• Adventures,  Camping,  Liwa Oasis

    Liwa Oasis

    A trip to Liwa in the Empty Quarter (or Rub Al Khali) is a must for any off-roader during their time in the Middle East. It’s the biggest sand desert on the planet. The sheer scale of the scenery and the size of the dunes has to be seen to be believed. This epic route is more of an expedition than just a spot of camping, so go prepared for the experience of a lifetime.

    Home to the Bani Yas tribe, ancestors of the current ruling family of Abu Dhabi, the fertile Liwa “crescent” stretches over 150 km, and is dotted with small villages. Mezaira’a, at the center of the crescent, is the largest settlement and if you are heading into the desert, the shops and the petrol station here will be your last chance to buy provisions and fuel, so stock up. Extra jerry cans of petrol are essentials and it’s better to take too much food and water than too little. Four our camping night we took 10 L of water that we used for drinking, washing and cooking.

    An essential part of any Liwa adventure, camping in the desert is the most popular way to spend the night and can be a truly unforgettable experience.

    Waking up to miles of sand rolling into the distance or the sight of the snaking silvery dunes under the moonlight is quite magical. This area provides some of the best desert views in the UAE.

    You can camp just about anywhere, so take any of the roads and tracks into the desert off the main road through the oasis. Just make sure you drive far enough from roads, habitations and activity to find a peaceful spot and get settled, long before the sun goes down.

    One particular good area is on the road to Moreeb Hill, passing the Liwa Resthouse.

  • Adventures,  Camping,  Joshua Tree National Park

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Boulders and buttresses, rugged mountains, gold mining ruins, desert plains dotted with the oddball trees—this is one weird place. Joshua Tree National Park lies at an ecological crossroads, where the high Mojave Desert meets the low Colorado Desert. 

    The Colorado, the western reach of the vast Sonoran Desert, thrives below 3000 feet on the park’s gently declining eastern flank, where temperatures are usually higher. Considered “low desert” compared to the loftier, wetter and more vegetated Mojave “high desert”, the Colorado seems sparse and forbidding. It begins at the park’s midsection, sweeping east across empy basins stubbled with creosote bushes. Occasionally decorated by “gardens” of flowering ocotillo and cholla cactus, it runs across arid Pinto Basin into a parched wilderness of broken rock in the Eagle and Coxcomb Mountains. 

    Above 3,000 feet, the Mojave section claims the park’s western half, where giant branching yuccas thrive on sandy plains studded by massive granite monoliths and rock piles. These are among the most intriguing and photogenic geological phenomena found in California’s many desert regions.

    The result of this encounter of two different ecosystems is amazing desert flora, including those wacky namesake trees (actually a type of yucca). The Joshua Tree was revered by American Indian tribes because its leaves provided durable materials for baskets and footwear, while the buds and seeds made a healthy addition to their food supply.Joshua Tree’s beauty shines around the clock, with vibrant sunsets melting into nights filled with uncountable stars.

    Crafted over millions of years by torrential rain, battering wind, and extreme temperatures, Joshua Tree National Park stretches over nearly 800,000 acres of rugged terrain. These landscapes, which can seem deceptively barren, are home to several ecosystems. Despite the harsh conditions, Joshua Tree teems with plant and animal life that has adapted and thrived in the area’s fierce climate. Joshua Tree National Park is home to large herds of desert bighorn sheep, black tailed jack rabbits, coyotes and kangaroo rats as well as a number of smaller mammals. Since it lies along the Pacific migratory bird flyway, many large groups of migrating birds can be spotted overhead or stopping to rest in the park during the winter months.

    The park’s premier attractions, forests of giant branching yuccas known as Joshua trees, massive rock formations, fan palm oases, and seasonal gardens of cholla and ocotillo, can be enjoyed on a leisurely half-day auto tour that includes both “high” and “low” desert zones— although most of your time will be spent in your car. Scenic paved roads lead to viewpoints, all campgrounds, and trailheads. Roadside interpretive exhibits have pull-outs and parking areas, and offer insights into the region’s complex desert ecology, wildlife, and human history.


    Start out by climbing up to Keys View, where you can get a great panoramic vista of Mount San Jacinto and Mount Gorgonio, with the Salton Sea stretching out in the distance. Then pay a visit to Keys Ranch, where you can take a guided walking tour to get a glimpse into what it was like to be an early 20th-century  pioneer on this unforgiving terrain. Close by but standing in contrast is 49 Palm Oasis, where fan palms tower over a crystal-clear spring, and also nearby is Lost Horse Mine, one of the few mines in the area that proved to be a good investment. Today you can see what remains of the once booming operation with an easy 4-mile round-trip hike.

    If you’re looking to do some rock climbing, Joshua Tree has more than 8,000 established climbing routes, from easy beginner scrambles to extreme vertical cracks, and camping options are plentiful with nine campgrounds. Or, head out on foot or horseback to set up camp nearly anywhere; there are only a few restrictions. Take a break from roughing it to check out Pioneertown, a, 1880s-style false-front Old West “town” where more than 50 films and television shows were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s; today, you can still see mock gunfights and see top-notch live music at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace. Read on to learn more about these and more things to do at Joshua Tree National Park below. 

    If visiting the park by car, keep in mind that there are north (at Twentynine Palms) and south (at the intersection of Box Canyon Road and Interstate 10) entrances in addition to the most commonly used west entrance. There is also an all-inclusive (i.e. no entrance fee) shuttle bus service that makes multiple stops within the park. Avoid the biggest crowds by visiting midweek.

    For a review and description of the various available hikes, click on the corresponding links on the hiking trailheads map.

  • Adventures


    It’s official: My first Cotopaxi backpack has replaced my decade-old carry-on suitcase. You know, the kind of luggage that rolls not-so-gracefully over bumpy surfaces, won’t properly stand up because one of the feet is broken off, and is annoying to pack because of that metal bar in the bottom.

    As wonderful as it felt to say goodbye to that old thing and embrace the functionality of a backpack-meets-suitcase “travel pack,” I needed something that I could use for longer trips–a durable backpack that would be versatile enough for international flights, road trips, and camping adventures.

    Enter the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack. This is the stuff Type A dreams are made of, my friends.

    I was pretty stoked when I learnt about Cotopaxi and I’ve quickly become obsessed with these Cotopaxi bags. The Allpa backpack was launched through an Indiegogo campaign, and Cotopaxi managed to smash their goal of $50K–raising over $1.3 million to kick off production. Crazy!

    I’m excited to finally have my hands on one, and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you after having road tested it. In this Cotopaxi Allpa 35L review, I’m sharing a breakdown of the features, a sneak peek inside with my unboxing, what I like, and what I might change.

    About Cotopaxi Gear

    Cotopaxi goes beyond making great travel and adventure gear with their Gear for Good philosophy. In addition to funding sustainable poverty alleviation with a portion of their profits, they also ensure fairness, sustainability, and quality in every step of the manufacturing process.

    The travel philosophy we embrace here in the GolbETrotters community aligns well with Cotopaxi’s core values:

    • To get outside and see the world
    • To inspire people to give back to others

    This video gives a good background about how they got started and what they’re all about (and it makes me think we should all head to a cabin in the mountains every once in awhile).

    Allpa 35L Travel Pack Features

    Here’s a quick rundown of the Allpa 35L features:

    • Weight-distributing, low-profile harness system
    • Carry-on-compatible 35L capacity
    • TPU-coated 1000D polyester
    • 1680D ballistic nylon paneling
    • Suitcase-style, full-wrap zipper opening on the main compartment
    • Large zippered mesh compartment on the right side
    • Subdivided zippered mesh compartment on the left side (makes my Type A heart swoon)
    • Padded laptop and tablet sleeve
    • Shortcut zipper to main compartment
    • Top zippered pocket
    • Security YKK zippers
    • Carabiner lash loops 
    • Tuck-away straps
    • 4 reinforced grab handles
    • Included rain cover

    There are also optional accessories you can purchase as a bundle:

    What I Love About the Allpa 35L

    Okay…so let’s get to the good stuff already. What do I think of Cotopaxi’s Allpa pack? I have flown with it and I’ve taken it on a road trip and so far, I’m enjoying it.

    The suitcase/backpack convertible design has me hooked! Here are the features I love:

    Solid, sturdy design: The material is really durable and I know it’s ready for adventures. And…it’s not cat-hair-attracting–for the win! The zippers are hefty, too. Of course, time will be the test in terms of quality, but the build and quality feel rugged. Plus, Cotopaxi guarantees their products for 61 years (the average lifespan of a person living in the developing world), and they offer a replacement, repair, or exchange if anything goes wrong with the product.

    Spacious: the main suitcase side is really roomy and deep, as is the front pocket (it’s DEEP). And it’s got compression straps to help you fit even more inside.

    Theft-prevention zippers: I don’t know if that’s the official term for this zipper design, but that’s what I’m calling them. The laptop sleeve, main compartment, and back access have a loop that the zipper has to pass through, which helps prevent easy access.

    Organized and convertible design: I love the organization factor with various zippered compartments. There’s a zippered access from the back of the pack that lets you get into one side of the main compartment without having to open the entire pack. This could come in handy as long as you packed intentionally… The convertible design that lets you carry it like a backpack OR a suitcase (with backpack straps that tuck away), and the fact that it’s not top-loading like a traditional backpack, make it really flexible and convenient.

    Extras: I love the accessories that you can get with it, especially the size of the Batac Del Día daypack. It’s such a perfect size for day trips and short adventures–I’ve even been using it to take to the gym while I’m home.  The water bottle sleeve is really nice as well, and it comfortably fits my 32-ounce bottle. I’ve also found the shoe bag and mesh laundry bag to be handy (because I’m always searching around for plastic bags for this stuff, but trying to stop using them as much as possible).

    Padded laptop and tablet sleeve: Always helpful when you need to minimize the number of bags you’re taking on a trip.

    What I Might Change About the Allpa 35L

    There’s not much I would change, but here are a couple things to think about:

    Rain cover: Technically, this is mostly a “pro,” given that having a rain cover while traveling is so helpful, and the Allpa comes with one automatically. However, I’m curious about whether Cotopaxi considered making this built in, as that is something I could see making it even more convenient. The major benefit of having it built in is that you can’t lose it or forget it. It also wouldn’t take up space in one of the compartments.

    And, you don’t have to remember how to fold it. On the other hand, not having it built into the bag itself could be convenient if you’re trying to save every last bit of space and weight possible and don’t need to take it with you.

    Waist strap is bulky to tuck away: I found that the straps (mainly the waist straps) don’t tuck away as easily as they should.

    As a little bonus tip/”don’t do what I did”: I had a bit of trouble when packing because I packed the big compartment full of clothes, tightened up the compression straps, added a couple other things…then tried to put my laptop in the sleeve, and it wouldn’t zip. I think it’s not so much of a design “con,” but just make sure to watch how you’re packing if you use the compression straps in the main compartment.

    Recommended For

    Depending on weather, clothing size, and packing style, the Allpa 35L can be easily used for weekend trips or longer, and is spacious enough for a week or more if you’re a light packer in warm weather. Overall, I highly recommend the Allpa 35L Travel Pack for anyone looking for a spacious travel backpack with an organized design that fits carry-on restrictions. Check out the latest prices and more details here.


    Del Día Dopp Kit // I just picked one of these up recently, and I love how nicely it keeps all my toiletries snugly organized. It fits perfectly in the front pocket of the Allpa 35L.

    Agua Bottle // A reusable water bottle is SO handy for traveling and an easy way to cut down on plastic.

    There are several options for add-on accessories with the Allpa 35L that include: mesh laundry bag, nylon shoe bag, and water bottle holder that clips onto the outside of the pack. Plus one of the day backpacks below. While I haven’t used the water bottle holder much so far, I love the laundry bag and shoe bag!

    Batac 16L Backpack or Luzon 18L Daypack // These are great to roll up and pack in your suitcase so you have a smaller pack for day trips or hikes on a weekend camping trip. I have both and find the Batac 16L to be a great size for my needs.

    (Want something even smaller than a daypack? Grab the Bataan Del Día fanny pack!)