My Thoughts on Jordan

This is my first time in the Middle-East since February of 2016. As I have wrote in previous blogs, I left Bahrain early last year, after a long breakdown in mental health.

But that’s not what this post is about.

Jordan has been on my list of countries to visit since my friends (read family) moved here from South Africa.

As I worked my way back to the U.S. from New Zealand, I had two weeks to fill (lucky me right?) between Australia and the U.S. by the end of July. What better way to spend that time than to catch up with close friends in a new country?

Outside of Petra and the Dead Sea, I had zero idea of what the Hashemite Kingdom had to offer.

Honestly, I was scared shitless when I first arrived. Here I was, back in the Middle-East, spending a week on my own (during the day), no idea of where I was in the country, nor what was safe to do on my own.

Regardless of my friend’s encouragement and constant reassurance that, indeed, Jordan was a safe place, I was still apprehensive to leave the house.

But, I took the first step.

Day two on ground was a short trip to Taj Mall, via an Uber.

Yes, Uber exists outside of the U.S.. In fact, it’s really no different here than what you would find almost anywhere else in the world. Use the app, plot your to-from, and a car shows up.

The difference in Jordan is, it’s not quite legal— yet. When I went to get in the back of the driver’s car, I was told to sit up front due to police checks. I guess a large bearded Sasquatch sitting in the back of someone’s car is a bit suss.

I won’t go into detail on why it’s illegal here, as this Jordanian Times article does it a better justice.

Once arriving at Taj Mall, I was quick to get in and out of the heat. Immediately upon entering, I was funnelled through a metal detector and patted down to insure I had no funny business on me or in mind. This, I later discovered was pretty standard around Jordan’s landmarks.

The mall itself offered all the high-end stores I was accustomed to in Dubai and Bahrain, such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Armani, etc. etc. Though, unlike Dubai and Bahrain, the idea of locals purchasing high-end fashion makes sense, as the dress here runs the gambit from relaxed Westerner (lack of better words) to conservative Al-Amira (women) and Keffiah (men). (Check this link for what I’m talking about)

After roughly an hour of going in circles around the three floor mall, I reached my fun limit for the day.

Once again, I used the [il]legal ride share app to find a ride back to my host’s home and plan the next day’s adventure.

So ended day two on the ground.

In an effort to limit the length of this blog, I’ll share my list of places visited and notes taken.

Before that, I wanted to quickly summarise my experience here. I am greatly appreciative for my host’s, full stop.  They were accomodating, had taken time to drive through villages and towns that seemed really sketch, at the time, and helped bridge the gap into Jordan. Additionally, having lived, worked, and travelled through various parts of the Middle-East and Gulf states, I believe Jordan to be a place where you can get a feel for the culture, language, geography, and art in this region, without the crippling fear of terrorism. Finally, I would recommend visiting to anyone looking for a 1-2 week adventure, and as a jump-off point to the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Israel, Jerusalem, and Egypt.

My list:

  1. Hashem’s  (Amman): Excellent food; no menu, with a standard of pita, hummus and falafel; 4-5 JOD (Jordanian Dinar) for two people. Apparently King Abdullah II, ruler of Jordan, occasionally eats here. Side note: As a tourist, you may be seated with other foreigners, as had been my experience. 
  2. Trinitae Soap House (Amman): Expensive, yet quality locally made soaps, as well as Dead Sea salts and mud.
  3. Amman Citadel: Multiple era ruins atop one of seven mountains in Amman; 1-2 hours recommended to visit; be prepared for tour guides to approach as soon as you enter (guide not required); can be reached on foot or by car; suggest visiting in the spring or fall as there is limited shade; café located at the entrance for snacks/water; no pedlars.
  4. Amman Roman Amphitheater: Roman half-circle amphitheater offering views of the Hashemite Plaza and surrounding hillsides; 30-60 minutes recommended; bring your own water and expect pedlars trying to sell water.
  5. Ola’s Garden (Amman): Local female run art and jewellery studio.
  6. Love on a Bike (Amman): Another local female run art and pottery studio; small shop with limited works; great conversation with a fluent english speaking local.
  7. Karak Castle (Karak): 8th century BCE castle with loads of history; offers winding caves, rooms, and towers to explore; suggest bringing a flashlight if you want to go castle spelunking; 1/2 day visit; plenty of shade; wear shoes as it is gravel/dirt once inside the compound; very well in-tact for its age; no pedlars seen inside.
  8. Jarash (Jarash): Acient Roman site with long stretching grounds to explore; suggest visiting in spring/fall as there is limited shade; expect pedlars from the time you enter the visitor center to the time you leave– including throughout the grounds; suggest 1/2 visit; wear shoes as it is mostly dirt/dust throughout; bring water or pay one of the many pedlars.
  9. Dead Sea: Of course, it’s the Dead Sea, why wouldn’t it be on my list? We stayed at the Jordan Valley Marriott Resort and Spa, as it was one of the top rated joints and had a more affordable rate to the Kapinski and Hilton, at the time. Beyond the four pools that descended with the terrain, you reached a steep sloped walk to the Dead Sea. The access was sloped and we did have to crawl over a few rocks before being able to get our bodies in the water. It’s a pretty surreal experience to say the least. I don’t want to ruin it for you, but let’s just say if you ever wanted to float like a complete idiot without the worry of breath control while looking at the West Bank, then this is your spot.

Final note: Why isn’t Petra on the list? After my host’s personal account of the cost for tourists (non-locals) of 90 JOD ($126.97), vice the 1JOD for locals, plus the overwhelming nature of pedlars, the thought of driving almost 3 hours each way from Amman, seemed to be a waste of my time. But again, that’s my personal opinion.

 

Nature

Nature has become the catalyst for my clearest and most profound thinking. This is something new for me. Maybe it’s the more “free-reign” nature that, though includes hordes of tourists, just seems more pure than I have found elsewhere.

I don’t want to edit this post for everyone’s eyes so I make sure it’s “just right.” What you need to know is losing cell-coverage, not seeing another human being for several hours at a time, only hearing the sounds of rivers, birds, and rain… It’s better than any human interaction I’ve had lately.

Maybe I need to slow down on these posts. Not to say I crank them out on a high-frequency pitch, but the real essence and punch of what I am trying to convey seems to be lost.

Going off the grid (out of cell service) for an entire day has been great. Haven’t seen too many people on the road and the quiet voice lead me to a road, and I quote, “Is not a tourist route yet…” Yet should be in italics as both the person(s) who were responsible for writing and creating the sign knew that time would deliver.

I’m moving closer to something I can’t put into words.

I’ve reached a middle-ground between tourist and national. Other tourists annoy me and even those who seem to put forth an American North American accent, require extra energy to avoid. Maybe it’s because I want to feel special about this experience and see the beauty and live the vagabond life in my own bubble of false reality. Really, it doesn’t matter because I know when one of those aforementioned tourists points their face in my direction and starts to talk, a different, less calm version of me comes out. The conversation topic of You’re a Tourist/ I’m a Tourist: 50 Questions to Ruin an Experience, have grown old.

Is it odd to want people to approach a beautiful scenic area and take it in in silence? Does the 50 foot high elevated walkway with grand panoramic views of the Southern Alps need to be place to sing your praises about dabbing and why it’s still around?

This has become a snarky post about tourists when really I should point out how awesome it’s been to follow the quiet voice down random roads. No kidding.

I wake up each morning and have little-to-no plan for the day. Somehow, I go on wanders up glacial rivers, down hunting roads littered with livestock, find lakes with mirror like surfaces, and end the day somewhere different.

A work in progress is understanding what is happening within me and trying to make sense of it. Maybe that’s where I am going wrong. Maybe I’m too nubile in this transformation to see what is happening, no-less describe it on a forum.

Maybe it’s not time for you to know where I am and what I’m up to.

Maybe it’s just time to be.

 

Learn to Ask Better Questions

Ah yes, once again here I am gracing the pleather couches of my local McDonalds.  Trust me, if there was a better option that offered free wifi, power, shelter, coffee, and most importantly– seclusion and anonymity, I’d opt for it. With that being said, it has become my ritual to sleep like shit, wake up hours before the sun, and head here for coffee and connection. Today, I have a limited schedule, so I might as well put finger to keyboard and get this draft together.

Now back to your regularly scheduled pensiveness…

In response to my last post regarding demons, I want to say “thank you” to those who reached out. Though the message may have been a bit abstract, my writing this post now should reassure you I was not on death’s door days ago.

What I want to get at with this post stems from a question my mom asked me the day I posted last. She asked (in her usual concerned fashion) “how are you doing?” With which I responded “I don’t like that question and am not going to answer.” My mom is a champ. She has endured (and so has the rest of my family and friends) years of deployments, overseas living, traveling, and only seeing me in person two-weeks a year. Through all of that, I still don’t like or respect the question.

Asking someone “how are you?” or “how are things” is such a shit way of showing concern.

Now, I can’t present this argument without first saying–even this week–I’ve asked these questions to friends.

To everyone’s credit, I don’t think we really know how to express concern in a constructive manner. It’s icky to talk about anything that isn’t positive. To dig into the shit people are stewing on. The cancer their brother has. The drinking problem that stays hidden from the surface. The family member who overdosed. Finances overcoming…It’s all icky, shitty, nasty, genuine, life.

Now I don’t believe that anything makes you or I feel a certain way. Rather, we associate a response with a feeling. If I tell you “you are a piece of shit” it may or may not have an effect– dependent on whether we know each other and how I rate in your life. However, if you are a complete stranger, I ask how you are and you launch into the excruciating details of how you were raped at 19 by your husband who also tried to kill you (yes, true story) within 30 minutes of us meeting, I’m gonna feel a certain type of way.

Moving on. When someone asks me how I am doing or how are things going, so many thoughts come to mind. Am I supposed to tell you about my health? How about my financial well-being? How about the positive experiences between our contact? Or, maybe, you want to know my opinion on the other tourists who travel New Zealand.

How many times have you asked someone how they are and they immediately take a deep breath before answering in a restricted manner?

I don’t really give a shit if you or anyone else thinks that I am overthinking this. The truth is, I don’t give a fuck about sports. How does this relate? Sports is more openly discussed than feelings or thoughts on life. Why?!

I take pride in noticing the layer of reality that others don’t. You’re busy watching “the big game” and I’m lost in why this season the jerseys are designed differently than last season.

My belief is you should speak and act with purpose. Of course we don’t have a quota on our words, but maybe we should. How different would life be if we were limited to only so many words per day? How would you use them? Would you prioritize what you said or didn’t say?

No maybe I’m lost in my own head, but I truly feel like the communication we have is incredibly superficial. Instead of asking how I am, maybe just say “hello”. Acknowledge my existence. If you care about how I am doing–truly– then ask. Don’t waste my time with your pre-programmed feigned interest.

Rant over.

 

Northland

So, for the past month, I’ve been traveling the northernmost parts of the North Island of New Zealand.

Writing this from Coromandel, an earlier look at the map reminds me just how far I have to go to get back to Hawkes Bay. According to Google, I’ve travelled roughly 2000KM over the last month.  In my opinion, spending a few nights in each spot (and skipping iconic spots due to weather and interest) I have expedited this trip as much as one could.

So what have I learned? Well, too much time on your own is not healthy. Conversely, too much time in one place is not either. Based on the two criterion: rumination and irritability, I may have found the formula for travel: 1 day drive + (=/-) 5 days stay = positive mental state.

And what have I done? Well, I’ve listened to the quiet voice. In other words, no plans, no itinerary, only follow the road north, then south.

Instead of writing a full blown post about what I saw and my experience (which isn’t my style) here’s some of the top pictures from along the way….

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“Andrew, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls.”
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Entrance to the Capitaine Bougainville Monument coastal walk.
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A double rainbow on Bart’s birthday, over the Otamure campsite.
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Just outside Puriri Bay. Just looks nice, you know?
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What?
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The more picturesque side of the Muriwai Gannet Colony.
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Admiring all the shit from the Muriwai Gannet Colony
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Just the tiniest little tag-a-long
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Gotta start small when exploring the waterfalls
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The “Big Tree” a.k.a. “Tāne Mahuta” which is the largest Kauri tree standing, today.
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Cape Regina (Ree-Eng-Uhhh) Light house. And some random European male who fucked my picture

 

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I’m guessing I was inspired by the Haka display in Waitangi.
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The time I got high during a wander and had a private dolphin show.
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As seen on Facebook. 
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The Southern Arch is the largest arch in the Southern Hemisphere. 
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Muriwai Beach. I’d say it’s the most beautiful beach I’ve visited, to date.
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The cliffs and caves of Whatipu.
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Ignore the shades of blue and green behind me and check out that sexy hair!

Curious Case of the Woo-Woo Bird

Alright folks, here it goes. Hopefully I can keep these thoughts in order and coherent, post mini-holiday.

This past Thursday was Australia Day. My gracious hosts decided to celebrate with a long weekend down on the Southern Coast of New South Wales, in the village of Tuross Head. The weekend coincided with a very much needed experiment in determining whether or not Nomophobia would effect me.

Quick segue here on the topic of phone addiction. I’ve been striving for separation from, well let’s just say “people,” for months. In fact, i’ve romanticized the notion of going dark and disappearing for a while. Since leaving the U.S., I’ve found myself glued to either my computer or phone– sometimes both at the same time. Maybe it’s the need for attention or I am truly running away from something.  Hypocritically so, I want both at the same time: disconnection and connection. 

Alright, back on topic. 96 hours without any electronics other than a kindle and camera. Oh yeah, no internet either. The drive down was rough and even before we left Canberra, I could feel a slight uneasiness. What would have normally helped expedite a 2+ hour drive through the bush, was replaced by naps, polishing a Timorese worry stone, and conversing. Nothing too special, yet nothing too arduous. I know, first world problems, right?

The house we stayed in was simple, bright, airy, and opened to jungle, mountain, and the Tuross River views. Once I found the back deck hammock, I spent all of Friday reading (finished) I Forgot to Die by Khalil Rafati. The simplicity of having so few artificial stimuli, combined with the amazing Australian summer, opened the door to relaxation and clear thoughts. It’s amazing how much time I have spent trying to distract myself from the lulls between activities in everyday life, as if I cannot spend one single minute just to watch the world go by.

Come 5:00 a.m. Saturday, I was rudely woken by sounds of the jungle. First, it was what I could only guess to be birds on the corrugated steel roof, pecking and hopping around. Honestly, it sounded as if  rats were scurrying through the ceiling above me– it was unnerving. But that didn’t get me fully out of the sleep hangover. Enter the Eastern Koel. What our trio initially referred to as the “Woo-Woo-Woo-Woo Bird” and seemed to posses such an innocent and child-like call on Friday, turned into “WOULD YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP?!” bird on Saturday. Fortunately (not) for me, it wasn’t just the backyard which was blessed with their mating call; Nic and Mick must of had the distant mate in the front of the house returning a call. Digging down another layer, the laughing Kookaburras were in unison and sounded like distant Orangoutangs. Add that all together and the sounds I came to fondly remember Australia by, became the soundtrack to my nightmare. Needless to say, I was in a shit mood for the better part of the day.

By Sunday, I’d learned to use earplugs. Full disclosure: they didn’t do shit. Alas, it was time to go back to Canberra. Before we left Tuross Head, we hired a boat with a wicked fast 6 horse engine and patrolled the waters of the Tuross Lake and River. Being brackish, the water was a beautiful turquoise green and quite clear. As I motored the yacht, Nic and Mick were free to spot a fur seal on Tuross Lake Broadwater. We were all pretty astonished how close the seal allowed us to get (a few feet) while it cleaned itself, dove for fish, and played peak-a-boo. Pretty enchanting. After two-hours on the water, it was time to head back. For anyone who has visited this part of the world, you know how extreme the sun’s intensity is here. Fortunately two hours was enough to get a quick look at the lake and river, spot wildlife, and have one more chilled out session before heading back.

In conclusion, I didn’t miss too much by not having my phone. Sure there were a few important messages and emails to attend to, but in all reality, it was worth it. As this blog is called “Your Quiet Voice” the intent is to document ways to gain access to the guiding voice, I believe, we all have inside and hopefully inspire others to find the same connection.  A four-day weekend off the grid helped to minimize the white-noise associated with too many tabs open on Google Chrome and a constant ping from social media and restore my connection with the voice. Finally, spending a weekend with great friends is never a waste. With both Nic and Mick’s work schedule, we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to spend four consecutive days together. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to stay with them and spend a cheeky weekend off the grid.

 

 

Society! Society! Society!

Well, it’s the day after the U.S. Presidential Inauguration here in Australia. The only news we get of the public’s reaction is what is posted on Facebook or the local news. The latter is concerned. One quote about “America First” put one news anchor into a position of worry as “what does that mean for its [America] allies?

Fortunately for this writer, it doesn’t particularly move me. As I told friends prior to leaving the U.S.: I’m leaving just 7 days before Trump takes office and it wasn’t planned. I just hope that in the coming months, America’s international relations don’t get fucked to the point of denied entry internationally.  But that’s my two-sense on the matter.

Moving on. Soon, I’ll cast off Australia and start a 12-month work and holiday visa in New Zealand. This has been a long time coming and taken roughly 2 years to coordinate. From the day I decided to follow the Quiet Voice, in February of 2015, to actually ending my contract with the Navy earlier this year, it’s been a hell of a journey.

Many worry I’ll take a page from Christopher McCandless’ book and go Into the wild— disappear to reach fate in Alaska. Honestly, I do resonate with some of his ideals: Leaving society (SOCIETY! SOCIETY!  SOCIETY!); casting off the expectations of family and friends; search for inner direction and purpose. In fact, I romanticism his intent, not his execution.

Part of this trip was meant to break away from all I knew and decompress somewhere foreign, but not too foreign. To be frank, I’m coming at this alone, not 100% healthy, and directly after leaving a career and lifestyle I knew since age 18–why add completely un-fucking-known territory? Fortunately, this region is like my second home. The friends I left behind have been supportive of this decision, to the extent of putting me up for the month. Coming to Australia wasn’t about seeing new territory; it’s a staging area for a great adventure. What shouldn’t be neglected though is most of my gracious hosts along the way expressed their fears on the subject. Fears like: When will you come back? Do you have a job lined up? Where will you be next month? What if it doesn’t work out? You know you can come home if things fall through, right?

These fears and concerns collected on my day-to-day thoughts like a snowball. It’s been growing. Day after day, country after country and I’ve allowed it to effect me. But why wouldn’t I? If every person in your life is given a different degree of impact and influence in your life, wouldn’t close friends and family be the most impactful? Don’t get me wrong, I value their opinion, but in a way, I’ve allowed them to have ownership on the matter. Maybe it’s time to go dark for a while and get the much-needed space and room to think.

Couch Surfing

The luxury of having a worldwide network of friends and family is, there are a plethora of places to crash.

Having started this journey in early December, I’ve cast off having any sort of permanent residence. Starting in Virginia, I’ve stayed between Long Island, NY and kept going west to now, Australia. Every stop (count is now 9) offers a different living arrangement. Some offer a house with Lego and children who think you’re there to be their week-long personal train layout guru, others a hot-rack style sleeping arrangement in a busy city. Most of these friends I had not seen in years. Some were former military friends who deployed together to Afghanistan, others close friends met while on travel.

What I’ve learned is, it’s incredibly personal to allow someone else to stay in your home, all-be-it on your couch. No matter how low-impact you intend to be, you cannot get away from the fact that a houseguest changes the dynamic of the household. Earlier last year, I was fortunate to rent out a spare room in an old friend’s house that he and his wife had purchased. I say fortunate because this was their first house, we all moved in at the same time, and they didn’t bitch about my truck load of personal belongings that occupied their garage for 9-months. I did my best to offer skills in renovating their house or watching their dogs while away, as a gesture of appreciation for the opportunity. Even though we were long-time friends, their space wasn’t completely their own.

In the coming weeks, I will be moving to New Zealand to start a one-year Work and Holiday visa. This has been a dream in the works for over two-years now and is gaining momentum. My friends and family–who have been generically listed above– have supported my decision to quit life and wander. They understand the desire to roam the world and they too, have destinations of their own they *dream* of visiting one day. I cannot speak to what it will actually be like to carry out the plan; only the experience preparing.

How do you express the conflict of wanting to wander the world and elusively call nowhere home, yet feel the desire to find a place that is? On average, I’ve moved every 1-2 years, for the last 11. New Zealand has been the only country outside of the United States I felt could be home. As one friend suggested, “you are looking for your tribe and just haven’t found it yet.” Maybe. Is it a deep uneasiness in oneself that creates an internal environment which doesn’t want to settle or is it merely part of life?

I’ve told friends who own their own homes, that I live vicariously through them. Seeing them build a life within their OWN space is exciting. However, something pulls me back to reality and reminds me that would be settling. The only way to find out if the nomadic lifestyle is for me is to take the leap.