Tuesday, 5 December 2017

National Day and the Prophets birthday

Jabreen Castle

This weekend just gone was a 5 day weekend, two days for National Day celebrations (which was the 18th) and one day for the prophets birthday. Given that we are coming to the end of our time in Oman we decided to stay in-country and do some touring.  Over the weekend we spent a lot of time looking up!

Qu'ran reader at the castle
Assorted pots

After having Friday as a down day and preparing things we packed early Saturday morning and hit the road. First stop was Jabreen, a place we'd been meaning to visit but never quite got to. We would plan to combine it with a visit to Bahla, but every time we went to Bahla there was the fort, the souq and the potters - meaning that by the time we'd finished in Bahla it was too late to go to Jabreen.

And this time we hadn't actually planned to go there, took a wrong turn at Nizwa, saw a castle just off the highway and.................  Lovely place Jabreen castle, a bit different from other one's we have seen, but like many in this part of Oman the chief was the local Imam. Jabreen ran to 3 levels with a fourth on top that hasn't been fully restored. It is well worth a visit as the ceiling decorations are quite stunning and some of the things scattered through the castle are quite interesting.

Just one of the spectacular cielings
So after around 2 hours we drove straight on through Bahla, out the other side and up into the Western Hajar Mountains. We were looking for a small village called Qiyut where there are some walks in to the Ras Al Mikhaybiyah (kind of a grand canyon). By the time we got to the end of the road, a little past Qiyut, lunch time (but not lunch) had well and truly come and gone. SO first things first we pulled up and lunched overlooking a deserted village and the canyon. Excellent views and absolute solitude. Must admit I was buzzing a little as the drive up was on some fabulous roads. Dirt roads, with climbs, dips and interesting corners. I had a hoot, Katrina may have been creating new indentations in the passenger side grab handle on the odd occasion.

Anyway after lunch we realised it was all too late for walking, so the next order of business was to find a camping spot. Hmm where to choose? Spoilt for choice really, we ended up finding an isolated place where we couldn't be seen from the road, but had a marvelous vista. Didn't take long to set the camp site up and get dinner barbequing.

Lunch in the mountains
Abandoned village
Panorama of a panoramic campsite
It was a Super Moon!
The honey shop complete with hives
The view from the tea shop
Looking up at some ruins in Abriyyin
Day 2 started slowly, coz well, those views. Anyway we packed and headed off to the village of Misfat Al Abriyyin. This little village is built into the side of the mountains, the main village is at least 400 years old and there is a 1500 year old Persian fort on the hilltop above the village. Rogan castle. Talk about picturesque! First stop there was the honey stall, overlooking the wadi, along which the village is built. All the farming is done on terraces built up and leveled out over centuries. All of this is fed by falaj's. We had a great time wandering the old village and exploring up the wadi. Unfortunately we were a bit too leg weary to make it to the castle ruins. By the time we'd finished in the village the choice was stop for lunch or get the skates on and head into the mountains again as we were heading towards Wadi Bani Awf.

Part of the village
The Falaj at work delivering water
Camp 2 
More great driving was en-train - Took a while to get to the jump off point. We've done this road before, just in the opposite direction. The start is an incredibly steep descent, which I did mostly in first gear. It took us around 2 hours to do the 12 kilometers to find a camp site. A few hundred meters into the descent a local Omani flagged us down and begged a lift. As the car was full of camping gear he was happy to jump on the running board. So he rode along for about a K as we followed some guy in an absolutely packed to the gills Hyundai Sportage. He had no business being there and he had to ride the brakes full time. The Omani guy had parked his ute on the first flatspot, so the guy in the Hyundai stopped there to let his brakes cool off.
The morning after the night of rain

We kept going and eventually found a campsite in the wadi adjoining the entrance to Snake Gully. As the entire afternoon had been accompanied by grey clouds all afternoon we camped on an abandoned farming terrace, with a 360 degree backdrop of magnificent mountains and immediately behind the campsite, was another abandoned village. Setting up camp took a little while, so it was getting close to dusk by the time things were set and dinner was on cooking.  And then our "friend" in the Hyundai came through with a toot and a wave.
Entrance to snake gully

Snake Gully

No sooner had we set up than the clouds delivered  - rain! The first we'd seen in Oman this year! It rained on and off throughout the night. But the morning dawned clear and dry and again slow. No rush, so what the hey.

After breakfast I wandered off and went into the start of Snake Gully. Being alone I went in for about 10 minutes and retreated before the going got tough. But wow, almost vertical rock walls, absolutely stunning.

Then it was time to pack down and head back to Muscat. We were home early afternoon having had a great time exploring more of Oman. The rest of Monday was spent dealing with the camping gear and then an early night. Old legs crap out a bit earlier than young ones!

Today (Tuesday) was the last day of the weekend, spent around the house with chores and shopping. But the weekend was rounded out with a dusk walk along the beach.  Time for one last surprise as 5 wadi dogs decided that Katrina needed an escort along the beach. So they kept us company for a couple of kilometers. They were quite gentle and friendly, gambolling around with each other, racing off to check out this and that, splashing in the waves and coming back to check up on us and sniff hands, feet and legs. One by one they dropped away and in the end one last dog walked us to the gate. 

An escort of Wadi Dogs

Thursday, 22 December 2016

2016 a final update

Happy Christmas

 I’ve never tried to do a family and friends Christmas/New Years message before, so here goes nothing. A lot of people we know consider 2016 to have been somewhat of an “Annus Horibilis” and when you look at Brexit, Trump, the limping black comedy that is the Australian Government and the deaths of loved celebrities there is some point to this. But for us 2016 has had far more positives than negatives.

Newly minted Doctor
Newly married

  • Katrina fulfilled her long held wish, completing her PhD thesis and achieving the accolade of Doctor! There is a Doctor in the house!!!!
  • Rufus and Georgie finally got around to tying the knot. Yay well done, at last ! At a celebration that had a bit of something for everyone.
    Something else

even more Something 
With added furniture
With added lion
  • BJ had a good year with changes on the work front and so-on.
  • David got to walk with Lions – yep real honest to goodness LIONS! and
  • We finally own the house in France! Now with furniture and all………………………..
Family portrait

Dinner with friends in Australia

 On the down side, Katrina’s knee has become rapidly worse and will have to be replaced in March, we lost a good friend in Michelle Dean and we become increasingly detached from Australia and our former life there. Our trips back to Australia are bittersweet in that we don’t get to see everyone we want to and each year we come away having seen at least one person for the last time.
The whirlwind tour of 2016 was Oman, Australia, UK, France, Belgium, UAE, Senegal and Ethiopia. There was a contract renewal back in March, which at its end will mean 6 years in Oman. And that will be that. Barring unforseen circumstances David will retire in early 2018, so if you want to come and visit us in Oman you have just over a year.

Oman continues to endear itself to us, with its friendly people, stunning scenery and that you never know what is around the next corner. We are looking forward to seeing more of Oman in 2017.

Friendly Omani's
More of "that" scenery
Some of "that" scenery
For us 2016 was a year of too much travel, a lot of work with some successes along the way. We are looking forward to see what 2017 brings and it already looks promising. So, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, may the future be good for you. and

Bye for now

A Bientot

You never quite know what you will see next!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Home Sweet FRANCE?

Keys and an appropriately named champagne to celebrate.
If you've been following along in other social media, you'll know by now that we bought a house in France.  Sept-Forges, a tiny little village (286 people) in Basse Normandie (that's Lower Normandy to you). From offer to us taking possession took about 10 months. It's not meant to be that way, but there were some issues with French inheritance law. You see, two of the heirs of the seller (Madame Martell) were in state care and required judges to make the call for them. Unfortunately one of the judges sat on the papers, and then sat on them some more, before sitting on them again and finally approving the sale. Sigh!

6 months of garden neglect
So after making an offer in October last year, settlement happened on 18 August and we came to France on 8 September to collect the keys and take possession. Finally the marathon was run, time to start another - getting the house to the state we want it in!

A few days of maintenance later
At Charles De Gaulle Airport we rented a Citroen Jumpy 9 seater. As soon as we got to the house two rows of seats came out and went into the garage. Much better, as we now had what looked like ACRES OF SPACE, possibly even hectares, to put stuff in as, apart from a couple of dodgy built-ins, the house came with no furniture. Our first few nights were spent at a bed and breakfast in nearby Lassay Le Chateau, while we ran around during the day and got stuff, lots of stuff! Until finally we could move in on Monday, although it took until Wednesday for the water to be turned back on. And miracle of miracles, after Orange telling us the internet would take 2 weeks, it ended up being two days!

Fortunately for us, our arrival coincided with a big sale day at the Emmaus charitable mission in nearby Alencon. This meant we got an extendable dining table with 6 chairs, two small dressers, crockery (nice french porcelain), enamel cooking ware, and so on for around 200 euro. We went back again and got an armoire and the worlds heaviest coffee table. I was intrigued by the granite top, which I assumed was "wafer thin" sheets, nope, they must have used blocks!!! At least the coffee demitasses (or wine glasses) won't suffer when anyone walks into it. I'm guessing it'd be a close run thing between budging the coffee table and breaking a leg.

Katrina testing out the worlds heaviest coffee table.
We were both taken by the armoire on our first visit, but knew that even with acres of haulage room it wouldn't fit in the Jumpy, with all the other stuff, hence the second visit. The carved decorations took our fancy, and we know that it's missing bits and pieces and doesn't really fit into the available space, but at 40 euro and a free coffee table (courtesy of my little brother).......................

I mentioned that Emmaus is a charitable organization, apparently the men who live and work there all have "troubles". We dealt with a very jovial young Senegali, who was over the moon to be dealing with Australians and then ecstatic when I told him that I had been to Senegal, and not just Dakar. He started calling me his big brother and was quite excited to see us a second time. I am hoping that by the time a third visit is needed he will have sorted his troubles and moved on.

Madame Martel moved out of the house in March, in expectation of a quick finalization, so from then to October nothing was done to the garden. There were creeper tendrils making a bid for sole occupancy! We soon put a stop to that, but then there was the path, the yards and the fence to deal with. After six days of hard slog I still haven't touched the garden beside the steps from the church, or the main garden plot. There are cubic metres of green waste in the garden lean to, waiting on collection and removal. Although I don't know what that's going to cost us, or when it will happen.

Speaking of which we seem to have landed on our feet with our neighbours. Directly across the street form us are a French couple, Stefan and Manu, and in the next house along at the end of the street is Josepha, a New Caledonian.  Around the corner is Allan an Englishman who pops over regularly while his wife is mostly in the UK.  Steffan, Manu and Josepha are permanent residents and Allan has been in and out for 14 years, owning the house and a small farm just outside the village. They have all been very welcoming and Steffan even forgave me when I laughed that his dog Earnest had "broken out" and gone on the run again. He is a very friendly dog that loves people, cows and rolling in cow pats; of which there are plenty, of course, as Sept-Forges is in the middle of Camembert country.  Sad really.
The church above the house

As an added bonus, there is a "Sauf Riverains" sign at the end of the street. This means that if you don't have actual business here don't enter. So, in the morning and late afternoon, there is little traffic and otherwise blissful silence. Once the church bells stop ringing the hours in the evening there is absolute stillness, even quieter than Venice at night! Lovely - and a great view to wake to.

Proof positive that the kitchen works
So for now we have functional kitchen, living room, bedroom and a fold-out bed/chaisse in the living room. The showers both work, there's gas in the kitchen

Did I mention that the Emmaus furniture was all antique? May be in need of TLC and missing bits, but there's time.

As for now, we're back to Paris Friday afternoon before a flight back to Muscat and reality. Boy, will we be tired!

The view from the bedroom window - Note that the ascending wall was invisible a few days ago.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Oh Senegal

Look out behind!!
This year the IT conference was held in Dakar Senegal, you know the place where the Paris to Dakar rally used to finish. Unfortunately the route from Paris to Dakar has become a little too dangerous, so while the contest is still known as the Dakar, it has nothing to do with Senegal.

Because of the way working weeks work I left Muscat on the Saturday, giving me Sunday to Tuesday in Senegal before the conference began. Col Yahya and Lt Mohammad made similar decisions.

Senegalese Customs Post at The Gambia border
Check out the load

On Sunday Mohammad and I went to the Sandaga markets and the statue of the African Renaissance. Interesting.  Before leaving for Senegal Katrina told me to buy some of the locally wax dyed fabric, so I did.Mohammad decided that his wife would also like some fabric, so shopped as well.  After we'd finished shopping we continued through the market and that's where we got one of the interesting Senegal experiences.  A stall holder invited me in,  I said "No", he invited again and offered his business card, once again I said "No, I've finished shopping".  Welllllllllll that led to the guy following us down the main road of the market calling me (at the top of his voice) racist. I put up with that for a little while before rounding on him and giving him both barrels. After that he settled down and became quite chatty, accompanying us for a few hundred meters and being quite friendly. At the end he told Mohammad "your friend has a big personality". I think that by calling his marketting strategy he became curious and was just happy to chat. BJ, he bargained down for your Senegal cap!
Monday we made a trip up country to the Fathala Safari Park and a night of "glamping"

Statue of the African Renaissance, bigger than Lady Liberty and built under
guidance of North Korea, the view from inside the man's head is spectacular

A Baobab tree, by no means a big one!
Fathala was 250 kms from Dakar and so a chance to see how the majority of Senegalese lived. Intriguing and interesting.  Mohammad had arranged a driver for us, and as much as the driving was relatively easy I would not have chosen to drive
myself. Interesting to see that most Senegalese live  in thatch roofed houses and that money is probably not a real issue in most of their lives. Houses were inside walled enclosures, with thatched roofs providing weather protection. Didn't see any sign of electrical power, but everybody seemed to have a charged mobile phone.

Giraffe in hot pursuit of the safari vehicle


Monkeying around at the watering hole
Anyway, approaching mid afternoon we got to Fathala and ran into Nestor, a South American in Senegal for the same conference and went on the same safari around the wildlife park. Lots of animals, three of the big African big 5 in the park,  We loved it, Giraffe, Buffalo, and so on - see the pictures! The real treat was on Sunday morning when we went for a 40 minute walk with the Lions. Yes Lions, no fence, no safety net -  real to goodness LIONS!!!! Can I say AWESOMENESS
He's behind you
Going back to Dakar from the park was a bit "special". We left the park in plenty of time and made a 5km detour to the border with The Gambia. That was our mistake. First up we got stopped by Police, who insisted that our driver remove all of his window tinting - they may or may not have been trying to get a bribe from him. Then we went through to the border looked around and hit the road again.
Flighty little critters these

All of which meant that when we got to the ferry crossing we were queuing for the second ferry. No problem. Well when the ferry docked the Captain decided it was lunch time. So off he went to eat and everybody just kept on waiting, and waiting. When he eventually came back, he decided it was also time to refuel, which he did - with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Sigh. So we continued waiting and waiting. Eventually all was well and we got going. All up we were waiting to take the 20 minute ferry ride for more than 3 hours.
Local transport

No comment needed
Ahh well, wasn't much of a hardship as there was a small market area at the landing, people selling mangoes, assorted other foodstuffs and locally grown cashews. It was a hive of activity. All the way to and from Dakar, wherever there was a town the road was lined with mango stalls. Stopping to buy some was an experience as the car was instantly swarmed by ladies, a few per window, all trying to attract attention to their mangoes and make that sale.
Mangoes anyone?

The rest of the week was spent in conference, until on the final morning the president of Senegal decided that he and his entourage were going to stay at the hotel, for some sort of regional African Government meeting. Private guards and police everywhere. Conference delegates with bookings kicked out of the hotel - one even to the local French naval base!

My favourite moment of that was while the foyer was shut down a European delegate, on being advised why the foyer was shut down said rather loudly "In my country we have a King, And He rides a bicycle!"

Anyway the conference went well, Col Yahya sat up front and gave his talk, I ended up being drafted in as an emergency facilitator at one of the workshops. Got to see a bunch of people I don't see very often and heard a lot of interesting talks and presentations. At the Gala dinner there was a performance by Senegal's biggest international artist, Yossou N'Dour who had the international hit 7 Seconds Away. It was fun, so much that I even got up and went to the dance floor! Don't panic though, coz I didn't dance. Thanks Senegal.

Friday afternoon was slated to be a tour to "Ille de Goree" a slave trading center. We all had to book to go during the conference. So I made it to the collection point on time, and was chatting with Lou (the American delegate). All of a sudden we were grabbed and told quick get onto this bus. So we did, it was the VIP bus,  Lou was at the front and I was down the back. To cut a long story short as the doors slammed I noticed that Lou had been removed from the bus and replaced by somebody else. That was the last I saw of Lou. Turns out there were many times the number of people than the available bus seats.
Ille de Goree - which apparently means safe harbour, and was a very active slave trade location.
We took off, under Police escort (an ambulance) to the port. Pulled in, everybody out was the call, so we did - oops sorry get back in, so we did. Drove around the port, stopped everybody out, so we did - oops get back in so we did, except that one of the busses had dumped and run. On we went to where we were supposed to board the boat. Then we waited while one bus went and retrieved the dumped contingent.

So finally a good hour and a half late we set off for Goree, which I found quite depressing. We were escorted around the island, by police, guess that meant "you can rip these tourists off but not too badly!"  I ended up buying "rather tasteful" shirts and pants for the boys. They may forgive me one day!

Ille De Goree was a slave trading center and has  a museum dedicated to the slave trade on it. People can be such pricks to each other.
At the Museum of the slave trade, which is in the main slave prison
In the end we got back to the hotel at 830 and all the people I had planned to dine with were long gone, having missed the bus and given up on the tour, I guess they went for dinner at a reasonable hour.

Early the next morning I flew out of Dakar, bound for Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and then Muscat. I landed in Addis at 9pm,  due to board for Muscat at 925. Sadly my flight had been cancelled. So after some argument with the Ethiopian transfer desk I was eventually checked into a hotel with meals. I had a free day in Addis and a 24 hour delay in getting home.  I could complain, but what's the point, another country to explore.

So I did and got to see "Lucy" the 3.4 million year old skeleton, and the last of the descendants of Emperor Haille Selasi's royal lions. And then it was time to go back to Muscat and the start of Ramadan.
I can guess why my flight was cancelled, may have had something to do with the fact that I had a bank of three seats to myself for the flight...........

So now its back to work, with catching up to do.
Emperor Haille Selassie's crown
Peek A Boo