Monthly Archives: December 2010

Christmas Day with the camels!

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Having texted the people I cherish wishing them a Merry Christmas, replied to the ones who remembered and wished me on such a day, each with a very personalized message, I had the feeling I’ve done my share of loving, caring and being considerate for the next 6 months. 

Considering my options for the day, I settle by noon time on heading to the Al Dhafra Camel Festival. Yes, on Christmas day! Hey, doesn’t the Bible say that “the three wise men travelled from afar on CAMELS to visit the infant Jesus as he lay in the manger”? so I’m not completely out of sync with the rest of the world today. 

The festival is taking place in Zayed City in the Western Region of Abu Dhabi, around 2 hours and 30 minutes away from my place. I was on the road for almost an hour before I realized my existence seems a bit too quiet. Grabbing my bag nervously, please God, I know I haven’t been that good of a person this past year but don’t let it be … oh damnit, I forgot my cell phone! On the day I go on a drive in the middle of the desert! By myself! To a place I’ve never been to before! Wait! To a place I’ve never read about before this morning! Ughhhhh. It kinda made me laugh seeing this sign (—>) later for the first time in my life in the UAE, how convenient! Maybe I should believe again in this whole Christmas thing? and make my mother happy and proud.

I take few seconds and decide to keep going. A cell phone or lack of it in this case is not gonna stop me!

I kept holding on anxiously to this thought for almost 40 minutes later when I couldn’t ignore the screaming of my mind asking me where in the world we are. The only answer I had for him was ‘it looks we are somewhere with lots of sand around’. I keep reading the names mentioned on the Abu Dhabi Week little map, on road signs, however, strangely enough, they don’t seem to be in the same sequence; they don’t seem to be in the reverse sequence either; it’s like I keep jumping into this map from a road outside the margin of the Abu Dhabi Week page.

It all comes to a head when I follow what is obviously a wrong sign and reach a dead-end road. This is where my mind takes hold of the steering wheel when I’m at my most vulnerable place and I let him.

‘See? I told you this was a bad idea’.

‘Oh just shut up and drive!’

‘Listen to me. I’m doing this for you. You don’t know where the hell you’re going. You have no cell phone to call to find out. If you go any deeper, chances are you won’t find any humans to ask them for help. And by the way, did you see the last ones standing on the road a while ago? Do you want to take your chances and ask them for help?’

Nodding a ‘nope’.

‘And you barely have fuel to just make it back. Remember no cell phone. Are you planning to hitchhike in the sun? in this place?’

Nodding one more ‘nope’,

‘Does anyone know you’re here today? in case?’

I sigh, sit straight, take control of the steering wheel and head back, following the road sign ‘Abu Dhabi’ i.e. home. Hey, I tried but I guess we’re done for the day.

Until I come across this sign (—>).

It takes me few seconds to realize it’s too late to let it go now, I’ve been driving for almost 2 hours. I’m not going back home just like that. Since when did I give up so easily? I know the answer to that: since the last 2 years, mainly giving up on people in my life, confusing it probably with ‘letting go’ which I became an expert at, but then again that would be the subject of another post. Now, there is barely enough time to just take that turn and get me, myself and I on my way back to the festival. My mind is baffled and speechless. I switch on the music before he starts.

The Al Dhafra festival is now an annual event, probably the largest gathering of camels, attracting camels and camel owners from the gulf region: Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman in addition to the United Arab Emirates. It includes a beauty pageant where camels are awarded points based on attributes like nice whiskers, firm ears, a good-shaped nose, a long neck, good posture and strong legs. Part of the activities as well are the races for each of the Asayel (pedigree) and Majahim (dark-skinned) camels and the auctions –some of them are priced at a million UAE dirhams!

Last year, more than 28,000 camel owners participated; many of them drove their camels for hundreds of kilometers from the entire region. The prizes amounted to 42 million UAE dirhams.

I spent quite some time taking photos of the camels, watching them flaunt their big asses, enjoying the road priority given to them by the police, because guess what, they don’t stop! I doubt they even see humans in their cars from up there. If you look closer, they seem to have an arrogant air to them these camels.

He was nice enough to slow down so that I can take a photo

Police interrupting the traffic

... and they cross over

A school - back from the race track

At one point, I got full with the stinking smell, yes, they smell and they smell bad, I head towards the traditional market aka the souk. There are too many shops, all built in a very traditional way, selling Emirati items, from food to frankincense, perfume and clothing.

One side of the Souk

Photo taken after permission - we know the rules of the country

Emirati perfume

Buying perfume

Oh was I so lucky that I arrived to the souk right before the Emirati traditional song and dance start. It’s at times like these that I wish I had a cam recorder. Hope you enjoy the pictures nevertheless.

Emirati girls dancing

Emirati men dancing

and singing

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Nice meeting you too

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It’s quite cold and windy today. I can tell from the movement of the water in my lagoon. Yes, that’s right, it remains my lagoon until I check out. If there is one thing I cherish more than my lagoon though, it would be something I call ‘my comfort’. Thinking there is no way I’m taking my socks off, even less getting naked and dipping a toe into this cold water, I shift to plan B, prepare myself a cup of hot cappuccino, bring out my digestive bought at Spinneys Al Khalidiya, newspaper, book and wrap myself with the extra towel.

My morning sanctuary
... hmmm

Reading became the highlight of my morning and later my day when I reached a part in the book which I’m typing here and which made me burst into tears, then into a fit of laughter –the loud haha type, then tears then laughs again and got me confused as to which emotion I should hang onto .   

I am highlighting in bold the parts which hit the sensitive nerve and triggered the emotional reaction(s), the rest is there for you to understand the context. I took the liberty to take some lines out. I couldn’t have said it better myself about me, simply because I discovered me when I read about myself in her.

Here it is:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can’t let this one go.  It’s over … David’s purpose was to shake you up, drive you out of that marriage that you needed to leave, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master and beat it. This was his job, and he did great, but now it’s over. Problem is, you can’t accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You’re like a dog at the dump, baby –you’re just lickin’ at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever, and make your life miserable. So drop it.

But I love him.

So love him.

But I miss him.

So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, and then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’ll really be alone …. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there , an open spot –a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in –God will rush in- and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.

But I wish me and David could –

He cuts me off. See, now that’s your problem. Your wishin’ too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.

This line gives me the first laugh of the day.

Then I ask … So how long will it be before all this grieving passes?

You want an exact date?

Yes.

Somethin’ you can circle on your calendar?

Yes.

Lemme tell you something … –you got some serious control issues.

My rage at this statement consumes me like fire. Control issues? ME? I actually consider slapping Richard for this insult. And then, from right down inside the intensity of my offended outrage comes the truth. The immediate, obvious, laughable truth.

He’s totally right.

The fire passes out of me, fast as it came.

You’re totally right, I say.

I know I’m right, baby. Listen, you’re a powerful woman and you’re used to getting what you want out of life and you didn’t get what you wanted in your last few relationships and it’s got you all jammed up. Your husband didn’t behave the way you wanted him to and David didn’t either. Life didn’t go your way for once. And nothing pisses off a control freak than life not goin’ her way.

Don’t call me a control freak, please.

You have control issues … Come on. Nobody ever told you this before?

So I buck up and admit it. Ok, I think you’re probably right. Maybe I do have a problem with control. It’s just weird that you noticed. Because I don’t think it’s that obvious on the surface. I mean –I bet most people can’t see my control issues when they first look at me.

Richard from Texas laughs so hard he almost loses his toothpick.

They can’t? Honey –Ray Charles could see your control issues!

Ok I’m done with this conversation now, thank you.”

The Forts – Melange of walking chatting thinking

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I had set out to check the Old Muscat, conveniently located within driving distance from the hotel. Like a good girl (yes yes! I can be it occasionally!), I had read about its 2 forts: the Al Mirani and the Al Jalali and its Al Alam Palace the night before. I was readier than I would normally be for a work deadline, simply because this is something I love to do, exploring.

The mysterious Al Mutrah Fort - view from the alley.

Having found the palace, I decided to scout the area first, partly making sure I get an overview of the distance I’ll be walking later and partly for shutting down my mind and its incessant ‘are you sure it’s the right place?’, ‘the forts are supposed to be close’, ‘where are the forts?’, ‘why can’t I see any fort?’. So I drive around and spot the first: Al Mirani. I look for the second one. I keep driving, a bit longer this time, ending up having a ‘second’ in my sight. A road sign reading ‘Mutrah’ confirms my doubts about it being the one. It definitely is NOT the one. Going through the list of the forts I printed from the Omanet.om website, I don’t find it. Which makes it the first contender to my inquisitive mind. Yeah, I’m weird this way.Omanis are nice and chatty, something I pleasantly discovered the first day I got here. It’s hard to get lost in this country, someone somehow will chat you out of wherever you are, then chat you onto the right way. Omani men are even friendlier and more helpful. Too helpful I have to rightfully stop and give my blond hair (my 6-year-old-loyally-tainted-blond hair) the credit it deserves.

Provided with some guidance, I walk myself up a small hill, into a bending alleyway, flanked with white houses. In the last part of it, I get some company, the male type of course; the younger type too -the story of my life lately.I click photos along the walk. I chat, take more shots. I excuse myself from my companion who insists on waiting and take my time climbing the contemporary staircase leading to the fort. The views of the bay it overlooks are splendid it would be a crime not to snap more photos. So I do it over and over again, with every couple of steps up. Looking backward, the sight of the town (I’ll call it the white town or white town M for Mutrah) against the dark mountainous background is equally amazing. Click click.

The bay view on the way up to the fort

The town view on the way up to the fort

I hurry the last few steps up, the sun is too hot at this time of the day. Bang!!! The door is closed!!!

Closed!!!

‘Of course it is closed, this fort is not opened for tourists, it is around 400 years old’ my companion utters. Staring at him, I start sliding into my reflective and philosophical mode, thinking to myself ‘so what if it is 400 years old, we close it down?’, ‘is this what we’re supposed to do with the past? close the door on it once and for all? even if it had once a powerful effect?’

Snap out of it Anne-Marie! Now! You’re not here to think. As a matter of fact, you’re here to have a break from thinking. You’re here to explore, so explore away.

Right! Besides, why am I doing it again? Why am I making of them (men) more of what they are or say or do? He –the man, or kid-man- made a SUPERFICIAL comment and is JUST looking for hmm a female company. He is obviously not experienced enough to realize that I’m what? 8 to 10 years older? And that I am a proud expert at evasion and elusiveness.

Later that night, surfing the net, I got to know that the Mutrah Fort I checked is one of the most well-known forts in Oman. With 6 towers, it was first built in 1578 by the Portuguese at a time they occupied Muscat, then became the seat of the government when Sultan Said Bin Sultan Al Bousaidi was ruling, which makes complete sense taking into consideration it overlooked the coast from high up there. Today it oversees the port and its activities -what you find on maps under the name ‘Mina As Sultan Qaboos’.

Exploring away, I head back to the Al Mirani Fort, hoping for sightseeing luck there. I am not sure why I’m hung on forts today? I’m bizzarely determined to get into one or onto one, whichever. What do forts represent? Control? Ok never mind, let’s keep going.

The Mirani fort is in the vicinity of the Al Alam Palace, which is not opened for visitors by the way. You can only view it from outside the gate. Simple stripes of blue and golden colours make it agreeable to look at. They say blue is supposed to reflect the colour of the sea behind it and the golden colour the sun shining. They also say it’s good to see it at sunrise and sundown. I got there in the afternoon.

Al Alam Palace - everyone takes a photo of the front, I do the back

One of the sides of Al Mirani Fort

Protecting the fort

I kept curving my way along the walls of the palace and eventually reached the Mirani Fort. Unlike the Mutrah one, this fort was built before the Portuguese arrived, in a tower-like shape. When they eventually did, they rebuilt it and added stores, living quarters for the commander and a worship place. No sightseeing luck here either as it is currently used by soldiers, probably as a military base from the look of it.

With so many forts spread around this country, being its most striking landmarks, I’m bound to find one who’d take me for a visit. In the meantime, I’ll follow the saying ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. And this is what I did, I put my hands together with theirs, protecting Muscat, the Sultan and its people. I even took the opportunity to add my own touch, unarguably known as ‘posing’.

My Lagoon

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One of the perks of working in the hotel industry is being able to afford staying in luxury hotels at ridiculously cheap staff rates. Additionally, if you know someone in your destination hotel, or know someone who knows someone else, depending on availability, you could be the lucky receiver of an upgrade, or the lucky B (bi or ba) in the eyes and mind of any envious one outside the industry.My upgrade tonight was to a lagoon room!!! I had seen a photo and was dreaming of it at one point on the way from Abu Dhabi. My mind however, you know the one in the passenger seat, pushed me off that cloud and back on to the road reminding me that my dreams/expectations/illusions and the blurred line I draw between all three of them are the causes of my regular disappointments. I wasn’t in the mood for a fight today, so we agreed to disagree. I stop dreaming of my lagoon room and he stops nagging.

Back to my room, I leave the Guest Services agent talking and head anxiously towards the balcony, thinking I need to be sure this is the one. And yes ladies and gentlemen, it IS the one!

That’s right, one step away from my lagoon. Be jealous, be sooooo jealous … and tell me about it.

My morning sight
... not bad huh?!

I will not write about the hotel or the rooms in here for two reasons. For one, my blog is where I concentrate on things I see through my eyes, not necessarily objectively. Oh well. Second reason is that I doubt I’d be doing a better job than the hotel’s own website. You can check it here if interested. I do hope they mention somewhere that at the Al Bustan Palace, you switch the lights on in your room the instinctual way without having to take back the key you unconsciously dropped a second ago in your pocket/bag (regardless of the repetition) and insert it into a thing in the wall. This is in my opinion a most heavenly feature. 

I shouldn’t have listened to my manicurist, the photo would’ve been perfect with blue nail polish

Not an early riser in general, I become one the next day. I believe good things in life are worth the sacrifice. Good things like sipping my cappuccino on my own patio, meditating in the best way I know of while listening to the only creatures allowed to make a sound at this time –birds and starting this blog. I did have the extra benefit of gazing at a cute guy’s ass whilst he’s jogging but I guess it’s just luck and not really included in any package.

Keeping the best till last, my main reason for waking up early is the fact that I wanted to swim in my lagoon. Many may disagree, arguing that it’s shared, but hey look around people, we have an undeniable fact in here. At 8 something of the morning of 19th December 2010, this is officially MY LAG-OH-OON!

Did I leave the lights on last night?!?     
                      

My Lagoon (period) (.)

Impulse etcetera etcetera etcetera

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(Written in bed on 18th December 2010) It took me: less than a minute to know about it, ‘it’ being the idea, which is someone else’s by the way, for him and his family. Who cares, a break is everyone’s right; 10 minutes to consider it. I’m at the end of my tether and wrongly thought I can last till February. I can’t, I need something now to get me over the once-again-depressive Christmas week; 1 (ONE) minute to decide, that’s where the title comes from, especially for someone who mulls over things for days and weeks before making up my mind; 5 to 6 minutes to book it online while fighting literarily with 2 friends who did everything they could physically, within the boundaries of friendship, to stop me from getting there; seconds for letting my boss know about it and hmm sign for it while walking/rushing. All set. And now the obvious question comes to mind: SO … How ABOUT Muscat? Is it nice?This was the background story which put me behind the wheel, on the road between the United Arab Emirates and Oman.  (which reminds me I need to take that sticker off) (ask me in 6 months from now if I did).

Between the UAE and the Omani check points, a long drive, don’t panic, you most probably are not lost, it’s an extended stretch and with my sense of direction, if I can make it, anyone can.

Sitting here and typing this, I can’t help but thinking this was a LONG drive. The longest I’ve driven previously was from Florence to Venice and back in one day. It was different though, each way was around 4 hours so basically I had a long break sightseeing in between. That day, the car was full of people, laughter, fights, sarcasm, food, drinks, nonsense, you name it. And someone else had to read the map and road signs. Today, it was me, my mind in the passenger seat and my thoughts tucked all in the back, squeezing against each other. Having them joining me on a ride is rarely a good thing by the way, and so I had to put up with them until we got interrupted by Hi FM 95.9, thankfully! They have someone called Erin with either a sleepy voice or an ‘Euuh I’m not having a good day, not planning to make any effort to fake that I am and currently do not give a shit to what y‘all think’ kind of a voice. Not sure which one it is but the mere possibility that it could be the latter makes me like her.

It looks like Bryan Adams is in town for a concert tonight. I was still far from Muscat at 7 pm. It sure didn’t help oversleeping this morning or getting stuck in a long queue at the borders of Al Ain to find out once at the departure gate that I, being not Omani, not Emirati, not a GCC national in general, do not get to exit the UAE through Al Madheef border port, but have to line up at the Hili one. Following Omani yellow plated cars was not my smartest idea of the day after all. The frustrating highlight was the fact that for some (… ) (feel free to fill in the blanks) reason, my passport wasn’t stamped on my exit of the UAE, even though I remember he took it, entered some numbers on his pc before I lost focus on him and what he was doing. Being my natural self, I don’t check and find out about it naturally at the visa counter of the Omani border point. So I had planned to do what anyone on an emotional rescue mission and with no other choice than keep heading to Muscat would have done: driving back 35 to 40 kms to get an exit stamp. Surprising the distance between the two countries’ check points, you can fit a third one in between! And rule if you act fast! Tentative good news came out of the somehow reluctant Omani visa officer’s mouth about a closer exit border point, called Al Shakla, 15 minutes away (30 minutes both ways), though there was no guarantee a different exit point would grant me a stamp supposed to be given by another, but they did. And this is all I needed to head back on my journey.

If you’re driving, you need to insure your car either in the country you reside in or between the borders check points.

Some of the landscaping of Oman. The mountains make up 15% of the total landmass of this country.

More craggy mountains on the way.