How to go Full Local in Jordan

It may be obvious, but the Middle East is very different from the rest of the world. Even in Jordan, which is considered a liberal country, visitors can make mistakes without knowing it (especially if they are left-handed; it’s the hand you use in the John).

Related: What Life Is REALLY Like For Women in the Middle East

WATCH: How to Go Full Local in Jordan

Petra, Jordan (Thinkstock)

Yes, I know the so-called Islamic State is all over the news and people are scared of the region right now. But those in the know — and those who love history — are aware of several things: Jordan is committed to the fight against IS. Jordan has the second-best military in the region (besides Israel). There have been no attacks in Jordan due to its excellent security. And now is the time to go. Sites like Petra, normally packed with tourists, are empty and open for exploration. That, and the country is pretty much on sale — prices are down and you can enjoy a five-star trip at half the cost. As locals in the country like to say, “We can’t help it — we live in a rough neighborhood, but our block is fine.”

Related: Heaven on Earth: A Hidden Oasis in the Arabian Desert


A local Jordanian — so friendly.

But, as I always say — know (the local customs) before you go. You will have a better time and make more friends — which, in a friendly country like Jordan, is easy to do. Trust.

Surfing: Not as Easy as it Looks (Read: I Almost Died)

About two months ago — right in the middle of Snowmageddon 2015 — my pal Eric Ripert called me up and said, “We are filming an episode of my show [Avec Eric] in Puerto Rico — want to come learn how to surf with me?”

I took one look out the window and about half a nanosecond later said, “HELL YEAH!”

In hindsight, I don’t know why I thought surfing was such a great idea.

1. I get seasick at the drop of a rudder.

2. I have a healthy respect for the ocean and all living things within it. [Read: I am petrified of sharks. So what if there hasn’t been a fatal attack there since 1924.]

3. I’ve never been known for my balance.

Related: The Top 5 Reasons to Go to Puerto Rico — Right Now

But I’ve always liked the idea of surfing. It just looks so cool — you know? My friends do it and say it’s like meditating on the water — and I love meditating … you just sit there! I’m GREAT at sitting!

So off I went.

WATCH: Wipeout! Surfing With Famed Chef Eric Ripert in Puerto Rico. Not as Easy as It Looks

I met Eric at Rincon Beach — the surf capital of Puerto Rico — and our instructor, Jen, from the Rincon Surf School all duded up in my new wetsuit (which of course I bought, as I knew I was going to be SO GOOD at this I’d need this wetsuit forever).

“I cannot swim very well,” Eric said. He was already starting to sweat. “I am nervous.”

“It’ll be fine,” I said. So confident. So cool. So… wrong.

Related: Old San Juan: The Best Quick (and Cheap!) Weekend Getaway 


A storm was blowing in — so even getting the 12 foot surfboard to the water was challenging … and then there were the 6-foot swells.


An hour later, Eric and I were clutching the sand on shore for dear life — he with a minor back injury, me with bits of rocks embedded in my shoulder and heaving my lunch out on the sand. (Remember my seasickness issue?)

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The Broad Did It! She Schooled Foodie King Eric Ripert on the BEST Fish Taco. Ever.

It’s not easy to introduce the king of restaurants, chef Eric Ripert, to a Puerto Rico seafood shack he’s never heard of. The restauranteur and host of the Cooking Channel show “Avec Eric” is married to a Puerto Rican (my pal Sondra) and has visited the island at least three times a year for the past 20 years. But I did it. (!!)

Eric was shooting his show in Puerto Rico and called to see if I wanted to come down and learn to surf. Obviously, I said (HECK) yes.

Related: Top 5 Reasons to Visit Puerto Rico — Right Now

WATCH: Schooling The Food King, Eric Ripert, In Puerto Rico

We met up at his hotel, the Condado Vanderbilt (as opposed to my hotel — the Courtyard Marriott), and when I found out he hadn’t been to my favorite food shack, Tresbe, I was shocked. Floored, even.

“But it has the best fish tacos ever,” I said.

“OK, we go then!” Eric said.

Related: How to Go Full Local in Puerto Rico 


A half hour later we were digging into the dream tacos, ceviche, empanadas and … pretty much everything on the menu.

“Oh, this is gooood,” Eric said. “So light, so fresh!”

And somewhere, I felt like I won the food gods’ approval.

Go now and school your friends and family. It’s that good.

Related: Old San Juan, the Best Quick (and Cheap) Weekend Getaway

*Weird editor’s note: There are times in traveling when you think no one is around. Someone asks you to do something like, say, sing on top of a piano in a bar and you think, “Why not? I’ll never see any of these people again?” And then you… do. I hadn’t seen Eric in a while — but he’d seen me. A few years back, while in Hanoi, Vietnam, I’d been invited out by a couple communist officials who wanted to play a joke on the American — by taking me to lunch where only hard alcohol was served and instead of water there was beer. Little did they know I was raised on and below the Mason Dixon Line. Six hours later, not unlike that scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” they were on the floor and I was at the bar of the Sofiftel Metropole Hotel belting out show tunes. Apparently, Eric was shooting a show there at the time, was walking through and …

“Hey, I saw you!” he said. “I was so dirty — I had been out in the fields all day so I thought, ‘I will go change and come down, but then I fell asleep. You were having so much fun and entertaining the room.’”

Enter the face palm.

Petra, Jordan: Go. NOW. It’s Beautiful. It’s Safe. And Right Now, it’s Empty

The problem with the Seven Wonders of the World is… they are usually packed with tourists. They are on almost everyone’s bucket list, they are insanely beautiful, and oftentimes, despite being inanimate objects, they have their own public relations and marketing teams. Which makes for huge crowds (think the Colosseum in Rome) and, if you’re like me, panic attacks.

Go Now: The New Seventh Wonder of the World — That’s Empty.

Normally, Petra would be packed with tourists. I basically had my own private tour of the place — something only people like Prince Charles or Cher get. 

While most people think of Petra as being the Treasury — the huge, imposing facade that was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade — it is so much more.

Related: Travel Back in Time With the Bedouin of Jordan 

According to my friend Abdullah Al Wahsh, “Petra is 50 square kilometers. Even if you spent eight hours a day for three days straight, you still wouldn’t see it all.”

Established by the Nabataeans in 312 B.C., near the biblical Mount Hor in Wadi Araba, the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba, it was the crux of an ancient trading route — and perfectly hidden.


You have to go through miles of paths like this to get into the city.

“Because it’s in a canyon — and you had to go  through the canyon to get there, from far away, no one could see it. For a long time, people thought it was mythical,” Abdullah said. “They picked this site for protection — and access to water. The site has an intricate system of canals and irrigation.”

Related: How to Go Full Local in Jordan 

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5 Reasons to Hit Puerto Rico – RIGHT NOW

I’ll admit it: I was a little late to the Puerto Rico game. Thankfully, due to Snowmageddon this year, I finally cottoned on to our cousin in the Caribbean. Now that I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, I’m bound and determined to get everyone there — if only so that when people ask me, “Where should I go for a quick, easy, cheap getaway?” (this happens all the time) I can point them to this article.

Here are five reasons you really should go now.

1. It’s cheap and easy.

WATCH: Top 5 Reasons to Go to Puerto Rico Now

Most major airlines fly there, including JetBlue, and the price of a ticket can be up to $200 cheaper than a flight to Miami. Bonus: If you live on the East Coast, it’s quick. From JFK airport, for example, it’s only three and a half hours to San Juan, which is just slightly longer than a flight to Miami.

Related: How to Go Full Local in Puerto Rico

2. You can vacation like J.Lo at half the price.

The hotels in San Juan are some of the chicest I’ve ever seen. Jennifer Lopez stayed at Hotel El Convento — the Chateau Marmont of the Caribbean, located in the heart of the Old City — which has weekend rates starting at less than $500 a night. If you want to bump up the price a bit, check out theCondado Vanderbilt. The recently refurbished hotel was built in 1912 by Frederick William Vanderbilt in a Spanish revival style, and has been the height of luxury ever since. Rates start at around $300 a night — expensive, but still a fraction of the cost of a luxury hotel in Miami.

3. History, history, history!

While the beach is nice, it’s even nicer that if you need a break, there’s actually something else to do. Puerto Rico’s forts and cathedrals date back to the 16th century, when Spain ruled the island.

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How To Go Full Local in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico may be a U.S. Territory, but it’s very different from the States. Here’s a quick, easy tutorial on how to go full local and fit right in when traipsing through the Caribbean paradise.

I love San Juan, But Damn, Pigeons Freak Me Out

Just a few hours away from New York City is a history lover’s dream: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Founded by the Spanish over 500 years ago, it’s a perfectly preserved time portal. Walk around Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the ancient Spanish fort that surrounds the old city. Inside the walls, ramble through narrow cobblestone streets and past the cathedral (where Jennifer Lopez married Marc Anthony) and pick up a piragua — a Puerto Rican snow cone that comes in flavors like passion fruit, mango, and tangerine.

Half the price of Miami and without the club music booming through the streets, Old San Juan is the perfect place to get away from it all — no passport required.

Just watch out for the pigeons. One of the most popular spots in the old city is Plaza de Armas, located up the hill from where the cruise ships park, it is the main point of entry to the old city for many tourists. It is also a pigeon mecca. Thousands of the birds flock there and, despite Puerto Rico having a large cat population, they waddle, sit, and roost unmolested. This would be fine if they also hadn’t gotten into the habit of hanging out, sitting and roosting on people. On any given day, tourists will throw breadcrumbs and turn into living pigeon trees. This is problematic for so, so many reasons, least of which is THEY ARE BASICALLY FLYING RATS! Do you know how many diseased pigeons carry? (answer: LOTS!). That and they have no sphincter muscles so the poop just flies at will. Enter that park at your own risk.

WATCH: Old San Juan — the Best Quick (and Cheap!) Weekend Getaway

Old San Juan has absolutely everything you need for the perfect getaway. (Photo: ABA Staff)

Here’s everything you need to know to do the city properly.

Warning: From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the cruise ships hit and certain areas of the old city are packed with cruisers. Hit the shops before or after this time to avoid a massive headache.

Stay: Hotel El Convento, the Chateau Marmont of the Caribbean. Housed in a former convent, the rooms surround an inner terrace with huge trees. The rooftop pool offers some of the best views in the city, and the restaurant is legendary.

Shop: Ole Curiosidades. This famous hat store lets you get measured, pick your ribbon color, and walk out with a personally fitted, handmade Panama-style hat for around $70 — three times less than almost anywhere else in the world.


This was not the first hat that Paula tried on. 

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