"I don't want COK on my arm."

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There are few people I love enough to give a kidney to.  My parents, my sister, and my best friend, Dancey. (If a human kidney can fit into a dog, then definitely my mutt, Boston).

Dancey and I met while working at an international think tank in D.C. and we figure it was best-friend-love-at first email because I neither remember her first day nor her welcome lunch, but somewhere in between it happened.  Thankfully, we didn't have a hard time breaking any walls down (considering we didn’t have one between our work spaces). 

It's been said that if you wake up and look forward to going to work, you've got it made.  But to be honest, it wasn't the work I was looking forward to, it was seeing Dancey.  And,how many times we could make each other laugh and how many times I thought we couldn't get any funnier.  Surprise!  We always did.

Like that time time we wanted to know how many M&Ms we could fit into our mouth and just when we started to look like squirrels packing away acorns, my boss asked us a question about an event.  Or all the haiku's we wrote about describing our life in the office.

Dearest cleaning man,
how do you always know when
my bathroom time is?
Food in the kitchen?
when I get there, there is none.
I walk back empty.

A week before leaving my “Beltway” job for sandier pastures, Dancey and me decided to get “friendship” tattoos.  Not your cute little “school girl” throw backs that you put on your arm and apply a wet washcloth only to have it fade in a few days; I’m talking the hardcore, bad ass, last-a-lifetime, ouch-that-hurts, needle and ink variety. It took us all of a day to design what we wanted.  Our own constellation of sorts using the airport codes of all the places we had been to together through our jobs at work:  DCA (DC), ASE (Aspen), LHR (London), CPT (Capetown), DXB (Dubai).  The goal was that this tattoo would continue, adding on every time we get to travel to distant shores and exotic locales to see each other.

Flash forward a year and voila!  When I found out she would be in Kerala, India, for a conference in December, I couldn’t wait to buy my ticket.  “Cool!” we emailed in glee, “So what code are we adding?”  This is where it turned weird funny.  It was either TRV for (Trivandrum International Airport) or COK for Cochin International Airport. Def the former as neither of us actually wanted COK permanently scripted on our arms.  As an added bonus, I found out by flying into TRV, I could avoid the onerously long visa process and was ecstatic!

My ecstasy was short lived.  The day before my departure - and on a whim - I confirmed the visa process only to realize with horror what "Visa on Arrival" really meant: "Apply 4 Days before you Arrive then Print it for Immigration's When you Get Here.”  My reaction?  "OH SH#T!" I applied online and called only to find out it takes 36 to 72 hours for approval.  The only tattoo I was getting was SCR (Screwed).

After desperately searching for any options, I found a super sketchy non-government associated "24 Hour Visa" website.  I said a prayer, submitted my paperwork along with a non-refundable check of an embarrassing amount andproceeded to call every hour on the hour like some super sketchy character in a James Bond movie. 

On the day of my supposed flight to India’s TRV Airport, I brought a packed suitcase to work. No word all day of said Visa from said Visa company.  My taxi arrives at 4:45pm for my 7pm flight and still no Visa.  My weeping calls all to no avail, I told the cab driver to turn around and take me home.

Then, miracles of miracles, I got THE CALL, headed to Kerala for the best three days I had in a long, long time with my best friend Dancey consisting of all-night girl talk, bathroom dance parties, cocktails by the pool and laughing until we cried.  TRV, I can’t wait to add you to our constellation.

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Country #18: Oman!

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While I have finally come to the depressing conclusion I am not royalty (Harry, if you're reading this, call me!), my stay at Chedi Hotel Muscat made me feel like a queen nonetheless.  If only for a few days.

I celebrated my 25th birthday in a drop dead, gorgeous postcard of place - one I had never heard of, frankly, until moving to Saudi.  Hey, a quarter of a century is a pretty big milestone, so I went all out.  And man, Oman, my present to myself didn’t disappoint.  Just a 3-hour flight from Jeddah, the secluded beach-front property is on the southeastern coast of the Saudi Peninsula.  A blinding white Benz swept me off my feet and delivered me to the Chedi where the “Club Benefits Package” had me livin’ large by my standards for a girl from Nashua. 

Talk about a dichotomy.  With binoculars from my beach cabana, I could see the coasts of Iran and Pakistan.  Not your Top Ten Tourists Destinations.  (Unless you’re into nuclear surveillance.) But in Sultan-ruled Oman, where tourism accounts for much of the economy (it has modest oil reserves), they pretty much treat us globe-trekkers as part of the family.  The Chedi, part GMH’s group of distinguished global real estate, my temporary “palace” was some kind of awesome swank with beautifully decorated suites and villas, several delectable restaurants, oasis-like pools, and a spa menu for ordering your very own ultimate nirvana.

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My idea of nirvana from the moment I laid eyes on the Chedi’s insane outdoor pool in all its splendor on the internet ad, was to get my b-day butt there, tear off my abaya, and decompress with a lovely swim and a poolside drink.  NOT in the cards.  A baby in their actual birthday suit was there screaming her head off whilst her parents gave not a fig.   I stood my ground, however, and got the ultimate revenge:  a 5-hour spa treatment including seaweed wrap and bath, Balinese massage, and foot reflexology.  I felt so great afterwards that I didn’t even WANT to drown that baby. 

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I got dressed for the first of every evening’s “pre-dinner receptions.”  A little old-school perhaps, but fun in a surreal, “let’s see who I strike up a conversation with today” kind of vibe.  The Chedi served exotic libations and yummy canapés including an array of sushi and endless flutes of champagne.

You can have the most wow-worthy cover photo in the travel magazines, but if your food doesn’t live up to the billing, well, أراك لاحقا.  I’d come back to the Chedi just for the food, people!  As mentioned, they have three restaurants:  The Restaurant, The Beach Restaurant, and the Long Pool Restaurant.  At THE Restaurant, for my birthday, I was particularly hot for the Thai menu and indulged in the Tom Yam Koon soup with the Basil red curry duck and pineapple.   The duck was tender and perfectly pared with perfumed jasmine rice. I shared it was my signature drink, a mojito, and it paired wonderfully.  (In lieu of traditional cake – I didn’t need to see 25 candles and nobody around me needed to either – I ordered the salted caramel macaroons.)  OMG!  I could so get used to this . . .

And the icing on the cake?  I mean macaroons?  I went back to my room just in time for my virtual birthday party via Skype with my parents.  You see, back in June I had my employer ship a bunch of stuff over from my parent’s house in New Hampshire for my home here in Saudi; mundane stuff like linens and a bicycle, a carpet for my room and pots and pans.  Well, my thoughtful parents surprised me and included lots of wrapped birthday gifts all bearing the message:  DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOUR BIRTYDAY!  I brought the booty with me and opened it with mom and dad looking on. Their little girl was back home for a few minutes anyway.   

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#25, here’s to ya!  You’ve made #24 look like a yawner. Can’t to see what you’ve got in store for the next 11 months.