Archive for March, 2010

Home.

March 30, 2010

An unusual day

March 27, 2010

Before I forget, there are two observations that I have to make:

1. Omanis are absolutely crazy about reggae
2. The drivers on the Arabian Peninsula are the worst drivers in the world

Now for an update of yesterdays happenings:

Figuring that there wasn’t all that much to do here, I decided to go to the biggest mall in the world. Why not, it is the biggest. It was a mall. The only major difference is that this mall is aimed for the incredibly wealthy. Everything there was ridiculous. But, unfortunately, because it is the biggest mall in the world, it isn’t very easy to find the exit. I ended up walking around in this mall for about 6 hours.

After the mall experience, and my extreme wealth warm-up, I decided to go to the Burj al Arab (the 7 star hotel shaped like a boat). When I got there I was informed I had to pay over $100 just to enter and walk around. Not feeling that, I headed to another mall to kill some time. This time I was in the Mall of the Emirates (the largest mall was the Dubai Mall). Inside the Mall of the Emirates is a giant indoor ski resort, Ski Dubai. Indoor ski resorts have always seemed hokey to me, but this was amazing! It was huge, with real chairlifts, -3 degrees Celsius, and some pretty decent runs. I haven’t been skiing in a few years, but this definitely rekindled a long lost love. Hopefully future blog posts will include Lake Tahoe! 

After skiing, I returned back to my hotel, watched some CNN and passed out. A day well completed.

Dubai is … big!

March 26, 2010

One of the things I am most intrigued about around the world, is different people taking the same materials and “lot in life” and making different things with them. Now, of course, if everyone did the same thing, the world would be pretty boring and nobody would leave their houses.  One outcome is never better than another, merely “different.”  Dubai definitely went “different” in a very developer friendly manner.

This place is huge. Imagine that the Las Vegas strip kept building at the same pace for 100 years. You would have Dubai at the end of that century. There have to be more hotels here than the entire state of California. My taxi cab was a Lexus (and was cut off on the freeway by a Lamborghini).  The internet here makes the US seem like we’re on dial-up.

All that said, this seems like a soul-less and depressing place. Not in a “lost my rent money” Las Vegas feeling, more like “the place where people who sold off the last common-shares of their soul go”. Lot’s of business, lot’s of money, still searching for what lies beneath. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll figure it out (and, no, not at the Wild Wadi Water Park or giant indoor skiing place).

In the meantime, I guess I should show everyone the amazing architecture here…

Oh man, I love Oman!

March 24, 2010

Oman has turned out to be a wonderful surprise! This country has an amazing feel to it. I don’t exactly know what it is, but I like it.

I arrived yesterday in Muscat and took a taxi to the Mutrah district (Muscat is basically three cities that all grew together). The people were incredibly friendly from the first encounter. They all pointed me in the direction of the Mutrah Souq (bazaar/market) and the waterfront. I killed a few hours shopping around and taking pictures, before grabbing one of the best meals of my life. I ordered a seafood plate (as it was pretty much the only thing that I could eat at this restaurant. What came was a pile of food. I’ll get the pictures uploaded as soon as I can, but let me tell you: Omanis love calories. I don’t know what the country ranks on the body mass rankings, but they aren’t small people.

This morning I went to visit the big mosque here in Muscat. I was told that it is the biggest mosque outside of Saudi Arabia. I’m not sure about that claim but it was incredibly impressive. There are two mosques actually. The first mosque was nice, but not over the top (this was for the women). The second, however, was amazing. It was big. The ornate decorations inside and outside were very detailed. Non-Muslims are typically not able to enter moques (especially special mosques such as this one), so I was very excited to hear that they allow foreigners inside. They lay a carpet down on top of the floor so foreigners don’t actually walk on the floor, thus making it okay. Again, I’ll try to get the picture up as soon as I can.

Tomorrow I head back to Dubai, this time to actually see Dubai! I am excited to see all the things there are to see in the UAE. I did (when trying to find the bus pickup site for Oman) catch a glimpse, through the haze, of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest building in the world). It is giant and looming. I’m excited…

Dubai to Muscat

March 22, 2010

I made it back to Dubai and I am taking a day to relax before hopping the bus tomorrow at 7:00am to Oman. The idea was that today was going to be a relaxing day.
It took me about an hour to find a bus company, another 2 hours to walk there/find the place (it wasn’t as obviously marked as it should have been), and another 3 minutes to complete the purchase and receive my ticket. I’m going back to the hotel to go to bed early before my 6 hour bus ride…

Goodbye Africa

March 20, 2010

Tonight I am heading back to the Middle East for 9 days before returning to San Francisco. Erik left the night before last, and I feel like I have seen the sights of Addis. I’ll fly back to Dubai tonight and arrive around 1:00am, then tomorrow I’ll take a bus to Muscat, Oman. The drive should be 4 hours with no sights except sand to see. Oman is at the south-eastern most part of the Arabian Peninsula and borders Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the UAE. I’m excited about getting to see more of the Middle East than just Dubai. It’s kind of like the equivalent of going to Las Vegas and believing you’ve seen the US.

Yesterday I went to find some liquor. I love bringing home local libations. Whenever you want to travel the world, you can hop a flight to your liquor cabinet. The idea was to score some Tej (next time you want a laugh, ask me to try to pronounce it!). After some rangling with the taxi drivers, they took me to what looked like an Ethiopian speakeasy. They asked me if I brought a water bottle (in hindsight this is telling). I had to pay extra for a bottle, which they filled with the sauce. Tej is a wine brewed out of water and honey. Think back to your english literature classes from high school (it was called Mead). Apparently there are no national brands, or even properly bottled brands. You simply show up to the place they brew it, and they fill up your bottle. Beacuse the bottle they gave me is leaking and doesn’t hold liquid, I have no idea how I’m going to get this stuff back on the plane. The last thing I want is to land in San Francisco and discover a backback full of clothes covered in honey.

Donkeycide

March 18, 2010

We made the journey back from Arba Minch to Addis Ababa. I have never been so happy to be in a hotel in my life. This trip was scary. Flat out scary.

We left the lodge this morning at about 9:00am and headed to the Dorze tribal community. We looked around at their market and snapped some photos and were on our way by 11:45 to Addis. The trip to Addis usually takes about 6-7 hours. All was going well and we stopped and ate lunch, and we were making great time. There were showers here and there and the sky was getting really dark. Our driver was dodging the usual people in the road, and animals running around (keep in mind that we are only going 35-45 MPH). We saw two donkeys ahead in the road, ahem, “socializing.” One donkey was simply not having any part of this “socialization.” The donkey abruptly broke loose from it’s previous position and ran in front of our path.

Our land cruiser killed the donkey.

Not just killed the donkey. Destroyed the donkey. We didn’t hit the donkey straight on, the front left quarter of the car hit the donkey straight in the head. The car squeeled to a stop and it was quiet for a second.

Our driver then did the predictable move of slamming on the gas and flying through the village to make our escape.

At first we thought he was trying to avoid paying for the donkey he killed, but no, things were a bit sketchier than that apparently. As we peeled out through this town, every person in the town came out of nowhere and pelted the car with stones. Not little stones, huge stones. Volleyball sized chunks of concrete were hitting the car. We were driving the gauntlet. The driver had a terrified look on his face and was driving about 65 MPH. He explained that they would be calling ahead to the other towns up the road to set up road blocks and they would crush our skulls with rocks like he did to the donkey.

Our skulls?!?

I was still trying to figure out why all of us had to die for his shitty driving, but I eventually just went with it and focused on the situation at hand. He had to beat the roadblocks and get out of there really quick-like. So, speeding down the road dodging people and animals while being pelted with rocks can be pretty stressful. Our driver doesn’t even break before hitting two small goats crossing the road dead on.

The total is now 3 in case you are keeping track.

We’ve now pissed off an entirely new group of people (luckily they weren’t as organized when it came to rock throwing). It is also completely dark now, pouring rain, and there is now crazy lightning all around. It’s like a Scooby Doo episode.

The next three hours were spent in silence. Eyeing the road for people. We were all just watching in front (and behind) of us. Every car that passed, could have been the people catching up to us. Every town we drove through, we were waiting for a roadblock. Tense situation.

When we finally made it to Addis, our driver was beating on the dashboard and screaming “not killed, not today, not killed.” This was about the point when we realized that he was quite serious.

Nechsar Park

March 17, 2010

Today we took a tour of Nechsar Park located in Arba Minch, southern Ethiopia.  This included six hours of chaotic driving at 10 KM per hour through some terrible terrain.  But the payoff was huge.

We were able to see kudus, zebras, gazelles, and some strange birds.  Zebras were definitely the highlight. They are a lot larger than I had pictured.  They seemed like gigantic, horse sized donkeys.

We were escorted through the park by a guard and were told that every butterfly we killed (accidentally or otherwise) would cost us a dollar.  The sandflies however were free to kill, and we took them up on this offer.  They were the meanest incects I have ever seen.  One bit me, through my sock, and drew blood.  Evil, terrible bugs. We ended up driving through a good section of the park with the windows rolled up, during the hottest part of the day (there is video of this experience).

So, I am going to attach some pictures and let the photos tell the story:

Somaliland Denied (Round 2)

March 16, 2010

We had our driver hired, bags packed, schedule set, and the Ethiopia visa office gave us the big “no.”  They refused to give us a visa while our current visas were valid.  We would have to apply for a multiple entry visa and wait overnight, thus throwing a wrench into our tight schedule.  So, we headed south toward the South Omo Valley. 

The first day we drove from Addis (after our awesome visa experience) to Awassa.  I really love the rural 3rd world.  One of my favorite experiences that everyone should have at least once is arriving in a city or town that has absolutely no power.  Because the entire city is dark, everyone is walking around the town, eating by candle light, and enjoying the chaos.  Surprisingly this brings out the best in everyone’s moods.  Smiles are everywhere and life is great. 

Day  two we headed from Awassa to Arba Minch.  There is an incredible national park located here and we dropped our things off and went straight to a boat to go see crocodiles and hippos.  This was one of the coolest things I have ever done.  Being 10 feet away from a 15 foot crocodile is amazing.  The hippos freaked me out a bit, but some great pictures are now mine. 

Tomorrow we will go spend the day in the national park to check out the zebras, kudus, and baboons.  We are staying at a great lodge on a hillside overlooking Lake Chamo.  I’ll upload pictures tomorrow hopefully…

Somaliland bound

March 14, 2010

With all of our free time due to Yemen falling through, we are able to go overland to Hargeisa, Somaliland. This trip by car will take four days round trip, with an overnight in Hargeisa. Last night we secured a vehicle and driver to take us to the border town of Jijiga, where we will cross the border and take a 4 hour bus ride. This is all contingent on us being able to get a visa for reentry from the Ethiopian government before we leave. I have a feeling that money will be exchanged today. I don’t know what the internet capabilities of Somaliland are, so this blog may be dark for the next 4 days or so. How bad can a 30 hour car ride one way be?