Monthly Archives: November 2012

Camping In Oman: Day One

You’ve been waiting for it… an adventure outside of Kuwait! Since we got back for our second year, all of my blog posts have taken place here inside the sandy country we call home. (Or short-term residency…) I have tried to rediscover Kuwait with new eyes, and feel that it’s gone fairly well. Regardless, Sean and I have an insatiable appetite for outdoor recreation which will never be satisfied here. The first chance we got, we returned to our favorite country in the Middle East, Oman.

We went to Oman last year for a professional development conference and absolutely fell in love. Mountains beckoned to us in the distance, crystal blue water lapped on sandy beaches, and friendly faces smiled and welcomed us everywhere we went. This year we waited patiently for our Eid Al Adha holiday to be declared. (Eid Al Adha is the festival of sacrifice—I posted a slaughtered sheep last year, remember?) Once we found out we would have a five weekend, we booked the tickets to Oman. We had been out camping in the desert once this year already in Kuwait, so we had picked up a good tent from a new sporting goods store called Decathalon in Marina Mall. We also got two mid-weather sleeping bags that pack up really small, so we were good to go.

Unfortunately, due to the last-minute notice of the holiday, the only flight we found that was reasonably priced had a five hour layover in Dubai. Five hours isn’t so bad…. unless it’s from 2am – 7am.

Once we landed, we picked up our rental car, threw our backpacks in the back, and headed for the mountains. The skies were blue, the weather was a balmy 75 degrees, and we were ready to have an adventure!

Our first diversion was an impromptu decision to stop at Wadi Qurai. See, we have an amazing book called “Oman Off Road”, which guides you to all the waterfalls, hidden beaches, mountain hikes, you name it. You simply pick a route you want to travel, and it maps out all the places you can stop along the way. Now, a “wadi” simply means a bed, valley, or canyon that is dry during the dry season, and full of water during the wet season. The “wadi”, when wet, creates what you picture when you think of an oasis. Tall cliffs towering over you, the parching sun baking everything on the high cliffs, but you, bathed in the shade of the mountain shadows, dip your toes into an emerald pool beneath palm trees and babbling books.

In the picture above, I am walking into Wadi Qurai. We found it in the guidebook as a ‘small wadi’, worthy of an hour’s stop on your journey. Because of the arid nature of Oman, the wadis are tapped by an intricate aqueduct-like system called a “falaj”. They’re ancient systems of water channels that were created years ago, and still used today. Of course now the people in the villages who channel the water down to them have built concrete pathways for the water now (or the Omani government has probably done this), but the origins are ancient. The only time you see the falaj is at the mouth of the wadi—they do an amazing job of hiding them within the rocks, never over-developing their natural resources.

What I also love about Oman is that nature is wild and ever-present within the lives of the people. There are no roped off parks or preserves. You can be hours away from any road and find evidence of someone’s old barbecue pit, and then shortly thereafter find a boy carrying a package walking among the rocks. They respect their natural areas, and revere them with pride. They love to share them with visitors, and have many sophisticated programs in place to keep them clean and undeveloped. But more on this later : )

Remember what I said about an oasis? As the walls closed in, the sound of rushing water grew deeper. We were glad we wore our swimsuits, and dived right in. We found lots of little toads and tadpoles!

Nature’s waterpark.

You forgot you were in the Middle East!

We spent a few hours here, relaxing and letting the stress flow downstream with the water.

After hiking back out of Wadi Qurai, we continued on our journey. The game plan for our first day was to get as close to Jebel Shams (the tallest mountain in Oman) as we could. We had a Toyota Yaris for a rental car, which if you know anything about the Yaris, eliminates any possibility for extreme off-roading. Regardless, we wanted to see how high up the mountain we could get. Our goal for day one was to see Wadi Qurai, stop in a little village called Nizwa, and then camp near Jebel Shams for an early morning ascent the next day.

Once in Nizwa we had fun walking around the touristy area. They loved pottery! The whole city of Nizwa was centered around a major fort that was built hundreds of years ago. Now the fort acts somewhat for tourism, but is also the location of their souk (bazaar).

The sun was setting, and we felt the eerie sensation of stepping into another culture, another era, if only for a short moment.

Sean loved the fort : )

It’s so amazing seeing these ancient villages being a part of a collage with the present. Right next to these crumbling relics were people hanging laundry and standing on their modest balconies.

We drove as close to Jebel Shams as we could before it got too dark, and pitched our tent under an Acacia tree. We feasted on fresh hummus, cut vegetables, and even a Corona or two, then passed out from sheer exhaustion and sensory overload. We were ready to begin another day in paradise. (Then we were woken up in the middle of the night by a herd of goats passing by our tent… I guess I said we were looking for an adventure!)

I know I didn’t post too many photos in the blog, but I wanted to break up our Oman trip into manageable chunks that I could write about and reflect on. Besides, it gives me another world to escape to when I am tired of the sand and the sun in Kuwait. I hope to finish the blog posts on Oman this week, and then I have MORE adventures in store for you! Not only did Kuwait have the record-breaking, largest fireworks display in the entire world, but Sean and I were sitting there to document all of it. Then, we may have taken another guilty-pleasure trip out of the country… but stay tuned to find out where!

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Categories: Oman | 1 Comment

Open Wide, October! Otherwise Known As, The Month of Food Photography.

I find it hard to believe an entire month has gone by since my last post. Literally. So much has happened over the past four weeks that I don’t even know where to begin. I think that’s why I refuse to blog in any other organizational format than chronological. That way I don’t leave anything out!

It’s November 11th here in Kuwait, and I write to you from the comfortable cushions of my couch on a school day that was not-to-be. That’s right, we got a surprise day off! We were supposed to have school today—I woke up at 6 as usual, made coffee, packed our lunches, and was about to step out the door when I received a text saying, “In honor of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Kuwait constitution, school has been canceled.”  We knew of the event, of course, there were fireworks, parades, and festivals, but that was yesterday, over the weekend. I guess they just wanted to extend the festivities another day. Thus, today is the final day of a three-day weekend, then we teach three days, and then we have another three-day weekend. Next weekend is three days because of Islamic New Year. (We are off on another adventure next weekend, too. I can’t WAIT to share that one with you!)  It seems we have more days off than we teach over these two weeks… but hey, when we work, we work hard!

So, today, I spent the larger part of my morning in the Al Seef hospital. I have a swollen wrist that’s been giving me grief for around two years, and have never gotten it looked at. I think it’s from all those years of waitressing; the lifting heavy trays for hours at a time from ages 16-22 probably damaged the muscles. Either way, it was my first time to Al Seef, and it is a BEAUTIFUL hospital.  (Click here for Google Images.) The nicest I think I’ve seen. I was seen right away, received an x-ray, an ultrasound (on my wrist, guys, don’t panic), and made an appointment for an MRI tomorrow. What did it cost me? Only a few hours of my time. We are so well taken care of here at our school I can’t even begin to tell you how lucky we feel. I think my wrist will be fine, the doctors said it’s intramuscular stuff, but they’re not quite sure.  As long as I can flip a sauté pan, write on a chalkboard, pitch a tent, and give my husband a haircut, I’m not too worried about it : )

When I found I was able to move the appointment to this morning (after I found out we had the day off), I decided I would try to bike from our apartments to Al Seef. When I head out early in the morning (or before 5pm really), the traffic tends to be fine. And wow, I was right! It was an absolutely beautiful bike ride—I got to race down empty roads, let the sun warm my face, crank up the tunes on my iPod, round corners with grace, and coast to the hospital parking lot with fifteen minutes to spare. I spent the extra time walking along the coast admiring the blooming violets and rolling waves. It’s days like this where I am reminded to appreciate the little things here in Kuwait! I mean really, looking at the screenshot below, Kuwait can be the adventurous bikers’ dream, what with all the coastline to cruise!

All right, onto the pictures.

I grew mildly embarrassed when I looked over the photos for today’s blog. As I said earlier, I do everything chronological order. It helps me frame the topics for each blog post as well as keep me organized. Well, the twenty or so photos that were in the queue ended up being all pictures of… you guessed it… food. (Minus one or two of friends.) I need to make a resolution right now that I will take more photos of places, people, and things, and less of food. I mean, a majority of my audience DOES live in Wisconsin, so I assume the food pictures are all right with you guys ; )

To begin, it was our good friend Andrew’s birthday earlier in the month. We threw him a good old-fashioned birthday party, complete with cake, candles, and smiles. I baked him a cake, made him a homemade coconut frosting. (One of my girlfriends here has gotten me completely addicted to coconut oil. Ask me about it sometime!)

There were balloons, libations, and lots of people who like to have a good time. It was really special.

Speaking of special, this is our friend Shannon from Wisconsin! She accepted a position this year teaching at another school here in Kuwait. We couldn’t believe it when she told us she was coming to work here—it’s been a blast hanging out with her! She says she likes it so far, but one of my favorite lines I heard her say was, “I am learning to appreciate the simple things in life…” When the struggles of international living get you down, just turn to Shannon, the eternal optimist! : )

Remember how I said this was all about food? We were invited to a Canadian Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and it was a real treat. Our friends Dave and Lacie hosted us. We brought lemon squares and others brought the Thanksgiving traditionals: stuffing, cranberries, mashed potatoes, candied yams, you name it. Dave even rigged up his flatscreen to a looping Youtube video of a crackling fireplace!

Here’s Dave, being the ultimate host. What a great time!

My girlfriend Abby and I are addicted to this Indian restaurant in Kuwait City. Like, so addicted we’ve gone two weeks in a row and ordered the exact same thing each time. However… now that I think about it, I don’t think the “ordering the same thing each time” means we’re addicted, I just think it means I have NO idea what else to order off this menu! I mean, really, what would you order? Also, in case you can’t remember the exchange rate, this place is ridiculously well-priced. 1 KD is about $3.50, so most meals here will run you around $2.50 – $3.00. It is so good, I am about to get off the couch and head over there right now.

We may order the same thing each time, but let me tell you, it’s worth it! The only way I learned how order this was when I saw an Indian couple eating it one of the first times I visited. I simply pointed and asked the name and our server said “thali”. I later learned that “thali” simply means an indian meal made up of a selection of dishes. This is a traditional “lunch platter”, I guess. So now, that’s all I order, until I remember to Google some of the menu items beforehand to learn what they are! I can tell you, though, in the above picture, that the three different kinds of bread, papad, poori, and chapathi, are delicious. All I have learned are the names of the bread. I do know one of the dishes on the platter is a dahl, which basically means a lentil dish. MMMMmmmmMMMM!

After Abby and I had our Indian thali feast, we walked around the Souq for a bit. I am still trying to figure out what this “modern coke” stuff is… I was too nervous to buy some…

I can’t believe I haven’t shared this place with you yet. It’s known as “the Egyptian bread place” by my coworkers, and I think the real name is something like “Prince of Princes”. They specialize in, well, everything you SHOULDN’T eat. I mean, really. You’ll see. It’s naughty.

In the photo above, a man is crafting the holy “Egyptian bread”.  I don’t know why it’s called this, because it’s the least bread-y thing you can imagine. Sure there’s a crust, but it’s more like a gooey, cheesy, flaky wrapped pizza. You’ll see…

Abby ordered a large “bread” or “pizza” to go, (it’s totally not a pizza, but I don’t even know how else to describe it), and I asked the man if I could snap some photos. What I love about the above picture is how it shows the use of natural, whole foods. It’s not a precut, freeze-dried, shipped-in-from-Roundy’s operation. These guys go to the store, buy the eggs, buy the olives, buy the cheese, cut it up, and put it together. That’s why I feel good about eating out a lot here—if you eat what the locals eat, most items have under ten ingredients in the entire dish, and they’re all natural foods! (But that doesn’t excuse the pound of cheese that’s in one of the Egpytian bread thingys…)

But, like I said, this place is naughty. While you wait for your “Egyptian bread”, you walk around salivating like an idiot. I mean, when would you ever order dessert this opulent?! When you’re Kuwaiti, that’s when : ) They know how to dine in style! Me, I just walk around thinking to myself, “Ooooh, pretty colors!”

This stuff is really, really good, but only in small amounts. Most of it is made up of sugar, honey, rosewater, and pistachios. You can only eat so much until you feel like a sugar-coated pistachio yourself. A lot of it falls under the “baklava” category, but they’ve got all sorts of sweets you can order by the kilo.

But this stuff, I have never understood. I wonder if it’s what they eat instead of prepackaged chips? To me, it tastes a bit like dog treats. Seriously.  Some of it smells like feet, too. But maybe I just order the wrong kind.

Anyways, back to our Egyptian-bread-pizza-man. Here he is, putting the toppings onto the crust. Look at how HUGE the crust becomes! And look at all those delicious toppings. Then, he folds the dough over the toppings, pops it in the oven on the right, and…..

You’ve got heaven in a box. Since this place is so close to the school, these things make frequent staff meeting snacks.

Speaking of food, the kitties in Kuwait have to eat, too! Here is our friendly neighbor, Bob, feeding the local kittens outside our apartment. He is so compassionate!

Lastly, Sean and I took an evening all to ourselves and went out for dinner. (I know that sounds like it’s not a big deal, but it actually is. Because we travel so much on the long weekends, we spend most of our time in Kuwait relaxing around our apartment and recuperating from work and traveling. It’s a rough life.) So, I have been dying to try this place that Sean and I went to. It’s called “Free Time”, and it is a restaurant and shisha bar. If you look, you can see that the tables and benches in the above picture are all on a rocker. You can sway back and forth like you are on a porch swing while you eat your food and smoke your shisha!

I also loved the “au naturale” look they were going for, with the greenery covering up the air ducts. Classy.

Since we already had an early dinner, we decided to splurge and share a banana split. Shisha, rocking chairs, and ice cream. Life is good.

And life only continues to get better! There is so much to do, see, ponder, explore, and share with others in this vast world that I am so thankful I get the opportunity to do it all and share it with you. I hope you enjoyed this food extravaganza, and, no, Sean has not gained 100 pounds from all of this indulgence. But the question is… have I?
Stay tuned for our last-minute trip to Oman where we camped in the mountains, swam in the sea, and hiked up canyons! Then, a blog post on how Kuwait broke a world record! All this coming up throughout November and December! Stay warm, wherever you are!

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