NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 87

In a country chock-full of jaw-dropping scenery, Khor Ash Sham in the Musandam Peninsula is high on the list of extraordinary natural sites. Musandam is something of an outpost, separated from the country’s mainland by a sizable chunk of northern UAE. It thrusts into the Strait of Hormuz at the eastern most point of the Arabian Peninsula. With its deeply cut, mountainous coastline plunging into the sea, the area is often compared to Norway. Day-cruising in the “fjords,” usually with an escort of playful dolphins, is a top tourist attraction in Musandam, along with exploring the rugged interior by 4-wheel drive.

Can you name that country? 
See below for answers.

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NAME THAT COUNTRY Episode 78

Falconry is a centuries-old tradition in our mystery city, and in the wider region. Trained falcons are used to hunt small animals for their keepers. Today it’s a popular sport but some Bedouins still use falcons to put food on the table. Pampered falcons visit the renowned falcon hospital in our mystery city for a check-up and a bit of grooming. Tourists are welcome to visit the falcon hospital.

Can you name that city? 
See below for answers.

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The Wonder Tree of Arabia

Date-Palm

Deep in the desert of Arabia, a little girl named Zuleika lived with her mother and father, the tribal chief. They were way out there, so far off regular travel routes that they very rarely saw strangers. Zuleika loved her home, where she was perfectly safe and thoroughly treasured, but her active mind and open heart made her crave stories of people and places that were different from what she knew. Visitors brought their foreign ways, along with tales of pearly cities, lush gardens and endless oceans; and she always felt a little bit bigger after they left.

One day, while Zuleika was out playing in the sand, she caught the slightest glimpse of movement far in the distance, beyond a sea of golden peaks and valleys, just at the edge of her world. You can imagine Zuleika’s excitement as the speck on the horizon grew steadily larger. Someone was indeed coming their way. She fetched her father the chief and, together with other men of the tribe, they watched the nearing stranger ride the desert swells, disappearing, then reappearing in better focus, until he was right in front of them.

desertdunes

As if his arrival wasn’t thrilling enough for Zuleika, the stranger explained that he was merely an emissary come to announce the visit of the highly revered Sheikh Ben Nedi the following day. This was really a big deal and the whole tribe set to work preparing for the honored guest.

In the Arabic world, hospitality was, and is, a serious business. Guests are treated with the greatest respect. They are made comfortable, given the best food and drink available, entertained, and even given gifts. As her parents and other tribal members readied their gifts for the sheikh, Zuleika began to feel very inadequate. She was moved to near bursting with pride and gratitude that such a great person would travel all the way to her remote settlement, but she had no gift to express herself in the traditional way.

Zuleika’s mother told her not to worry, children were not expected to give gifts. But, expected or not, the sheik’s visit meant so much to her, she wanted desperately to give him something in return. She was so frustrated, she collapsed in tears at the foot of the village well. Her little body heaved in great sobs and heavy, splashy tears dampened a spot in the sand near the well. Just then, a fairy rose up out of the well and asked what all the fuss was about. Once Zuleika composed herself enough to explain, the fairy told her that a gift was already in the making and that she should come back to the well in the morning to find it there.

Bright and early the next morning, before the sheikh arrived, Zuleika ran out to the well to find a tall, elegant tree laden with big clusters of brown fruit hanging high above the ground under a sparkling green crown. It was the perfect expression of her pure and generous spirit and deep down she knew it was no ordinary gift. When Sheikh Ben Nedi arrived he was touched and honored to receive the extraordinary tree, especially from such a small girl. Like Zuleika, he sensed the special importance of this gift and suspected it would come to mean a great deal to his people.

From that day on, the date palm tree spread throughout the desert and is still today one of the greatest gifts known to Arabia. Food, shelter, medicine and fuel are just a few of the many uses of the date palm.

Oasis

To see the wonder tree in its natural habitat, visit the Arabian Peninsula. Click here.

Foto Friday – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman

As promised, here are a few more images from our fam trip to the Arabian Peninsula, specifically, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and northern Oman. All of these photos were taken by two travelers on the trip. I hope you enjoy the viewing as much as I have. There are still lots more to come.

DUBAI

Dubai, photo by Sue Alstedt

Dubai, photo by Sue Alstedt

Dubai, photo by Sallie Volotzky

Dubai, photo by Sallie Volotzky

ABU DHABI

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Men & their falcons, Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Men & their falcons, Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

ARABIAN DESERT

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort near Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort near Abu Dhabi, photo by Sue Alstedt

Arabian Desert, photo by Sallie Volotzky

Arabian Desert, photo by Sallie Volotzky

OMAN

northern coast of Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

northern coast of Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

leaning in for a pat, Muscat, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

leaning in for a pat, Muscat, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

somewhere in Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

somewhere in Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

Muscat, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

Muscat, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

Muscat, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

Muscat, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

Nizwa Fort, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

Nizwa Fort, Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

northern coast of Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

northern coast of Oman, photo by Sue Alstedt

See our website for tours to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Oman. We have 10 tours published there with detailed itineraries, from 3 and 4-day stopover tours focused on the highlights of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Muscat or Salalah, to a 15-day comprehensive tour of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and Oman. In between, we have two 8-day tours, Wonders of Arabia and Glory of Arabia, with different configurations of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the Arabian Desert in UAE. In Oman, we have a 6-day tour that includes both Muscat in the north and Salalah in the south, two very different regions, and a 9-day tour covering Muscat, Salalah, Nizwa, Sur and the Wahiba Sands desert. All itineraries are privately escorted and so totally flexible. We will also create custom itineraries to any of our destinations in the Arabian Peninsula.

Happy weekend!

Farewell 2013, Ya’lla 2014!

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

2013 was an eventful year at Ya’lla Tours USA.

To begin with, it was our 20th anniversary. In 1993 Ronen Paldi, Israeli native, landed in Portland, Oregon and opened Ya’lla Tours USA. He based the company philosophy and operations on the practical experience he gained as a tour guide for over 10 years in Israel and Egypt, on the ground day-to-day with travelers.

Our really big news in 2013 was the introduction of not 1 but 4 new countries to our repertoire – the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. Our tag line “specialists to the exotic Mediterranean” no longer covers it. These were our first new destinations in over 10 years. Clients often nudged us to cover Italy, Spain and France because they combine nicely with our existing countries (Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Greece,Turkey). However, there are already many well-established, quality tour operators to Italy, Spain and France and the world really doesn’t need another one. Ronen’s excellent business sense told him that there was not room in that market for us and chose to stay focused on our product line in the Middle East/Eastern Mediterranean (plus Cuba, which is another thing altogether). The Arabian Peninsula, on the other hand, is a relatively untapped market for American travelers and it fits well culturally and geographically with our other countries, while also bringing something new.

Perhaps what sealed the deal was that our dear Jordanian friends Gaby and Reem operate a travel services company in Dubai. They were our ground operator in Jordan back in the 1990s. So, although the destinations are new, we have friends we trust advising us and taking care of our clients. They know us, how we operate, what we expect and we know they will deliver. I think it was meant to be. In addition to Gaby and Reem, the director of our office in Egypt is very familiar with the area, having visited there many times. His input was essential as we began to select hotels and compose itineraries.

Ronen and Tania went to the Arabian Peninsula for the first time in June. When they returned we had a meeting in Portland with all of our sales reps from around the country, something we hadn’t done in three years. It was fun to have everyone in the same room together and exciting to be learning about new places.

In early December Ronen returned to the Arabian Peninsula with our entire sales team, Teri McCulloh, our general manager, our videographer and 18 travel agency owners and managers. Some of us stayed behind to hold down the fort… My colleagues went to the Arabian Peninsula and all they brought me was 1,000+ pictures… (and that’s enough!)

Speaking of colleagues, we got a new one, just as the year was drawing to a close – Michael Walsh, our new sales manager in California and Colorado. Welcome Michael!

Finally, my 2013 babies, our pretty new web site and this blog, both of which will benefit from those 1,000+ photos mentioned above.

In 2014 we’ll continue to deepen our knowledge of the Arabian Peninsula; Egypt, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Cuba too, and share what we know with you. Thanks for reading.

We wish you a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2014.

Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Oman: A Few Photos from Our Recent Arabian Peninsula Fam Trip

A couple of weeks ago our fam group returned from the Arabian Peninsula, specifically the UAE and Oman, bringing with them some great stories and thousands of photographs that I’m still happily sorting through. For those of you not in the travel industry, “fam” is short for familiarization and a fam trip is a discounted trip offered by a travel supplier to travel agents to educate them on a particular destination, product or service. In this case, Ya’lla Tours is the travel supplier. Our policy has always been to work with travel agents, not directly with travelers, so we put a lot of emphasis on educating travel agents about our destinations, which can be tricky to sell to Americans (the Middle East, Cuba…)

The Arabian Peninsula is a new product for Ya’lla Tours, just launched over the Summer of 2013. So, in addition to travel agency owners, managers and senior agents, most of our sales team traveled on the fam trip. In the coming weeks, we’ll roll out impressions of the experience here on the blog, in words and images, from some of the trip participants. We’ll start with some random images just to whet your appetite:

DUBAI

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OMAN

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ABU DHABI

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For the Birds: the honored falcons of Abu Dhabi & Dubai

Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital is the world’s largest falcon hospital and a world leader in falcon medicine. Since opening in 1999, it has treated over 55,000 falcons. The hospital also treats other kinds of birds, has expanded to include a clinic for pet cats and dogs and a shelter for strays and operates a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats and dogs. Continue reading