Wednesday, April 25, 2007


My Africa trip is in no way in chronological order but this is how I ended it, in Zanzibar. To get to Zanzibar we had to drive for 18 hours from Arusha to Dar Salaam where we would get a connecting ferry to the island. We were told that Dar Salaam is not a place to hang around so as soon as we got there our plan was to high tail it to the port to get the ferry.

Our bus to Dar Salaam was a total nightmare. It was crawling with cochroaches, and I mean crawling. They were falling from the roof down our clothes and everything. After a couple of hours we got used to them but the heat on the non-airconditioned bus was torture. Half way to Dar Salaam and we hit a dead stop. There had been a crash on the road between two trucks and the road was totally blocked. We waited in the midday sun for two hours desperately trying to hide under bushes to get some relief. When we eventually got going our driver told us that he would try and get us to Dar before the ferry left. He floored it.

We arrived at the port to see the ferry sailing away in the distance and us stuck in hell. People crowded around us to try and sell us fake tickets/drugs/knives and anything else you could imagine. Our hands were firmly stuck to our wallets as they tried separating us from each other. Eventually we heard that this guy would fly us over to Zanzibar for cheap and that his cousin would drive us up the coast to our destination. We had no choice but to accept as none of us wanted to hang around dodge city for much longer.

We were taken out to a small runway where sure enough there was a plane waiting. We crammed into this tiny plane as the propelors started to turn. Thirty minutes later and we landed somewhere. The doors opened. It was pitch dark. As our eyes adjusted we could see the outline of a building. We were then told that there had been no electricity in Zanzibar for two weeks as Tanzania had cut the power lines. We were in Zanzibar airport and there wasn't a light to be seen. As our plane turned for home we were told that we would have to walk over to the terminal and go through customs. If anyone asked where we had come from we had to tell them that we were on the last flight and that we had been in the toilet. Nervously we went into the open terminal and over to passport control. Not an eyelid was batted as they gladly accepted us and stamped our passports.

Outside waiting was our bus up to a small village called Nungwi. The drive took a total of three hours on the worst roads/dirt track imaginable. Twice we had to pay off the police who are as crooked as the hind leg of a dog. People had told us of the paradise that Nungwi is but when we arrived our expectations were severely dashed. It was the most poverty torn looking place that we had come across so far. With no accomodation arranged we managed to secure a room in a B&B sort of house. Going to bed we were not in the best form at all.
Our bad moods were immediately taken away when we woke up to what Nungwi actually is......heaven.
We relaxed here for a week and vowed that we were not getting the 20 hour bus trip back to Nairobi.

A boat trip.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Al Ain

I went on a road trip across the desert to Al Ain the other day. This is what I saw. Travelling across the desert for 120km.

Then you enter the natural oasis of Al Ain, the most beautiful place in the U.A.E.

Surrounding it are the rugged mountains.

There is a perfect road all the way up the mountain.
These three lads tried to sell me a goat at the end of the day. I asked them ''Sure, what would I want with a goat?'' to which they replied, ''To eat of course!''

Thursday, March 29, 2007

An audience with the Arabs

After 8 months in Dubai I was finally invited to a 'local's' house for dinner. It's a big deal to be invited to a house over here so I was full of excitement going there. I met the lady of the house in a hotel car park and had to follow her back to her place (very James Bondesque). She set off like a rally driver possessed. I could barely keep up with her in her Aston Martin DB9. The sound of screeching tyres could be heard the whole way across Dubai as I as tried to keep up with this demented lady who would suddenly decide to dart across 4 lanes of traffic without any indicator.

Twenty minutes later and we were entering Mirdiff, or as I like to call it Stiffupperlip. The streets are lined with mansion after mansion. We pulled up outside a magnificent villa and as I walked up to the door I remembered that I would have to take my shoes off before entering. I took off my shoes to reveal a once white sock on one foot and a black sock with a big hole in it on the other foot. Not a good first impression!

I was escorted to a room and was left there to wait on the giant size couches that spread the whole way around the room. After ten minutes the man of the house entered. The next half an hour would be an interview process where he would decide whether I was worthy enoughto have dinner with the family. We talked politics, weather, pollution, travel and organic lifestyles. The man was in his mid fifties with a grey beard down to his chest and had been in Dubai all his life. He is disgusted at all this development that is going on as he is a real traditionalist. He confided that he will not allow his family to eat any food with chemicals in them. Instead he has chickens out the back which provide the eggs and meat and a goat for the milk. Of all the things I thought I would see in Dubai, a hippy Arab was not one of them.

Because they get so passionate about things out here I thought that the shouting meant that I would not be staying for dinner but when he invited me out to the back to watch him kill a chicken I knew that my socks must not have caused too much of an offence. The wife appeared from the kitchen where she had taken off her abia and revealed herself to be an absolutely stunning lady not over the age of 30. Sitting down to dinner I asked the oldest kid what age they were and by doing a little maths the wife was no more than 17 when she gave birth to her first, and now she has 5 kids.

The dinner had a distinctive arabic feel to it with rice, a type of salad and the marinated chicken. It was a very messy operation as I struggled to use my hands to gather up the rice. They had it down to a small art of course. The meal was delicious although the chiken left a little rumbling in the stomach.

After dinner was tea, tea and then more tea. Served in tiny cups. The man of the house asked me if I had enjoyed the meal and seeing my genuine appreciation of the food he boasted of how 'the wife had cooked it', not my wife but THE WIFE. I think he might have more than one but who am I to judge, he was just after feeding me after all.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gonna miss the rains....

Safari Day One

It's been so long since Africa now that I can't give a chronological order of things. I'll just start with the safari and see what I can remember from there.

We arrived in Arusha after a mammoth 23 hour bus trip (which I’ll document later). The bible we called the lonely planet informed us that Arusha was a dangerous place and at all costs DO NOT trust anyone. It turned out to be the exact opposite. We got off the bus, wearing the same clothes we had worn for 4 days now, looking like hobo's after a mud fight. No one would come near us. No taxis would pick us up and no touts tried to get us to buy a "discount safari" as we were told would happen. Instead we had to trek with our bags until we found a place. But when we found it, it was like we had reached heaven. Showers, hammocks, a restaurant and a bar with cold beer and this.....

A bus full of Swedish models. Heaven.

And this would be our bed for the night.

The next morning we set off on a three day safari with a dodgy looking tour company at a very cheap price (again, against all of the lonely planet's guidelines). The trip included the Serengeti, the Masai Mara and the Ngorongoro crater. Here's what we saw:
The trip started off with a trip to the local hippopotomus pool where over 40 hippos lay around in the water for the day. We couldn't get too close because aparently more people are killed by hippo's every year than any other animal. Looking at them lazing about in the water would not convince you of that, although, their yawn is pretty impressive. The next was the simple giraffe.
Our next sight was to be one of the best sights of the safari. An elephant strolled out from behind a tree and up behind him walked a giraffe. Our guide explained to us what a rare thing it was to see these two animals so close together. It was then that something even more special happened. Something that even made our guide, Miko drop his jaw in amazement.
Miko had been doing safaris for over 17 years and this was the first time that he saw these three animals in such close proximity. I think he was even more excited than us, he was smiling for the rest of the day.
Our next stop was to be at the fight between 2 male elephants. The noise from the clashing of heads would send a shiver up your back. The elephants were so edgy because a fellow elephant had died. I didn't know this but when they die the other elephants cover over the body with leaves and they actually shed tears!
Those were the excitements of day one. Stay tuned for more wildlife.

The 'Dear John' letter

Dear John,

I'm sure that you are now reassured that I haven't been kidnapped in Saudi Arabia and I'm very much alive. My belated new years resolution is that i'm going to be a bit more regular with my posts on the blog. I promise, and i'd just like to take this time to say hello to all in the Revenue Commisioners office. You'll never catch up with me, Mairead.

Your local Arab,


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On top of the world

Back from my travels I have a lot to catch up on. I'll start with my most recent trip which was to the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal. On New Years Day six of us arrived into Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. The airport was about as impressive as a 3 column hay barn. There was barely electricity. The place was lit by candles and there was no sign of any radiators. It was freezing. Our bags arrived out on a conveyor belt that I was convinced was driven by someone pedalling a bike on the other side of the wall. As we walked out the door we were met by total chaos. At least 5o taxi drivers were literally beating the shite out of one another to try and lead us to their taxi. We settled with two taxi drivers who told us to wait where we were as they went to fetch the cars. They arrived back with two Lada's, and by saying Lada's I don't mean really bad cars, I mean that they were actually Lada's. 1970 models at least. Every time we stopped in traffic both engines cut out. Although the steering wheel was on the right hand side of the car there didn't seem to be any side of the road that should be driven on, just where there was space at the time. Arriving at our bed for the night we planned the rest of the holiday. We decided to spend our time trekking across the Himalayas. The next morning we made the 5 hour bus trip with our guide to the foothills of the mountains. Our trekking would start the next morning. As we started out on our 4 day trek towards Mt Everest Base camp we were all in high spirits. The Base camp trek takes 21 days in total so we could only do a fraction of it with our time limit. The first day consisted of a 8 hour trek to our first port of call. The first two thirds were not so bad but the final third really took it's toll. Absolutely wrecked we finally made it to the stop off for the night. On the way up, the sights were amazing. The trail is lined with mountain lodges where locals survive literally off the land. Everything that they eat they produce themselves. Each lodge has a cow, maybe a few goats and terraced fields where they grow anything that they can to survive. No house has electricity and it very rare to find any sort of heating in the houses. These are the toughest people I have ever met. Children are left wander around, most of them wielding some sort of sharp knife, and these children are no older than 3 years of age. On the way up we passed a house and a 4 year old was out cutting up vegetables with a knife I wouldn't trust myself with. Our bed for the night gave us a view down into the valley we had just climbed. Not very well prepared we all had to wear every piece of clothing inside our sleeping bags to keep warm. The next morning faced us with another 8 hour trek up to the next stop off. As the temperatures plummeted and the air got thinner things got a whole lot tougher. Eventually we made it to the second stop. This place was worse than the first, again with no electricity or heating we almost froze to death that night. The next morning all of our legs could barely move with the stiffness. The next 2 days were a bit of a haze as we trundled up the mountain, the air getting thinner and thinner and civilization down to a bare minimum. One of the girls then got altitude sickness but in general everyone was feeling good. If ever we felt the strain we just looked around us at the awesome sights of the valleys and mountains and the hairs would stand on the back of our necks and give us the energy to go on. Our guide told us how lucky we were as every day was crystal clear and the top of Everest could be clearly seen. Apparently it is a very rare thing. On the last day of trekking as we neared our finishing point we were all sad to be leaving so soon. Even though everyone found it really tough we all could have gone on for another 2 weeks. Four days trekking is simply not enough. We have all vowed to come back in the next 6 months to attempt the full Everest Base camp trek. The training starts now.

Coming back into Kathmandu we had a day left to explore the city before getting on our flight and going back to reality for a while. Two thirds of the group could not bring themselves out of the bed so myself and Fi went to explore the old side of Kathmandu. Walking through the narrow streets is some experience. The shops spill out onto the streets with butchers cutting meat on the dirty cobbled ground as their apprentice kills and guts the chickens before your eyes, a place not for vegetarians I can tell you. The streets are lined with Buddhist temples. They really take their religion seriously. Entering the temples from the grey streets you are met with a wealth of colours. Their temples are lined with gold and fresh flowers. Monkeys swing from nearby branches and calves wander around the temples as cows are regarded as sacred. Again our time was too short to really get a feel for the city so a serious pact was made to revisit this breathtaking country again ASAP.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Groove Armada vs The Sawdoctors

On the 9th of November an aural feast came to Dubai. Two outdoor gigs clashed on this night of audial euphoria. The creek was the dividing line between the two genres of fans.

On one side was the hip, cool, fashion conscience expats whose musical tastes had evolved from the after hour sessions at their locals back home. Yes, this is where I was! The crowd were treated to 6 hours of Groove Armada, Soulwax, 2 many DJs and more. The grounds featured a VIP and a VVIP area which seemed to be the most sought after position of the night. Well oiled, I managed to talk myself into the VIP area.....What a disappointment! There were about 6 people in there, looking depressed and wondering why they had splashed out on a ''VIP'' ticket when you could barely see the stage. I'd say I was in there less than 5 minutes before security realised that my friends weren't in there with my wristband that I was going to get off them, so I was thrown out. It was odd because usually you're kicked out of a crowded place and onto the street but this time it was like being thrown out of an empty street and into a big party. Things really are strange over here. Anyway, on the other side of the creek were those who....well, i'm not going to describe their personalities. All I have to say is that these were the Sawdoctors fans... Dubai is strange on many levels. I think because you have so many cultures and nationalities here that it's hard to judge what kind of crowd to expect at any event. This fact rang through the next day when I heard that there had only been a measly thousand people at the Groove Armada gig while down in the Irish Village, the Sawdoctors had packed the place out with over 3000 people screaming the N17. Shouldn't he be dead by now or something.

Roadtrip no. 2

Since the weather is getting progressively cooler over the last few weeks we headed off on our first camping trip. Again armed with two Jeeps we headed east. For the first 2 hours all we saw was sand, stretching as far as the eye could see. Suddenly out of nowhere this is what met us.....

These rugged mountains stretched for another two hours to the east coast. It was very odd driving through this area. We did not pass a single car, donkey or person for the first hour. Then, coming over one of the mountains a strange sight met us. A small valley streched for little over a mile. Coming into this valley was like being transported back 300 years.

For this country mile the road was lined with small houses. You couldn't even call them houses. More like huts. They are simply built with tree branches and a piece of fabric covering the fragile frame. No doors, no windows, just a place to shelter from the sun. Since this place is so remote everyone is trying to sell anything that the odd passer-by would consider.

The only method of transport is by donkey. Looking around, there must have been over 150 of them, more than the population of this small area. Stopping off we decided to buy some firewood for the campfire. A handful of sticks would cost us 10 euro, we were told. Seeing our disgust he tryed to lower the price but not before every other salesman had surrounded us and tryed to drag us to their establishments. Eventually we escaped the mayhem with two arms full of sticks at a reasonable price.

On the road again we reached our destination in another hour, the Indian Ocean. We camped on the beach looking out at Snoopy Island....

The island is aptly named becauze of it's shape resembling that of Snoopy the dog, but i'm sure you've figured that out.

The campfire got going as the sun set and the fish was thrown onto the barbeque. The fish out here is called Hammour. It's almost identical to whiting, maybe a small bit stronger in taste. About midnight we found that our beer supply was on it's last legs so.... well to be honest I can't say what happened but if you want the real story in private, then email me. I'll just say, it was the most surreal experience of my life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Since we needed an excuse to throw another weekend party we organised a huge Halloween party in our building. People came from far and wide to experience the best Halloween party ever......allegedly.
Eva the icequeen, Myself the pirate, Niamh the horny angel, and Gareth the Milk tray man.

Jonny as ?, Milktray man, The black baby, Ali G and John the pirate.
Paula as ?, Niamh as ? and Peader as Dougal
The black baby, the horny angel and a greek goddess
Dougal with one of the 5 little ducks that turned upTwo dishdashes, a chav and some scary girl
Ali G, Liz and Jaz the fairy.

All credit for this work of art goes to Pirate number 2.

I'm back for good

So, for the start of the Eid holiday break we decided to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and head out on a safari for the day. The day started with a bit of dune bashing, which is basically driving the shite out of 4x4s over the monsterous sand dunes in the middle of the desert.

After an hour of blasting up and down the dunes everyone had developed cronic whiplash so we parked at the top of one of the biggest sand dunes I had ever seen. It must have been the height of Croagh least.

The sandboards were produced and we all flew down the slope tumbling and breaking limbs in the process. Well it was just a sprained ankle actually. Took our minds of the whiplash anyway.

With camel herds thundering our way we decided to move on. On another high peak we parked to watch the sun go down. It was the oddest sunset I have ever seen. Nothing like Ireland. The sun turns blood red while the rest of the sky remains blue. For the last 20 minutes of sunset you can actually see the sun moving. All of a sudden it starts speeding up and as the last rays of sunlight go down the it's like someone turns off a switch. In the space of 30 seconds it's pitch black.

With the light gone we headed for the camp where over 200 people meet for a big party al fresco. Here we got to ride camels, smoke sheesha and feast on amazing traditional food with a few cold beers thrown in for good measure. While riding around on a camel another camel came over to me to say hello and sniff my leg. With my camera in hand I decided that this would be a great opportunity to get a good close up picture. I pressed the button and the camera flashed in his face.....not good! Mayhem ensued as both camels took chunks out of each other in shock at this bright light. The story ends with me half a mile away on a camel that was not prepared to stop. These animals can move! At this half a mile mark I decided to disembark and try walk back to the camp in the dark. Luckily a jeep came to collect me. The camel was never seen again....

The rest of the night was a more relaxing affair. Sitting on bean bags we were treated to a display of belly dancing while our every need was attended to. We even got to try on the dishdash.

These things are so comfortable. The next day I bought one and I now wear it all time. Except for work, the beach and sailing of course.