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November 2006 Archives

November 3, 2006

dubai: everything is possible

Dubai has got to be the current crossroads of the world in the Middle East. Just as Turkey is the link between the Middle East and Europe due to its geographic location, Dubai is a meeting place of the world due to its low/nonexistent taxes, massive use of overseas workers, and growing tourism base. A minority of the population of Dubai are actually UAE citizens, while the rest are crews of expat workers from around the world, in addition to the tourists that are coming to visit. (There's an interesting article I found through news search, Fear and Money in Dubai, which is worth a read for its statistics, although I don't necessarily agree with all of their conclusions.)

Immigration was almost transparent, with no forms to fill out, and a single question "Which hotel are you staying in?" as my passport was stamped. After my escape from kathmandu, and the somewhat sleepless emirates flight that indian airlines put me onto, I was finally heading out in a sand-colored taxi from the airport to my hotel that I'd found online. After arriving in my room and having a sinking feeling when as i realized that it was nowhere near worth the amount they were asking on hotels.com (advice to other travellers: NEVER take a chance on an unknown dubai hotel.. always check tripadvisor.com for reviews first!), I quickly got out of there and checked in for a few days of posh living at the excellent Trader's Hotel Dubai.

I've been out exploring the nightlife of Dubai, which is housed in a series of bars and clubs attached to hotels (which is how they get their liquor licenses). Besides staying up late at Zinc, I've been out socializing at the many nightspots in this town, and not waking up before noon any day so far. At these various spots around town, I've met expats in Dubai from literally all over the world. And since Dubai is Emirates' hub, and flight crew also get 50% off of their drinks at many bars/clubs around town, there are always plenty of flight crews from Europe to chat with.

Since this is my first stop in the Middle East, I've also visited my first souks here, beginning with the world-famous Gold Souk. While I'm not really in the market to buy blinged-out gold bracelets, it's nice to know that they're here if I need then.

After reading a recent New York Times article on Dubai tourism, I've planned to join a half-day safari to go "dune bashing" and explore the desert. If I have the notion, I can go skiing indoors at The Mall of the Emirate's Ski Dubai, . Taxis are surprisingly cheap at less than USD $1 at flag fall, so it usually is less than 5 dollars to get from one club/bar to another within the city center.

The stores in the malls sell Calvin Klein red-and-white checkered shumag, and full-length black YSL abayas. The TV shows the Al-Jazeera Sports channel (which I had no idea existed!), and Russian cartoons on the RTR-Planeta channel. It's almost too much to comprehend after my quiet days spent in Nepal just before coming here.

Those moments when I step out of a nightclub into cool desert air and the drifts of sand being blown across the parking lot from the empty desert next door, and see the world's tallest building under construction (the burj dubai) literally across the street, it all hits me -- this over the top, bubble life, which manages to be ridiculous, vibrant, unsustainable, and simply wonderful.

November 19, 2006

one of my worst-case scenarios

i arrived this evening at Cairo airport. but my luggage didn't. the baggage claim belt shut down, the last passengers had filed away through customs, and my backpack was nowhere to be found.

it felt like one of those movie scenes where the director of the special project says "gentlemen, we all knew this day would come. we couldn't constantly play the odds like this without SOME sort of consequences coming down on us."

and so, as in the classic 80s movie Warning Sign, when the Protocol One envelope had to be opened when one of the worst-case scenarios had occurred, i had to remember three of the worst-case trip scenarios i'd envisioned at the start of the trip, and what i'd planned to do when they occurred:

1.) loss of my main backpack and/or daypack
2.) loss of my passport and wallet
3.) loss of all of the above

so scenario #1 had now occurred.

first step: don't panic.

second step: contact the airline's personnel at the airport. they (no surprise) had no idea why my bag hadn't arrived. they provided forms and an overnight bag with the world's most painful razor, basic toiletries, a single t-shirt, a pair of socks, and one pair of boxer shorts.

third step: settle in at my chosen cairo hotel, and begin the next morning to constantly call the airline's representatives both at cairo and their headquarters until my bag is located and delivered to me.

not the most auspicious beginning to my time in cairo, but after some of the cities i've encountered, it's been surprisingly easy to arrive at my chosen hotel and begin to settle into town. they even provided me with a slightly out-of-date Footprint Egypt guidebook to use while I plan my upcoming days in Cairo.

November 22, 2006

cairo, my luggage, pyramids, king tut, and pierre cardin

my luggage has now been located -- evidently the airline decided to give my bags a few days of vacation, and flew them to bombay, India. but they'll be reaching me on thursday evening, when i'll finally get a chance to pick them up from the airport (they refuse to deliver them to my hotel directly). of course i'll take all this outrageousness up with their US office when i return home and demand recompense, but for now i'm not letting it phase me and just enjoying my time around town.

cairo is full of friendly chaos -- the streets are thronged with cars, the traffic lights are mostly deactivated and blinking yellow, with traffic being directed by uniformed police officers standing perilously in the middle of it all. my usual method of crossing the street is to attach myself limpet-like to an egyptian pedestrian who is about to cross the street, and stay within a 2-foot radius of them at all times to avoid being run over. when nobody else is crossing, i enter traffic at a steady pace, my arms swinging at my sides, watching traffic from the sides of my eyes without making eye contact with the drivers (eye contact usually puts the pedestrian at a disadvantage), only slowing or speeding up my pace slightly if a car is actually about to hit me. (N.B. This is also the way to walk down the sidewalk as a pedestrian in Moscow without being hassled, although i usually add a slightly upset scowl to my face like the rest of the muscovites around me.) As an added bonus, cars in cairo at night usually keep their lights turned off, only flashing them briefly if they're about to hit a pedestrian. why cars keep their lights off is beyond me, but i imagine they're either trying to save headlamp life or somehow trying to save power. "guess i forgot to put the foglights in..."

lacking any changes of clothing without my luggage, i stopped in at a few stores in my hotel's neighborhood catering to the well-dressed egyptian gentleman, and came out dressed from head-to-toe in some oh-so-1970s pierre cardin clothing that i picked up for only a few USD. after topping that off this morning with a fake north face baseball cap that i shelled out LE 20 / USD $4 for (i knew i was paying too much and started instinctively searching for a hat that i could get for LE 10-15 before realizing that it's worth it to save the time and spend the extra USD $1-2, rather than waste lots of time trying to find the absolute lowest possible price.), i was ready to hit the town.

after having the perfect addition to my morning, a delicious fresh-baked croissant from a local p√Ętisserie for only LE 2 / USD $0.40, i'm reading to catch a taxi over to the pyramids of giza and finally see the pyramids that i've waited so long to see. my day yesterday over at the egyptian museum was already fantastic enough, seeing the treasures of ancient egypt and the famous items from king tut's tomb, such as his golden mask and throne. i've wanted to make this journey since i read my first book about king tut in 5th grade, and am absolutely overjoyed to be here and finally making this all happen.

there is nothing like living out one of your lifelong dreams to make little things like losing your luggage seem like nothing at all.

November 24, 2006

looking forward to tanzania

my next stop on this trip is tanzania, where my wonderful friend fiona connected me with the most excellent mr. remmy who lives out there. while remmy and i were discussing possible safaris to do while i'm in Tanzania in a few week's time, he sent me these notes (slightly paraphrased by me):

"The parks to visit are Ngorongoro Crater which is one of the worlds heritage sites, decorated with lakes where you can find find thousands of flamingos, hippos, rhinos, elephants, buffaloes & other game birds. There are also swamps with underground spring water. Here you can find a lot of water birds.

Another park i would suggest you visit is Serengeti national park. By this time you'll likely be able to see big numbers of migrants, like thousands of wildebeest, Zebras, Buffaloes being followed by the predators like lions, cheetah, jackals, hyenas, etc. Currently this migration is from north masai mara heading to south serengeti."

wow. that just sounds incredible.

in other news, i had a totally amazing thanksgiving thanks to the american/german couple i met at a cairo-area korean bbq restaurant two nights ago and who invited me over to their flat for thanksgiving dinner. it was delicious (and the german red cabbage instead of cranberry sauce worked surprisingly well), and was exactly what i needed on a thanksgiving where i'm halfway around the world and nine months from home. for my american readers, i hope your thanksgivings were just as good!

i also saw the pyramids at memphis and giza. fantastic. amazing. cool. i'll back-post some blogging about them when i have a chance to catch up on my blog around christmas (along with detail on the UAE, oman, and jordan).

i'm on a midnight bus tonight to dahab, where the plan is to do not much for several days except scuba dive in the red sea and laze about town. just what i need after escaping the air pollution of cairo!

ps. my backpack has (at last) been returned to me by the airline, minus the locks and a few items. no major losses, though!

November 27, 2006

caught up at last with Lost

thanks to the excellent iTunes store, my season pass to Season 3 of Lost has yielded a full download to my iPod of all the episodes i've missed while travelling overseas, and so I'm now finally caught up with the videos that all of you have been seeing at home.

now that i've caught up with all of the televised content, i assume that you've also seen the sri lanka video as well? if not, you'll definitely want to see the youtube embedded video below.

and in the vein of continuing Lost propaganda, the people making Lost decided to run Google text ads on Lostpedia.org for "The Hanson Legal Foundation". you've got to love this postmodern world of online/offline tie-ins...

November 28, 2006

fixed paragraph breaks

those of your reading my blog via RSS feed or email subscription may have noticed that my text-only entries were allrunningintonebigpararaph, which isn't the ideal way to read them.

i've now fixed the HTML for all text-only entries in my blog, so in any RSS feed they should now show up correctly. i think something changed in a past movable type upgrade that caused this problem, but whatever the cause was, it's now fixed.

reading all those old entries while fixing the HTML gave me time to reflect... it's hard to believe that i've been travelling for over nine months!

what's that pain in my right side?

today i dove down through The Bells to the famous Blue Hole here in Dahab, which is an absolutely spectacular dive. coral walls dropping down into infinity, schools of neon-colored florescent fish parting just in front of my mask, giant fish with iridescent markings, even an octopus. just amazing.

when i came back up and was stowing my gear on the truck, i felt increasing twinges in my right side, where i'd been having pain since a fall from horseback a few days ago in cairo. let me explain...

4 days ago i was galloping on horseback (although not in the most heroic of styles) across the giza plateau to the pyramids at sunset, thanks to a sketchy connection to a horse/camel tour company whom my taxi driver referred me to. my guide on horseback gained us access to the normally forbidden-to-enter-at-sunset plateau by the application of baksheesh to the guard at the back gate near the bedouin compounds. we were making great time to the great pyramid in time for a good photo op, when the saddle (which wasn't properly secured, as it turns out) on my horse started sliding to the right, and i was suddenly (and very briefly) riding at right angles to my horse while he was continuing to gallop.

i fell off of the horse onto the desert, and somehow managed to avoid breaking, spraining, twisting, getting trampled, dragged, or having anything happen to me other than getting the wind severely knocked out of me. i even managed to not fall on the side that contains my camera, which has been damaged, repaired/patched, and survived more times on this trip than would seem possible for a piece of modern consumer electronics.

after i recovered from the shock of getting dropped on my side several feet onto the desert floor, i thought everything was ok, and we rode on across the plateau to get the photo ops as dusk settled onto the plateau. however, that spot on the right side of my chest had been bothering me ever since.

after i started getting increasing pain in that spot after this morning's dive, i headed to the local dive doctor to be sure that the additional pain wasn't related to my dive, and maybe figure out just what the source of the pain actually is while i'm there. after arriving in a gleaming, brand-new dive medical facility, complete with decompression chamber (only 3 months old, according to the doctor), i saw a doctor who diagnosed me as not having any decompression-related problems (always a relief!), but sent me over to the local hospital to have a chest x-ray to inspect the rib.

by contrast, the dahab local hospital was severely impoverished and understaffed. the walls were stained with ancient drips, the doctors were too busy to deal with me, the administrative staff were nonexistent, and the technician in the x-ray room was getting ready to pocket the money from my x-ray without logging it in the actual hospital books. i couldn't help but think that this is the standard of care that the people receive here who are even lucky enough to afford medical care, and that i really need to think about doing something to try and improve the situation of other people in this world, rather than just cruising along as a western tourist who is normally shielded from anything other than high-quality tourist medical care.

after i returned to the divers medical center, the doctor, who really was an excellent, well-spoken professional, peered at what he could make out of my blurred chest x-ray, and diagnosed a bruised rib, prescribing me muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs for the next few weeks, in addition to no diving for the next 2-3 weeks, and no lifting heavy objects. (i'll do a followup with another doctor in tanzania in 10 days to see how the healing is coming along.)

not diving is easy to do. not lifting heavy objects is difficult when you're backpacking with two heavy backpacks.

stop. think. re-evaluate my plans.

i was planning to go to luxor tonight (via the bus from dahab to sharm, the ferry from sharm to hurghada, and then the bus from hurgada to luxor), so i could have 3 days seeing the museum at luxor and the surrounding tombs before heading on to tanzania. did i really want to be wincing under my backpacks in another pollution-and-noise plagued city trying to see every site in egypt in the shortest possible time? or did i want to slow down for a while and just give this thing some time to heal?

healing is good. resting is ok. not seeing everything is ok... it's a long life ahead, and i already have a long list of things i want to do in future trips. visiting luxor may be one of those things.

and for gods sake, i'm in one of the best backpacker beach resort towns in the world. even without doing more diving (thank god i got a chance to dive the blue hole before getting denied on more diving), there's plenty of opportunity to lie out in the sun, snorkel over fantastic reefs just off of the shore, and generally enjoy lazing about and taking it easy while my rib heals up.

so here i am, still in dahab, watching orange county projected on a massive screen with the english soundtrack along with arabic subtitles for the evening's entertainment in the back of the Tota bar, eating chicken shish at a beachside restaurant next to a portable bbq filled with burning wood to keep the evening chill at bay, and walking down the moonlit beach. i think i'll stay here for a while longer, and just figure out my new plans a day at a time.

and as it happens, that is what dahab is all about.

About November 2006

This page contains all entries posted to gone living in November 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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