Category: Health and Fitness

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.

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 Crowded Is Petra During The Day?

The ideal way to visit Petra is to arrive one night before, stay at one of the plentiful hotels, and enter the site as soon as it opens at 6am. Petra enthusiasts generally recommend staying two days to be able to fully explore the entire site but if you’re planning on a day trip from Amman, you’ll likely arrive when Petra is at its busiest during the day.

Large crowds and people in all of your photos might have you worried that not getting to Petra at 6am will ruin what is a bucket list event. Many of the tour buses from other parts of Jordan – mainly Amman – arrive around 10am and in case you’re on one of them, watch the video here or read on for what to expect.

Petra Peak

Late morning is generally the busiest time at Petra when people taking day trips begin to show up. For a day trip to Petra from the Jordanian capital Amman, the JETT Bus leaves at 6am, arrives at 10am, and returns around 5pm (definitely check the times on their site to be certain). JETT’s online booking engine is very unreliable so at least a day before your trip to Petra, visit their offices in Amman to book tickets ($32USD round trip). There are certainly other ways but this is the method I used.

petra crowds

Put On Your Walking Shoes

Petra is a large, large area. The town itself isn’t too big but the historical part is much more than just the famous treasury. The iconic treasury is a 2km (~1.24 miles) walk from the main entrance of Petra and its only the beginning. From there it’s another 6-8 kilometers (~3.7 – 5 miles) to the rest of the sites. Hopefully some of the pictures I’ve taken give you a better idea of how expansive the area is because just reading it doesn’t prepare you.

petra jordan sites

Petra is so large it helps dilute out the average 1,750 daily visitors. Additionally, most people don’t go too far beyond the treasury since it’s a hike in hot desert conditions – the more fit you are the further you can explore and leave the crowds behind. (Keep in mind there’s little food aside from snacks in the Petra site, plan accordingly.)

petra treasury

Photographic Memory In Mind

For those of you who can’t stand people in your pictures standing in front of the treasury for 10 minutes should give you a fairly clear shot. A wide angle lens will make matters easier and if all else fails you can just remove the people digitally. To be honest, even at its peak you won’t feel like it’s crowded at Petra.

petra trails

Plus the people in your photos can also give perspective, showing how big everything actually is.

petra tourism

Remember, around 2pm, the school buses show up. The kids stick to near the treasury and just beyond but while you won’t feel more crowded, the ambient noise will increase by about 5000%.

Best Of The Balkans Few Visit: Photos Of The Belogradchik Rocks In Bulgaria

Outside of Bulgaria, few, even those in the neighboring Balkan countries, know about one of the most visually stunning natural formations in the region: the Belogradchik Rocks. They should be standard viewing for any visitor to the country (it’s a 4 hour drive from the capital Sofia) but less than 1% of the tourists visiting Bulgaria ever make it there.

belogradchik bulgaria

The site of a former sea, the Belogradchik Rocks are about 45 million years old; their formation likely began more than 200 million years prior. The Romans decided to build a fort into the rocks, later taken over by the Ottomans in 1396.

belogradchik fort

Although the 200 meter tall rock formations are reminiscent of Cappadocia in Turkey, Belogradchik’s rocks are the result of water erosion (not volcanic activity).

belogradchik photos

Getting to Belogradchik is fairly easy if you have a car and have downloaded some local offline Google Maps. The roads aren’t the best so you should be gentle on the gas pedal over the 120 kilometer (75 mile) drive.

belogradchik

Belogradchik’s stairs are steep, turn into ladders, though for those who make the climb, the views are impressive. In winters it can be icy though even in good conditions, you’ll probably be the only tourist around.

belogradchik madonna

The Belogradchik Rocks should be on every tourism poster for Bulgaria. What Hollywood has discovered (many movies are filmed across the country) – inexpensive, impressive landscape, lesser known – Belogradchik is only a tiny part of. There are many other cultural contrasts you didn’t know Bulgaria will surprise you with, as well as a big Comic Con annually, you probably didn’t know about either.

belogradchik drone

For those of you looking for off the beaten path, only 17,000 foreign tourists visited the Belogradchik Rocks in 2015. When you’re standing at the very top of the fort, overlooking the valley of rock formations, you’ll wonder how that’s possible. At the same time, feeling happy you’ve got it (mostly) all to yourself.

How To Fly With An Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

You probably read recently about United Airlines barring a woman and her emotional support peacock from boarding a flight. Those reports made me wonder what it might take to book a flight with an emotional support animal – a koala bear in this case – in the video above you can see what happened.

During the process I came to learn a lot about emotional support animals (ESAs), the process for booking a flight with one, and why the airlines have started to enforce more restrictions on passengers with ESAs. Here’s how to book a flight with an emotional support animal.

What Is An Emotional Support Animal?

An emotional support animal (ESA) is one that provides therapeutic benefits without being trained to perform a specific task for a human with a disability. Essentially, ESAs benefit their owners with affection, attention, and companionship – making them different than services animals (e.g. seeing-eye dog). In the United States service animals fall under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), ESAs do not.

emotional support animal

The major difference being, for example, a person with a service dog can’t be denied entry into a restaurant that doesn’t allow dogs. Seeing eye dogs aren’t considering in-cabin pets either. Laws vary around the world but often some legal distinction is made for service animals.

ESAs on the other hand have no such legal protections. You can however, still fly with an ESA, under some circumstances.

ESA Registration

In general, most airlines will let you fly with an ESA. As I learned trying to book a flight with a fictional koala, a lot of them have, or are putting, restrictions into the type of animal. Dogs, cats, and “household” birds are the norm, but people have flown with more exotic ESAs such as hedgehogs.

tabby cat sleeping

What turns a dog (on paper) into an ESA is a letter from a licensed medical therapist stating so. There are also a number of websites that let you get an evaluation letter from a therapist for $130-250 dollars, with packages allowing for turnaround as short as 48 hours. I can’t vouch for any of the popular websites that provide this service but many people use them. Evaluations are done over the phone but there are no refunds – approved ESA or not. ESA therapy letters are generally valid for one year.

Call The Airline

Given how quickly the rules are changing on ESAs (likely due to peacock lady), you may need some additional documentation. ESAs are being required to have proof of standard vaccination, as well as a letter from a vet saying the animal has had behavioral training or is otherwise well-behaved.

Since airlines typically restrict the total number of animals that can be brought in cabin on a given flight, the more advance notice you give, the better chance you’ll have with your ESA. Give the airline a call, let them know about your ESA, and once you send them your documentation, you should be good to fly.

Advantages And Abuses

Putting aside the cost of the documentation and vet visits for an ESA, most airlines don’t charge a pet fee for an ESA. Larger breeds might also be allowed on board too (above the regular pet weight limit). Since it’s relatively easy to get an ESA certificate, many people are probably abusing the system for these advantages as well as pushing the limits of what species an ESA can be.

The latest rule changes shouldn’t negatively affect people who genuinely need, and want to travel with, an ESA. Everyone else, you might want to brush up with the ultimate guide to traveling with pets and how to fly with your dog to make sure you both have a great flight.

The Best Travel Apps Of 2018

Travel apps are useful though tend to give you diminishing efficiency the more of them you load on your phone. Over the past 12 months, I’ve tested a lot of travel apps, but these are the ones I kept and ended up using the most in the last year. You can see all of the apps I would recommend to you in the video above or read on.

These are the travel apps you should load on your phone for 2018, in no particular order.

best travel apps

Google Maps [Android/iOS]

Although there are respectable alternatives like maps.me, once Google Maps added the ability to download maps offline it was game over. Google Maps, because of all the data the company collects from everywhere, is just so much more accurate than any competition can really hope to be. It’s also free – well, except that you’re trading in a lot of your privacy to use Google Maps – it’s so useful, a lot of people don’t mind the trade.

Uber [iOS/Android]

Despite a lot of the bad press the company seems to keep generating, Uber is very useful especially when traveling in foreign countries. Uber can save you from getting ripped off in a taxi and carrying unnecessary amounts of cash. Of course, Uber’s not available everywhere, like Serbia, so here’s the best way to catch a taxi in Belgrade.

Currency [Android/iOS]

I’ve written an entire post reviewing Currency, one of my favorites that’s simple, but essential for international travelers.

Google Translate [iOS/Android]

The Google Translate app a good way to use technology to replace your lack of a foreign language to easily translate these 4 word combinations you should learn everywhere. But a lot of people don’t know about it’s superpowers: audio and video text translation on the fly.

Convert Units [Android/iOS]

The developers of Convert Units seem determined to completely muck it up with ads, but it’s still passably usable as a very effective converter of temperatures, distances, weights, and 22 other units.

Good Options For VPN

Two of the best VPNs for travelers come in mobile form. IPVanish has an always on feature, forcing your phone to always connect over a VPN. TunnelBear on the other hand is a bit more user-friendly, here’s my full review of TunnelBear for mobile devices.

tunnelbear ios mobile

Some other good security based apps:

Track Your Movements

Although the science on sleep monitoring apps is questionable at best, they can give you reliable data on how much you’re sleeping, snoring, and Sleep Cycle breaks it down by location too. It’s fun to see how much you’re sleeping on various vacations and business trips, along with the other statistics Sleep Cycle keeps for you. Also available from the same company, Northcube, the Lifecycle app (iOS only) automatically tracks how much time you spend walking, in planes, on trains, working out at the gym, and countless other activities giving you an insight into your life and travels. (The data Lifecycle keeps is kept on your phone.)

Airport Wireless, Multi-City Flights, And More

A few other apps worth mentioning are Shazam to find out what song is playing on the speakers around you and Kayak, whose app offers a multi-city flight search, missing from most other travel search engine apps.

Finally, I can with bias, recommend two apps I created – WiFox [Android/iOS] and DroneMate [iOS/Android]. WiFox has airport lounge and wifi passwords for over 900 access points around the world (updated continuously) and DroneMate shows you all of the current laws for flying your drone in every country in the world.

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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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