well behaved and I even made a few new friends who were stuck sitting next to me (for like…8 hours).

I managed to stay a full 30 hours in California, during which time I did a load of laundry (that’s all my clothes, really) ate real Mexican food, went to a concert (my kid brother’s band concert) and bought some new things from Target. I love America!

Alas, I am now back aboard a plane, currently headed to Houston. There, I’ll be meeting David, Steve (David’s older brother), and Deja (sister-in-law). We’re heading from Houston to Bali, with a day-long layover in Singapore. It should be fun. (This is all past tense. The flight was super long and we crashed out in the lounge in Singapore for the entire day).

Did I show you guys pictures of the Villa we got in Bali? AirBnB also does luxury rentals, and we’ll be staying there for about $150/night. I’ll be sure to take some good photos while we’re out there.

We’re doing all kinds of amazing stuff: an ATV ride on the beach, a nighttime hike past a blue fire volcano, snorkeling, aaaaand getting Scuba certified! I felt like it was really time, since I’ve got so many upcoming trips where the diving is supposed to be amazing. (Great Barrier Reef, anyone?)

Tales of our adventures to follow!

-Carissa “Scuba Steve” Ragland