Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nov 07, 2008 - Kuwait

Kuwait isn't the first place I would recommend putting on the top of your "Places to See Before I Die" list. If you love sand and endless desert, maybe so, but there's just not a lot of things to do or see there (including alcohol; Kuwait is a dry country, legally). But if you're into environmental remediation--and managing the data therefrom--it seems to be a proverbial goldmine.

Scot, Brian, Linu, and PK

I was hosted by Brian Freeman and Integrated Environmental Solutions. During the week we had several meetings with different oil companies and agencies.

I found it very interesting that there appeared to be no poverty in Kuwait. There is 0% unemployment in Kuwait; anyone who doesn't work in the oil industry is employed by the goverment as a civil servant. The "low-income" housing appeared to be decent apartment tower complexes, and many people live in very nice, beautiful homes.

As the weekend in Kuwait is Friday-Saturday, before I left the country Brian and I drove about an hour north to see the Iraqi border. The vast desolation of the Kuwait desert was almost depressing. Hundreds of miles of nothing but sand. And more sand.

Scot and Brian in bullet-proof vests

While we did see some destroyed and bullet-pocked buildings, remnants of the Iraqi Aggression in the early 1990s there really wasn't much that I could see indicative of that event.

Many Americans here in our homeland thank and honor our troops for their sacrifice and efforts to protect our freedoms. I thought it was very interesting that the same sentiment was expressed in Kuwait on a public road sign.

Highway of Death

The preceding picture could be a highway through the desert just about anywhere in the world. It was just a ribbon of asphalt through a sea of sand, with nothing visually distinctive. However, what took place here in early 1991 is sobering. The following article is just one person's description. I'm sure by googling, you could find others just as I found this one. War is a sad thing. It's not necessarily bad or wrong but inevitably, lives are tragically taken. If you are interested in what happened on the Highway of Death on February 26-27, 1991, read this account.

Click HERE for more pictures from Kuwait.

Nov 03, 2008 - Dubai

There is so much to see and do in Dubai, but most of what I saw was the inside of a taxi and offices. After meeting with the Dubai Central Laboratory, I had a meeting with the RTA and then AECOM.

Once my workday was over, I came back to the hotel, changed clothes, and set out into the city. I wanted to take a city tour, but as it was 4:00 p.m. when I got back to the hotel, I just went out by myself on foot. I headed towards the Al Mauktoum Bridge, and then along the Dubai Creek. I walked through the spice souk and the gold souk. It was interesting. I wish I would have been able to take a tour or do something a little more, though. By about 6:30, I had walked over 5 miles, gotten a few pictures, and was ready to head back to the hotel.

Distant picture, but this is the tallest building in the world,
Burj Dubai

Bling in one of the largest gold markets in the world.

Palm Jumeirah

Click HERE to see more pictures of Dubai.

Nov 01, 2008 - ZightZeeing in Zanzibar

For my one day of holiday during the Africa/Middle East leg of my trip I decided to sacrifice the opportunity to sleep in and travel to Zanzibar. I had read some several websites about things to do but with only one day the options are quite limited. Thinking that a fast ferry would be better than the cost and time to travel to the airport, I left the hotel before 7am and walked towards the ferry terminal just down the street. I find it interesting that here on the east coast of Africa, thousands of miles from our great land of freedom and opportunity, a city bus was adorned on the back by the words "Barack Obama".

I have really come to realize that the presidential election in just a few days will affect not only Americans, but really the entire world. And in fact, it seems from my experience, that people throughout the world are interested in what's going on. When I was Australia several people I talked to asked about the race for President. Here in Africa people I've met--not just Africans--but from Germany and Holland and England--everyone is interested in the election. And as election day approaches it seems the vast majority of the English news coverage is about the same. Whether or not they are right will soon be seen, but it seems the vast majority of people outside the country favor Barack Obama. Whoever wins, whatever happens, I certainly believe that we are in a position of dramatic change not only in the US, but on the world stage.

As I approached the ferry terminal, street touts trying to sell me tickets here or there or wherever swarmed around me like mosquitoes. Because I did, in fact, need to buy a ticket, I finally yielded and began talking to one of them. Of course, I totally had my guard up, trusting no one and skeptical of everyone. I was lead to a small wooden table on the roadside and the whole thing seemed kind of bogus. I walked away thinking I could take care of getting a ticket myself. Me being the tall white guy in the midst of hundreds of Africans, though, I'm sure my vulnerability proceeded me. Or at least it felt that way. I did go to a ticket sales counter and, to my dismay, they said the 7:15 ferry was sold out. I didn't know whether or not to believe them, but whether that was indeed the case or I was being taken advantage of really didn't matter. There weren't any other options. Faced with going back to the hotel and doing who knows what, I decided, somewhat skeptically, to take the offer one guy to fly to Zanzibar and take the ferry back. I bought my return ticket and then somewhat hesitantly got in a taxi with that guy and the driver. The whole time, I was really trying to listen and feel the Spirit to determine if I was being warned of danger. I never felt that way so I went through it and headed to the airport.

I was ushered into a small stuffy office where I was told the flight would be 92,000 shillings. I gave them 90,000, wrote my name down and then exited the office following a couple of girls apparently in the same situation. Because it made me feel slightly less alone, I began to talk to them and found out they had been traveling through Africa and were now going to spend a week in Zanzibar. Helen and Fiona, sisters from England, were just as curious as I was about what had happened to the money we handed over and whether we'd get on a flight. After waiting, wondering, and keeping an eye on the guy we had paid, we were finally escorted to a teeny Coastal Air plane out on the tarmac. Strangely, none of us was ever handed a ticket. Our names never made it on the flight manifest either, but somehow, at least, we got on the plane. Not big enough to put two feet together in the aisle, my first thought was next time I have to fly a regional jet I will appreciate how roomy it is because this flight definitely wasn't. There were about four rows of three seats across. The top of the plane was only inches over my head, something I couldn't handle much longer than the 20-minute, 44 mile flight.

Before we landed, I asked the guy sitting next to me if he was interested in sharing a taxi into Stone Town. He wasn't, but a girl sitting in front of me, Cornelia, said she was going to Stone Town and would do it. Cornelia, like me, was going to Zanzibar just for the day. She also had a guidebook. I asked her if she would like to a self-guided walking tour together, so we set off to explore the historic streets of Stone Town.

Probably the most notable aspect of the architecture of Stone Town is the doors. Over 500 decorative and intricately-carved doors are on some kind of a register or otherwise noted for their historic value. Arabian doors with a flat lintel and Indian doors that have a more curved design at the top, all have large brass spikes sticking out so as to ward off the unobservant knocker. The story goes that centuries ago elephants roamed Zanzibar and that these spikes protected the door and the home against aggressive elephants.

I completely expected to be hot and humid, but I didn't expect to get caught in a deluge. Three separate times during my 4-hour stay on Zanzibar. As we walked the narrow alley-like streets observing the people and the architecture, we had to wait under an awning, under a tree, or beside a building to try to avoid getting completely soaked. After our first pass through the city, we walked to the edge of the island and saw several men building a dhow by hand. One appeared to be nearly completed and another had the spine and ribs done. It was fascinating to see something this big built by hand. Of course, ships were built by hand for millennia, but to actually see it taking place was a different thing.

The last "attraction" we visited was the market. Vendor after vendor had his wares displayed on a table to sell to the next person. Zanzibar is famous for its spices, but all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables could be purchased as well as shells and other items. The meat market was both interesting and unsettling. Stall after stall of freshly butchered meat sat out on a stone or wood table, eyed by one of the neighborhood cats. One old man was chopping some kind of animal with a hatchet. The whole lack of sanitary conditions made me think that going vegan for the day was probably a good idea. After passing through the "red meat" market, the next section was seafood. All kinds of fish and squid and was pretty interesting.

Tired from walking, thirsty, and perhaps surprisingly, Cornelia and I sat down for a quick lunch at a restaurant (some distance from the market) before parting ways. I would go to Zanzibar again, but not just for the day. There is so much to see and do that I didn't get to. Swimming with dolphins, seeing the red colobus monkeys in the jungle, the spice tours, the fabulous beaches and resorts, snorkeling and diving....any of those things would be great, but having done it, I don't think it's quite worth the trip to spend just a few hours on foot.

Oct 31, 2008 - Dar es Salaam

Sunset over Dar es Salaam

Barrick EQuIS Training Class. Can you guess which one is me?

Click HERE for more pictures from Dar es Salaam

Oct 29, 2008 - The World from 37,000 Feet

My flight, KLM 569, left Amsterdam and headed southeast, quickly leaving Holland and flying over Germany. Google Earth is probably the closest many people will ever get to this vantage point, but it is fascinating watching the flight path on the monitor in front of me and comparing it to the earth some seven miles below out my window. Over all of Holland and Germany the landscape appeared lush and green. We flew over Munich and then down the east edge of Adriatic Sea. Unfortunately, my first views of Greece weren't anything like what you see in the pictures :) Hopefully someday I'll get to visit Corinth, Delphi, Santorini, Athens, and Corfu closer than from 39,000 feet.

After flying over the Mediterranean Sea we entered the airspace over Egypt, crossing the north coast not far from Libya. The landscape was nothing but hundreds and hundreds of miles of sandy desert, punctuated by the occasional oasis of civilization indicated by some form of flora. Talk about desolation... nothing but sand dunes. As we approached southern Egypt the flat desert gave way to some relief in the form of hoodoo-like hills on the south side of the Nile river around Abu Simbel. Maybe they were mountains but from this altitude, their shadows cast by the afternoon sun were intriguing. Sudan from the sky doesn't look much different than Egypt: desolate desert plains with the occasional random mountain or ridge, like a gargantuan armored dinosaur buried beneath the sands with its spikes exposed by the constant desert winds. We flew directly over Khartoum, Sudan, and by the time we went over just the edge of Ethiopia, it was pretty much dark. From there we flew into Kenya where we landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport. Most of the passengers left at that point, I suppose embarking on a safari or to climb Africa's tallest mountain. There were only about nine of us that continued on one more hour to Dar es Salaam.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Oct 28, 2008 - Stuck in Amsterdam

I slept just a few hours on the overnight flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam. When I awoke we were crossing Ireland and as the earliest hints of morning twilight dawned upon us, we flew over England's mid-section. The sun had just risen when we landed in Amsterdam about 6:30 a.m.

I found the KLM Lounge in the Schipol Airport, had some juice, and then sat down to get online and work for a bit. I had plenty of time before my next flight just after 10:00. Or so I thought. Sometime after 9, I started to wrap things up. I heard them call my name and hurried out of the lounge. My hurry turned into a run through the concourse as my angst grew. And with good reason. By the time I reached the gate no one else was around except for a couple airline staff. I handed the guy my ticket. He handed it to someone else, who handed it to someone else, who politely explained to me that my luggage had just been removed from the aircraft. I explained that I ran down as soon as my name was called and couldn't I please get on? Realizing my pleas would not avail me access to the aircraft, I sullenly turned and walked back down the concourse, wondering what to do next.

After accepting that I had given up my "extra" prep day before the training, I now set my mind on how to spend the rest of my day in Amsterdam. I could have stayed in a hotel at the airport and not left the four walls of my room all day, but that's just not me. I found a tourist info center who found a hotel for me across from the Centraal Station in Amsterdam.

It was over eight years ago, in May 2000, that I was in Amsterdam before. Somehow it felt vaguely familiar, like an old friend. After checking into the hotel, I set out with no particular destination and no objective other than to explore the city. It was cool and the streets were wet from recently fallen rain. The sky was mostly overcast, although the sun made an occasional token appearance through the clouds.

I eventually found a walking tour group which I subtly tagged onto for a few minutes until I got a chance to speak to the guide and found out it was a free, tip-based tour. Unfortunately, it was near the end of his tour and about the only thing I got was his compelling story of the Dutch resistance in standing up for the 425 Jews, or Amsterdamers as they viewed them, in February 1941.

The tour guide, Kevin, was from Boston, and was excellent. He was very passionate and interesting. With time to kill and wishing I'd heard more of his stories, I offered to buy him dinner if he had the time to repeat the tour for me. He didn't, but walked with me a few blocks until we parted ways, him pointing me towards a recommended restaurant, Haesje Claes which, I was told, has served authentic Dutch cuisine since the 1500s. As it was somewhat cold and rainy, I ordered a traditional Dutch stew, stamppot. It wasn't very good.

After dinner, I continued to walk around the city a bit, by the Westekirk, Anne Frank Huis, statue of Multatuli, and the narrowest house in Amsterdam (1.6 meters wide, less than the height of the average male Hollander. Apparently, Amsterdamers are taxed by the width of the front of their house). As I continued to walk, though, the rain continued to fall, so I headed back to the hotel where I ended up going to bed early so I could make up for the sleep I didn't get the previous night.

Click Here for more pictures from Amsterdam