Sunday, December 29, 2013
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
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:
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Saturday, October 19, 2013
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.
See Morocco pictures
Friday, October 18, 2013
See Marrakech pictures:
Thursday, October 17, 2013
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:
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
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.
Monday, October 14, 2013
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
See Todra Gorge pictures:
Saturday, October 12, 2013
See Tinghir pictures:
See Atlas pictures:
See fossil factory pictures:
Friday, October 11, 2013
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:
See Rissani pictures:
Thursday, October 10, 2013
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:
Wednesday, October 09, 2013
See Fez pictures:
See Volubilis pictures:
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
See Meknes pictures:
Monday, October 07, 2013
See Rabat pictures:
Sunday, October 06, 2013
see Casablanca pictures
Sunday, September 08, 2013
Sunday, June 02, 2013
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.
see party pictures
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
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
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
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!
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Saturday, March 16, 2013
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!
Friday, March 15, 2013
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.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
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.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
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?
Monday, March 11, 2013
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!
Sunday, March 10, 2013
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.
Saturday, March 09, 2013
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.
Friday, March 08, 2013
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.