Monday, 29 June 2009

The Viper


Terry managed to get this photo of the viper we saw in the wadi, thanks for send it to me Terry. He slipped under a rock ledge to hide from these large intruders but we didn't take the hint. Being New Zealanders, snakes are not something we see so fellow New Zealander Terry and I were keen to get some photos. I have little knowledge of snakes so little fear of them either, ignorance on my part I suspect. Mind you there were a few spider webs to be seen. I didn't investigate them, to this point the only creepy crawly I'm irrationally afraid of.
It's only 12 more sleeps until I'm on the plane and as the sand storm covered my car in fine, brown sand this afternoon I started looking forward to that other sort of storm, the one that brings snow down the valley dusting everything in white. I will of course be watching this from the warmth of my living room in front of the fire with a hot coffee in hand and a good book, roll on the hols.
Tomorrow we're having a party for the teachers, a large buffet where we can share a meal and a chat and most importantly thank them for their support over the year. Must remember my camera.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Exploring Oman II








So, back to how to get out of the wadi. The top two photos show part of the journey. First there was the green rope and the long reach while playing spiderman, then the ascent up the rocks and the cemented steps to the narrow pathway at the top. The steps can be seen in the top right hand corner of the second photo. All in all a very impressive ascent that made me feel like I'd really achieved something, a great first trip to initiate a new member.
The other photos are of the group exploring more of the rock formations and pools. I will definitely join more of these expeditions when I'm back after the summer. It will be especially good when I have my bike and my Jeep, yet another reason why I need a 4wd. The trips are very well planned, the group leaders knowledgeable about both the area and the features of these unforgiving landscapes and the creatures who inhabit them. Thanks guys, an awesome day out, see you next weekend.

Exploring Khabbayan, Oman








I must keep saying yes, it suits me. When Anne told me about the Emirates Natural History Group, I thought it sounded like my type of group. When Stephen offered to take me on one of their outings, how could I refuse. The thought of a long walk in the heat appealed for some reason, even after a night out.
We headed out through the border post, waved through because we weren't going deep enough into Oman to cross through the second border post, an interesting situation possibly because the border is a line on a map by someone. This is not at all like the sea border that I'm used to. The group arrived, some with 4wds that we managed to squeeze into. Off we went, off the road and into the moon like landscape stopping at a deep ravine carved out of the rock, yes that's where we were going.

We scrambled down the scree slope onto the rocks into the Khabbayan wadi. The water had all but dried up but it was clear that the wadi carried fast flowing water at other times of the year. The photos show this, with the water sculpted sides and small pools amongst the rocks. The wadi walls were sheer and made up of what looked like a mix of small rocks and sand but was in fact naturally cemented together to form a stable cliff face.
The group leaders Brien and Brigette were very knowldgeable about both the area and geology and were able to answer the many questions that came their way. The photo of the cliffs and one of the group gives some perspective to how impressive they were. There were also many different types of rocks, all carved and smoothed by the water.
In the remaining pools were tadpoles, toads, water scorpions and other small fish. The pools were drying out and we saw some where the tadpoles had died, trapped by the evaporating water, a dried black carpet of these small fish. The rocks had white tide marks showing the gradual receding of the water in the dry heat. We also got up close and personal with geckos, a viper, wadi runners (thin brown snakes) and the Omani lizard. I can now tick seeing a snake in the wild off my to do list.
It was hot, cooler in the wadi, but still hot so a dip in one of the pools was a welcome respite. Actually there was no choice but to dip in the pool, we had to get through it to progress down the wadi. The walls had closed in making the sheer cliffs even more impressive. I was left wondering how we were going to get out, just as well I was too impressed with my surroundings to be bothered by the thought. I was also very confident that the group leaders had this figured out already, and of course they had. I will elaborate in the next post.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Just a couple more from the track





It's an interesting place this. An interesting place to live and see the many contradictions as well as the wonderful nature of the people. Take the other day. I was feeling unwell, the dreaded dust giving me a headache and making me blocked up so I went home after a couple of hours at work.

This was not really understood. "Has she been eating the meat of the pig?" asked one. Mmmm given I've been a vegetarian for many years, I think not. Yes, the swine flu hysteria has reached the UAE. It took me some time to explain, no it's just a dust allergy and I need to dose up on my antihistamines. I've been a bit slack with taking them lately. All is well now, I got asked to join others to eat and have ghawa (coffee) so not catchy then.
I also returned to a lovely gift from one of my local colleagues, a print of camels on the beach at sunset. Funny but it's exactly what I would have chosen, a shot I'd have been proud of. It'll grace the wall by my dining table soon. There were also some great coffee cups, much needed in my minimalistic flat. I can now have 8 people for coffee, bonus.
I'm sitting here tonight with a small glass having a giggle about visiting the local bottle store tonight, certainly a contradiction. I topped up the cellar and Rau asked for an application for a liquor licence, that took some time. We have the letter we need and now need to fill out and file the forms and pay the money, and then we'll be able to have a little drink at home. When we get back, Inshallah.
It's a bit of a social time at the moment with farewells, meals out and last minute catch ups before people depart for distant shores. On Friday I hope to tag along with the natural history group for a walk in the Omani hills. More photo ops I hope, will keep you posted.
The photos here are more from the track, camels of course and the owner in the ever present Toyota keeping tabs on his very valuable livestock.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

What an evening......





Saying yes even when it might prove difficult has lead me to some wonderful adventures lately. Tonight's adventure was very special. John and Angela took Rau, Anne and I out to the camel race track. The difficulty was that Anne and I had a dinner with some yoga friends organised. No worries, lets go, I'm sure we won't be that late.

We jumped in John's new toy, a green Jeep. I'm back to wanting one, a second hand one I can afford of course. But I digress. We followed the road then went off road to find the racing camels being trained. It was amazing to watch the groups of camels led by their trainer through their paces while the owners followed in their Toyota's.

The trainers obviously were OK with getting their photos taken, many stopped and posed, most just posed and yelled out to us. The funniest thing was the young man who got out his cell and recorded us taking photos of him from up on his camel. I didn't get the shot, was a bit slow, too busy laughing at the sight!

The sand was blowing off the top of the dunes, the sun was setting through the sandy haze, there were clouds in the sky filtering the sunlight, fantastic light for taking photos and amazing subjects. This is definitely a place to take visitors, so close to home yet another world. Sue and I have Katherine coming soon, I suspect that will be my next visit to the track .

PS Anne and I made the dinner a little late and after taking a wrong turn and having to do an illegal U turn with a police vehicle in front of us. Not Anne's fault this time, I took a wrong turn all by myself.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

And even more photos







Just a few more. As you might be able to tell, I had a good companion to photograph with. Anne took the one of me by the fountain. Kate and I are talking about setting up a photography group when we come back after our break. Anne and others are keen so I might get to explore this place further in good company. Kate's website is awesome.

The others are a night shot I was pleased with and the view from the high bridge looking down to the souq, the creek and the park. The bridge shook and was congested with traffic and I got plenty of toots as I hung over the rails taking the photo. I must have looked a sight, but what else can you expect from a tourist.

We stayed at the Beach Hotel and that's a whole other story I'll write about later. I've got a good book, James Frey's latest, and I'm a bit tired after the ehctic weekend so might head off to bed. Work tomorrow, only three weeks left until I fly. It's hard to believe that I'm heading home for a month or so, home to the freezing cold. For now, I've got farewells to attend, a yoga dinner and plenty of people to catch up with before we all depart for our respective foreign shores. At least I knocked a hole in my gift list this weekend, not as last minute as my last trip thankfully.

Blue Souq, Sharjah 2







As promised, more photos.

One is of Mohammad and Anne having a pashmina consultation. Just before this picture was taken two young men had come in and tried to haggle with Mohammad, saying quite rude things from the combined body language. I could see Anne smiling, yes she can speak that language and got the gist of the argument. How she resisted making comment I don't know, not sure I'd have had any such self control.

The others are the Blue Souq wind towers on dusk and the souq with the backdrop of construction, quite surreal when there's a lovely park and well developed creek area just next door. Sharjah is close to Dubai and seems to have a lot of construction. I only hope it doesn't spoil the natural beauty of the place.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Blue Souq, Sharjah





I'd been really disappointed with the souqs in the UAE but that changed last night in Sharjah. I'd heard all about the Blue Souq from colleagues who'd visited so thought I might venture to the Northern Emirates for the weekend. Anne came along for the ride. Anne who's great company, an unflappable passenger and a lousy navigator. We had some map adventures. The main thing I learnt was if Anne says go this way, you go in the opposite direction and it will all work out (her words!).

I also learnt, entirely by my own efforts and this links to the unflappable passenger comment, that turning left in Sharjah is not the same as turning left in Christchurch. Luckily the man to the left of me wouldn't let me in and the person behind me beeped loudly. OK, so it's a roundabout. I missed that important fact at the time. We missed the bus to the Blue Souq hence having to drive, something I regretted very early on and came to dread later. Fancy 1600 being 4pm, not 6pm! Shutting my eyes and hoping seemed to work.......

We somehow made it to the Blue Souq and it was amazing, simply everything I'd heard and it totally renewed my faith in UAE souqs. Anne and I took heaps of photos of the outside in good late afternoon light then got another batch at the end, that alone would have made the trip to Sharjah worthwhile. Inside was shopping heaven for me, interesting small nic nack shops, pashminas, carpets, fabric, local and imported goodies.

We got trapped in the second shop, you guessed it, a pashmina shop. Mohammad, pictured in a later post with Anne, was very helpful and honest about the quality of his wares. There were the 500dhs ones, ones for another visit, and the 40-150dhs ones. I managed to choose 6 from the multitude and Anne managed several and a lovely kilim. I'll let the girls choose their own when I get home but I'm keeping one for me (OK, so I'd like to keep them all). I think I'll need at least one when I land.
We spent lots of time wandering, looking and haggling. Anne bought jewelery and I came close. I finally found ear rings that I thought matched my Turkish bracelet, the one I always wear. Alas, the shape was the same but they were green onyx not black. We stopped when we got hungry, yes I was starting to get mean, and had pizza and tea while people watching. It was an evening to bottle really, a happy place evening.
We ventured into the traffic, got into more trouble on the confusing intersections that are actually roundabouts and got back to the hotel safely if a little shattered. I've not slept so well in ages with the sound of the sea gently entering my consiousness from outside. I could live in Sharjah. It's a bit like Doha with it's vibrancy as well as being very beautiful and green and on the coast.
The photos are of the Blue Souq. More photos to come......
PS This one's for you Keri, promise I'll keep writing about my adventures.

Monday, 15 June 2009

My box of chocolates

I did a quiz on Facebook the other day, the quote that describes your life. Mine made me smile, it's from one of my favourite movies.

"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get"
Meaning: "You have a pretty mellow and easy going outlook on life. You are ready for any curveball that life throws at you."

Well, it certainly fits at the moment, there's plenty of curve balls to cope with as well as the odd peppermint cream. Most of it's small stuff so I don't get too disturbed, like the plumber not turning up tonight. Some of it's a bit more major like spending hours writing PD then losing it somehow on the horrible, horrible dtk computer I'm using. Yep, there really is a brand called dtk, all lowercase and I'm sure I can make some acronyms that fit at the moment.

I've got a cold, dusty eyes and a rotten head ache so feel a little sorry for myself tonight. Couple that with the plumber and the computer and that makes tonights chocolate one of those hard nut ones no one really likes and you almost break your teeth on.

I always seem to have plumbing problems in my flats, usually floods and this is no exception, except this time I have some control over the flood. The flood happens when I use the kitchen sink, when I do the dishes. The sink water bubbles up through the drain vent and all over the kitchen floor. Unfortunately it smells bad, fortunately it's probably drowned all the cockroaches. Anyhow, the plumber was booked for 5.30pm so I had a snooze, missed my gym and swim wating for him to arrive, not sure my dishes will get done tonight, sigh.

At least I had Lesley over to entertain me for a while. Lesley remind me of my auntie Heather, in a good way, shes like having family to visit. I am enjoying the range of people I get to interact with on a daily basis. Friends who come and visit or who I meet out and about, like Liz at the pool yesterday and the girls on the zoo outing.

I'm hoping tomorrow is going to be a peppermint cream day or at least a soft caramel. That might require an early night and a good sleep. I'm finding I'm getting tired now. It's been along semester with no break and given that I've not had a real break for a few years now, I'm looking forward to some down time in NZ in front of the fire watching the snow fall, drinking good coffee. It's also very hot, consistently in the high 40s. A four week winter might do me some good, seeing the family will top up my soul.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

More from the zoo.....




"No, I'm not going near that," said Belinda.
Feeding time at the zoo.
Two impressive fellows, Ibex with amazing horns.


Al Ain Zoo




Al Ain Zoo exceeded my expectations. Sue, Rau, Anne, Belinda and I set off in oppressive heat late in the afternoon and spent several hours wandering, chatting and taking photos. It was great to be at the zoo for feeding time in African savanna and before the big cats got housed for the night. We also caught the bird show and I finally got up close and personal with a snake, another thing ticked off the list.

More photos and impressions to come. For now I have to get some housework done, long overdue, and prepare some professional development for next week. Oh and then there's the small issue of having no food in the house to be dealt with. Tough life this.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Penguins



Do you believe...............it's from the BBC it must be true!

Monday, 8 June 2009

The steps

Rau and I braved the steps up to the restaurant, or rather the building that used to be a restaurant. With the slight cooling of the temperature walking in evening is possible at the moment. We thought we'd time it to see if it was a morning walk, I think not!

It took us almost an hour to walk there and back and climb the 147 steps to the top. But oh what a view. We didn't take our cameras because they're a bit heavy, something I regretted the minute I began the climb. The vista over the whole of Al Ain just on dusk was magical. We saw the size of the oasis, much bigger than it appears from the flat. We saw the track along the waddie, the apartments and villas along the edge, the shops and the sports ground all lit up for tonight's game.

In the next week or so I'll get to the top again with my camera and post photos, as long as the weather is kind that is. Another thing to do in Al Ain ticked off my list..... Wednesday night we plan to brave the zoo.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Degrees of relativity

All things are relative, take the discussion I had at the pub last night about the temperature here at the moment:

Wasn't it great to be able to open all the windows and turn off the aircon today

Yeah, it was great to be able to go for a walk to the shop, amazing that it's so much cooler at the moment

Yeah, I've been sleeping without the aircon for a couple of nights. It's humid, wonder if it's going to rain (wistfully with a sigh)

So what was it yesterday?
Oh, 40 or 41, so much cooler than 48. It got to 51 the other day.

You get the drift. While people in Christchurch are barely getting into double figures, we're talking about how cool 40C is. Well, compared to the thermometer topping 50, it is really cool. Surprisingly, noticeably cool.

I've acclimatised here really well. I do like the heat and only have my kitchen aircon on on a regular basis. It cools my bedroom without too much noise. Being a light sleeper, noise in my bedroom even the steady hum of an aircon disturbs my sleep. And I need my beauty sleep.

Later I write, sitting here with a very full tum after the most delicious Indian food. We went to the movies today after gyming and swimming and saw a clever movie, Sleuth. I don't remember the last time I saw a movie with two people in it, two very good actors that kept me riveted in the freezing cold theatre.

I also went car shopping today with Rau and my slight hangover from the night before. I'd decided to buy a second hand car, something cheap and preferably 4WD for when I bring my bike over. Well, that was until I went to the Toyota showroom and saw my FJ Cruiser on sale. It has been said that the FJ Cruiser is sex on wheels. It's truly a boys car, built like a Tonka truck, but I love it and when I see it cruise past on the road I have car envy, me who really doesn't care that much for cars. Anyhow, it's come down to 110K AED or about 55k NZD. Not bad for a brand new car.

I talked about this with a friend who told me that someone he knew got his for 85k AED. It was a demonstrator model. That got me thinking so tomorrow I'm off to test drive (and with my budget that's probably all I'll get to do) and enquire about the demo models. I can justify the cost, after all the repay per month is less than I'm paying for my hire car and I get to own it.

The Indian we went to has the best Indian food I've ever eaten, a view shared by Mary-Anne and Rau. The restaurant is out in the middle of nowhere on a long stretch of road between two roundabouts, miss the slip road as I did once and it's a bit of a round trip to get back. the setting is lovely, next to a walk along the waddie amongst date palms. We plan to have a big dinner there one night soon, a last fling before we all head off on holiday. There were photos taken at the Indian so will include them here soon as they're on Rau's camera.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Home for a holiday

There's only 5 weeks left until I fly home for a break, home to the snow and the family. I'm actually looking forward to it, although 4 weeks in France or Italy like last year would be wonderful. I've got my tickets, finally. Well that is I have a booking, not sure of all the details yet. I had a few moments last week when I was told there were no seats left to Christchurch on any airline. With some creative work and the help of the Flight Centre in Christchurch, I have a seat including a stopover to see Sue in Melbourne on the way home. Perfect.

I talked to Kier this morning in Brissy. I showed him something on my blog and he was surprised at the number of visitors I get. He made some unflattering comment about me having too much time on my hands, true at the moment. I hope he'll keep reading, afterall that's the purpose of my writing, to share what I'm doing with my family. He did think that the dots on the map were made up to make me feel better so if anyone out there feels like adding a comment to let him know the audience is real, please do.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Dates

The dates are ripening on the palms and each day they are changing colour and getting bigger. Most bunches have turned to yellow from green and I noticed a few bunches in the higher palms are turning brown. This may not sound that exciting but when you consider the role dates have in the lives of the people in this part of the world, the harvest is as critical as the rice harvest in Asia or the wheat harvest in the US. Dates are part of the staple diet, a celebration food, a food proudly offered to visitors.

When I was a child dates were one of my favourite snacks, date scones an absolute favourite into adulthood. I can remember being about 6 or 7 years old looking at the picture on the date packet and thinking that I was going to visit the place where dates grow one day. That day has come, I'm here quietly watching the crop ripen waiting to sample the fresh dates. I know this will happen because I shared this with one of my Arabic friends and she takes every opportunity to feed me up on date products.

Last night a group of us sat under the palms, under the night sky and had a few quiet drinks, needed at the end of the week. It's cooled a little here, gone from consistently high 40's to the low 40's. What a difference. The evenings are balmy, wonderful for night outings and the days don't need the doors shut and aircon on full blast, restful. My next night outing is going to be the zoo, highly recommended by others who have been.

BGT



It's been a while since I've spent time on you tube so I've had fun catching up on Britain's Got Talent. This show has launched some wonderful singers, Susan Boyle one I hope will succeed. I think she's got an amazing voice and wondered when I heard this song why it took 10 more years before she came to the notice of the music industry, only after she had taken a risk and entered BGT.

Comments have been made about how she looks, dresses, conducts herself. That she doesn't handle media pressure. Big deal. If her name was Samuel Boyle would the public and media have looked at her in the same way. I think not. Enough said, enjoy the music as I did.