February 2011 Archives

Destination Juxtaposition (Des Jux)

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Email and RSS subscribers will need to click over to klugusamy.com to view some content below.  And props to the ~1 reader who will get the title's reference to a bad indie rap label...

Our two primary destinations were quite a bit different from one another.  To illustrate, I shot 60 second iPhone videos in each location.  (This is sorta inspired by the excellent Sunrise Earth series on Discovery HD.)

First, here's the Shuab Bay beach in Socotra, Yemen.  If you like your beaches with soft sand, crystal clear water, and complete privacy then you'd probably enjoy this:

And in contrast, here's Cairo and Tahrir Square as viewed from our hotel room's balcony at the Intercontinental Semiramis.  It's a bit difficult to make out the couple of tanks stationed on the street but the traffic, modest crowd gathered at Tahrir Square, and the sparks flying from the welder across the street makes for a nice contrast to life on Socotra:

Back in Sana'a

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After being offline for a few days, we are now catching up on all the Charlie Sheen and Libya related news.  During this time, we've been hanging out on the little island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean:
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I first read about this place a few years ago in this NY Times article.  We always discounted it as a destination because of the need to transit through mainland Yemen, but with the way things are going in Yemen it seemed like now or never...

We'll be working on the full trip report in a few hours during the flight to our final destination in Africa.  Sadly, no pictures to share right now of Socotra as the Wi-Fi here at SAH airport is uploading at an excruciating 0.17 Mbps.  So stay tuned!

Day in Sana’a

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After 21 hours, we easily avoiding whatever anti-Saleh protests might be going on here in the capital—and we accomplished what we wanted to do here in the process.  If you’ve ever heard us gush about how nice people were in Jordan, we have the same things to say here in Sana’a…

First mission was to head to the Felix Airways office to pay for some ticket reservations I made over Skype several weeks back.  The woman behind the desk quickly said: “are you Vinod?  I talked to you on the phone!”  She was incredibly efficient and nice, but then the mood soured when she suggested we be at the airport at 4am tomorrow.

Next we set off for our only planned tourist jaunt of the day—a stroll through the Souq al-Milh.  It’s a giant market with stall after stall selling everything from saffron to knockoff Arsenal jerseys to donkeys.  We weaved through the narrow alleys of the Souk to a constant yelling of ‘welcome to Yemen!’ from the shopkeepers and not an ounce of pressure to purchase something.

Then this guy randomly introduced himself to us asking us where we were from—his name is Mohammed:

What did we learn about Mohammed?  All you need to know is that we learned that he once studied in Tucson, Arizona and enjoyed eating chimichangas there.  We got some fresh lemon juice at this little juice shop in the souk with him:

I’m terribly uncomfortable taking pictures of people (especially with pricey photo gear in hand), so I sadly don’t have any other pictures of the Souq.  Which is really terrible because there were so many amazing sights (and smells) here.

But here at least is a high-noon photo taken from the top of the Burj Al Salam Hotel inside the Old City.  Killer photos could probably be had here with better light, but we were much too tired to drag ourselves back over again at sunset. 

Our day ended very oddly shortly ago at the “Broadway” restaurant in the Sheraton Sana’a.  I’ll try to paint the picture for you as it was too dark (and empty) to surreptitiously take photos in there.  Imagine a 70s looking lounge/bar.  Then hang up all kinds of random American stuff on the walls—New York Fire Department t-shirts, Boston Red Sox and Houston Texans signs, a Martin Luther King poster, etc.

Then it gets weirder when three Koreans start performing.  And we’re the only people dining.  (Amazingly, we have actually witnessed a Korean singing trio at the Sheraton in Kampala, Uganda as well!)  While there is no photographic proof, I did snag a minute of audio on my iPhone.  You might notice that between songs we forgot to clap.

I’ll probably post later some logistical practicalities about moving around the city, but otherwise that’s all there is to say about Sana’a for now.  Internet access will be severely limited at our next destination, so please check back in on Friday.

“Why you go to Yemen?”

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Email and RSS subscribers will need to click over to klugusamy.com to view some content below.

So said a Royal Jordanian employee.  Variations of this question have also been asked by our mothers, and other’s mothers.

Nevertheless, here we are at the Sheraton in Sana’a—the capital of Yemen sitting at 7,500 feet and 80 degree sunshine.  And apparently there is some sort of protesting going on here?

The flight in from Amman was uneventful—though one point of intrigue was the large family with us in the business class cabin.  Said large family presumably consisted of a Yemeni man, his many burqa’d wives, a couple of teenage sons, and a toddler who ran around the cabin for all four hours of the flight and once turned my caps lock on for me.

Anyway, for more background on this country I point you to a segment of Steven Colbert’s Better Know an Enemy.  Worth watching at least for the Cool Runnings cameo:

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Better Know an Enemy - Yemen
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog Video Archive

Not a lot of firm plans for our day in Sana’a, but we’ll let you know what we end up doing here soon.  Happy President’s Day!

Weekend in Sant Cugat (Barcelona)

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Email and RSS subscribers will need to click over to klugusamy.com to view some content below.

We kicked the trip off with Vancouver to Heathrow in British Airways First class (after a one way Avis rental in a tiny Nissan Versa from ZAAZ).  This was our second international first class experience, and our Cathay Pacific flights last year to South Africa set a pretty high bar.

Nonetheless, there was a “who am I?” moment when we were served our post take-off bowl of nuts.  Two pressing questions immediately crossed my mind:  (1) why haven’t these nuts been warmed? and (2) kinda cheap to only have cashews---where are the macadamias?

Otherwise, the pajamas and lay flat bed were totally fine.  And you can’t beat sitting in the first row of a 747 in the nosecone with windows that face slightly forward.  I’ll share some photos of the cabin in a future post on the way home.

After our 15-minute back massages/facials at the British Airways lounge, we were on our way to our first destination of Barcelona.  Ten years ago, Lillie was an au pair for a family there, and we’ve stayed in touch and visited many times since.  The little infant from back then turns ten this year—crazy.

So we spent the past two days at the family’s house gorging ourselves on Catalan food—best food on the continent, for my money.  I made a big mistake not taking a picture of the homemade paella we ate on Saturday—comprised of rabbit, chicken, squid, clam, and prawns.  So take our word it was delicious.  Even our friend Mark from Toronto happened to stop by to have a bite (he coincidentally was in town for the Mobile World Congress).

We had a late dinner at Braseria la Bolera in Sant Cugat, where we enjoyed just in season calçots.  They are a young, green onion chargrilled then served with a sort of romesco sauce.  Here is our paella chef Marcel demonstrating the Catalan eating technique:

Sunday morning was quite the breakfast of champions—xurros/churros dunked in your own personal bowl of thick chocolate soup.  It was obviously delicious, but you can’t help but but think the whole time that it’s not something you should be eating at 9am.

Jet lag aside, we had an amazingly enjoyable time hanging out with the family in little Sant Cugat.  We even managed to watch two of the kids play basketball on Saturday morning at the local gym!

Huge thanks to Marcel, Montse, Joana, Laia, and Pep for hosting us.  And also to Teresa for making the 2 hour trek from Lleida to spend Saturday with us.  This was an incredibly pleasant way to start our trip.

I’ll end this now with some selected shots taken with my camera (with a new 50mm f/1.4 lens) by 13-year old Joana:

A New Adventure Begins

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I alluded to this in my last post wrapping up the Namibia trip report.  The time has come for the first of these adventures, and recent news will only add to the spice.  The markers in the below map show our currently planned stops on this trip:

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Feel free to explore the map independently, otherwise I’ll be introducing the destinations as we move along over the course of a 12 day trip.

Rest assured that we’ll be traveling in style, so I’ll make sure to take photos of all the plane food, et cetera.  Special shout out to our official sponsor for the trip—Citi.  Earning 300,000 AAdvantage miles without breaking a sweat ain’t bad. 

The next post will be from our first departure airport on Thursday evening—hope you’ll follow us along the way!

P.S.  I’ll also give a plug to our RSS feed for fellow Google Readers, or you can receive posts via email.