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Published: December 8th 2013
Dubai fish market
Two characters in the market
It is Monday October 21st-just 5 days before I leave for Dubai on my way to Ethiopia. One small initial problem is that we are having major fog events on the west coast so I had to cancel the Saturday float plane and go a day earlier on the ferry. I will overnight in Vancouver and then be ready to catch the 1230 flight to Seattle as part of my flight to Dubai. All part of travelling on the west coast...
On Saturday October 23d, I flew to Seattle on Alaska Airlines to catch my direct flight to Dubai-I am going back to the middle east to spend some time before going to Addis Ababa on November 1st. Great flight on an excellent airline- ended up in Row 49 at the back with no other seat mates so I had 4 seats across.
I had an easy entry into Dubai and then took a taxi to my home stay at Backpacking Bliss which I found through Air Bnb. This was the first of many maddening taxi rides in the UAE-the cab drivers don't know the city and the vehicles don't have GPS-even having a google map printout is no
A new mosque commissioned by Sheik Zayad - 7th largest in world.
help. Their standard approach is to drive to the general vicinity and then ask various bystanders for directions...
The first day in Dubai, I focused on getting my Iranian visa which could only be done in the morning. (The embassy is downtown and easy to find) No problems except they only take UAE money so I had to find people in the lineup who would do an exchange for US dollars. I also discovered that normally the visa takes 2 days to process but they did have an express version for an extra fee. Very helpful people and it looks like I can look forward to a pleasant visit when I go to Iran on November 18th
I spent a total of 3 days in the UAE and did the 12 hour 7 Emirates tour as well as a birding day-lots of Flamingos. I flew to Qatar on the final day in order to visit the Falcon Souq- Very interesting. I think a trained falcon is over $10k (probably not something you could bring home in carry-on…) Qatar seems even richer than the UAE.
The next day (Nov 1st) it was back on to Emirates Air for
On its way to a new owner
Rumoured to be worth $10,000
the 4 hour flight to Addis Ababa-quite a contrast between the UAE and Ethiopia. I was picked up by the Habitat driver at the airport and transferred to the hotel (Wabishebelle) where I found part of the team hydrating in the bar.The hotel was excellent. We had our first team meal on the 11th floor after an exciting elevator ride(very small elevator and periodically the power goes out-alternative is to climb 11 flights of stairs) The altitude in Addis Ababa is very noticeable to all of us (maybe about 7600 feet)
We spent the next day on a city tour,visiting the Ethnological Museum , the National Museum (Lucy) and the Holy Trinity Church. Here is some information about Lucy which is the name of the nearly complete skeleton of an Australopithecus Afarensis. She was the first nearly complete skeleton recovered for the species, found in 1974 at the Afar Locality, a site in the Hadar archaeological region on the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia. Lucy is about 3.18 million years old, and is called Denkenesh in Amharic, the Ethiopian national language.
As we all know Canada has 2 official languages and there is constant conflict over the use or
lots of birds for sale
non-use of them. Ethiopia has 5 main and 70 other languages with no apparent issues...
The next day (Sunday) after the Habitat orientation and a big lunch,we loaded everyone on the bus for the trip to our build site (Debre Birhan-elevation 9600 feet) We got there about 2.00 PM and checked into the Hiwot Hotel,which was to be home for the next 10 days. No elevators here and everyone definitely noticed the climb up the stairs to the 3d floor... The hotel is good and there is the added bonus that we have a major bird site in the back of the hotel (Lappet Faced Vultures, Pied Crows, Black Kites and Fan Tailed Ravens plus several kinds of pigeons)
Monday it was up for breakfast and then off to the site at 0830. Very nice to see a big contingent of homeowners and community members waiting for us to arrive and they greeted us with a round of applause. After a few formalities we got right into digging 2 foundations in major hard pack. This was one of the toughest first days on any of my builds to date , primarily due to the altitude and by 4.30
Main exhibit at the National Museum
everyone was very tired. A major highlight was the traditional Ethiopian cooked lunch which included a coffee ceremony each day. We ate dinner at the Hiwot and not many people were still up by 8.30 PM.
Day 2 was a repeat of the first but we did some easier tasks including pole carrying,wood frame erection and moving stones for the foundation. I and some other people are battling colds. Tonight we went to a different restaurant for dinner (about 3 blocks away) On the way you could see that a number of people are having to spend the night on the street so we decided that we couldn't complain about our accommadation.
Our breakfast is basically made up of food we would get in Canada-the menu has some amusing spelling including scrumbled eggs. Porridge seems to be a popular choice for many people and the coffee is universally loved (except by non-coffee people such as me) The Ethiopian breakfast menu is a bit different.
Days 4-5 went by quickly and we did floor soil carrying, cement work, gravel screening and more rock hauling. We also put up split staves for the walls which will be the framework
to hold the Chika material of which more will be heard of later. We are having lots of fun working with the locals.Thursday night after work we visited the home of one of the workers who will be getting a new house-pretty grim place with no toilet and lots of dirt-made us appreciate what we are doing...
By now most of us are used to the altitude but the cold(s) are firmly entrenched- Anti-histamines are being shared.
Saturday we worked for a half day on concrete and staves and then it was back to the Hiwot. Most people shopped but I decided to rest my cold for the remainder of the day.
Sunday we went to the adjacent church to observe the service-big turnout. We then went to get some soccer balls for the community children (3 for about $12) I also got an excellent shoe shine for 10 Birr (about 50 cents -he had actually wanted 3 Birr) We ate at the restaurant down the street again and I think I have found the best dinner item which is a chicken clubhouse which contains chicken plus an egg. The cold is over for me but is
This was the frame to hold the Chika
running rampant through the team…
Here are the components of a house build in Ethiopia:
1) Dig the foundation cavity-it is about 20" by 30" in width and depth and encompasses about 85 lineal feet- the ground is very well packed and has to be loosened with a pick. The soil is then shovelled on to makeshift carrying platforms (2 poles with a piece of tin attached) and carried to a dump site beside the foundation. Fifteen of us plus an equal number of community workers took all day to do 2 foundations. Without the community workers (future homeowners) we would still be digging.
2) Put up pole frames- The poles are peeled eucalyptus trees (6 inches in diameter or so) We carried them from the peeling site to the build location and then spent the day erecting the walls. The skilled workers from the community then put on similar poles as rafters for the tin roof.
3) Stone and concrete foundation- We carried huge quantities of broken stone pieces (see bus picture) to fill in the foundation around the poles, using the carrying platforms. The foundations are built up about 2 feet above grade so
One of our favourite workers (they were all great)
it takes a lot of material to complete the process-mortar is used to hold the rock in place.
4) Roof- HFH team member's feet are not supposed to leave the ground so local workers do the tin roofs.
5) Staves- After the roof is on, the next step is to install the staves which are basically splits made from eucalyptus poles. They are put up vertically and tied with bark strips.We spent about a day on this activity.
6) Chika- After the stave work is done, the Chika is applied. Chika is a mixture of water, mud and straw, which is allowed to ferment. It has the look and constituency of wet cow dung but it has no smell. We formed a line of people from the Chika pit (The locals get right in the pit in bare feet and mix with shovels)to pass blobs of material to the installer(s). The Chika is basically thrown against the stave walls and patted into place.It is done on both sides of the stave wall.
7) Floor - The floors have to be built up with the excavated soil (see step 1) We carried it in and tamped it
Tough day at the office
What would a Habitat build be without shovelling?
in place. The next step is bring in small stone pieces and then concrete to create a nice flat surface.
8) Concrete walls- Cement is plastered over the Chika (inside and out)
9) Paint- The interior walls are painted white.Outside walls get a white accent strip
These houses are about 300 sf and have one main room plus a smaller sleeping room. There is a separate building which contains a toilet. Cooking is done outside and there is a fenced yard for livestock or a garden. These are very sturdy houses which can last up to 50 years.( a number of people I know in Canada have 300 sf MBR closets)
Monday (Nov 11th) morning we went to the site and started off with a brief Remembrance Day ceremony- This was our last full day of work and everyone did Chika installation-lots of fun... We set up a line of about 12 people starting at the Chika pit and ending up on the wall. A ball of wet Chika gets passed down the line to the last person who tosses it up to the installer. He basically hits it out the air like a tennis ball
Applying the mud mix
and pats it on to the stave wall.(lots of flying mud splatters)
We did an early quit and went back to the Hiwot for much needed showers.
Tuesday is the last day at the build site- we spent the morning painting 2 houses with a form of cooked whitewash. We did interior walls plus some exterior trim. After the painting we had another great Ethiopian lunch. The local women do an amazing job with a very basic kitchen and we all felt the lunches were the best meals of the trip.
After lunch we turned over the soccer balls and a game broke out-we also had a baseball game using a tennis ball and a stick- the community members are quite athletic and hit a few "out of the park"
The dedication ceremony started at three and we helped turn over the two painted houses to their new owners-very happy occasion for them. We then had an Ethiopian singing/dancing event and lots of pictures. Sad to leave the community...
We had a power outage that evening but many businesses have gensets and life carries on- it was quite an experience walking to the restaurant in
The community team
One of the best builds to date
The next day it was pack up for our return to Addis. The hotel staff (wonderful people) did a coffee ceremony for us. They basically set up a charcoal burner on the floor in the restaurant to cook the beans. (very smoky) I am told the coffee in Ethiopia is superb. It was accompanied by a huge bowl of popcorn??
We left for Addis about 10.00 with one person having stomach issues so we had a few stops. Our arrival in Addis was somewhat delayed by the noon traffic as well as 5 herds of cattle being driven down the road toward us (Addis version of running of the bulls?) In any case we made it to the hotel at 1.00 for lunch and WIFI.
The next day we turned ourselves over to the folks at Amazing Ethiopia for R and R. We loaded the bus at 7.00 and headed out into the always challenging Addis traffic. Our bus driver is amazing and none of us have any plans to ever rent a car in Addis... Our tour got off to a bit of a rocky start as our guide and driver were unable to
find the access road for the Supa National Forest. After a bit of flailing around and discussions with locals we finally made it to the right place. However due to the recent rains, the road up to the park HQ was impassable so we walked UP about 500-600 metres along a forest road-nice to get some exercise. While waiting for the entry tickets and the park guide, we were entertained by some Olive Baboons. Then we did more climbing on a park nature trail and were fortunate to see a Menelik Bush Buck (apparently endangered species) some Colobos Monkeys and lots of ants some of whom joined us in our clothes. We then walked back down to our bus and headed out.
The next major highlight along the way was a recent roadkill cow being swarmed by Hooded Vultures plus one Lappet Faced Vulture-an amazing site within 50 feet of our bus-very raw footage.
Lunch was at a brewery and then it was off to the luxurious Negash Lodge. This was the best accommadation that we experienced in Ethiopia and everyone enjoyed the change. Lots of on-site wildlife (monkeys, apes,birds etc) and some people went cycling in the
Transport option in Ethiopia
Probably better than Dubai taxis
The next day it was back on the road for our trip to Woloso where we were scheduled to do a hike. The road trip turned out to be quite an adventure in itself as we climbed up very high and stayed there for about 50 kilometres-lots of amazing views over the valleys. Every time we stopped we got to meet the local children who have high monetary expectations from tourist buses.
Upon arrival in Woloso we started down the trail to the crater lake at the bottom (about 5 Km and a big elevation change of about 500 metres) It took the group about 100 minutes to reach the bottom where we had lunch. Given the time factor we opted for horse conveyance to return to the top-first time experience for several people.
The next phase turned into a penance for last nights luxury-we finally rolled in to the Ambo Hotel about 5.30 to discover that our reservations had been cancelled. Amazing Ethiopia blamed the hotel and the hotel blamed Amazing Ethiopia... We all went for a beer and left it to the guide to sort out. The end result was that one couple ended
up with a modern ensuite and the rest of us got regular less than one star rooms. Someone correctly noted that the rooms we got were still better accommadation than most Ethiopians endure every day...
We had a good dinner in the hotel restaurant and then everyone turned in for the night.
The next day we did a trip to Guder Falls-worthwhile stop and we saw some Silver Cheeked Hornbills who landed in a tree very close to us.We then left for Addis on a very good highway-slow going due to other traffic (goats, sheep, cattle, tuc-tucs, donkey carts and lots of people all over the road) We arrived in Addis about 1230 and prepared for the farewell dinner with the excellent HFH Ethiopia staff. Today was the World Cup Qualifier (soccer) between Ethiopia and Nigeria and there was lots of street excitement. We all wore our Ethiopia scarves and some even did face paint. To avoid the potential street issues, we ate early and returned to the hotel before game end... Unfortunately Ethiopia lost.
The next day everyone went their separate ways with some people returning to Canada and some exploring Ethiopia or going further afield
Crater at Woloso
A long walk down
in Africa for a safari. After a quick shop for goatskin pillow covers at the market I went to the Addis airport for my return to Dubai. After yet another bad taxi experience in Dubai, I finally got to the Sharjah International Airport Hotel and got ready for my trip the next day to Iran. (I stayed in a hotel near the Sharjah Airport because the Air Arabia flight to Shiraz leaves from there at 1220)
The big day finally arrived and I was really looking forward to my visit to Iran. I had an easy checkin and a nice flight - Iran is 30 minutes different from Dubai (hello Newfoundland) so I got in at 1305. It was interesting that most of the women on the plane put on their head scarves before we landed.
The immigration guy could not have been more welcoming-how often do border entry people insist on shaking your hand- he also invited me to extend my visa. There was also a friendly tourism representative near the luggage carousel handing out brochures about Shiraz and the province of Fars.
My guide (Saeed) was standing outside arrivals with a big sign and off
Pars Tourist Agency
Helpful Aliye-highly recommended person to help with Iran travels
we went in his car to the Chamron Grand Hotel (5 star high rise) After checking in, we went on a city tour including the Pink Mosque and a museum. We also visited the old city bath house which is now a museum and then went to the bazaar. According to some writers, the community of merchants from the bazaars have a great deal of influence in modern Iran and may rival the Islamic hierarchy in terms of importance.Carpets, lacquer boxes, copper tooling, jewelry all seem to be unique to Iran. The merchants have high hopes for the lifting of sanctions.
We then went to change money-unofficial rate is much higher (20%) than the bank offers. I changed $100 US and got about 3 million rials? We then went to the PTA (Pars Tourist Agency) where I met Aliye who was my helpful contact for this trip. I paid the trip fee in cash ($690 USF) It included 4 deluxe room nights, personal guide services for 4.5 days including all attraction entry fees, automobile service, travel by land from Shiraz to Tehran (1000 Km) breakfasts, lunches and a flight from Tehran to Shiraz as well as airport pickups and
Hard to imagine the cost of doing these now
drop offs. I had to buy dinners which never cost more than $10 ( first night buffet was $2.00)
On day two we started early and visited a Muslim shrine where I met yet another Iranian student wanting to practise his English-very welcoming. Some of the shrines and mosques have cut mirror mosiacs. Apparently the objective is to not reflect people's pictures so the small and many angled mirror pieces are reflective of light but don't show images?
We went to another place which is a major characteristic of Shiraz - an ancient (400 years) and large outdoor garden with a flowing stream which presumably comes from an underground spring. Shiraz has about a dozen of these gardens.
We then drove out on to the highway to go to Persepolis which is a 2500 year old site and home of Darius (and Xerxes) whose dynasty was wiped out by Alexander the Great. Apparently this site is back in favour but during the revolution some clerics wanted it destroyed because it predated Islam.I was the only western tourist on the site. We then drove down a back road through some sheep flocks to Necropolis which has the tombs
Someday, centuries from now all our cities will be ruins in spite of the building inspectors
of the Persepolis kings. I am now looking for a book about Alexander The Great.
Then it was off to Ishafan which is about 400 Kms away. Some interesting factoids about the drive:
-The car which is made in Iran is dual fuel-gasoline and natural gas. I think natural gas is about 50 cents a kg and gasoline is very cheap.
-The towns along the route had ancient caravansara sites which were roadside hotels that catered to camel caravans along such arteries as the silk road. we could see remnants of the walls and buildings.
-The roadside crops included corn, grain and irrigated potatoes-we actually met a potato farmer at a restaurant along the way. There were also lots of vendors selling pomegranates.
-The lunch stop was pretty basic but food was good-rice with saffron is a staple along with lamb or chicken kabobs.
-Toilets are all squatters and pretty scary-apparently after the revolution there was a purge on western toilets but this is now being reversed.I understand how to urinate and defecate is specified in Islamic law-one must not be standing...
- There are posters of soldiers/martyrs killed in the
One of many
Iraq/Iran war all along major streets in the cities-apparently for a time, the outdoor fountains ran with red water to symbolize the blood of the martyrs.
-There are lots of big wall posters of the two Ayatollahs who apparently don't do smiling-some Iranians refer to them as "The Angry Birds"
We arrived in Ishafan about 5.00 PM and checked into one of the most impressive hotels I have ever seen. (Abbasihotel) It has a large inner garden courtyard, well appointed rooms, a huge lobby and a number of impressive restaurants but no alcohol of any kind. I wandered the streets for about 2 hours and looked at Persian carpets. Dinner doesn't start in Iran until 7.30 and most diners wait until 9.00. The food is generally buffet style. In this hotel the buffet was 320,000 rials (about $11)
In the morning it was off to the big central square where one of Irans's kings apparently invented polo. The square is surrounded by a 400 year old palace, two giant mosques and a huge bazaar. This country has a huge investment in mosques but most (all) are quite old. Given that most young people seem to not be
religious, these mosques may eventually become museums? After a tour of the sites and some christmas shopping,(got Angry Birds poster) we went to a carpet place where I got the full lesson (and bought a small rug) They had a work around for Mastercard.
We then drove to Kashan on a toll road (about 35 cents for a long section) Excellent road but we had big time fog part of the way. We got to Kashan (in heavy rain) about noon to find the site we wanted to visit closed. We then went to lunch in a nearby cafe/rosewater perfume factory. Perfume is apparently a popular thing in Iran for women (and men) but I resisted the temptation. The welcoming staff all wanted to practise their English.We then went to another huge garden attraction before leaving for Tehran.
The next day and a half were very complex. Saeed drove me to to the outskirts of Tehran to the Airport where he hired a taxi to drive me downtown (about 50Km) to the Ferdowski Hotel. He then had about a 1000 km drive to get back to Shiraz (he later told me he got home at 3.30AM) The cab
Bazaar near central square in Ishafan
I got the Angry Birds posters at this stall
driver (Michael Shumacher) then drove at least 120 KPH in the rain with fogged up windows in the dark to downtown Tehran (needless to say I had no trouble staying awake) The last few kms were done in traffic that makes Toronto or Vancouver look like a rural village on the prairies. As Saeed says, Iran is number one in traffic accidents and traffic.
The Ferdowski was the least impressive of my three Iranian Hotels but it was still pretty good.Tomorrow I will have a new guide.
The next day the new guide (Vida) was right on time and met me in the lobby at 9.00. We also had a car and driver and immediately set off into the traffic for a number of attractions including the national museum, central bazaar and the carpet museum. I gave the guide and driver Canada pins and Vida immediately decided they were ear rings. She then had to buy me an Iran symbol called a Farvahar.
We had big plans for after lunch in terms of places to visit but unfortunately spent most of the afternoon in a monstrous traffic jam. However we were able to visit the new Tehran
My guide in Tehran
bird park-lots of raptors and unique waterfowl. Then it was off to the Airport so I could catch my Mabin Air flight back to Shiraz.
Some unique differences between Iran airports and others include prayer rooms, separate entrances into the airport for men and women, separate security entrances and the usual squatter toilets. After a bit of confusion, I managed to get checked in and through the various security check points.
This airport doesn't have bridge connections and it is a fairly long bus ride to the planes. Lots of friendly conversation on the bus and than a nice flight back to Shiraz where the ever cheerful Saeed was waiting.
The women's head covering issue is quite interesting. At one end of the spectrum you have the full face chador with only 2 eyes visible. At the other end , the young girls have colourful scarves barely covering their hair. (They say chadors are only for religious people) Tourists seem to prefer the babushka approach.
Another common young person program is cosmetic surgery-lots of girls on the street have bandages on their noses. According to Vida, everyone wants to get their noses done, including her. The
My guide in Shiraz, Ishafan and Kashan
average cost is about $1500. Makeup stores seem to do very well.
Friday was my last day and Saeed took me to the really grim Shiraz bird park- not a trip highlight and I don't think the birds enjoyed it either.We visited one last garden and the Quiran Gate then it was off to the airport. Today being Friday, the country is supposed to be closed for prayer. However someone apparently forgot to tell the citizens of Shiraz, as most businesses were open.
I arrived at the airport and had an easy time getting screened and checking in.When I finally got to Passport Control, it turned into quite an event- I was waved to the front of the line and the passport officer and his supervisor both had to shake my hand and thank me for coming.I think everyone in Iran wants the current negotiations to succeed so the sanctions can come off and tourism can grow. It certainly gets my vote in spite of John Baird...
The plane wasn't very full and one had to watch out for flailing material as women quickly removed their scarves. The flight is about an hour. Upon arrival in Sharjah,
Sign along toll road
Not something you see every day
I had to collect my luggage, go through passport control, leave the airport and then re-enter to departures so I could catch a flight to Muscat. (country no 82) The passport officer (outgoing) thought this a bit weird so I got to spend a few minutes in a different place-no problems however..
I arrived in Muscat and took a taxi (with a driver who actually knew where he was going) to the Marina Hotel. There was a huge rain event on and we had a bit of a slow ride and I suspect heavy rain is not a common occurence. (As I later discovered the Matrah Souq was nearly flooded out during this storm) The hotel is well located on the Corniche (waterfront) and within several blocks of everything-it is also reasonably priced and best of all has a rooftop bar. I had 2 excellent cold Heinekins.
The next day I came to believe that more time in Oman would have been a good thing. I was actually thinking that Muscat was the jump off point for Michael Palin's dhow trip to India but he actually started from Dubai. In any case there were 2 dhows in the
Along the Corniche
harbour beside what I assumed was the local sultan's giant yacht. There are lots of tourists on the street and wading in the market. I bought 2 really weird padlocks (a frog and a fish)
After a day of exploring Muscat, I took a taxi back to the airport with a very friendly driver in a well kept Mercedes. I am starting to get into my "let's go home mode" Back in SHarjah, yet another $%^& taxi ride with an incompetent driver who couldn't find the Dubai Hostel in spite of me giving him a map...
On the birding front, I identified about 45 birds on the trip including 23 in the UAE, 19 in Ethiopia and 3 in Iran and Oman. The Hooded Vultures, the Thick Billed Ravens and the Silver Cheeked Hornbills were the most unique.
The next day it was off to good old YVR via Seattle. Once again I had row 49 all to myself although I had to fight off one person trying to re-locate (I was able to convince her I had a fearsome disease) No other problems except Obama had the airport shut down as he flew in for a fund raiser- may he get to take a taxi in Dubai someday soon.Finally home at about midnight Sunday-long day.
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