"Not all those who wander are lost"

Archive for December, 2010

Christmas in the UAE

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.

-Anthony Brandt

 

12/24

Christmas Eve!  Andy, Stan, and I headed off in the morning to get the breakfast special at Fibber McGee’s.  We walked into the Irish pub and looked around.  Nobody else was there.  We hung out there for a few hours eating breakfast and hanging out trying to wait for the metro which doesn’t open until 2pm on Fridays (Islamic day of worship).  Eventually Andy and Stan decided to cab it back to EA so they would be there in time to get cleaned up before going to church with Michelle (recent RIT grad who does student services at RIT Dubai now).  I decided that it was a better use of my time to head to the the organic grocery store I spotted.

Organic Foods was, well, organic and therefore great.  I loaded up on peanut buttery goodness before heading to the other grocery store to pick up a few things I was missing.  While I was checking out I noticed a guy wearing the traditional garb and a thought dawned on me.  This was the first non-Caucasian I had seen in either grocery store.  Whether it was the stores or the time/day I don’t know but somehow I had stumbled upon the whitest place I have been in Dubai.

I was sitting in my room enjoying my traditional Christmas Eve burrito when one of the guys from Harriot Watt walked in and asked if I wanted to play soccer with them.  The Harriot Watt team had a friendly match against a Chinese team staying at EA at 7:00.  It was 7:04.  I stuffed the second half of my burrito in my mouth at once, grabbed my cleats, and ran out the door.  It was the first time I had played a full 11v11 game of soccer since high school.  The game was fun, quite high scoring (6-7 at the end I think) and in general not the prettiest game.  There was a lot of dribbling through, or into, people and a lot less passing than there could or should have been but it was still fun.  I even scored a left footed goal that soared over the keeper and hit perfectly in the top corner.  I was pleased:  both about the game and that my burrito kept going down despite all my running.

 

12/25

Christmas Day!  There were no presents, stockings, or trees when I woke up.  It’s hard to feel Christmasy when there’s no snow on the ground and no family around.  Instead Stan, Andy, and I headed out in a rental car to Snoopy Island on the east coast to go snorkeling.  Driving across to the east coast in the morning was quite the experience.  The road we had chosen to traverse the country was a two lane road with fairly wide shoulders.  The vehicles on the road however didn’t seem to know this.  Trucks drove half on the shoulders going 70kph while cars weaved around each other in the center of the road, some times reaching 4 vehicles abreast.  Despite the interesting and often scary driving we made it there without too much trouble and parked at a public area in sight of the island.  The only problem was we still had no snorkeling gear.  We walked across the beach to a nearby hotel to inquire, but they only had kayaks.  We kept walking down the beach hoping to find somewhere to rent snorkeling equipment but eventually got yelled at by locals to not go further (they didn’t want us near their families and wives).  Deciding that we needed to go down the beach more we headed back to the car and cruised down the road a little more.  We found the hotel that we had been told had snorkeling gear, but once we found out it was 70dhs just to get on the beach there before rentals we decided it wasn’t worth it.  We jumped back in the car and drove 10 minutes back up the road to Dibba to look into buying our own gear.  After driving straight through town without seeing anything promising we stopped at a tiny little general store and found some masks.  Good enough.

With our minimal gear we headed back and stopped at a public beach (next to the correct hotel this time).  We had the interesting choice of gear when we crossed the broken Heineken bottles to the beach:  Andy with his goggles and camera, Stan with his goggles and snorkel, and me with my goggles and banana.

Anxious to get out Andy and I crashed into the water and began to swim.  A ways out we realized that Stan was still struggling with this snorkel.  We tread water and waited.  After what felt like quite a while, since I was treading water, Stan decided he didn’t want to swim out the island.  Unfortunately I had pawned off the banana to him since he could fit it in his pocket.  I decided to head back and get it.  I made it back to the beach, retrieved the banana, shoved it in my pocket, and headed back toward the island.  I made it about half way again before I noticed the banana was no longer in my pocket.  Curses.  It had floated away just after I started swimming, but I wasn’t going back for it this time.  After swimming against the tide the entire way, I finally made it out to the island and climbed up on the rocks for a break.  The island was really just a large crumbly rock with an occasional little plant and frequent piles of bird droppings.  Being me I had to climb the rocks.

That was probably not the best idea.  Most of the island was very sharp fractured rocks that came apart if they were pulled on.  Combining this with my bare feet made my little climb up to the top take much longer than expected, but I made it to the top.  The way down was no easier, especially trying to avoid getting my hands, and especially the open wound on my finger, in bird poop.  It was equally sketchy, painful, and bad of an idea going back down but I succeeded in getting down safely, but not in avoiding bird poo.  Once I was finally back down I noticed a sign around the corner from where I started with a picture of the grim reaper on it.  It said something along the lines of “Danger, climbing could result in death” in about 6 languages.

I rejoined Andy in the water chasing around fish around the coral reef like sharks with brain damage.  Andy delighted in swimming at every interesting fish he saw with his camera outstretched in front of him to try to get pictures.  I contented myself with looking at the interesting ones and swimming through schools of fish trying to touch them.  Eventually we headed back to the beach to rejoin Stan.  The tide had turned so once again we were fighting it.

Still early in the day we relaxed, napped, and read on the beach for a while before moseying back toward Dubai.  Along the way we stopped at one of the many roadside stands and bought mangos, papayas, pomegranates, and several other unknown tropical fruits.

We made it back to EA in time for me to make my traditional Christmas dinner:  burrito, mango, and pomegranate.  I skyped with the family and watched everyone open presents.  It was great to be able to still be there and see the goings on at home.  We even took a family picture, me included.

We are indeed a strange bunch.  After many hours of skyping they headed outside and I headed off to bed.


Christmas Craggin’

The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.

– Alex Lowe

 

12/23

Break!  At last it’s christmas break and I have time to climb, explore, and CLIMB!  My plans have been changing constantly, but with any luck I’ll do a lot of climbing, some snorkeling, and camping.

Only my second trip to Hatta Crag, but it already seems far more familiar.  We headed down E44 toward Hatta, passing dunes, trucks, and the boarder checkpoint before we turned off and bumped down the desert track.  The three of us (Sam’s parents came to down for christmas and her dad decided to join us to watch and take pictures) piled out of the car and began to make the trek up the steep hill of scree.  We zig-zagged up the hill around boulders.  Eventually I found myself staring a one such boulder ahead of me.  I had been watching my footing too much and had to back track to get around the boulder, but why go around?  I’m here to climb right?  There were several inviting scoops in the rock so I climbed the few feet up.  As I stepped over onto the flat ground at the top I grabbed a bit of the rock to push myself.  I heard a crack and the slight force I put on the rock broke off a plate the size of a pizza.  I wanted to move my leg that was conveniently directly under this falling plate.  Not having time to shift my weight and not wanting the rock to go bouncing down at Sam’s dad I just held on to it.  I managed to hang on enough to keep it from bouncing off my shin (or would it have been through?) or attacking Sam’s dad and tossed it off to the side.  I was quite happy at my lack of injury until I felt sering pain in my finger.  My left middle finger no longer had skin covering most of the end.  The rock had sliced a section of skin the size of a nickel off the pad of my finger, leaving a flap hanging by one side with a deeper cut down the edge.  Great.  If the long tradition of stupid injuries I inflict on myself this is one of the most frustrating.  I injured myself before even getting to the crag on the first day of vacation when I planned to climb as much as I could the whole break.  Along with the fact that this is current and all my other injuries are just distant memories made this the worst injury a terrible tragedy.  Sam ran back to the car for the first aid kit and we bandaged my finger with gauze and tape.  I now had a finger the size and shape of a small egg.  Obviously this would be a great day of climbing.

We made it the rest of the way up and got down to climbing.  Not using a key finger made climbing significantly more difficult.  I didn’t do anything too challenging because my finger would scream in pain when I pulled hard on my sliced finger.  We did some sport and trad, both of which turned out to be interesting.  Using sport gear wasn’t too much more difficult but unclipping on rappel was much more difficult trying not to use my middle finger.  Trad was a different matter, especially when I was trying to use my left hand to place my biggest piece of gear.  My bandaged finger just couldn’t fit on the trigger between the wires and the stem so I had to awkwardly hold it with another finger while my middle pointed straight.

(Me looking for somewhere to place gear on Sheepshagga, there weren’t many places)

I crested the top and looked around.  The mountains all around were being eaten away.  An infestation of little ants driving trucks were taking away the mountains bit by bit.  This disturbing plague on the land has already taken a large section out of one ridge and will most likely consume the entire climbing crag in the next few years.  Probably just to make more cement used to destroy other areas.  It is terribly had the mountains can’t fight back.  They need some rock-Ents or a Lorax because around here nobody speaks for the rocks.

We headed over to a climb that Sam had done before and she got her first lead.  It’s great to see other people getting addicted to0.  She doesn’t know it yet, but I even have trad routes picked out, next time we go she’ll get her first trad lead.  Sam’s dad decided he wanted to head down and take some pictures of camels.  Unfortunately the car keys were nowhere to be found.  We decided they must have been dropped or forgotten when we were bandaging my finger.  There was still lots of daylight left so we headed over to do a “steep photogenic” route as the guide book described it.  It was a decent scramble and search to find the area, but we made it and only lost 1 first aid kit along the way.  The route was easy and perfectly framed the climber against the sky and desert a thousand feet below.  Unfortunately with only two of us we had a hard time getting good pictures while belaying.

Not having had any challenging routes yet I decided I had to do something a bit more difficult.  I picked a neighboring route described as consistently pumpy (builds lactic acid in the arms making it hard to hold anything, usually from overhanging routes).  I went for it.  I managed to do the first half of the route without too much difficulty or finger pain.  The crux was a different story.  I had small hold, nothing to actually grip and lots of demand for holding tight with my left hand.  I yelled in pain, grunted, and worked my way around until I eventually made it to the top.  By the time I got there my finger bandage was soaked with blood.

We headed back down to search for Sam’s key.  As we cut across the hill to our path up we walked across the opening of a nice looking small cave.  It even had paw prints in front of it.  We lowered our voices and continued past being very thankful that there was still daylight and we had not heard it yet this trip.  We found the scene of my slicing without too much trouble.  It turned out to be one of the few places on the hill with an abundance of black rocks (coal) which worked nicely to conceal the black key (one of the flip ones so there wasn’t even any metal showing).  None the less we managed to find it and made it down just before dark.


Ugly Sweaters & Huge Malls

I don’t suffer from insanity; I enjoy every minute of it.

-Unknown

 

12/17

Once back at EA I started investigating the tickets for the Fifa Club World Cup.  Unfortunately they were completely sold out.  I had been checking every day and every other time I could still buy 12 tickets all sitting together, but I had waited so long trying to get the RIT Dubai kids together since 8 of them signed up that they were gone.  None of this three strikes stuff.  They’ve now bailed on Wild Wadi and this so I’m not going to be organizing anything else with them.  Fortunately the ticket crisis was received well by the group who even were up for still going to Abu Dhabi until I found out we didn’t have to pay any kind of deposit for the bus.

Our “party” turned out to only be our study abroad group, but was none the less a good time.  I had seen great ugly sweaters the week before at Carrefour and of course had to get one.  I was please to see that most people had found some kinda ugly sweater too.  The pot luck even worked out and we even had hot chocolate.  We played games, listened to christmas music, and best of all watched The Grinch.  Despite it only being a few days away it’s hard to imagine that it’s almost christmas or even that it’s winter.  This is the first year I’ve been anywhere other than Maine and I have to say, christmas just doesn’t exist without snow.  None the less, good times were had by all.

 

12/18

For the first time since I arrived in Dubai I slept until I woke up.  No cell phone, no watch, no alarms.  I made it to 11AM, but that was still only 7 hours since I went to bed at 4AM.  I enjoyed the lack of worries and hung out for a bit.  We discussed going to the textile souk and the Dubai Museum, but ended up going to the Mall of Dubai instead.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Dubai Mall it’s really not much of a mall.  Instead it’s several small universes contained in a single building.  It has an arcade with rides, an outdoor street inside, a bowling ally, a mall, a huge fountain, a “Gold Souk”, a skating rink, and so much more.  We started out wandering around just checking out random stores that looked interesting and looked at the olympic size skating rink.  One of the several atrium was home to the largest christmas tree I’ve ever seen and possibly in the world.  It passed all four stories (~25ft each) of the mall and continued into the domed ceiling.  We found the “Gold Souk” modeled after the real gold souk and traditional arabian markets and played with camel statues and shiny thrones.

We continued through the “souk” and found one of the coolest things in Dubai and in fact in the world:  falcons!  In yet another atrium there were several guys sitting in the center on pillows and rugs with arabian coffee and two falcons, both of which they were happy to share.  The falcons had hoods on and we very docile, but still impressive and just awesome.

After our falconing we headed out to watch the fountain.  The lights went down, the smoke came up, and the fountain started.  Blasts of water shot around the pool weaving into circles.  The music played and the fountains danced.  Water flew over a hundred feet into the air and floated back down.  It was far better than the water show at the Bellagio.  That’s no surprise since it was designed by the same company and this one was $218 million.  Some of the group that had disappeared earlier on met back up with us but missed the first show.  We waited a half an hour for the next show chatting and screwing around.  Just as we started to explain to them that it’ll be easy to know when the show will start because it will be preceded by smoke burst of flame shot into the air all over the fountain.  The show had changed and this one involved fire.  Flames and water mixed and danced and shot around the pool of the fountain to the timing of the music.  It was awesome!

Hearing from the other kids about the roller coaster they went it we headed off to investigate and redeem our discounted passes that Sonic the hedgehog gave us earlier.  Sega Republic was quite a place.  It was a huge arcade with every game imaginable.  Racing games in which you sat in a full STI or GTR, small climbing wall for kids, a spinning/swinging fair ride, and best of all a roller coaster.  I didn’t expect much from a roller coaster that fit in the mall.  Low expectations are the key to great experiences.  The ride whipped us around tight corners, spun our cart in circles, and weaved us through tracks over the arcade and into a dark room.  It was unbelievably good for a ride in the mall and good for any roller coaster.

We walked back into the universe of the mall and ventured through the Herseys store and found some interesting stores.  The first was an action figure store and was full of ridiculously expensive figurines and even a full size hulk statue.

The second store was similar but way better.  It had great looking pieces from some of the best movies:  Indian Jones’ whip, Batmans helmet, the sword and crown of Gondor, sting, the ring, the wands of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Luna, and more, and even a Nimbus 2001.  It was so cool…I’m surprised none of us bought anything there.

Before heading out I made sure to check out an Organic grocery store and cafe.  I did it!  I FINALLY found PEANUT BUTTER!  I was so happy about that and rushed to not make everyone wait that I didn’t bother with anything else.  It had all the right things for a successful trip to the mall:  falcons, roller coaster, HP/LOTR, and organic PB.

(pictures courtesy of Mike Baer-family portrait, Nina Smith-Dr. Seuss and fountain, and Allie Schneider-Camel kiss, falcon, and Hulk)


Rocks in RAK

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness.

-Mark Jenkins

 

12/17

Warning: non-climbers may not understand lots of what I say.  For more info refer the all knowing one: wiki Glossary of Climbing Terms.

I woke up early to head to RAK (Ras Al-Khaimah, an Emirate a bit over an hour north) to climb for the day.  I was ready and waiting to get picked up by 7:15.  Back in bed by 7:30.  Finally I got a call saying they were late and would be to EA in 15 minutes.  I went back to sleep for 10.  I finally dragged myself out of bed again, walked out to the road outside the gate to wait, and promptly went back to sleep leaning against my backpack.

After only a few circles (driving from memory again) we made it to the aptly named Roadside crag.  The rest of the group was already there.  We introduced ourselves and started climbing.  The crag was interesting: mostly trad, a little sport, and anchors that were very hard to find.  Did an easy wide crack to warm up.  While I was at the top searching for the anchors some locals in a small vehicle similar to a wrangler started talking to our group.  After a minute they decided to come inspect.  Somehow five young guys emerged from the vehicle and came over to chat with the group and watch us climb.  Climbing is something that seems to be largely unknown and not fully understood by the Arab community.  Sam even told me about climbing once when locals stopped to see if they were alright.  She told them that they were fine and it was a sport.  Despite that they still thought that there was water at the top or she had lost her goat.  Eventually the guys got bored and left.

After a bit I moved over to a cool looking route called Sheban (5.10a/b).  I didn’t bother mentioning to people that I hadn’t really lead much, or actually any, 5.10 trad.  I also haven’t climbed enough lately so I’m not climbing at the level I was a couple months ago.  It looked like a fun route though and I want to push myself more when climbing trad anyway.  It started easy, moving up a wide crack with lots of holds.  A climb continued up the easy hold: it was not mine.  Mine was supposed to traverse left onto a steep overhanging face.  The problem was the holds looked alright, but I couldnt see anywhere to place gear.  I had only placed one piece of gear 10 feet below which would only swing me into the other face if I fell.  Knowing that I needed another piece I searched to find somewhere that would take another piece.  There really wasn’t anything good.  Thanks to my newest gear purchase (tricams) I was able to place one questionable piece of gear.  I called it good and traversed until I could place another decent piece.  I decided to traverse back to pull my piece before to avoid having tons of rope drag.  So far it seemed to be getting better.  I reached a nice little alcove where I could stand without much effort.  The down side was that I knew were I had to go, but looked it a couple times not knowing if I could do it and knowing I had a 20+ft fall since I couldn’t find anywhere to place gear again.  I managed to shove another tricam (my new favorite gear) in a small crack.  I had some potential for not falling as far if I fell.  The emotional support was enough.  I pulled myself back outside the alcove, threw a hand jam, that I didn’t think would hold me, in the crack and hauled with all my strength.  Just before my hand popped out of the crack I managed to grab another hold.  Hardest part completed I cruised up the rest of the pitch without too much difficulty.  It was a great climb, but other than the one difficult part, was more a mental challenge, trusting my gear and doing hard moves over long exposed falls, than a physical one.

By the time we got ropes down and walked off it was getting time to head to another crag that Brian, the one who had organized this trip, wanted to show us since it’s not in the guide book.  Everyone was ready to move out, but I still wanted to get on a 5.11a that they had tried.  The rope was still on it so I TRed it.  Maybe I should always have people waiting for me when I climb because it worked well.  I blew through the entire route in about a minute.  We headed back to the cars and moved on to the next area.

Along the way Brian stopped to point out a couple areas that also weren’t in the book.  Driving up the canyon I must have been drooling:  there was rock all around, most of it looked solid, and I was fairly certain (and confirmed later) that none of it had ever been climbed.  We made it to our destination, Farside crag.  I picked out a good looking trad route oblivious to any grade on it and gave it a go.  It made for good climbing, with some awkward moves, and piles of dust built up all over the rock.  About half way up I made it to a small ledge.  Above it the rock jutted out a bit making a bit of a roof with a crack in it.  I took a look and started trying it, but couldn’t get good jams and had nowhere to put my feet to allow me to move up so I ended up backing down a few moves to the ledge.  After several exploratory tries I decided that the only way to conquer the move would be through a sacrifice.  I plugged a piece of gear and went for it.  Reaching up as high as I could I jammed my right hand in, grabbed a slightly featured area of rock with my left hand and pulled with all my might as I lifted my leg leg above my stomach to find the only hold.  As I started to pull my right hand began to get cold.  Tingles spread from the back of my hand until the entire thing was cold.  By the time I got my foot on I had no feeling in my hand at all.  Not knowing if my right hand would hold me or just go limp I grabbed something with my left and pulled my right hand out as quickly as I could.  There was nothing.  The tingling and cold were gone.  I just couldnt feel it at all.  I stuck another cam in the rock and concentrated on my hand.  In a minute i regained a little bit of feeling enough to use it somewhat so I kept climbing.  I made it to the top and my hand seemed to be slowly getting back to normal, despite its tingling.  I belayed Sam up the climb with nearly as much excitement as I had on my way up.  Without being able to see her and tell what was going on I heard a scream followed by a crash.  She had pulled a hold off sending it crashing down to the ground.  A few minutes later she pulled her wheaties move again and pulled off an even bigger chunk of cliff.  Somehow through both holds falling she managed to catch herself and made it up through the crux like a champ.

We chatted for a bit after the climb and hit the road for Dubai with a successful and very informative day of climbing under our belts.  The possibilities in RAK are endless.  Tons of rock, very few climbers.  It sounds like the perfect situation for some first assents for me.


Fun in the Sun

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.

-Tim Cahill

 

12/16

So far this week has been fairly unspectacular.  Things are starting to become normal here.  S-W were classes, senior design, hanging out, a little soccer, and that fun stuff.  Today Jimmy, Stan, Mike W, and I headed to Jumeirah public beach near the Burj Al Arab to hang out and enjoy the sun while everyone else headed to the mall.  We got to the beach not too long after noon and enjoyed soaking in the sun and basking in our 80something degree weather.  I brought my soccer ball that I got at Carrefour (for AED17 which is less than $5) and Stan and I kicked it around for a while.  Eventually a group of kids came over and asked if we wanted to play a game so we did.  We had a great time playing beach soccer despite the sharp shells and bits of broken glass on the beach.  Eventually it was too hot running around and we jumped in the water.  The water here is the saltiest I have ever been in.  I can open my eyes in a chlorinated pool without it bothering my eyes, but this salt made them burn.

We were planning on heading to RIT to meet people and go to the Global Village (just what it sounds, every country has a little “village” with stores of food and goods) so we headed out just after 4.  We got to RIT just in time for the bus…only to find out that it had to go all the way back to RIT to pick up the rest of the group since they couldn’t get a taxi (still kind of confused).  Global village turned out to be lots of fun.  There was great food everywhere.  Booths with rugs, fabrics, scarfs, spices, and every kind of random junk you can think of.  Yemen was one of the best with tower shaped out of curry powder, bundles of cinnamon sticks (really bundles of sticks, they were 2 feet long and bundled like you would see fire wood), and wide variety of honey (even some only for married people because it’s supposed to be an afrodisiac).  There were performances all over the place and even some carnival rides.  Unfortunately we had to head out at 9 so some people could catch connecting buses, but we all plan to go back.

After a bit of hanging out in the common room Raunak (one of the kids from the other side of the hall who goes to Harriot Watt) headed over to the labor camp (cheap housing for primarily Indians who send money back to their families).  I had visited the labor camp with him several days ago and he mentioned there was a barber shop that does shaves for 5dhs, but I had just shaved that day.  I set out with the mission to get my first barber shop shave.  We got to the barber shop but the lights were all out and it was closed.  It was only 11:00pm, they had no reason to be closed.  We started to turn to leave but noticed another barber shop a few doors down, it was go time.  It was an interesting experience for sure.  The labor camp is not really a bad area, but when someone has a razor blade against my throat it just makes me a little nervous.  The weirdest part was having a random Indian guy rubbing my face (lather, aftershave, something else, and powder).  All went well enough since I made it back to tell the tale with only a couple nicks.

Big plans ahead, climbing in 5 hours, Ugly sweater Pot-luck Christmahanukwanza Party tomorrow night, and Abu Dhabi for the FIFA Club World Cup Saturday.


Climbing in the Arabian Desert

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing

– George Bernard Shaw

 

12/10/10

Upon arrival here in the UAE I began searching Mountain Project, Rockclimbing.com, and every other climbing related forum and website I could find.  My efforts paid off.  I had more possibilities for climbing than I had time for.  Friday morning I set off with Samantha, my recruit from the UAE climbing forum (yes the, there is only one).  We were off like a speeding turtle, leaving EA around 9.  The plan was to meet up with some more people from the climbing forum but when Sam called to tell them we would be late we discovered that we were actually 23 hours 50 minutes early.  Thats right, the entire wrong day.  We weren’t about to not climb so we changed direction and headed off toward Oman.  We chatted and before long got to the boarder of Oman.  Passports were checked.  We were white.  We kept going.  Coming from the US it seems like having to go through another country to go climbing would mean it’s a hell of a drive, luckily that’s not true here.  Less than an hour after leaving Dubai we turned off the main highway onto a small paved road then off that a minute later.  We bumped down the “road,” really just a weaving line in the desert that other people had also driven on, looking out for the climbing area and avoiding camels.

With no guide book or directions we relied on Sam remembering what the crag looked like.  Her memory got us there unscathed (though some camels looked ready to trample the car) with only a small detour.  We made the trek up the scree field to the base of the crag.  I turned around and took in the sight.  The desert opened out before us spotting with tree’s on mounds, only the soil they held had resisted the floods.  Past that the spiked foot hills grew into jagged mountains.

The rock is a sandstone and limestone combination which had formed into all sorts of great shapes as it got eroded.  We warmed up then moved over to a very overhanging climb that Sam’s boyfriend had to bail off when it got dark two weeks before.  I mention this because the primary motivation was to pick up a draw and bail biner.  It was an adventure climbing with no guide book and estimating all the grades, but I only had to down climb 10m of one route so it wasn’t too bad.

Over the last couple hours I heard some sort of strange howling noise.  I figure it was nothing and just kept climbing.  The sun was already on the other side of the crag as we packed up and headed out.  By this time the howling had also grown louder and more frequent so we stopped to listen and check it out.  It was pretty clearly an animal in distress and we were pretty sure it was a panther or Arabian leopard since both reside in the area.  Better yet, it was directly between us and the car.  I hurled a rock down the hill in hopes it would run away, but instead it just went silent.  As we skirted wide around to the side avoiding the field of big boulders that so conveniently formed caves where the howling had come from one question stood out:  was it now hunting or hiding?  We continued down the loose rocks.  Despite our arc around the main boulder field we still had to pass several.  Could this one be hiding our demise?  What about the next one?  Descending past one such boulder the large rock I stepped on rolled.  My foot slid off, but the rock kept continued to roll scraping skin off the back of my leg and pinning it under the rock which I also happened to land on.  To get my leg out from under the rock I had to roll it off over my ankle, scraping it even more.  I continued to limp down hill with the smell of my blood in the air.  We came around the last big boulder before getting to the car and I noticed glowing dots in the shadow of the boulder.  Keeping my eyes on the shadow we slowly walked toward the car.  My hands began to sweat, clutching softball sized rocks in each hand.  It leaped from from the dark.  I threw the rock in my right hand with all my strength.  It glanced off the leg of the panther but didn’t slow it.  In two bounds it had covered half of the 60 feet between us.  I hurled the second rock hitting it in the shoulder.  It faltered and almost fell but recovered.  It had slowed giving me the time to grab another rock.  I threw the rock hitting the panther in the head.  It yowled in pain and paused for a second before darting back into the shadows.  We ran the last bit and jumped in the car before it could come back.

We weaved down the desert tracks back to the main road occasionally having to double back to find a route her 4wheel drive SUV could make it on.  Boarder patrol just saw Dubai plates and waved us through.  The dark desert turned into a glowing small town that I hadn’t even noticed on the way through.  Hundreds of 4wheelers, ATVs, and SUVs roamed the streets traveling between town and the desert outside of town where thousands of car lights illuminated the sand dunes.  The area is a destination for nighttime off-roading.  I used the trip back to take advantage of an experienced American perspective on Dubai and learned several important things such as what grocery stores are good and have natural peanut butter.  I say experienced, but she’s only been in Dubai since August when she moved from Idaho for a teaching job here.  Her move to Dubai seemed nearly as spontaneous as mine.  I decided to move to Dubai in 2 days, less than 3 weeks before I left, to live for 3 months.  She had no plan for it until it happened this summer and she moved in August, but moved here (semi) permanently.  Females, take note.

Much to my chagrin I arrived 30 minutes after most of the group left to find an Irish Pub, but it was definitely worth the days adventures.

 

 

Addendum:

For all those who don’t read the comment I added to this post I’m adding it here to quell speculation.

“Ok, we didn’t actually get attacked by a panther. From the part “We came around the last big boulder” to the end of the paragraph is more of what we were imagining might happen as we walked down. We did hear some kinda cat yowling but it was most likely an arabian leopard [actually have found out now that they are rare it it’s more likely a caracal] which aren’t as big (still big enough to mess you up). It sounded like it was in quite a bit of discomfort too. We went wide around and didn’t see it. My assumption would be it was hurt and went quiet to hide from us.”


“it’s like viagra, you go from Burj Al Arab to Burj Khalifa”

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

– Mark Twain

 

12/9

Souks!

Andy, Steve, Nina, Kristin, and I set out to find the famed souks of Dubai.  Since only one line of the metro is finished we got off with a few km to go and began wandering through the streets of merchants, tiny stores, and hoards of Indian guys hawking “copy Rolex, Guicci, Armani…”  After several random stores and many small allies we found the Gold Souk.

It was filled with gold jewelry from wall to wall.  Nina had visited it before and lead us to a smoothie store.  The smoothies were delicious and tasted even better than they looked.  I got a Jazeera which was some combination of mango and some other fruit with walnuts, raisins, and a kiwi on top.

As we left our empty glasses behind we didn’t get ten feet before a man threw a gitra on my head.  Before we knew what was happening we were dressed as Emiratis and having our pictures taken.

After a few he had dressed us all up he started trying to convince us to buy the clothes or some scarves.  Everything he did was “the new trend” but somehow I don’t think this would be good beach or club attire which is what he said I should wear it for.  I actually think I would have some angry Emiratis if I wore this around in public.  We considered the scarves but he was asking for over AED100.  Steve bartered down to 80 but that was still more than the rest of us wanted to pay so we moved on.

We wandered through more winding alleys.  We walked passed another scarf shop and the shop keeper ran over and stopped Nina.  He remembered her from a year and a half ago when she and her friends visited his store.  Wen went into the store and looked at scarves while he made one ridiculous and hilarious remark after another.  After 10 minutes he insisted Nina should be his wife and we were all his best friends.  He brought us upstairs to look at more scarves while he instructed Andy and Steve stay downstairs and watch the store (and sell to anyone if they came in).  A few minutes later he ran back downstairs and reappeared with a belly dancer outfit hi insisted Nina try on.  The whole shebang was good natured and quite comical so we spent the better part of an hour trying to get our breath back between his comments.

Eventually we made it back downstairs and the bartering began.  Since we were “friends” he said he would sell for AED170 instead of his usual 200-230.  We bartered back and forth for a long while and despite all his protests we managed to get him to 260 for 3 scarves.  I decided not to get any to his great disappointment.  Nina needed to pay with a credit card so we followed him through some winding streets to another random shop that had a card machine.  The entire way there and back he hounded me for being in love with my money.  Once we got back to his store Kristin looked at postcards while he brought Nina back in and gave her a free scarf for bringing the rest of us there.  Then he came back for me.  “Your friends all buy my scarf, why you no buy?  I’m not happy.”  He grabbed me by the wrist and pulled my back into his shop.  Me genuinely not wanting to get a scarf was actually great bartering because he offered me three for 150 or two for 100 (earlier he insisted anything less than 120 each was a loss for him and that the only ones he can sell for less are his cheap silk ones from china instead of these cashmere ones).  For future reference when bartering:  don’t want it and you can get it cheaper.

On our initial walk we had overshot the spice souk so we headed back to find it.  First we found lots of stores selling bulk nuts, grains, and spices.  From the nice suits and desks in each store these were clearly for massive amounts of goods not for small scale sales.  The smell hit is first.  It came wafting toward us just before we found the souk itself.  Cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, cloves, coriander, ginger, rosemary, thyme, dried lemon.  Bin, buckets, and baskets of all kinds of spices resided in front of stores with even more inside.

Compared to the wider street of the gold souk this was a narrow alleys.  It was a picture straight out of a movie and it was awesome.  I even found a set of stairs leading up and the shop keeper let us go look at the roofs.  Clearly it was not a wealthy area:  the roof was full of blankets, pads, and other signs that this was the primary residents for many people.

The clear favorite goods were vanilla and saffron.  Whole vanilla beans could be found at every shop.  Saffron was being hawked by everyone and apparently it does more than taste good.  Many toted it’s powers, but one put it best:  “it’s like viagra, you go from Burj Al Arab to Burj Khalifa.”

After getting back from our (Andy, Allie, and I) first Skype meeting the other half of our Senior Design team in NY I headed out to play soccer.  It was truly amazing.  Armed (or should I say footed?) with my new cleats I could actually change direction again.  I came out hot scoring a hat trick (3) playing 4v4 before tons more people came and the game got pretty messy.  New cleats and 3 goals was more than enough to make my night, despite the foot pain.


Tour, Wild Wadi, and a Semblance of Normality.

If you want to be happy, be.

-Leo Tolstoy

 

12/4

RIT organized a “Big Bus Tour” for us to see Dubai.  We shuttled out to the first stop and got on the open top double decker bus.  We cruised around the city listening to audio commentary and looking at all the cool buildings, which seem to all be built in pairs.  The first stop was Atlantis, the hotel on the palm island, to explore a bit and see the aquarium.  Next was the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world by area which has over 1200 stores, and the Burj Khalifa which is the worlds tallest building.

Our final stop was Dubai creek for a boat tour.  We ended up having to take the last one which worked out well because the sun set during our mini-cruise and we go to see the lights on the banks.

 

12/5

Starting the week on Sunday was a bit strange, but after not having a schedule for two weeks it really didn’t faze me.  The other weird part is that my two real classes are both 6-8pm and I have never taken evening classes before and only even a couple that end after 4.  Math I is a grad level math class taught by a professor from RIT-NY, but it’s just all review of things I have been doing since the beginning of high school.  Even better than that is the glass grade is 60% homework.

 

12/6

For the first time since I got to Dubai I had gone to bed before 3AM to try to drag myself out of bed in time for my only morning class: Islam & Culture.  We packed onto our shuttle bus to campus filling every single seat including the fold out seats that block the isle for the usual nauseating ride to the pineapple.  The Islam & Culture class was fairly disappointing.  Our group of Americans were the only ones in the class and the teacher generally hasn’t talked about Islam yet but spent the class talking about the word “culture” and saying that you can’t really define it.

I headed back to EA on the bus and decided to go for a run in the heat of the day.  Unfortunately there’s nowhere good to run around here so I tried to run on some paths through the empty desert lot in front of EA.  I made it less than two miles before I gave up trying to run in powdery sand above my ankles.

Back to the pineapple for Renewable Energy Systems.  Luckily it’s actually a class that’s seems good.  I can understand what the professor says (unlike both of the other two classes) and it’s actually interesting (unlike both of the other two classes) so it should be good.

When I got back to EA kids were heading out to play soccer so I got to play soccer for the first time in ages.   Playing with a bunch of Kazaks made it feel just like Rochester.  Wearing my flats on the field didn’t mix well with wet grass, but I could still run in a straight line.  Pretty happy about scoring 2 goals in the first five minutes but I must have used up all my skill because that was where it ended.

 

12/7

For the first and possibly only time of my college life something happened.  Something so amazing and unheard of that if RIT-NY found out they would surely shut down RIT-Dubai and fail everyone who came here.  We had a holiday.  The Islamic New Year fell on Tuesday and we actually had a day off.  We decided to go to Wild Wadi, the water park next to the Burj Al Arab.  The Burj Al Arab is the world’s tallest all suite hotel.  The heli-pad has hosted Tiger Woods driving a golf ball off it as well as a tennis match between Federer and Agassi.

Wild Wadi didn’t quite have as many rides as most water parks but had one distinctly great feature: uphill water slides.  Why walk to the top and slide down when you can hop on a tube and have water jets launch you up slides and around bends until you get to the top and ride down? For the more thrilling ride there was the Jumeirah Sceirah on which you have to cross ams and legs to rocket down the slide with near vertical sections.  There were even two attractions with fake waves to ride boogie boards on.  They even had a fish pedicure place.

When we got back to EA I got people together to play Volleyball.  I doubted whether anyone was actually going to play but we ended up having as many as 20 people at one point.  There’s hope for group activities/sports!

 

12/8

Today was another unspectacular day of class.  Islam & Culture was the same.  He spent the entire class talking about the definition of culture again then assigned a five page essay on it due Monday.  It’s a wonderful thing to be auditing a class because I’m sure not writing that.  RE Systems was good, but nothing to special.  The highlight of the day came between classes when a friend gave me a ride to the mall and I got new cleats, no more sliding around playing soccer.

Voila, I’m all up to date!  Now I need to go do more fun stuff.


Dubai Part Deuce

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

-Robert Louis Stevenson

 

12/2

It’s UAE National Day which meant nothing to us besides we didn’t have to do anything.  We all decided to figure out the metro system and head to the beach.  There’s a metro stop right by Etisalat Academy (EA) but unfortunately it hasn’t been opened yet so we had to take taxis to the Al Rashidiya station which isn’t too bad in a group since taxis are so cheap here (this taxi ride is usually about 16 AED which with four people is just over a dollar per person).  The entire metro system here is brand new so everything is in perfect condition, clean, and looks nice.  On a side note, most things here especially in malls and buildings is immaculate because there are lots of people paid to clean all the time.

We got off the station we were told to and wandered in circles for a few minutes at the station until we decided since it was our second day in the country we should just get more cabs instead of trying to walk several miles to the beach.  The cabs brought us to the entrance to the park, which we found out later is the only spot we would have had to pay to get in the park.

We decided to get some food before the beach and went across the road and go food over there.  As we were contemplating our lunch options there was an Emirati discussing, not very happily, something with another guy.  I saw the guy start walking away and thought that was it but a minute later I noticed the Emirati start following him.  The pace quickened as the Emirati chased the guy down the sidewalk, through a parking lot, and down a side street.  Most of the time this wouldn’t have been anything special, but since they were both wearing sandals and running at a light jog it was hilarious.  Andy and I hesitated for a second wanting to help whoever needed it, but didn’t know who to help or want to get arrested for messing with an Emirati.  While I’m not sure if you actually can get arrested for messing with an Emirati, you basically can.  In any traffic accident the non-Emirati is always at fault.  If you hit a camel in a car (they all belong to Emiratis) it could end up costing $70,000.  Anyway, not knowing what to do we did nothing.  So we continued inside and split up to go to our restaurants of choice.  I had a delicious quinoa, beet, pumpkin, spinach, and sunflower seed salad.

We headed into the park and spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach and swimming.  When it started to get dark we tried to find out about fireworks we had heard about to no avail.  Not wanting to go back yet we walked down the main road and started seeing all sorts of crazy things.  The first was a group of kids riding bikes and running around in the road trying to get cars to stop in the road.  Then came cars with decals of the UAE colors and the Sheiks face.  Pretty soon the 6 lane road was stop and go traffic as people cruised up and down the road.  People were running from car to car spraying silly string in the windows.  Kids with roller blades skated the center line spraying everyone.   Trucks had been tuned to backfire so they sounded like gunshots.  And since this is Dubai it was done mostly in SUVs over $50,000.  There was even one Porche Cayenne stretch limo.  We hung out and watched this for quite a while before tracing our way back to the metro and back to EA.

Friday (12/3) was another day off since it’s the beginning of the Islamic weekend and classes still hadn’t started.  We all needed to do some shopping so we headed to the Deira City Centre Mall.  It was another enormous mall (Dubai is all about the huge malls).  We wondered around for a while and found out there was a performance at 6:30.  We waited around for it and watched the traditional Emirati dance, music, and weaving.  Carefour was our last stop so we could get food before we headed back to EA.  It’s similar to Wal-Mart only not as global or evil.  Our timing couldn’t have been worse: it was a holiday weekend at 7PM on the weekend.  It was a mob inside the store.  After fighting through trying to find food I gave up on half of it and bailed.  The most important lesson of the day and actually in all of international travel:  ALWAYS BRING PEANUT BUTTER.  They had some, but it was Jiff and wicked expensive.  I still had a bag that was 12lbs underweight which could have been my PB supply for 3 months.  Finding good peanut butter is now one of my highest priorities here.


The Legendary First Post

Well I finally started a blog and it’s only one study abroad too late.  A note to anyone who care’s about grammar, punctuation, or spelling:  read a book.  For those who just care about the ramblings of restless adventurer of life read Into the Wild.  For those who want to read what I write, well, you’re on the right track so far.  It’s already been a week in Dubai and a lot has happened but I’ll try to catch up so here it goes, but first a few words from Robert W. Service.

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

 

Part I – Journey to Dubai 11/29-11/30

Started the trip on the wrong foot when I got to security in Boston and the TSA girl said “That water bottle is empty right?” of course it was, I always bring an empty bottle to fill after security.  But it wasn’t.  It was either dump it and wait the line again, throw away my sig bottle, or what I ended up doing.  That was chug a liter of water in 20 seconds.  That was fun, so was going to the bathroom before my flight, onboard before we took off, and again just after take off.

After that it was boring.  Watched movies and couldnt really sleep.  The one bit of excitement came toward the end of the flight after I woke up from a falling asleep for 15 minutes (the longest nap I had).  There was a kid who looked my age laying on the floor by the bathroom (I was only 1 seat back from it) with an I-V in his arm and 6 people standing around him.  I don’t know what happened for sure but I guess he had multiple seizures.  Someone said that there was some kind of emergency at the front of the plane too but I never saw anything.  We almost had to reroute to stop in England but they had stabilized seizure-boy enough so we kept going.  Due to this we got there late.  Amsterdam was a huge disappointment.  That’s because I didn’t go.  My 5hr45min stop just wasn’t long enough after seizure-boy, customs, and the hour (and ~30€) round trip.

Amsterdam to Dubai was much better, it wasn’t filled so I got window and aisle seats to myself.  I made sure not to sleep so I would be able to when I got to Dubai and just watched movies and read.  We flew over Iraq, exciting, does that mean I can say I’ve been there now?  Unfortunately I don’t think so.

Got off the plane at 11:10, through passport control (even though I didn’t know the name of the place im staying) and customs (…after they made me pull out my climbing gear and explain 10 times that it’s for rock climbing…that whole concept confused them, I don’t think they believed people climb rocks) by 11:40, meet up with the shuttle and had to wait for another kid who didn’t even get in until 12 after all (damn you Stan!).  Got back here after 1AM and met my roommate and hung out with him and a few other kids from Etisalat Academy (aka EA, our dorm/hotel that where kids from several other colleges stay).

Slept in today (Wed 12/1) then went to RIT Dubai to get orientated.  RIT Dubai is in the Silicon Oasis, an area being developed just outside of Dubai.  Have a shuttle that goes back and forth a few times a day.  We have the bottom two floors of one of the several wings in “the pineapple building” but are moving to our own building just after christmas.  Nothing too special there, just telling us about how things work here.  Apparently everything we were told by people in Rochester was completely wrong.

After that we went to dinner at a Lebanese restaurant in the Mall of the Emirates.  It’s a HUGE mall that has everything from a ski field to a hotel.  Our restaurant looked out on Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slope.  The food I could eat was great, best dolmas I have ever had.  Of course, the only things I could eat were the dolmas, pita, hummus, and tabbouleh.  The ski slop was better than it looked in the picture, it actually continues around the corner and up a bit more.  Still nothing special, but possible worth the money to go for the novelty and since it might be my only chance this winter.

Anyway, I’ve been here for a week and that was just the first day so I’ll catch up more later.