Thursday, 17 December 2009

What?! oh yeah, Merry Mixmas and all

Two months or more have escaped without a blog post from here to shatter the peace. As well as laziness I could blame being quite busy with the two part time jobs (data entry and helping with apartment admin) plus houseboy duties, and/or the unreliable and slow datacards that are still our only internet access at Green Stripe. Neither of these alone would totally preclude patching together a quick weekly bulletin, and that is what I shall try to do from now on, new year resolution and all that (along with having another go at developing a moderate-to-minmal twitterhabit, or possibly even faceachebook though I couldn't really guarantee the latter).

But really, it was probably inevitable to step back for a while sooner or later, as life here threatened to become routine and unremarkable. But really, it isn't, and we don't intend to let that happen, but as I may have already remarked, this is the first time since arriving in Doha in February that we have approached feeling a bit settled here, so it was nice to have a breather. Not that we haven't been busy, to be sure.

And things will feel even more settled if we can finally get the long-promised (inshallah) reliable internet connection. We are told there is in fact cabling down our street, and only the building connection is missing, so the offer of a satellite link (which won't necessarily be any more reliable) may not be the way to go. It would be bad enough if it was just the apartments that were suffering, but most of the teacher/advisors living here have faulty or no internet access at their schools for various reasons, and need something that works or they can't do their job - with a scattered and constantly conferring workforce and much of the learning program net-based, it's essential.

Typically, I gave up trying to upload photos to this blog after many failed attempts, but decided to have one more go in time for a Christmas post. Surprisingly, I managed to upload a swag over about 2 days (but missed the Xmas deadline); then just as I was going to crank out this text to accompany them, I couldn't access the Blogger site at all for two days, along with Gmail chat and Skype, although Gmail itself and Google news etc still loaded perfectly. Other times, things open OK but are then uselessly slow; and so on. I suspect Etisalat is blocking some popular sites on a rotating schedule because they haven't got enough capacity.

Yesterday, having lost patience with fruitless customer service inquiries, some residents made a formal complaint, and today a surveyor visited to check out what is required to sort out the connection. Watching and waiting...

Meanwhile, in response to the deafeningly silent chorus of concerned and impatient readers, here for anyone with a laptop and/or smartphone/datacard with them on holiday (it's not a holiday here of course) is a catch-up jumble of things seen and done, without too many more words from me. It doesn't include our November Eid weekend trip to Ras al Khaimah (which produced enough pix for its own post); the Great Green Stripe
Xmas Banquet in the courtyard on Friday night, which was enjoyed by all (except poor Ange who had a tummy bug which appears to be coming right just in time for flying to NZ on new year's eve); or lots more as yet unphotographed pearls of Al Ain and its attractions.

You asked for pictures of dunes. Didn't you? This is typical just a few kms from our place:

Here's a rare one without pylons. We have more if you want, and should add to the collection when we make the recommended trip to the more remote quarters.

Here's a typical farmhouse,

and adjacent worker's accommodation.

The Marital Restaurant is nearby - not sure if it's serving couples only, or anybody at all.

Just up the road, this palatial structure is arising - farmhouse? restaurant? or maybe a new entrance gate to the
Sheikh's camel raceway which is somewhere hereabouts.

Jebel Hafeet keeps an eye on it all.

All the way up the mountain road are these signs; on our fourth or fifth trek up there I took my eyes off the road long enough to realise it's writing, not waiting, that they are threatening people about.

At the summit there were these ladies hard at work with marker pens (the rockface is covered with graffiti, which is not all that common around town)...

But not to be outdone, this is just across the wadi from us - must get a translation some time.

We haven't done too many touristy things, but we did make it to Al Ain's world-class zoo on a busy Saturday. Well, it's definitely more impressive than Doha's both in scope and quality, though many animals still pace up and down in their moderately spacious enclosures. You can marvel at local fauna

or exotic

or be marvelled at.

It's mutual.

You don't have to go to Dubai to ride a camel, but when we were there for the day a few weeks ago, brave Ange did.

This was at the Sheikh's Centre for Cultural Understanding, which was otherwise closed on a Friday, but a degree of understanding was definitely reached.

We also visited Jumeirah Beach (on which sex and photos are prohibited, but this is taken from the promenade, eh). For those who need to orient themselves, the famous Burj Al Arab can just be seen on the horizon where the sun is shining on the water. Unmistakable on the skyline and of greater interest surely is the Burj Dubai, world's tallest building, 160 stories, nearly 1km tall, opening in February. How will they top this?

Not necessarily by building more Palms. There are now three of these island paradises, plus The World. Having been reassured by the announcement from Nakheel Construction (a branch of debt-ridden Dubai World) during the recent repayments crisis that the idea that it's sinking into the sea is just gossip (but you can't help having a few biblical thoughts), we casually drove around the original, Palm Jumeirah (which is in fact near Jumeirah Beach Residence where I got heroically and nocturnally lost in September, all of 20km down the coast from Jumeirah Beach, i.e another horizon further beyond Burj Al Arab). There are posh marina villas on the fronds, but they are gated and out of bounds. This is the main trunk, with bulk apartments and a Trump Tower somewhere invisible in the background, and a monorail track on the left which leads to

Atlantis. This super-hotel on the outer ring of the reclamation, reached via a tunnel, has been open one year. All you really need to know is that valet parking is AED160. We passed.

We then got lost in remarkably similar fashion to my September adventure, but managed to happen upon Ibn Battuta mall, which has plenty of free parking, and a magnificent mosaic dome crowned as it were by the inevitable Starbucks.

We were still hellbent on riding the new Metro, so before plunging in to shop, we took a bus to the end of the line a few kms away and queued for some time to buy a ticket. Unfortunately by the time we got on a (driverless) train it was nearly dark, and it soon filled up with Friday night party goers, so it became a somewhat boring commute to the far end (35minutes one way) with little to see but glimpses of the city lights among the reflections of standing passengers, and endless car showrooms (at least it's elevated most of the way, only a tunnel under the Creek). So no photos of that.

Eventually back to the mall. Ibn Battuta was a fabled Arabian explorer in the mould of Marco Polo, and the mall redeems itself by featuring an extensive and fascinating display about his travels and discoveries scientific and geographic. The mall is divided into themed courts each for the various countries he visited - a worthy variation on the samesame shopping trek. The shops were ok too, but best for me was the guy near the foodhall with the best scam: for 10 dirhams a generous pottle of fresh off the cob (not tinned) corn kernels with your chosen combo of flavours. I was a goner.

Then it was time to stagger back to the car and get reliably lost again trying to find the way out of town, but this time I had Angela the direction-finder with me so no panic. We'll have a proper go at Dubai again soon, perhaps over a whole weekend.

Back in Al Ain, things are more modest and funky. Here's a port-a-mosque which is among the site sheds at a mosque a few blocks from here which is being renovated.

Grandeur can be found in the endless variations on the suburban villa and notably its street frontages. You gotta have a standout fence and gateway. A selection of the more notable needs its own blog post some time, but for now a spoiler or two:

Variations on wall and gateway lighting are part of the fun; this guy, 2 or 3 kms from here, wins with not one but two gateways featuring these big brass lanterns.

And just around the corner is a modest sized plot of land compared to some (probably about an acre), but there are some hefty houses going up on it inside what is surely The Best Fence in Al Ain (or the entire UAE?). (Note real palm tree for comparison purposes.)

Many of our crew groan and sigh with apparent nausea every time they pass by this kitsch monument (which is often, as it's on our direct route to town), but I say: applaud and enjoy the monumental chutzpah it took to go through with such a bold statement; ponder upon its siginificance. If I find a better one you will be first to know.

Biggest news is: about 3 weeks ago, it happened! Rain in Al Ain. (No kneejerk lines about mainly plains or drains please.) Clouds gathered, adding some welcome drama to dawns and sunsets

and it poured on and off for two days, filling the wadis briefly, but somehow I missed getting a shot of that, sorry.

Suddenly it was just like home, though in some ways not. Streets and roundabouts were feet deep in places - the vestigial stormwater system gets clogged with sand and can't cope). Drivers tend to freak out at the sight of a puddle and skirt round it on the other side, or if forced, traverse it at a slow crawl, but a few like to hoon through and splash the pedestrians.

All too soon it was over and the only reminders were a brief Al Ainbow (gotcha!)

and high tide marks of water bottles (!) in the wadis.

There's nearly always a bit of water in the ford near our place - from a big stormwater pipe that empties into the wadi a bit further up, probably runoff from irrigation at the nearby orchards and sports fields. Nice for the occasional grazing camel herd and flocks of water birds.

Generally the prospect for Green Stripe wadi-walkers is a bit arid; there are miles of paved pathways (paving stone makers have been among the main beneficiaries of the Gulf economic miracle) in the approx square km of supposed parkland between us and the watercourse, but some serious planting of lawns and trees is needed to make it all worthwhile. What trees there are at the edges are of course irrigated like every bit of public greenery here.

This is looking back towards our apartments which can be seen to the right of the litter bin.

And here's another view from the far side of the wadi; Green Stripe is behind the bush towards the centre.
This is our home uo close, in all its verdant splendour. The stripes are indeed the same green as the fence details, as well as the bannisters and other features. With luck, the newly planted palm trees will soon show some rain-induced growth (Salaam the gardener waters them daily too) and we will have another shade of green to bask in, inshallah.

And in lieu of Xmas cheer, here's a pic of the revellers at our first rooftop barbecue, which went off some time in November. We do have a good community here, and are really starting to feel sort of at home.

Let's get this posted before the internet falls over again - anyway I have a bit more data entry I should be getting on with before last minute shopping and packing etc ready for 1015am Thurs ETD from Dubai for Ak. We will be in NZ from New Years Day until Friday 8 Jan, mostly in Nelson for Catrin's wedding so it's a matter of luck if we get to see many people, but we'll try. Otherwise look forward to renewed attempts at regular communication in the new year.

Meanwhile Happy New Years (islamic, 14 Dec I think, year 1453 I think, and gregorian) from all of us to all of you.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony and Angela
    I have been checking every few weeks for news of your adventures , so thanks for the post. I was beginning to think you had drifted off into the desert, lost in the dunes. I hope the NZ visit and wedding go well. AND i hope you get some internet access soon so we can chat. Cheers Nancy