Volunteers needed to excavate Lawrence of Arabia’s battles

Lawrence of ArabiaA team of British archaeologists working in Jordan is tracing the military campaign of Lawrence of Arabia, and they need your help.

T.E. Lawrence was an English archaeologist turned soldier who capture the public imagination during World War One when he helped the Arabs rebel against the Ottoman Empire. After its disastrous defeat at Gallipoli at the hands of the Ottomans, the British Empire needed some good news from the Middle Eastern front.

The ten-year project started in 2006 and has already studied Ottoman fortifications, the Hijaz Railway (a favorite target of the Arab rebels), and an Arab army base. Besides traditional archaeology, the team is also recording oral histories of communities living near the battlefields. While all veterans of the campaign are dead, Arab culture is very much an oral one and many war stories have been passed down.

The project, run by the University of Bristol, is looking for volunteers for this year. Volunteers will work from November 14-28 in southern Jordan. The cost for participating is a hefty £2,450 ($4,017) but that includes airfare, food, and a three-star hotel.

For more information, check out the project’s website and blog.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Abercrombie & Kent announce extreme adventures for 2010

Adventure travel specialist Abercrombie & Kent have announced their “extreme” adventures for 2010, offering up 15 amazing opportunities for travelers looking for unique experiences, provided of course they also have plenty of cash to pay for them.

No matter what kind of adventure you crave, you’re sure to find it on this list. For instance, you can head off into the desert on an eleven day expedition that follows in the footsteps of Lawrence of Arabia, or if sun and sand aren’t your cup of tea, then maybe you’d prefer to go dog sledding in Norway for nine days. Fancy a mountain setting? Than book a trip to Everest Base Camp for 20 days of trekking in the Khumbu Valley instead. These are just a few of the great options that A&K have in store for 2010, with tours planned for remote locations in Europe, Asia, Africa, and even the South Pole.

Widely considered one of the best luxury travel companies in the world, Abercrombie & Kent has years of experience planning adventurous trips to the far corners of the globe. The company promises small group tours, ranging in size from about 6-8 people, which allows for more one-on-one interaction with their expert guides, as well as ensuring that the group can move quickly while having a very limited impact on the environment.

Of course, these specialized tours come at quite a cost, and while many tour operators are looking for ways to offer discounted options in these challenging economic times, A&K is sticking to their plan to offer unique experiences for premium prices. For example, that dog sledding expedition that I mentioned above comes with a hefty price tag of $9655, not including airfare. Clearly not for the backpacker on a budget!

“No Reservations” season 4, episode 13: Saudi Arabia

Location: This week’s episode takes us to Saudi Arabia, where Tony is guided by the winner of the No Reservations FAN-atic contest, Danya Alhamrani. The master of strange destinations heads to the land of camels, deserts and oil to take a “peek behind the veil” of one of the world’s more mysterious destinations.

Episode Rating
: Three bloody meat cleavers out of five.

Summary: Last year, No Reservations put together a contest to find Anthony a co-host for one episode. After sorting through more than 1300 entries, ranging from creepy, to boring, to downright strange, Mr. Bourdain settles on his winner, Danya, who plans to take Tony on a grand tour of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia was certainly an interesting episode – it is well off the beaten tourist path, allowing for interesting insight into a country not particuarly well-known by many Americans as anything but a source of oil and terrorism. Tony and Danya set out dispel such notions with a journey into finer points of Saudi cuisine and daily life.
Things get started in Jeddah, a surprisingly cosmopolitan metropolis bordering the Red Sea. Little more than a minute into the episode and Tony launches into the “dont’s” of Saudi Arabia – bemoaning the country’s lack of alcohol, gambling and women covered head to toe. But Bourdain’s host Danya is having none of it – the two set off on a tour of her hometown. Danya’s Saudi home is surprisingly western – a plasma TV, nicely appointed with tasteful furnishings and all the modern conveniences. Amazing – they don’t live in tents! For those that didn’t catch the sarcasm there, this seemed a bit unnecessary, but one can hardly fault Tony, as his co-host Danya is calling the shots.

Down in the historic center of Jeddah, Danya and Tony stop for some breakfast, a mix of offal involving liver, kidneys and other sundry animal parts. The meat is cooked in ghee with tomatoes, red onions, parsley and some chili sauce. Bourdain digs into the meal with characteristic gusto, though his host looks less than enthusiastic. Having second thoughts Danya?

To complete his Saudi transformation, Bourdain is fitted for a Thawb, the traditional ankle-length robe worn by men. Let me tell you, even with the local garb, it’s hard for a 6-foot tall American to “blend in” – but it’s a humorous moment nonetheless. Tony ends his visit to Jeddah on the roof of a house, where the group feasts on a whole lamb roasted in a traditional coal oven. A stunning view and a stunningly delicious feast – how’s that for unexpected?

The next day, Tony and Danya head to the Camel Bazaar. Will they be riding them off into the sunset a la Lawrence of Arabia? Not a chance, dear viewer – our carnivore-in-chief has the pleasure of picking a camel that he will be eating later in the show.

While we await the senseless slaughter of the dinner camel, Bourdain and Danya take an intermission for a few other activities. They visit a Saudi mall, a favorite destination for locals to hang out and participate in some conspicuous consumption. I found it amusing that they sell a huge variety of westernized women’s clothing at the mall – women are required to be covered head to toe to maintain “modesty,” yet sexy lingerie and high heels are easily available. Seems like a bit of a contradiction, no?

Shopping would make anyone hungry, so our two hosts stop at Al Baik, Saudi Arabia’s favorite fried chicken joint. The seating at the restaurant is separated into “singles” and “family,” allowing Tony a chance to discuss the interesting differences in status between genders inherent in Saudi society.

In the afternoon, Bourdain and Danya go lizard hunting. Considered a Bedouin delicacy, they watch as the hunters try to trap lizards coming out of their underground burrows. The meat is then charred over an open flame while stewed in tomato and onions. The verdict? Not nearly as bad as expected.

But this odd meal is only the appetizer for what is yet to come. Our sojourn in Saudi Arabia, ends fittingly with the consumption of the much-anticipated camel. Tony, not surprisingly, finds the meat to be delicious, and he and his 20 new Saudi friends spend their meal laughing and joking in between bites of meaty camel hump. Finger-licking good!

So ends Tony’s voyage to Saudia Arabia. The addition of a co-host provided an interesting twist which proved a welcome change. Tony was out of his element at times without his obligatory alcohol binges, but came away with interesting insight into a country with a lot of misconceptions among foreigners. By no means the best episode ever. The episode’s food choices rank high on the “weirdness” index, but perhaps a bit lower on the “I love this and want to eat it again” ranking. Nevertheless, it was an interesting chance to challenge to the assumptions of many viewers and their relative lack of knowledge about this Muslim country.