Pat's Log
Fri, 28 Feb 2014

20140228 I recently got back from a work trip to the beautiful Caribbean island of Curacao. The work was fairly straightforward, and with the flight schedule that was available, it left a fair amount of time to explore this quaint, very Dutch island.

Curacao did not fit my stereotype of a Caribbean island. This is probably because it actually has industry other than tourism; the entire island felt more "real" than purely vacation destinations. That said, there were many beaches loaded with many (mostly Dutch) tourists enjoying the sun.

It would have been pretty much impossible to get around without a car, as the taxis are very expensive and inconvenient. The car rentals are cheap, in relative terms. Of course, driving on this island took some getting used to. There are hardly any street signs, and the lay of the land forces roads in many odd directions. Lots of very fun roundabouts. Eventually, I got very used to driving my little Hyundai i10 and started enjoying it. It was sort of like driving in Europe, but with less rules.

On my day off, I got to explore the less developed beaches of the West point of the island, and even managed to get a couple of dives in.

Now for a couple of oddities... in the evenings I wanted to hang out in the old port and touristy areas. This did not pan out well since just about everything shuts down at six! When I needed to fill up the car before returning it, I spent an hour looking for a gas station that would take credit card. They don't! Finally, while this did not annoy me in any way, I did not come across a single bottled water in my entire time there.

Many things could be written about Curacao. It is a vibrant place. I hope to go there again in the future and explore more of the historic aspects.

On my way home, I transferred through Sint Maarten. That airport with the beach behind it is properly nuts!

[] | posted @ 23:00 | link
Tue, 31 Dec 2013

Not Just Any Other Year
20131231 2013 has come and gone very quickly. There was no time to spend writing my mind online, not even particularly much on Facebook. But it wouldn't be right to not have a single blog entry for the entire year. And what a year it has been.

The year is divided into two parts in my mind. It started off with easing into a new job, house renovations, and a lot of running around and planning.

The second half of the year is highlighted by my wedding. It was a lot of fun, actually. The day went perfectly, there were so many friends and family, and now I'm married and can look forward to other big things in life. The honeymoon in St. Lucia felt well-deserved.

With next year come many more planned renovations. I hope there will be time to do other great things, and maybe even write a little bit here.

[] | posted @ 16:05 | link
Sat, 27 Oct 2012

Bye Tanzania
20121027 So ends the trip. We are all glad to be leaving Stone Town. I could spend another week on the beach, but most of us are happy to be going home.

As the flight was in the afternoon, the morning was spent on last-minute shopping and photography. An easy end to the trip ahead of the long travel.

Addendum: Mercifully, the flights back went off without a hitch. We even spent time in the proper Addis Ababa airport terminal, and it was a much better experience. It is good to be back home.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Fri, 26 Oct 2012

Stone Town
20121026 Today starts a big, four day, Muslim festival. Everyone is running around in traditional robes, and the streets are noticeably busier.

With more locals around, it is possible to make an observation about how women are treated with less respect. I can walk in a straight line and easily get where I'm going. Looking around my travel companions, Kelly, on the other hand, bumps shoulders with the men as they go by. They seem to harass her more when trying to sell their wares. If we are together and she asks for directions, the answer sometimes comes my way. It is different than what we're used to.

We went to see what remains of the slave trade. The Anglican Cathedral is now built over the site, but they maintained a few of the "horror chambers" where the slaves were kept. It was a little depressing to learn about, with intentionally small rooms being stuffed with humans. The cathedral itself was nice, but it was clear that stones get tossed at the windows every now and then. The culture clash here is alive and kicking.

We had Ethiopian food for lunch. This was a first for many in our group. It should be quite authentic, based on the proximity to that country. As with all the meals we have been getting here, delicious.

The afternoon was whiled away going through shops and drinking at local establishments. Many were closed for the holidays. There are many more things to see in Stone Town, but the concensus is that it is not interesting outside of the tourist areas. Or perhaps not inviting. The heat doesn't help, it is very hot and humid.

It would seem a number of our group is eager to get out of here. I can sympathize, though knowing we are flying out tomorrow tends to leave me with the feeling there is never enough time to explore things fully. Sunset off the coast of Stone Town can be quite dramatic.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Thu, 25 Oct 2012

Spice Tour and Hello Stone Town
20121025 The taxi trip to Stone Town was uneventful, though we had the driver couple it with a stop for a spice tour. Like the Maasai village earlier in the trip, the spice farm was definitely geared toward tourists. Nonetheless, our tour was fun and informative. The guide was really nice, and showed us a good sampling of the kinds of plants that grow on the island in larger farms. Particularly standing out was the nutmeg nut, which is in a fruit and has an internal red webbing that looks very alien. The other plant of interest was the cinnamon tree, where it's the bark that had flavour, and it is very delicious when fresh and moist. Roots of the cinnamon tree are used by locals as a substitute for eucalyptus, and it really is very similar. They made us leaf hats and fed us fruits, too.

Stone Town itself is a bit of a mixed bag. It has the potential to be glorious with minimal effort in maintenance to the ancient buildings. The metal-studded doorways, in particular, are really unique and very cool. Unfortunately, most of them are rotting away. It is a curious contrast, since all of the cars are constantly being washed and polished, meanwhile their houses are in complete disarray. Utterly bizarre.

We ate lunch at a very authentic Indian restaurant called the Silk Route. The butter chicken was delicious, and if there was more time, I would definitely be back.

Our stay with the Clove Hotel is cheap but the venue has a kind of charm. A rooftop terrace works very well, along with an honour system bar. It's right in the center of the action, just a block from the coast line.

We went for a walk and ended up in a market where the locals shop. The congestion and smells were a little too much, especially by the meat and fish markets. There is something to be said for the modern supermarket. Maybe it's not for everyone?

We had dinner at a night market. Street meat can be fun; it was nice to try authentic shawarma and locally prepared lobster.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Wed, 24 Oct 2012

Scuba Diving with Sea Turtles
20121024 Another scuba day! This was a shorter dive to a closer reef. At first, this reef seemed much less interesting, but then the stingrays and turtles started popping up. We saw four of the latter in total. Beautiful creatures, so graceful when they swim. There was also a large sea horse. I had seen one of these in Cuba, but I always forget how strangely they move through the water. Finally, we saw a fish with wings; it was the strangest fish I had ever seen, and moved through the water like a bird flies in the air. So bizarre!

The balance of the day was spent eating a great burger at the scuba resort, then lazing away until dinner, a seafood barbecue at our own resort. Amazing how the time went by, tomorrow will already be the transfer to Stone Town. This part of the trip was so very enjoyable.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Tue, 23 Oct 2012

Zanzibar Scuba Diving
20121023 Scuba day! We took a Dhaw-style boat out to Mnemba Island and dove the reef there. The first dive was a there-and-back trip along the reef, while the second was a tidal drift dive. We saw everything we hoped to see except for sea turtles. On board lunch was delicious and the two-deck setup made for fun diving off the stern between the dives. This really is prime diving territory.

On the way off the boat, I cut my foot on a sharp rock by the boat anchorage. I decided to take a long walk to the other side of the island along the beach. The idea was for the saltwater to clean our the wound. In the end, it didn't, buy I learned how much more secluded our side of the island beach was, and how much nicer our water was, too. This means that the larger resorts, like the Hilton, actually have a much less appealing seascape. Our Sazani is not only a deal, but really all around the best choice.

Again, the rest of the afternoon was chill, and we went to a neighboring resort for dinner. It's cool that you can do this, just walk off the beach and explore the resorts. They are all very inviting.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Mon, 22 Oct 2012

The Real Vacation Begins in Zanzibar
20121022 First order of business: check out the scuba situation. Even in the morning, it was too late to book for today, but a solid booking was made for tomorrow to Mnemba Island.

With a free day ahead, we decided to walk along the beach to the lighthouse. Moon was a slim crescent, and tide was high, so it was a fun, if treacherous, walk, with waves crashing up on shore and crabs running all over the place. This was fantastic.

We eventually happened upon the Dutch couple, Yona and Gwen's hotel, and made plans with them. Their place had a shallow salt-water turtle pond, so that provided a bit of amusement. They had sea turtles of all sizes.

The rest of the day we took it easy. This is, after all, vacation. We ate out at a Rasta bar on the beach. This seemed very Jamaican to me, but somehow fit.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Sun, 21 Oct 2012

Travel to Zanzibar
20121021 So much for unwinding.

We got up bright and early to make it to Kilimanjaro Airport for 08:00. That's when we found out that our new flight did not successfully merge in our old flight. The problem was that Fly540 had been bought out by Europe's EasyJet, and all October flights had been suspended. They had apparently not rebooked us properly on Precision Air, and for whatever reason, didn't bother informing us until less than a day in advance.

There were eight of us in the Fly540 office hoping for a fix: our group of four, a German newlywed couple, and a Dutch couple. To make a long story short, the people on the ground at JRO didn't have the authority to rebook the Precision Air flight, and couldn't get ahold of those who could on a Sunday morning.

Our group was eventually confirmed for the four remaining seats on the 13:00 flight, but we could hear things getting very ugly as we ran away from the Fly540 office to the security gate at 12:30.

Right before the plane left, the other two couples somehow managed to make it onto the flight, much to everyone's surprise and applause. We actually became good friends with the Dutch couple, Yona and Gwen, as we shared a cab ride to neighboring resorts at the Northern tip of Zanzibar.

The first view of the beachscape through the Sazani Beach Hotel gates was almost spiritual. From the colour of the water, to the fine warm, white sand, it was perfect. When we jumped in the water, we were surprised just how hot it was.

The dive shop was visible on the next resort over right from the beach, but it was too late to arrange anything. Instead, we ordered drinks and food, and had a great afternoon. The unwinding that got interrupted this morning was finally taking place.

When the sun set, we made our way out of the hotel for a walk toward the village. There really wasn't anything to see out there, but it made for a good walk. With the lack of electricity and lights, it was amazing how well the moonlight lit up the entire trip.

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link
Sat, 20 Oct 2012

Kilimanjaro Day Seven, The Last Little Bit
20121020 Slept like a baby. The morning wake up and breakfast routine was not unusual, but a little sad in knowing that it was the last one. We will miss the amazing skills of our team to keep us comfortable.

After a three hour hike that became progressively easier, we got to the Mweka Gate, just over 2000m. There was one final view along the way of the mountain; it is notoriously hard to spot from the towns.

Here, it was time to say goodbye to our great team of 26. However, they had one last touch that was greatly appreciated: sparkling wine. Yes, it sounds corny, but it was a celebration, and it was more appreciated than one might imagine.

Then came the long drive back to Karama Lodge in Arusha. There, we enjoyed swimming, relaxation, and a warm shower. Time to unwind and change pace for the next leg of the journey.

Then came an email about our flight to Zanzibar tomorrow being moved up from 14:00 to 10:30... so much for sleeping in...

[/tanzania] | posted @ 23:55 | link

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