Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Weekly Post

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Last week I toured Oman by car. This country exceeds the Emirates in every way (geography, culture, social decorum, history, etc.) save for financial prosperity. Below I have included excerpts from a letter to a friend. I hope the friend doesn’t mind… Look at the pictures as well.

We crossed the border around 10 intent on camping along the beach in Sohar, just two hours away. Seldom have I driven through such a desolate area; we went many miles without passing a building or any other sign of life (besides a stray donkey or two). Exhausted, we reached the beach after midnight, and found it strewn with trash and lined with fishing boats, prepared for an early start. Aimless men drifted along the road and we decided not to stimulate them. The idle mind finds great solace in peculiar phenomenon, such as two white guys pitching a stupid tent beside a mosque. The traditional town of Sinbad the sailor had managed full hotel occupancy that night, though, due to an enterprising development. A concierge, presiding over a rager (likely 100 guys and a Moroccan belly dancer), informed us that “A new business…it is coming now.” Everyone seemed most pleased, hence the rager, except for us, having received neither invitation nor subsequent accomodation. We thus slept in the car.

Yesterday, we explored Muscat, the capital, and were amazed by two things. First, the local people are among the most congenial Arabs that I have met. As far as one can generalize about a population, the are not afflicted by the insufferable arrogance caused by effortless money. Also, I am not ashamed to say that Omani men are beautiful. They have clear skin of dark bronze, lean frames, and distinctive facial features: eyes sharpened by the sun, high, punctuated cheek bones, and slim mouths set in an inquisitive smile. Should I marry one day, I will never bring my wife here.

After a long drive south this morning over dirt roads, we reached Wadi Tiwi (“Wadi” = valley or canyon in Arabic). A wadi tends to collect rain water, which causes tropical plants to grow, despite the neighboring desert. This one had emerald pools flanked by rows of date trees, wild grass, and shrubs with broad, rubbery leaves. The canyon walls, which rose severely for several hundred feet, revealed striated stone of ochre, purple, and orange. We had spent several hours at a previous wadi and were now somehow anesthetized to the beauty of this place. As we walked, I devoted my attention to kicking a rock. We continued on for a time and then a truck approached from the wadi’s entrance. Seven Arab boys filled the cab and bed. The truck slowed and I asked in broken Arabic how far they were going. I understood the driver’s response as two kilometers, though he had a thick accent. We climbed in the back with the others and continued on. None of them spoke English.

We went through several villages and then began ascending the wadi’s latter wall. The truck had not slowed, so I asked again how far we were going. This time, I heard “12”. I suppose that we could have hopped out, but what fun would that have been? The roads deteriorated significantly as we approached their village, “Meeboon”, and we bounced along like socks in a dryer. After ascending for miles, the truck accelerated down a short decline, rounded a bend and came to a halt. The village was a wonder. Concrete shacks were perched along precipices above the road. A small date farm covered the ravine to the left; the sound of running water indicated the source of this oasis in the mountains. Adults sat on the roofs of the huts and children ran about barefoot. As we climbed from the vehicle, the children immediately ran towards us, saying “Hi, Hi!” and shaking our hands. The boys that had brought us here–all students returning from school–moved quickly to their homes for lunch and a change of clothes. We were lead from one child to the next, as if a baton in a relay. Finally, a boy of thirteen and his brother lead us down the ravine toward the running water.

The thick trees gave way to a series of pools separated by waterfalls. Although at ease, we chose not to swim, which would further compromise an already disadvantageous situation. I thus retrieved my Arabic book, sat down, and started learning with these kids. It has been several years since I received a lesson from an 8 year old. After several minutes, three other boys appeared, one of which greeted us from a distance in good English. His mates followed close behind, the smallest of which produced a large, serated knife, which he gripped by the blade. I was disconcerted, to say the least. Before I could get up, he was behind me, and I thought that I would soon meet God, Osama, or both. The older boy immediately explained the weapon. It’s a date knife, he said. That boy has been working. Although still unsettled by a three foot boy with a one foot knife, I spent the next hour with these boys, learning words and hearing about their lives. We found the same driver later that afternoon and he took us down the mountain to our car. No problem.

The alarm comes not from personal experience but from my nationality and the world situation. In general, these people are more open and forthcoming than Americans. For example, if I showed up at your house unannounced, you’d likely tell me to beat it. Sometimes I lie (today I was a British English teacher), but most of the time I don’t worry. Only a few degrees separate adventure and stupidity, but the risks that I have taken thus far have resulted in the most remarkable interactions.

Written by Spence

February 26th, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Posted in Travel

Weekly Post

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I just returned last night from three days in southern Jordan. The pictures are available now (without captions) and I’m working on the description. I traveled with Anthony Kilbride, a good friend that I made through diving. We spent the first day in a Bedouin camp, Wadi Rum, which was made famous by T.E. Laurence. The next day, we hitch-hiked up to Petra. Jordan is a stunning country, both aesthetically and spiritually.

Also, I’ll post the last part of my Church and State piece in a few days.

Can’t wait to see everyone in a few days.

Written by Spence

December 5th, 2005 at 12:27 pm

Posted in Travel

Doha, Qatar

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From 10/3/05

I arrived last evening after a short flight from Abu Dhabi. Qatar is an hour behind the UAE, so I arrived at the same time as I departed. The plane had no vacant seats on it; Pakistani and Indian men were almost sitting on one another. I occupied the aft-most row which, for most of the boarding process, remained otherwise vacant. Just as the steward closed the door, two Pakistanis scambled by and made their way toward the rear. Please let them have taken a bath, I thought, as they motioned towards me. They hadn’t. After piling over me into the two adjacent, one immediately opened his phone and began yammering away. This airline prohibited usage of any electronic devices after entering the plane, so a stewardess came running down the aisle waving her arms. “Sir. Excuse me. Sir. Please. I call the security.” He waved her off, nodding and grinning like bobblehead doll, and continued on. Just down the aisle, several more phones erupted, their owners responding with staccato emissions in Hindi and Farsi. More stewardesses appeared, motioning as if to suppress a fire. Several more rows down, two men engaged in an argument over the location of their leather manpurse/handbag things. A steward tried to arbitrate between them. Meanwhile, the stewardess next to me had finally succeeded in communicating her intent with my travel partner. I was relieved of the gymnastics, but not of the body odor. I looked to my right and discovered an Emirati man, recognizable by his immaculate dish-dasha. He lounged in his chair as a king holding court, chuckling at the scene. I offered a knowing glance and he responded with the semblance of a smile, the corners of his mouth moving slightly from their reposed state. The plane had not departed and I was already depleted.

At the instant the plane landed in Doha, the men were up. We rolled down the runway while they reached for their leather manpurse/handbag things. When the plane reached a nominal speed on the taxiway, the stewardesses came rushing down the aisle again. They would have fared better shouting at the wind. When the plane finally stopped, I exited from the rear quickly and proceeded to immigration.

In the passport line, I observed an Iraqi soccer team. They were well-dressed and immaculately groomed, which surprised me. The only Iraqis that I’ve seen (in the paper and at work) have been rather lorn. These people, though, were quite striking. They had skin that looked as burnished bronze, darker than the Gulf Arabs in the UAE but lighter than the mahogany shade of the Persians. I found them almost regal in appearance. I wanted to speak with them, but didn’t know what to say. A tall, slender guy of about my age slid in just behind me. I looked at him and thought, we know much about each other yet we’ve never met. I should have said something, but I was quite arrested at the time.

A Keralite drove me to the Landmark mall, taking the Corniche Road around crescent-shaped Doha Bay. The skyline was stunning, especially around the diplomatic district. The Qatar government has, like the other Gulf states, embarked on a massive building project. Cranes thus outnumbered the extant buildings. We passed the Shaikh’s residence, a shanty of about five million square feet. Unlike Abu Dhabi, Doha has not pushed the desert back too far. Heading away from downtown, I saw sand after only five minutes. Jay collected me from Landmark and we drove to City Center, the largest mall in the Middle East. We fought the Ramadan crown at Carrefour and bought schwarmas at a Turkish shop. Then we returned to his villa, located in a compound not far from Doha University, his employer.

On Thursday morning I went for a run and found the climate several degrees warmer than the UAE. Qatar takes Friday and Saturday off (the UAE’s weekend falls on Thursday and Friday), so Jay had to work. I rode to the downtown area, Lonely Planet book in hand and stopped at Doha Fort. The book said this was a cool sight, but I found it securely shut amidst a construction area. Awesome. Next, I walked toward the Grand Mosque, then retraced my steps to the Heritage House. The latter is one of the oldest structures in town and now houses a municipal agency. I walked inside and climbed a narrow staircase leading to the Wind Tower. I think everyone was napping during the fast. From there, I walked toward the shoe souq. A Ferrari dealership appeared on my right (such opulence is common in this region) and I immediately made a detour. Inside, I discovered a 925,000 ($300,000) riyal machine. Transfixed, I dropped my guide book. I’m trying to develop my patience here, so when I discovered my error several hours later, I had to calm myself down. Hey, you habitually do absent-minded stuff like that, I told myself. Get over it and go have a sandwich.

During Ramadan, though, one cannot just go have a sandwich. I flagged a Sudanese cab driver, who was flummoxed when I pronounced his country and city in Arabic (I had just done geography that week in class). He dropped me by the dhows and I paid 15 riyals for a trip to Palm Tree Island in the center of Doha Bay. Parched and famished, I quickly sequestered myself on a corner of the island and had my lunch. I felt like an alcoholic or something. After walking for a half hour, I returned to the Corniche, where Jay picked me up.

He had not brought any food, so we drove around looking for something to eat. Finally, we found some Indian street vendors selling samosas (Muslims eat these at Iftar). I asked for ten of the little snacks and to my suprise, the man started filling a sack with them. My “Oks” and “That’s enoughs” and “thanks, my family has a of history cardiac problems” quickly turned to laughter as he proceeded. He then asked for ten riyals. What could I do?

We drove to the “limestone escarpments” at Bir Zekreet extolled by the guide book. Along the way, we saw camels lumbering about in groups of three or four. The desert is quite flat in this part of the country and we saw few dunes. On the horizan, we could see oil fields, recognizable by their flaming masts, in the industrial city of Dukhan on the western coast. It took only an hour to cross the country!

The escarpments were lackluster at best. They were no more than fifteen feet high. We drove down a deteriorated road to an encampment, where Jay offered the remainder of the samosas to a Pakistani man. His face swelled with gratitude. Disappointed with the excursion, we returned to Doha for the evening. As the sun set behind us, the sand glowed a deep hue of red.

On Friday we attended church and then drove south toward Al Wakrah. We drove along the beach there and were amazed by the filth on the shore. Plastic water bottles almost outnumbered the shells at the water’s edge. Further, rotten food, paper refuse, and delightful sundries rolled in on the waves. Despite these conditions, a group of Filipinos dragged fishing nets through the waist-deep water. A jetty lined with dhows extended at an acute angle to our left, creating a small bay. We found the road that ran along the jetty and parked the car. Toward one end we saw the rotting carcasses of several abandoned vessels, while the seaworthy boats were moored farther out. We came upon two Sri Lankans fishing for hammour. Their tackle consisted of balls of twine, hooks, and sinkers; they baited the hooks with wet bread. They could catch nothing, for the hook’s impact with the water consistently dislodged the bread. Several yards down the way we encountered another man who could not haul in the fish fast enough. He had the same tackle, but the fish swam in such a thick school that I could imagine them supporting a rather hefty man. Aside from some small hammour, he caught some reed-then fish that looked like small Barracuda. After removing the hook, he broke their spines and tossed them into a bucket. Jay returned to the two unsuccessful Sri Lankans and indicated in broken English/Arabic/pidgen that they should move further down. They nodded amiably and shrugged, as if to say, we cannot go there. Prosperity sometimes results from circumstance alone, it seems.

In the late afternoon, we drove another 20km south to Messaid and visited the Sealine Resort. The wind deposits sand blown from Saudi Arabia here, attracting hordes of off-road enthusiasts. They roared up and down the dunes on four-wheelers, dune buggies, and jeeps, gainfully employed in the practice known as “dune bashing.” We watched them for a period and then returned to Al Wakrah. On the beach, we lit the grill and prepared steak, chicken, hummus, and mangoes. When the call to prayer sounded, signaling Iftar, we enjoyed the fine meal. Jay left me at the airport around 7PM and prepared for the antics I would surely observe on the ride back to Abu Dhabi.

Written by Spence

October 24th, 2005 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Travel