Saturday, 30 May 2009

Abu Dhabi







My last time in Abu Dhabi was spent in bed with a tummy bug. This time I wanted to get some serious sightseeing done. Annie and Sue obliged and along with Nicole we visited the Emirates Palace Hotel, the souqs in Mina, drove along the Corniche, checked out the beaches and ate out in some yummy places. We also had a nice time in the Hilton Jazz bar in the evening.


I enjoyed wandering around in the opulence of the hotel but preferred the gardens, very beautiful, green and well kept. As we wandered through I noticed a man sitting on one of the couches, lounging back and talking to two other men. He looked really familiar........that's it, it's the man off the programme the men in my life enjoy, American Chopper. I thought for a very short time about asking if I could get a photo. Nope, too much of an invasion of privacy for me. I'll never make a living as a paparazzi. The choppers were outside, part of a display on at the moment.


I did get photos, the obligatory upshot of the domed roof, Sue and I in diplomatic discussions and a covered pathway along the garden edge.

Beware of road hazards

There's quite a few signs on the roads here that leave me a little bemused. One we saw frequently in Oman, for example, said 'stop if the water is at red'. Just after the signs the road dipped a bit and there were red poles along the length of the dip. We discussed this and made the assumption that at some times in the year, the roads must flood at those points. Given these roads were going through the rocky, desolate mountains I could see some logic in this. Perhaps there are heavy downfalls at certain times of the year. When the signs and dips continued through the desert, I was a bit confused. We shall have to wait and see what happens when it rains I suppose, it's been a long while since it has.

The sign 'beware of road hazards' in big letters on a big sign board is easier to understand, so I thought. I'd heard stories of people hitting things, in one case a bumper bar that had detached itself from a car, on the motorway and damaging their cars. I would certainly keep a lookout for those things on the long drive to Abu Dhabi. How hard can it be to see/avoid hazards on such a straight road, a mostly three lane straight road?

I was soon educated about the real road hazards, Nissan Patrols and other assorted 4WDs. I was tootling along in the 120kph zone at about 130kph, beeper that beeps when I go over 120 drowned out by a bit of Metallica when I happened to glance in my rear view mirrors. Knowing where the other traffic is is recommended in most countries but is particularly important here.

In my side mirror on one side I saw a fast approaching 4WD. No worries I thought. There were a couple of cars well in front of me and a lane each side of me free. Then I looked in the other mirror, oh no whats that? A rocket ship flying up on the inside. The two caught up as they reached me and crossed lanes in front of me, travelling very, very fast. Then they met the two cars in front, oh no only one lane and two 4WDs. No worries, before the cars could take evasive action the two took the same lane dicing and dodging, narrowly missing the armco and kicking up a trail of dust and stones behind them. Wow, it was close and very scary, now I truly understand the meaning of that sign.

The best was yet to come. About 2kms down the road was an Adnoc service station and you guessed it, they both pulled in. Oh no, did I have to go through that again, yes of course only this time they skipped all except speeding past so fast my car shook, a feeling I got used to on my drive as others sped past too. There are speed cameras, I saw one flash. I hope it wasn't for me.

Speaking of speed cameras, another sign said 100kph. The sign below it said 'road controlled by radar. Radar set at 120kph'. I have been told that the radar tolerances are around 20kph over the limit. I do wonder about the point of having a limit and the radar set so far above it. Oh well, mine is not to question why, just to drive a little over the speed limit and hope that's true. We shall see. A friend told me that I'd manage two weeks without a ticket, it's been three now. Best I check the ticket website.......

More about the AD trip soon and some photos.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

More photos....







A few more photos of the trip, I managed to take plenty. The singers Mike, Christine, Rau and Mary-Anne; me with two of the lads; and the evening sun on the water. I might need permissions to add some of the others..........

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Musandam, Oman





I continued my exploration of Oman this weekend, once again with a car full of good company, this time with music added thanks to Raukura. Oman has two parts, separated by the UAE as it touches the eastern coast at Fujairah and Dibba. The southern part is the largest by far and we visited there last weekend. The northern part takes in the top sea coast and islands jutting into the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. This weekend we went north to Dabba then onto a dhow for a cruise around the Musandam peninsular and islands.

I've had to sleep on my stomach for the last few nights. How was I to know that you get very sun burnt snorkeling? After all, I was in the water looking down and swimming through shimmering curtains of tiny fish, blue and yellow fish, silver and shiny fish, even smaller fluorescent blue, yellow and green fish. It was amazing and getting burnt was the last thing on my mind. There were kina hiding in the nooks and crannies of the reef, large and very spiky kina with shiny eyes that seemed to lure the tiny fish to their death, fascinating.

There were also larger fish. Some swam past quickly, I of course looked to check what was chasing them as there have been sharks sighted in the area recently. No doubt attracted by the warm water and abundant fish life as we were. Snorkeling made me yearn for an underwater camera and to go diving again. I would have loved to capture some of the images, the vivid images, to share. Taking in the images was perhaps why I stayed in the water so long, why I got all wrinkled and sun burnt without even noticing.
The dhow trip was organised by Marilyn my friend and neighbour. She had gathered a group of like minded people including the KINA's Mike and Kate, Rau, Anne and I, all of us keen for an outing. As Mike said so wistfully from the sun lounger, "why would we want to be in Christchurch in the cold, this is the life!" We agreed by nodding sagely, as you do steaming along on the ocean waves breathing the fresh, salty air. Mike brought his guitar and we had a singalong, some New Zealand music as well as some of Mike's own. It was a good time to relax, commune with others and get some photos.
Lunch was caught on the way, a tuna and a barracuda. Nothing like fresh fish and they were jumping. We followed the shoals and enjoyed watching the fish jumping high in the air over the water boiling with the rest while the sea birds caught those too slow to react. The kids enjoyed dropping a line in, as did most of the adults.
The bay we moored in for a swim was lovely, the hills hot and barren and the sea clear and inviting. The reef at the base of the tall cliffs wasn't really visible from the boat so was a treat to find. We swam and snorkeled for a while, ate lunch, swam some more then headed home via a good fishing spot.
The trip back to Al Ain was exciting at times. We ended up cruising Fujairah Beach Corniche with the locals after going straight instead of turning right at Masafi. With that and a couple of other detours, we made it made it back safely late at night after dining on potato chips and singing loudly to the ipod tunes, as you do on an adventure.
The photos are of the harbour in the early evening, our lifeboat aka fishing boat and the dhows. There are more stories to tell, more pictures to add. Later, inshallah.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Muscat






While we didn't fully explore Muscat, I got a few shots. It was 43C on the corniche at Mutrah so the pics are a bit washed out, still worth sharing. We've decided next trip to take advantage of the flight specials offered at the moment so we can take full advantage of our time in Muscat. A weekend gives limited time when sightseeing.

We drove from Al Ain, through the border, then another border towards Sohar. The drive is really scenic and we were amazed at the variety of landscapes. There were big rock faces, scree slopes and lovely green areas with all sorts of fruit trees and palms, obviously very fertile. We got a brochure at the border telling us to not pick the fruit as it was part of the livelihood of the local people. That seemed like common sense to us, until we saw the laden mango tree.......we resisted the temptation of course.

Sohar was nice and we went on a hunt for beach towels so we could go for a swim. These are hard to get here for some reason. Annie and I both had to buy kids towels, a pink princess one and a Cars movie one, very fetching. We found the beach after a few dead end country road, what a smell. There was red algae so the sea looked and smelled uninviting, back on the road again feeling a little disappointed not to have used my Cars towel.

We saw the resort sign when we were hot and bothered and needing a break. It seemed like a good deal and it turned out to be an excellent choice. It had reasonable food, cold beer and a good beach complete with towels, deck chairs and umbrellas. We even had a beach front room. What a luxury to head out early in the morning (OK not really early because we slept in, no sunrise shots) and swim in the sea before dining on a large buffet breakfast.

Muscat was an hour or so away and we were running short of time. It's a long drive through the mountains, longer than I thought, and Annie and Sue still had to get back to Abu Dhabi. The scenery was different again, unforgiving sheer cliffs and amazing fault lines. We headed towards Al Ain in a sand storm with the sand blowing across the road and little visibility at times. That didn't stop the locals speeding past of course.

It was a great weekend, a relaxing weekend of good company and a few laughs. Roll on next weekend. Marilyn has organised a trip for a group of us to Musandam in northern Oman. We're going on a dhow cruise, can't wait!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Oman











What a weekend. It started with the usual after work drinks at the Rotana with the usual crowd, then others including Annie and Sue from Abu Dhabi. It ended with a long drive back from Muscat through the mountains of Oman, a priceless weekend that added more stamps to my passport.

I'll write more about the journey tomorrow but for now, here's some pics. Oman's a beautiful place, a place with very different scenery from the UAE despite being such close neighbours.
One photo is of a camel family, first time I've seen them grazing berries off a tree. The rest were taken at the Al Sawadi Beach Resort just north of Muscat. We drove up after seeing the sign and got a good deal for the night, a lovely restful place to spend some time. We got to swim in the sea, the warm Gulf of Oman, as well as lounge by the pool and wine (read beer, wine and G'n'T) and dine in the outdoor restaurant. It's a place worth a revisit, next time to go diving off the islands we could see from the beach.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Communication

Communication with others is interesting at the moment. I've been getting odd text in the middle of the night, for example Nick text me for Mother's Day at 1.30am. I sent back something a bit garbled but really, really appreciated hearing from him. Tim managed his message at a more civilised hour, also much appreciated. It's so wonderful to hear from you guys, I do miss spending time with you.

Last night I was startled awake at 11.30 by this text from UAEATRAFFIC.....

Congratulations on obtaining your driving license. thank you and we wish you safe driving through following the traffic laws.

I lay awake for quite some time, it was also very hot last night, pondering this message and wondering it I had already got a speeding ticket. On the cards because a) I have a lead foot and b) the speed limit signs are not obvious. I also got passed by an officer of the law when I was going 100 in an 80 zone. Sorry, I really didn't see the sign officer.

I have included this text here to help others who have recently received their licenses. Apparently others have had this same cheery message but in Arabic. I feel privileged.

It's been difficult keeping in touch with others lately. There has been a crack down on illegal communication modes, including Skype and Voip. Not that I would use such illegal methods of communication myself. The penalties are severe, up to 2 years in a jail and massive fines for breaking this law. There are more details on this link if anyone is interested.

http://www.clydeco.com/knowledge/articles/voice-over-ip-in-the-uae.cfm

Suffice to say, I'll be contacting people by phone or text, hopefully not in the middle of the night.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Hot water

There are some things that happen here that make perfect sense, that are logical when you think about them. One of those is the hot water situation. I went to have a shower today at 1.30pm before going out. Late in the day to get out of pj's I'll admit but it is Saturday. Imagine my surprise when the water was hot enough to burn, too hot to shower in. I checked the tap, yep full on cold. I had to have a hasty wash and rinse and get out.

You see our tanks are on the roof and by midday with 40C plus temperatures, the water in the tanks gets very hot. Totally understandable really. So that also explains the hot washing and not being able to run the tap cold enough to water my plants. Oh by the way they're in the process of dying at the moment. RIP what can I do? So my new water cooler is an essential part of the kitchen furniture.

Note to self, plan my showers for earlier in the day on the weekends. If I'm awake that is. We had this happen in Qatar too but not so noticeable because it wasn't quite this hot. I did end up going out after procrastinating for a long while.

Mary-Anne, Nina and her girls Georgina and Philippa and I went to the movies to see Star Trek 2. It was freezing in the theatre so it was a relief to get outside to the balmy warmth. The movie was great, just what the doctor ordered, some Saturday afternoon escapism. The company was great too. They all came back to my place for pizza, as you do on a Saturday.

The girls were a little surprised and their mother disturbed that I had a live cockroach in a jar on my book shelf. Well, I have cockroaches in my flat so I catch them in a jar and put them over the wall outside. Simple, except this time I forgot to release it. I was amazed it was still alive, maybe it will have learnt it's lesson and not return. Maybe it will tell it's cockroach friends to stay away from the mad woman with the jar, here's hoping.

Mary-Anne was very brave and hopped in the car with me. She did comment about me zooming across three lanes so I could turn for home, just driving like a local my friend. We did survive, no pizza was hurt and the Fanta wasn't too fizzy when opened so all good.

With no TV to offer the kids we had a photo show, me showing off my kids and Nina showing off the ball photos. Nope no embarrassing ones of me, can't say the same for poor (lucky) Mary-Anne. What were you doing with your tongue on that man? And what about that other man...... Will see if I can get a copy to add here.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

I should.....




It's one of those days when I'm sitting around home thinking of all the things I should and could do, and getting no further than thinking. One of the reason's I'm perhaps a little lazy is that it's 43C outside. That's rather warm. Another is that I've had a lovely weekend of friends. Even another that we had late night.

Sue and her cousin Caroll, visiting from the UK, and Annie came to stay. The house suddenly filled up with chatter and laughter and catching up. And of course the odd drink. We went exploring when it cooled a bit visiting Sheikh Zayed Palace Museum. I live about 5 minutes walk from the museum but had never visited before. It's an amazing place, built for the heat of this place, a quiet sanctuary in the city. We were privileged to see some traditional dancing, a treat for Carol to see on her quick visit to the UAE.

I drove to the other museum via the oasis. Yep got the hang of this driving caper. We then decided a trip up Jebal Hafeet was in order. Only my second day driving and I conquered the mountain. I think I'm finding it easy to drive because I'm not having to navigate as well. I know my way to most of the places I go so don't have to worry about getting lost all the time, a bonus.

We visited the hotel and walked through the lovely gardens rich with the smell of frangipani, minus the flower or two that graced Caroll's hair. Watching the sun set over the desert, over Al Ain was magical. It was a bit dusty so the photos weren't great. I did get one of the road, be impressed it really is as windy as it looks. The drivers here are mad, passing on blind corners and cutting in with no warning so the trip was exciting at times with the odd swear word.

They left this morning, the house is very quiet and I'm still not wanting to get out of my own way. Perhaps a trip to the gym, via car, is in order. Then a swim. I've got a movie date at 4pm with Mary-Anne and Nina and her girls. Star trek, should be fun if I don't freeze in the extreme air conditioning of the theatre.

The other photos are of the frangipani and Annie, Caroll and Sue at one of the higher lookouts. Note the haze in the background.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Wheels

Yep, I have wheels. A gold Mazda 1.6 tiptronic something. Very cool. Lesley took me to the rental place after we got some top ups for the weekend from our local. It was surprisingly easy to adjust to driving on the other side, surprisingly easy to adjust to the traffic and driving style here. I drove to work this morning without a hitch, and home to the Rotana for Thursday drinks.

Belinda joined us but there were several others missing in action. We hadn't long arrived and the waiter showed a couple of women to our table thinking us regulars were the ones waiting for them. Turned out to be a happy accident.

We are all in the same business and had a good catch up. They joined their group and we joined them to a bit later, the stayers that is. It's great to meet new people and this group were lovely, a range of cultures, ages and occupations. I met the lady we see at the pool with her little girl most weeks. She's Turkish so we had a good chat. She was lonely going to the pool by herself so now she knows she has friends there to chat with.

I quietly refused the offer to go clubbing later. Annie, Sue and Sue's cousin are coming for the weekend so will need a good nights sleep to keep up with them! I'll be able to drive them up Jebel Hafeet, show them the sights, can't wait. Next weekend I hope to venture into Oman. Rau and I have a promise of camping with some friends. Others tell us it's too hot and I suspect they're right. We are camping by the beach so I'm sure we can bail to a hotel if needed.

As I mentioned above, the car is gold. I just happen to have gold nails at the mo, a hangover from the ball. I said to the rental car man that the car matched my polish. He just about fell over laughing at this ditzy woman who didn't care about the state of the car, just the colour. I'm sure he expects to see me back soon with a dent or two, I hope not!

I have wheels so expect some more photos of my adventures. I was amazed how liberating having a car is. I feel a stronger sense of belonging, knowing that I can drive, can go to Dubai or Abu Dhabi for a day or a weekend. Knowing that I can get groceries without a hassle. That is, after I've picked the car up from the Rotana in the morning......

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Heat

It's heating up here, in the mid 40's most days. Al Ain is also very dry so the heat is quite pleasant without the humidity. The heat is beginning to make it difficult to walk places after work, for example the gym. Well that's my excuse for tonight anyway. It's also forcing me to consider getting a car, have the license so really should get driving. Tomorrow, Inshallah.

Walking to yoga I got to see the next instalment of the cricket players versus developers. I was amazed to see a game in full swing as I wandered past, slowly, watching, noting the increased number of spectators. There was also a football match in progress alongside on the newly laid pitch.

Yes, instead of a building, the developers were digging out to lay grass and provide a sports field. It was certainly being well used. This place is like that, made for people. There are even footpaths to get most places, although crossing the road is a risky business.

So here I am sitting writing in the lovely heat with a light, very warm breeze blowing through the door outside thinking of my family and friends freezing in NZ. Think I might just wander off to have a swim, seems like a good way to end the day to me.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Belles of the ball


We ventured out to the rugby club ball last night. There was a flurry of getting ready, shopping for dresses, shoes and makeup over the preceding weeks. We succeeded in dressing Maryanne, no mean feat to get her out of her jeans into a dress and made up. She looked beautiful on the night.

Deidre and I decided to get our hair done, what a mission. The first hair place was shut, the second had a queue, no problem said the man we can fit you in. It was an interesting experience sitting watching parades of women with astounding dos, dos only possible in this part of the world. Curls piled on top, hair extensions, boofy held together with pins and blingy head pieces.

I should have felt very afraid and run for the door when the man said to me, "too short for up, will blow dry". I have thick hair, blow dry it for volume and I end up with something resembling an '80's Dallas nightmare. Well, it was different, very boofy. Maybe when I put on my dress and make up........nope it still looked like I belonged on an '80s film set. Deidre on the other hand managed a sophisticated pile up, might need to grow my hair a little more.

I also tried contacts for the first time, sick of wearing glasses on nights out. What I learnt was that contacts are difficult to put in the first time; I can't wear my prescription sunglasses with them; reading things is impossible; choosing food from a buffet is a lottery and eating the food a challenge; and last but not least taking said contacts out in the early hours while a little tiddly is very challenging. But, my makeup looked good; I could see everyone across the room and I could dance without losing my glasses. I suspect I'll keep them for nights out only.

At the ball people had gone all out with some lovely dresses, dos (mine didn't look too out of place) and shoes. There were photos taken, will have to check their suitability before posting. It was a good night, one that merits a postmortem or two. Maryanne and I are heading to Nina's place a bit later for one, by the pool with a long tall glass of something.

I also learnt last night that it's a very small world. It turns out that Deidre's husband Duncan used to run tours for touristj in the Coromandel and knows all my favourite places very well. He also used to live in Thames in the same street as I did, just down the road a bit. We worked out that we had lived there roughly 10 years apart, but things move slowly in that part of the world so nothing much had changed.

Decided to add the photo of Deidre and I all ready to go. I cringe as I think of the laughter........