Great American Western Road Trip: Summer 2018

4 weeks, 3 kids, 1 van, 16 different lodgings, 5400+ miles, 12+ National or State Parks and Monuments adds up to 1 Epic Adventure.

American Southwest Family Vacation 2017

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.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Sunday in Doha

Alarm went off at 0420, but it's my day for a morale trip...with an 0900 showtime. So I slept in for two more hours. When I went to shower, it was raining (remember, I have to actually leave my trailer to go to the restroom). A definite morale booster. Some of the group were late and we were finally on the roll at 0930.

First stop was the souks, which are kind of like a specialty store area/marketplace. Because of the rains, many roads were flooded. I ended up buying a DVD with "Resident Evil I/II/Shaun of the Dead, Ghosts of Mars, and Underworld" on it. Nice little zombie theme, eh? At another store, I found a pretty cool ringer t-shirt...white with red trim and it looked like a Diesel knock-off for 25 riyal. It had a glow in the dark dragon with red eyes.

From there, it was on to the mall, where I had McDonald's in the food court. It just didn't taste right. Also had Starbucks (caramel macchiato and tiramisu) with Tate and Ed from the 1 ERHG. Wandered the mall for three hours. Heard a funny song to the tune of Yankee Doodle:
"ET was an alien,
and he was rather spacey,
caling for the universe to party and go crazy!"
Then ET sang something along the lines of "dum dum dee dee dee, my name is ET."

I also bought a can of Pocari Sweat from the Carrefour supermarket. Drank it while waiting at the meeting point. We left the mall, hit one more where there were chickens playing in a band for Eid week celebrations.

Went over to "the Pearl Guy," took a few nighttime photos of the lights around the Corniche. Bought a pair of single-pearl necklaces and one pair of earrings for QR250.

Stopped for dinner at a mediocre Chinese restaurant that cost exactly all my remaining Riyal. Last stop of the day was Harley Davidson-Qatar, where I got my friend a t-shirt.

Stayed up to watch three quarters of the ATL-PHI playoffs.

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Friday, January 14, 2005

SAME old thing

The day just seemed to ebb away until it was time to go home. On the way, I stopped to wash the car. I really like how high the hose pressure is; you actually have to position yourself up-wind to avoid the backblast. Later in the evening, John, Matt, the Colonel, and I went downtown (in our "nice" clothes, which meant pretty much blue shirt and khakis) to a Society of American Military Engineers (aka, SAME) event. We were at least 10 years younger than the other folks. Like the cousins at a family reunion, we pretty much hung out by the food. I had a ginger ale for the first time in a while.

We listened to old guys talk about themselves and what they've done. I hope I don't become one of them, even though it seems like the natural progression of things. I stayed quiet most of the evening, because it didn't really interest me much...but the food was good.

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Exploring an abandoned chemical weapons lab?

I couldn't force myself to stay in bed until my alarm went off. We checked out of our billeting and went to breakfast. After some hanging out, we picked up our weapons and ammo then headed outside the wire with a security squad. It was just a photo op, but we were checking out a large, bullet-riddled mural of Saddam outside of a building that was an alleged site for chemical weapons development before the first Gulf War.
Those holes were there when we got there.
This chemical weapons lab kinda looks like my high school.
The downstairs had concrete channels that have flooded and had things rotting in them. Just barely tolerable.
Spooky, right?
We ventured upstairs, past the "Stay Out", "Quarantine", and "NBC Hazard" signs. NBC isn't the news channel, it stands for "Nuclear, Biological, Chemical." The marble tile floors were shattered and bird droppings were piled a foot high in some places.
Not a good sign

I got startled by a jack-rabbit outside as it ran away. The whole place is littered with debris.

Back on base, I checked on our flight out of here-cancelled. Next flight in six hours. So we got lunch and watched TV for a while. Then I went to stretch my legs and take some photos by the welcome sign. The name of the base has changed since we've been here: from Tallil to Ali. What's up with that?

I also stopped into the Italians' coffee shop and got a cappuchino for $1. Watched "Firefox" while waiting for our plane. Also got pizza from the Italians' food contractor. A bit different, but good. We ended up waiting in the terminal for nearly 10 hours. We crammed a lot of people on the C-130, and I was still wearing my vest because it was easier than carrying it. However, wearing it made it quite inconvenient to nap, as the plate in the vest would press into my waist when I leaned forward. That cause the vest to cut off my air supply when my neck rested on it. We landed after midnight, staggered our way through in-processing to turn in our weapons and then caught a ride with John back to the dorms.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Ziggurat of Ur

Had some trouble sleeping, mostly due to aircraft. Went back to CE, read through the regs to determine power requirements but there are too many options for a good answer. Met with some more people after a big lunch. But the highlight of the day was visiting the Ziggurat of Ur just before lunchtime.
The ziggurat is really a big pile of dirt with a brick facade.

Ziggurat of Ur
Since it was outside the wire, we had our vests and helmets on. Drove through a set of arches that Saddam had allegedly hung his base commander from (Tallil was abandoned after Gulf War I because it was in the no-fly zone).
The not-so-golden arches
When we got to the gate for the ziggurat, there were a half-dozen army vehicles there. Took a few pics and then got halfway up the stairs when we saw "our security" drive off.

Also wandered through the adjacent ruins said to be the house of Abraham, but we couldn't tell which one it was.
This picture's probably not worth 1,000 words. But I didn't count.

This old house?
The Italians & Portuguese showed up and I took some pictures for them, guns waving and looking fierce. Stopped at the gift shop (yes, there's a gift shop). I bought a couple of knives and a red shemagh.

It seemed fairly safe where we were, but I kept seeing up-armored HUMMVs and semis with steel welded outside the doors headed north. The downside  was that my camera battery died (or started to) just as we got to the ziggurat, so I was somewhat sparing on taking too many. Back on base, I got a cherry slushie and played bingo with maybe 100 people. Still didn't win, but I got within one square a few times. Overall, it doesn't seem like a bad place to be. Lots of work to be done, just pick something. I've also been getting more sleep here than in Qatar.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Getting down to business

Woke up after a good, long deep sleep. My comforter is quite cozy. I nearly scalded myself in the overhead rain-like shower (mostly because I could get it that hot). We got breakfast...the biscuits were like KFC's or Popeye's quality.  Head over to CES, which is housed in a nicely tiled, yet plain, former aircraft maintenance office. Got spun up on what kinds of projects there were for us. Then we went out to the airfield. We looked at one of the arresting systems that had worn away the earth, from heavy rain and use.  Then we drove down the runway to an area protected by Marines. During the drive, Johnny Cash was on the radio singing Fulsom County Blues while we waited for permission to cross the active runway. That was probably one of the better memories I have from the trip.

Once we got to 'Marineland', we noticed there were little shacks on top of the hangars with people moving around inside them. Kind of odd, right? Anyways, we got out of our truck to take some pictures by the wreckage of an Iraqi plane. No sooner did we finish our photo shoot than a Marine appeared and told us that we needed to let them know when we're in the area because the snipers in the shacks were "freaking out." Apparently, our US uniforms, government vehicle, and Caucasian appearance weren't enough.
Move slowly Sgt P, you're freaking out the snipers!
After that, we got lunch: hot wigns and pizza. Good, real, hot wings. Went over to the BX and bought some Iraqi money. It might be counterfeit, since it was 50 cents per piece of paper, regardless of the amount on the bill. A couple have Saddam's picture on them. Roughly 320 Dinars for $4. Also found a 6-inch by 6-inch Persian carpet. So hilariously small that I had to buy it. Also found a kneeling wooden camel for my scultpure collection. Checked email, met with some folks. By 1700, I was worn out, my nose was fillled with dust (it was very windy) and my head hurt.

The biggest headache, though, is that we are not here to define the requirements for them (the base), only what we need to do to make it happen. We've seen no requirements so far, and people are redeploying back to the US daily and taking their knowledge home with them. And...exhale.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Into Iraq

Spent a few hours at work before my showtime for the flight to Tallil, Iraq. While I was getting lunch, my phone rang and I was informed that the schedule has been moved up 20 minutes. Chowed down the burger and drove to the passenger terminal. After the files we had in the system were lost and we presented new ones, we picked up our weapons.

As an officer, I get an M-9 pistol, very convenient. We waited for quite some time for our flight, so long that I'd actually stopped looking at my watch. We loaded up the bus and went out to the plane. Apparently, there was a mission change while we were enroute; they were pulling off cargo and putting in med-evac litters. The medevac team showed up and we were on our way. The plane was rather packed with people. I was next to a USMC gunny going back to Tallil.
Are you sure this is the first class section?
Once on the ground, I made a few calls for pickup and we were able to stow our weapons before catching the chow hall DFAC before it closed. We were driven to our rooms and told about the possibility of a day trip to the Ziggurat of Ur and some of Saddam's old chemical labs (allegedly). Might get to go on Saturday. People here seem friendly enough, the food was good, too.

Our lodging is a tent, but they have beds and wooden dividers and the feel of a frat house. Sure, some-to-all of the furniture is old or plywood and the air conditioning vent is a cloth tube with holes in it, but it has character. In that way, it's better than the non-descript dorms I've spent the last five months in. Almost feels like summer camp, but the temperature is cooler.
All the dust in the air makes for beautiful sunsets
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