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Hey guys,

Who would’ve thought the last normal thing I’d do is spend (almost) a month in Yemen? Well, here we are… mid-coronavirus-apocalyptic times.

(Sorry if you’re newer-ish around here and don’t know who I am, this is Nicole the person behind this website…)

I know it’s been an extremely long time since I’ve sent one of these bad boys out- months to be exact (I have this grand intention to do monthly recaps where I talk about the things that actually went on behind this blog and in life since I don’t post anything in real-time)…. so here it goes…

Oh look, it's snowing as I write this and it's sunset. Okay really though, my phone did not capture the pastel colors... and also don't judge me for having a dinner table on my deck

Where Am I & What Am I Even Doing?

For a change, I’m actually home in Alaska, and believe it or not, I’m pretty happy I’m here and not elsewhere at the moment. I hadn’t made the direct plan to be here right now- by chance, I had a friend who needed maternity leave coverage (in fact as I type this my phone just dinged and it turns out she literally just had her baby as I started typing this) in her two dental offices (in case you don’t know or don’t remember- I’m still a registered dental hygienist and I work as a fill-in/temp when I’m back home)… so I should be 1 week deep into covering a maternity leave. So what am I actually doing?

Drinking wine and typing this post (this part will be important to note later when this turns into incoherent ramblings and I lose focus on what this was supposed to be in the first place… wait what was that again, oh that’s right, an update.)

Sitting at home, not working, and not collecting a paycheck either. You know, thanks to Coronavirus.

There was a time where I would’ve welcomed this extra time on my hands because it’s been hard to come by recently. I think I have too much of it now though. Everything about the whole situation is rubbish, but I’m trying to look at the positives that I can take from this. I get to refresh my mind and body, I get to do extra things around the house, and I can also catch up on the latest movies and TV shows that I haven’t had the chance to watch yet. I might even look at this “COVID most watched shows” list to see if there is anything that takes my fancy. I’m sure there is and I can’t think of a better time to get stuck into some well-deserved viewing time. It’s not like I have anything else to do after all, especially since Coronavirus doesn’t look to be leaving anytime soon.

Anyway, I got back home on March 4 and went right back to work the next day (my month of March was booked absolutely solid). By the afternoon of March 16, I had friends who are in the high-risk category for the virus walking out of their dental offices. That evening the dental association had made a statement recommending that all elective dental treatment be postponed. By the end of the day on March 17 the mayor of Anchorage said the same thing. All the work I had scheduled through the first week of April was gone.

Ok, it’s fine, it gives me more time to catch up on photos that needed editing, writing and editing blog posts, talking to friends… Well, unfortunately, that’s about the time my blog traffic and subsequent affiliate sales, as well as future projects, really tanked and/or disappeared.

As you can imagine I have a lot of concerns at the moment. Although I feel as if the coronavirus crisis is going to be tough for everyone, there is no denying that people living with mental health conditions will probably be hit hardest. We have never lived through a pandemic like this before and therefore it is unclear what restrictions will be put into place to control the virus and how long these restrictions might last. Needless to say, lockdown restrictions will have a huge impact on our relationships with friends and family. Recently I have been reading a lot more information about the mental health repercussions of the coronavirus and I have to say, I am worried about the future.

That is not all though. I am also really worried about the economy (I was in college in 2008 and watched so many people lose everything) and I do not have a lot of money saved and put away. As I said, I don’t really have any income so I have been looking at things like this iweb review to see if I could get into trading stocks and shares but I don’t know what to do because everything is just so uncertain at the moment! Because at this point who knows how long this is going to last and how long I’ll have zero income whether it be coming from dentistry or from blogging and blog-related projects. I mean I don’t know, maybe the entire country has devolved into a hoarder-lead civil war with Karens (sorry the few not-Karen-like Karens I know and love for having the name that everyone makes fun of at the moment) lobbing soup cans in battle by the time this hits your inbox in a couple of days.

But either way, this really sucks…. and I don’t mean just for me. But here we are.

What I Did Do The Last Few Months

I think the last time I wrote anything remotely like this was about July 2019, before I departed for Central Asia (on the blog anyways, I know you email subscribers got one of these in your inboxes at the end of November). I did make an attempt after I had returned in November 2019 from that trip but it just turned into an all-out roasting of an asshole blogger that was on a press trip with me in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in August (it’s all 100% true, albeit unbelievable. You can read it here). So, here we go…

Egypt

Warning- I’m working backward in time!

Egypt was my final stop on my most recent trip to Oman, Yemen and, well, Egypt. As always Egypt was a blast. More specifically, I spent my 5 day stay entirely in and around Cairo (I had grand plans to visit Luxor and Aswan but whoops I got lazy and didn’t. Truth be told this is the third time I’ve visited Egypt, despite its giant absence here on this blog (but lucky for you #coronavirus has finally given me the free time I need to write about it). The only truly “new” spot I hit on this trip though was the Pyramids of Dahshur (which you should 100% have on your Cairo/Giza itinerary if you’re planning a trip for whenever we can travel again one day). Other than that I lived in gluttonous glory for 5 days stuffing my face with as much taamia, tahina, and ful medames I could possibly fit in there (Egyptian and Cypriot cuisine are very likely my all-time favorites).

Adventures of Nicole, Adventures of Lil Nicki, Pyramids of Giza, Giza Pyramids, Khafre, Khafre Pyramid, Sphynx, Sphinx, Giza, Cairo, Egypt

Socotra

Socotra went off mostly without a hitch. Yet again I brought a group of 12 travelers to explore one of my most favorite places in the entire world. Nothing I can think of brings more joy to me than the welcome I get by my Socotri friends every time I return to the island and watching the reaction of people and the looks on their faces when we finally crest over the top of the hill from Qalansiya and they get their first glance down onto Detwah Lagoon.

The group we had on this trip was a fun (and bonus points: hilarious) troop of perfectly imperfect misfits (my favorite demographic and subsequently the category I fit most well into too). I finally got out to the wadi area of Kalysan this time, tried that Socotri “whiskey”, was welcomed to Detwah with a real Socotri handshake from the one and only Saadia, participated in a beach cleanup (unfortunately Socotra does have a garbage problem in certain parts of the island), and perfected my Abdulali impression in my best attempt at the Socotri language (Abdulali is one of my favorite people in the world, he’s a character and I’m never quite sure what he’s saying but every time he opens his mouth all the local guys are dying laughing so you know it’s quality comedy).

None other than my favorite- Abdulali
None other than my favorite- Abdulali

Yemen

I actually traveled overland from Oman and through Yemen’s Al Mahrah and Hadhramaut Governorates. Previously I had visited Sana’a and its surroundings in the “north” (which is confusing to someone who doesn’t know the history of Yemen and why west is north and east is south), but now was my time to visit South Yemen (geographically speaking, the eastern side of the country. What a wild adventure that was- niqab clad for almost the entirety of the time I spent in the country it was a whirlwind. From waving goodbye to Oman and hello to the legendary Kais and Wagdi and the Yemeni coast as we made way on to the fishing and port city of al Ghaydah. From al Ghaydah a turn north took us toward the Yemen-Oman-Saudi tri-border area to milk camels with Bedouin families, wild camp under the stars (sans tents) in the scrub-desert Yemeni Empty Quarter and try to play it cool in the car with niqabs drawn down when we were back on the main roads and passing through military checkpoints (we succeeded at passing them all except for the one that’s notorious for holding you for questioning- we only got 30 minutes of it).

Rub al Khali, Yemeni Rub al Khali, Yemen, Yemeni Empty Quarter, Empty Quarter, Arabia, Middle East, Al Mahrah, Mahrah, Milky Way Empty Quarter, stargazing Empty Quarter, Empty Quarter stargazing
Camping in the Empty Quarter

But we lurched on westward toward the Hadhramaut- Yemen’s largest governorate. The real magic happened in Wadi Doan, a chunk of Yemen I cannot wait to return to and explore more thoroughly. We’re talking sunrises on the edge of wild canyons, palaces and homes perched impossibly atop rocks and cliffs, date palm groves as far as you can see, visiting a girls’ school full of brilliant girls showing us their lesson plans, the world’s best (and subsequently most expensive) honey, shops selling Hadhrami antiques to die for, listening to the call to prayer echo out over Shibam and meandering down its narrow alleys, and some of the friendliest and most generous people you’ll have the chance to meet. I won’t go into huge details about all the places we visited and what all we got up to out there, but I will say this was one of the most fun trips I’d had in a while.

Oman

I kicked off the month-long Yemen and Socotra trip from southern Oman’s city of Salalah, in which I had a little time to explore. Wild beaches, camels on the run, and frankincense basically nails what all went on here, I’ll tell you mmore about it later (Okay this post is becoming a lot of- here’s some really neat shit I’ve done in the last 6-ish month but let me procastinate a little longer and tell you about them later). All I know if that I have a lot more to do in southern Oman than what I had time for this go around. And I still without a doubt am a firm believer that Oman is the best country to visit for a first-timer to the Middle East.

Oman, camels, Mughsail, Mughsail Beach, Dhofar
Camel traffic jam at Mughsail Beach, Oman

Alaska

In early October I trudged home from Central Asia. From October until early February I didn’t leave the state and mostly worked on blog-related shenanigans and found myself knuckle-deep in other peoples’ mouths several hours per week. I did at one point visit a really cool ice cave in November, but I’m telling you this was 4 solid months of nothing exciting or interesting.

The only cool thing I really did in 4 months Byron Glacier Ice Cave, Byron Glacier, Girdwood, Alaska

Uzbekistan

A day before my Tajik visa expired I was beating feet to the Panjakent-Samarkand border to cross into Uzbekistan en route to Tashkent from where I’d be returning home from. I revisited all the best architectural wonders of Samarkand before making way to Tashkent. I know not a lot of people care for or (in my opinion) give Tashkent the time it deserves, but I had been dying to get back to there since it was now legal to photograph the Tashkent Metro Stations. So in 3 days I made a whirlwind visit to Tashkent’s main sites as well as managing to visit all 29 metro stations. Also, I spent my final day in Tashkent on a self-sponsored lagman-o-thon, judging the best lagman in the city (this is my favorite Central Asian dish after all).

Mustaqillik, Mustaqillik Maydoni, Mustaqillik Maydoni Station, Tashkent Metro, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Ozbekiston, Central, Asia, metro, subway, Uzbekistan metro, Uzbekistan metro
The elaborate Mustaqillik Maydoni Station in Tashkent

Tajikistan

I figured since I was being brought over to cover Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan on my blog on my assignment with USAID in early August, I thought why not just have them book a one-way ticket for me and make a beeline back to Tajikistan afterward? So I spent the next six weeks delving deeper into the country, failing to learn as much Tajik as I would have liked, and failing even more at reaching all the places I wanted to visit on this trip (but that last part is basically the outcome of each of my trips back).

I successfully coerced my friend Dan from Dan Flying Solo to meet me in Dushanbe this year so that I could take him on his first trip to Tajikistan (if you want a hilarious lead up to Dan assuming he’d die on his Tajik trip with me, read his about me page here). It surprisingly went off without much chaos, though we did visit a bar with Stephen and Alex the night before we were supposed to leave for the mountains and were really hungover and got a really late start. To really sum up the first part of Tajikistan 2019: Dan didn’t die like he thought he was going to in the wilds of remote Tajikistan, and we even managed to visit the Yagnob Valley. The Yagnob Valley is home to a small number of Yagnobi speakers, which is a language directly related to the ancient Sogdian language. Some of the inhabitants still practice some traditions that pre-date the arrival of Islam in Central Asia, oh, and the Yagnob Valley is home to some of the starkest and intense mountain scenery the country has to offer (can you tell I liked it?). After trekking around the Yagnob Valley I took Dan over to show him the best highlights in the nearby Fann Mountains where Dan lost his mind more than once (in all the good ways), and was scared shitless once but spoiler alert: he survived. But hey, we didn’t almost explode a Landcruiser like we nearly did in Oman back in 2016.

Yagnob, Yagnob Valley, Tajikistan, Central Asia, Yagnob River, Yaghnob
Trekking into the Yagnob Valley where Dan was sure certain death awaits

Not only did I talk Dan into meeting me in Tajikistan, but I also got Grant to finally head over there (it’s only taken about 5 years of convincing). This where the trip took a sharp turn. I decided to take Grant to the Rasht Valley. This is an area of the country that rarely sees foreign tourists these days. So we said our goodbyes to Dan and I loaded Grant up in a shared taxi (that I swear the exhaust went straight back into the cab) bound for the town of Jirgatol, huffing fumes the entire way. The trek we were taking on that would take us over some wild raging rivers, a stretch of active landmine infested valley, through the Peter the First Range and up over Gardan i Kaftar Pass to end up in a remote area of the country that I couldn’t even figure out what dialect they were speaking. In the midst of this 60 km trek, I had my only hiking boots stolen (luckily I was able to complete it in Grant’s tennis shoes he brought for bumming around camp) and had to fight off a pervy shepherd that thought he could push me down and rape me, but the joke was on him when I busted out my Tae Kwon Do skills from the ’90s on his ass.

Tajikistan, Pamir, Central Asia, Rasht Valley, Garden i Kaftar Trek, Tupchak, Tupchak Plateau

Grant contemplating divorce or murder (I couldn’t really tell which from this distance) on top of the Tupchak Plateau when I drug him 60 kilometers through hell, cow shit, and landmines… but also doesn’t he really give you a sense of how grand the scene really is? Or is it just me?

At the end of it all, I don’t know if I’ll be getting Grant back there any time soon, but I’m not done with you, Tajikistan.

After Grant’s departure, I ended up meeting up with an awesome traveler from New Zealand who I had been helping plan her route in the Fann Mountains. It ended up that she decided to come to Tajikistan early and we were both heading to the Fann Mountains, so we actually joined forces out there. I hiked up and over Chimtarga Pass (which I said I’d never do again, but there I was, doing it again), and finally incorporated the route over the Dukdon Pass into the mix, of course with a million other interactions and spots visited in between on a trek that took us 125 km.

Bolshoi Allo, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan
Happier times at Bolshoi Allo in the Fanns with Lana, my new Kiwi friend

Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan

My 2019 return to Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan was actually as part of an assignment with USAID to help bolster interest in tourism in the two countries. Naturally, this was an easy media trip with me because these were two countries that I know and love, and have visited previously. Aside from one blogger on the trip that I mentioned earlier in this post that was an absolute trainwreck, the trip was great (okay, well aside from the rainy weather that put a hamper on a lot of our activities in Kyrgyzstan, but…. that’s adventure travel!). I’m not going to go in heavy details about the trip because I’ve written pretty extensively on what we did on it (I’ll link them below), and also gave a play by play of what it was like to travel for 11 days with the travel blogger from hell.

ashlan fu, ashlan-fu, ashlyan-fu, ashlyan fu, ashlanfu, ashlyanfu, Dungan food, Dungan family meal, Dungan meal, Dungan food, Kyrgyzstan, Karakol, Karakol food, Karakol restaurants
Oh ashlan fu, how I missed you…

So What’s Coming Up For The Rest Of 2020?

I

Don’t

Know

I really don’t.

Dahshur, Dahshur Pyramids, Pyramid, Egypt, Cairo, red Pyramid, North Pyramid, Sneferu, North Africa, Africa, Sahara, Egyptian Sahara
I don’t know, but here’s a picture of me smiling like an idiot sweating it up in Egypt before I came home

Back in February, I was asked to lead two back to back trips in Turkmenistan coming up this year, but those have since been canceled. There’s a Congress to be held on the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan’s western city of Moynak in May that I’ve been invited to, I haven’t gotten any updates on that, but I’m guessing it’s gonna get canceled. I have that upcoming expedition to the Arrigetch Peaks in Gates of the Arctic National Park in August and depending on how long this circus of a virus drags on who knows what’ll happen with that. I recently worked on a grant application with the Zerafshan Tourism Development Association in Tajikistan, which we should know if they were awarded it by next month… but again, who knows if that will actually go through or even happen (the project is slated for July-December), but if it does I’ll probably be over in Tajikistan for at least a couple months this fall. Oh yes and my schedule was booked almost entirely solid from March-July with work in various dental offices around Anchorage, but who knows how long we won’t be allowed to work for.

So maybe things will turn around, or maybe I’ll be destitute here soon. I guess we all will be. I guess it’s not as scary having zero income when you’re not alone in the struggle. Also, my old gym relinquished us to another one in November, and now with Coronavirus they’ve had to shut down for the time being, so maybe I’ll gain 100 lbs while I’m at it.

2020, you’ve been a dumpster fire so far.

Things I Wrote

March

February

January

December

November

October

September

August

So Here It All Ends

If you’ve made it to this point, I’m truly impressed because this has drug on forever. My cup has overfloweth and emptied outeth of wine and I’m calling it a night. Happy corona-avoidance and goodnight.

Qarn Majid, Qarn Majid Yemen, Husn Fort, Husn Fort Qarn Majid, mud brick building, Hadhrami mud brick, Wadi Daw'an, Wadi Doan, Wadi Hadhramaut, Hadhramaut, Yemen

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4 thoughts on “What A Time To Be Alive…Ramblings & Musings From Early 2020”

  1. Hey Nicki, how were you able to visit Yemen? Is it possible to visit without sponsorship or paying thousands for a guide?

    1. Hi Alyana,
      Unfortunately, Yemen is in an extremely tough position and costs for visiting are quite high and I think will remain that way for the foreseeable future. We organized a group of us in the mainland and for 9 days and it totaled to about $2500 per person. The money pays for transportation, as well as the expertise of fixers that help to mitigate dangers that could arise when moving around (which is no small or simple task). Paired with a wildly fluctuating currency and unstable economy prices of anything (food, medicine, etc) can unexpectedly skyrocket. If you’re referring to Socotra the biggest hurdles are the operating costs on the island in terms of transportation and food (the majority of the food on the island has to be imported). The flight alone from Cairo to Socotra and back is $1300, which helps drive up the expense.

      It is not possible to obtain a visa without a local guide and agency securing it, plus it’s not exactly a country you can waltz on into and navigate on your own.

      At the moment traveling to Yemen isn’t possible as the country canceled any existing tourist visas and will not be issuing any new ones for the foreseeable future due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The hope is that it will be possible again by fall, but it’s hard to tell at this time what will happen.

  2. Carl Pietrantonio

    Whee! Nice summing up and I still say the write-up of the trip with the BFH (Blogger From Hell) is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Yeah, trips and plans are beyond all screwed up. I can’t even decide if I had the Corona early when leaving Italy or it was just the 3rd cold in 3 months. Stay safe up there, ok? I will say one thing about this situation is that I am now on the 4th generation of my Things To Do list as it keeps getting added to and stuff crossed off. Anything to stave off the boredom! I might even end up organized! Take care of yourself and best of luck on your travel planning!

    1. Hey Carl, glad that you’re home and safe. Still, when I tell people the BFH story they think I’m exaggerating and I’m like no, I actually have six witnesses that can attest to all of it! Looking back, despite me wanting to toss BFH off a cliff numerous times a day on the trip, it is kind of hilarious. Shocking, but hilarious.

      I honestly wonder if I could have had the virus back in December. I caught a wretched cold and was having coughing fits so bad I’d almost pass out (and there was a couple of times I even peed my pants) and I can honestly say I’ve never in my life had anything (cold/flu wise) that bad in my life before. I guess it’s very much a possibility for you since you had been in Italy and I’m sure it was there a bit longer than they know.

      Everything up here is fine so far. I think I, like you, have had the most productive quarantine ever. So much time to get all the work done that I’ve been putting off because I was too busy either working while I’m home or out adventuring in my travels. Last Friday the governor did a televised speech/conference and ordered a “shelter in place” to go into effect 5 pm Saturday, but basically said I’m ordering it, but have no ability to make you do anything so like just please listen, people. I’ve mostly been at home aside from picking up groceries when needed, and my daily walk up the mountain behind the house with my neighbor (don’t worry we keep our 6 ft distance and drink bloody mary’s on the way up for safety purposes). But gauging by the comments sections on the Facebook pages of the local news stations it sounds like a lot of people are still out and about like nothings going on.

      Hopefully this all blows over soon so we can at least get back to some shred of normalcy… and dare I say it.. travel again.

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