American Southwest Family Vacation

We followed historic Route 66 on our way to see the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, plus much more in New Mexico and Arizona.

End of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Here are our stories from two and a half years of living in Saudi Arabia while exploring the region.

Excursions to Oman

On two different trips, we strolled Muscat, hiked Wadi Shab, and sailed a dhow through the fjords of Musandam.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Desert Safari in Qatar

A very good day! First, PT on our own, so I laid down for another hour...I gave my pillow a workout. Instead of going to work, Sol, Aaron and I went on a desert safari. We met up with a guy in the outermost parking lot, got in his (his name is Raheev) Land Cruiser, and were on our way. About 10 minutes outside of the base, I got a call from the tour company that the guide was waiting for us...Then who are we riding with?
We're riding with the guide. Phew. Along the way, we saw some free-range camels snacking out of a dumpster.
We spent about an hour driving over and down the dunes, across bedrock and flood beds, and found ourselves at a BBQ lunch on the Inland Sea, facing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.





The ride's soundtrack was some groovy Arabic music (on tape), and the drive was like a roller coaster. I've got a video somewhere that I'll try to remember to post later.
The BBQ had chicken, maybe goat, and "Piss" satay. Say what? It was yellowish, and when the cook saw me look at it, he said "Piss! It's piss!" Okay... "We catch pish today." Oh! fish!
Ate lunch under a tent with carpet floor and cushions, while watching the waves moving around.
Then we drove over to a big dune to go sandboarding. Like snowboarding, but on the sand. My first attempt (being the risk-taker, I went first), was on a slope too shallow to move anywhere. Attempt #2 found me dropping fast and wiping out at the bottom of the dune. Sol and Aaron tried it too. After 3-4 runs, we were worn out...climbing the dune was a great workout but the wind kicked up so much sand that I was finding it everywhere.



On the ride back, our guide got fed up with a Moroccan tape, rolled down his window and pitched it out! The sun was just setting as we got home from our desert safari.
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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Turkey Day, Central Asian style

Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan
Woke @ 0420 local. Power's out. Heat's off. Went to shower and the lights came back on, with the hot water and the smell of charcoal in the air. Checked in for our flight, got a a warm dinner for breakfast, back to the terminal to load. On the plane, engines running at 0800. Also got briefed on what the plane will do if we receive a surface-to-air missile threat or ground fire. And where the emergency exits are. The ride's a little shakier, as I'm laying down on the red stretched-canvas webbed seats. It's kind of like getting one of those quarter-driven massages from a magic-fingers in a cheap motel bed. However, the view is great.
A ridge of mountains forcing the clouds upward like waves crashing on a rocky shore.


Bagram, Afghanistan
When we landed, there were helicopters buzzing around, some folks out clearing mines, and some fighters taking off. Once we got our stuff stored in CE area, we went over to the base exchange where I picked up a heavy, engraved bronze Bactrian camel trinket.
A Bactrian camel has two humps and is native to central Asia.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Wrapping up in K2

Sunrise
It's nearly balmy outside. Going to try the laundry exchange...supposedly 1-day turn around. After breakfast we visited the dirt testing lab again. It really is fascinating stuff...if you're willing to sift through it. Ha. Sorry, bad pun.
Soil Testing
Most of the rest of the day was spent writing our status report of the work we completed this week. I did have to break away and get my laundry before it closed, as I only had a one hour window. Briefed the Lt that we'd pretty much finished what we came here for. Flight out tomorrow, hopefully.

The weather was nasty, rainy, and windy. It put a smile on my face. Dinner was BBQ ribs. Went back to CE to wrap things up, on the way passing some lighted reindeer and a snowman. It's not even Thanksgiving and the Christmas lights are up!
Went back to my room to pack. It's a good thing I'm wearing my jacket, because I filled up my backpack with souvenirs and there isn't any room left. Fell asleep to the sound of pouring rain.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Karshi-Khanabad Site Survey

Ah, the cool, crisp morning air. Had breakfast, checked email and then visited the site again. Since it hadn't rained overnight, this looks like the day to finally get our tests done. Went back to CE after observing the soil/water situation.
This utility vehicle can park anywhere! 
Stopped by the Uzbek bank at 10:50, waited until 11:00 for the banker to show up. "Bought" $5 USD worth of local currency. This is the same guy in a suit that we saw walking away from the bank yesterday that I thought looked out of place.
We went to lunch after that, then did our tests until just before sundown when we saw a few paratroopers falling from the sky, C-130 overhead, mountains in the background and the rising moon in the blue sky. Very cool way to end the day. We'll probably get out here again in a day or two...have to wait and see.
Goodnight, moon.
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Monday, November 22, 2004

Karshi-Khanabad batch plant visit

I thought the hot water in the showers was all used up, but it just took a while. Went over the the Civil Engineering office and took a ride with them to the batch plant to see how they test materials used in the project. A few cups of green tea, failure tests, and lots of dirt. Fun stuff.

The ground is still too wet to test, so hopefully tomorrow. I watched the latter half of "The Rundown" after dinner. Went to CE to check email and got stopped by a colonel who said we couldn't wear our RED HORSE hats on his base. We said we were allowed, quoted the reg, and even produced a highlighted hard copy. Yeah...he didn't like that at all, but walked away after we told him we were leaving in a few days.
Also, today we stopped at the Uzbek bank, which is only open when it has money.
The National Bank of Uzbekistan? Really?
Went shopping for gifts again, but when I asked about the price the cashier told me that the items were $2-$3. We cleaned out the shelves. 

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Sunday, November 21, 2004

A day off in Karshi-Khanabad

As predicted, I slept well last night.The showers have hot water. I almost scalded myself.figuring out the handle. But at least it was warm. There's more cool drizzle this morning. We got breakfast and met the with the other engineers to get up to speed on their project. Since it rained yesterday, we should be good for tomorrow. Visited the site- very rural, but for the MiG-29s and Su-27s. Kinda weird to see them up close.

The US & Uzbek Flags
MiG 29s
Su-27s
Since everyone here takes today off, we had to too. Fortunately, there was a bazaar and I got some locally made gifts. I walked around a bit more to see what there was to see.
There is nothing to see here: "Use of Deadly Force Authorized"
I watched a volleyball game between the engineers and the logisticians, then went to the movie theater that had 45 couch-like seats and watched "the Big Lebowski" while it rained. Went back to the chow hall for dinner, then to the exchange again. Then played cards for about 45 minutes. The locals here are a mix of Russian, Asian, and Persian features...but leaning toward Russian.

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Into Uzbekistan

Doha, Qatar
Showered at midnight, showed up for the bus at 0100. Went to the passenger (PAX) terminal and waited for  a half hour to learn that the flight was cancelled/delayed. Went to breakfast, then watched most of "Without a Paddle" in the theater, followed by most of "Troy" at Charlie's. Back to the PAX terminal, where we learned that our route in now direct, on a C-130. Snagged a little more breakfast, logged into email for a few minutes, and then back to the PAX terminal where we eventually boarded. On the plane after nine hours of waiting and two more cups of coffee.
 I got a "window" seat, if you can call it that.

Red desert on one side of a river, brown earth on the other

A small mountain range that looks like an alligator buried in sand

Snowy mountains that look like something out of a heroic epic



At some points, the clouds and snowy peaks merged into the haze, right around sundown. I stood in the cockpit for a few minutes as we went through the clouds.


We arrived around 1800 local and were greeted by a cool light mist. The mist hung around all night as we got our bearings. It rained earlier and there's mud all over the place. I overheard some Russian spoken by the dining facility staff, and the chow hall had steak and shrimp and great tasting potatoes. I'm sharing a room with the two other guys on my team,  but one of them is a clean freak and has swept out his little compartment area already. We get around 6x8 feet of personal space. I plugged in my camera battery charger because I was snapping pics like a maniac on the plane ride.

In bed at 6:30 Doha time, 8:30 local. Our day started 18 hours ago and I've only napped a little in the last 36 hours. Gonna sleep well tonight, despite the lumpy pillow and super soft mattress.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Groundhog's Day

Well, it happened today. I couldn't remember what day it was. I can't recall anything that happened before lunch, but I think I was busy. I think we're almost at the point that if this were a survival game show, the cameraman would be able to smell the trouble brewing and be loading up with extra batteries.

Why? Not sure what it is, but we've been here a while an I think people are wearing on each other. On the plus side, I don't seem to have created any such animosity...but I'm mediating it on a few accounts. Should I be more involved and less objective? I don't know. It's kind of like watching a movie, yelling at the screen for the hero not to go down the long, dark alley because you know that no good can come from it.

Went to yoga, hardly sweat at all. My mind is still too active when I'm doing it, so I'll need to focus and forget.


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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Weather, or not.

Let me talk for a minute about the fog. It hangs in the early morning, so thick you can't see the end of the trailer. I hear it gets thicker as the 'winter' comes. There's still so much dust in the air that it gets trapped in the fog. When the sun burns away the early morning fog, you're left with a powdery film on everything: windows, vehicles, skin, clothes. You can try to wash/brush it away, but all you get are sandy streaks (and sometimes water dribbling down). You can't shake the dust out because you have to take it outside and there's more dust out there.

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Lessons in Septics

Ok, so we had a massive rain last night. Unfortunately, the septic tank outside the office was almost empty and therefore bouyant, so when the water seeped down around the tank...it floated up. And that broke the pipes...
That big white thing is supposed to be underground
That blue liquid is supposed to be in the white container

And now the whole area's contaminated
 
So, we've got a lake in the backyard now. And since we can't really get any work done, we might as well have some fun with it. So, onto the internet to get instructions for making paper boats to hold the inaugural Desert Regatta!
The regatta begins

The competition capsized!

Winner!
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Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Quick trip to the Embassy

Woke at 3am, thought about sleeping in, but I went to the gym and biked 20 miles. At least I think it's miles, but I probably should have checked. Then I did some PT, ran 2 miles. Went downtown to get Kevin's passport with him at the embassy. I was basically just going along because we're not allowed to go downtown alone.

We turned a street too early and ended up getting lost, but it turned out we were only driving in circles. The embassy is ok, but it's customer service section is only open like 12 hours a week. Got back without incident. I stayed late at the office for a meeting, then dropped Kevin off at the passenger terminal (yes, he got the passport on the day he left). Now I have his truck. All mine.

Surf & turf wednesday, and I was pretty much exhausted. I wanted to swim, but didn't have time for it tonight. Also waiting on my goggles to arrive.

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Thursday, August 26, 2004

A day off in Doha

Today was the first time in a month that I wore civilian clothes. Tim and I went downtown with Kevin, first to a mall, then to meet with our contracting connection. The mall was big. Had Starbucks, bought another swimsuit.
  
My kind of Oasis

Our map isn't current. The intersections are roundabouts and traffic laws don't seem to apply. It's awesome, like a video game. You could also describe it as "25 monkeys with their tails tied together, thrown into a pit with a crocodile." Met with our contractor and had some Turkish coffee. He accidentally on some TV ad for Europorn. Weird. Had a buffett lunch at the Marriot. Nive. Salmon, good cheese, real bread. Plus local dishes.

We drove around afterwards, validating the map. It's so off it's funny. But we did find a few places worth visiting next time for pics & gifts. Returned for the unit's BBQ, watched Olympic soccer, then found out that I now have internet in my room.
Really? A School bus?
All in all, a good day.

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Sunday, August 01, 2004

The Middle East is kind of like West Texas


It's like 0515, I'd been up for at least two hours.

Same picture, different exposure so you can actually see my face.

World's largest sand trap.

Hammering concrete forms to release trapped air.

Hurricane Ivan hits home. Lucky me, no damage.

4-wheelin' through the desert.

Local Lounge Lizard. That's a 2x4 it's holding for scale.

Around 0430, fog so thick you can't see the end of the dorm building.

When the sun came up, the fog was still very thick.

I've been sitting here waiting for a ride on the new MBTA Tan Line.

Oh, and the Red Sox swept the 2004 World Series.

The sunsets here are enchanting. I also like the contrast between the sun-bleached
white rocks with the dark tan sand, which makes the barren scenery a little more scenic.

If it were up to me, we'd be running our morning PT in formation and calling out jodies as loud as we can.
But 24-hr quiet hours puts a damper on that kind of fun. I'm leading the pack, far right.

Up in the mornin' with the risin' sun, gonna run all day 'til the runnin's done

My first day of work after my promotion to 1st Lieutenant. Same job, same duties, still responding to "LT"

If you're wondering why I've got sunglasses on...

The view from my chair as the sun sets. Rather bright. Check out the dust that's encrusted on the glass.

My first ride on a military aircraft. Fortunately, I got a window seat.

One of the reasons I joined the Air Force was to go where most tourists don't.

For instance, Uzbekistan. Yes, it is a real country, and I've been there.

Days over 120F: 11
Hottest day: 9 Sep 04 (129F, 102 WBGT)
Highest WBGT: 8 Sep 04 (122 WBGT, 116F)

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End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

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