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April 23, 2007

"Girl Solo in Arabia" Plug

Ayhaft Canyon
Ayhaft Canyon on Socotra Island off Yemen.
Photo: Girl Solo in Arabia

By Tara Kyle

I'm writing today to encourage you to show some support for Carolyn McIntyre, whose Girl Solo in Arabia travelogue is currently up for a Webby Award in the Blog--Culture/Personal category. Please click here to quickly register and vote in the competition, which honors the "best of the net."  You may remember Girl Solo in Arabia for its prior nod in the 2007 Travvies.  Trust me, all the accolades are well deserved.

Many Americans today would balk at traveling to places like Damascus or Sana'a Yemen (where Carolyn recently visited, in the company of mounted machine guns and a rocket propelled grenade).  But on her journey through North Africa, the Levant, Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula, Carolyn has remained committed to a mission of exploring the rich culture of each locale, while emphasizing "the commonality we share as humans regardless of race, color or religion."

The relationship between Islam and the West is also a topic close to my heart. A few Columbia classmates and I recently finished work on a multimedia journalism project, Defining Middle Ground, which explores some of the challenges facing young Muslims in New York.  Check out the video interviews in our "crossing cultures" section, where kids from an Islamic private school in Brooklyn and a Staten Island public school discuss their anxieties and stereotypes before meeting each other.

Continue reading ""Girl Solo in Arabia" Plug" »

November 07, 2006

Egypt With Kids

My sons Charlie, 4, and Doug, 2, last week.

By Wendy Perrin

Question from a reader:

"I was so struck by Klara's [Conde Nast Traveler Editor in Chief Klara Glowczewska's] recent Editor's Letter about taking her 12-year-old and 14-year-old to Egypt that we are now planning a two-week trip there with our 18-month-old and 4-year-old.  Will strollers work there?  Should we bring a water purifying kit?  Any thoughts about foods to bring for them?  Top Ramen and energy bars?  Any suggestions are appreciated.  Thanks, Pam"

You're a braver woman than I.  Based on my travels in Egypt and my experiences hauling a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old around the world (though not around Egypt), here are my thoughts:

Continue reading "Egypt With Kids" »

September 30, 2006

Travel Agents Who Won't See The World

Photo:  Caravan-Serai

By Wendy Perrin

To paraphrase Herman Melville, nobody who travels the world can remain prejudiced. Educating oneself about peoples and cultures unlike ours is one of the best ways to promote peace and understanding.  You'd think that travel agents in particular would believe this and not want to close off any part of the world to their clients.

That's why I cringed when I read an email exchange that Rita Zawaideh of Caravan-Serai, a tour company that specializes in the Middle East, had with a travel agent. Rita sent a mass email to travel agents advertising her upcoming fall tours to Egypt, Syria, and Iran.  A Los Angeles-area agent asked to be removed from Rita's mailing list and sent her this message:

Travel agent: I have a great problem with Iran's politics and leadership, as does anyone in the civilized world.
Rita: That is your personal opinion. It should not stop me or anyone else from selling that part of the world.
Travel agent: "No Iran" is our National Policy.
Rita: I'm sorry that for an agent you do not have an open mind.
Travel agent:  I have owned this agency for 28 years.  I have traveled the world since I was 5 years old.  If you think that I am going to support Hezbollah by sending myself or any of my clients to Iran, Syria, or Lebanon, you are sadly mistaken.  Have you told the State Department that you are sending all these groups? If not, it would be my pleasure to do so!
Rita: Please go ahead. I advertise freely and do not hide what I do. I am proud to be an Arab and also an American. I am sorry for your clients that you are so closed in your thinking.  Maybe you need to educate yourself about more of the world.
Travel agent: Perhaps you are giving a cut to that NUT CASE running IRAN!!!!!

Comments, anyone?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one.  And see for yourselves what travel to places like Esfahan, Tehran and Rasht is like by exploring some of the Iran journals viewable at RealTravel

August 24, 2006

Israel: Safe for Travelers?

Eliat Beach, Israel
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe, Conde Nast Traveler

By Wendy Perrin

A reader posted this question in response to Lebanon Update: "I am planning on going to Israel in late November. Do you think, with the political instability in the Middle East, it would be safe?"

Tough question.  So I gave it to someone else to answer: Jim Berkeley, president of Destinations & Adventures International and the Israel specialist on my annual list of the best travel planners.  Writes Jim,

"At this time I certainly would not recommend traveling into northern Israel or anywhere near the Lebanese or Syrian borders.  If you want to go in November, to be totally safe I suggest you confine your visit to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Masada and the Dead Sea area, the Negev, and Eilat. This way you are totally out of range of anything falling on you from the sky. One thing I can say in general about security in Israel:  It is probably the best in the world and if you are traveling in the country with a local tour operator, it will be linked into Israeli security. Should there be a disturbance of any kind, it will automatically be informed of the situation. One final point:  Though there have been no suicide bombers in Israel for quite some time, one must be always aware of this possibility.  Avoid large crowds, bus stops and stations, markets, etc. Be wise and be aware and safe traveling!"

Thanks, Jim, for your input.

August 18, 2006

Lebanon Update

By Wendy Perrin

It is heartbreaking. Lebanon is--or, was--one of the world's finest travel destinations. What other country has so many world-class historic sites packed into so few square feet? When I was there in '99, exploring the spectacular Roman ruins at Baalbek and Tyre, I was wowed by the country's combination of striking scenery, friendly and generous people, fabulous produce and cuisine, glittery Beirut nightlife, and range of activities--from digging for million-year-old fish fossils near Byblos to skiing in the morning and then hitting the beach in the afternoon.

So I've been asking Rita Zawaideh of Caravan-Serai --a well-connected tour operator that specializes in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan--for updates. She was helping travelers get out when the violence began. Now she is helping Lebanese families get out and aid organizations get in. She writes:

"The people in the South are having the worst time since we are not really able to get medical supplies to them. The roads have been bombed and even some of the humanitarian trucks and convoys have been hit trying to get medicines, water, food into the area.

"There are no more big public spaces to shelter families in big numbers. Now they are concentrated in very random places and in small numbers. The big rescue institutions like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, High Council for Relief and others are focusing on the big cities, the center of Beirut, and places where you have groupings of 600 people or more. In the small villages and areas where the big relief groups are not able to get into, you will find smaller and local NGOs that I am also working with.

"Aid workers trying to get into Lebanon go to Tartous, Syria. then cross over by foot into Lebanon, where we have taxis and cars waiting to take them to Beirut. To get people out of Beirut, the Immigration Office in Lebanon transfers people to the Syrian border, where we meet them and get them to Damascus and onward. These are people who thought that they would stay in Lebanon, not wanting to leave their homes, but finally realized that for the sake of their children they had no choice but to leave.

"I am also in contact with the Jordanian military, since they have C103 helicopters that are going into the Beirut airport. We are wiring funds from concerned U.S. citizens to Jordan to buy medicine and more blankets and other goods that can be delivered to the South. It is a lot easier to purchase the goods and package them up at my office in Jordan."

I asked Rita for a way to contribute to the humanitarian effort. She has started a 501c3 organization called AACC/Lebanon Relief (P.O. Box 31642, Seattle, WA 98103, 206-634-9001). Contributions are tax-deductible and are going directly to the people in Lebanon, Rita says. "Nothing is being used for administrative fees."