Category Archives: Family & Friends

The Sultanate of Oman

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Sunset over the Sea of Oman

Disclaimer: I apologize for the length of this post. I was shocked to see how long it was but I blame it on the amount of writing I’ve been doing for my masters. I could have done some editing but I was too lazy!!! You can skip the reading and just look at the pictures if you wish  :o)

The what??? If you’re like me, and I know you want to be, you haven’t heard much about Oman let alone where it is on the map. I have to admit that this country, or to be more accurate, this Sultanate, wasn’t even on my radar when I came over here just about 10 months ago. It was only in the last 4 – 6 weeks that I heard some friends talking about how nice it was there. So, I took a bit of flyer, and booked a trip to Oman. Ok, so you don’t necessarily want to go there in the summer months as the temperature gets to above 45C on a daily basis. For those you already making plans to go, I strongly suggest you do it between October and April. The people, however, are open and welcoming and a lot more contemporary in their ways than other Middle East countries. Everyone seems to be much more relaxed.

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The heat notwithstanding, Oman is a truly beautiful place to visit. My hotel was in Muscat which is on the east coast of Oman. I stayed at the Crown Plaza Muscat on the shores of the Sea of Oman and the entrance to the Arabian Sea. I don’t really talk about the hotels I stay at (except with Kathy, of course) but this was a GREAT place. A private beach, swimming pool, beautiful open spaces, and a pool bar are only a few of the things that made this an awesome hotel. Palm trees and tropical breezes were also relaxing. They had these incredible supper buffets that started in the restaurant on the ground floor and stretch out to outdoor BBQ’s on the grounds. The food was amazing challenged only my view. The sunsets were like stuff out of travel brochures. It was almost a shame to leave this Shangri La for the tours I had planned.

Once again, I will do my best to remember pertinent information on the places I went to but please forgive if I mix up facts and names. My tour guide for my stay was Mohammad. He was incredible. He did a lot of driving during my stay as some the places we went to were a good distance from Muscat. Thankfully, he is a good driver, as are the rest of the Omani people. The Saudis could learn something here! LOL. Even though we travelled 120km, 240km to some locations, the scenery was never dull. We were always surrounded by mountains. I asked Mohammad to stop a few times just to get pictures of them. Looking at some of them, you can’t imagine the violence of when they were formed. The earth must have shook a tremendous amount when these mountains sprang up from the earth. You can literally see the layers of the earth’s crust jutting out at 30 to 45 degree angles.

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One of our first stops was at a little village called Rustaq. It is, however, a bona fide Oasis. What makes it even more special is the fact that it boasts a hot water spring! Deep in a little wadi (valley), you can get to it by following the river bed. At this time of year, most of the wadis are dry but in the spring and monsoon season the water returns. In Rustaq, the hot spring flows all year long. It is a local gathering spot for both people and goats. Well, there were goats there when I was there. The government has built a bit of a picnic area where the springs comes to the surface and while it was still early when I was there, some teenagers were taking advantage of the spring and river to refresh themselves. The goats were on the other side of the wadi. The water of the spring is about the same temperature you’d expect from a hot tub. There was no steam though as it was already near 40C by that time. It certainly was relaxing to soak your feet in the natural pool though.

Oman is rich with history that the people are very proud of. The government has rebuilt and maintained many of the forts dotted along the mountain sides of the Sultanate. I visited two of them with the first being Nakhal Fort. Located some 120 km to the west of Muscat, it is one they are especially proud of. The locals refer to it as Husn Al Heem and it was built way back in pre-Islamic times. It’s surrounded by palm orchards and nestled around the rocks at the base of Mount Nakhal, which is probably how it got its name.

We made our way to the tiny village (real tiny!) of Wakan. What makes this a place to see is the fact that it’s located some 2,000 meters above sea level, clinging to the mountain side in the middle of nowhere.

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Wakan – From Below

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Wakan – From Above

It has just recently been opened to tourist owing to the fact that there are some military bases nearby. The government is in the process of building a better road to access the village and they could use it!!  Holy crap…it was exactly like the mountainside roads you see in cheap movies. I’d look out my window and there was no ground!! Just a 1,000 foot drop. Big boulders above us being held up by…I don’t know!! And this is half way through the government’s work to improve it LOL.

It was all worth it when we reached Wakan. The view is indescribable. The pictures, as good as they are (thank you, LOL), do not do it justice. You could see forever. We were so high, we were looking down at other huge mountains, something that was to be repeated the next day in another location. I took a ton of pictures and then simply sat down on a rock and gazed out onto this vista. Looking from right to left and back again, it was almost too much to take in.

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Wakan had another surprise in store for me. One of the last things I would have expected to see 1,500 meters above sea level, clinging to the side of these spectacular mountains, there were gardens. Garlic, French beans, sour oranges, pomegranates, palm trees and grapes…growing and thriving. It was difficult to take in. It was totally bizarre being in the middle of desert mountain range, completely surrounded by majestic peaks and sandy valleys with a temperature of 45C all while walking along this fertile and abundant land. All of this was reachable courtesy of the government building paths and stairs…lots and lots of stairs. Did you know that stairs are the natural enemy of short, fat people? Up and up and around we went and every bend in the trail revealed more wonders. At one point, the wind picked up and I could feel drops on my face. For a second I thought we were in for a storm. Not to worry, it was just me huffing and puffing and sweating heavily. It was well worth the effort though. Those scenes are forever etched in my memory. Simply brilliant.

 

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I visited my second fort of the trip. This one was about 240 km outside of Muscat in the town of Nizwa. Can you guess what it is called? You got it! Nizwa Fort. It was built at the foot of what the locals refer to as the Green Mountains. More on them in a bit. This fort was huge! Its main feature is a big, round tower that is 24 meters height and about 43 meters in diameter at its base. It dates back to the 17th century and has numerous wells spread around that reach all the way into the roots of the mountain where, to this day, they still pull up fresh water. Pretty important that, especially if you’re going through a siege, being stuck inside the fort while a marauding foreign army tries to out wait you just outside your fort’s walls.

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The fort is also surrounded by palm trees, a very important source of food and defence. The food, is quite obvious. I’ve grown to love fresh dates since I’ve been over here. Sweet, chewy and delicious. Using dates for the defence of a fort was, however, a new concept to me. Mohammad had fun getting me to guess how they used them for defence. Among some of my other sorry attempts was to dry out the dates and use them in slingshots. OK, he laughed too but it was all I could come up with. In reality, the truth is much simpler. Dates contain a sweet and oh so delicious honey.

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As you can see in the picture above, they would pick the dates and put them in burlap sacks for storing. They would stack them up on top of each, using the weight of the dates above to press out the honey for the sacks below. In this room, you can see the ‘trenches’ along the edges of the where the sacks are stacked. They had holes along theses trenches were they put jugs to collect the running juice. Every morning someone would empty the collector jugs into the bigger jugs. How cool is that?! I know, I know. But how did they use this for defence. Well, they would take some of the date honey, or juice, and boil it, which would result in a very, very hot and incredibly sticky liquid. You got it, they would then pour it onto the invaders from the top of the fort walls or down specially built conduits from the roof to pour out from above the entry gates. Amazing.

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3,500 meters above sea level. Yup, it was high!

After our visit of the fort it was time to drive up to the top of the Green Mountain. Luckily this road is much, much better. Fully paved and properly maintained, it is still quite the drive as we made our way up past 3,500 meters above sea level. The mountains are AWESOME. The road had so many twists and turns that a snake would have a hard time duplicating it. Once at top, we were in this picturesque little town which, unfortunately, I can no longer remember the name. Mohammad drove us to the edge of the town, LITERALLY! We parked and took a very short walk on a wooded trail to end up at the very edge of cliff. Not the place to be if you suffer from vertigo or are afraid of heights. Looking down this precipice, I had to swallow my heart back down into my chest but, man oh man (get it…Oman??  See what I did there?) what a view!!! I literally cannot describe it. I apologize that pictures simply to not relay the utter beauty of my view. Suffice it to say that I have never seen anything like this and may never see its equal anywhere.

When we reached the bottom of the Green Mountain, Mohammad had one more surprise for me. A visit to a small, 700 year old village made entirely out of mud and stones. It is located in Izki and tiny little dot along the main highway known for its palm and banana farms. Just on the outskirts of Izki is this time capsule of a village. For some the reason, the government hasn’t seen fit to restore and maintain this place. As you can see from the pictures, it’s in terrible shape. However, keep in mind it has survived over 700 years with no one helping to upkeep it. The fact that there is still so much standing is absolutely amazing. What strikes me the most about my visit is the absolute lack of colour in the village. Everything is sand and mud coloured; earth tones, if you will. I have no doubt that when this village was populated, there were bright colours all over. Unfortunately, now it just sits empty, slowly disintegrating back into desert sand. Sad, really.

As if to make up for my deprivation, my senses were overloaded with a virtual kaleidoscope of colour at the Mutrah Souq, just outside of Muscat. At over 200 years old, it is difficult to find as its entrance is relatively non-descript, located between two buildings. It looks like a simple entrance to an alleyway, which, in essence it is. This souq is really just a network of alleys and small roads that snakes its way into the heart of the ‘old quarter’. The locals call it “The Market of Darkness” because the tall buildings pretty much block out all of the sun. What a great place though. I wish I would have had more time to wander but the hour or so I did spend there was very exciting. As you enter the souq you are immediately struck by the mugginess of the air. Hot and humid is the order of the day here. However, there are shops on both sides of the alleyway and most have A/C so you can duck into one for a refreshing break. As with any souq I’ve been to, there isn’t anything you can’t find here and there is no shortage of retailers trying to get you to enter their shops.

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I was on a mission to buy a Kuma (Omani hat). It was not to prove too difficult as everyone and his mother (literally) was selling them. Mohammad had given me some tips on ‘Kuma shopping’ and they came in handy for my purchase. After showing him the Kuma I purchased and disclosing the price, he proclaimed it an excellent choice.

I continued to roam through the souq, stopping here and there to look at the various wares on display. The smells from the spice and perfume shops were intoxicating. Many were burning frankincense in braziers. I was so taken with the smell of frankincense that I bought some along with a brazier, of course. A few more trinkets purchased and it was time to go.

 

My last stop on my great Oman adventure was at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque.

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Wow! Sultan Qaboos, the current and much loved leader, had this Mosque built in the early 2,000’s. As you will see, he spared no expense. The best marble from Italy, crystal from Austria, stained glass from France, rugs from Iran. The list goes on and on. The mosque is spread out over many square kilometers and includes beautiful gardens and landscaping. It is very much a ‘working’ mosque and thousand come to pray here every day. So as not to disturb these people, the mosque is only open to the public from 8am to 11am, when it is then readied for daily prayers. The men’s prayer room is absolutely huge! If I remember correctly, it can hold a couple of thousand people with outside courtyards available for an overflow of a few thousand more. This mosque was obviously built to last and hopefully it will for many, many years.

Finally, here are some random pictures of the beautiful Sultanate of Oman.

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As always, I have many more pictures of my trip to Oman on my Flickr site:

www.flickr.com/photos/andrecroy

Enjoy!

 

Fishing in the Red Sea

Here’s a sample!

I’ve flown over it. I’ve travelled on it. I even swam in it. Might as well go fishing in it! When you live in the desert, water is a powerful draw. The Red Sea is no different.

Six of us at Niagara College decided to go on a fishing excursion. Of course, here in Taif we are 1 mile above sea level so you have to drive down the mountain and then go west for an hour and half to Jeddah. We rented a couple of hotel rooms in Jeddah to spend the night and then get up early (4:30am) to drive the last 100 km to where ‘Captain Tariq’ would be waiting for us. Unfortunately, one of our rental cars decided it didn’t want to go fishing! It started acting up at the bottom of the mountain and finally gave up just outside Jeddah.

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Right to Left: Dan, Kevin, Me, Mike and Danny. Waiting for Roadside Assistance

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Dan got tired of standing

So we pull off the main highway and call Roadside Assistance. I’ll spare you the details but 3 and half hours later we had a new car and went on our way to the hotel. For most people, that would be enough adventure for one day. But not for me! NO!! I have to find a way to screw things up even more. While waiting for the tow truck on the side of the road, I took a wrong step, stumbled and wrenched my back. That drastically changed the level of my activities for the fishing trip.

Early the next morning, after an underwhelming 4 hours of sleep, our intreped group was on the road again for the final stretch drive. Captain Tariq was there as promised and we followed him in the ‘marina’. That’s what he called it! We were near an army base so no pictures were allowed. After a quick passport check with Customs, we jumped on board (I kind of slithered on board) and headed out to fish!

The morning was windy and swells were 5-6 feet. It made for a fun ride unless you’ve just screwed up your back. I was beginning to regret my decision to get on the boat. A whole day of this and I would be a stretcher case. Luckily, as the morning wore on, the winds calmed down and sea flattened out quite nicely. The sun came out with a vengence. It was in the high 30s and it was still only 8-9am.

Heading out to sea

Heading out to sea

Due to my unfortunate lack of mobility, I didn’t get nearly as many pictures as I had hoped. I do, however, have to describe the method of fishing Captain Tariq uses. Basically, you have a 2′ x 2′ by 2″ thick piece of styrofoam and the fishing line is wrapped around that. You let the line out by hand and, of course, you bring the line back in by hand…fish and all, if you are lucky. Fishing poles? ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ fishing poles!’

We knew we were in for some big fish when Tariq started to prepare the bait. Hell, the bait fish were bigger than most fish I’ve caught in my life! So the boys went at it. Baited theirs hooks and let it drop to the bottom of the sea. It was about 25-30 metres deep where we were. Sure enough, the bites started and the first fish was quickly brought up. Only Captain Tariq knew what kind of fish it was. We had never seen one like that before. That was the best part of the day for me. Almost every fish caught was different. All kinds of shapes and sizes but the colours! Now that was amazing. Black and yellow. Orange and black. Blue and green. Silver. It really was very cool.

Black with blue polke dots. Dan actually caught this one while ‘Snorkle fishing’!

I can’t remember the types of fish as there were so many but it certainly was a thrill when we pulled in a small tuna, about 2 feet long, and a baracuda! Yes, a baracuda!! It was about 3 feet long and had a set of teeth in its mouth!! Amazing.

Wide variety!

Wide variety

Tariq also took us out to a coral reef for some snorkeling. This is the part I really hated not being able to do. The colour of the water was unbelievable. Coral everywhere. Luckily, Mike, our newest employee from Canada, had a waterproof Samsung phone. He took all the underwater pictures.

 

By this time, we were all starting to look like lobsters. It just didn’t matter how much sun block (SPF 100, no less) we slathered on, the sun was relentless. It was time to head back to shore. We kept the best eating fish and gave the rest to Tariq for bait. The ride back home was mercifully uneventful.

What a trip. We actually caught a tuna and a baracuda!

For those keeping score, I spent the next three days flat on my back in bed. It’s just starting to feel better now. That’s good because I leave for Muscat, Oman tomorrow!

Hot Air Ballooning Over the Deserts of Dubai

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Floating over the Deserts of Dubai

OK, let’s get the ‘that must have big one big balloon to get you up in the air’ jokes out of your systems right now!! LOL (But it really was a very big one)

This was the one trip I had booked before arriving to Dubai. I couldn’t help thinking of the pictures I could take during a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the deserts of Dubai. Getting picked up at my hotel at 4:00am wasn’t so thrilling but the sunrise waits for no one! Hopefully the wind gods would smile favourably upon me and blow in the directions of the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve where we would get a chance to see many wild animals in their local habitat. It was not to be. But we were not to be disappointment as we were treated to many wondrous vistas, some wildlife and an absolutely spectacular sunrise.

After my pickup at the hotel, we drove for about a half hour to arrive at our ‘launch’ area. For those geographically inclined among you, it was just off Al Ain Road, near the Conservation Reserve. (I think I will be taking a tour there during my next trip to Dubai). The two balloons were already laid out on the morning sand and the crew were busy with the inflating ritual.

Our Captain, Piotr Gorny, a big bear of a man, gave us our safety instructions. He had a great sense humour but I don’t think anyone would be brave enough to do anything to get him upset. He made it crystal clear that we were to follow his directions to the letter and all would be well. Turns out he’s ex Polish army and has flown balloons all over Europe and the UAE.

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Our ‘orders’ having been given and the disclaimer signed (no, I didn’t read it, I just signed it) we hopped into the basket and we were on our way. I swear I could hear the Fifth Dimension singing ‘Up, Up and Away’.

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Such a peaceful feeling

If you look at the video at the end of this post, you will see me in the back, right quadrant of the basket. I’m usually looking through my camera taking pictures and videos. The video of all of us in the basket was supplied by Balloon Adventures Emirates but all the other videos and pictures were taken by me.

As I’ve already mentioned, the sunrise was completely amazing. You could see it slowly climbing over the horizon, filling the sky with oranges and reds, making it a magical moment to remember. There was a second balloon as part of our group so it was great being able to take pictures of it to give a better understanding of the distinctive point of view we had.

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The perfect way to start a new day

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It doesn’t get better than this

We climbed to a top height of 4,000 feet and from there, the dunes in the desert below look like mere ripples in a small pond. It wasn’t until we landed that you had a much better perspective of just how big they really are. For the most part, the sand also gives way under your feet and sink to about ankle depth. I couldn’t imagine having to walk out of where we landed to get back to civilization. While we waited for the chase vehicles to reach, we climbed some of the dunes and we were sinking to mid-calf in some areas.

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That’s one big desert!

We were lucky enough to spot a herd (pack, group, gang???) of camels and floating right over them. I don’t know if they were wild but they certainly didn’t seem the least bit disturbed about being out there. Just before we landed, I spotted a lone gazelle streaking through the sands. I was able to get one picture and was about to try shooting some video when Captain Piotr insisted I get in the landing position. I didn’t argue.

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A speeding gazelle! (Of course, it might be an Onyx)

The best line of the trip was from our intrepid Captain when he said just as we were about to land, and I quote, “This is not the time to ask any existential questions!” Brilliant that! He brought us down smoothly with just a tiny jump or two, for which he apologized.  Hell, I thought it was a great landing.

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Back on the ground

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Captain Piotr Gorny

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OK…so how do we get out of here???

We all climbed out of the basket, had some cold water and did a bit of exploring. When the chase vehicles arrived, we got onboard and began the trip back to the nearest road. Man!! That was some ride. Our driver seemed to delight in going over some dunes at top speed. Needless to say, with all the jostling taking place, we became even more intimately familiar with each other. LOL. We were a veritable United Nations in there. Australia, Tangiers, Morocco, Puerto Rico and CANADA were all represented.

Hot air ballooning over the deserts of Dubai. I highly recommend starting your day off this way!

Jamie Tardif – DEL Champion!!!!

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To the victor goes the spoils!!! Jamie Tardif samples the taste of VICTORY.

There is joy in the Tardif household!!!

Jamie Tardif and the Adler Mannheim hockey team have won the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) Championship.

Adler Mannheim finished at the top of the standings during the regular season and carried that momentum all the way to the championship in the German league. Jamie, in his first year with Adler, led his team in scoring during the season and has a new, two-year contract with the German club.

Dad, Marc Tardif, sent me the picture.

Congrats Jamie!!!

IECHE – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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Team Niagara College – (L – R) Abbas Sumar, Bev Davies, Shady Masoud, a real handsome guy and Sean Kennedy

I’ve received a few emails this week asking what IECHE (International Exhibition and Conference for Higher Education) is all about. Oddly enough, I has asking the very same question minutes before the gates opened and literally thousands of people started flowing into the convention center. As the name implies, IECHE is both an exhibition and conference. There are many distinguished and recognized guest speakers from around the world giving presentation and participating in panel discussions related to the present and future of higher ed. This year’s theme centered on the 21st Century College and University and what role technology should play in it.

Canada, with amazing assistance from our Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tom MacDonald, and his equally remarkable embassy staff, was well represented. We had 25 universities and colleges in Riyadh this year. IECHE is held annually at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center and, MAN, is this place BIG! If I remember correctly, there were over 40 countries, and close to 500 colleges and universities there this year.

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Sean Kennedy, VP, Student and External Relations with his Excellency, the Ambassodor of Canada to Saudi Arabia, Tom MacDonald at a gathering in the Ambassador’s Official Residence in Riyadh

We got to meet, face-to-face, with students from all over the Middle East who want to experience the quality education we so expertly provide in Canada generally and Niagara College in particular. It’s actually a lot of fun speaking with both young men and women who are looking for the best way to achieve the career goals.

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My colleague and very dear friend who is about to become much, much busier, Bev Davies speaking with interested students

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Abbas Sumar, who has quickly become a very good friend, lists the advantages of a world-class education at Niagara College

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Shady Masoud, was one of our first teachers in Taif but has since moved up to a management position, was a great help with his command of the Arabic language. He is from Egypt and has invited me to visit his family. I will be taking him up on that generous offer!

The conference also gives us the opportunity to network and meet with people and companies that we can mutaually benefit from. His Excellency, Ambassador MacDonald and his staff were constantly bringing poeple over to our booth to offer up introductions. As a result, we made quite a few new contacts and have so companies coming to visit us in Taif.

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Sean partaking in some networking

However, in my very humble opinion, Ambassador MacDonald’s greatest contribution to the conference was securing Tim Horton’s to be at the Embassy booth! I cannot begin to describe the pure, unadulterated joy I felt when biting into my first TimBit in months. In short order, Tim Horton cups were springing up in all the Canadian booths. NO one in the Canadian pavillion missed out on the chance to savour Timmy’s offerings. Thank you, your Excellency!

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You know you’re in the Canadian Pavillion when… And it was all free too!!!

I know you don’t want to hear me whining but…just to prove that I actually do work over here…the exhibition was open from 9am to 9pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and from 4:30pm to 10pm on Friday. Let me tell you, my fat, little body isn’t meant for standing up 12 hours at a time!!! I do need to thank my boss, Sean, for giving me the day of on Friday. It was a short day and he knew I had a paper to finish for that Sunday so he told me to stay at the hotel and get some personal work done. I was extremely grateful!

Our team, which is still in the early stages of development, is quite small. We didn’t have the bodies needed to comfortably handle our two booths at the conference and we needed key people to remain at the Taif Campus for our annual Institutional Review (which, in a cruel twist of fate, was postponed to next month at the last minute). So we put together a happy crew of five people for Riyadh. Two from the Taif Campus and three from Canada. Once in Riyadh, life happened! Last minute work popped up that needed to be completed in the next 3 days. As a result, our happy crew of five was split in two with Mohamed Damati and myself manning our two booths and the other three staying back at the hotel to work on submissions and attend last minute meetings. Neither group had easy! We called in reinforcements from Taif and Shady joined us at the conference. Mohamed even enlisted the help of his cousing who, just for fun, had the exact same name as Mohamed Damati. We simply refered to them as the M&M Twins. Our Mohamed is one of the young locals who work for us at the Taif Campus. He has exceptional skills in desgin and has been busy with helping to create the look of our campus.

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Busy, busy, busy!

We now had a crew of three at the conference (which really needed six) and we had a crew of three writing, editing and presenting a major proposal in three days (which really needed 2 weeks). This is what I like so much about our team here in Saudi Arabia. We get things done! No matter the challenge. No matter the deadline. No matter the amount of work. We all jump in, roll up our sleeves and get it done. Long hours. Little sleep. But TONS of fun. We would always get together for supper…at 10:30pm…and brief each other on our day’s activities. No complaining anywhere, just great laughs. Supper over, we would head back the hotel and some of us went to bed for the early wake up the next morning and others to put in another 3 – 4 hours of work before getting some sleep.

It’s such a great feeling when you work your ass off but immediately see the results. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for about eight months now and I am continuously amazed by what our team has accomplished. We’ve taken many the months of ground work by tireless advance team and turned it all into a thriving and growing college. We continue to enjoy increasing enrollments, great retention rates and widespread recognition for your great work. And that’s just the beginning! There’s more coming just over the horizon. Niagara College is being acknowledged as a global leader in higher education and, as a result, other opportunities will no doubt follow.

I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.

East Coast Tour – UAE

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The east coast of UAE – Persian Gulf

After being locked up in my hotel room for an entire day on my assignment, I needed to get out and do something new. So, I booked a last minute car tour out to the east coast of UAE. That’s what they call it. Geographically, it’s more northeast. My guide picked me up at 8:00am and we set out. Now, as I write this post, (April 22, 2015) I am between courses for my masters so I have a bit of free time to do some research.

As always, please forgive any factual, spelling or geographic mistakes I may make. I’m doing most of this from memory and those you know me are aware my memory is like a steel trap! Except that I’m using wet papier maché instead of steel.

From Dubai, we headed north desert and sand dunes. Yes, of course the road was paved! After a while, we left the sand behind and were met with the beautiful grand Hajar Mountains and the town of Dhaid. We made a quick stop at the Friday Market which was a weird name because it was Sunday and they were open. My guide, Abdulrachman, told me it use to only be open on Fridays but that had obviously changed. Even to a neophyte like myself, I could tell there were very good bargains to be had on many items. I had bought all I wanted at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah a couple of days before so no purchases for me.

We continued on through the mountains toward the emirate of Fujairah where we first went to the beach. Abdulrachman kept going on about the ‘air conditioner tree’, no doubt a local ‘story’ to keep the crazy westerners talking. It was just after 10:00am when we walked to the shore of the Persian Gulf. My guide was quite disappointed that we had missed the crabs. Apparently, every evening these crabs (no, I don’t know what kind) crawl out of the water and bury themselves into the sand, leaving little pyramid shaped piles on top of them. I didn’t see any crabs but the beach certainly did have dozens of the little sand pyramids all over.

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A beautiful, sandy beach on the Persian Gulf

When I mentioned how hot it was already, so early in the day, (36C…at 10am!!!!) Abdulrachman smiled and told me to follow him. We walked to the edge of where some grass meets the beach sand and there were two trees that were shaped a bit like umbrellas. He invited me to stand underneath one of them, in the shade. I have to admit, the name ‘air conditioner tree’ is pretty damn accurate!! Under those green branches, there was cool breeze blowing down on us. It was unbelievable! It had to be at least 15 – 20C cooler under the tree than just 3 feet out into the sun. If you’ll pardon the bad pun, it was the coolest thing I’d experienced in a long time.

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The ‘air conditioner’ tree. It REALLY works!

It was time to continue on to a 14th century fort called Bithna. Made of rock and burnt clay, and standing at over 20 meters high at the main tower, I couldn’t imagine being a soldier in this fort. It was built on top of a hill, offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area. It wasn’t all that big so I’m not sure how many soldiers were stationed there but, man, was it hot!!! When I saw that it was 46C I mentioned to my guide that I must be crazy to be out here. He smiled and said I was! He then pointed out that no one else was around as the locals all stayed inside until later in the day. 46C!!!  That’s my personal record and I’m in no hurry to break it.

We then went for some lunch and I was given the choice between typical ‘western’ meal at a chain hotel or the chance to sample some authentic local cuisine at a tiny, family run restaurant. Man, that hamburger was good!!!   Just kidding. Of course I went local. We had some incredibly good Mandi Chicken. I know Saudis love chicken. I think they eat more chicken than anything else. Certainly our students never have enough of it. Kabsa is chicken and rice and the chicken can be prepared many different ways. Again, I’m no expert, but I believe Mandi is a variety of Kabsa. Come on! It’s chicken and rice!

However, this chicken was prepared differently that what I’ve experienced in the past. It melted in your mouth. It was awesome. The rice was served with plain yogurt and lemon wedges. That, too, was incredibly delicious. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for about 8 months now and I am kind of getting use to eating with my hands. Well, eating chicken with my hands. I cannot, however, eat rice with my hands. I just can’t/won’t do it. It’s simply too messy for me. Of course, our waiter made a big production of getting me a spoon for my rice. The locals had a good chuckle but it was all in good fun. By the time we got to dessert, there were about 10 other people having lunch with my guide and me. We took turns telling stories of our countries and laughing at our horrible English or Arabic. After about 3 pots of Arabian coffee, my guide said it was time to move on. I said goodbye to my new friends and we headed down the highway.

It was already getting into the mid-afternoon and we had one more stop to make. It was at the Al Bidiyah Archaeological Mosque. Wow that was very cool. Unlike Saudi Arabia, I was encouraged to enter this great little mosque in the mountains. It’s said that it has been dated to the mid-15th century and is unique because of its pointed domes (instead of circular) and the one pillar holding it up. It’s made of stones and mud bricks and covered in layers of plaster. I removed my shoes and entered. As all mosques are, the floor was completely covered with a rug. Even with 21st century amenities (fans, lights) you could clearly tell this had been around for a long time. As I was taking pictures, an old gentleman entered and prepared to pray. I turned to leave but he stopped me. In Arabic, he indicated that I didn’t have to go as he was just doing a short prayer. After he was done, we left together and sat outside on a bench and had the best mimed discussion I’ve ever had. He understood no English and I know no Arabic. Yet, in about 15 minutes or so I knew his name, (Waleem, I hope I spelled it right) his age, (87) what he did for a living (fisherman) and a whole bunch about his family. He in turn learned that I was Canadian, working at a college in Saudi Arabia and indicated he had heard of Niagara Falls. He assured me education was a very good thing. It was the best 15 minutes of my trip. Shaking hands with yet another new friend, it was time to head back to Dubai.

All in all, I believe I travelled through 5 of the 7 united emirates. Yes…that’s why they call it the United Arab Emirates. What started out as a last minute thing to change the scenery a bit, turned into an unforgettable trip in a part of world I had barely ever heard of. I met some great people and visited great places with names like Fujairah, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain. We even crossed the border and entered the neighbouring country of Oman for some gas. Quite the adventure for this lucky, world-travelling Canadian.

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Yes, this is a tree. No, I don’t know what kind.

 

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Yes, this is a bird. No, I don’t know what kind.

See what happens when I get some free time!!! I hope I didn’t bore any of you too much. In the next couple of days I’ll let you know all about my sunrise hot air balloon ride over the Dubai desert.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah – Dubai, UAE

Souk Madinat Jumeirah 10

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Sorry it’s been so long since my last posting. April has been a very hectic month for us here Saudi Arabia. On top of that, I had a group presentation and final paper to complete for my masters.

Last week I was in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Niagara College had a booth at the International Exhibition and Conference for Higher Education (IECHE). It’s not normally what I do but we were short-handed so I volunteered to help out. I’m glad I did. It was a great time! We met a lot of people interested in both our Canadian and Taif campuses.

IECHE

Who is that handsome stranger?

We were invited to the Canadian Ambassador, Tom MacDonald’s, official residence for a small gathering where we made some very important connections. I took full advantage of the open bar and had a few Crown Royal and cokes. It always feels ‘naughty’ to have alcohol in Saudi Arabia but when you’re at the Canadian Embassy, you’re in Canada!

Just before my five long, long days in Riyadh, I went to Dubai. It was good to get away from the normal routine and relax a bit. I actually spent about a day and a half working on my final paper. A very well travelled paper, that one. LOL

It wasn’t all homework and study however. I did take some time to do a bit of exploring. I spent an afternoon at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, on the shores of the beautiful Arabian Gulf. The weather was excellent, if not a bit too warm. It got up to 46C on a couple of the days I was there. Nothing a cold beer and a wee dram of scotch won’t take of!

‘Souk’ is the Arabic equivalent to ‘market’. You can find souks all over the Middle East. It’s a gathering spot for the locals where the latest news is shared and discussed…loudly!! LOL.  Of course, like every market, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, food offerings and rest areas to be experienced. Madinat is no different.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah 14

Burj Al Arab

It’s an authentic re-creation of a Middle Eastern ancient marketplace. Lots of winding streets and pathways, both inside and outside. The air conditioned inside was my particular favorite. As the saying goes, you can find just about everything in a souk so the variety is quite extensive. As you all know, I am NOT a shopper. However, the Madinat Jumeirah has a lot more to offer than shopping. I had a great seafood feast at one of the local restaurants, complete with a cold pint (or two).

I picked up a small silk rug for home and a great looking brass Arabian coffee pot as well. Of course half the fun of buying anything at a souk is the negotiations for the price. Since I have no real idea what the value is for the two items I bought, I can’t say if I got a good deal or not. I did talk the price of the silk rug down to less than half the asking price. I have no doubt the worms that supplied the silk were from the bad part of town!!

I took a daylong trip out to the east coast of EAU and a sunrise hot air balloon trip over the deserts of Dubai. I will have more on that in a few days but, for now, here are a few pictures of my visit to the Souk!

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Homework!

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As some of you may know, I’m working on my Masters online from Royal Roads University in beautiful British Columbia, Canada. Why? When you’re an ex-pat living in Saudi Arabia, you need a hobby! Actually, I had registered for my Masters before I knew anything about the Saudi project.

This week at Niagara College Taif, is the start of our third trimester. How time flies. We are all very busy with the work that a new trimester involves and, just for more fun, our first Institutional Review is in less than one month. I don’t need a hobby…I need more hours in the day!

“But Andre, what to the pictures of the baboons have to do with any of this?” I hear you asking. As the title of my post suggests, it really, really is for an assignment. It would take way too long to try an explain it so you will just have to trust me. If I get a good mark, I’ll let you know!

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A troop of baboons makes its way through the mountainous trails

Just 15 minutes out of Taif, there are some beautiful mountains where many baboons live. There are numerous tribes (or troops, or congress, depending what site you choose when you Google ‘baboon’) and while they are certainly not domesticated, they do like free handouts of food. They therefore ‘put up’ with humans a bit but one still needs to be careful.

The males are big! They have very large and pointy teeth. Oh yeah, and a big, old, red butt too!! They move incredibly fast and I certainly wouldn’t want one, or more, coming after me.

They are fun to watch. I was told not to stare directly into their eyes, which is not easy when your’re trying to take pictures, but you could see them keeping a close watch on you. The little baby baboons look a bit ragged to me. They don’t have a lot of hair yet and their faces are all wrinkled. Not the ‘AHHHH what a cute kitty’ look, that’s for sure.

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This little guy is very well cared for by his mother

So there. Not exactly a National Geographic explination of baboons but I think I took a few good pictures all the same. I shot a bit of video but I didn’t have a tripod so please forgive the camera movements. The video is only 33 seconds long but the last 10 seconds are the best!  🙂

If you want to see more, go to my Flickr site by clicking the link below.

Baboons of Al Hadda

Back In Taif

Well that certainly was an adventrue!

I just arrived back in Taif today?!?! I was supposed to arrive 3 days ago but our plane had some issues. So after two fun-filled days at Pearson Airport and two nights in a Toronto hotel, I’m finally here.

My stay in Canada wasn’t what I was hoping for. When I left Saudi Arabia it was 26C. Thirteen hours later I was in Canada with -25C!?!?  What’s up with that? After 6 months of short-sleeves and no-coat weather, I arrived to the coldest stretch Canada has experienced in 100 years. Of course I immediately caught a cold and was in bed for 8 days. No doubt fatigue and the joy of being back home played a role in this but I wasn’t 100% until 5 days before I had to leave.

I didn’t see half the people I was hoping to see and I apologize for that. Between being sick, getting some college work done and going through the busiest course in my masters, I didn’t have much free time. The good news (for me, anyway) is that I will back in mid to late June. No more of these 6 months stay. That’s just too long to be away from home.

I haven’t a clue where my next trip will be but I will post the pictures when I get back! Sometime in early April.

I’m going to bed now!

More of London, England

Big Ben

Big Ben

If Harry Potter isn’t quite your thing, (shame on you!) here are more pictures of beautiful London, England.

I visisited Big Ben and the house of Lords. Big Ben really is very BIG and the House of Lords is no shack either. I wish I would have had the time to go inside. It is quite the building.

Across the street for the House of Lords is Westminster Abbey. WOW! I was completely blown away by the beauty of this amazing church. Photos were not allowed withing certain parts but welcomed in others. Its history goes back to the 7th century when a church was built on this site. The current Abbey was built in 1245 and has been the place for all of the royal coronations since 1308. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The size, the age, the artifacts. It’s almost overwhelming. The place is also full of dead people, not just priests and religious figures. It was an honour to be buried there. The names I saw reads like a Who’s Who of UK historical figures.

The pictures I took in and around the Abbey include some nice gardens, dark and mysterious passageways, courtyards and living quarters each offering a unique look and the age and beauty of this church.

What do you do when you have a few hours to kill before you need to get to the airport? If your hotel room is in SOHO you walk around the neighbourhood and try to capture the atmosphere of this dynamic and varied corner of the city. Theatres, pubs, parks, shops…it’s all there. Here are some random pictures to prove my point.

If you would like to see more pictures, follow this link to my Flickr site and the London pictures:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrecroy/sets/72157650283740397/

That was the London I experienced. I definitely need to go back as I barely scratched the surface.

My next post will be sometime in March as I FINALLY get to come home for a few weeks. I’ll see you there!