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.

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?…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!

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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.

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.

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


Exploring Ethiopia: The Merkato

Hello Dear Readers!

This is my last post on my Ethiopia trip. Next up…Dubai!

Our entire trip in Ethiopia was jam packed. The country is huge, and we only had five days to spend, so making the most of our time was really important. Thus, we found ourselves on the last day of the trip having spent some serious time outside of the city, but not much time inside Addis Ababa itself. The Merkato, then, is supposed to be one of the best things to visit inside the city, aptly described as ‘a world unto itself.’ I had originally (and incorrectly) decided that we could visit by ourselves. I was disabused of that notion immediately upon my arrival to Ethiopia, so booked us both a full city tour with a guide (via Viator), who took us through the Merkato.

Words fail me here. The Merkato is…huge, a sprawling mass of commerce. It’s concentrated wealth, business, tourism, and poverty all in one place. It’s a teeming mass of humanity that thrives on the countless customers from across the country.

We had no business being there.

Still, our guide led us adroitly through the narrow alleyways, wending his way through the ironworks, the spice market, the basket weavers, and the textile center, never losing his way as he dragged us across the muddy pathways.





It was incredible.






Since the Merkato is well-known as the home of those with the stickiest fingers (so, so, many pickpockets) Harrison and I both walked with our hands inside our pockets. I bought a money belt just for this trip, but managed to forget it in my suitcase, so my cell phone was literally tucked into the waistband of my pants. I let Harrison take all the photos, (I’m not risky enough) which led to a ridiculous situation, in which we were making our way through various piles of injera baskets (of course) and he took his hands out of his pockets (with his phone) in order to take photos of the market.

Immediately, this ragged little kid darted up, his hands reaching for Harrison’s pockets, which I swiftly hip-checked out of the way. I mean they were empty, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.

I then turned full around, faced the kid, who stared unabashedly into my eyes, and shook my head. He grinned at me, knowing full well that I had caught him, then continued to follow us for another five minutes, reaching every so often for one of our pockets.

That cheeky little bugger.

In the end, nothing was stolen and we exited the Merkato, heads spinning and eyes wide open. It was a really cool end to a really cool trip.


A few other notes before I wrap up. Ethiopia is not the easiest country to navigate, with hardly any internet capability. My T-Mobile plan, sadly, did not provide me data, and social media within the country is literally blocked (Facebook, WhatsApp, Gmail, etc.)

A VPN will save you from most of those troubles, if you can find WiFi. Hola VPN on the Chrome browser works well, and the iTunes stores has a number of free VPN apps as well.

As for getting around, I used the Addis Map, which cost me ten bucks on Amazon and saved my butt numerous times.

Apparently, (though I didn’t buy one), SIM cards in Ethiopia are dirt cheap. So bringing an unlocked phone and buying a local SIM card should do you good.

Please haggle, haggle, haggle. With everything from souvenirs to taxi drivers, everywhere you go, people are sizing you up and overcharging you to see what you’ll pay. Don’t be fooled, most of those prices can be cut in half.

Finally, both Viator and Go Addis offer some really cool tour options, each of which provided friendly, professional service. We had an excellent time with them, and I’d recommend them to anyone looking for a good tour guide.

My time spent in Ethiopia was just the beginning of a love for Africa, and I look forward to heading back to explore some more in the future.

Until then, I’ll feast myself on some injera.

-Carissa “The Unpickpocketed” Rawson

Exploring Ethiopia: Hiking the Hills

Hello Dear Readers!

This post isn’t going to be too long today, since I have copious amounts of photos to show you. Our third day in Ethiopia started early as well, with a two hour trek to the Debanos Monastery, stopping along the way to check out the wild baboons that hang out nearby:


Then, a friendly monk showed us around the Monastery:

We then made our way to the Portuguese Bridge, so named not because they built it, but because it looks similar to a style they… would… make? At least that’s what they told us. It’s the beginning of the wet season in Ethiopia, so the huge waterfall that normally runs through it was quite small, and we were able to get some really stunning photos:

We also hiked a bit further, to overlook the Blue Nile Gorge and the vast countryside of Ethiopia:



Overall, the day was amazing, and we got to see some once-in-a-lifetime views that I wish my photos did justice. In short, go visit Ethiopia! It’s beautiful.

-Carissa “I Need a Professional Camera” Rawson

Exploring Ethiopia: Wenchi Crater Village and Lake

Hello Dear Readers!

I left off yesterday after some of our culinary adventures in Addis Ababa. Our food throughout our journey was much the same, in that we ate massive quantities of injera and almost nothing else. It was delicious in the way that a piece of bread to a starving man is delicious; which is to say: it did the job but I’m not going to search for it back home.

Anyway, our second day in Addis Ababa dawned bright and early, and we headed out on our tour at 9am. (That is totally early!) We hadn’t booked a private tour, but no one else was signed up, so it was literally us and our two guides.

Wenchi Crater Lake is an extinct volcano, and I had heard really good things about it, so I booked our full day tour via Viator , which was one of the only online booking sites to work in Ethiopia. (Most others required several emails back and forth, while Viator allowed for instant booking).

The drive was around two hours, and the lake was good, but on the way we had an opportunity to stop at and wander through a village market.

Here’s the thing, you guys. I’ve been to a few different places around the world, as you know, but my experience with third world countries is extremely limited. So this trip to Ethiopia was an eye-opener in many ways.

One of those life-changing moments came at the market, where a curious group of children followed us as we walked around, and our guide explained to us that in such a remote location, white people were extremely rare.

So rare, in fact, that these kids had probably never seen any before, and thus were mind-boggled at our appearance.

My favorite photo from the trip.

Equally mind boggled were we, wending our way through the narrow paths, where cars have never driven and poor farmers sell bags of tef from hand-plowed fields.

Truly, it was…a revelation. It throws into sharp relief the comforts that we enjoy as Westerners, and makes my heart ache for those whose situations I cannot help.

Still, we enjoyed walking though the market, though my favorite moment had to be near the end. We’d been there probably ten minutes, and were heading back to our car, with about fifteen children surrounding us on every side. I did my best to be as nice as possible, since I know not a single word of their language, but right there, at the end, with kids all around, Harrison turned around and leapt at them, rawring fiercely.

The kids shrieked, stumbled back, and then fell over laughing once they realized he was kidding. I was already dying with laughter, and it made a really great ending to a really cool experience.

Though sometimes I wonder if they really knew he was kidding. Do they maybe sit at home and talk about that crazy foreigner who attacks small children? The world will never know.

Anyway, shortly after our stop at the market, we arrived at the lake, whose pictures I will allow to tell the story:

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I would also like to note that they forced me to ride a horse on both the way down and up. Not that I wanted to hike it, but I have no idea how to ride horses and ended up with bruises for a week. My life is so hard.

The day was excellent overall, though it did start raining halfway back up the mountain to the car, so we got a little bit damp. Luckily, we had on raincoats, so the damage wasn’t too bad.

Next up is the Debanos Monastery, Portuguese Bridge, and Blue Nile Gorge. Stay tuned!

-Carissa “The Foreigner” Rawson