Everything

Travel Review: Jordan Part 1 – Basic Info, Aqaba and Wadi Rum

Posted on by Ricky in Everything | Leave a comment

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In my never ending quest to be a travel blogger (a paid one), I am here to tell you about one of the places I recently went to: Jordan.

Jordan isn’t really high on many people’s travel list. It should be. It’s a beautiful country with nice people and is actually surprisingly easy to travel around in. Here is some basic information about my trip.

How we got In

My trip actually started in Israel. We got into Jordan by walking across the Southern border from Eilat to Aqaba. This is right on the coast of the Red Sea. It was very easy. You pay some fees to leave Israel, walk across to the other side, present your passport and Jordan Pass, and then smile. Ten minutes later, you are done.

It should be noted that different borders have different rules it seems, so it’s worthy to google the shit out of borders if you choose to cross from Israel.

What is the Jordan Pass?

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The Jordan Pass is an all you can eat buffet pass to the historical sites of Jordan. You can get it here and then carry the QR code on your phone or just print out a copy. Once you buy it, you can just show it at most, if not all of the major sites in Jordan and not bother lining up. The costs fall into 3 tiers and honestly, the only differences between each one is the amount of days you spend at Petra. We got the most expensive one because the price difference is basically a beer. The Jordan Pass also waives the visa fee for entry into Jordan. Considering it costs almost that much to enter Petra alone, the pass is no doubt something you need to buy if you want to tour Petra.

How we got around

Jordan is easy to navigate and does not appear to be too difficult to drive in outside of the major cities. I don’t drive, and I watch a lot of Fast and Furious so it always seems kinda fun, but the people who did drive didn’t seem too stressed out this trip and the roads were in good conditions for most part. We were also able to rent an automatic car in Aqaba and drop it off in Amman without trouble.

It should be noted that the lane markers on the road appear to be merely a concept in Jordan and you will frequently see three cars in what you previously thought was a two car lane. No one in Jordan wears a seat belt either. To navigate, you can just buy a sim card for a fairly cheap price and use google maps. The places were pretty clearly marked, and some of the highways are rather spectacular as Jordan goes from mountains to valleys very quickly.

Okay, now to where we went.

Aqaba – Red Sea

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Aqaba is the town on the Red Sea in Jordan. It’s where you go if you want to get your water sports on and it’s the only real reason why you would stay there. We wanted to be on a boat and also do some snorkeling and so we walked around all the dive shops and settled on Dive Aqaba. It surprisingly had a Canadian there and after some confusion, we were able to book our boat and a guided snorkeling tour for 35 JOD a person. There were cheaper options but we are precious and wanted a private experience.

The waters during the day had great visibility and there are a lot of things to explore in the water. There was a lot of fish around the coral reefs in the Red Sea which made for a great experience. We also saw sea turtles and were looking for eels but couldn’t find any. Another interesting aspect of the trip was that we were also able to see wreckages that were just off the coast, including a sunken ship.

A good day all around. Next off, was Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum

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Wadi Rum is fucking magnificent. It’s a place with immense beauty and not a place I will soon forget. If you ever want to feel small, Wadi Rum is a great place for this. A giant valley cut into sandstone and granite (says wikipedia), it is a place you’ve seen before. It’s featured heavily in movies like Lawrence of Arabia, the Martians and one of the Transformers. However, you really really have to be there to understand the scope and size of it. This place is enormous.

We spent roughly two days there. Wadi Rum is home to the Bedouin and as such, the only real way to do Wadi Rum is to stay at a Bedouin camp. We stayed with Rumstars and it was great. Their camp was deep inside the heart of Wadi Rum. Food and beverage (in the form of water and tea) are provided and the people who run are very nice. The accommodations are quite basic, but it is completely reasonable.

During the day, you will get driven on a 4×4 to many places that are visually stunning within the area. You will see great vistas, walk through canyons, climb to great elevations and basically want to instagram everything. It’s spectacular.

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Next up – Petra, Feynan Eco Lodge, Dead Sea and Amman

SXSW 2018 – The Recap: Favorites, Surprises, etc.

Posted on by Ricky in Everything, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Starcrawler, March 15, 2018

The 10th Year. That is pretty crazy. At this point, I have spent over 100 days in Austin. I have spent over a month at the Sheraton on 11th. All because of this little tech and music festival in the heart of Texas.

This year was an invigorating year. I don’t know why. Everyone at SXSW just seemed happy to be there. There were the crazy years from like five years ago when Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga and Springsteen were all at SXSW, but really, that was not what SXSW is about. I’m very glad the organizers of this festival has withdrawn from that type of booking. It’s now looking more like what it was when I first started (which probably still looked different than it did when people first started going, but whatevs).

Anyways, we polled the people at the Panic Manual about their experience.

Best Act

Paul: While it was great to revisit old favourites like Gaz Coombes, The Wedding Present and Low (whose Tuesday night set of church organ driven arrangements of their latest material had me feeling like I was stuck inside an episode of Twin Peaks all night – in a good way, of course), I’ll go with London’s Shame as one of the best among the new acts I caught.

Derek: Toss up between Meute and Superorganism. I’m hoping both continue to churn out new stuff.

Gary: Between Nubya Garcia and Albert Hammond Jr, which oddly were among the first and last shows I saw this year.

Ricky: Two acts I really enjoyed (but have already seen before) were Cut Copy and Young Fathers. Those are unfair because I knew what I was getting into. Three acts that made huge impressions on me were Meute, Shame and Gangs of Youth. I’m a sucker for anthem rock and saw Gangs of Youth twice so I might go with them, although Shame was definitely a 1b.

Most Disappointing Act

Paul: LuxDeluxe. They’re talented enough guys, but something about their performance just didn’t gel for me. Points to the singer for dancing so hard though.

Gary: Yes I was paying attention… but I can’t recall anything that was disappointing enough for me to bother to write about it. Even ShitKid was disrespectfully charming. Perhaps the band that me and Paul walked into at the Driskill?

Ricky: Not sure what the hell Porches ever did to give them a closing slot for a day show. Was not interesting at all.

Most Pleasant Discovery

Gary: Gordi. I have always thought that sunset and an inanely-smiling crowd are prerequisites to a wholly entertaining show. Her singing was transporting enough to forget that I was bathed in molecules of rotting hipster garbage from the high-rise next door.

Paul: Meute was the most fun and put on an amazing show, though I’ll also give a shout out to a band on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of mood and energy – Holy Motors from Estonia. Their Mazzy Star gone spooky Spaghetti Western vibe made for a nice, chill break in the middle of Friday afternoon.

Derek: Meute were fantastic. I wouldn’t think that a German techno marching band (complete with uniforms) would be a thing I’d bug out to, but they had an amazing energy that had the crowd moving.

Ricky: Meute was amazing. Everyone has already said that. Aside from them I would say my most pleasant discovery was going to the China showcase, seeing a psych-rock act named Fazi and then watching a bunch of old Chinese people in winter vests dancing it up as if their lives weren’t pinned down by some overwhelming suppressive communist regime or something.

Anything new or notable about SXSW this year?

Paul: The continued downsizing of SXSW from the excess of a few years ago has continued into this year’s edition and it seems to be a good thing – the lack of huge big name headliners means a lot less FOMO and frees you up to explore a bit more.

Another trend I noticed was a large number of great female performers this year, including Starcrawler, Fruit & Flowers, Wye Oak, Anna Burch, Superorganism, Boytoy, Ex-Girlfriend and Rachel Bloom (of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), just to name a few. When I first got to Austin (or maybe it was at the airport before I even left – Monday was a long day) I noticed a woman wearing a t-shirt that said “The present is female” and based on what I took in at SXSW this year, that statement would appear to be true.

Derek: It definitely felt smaller and the lack of huge headliners was noticeable.

Gary: Austin remains as lively and friendly as ever, but it’s an odd mix of care-free and hyper-vigilance that is new. Ever since the truck accident they have been scaling back, first pedestrian barricades on 6th to thin the crowd, then dump-trucks full of sand at intersections as precautions. This year the new fire regulations and enforcement were really thorough, although fewer venues remembered to check my camera bag. Glad to see that even as our world spins out of control, it still needs music.

Ricky: The bands seemed smaller this year. When Rae Sremmurd is the biggest act, you know they have scaled it back a bit. I really liked that. Also, they were a lot stricter with capacity levels. Often times you would line up to get in to find out its only half full.

All in all, an amazing year. Here’s a spotify playlist of some of the bands we saw.

SxSW Review: Hatchie, Anna Burch, March 15, Cheer Up Charlies

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

Hatchie, March 15, 2018

Hatchie
Despite how the number makes me feel old, having a touch of the ’90s isn’t a bad thing. Hatchie certainly captures the sound of that glittering bygone era in spades. Her music reminds me a little of Natalie Imbruglia (I’m fairly certain it’s not because she is also Australian).

The slow, dreamy melodies of “Sure” and “Try,” especially the bright guitar and harmony, seem like they could float on forever. This is true when listening to them live or recorded.

Anna Burch, March 15, 2018

Anna Burch
To follow Hatchie with Detroit songwriter Anna Burch seems to me like an intentional juxtaposition. One offers up glittery melodies, but another communicates with lyrical, descriptive songs. True to this change, we went from shoegazing to speaking directly to the audience. Which made my second job as a photographer a bit easier.

Still light and airy, Burch’s songs, such as “Asking 4 a Friend” and “2 Cool 2 Care” are catchy in their own ways. Twisting and turning, you never quite know where the next hook is coming on the first listen – and then they will grow on you quite quickly to confuse your normal expectations. Quite interesting. My favorite would still be “Tea-Soaked Letter.”

SxSW Review: SYML, Low, March 13, St. David’s Sanctuary

Posted on by Gary in Everything, Music, Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

SYML, March 13 2018

SYML
After overcoming some sound interference troubles, Brian Fennell (formerly of the indie rock band Barcelona) quickly began in the church pulpit as SYML, which means simple in Welsh. Just as the name implied, it would turn out to be a straightforward singer-songwriter concert that has come to be St. David’s Sanctuary’s signature.

Over the years, it has also become clear that if you can’t sing, St. David’s is not a place to showcase your talents. SYML is, fortunately, not in that latter category. While I find it a bit distracting to have the cello and violin backing to his one man show, there was little hestitation in his delivery for passages. That said, the songwriting itself isn’t always clearly original. It isn’t hard to see that the opening of “Ghosts” neatly paraphrased Coldplay’s “In My Place.” While refreshing, his “Mr. Sandman” cover was not just a little creepy, and self-admittedly so. The lyrics were twisted into a lament about loneliness that might make Tim Burton jump. Even with all its idiosyncracies, this is still a first-rate set, ending with the promotional piece “Where’s My Love.” I would recommend the above tracks as well as “Wildfire.”

Low
If the previous set was “simple”, Low’s performance is its quantum entangled pair. How can we put more symbolism into a show? “I know! Let’s have two stern-faced, practicing Mormons sing nearly monotonic verses against a backdrop of ascending drum beats for 40 minutes in a dimly lit church, and conspicuously display their drinking of red soda and chomping of apples. That way, no one will think we were being serious!”

To be fair, Low has had a long career of minimalist excellence. It’s really not surprising that they managed to make the seemingly simple and monotonic music beautiful. And to be honest, it was a completely different experience if you were willing to stay the course. Problem was, it did not engender that will in most of the audience on this night. If St. David’s Sanctuary monitored their doors, they would have registered the exodus in between every track played. It was rare to see a concert hemorrhage audience throughout. I think a masochist mindset definitely came to the fore – and many just wanted to derive some type of reward having stayed with the performance. And as if they understood implicitly, Low did eventually open up the format for a number of more flowing pieces.

As for me, I felt like I had been party to some ritual to which I did not submit, but perhaps I did sign up for it. After all, SxSW is about getting a dose of the weird.

Low, March 13, 2018

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