Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday, December 29, 2013

angelfall, angelfall, damage and propinquity

Posted by Hippo Bean at 1:57 PM 0 comments
Rarely these days would one find a good book to read that would satisfy our enjoyment and literary hunger. The YA trash we find today were merely written for money and fame greed. The poorly structured sentences that awkwardly reveal inconsistent plots make one cringe, characters that bored you to sleep, subplots created only to fill the required number of words, and for those who declare these books as the best they've ever read, the Hippo could only cringe more. And if you call their writing juvenile, the authors simply laugh at you on their way to the bank. However, this year I found 4 satisfying books that almost mirror the old classics, almost as good in terms of writing, creativity and story lines.

a snowy white feathered winged angel who 'was this perfect since the beginning of time', would steal every reader's heart with his adonis looks (broad shoulders rather then 'the way his pants hung on his hips'), liberal sarcasm, witty jokes and at times well deserved arrogance. Though, this angel is the kind of the bad guys, so I'm not sure if he could be called the story's protagonist. A kick ass heroine, very much in the same caliber as Katniss but with even a more fantastic name. Angelfall, Penryn and the End of Days and World After will melt your heart, make you laugh, and make you look at the angels in a very different way. The writing, although not literature, is not bad, and far far better than the likes of E L James, or S Meyer or D Brown. Give it a shot, and you'll love Raffe too. However, I hope the author has the sense to end the story in book III. If she falls into greed like so many others before and prolong the series into 5, then the next books would be nothing but simply fillers and a big shame.


Although with the same title, this one is Dante's Inferno comes alive. The 7 circles are the same as depicted in the poem, with all its distintive creatures in every circle, plus the Fallen and horrifying demons. Reading Dante's poem was like watching a documentary of Inferno on a giant monitor. Reading Angelfall, a Novel of Hell, was like inhabiting inside the Inferno. Names like Mortuus, Socius, and Militus just cracked me up. Book I starts with Aristotle and Book III ends with "I'm Dante. Dante Alighieri.". Everything was so classical greek, but with a touch of modernism when the 20th century jean and tshirt donning american arrived at Limbo. and my beloved centaurs with all their polite protocols. Incredible fiction. Gory, violent, agonizing terror, cliff hangers. good writing as I've not seen in a long time. Cant wait for the final book.


Most had said the story in Damage was ordinary (adultery, middle age father discovers lust and falls for son's fiancee), the writing stilted and clipped, hard to read and follow, first person's perspective of a middle age man sounding like an adolescent girl's. I found none of these. The short to the point dialogues emphazised the coldness of the narrator's life and relationships. When the narrator got more involved, his sentences were right up there to support his emotions. This writing style took a bit to get used to but i found it appropriate. Does the narrator sound like an adolescent? absolutely but it absolutely reflected the state the main character was in. Although the story and the writing had their own flaws and Josephine Hart was no Daphne du Maurier or Pearl Buck, she had her own command of the language to narrate her own stories. The Hippo is currently reading another of her stories.



17 years before the Da Vince Code but 3 years after Holy Blood Holy Grail, there was Propinquity. Although the story is not the same, the essence of it is. a thriller without an antagonist, a bit of historical fiction with a hidden message. the narrator went from propinquity, to temerity to serendipity, a growing up story as well. cant pigeonhole this one into a single genre. That's what I like about this one. The writing (australian?) is also a bit unusual, lots of words I wasnt even familiar with. The way he strung the sentences together sometimes required a second reading to make the meaning clear and relevant. Very refreshing and I cant say i didnt like it. And the Hippo has always had a soft spot for characters with dialogues, such as, "So... why arent you in love with me? dont be so rude. why dont you love me? Because you're rude and because i like you instead."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

haiku and tapas

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Perhaps no one has captured the essence of the Hippo Place better than this runner-up Haiku by Tomaso:

Ancient Latin and modern words
Mountains, deserts and cities
The world is captured in these pages

This year's xmas party was held at the clubhouse and the game was a Haiku contest about the Hippo website. The food theme was creative tapas. For her guests, the Hippo prepared manchego cheese with quince paste, along with sardines and surrounded by olives; artichokes and Norweigian smoked salmon garnished with cubes of feta cheese and more olives; cannellini with sundried tomatoes tossed with red onion, rosemary, thymes and sage and a pinch of lemon; and pan fried linguiça. For the main course, the Hippo made a chicken tagine with carrots, eggplants, zucchini and turnips, topped with garbanzos and fire dried raisins. Her guests brought oven baked brussel sprouts, pan fried garlic mushrooms, sushi variety, chorizo stuffed in dates wrapped in proscuitto, lamb chops, stuffed mushrooms and eggs. To wash it all down, we had 2 bubblies, my favorite Coppola Director's Cut Pino Noir, a Thai mangosteen (passion fruit) rose, and a sangria of strawberry soda and tempranillo. Since we're celebrating 3 bathdays as well, I've ordered a 10" chocolate raspberry cake from Copenhagen, with a pear pie and egg tarts. We even made turkish coffee. And the hostess presented gifts for the 3 bday celebraties, 2 fossils from Maroc, a Touareg shrawl, and a pair of fingerless woolen gloves. The bathday boy and girls blew their respective decades candles (a 5, a 4 and a 3). Since every Hippo party had gifts for the guests, she offered each a small xmas gift. Then the game began with every one reciting their Haikus, written about the Hippo website. As usual, D and M won and received a gift of notebook and pen. How appropriate. For the 16 seater clubhouse theater pleasure, we watched the first 3 episodes of Fawlty Towers ("manuel towers, thank you, have nice day. you, orallymen, you work. who is man with beard? thank you very much for the beautiful gift. after coming here, leaving my 5 mothers and 7 brothers. que? He's from barcelona"). The day ended with several rounds of billiards.

Another year, another xmas bathday party, another clubhouse party. They just get better and better.



Xmas 2013 Clubhouse pictures:

2013 xmas clubhouse party


And ...

Haiku winners:



Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

turkey day 2013

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:01 PM 0 comments
At Pacifica's townhouse:


turkey

turkey

turkey

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

oh the luxurious Sheraton

Posted by Hippo Bean at 4:59 PM 0 comments
My hotel pickup came on time. It's a little past 6:30 in the morning and the breakfast, as predicted, was not yet available. 150 dirhams for a 15 minutes ride to the airport was double the ordinary price but ah well. Transavia flight was 1 hr 40 minutes late so I didnt have to wake up so early after all. second ah well. Plenty of time to waste at the Marrakech airport. No gate announcement until when boarding began, but there were only 7 gates at the airport so I've just walked up and down it and luckily spotted the Transavia plane parked in front of one of the gate, so I knew which gate it was. Didnt know there was no complimentary food aboard the flight and I was hungry and my CapitalOne card didnt work on the onboard cc swipe machines, so I had to use my 20 euros note. Was saving it for Amsterdam. third ah well. The flight was short and I snoozed a bit and read a bit of Damage, which I continued to enjoy the writing very much. Being 1 hr 40 mins late in taking off, the flight arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule (taken the time difference). Go figure this one out!

As I anticipated the very basic and not so great Explore hotels, I've booked the Schiphol Sheraton for my 15 hrs layover. Schiphol is one of my favorite airports. No hassle whatsoever at the passport control and while waiting for my luggage, I've tried to buy the train ticket to Amsterdam Centraal but my CapitalOne card again didnt work in the ticket machine. It didnt have the gold chip like the Europeans cards. But did manage to exchange some euros in the machines, even though the exchange rate was so very poor. $60 only got me 30 euros with some change. Fourth ah well. Luggage came without problem and bought my ticket at the train counter (this time with my cc no problem) and checked in to the Sheraton which was just a stone throw away, and all this done in about a half hour. Dont you love Schiphol! The room had a big window and a direct view of the control tower and planes moving around. Although all the hotels in the tour but the one at Essaouira exceeded my expectations, the Sheraton was such a luxury, a nice comfortable way to end the tour. I had planned it this way and I'm completely happy with my decision. Nice bed, lots of big fluffy pillows, big flat screen TV with lots of channels in different languages, good amenities, big clean bathroom with toiletries and separate shower and tub, clean drinking glasses, nice lounge chair, good view out the window, and complimentary tea and coffee (including expresso) in the hall. Back to civilization indeed. Hopped on the train and in 20 minutes I was at Amsterdam Centraal and saw Borg waiting for me. How many years have we known each other now? A light rain began while we walked a bit around the canals . He took me to the Bird Thai restaurant, with authentic Thai decor and we had chicken skewers and egg rolls for starters and a pork and Panang Kai for entrees. The rice was sticky. Both entrees were very delicious. They didnt have Thai ice tea so I settled for Jasmine while Borg took 2 Heinekens. We got there before the usual dinner time and by the time we're done, there was a long line of people waiting already. Good place. Generous Borg paid for the meal and the Hip was eternally grateful. He showed me pictures of his 2 boys and we caught up about our lives. When we talked about politics, economics and money, like most people in the EU that I know, he did not like being a member ("I'm Dutch, I'm not European", "I miss the beautiful Guilder") He's funny, generous and friendly. Gosh, I've known this guy since ... my Apple days? Back out on the street it was pouring so he took me back to the train station. Tomorrow he will run the marathon and the streets tonight were filled with people. The Amsterdam atmosphere! Love it! Just a brief interlude with the Borg (and I shall miss him) and I was back at Schiphol. Walked a bit in the airport to check out the shopping and bought a muffin for dessert. Back at the luxurious Sheraton, I ate my dessert and had the hotel Ceylon tea while Small Leo continued to admire the airport view from our room. Gosh, this was another wonderful decision to book the Sheraton at Schiphol. After all the basic hotels, although all comfortable and clean and satisfying (except the one in Essaouira), finally the last night of the trip in luxury. Comparable to the Mimouna, the Sheraton room was also super luxurious. I've enjoyed the room reading Damage slouching on the lounge sofa. What a way to end the trip. The Riad Mimouna and the Sheraton. 2 fantastic decisions. I'm so proud of myself.

The 9h52mis KLM flight back home was stuck in the middle seat. Will all my careful planning, I didnt realized the self check-in machine switched my reserved seat. But my flight neighbours were friendly and polite ones so the flight wasnt intolerable. I've chosen chicken meat balls for the meal and it was delicious. For snacks they gave us ice cream or potato chips. For the second meal, a rectangle pizza. I've watched After Earth (boring) and the new Superman (horrible) movies. I've finished Damage. The ending was unexpected. I liked that.

the atlantic crashing onto the 15century portuguese fortifications at the ancient Mogador. i heard the same ocean waves from my room window of the Riad. narrow labyrinth cobblestoned streets with blue walls, door and windows of the harbour town and the towering Kasbahs. Ancient roman town with the most intact mosaics (one depicting all 12 labors of Hercules). 4 imperial cities, each with its unique flavor in the same islamic architecture. crenellated towers of the kasbahs along the valleys of the Atlas Mtns. the ochre cliffs of vast expansive mountains (we've travelled through the middle, the anti and the high atlas). The orange dunes of the ever diminishing Sahara - a night under the stars with beber music. Good traveling companions.


perhaps what's best Morocco has to offer, is its variety. from ocean to mountains to ancient great cities to parched desert, all within a day's drive, and coupled with savory tagines. it had exceeded my expectations. now I only wish the ceramics I've purchased at Fez would arrive someday!

Thanks Joann for going there first and inspiring me to go.

morocco See Morocco pictures

Friday, October 18, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013

our last imperial city, Marrakech

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
my heart was reluctant leaving the romantic Riad with spectacular ocean views. I pulled my luggage one more time through the Mogador's narrow labyrinth streets. The thud thud thud of my Nautical duffel wheels bouncing off the cobblestones accentuated my impending departure. The evening in Essaouira will stay with me always. At the parking lot outside the medina, our driver Abdoul Habibi was already there with our van ready. 3 hrs later, we arrived at our final imperial city Marrakech. World famous, world popular, so exotic for most, so sad for me since this was my last day. The hotel Grand Imilchil had very nice turkish style seating areas with nice sofas and cushions. However, the rooms were again, just basic. My hotel room had a balcony so I've hosted our last BYO lunch there. T, S, D and T came to share the food brought at the local grocery. The hotel situated in the Gueliz, the modern part of the city, was only 10 minutes from the Koutoubia tower and just behind it, the medina, so our guided tour was on foot. I was pleasantly surprised that the Bahia Palace was included in our walking tour. It was one of the sights I'd really wanted to see. I wasnt disappointed as the palace had the most intricate and elegant Islamic architecture of all the places we've visited. It constantly reminded me of the ones in Khiva. I was happy to at least get to visit 1 major site. The Majore Gardens, the Saadian Tombs, the Ben Youssef Madrasa, so much I had to miss because I've planned to leave a day early. But I did not regret it as by now I was tired of the road trip, tired of using bottled water to brush my teeth, tired of the basic hotels and tired even of group dinners. I actually anxiously awaited the luxurious peacefulness of Sheraton at Schiphol. we spent a fair amount of time zigzaging through the souk, and because it's still festival week, most artisans shops were closed (so what's the point of taking us through the artisan lanes), and same old shops upon shops of ceramics, potteries, leather goods, cheap jewelry, clothing, shoes, spices, ... the souks were beginning to feel old. The souk ended at the Djemaa el-Fna square. the place was already packed with tourists and locals. Vendors were setting up stalls and tables for food and there were already a few snake charmers, magicians and monkeys. I ventured back to the souk for a last chance on ceramics but did not score any. Dinner that night was at the terrace of a local restaurant with Berber music and belly dancing. I had to order a tagine, my last one.


See Marrakech pictures:

marrakech

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Portuguese Mogador

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
When we arrived yesterday in the sun and blue sky, the wind was howling hard and cold. It was still sheep slaughtering festival so very few shops were open and the town looked deserted. All fishing boats were docked at the Port. I began to feel disappointed. Our hotel Souiri was shabby and my room facing the street, was hot and stuffy and dirty, with ants marching angrily across the tile floor and in the bathroom. Strolled through the Port with the gang, and had mint tea with T and S, watching the sun set on the Moulay Hassan square. Dinner was at a restaurant by the sea, overpriced and horribly tasting seafood. Ordered the swordfish and shrimps tagine, but forgot the shrimps were small and didnt even like swordfish. After a week and a half of red meat, had wanted some fish. But should have ordered the calamari instead. The tagine I had here was the worse ever. the sauce tasted bitter. But the seafood soup was good. Most expensive meal I had so far and I didnt even enjoyed it.

Had planned the entire free day on doing some shopping and discovering alleys and ocean views on my own, free of the group. However, D kept tagging along. He and I meandered through the cobblestone alleys and discovered colonial architecture and the signature blue doors and windows. Finally bought a bowl despite it being bigger than I'd have wanted. But the design was Berber. Saw a cute dress. Bought it on impulse. Just love that orange color. D said the blue looked better on me but I just dont care to wear blue. And still I wanted to get a small plate, Berber style of course. Up on the 15th century Portuguese ramparts of the North Bastion, the Atlantic was misty and foggy. However, there was no wind and it's not as cold. Even though the weather was gloomy, the view of the ocean was still gorgeous. We werent sure if the fishermen went out to sea since this was festival week, but by midday the seafood were piled high and displayed at the stalls by the Port.Between us we sampled a whole flat white fish, bunch of calamari and 2 giant prawns each. Simply grilled on open fire with no spices added, and they were so deliciously fresh we've ordered seconds. All this for just 300 dirhams, less than $20 per person, a cheap but satisfying mouthwatering fantastic meal. Although the food was very good so far (mmm, the tagines), this was the best. Best in anywhere in the world I've been. I shall never forget this experience. In the afternoon I've checked in to the Riad Mimouna, right in front of the ocean. I could hear and see the waves crashing on the rocks right below my room window. The Riad room was tastefully decorated in Moroccan style, the bed sheets and pillow cases freshly laundered and crisp, the bathroom clean and in Moroccan tiles, even the toilet water was scented. A world of difference from the dirty cheap hotel Souiri. I didnt think I could stand another night smelling sewage gas in that hotel room. Others had better rooms. S and T had a huge room with 2 double beds and even a TV. Again, with my luck, I was given the worse room. After shopping for local pottery (did find a small plate I like but it had a spot on it and the shopkeeper just couldnt get it off), I spent the afternoon in the hotel terrace surrounded 360 by the ocean. Small Leo was looking out at the ocean, enjoying the view, ecstatic. I bought some cake and had it with mint tea. So peaceful and tranquil, so calm. Love this hotel. This was one of the best decisions I've made for this trip. For 870 dirhams (roughly $108) including breakfast, and for all the Riad had to offer, an outstanding deal. Good decision to not have it booked ahead of time. The price from Expedia and through the Riad website was about $160. When Aziz called the Riad directly, they quoted 2000 dirhams. Good idea of Aziz to book through his agency. I was so satisfied and gloriously happy with this decision. When I finally walked into the room, I jumped up in joy. Aziz and D took a peek at the room and at the view from the windows. Couldnt helped sensing a bit of pride. I dined alone at the Riad rooftop restaurant. I've ordered seafood soup and seafood pastilla and both were tastefully prepared. The pastilla beat the one from Fez a million times over. The crust was flaky and crispy. Just the right way. I was enjoying my tranquil supper when suddenly S, T and D showed up. I had told them they could come and party in my room, but didnt encourage them because I had wanted my peace and quiet to enjoy this hotel. S felt a little out of place and soon left. T and D ordered the pastilla because they saw how I was savoring it. Then I showed them my room and the ocean view. They left to rejoin the rest of the group for an evening of music. I've passed the music, resolved in sticking with plan of aloneness. I've started reading Damage with the sound of ocean waves in the background. Small Leo was still looking out at sea when I finally fell asleep. I've never enjoyed a hotel room so much. In years to come, when I think of Essaouira, I'll reminisce this Riad room, the ocean view and the sound of waves, and how ecstatic Small Leo was.


See Essaouira, the Portuguse Mogador's pictures:

clubhouse party

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

full circle

Posted by Hippo Bean at 7:00 AM 0 comments
a short morning hike to the Aremd village which looked just like in the google images. Saw a whole sheep being skinned for the festival. Then we departed the mountains and headed west towards the ocean to the Portuguese Mogador. We've started the trip by the ocean, went north along it to the protectorate capital, then northeast to the other imperial cities and roman town, then turned south and traveled through the middle Atlas to hit the desert and then northwest from there to the High Atlas mountains, and finally west again towards the Atlantic. We've completed the Moroccan circle.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

night in Imlil

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
We had breakfast at the hotel terrace facing the Ait Benhaddou. Yesterday we saw the Kasbah basked in sunset rays from the left. This morning, the Kasbah was illuminated from the right, showing a different aspect but both glorious magnificent views.

today, going north in deeper high atlas, passing the Tizi n'Tichka, the highest vehicular pass in Morocco, the view was not as spectacular as I've anticipated. We reached the mountain village of Imlil at 1700m, very cold for us who had just came from the parched desert. Our Riad was like a gothic castle. Rooms were small and dark with stone walls and the doors locked with giant padlocks. All room windows open up to the central corridors that wrapped around inner courtyards, like a maze. This Riad was fascinating. The rooftop terraces showed spectacular views of Atlas mountains all around, small hamlets scattered here and there, and the almost full crepuscular moon above the High Atlas basked in the late afternoon sun. After supper, T and I lingered on the terrace, braving the cold, and talked about Toubkak, the highest point in the Atlas, which was just behind hill from where we were, and about working at Nasa. Later on I returned to the terrace to be on my own to commune with the mountains. Oh what serenity these mountains conjured up, in the dark under sparkling stars. Much like the evenings in Mtn Kazbeki, the nights in the Norweigian fjords, nights in Patagonia. Just me and the mountains. Each inspired the same deep tranquility, and each unique in its own preciousness.

rabat Imlil pictures

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

rock the kasbah

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Sharia don't like it Rockin' the Casbah Rock the Casbah

Morning drive through the 'Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs', many oasis towns with their ornate mud and straw kasbahs zipped by our sight, but we didnt stop for any photo opt. One of the places that drew me to maroc was the kasbahs, so I was sourly disappointed. I've asked Aziz if we could stop for one. He took us to Amridil. A perfectly preserved Kasbah that was even featured in the 50 dirham note and in a local orange drink cartoon. The kasbah guide, much like all the local guides we had in Maroc, was very animated and funny. He showed us the courtyard, with palm trees, olive presses and butter churners doubled as baby rockers, the kitchen with 2 bread ovens, the berber one for the family and the indian one for guests/banquets, and the interior mosque. The kitchen had a sky window to the terrace and on the terrace, our guide looked down the window to the kitchen and shouted "Ma, I'm hungry. Oh it's Ramadan!" and we all laughed. The terrace was the perfect spot to admire the mud walls and the crenellated towers architecture of the kasbah. My desire to visit a kasbah was finally satisfied. The midday took us to Ouarzazate and we had lunch at a restaurant terrace that was across the road from the Ouarzazate abandoned kasbah. We went for a pharmacy after lunch where I've purchased some argan lotion for my dry skin and amber/cederwood oil for my headaches. The pharmacist explained to us each product they had and what they were good for. Some of us had a 5 mins neck and shoulder massage for 20 dirhams. We arrived at Ait Benhaddou just as the sun was about to set. The hotel Kasbah was within 2 minutes walk to the Unesco Heritage Site. My room although an OK size, had a little balcony that faced the back of the building but surrounded by walls so high, there's absolutely no view. The water in the bathroom was salty. Later we walked down the path to visit Ait Benhaddou. A very old man with a high pitch voice, who carried a stick came up to us and oh, he was our local guide! And he would hit us with the stick if we didnt keep up or listen to him. another funny maroc character. the kasbah looked mysterious and nostalgic basked in late afternoon sun. next to the main gate was an empty sandy area which was used to film the Gladiator arena. up on the highest point of the kasbah, we could see the entire compound, its mud structures with towers and gates, and look back at the new town. at dusk, the place was so serene and cool, and the late afternoon rays turned all the buildings to golden color, such a feast for our eyes, one wished never to leave.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

todra gorge

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
the wind channeled through the towering ochre cliffs in the early morning was cold. Along the todra river we walked the gorge valley sandwiched between vertical cliffs and climbed towards Abdelali to get panoramic views of the jebel sahro and the dades valley below. the hike although steep at certain points, was not strenuous and the views from the viewpoint not particularly impressive. We crossed paths with berber women driving mules down the hill to get water and provisions. we were told they did this journey every day. Descending by a different path, the cliffs were more dramatic and majestic. we even caught a glimpse of an abandoned kasbah. surrounded by orange and red hills on our way down, T and I talked about industrial programming. We lunched at a restaurant in the gorge valley and I had kefta (kabab) with very greasy fries and they were oh so sinfully delicious. While the Brits all went to sunbathe by the pool, the Hip spent the afternoon in the hotel room reading Angelfall which was nearing the end and getting very juicy good (and she's totally fallen for Raffe). The evening meal was partook at a local crazy Berber family home. We sat on turkish long sofas among enormous cushions and were first served a chicken kefta (2 sticks each) and ratatouille Maroc style. Then came the couscous followed by melons and mint tea. The never absent plates of olives were of course on the table. The crazy family started drumming like there's no tomorrow. the little 5 yr old grandson was the best drummer. even out drummed Aziz. Father, son, cousins, even the women were drumming and singing. The matriarch came to gather the women and clothed them in the traditional berber women attire. I know I've must have offended the hostess by refusing to comply but hey one thing the Hip doesnt do is to dress up and parade in front of people. Aziz and even Abdoul joined in the dance. It was an evening like no other, fun to watch and to laugh but it's just not my thing.



See Todra Gorge pictures:

rabat

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tinghir

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:58 PM 1 comments
After a long drive, we finally arrived at Tinerhir, on the anti Atlas, the southern slopes of the Atlas. Before dinner, we visited the Ikelane kasbah, passing through lush palmeries that lined the banks of the Todra River. On the terrace of the town mosque, we could see the entire kasbah made of mud and straw houses. What a feast to my eyes who love adobe ruins! Our hotel was on a hill with expansive views of the mountains and the town below. My room had a balcony with views of the mountains. The hotel had a nice pool and a terrace with picture perfect mountain views. I liked this hotel very much.


See Tinghir pictures:

tinghir

anti Atlas and fossil paradise

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:50 PM 0 comments
we caught the sunrise up on a low dune. I prefer sunsets. Wanting to feel the Sahara sand, I've decided to walk back to the hotel instead of riding the camel again. The Sahara sand was finer than the Omani, almost powder like, and that's why it blowed in the wind like dust. It didnt feel as sensual as in the Oman desert. Didnt like it. I was trying to take pictures of the dunes and also to keep up with the camel caravan but kept falling behind. The caravan was going at a faster pace. T kept telling me to keep up. Finally our camel driver stopped the caravan and lowered the camel for me. Reluctantly I climbed on it and rode it the rest of the way. Didnt like the Sahara. Showered in the beautiful hotel room bathroom and we bid farewell to the desert and headed back to the Atlas. We stopped at a fossil factory that produced table tops with fossils. They were amazing and super good looking. Didnt know Morocco was fossil paradise. I bought some fossils for the rocket scientits. We saw some underground aqueducts on the way and went inside one. They cut a hole every few meters, the next one a little lower than the previous one, thus making the underground water flow down stream. Ingenious way so the water doesnt evaporate in the ferocious scourging desert heat.


See Atlas pictures:

atlas


See fossil factory pictures:

fossil

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday, October 11, 2013

Berber night under the stars

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
A short drive later, we reached the settlement of Merzouga, at the edge of Erg Chebbi, among the dunes of the Sahara. The Auberg Touareg looked like a kasbah with an enormous Sahara dune as backdrop. The rooms had big bathrooms with separate toilet and a grand shower, a sitting area and huge bedroom with built-in closet. Too bad I wasnt going to sleep in the room. The 4x4 drive only took us to dune viewpoints. I was hoping to get into the dunes to sink my feet into the fine sand. From afar, the dunes were nowhere as spectacular as the ones in the Arabian Peninsula. We visited an arab camp and then a Berber camp where we were offered Berber music and dance. Not interested. Like Joann has forewarned, the 4x4 was a waste of time and money.

We got on camels and caravan'd into the dunes to get to our Berber camp. Never liked camels and like less riding them. The forward and backwards swaying was nauseating and my inner thighs hurt. T had a faddish about riding on animals so he walked the whole way instead. The Sahara sand banks were orange color, not quite as high as the dunes in Oman and not as vast. I couldnt wait to feel the sand on my feet. I'd wanted to jump from my camel and roll in the sand. We started late and missed the glorious sunset. Our camel driver simply stopped us on a spot and told us to watch the sunset. We could barely see it from where we stopped. Someone reminded me of taking a picture of our shadows on the sand and I snapped quite a few. an hour and 15 minutes later we arrived at our Berber camp. Just like in the tripadvisor's pictures, the camp was composed of 5 or 6 black tents arranged in a square, with tables and stools at the center. a little afar was the latrine tent. Aziz and others who came in the truck were already there and had the table set up and the light on for us. We brought our wines and started with biscuits. I brought Small Leo who's never been to the desert before. GreenEye Leo had been to the Wahiba Sands and so Small Leo was ecstatic to be there. We were served a steamy soup and chicken couscous, followed by melons and mint tea. T said he would sleep under the stars, and so we pulled the mattresses out from the tents. They started an enormous fire and Aziz, our camel driver and the cook started playing the Berber drums. lying down on our mattresses and covered with woolen blankets, We've enjoyed the music. When the music died down, the captivating silence of the desert took over. The moon was almost full and the pitch black sky was painted with brilliant stars. Very much like in the Wahiba Sands. The night wasnt cold but a cool breeze picked up in the middle of the night that I had to turn my face away from it.All my years of camping, I've never slept in the open before. I opened my eyes and saw the star right above me on the black sky. The absolute silence of the desert was bewitching. I've enjoyed the camp in the Sahara but the experience wasnt as good and memorable as in Oman. I knew this was more rustic, but glad I've decided to endure it.


See the Sahara pictures:

sahara

the Touareg at Rissani

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:57 PM 0 comments
He told us he was a Touareg, the 'blue man', because of the indigo color of their veils/turban and clothing, and a British couple hand picked him out and paid to educate him thus transformed his life. He's got his Phd and taught at the University. He wore the indigo turban and robe with baggy low crotch pants underneath. On his robe, there's the Agadez Cross symbol, with the 4 cardinal points, like points in a compass, that showed where water was, for example. He drew the cross symbols on the sand and explained it all to us. His eyes, when not smiling, showed deep care and a true melancholy. He's very good looking. We visited the Moulay Ali Cherif Mausoleum, the founder of the Alaouite dynasty and then walked through the ksour , a fortified local village, with tall thick mud walls that blocked out the heat and kept the cool, sunlight streaming through from top of the walls. It had a nostalgic feeling to it. Next to the Ksour was the stunning magnificent Ksar Akbar (Ksar el Fida), a ruined Alaouite palace from the 19th century. I like Rissani, the tiny oasis town at the end of the vegetation belt before the dunes of the 'sand sea' begin, very much.


See Rissani pictures:

rissani

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

through the middle atlas

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
In the morning we stopped at a supermarket to gather lunch material for a picnic. The supermarket was modern with plentiful food. Our last stop to get booz before the no alchool zone. I got an enormous round bread, some laughing cow cheese and a packet of turkey and a box of orange juice. My turkey meat was amazingly delicious. Our picnic was in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road, near a small stream. I stepped on some droppings. doh!
A whole day of driving through the middle atlas, not very high or interesting. Made a brief stop at Timadite, a very Swizz like ski resort town, unlike any other in Morocco. There's a statue of a mountain lion (only partly carved) because all the mountain lions were gone. We arrived at the desert settlement of Erfoud, a new setttlement, before supper. The hotel Salam had small rooms but a wonderful pool in the middle of the hotel, surrounded by the rooms. The dinner buffet was not great but at least it offered variety. Here we had to decide what optional activities we wanted for the next day. I wasnt planning on camping in the Sahara because nothing can top the 1000 Nights at Wahiba Sands and I had wanted a shower. But Aziz said we would return to the hotel at Merzouga for showers as we would still have our own rooms and would even leave our luggage there. So I signed up for the Berber camp and the 4x4. They played very loud Moroccan music at night at the hotel so I resorted to read AngelFall which I've started at CDG and was beginning to enjoy it very much.


See Atlas Mountains pictures:
morocco

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

our third imperial city Fez

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
I bought 2 gallons of bottled water. This should last me for a few days. I used too much for brushing teeth alone. A very funny local guy took us first to Fes El Bali, the medina, to avoid the later morning crowd. We visited the Attarin Medersa, small but with good decoration and stainglass windows which colors were reflected on the opposite wall, and then walked through the ever winding labyrinth narrow streets of the medina. Thick mud walls, beautifully ornate doors that led to courtyards and halls and rooms, shops lined both sides of the streets. Took a peek at the university inside the medina (tourists not allowed in), stopped at a tannery (very smelly and nobody bought anything except Aziz who purchased a pair of yellow Moroccan men slippers or shoes, strange that the guide made a purchase and not one of the tourists), had lunch at a very Moroccan style restaurant with turkish sofas and cushions (had lamb tagine and it was good), and a brief stop atop a hill to get the grand view of the imperial city of Fez and its walled medina. Fez did not impress me much. In fact, I found all the imperial cities, so far, lacking. At the Fez famous ceramic shop, the Hip went crazy and bought a set of cup and saucer, water pitcher, tagine pot and a dinner plate in Berber design and a small tagine pot in Moroccan design, and had the whole purchase mailed home. I hope it'll arrive. The guided tour ended at the Royal palace (how many are there?) just around the corner from our hotel. In the evening we drank our booz in the hotel relaxing courtyard. I've asked Aziz if he could book me a room at the Riad Mimouna , the only ocean front riad in Essaouira. We have 2 nights in Essaouira, and I knew the tour hotel did not have good reviews and I had wanted to experience a riad. Aziz called the Riad and they quoted 2000 dirhams ($250) for a suite with ocean view. Expedia and the Riad's website had ocean view rooms for $164. Aziz said he would call his agency in Marrakech to book me a room, as it would be cheaper. It would be wonderful to experience an ocean front Riad here in Morocco.



See Fez pictures:

fez

latin oleander

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
In the afternoon, we visited Volubilis (latin version of qualili, the oleander flower), the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana. The main drag Decumanus Maximus was lined with decorated columns which ended at the triumphal arch. Behind it was what’s left over of the once grand forum and the opulent Basilica with its arched gates still intact, and the Capitol with its columns still standing. The houses had the most intact mosaics, the most I've seen in any Roman towns. The House of Hercules and the House of Orpheus had the most depictive mosaics. The 12 labors of Hercules were all depicted and Orpheus had a circular mosaic that showed all the animals and one with Poseidon riding a chariot. One room had a giant bronze penis and we the girls took turns straddling on it. Being a sucker for Roman ruins, this was the highlight of the day. The afternoon was very hot and the ruins had no shade and it felt like being in Italy or in Roman Europe. After the feast of Roman marvel, a long drive to the oldest imperial city, the country cultural capital Fez, our third imperial city. Our hotel was inside the medina, right on the main square. The hotel offered a fantastic courtyard with a good size pool and even a bar at the back. The rooms were big, however, everything inside the room was outdated. You stepped up to the bathroom (which incidentally had no door) was in blue and the bathtub sunk on the ground, the toilet was in a separate room (hate those) and 2 steps up to the window. The bedside tables were part of the wall and covered in blue Moroccan tiles. But the room was comfortable. Dinner was at a local family. again the round of Moroccan tapas. This time with fried eggplant/aubergines. But the chicken pastilla (another Moroccan signature dish) was tough and dry. Nobody liked them. We sat on turkish sofas and cushions. the table was low and eating like this took a bit getting used to. The dinning room we were in had a beautiful Islamic style ceiling that made you feel like you're inside a moroccan palace We were told the owner's cousin did the ceiling himself. in the evening we had beers at the bar, at the back of the hotel and chitchated. Young people in jeans and tshirts congregated at the bar with alchool in hand, and very old rock music was playing. Not too shabby a hotel actually.


See Volubilis pictures:

volubilis

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

our second imperial city Meknes

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:57 PM 0 comments
We took in the whole of Meknes atop a small hill with expansive viewpoints. From this vintage point, the imperial city did look quite spectacular with a big walled medina. we stopped for a photo opt of the Bab el Khamis Gate, which wasnt too impressive. Nothing compared to the ones in Uzbekistan. Inside the old granaries of the Heri es-Souni, S took up a broom and D said 'oh transportation'. S surely didnt appreciate that comment. Behind the granaries, there were impressive stables with rows of adobo arches upon arches. The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, although every inch decorated, it too was inferior compared to the ones in central Asia. The walking tour ended at Bab Mansour gate at the Place el Hedim, the central square, where we walked through the small souk, first opportunity for shopping local fares. Meknes, a little more interesting than Rabat.


See Meknes pictures:

meknes

Monday, October 07, 2013

Monday, October 07, 2013

capital and our first imperial city, Rabat

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
Not sure whose grand idea it was, but Abdoul, our driver, took all our luggage and drove to Rabat, while we took the train. The view on the Atlantic side wasnt that spectacular and there were views of shanty towns on the other side. What was there to enjoy? First we went to see the Imperial Palace. They only allowed tourists up to a certain point and on the side. Couldnt even stand in front of it. As if taking a picture from the front would compromise security. Then we went to Chellah, the Roman town turned necropolis. The buildings were old and gorgeous and everyone wooed and aah'd about the storks. Dont even like them. Then on to the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, the grand king. Quite a nice place. The tower, although not finished, was quite impressive. Moroccan minerats are square. Then the thing to see, my first Kasbah, the Kasbah des Oudayas. A fortified city with a grand gate and houses painted in the famous blue. So distinctly Andalucian. Labyrinths of cobblestone streets. Really enjoyed it. Had a Mediterranean flavor to it. Had my first tagine there, chicken lemon, and I was immediately addicted. Then back on the train. This time we rode in first class compartments. There's this local guy who was a bit shaky character, kept picking his nose and looking at his cell phone, slouched on his seat by the window, right next to me. I was stuck in the middle which I didnt really mind, except I wasnt sure if he's safe to be with. It turned out he took T's seat and T didnt even say anything. A girl came in and kept throwing weird looks at this character. After a while, she got up and left. At that point, I left too and exchanged seats with Aziz in another compartment. Wasnt going to sit for 2.5 next to this dude. Arrived at Meknes, our second imperial city, and walked to our hotel nearby. Tonight we had the most delicious Moroccan dinner at the Riad hotel, inside the Meknes medina. Took a peek at the Riad hotel, the one Joann stayed in her trip. The courtyard looked cozy and inviting. Inside the medina, labyrinths of narrow cobblestone streets, high walls with sunlight peeking through, small doors on either side, that open up to grand courtyards and multitude of rooms. Moroccan dinner began with a nice thick vegetable (lentil?) soup, followed by several little dishes (Moroccan tapas?) of olives, garbanzo beans, green beans, white beans, eggplants and then the main course, the Moroccan signature dish, chicken couscous, piled with carrots, zucchini, potatoes and garbanzos. Ended with coconut and peanuts cookies and mint tea. I was completely stuffed and in heaven. My hotel room on the fourth floor, was big, with a sitting area with turkish sofas and cushions, and a huge balcony overlooking a busy Meknes street. At 1AM, a local family leisurely strolled on the street. Don't they sleep? I couldnt either. So I continue to read Angelfall which I've started in CDG.


See Rabat pictures:

rabat

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sunday, October 06, 2013

the infamous casablanca

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
premonition - somehow sorta knew my luggage would not arrive. Spent 2 hrs at the Casablanca airport filing a missing luggage report. Said it would arrive in a later flight. Delta out of SFO was 1.5hr late. So much for my comfortable 2.5 hrs layover at JFK. I dont think I'd be flying Delta again. That's the second time their planes had mechanical problems that caused delay and hassle for me. But somehow I also felt I would get my luggage in the end. My driver was generous enough to take me to the Hassan II Mosque, which although all tours were done for the day, I got to at least walk around the outside and take some pictures. In retrospect, I should have walked along the beach a bit and get a nice pict of the entire place, perched on an outcrop by the Atlantic. Should have also asked to take me to the Anfa mall and see if the Starbuck had the country mug. Ah well. The driver also brought me coffee and a bottled water. The woman he dropped off first, spoke French, married to a Portuguese and just returned from Lisbon. What a coincidence. She dressed well, perfumed body and blonde hair. Her house (or villa?) had a driveway up to a gate. The house itself was hidden from view. A local opened the door. Maid? Yes, the French speaking community was without doubt the rich upper cast. My hotel was in a shabby part of town, just like tripadvisor warned. Small room but clean and with a balcony that overlooked the narrow street and faced the houses across the street. Luckily Aziz, our local guide, had to go pickup the Brits at the airport so I went along to pick up my luggage. Otherwise it would be $100 for the roundtrip taxi. 45 mins from the hotel to the airport. So bone tired. Been up for over 30 hrs now. Too bad there was no time to really see Casablanca. But aside from the Mosque, there's really nothing else to see here. This was just a starting point for the trip. But "Why did you have to come to Casablanca? There are other places."


morocco see Casablanca pictures

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Pa's bathday

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:49 PM 0 comments
At the Hippo's Clubhouse:

pa bath

pa bath

pa bath

pa bath




Sunday, June 02, 2013

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Now that's a clubhouse party

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
once, twice, thrice, ... and the Hippo's arms were sore and she's sweating like a ... eh hippo!
A total of 7 times, down carrying all the food and eat items and up the 4 flights of stairs. She could go all paperware but she wanted to have the party in proper style, so she hauled all her fine dishware, pots and pans and cooking utensils down to the clubhouse. After all that workout, she had to take 2 showers that morning to get herself clean enough for the party. She spent the whole day the day before preparing the ingredients for the meal, chopping onions and chilli peppers, mincing garlic and ginger, smashing the peppercorn, cutting hearts of palm and artichokes, measuring each ingredient, fish sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar to marinate the meat, and prepare a glaze for the chicken, rinsing the basmati rice, washing the spring greens, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and arugula for the salad. For a bit of sweet flavor, she even cut up some cherry to throw in to the salad. When the day came, she carried all the stuff down to the clubhouse, laid out the dinning table and turned on the music. M cooked the saffron rice and H barbeque'd the Thai chicken and ginger salmon on the outdoor gas grill. All the effort was worth it because the spicy, sweet and tangy and salty Thai chicken came out tender and tasty, and the freshly caught Atlantic sockeye salmon, marinated in green onions, ginger and orange juice, tasted mouth watering with real salmon flavor. The meat wouldnt have been so delicious if not grilled by H's superb BBQ skills. At the last minute the Hippo decided to go ahead with the sangria. Mendoza Malbec with coconut/pineapple/orange/mango fizzy soda and a thick slice of orange. Came out pretty good! whew! We had 7 bottles of wine, 4 reds and 3 whites. We only managed to do justice to 4 leaving the Maui pineapple blanc, copola's pinor noir and a cabernet for our next clubhouse party. H's Pinot Grigio and the Sans Premi Red Blend were positively heavenly and went totally with the chicken and salmon.

After the sumptuous meal, we stuffed ourselves again with the colorful dessert, peach pie, tiramasu and carrot cake, with french dark roast coffee and Nepalese Ilam tea, in the clubhouse lounge, sitting on enormous sofas, and we played our game of singing and song guessing, in the intoxicating aroma of Omani Frankincense. Hippo started off with her lousy completely off key My Fair Lady's On the Street Where you Live. Saffy kareoke'd Malcolm In the Middle. After agonizing moments of incorrect guesses, D finally got canção do mar (song of the sea) from Primal Fear, and M won the grand prize (which was a lime striped toilet seat cover and a bright orange silicone glove) with her lively grand performance of Ultraman's theme song in Japanese. D and M won the most prizes by correctly guessing most of the songs. All prizes had something to do with singing, such as a spatchula (sing while stir frying), finger roller (sing while massaging your fingers), mini dust brush and pan (sing while dusting), mini hamper (sing while laundering your stockings). The pink finger roller proved the most popular and desirable. Hm, maybe I should get all my guests a pink finger roller for the next party.

Then came the highlight of the party: Hitchcock's Rebecca in the clubhouse 16 seater theater. 'tell your HOA to put in recliners in the theater' said H. 'but they do recline, see!' D reclined his leather seat and stretched out. The B&W film followed faithfully in the book's original dialogs. "your hair? course I like your hair. what's wrong with it?', 'will you look into my eyes and tell me you love me now?' Joan Fountaine's performance was mesmerizing, while Lawrence Olivier made a poor Max, if you ask me. Oh, but it was a well done movie, good performances, awesome shots specially the one showing Manderley the first time in the rain, through the car windshield made partially clear by the wiper blades. And the cant be beat 1940's dramatic movie background music!

After the show we just hung out by the kitchen/dinning room area while some of us shot more rounds of billiard. And when all the food's been partaken, all drinks been consumed, the singing and song guessing game's over, all game prizes won, and the movie's finished, the carrying rounds started all over again, up and down we went hauling everything back up.

Sure there was a smarter, more practical and easier way to have a clubhouse party. But hey, it's the Hippo and she does everything in style. 'do or do not' says Yoda. 'do it right and perfectly or do not at all' says the Hippo.

clubhouse party see party pictures

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

big noses, labyrinths and scottish moors

Posted by Hippo Bean at 3:53 PM 0 comments
A few photographs from recent hiking.

Año Nuevo State Reserve - we had a very knowledge and entertaining volunteer guide. We've learned the elephant seals didnt get to the mainland until 1955 when their landing site on the CA coast became an island.

Natural Bridges State Park - didnt know there was a natural bridges park in Santa Cruz. The only one I knew was in Utah. Oh I got it, that one is Natural Bridges National Monument. Ah! and the difference between a natural bridge and arch? Well, a natural bridge is formed by erosive action of running water while an arch is formed by other erosional forces like wind. The USGS defines "a 'natural bridge' is a natural stone arch that spans a valley of erosion. A 'natural arch' is a similar structure which, however, does not span an erosion valley." Go figure!
At low tide, many colorful starfish appeared, hugging the rocks. Awesome site!

Año Nuevo and Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz

ano nuevo  natural bridges



Huckleberry Botanic and Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserves - the Hippo's done many national parks but very few regional ones. Since this hike was led by D&M, why not join them? It was a beautiful hike that included 3 labyrinths, and the Hippo walked them all and cheated on every single one. Some parts of the hike were a bit challenging and the narrow trails were lined with shoulder height poison ivy! Needed to be careful not to brush against them!


Huckleberry Botanic and Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserves

huckleberry and sibley



Tomales Point - the 10 mile roundtrip was filled with wild CA flowers. The poppies were in full bloom, the yellow lupins big, irishes and coltsfoots as high as the Hippo, tistles with caterpillars on them. I dont remember the elks last time I was there but this time the females were out and about with their younglings. We only spotted 2 bulls. The ever present SF fog hovered now and then making it feel like you're in the Scottish moors. So very Brigadoon! You can hear the ocean waves and smell the sea salt. And the faint sound of traffic on the other side of the bay. At the very end of the hike, the tip of the land, the ocean meets the bay. Always an awestruck hike!


Tomales Point

tomales point tomales point

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hippo half a century + 1 bathday

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:00 PM 0 comments
The Hippo Princess cake was enormous. I didnt dare cut into it as it was green and cute, with an enormous nose and blueberry eyes. It had a pink bow and ribbon and tiny ears and white square hippo teeth. It sat on a bank of cotton white marshmallows on a blue playdough, making it look like the hippo was having a bath. It broke my heart to cut it but I had to serve. It was quite delicious. M & D went into great lengths to prepare the Hippo Bathday party. The make-your-own-sushi bathday meal came complete with all sorts of sushi materials and trimmings, tuna, yellowtail, inari, ikura (salmon roe), tobiko (flying fish row), shiso (japanese basil), cucumbers, tempura, imitation crab and avocado for California rolls, and even uni (sea urchin) and natto (stinky fermented soybeans). And a special Neri-ume, made with Ume-boshi (marinated dry plum). M even made the sushi rice soaked in sugar and vinegar, in an authentic bamboo bowl. The meal was accompanied by a bottle of sake that contained gold particles. Very smooth. We started with Japanese nuts and jellyfish for appetizer with Kirin Ichiban beer (I had mine with Aloe juice), then miso soup. After the sumptuous meal, we had green tea ice cream and hot green tea on the deck that overlooked into nothing but green trees, under the warm California sun. M & D's beautiful die-for house was in a cul-de-sac, quiet except for the sound of neighbourhood children playing. Then we went for a geocache hike in the Hayward hills. Never knew the East Bay offered such gorgeous deep canyons and bay views. Inside cowland, in Ukrania, a huge ponderosa pine with enormous pine cones and in the shade of the enormous tree, the tranquil graves of the Ukranian priest and his wife. A few meters away, an enormous cacti, overlooking the deep valley, and beyond, the waters of the bay. M did find no4 cache, glued behind a fake rock that looked very very real. We returned to M & D's for cake and sampled the pineapple sparkling wine they brought from Maui. After the sun had set, we had a slideshow of Hippo's journey to Arabia. It was the best bathday the Hippo's ever had. So enjoyable and well fed. To top it all, lots of bathday gifts. A pink hippo painting from the Goose, a basket of hippo bath essentials, a gift certificate for the SF Opera, a GAP gift certificate, a giant balloon, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and other hippo related goodies. Saffy even drew me a hippo bath card. It's good to have friends!


See Bathday photos


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Sea of Oman

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments
I stood on the bow of the vessel catching the oncoming wind and the salty seawater splashes, feeling like I was flying on the sea of Oman. The desert heat was forgotten. The Omani coast was rugged with wondrous caves and rock formations, natural rock arches where our boat cruised through, secluded private beaches, and the 1000 rooms Shangri-la Resort hotel. Back to the Muscat coast, the boat went into the bay and we could see the Al Jalali and Al Mirani forts and the rock graffiti below the watch towers up close. The grand finale of the Omani trip was this cruise on the sea of Oman. It was a fantastic scenic way to say goodbye to the Sultanate of Oman.

This trip was definitely one of the best I've taken and it ranked very high on my travel list. From the cosmopolitan all man-made Dubai to the mountaineous more natural Oman, these 2 weeks couldnt have been more culture shock. But I had planned it this way to get the maximum effect. I've wanted to see the skyscrapers and the modernity of Dubai with my own eyes. And the natural wonders of Oman. Perhaps the only 2 remaining arab countries which are still safe to visit. One I still cant decide if I liked. The other had exceeded my expectations. Not very long ago both were still nothing more than bedouin rival tribes in the desert. Now both have amazing cities, skyscrapers, bottled water, coca-cola, mobile phones, internet, and had caught up in the 21st century. What a bit of oil could do to a country!


See Muscat photos

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jebel Akhdar

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:15 PM 0 comments
The hotel restaurant was filled with incense smoke. All the fans were blowing. It was hard to see anything. But the scent of frankincense was heavenly. The buffet breakfast was laid out and not a soul in sight. So I helped myself with what my palate desired. I poured my coffee and took my breakfast to eat it in the pool area. It was 7AM and normally the hotel wouldnt start breakfast until 7:30.

From a vantage point, we again admired the old Al Hamra village from afar. Rugged mountain on the background, a field of palm trees in front. There's a mountains range in the distance that had 2 pointed peaks, one on each end of the range. We dubbed it the 'hippo' mountain, as it resembled the upright pointed ears of a hippopotamus. A watchtower stood next to us, and L and I, the curious ones, went in and climbed it. However, the walls on the top had very tiny round holes to peek through, so we didnt have much view from there. Then we went down to the valley and walked through the palm trees canopy that we saw up there on the vantage point, to get to Al Hamra.

Another wonder of the trip was the walk through the dilapidated village of Al Hamra. Abandoned and rundown mud houses lined the narrow sandy streets. We meandered through the ghost village, wondering what life was like when the houses were inhabited, with clothe lines filled with hanging wet garments, children running and playing on these narrow alleys, women wrapped in their traditional colorful Omani dresses, gossiping, and men going about their daily tasks. It was another photographer's paradise. Then we drove to Misfah, the oldest of these villages. Mud houses still occupied, papaya trees and sheep wandering. The rest of the day we drove through the Jebel Akhdar, the green mountains, and the rock formations and colors were spectacular. The Wadi Bani Awf, the end point of the canyon is a snake gorge in the middle of the steep mountain cliffs. We've made a stop at Nakhl to photograph the beautifully restored castle before heading back to the capital.

See Jebel Akhdar and Al Hamra photos



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The enormous round watchtower

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:07 PM 0 comments
I like our hotel in Nizwa. The Al Diyar had beautiful paintings on the walls that depicted the country's historical places and way of life. It had 3 wings, 2 of which flanked the pool area where we sat in the evenings and relaxed. The rooms were spacious, each with a private balcony. However, the location was in the industrial area, far from center of town. L and O and I went for a short walk after dinner and all we saw was gas stations, car dealers and appliance stores. We had wanted to go to a grocery store but went the wrong way and never found it. At dinner we saw the hamour fish on the menu, so almost everyone ordered the fish that night.

The Nizwa souk was a shopping heaven! It's in an old building with big beautifully carved wooden doors at the gates, and it sold spices (I bought some saffron from Iran), souvenirs (got a Tshirt with the Omani insignia - a curved dagger in the center of 2 swords in an X position), ceramics and potteries, the Halwa sweets shop, meat market, dates syrup, and all kinds of fresh fish and produce.

When we came out from the back of the Souk, we were hit by this enormous imposing round tower, the Nizwa Fort. I couldnt take my eyes off it. This fort was beyond words could describe. Up on top of the round tower, you could see the entire town, the palm trees and the barren mountains. It had windows with canyons pointing at every direction, which made fantastic photo opportunities. You walked out on the top of the fort and you were greeted by the gorgeous beige dome and the matching minaret. Even its museum was impressive. This was the most gorgeous fort I've even seen.

After this wonder of a fort, the rest of the day was a blur. We went into the Hajar mountains and drove through several remote villages with traditional fruit trees and terrace plantations. I've noticed each house had a round water tank in the shape of a watchtower on the roof . They were very picturesque and I thought it was a grand idea to do this, a piece of their history on every roof. The mountain scenery was spectacular.

See Nizwa Fort photos

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jabreen Castle

Posted by Hippo Bean at 10:06 PM 0 comments
My heart was heavy with reluctance as we drove out of the Wahiba Sands. The soft warm red sand and the pitchblack starry sky will remain with me always. After visiting a totally touristy and uninteresting bedouin camp, we drove up to a promontory to admire the view of the town of Bahla from above. In the distance the Bahla castle stood majestically and the town had low houses surrounded by palm trees, nestled among low rolling jagged mountains. Beautiful view indeed. Then we returned to the valley to visit the Jabreen Castle, my first Omani castle. Built in the 17th century, the plastered castle walls were gigantic. The rooms had painted wooden ceilings with arabic inscriptions, and if you like ceramics like the Hippo, there were many big beautifully decorated water vases on display. One thing I'd noticed since being in Oman, was the bedouin huge copper coffee pots. I've made a mental note to purchase a replicate as a souvenir.

Heading into the Hajar mountains, we stopped for a photo opportunity of the deserted village of Al Hamra. The setting was magnificent. Mud houses with the mountain as backdrop and a field of palm trees in front. We will return and walk through the village in a couple of days.

Jebel Shams, 'the grand canyon of Oman', was on the highest point in Oman. Up there was actually cold. Here our local guide wanted to know if their grand canyon was more beautiful than the one in the US. I looked down it and wasnt impressed. Besides it was impossible to get a good photo in the late afternoon. The shadows were everywhere. Perhaps the Omani grand canyon should be better viewed in full sunlight?

See Jabreen Castle and Bahla photos

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday, March 11, 2013

1000 Nights

Posted by Hippo Bean at 6:05 PM 0 comments
Suddenly this huge orange sand bank appeared before us and we drove onto it. The world changed from mountains and houses and cars and palm trees to red undulating sand and orange dunes, the mighty immense Wahiba Sands. The sand was super fine and the wind created interesting wave patterns on it. The air was hot and dry and the wind was blowing. Above us was the immense blue sky and beneath and all around the never ending orange red sand. We didnt see anybody else there and there were no other trucks except ours. We've stopped at the bottom of a giant dune, ran up it and slouched back down again. What heaven! We did some dune driving and arrived at our luxury desert camp, the 1000 Nights Camp, amidst horses, camels and orange sand. We were immediately greeted with a wet nap and Omani coffee or sweet tea in the open air reception. A 2 story building next to the pool and the reception was the restaurant with bedouin style dinning. The sheep woolen tents were scattered all around in the enclosed camp compound. We had the Sheikh tents with open air en-suite. Nothing beats showering and using the toilet in open air. My tent was spacious, with a sitting area, the bed covered with clean sheets and towels. There was an electric light in the tent as well as in the bathroom but by 9pm, the generators were turned off. There's running water but only cold, which was fine because we're now around 38C. The cheaper arabic tents were simple with 1 shared bathroom.

We climbed up a dune and waited for the sun to set. We sat on the warm late afternoon sand and i took off my sandals to allow my feet to taste the fine sand. It embraced them and they sank into it luxuriously. When your bare feet touch the sand that is not coarse nor rough, or wet and cold, but soft and fine, warm and inviting, it's one of the most sensual moments in life. The sun, round and clear and bright, slowly dipped spectacularly down behind the dunes in front of us, until everything went silhouette. Possibly the best sunset I've ever experienced.

The buffet dinner was just OK as the BBQ lamb and chicken were both over cooked and tough to eat. The camp offered complimentary round the clock bottled water and soft drinks, so I had to go the bathroom quite a bit. The omani coffee, a light but flavorful brew and sweet tea were super delicious. couldnt get enough of them. The camp was supposed to have entertainment in the evening but there was no fire burning in the pit nor music nor dancing, so I was sourly disappointed, and we all retired early to bed. At 3AM I got up and stepped outside my tent with Small GreenEye Leo to experience desert at night. Pitchblack, absolute silence. Amazingly it wasnt cold. I sat in front of my tent and looked up to see the clear stars. Aside from their brilliance, i could see nothing. Moments like this was an unique treasure. Perhaps this was the only time in my life where the silence was absolute and the darkness complete. Absolutely one of the highlights of this trip. Suddenly a shooting star sped across the sky. then it was followed by the sound of jets. an airplane flying overhead from muscat!


See Wahiba Sands photos

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Midnight turtles

Posted by Hippo Bean at 5:45 PM 0 comments
Into the mountains we drove in our 2 four wheel drives. The landscape was barren but the rugged mountains had rock and boulders in a gorgeous orange color. Then we took the coastal road to the south towards Sur, the dhow building town. We picnic'd at a beach near the village of Qurayat. Serene place. Nice Omani sea breeze to chase away the desert heat.

The first wadi we stopped at was Qurayat. It had a lovely green pool and a small waterfall and it's in the middle of nowhere, just barren orange mountains, rock and sand. A true oasis. I walked in the pool only ankle deep.the water was clear and cool. We shot past the beautiful Sur bay in late afternoon twilight and the bay looked simply inviting. The hotel at Ras Al Radd was simple but it's beachfront. My room faced the beach and at night you could see nothing outside the window except darkness. The rooms facing the opposite side could see flickering lights from the village. After dinner, we headed to the sanctuary at Ras Al Jinz to see the turtles. It involved a long walk on the sand, in the dark. Unable to see where I was going, I often stumbled all over the place and walked into people in front of me. I had no idea we were so close to the edge of the sea, as I couldnt see it but could only hear the waves. We saw 3 green turtles, 1 pushing sand to cover the eggs it had just laid, another with a damaged fins pushing itself (poor thing) towards the wrong direction, away from the beach, and a final one slowly making its way towards the sea. 10 pushes and it rested. 11 pushes more and it needed rest again. Poor creature! It finally made it to the sea after about half an hour with all that work but we couldnt applaud because we're not supposed to make any noise so we wont disturb or frighten the poor animals. But it was the grand finale to end the day. I'm not much for turtles but these were enormous, about 3 feet long. And quite amazing to watch. We returned to the hotel very late but I've enjoyed midnight in the darkness and the silence of the place at this time. I coudlnt even hear any waves from the beach behind the hotel. there were no waves on the beach.

The next morning we drove back to Sur to enjoy the bay. White houses lined along it, 1 dhow docked in the middle, a lighthouse and 2 round watchtowers and a steel bridge. Something there tugged my heart. Perhaps it reminded me of the tiny Portuguese fishing villages. I've climbed up the tower and shot photos of the tranquil bay. I really liked this place.I quite left my heart there. Afterwards, we visited a dhow shipyard. The brown mahogany dates wood was simply a gorgeous thing to admire. Here you get to see the curved bottom of a dhow. It cost $2M USD to build one I was told.


Our next wadi was the famous wadi bani khalid. Its green pool was a good size with palm trees were all around it. The pool had lots of tiny fish and after lunch at the restaurant there, I sat on the edge of the pool and dipped my feet into the cool water. The water wasnt as clear and clean as the other wadi we visited earlier and I didnt like the fish nibbling at my feet. Some of us swam in it. I was disappointed that this place was so commercialized. I had imagined it to be more rustic like the oasis they showed on TV. I know, I'm too much of a romantic, but I did not like this place as it didnt give me the feeling of a real oasis.

See Sur and Wadis photos

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Muscat

Posted by Hippo Bean at 12:07 AM 0 comments
Touching down in Muscat was refreshing. The city was surrounded by hills. The Dubai haze was gone. The air was good. After the ultra modern skyscrappers of Dubai, Muscat was a welcome site and feel. On my way from the airport, we passed by the marble white Grand Mosque and it was very impressive. I took the Big Bus tour around the city which took me from the Muttrah Souk to the Shati Al Qurum, the hotel resorts area, to downtown, to the Marina, to old Muscat. At Al Alam I got off to get into the free tour of old Muscat, which had nothing old because all the old houses were rebuilt. The Sultan Palace and the finance buildings were all built in 1979, when Oman struck oil. Behind the Palace, it was the most beautiful part of Muscat. Two Portuguese forts, Al Jalali and Al Mirani, were located at the mouth of the small bay, looking like where Perseus struck the Kraken in Clash of the Titans. Graffiti were on the side of the hill and one even said Perseus with a Norwegian flag. The Gulf of Oman was blue. Our young guide told us that the omanis manually pollanize the date palms, climbing up to the trees and depositing the seeds. The Bait A Zubair Museum on the old city was one of the best museums I've visited. Beautifully restored ceramics, copper dishes, traditional costumes, and miniatures of the major forts/castles. I wanted to visit all of them! Pity they didnt allow pictures to be taken. And double pity their souvenir shop had very few postcards of the museum items. In the evening E and I walked the Muttrah corniche and all the houses along the waterfront were illuminated and the colors switched from pink to purple to blue and green. The giant incense burner on the hill shot a green laser and displayed a magnificent laser show. At the port, the grand Sultan's yacht was docked. The corniche was alive at night with locals strolling. All women wore the hijab or abaya. The souk was also vibrant at night. I bought some frankincense. We dined at one of the waterfront restaurants and had this white fish called hammour that was super delicious. The Omani currency was higher than the US dollar but everything was quite cheap. My meal cost me less than $5USD. Our hotel the Haffa House is about 15 mins from the corniche, offered spacious rooms but it had no view. The meals at the hotel were super grand and delicious. the capital city was very clean and all the workers were local, as contrast to UAE, where Indians, Phillippinos and Nepalese were imported to do service work. Muscat, a beautiful city. I've quite enjoyed it.



The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque was very different in style and design and not as beautiful as the one in Abu Dhabi, but every bit as grand. The central dome though was so ornate that reminded me of the ones in Uzbekistan. I immediatly shot myself to the center of the hall to look up at this dome. The halls were lined with mosaic paintings, every one unique in design and color. The women's hall was also decorated grandly and with chantiliers. there was a working library inside that included internet stations and hardwood floors and wooden shells filled with arabic books. Several young men were there while we're visiting, and they had books open and were writing in arabic. Beautiful library.

See Muscat photos


See Sultan Qaboos Mosque photos

Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday, March 08, 2013

Dubai

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:59 PM 0 comments

A permanent haze hovered over the city blanketing the otherwise glistening skyscrapers. E said there was no view of the city below. I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane so I saw nothing. The weather was hot and dry.

The Mall of Emirates was enormous. Even the super (hyper) market inside the mall was huge. It sold everything from TV to underwear to cheese to washing machine. It had two food courts with international food which I frequented almost daily. 5 Starbucks on only 1 floor. None had the big Dubai mug. Every day we had to walk through the mall in order to catch the metro. Luckily once through the Kempinski hotel, Ski Dubai was just right there, so we always had a point of reference if we got lost, which I did many times. "which way is Ski Dubai?" always saved the day.

I have mixed feelings about Dubai. I cant say for sure if I liked it or disliked it. The architecture of the modern skyscrapers was a wonder to admire, especially the ones in the Dubai Marina. I simply couldnt get enough of them. Having the Burj Al Arab in front of you, really made a difference. I've never thought it was so stunningly imposing until I saw it right in front of me. The Jumeirah beach is not just any beach with white sand. It had the view of the Al Arab and the gorgeous metallic reflective Jumeirah Beach hotel that looked like a bird with soaring wings. Besides this was the Persian Gulf!

The elevated metro stations were covered with a copper cone shell. Even the escalator going up to the station had the shell cover albeit in a smaller scale. I really liked this design. The metro zipped you from one end of the city to the next, providing clear views of the all the major towers, from the sharply tilted Ski Dubai building, to the twin Emirate Towers, the Burj Khalifa, and the sea front from afar. The sunset Dhow cruise on the Dubai creek, which came free with the Big Bus tour, was nothing short of spectacular. The sun was round and big and clear near the mouth of the creek. Very relaxing way to admire the Deira (old Dubai) buildings along the creek. People on the abras, taxing across the creek, showed a different side of this modern city .

But aside from plasticky towers and the beaches and resorts, there's nothing else. The Palm Jumeirah only looked good from the top. Once you're in it, you actually couldnt see much of anything as the apartment buildings on the palm leaves obscured the sea view and you couldnt walk there as the beaches were all private. Even found the fountain show at the Dubai Mall wanting. The sound and light at the Wafi was a little better. Dubai stretched out along the coast, with pockets of interesting buildings, like the Jumeirah area, the downtown area with the Dubai Mall and Burj Khalifa, the Business Bay, and Dubai Marina, intermittent with industrial areas in between, making the city looked dumpy and disconnected. The locals werent friendly. The men were arrogant and the women, with their bodies and faces covered, pretended you didnt exist. They resembled the Rapanuis who did not welcome visitors. After a week in UAE and encountering the women in abaya or hijab, I've wanted to rip their coverings off. But I was on their turf and must respect their custom, however degrading it was.

"Papers? No, no chekpoints. All emirabs are u-nee-ted". The 6 lane highway to the capital city was lined with palm trees and electric lights. Beyond them, the sand stretched as far as the eye could see. On the bridge into Abu Dhabi island, first sign of an oil refinery, the Abu Dhabi National Oil company. I like Abu Dhabi much better. The streets and buildings were better laid out, the corniche resembled the Chicago waterfront, and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, stunning architecture, a beautiful structure to visit. Also the Starbucks city mug was much more beautiful than the Dubai one. The top of the revolving tower in the Marina Mall offered great 360 views of the city and all the nearby islands. However, the permanent haze of Dubai was here in Abu Dhabi as well. Pity.

The following day we drove through the rest of the 5 Emirates to get to Fujairah. The landscape was dry, dull and boring. Only once we got into the Hajar mountains that the scenery became interesting. The jagged hills were welcomed after days on the flat coast with nothing but sand and man made structures. The only fort in Fujairah was not open to tourists. The adjacent museum was small but offered a little glimpse of the Bedouin lifestyle. They're building their grand mosque which once completed, should make the city more interesting to the tourists.

The Dubai Mall was the biggest of these beasts. The aquarium boasted of the biggest single piece of glass in the world. Several stingrays swam in it. I had wanted to simply walk through the tunnel to see the fish, but one needed to buy the complete package, which included a tour to the underground aquarium and the aquarium store. No ticket for just the tunnel. We've got to the mall early and waited for the fountain show. In less than a minute the first piece was over and we had to wait 30 min for the next 1 minute piece. E was fed up and left. I've sat for 2 more, both still short and not very well choreographed. they had a lot to learn from the Bellagio. The night bus tour was wonderful if not for the cold evening breeze. Most buildings were illuminated and if you're a sucker for lights like the Hippo, this could very well be the highlight of the city.

Possibly the best part of Dubai was the Dubai Marina Island. The skyscrapers were super tall (some still under construction of course, as in everywhere in UAE). I've spent an entire afternoon photographing them and just couldnt get enough of them, especially the Infinity Tower which was a metallic tower twisted on itself. The seafront was packed with tourists sunbathing on the hotel private beaches. The water, of course, just as clear and blue as in the mainland. Elsewhere the streets were quite empty, even the Marina Mall was not crowded. A good place to get away from the crowds in Dubai proper. Had wanted a dhow cruise in the sea, but was content with a short ferry ride back to the mainland. The sea was choppy but I've enjoyed the ride.

Flying out of Dubai on Emirates proved nothing special. Planes landed and took off towards the sea and as we're going south to Muscat, the plane banked left and I sweared it would hit Burj Khalifa. It looked that close.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

summer humidity at 22 degree lat 113 long

Posted by Hippo Bean at 12:51 AM 0 comments
Not always but when the traffic on 101 beyond Fair Oaks is jammed, the Hippo would take the Lawrence exit and cruised down on Tasman, and inevitably passed by the Santa Clara Youth Soccer park. At this time of the late afternoon, the bright fluorescent lights are lite and the younglings are out practicing soccer. The ambience of the white lights reminisce the volleyball games back home. She would shower after dinner and as soon as she steps out of the cool shower, she would begin to perspire. The summer humidity is enormous. she would then walk with friends to the elementary school outdoor park and witness the volleyball game. She watches her bro and Ernesto play against each other with their teams. She sits on the steps of the spectators stand and puts her foot down on Ernesto's long gym pants, because she would know that after the game, he would come and ask her to please remove her foot so he can put his long pants on. And after the game, she walks home with her friends, another ball game in the summer heat, another evening wasted. She walks home with her perspiration from the humidity of 22 degree latitude 113 degree longitude, another hollow teenage summer evening at her tropical home.
 

HippoBlog Copyright © 2012 Design by Antonia Sundrani- Vinte e poucos