Mount Kilimanjaro Defeats Jordanian Princess

Mount Kilimanjaro
It looks like money and privilege can’t buy everything.

Princess Sarah Princess Sara bint Al Faisal of Jordan, niece of King Abdullah II, failed to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the Tanzania Daily News reports.

The 18-year-old princess tried to scale the famous mountain last weekend with a large entourage of assistants and Jordanian international students. She reached the Kibo point at 4,700 meters (15,420 feet) but developed altitude sickness. Doctors climbing with her advised her to descend instead of attempting to reach the mountain’s highest summit, Uhuru point at 5,895 meters (19,341 feet).

Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid pulse and more. For full coverage see this PDF document. To prevent altitude sickness, it’s best to ascend in stages, staying overnight at an intermediate altitude to give the body time to adapt. The only cure of altitude sickness is to descend to a lower altitude, which should be done immediately.

It’s difficult to predict who will get altitude sickness. When I climbed to similar elevations in the Himalayas the only symptom I noticed was a need for more breaks. On the other hand, a couple of other trekkers who looked far more fit than I was got very sick and had to descend.

The princess hoped to get a certificate of achievement for scaling the mountain. Only three of her party made it to Uhuru Point and got the certificate. She said that she enjoyed her trip to Tanzania and would try to climb the mountain again.

[Photo courtesy Muhammad Mahdi Karim]

Photo Of The Day: The Treasury At Petra

“Indiana Jones would be proud,” wrote Instagram user shuotography in the caption for today’s Photo of the Day. Yes, we think he would. Taken at the Treasury in the ancient city of Petra, Jordan, this photo was enhanced with Instagram’s “Lo-Fi” filter, which adds shadows and makes colors richer. While no one knows for certain, the Treasury, known in Arabic as al-Khazneh, is believed to have been a temple or royal tomb. Definitely Indiana-esque.Do you have any great adventure travel photos? You now have two options to enter your snapshots into the running for Gadling’s Photo of the Day. Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool, or mention @GadlingTravel and use hashtag #gadling in the caption or comments for your post on Instagram. Don’t forget to give us a follow too!

[Photo Credit: Instagram user shuotography]

Tim Leffel On The World’s 21 Cheapest Countries

tim leffel author of world's cheapest travel destinationsTim Leffel’s mission is to help skinflints like me find travel destinations they can afford. He traveled around the world on a shoestring with his wife three times and decided to write a book about the world’s cheapest countries after realizing that there was no single resource out there for travelers looking for bargain destinations. The fourth edition of his book, “The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune,” is due to be released in January and Leffel maintains a blog devoted to the cheapest travel destinations on the planet.

I had a chance to check out the forthcoming edition of Tim’s book and it’s packed with data on how much you’ll spend in the 21 destinations he profiles, along with insightful and sometimes hilarious advice on where to go and how to travel. (“I have a daughter and I have taken her abroad to eight countries now, but I am not yet ready to take her on crappy third-world buses, pumping her full of malaria pills, exposing her to aggressive deformed beggars, or trying to ward off touts while simultaneously keeping her occupied.”)
%Gallery-173113%For example, he informs readers that a beer in Nepal costs the same as an ounce or two of marijuana or a finger of hash; double rooms or suites in private homes in Bulgaria go for $5-20 per person; and a full three-course meal in Bolivia can be had for as little as $2. I caught up with Leffel at his home in Tampa this week to talk about the world’s cheapest travel destinations.

boliviaYou just returned from Bolivia. A lot of people consider that to be one of the cheapest countries in the world. Do you agree?

I agree. It’s probably the best deal in South America. In the Americas, Nicaragua might be a bit cheaper, but they’re neck and neck. But it’s hard to compare, it depends on what you’re doing, where you’re staying. And for Americans, Bolivians have reciprocal visa fees, so you have to cough up $130 at the airport just for the pleasure of walking out of the airport.

Do the costs in Bolivia vary from region to region? A lot of people don’t like to stay in La Paz because of the altitude.

Not really, but the altitude in La Paz hit me hard because I was coming from Florida – sea level. I felt like crap when I landed at the airport in La Paz, but then I got on a connecting flight to Sucre, which is lower and felt better. But then I went to Potosi, which is more than 13,000 feet, and had a pretty rough headache for a day or two.

Coming from the U.S. can you avoid La Paz?

No, but you can get out of there cheaply. My flight to Sucre was only $67.

What makes Bolivia so cheap?

Meals are cheap. Accommodations are reasonable and transportation costs are very low because Venezuela subsidizes their fuel. Buses cost $1.50-$2 per hour depending on the class of the bus. A set meal of a few courses, a soup and a main dish and a drink or dessert is a couple dollars. Two to three dollars in a basic place, or more if you are in a nice restaurant, but even in those places the prices aren’t bad at all. Alcohol is cheap. It’s a cheap place to party.

Give me an idea for what mid-range accommodation goes for in Bolivia?

I had a pretty nice room with private bath and hot water for $8.50 that was quite comfortable. Then I paid $32 for a full-blown hotel. For $20-35 you can usually get a decent mid-range hotel room pretty much anywhere. Bolivia is a poor country and there isn’t much domestic tourism so there isn’t much competition. In Potosi, the most expensive hotel in town was about $70 but most were in the $20-40 range.

Sucre is especially nice. It’s a beautiful old colonial city like you see in a lot of Latin American countries but much cheaper than a lot of other places.

Do you consider Nicaragua to be the cheapest country in Central America?

Yes, but Guatemala isn’t very expensive either. Honduras is quite cheap on the mainland but most people are there to visit the islands, which are more expensive.

nicaraguaBut Nicaragua’s become quite a trendy destination. Aren’t the prices going up there?

Really only in Granada. That’s where people with money go. But even there, you can go out and get a really great meal for $4 and you don’t have to look hard for deals like that – they’re right there in the center. It’s also one of the cheapest places to drink I’ve ever seen. As long as you drink rum or beer they make domestically.

Ometepe is a really good deal; almost any of the small towns are very cheap. It’s a wide-open blank slate. There isn’t much tourism besides Granada and San Juan Del Sur. But that’s still mostly a surfer/backpacker hangout too. There are a few nice hotels, but the bulk are hostels and cheap guesthouses. It’s a cheap place to eat, surf and party. The drawback is that it isn’t real comfortable to get around – you’re mostly on chicken buses.

You mention cheap drinking. Bulgaria has very cheap beer and wine. It’s on your list of cheap destinations as well, right?

Yes, I was just there for the first time in April. I loved it. It was gorgeous and there were very few tourists. It’s incredibly cheap to eat and drink there and the food there is very fresh and good.

rila monastery in bulgariaI love Bulgaria but I haven’t been there in a while. How are the prices now?

I think it’s the cheapest country in Europe. Accommodation may be a little cheaper in Romania and maybe even Hungary because there isn’t as much competition in Bulgaria. A lot more people have opened budget-oriented places to stay in Romania in recent years. But I think overall Bulgaria is still cheaper.

Other than Romania and Bulgaria any other cheap countries you like to visit in Europe?

The other two I have in the book are Hungary and Slovakia. I used to have Turkey in the book but it’s gotten too expensive.

I lived in Hungary five years ago when the forint was much stronger and it didn’t seem cheap then, but now it’s reasonable?

Yes, I was there four years ago and it seemed much cheaper on my recent visit. Part of that is more competition among hotels but the forint is also much weaker.

Any other countries like Hungary where the currency has gone down, giving travelers a bargain opportunity?

The euro has gone down and a lot of the non-euro countries in Europe have currencies that have gone down as well. The dollar is also doing well against the currencies in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Mexico. But countries like Brazil and Chile have become much more expensive for Americans, because of the strong economies in those countries.

Before we leave Europe, I found some great bargains in the Greek islands this year too. Is Greece in your book?

No, but I’ve heard from a lot of people that prices have gone down there but maybe not as much as they expected, given what’s happened to the economy there. But it’s still a better deal than most of Western Europe and that goes for Portugal too, which also has good prices.

Let’s move on to Asia. Lots of cheap countries there but are there any that stand out?

Most of the countries I surveyed stayed about the same since the last edition of the book came out in 2009 except Thailand, which got a little bit more expensive. Their currency has gotten a bit stronger and stayed there. But I still think that Thailand is a terrific value.

cambodiaOf those three countries, which is the cheapest?

Cambodia is the cheapest and Laos is pretty close. Cambodia is a little easier to get around but I couldn’t believe how crowded Angkor Wat was.

When you travel with your wife and 12-year-old daughter in Southeast Asia, do you stay in very cheap places?

We are more mid-range travelers when I travel with my family. Our budget was $150 per day for the three of us, including everything. It was just a three-week trip and we stayed in hotels, most of them very nice ones, for $40-50 per night. You can get a fantastic room that is like the equivalent of a Hilton or Marriott here for that price. A lot of times that was also for a family suite or a place with three beds. In Cambodia, we paid $44 per night for two connecting rooms. And that was for a very nice hotel with breakfast included, hot showers, and maid service every day.

Any other countries in the region that you like?

Malaysia is a great value too. You get a lot for your money and the food is great. It’s more expensive than those countries but the infrastructure is better too. Indonesia is a great value as well, depending on where you are.

Even in Bali?

Even in Bali. It isn’t as cheap as it used to be but you can still get very reasonably priced hotels. But it’s getting polluted and crowded there.

How about the Middle East?

I just have Jordan and Egypt in the book. The region is such a powder keg. Jordan is a great deal. Egypt – who knows what’s going to happen there, but it’s certainly cheap. And it’s probably going to get cheaper too because they are so desperate for tourists to return. You can find a four-star hotel in Luxor or Aswan for $50-60 per night. There are deals galore if you want to go to Egypt.

How about Africa?

I just have Morocco and Egypt in the book. There’s a backpacker route along the east coast of Africa that is fairly reasonable if you stick to that path but the real trouble is that it’s hard to get around both comfortably and cheaply.

moroccoWhat about Morocco?

Prices have gone up there but it’s still a good country to visit on a budget. The prices are comparable to Eastern Europe. You can get a good deal on a hotel, and good food too.

What would you spend if you went to Morocco with your family?

Probably about $150 per day to be pretty comfortable. If you want a beautiful, atmospheric hotel though, you’d pay about $60-80 per night – you don’t find the same screaming bargains there that you would in Southeast Asia. Backpackers can find places to stay for $10-15 per night, but they might find cold showers and squat toilets too.

So for Americans, it’s pretty expensive to get to a lot of the cheapest countries. Of those that we can fly to cheaply, what are the best options?

Latin America. I have Mexico in the book as an honorable mention because the coastal resort areas aren’t that cheap but the interior is. Central America is pretty reasonable and you can find pretty good deals to Ecuador as well. My last flight there cost about $600 round trip.

How did you decide to write this book?

I went around the world with my wife three times. We were teaching English and I was writing stories as well. There was no good guide to figure out what countries were the cheapest; we just figured it out by trial and error. There was nothing out there, so I started working on it when we had our daughter because we were staying home and not traveling. I put it out and it did well, and then we put out a second edition and that did even better, so we’ve kept it going and we started a blog too. I also run a few other websites like Perceptive Travel, and Practical Travel Gear.

nepalWhat other very cheap countries do you write about in the book?

Nepal and India. Nepal is probably the cheapest place in the world. And India is pretty close. Indians are seen as wealthy by the Nepalis, so that shows you that it’s all relative.

Do you think these countries want to appear in your guidebook or are they not that keen to attract budget travelers?

I don’t think most of them are that thrilled to be in the book. No one wants to be perceived as a cheap destination. But some of these countries are smarter about it than others. Thailand did a study a few years back and found that backpackers spend more in aggregate than other travelers but just over a longer time period, so once they crunched those numbers they realized they did need to attract those people.

And it’s not just young backpackers looking for cheap places to stay. I’m married with two kids and I’m still looking for cheap places to visit!

I know! I’m in my 40s and I meet all kinds of people who want to get the most out of their vacation time so they go where they can afford.

[Photo credits: Tim Leffel, Cavallotkd, globalmultiplelisting, Mike Behnken, and Ahron de Leeuw on Flickr]

A Traveler In The Foreign Service: The Best Foreign Service Blogs

smoking huge joint womanThe World Wide Web is saturated with amateurish blogs created by people who’d be lucky to command the devoted readership of their immediate family members, let alone the wider public. There are scores of blogs managed by Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) and while many of them are worth reading, some are downright bizarre. This post will steer you toward some Foreign Service related blogs that are well worth your time.

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I started this series nine months ago to help people get a better understanding of what life in the U.S. Foreign Service is like. Many of the posts have been about my experiences but I’ve also introduced readers to an intrepid, single female diplomat fresh off of tours in Syria and Pakistan, a diplomatic courier, a USAID Foreign Service Officer currently serving in Afghanistan and others. But spend some time at the sites listed below to get a flavor of what it’s like to represent the U.S. Government in The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Bolivia, Pakistan and dozens of other exotic locales.toothless woman with stretched earlobes peasantOne major caveat here is that FSOs have to be careful what they write because free speech only takes you so far in the precarious, uber-cautious world of government service. Most FSOs have disclaimers on their sites warning that the views expressed are their own, but many still tend to steer clear of tackling political issues or anything controversial.

Peter Van Buren, a now retired diplomat who wrote “We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People,” was effectively driven out of the Foreign Service partially because he posted a link to a cable on WikiLeaks and made some disparaging remarks, which he later apologized for, about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on his website.

There’s no doubt that his experience has had a chilling effect across the board, so visit the sites below to get the low-down on the Foreign Service lifestyle and the travel opportunities, not the dirty underbelly of how diplomacy plays out overseas.

Some of the blogs below contain little, if any biographical info, and I wasn’t able to read each one in its entirety, so my apologies in advance if my impressions of these blogs below miss the mark. That said, I would invite the authors of these fine sites to tell us more about themselves, if they dare, in the comments section.

Diplopundit

Domani Spero has no U.S. government connection and thus has the freedom to write about the world of diplomacy without having to worry about his career. Diplopundit is as close as you’ll find to one-stop shopping for a candid look at what’s going on in the Foreign Service community.

Adventures in Good Countries- Getting Along In The Foreign Service

I love this blog. The author, apparently a single female public diplomacy officer who, “doesn’t date outside the visa waiver program,” blogs with style and passion about life in Japan, Pakistan, Jordan and elsewhere, coping with Multiple Sclerosis and whatever else pops into her head. How can you not like a writer who offers advice to protesters on how to construct a good effigy? (“Don’t just throw something together with the rationale that you’re only going to burn it anyway – take some pride in your work.”)

We Meant Well

You might not agree with Peter Van Buren but you will want to read his blog, which is sometimes offensive but never boring.

Third Culture Children

This blog, which details the lives of a family of five living in Recife, Brazil, La Paz, Bolivia and elsewhere, is one of the very best Foreign Service related sites out there. It’s a particularly good resource for parents who are wondering what the overseas experience will be like for their children.

amy gottlieb usaidAmy Gottlieb’s Photography & Blog

Gottlieb is a doctor and a USAID FSO currently serving in South Africa. Her portraits from Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, South America, Africa and beyond are as good as any you’ll find anywhere.

Adventures Around the World- A Foreign Service Officer’s Tales of Life Abroad

The author of this refreshingly candid and well-written blog is currently in Kabul and has previously served in Iraq and Nepal. Here’s how she described the “honeymoon” period at a new post: “The honeymoon period is the time frame after moving to a foreign country where the excitement of being somewhere new overshadows certain harsh realities of living in a foreign country. People burning piles of trash in the street give the place ‘character’ and bargaining with a taxi driver is part of the ‘adventure.'”

Worldwide Availability

This is a stunning photo blog from an American diplomat who was born on a farm in China and is currently serving in South Korea. Visiting this site is the next best thing to booking a ticket to Seoul. Also, for those who are curious to know how long it takes to join the Foreign Service, take a look at his instructive personal timeline for some clues.

Wanderings of a Cheerful Stoic

Anyone who features a photo of themselves (I presume) with a Gambian poached rat on their homepage is all right by me. This is a blog from a FSO posted in Conakry, Guinea, a place where “you tend to find yourself without a really specific reason.”

The Slow Move East- Thoughts on Being an Expatriate

Hannah Draper, a FSO currently serving in Libya, might be a “Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East,” but her writing is compulsively readable.

Where in the World am I? Notes from the Streets of Hyderabad, India

A FSO in Hyderabad who previously served in Burundi blogs about food and life overseas with gusto.

Cross Words- A Blog About Writing and Anything Else That Comes to Mind

Ted Cross, a FSO currently living in Budapest who apparently just signed up for Facebook last week (Friend him!), tells us on his homepage that his “dream is to be a published author.” I like someone who isn’t afraid to tell the world what he wants. He’s into fantasy and science fiction, neither of which interests me, but his blog is unique and his writing is lucid.

Four Globetrotters- The (Most Likely) Incoherent Ramblings of a Sleep-Deprived Single Mother Living Overseas with her Trio of Kiddos

Anyone who can pull off being a single mom in the Foreign Service is someone I want to meet. This blog, written by a former Foreign Service brat, isn’t nearly as incoherent as advertised.

Beau Geste, Mon Ami- The Chronicle of my Journey to and through The Foreign Service

Even a quick breeze through this visually appealing blog will give you an idea of how varied and interesting life in the Foreign Service can be. If nothing else, do not miss the photos of the tribal warriors in Papua New Guinea.

Zvirdins at Large- Jamie and Andrew’s Excellent Adventures

If you want a slice of life from the Marshall Islands, this is the place to go. I love this blog but I couldn’t bring myself to click into the video entitled “Pig Shooting” in a post on “Pig Butchering.” Yikes.

Talesmag

This isn’t a FSO blog per se, but the site’s stories and “real post reports” on hundreds of cities around the globe are an invaluable resource for those seeking insights into the Foreign Service lifestyle.

Let me know in the comments section if you think I’ve missed any great FSO-related blogs and if you’re the author of ones of the sites mentioned above, tell us a bit about yourself.

Read more from “A Traveler in the Foreign Service” here.

(Photos courtesy of Amy Gottlieb)

The Travels Of Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost ArkOne of the greatest characters in movie history makes his way to Blu-Ray Disc today when “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” is released for the first time. The new box set lets us join the legendary globetrotting archaeologist as he goes in search of fortune and glory in a number of far-flung locations spread out across the planet.

Watching the Indy movies as a boy, I was mesmerized by all the exotic locations he found himself in and vowed that one day I would follow in his fictional footsteps. I too wanted to stroll through bustling marketplaces, visit ancient ruins and explore remote landscapes. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the same places that are depicted in the films. Luckily, I didn’t have to battle supernatural forces, secret cults or Nazis to do so.

Just exactly where has Indy’s adventures taken him? Here is a list of the key locations that he visited in the course of the four films.

Peru
Our first introduction to Henry Jones, Jr. came at the beginning of 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which opened with the adventurer leading an expedition deep into the Peruvian jungle in search of a lost golden idol. He returned to Peru in 2008 with the release of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which gave us a glimpse not only of ancient Inca ruins but also the famous giant geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines.

You can replicate Indy’s adventures in Peru by visiting Inca ruins yourself. Places like Machu Picchu, Sacsahuaman or Ollantaytambo may no longer be hidden in the dense jungle, but they are still impressive archaeological sites nonetheless. Flights above the Nazca Lines are a popular option too, as those strange glyphs depicting monkeys, humming birds and other animals that can only be seen from the air continue to bewilder even in the 21st century. Of course, the Amazon Rainforest is an amazing destination in its own right and Peru offers some unique ways to experience that remote and iconic place too.Ama Dablam in NepalNepal
Indy’s stay in the Himalayan country of Nepal was a brief one. He only stopped by long enough to pick up his erstwhile partner Marion Ravenwood while searching for the Lost Ark. But your visit shouldn’t be as short, as the country has some of the best hiking in the world and Kathmandu is one of the most unusual and colorful cities you’ll ever see. Make the hike to Everest Base Camp, trek the Annapurna Circuit or visit the famous Chitwan National Park, which is home to wild tigers, elephants and rhinos. Adventure is around every corner in Nepal.

Egypt
Our intrepid hero made his way to Egypt in search of the fabled Lost Ark of the Covenant but there is still plenty of history for us to discover there as well. The Great Pyramids at Giza, the Sphynx and the Temple of Hatshepsut can still inspire awe, while a visit to the legendary Valley of the Kings and Queens is akin to stepping 5000 years into the past. Watch the Egyptian countryside drift by on a classic Nile cruise and drop by Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo to check out the more than 120,000 items that are on display there. That’s more artifacts than even Indy himself could hope to collect.

China
In his second big screen adventure, 1984’s “Temple of Doom,” our good Dr. Jones began his escapades in Shanghai, China, where he had a somewhat less than successful encounter with Chinese mobsters. Your visit to that ultra-modern and bustling city doesn’t have to be quite so chaotic, however. Start with a visit to the Shanghai Museum, which is one of the best in the entire country, before heading over to Dongtai Road to search for hidden treasures of your own in the quaint antique shops. Discover a slice of serenity while escaping the busy city life in Yu Yuan Garden, then stroll the Bund, Shanghai’s famous waterfront district along the Huangpu River.

India
Leaving China behind, Indy found his next adventure in a remote region of India where he managed to not only recover the legendary lost Sankara stones, but also free a group of children enslaved to an evil Thugee cult. Rich in history and culture, India is a country that has something for nearly every kind of traveler. The northern region is bounded by the high Himalaya, making it a great destination for trekkers and backpackers, while the southern coastlines feature breathtaking beaches along the Indian Ocean. While there, you can learn the secrets of yoga from a master, visit ancient Hindu temples, explore national parks inhabited by tigers and elephants and so much more. Don’t forget to drop by the famous Taj Mahal either. It may seem like a tourist cliche, but some places are considered classics for good reason.

The Lost City of Petra in JordanJordan
In “The Last Crusade,” which was released in 1989, Indiana Jones and his father went in search of the Holy Grail, ultimately discovering it inside the famous archaeological site of Petra, located in Jordan. You won’t find a single trace of the Holy Grail anywhere near Petra (believe me, I looked!) but the city remains an amazing destination. History buffs will find it more than lives up to the hype, as do the amazing Roman ruins of Jerash in the northern part of the country. Jordan’s capital Amman is a vibrant, energetic city that has much to offer in terms of culture and nightlife while the Wadi Rum desert and Dana Nature Reserve are the perfect escapes for those looking to shed the trappings of modern culture instead. Complete your visit with a relaxing float in the Dead Sea, located not far from some of the most important religious sites to both Islam and Christianity.

Other Destinations
These are just a sampling of some of the exotic locations that Indiana Jones visited throughout the course of the films. He also traveled to Arches National Park in Utah, as well as Berlin and Venice in “Last Crusade” and dropped by a nuclear testing facility in the Nevada desert in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” In between his thrilling adventures, Indy also managed to find time to teach archaeology at Marshall College, located in Bedford, Connecticut. The college may be fictional, but you can still stroll its hallowed grounds as Yale University served as the backdrop.

While “Crystal Skull” wasn’t as well received by critics and fans as the previous films in the series, rumors persist of a potential fifth Indiana Jones movie. If so, it’ll be interesting to see where Indy ends up next and what new destinations he’ll add to his passport in the process.