Travels in Asia

March 27, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia

Camels and sheikhs and robot jockeys, oh my! That’s pretty much all I could think the whole time I was at the Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack, which is situated in the sandy and relatively undeveloped outskirts of Dubai. At the races to do research for an article, I was able to ride around the track in a chase car, stuff myself with loads of free baklava, and get within dreamy distance of the Crown Prince of Dubai.


It was a wild Middle Eastern adventure to be sure, one which allowed me to get acquainted with a softer side of the city, minus all the looming skyscrapers and perfectly manicured streets. While I may have to tease you about my experience (coming soon to an in-flight magazine near you), here are some shots of the event’s most surreal moments. Also, my friend Holly, who graciously hosted me, provides a brilliant recap of the races over on her blog, so be sure to check it out!


The finish line at the races is a jumble of camels, robots, SUVs and royalty

Robot jockeys replace what used to be child jockeys, which were banned back in 2002

The Crown Prince of Dubai, AKA Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum

A winning camel after being slathered with a saffron mixture

Striking a pose with my new camel peeps

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March 6, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Travel, Travels in Asia

I was ready to head out the door, where my mom was waiting in a just-arrived taxi so that we could go to downtown Dubai. Something was missing, though.


I reached in my bag to fumble around for a few key items: Wallet? Got it. Sunglasses? Yep. Camera? Camera?!? Camera!!!!!!!!!


And then panic.


I don’t typically lose things, you see. Wallets, sunglasses, cameras — you name it — I can’t remember the last time I lost something of any value (pardon me while I knock on every piece of wood in sight). But on this particular day, I was coming off of a camel-racing high, and somehow misplaced my camera in the process.


So, naturally, a freak-out session ensued. During minutes that felt like hours, I frantically dumped out my bag, called a contact at the race track, and rung up the taxi company that had dispatched my earlier cab. And nothing. No leads. Just panic.


And then in ran my mom with news. Get this: The lovely Indian taxi driver, who had dropped me off almost 30 minutes earlier, had come back to bring me my camera. Shaken by his generosity, I broke down in tears, and thanked him profusely for his kindness.


The lessons learned here: keep an eye on your stuff, always be nice to cab drivers, and mostly, of course, never doubt how tremendously kind people can be all around the world.


The end.

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February 22, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Asia

My trip to Dubai in summary: camel races, surprise boxes of baklava, and up-close-and-almost-personal sheikh encounters. Yes, yes, I might just have to stay.


More to come soon…

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January 3, 2013 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia

The Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel: Iconic masterpieces like these often seem larger than life. But then you see them in person and, well, there they are, larger than something and no doubt impressive, although maybe not as large and magnificent as you’d anticipated after all those years of hype and history books.


The Taj Mahal, however, is not one of those places.



I initially saw the Taj while seated on a distant rooftop, where I munched on a lunch of spicy rice and yogurt-dipped naan bread. The architectural marvel, built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his *favorite* wife, peeked above the skyline like a mirage amidst a sea of trees. It was intriguing to be sure, but still a distant, almost incomprehensible speck, like trying to fathom the size of a city from a plane 35,000 feet above.



Tummies full, we joined the groups of Indians trekking down a long road to the Taj. The families were making the pilgrimage from all around the nation – an irony not lost on me considering that Candace and I had recently completed our very own pilgrimage on the Camino only months before.




Along the way, we folded into the crowd, joining them like family, making friends, sharing snap shops of who we, where we were from and why we were there. Oddly enough, not unlike the Camino, I felt bonded to my walking companions in an impossibly short amount of time and, in many cases, without even exchanging any words. I think we all shared the same enthusiastic twinkle in our eyes born out of an eagerness to know one another, not to mention the treasure at the end of our path. So it was bittersweet when we arrived at the Taj entrance and had to part, Indian citizens going through one line and Candace and I through another.



I don’t much remember the moments between leaving my new Indian friends and those few that followed; I was too distracted by what lie ahead. While I’d seen the Taj from a rooftop, once I was on street level it had disappeared, tempting me in its absence. But finally it appeared once again, revealed through a key-hole gate, where it grew larger and more radiant as we crossed the threshold.



And there it was. Somehow all the tufts of trees seemed to fall away – it was as though the skyline that I’d seen from the rooftop had vaporized into nothing, and that the Taj were now sitting on a gigantic platter for all to see. There must have been thousands of us scattered on the land that surrounded it, and yet we somehow fell away too, insignificant and nearly invisible in comparison (well, except for this darling little guy below).



Indeed, it was large and it was magnificent. And it turns out that even hype and history books can’t overstate the magic that is the Taj Mahal.

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December 19, 2012 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia

“What did you like most about India?” – that’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongues these days when asking me about my recent trip. And I continue to have one very simple answer: the Indians.


I’ve never encountered people so friendly and welcoming in all of my travels. Often not rich in wealth, the Indians I met were abundantly rich in happiness and warmth. It radiated from them as brightly as their vibrantly hued saris and shimmering gold jewelry.

What made this so especially meaningful was that it allowed me to engage with their culture in a way that I haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to elsewhere. We shared a mutual curiosity: They wanted to ask me questions, take pictures of me and with me, and I therefore felt comfortable doing the same with them. The result was a warm exchange between two cultures – one that left me humbled, awestruck and even perplexed.

This couple was nudging their son to step forward so that I’d take his picture



Perplexed because it made me wonder: if we could all approach those that are different than us with this same enthusiastic curiosity – the same happiness and eagerness to get to know – then what a different world this would be.

So while India offered me an experience filled with magical moments — the food, the sights, the music — it was the people that truly left the most meaningful mark on me. And it’s because of the people that I am certain I will one day return.

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