Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wahiba Sands, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 5

April 4th, 2009. Evening.

This was the part of Oman that I was most anticipating about.

After leaving Wadi Bani Khalid, we drove for about 30 minutes to the town of Al-Mintirib, where we had an appointment to meet the driver who will bring us into the desert to the camp. Sukhairi had to hire the shuttle (4WD plus a driver) because his car is a 2WD, and we will just follow his 4WD. We only took what was necessary for an overnight stay, and stowed the rest of our luggage in Sukhairi's car which will be parked and left in Al-Mintirib.
After a quick toilet stop, we drove deeper into Al-Mintirib, which already sits at the edge of the desert, to enter the Wahiba Sands, a vast body of nothing but orange sand in the middle of Oman.

Driving to our camp was actually not as challenging as our previous desert driving in Qatar and Saudi. The sand was quite compacted, providing enough traction for the tyres, even for a 2WD. Perhaps it's because many vehicles have driven through this route before us. But at one point, we did have to climb over a huge dune , and that portion of the drive would necessitate a 4WD.
Along the way we passed a few bedouin tents, Al-Raha camp (another site that provides overnight accomodation, but in concrete rooms covered with palm leaves) and miles and miles of orange sand dunes.
After about 45minutes or so of driving through and up and down sand, we finally reached 1000 Nites Camp. At the really rustic reception (a concrete desk, a concrete bench, under fronds of date leaves), we were served with really strong arabic tea and halwa and dates. We were then brought to our accomodation for the night, a room fashioned out of a bedouin tent, but equipped with the very basic modern amneties (bed, bathroom, lights).

The tent is made out of thick wool, and ours was right under a tree.
Arriving that afternoon, I found it to be quite hot and stuffy, so we had to open up the 'window' (flaps that are secured by a metal hook), but I was sure it would be very nice when it gets colder that night. They had laid 2 extra mattresses for our kids.

The tent had one big main beam in the middle of it, supporting the roof (also wool) and several smaller and shorter beams at the edges of the tent, supporting the walls, which gives it its distinct shape. The edges of the roof and the walls are then secured together with big metal pins. The floor is laid with carpets which are quite comfortable. The tents are equipped with lights, but they only turn on the generator in the late afternoon and switches it off at around 3am.

Fortunately, the bathrooms were not bedouin bathrooms :). They have proper sit down toilets and sink and shower with complimentary toileteries. The pipes run hard water though, so it tasted a little salty (definitely not for drinking) and there is a little sign that says "We are in the desert, please conserve water" :)
The bathroom is open air and ours was partly covered by a tree, which provided somthing to look at while you... uhm... whatever. Taking a shower under the blue skies really reminded me of shower times in my late grandmother's open air bathroom.

After a quick solat, we headed for the dunes which was just in front of our tent, to watch the sunset.

As usual, the kids found little trouble in climbing up the dunes, but I found myself huffing and puffing not even a quarter of the way. Izani was a little frustrated coz he kept sliding back down, so we went up via an alternative and relatively easier route. Even then, it was still a challenge, and Izani kept saying "I cant do it.. help me" and I had to motivate him (and indirectly, motivate myself) to keep on going and Izani's triumphant "I did it!" when we finally reached the top is as much a boost for me as it was for him.

Izani and I decided to stop halfway to where the rest of our party were because the wind was too strong and being that high among that much sand, we had sand blown into our eyes. Taufik, who had gone ahead with the other kids, managed to take the picture shown above.
Coming back down the dunes was much easier :)
Anis lost her faux crocs, though.

We went back to our tents to wash up, change, solat and get ready for dinner.

Dinner was served buffet style in an open air (but roofed) majlees. The food was really good (or maybe we were just really hungry after dune climbing). They served briyani rice with lamb or chicken curry, an eggplant dish, the usual salad and yoghurt, arabic bread, and they also had grilled meats - lamb kebabs, chicken wing and lamb chops. For dessert there were fresh fruits, halwa and a really yummy custard dish. They put canned and bottled drinks in two huge freezers in the majlees and you can take whichever you prefer.
While we eat, we were entertained by two men playing the traditional middle eastern guitar (gambus) and singing traditional songs. One of the songs sounded so much like zapin, a type of traditional music popular in the southern states of peninsular Malaysia, that we almost got up and dance :)

After dinner, we hung around the majlees just chatting about the plan for the next day. The two families exchanged riddles but my kids keep coming up with toilet ones, so then we played the 'shopping list' game. Someone starts with saying "I went to the market and bought ..." (the first item), then everyone else take turns to say "I went to the market and bought ..." (the list of items said before) and add their own item to the end list making the list longer and longer and more difficult to remember.
The night breeze started to get stronger and colder as the night progressed, so we decided to end the games and walked back to our tents and retire for the night.
We were lulled to sleep by the sound of wind and crickets.
Izani fell off the bed a few times. tee hee.

Early the next morning, the first thing Ilham and Ihsan did after brushing their teeth was ask if they could go on the dunes on the pretext of searching for Anis's shoes.
After doing my morning routine and getting dressed, I went out to find them tirelessly climbing up and running down the dunes, only stopping at intervals to have a drink of water at the bottom. They said they couldnt find Anis's shoes. I wasn't suprised, because the wind blew pretty hard yesterday, and it would've been buried under tonnes of sand by now. Plus, they werent really looking anyway.

I walked around taking pictures of dead bushes, sand dunes and insect trails on the sand (pics on my flickr).

At around 7, I called Ilham and Ihsan back to tent for their shower and woke up the rest of the clan for breakfast. Ilham and Ihsan snuck in a game of 'Who could toss a stick the farthest' while waiting for everyone else to get ready.
Anis had to walk to the majlees barefoot, as she did the night before for dinner.

On offer at the buffet breakfast was cereal, bread with assortment of jams and butter, arabic bread with foul, sausages, and eggs cooked any way you want.
There was a bedouin woman selling souviner items and trinkets while we were having breakfast. Items were quite expensive but I understand why, because they were all handmade by her. Even a small square of wall hanging must have taken her months to complete.
She was very smitten with Izani because he kept coming to her and ask "What you doin?". Before she left (because it was starting to drizzle), she gave Izani a string bracelet (2 for OR1). I offered to pay, but she said it was a 'hadiah' (gift). Izani was so happy, and he wore the bracelet every where he went. (I dont know where it is now though, I'm sure it's somewhere around the house).

We left 1000 Nites Camp at around 9 because dark coulds were beginning to gather and there was a light drizzle and we didnt want to be caught in the desert in the middle of the rain. We need not have worried though, because as we were driving out, the drizzle stopped and the sun started to come out.
The drive out was more exciting that the drive in, because we had to go (more like, slide) down a really steep dune before going on the compacted sand route again.

driving out

We got back to Al-Mintirib by 10am, retrieved our luggage from Sukhairi's car, refilled our tyres and gas tank and headed towards Nizwa.

Thus ended our unforgettable adventure in the Wahiba Sands of Oman.

A friend of ours had spent a night at 1000 Nites Camp in the deserts of Wahiba Sands when he came to Oman in December and looking at his pictures, we were inspired to do the same. Initial research and inquiries led me to a package tour that would cost us OR120 per person. The package would include transport from Muscat, a visit to Wadi Bani Khalid, a bedouin camp, a night in the desert at Al-Raha Camp, then the next morning a drive along Sur-Muscat highway. At first it seemed reasonable, especially for a once in a lifetime experience, but after considering that we will be coming from Nizwa, not Muscat, and that we have our own cars to think about, and that we would have to pay for 8 persons ... erks... we sought other (cheaper) alternatives.
My googling led me to emptyquartertours.com, which allowed me to book a tent for each of the families, and a 4WD for Sukhairi's family, for less.

Useful Information:

1000 Nites Camp
Double tent OR67/night, OR7/extra person/night (Child under 5 free)
Price includes dinner and breakfast, freeflow of water/juice/soft drinks.
4WD shuttle to/from camp is OR45/car
They also have a car escort service (In case you want to drive on your own, but dont know the way) OR20/car.

Next: Nizwa

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Killer Among Us

Yesterday I caught Larry King Live and the topic was 'A Killer Among Us', discussing about how sociopaths and psychopaths think and how difficult it is to understand and identify them before they start killing people.
Suddenly one of the members of the panel came up with this gem:
"In fact, the most dangerous psychopath is the one that appeared on this show, and I'm talking about M@hmoud Ahmadenij@d ... wants to destroy Israel, etc etc."
(or something to that effect).

I am not a supporter nor fan of Ahmadinej@d, but mister member of the panel sir, should I point out to you that Ahmadinej@d has not started any wars and has not directly caused deaths of any citizens from his own country or another country, but I can't say the same about your former president.
If you put your former president against the same standards, who's the psychopath?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 4

April 4th, 2009. Daytime.

Before heading for Wadi Bani Khalid, we needed to stop by a supermarket to buy supplies. We had planned to barbecue some chicken for our lunch at the wadi, after having a swim. Taufik bought some charcoal and a griller, but could not find any raw chicken. We ended up buying some half cooked barbecue chicken, along with some rice.
Again, the road signages in Oman guided our way to our destination, because most of the roads do not appear in our GPS.

We drove up spectacular mountains and then down again until we reached a small town. At first we were not sure if we were even at the right place, but we just drove on again, past houses and date trees until we reached what looked like a road washed out by a small stream. We followed a local truck to cross the stream for a bit, until he turned around and told us something like "Khamsin" or something and pointed to a gravel road ahead of us. We guessed he meant the wadi is about 50meters ahead of us on the gravel road. We thanked him and drove on, and sure enough at the last turn, we were greeted by two huge green pools of water in the middle of lush date trees. Judging from the white range rovers parked along the road, there were quite a few tourists who were already there ahead of us.
Getting off the car, we were greeted by the croaking of frogs, something that I haven't not heard in a very very long time. I cherished the sound then, oblivious to the premonition.
We unloaded our 'supplies' (food, water, tents, mats, a change of clothes and towels)(oh and cameras) from the car and proceeded to climb the steep path up to the top of the wadi.
Part of the concrete walkway leading up to the wadi was destroyed during the typhoon in 2006, so we had to carefully cross it. The dads took turns to carry over kids, supplies and wives.

The rest of the path is still intact though. Looking forward to swimming in cool waters flowing fresh from the mountains, we lugged our supplies and walked up with some other tourist. Everyone was carrying something, even Izani, who had to carry the aluminum griller (the lightest item). Halfway up, a few boys about 7 or 8 years old asked us in broken english if he and his friends could carry our stuff for us (for a fee). Of course we said yes and lightened the load for some of our smaller children.
Our stuff looked big and heavy for them but when I asked them "Bas?" (Okay?), they said they were okay.
(Omani children not in pictures)

Along the sides of the paths are date plantations that are irrigated by the waters flowing down the wadi. The water is chanelled down narrow canals called 'falaj'. Even though I've seen it many many times (even in Saudi), I am still amazed at how a seemingly barren and dry land could become so fertile with only a litte supply of water. Masya-Allah.

The water flowed in a steady stream along the walkway and at points, it flowed across the walkway and we had to walk through the mini waterfalls. The amount of water we saw was not as much as we expected, but we were encouraged by the stories from travellers before us and the urging of the young porters that the pools at the end of the long walkway is nice.
One of the porters stopped by his house (which nestled in a grove of date palm trees) and emerged with a shopping trolley, which he then used to carry the more bulky and heavier stuff (our juice & water and the mats). He happily pushed the trolley while half-walking, half-running, singing some arabic ditty. Several times along the way the trolley toppled over, which amused me, but agitated Taufik a bit :P

We finally reached the end of the walkway, but saw no pools. Apparently the pools were much further up and you had to balance yourself on the concrete canals to go up. The dads and kids decided to go check out the pool, while Kak Faridah, Izani and I spreaded a mat under a mango tree and had a chat with the porters.

With my limited and broken arabic, I asked them their names, "ma ismuka?".
"Muhammad, Saeed, Ali" (or something) they answered.
Saeed, in particular, was very chatty, and seems to be the leader of the porters, always shouting instructions to the other boys.
"Mafi madrasah?" I asked. (No school?)
"No, school closed" Saeed answered, "raining, teacher say go home".
"Where rain? Mafi rain!" I teased him.
"Madrasah kalam ingleezi?" I asked (School speaks english?)
"La.. arabiya" he said.
"Where learn english?" I asked, getting into my habit of imitating another person's way of speaking.
"here" he said, pointing up and down the walkway, indicating that he learnt english from the tourist whom he carried bags for. I was impressed :)
"masya-Allah!", I gave him a thumbs up sign, "Anta, *points at him and his friends* ukhwat, au sadiq?" (You, brothers or friends?)
And he went into this long explanation how they are friends but Ali's father is his mother's brother and their houses are just next to each other in that grove of date trees.
The boys threw Saeed's sandals up the mango tree to retrieve young mangoes and offered us some, but they looked too green (thus sour) to me. Saeed and Izani also tried to chat and share a sour mango.

Taufik came back and reported that he saw pools, but the water was kinda stagnant and to his alarm, he also saw leeches! Erks...
So he decided to camp at one of the spots we passed by on the way up.
Hearing this, Saeed exclaimed "Lahaulawalla!!" (err I dont know how to translate this, but it's usually used to express frustration or tired of something), which made me laugh :D mainly because it was also my sentiment.

So we all walked back down the walkway, searching for the perfect spot to pitch our tent. We found the perfect spot, but it was a bit away from the walkway and had to then search for a safe way for us to bring the kids and our stuff to the perfect spot.
The porters helped us carry our stuff to the picnic spot. For their trouble and patience, we gave them each some juice and water and a bag of marshmallows, on top of the OR1 that Taufik paid them.
They sat on the bank of the walkway, drinking juice and munching on marshmallows while watching us pitch our tent, start a fire for barbecue and our kids going for a splash.

Our kids didn't spend too much time swimming, mainly because even though the sun was shining bright, the water flowing down the wadi was really really cold! They were also getting hungry and thirsty. Furthermore, the kids that were snorkelling saw many many frogs. And not just frogs, frogs spawning! With trails of eggs behind them.
It's a good thing we bought half-cooked chicken, because it didnt take that long before we could have lunch of rice and barbecue chicken, which tasted so yummy after such a long walk and wait.
We had promised to meet up with the driver who was going to bring us into the Wahiba Sands at 2pm, so as soon as everyone had finished their lunch, we packed up and carried all our stuff and trash down the walkway back to our cars.

Even though Wadi Bani Khalid was slightly dissapointing because there was not as much water as we imagined there would be, the interaction with the local boys and the adventurous experience was still enjoyable to me, and I am sure both of our families will remember this picnic spot for a long time.

Next: Spending a night in the desert!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ibra, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 3

April 3rd, 2009. Evening.

We still had another 3 hours drive ahead of us before we reached our accomodation for the night. We did not want to drive at night because even though the larger highways are well lit, the smaller roads are not. Tarmac retain heat very well, therefore are warm and comfortable rest areas for wandering animals, especially camels. You DO NOT want to encounter a camel on the road at night. Especially when the camels are as black as the night itself.
We reached the town of Nizwa at around 5pm and we got a peek of the Nizwa Fort and the souq surrounding it because the GPS told us to drive that way even though it was jam packed with people. I took the opportunity to call the accomodation and tell us what time we were estimated to arrive.

The GPS brought us through really mountainous road that was like riding a rollercoaster at times. Too bad my pictures didnt turn out so good because it was getting dark. We had to drive on really winding and dark and empty roads to reach Ibra (not to be mistaken with Ibri, which we passed earlier in the journey). It was quite creepy and scary, because not only did Taufik need to watch where the road is going, he also needed to watch out for any huge obstacles in his way (read: camels).
We finally reached Nahar Tourism Oasis at 7:30pm and was very happy to find dinner waiting for us.

We were served halwa muscat and dates with hot arabic tea while we wait for them to bring out the buffet items.
'Halwa muscat' is a type of sweet unique to Oman. The closest thing to it in the west would be Turkish delight (except it's not rolled in powdered sugar) and the closest thing to it for malaysians, would be dodol. The difference is that halwa muscat is very very fragrant, from the spices and rose water used in its preparation. It's almost like dodol spiked with arabic perfume. In fact, i felt as if I was biting into the ample flesh of one of the fragrant arab women I often pass by at the mall. It is really an acquired taste.
Dinner was quite good, or maybe we were just really hungry. They served rice with lamb curry, fried chicken, salad, and this really nice fried eggplant dish.
After dinner we were directed to our rooms. It was a little bit away from from reception/restaurant area, so we had to drive a bit there.

I had booked two 'Omani House Suites', and they were just as the name implies, the suites were fashioned and decorated, I assume, just like a traditional Omani house.
Our suite had a long living room with a settee made of wooden cabinets with cushions on them, a cabinet with a TV (with a sattelite decoder), a small coffee table for two, and a smaller side table with an electric kettle and tea/coffee making sachets. Two single beds are situated in an enclave in the 'house', with an antique looking side table and a mirror on the wall in between them. The closet was also an old looking cupboard. The bathroom, fortunately, was not old looking and had hot water :)
On the walls were old potteries and an antique looking shotgun.
I slept that night looking up at these rafters and wondering what the phrases mean..

The next morning we got to see what we didnt see when we arrived that night. Our room was surrounded by rocky hills! There was even a lookout point on a hill behind our Omani house where we could climb up and look at the view. This picture really does not do justice to the scenery.

Looking at the surroundings of this 'hotel', with its traditional concept and antique decorations, I see a potential of it being a tourist attraction. We were the only customers there that day/night, however, and I don't know why it is so. Perhaps the location is not conducive? Ibra is situated right in between Wadi Bani Khalid and Muscat/Nizwa, and it is only a 2-3 hours drive between them. Perhaps people would rather drive straight through to these locations instead of stopping halfway at a small town.
I am glad that we spent the night there though, because it gave us a chance to leave and reach Wadi Bani Khalid earlier than if we were to stay in Muscat or Nizwa, especially since we were travelling with children, who can be unpredictable in their punctuality.

At the hotel's Al-Kous Whisper Restaurant, we were served breakfast of arabic bread, sausages, foul (beans in gravy), scrambled eggs, coffee/tea and juice.
After taking pictures of the old doors near the restaurant and the tented majlees (middle eastern sitting room) and settling the bill, we left Ibra and headed towards Wadi Bani Khalid.

More pictures on Facebook Photo Album: 2009 Spring Road Trip - Oman : Ibri, Bahla, Jebel Shams, Ibra

Useful Information:

Nahar Tourism Oasis
2-bed Omani House Suite OR38/night, OR5/extra bed/night
They also have rooms.
Price includes dinner and breakfast, freeflow of water/juice/soft drinks.
Clearly the cheapest acommodation during our trip.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fountain, and death.

After receiving news of the passing of a young man yesterday, I needed distraction.
I dont know why the news affected me so, since I dont really know him. Perhaps the thought of the loss that his family is feeling reminded me of my own loss.
I tried sewing. An online quiz gave me relief, for a short time. I made chicken soup for dinner, and made a spicy chilli+soy sauce to go with it, but that reminded me of Lollies, which in turn reminded me of the boy and the grief the family must be going through.
I decided to watch TV and discovered The Fountain was on. Surely Hugh Jackman and the always beautiful Rachel Weisz would be able to cheer me up?
This movie started off really confusing, but I kept on watching believing it is going to be a love story with a happy ending and I was going to emerge warm and fuzzy at the end.
This movie was really really really sad.
I kept crying and crying, even long after the movie was over. Even when I didnt understand the ending.
I tried to sleep but I continued thinking about the scenes in the movie. The sense of love, of loss , of extreme grief, of loyalty, of tenacity, of what you would do for love that was potrayed in the movie really affected me. Perhaps more so with the current news still lingering in my mind.
I finally slept, and couldnt remember what I dreamt of.
When I woke up though, I had a sense of peace.

I think I know now.

Death is inevitable. No matter how much you try to avoid it, no matter how much you try to prolong your time (or somebody else's time), you will, eventually, face death.
This does not mean you should stop trying to prolong life, it only means that you need not fear death so much so that you stop living.
And when death does come (to you or your loved one), and you suffer the loss, we need not fear the loss, because it is not the end.
Death is not the end of the person.
The end of the life does not signify the end of the loving.
Thus we should not wallow in grief or regret, because it does nothing to the dead, nor the living.
Continue loving, and continue living.

Knowing this, I am ready to let go.
I love you. I am ready to let go now.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jebel Shams, Oman

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 2

April 3rd, 2009. Day.

After breakfast (around 10am) we left Al-Ain and headed for the UAE/Oman border.
Getting out of UAE took longer than expected. We had to fill up a form for each person and pay an exit visa. By the time we were done, it was almost noon.
Next we had to go through the Oman immigration. The dads took care of everything while the moms and kids hung around the beautiful immigration building. Taufik said they looked at a person's work permit before issuing a visa. If you're a mere 'technician' or lower, most likely your visa would be rejected. I guess this is a way to control illegal immigrant workers. At the customs, they could also be really strict. From what I read, if you're a non-muslim they'll check for liqour, since UAE has no restrictions on alcohol. When it was our turn, the custom's officer's girlfriend/mom/someone called on his mobile and he saw we were muslims, so he just looked at our visa receipt and waved us through. tee hee.

By the time we entered The Sultanate of Oman (trivia: one of only 2 sultanates in the world)(Pop quiz: what is the other one?), it was half past 1pm, so we decided to hurry on to Ibri for lunch and break for solat. We couldnt really drive so fast because like UAE, Oman has a lot of stationary radars placed along their highway. Furthermore, the road from Al-Ain to Nizwa is not really a big highway, but a two-way lane.
The scenery during the first part of our journey was mostly flat rocky land with a few orange dunes and trees that resembles the ones in Africa. As we pass Ibri and drive towards Bahla, mountains started to appear. By the time we reached Bahla, the road started to wind and ascend as we drive into the mountainous region.

Bahla is a really small town, but it is home to the Bahla fort, which is an official UNESCO heritage site and currently going under restoration. We couldnt go in, so we just took pictures of it outside. It looks huge, bigger than Nizwa Fort, I'm sure it'll take more than hour to walk through it.
We pressed on to Jebel Shams instead.
The signages for Jebel Shams are quite clear, so you can't really miss the junction to turn into the mountains. Just a few minutes from the juction, you are greeted by the majestic mountains of the Jebel Al-Akhdar range. I dont know if it was the weather or if it was the region, but the air here was very clear and cool. The view of mountains and more mountains were fascinating to us who have seen nothing but piles and piles of sand in Saudi. Some parts of mountain range have deep gashes in it , as if God had traced a finger through it, and in these valleys you could see some vegetation. It was really amazing to see how plants could survive in the rocky terrain that was seemingly barren.

On the way up we reached WadiGhul, which looked like a dry river bed, but with a very fertile plantation nearby, you could imagine the water flowing through in the wetter seasons. On one of the cliffs, clung the brick (rock?) houses of the town of Misfah (i assumed). As you can see from the picture below, it is quite a spectacular sight to see these houses on the steep cliff, with the lush date and herb plantation right below it.

We stopped for pictures and was greeted by 3 boys who were selling key chains made of braided colourful wool yarns. We politely said "La, Shukran" (No, Thankyou) and the boys respectfully stepped away but still watched us take pictures. They were barefooted and looked no more than 10 years old and were really fascinated with Izani. I asked for a picture and they obliged, and Taufik gave them all the change we had in the car. One of them offered a keychain, but we didnt take it, hoping the next tourist would buy it from them.

We saw some people in 4WD inside the wadi, and some people hiking, and I'm sure it would be really nice to be able to do that, but unfortunately, we did not have time to do that :P
We drove on towards Jebel Sham (Another half an hour according to the signs) along ascending road that snaked up the mountain.

For a place that looked remote and barren, the road up to Jebel Sham is quite liveable, as evident by the number of houses we passed by. I am guessing most of them raise goats, because I saw several houses with pens, and several people walking with what looked like goat feed balanced on their heads. We even passed by some people picnicking among the rocks and trees in one of the valleys.
When the road started to look very steep, we decided to turn back, because our friend's car is not a 4WD. Our car was a little delayed because Taufik slowed down to let a boy cross the road to run after his soccer ball.
Taufik stopped by the soccer 'field' (because there weren't really any grass, just rocks) and I stuck out my head and camera and asked, "mumkin? *points to camera* wahid?" (May I? One?) and they were like "Okay!".
I wanted to take a picture of them playing football, but the boy who had chased after the ball excitedly called out "Sabr! Sabr!" (Patience! or Wait!) and that gave them time to assemble and pose. :D

I gave them a thumbs up and a "Shukran!" and hurried off to catch up with our friend. As we drove off, one of the boys yelled "Barcelona!" and I just raised my hand in acknowledgement, because .. er.. I dont really watch professional football :P
Taufik stopped for another time to take a picture of this handsome fella:

Aparrently, this is one of the many wild mountains goats that roam freely in this area.

We reluctantly left the road to Jebel Shams to head towards Nizwa and onward to Ibra.

To be continued : Ibra

"If you like it, save the rainforest"

Anis was going 'round the house singing "If you like it, save the rainforest", over and over again.
I thought that she had developed a love for the environment.

We were listening to the World Chart Show on Radio Bahrain when I realized that she was singing the chorus to Beyonce's Single Ladies.

tee hee

That song makes me wanna bop and jiggy.

Have you seen the Envirosax(r) at Living Wing? They are *SO* cute!! I want one!!! I want four!!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Izani is 3!

Izani turned three today.
I had taken a video to show you how much he has progressed in terms of his speech, but it's taking forever to upload into Yootoob, so I'm just gonna write about his progress.

This boy talks alot.
Sometimes you can understand him, sometimes you can't. I am pretty amazed at his understanding of the applications of certain words and phrases though.
Like he knows how to use 'because'. He knows when to use "You're so mean!" and that it's the opposite of "You're so nice".
The other day he was arguing with his dad and he said "You're so mean!" and Taufik said he won't take him to the pool and he retracted and said "You're so nice, ayah. I want to be your friend".
tee hee.

He has quite a good memory too.
During our vacation in Oman, we played the shopping list game where everybody take turns to recite the shopping list before adding their very own item at the end of the list (thus making the list longer and longer as the game progresses). Izani joined in and he not only understood the rules of the game, but he could remember most of the items on the list, (even the unusual ones, like MountainDew) albeit some not in order.

He is somewhat toilet trained.
He only wears diapers for bed and during long journeys (just in case). So far he has been very good at holding it and telling us when he needs to go. Yesterday he even went himself. He climbed up the toilet, sat, did his thing, grabbed the sprayhose thingy, washed himself, climbed down, dried, flushed and ran out quickly from the bathroom. I only heard the flush and saw him running out when I realized that he had done it all on his own.
The other day he had an accident, though. We were at a friend's house in Muscat. I had brought him to the toilet the moment we arrived, but about an hour later the bigger boys came complaining that Izani peed in his pants. Apparently he was playing with a bag of ice. I never knew that affected your bladder somehow. But oh my god the embarassment!!! I wanted to die. I had to wash off Izani and apologized profusely to the lady of the house. :P
He still has the habit of taking off his clothes whenever he wants, though, and now that he's not wearing diapers, it's worse , coz he'd be dangly all over the house. I had bought him tiny underwear (which he correctly calls 'underpants') but he seldom wears them.

I can't wait to send him to school in September. I think he'll love it.

Happy 3rd Birthday Izani!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Khobar to Al-Ain

Ops Jalan Sakan (Mission: Travelots) - UAE and Oman, Spring 2009
Part 1

April 2nd, 2009

The first day was filled with driving, and more driving.
We started the day at 7:30am and had to have breakfast (turkey and egg salad sandwiches) in the car. We reached Salwa (near the border to Qatar) around 11am.
Taufik filled the car up at Salwa because he was told there would be no petrol stations from then on and the gas prices in UAE is double. He was misinformed though, because we found a gas station in Batha (on the border of UAE), right before the Saudi immigration checkpoint. By that time we had used about a quarter tank of gas.

The immigration in Saudi took only about 20 minutes, but the immigration in UAE took more than an hour. They recorded our irises (?) and took forever to stamp our passports. The kids (especially Izani) had fun running up and down the long immigration hall though. By the time we were done, the kids were hungry coz they had finished almost all of the food we had packed in the car, but the dads decided to press on, thinking there would be a rest area a little further up along the way.
Boy, were we wrong! There were no rest areas on this side of the highway that leads to Abu Dhabi! It also didn't help that there were no signs telling how far the next gas station or rest area would be.

By 3pm we decided to make a U-turn so that we can stop in Mirfa, at one of the mosques on the other side of the highway. After solat, we looked for a restaurant, any restaurant, and had lunch of white rice, really thin curry and fried chicken. It wasn't the best, but it was okay. We were thankful that we had food.
The next gas station we found was about 300 kms from the UAE-KSA border.

Mirfa Mosque

The highway from the border to Mafraq (right outside of Abu Dhabi) and then to Al-Ain was actually quite nice. They are lined with small bushes and growing date trees, sheltering our vision from the vast barren desert behind them, giving us the illusion of lushness. The trees also acts as shields against crosswinds and sandstorms. Pretty smart :)

We finally reached Al-Ain at around 7:30pm local time (6:30pm Saudi time). We had dinner at a Pizza-cum-KFC restaurant in town, then searched for Al-Ain Al-Fayda Chalets, near a mountain called Jebel Hafeet.
Our chalets were located in a huge garden filled with trees and looked pretty creepy at night, but looked so awesome during the day. I felt like I was staying right in the middle of Lake Gardens, KL.

The chalets were nice and clean, albeit a little dusty. It had 2 bedrooms and a huge living room that could probably fit a few more people. There's a dining table, but no kitchen. At night the water pump was a little noisy, but in the morning I was greeted by the chirping of birds, which sounded so peaceful.
I took a morning walk with Ihsan and Anis and took some pictures of the grounds.

The gardens looked very well kept, the lawns immaculately green, trees are thriving and flowers are blooming, but some of the facilities (the boating and picnic areas) looked absolutely rundown. I wonder what it looked like during its heydey or when it first opened. Apparently the 'resort' is government run, so.. perhaps it did not get as much promotion as the commercial ones does? Such a pity, because it is quite a nice place to spend a weekend in.

The boating and picnic area

I wish we had more time to explore Al-Ain, because I heard the Zoo is quite nice, but we still had a long drive to go into Oman. So soon after breakfast, we headed for the Oman border.

Useful information:

Al-Ain Al-Fayda Hotels and Chalets
Phone: +971 3 7838333
They have Hotel rooms and 2-bedroom or 3-bedroom Chalets.
When you call, you have to tell them whether you want the Hotel or Chalet, because they have seperate reception areas.
Our 2-bedroom chalets were AED511 per chalet/night, Room only.
The restaurant at the hotel offers room service to the chalets but is quite expensive (AED5 per cup of tea!), so if you can avoid it, do.

More pictures on my Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=84798&id=581327114

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ops Jalan Sakan : Road Trip to UAE & Oman

12 people, 4 adults, 8 children, 2 cars, 8 days, 2 countries, 6 hotels, thousands and thousands of miles and 1800+ pictures, most of which did not make the cut.

Lots and lots of driving. We had a long distance drive almost every other day. We drove through rocky deserts, mountains, sand dunes, on small roads, three lane highways, roads that look over cliffs falling into the sea, pass bedouin tents and small villages, towns, cities and skyscrapers. At one point we even drove underwater!

As usual, I wish that we had more time. We had to just skim thorugh some places. We had to scrap visiting Sur so that we could have time to visit Nizwa. We extended our stay in Dubai for 3/4 of a day and then drove down to Abu Dhabi to spend a night there, so that our drive home would not be too long.
If I had a chance for a do-over, I'd probably just spent the whole 8 days in Oman and save Dubai for another trip.
But then in Dubai I met a lot of friends (old, and new, and one that felt like an old friend even though it was the first time we got to meet face to face *grin*), so I can't say I did not enjoy my time in Dubai.

Click for a larger map.
Blue lines are what we planned and purple ones are what we actually did.

To come: more detailed stories on each of the places we visited!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I know

I know
that I have been neglecting this blog for a long while.
It's not like I have nothing to write about. I've got this rant I want to get off my chest, but everytime I want to put something down, I start to worry about something else I should be doing, and then I'd be distracted by something else totally different, which will then lead to a different distraction... and before I know it, it's time to cook. then eat, then feed (izani), then clean up, then the cycle goes on and on again.


I know
I've got to iron some of the clothes I'm bringing to the roadtrip.
I've got to finish sewing the edges of my purple tudung munah. (Why lah do I keep procrastinating till the last minute).
I also need to sew a button on Taufik's pants
I've got to make sure the kids choose and pack their clothes (and the right ones)

I know
I am really excited about this trip!

I know
I also need to plan for a family-only pool party for Sya and Izani. woo hooo!
I am out of ikan bilis, so need to figure out what to make for breakfast. Something heavy so that they have to delay their departure the next morning. *mwahhaahha*
(any suggestions?)

I know
I have to get off this computer now.



Now, Elisa.