11 May 2022

Chance meeting – the kind that makes trips to unknown lands memorable

“Solo tourist, huh?”

I heard the voice from behind me.

Having just reached Wadi Al-Mujib, I was measuring up the river and the prospect of having to wade thru it all the way. I had sort of expected it to be like Wadi Shab in Oman where it was a dry hike till you reached the lake. This one, however, I realized, was going to be completely in the water. I also realized the wisdom in the urging of the guy at the gate to keep my bag behind and change into water shoes. Which, I had duly ignored.

Looking behind, I saw the young lady looking at me. There was nobody nearby. I deduced she was addressing me.

“Solo tourist, it is!”, I replied.

“Want to hike together?”
“Why not? That way, you can pull me up from the water when I fall down.”
“Do you know swimming?”
“Not enough to save my life with a backpack on my back”
“I do not know swimming”.
“Okay. Let’s go as far as we can together. I will not make it to the end. I do not want the bag to get wet. This will help in taking pictures of each other too”.

And with that we started exploring the canyon valley while wading thru the water. The views were simply breathtaking (you can see them in prior posts). We stopped often to take pictures of the views and of each other on our respective phones. I was not carrying my DSLR (which was a good thing – it would have gotten wet). I also realized that I really need the latest version of the iPhone.

“Where are you visiting from?”, I asked her during the wade.
“Oh! I do not think I know anybody else from Sudan. Khartoum?”
“What do you do there?”
“I work with the United Nations”
“Nice. By the way, what is your name?”

I am not terribly good at foreign names . So, I asked her to spell it for me.
“Well, It is written ‘Basma’. But it is pronounced B-E-S-M-A”
“Got it. In India, there is a similar sounding name – Reshma”.
“What’s your name?”
“No. That would be Rajab. Mine is with ‘i’. R-A-J-I-B. Rajib Roy”
“Wait. Roy from India. Are you related to the famous Roy family in Delhi?”
“I have no idea which family you are talking about, but I assure you that I am not related to anybody famous. And how do you know about a Roy family in Delhi?”
“I have been to Delhi. In fact, twice to India”
“For Untied Nations?”
“No. With my ex-inlaws. For their business.”
“Wait. Ex-in-laws. Ok. Now I get it.”
“Get what?”

I laughed and told her how I am terrible in computing relationships especially when a divorce is involved. I told her the funny story from 1996 when my colleague Stacy had mentioned “my ex-stepfather” and it had taken me a full 10 minutes to unentangle how you can put an “ex” and a “step” in the same relationship!

Anyways, thru the rest of the trip, I got to know about all the exciting places Basma has been to (and she has been to a lot of countries). She seemed very free spirited. I was especially impressed by how much of local knowledge and culture she has learnt in all those trips.

At some point, the water became too deep for me to save the backpack. We exchanged contacts and I turned back.

Reflecting back, one thing I learnt from her is that I need to make a lot more of these trips to different parts of the world. Especially lesser known parts of the world. There is so much to learn from people you meet randomly on the road from so many different backgrounds.

The world is so big and beautiful. And the first thing we do is put four walls around us and stay put there!

11 May 2022

An old tradition – relived

One of the best ways to learn about a new country, I have found, is to make friends with a local driver and then keep him or her for the whole trip. Usually that relationship starts from the trip from the airport to the hotel or the first trip out of the hotel.

There have been some incredible learnings on the way. Like Jorge taking us to a completely desolate waterfall that no visitors visit. Or Giacomo taking us to a beautiful spot for lunch when I asked him “Where would you take your girlfriend to that is not visited by tourists?” in Italy. There was I Wayan in Indonesian, Juan in Chile, Henrique in Azores, Mohammad in Oman…. I have about 15 such great friends in my list. What always started with strangers on a drive invariably continued as a lifelong friendship. Of course, the annual birthday calls are always there to remind each other of the great memories I still cherish.

This trip, I made – hopefully another life long – relationship with Mahmoud. He picked me up from the airport and we hit it off immediately. He was, of course, extremely knowledgeable about the whole place. But more importantly, he got it very quickly that I was more interested in places of natural beauty and far less in historical importance.

We got to know about each others’ families. I was very excited to hear about his two sons’ career plans. Hopefully, they will all visit us in the US sometime.

Meanwhile, I cannot wait to go back to Jordan with my family and meet his family!

11 May 2022

Hubbly bubbly?

I was reading the sign at the Marriott gate waiting for the security guy to do the check. Check out where it mentions “hubbly bubbly”. My first question was why was champagne being mentioned specifically after already saying beverages were not allowed. And what is hubbly?

Learnt that hubbly bubbly is basically a hookah! That explains – no outside food, drinks or smoke.