“You have only been on four dives! Like even during your training?” my diving guide exclaimed in disconcerted shock. I averted my eyes in embarrassment and I jotted down six dives on the sheet over the four I had put down on the sheet originally. I felt like exclaiming, “UTAH DOESN’T HAVE AN OCEAN YOU WANKERS, AND I’M SMARTER THAN I LOOK!” I was diving in Cabo San Lucas, it was my first time scuba diving in a real Ocean, I was excited and terrified.
I stayed in the corner slightly embarrassed by being the newest diver in our group. The person just above me in dives was an older gentleman with 22 dives in his dive book, ‘Great….I’m going to be the weak link here’ I thought begrudgingly, mentally self-flagellating.
So for new divers, the dive company takes you out and will hook up your BCD, get you fitted for fins etc. It is a mad dash, and it all happens very quickly, so be prepared and know exactly what you need. Also, the weights you use in fresh water are going to be much much lighter than the weights you use in salt water. Physics in real life I guess, so I had to add a few more pounds to what I typically wear. Probably the only time that I’m going to say ‘it’s ok to add a few more pounds’ lol.
Traveler Tip: I used Cabo Adventures Dive Shop (not sponsored) they were so precise, on time, and even offer a free drink at the end of the dive. Highly recommend them, especially for first-time ocean divers. Viator also offers Scuba Tours for Beginners as well.
Getting Geared Up
I put my full footed scuba fins on, trying not to think of how many other athlete’s foot infected feet it had previously been on (#healthcareworker problems). While putting on the BCD I brought with me, I momentarily panicked ….. the zippers wouldn’t reach around my girth. ‘I couldn’t have gained that much weight on the cruise already! It has been two days!’
A moment of clarity made me realize that I hadn’t loosened my straps up…oops. It’s hard to try and act like you know what your doing when the boat is getting rocked too and fro, the sea is so choppy that even my friends snuba and her snorkel were both cancelled because of the bad weather. I was secretly hoping that the choppy waves would bring the whales closer into shore so that I could swim with them. Focus Janiel.
This is when the embarrassment started for me as I previously relayed to you. The handsome guide padded his way over to me with the clipboard, “You have only been on four dives! Like even during your training?” he exclaimed in disconcerting shock. I averted my eyes in embarrassment and I jotted down six dives on the sheet over the four I had put down on the sheet originally. I felt like exclaiming, “UTAH DOESN’T HAVE AN OCEAN YOU WANKERS, AND I’M SMARTER THAN I LOOK!”
Slightly irritated I took to getting my mask defogged and placed on my face. I mentally ran through my checklist Air was on, BCD fitted and pre-filled slightly with air so I don’t sink right away, fins on and then the other scuba members started jumping off the boat. There were two other people who were master diver’s from Las Vegas and knew my instructor Rachelle from Scuba Utah. They got the special advanced diver tour….sigh….I will get there…..My turn to jump into the roiling ocean.
The boat pitched to the starboard side just enough that I
was able to unhook the scuba tank from the plastic holders on the sides of the
boat. ‘I will not grunt to get up’, I was by far the largest person diving that
day…’stop it Janiel, just own it. You just found out you have Hypothyroidism,
and a Progesterone level of a Post-Menopausal woman and your only 35 so just
stop it, own it, and the healthy habits will come as your hormones level out’.
I waddled my way to the end of the mid-size boat/yacht, flippers and all and felt like a penguin out of Mary Poppins dancing awkwardly to the end of the boat. I shoved my mask tightly onto my face, held my blessed regulator (air supply) and took my giant stride into the ocean for the first time. It wasn’t too different from jumping into a wave pool, just with more gear strapped on.
Once I broke the surface, a wave generously greeted me with a slap in the face….thank goodness for the mask and regulator. I quickly switched over to my snorkel gear as Rachelle had taught me to help conserve some of my air for the actual Scuba Diving portion. It is the kind of snorkel gear that doesn’t allow water to backflow into the tube, so even though the waves would hit me hard, I could still breath the fresh air.
The current was a little hard to fight with the current weather. We were instructed to hang on to the previously placed buoyed line the dark tall and handsome Hispanic staff had set up for us. Focus Janiel. The other members of the group came over, and then I was whipped around by the best-looking male staff member. ‘Hello Poseidon, I will be your Mermaid prisoner’ I thought dreamily, then was interrupted by him grabbing the front of my BCD and he thought I was freaking out, so he just said, ‘breath slowly, in and out’—– ‘o….m….g…..Dark skin, grabbing the front of my BCD, the waves circling around us…..I’m in a freaking LOVE NOVEL!’ Focus Janiel. Then I heard what he was saying, “Stop freaking out, and just breathe slowly. See if you can sink, “Innn nnoott fweaking ouwww” I tried to say through my snorkel tube….’lovely, now I look like an idot’ I inwardly groaned at my unfeminine unflirty way of handling myself.
The Blue Abyss
We finally got the weight right, my BCD straps re-tightened down and we started to descend into the blue abyss below. Our first stop was the Sand Waterfalls, this would bring us to an edge of a cliff that had sand billowing down into the 1000 or so meters below making it appear as if there was a sand waterfall, underwater. My dive buddy, James, a Dive Master from Oklahoma, graciously decided to join the Open Water crew, where he was so incredibly kind to keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t dive too deep or kill myself in some naïve way. Thank you James, you da best!
I put my red filter on my GoPro and started swimming with the group. The fish we saw were incredibly colorful to my eyes, stripped, black and white spots, puffer fish galore, and I even found Dory! I wanted to smile, but when you do that it makes it hard to breath, because it takes the air seal away from around your regulator and vuala, you are gagging on salty sea water. So I pursed my lips instead and made a few little squealing giggles, which scared the fish away…..diving is apparently a serious endeavor. Just for your information, fish don’t like bubbles either. It is hard to not create bubbles because the first rule of diving is that you have to keep breathing….so I just breathed a little deeper, and more slowly and a fish came right up to my mask 😊
As we were making our way towards the sand falls, the photographer with us, clinked something on his tank and waved us over. After my eyes adjusted to the colors of the rock, I saw it, a HUGE Eel head with his mouth open and what looked like no eyes. If you aren’t good at bouncy I suggest keeping a safe distance from them lest you accidently encroach on his terf and get electrocuted. I don’t think getting CPR, or dying from electrocuted drowning sounded fun so I got as close as I dared with my current skills and without the current driving me into the eel.
As we made our way around the cliff, there was a school of shiny silver fish, let’s call it Tuna that was swimming around lazily. I quickly turned back facing down and watched them follow each other just like they did in Finding Nemo. ‘I should have been born a Mermaid. I wonder why God didn’t really make Mermaids’, my computer on my wrist beeped at me angrily, signaling that I would need to descend further as I was slowly rising to the surface in awe of what I was seeing. Focus Janiel, no Nitrogen Toxicity for you. Guess diving really is a serious business if you want to go back home without a stroke, electrocuted, or near drowning. Who knew that Scuba Diving could be so dangerous!
The Underwater Sand Falls
I snorted a bit sea water, and quickly cleared my mask, readjusted the tank on my back and then realized we were swimming over the sand waterfalls. Sadly, due to the current and choppy waves above, the underwater physics of it all wasn’t working.
These sand waterfalls are formed by the friction between the tectonic plates of North America and the Pacific, combined with the union of the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. There are very few places in the world that this geological wonder exists. Please be advised that if the waters are choppy, or a storm is near, the sand falls may not be ‘working’ as well as if the seas are calm.
Ascending from Heaven
After a few minutes at the sand falls, we made our way back
over to our pickup point and did our 3 minute ascending safety stop to ensure
we didn’t get Nitrogen toxicity.
I watched the double arrows on my non-air integrated Cressi watch to ensure I was not ascending too quickly. One arrow indicates you are going too slowly, two arrows indicates you are ascending at a good speed, three arrows the watch gets angry and starts making an annoying beeping like your alarm clock you would do anything to turn off. Two arrows, all the way up for me.
I broke the surface with 1200psi on my air reserve —
perfect – I wasn’t the weak link! So happy that I made it the while dive
without any issue and wasn’t the first to run out of air. I switched over to my
snorkel but the waves and current were a bit too much to handle, I figured I
had the reserve air in the tank for a reason, so I switched back over to the
tank air and kept my regulator in until I was safetly in the boat. I was so
glad there was a protected area lined off for us to surface as the tour boats
full of tourists were all over the place bumping around. Not quite bumper
boats, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it came to that.
Diving Tip:Make sure you take your fins off before you enter the boat, I know they teach you that in Scuba School – but when there is a lot of chaos and bad weather, you might forget and fall back in the water slipping off the ladder. Not that I would know, I took my flippers off just after I had a hold of the ladder…..ahem….just like a pro would.
A Surface Interval with Whales
I walked over to my seat, taking half the ocean with me in the process. I knew my energy stores were low, and was kicking myself for not stealing some granola bars or something for between dives. Then I saw someone eating fruit on a stick, then my eyes glued onto the fruit in the plastic bin….LOADS OF FRUIT! Juicy sweet yellow pineapple, soft honeydew melon that melted in my mouth, and cantelope the orange rind fruit that topped the delicious first dive off with a bang! I then washed it all down with some sweet tea and water they had available for us in the jugs near the dry area of the front of the ship.
After a deliciously sweet interlude with the fruit, I grabbed my GoPro to check some of the footage. The diving staff magically switched over all my gear to the new tank (THANK YOU)! Then I heard a OMG from the front of the boat. My emergency response medical training kicked in, and a slight giggle as I rushed to the front of the boat – hoping that one of the handsome men would somehow need CPR. It was better than giving mouth to mouth to one of the sea god staff members that was helping us – three huge spouts of water blew up into the air a few miles ahead of us. The sea god staff members began yelling, ‘Vamos! Vamos! Vamos! OMG – Did you see that! It’s A WHALE!’
The engine revved and we dropped to our knees holding onto the front of the boat as we all yelled, ‘FASTER’. The captain showed a smile of delight at pushing the engine of the boat to its full capacity as everyone started laughing and scanning the distance at where the whales would have gone to. ‘There!’ I exclaimed in delight as I saw a massive fin come up out of the water on the left, and another spout on the right. The captain slowed as we neared the area, and then it happened, one after another there were two whale backs and a spout that we could feel the spray from on the front of the ship. We all broke into cheers, jumping up and down, slapping each other on the back as if our team had just won the Superbowl. Little did we know the best was yet to come, whale back’s crested again in front of us, two more whale tail fins to the right.
A spout in the distance, and then a whale breached – we were all so stunned we couldn’t believe what had just happened. Nearly crying with excitement I asked the sea God staff member next to me if I could jump in …..they were RIGHT THERE! My ultimate bucket list ambition is to swim with whales – it is the entire reason I got scuba certified! They were so close, alas, the joy quickly disappeared from his face, and a very serious look replaced it with a hard, ‘NO, it is illegal to do that in this area of the ocean’, my dive master friend James chimed in reluctantly saying, ‘Yeah, it might not be so safe if they are feeding. We had some bottle-nosed whales grab us by our fins and start playing with us the last time we went diving’. Although my hopes were dashed in that moment, with a touch of fear…..nothing could dispel the joy I felt at having just witnessed what I did.
During the brief pause of the show – I grabbed my Sony DSC M3 Camera and not 1 minute after I came back to my comrades on the front of the boat the whales gave us another gorgeous show that I was able to capture on camera. My cheeks hurt by the end of the whale of a show from smiling so much, I didn’t even mind though. I was within 20 feet of some of the most gorgeous creatures in the ocean and they just put on one hell of a show for me for my Birthday.
I couldn’t help but think that my Grandmother who passed away two weeks before this trip was there experiencing this with me. I said a little prayer of thanks to God, and whispered under my breath…Thank you Grams, I love you and miss you every day. I don’t think I will ever forget how we went on the Alaskan cruise together, and her awe at spotting whales, and seals in the distance – or small permanent smile my Grandfather had while looking through his binoculars out the window of the cruise ship trying to spot something for his sweetheart while listening to the string quartet in the background. This will always be one of my favorite moments of all of us together. Now I am carrying on the tradition of cruising and whale watching. Don’t cry Janiel, ya gotta be tough, just be grateful and send your love into the Ocean.
Seals, Shipwrecks, and Sand
Refocusing on the task at hand, we made our way back to Land’s End – our second dive site. This is where the open ocean meets the edge of the land mass that is Cabo San Lucas. It was still quite wavy and bumpy in this area, but the sun was peaking out below the stormy looking clouds, and creating a beautiful glow in the water. We quickly dropped into the water and followed the same procedures as above. We quickly dropped down to depth (35 feet) and made our way to the ship wreck that had washed in from the ocean. We were greeted by more colorful fish, my favorite fish were the yellow ones that came towards you in swarms when you played in the sand – they would suck up the sand looking for things to eat. Gorgeous little things almost were left behind in the process of playing with the fish. My cheeks were so sore from smiling, then trying not to smile around my regulator. How did people not choke to death from smiling at all of this!
We continued to see coral reef rock that, honestly, looked a little dead – but fish still seemed to be able to hide in the nooks and crannies. We rounded a rock outcropping and there was the shipwreck, laid out in front of me. Rusted from the ocean, and covered in new coral growth it was laid out so that you could still recognize it as a ship. The ribbed underbelly, the wheelhouse, it was absolutely massive! We slowly made our way along the innards of the ship, being careful to keep our bounancy at the right level so that the strong current in this area wouldn’t pull us haphazardly into a metal ship shard.
I heard the clinking on the air tank from our guide pointing upwards and that’s when I saw the sealion! Playing in the water like a child let out for recess on a sunshiny day. The ocean surprised me yet again, when our guide clinked and told us to come to him and drop down through his hand signals. We dropped to an open area where sand protected us from the shards of the ship. As soon as I dropped down next to the guide, more sealions, six of them to be precise dropped into our view and began barking at each other underwater. Twirling, swirling, flying around each other and above us. It must have been that they have just eaten, I’m always happier when I eat too 😉
We stayed in that area for quite some time until the sea lions were done with their show. We made our way along the ship again, when a fellow diver pointed to an area underneath a warped piece of metal creating a cave like area underneath it. There in the cave was a fish that was bigger than the top part of my body put together (be sure to watch for it in my YouTube Video). The thing was bigger than two sealions put together. I didn’t want to find out if it was friendly or not, nor did I want to find out if it was territorial- I kept a safe distance and realized just how small I was in this massive world I was just discovering.
Ascending as a Sea Goddess
Gathering together, we performed our last safety stop. I could tell I was getting tired because I couldn’t quite get all the air out of my lungs. My Asthma was beginning to kick in and I knew it was time for me to be done and use my inhaler again. Once we got to the surface, it was difficult to fight the current when I was this tired so I turned over on my back – kept my regulator in and methodically kicked my way towards the boat. I knew I needed to get in the boat before my energy gave out, but I took my fins off, hauled my butt and the heavy gear up the 5 rungs on the ladder – leaned forward to let one of the Sea God Staff members grab the top of my tank and helped me into the tank holder and I sat down with a thud.
As I was catching my breath, my diving buddy and master diver, James thudded down next to me and said breathily, ‘You can be my dive partner any day. You did AWESOME! Your buoyancy was so good. You should be really proud of yourself with that being your first ocean dive, especially with the weather we are having’. It put another achingly satisfying smile on my face, and I replied with a slightly stunned, ‘REALLY!?!? You mean that?’, ‘Absolutely, you did great for your first dive’.
Just call me a Sea Goddess! I had just mastered my first
dive successfully with a compliment from a Master Diver that was more of the
quiet type, yet he congratulated me. I was indeed proud of myself, despite the
concerned looks that friends gave me when I said I wanted to do diving. The
kind, but doubtful way that people often look at me because of my size – with
the unsaid words of ‘difficult diver’, ‘burden’ ‘too big to fit and all the
other self-depreciating, anxiety driven encounters and moments along the way
the last 4-5 months of diving….I had done it, and I had not just completed it,
I was SUCCESSFUL at it.
See the thing is, we are the masters of our own souls – we
are the driving force behind each decision. Don’t let your own insecurities,
own self-doubts get in the way of doing something that will give you a reason
to live and reconnect not just what is important, but who is important (you),
and memories of loved ones that may be important to you. Push your internal
boundaries, and a whole new world will truly open up to you.
As always….happy travels, happy tales, and see you on the flip side.
I booked my trip with a tour group called Cruise Lady, a Christian tour group that would take us from Jordan over into Israel to tour the popular Christian pilgrimage sites. I figured that I would tack on the Israel tour since they were already going there, but my primary focus was Petra.
The flight over to Jordan was…..well…HELL. It started off great, then I arrived in Atlanta and discovered with an eight-hour delay I would have to leave the terminals and could not check in until four hours before my flight was scheduled to leave. I was left to utilizing a wheelchair and attempting to sleep from my red-eye flight in the front of the check-in desk right under the air conditioner.
Finally getting into the airport, I flew to JFK airport in New York. This was another three-hour delay before heading to Paris, where another four-hour delay happened. I was overheard some of the other passengers and discovered they were in my tour group. I was too irritated and sleep deprived to try and make friends with the happy couples two aisles away. Freaking city of love, I hated happy people at that moment and was soooo determined to make people pay for my lack of sleep.
While I realize this wasn’t the best attitude, by the time I got to Paris, I had been on planes and in airports for more than 28 hours with very little sleep. Getting onto the plane, I did an attitude check and consoled myself with the fact that this was the last leg of the journey. This last flight was one of the most uncomfortable flights to date, my legs were swollen, I didn’t know at the time how to Combat Jet Lag, but was so exhausted I fell asleep while trying to eat dinner and slept the rest of the way to Jordan (Thank God for that).
Arriving at the Jordan Airport in Amman
Getting off the plane….I almost cried in relief….ok I did cry a little when we got there. I don’t do well when I don’t get at least four hours of sleep a night, and tend to get irritable, then emotional and start crying like the world is going to end. Then the culture shock set in….I was in the Middle East. There were beautiful dark-skinned men in white robes like angels, that contrasted with the tactical red and white scarves tied down onto their heads with black (what looked like, headbands). Women dressed in headscarves, and long trench coats despite the humid heat the enveloped the whole airport. The medical professional in me wanted to start handing out water bottles to every woman who passed by, but on closer inspection….they weren’t sweating.
I still don’t understand how these women weren’t melting like the Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. My culture shock was interrupted with instructions from Diane and her husband, our guides for this trip – to quickly collect our luggage and head to the border control. Without getting into too much detail about the laborious process of crossing the border into Amman, answering a thousand questions in English to the policeman – we got on our bus and headed into the heart of Amman at Ten o’clock at night.
Checking into our hotel was a smooth process as any I have experienced. I think I half-expected to just be breathing in dust, have sub-par sleeping arrangements then leave on our adventures the next day. I have to apologize to the people of Jordan for having a very skewed view of my expectations, I couldn’t have been more wrong about my expectations. Walking into the hotel was like walking into an upscale Marriot hotel with intricate patterns, rich colors and beautiful furnishings. I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I am an Arabian Princess’. I quickly checked in, rode the elevator that fit 2 people with their luggage to my 4th-floor room, turned on the AC, took out my eyeballs (aka my contacts) – and collapsed in exhaustion on the bed. Nope, I didn’t even shower – #noshame.
Traveling to Petra
The drive to Petra was very long, but our tour guide was able to give us an education on the people of Jordan, and their cultural practices along the way. A brief history was provided about Petra, and what it actually encompasses.
We arrived into the Petra Guest House quite late, but the warm glow highlighting the stone buildings was very inviting. A quick check in, and then off to my room where I had to figure out how to get the water to be warm without scalding me, and not turn the 1/8 of an inch to where I would get hypothermia, lol.
Petra Guest House – Visit Petra
Overall the Petra Guest House fit my needs perfectly, with a small workout room, plenty of stairs to exercise in, quiet mornings where I had ‘Best Day of My Life’ by American Authors on repeat while I ran all over the hotel grounds. I was told that it would not be safe to run around the town in my tight yoga pants and exercise shirt. This is not because the men are predatorial, they just aren’t used to seeing women in tight clothing, and would attract unwanted attention. While I don’t like running around in circles, I do try and respect the cultures idiosyncracies as best I can. It doesn’t hurt to put a bathrobe or a swimming suit cover over your exercise clothes until you get into the workout room.
I did have a few boys in their early 20’s come to peek in the exercise room at me, which was a little disconcerting – but if you saw a man in short shorts at a business meeting you would stare too right? Not because it is sexual, but more because it would be so out of the ordinary for you. It is the same kind of idea in countries like this. I had a local once told me, “it would be better to just walk naked than wear yoga pants because then the imagination just goes crazy”. So now that you know, try to keep things loose and covered, unless you like that kind of flirtation – then, by all means, have a hay day…. the men there are rather gorgeous.
Relief of a traveler with a remnant of camels toes
The History of Petra
Petra comes from the Greek word for rock. In Arabic, it is known as “al-madina al wardi-ah,” meaning rose-colored city.
Petra was once the capital of the Nabatean Empire, a group of nomads that began wandering here from Arabia in the 6th century. Before this archeologists report that this area was inhabited by the Edomites.
The peak of the Nabatean Empire had an estimated 30,000 people within Petra. How did that many people survive in a desert with no discernable water source? The answer to this lies in water cisterns, an extensive and intricate water canal system that is carved into the rocks at the edges of the Siq, or road into Petra. You can see an example of this as you hike into Petra. Eventually, clay pipes were made and pumped water into the city.
water canals in Petra
This ancient city grew to be a critical control point for trade as it controlled the Spice Road into Arabia, Africa, and India to the West. Due to the skills the Nabateans had from being nomads, they excelled in trading spices, ivory, perfumes, fabrics, iron, copper, sugar, medicines, gold, and incense. You can get a taste of this trade still when you visit today as shops, tents, and even children roam Petra in search for a dollar (or fifty) to help them survive the year.
For 600 years only the Bedouin tribes knew of its existence until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt heard locals talking about the city while in Cairo. The need to explore something unknown overtook him and he disguised himself as an Arab scholar and had a guide take him to the Tomb of Haroun (Tomb of Aaron, the Biblical figure) – which is said to be near Petra.
Make sure to keep your eye out for God figures carved into the surrounding rock on your journey to the heart of Petra. If you sit next to one of the tomb-like structures, it is often believed by the Bedouin that the wind whistling through the open holes at the top are the voices of the past speaking to those who enter Petra.
Hiking to Petra
The desert and stone absorb the heat and reflect up towards you, making the trek through the shaded canyon a welcoming reprieve. The split rock canyon feeds you down into the Petra valley below, but not before it engulfs you in its 250 foot high walls. About a mile into the Canyon, I began thinking, “I traveled 2,000 miles to hike in Las Vegas Red Rock National Park”. While the walk down into Petra does amusingly feel like walking through the desert canyons of Red Rock National Park or Southern Utah the water canal systems and statues of Ancient Gods remind you that it is a different place.
Traveler Tip: If you plan your trip right, or stay a few days – visit Petra at night, where there are candles and meditation available for the tourists. While it isn’t something locals do in particular, it is an activity that is provided for the tourists & gives some fantastic opportunities for nighttime shots.
As you get closer, it seems as if the canyon swallows you whole, the sun disappears from view completely, and just as you start to feel claustrophobic….a light at the end of the canyon appears and you see it! The Treasury, it took my breath away and my face split into a wide grin that was infectious to the Bedouin passing by at alarmingly fast speeds. I was here, I made it, despite all the doubt and fears and the long-awaited journey…I was here. I purposefully slowed my walk, drinking in every moment of triumph and wonder this was giving me. Dreams really do come true, and as the American Author song said – it truly was the best day of my life.
Al Khanza (in Arabic) is the Treasury, and in fact is the treasure of Petra. It was right in front of me in all its 150 feet tall and 100 feet wide glory, the diamond of this desert Oasis. While there is much speculation as to what this particularly lavish tomb was used for, many believe it to be the tomb of a Nabatean King.
Disappointingly, you cannot enter the structure as Indian Jones did in The Last Crusade. The views are well worth it though, to realize you are standing in front of one of the wonders of the world.
Photography Tip: If you walk towards the Treasury, then turn to the right – there is a smaller tomb that you can descend into. Go down the first few steps and turn back towards the Treasury. As you can see the tourists disappear from your shot and you can look like you are a beautiful desert flower against the palace behind you 😉
Our group split up to explore the city of Petra and all its nooks and crannies. I decided to ride a camel into and around the city so that I could scratch another item off my bucket list.
What people don’t tell you about riding camels is how grimy they are. They also so tall that were it not for my iron grip on the reigns and the death like squeeze of my thighs around its midsection I would have pitched right off the front of the camel to the surrounding bedouin’s gleeful laughter.
Pro-Tip: When riding a camel, please lean back as it stands up – imagine you are riding one of those mechanical bulls and you should be able to retain your seat.
The Bedouin People
This is where my story became a little bit dark. As I was riding the camel through Petra and was on my way back to the Treasury – I experienced a little catcalling from the locals. In a way that was explicitly suggestive of riding the animal like I would ride them.
A Bedouin photographer also tried to steal a kiss from me in one of the tomb alcoves. Another man tried to buy me through a marriage proposal with 1,000 camels. After talking with several different Jordanian men, who live in America and are dear friends of mine now – I discovered that the Bedouin men do not have a good reputation when it comes to integrity. While their blue eyes, dark skin, and dark hair are alluring and tempting, to say the least – keep yourself, safe ladies. There will be plenty of offers of kissing, sex, and coming home to enjoy dinner with him and his family (except the family won’t be there). They have been taught over and over by women who visit that it is ok to have a ‘fling’ with them and then leave. Many of them would love to come to America or your home country, so just be cautious and firm in your stance of ‘no means no’.
Camels in Petra Jordan
For those men who do not take no for an answer, just loudly exclaim ‘Hakeer Kelb’ while pointing at the pursuing male – and he will likely become disgruntled and back off.
While there are rare instances of some of the Bdoul Bedouin tribe men marrying foreigners successfully, it is best to keep the culture of the area free from any more inappropriate influences. It is easy to get lost in Petra, and according to my Jordanian Police friend, this is not somewhere that is safe to stay overnight unless you are with a tour group.
For those who would like a horseback and carriage rides to the main sites in Petra. Be careful of tricks the Bedouin try to pull on tourists. They will tell you the rides are free, or the rides are included in your ticket – but once you get to your location they demand $50 or more and will be incessant about it. Keep your purses close to you, as pickpocketing can also be a problem for some.
While some interactions may be distasteful, there was one unexpected friend that I found while in Petra. A small girl, dressed in typical garb, selling necklaces and bracelets to tourists. Her business-like manner, hustle, and frankly way of selling herself left me thoroughly impressed. While she was ok with my answer of, ‘no thank you’ – she made me smile, told me her story and sat with me for a spell. I ended up buying a necklace and matching earrings from her that I could have made on my own at home – but have become the prized pieces of my jewelry collection.
I ended up giving her about 20 Jordanian Dinar for the items, I know this is an outrageous amount of money to pay for the type of jewelry she was selling – but I couldn’t help bring hope into her eyes. A girl of twelve, who smoked like a chimney, spoke like a wall street sales woman – call me a sucker, but I couldn’t help it.
It was enough money for her, that she stopped selling the jewelry and came around with me and the tour group for a while. She showed me some nooks and crannies that most tourists miss, gave me photo ideas, tied my scarf around my head properly to keep the sun off and the sweat out of my face, and helped brush me off when I played a mummy in one of the graves. In the end – she became an unexpected friend. It was hard to leave her, and we both became a little teary-eyed when I left – I wish I could have adopted my little bosom buddy.
I think the visit to Petra overall was something that will stay in my heart forever. I overcame a lot of self-doubt and speculation about the dangers in Jordan. I made the journey there alone, despite going in a tour group, I’m proud that I did it alone. I fulfilled one of my dreams of seeing a wonder of the world, learned so many things about the culture, the people and myself along the way. While the culture shock was quite real, I now find my Jordanian friends get so excited to be able to relate to me in a way that brings an unspoken mutual understanding and level of trust between us. There are so many misconceptions about Jordan and its people, but yet they are one of our greatest allies in the Middle East. So if you get a chance to visit Jordan, be sure to make your way to Petra and see how the Arabian nomads made it into a thriving desert city.
Useful Arabic Words (phonetically)
Shukran : Thank You Hakeer Kelb: A slightly off colorway of calling someone a dirty dog (considered rude, but just under the offensive language) Hello: Marhaba, Salam Malaykum No: La-ah ; Yes: Na’am Other Useful Phrases in Jordanian Arabic
Founded in 1203 by Alexander the II of Scotland, this is the oldest surviving benedictine monastery still used for its original purpose. With a steady and repetitive schedule, the Monks that live here have well established it as a place of peace and refuge. To get here it requires a long walk from the car park down a paved path. The sun breaks through the trees, revealing mossy forest floor, while the rustling leaves provide a natural symphony of peace. As you approach the Abbey, the bells will chime out that it is time for prayer, and are just the beginning of your journey. Rounding the corner, you will enter the Abbey through a small wooden door that puts you directly into the grand apse. Here there is the history laid out in a timeline you get lost in, doors quietly close and open into the main chapel. Following one of the monks into the chapel, you sit down as they quietly read prayers and contemplate your journey not just through Scotland, but of your life. It is hard not to reflect on these things, as a sense of fortitude, peace, love, and devotion rings through to the soul accompanying those bells above. Once the bells end, the rumbling chorus of the men in full-length white robes begins. The monks sing quite hymns, with unwritten gentle harmony resulting from the contribution of the many different voices joined together. Of all the choirs you will hear, this will be the most uniquely reverent and soul moving – no matter what religious affiliation you are from.
Traveler Tip: If you join during one of these sessions, be sure to stand up when the monks leave the chapel as a sign of respect. I didn’t know you were supposed to do this as I was sitting in the front row and felt extremely foolish afterward.
Originally a wooden fortification, the Spynie Palace was once home to the Bishops of Moray. There are very few visitors to this corner of the world, but well worth the visit for its picturesque surroundings and to witness one of the tallest surviving great towers in Scotland. A wooden shack serves as the ticket counter, with a man that looks like the grandfather that would sneak you cookies behind your grandmother’s back.
With a gleam in his eye, he gives you a ticket, instructs you on a bit of the history of the Palace in a calm and measured way. Then sends you on your way to explore the historic building. Surprisingly the grounds are well kept with gently rolling slopes of grass, where a moat once was. The surrounding trees and towers provide ample shade, perfect for a picnic and to bask in the Scottish Sun in May. This would be a perfect place for a picnic, so much so that a picnic table sits just outside this 13th century stone fortification.
For the more adventurous and physically capable, ascend the stairs up the six stories of David’s tower. Peer down into the floors below, where giant fireplaces take up 5 spans of a wall where I imagine Mary Queen of Scots would have warmed herself during the 18 months she was imprisoned here. The intrigue surrounding her imprisonment and rumors of Lord Bothwell fleeing here as well is a story well worth reading about. After the quadricep burning climb of the six flights of winding stairs, you emerge on the top of the tower with 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside.
While I wasn’t personally able to visit this Castle, I would recommend it to all those who love ruins and a bit of history. This motte-and-bailey castle built in 1140, yes that’s right….1140! At that time it was one of the most secure fortifications in Scotland, a place where its occupants and tenants would have sought refuge from raiding parties, Vikings and the like. Surprisingly the castle remained occupied up until the 17th century. After the death of the 2nd Lord Duffus in 1705, the castle became unsuitable for living and was abandoned.
Touring the grounds you may see a filled in moat, the tower that partially sunk into the land itself toppling over and becoming a perfect spot for the visual trick of pretending as if you are attempting to put the castle back upright. Despite being in ruins now, Duffus Castle has picturesque surroundings and a landscape that makes it easy to imagine the surrounding area as it would have been so long ago.
Why is Elign Cathedral a must see Cathedral?
As I was looking at the best Castles in Scotland, I came across a cathedral that reminded me of those in France. It is called Elgin Cathedral and was considered the Candle of the North in its day. Yet despite being in ruins now, it still has a very romantic feel to it – and is worth the visit if just for the view. It wasn’t the history that intrigued me per se on this one, it was the activity in a 12th-century cathedral that intrigued me. This is one of the few remaining 12th-century cathedrals, and the only one in Scotland that you can still climb to the top of the Belltower as the Monks would have.
I stopped counting how many steps once my quadriceps muscles started to claw their way out of my leg. By the time you get done with Scotland, you will be able to kick a soccer ball to the moon by how many stairs you are going to climb. Once you get to the top, past all the hanging chains to keep out the pigeons and birds laying nests in the towers. You emerge onto an expansive steel platform, the wind whips your hair and makes your eyes water a bit – but all the effort is worth the view that greets you. It made me understand why religious places, typically the tallest buildings in the towns of the 12th-17th centuries had bell towers. If I was a monk, the bell tower with a view like this would make me feel close to God.
The History of Elgin Cathedral
Originally consecrated in 1224, burnt down in 1270, the building doubled in size and the aisles and choir nave was added. Bishop Alexander Bur declared Elgin Cathedral the ornament of the realm, the delight of foreigners, and an object of praise in foreign lands. In 1390, Earl Alexander Stewart the “Wolf of Badenoch,” brought an army of Highlanders to burn the cathedral and town of Elgin. This was in retaliation for being excommunicated for adultery. Then in 1402, Lord Alexander Macdonald plundered the cathedral. It lost its roof shortly after the Protestant Reformation of 1560, and in 1711 its central tower fell after hundreds of years of neglect and pillaging of booty and stones. But the cathedral’s fortunes began to change when it became a visitor attraction in the early 1900s and was adopted by the Historic Scotland Foundation.
Self-Guided Tour of Elgin Cathedral
I would suggest starting at the west end, with the 1270 AD square towers and intricate window above the entrance to the Cathedral. Turn and look at the coat of arms of Bishop Dunbar (1422-35), this is located high on the gable. Wander through the graves and see just how old some of them are, contain your excitement for this next bit….you are literally standing among history. Walk into the octagonal chapter house where the clergy of this church used to meet.
Explore the different tombs, here you will find graves of crusader knights, and the tallest grave in Scotland, standing 5 meters high. Play ‘Where’s Waldo’ and try to spot the Pictish Falconry image, a very rare site (hint: it is in the St Giles Parish Church area). The Guided tours run daily at 10.30am and 2.30pm (available Mon 9 Apr to Sun 30 Sept)
The Final Verdict
Elgin isn’t as face paced as nearby Inverness or even Edinburgh to be sure, but it is perfect for those seeking refuge from the rat race of life. Visiting Elign will make you feel as if you have been transported back to the 17th-century village life, provide views of the surrounding areas that give you the real experience of the culture that is Scotland, and allow you some downtime to connect with locals, or just a leisurely stop along your road trip through Scotland. As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the Flip Side.
Stretching 60 miles along Jordan, Israel and the West Bank shores is the Dead Sea. Rich with history, festivals, Dead Sea scrolls, and the health benefits surrounding the Dead Sea Minerals – it is a luxurious natural spa that you shouldn’t miss while visiting Israel or Jordan.
This is the lowest place on earth, measuring at 1412 feet (430.5) meters below sea level. I was on a tour bus with 50 other people and sat in the same spot as I did on the school bus in High school…..at the back.
We were traveling from the Jordanian border into Israel. We were planning a stop at Masada, the former palace of Herod, and the tragic story of the Jewish community trapped there by the Romans. Then would spend the afternoon exploring the Dead Sea.
What I didn’t have the foresight to see, was the winding roads all the way down to the lowest points on earth at the back of a bus. I don’t get seasick on ships, I don’t get sick at the sight of blood and have a blunted sense of smell from working in the Operating Room for six years. This bus trip down to the Dead Sea was terrible, I turned Green, had my plastic bag ready in front of me and sat on the bus floor in the front of the bus trying to not let me entrails become my ex-trails.
Traveler Tip: Always bring hand sanitizer with you on trips, especially if you get sea sick or car sick. There have been studies in those in Post-Operative recovery periods that have shown smelling rubbing alcohol helps decrease nausea. Hand sanitizer has the same affect, so keep a small bottle with you for emergencies like this.
How to Get To the Dead Sea
There are plenty of ways to visit the Dead Sea. There are plenty of tours offered to the Dead Sea, here are a few options:
For those who are staying in Jerusalem and have an extra day, there is a shuttle bus that leaves regularly from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. This shuttle costs about $45 per person round-trip, departing Jerusalem in the morning and leaving the Dead Sea in the afternoon. The $45 does include the $24 entrance fee required to enter the Dead Sea.
Why Visit the Dead Sea
For the History
The earliest name for the Dead Sea comes from the Book of Genesis in the Bible called ‘the Salt Sea’.
Once the Roman Era came about, Salt was a source of trade – even more so than silver or gold. Emperor Trajan controlled every entry point into this valley at one point and would tax the traders, who would bring the salt out of this lake, in salt, not coin.
There have also been many Biblical fugitives that found refuge in this area. Some of these fugitives you may know like David, Jesus, Christian Monks, and Jewish Zealots to name a few. It is also rumored that at the South end of this sea, is a salt rock formation that is said to be Lot’s wife. As the city of Sodom and Gomorrah were being destroyed, she disobeyed God’s instruction to not look back – so he turned her into a pillar of salt.
For the Health Benefits
Researchers claim that there are eight times more minerals in the Dead Sea than there are in any other sea. The mineral concentration and the unique atmospheric climate are what makes it uniquely beneficial for the skin.
Surprisingly there is scientific evidence that proves the Dead Sea can help treat a host of illnesses: joint pain, arthritis, psoriasis, and heart problems. I have not personally researched the legitimacy of these reports and who funded these studies, so take it with a grain of salt (pun intended).
At the very least, it does make your skin quite soft and after my shower, I did feel incredibly relaxed and zen-like.
Concerns over the dying Dead Sea
Three generations of Jordanian Farmers live on the shores of the Dead Sea. A man reported that when he was a child his Father’s fields were just a few feet from the Sea. Now the Dead Sea shoreline is over a mile away, in 20 years he worries there will no longer be a Dead Sea- and he will be forced to abandon his fields.
In just 50 short years, the Dead Sea has dropped nearly 112 feet. Mostly because of river diversions and the decreased flow of the Jordanian river that used to feed the Dead Sea.
What is more alarming are the sinkholes that have started to appear as an after effect of the erosion of land, landslides etc… The sinkholes can be anywhere from a small room to the size of a soccer field and up to 114 feet deep (34 meters).
If that isn’t bad enough, with the decreased water flow, the evaporation’s from the Dead Sea that would help feed nearby farming fields with the morning dew are now starting to die off.
So could we see the end of the Dead Sea in the next 50-100 years? This is why it is important to me to be aware of the environmental impact I have as a traveler to the places I visit. It isn’t just about the photo or the experience, it is also very much about being aware of the cultural impact my visit has on the locals.
What to Expect when visiting the Dead Sea?
I don’t handle humidity very well at all, and near the water is worse than visiting Masada. I can run outside in Las Vegas in 99F weather and be fine, but even 80 degrees with anything above 30 percent humidity and could rival the Wicked Witch of the West in melting under water.
Hi temp F/C
Low temp F/C
69 / 20
54 / 12
71 / 21
56 / 13
77 / 25
61 / 16
86 / 30
70 / 21
95 / 34
77 / 25
81 / 27
104 / 39
86 / 30
102 / 39
86 / 30
98 / 36
83 / 28
90 / 32
76 / 24
80 / 27
66 / 19
71 / 21
57 / 14
I know I am not the only one with this issue, because when visiting the Dead Sea with the tour group – the temperatures were scalding hot in May for me. The bathrooms were incredibly hot and muggy from the showers that were going. With my Asthma I felt a bit claustrophobic and yet can go Scuba Diving.
There was sand and mud everywhere, flies buzzing about, and no protection from the sun other than the cafe – where you had to buy a drink in order to sit under the shaded patio.
Needless to say, that getting into the Dead Sea and changing into my swimming suit with a sticky/sweaty body was not the most pleasant part of this experience. I quickly trudged my way down to the water’s edge in my shoes and dropped my gear by some folks from the bus that chose not to get in. The offered to take a few photos of me in the water, which I’m glad they did, because I wouldn’t have had any otherwise.
The water itself is lukewarm yet cool, refreshing and a bit tingling from the salinity of it. My skin felt as if it was going to drip right off my back from the sun, so I reached in and put some mud all over my exposed skin. Ahhhhh……finally…..I felt cool and relaxed and it was lovely. A smile broke the sour face I had and I wanted to stay for hours. I attempted to float in the water, and it was an extraordinarily unique feeling to be weightless. I had to convince the instincts of my mind to not feel the need to ‘paddle to survive’.
Unfortunately, my blissful moment was short-lived, as the water felt as if it was starting to burn my skin. I piled more mud on my skin, and it didn’t help, so I reluctantly washed the mud off as best I could in the murky waters of the Dead Sea Coast and made my way to dry land.
I quickly made my way out of the unforgiving sunshine and headed into the showers. The panic of not being able to breathe was just slightly less pressing as the stinging of my skin – so I quickly stripped down my bathing suit and washed off. They do have private changing rooms available, and each shower has a curtain for modesty.
Traveler Tip: Be sure you bring some of your own soap, they have some you can buy there but everything is quite expensive due to the remoteness of the Dead Sea.
Precautions when Swimming in the Dead Sea
A few things to precaution you about if you choose to float in the Dead Sea.
1- You cannot get the water in your eyes. It is very dangerous and would require medical care should you get water in your eyes (per our Israeli guide).
2- If you have sensitive skin, I would not swim in the water. They have spots where there is just mud, that is said to be beneficial and give you soft skin — but I get the same soft skin from a good Bath Bomb.
3- If you have a long drive to your next destination, you will have mud and sand in places that are uncomfortable and difficult to get out. For some reason, on me, I felt the mud was more difficult to get off of me than the regular mud you encounter in a forest. I don’t know the chemical mechanism behind this (? electric charge), but I had a very long shower once I got to the hotel in Tel Aviv.
4- DO NOT, I repeat….DO NOT attempt to enter the Dead Sea just at any shoreline. You will get sucked up into one of the sinkholes and there will be no rescue of your body as it would put emergency responders in too much danger to try and fish you out.
As the Isle of Skye increases in popularity, it is important to keep in mind that the crowds are going to be accompanying that popularity. The Isle of Skye is a small island, with many roads being one lane roads. This makes it difficult for large buses to transport visitors, but does create more traffic. So here are my tips on Isle of Skye Activities and tips for avoiding the crowds to create a truly authentic Scottish experience full of magic and enchanting scenery.
Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls:
Coordinates 57.6095° N, 6.1738° W – Parking available – Easy hiking rating
This sparkling feathery, but steady, waterfall drops 180 feet (55m) gracefully onto the smooth ocean-battered rocks below. Fed by a freshwater lake called Loch Mealt, it ensures that no matter the time of year, it is heartily fed, just like the Scottish locals on the Isle of Skye. This particular waterfall is often confused with Lealt Falls, but they are very different. It is also one of the few waterfalls that retained its Gaelic name (the Scottish Highlander Language), Cread an Fheilidh. The sheer cliffs are made of tall Basalt columns. These columns have a very hexagonal like shape, that in sequence make it appear like the pleats in a Scottish Kilt.
Coordinates 57.4484° N, 6.5901° W, There is Parking available but the quite a hike to the castle.
Just above the tree line, you see the castle ramparts competing for the view of the tourists that flock to see this stony fortress on the Isle of Skye. The stones are cold and unapologetic to the winds and loch waves that tend to batter it during storms, but warm and welcoming to the outlander’s that come as tourists to see it’s beauty. this ancient house has survived for the last 800 years with Chief of the McLeod’s and boasts to be the oldest and most continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.
Stay in the Garden Cottage, take a trip to see the seals, wander the walled gardens and this ancient clan seat residing within the walls of Dunvegan Castle. See how life is lived in the Scottish Highlands.
Just above the tree line, you see the castle ramparts competing for the view of the tourists that flock to see this stony fortress on the Isle of Skye. The stones are cold and unapologetic to the winds and loch waves that tend to batter it during storms, but warm and welcoming to the outlander’s that come as tourists to see it’s beauty. this ancient house has survived for the last 800 years with Chief of the McLeod’s and boasts to be the oldest and most continuously inhabited castle in Scotland. Stay in the Garden Cottage, take a trip to see the seals, wander the walled gardens and this ancient clan seat residing within the walls of Dunvegan Castle. See how life is lived in the Scottish Highlands.
Coordinates 57.2500° N, 6.2833° W, there are pull-offs on the side of the road to take photos – just mind the traffic. Not many toilet facilities along the roadways unless you stop at a hotel.
The craggy Cuillin Hills are the most challenging hiking areas in Scotland. The forlorn grey ruggedness of the tops seems out of place in the lush greenery that surrounds these mountains.
To really know Glen Brittle, I suggest reading these books by a well-known explorer W.H. Murray. By the end you will feel you have traveled there yourself, and/or also help you prepare for your own trip to the true outdoors paradise that is the Scottish Highlands.
No matter where you stop to take your photos, your camera will feast on visual delicacies that are sure to enthrall your friends at home and fill your heart with warmth. Waterfalls will dance among the rocks in this place, teasing the fairies believed to frolick in these parts.
There are campsites available in Glen Brittle, should you choose to brave the Scottish weather. It is about 10-15 Scottish Pounds per night, and a cafe is also available in the campground.
I would advise those who would like to attempt climbing the Cuillin Mountains to do so with an experienced guide. These hills are not for the inexperienced as moss can frequently hide the pitfalls, holes, broken earth etc…
Coordinates 57.5010° N, 6.6372° W; Parking- a 25-minute walk from the carpark, Rating easy walk
This low lying pearly beach is a 10-minute drive from Dunvegan Castle. It requires you to walk and hike for about 25 minutes from the car park along a farm path. These farm paths to the uniquely secluded photography treasure troves are quite common throughout Scotland. If you have your dog with you, remember to keep it on a leash as you will encounter sheep, cattle, and an occasional bull depending on the season.
The best time to visit is when the tide is halfway in as this gives the area a very tropical like setting, even if the weather doesn’t match the view. Scottish summers in May and September will give you the best weather, according to locals this is the when all the chores, vacations, and whatnot get done.
The beach itself isn’t a typical sandy beach, it is full of bleached Red Coralline seaweed that looks like Coral. There is so much of it on the shores that it truly looks like a pearly paradise. If you are feeling adventurous, visit when there is a low tide, and visit the island just off the coast and see the Lampay beach as well.
Coordinates 57.5650° N, 6.1552° W, Parking is available for about 20 cars or so, Rating easy to difficult depending on upper view vs lower view.
The Upper view of Lealt Falls is quite easy to get to. You walk up a small hill, then towards Lealt Gorge. Once you get to the gorge, you have to turn around and look back toward the car park and you will see the Upper Lealt Falls.
If you follow the edge of the gorge, you will notice a very steep area that follows a path down to the bottom of the gorge. If you take this path, please keep in mind that this is a remote area. Be sure you have traveler’s insurance, or that your own insurance covers you.
Taking this path towards the south side of the gorge will spit you out at the Lealt River, which is easy to cross at low tides. If you go during high tides, you will have to get wet and swim around the corner back towards the gorge to see the lower falls.
Coordinates 57.6824° N, 6.3396° W, Parking is available at the start of the trail- but is limited, Rating: Easy
Guarded by the sheer cliffs surrounding this point, is the iron age, Duntulum Castle. I will warn you that the castle itself has fallen into ruin, and is fragmented at best. But to be able to peer into the cellar of the original McLeod Castle.
The Castle fell into the hands of the McDonalds, who after a nursemaid dropped the son of the clan chief from the great keep onto the stony rocks below – the castle was abandoned. It is said that the nurse still wanders the ruins, along with Hugh MacDonald attempted to kill the clan chief and was starved to death in the dungeon of Duntulm.
There are parts of the castle that have dropped into the sea below, so do not go near the edges lest you end up like the clan chief’s son. Be sure to pay tribute to the MacArthur’s at their cairn (the rounded pillar of stones); who are the hereditary clan of this area from the MacDonalds. The views of the ocean and the surrounding countryside make this well worth the visit.
Neist Point and Lighthouse:
Coordinates 57.4235° N, 6.7883° W, Parking is available but fills up quickly at all times of the day, Rating: easy hike to the lighthouse, but can get steep
This is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Scotland and is still in good working order. While it is grand to say that you hiked to the lighthouse, the real money shots are on the cliffs just to the right of the lighthouse peninsula. If you go during the day, you can do both the hike, and be able to capture the sheer cliff faces that surround the lighthouse while birds play among the crags.
We had a rental car and decided to make the trip from Portree, it was a harrowing ride for my roommate as I raced the setting sun on the rough roads to the Lighthouse. I was in sandals and neither one of us had a coat. The ground was soggy, muddy, and almost ate my sandal trying to get to the cliffs. We mad it just in time to see the sunset make the lighthouse and cliffs glow in the array of beautifully untainted colors unique to the Isle of Skye.
Traveler Tip & Photographer Tip: Wear a coat, good shoes, and bring a blanket for good measure. You will also need your long telephoto lens and a tripod to capture a good shot that isn’t too grainy. Keep your ISO low, and hopefully, you will get the perfect shot of this beautiful landscape.
Skye Museum of Island Life:
Coordinates 57.6603° N, 6.3689° W, Parking is available and plentiful
This was the most fascinating and authentic parts of the trip to the Isle of Skye for me. I visited both the Skye Museum of Island Life, as well as the Highlander Folk Museum in Newtonmore. If you have the time, I would spend a 1/2 day at the Highlander Folk Museum, it is not on the Isle of Skye so I won’t talk much about it here – but I do prefer the Highlander Folk Museum over the Skye Museum of Island Life. The Highlander Museum walks you from the Modern age, through the woods (literally) and into the 1700s. It was also the museum where the popular show Outlander was shot.
If you only plan on visiting the Isle of Skye or have limited time, then I would certainly stop by the Skye Museum of Island Life. They have huts here that you can explore what it was like to live in the 1700s as a villager. How they kept their animals warm against the harsh and unforgiving Scottish winds, as well as how they kept their roofs to stay down during the torrent of gales that would sweep the land.
There is a small shop there, that may seem overpriced- but many of those items are locally made instead of being shipped from China. So support the locals as tourism is a major source of their income that lasts them through the winter.
Old Man of Stoor:
Coordinates 57.5071° N, 6.1831° W, Parking is off the side of the road just before the trailhead – get there as soon as the sun comes up or you will not find a spot to park Rating: Moderate with a 2280 feet (691 meters) ascent
This 5-mile (8.1km) trail starts off very mild, then you crest the first ridge that makes you break a sweat and you will see the stairway to heaven. Yep, you read that right, it is the longest set of stairs on a hike I had ever seen. My reaction to it was to first think of the Led Zepplin song Stairway to Heaven, then immediately followed with a few expletives and denial that I had to ascend them & subsequently renamed the song stairway from Hell.
Be sure you know how to navigate the trail, I did not know how, and once I got close to the Old Man of Storr I ended up scrambling up shale – yep, hiking poles and all splayed out and knocking the ground around me as I was determined to touch the old man. I realize that sounds very dirty, but it was just that comical of a scene that it is the only way I can think of to describe it.
It was worth the effort and determination, up the stairway of Hell, nearly falling down the shale strewn hills to reach the top and spend a few quiet moments with the Old man. On my pant ripping way down from my perch, I was greeted by an outdoor savvy European female who was suppressing a grin and a giggle as she showed me the proper course back down the hill. Despite feeling the fool, I accomplished my goal and held my head high as I stuffed my holy gloves in my pack and the wind caught the hole in my pants to help me back down this breathtakingly beautiful mountain.
I still feel a sense of awe at the views I was able to quietly drink in on that mountain, it suffused my soul and helped repair some of the damage circumstances back home had caused.
Kensaleyre Standing Stones
Location: A87, Uig, Isle of Skye, Highlands and Islands, Scotland
Rising 5 feet 8 inches high (1.5 meters) from the edge of a cliff, are the Kensaleyre Standing Stones. While the reasons for standing stones is still a mystery and highly debated, these particular stones are associated with the legend of Fingal. Have you heard of Fingal’s Cave? If not be sure to check out my journey to Fingal’s Cave, and the legend of the giant Fingal at war with a rival giant in Ireland. It is said that Fingal used these stones as a prop to hang his stew pot from to cook a deer whole. There is another theory that these stones were used as a way to mark the direction to something. The theory is that there were three stones that made a row, running NNW to SSE, making up the Eyre Alignment. There are also a few remains of Burial Cairns near these stones you can visit as well. These burial Cairns were such an important part of the religious and cultural practices of the ancient highlands before Christianity came to the area. Be sure to read my post on the Burial Cairns of Scotland.
Quaraing Loop vs Quaraing Pass
Coordinates: 57°39’02.0″N 6°16’40.4″W (far) 57°38’18.8″N 6°16’19.4″W Difficulty Level: Moderate, Parking is available, but it is a popular trail
The trail is not too bad the whole way up to the pass. If you do the Loop, it will take you all the way out to a beautiful view of a lake with the ocean in the background. The Quaraing Pass takes about 1-2 hours depending on your physical prowess. The Quaraing Loop takes about 4 hours to complete in it’s entirety.
The trail is getting more and more popular to tourists, but I felt it wasn’t ‘chaos’ as some other websites put it – it only required a few hugs along the narrow path. If you fell off the path, you would just roll for a long long time down the mossy covered hills.
The most popular parts of this trail are the Needle, a rock formation that appears from land slipping. The Keep, which looks like a rock formation resembling a medieval keep. Table rock which looks like a table coming up out of the valley.
Interestingly enough, this area was previously used by the Clans to conceal cattle from the Viking Raiders. The name Quairang also comes from the old Norse word ‘Kví Rand’, which means “Round Fold”.
There are not a whole lot of restroom facilities available on Skye, but just find a rock to hide behind and take a whirl. If you make a poop pie, please be a gem and cover it with some moss or pack it out.
Coordinates: 57°15’01.6″N 6°15’30.0″W – Parking is available, Rating Easy Said to be the place where Fairies bath, due to pure and pristine waters that allow you to see all the way down to each moss-covered rock in the turquoise waters. These pools have become so popular in the last few years that it is nearly impossible to get a photo without another person in it, unless you visit early in the morning, or late in the evening in the offseason (March-early May, or Late Fall).
To get to the trailhead it is about a 30-minute drive from Portree. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the sign reading ‘Glumagan Na Sithichean’ this is the Gaelic sign, but it also has smaller writing saying Fairy Pools. The trail itself is on an open plain and can take anywhere from 45 min to 1.5 hrs, while the trail back out can take (on some reports) up to 2 hours; but it is only a 1.49mile (2.4km) trail. The increased length of hiking for such a short trail is due to the slippery ground, and complete exposure to the elements when hiking.
Once you reach the fairy pools, those brave enough can jump into the frigid waters. Many dares have been attempted here among the locals, but just remember that you are exposed to the elements on the way back to your car.
On the West side of Trotternish at Balnacnoc (which means – the village or township in the hills) above Uig, is the Fairy Glen. Growing in popularity over the last few years due to social media sharing of this otherworldly glen, it is now a major tourist attraction when visiting the Isle of Skye. First made popular by the writings of famed author Hugh Miller who wrote about the Glen as a:
‘natural connection…between wild scenes and wild legends; and some of the traditions connected with this romantic and solitary dell illustrate this remark. Till a comparatively late period, it was known at many a winter fireside as a favourite haunt of the fairies…I have conversed with an old woman…who, when a very little girl, had seen myriads of them dancing as the sun was setting on the further edge of the dell…’ (Miller, 1835)
As you drive to this secluded location, you get a sense of trespassing on someone’s property and miss the turn to get to the parking lot a few times if you aren’t careful. Once you get to the carpark, if there aren’t many people there, you could easily find yourself lost among the hills with the sheep giving you disdainful looks of contempt for trekking on their feeding grounds. Not that I would know how that feels personally as I know exactly where I’m going, and have no handicaps in knowing which way is indeed North….ahem.
Once you have hiked about 15 minutes, you will see a large rock jutting out of the ground with a flat top. It looks very out of place against the surrounding rolling hills. This is a basalt column, that looks like the ruins of a castle, so has thus been named Castle Ewan. So don’t get your panties in a twist about tourists ruining the ruins by climbing on them like I did. They aren’t actually castle ruins, its a big flat-topped rock covered in green moss.
If you were to hike behind Castle Ewan, there is a small cave where rumors spread that if you press coins into the cracks as an offering to the fairies it will bring you good luck. There is another tour guide that will tell you, to bring a blade of grass instead of the coin around the stone circle (newly laid out for tourists) and lay it at the center as an offering to the faeries. Then proceed to walk backward out of that stone circle, your wish will be granted. It seems ridiculous, so I asked him why would he tell them to do that. In good ole Scottish humor, he said, ‘Why not? They think they are getting involved in the cultural folklore. It gives me a good chuckle, and they enjoy it – so why not’.
He was right…why not? So I proceeded to pick myself a blade of grass, thought of my wish, put the blade of grass down on the growing nest, and clumsily walked backward out of the circle. When I neared the end though, I got a good clapping and vocal drum roll from three handsome looking French men. The guide was right, good chuckles all around and now I can pretend that someday my wish will be granted 😉
The locals on Skye have repeatedly removed the stone spirals in an attempt to keep the Glen in its natural state, but with the growing number of visitors, the effort has been stopped. The coins that the visitors leave behind are often eaten by the sheep in the area, which then gets stuck in their throats and ends up killing them. So if you should visit the Fairy Glen, buy some flowers, get some hay woven into a star or something that won’t kill the local wildlife.
We hope that all visitors would respect the country code. To visit & enjoy, but not make adjustments and certainly not leave anything behind, even if you think it may give you good luck.
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The Final Verdict:
The Isle of Skye has plenty to see and offer for at least a week’s worth of exploring if not two. You will have to rent a car, should you want to visit all these locations as most tour companies won’t take you to each of these sites specifically. I have been to Scotland and the Isle of Skye twice now and still have yet to see everything I wanted to see while there. The land is vast, beautiful, unforgiving, wild, and a natural visual feast for the eyes. So should wish to be inspired by beauty, mystified by Folklore, and warmed by Scottish Hospitality…then the Isle of Skye should be your next trip.