Wednesday, November 15, 2006

South Africa and Jaws

The movie ‘Jaws’ created such a scare in the 1970’s beach goers were suddenly afraid to swim in the sea and many beaches were deserted. The music from the movie is legendary and people know it instantly and immediately think of great white shark, Jaws.

The great white was always around but suddenly after the movie was out; there was no greater danger to humans than Jaws, we were his favorite dish! People till date are afraid of the sea because of Jaws.

The truth is you are more likely by 1000 time to die from a car accident than by the great white. The great white sharks do not target humans and very rarely attack humans, and if they do it because they mistake humans for seals, their favorite dish. Moreover, if they do attack they are most likely to let the human go. Bull sharks do attack more often but the possibility of that happening is still very remote.

While in South Africa we had to do cage diving with the great white shark. We wanted to see Jaws. We had the impression it will be attacking the cage violently, instead we saw a shark moving slowly with grace trying to nibble on the moving bait.

It was disappointing and the scariest and most shocking part of it is getting into the freezing cold water. Interestingly, many people do snorkel around that area, frequently, looking for abalone knowing that there are a large amount of great white sharks looking for seals in the bay.

That’s why attacks happen.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cuba: The Truman Show, October 2005

How amazing would it be to go to a place that is stuck in time? In the 1950’s to be exact. A place where everyone was financially equal, where there is no crime and everyone’s life expectancy is the highest in the world, where people are highly educated and live on a beautiful island surrounded by crystal clear water?

Sounds like a fairy tale from a romantic book. It was a dream come true for me. The land that made the legendary Che Guevara, famous. I was going to see the last real communist country in the world. This was going to be a piece of history that I will tell generations to come about it, because most likely it will all be gone after the Comendante Fidel Castro is gone.

Fairy tales are fairy tales and this great propaganda came to a crashing end soon after I landed. It could be argued that that the American embargo made things deteriorate the way they have in Cuba, and I am sure there is truth to it but what I saw was a tragic piece of history.

Yes the country was safe, everyone was financially equally poor, the Cuban health and education system was advanced and the country is blessed with natural beauty, but I have never seen or imagined to see a whole nation without ambition or motivation! Imagine waking up everyday knowing that things can’t get better, nothing will change drastically no matter how hard you worked! You will get a cretin amount of fixed allowance, fixed amount of food, and live in the same beat up apartment for the rest of your life.

People live in old collapsing houses and everything in ‘stores’ and restaurants were super expensive. Cubans could not afford to buy anything more than the bare minimum to live on, but it must be said the government dose provide some bare essentials in the form of ‘rations’ to its people. Eating meat is a rare occasion for Cubans and to do so they need to save up for it. . The grocery stores had few items and people didn’t drive around because they couldn’t afford to so!

Havana looked like a living museum, an old beat up museum that needed to be restored badly. Seeing the old cars from the 1950’s cruising the streets was amazing but it was also sad to see people having to use them as an everyday car to earn extra money to survive. No one is allowed to own cars in Cuba, except people who owned cars before the 1950’s; all other cars are owned by the government.

I remember feeling as if I was in The Truman Show in Varadero, the top tourist resort attraction. Imagine stepping out on the street and not seeing any shops, street vendor, cars or people! Even the ‘perfect up to date’ hotels were weird. The clocks at the hotel receptions were all not working because no one was bothered to fill out the government forms to request for batteries. The place looked perfectly clean and neat but Cubans had no reason to come to the area since hotels were off limits to them unless they worked there!

Imagine seeing all these new ‘modern’ comfortable hotels being built everywhere while you live in a dump. Imagine seeing all your people serving tourist as if you were a higher species while you could not afford to go to a proper restaurants in your own country. Imagine not being able to buy bottled water!

The hotel packages, all inclusive were dirt cheap, but as soon as you asked for anything extra it was super expensive. I remember a small bottle of water costing around $3! I remember not seeing any form of advertisement for 10 days! I remember people hitchhiking all along the road and it was totally safe to pick them up along the way. I remember women not being obsessed with being skinny and wanting to look like Vogue models. I remember a country with 2 currencies, one for Cubans and one for tourist! A currency that could not be exchanged even in Cuba!

I will always remember how blessed I am for not living in Cuba and for having the opportunity to hope for a better tomorrow.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

South Africa

Its been quite messy trying arrange the trip to South Africa and Madagascar. We had to cancel Madagascar, because of the flight connections and the time constrains, we are even cutting our trip short 4 days because its proving too hard to arrange.

While is South Africa is quite developed, hotel prices are either extremely expensive and of great quality or absolutely cheap and of no quality. There seems to be hardly nothing in between!! Moreover, most hotels/lodges/ B&B do not have an internet payment system, making matters harder to arrange.

The plan is to go Cape Town for 3 days drive around the Garden Route 5 days and then head to Kruger National Park. Sun City was fully booked so we had to cross that out.

Now I am left 4 free days and I might return to work early.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Africa here we come

Its time to head to swim with the Great White Sharks, in a cage off course, and visit the big game reserves of South Africa.

Its going to be the first time I visit a real African country, since North Africa, is considered part of Arabia and not the real Africa. Even when I went to Sudan, it was to the north of it and I never got to see animals in the wild, which the south of Sudan is famous for.

The only drag is all the vaccines we need to take, especially if we end up going to Madagascar. Initially, we wanted to visit Namibia, but it appeared to lack some drastic ‘wow’ so we looked in to Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and even Reunion but when we saw Madagascar, we were convinced that we should consider it.

The country might be under developed but it appears amazing and we need to do some research to conclude how and what to see.

I have my fingers crossed since we are short on time.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ramadan Coming

I have been super busy at work but I hope to have some free time to wirte in Ramadan.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Braces and Emiraties

I recall telling a colleague at work that another colleague should be in a tooth paste commercial cause she has the perfect teeth. A few weeks later, she comes to the office with braces on her upper set of teeth.

Shocked, we ask her why she would do such a thing and she hesitantly replied ‘ I didn’t like my front teeth’! She told us her doctor was refusing to put the braces on, till she threatened to do it somewhere else.

Later in the day she told me, she put the braces on to loose weight and because its in FASHION! She told me she was going to put another set, with different colors on her lower set of teeth, but these won’t be medical just for fashion.

Why would anyone invent in fashionable braces! I guess young UAE nationals are going to a new extreme for the sake of fashions.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Plate Number 1

Its amazing how much attention you get when your car’s plate number is Number ‘1’. That’s the first thing I noticed when we got picked up by our tour operator in Yemen. As we were on the road, all kinds of people kept pointing their fingers at the plate number and cars were peeping their horn and people were signaling number one with their hands to us.

The driver told, he has tourist taking pictures of the car all the time. I guess I finally understand why people in Dubai pay millions of Dirhams to buy fancy plate numbers.

Yemen: The Land of Plenty that is full of contrast

Just got back from Yemen and all I can say WOW. What a beautiful country and what great hospitable people. The land is full of contrast, located in the middle blazing summer heat of Arabia yet Sana’a was cool, full of weapons yet peaceful, rich in culture yet economically poor, conservative people yet everyone is addicted to qat, delicious food yet severed in lousy ‘restaurants’ and amazing historical site with barely any tourist.

All we ever get to hear from Yemen in the news is negative, even though we are neighbors, my impression of the country was that it is unsafe, yet when I went there, I felt totally safe even thought many people outside of Sana’a carried machine guns. These weapons are a symbol of ‘manhood’ and everyone we met, no matter how poor they were, and when I say poor I mean no electricity or running water in their houses’, invited us to eat at their house.

Everyday, people get killed in America yet we all consider the country safe, you only need one kidnapping in Yemen and we consider the whole country unsafe and a no go area. How bizarre is that?

For anyone thinking of going to Yemen, I would tell them, its an amazing country and a must go but if you are looking to be pampered, then I would say good luck. The Moevenpick Hotel is the only ‘real’ 5 star facility in Sana’a. All other restaurants are hotels around Mareb, Kokaban, Thala, Al-Hajra , Manjah and Wadi Dhaher are basic but you will be dazzled by the countries beauty.

I am definitely heading back there again soon.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Plan C and D

We have to beat the clock so we decide to check out Moscow and see the Kremlin and the Red Square. For a 3rd time, I buy the Lonely Planet book; and after reading it, we decide it’s a great place to check out and the weather is great. So I book the flights and after some research we decide to stay at the Holiday Inn and all that is left is the visa.

Well that’s when you find out that you are dealing with ex-communist country. No one at the embassy or consulate picks the phone, when they do, it’s someone who hardly speaks English. During my search on the internet I find out that we need a ‘travel voucher’ which basically means that we need someone to sponsor us. I needed to know more about it and no one can me you over the phone even worse the Russian Consulate, visa section is open for 2 hours a day only, its location is in Diera, Dubai where its practically impossible to get to and to find parking is another obstacle.

Time is running out and we need to get the ‘travel voucher’ pronto. My travel agent advises me to take and Emirates Airline holiday and I said ‘sure why not’ only to find out the average cost would be around $1,000 a day! This is way beyond my budget and getting the travel voucher through other means would take us some time.

Plan D, where is somewhere close and different, with nice weather with least amount of hassle. Even thought Yemen has been on the list for sometime, due to the heat I would not consider at this time of the year but then I find out that in Sana’a the maximum temperature is 77 F/25 c and minimum is 60F/16c and no visa required. Done deal tickets are bought and hotel is paid for, over the net.

4 days night seem too long and many people are shocked at our decision to go there, but I have not heard anything but praise about it, if you are looking for a cultural experience and rich history.

So let the good time roll, baby.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Plan A and B

Monday the 21st, is holiday so we decided to make the best out of and travel. We took Saturday and Sunday off work and clubbed it with the Thursday and Friday weekend, which gave us 5 days.

We initially wanted to go to Cambodia and see Angkor Wat, this has been on the agenda for some time but things keep coming up. This time we fixed everything up, until it was time pay and then, by luck, I found out it was monsoon season and it was super humid at this time of the year.

So we had to come with plan B. I had to think of somewhere close and interesting, somewhere we had not been before and Athens, Greece was the kind of place that would be perfect for 5 days. It’s close and rich of history and culture. So I get the holy book of travel ‘The Lonely Planet’ and start reading and I run into a paragraph that says its peak tourist season, and it great if you want to on the islands partying and sun bathing, however, Athens’ temperature is around 40 degrees and its humid. That set off an alarm and my friend, who went where 2 years ago, also confirmed that its not pleasant if you are outdoors in Athens in August.

So we had to come with plan C.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Sink Hole becomes the Stink Hole

One of the most magnificent places in Oman and one of the greatest natural spots of our country, is ‘Habitat Al- Najem” or “ Bait Al-Afreet” or as the English speakers called the Sink Hole, in Dhabab is turning into a Stink Hole, if it not regulated properly.

The municipality in its effort to woe tourist to this amazing wonder has built a park around it, sadly even before the park has started, trash is starting to accumulate. I wonder what will happen to this area when the park is fully open.

I hope, they would be wise enough not to let anyone bring food or drinks into the park or they might just be asking to destroy the delicate habitat.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Yes we are equal, obviously our vote counts!

Democracy at its best! 3 countries against the world, and they still force their ways. This gives us a clue why people become 'terrorist' and 'radicals'!

Friday, July 28, 2006

Casablanca Airport: Morocco

During the rush and chaos of leaving Casablanca airport, handing over the rent a car, taking our luggage through security and boarding the plane, I lost my camera. The camera with the couple of lenses are valued at around $1,500/-, but most importantly the 600 photos I took while in Morocco, were all gone.

We only noticed that the camera was missing when the plane landed in Tunis. That’s when I went nuts; I was mad at myself and really upset. How can I do such a stupid thing and forget a bulky camera case, which is always with me in all my travels.

There was nothing we could do about it, it was gone, but out of desperations we tried to remember when we saw it last and all I can remember was putting it through the X-ray machine, at the airport. So we started calling Morocco, trying to get the number for the airport, it was a lost case, but it I was desperate and willing to do anything to get it back.

After a few phone calls and getting passed around, a police officer from the ‘Lost & Found Department’ confirmed having the camera. I could no believe my ears; I called him twice again asking for the description of the camera and while the officer was getting annoyed from my calls I was jumping with joy.

His words “this is an Ammanh’ the camera is safe with us and it be here for you to collect. I loved Morocco, the people were friendly, nice, the country was beautiful, interesting, rich in culture and safe, but the camera incident just made me greater respect for them.

The police officers in 3rd world countries like Morocco are paid peanuts and many of them hassle you for bribes, even the couple of times I was caught speeding, the policemen, who were about to fine me, cut me some slack after I talked to them. This would be their best opportunity to extort money from us, but I guess I was either lucky and stumbled into honest cops or the corrupt cops stories are a myth of the passed.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Skip Tunisia

I know I am going to get some flak for this but this is my experience and how I felt.

I got back from Tunisia a couple of weeks back and went there although my friends told me to avoid it. I was told the people were ‘rough’ (I am being e politically correct here) and there isn’t much to see because it’s ‘kinda run down’.

I thought these different friends, who went at different times and different places in Tunisia, were unlucky or did not enjoy the culture and history of the country we hear so much about. I did the mistake of buying the ticket first and then starting and reading about the country. I was impressed to know they had 6 international airports and was fascinated to read about their numerous historic monuments that are scattered around the Tunisia, but when I wanted to book the hotels, I started having 2nd thoughts.

The tourism industry is geared towards Europeans who want some sun ONLY. I searched for days for hotels and things to do around their historic sites but there was hardly anything. So I decided to book the hotels along the beach, which I don’t really care for, since I live by the beach in a sunny country.

Generally I try to avoid staying in 5 star hotels because I never make use of the hotel facilities, but since all the 4 hotels looked beat up and were more like 2 star hotel, I decide to go for the 5 star hotels.

As soon as I arrived to Tunisia I felt the people were ‘cold’ at the airport and the taxi stands, but I was did not think much of it. When we got the hotel at night the receptionists was very pleasant and helpful, but that was last encounter with a courteous person for a few days!

This might sound picky, but the hotel is rated officially 5 star and I paid money to get a 5 star hotel. The hotels would not pass for 4 stars in our side of the world and in Europe I am sure it would get 2.5 to 3 star rating, if that. On the web, the hotels I stayed in Mercure Diar El Andalous and Corinthia Khamsa Hotel, looked like five star hotels but when you get there the quality of the facilities and the service were not. So don’t be deceived by the nice photos.

Back to topic, the people we met for the next five days were mostly ‘super cold’ and if not, they were ‘rough’ and we were totally shocked and puzzled at their attitudes. How is it possible for a country that depends on tourism to be like that?

The beaches and the sea were not that great either, cause of the sea weeds and rough sand , but if you are from Europe and don’t care about the service or culture and have one goal on your vacation, to get some sun while paying the least amount of money, then Tunisia is right for you.

If you are looking for any of the following: entertainment, shopping, adventure, good restaurants, culture, arts, clubs or a night life, this is the wrong country. Even if you are into history you be disappointed that after driving for hours to see these amazing monuments, because there are hardly any restaurants, hotels or shops in the driving vicinity. There historic monuments are like disregarded treasures.

Saying all that the country was very safe, the small district of Sidi Bu Saeed in Tunis was really beautiful. So unless your a history or sunbathing freak, I would advise you to give Tunisia a skip. Their neighbor’s in Morocco have a lot more to offer with better facilities and friendlier people.

But if you must go for some reason, I would advise you to stay at the Sheraton Hotel in Tunis, they were all professional, nice,the hotel was a real 5 star and you would get your money's worth.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Moroccan Arabic

It was interesting to see how some words are spelled in Morocco and the use of alternative words to describe things. Unlike English, all words in Arabic are spelled the same, expect nouns that are translated from a different language into Arabic.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Road Signs for cities in Tunisia

We just got back from our holiday, for now enjoy the roads signs in Tunis and if you don't know Arabic, please ask a person from the Arabian Gulf "Khaleejis" to translate the meaning of the cities we visited in Tunis.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Is the World Cup taking a toll on you?

I was reading an article on how employee's productivity is expected to drop during the World Cup in the UAE, it must be true. The streets in Dubai and Sharjah are empty in comparison to the normal rush hour, because people are going to nearest place that shows the games.

Personally, I have been staying up late watching the games and my time has been revolving around the matches and where to watch them. If you think I’m bad, my friend has a story that I will remember for a long time. He had to get married as his future in-laws were loosing patients with him so he agreed 2 weeks before the World Cup, on one condition, that the honey moon would be after the World Cup is over.

Now beat that for a World Cup fanatic.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Turning a hobby into a profession

How cool would that be? Turning something you like doing as a hobby into something that would make you money. That must be the ultimate dream of everyone. After 3 years of deciding to buy a proper camera to take better photos, I am now taking my hobby of photography one step further.

My habit of sharing some of my photos by email, has got some good responses from my friends, but I always took that lightly, because I thought they are being nice to me when they complemented me.

This changed after one of my friends sent my photos to an advertising agency in Dubai and they approached me after a business dinner to talk to me about the photos, I started to have 2nd thoughts.A few months later, a couple of people from work approached me and wanted to buy some photos, that’s when I decided its time take this matter more seriously.

So I got my photos enlarged and printed, and I was able to sell 5 photos the very next day to a new start up company. They initially wanted 9 of them, but had a change of mind when it was time to pay. But hey, who's is complaining, it’s my hobby and I recovered the cost of enlarging and printing all the photos. I am now in the process of making an album to enable me to approach some art galleries and see how far I can take this hobby.

So if you know anyone who wants to buy photos from Oman, Iran, Vietnam, Colombia, Cuba or underwater than please direct them to me and we can do some business.