Sunday, 29 November 2009

Nepal

It's taken me a while to get to the Internet point alongside our hotel, I've been too busy out and about, there's so much to see here. One of the good things about going with a group, there are seven of us on this trip, is that things are easy to organise and cheaper when split. We have done some serious sightseeing including flying past Everest in a small plane; driving over some exciting roads to get to Bhaktapur via another amazing temple higher in the foothills of the Kathmandu Valley; walking around the Bouda Temple, clockwise of course; shopping, haggling for goods in the narrow streets of Kathmandu; riding in a rickshaw up to the base of the Swaymbhunath Stupa or the Monkey Temple; climbing the 365 steps to the top and enjoying an amazing view of the city and beyond.

Of course I have photos, I'll be able to add some when I'm home on Thursday after sleeping for a while. Today I'm off trekking, just Clair and I left so we decided on a day out including a three plus hour climb to a monastry high in the foothills. Tomorrow we both go to the airport, Clair to fly home and I'm flying to Pokara, the trekking mecca according to all I read. It will be good to get out of the city again and closer to the mountians. I'm hoping to meet some other friends there but if not, join a couple of day treks. Got to get the most out of my new walking shoes.

I'm so enjoy this adventure, the people are amazing. Very friendly and accommodating. I do see the tourist footprint stamped heavily within the city and lighter out in the countryside, that's progress I suppose. TTFN from chilly Kathmandu.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Eid and National Day

I'm off, got 10 days holiday with only one leave day used, a much needed break after some stressful weeks. Eid Al Hada begins tomorrow, a time of celebration here. The parks have been decked out as have the palms and roundabouts. There are festivities in the air, festivities and celebration at school.

I got to join in on Tuesday, so many photo opportunities but as I am new to the school I didn't bring my camera. I also wouldn't post any of the photos. Children in national dress, children in fancy gowns, faces painted and henna applied, boys with wooden guns and walking sticks twirling and throwing just as they have seen their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and older siblings do. Excellent photos but ones needing permissions I don't have.

There have been many things that have impressed me this week; the national fervor and excitement about these celebrations, especially with the children; the conversations with the children, teachers and sometimes parents about the celebrations; the inclusion of us westerners in the celebrations; the relaxed and easy times; the environment being prepared. I can only liken it to the week before Christmas in NZ.

I was watching some girls having henna applied, telling their teachers that they wanted full arms done not just their hands. Mashallah, remark the teachers as they share this with others, laughing. Good natured, smiling banter respecting and enjoying the children. I was delighted when the teacher asked if I wanted henna. Oh, yes please I smiled. The others laughed and told me to go to the other teacher as she was better, more laughter as they called out to her and I joined her queue.

I sat quietly as the henna was quickly applied in a very cool pattern up my arm, down onto my hand and fingers. The henna dries into a crust after an hour or so and starts to flake off, I was keen to see the result so helped it a little. Since yesterday the colour has darkened and the pattern looks amazing. I got comments when I arrived at school this morning, got comments from Emirati ladies as I brought a smaller suitcase to travel with at Megamart. All smiles and mashallahs.

So now I'm sitting resting before packing. I have new Merrills, new jeans, a new case to put them in. I'm so excited as are my travel companions. It's an early start tomorrow, leaving home about 3.30am to get to Sharjah in time to fly, then onto Kathmandu for a few days, then up to Pokera to the mountains to go trekking. I can't wait. Mmmm small hitch, how exactly do I get to Sharjah Airport? Might have to make a few calls to check, tried a couple of people so far to no avail. I will make it, inshallah.

Watch this space for photos and stories when I return, it will be quiet for a week or so.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Just one more, OK

Some of the promised photos



I had a small melt down this morning when thought I'd lost most of my photos after trying a late download then canceling so I could get some sleep. Lucky Macs are much, much smarter than me and all I had to do was be patient, not my natural state when it comes to technology. The second half of the day are loading now, might have to add some more later but for now here's two. I had fun with the sails, there's a photo of me lying on the seat getting an up shot. That's in the next batch.

A fun day out

It may be getting chilly but that makes it all the better for getting out and about. We could sit on the top deck of the catamaran as we cruised just off Dubai and the sea water was refreshingly cool. Three friends were celebrating a significant birthday so we thought we'd help them out. What an excellent choice of activity for the day, a cruise around the world, swimming off the white sandy islands, banana boating, a BBQ, drinks, excellent company and New Zealand music.

We set out from Al Ain in the morning, I drove, negotiating Dubai's every changing roads to get to the Marina almost on time. Rau and I were pleasantly surprise to see our plush ride, a lovely big catamaran awaiting us, the first of many good surprises for the day. Dubai from the sea is lovely, much better than from a car trying to negotiate the way in, or as we later found, the way out. Yep, misplaced again. Although being lost is only when you don't really know where you are or how to correct the situation. We at least knew we had gone from heading to Sharjar to heading towards Oman.

I'll write more tomorrow, add more photos, but for now I'm pleasantly tired so heading off to bed and hopefully a sleep in in the morning. Thanks Belinda, Jenny and Rianne for a lovely day out, what you up to next birthday?

PS Note to self, don't start downloading 188 photos shot on raw after midnight....... Sorry will add photos tomorrow.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Almost winter



It's getting colder, the kids are wearing coats and hats to school, the cold water in the tap is cold, there's a cool breeze in the evening, the shops are full of winter clothes, we can now walk outside later in the day. It's lovely out, Al Jahili Park is full of picnics, laughter and friendships with the kids playing together while the adults lay about watching, chatting, enjoying each others company.

Eid and National Day are fast approaching and it looks like Christmas here, the decorations are up all green and red reflecting the colours of the flag. The houses have fairy lights, the neighborhoods competing for the most lit up house. The children are having special celebrations at school, celebrating their strong culture and heritage.

I was reflecting on this with others yesterday. In my country we have lost this sort of celebration of who we are. Our national day on 6 February is one of conflict as it is marking one culture's colonisation of another, perhaps of good intentions by most of a treaty between peoples that mean equal partnership. Not a real celebration for everyone while grievances are still being redressed. There have been suggestions that we change the day, not one that has been taken up by the powers that be.

The others came from the UK and Canada, such is the mix here. The UK are like us, no real whole country celebration and a sensitivity to what might be perceived as culturally insensitive. Canada has a day of celebrating all cultures, a non denominational day of celebration. I was wondering where their indigenous culture fitted into that.

More reflection is needed to find some sort of solution, if there is one to be had. ANZAC day is big in NZ with many people taking the time to celebrate our war fallen, many take the trip to Galipoli to remember our fallen, many visit the war grave yards in Belgium and France. I know I have and felt the fingers of time reach towards me, telling the story of a time of loss and strength, of young men going on an adventure never to return to Aotearoa, regardless of culture.

We got the news yesterday that we have a longer holiday so the trip I've booked to another place where New Zealander's contributions have been appreciated can be extended. I can't wait to get to Kathmandu, to see Mt Everest and meet the people who took our Sir Ed into their hearts. I might even get to go trekking, will need to visit the shops to get some warmer clothes and those tramping boots.

The photos are from my Belgium trip, the sculpture park in Antwepen.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A slow learner

I find it hard to learn some lessons, I have Homer Simpson syndrome when it comes to finding cars in mall car parks. It was tough with rental cars, surprisingly tougher with a white Toyota Fortuna. Today I thought I remembered where I parked, was in a bit of a day dream as I walked down the isles pushing the lock/unlock button.

I eventually found it, it peeped, the lights flashed, ah there it goes. No one noticed this time. Another time in the same car park I was busy peeping away when I heard two women laughing and speaking in Arabic, the laughter got louder the nearer I got to them. They looked over and saw me, still pressing the lock/unlock button, and fell about laughing. The final realisation that I was the cause of their mirth was the hand slap, yep they were right.

I went over to them, smiling of course. I told them my car was new and I was having trouble finding it. They shared with me that they had been watching the car lock and unlock, peep and flash and had had a bet on who the owner might be. Seems they were right when they guessed a woman, that I was an expat woman had surprised them and caused more mirth. Apparently what I was doing was more common with locals, as was the choice of car. I smiled about this for the rest of the day, didn't learn anything from it but smiled about the lovely ladies who so willingly shared their joke with me. I had made their day, they had made mine.

I've just booked my flights to Kathmandu, still don't know the break dates but have made the same reservation the others in my group have. I hope we hear soon, I want to make the second booking and get on the road, so ready for a trip away.

A quiet weekend


A quiet but very good weekend. I feel like my batteries have been recharged, sleep caught up on and work demands answered, for now anyway. I feel relaxed as I sit here eating the remains of the pizza from Thursday night reheated, enjoying a cold one and reflecting on the weekend.

The planning has begun for my next trip. The holidays have yet to be called but I'm hoping that Eid Hada and the National Day holidays will be set from 26 November to 6 December. They are only a couple of days apart, the schools are closed, we're just awaiting confirmation that the company is going to include these two days in our statutory holiday allocation.

Sue's had her dates confirmed so is off to one of my favourite places, Turkey. She has the full week so will get to visit Capadocia as well as spending some time in Istanbul. Our trip to Kerela is on hold, I'm heading to Kathmandu with a group of others. Flights permitting of course and we can't confirm these as yet. Some of us want to head to Agra, Jaipur and Delhi for a few days after Kathmandu. It's an easy flight, a round trip from Sharjah to Kathmandu to Delhi to Sharjah. If we have to work the days between it's not so easy.

What I'm most looking forward to is being able to trek in the lower Himalayas and hopefully fly over Mt Everest, a pilgrimage of sorts for New Zealanders. I'll get to photograph this amazing place. I've tried to buy some tramping boots today with no joy, the mens ones start from size 40, way too big for me and there doesn't seem to be women's ones available. I'll also hoping to get to see the Taj Mahal up close and visit a part of India so steeped in history. All is dependent on the holiday dates, I hope to get these as soon as possible so I can book my flights and accommodation.

The photo is another from Thursday nights outing to the camel track. Can't wait until the racing season starts, we'll be there.

Friday, 13 November 2009

A different Thursday evening




Fridays are quiet days. Thursday evenings not often that quiet. Yesterday afternoon, after a meal and drinks at the Rotana, I took some friends out to one of my favourite places in Al Ain. I must have hundreds of photos of the camel track, some as the sun sets, some in the late afternoon light. The light is perfect out there late in the afternoon.

Kate and I were supposed to be going out to the track, Anne heard us talking about it so she joined our expedition. Eddie, Elaine and Salima had never been so also decided to join us. We went out in convoy, adding to the experience. As always there was plenty of action and one thing I'd never seen before, a group of camels free grazing. There was a herder sitting on the sand dunes watching. The single camel in the shot above was staring into the distance, looking towards the camels training on the track.

Kate was brave, stood on the track with a group of camels coming fast towards her to get the perfect shot. I stood to one side, not so perfect. The last one is of the sun sinking into the desert dunes, a sun on fire. I'm always amazed how quickly the sun sets here. There is no twilight, the door slams shut on the day. A very satisfying day on so many levels, pizza and a nice red with a friend later in the evening finishing off a good day in style.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Anyone for a 3 day weekend?


I've found a new pastime. Another new pastime, one I can do indoors when it's too hot outdoors. 10 pin bowling is fun, I've only ever watched it on TV shows so didn't know how it all worked. Luckily I had a couple of experts on my team, experts who groaned inwardly when I shared that I'd never played before.

It seems that so long as you stay upright (I failed this one) can keep the glasses on your face (not too successful there either) and make a big heavy ball roll down an oiled alley with enough force to knock over some pins (yep, managed that one OK some of the time) then you can bowl. And it's fun. I suspect it was especially fun because we were in teams from work competing against each other. The lanes are slippery, I found that out the hard way. I did manage one strike, several where the pins all fall on the second ball and a top score in one game of 95. Apparently that's a good first effort. We've talked about doing it on a regular basis, I'm keen.

Rau and Diedre dragged me to the mall shopping after. They didn't have to drag me too hard, I needed shoes and knew this mall had my shop in it. The mall was packed with families, the car park interesting to negotiate and finding food a priority. Fudruckers to the rescue. I can see Keri and Lyn laughing at this, we had fun with the place in Qatar. Try saying Fudruckers ten times, fast........

I got shoes, two pairs, one for dancing and one for work. Yes, I can justify both. I had to throw out my former dancing shoes last weekend, heel issues from overuse. We also managed some clothes, Ikea (shudder), a juice to placate me after Ikea, a traffic jam and ending up at the airport by mistake, twice. I missed the tricky slip road with no sign in the dark, one way the airport the other Al Ain. It was a late night so feeling ready for bed and a good book now. Weekends are too short, I missed all the ENHG outings this one. Will have to catch up on that next weekend.

I took the photo on the way home, when I wasn't lost. It's the back of the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Mosque and we came on it quite by surprise after leaving the bowling place. I put on the hazards and stopped in the lane to get the shot, Rau got some excellent ones too. I'll have to seek permission to use the bowling ones so will add one later if I can.

Friday, 6 November 2009

TGI Thursday

It's not often I have to put my reds in the fridge, tonight is one of those times. The cupboard where I keep my supplies is a little warm at the moment, yes there is such a thing as a too warm red. I've seen Sue microwave one to warm it a little on a cold Wellington day, I've seen Madeline drop an ice cube in hers on a warm Al Ain evening, I've sat mine in warm water to take the chill off the bottle. Tonight a very nice one French one is sitting in the fridge to cool a little so I can have another glass.

It's Thursday night here, the last day of work and the afternoon we have a gathering at the Rotana after work. Tonight's gathering was impressive, the best for a while. The after work wind down is especially important at the moment with the shifting carpet on which we are working. Change is afoot, rumors abound, the stress and tensions palpable at times. We are awaiting the dates for Eid and the National Day holiday, some are telling us one thing some another. Officially nothing as yet.

I plan to go to Egypt and Kerela in Southern India, two lots of 4 days break with two days work between. I'm hoping I can book the tickets soon, so keen to see a bit more of this part of the world. When I was in Qatar, my driver Feros came from Kerela. He sold his home place to me, sharing his stories of this green and beautiful part of India. It sounds like a wonderful place, definitely the first choice for a visit to India.

This weekend the plan is 10 pin bowling, a work outing in Abu Dhabi and maybe a night out, we shall see. Other than that, a quiet one catching up after a tough week.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

More photos



Just a couple more photos, the view from the track out to the windblown sand. Apparently the hill we were on the night before on the moon walk is one of those in the background, such a variety of terrain. This donkey didn't make it, there are herds of feral donkeys out where we were. Hiding from the mad people in 4wds this day I suspect.

Desert driving





There are some outings where I really struggle to chose photos to share here. There are too many that capture the people and the place, too much choice. The photos from this weekends desert outing are no exception. I got to drive my new, less than 2000ks, Toyota off road. What a blast! I'm still smiling.

We headed out into the wilds of Oman, past the moonwalk place into some rocky and sandy terrain. It all went well for a start, I can do this I thought to myself quietly. We drove in convoy, then we stopped and I got a few instructions from the experts. Worrying instructions. No turning back now, no turning at all so I was a little stuck. Nowhere near as stuck as I became later on.

It was the first time I'd had my truck in 4wd, the first time I'd driven in 4wd since the '90s when I had a similar Toyota. Driving in the sand is something quite different to driving off road in NZ. You can sink in sand, quickly, and get stuck. The trick, I learned when I did sink, is not to let up on the acceleration, pedal to the floor and hang on until back on firmer ground. Trying not to over correct was a challenge and made for some interesting tracks behind me.

The photo with Walter watching is my third and successful attempt at that slope, the first one I got stuck on. It was a little embarrassing having all those who got up first time cheering me on. I really enjoyed the challenge, began to learn a new skill and most of all enjoying the company of the people in the ENHG. I know the hard work that goes in to making sure the trips are successful, thanks to all that made this one such a blast.

The other photos are of the convoy, me heading into the distance and the beauty of the desert in the late afternoon light. Thanks for taking the ones of me driving Roberta, much appreciated. There is a vid, might leave that until later.