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Here at Amazing Journeys, we're lucky have the best jobs in the world—and we think our good fortune is worth sharing. So, when your next journey seems like a distant dream, take a few minutes to explore our WANDERLUST blog—it's chock full of engaging tales and helpful tips from our travels around the world. Check out the most recent entry (at the top) or search by your preferred criteria. Consider it motivation for your next embarkation.

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Landmarks of the World

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Are you ready for a trip around the world?  Are you?  Really??

Sadly, the majority of Americans will rarely see any geography beyond their own borders.  The Office of Travel and Tourism Industries published a finding that only about 10% of of US residents have ever traveled to overseas destinations (Canada and Mexico excluded – they’re not overseas. )  Leisure travel is more than a vacation. Its an activity that makes you more worldly, knowledgeable and tolerant of the differences in cultures that make our planet so special.  Its an adventure.  Its a means to experience “Life” with a capital “L” – a chance to break from the routine…the norm…the grind…the familiararity…the common.  Its a purpose, not just an experience.  Humans are born to travel; we’ve been given the mobility and dexterity to do so and as Americans we’ve also been given the “land of opportunity’; a means to earn, spend and have plentiful of what most other nations around the world don’t.

Get Out There, America! Whether you’re single or married…Jewish or Christian….in your 30s or in your 60s; don’t do what the regretful elderly do when they say for decades “I’ll travel when I retire” or “I’ll get there someday”.  Go now, while you’re able-bodied, healthy and capable! You never know when you might not be, and denying yourself the greatest of life’s givings is a regret of unfathomable proportions.  Trust me, the world is an incredible place.  America is wonderful…but the world is, well, an Amazing Journey for all to see.

IF NOT NOW….WHEN?

India, Part 5 – Khajuraho and Varanasi

Monday, April 25th, 2011

We’ve had a meaningful and fast paced last few days of our tour, first visiting Khajuraho, and then to Varanasi.  We left Agra by train, and continued to Occhra to visit a fort.  This huge palace, hand carved and built for one of the kings, was used by him only for one night.  That’s it!  The day we saw it, they were filming a movie there called Trees Speaking.  Not sure if we got the title right but we asked our guide a few times and this is all we got.  Watch for it coming to a theater soon.  Rudyard Kipling (Jungle Book) stayed at the guest house at this palace for a while.  Glad it got some use, since the King obviously didn’t get his money’s worth after building it.

Khajuraho was a hoot.  Our “Kama Sutra Expert” showed us these uniquely carved temples (22 of them in all) built over a thousand years ago with tens of thousands of depictions of elephants, armies and sex, basically.  Lots of questions and comments from the group…mostly from Barry. 

Next we were off to Varanasi, the holiest city for Hindus.  This is the place where the Ganges meets the Varuna River, and devout Hindus make pilgramages so that they can bathe in the Ganges, and many come to die here as well.  Once a person has died, they march them through the streets of town and bring them down to the river banks to wash them and to have them creamated. We went to the cremation sight in the evening where several fires were burning.  It is an erie feeling, and I was most concerned about seeing this on my trip.  It is so foreign to what I know…what I have brought up with, that is was uncomfortable and scary, actually.  Had it been our first stop in India, it would have been very hard to handle as our understanding of this country would not have unfolded yet.  But by the time we had arrived here, and having had a lecture upon our arrival in Hinduism, we were somewhat prepared for what we were about to see.

The streets of Varanasi were filled with organized chaos, as is most of India.  Walking down the street to get back to our bus, we walked in a single line as busses, cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, bicycles, livestock and mobs of people all were moving in various directions at different times.  It was dizzying and provided sensory overload!  Cows, goats, priests with bells, even a man walking with a staff followed by four huge geese were out in the streets walking with us.  Crazy!

Early this morning, we came back to this sight, and it was a very different scene at sunrise.  The streets were not as crazy, and we saw the pre-dawn scene unfolding, just as it has for a thousand years.  All along the sides of the roads there were people sleeping, right next to sleeping cows.  Goats and dogs were walking along the side of the road, and a monkey here and there as well.  Along the Ganges, people were bathing in this holy water.  It is a ritual that has been performed throughout the ages.  In this same water, people were washing clothes, washing themselves and still, cremations were going on.  Priests were praying.  Monks were doing yoga and dogs were barking at monkeys in the trees.  It was a very enlightening scene, and one that I will never forget. 

This afternoon, we visited the birthplace of Buddhism, which had its beginnings in Hinduism.  We learned about its beginnings, and saw the place that Buddha himself spoke to his followers. For the record, he was not fat.  He was well proportioned.  The Far East, never having seen Buddha, they gave him a huge tummy as they portrayed him as a prosperous soul.

My random visual moment of the day was of the local watering hole.  People came to get clean water.  They came with buckets, jugs and canisters so that they could have water.  They pumped the water from below.  As they were filling up their buckets, a dog was standing on a table, at the top of the water supply, lapping up the water with his tongue, just as happy as he could be.  So much for clean water.

We have been here now for two weeks.  I took a nap this afternoon (we got up at 4:30 am to watch the sun rise over the Ganges) and my dream included livestock walking down the street, just like in the streets below.  I think it’s time to leave.

Our experience here in India will be life-changing, no doubt. We’ve formed some opinions now, however the true picture of what we saw and did, and the images of the people, the poverty, and the magic will unfold as we look at photos and relive our experiences.  India is not for the casual traveler.  It’s exotic, thought provoking and incredible, all at the same time.  But both Barry and I agree this was one of the most memorable places we have seen to date, and will stay forever in our minds and in our hearts.


India, Part 4 – Agra

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Taj Mahal

We arrived in Agra yesterday, home of the Taj Mahal.  We woke up just before sunrise this morning, and left our hotel in the dark, headed for what was to be the highlight of the trip, the Taj Mahal.  I was particularly excited about seeing this great work of art, from the architectural detail I had studied so many years ago while in college.  And, in addition, knowing it was one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, and has graced the front covers of so many travel magazines and brochures throughout my career. With each step we took closer to the main gates, I was hoping it wouldn’t be disappointing, after the years of build up.  It did not disappoint.  After getting a brief history of the love story between a king who created it for his queen after her death, our guide prepared us for what we were about to see.  As we walked forward through the main gates, the Taj Mahal at first appeared to be shrinking.  It was an optical illusion, made to look that way so that it fit visually inside of the arch of the gateway to the structure.  Once through the gate, it was perfectly symmetrical in every way.  Aside from the amazingly balanced façade, the inlay of fine pieces of lapis, onyx, jasper and other stones and semi precious materials was absolutely breathtaking.  I had heard it said that seeing the Taj Mahal in a book or magazine or photograph didn’t do it justice, and now I know why.  You have to see it to believe it.  20,000 laborers worked for 22 years ’round the clock until the project was finished.  I’m looking forward to seeing it again in February!

We also went to Mother Teresa’s Charity that the Collette Foundation supports.  It was so sad to see all the disparity and sadness of the orphans and the special needs kids and adults that this charity supports.  The babies and toddlers were so happy to have us there to smile at them, to touch them and to hold them.  I brought lots of school supplies and others brought medical supplies.  Next time I come, I want to bring some children’s clothing and books as I think they could really use it.

Driving through the streets of Agra you realize this is a country with  it’s own way of life.  To best sum it up, as we were driving through  town today, I saw two goats standing on a bed (the bed was outside in the  open) with a hula hoop on the bed and one of the goats standing in the  middle of the hula hoop.  Yup, that just about says it all…livestock  walking everywhere, goats, roosters, monkeys, cows, dogs, donkeys, camels.  This was all on just one city block!  Add to it men getting haircuts and shaves right out on the city streets, men using a wall as a public  toilet, baby’s without any pants playing out near the street, cars and  moterbikes racing everywhere, on the wrong side of the street, through red lights and stop signs, in front of pedestrians, all the while, horns  honking.  We are certainly not in Kansas anymore! 

I hope you’ve been enjoying the wonderful photos that Barry has been taking.  He is amazed that each time he holds up the camera, he sees a unique opportunity for a photograph, as you can see by the looks on the faces of the people, as well as the scenery.

A Taste of India, Part 2 – Jaipur

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

This is the second part from my experiences from India ~

Elephant ride to the Red Fort

India is keeping us very busy!  From morning until late in the evening, we are discovering a country and a culture that is so different from what we know, or what we could have ever imagined!  There’s a warmth to the people, and whether they live on the street, are merchants in the stores or those we are meeting along the way, the people of India have a desire to learn about western culture and want to know everything about us.  Yesterday, one of the managers of the restaurant we were having dinner in came up to us to start a conversation.  After our “hellos and namastes,” he said, “who do you think is the best, better and worst presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Obama (why does nobody ever say Barack Omama?)?  Vowing to never get into political discussions with the locals, I did feel compelled to answer the question.  After Barry and I both gave our answers (we gave the same answer), he said, “correct.”  I didn’t think it was a quiz but rather an opinion!  Then we told him why we believed what we said to be true, and he said, “that’s correct.”  I wanted to ask him what he thought about his King, or was it a Prime Minister?  But didn’t we see the home of the President of India in Delhi?  Which one is right?  Oh never mind, I couldn’t even ask him about his political leaders because not only didn’t I know their names, I didn’t know who actually ruled his country.  I obviously have a lot more to learn about the country.

Note the "no honking" sign

We left Udaipur for what was supposed to be a short plane ride to Jaipur.  Before we left the US, we were told the flight was cancelled and we would be driving the 6 ½ hours.  But not to worry, they would provide us with lunch along the way.  Ten hours later, we arrived in Jaipur.  Traffic jams, getting lost on the way to lunch and “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” were all part of the adventure.  Oh, and did I mention the bus driver honked his horn the entire way?  When I’m leading a group, I never use my ipod.  Because I was a tourist on this journey, I turned up that volume and enjoyed the music…for 10 hours. 

We arrived in Jaipur, the Pink City, late in the day.  We went to a Buddhist Temple that incorporated all religions.  There was an Islam dome on the structure, a Hindu shape to the roof.  Yes, even Moses was there on the relief sculpture work, right next to Jesus.  No one was left out.  We stayed for the sunset service and just when we were about to leave, the monk sprinkled the entire crowd with holy water.  I tried to dodge the flying water droplets but he was a really good aim.  I have now been anointed or christened or baptised or something.

We walked through the market of the Old City and saw the flower market, the milk market (where the women test the milk to see whether it has been mixed with water by the merchants and stick their fingers in it – ewe!), the bangle market and more.  Fascinating.   There was even a cow walking around in the market!  Everyone just walks around them as if they were not there – like they’re invisible!  And the cows have an attitude, like they own the place.  Actually, I believe they do! 

Snake Charmer

Today we visited the incredible Amber Fort.  After riding an elephant to the top entrance and entering through the gate of the palace, we toured the richly appointed and architecturally interesting structure.  There was so much opulence during the time of the Raj, from marble inlay to hand painted walls and ceilings to hand woven rugs…it gives you a real understanding of what life must have been like for the kings and moguls of India during that time.  Taking a jeep back down the hill, we felt like we were in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie.  Again, our jeep driving honking his horn the entire way down.

Another palace, another temple and a snake charmer (yes, really!) and the day was nearly over.
But wait – a dip in the pool, a quick shower, and we were off again! 

Tonight we had dinner with a local family of noble descent.  They toured us through their 250 year old home, given to them by the Raj and we learned about some of their traditions and how they came to live in their house.  Four brothers and their wifes all share this home, along with their kids and grandkids. Twenty something people shared the same house together – like one big, happy family!  We had dinner on the patio and enjoyed speaking with some of the family members.  They weren’t all outside with us as the family were all trying to watch a huge cricket match pairing Pakistan and India.  These rivals who are often at war with each other are still playing at this moment.  Even the Prime Minister is India is there (but does he rule the country?).  We can’t figure out how to play this game, but is has been going on for the past eight hours, and the score is 210 – 9/4–whatever that means!  We can hear chants and roaring of support in the streets, along with fireworks – at least I hope I’m hearing fireworks!

More to follow…

A Taste of India – Delhi and Udaipur

Sunday, April 10th, 2011


Namaste!

Amazing Journeys is heading to India in 2012.  Malori and Barry just returned from a “fact finding mission” and to put the finishing touches on what will be an incredible experience.  Following are their observations:


Namaste! We arrived in India Friday night, after two different eight hour flights – Pittsburgh – Paris and Paris – Delhi. We were in Paris just long enough to have a very expensive café au lait and pastry (how expensive? Two coffees and one muffin were $20 USD!).

After a good night sleep, we began our tour the next morning.  We met our group of 20.  Barry and I were the last ones to get on the bus and the only seats left were right up in front.  Naturally, we felt right at home.

Delhi is a big, bustling city of roughly 18 million people and a lot of cows. Imagine a city just slightly less populated than LA with cows everywhere! In the streets, on the sidewalk… they have the right of way. We saw the largest mosque in India, took a ricksahaw tour through the streets of Old Delhi, saw the Parliament, Supreme Court, President’s house and the largest minaret in India. We saw where Gandhi was buried (his ashes) and a monument that was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. It was a typical city tour in an atypical city.  There were those who crowded into shops and restaurants, and those who were so poor they lived in ramshackle houses built with boxes and corrogated steel in neighborhoods with others who lived the same way, under a freeway or in a bare spot of undeveloped land.

Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi


Back at the hotel, Barry and I sat by the pool and fell fast asleep in our lounge chairs. Dinner was served at the hotel with the rest of the group. Everyone was on time for dinner at 7pm, and at 9pm everyone left and went to bed, exhausted.

This morning, Barry and I got to breakfast at 9am as the bus was going to be leaving at 10am for the airport. Where was everyone? Did we mis-hear the time of departure from the hotel?  No, I was sure I had that right. And so we ate alone. Turns out, when you’re from Iowa as most of our group is, and when you go to bed at 9pm, you wake up early and have breakfast as soon as you hear the roosters! The rest of the group ate at 7am, as soon as the breakfast buffet opened.

Off to the brand new airport in Delhi (only six months old), we went through four security checks and were finally flying over the desert to the state of Rajastan, the “Kingdom State.“ With a stop along the way, and another security check before taking off again, we soon realized that we were flying very close to the border between India and Pakistan. One more security check before being allowed to disembark the aircraft, and we were on our way into the town of Udaipur. The lesson here is to save your boarding pass because you have to have it to disembark the aircraft!  One women couldn’t find hers, the guide had already gone into the terminal and so I went into “Tour Guide mode” and talked the security guard into believing that she was with me and that we are all westerners traveling together in a group.  It worked!

The weather outside was a balmy 41C. That’s about 110F!!! Driving through the mountains and desert, we saw castles, forts and palaces. This is where the real India began to unfold. This is the area of the Maharaja. The kings. Palaces with hundreds of rooms, and kings with hundreds of wifes is how I can sum up what this place was all about. Jewels, gemstones, gold…more wealth in the 16th century than any country on earth…combined!  These guys had it all. We’ll get back to that in future posts.

This afternoon, we took a boat ride around the lake where these palaces all face. Many former palaces are now hotels. It was a nice and breezy ride as we sailed past the beautiful architecture of the palaces surrounding the lake and “in” the lake. We saw people bathing in the lake, washing clothes and saw cows who were watching us from the shore, as well as keeping an eye on the bathers and laundresses. We got off at one of the former palaces – turned hotel to walk around and take some photos. This hotel was also the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. I’m beginning to recognize a pattern here.

Palaces on the lake in Udaipur


Back on the bus, we climbed a mountain until we reached our hilltop hotel, an property built from a palace that was moved, piece-by-piece so that was made to look like the original palaces of the Raj. With only 48 rooms, the hotel is absolutely breathtaking as well as luxurious. Surrounded by mountains and overlooking farmland below, we were high above it all with pools, a spa and more.


Hotel Fatah Garh - Udaipur

Dinner tonight was outside, under the stars, overlooking the city of Udaipur with it’s sparkling lights down below us. We felt like kings and queens. Our buffet was a combination of Indian foods, both spicy and milder for the tourist palate, as well as an array of Italian dishes. I have been here two days and have had lasagna three times! The good news for vegetarians and those who don’t eat meat due to kosher concerns is that there are lots and lots of vege options – more than meat choices!


Tomorrow morning we get up bright and early for our Yoga class on the patio, overlooking the mountains and valley below, before visiting the palaces.

More from India soon…Namaste!

Scattered Among The Nations

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

For thousands of years since successive waves of invaders chased the Israelites from their ancestral home, Jews have carried their religion with them wherever they have gone. Living in the Diaspora, Jews maintained their way of life, gathering in communities to share their traditions. Others were touched by the faith of the Jews scattered among them, or by the words of the Torah, and bound their lives to this enduring heritage.

There are scarcely more than thirteen million Jews in the world today; most of them live in established Jewish centers like Israel and large cities in North America and Western Europe. But what many do not know is that there are Jewish communities in Africa, Asia, South America, even parts of Europe and the Former Soviet Union, in which the Jewish populations do not have white skin or do not live fast-paced, modern lives. Some of these communities exist in places so geographically and culturally distant from other Jews that they must struggle daily to maintain the religion of their ancestors.

These often tiny Jewish communities are fascinating. Some of them are ancient such as in Tunisia where the first Jews arrived 2600 years ago during the Babylonian Exile. Others are brand new such as the the Inca Jews of Peru who started practicing Judaism just a few decades ago. The small communities are recognizably Jewish with many of them observing Shabbat and kosher laws in the familiar ways one would find everywhere. However, each have customs reflecting their own “flavor” of Judaism. For example, in the tiny Jewish communities of Uganda and Zimbabwe songs written in Hebrew are set to African melodies; in India the Benei Menashe still practice ritual sacrifice of animals while the Bene Israel have their “Malida” ceremony which offers prayers, songs and bowls of fruits and flowers to the Prophet Elijah.

Amazing Journeys has toured 7 continents and save for Antarctica, have explored and enjoyed points of Jewish interest in places like Peru, St. Petersburg, Sydney, Buenos Aires and even San Jose, Costa Rica.  Yours truly was actually an invited guest on my extended “tour of duty” in Costa Rica back in 2003, to join a family—a big “machar” at the local synagogue—for Pesach Seder.  A totally unexpected experience; so amazingly different…yet so amazingly familiar.  Jews are Jews no matter where in the world they are, no matter what language their native tongue, no matter how mainstream or remote their neighborhood.

See below for some snapshots showing our fellow Jewish kinship from places you probably never thought of around the world:

 

 

 

 

 

Ugandan Jews are called the Abayudaya and here are some congregants and their Shule. They are found in the town of Mbale which is in the Eastern part of Uganda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are five rabbis in Tunisia; and even several kosher restaurants. Yacov B’Chiri is a cantor of the Djerba, Tunisia Jewish community. B’Chiri has been playing lute, or ud, and singing Arabic and Hebrew songs since he was young, and has become a legendary voice of the Djerban Jewish community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over five decades ago, in the northern Peruvian city of Cajamarca, two brothers began a spiritual journey that would reshape their own lives and those of hundreds of others. After Alvaro and Segundo Villanueva Correa read the Torah, they eventually decided to embrace Judaism, forming a community in 1958 whose members strictly observed the Sabbath and the Festivals and kept kosher.

The group, which came to be known as the “Bnei Moshe” (or Children of Moses), makes no claim of Jewish ancestry. Rather, it consists of like-minded families and individuals who found their spiritual truth in Judaism and decided out of deep sincerity to join the Jewish people. They continued to practice Judaism faithfully over several decades, expanding to the city of Trujillo as well, and growing in number to more than 500 people.  Subsequently, nearly all of the Inca Jews underwent conversion by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate and made aliyah, thanks in part to Shavei Israel.