When I first heard about mud volcanoes, I struggled to imagine what they could look like and how and why they exist. It was easy enough to search out information on the Internet, but even after checking it out that way I honestly didn’t know what to think. In the end, I simply had to make the trip to Qobustan to find out more and - more imoprtantly - see them for myself. Located about an hour south of Azerbaijan's bustling, modern capital of Baku, Qobustan is mostly famous for being a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its place in world history as once-home to an ancient civilization, as evidenced by 3,000-year-old petroglyphs. The region is also home to almost half of all of the world’s mud volcanoes.
After living for a year in Thailand, I’ve come to love the culture and country in ways I’d never expected. This place really does have so much to offer and after being asked several times over what kinds of things I’d recommend visitors do here, I thought I’d make up my own ‘Top Things to Do’ list. I came here to teach – which was an incredible experience in so many ways – but when placed in the north of the country I was skeptical. What? No beach? However, what I soon realized was that Thailand is way more than just sun, sea and sand, and some of the best experiences to be had are far away from the surf. Some of these are only possible if you are here at certain times of the year, but you should definitely try as many as you can. Enjoy!
The world that exists below the surface in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico’s Guadalupe Mountains is a subterranean marvel, full of formations that dazzle the eyes and flirt with the imagination. The most commonly heard response from visitors upon first sight of these incredible creations is a resounding “wow!” With mouths agape, they stand transfixed by the unexpected magnificence that greets them. Everyone reacts the same way, even those who have been to the caves more than once. It’s simply impossible not to be awed by this geological wonder.
The Big D is a city on the move. First time visitors immediately pick up on the energy that radiates from this grand Texas metropolis, the state's third largest city, and that energy certianly takes them places. With a host of new parks, museums, hotels, architecturally-significant bridges and awe-inspiring sports facilities, Dallas has transformed itself and emerged as a destination-worthy location. It’s rich in sights and experiences, offering something for everyone, young and old. There is no question that Dallas knows how to delight in a big-time Texas way, and any trip here - short or long - will leave visitors all the better for the experience.
On November 22, 1963, history changed in a split second. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, while his motorcade passed through the city’s central business sector as part of a two-day Texas tour in preparation for the 1964 presidential campaign. I don’t remember much of this event, as I was a young child at the time, but I do recall my mother audibly weeping as she sat in front of the television watching the news unfold. She was shocked and horrified upon learning that the President she and so many others adored had been murdered, and like the rest of the nation, she tensely waited to hear who was responsible for such a tragedy. For many days, life in my family’s house was chaotic, with the television on 24/7 and my parents in a constant state of agitation and grief. There was a sense of despair and hopelessness. Even as a child I realized that the world around me grew heavier and darker during this period. In ensuing years, my understanding of the event and how it affected our nation grew in both substance and clarity, and I marked it as the moment when America lost its innocence.
Among those I have taken to lunch over the years, I can now add a llama to my list. My dining companion, K-2, was one of six llamas that accompanied our small group on a recent day trek with in Northern New Mexico. A handsome blonde and statuesque creature with plenty of personality, K-2 was ever-alert and curious as we hiked the trails in the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Area of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I led my trusted wooly friend through the dense woods, over bridges and into the gentle creeks within this picturesque and unspoiled wilderness. With his leather padded, two-toed feet and natural agility, he walked with a self-possessed air, exuding confidence as he navigated the terrain without faltering, while carrying a load of gear. “Llamas are the perfect low-impact, high altitude pack animal,” says Stuart Wilde, owner and head wilderness guide of Wild Earth Llama Adventures. “They are sure-footed because they have the perfect ‘mountain moccasins’ - like mountain goats - and they have little impact on fragile wilderness trails. They exemplify the ‘leave no trace’ ethic we practice and teach out here.”
As the train pulled into the Zugdidi train station in Western Georgia, the drivers started shouting "Mestia! Mestia!" assuming that most tourists getting off the train here would be heading north to the famed UNESCO World Heritage Site, as I did on a previous trip. On this day, though, I had a different end. A driver approached me like he would any tourist, offering his services to the Upper Svaneti region of the country. Curious, a small group of drivers gathered to chat when I answered that I was not headed far. I was hesitant to answer as I was going to a place that was still controversial for many Georgians. I reluctantly replied that I was heading to Gali.
Amman is a different kind of place. Though it is the capital of Jordan, it’s not always the metropolis that many may think. It’s located in a very hilly region where only the hardiest get by. Even the ploughed hillsides are dominated by submerged rocks, while other hillsides are pure rock and nothing else. The city itself is a contrast of old and new, rural and urban. It boasts all the amenities you’d expect to find, but at the same time is home to tents in the centre of small farm-like enclosures that host sheep or camels, and the occasional donkey. The sprawl of Amman is wide thanks to extensive and mostly ongoing construction work on the outskirts, and there are relatively few mosques compared to other cities in the region.
It’s easy to fall in love with Savannah, Georgia. She woos you with her beguiling charms while seducing you with promises of rich and varied experiences. She’s the consummate Southern belle – a real ‘the hostess with the mostest’ – whose popularity has consistently put her on lists of the top ten places to visit by numerous, world-renowned travel publications and websites. Everyone adores and flocks to this vibrant coastal haven at all times of the year. It’s definitely love at first sight for most newcomers, who are drawn like a magnet to the city’s beauty and its historic-but-hip, and classic-yet-cool vibes.