Category: Travel

What It’s Like To Get High On Khat

khat market yemen

2013: Somewhere in the middle of nowhere Yemen, my toothless driver turns around to ask if I want to chew as we make our way across mountain roads. It’s become an important ritual by now; every day around 2 in the afternoon, he and most every other Yemeni, jam wads of khat leaves into their mouth to chew on for hours. Entire cities shut down after midday around khat time, not fully starting up again until the next morning.

It took me a few days but eventually friend and fellow blogger Derek and I gave in, here’s what it’s like to get high on khat.

What Is Khat?

Khat or qat refers to the leaves of a tree sold in countless markets around Yemen and east Africa. Khat is illegal in many countries and considered a performance enhancing drug by some athletic bodies, mostly because it’s a stimulant. Research on khat is limited but given that everyone I saw in Yemen was chewing it on a daily basis, it’s probably highly addictive. Khat’s also terrible for your teeth – toothless smiles reveal which side of the mouth people tend to keep their khat on.

Khat Effects

Khat is a big part of the culture in Yemen and east Africa where The Pirates Of Somalia repeats a common local joke: khat will either make you talk a lot or sex crazy. I’m sorry to disappoint you if you’re looking for a fantastic way to get high or an herbal aphrodisiac but khat’s effects are more like drinking one cup of coffee too many.

khat leaves

The khat process though is a cumbersome one. First, you begin by shopping for the khat leaves. Khat’s only good for about a day so you’ll need to buy fresh. Then, you begin to chew the leaves without swallowing. You want to get a buzz and then constipated, eating the leaves only gives you the constipated side effect. As you eagerly or fearfully wait to become a talkative sex maniac, you keep chewing, making sure to keep a large ball of khat clearly visible from your cheeks.

For hours.

khat

Khat takes about 2-4 hours to kick in, so you’ll need to chew diligently. The leaves taste like you might imagine the grass in a field does, bitter and earthy, one of the random things you’ll be very focused on contemplating after an hour of chomping.

Focus On This

Khat gives you a fuzzy focus as amphetamines tend to. Very mild though, after the second or third hour your mouth will start running. Imagine a kid who’s eaten too many cupcakes or your friend who can’t handle a large Starbucks. That’s khat. I’m not sure where the sex crazy rumor comes from, it’s probably a way to make khat seem much more mind-altering than it is.

Khat seemed to me to be much on par with coffee, though with bad side effects. Aside from the long-term dental effects, khat might also cause cancer and depression. Due to limited scientific studies of the plant, nothing conclusive has been determined but it’s probably pretty bad for you. Especially daily consumption.

khat farm

The other side effect is water. Prior to Yemen’s civil war, one local farmer told me the country was selling itself into drought. Yemeni coffee should be world famous (the drink originated in nearby Ethiopia) but corruption, war, and turmoil hurt exports. Khat however, is locally very popular. Unfortunately, khat trees use many more times the amount of water than coffee plants and because khat can’t be (legally) exported to most places that don’t already grow it, ultimately it’s become a major economic burden.

Khat, in Yemen, is a social network nothing digital comes close to. Hours long conversations, daily khat shopping, and open discussions create friendships on the spot, leading to a lifelong side effect of close bonds with individuals who have all since been displaced, or worse, due to the ongoing conflict there – although good Yemeni coffee might have done the same, without the tooth decay.

The Pirates Of Somalia Is A Great Travel Book, Lackluster Movie

pirates of somalia

Imagine working in an office at age 24 and wanting to become a journalist, but instead of going the traditional route of a formal education, you book yourself a ticket to Somalia to interview pirates… as they’re actively hijacking cargo ships. In 2011, that’s exactly what writer Jay Bahadur did, and his book The Pirates Of Somalia is one of the best travel books I’ve ever read.

Earlier this year a movie by the same name was released and despite good acting, the original story gets muddled with what is clearly Hollywood executive meddling. It’s often the case that the book a movie is based on is better but Bahadur’s story is so compelling, the movie should have stuck much closer to the true story.

Adventure In Journalism

I’m not going to compare The Pirates Of Somalia movie with the book as much as tell you to read the book, despite what you may have thought of the film. In both cases, The Pirates Of Somalia starts with Bahadur’s wild idea to get a story others can’t by going to its troublesome source. The book however, covers in depth the scattershot planning it took to make this trip to Somalia plus interview pirates leaders, possible. No journalist prior had gotten such interviews and I’m sure more than a few intelligence agencies wish they had such access.

the pirates of somaliaThe Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World

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Ultimately, the planning is fascinating because it starts with Bahadur making calls and pulling connections on his own – you can imagine yourself reading this right now – following the same steps; next thing you know you’re on a 1970s Soviet-era Atonov plane headed for Puntland. (Puntland, the center of Somali piracy, is an unrecognized autonomous region in Somalia.) The movie doesn’t go into this section enough but travel enthusiasts would especially enjoy seeing the calculated chaos Bahadur’s route to Somalia took, dramatized on-screen.

Nerves Across The Pages

Bahadur does a really good job of transmitting his cool but logically anxious mind after he arrives in Somalia. There’s a naivety in the writing without straying far from the reality that things could go horribly wrong. Insulting a pirate, running into the wrong group of armed criminals, jihadists, other pirates, or a hundred other ways to get killed at worse, kidnapped at best.

In the movie, the most captivating parts (aside from anytime Al Pacino is on-screen) are the moments of complete unpredictability in what’s to come for Bahadur. Where the movie doesn’t make time to go in-depth enough into each character’s arch, the book’s writing is very personal. The Pirates Of Somalia is written almost like a journal, but structured to give you a deeper look at the people who are pirates, at all levels in the organization. Pirates are humanized, criminal motivations dissected, and a love of Land Rovers plus addiction to khat, exposed.

No To Romance

The story of piracy in Somalia has been romanticized. Although there is a very tragic element to it, the widely circulated narrative of fisherman looking for justice isn’t the reality. I won’t spoil the book but Bahadur’s adventure leads to a deep insights about Somalia any reader will benefit from. (Bahadur is now an investigator for the United Nations in Somalia.)

In the film, there’s a weak subplot about an old girlfriend that could have been discarded in favor of more scenes with the pirates, demonstrating the exploitation and modern mythos within the gangs. But The Pirates Of Somalia movie, like these 8 motorcycle books, should give you an anxious enough glimpse of the full story you’ll really want to read on your next flight.

Should You Pay For Mileage Boosters When Buying Airplane Tickets?

airport lufthansa

You’ve probably noticed during self-check-in or when booking tickets, some airlines offer an option to purchase an extra 1,000 or more frequent flyer miles to add to your flight. These mileage “boosters” are supposed to give you a few extra frequent flyer miles at a discount, making you wonder if the cost is worth the reward.

Those of you who collect frequent flyer miles know that they’re a good way to get free flights and other perks but mileage boosting in most cases isn’t money well spent.

What Are Mileage Boosters?

More common in the United States, the trend is spreading to other airlines around the world. Basically, mileage boosters are discounted miles, made available only as an add-on purchase to an existing flight. The idea is that you’ll be able to earn extra frequent flyer miles for a given flight without paying full price for them.

Unfortunately, discounted or not, buying miles is almost never a good deal because the equivalent monetary value in airfare is going to be cheaper.

Adding Up The Numbers

Frequent flyer programs are intentionally vague since airlines want you to disassociate miles with money. Let’s use United as an example (here’s why you should sign up for their mileage program even if you don’t fly United.) They frequently offer 1,000 mile boosters for $35.

A free round-trip flight from, say, North America to Europe, is around 50,000 miles with United on Star Alliance. At $35 per 1000 miles, to get a free flight would cost $2,100 in boosters. Going to United’s website and purchasing 50,000 miles directly costs $1750 – chances are in either case you’ll find airfare for a North America to Europe round trip flight to be half as much.

Additionally, mileage boosters don’t count toward the premier or status miles on United, Delta, and other airlines. In other words, frequent flyer programs have status levels (more miles more status) that give you lounge access (here are the wifi passwords), free upgrades, or other perks but not all miles are counted equally. Some are “special” miles that add to your total status, others like the “boosters” don’t count.

Stick To Flights

Frequent flyer hackers will tell you, if you’re going to buy miles, it’s best to go through some third-party promotion. Otherwise, accumulate your miles in one place like this, wisely use reward cards, or earn frequent flyer miles without getting any credit cards.

In general, refrain from buying miles and earn them the best way – by traveling more – and keep this habit every time you fly so you’re credited the miles you’re due. The airlines have a tendency not to be incredibly diligent in adding miles after a flight and not getting miles you’ve earned is an even bigger waste than a mileage booster.

The Jordan Pass Is A Great Way To Save Money In The Country (And Petra)

amman jordan flag

The Jordan Pass is one of the best discount tourist packages offered in the world but it’s not well advertised. Unfortunately, many travelers learn about the Jordan Pass after they’ve arrived in Jordan or spent $70 entrance to Petra, missing out on a lot of money and time savings.

The Jordan Pass is one of the best tourist discount packages, like Spain’s Granada Card, but in order to take full advantage of it, you’ll need to purchase it before you enter the country.

Includes Visa Entry

There’s one good reason, especially if you’re going to visit Petra, to get a Jordan Pass. But let me start with the obvious bonus all three of the Jordan Pass varieties come with: visa entry fee and shortened entry line at the airport. For Americans and Europeans, plus most other nationals aside from a few neighboring countries, a typical tourist visa costs around $50. The Jordan Pass starts at $99 (70 Jordanian dinar).

jordan pass

Additionally, you’ll get into a shorter line at the airport with a Jordan Pass (for those who already have valid visas) plus save at least 30 minutes from having to go through the process at an immigration desk. You can even save on paper (Jordan is refreshingly good at being green) by simply scanning your Jordan Pass at passport control.

Advantages Even If You’re Petra Only

A single-day entry ticket to Petra is 50JD ($70 USD). So, even if you just use a Jordan Pass to visit the country and see Petra only, it’s saved you $20 already (otherwise it’s around $50 for the tourist visa and $70 for Petra). In fact, the three different Jordan Pass offerings vary only by Petra entry days:

  • Jordan Wanderer ($99): 1 day visit to Petra, 40 other popular sites, tourist visa, digital brochures
  • Jordan Explorer ($106): Same, except has a 2 day Petra entrance ticket
  • Jordan Expert ($113): Same as above, except is a 3 day Petra entrance

Keep in mind to be eligible for the tourist visa entry fee, your trip to Jordan must be at least 3 nights (4 days).

Now you might be wondering who would want to visit Petra 2 or 3 times but it might surprise you that Petra is a lot bigger than most people expect. It’s an entire ancient town spread over dozens of square kilometers. Many travelers stay in town for a few days to explore Petra a section at a time due its size. Others, who only get a day ticket, arrive the night before so they can get in at 6am before the vast majority of the crowds. (It’s not too bad if you’re running late though, here’s how crowded Petra gets at peak hour.)

Plan For The Pass

A Jordan Pass is an instant money saver if you’re only going to visit Petra. You’ll cut costs on Petra and a tourist visa, but even those who are visa exempt or not planning on seeing Petra will likely save because the Jordan Pass includes 40 other sites as well. The Jordan Pass covers places like Wadi Rum you’ll probably want to see – just remember to keep the pass on your phone and ask any site you enter if you’re unsure.

Discount cards, like the JR Rail Pass for Japan, can be a great for your travel budget but Jordan Pass included, often have to be purchased in advance of your trip to make use of the full benefits.

7 Things That Will Surprise A First-Time Visitor To Petra

petra treasury

Petra in southern Jordan is one of the most iconic tourist sites in the world, made famous by movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s familiarity in films has narrowed Petra’s tourism marketing, giving many visitors a nice surprise when they arrive at the 9,000 year old ancient city.

Petra is not what you expect though don’t feel odd about it, you’re not alone. These are 7 things that surprise most first-time visitors to Petra.

1. It’s More Than The Treasury

petra great temple

Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) is what you may think Petra is. But Petra is more than a 45 meter (147 foot) tall Treasury; it’s an entire ancient city. Petra’s ancient ruins lie within at least a 60 kilometer (37 mile) hiking area, though you’ll probably only walk 8-16km (5-10 miles) of that to the major sites closest the entrance. Visitors on second and third trips to Petra often spend several days in the area to explore by foot or donkey.

2. The Treasury Is A 2 Kilometer Walk

Based on how movies portray Petra, you might be under the impression that the Treasury is a short walk from the entrance. In reality, the Treasury is 2km (1.24 miles) in through a series of impressive valleys. The valleys are very photogenic and much cooler than the exposed desert air starting at the Treasury and beyond.

indian jones and last crusadeIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Special Edition)

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3. You Can’t Go In The Treasury

Sorry, it’s not like in Indian Jones, the Treasury is only a big photo opportunity from outside with a sufficiently wide angle lens. (I was pretty surprised by this one.) As far as immortal knights, I didn’t hear of any either.

4. Get Your Tickets Before Jordan

jordan pass

I’ll be writing more about the Jordan Pass in the coming weeks, a sightseeing package like the Granada Card well worth the cost. A Jordan Pass, offered by Jordan’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, also waives the tourist visa entry fee. The Jordan Pass is just slightly more expensive than a single entry ticket to Petra but to make the most of it, you’ll need to purchase before you get to Jordan.

5. Lots Of Walking, Little Food

ancient city petra

Just to see the Treasury you’ll have a 4km (2.5 mile) round trip walk to prepare for. To see the Great Temple, Royal Tombs, and simply nature being magic beyond that plan for a full day of walking. Bring liters of water in the summer – add a jacket in the winter, it can be surprisingly chilly.

Meal options are terrible as well in the site, so unless you’re good with potato chips plus an apple or two, bring your own food. People arriving on day trips should stock up the night before (you want to get in as early as possible), otherwise if you have time before the evening buses return to Amman, the nearby restaurants are surprisingly good.

6. Free Horse Rides Are Free But Not Really

petra donkey

Yes, you do get a free horse ride with your Petra entry ticket. You’ll also get intense hassling for a pricey tip resulting in very few people actually using the horses. Donkeys on the other hand are a bit better but be ready to bargain like a traveling pro and wait until you’re past the Treasury to get the most reasonable rates.

7. Crowded But Not

Despite being the most popular tourist attraction in Jordan, over the past few years instability in the greater Middle East region has kept the largest crowds away. To see Petra without people you can get in at 6am, for everyone else, take a look at the video below to see what Petra looks like on an average day.

Many of the people I met and spoke with shared how much more Petra was than they expected, much like the Great Pyramids in Egypt, making it one of the more popular tourist destinations that won’t disappoint you. Unless, of course, you were really hoping to see the Holy Grail.

How Good Is The Panasonic Lumix G85 Macro?

A few months ago I reviewed the best travel cameras under $1000 and recently you asked me how well one of those cameras, the Panasonic Lumix G85, is with close up video. In the video above I’ll show you the answer, as well as the focus stacking and post focus features which can really take your macro shots to another level. For those of you who photograph or video a lot of flowers, plants, bugs, or other small objects when you travel, the G85 might make a good overall camera to carry on your next trip.

lumix g85 kit  Panasonic LUMIX G85MK 4K Mirrorless Camera Kit

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More


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What It’s Like To Get High On Khat

The Pirates Of Somalia Is A Great Travel Book, Lackluster Movie

Should You Pay For Mileage Boosters When Buying Airplane Tickets?

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