Sunday, 23 September 2007

To Muscat and back

Last weekend we had a one night stay at the Barr al Jissah resort which is about 16kms out of Muscat the capital of Oman. The trip from Dubai takes about 4 hours by car depending on the time taken at the border crossing between the UAE and Oman. Getting across the border was relatively painless this time, though it irritates Colin that, with an Australian passport he has to (a) queue at the Omani border to get a form, take it away to fill it in then queue again to hand it back and get his passport stamped and (b) he has to pay 30AED for that process. Meanwhile because of my little old NZ passport I don't have to fill in the form and I don't have to pay a cent, nothing, nil, free, gratis and for nothing. My theory is that NZ passport holders don't have to fill in a form because there are so few of us that the Kiwi powers-that-be know where each of us is at any one time....

The Barr al Jissah is three hotels on the one site; 3 star, 5 star and 7 star. Being Ramadan it was quiet which made it even nicer. First we had a swim at the beach where the water temperature was 33 then went into the hotel pool where the water, at 31, seemed chilly by comparison. At poolside, there is one guy who comes round offering chilled faceclothes from a chilly bin followed by another guy who cleans your sunglasses for you. This is the life. In the evening we drove into Muscat and walked around Muttrah souq. When I was there a couple of years ago the souq had dusty unpaved paths, flies and a slightly raffish air. Now the paths are paved and the shops are being modernised and while its a more pleasant place to be fortunately it hasn't lost its 'exotic' feel. We drove round the waterfront and spotted Sultan Qaboos' royal dhow then took some photos of the royal palace and the castles.

Next day we drove out to one of Colin's favourite spots called Yitti and a bay next to it called Yankit. Yankit is so beautiful as you'll see from the photos. The effects of Cyclone Gonu which hit Oman in June were still evident as we travelled out to the bays. It was a shock to see the damage to a couple of villages we passed through. The villages were in the wadis and must have been hit by the surge of water coming down the mountains. Some houses had been demolised by the force of the water and many of those remaining were badly damaged. We saw some families who were living in tents next to their damaged homes. Some of the trees that had survived still had debris hanging from their highest branches. Yet we heard so little about it in Dubai.

We left Muscat and drove back to the border. In the car park of the Omani border post which looks like a palace (see one of my earlier posts for a full story) the sound of the Audi ticking over while we sat in the queue attracted the attention of some of the local boys so Colin gave them a little 'demo' to keep them happy. The boys were very pleased so what can I say except that it was "a drive-by thrilling" hahahahaha...........

Friday, 14 September 2007

Tiger, tiger burning bright....

Today Colin, Mal and I went to see the model of the Dubailand development. Dubailand is a huge development (45 mega projects)of hotels, resorts and theme parks. There's Phaoroh's World with a theme park and several hotels, Sports City which includes the ICC Headquarters, Water World which is a $US1.8 billion water park and another called Motor City, there'll be Equestrian World, Snow World, X-treme Sports World and that's just a start. Being Dubai there'll be shopping in the Mall of Arabia which will be the world's biggest shoppping mall. The Global Village is going to be part of Dubailand including a model of the Eiffel Tower which will be 1.5 times bigger than the original in Paris. The whole site will cover 8,00 acres which is the size of Singapore.

The Dubailand media centre that we went to see features a massive scale model of the development. Visitors walk around a gallery and look at the model below, its that big.

In the media centre reception area there's a wall of windows looking out into a grassed area. And who lives there? Two enormous Bengal tigers who come right up to the glass of the reception area and pace up and down about 6 inches away from you. Tigers in reception?? That's so Dubai.

The photos are here.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Ramadan kareem!

Today is the first day of the Holy Month of Ramadan. Ramadan is the name of the ninth month of the Muslim year which follows a lunar calendar. Each month begins with a sighting of the moon's crescent and lasts 29 or 30 days until the sighting of the next month's crescent. The month of Ramadan commemorates the days when the Angel Gabriel imparted the Koran, Islam's holy book, to the Prophet Mohammed. It is during this month that Muslims fast. According to Sharia, or Islamic law, all adult Muslims must fast during the holy month with only pregnant and nursing women, the sick and travelers being exempt. The daily fast lasts from sunrise to sunset and is broken after evening prayers with a meal called iftar. Iftar is a very social time when people get together with family and friends to eat, relax, often to smoke shisha, its really nice.

For an expat what are the noticable changes during Ramadan?

In general: No eating, drinking or smoking in public.

Socially: Barracuda in UAQ is closed for the month.

On the road: This morning there was less traffic on the road, the late start at work means that I went to the gym at 7:30am. The traffic normally would be a nightmare but today it all flowed smoothly.

At the mall: The coffee shops, food courts and restaurants are closed all day. They open after the evening prayers and then stay open most of the night. The local Maccas opens at 6:30pm and closes just before sunrise prayers at 4:30am. Hotel restaurants stay open for guests but the eating areas are screened off from public view. The local wisdom is that one should stay off the road just before evening prayer time as those who have been fasting all day are really grumpy by that time and are in a hurry to either get to the mosque for prayers or get home for something to eat.

At the mall: No musak in the mall, thank goodness as recently its included that dreadful old thing "Yes sir I can boogy" sung by a girl with a thick Eastern European accent so having no music is a good thing. Instead readings from the Koran play over the PA. I like it as the reading at BurJuman is by an imam from Riyadh with the most glorious voice.

At the gym: No music playing over the PA. No water bottles in use. No music videos playing on the bank of screens in front of the cardio machines either, instead there's sports, CNN news and old Egyptian movies.

At work: Over the month of Ramadan the office working hours are 9:30 - 3:30. No water bottles or coffee cups on the desks and those who want to eat or drink go into the Boardroom.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

And the winner is....

Colin was invited to be part of the launch of the new Toyota FJ Cruiser (their new 4x4) so last weekend we went out into the desert as part of a group to have a test drive. We had coffee and nibbles afterwards and everyone wrote an appraisal of the car. The appraisals went into a draw to win a Panasonic DVD player and they've just called me from Toyota to say that I won it. Wow! I've never won anything before, except a coconut from the coconut shy at a fair in Mt Roskill when I was little but the truth is that my big brother had actually thrown the ball for me (Griffin Park it was). I'll probably go out on Thursday evening to pick it up. This is very exciting.