Yala Safari

Yala Safari

Today we got caught up in a traffic jam in the middle of the Yala National Park in Sri Lanka! But it was for a good reason, a Leopard. After many hours of bumping around the jungle in a jeep and seeing lots of different animals we still had not seen a leopard. We really didn’t expect to as it was hot and the middle of the day. Most of the sane leopards were hidden away napping on tree branches. We knew that something was up as soon as our driver hit the gas pedal. We had learned over the course of the day that when he sped up and started driving like a madman it was because some other driver had seen something cool and it had come down their phone tree. How they tell each other their position out there is something only they know, I think, as there are thousands of paths and zero road signs.

After a few minutes of flying along we ended up at the back of a very long line of jeeps going nowhere. initially the word was that it was a crocodile, which didn’t seem all that likely as a croc would not attract this much attention. Eventually we learned that it was a Leopard! What a bonus that we were actually going to see one. After nearly a half hour of inching forward one car at a time we were pointed in the right direction by several of the guides who were standing by the side of the road trying to keep everyone moving. It was quite far in the distance but I did get a great view of it with the binoculars. Unfortunately it was too far away for any kind of recognizability unless you really zoom in like below.

Not everyone in the Jeep was so lucky and we learned a good lesson about traveling with tired and crabby people. The poor driver was just doing his job and following instructions. But after six hours in a jeep in 90 degree weather, it was a bit much for one couple who had been bickering with each other all day!

The following is a gallery of some of my favorite photos taken during the day. Enjoy! And if you ever get to Sri Lanka I recommend you plan a day like this.

Kochin: Houseboats and Driving

Kochin: Houseboats and Driving

This sign says a lot. Nobody reads

I think that no blogging about India would be complete without some comment on the driving! It is a great example of both the chaos and cooperation present in the culture of India. It is utter chaos in that although there are line lines painted on the roads, very few drivers seem to care. Where there is only one lane you might find two or even three vehicles side by side depending on the size of the vehicles. Passing? No problem you can pull part way out of the lane to pass, the vehicle in front of you will probably move over a bit to the left and the oncoming traffic will likely move a bit to the right so you can get around! I don’t know what the statistics on traffic accidents or fatalities are in India, but amazingly we didn’t see any during our visit to either Mumbai or Kochin. I tried to make a video out the front of the bus as we were driving down the road and staring into an oncoming truck. But it didn’t turn out so you’ll just have to trust me on this one!

Our day in Kochin was mostly spent on a small bus studying the driving habits of the natives, but we did make two very interesting stops. The first stop was to do a two hour ride on a large houseboat that took us through the canals and waterways of Kochin. We got to see the countryside and the rice paddys. It was really good to get out of the city!

Driving the house boat for a private

Hauling the palm branches by boat

The rice paddy. Our guide said that we were in the Holland of India
because the land is below sea level in this

Our second interesting stop was at a small bridge where we could see the famous chinese fishing nets in action. These nets have been in use for centuries and it was fascinating to see them catching and hauling in the fish.

Chinese fishing nets in operation.

Dubai: City of Contrasts

Dubai: City of Contrasts

I once listened to an interesting 99% Invisible podcast that said that Las Vegas was the petri dish for architecture in the United States. Las Vegas is also the city that keeps on coming to mind as I visit Dubai. The variety of architecture here is just amazing, especially in the new areas of Dubai -- where by new I mean less than 20 years and in many cases less than 10 years old! There are amazing buildings with modern architecture everywhere you look. This place is on a mission to make a statement on a global scale. But even after spending a couple of days here I’m not sure what that statement actually is. Update: on our tour to the Hajar Mountains yesterday our guide said “Dubai is the Las Vegas of the middle east, just without the gambling”. So there are two data points for you on that comparison.

A night time view of the creek with the dinner cruise dhows. In the
background you can see the Dubai Frame as well as the Burj

To put a positive spin on it it might be something like this: Visionary leadership will get you everywhere. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum definitely had a vision and the people here have executed on that vision. Creating islands shaped like palm trees and soon home to two of the worlds tallest buildings where just 15 years ago there was nothing but flat desert.

A slightly more cynical spin would be. Dubai: we have more Guinness world records than anyone else, you should come shop here! The Mall of the Emeriates, The City Center Mall, the Marina Mall and of course the Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world. The new area of Dubai hosts all of the worlds tallest hotels (at least the top three) there is the worlds highest swimming pool, the worlds highest observation deck, the worlds tallest building, with the worlds fastest elevator, which will soon be supplanted by a different building that will overcome the soon to be completed tallest building in Saudi Arabia. The worlds largest indoor ski area -- Yes it has real snow and operating lifts. This will also be replaced by another indoor ski area with a much longer run. The worlds largest man-made island. Its really exhausting to see and list all of these records.

A view from the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa at night. Sadly, the
remnants of a sandstorm reduced the daytime view to a gray

So what is the reason behind all of these records? You might be tempted to say that it is all due to oil wealth. But Dubai is small and contains only 4% of the oil reserves in the UAE. A little research will quickly lead you to the same reason I gave above, vision. It was the vision of the leadship of Dubai that led to the creation of the infrastructure, mass transit, and tax systems that have caused massive economic growth. Foreginers are allowed to own propery and business in designated business zones. There is no income or sales tax which explains some of Dubai as a massive shopping destination. And some things, like a man made island in the shape of a palm tree are just to show off a bit and attract celebrities to area.

Our hotel was near the Dubai Creek which was dredged and extended as part of the massive building efforts. But the creek is also the reason Dubais is located where it is. It is a highly defensible port location which is still operating today. Ports in Iran and many other Gulf countries are fairly close, just a 4 hour boat trip to Iran. The Creek and the port are the intersection of the old and new Dubai as you can see clearly in the photo.

Loading the Dhow for its journey through the Gulf, with new Dubai in
the background.

The Dhows are loaded with all kinds of goods from new and used electronics to fresh water and furniture to be shipped from Dubai to other countries. The crime rate is so low that these goods basically sit here next to a busy street unguarded, waiting to be loaded and shipped away.

You can also see the “taxi” that we used to get from the new side of the creek to the old side of the creek. The ride was just 1 Durham which is about a quarter. You simply walk up, hop on and pay the driver his money. Or a helpful local may grab your 5 give you change and pass on the bill to the driver!

The highlight of our visit was a middle-eastern food tour hosted by Stephanie of Frying Pan Adventures. Stephanie is an Italian-Egyptian native of Dubai. She took us around her old neighborhood where we sampled food from Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Iran and Iraq. Jane and I agreed that our favorite was the giant Felafel sandwhich from Sultan Dubai Felafel. Eaten outside in the company of new friends it was delicious. We then followed it up with Kunafa served in the kitchen of Qwaider al Nabulsi. Kunafa is made with butter, noodles, salty cheese, and sugar syrup. Cooked in a large pan to a golden brown and served fresh! It was awesome. We also were able to enjoy many different varieties of Baklava along with an amazing cream sauce made from Soaproot! The egyptian pizza known as Feteer was also very good. My least favorite was the slow smoked carp at the Iranian restaurant.

Making the Kunafa!

This visit to Dubai has left us with more questions than answers but we look forward to exploring much more of the middle eastern and southeast asian cultures as we begin the cruise portion of the journey.