Rovos Rail Journey to Victoria Falls

Bec and I wanted to do something special to celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary so we decided a two week adventure in Southern Africa would fit the bill.  We flew to Johannesburg on Wednesday, July 31st, met our car transfer, and made the short drive north to South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. We would be spending one night at the Sheraton which had a great view of the Union Buildings, the official seat of South Africa’s government.

Pretoria Union Buildings

The next morning, we arrived at Rovos Rail Station.  I had heard about Rovos Rail from a colleague years back and decided this was the perfect occasion to travel on “The Most Luxurious Train in the World”.  We checked out the small rail museum and were given a tour of the bustling yard with rail car maintenance activities going on before sitting down to enjoy the welcome drinks and snacks.  Unfortunately, there was a problem with the rail line heading out of town so we were transferred by coach to Pyramid 20 km north where our train was waiting for us.  We were shown to our home for the next three nights, a wood-paneled sleeper Pullman suite named Walvis Bay.  It was furnished with a day time sofa-couch that converted into a double bed in the evening, with en-suite bathroom and shower.  After popping the bottle of Tradition brut, we were soon trundling northwards on the narrow-gauge railway with the final destination of Victoria Falls.

Lunch was served in the dining car of salmon, leek and ricotta tartlet while traversing the Magaliesberg Mountains.  The meals were fabulous and served on board the dining car and were always complemented by a selection of fine South African wines. We enjoyed the afternoon teas and the observation car at the back of the train was a great spot to relax or join other guests for cocktail hour.

That evening, the train stopped so we could enjoy our dinner stationary.  The train then continued on throughout the night into the early hours of the morning when we reached the Limpopo River, the natural border with Zimbabwe.  We would cross the border into Zimbabwe in the morning.

Arriving at Rovos Rail Station

Rebecca waiting to get our adventure started

Heading north from Pretoria

Relaxing in the Pullman suite

Tradition Brut

The train started rolling while we were enjoying breakfast and we spotted Nile crocodiles sunning themselves on the river rocks.  The train crossed at Beitbridge and we waited for the train staff to complete the border crossing formalities while a troop of baboons passed through the rail yard.  Our train continued north and we made a stop in the town of Gwanda that afternoon.  It was nice to stretch the legs and to meet some of the locals who had set up a handicrafts market nearby.  That night, the train stopped in Bulawayo around 11:00pm and we were glad it didn’t move again until the morning making for a better night’s rest.

Enjoying our time on the train

Local kids in Gwanda

Some Gwanda youngsters

On Saturday, the train covered the world’s longest stretch of straight rail – 114 km.  That afternoon, we entered Hwange National Park and stopped at Kennedy Siding where The Hide safari resort is located.  There, we jumped into the Land Cruisers and headed out on a safari drive.  We saw plenty of wildlife with the highlight being the lone male lion guarding a baby elephant kill.  There was a sunset cocktail reception waiting for us when we got back to the siding.  After enjoying the sundowners, we hopped back on the train to get ready for another wonderful dinner.  Rebecca and I enjoyed the formal dinners each evening with men wearing jackets and ties and the ladies in evening dresses.  No cell phones were allowed at meals or in any of the common areas (hence the lack of food pics).  That night, there was a cocktail party for the guests in the observation car following dinner.  We enjoyed a night cap to end our last evening on the train.

Entering Hwange National Park

Wildebeest in Hwange National Park

Giraffe

Zebras at dusk

Passing through the dining car after returning from the drive

Ready for the dining car

The next morning, the train got rolling from Thompson Junction during breakfast and the landscape began to change from the generally flat terrain that most of the journey had been.  We arrived in Victoria Falls around 10:00am and said goodbye to the train staff who had looked after us so well over the past three days.  We stored our luggage at the famous Victoria Falls Hotel and set off on foot to the Falls.  We entered the gates and were immediately impressed by The Devil’s Cataract.  What is Victoria Falls?  That’s a big question.  It is one of the world’s 7 natural wonders.  David Livingstone was the first European to have laid eyes on this wonder and I could spout a few facts, but those like me will need to click on the link to Wikipedia…the world’s font of information to get the full history and geography of the falls.  I will say that our drivers and guides referred to it as its known locally as Mosi Oa Tunya (the smoke that thunders).  It is truly a sight to behold and as Livingstone wrote, “…scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_Falls.  We were prepared to get soaked but the water levels were lower than normal for the time of the year due to a drought that was beginning to have severe effects on Zimbabwe.  We enjoyed the leisurely paced walk along the pathways leading to amazing lookout points.  In fact, we even re-traced our steps after turning around at Danger Point to take in the views one more time.

Bec and Dan at Victoria Falls

The Devil’s Cataract

Bec working that camera

Dan spotting Livingstone Island on the other side of the Falls

Main Falls

Bec and Dan at Danger Point

Back at the Hotel, we enjoyed a thirst quenching beer with a couple from our train before saying goodbye.  We were then transferred by car to the Zimbabwe border post over Cecil Rhodes’ brainchild, the Victoria Falls Bridge, where we would cross into Zambia and onto the next leg of our journey, a stay on the Zambezi River.

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10th Anniversary Celebrations

We had a great weekend planned to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. After work on Thursday, July 25th, Dan and I met at the newly opened Jumeirah Al Wathba Desert Resort. We toured the hotel and watched the falcon show. Then we popped the bottle of Cristal champagne we had bought for the special occasion and exchanged our gifts – this years theme being tin and aluminum. I got Dan a stir-tin with double teardrop stirrer and aluminum grade dash darts for his bitters bottles and Dan got me a lovely pewter wine bottle chiller from Italy. The next morning, we had breakfast, hit the pool, and then went for a hamman treatment in the spa. We wanted to stay longer, but we had an anniversary dinner party planned that evening so we had to hit the road back to Abu Dhabi.

Falcon show time

Dan and the resident falcon

Cristal champagne to celebrate

Morning pool time

We decided we wanted to share our 10th anniversary and wedding memories with a few of our friends in Abu Dhabi. So we got out the wedding video, photos, and recreated our wedding menu including the cocktail list, wine, and dinner menu. I got real creative and even made the name plates and destination seat names from our travel and wine themed wedding. The 9 guests arrived and we served them their choice of lime margarita or cosmopolitan with a bruschetta appetizer and did a silent slide show of wedding photos in the background. We watched a short 10 minute slide show video and then sat down for dinner of Greek salad and chicken Catarina with asparagus, dilled carrots and baby potatoes. We then forced our guests to watch the wedding video with some ad-lib commentary. Dessert was Tiramisu which Dan had made from scratch including the ladyfingers. It was a great night and our friends were really impressed by the re-creation. Happy 10th!

Waiting for the guests to arrive

Sitting down to eat

Elevator selfie

Happy 10th!

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Wedding in Serbia

Rebecca was lucky enough to be invited to her colleague’s wedding in Serbia and we knew we had to go.  After arriving back from Canada on June 29th, we were catching the red-eye to Belgrade the following weekend on Friday, July 5th and arrived around 5:30am.  We had to wait a little while for the car rental agency to open, but we were soon cruising in our Romanian built Dacia compact.  The wedding would be on Sunday in Serbia’s 3rd largest city, Niš, so we had 2 days to do some exploring.

We set out east of Belgrade and arrived at Smederevo Fortress about an hour later.  The Fortress was built on the banks of the Danube and was completed around 1430.  People were taking their morning walks and jogs inside the imposing walls.  From there, we drove to Viminacium, a Roman ruin.  We continued southwest to our 3rd stop of the day, Golubac Fortress.  Located on a strategic narrowing of the Danube, it has recently been renovated to return to some of its former glory.  After Golubac, we had a nice lunch of perch and catfish from the river at Restaurant Kafana Stil.  We then followed the scenic drive south along the Danube through Djerdap National Park.  Our 4th and final archeological stop of the day was Felix Romuliana, the ruins of an Imperial palace built by Emperor Galerius in 298 AD.  We then tried to find Jovic Winery, but, in hindsight, we found the farm and not the shop which was just 200 m away…oh well.  We were starting to feel the effects of the red-eye, so we thought it would be best to get to our hotel.  We drove through the picturesque town of Knjazevac and started the climb up to Stara Planina.  Stara Planina is a ski resort in the Balkan Mountains, but is also popular in the summer for hiking and escaping the heat of lower elevations.  The high mountains form a natural border with neighboring Bulgaria.  We grabbed a couple of beers and dined in the hotel that evening before heading off early to bed as it had been a very long day.

Dan at Smederevo Fortress

Golubac Fortress on the Danube River (Romania on the left bank)

Field after field of sunflowers on the way to Viminacium

Enjoying our perch and catfish

Bec at Felix Romuliana

Arrived after tasting hours

On Saturday, I awoke to quite a fright.  Bec wasn’t feeling well and headed off to the bathroom while I was fast asleep.  I awoke sometime later and realized she wasn’t in bed, so I hopped out of bed to check on her.  At the same time, the bathroom door opened and she was visibly quite upset.  Apparently, she had passed out in the bathroom due to pain and had fallen and hit her head.  She slowly removed her hands to show me her forehead and I cannot repeat what I said.  I rushed down to reception to get some ice for the whopping goose-egg.

Needless to say, we relaxed in the hotel for the morning to make sure the head injury was okay.  I did manage to convince her to go out for a short hike to the top of the resort at 1550m.  The rocks there are named Babin Zub or Baba’s Tooth for the way they jut out of the mountain top.  Back at the resort, we relaxed in the hotel’s sauna and pool area before lunch.  That afternoon, we made our way back down the windy road and started towards Niš.  We did make one stop along the way at Vinski Podrum Malca, a winery and restaurant, before finding the New City hotel right in the heart of town.  It seemed everyone was out enjoying the nice summer weather so we did the same wandering around and exploring the city.  That night, we dined at the traditional Mali Podrum restaurant.  After dinner, we wandered over to Tinkers Alley, a street lined with cafes and restaurants, and bumped into another colleague of Rebecca’s who was also there for the wedding.  Bec and I found a table near the street and watched the endless parade of people while sipping some local brews.

Hiking to the top of Babin Zub in the Balkan Mountains (that ridge is the border with Bulgaria)

Traditional Serbian meal at Mali Podrum

Bec people watching on Tinkers Alley

Sunday was the big day.  The wedding ceremony was at 12:00 so I had time to drag Rebecca to one last tourist site, Skull Tower.  It was a long, hot walk, but the tower itself is quite interesting as it originally contained 952 Serbian skulls belonging to rebels that had been put down by the Ottoman occupiers in 1809.  We opted to take the bus back to the hotel and got ready for the wedding which was at the nearby Orthodox Cathedral.  The ceremony was spoken in Serbian, but was interesting nonetheless as we had never attended an Orthodox ceremony before.  We had a little time before the reception so we returned to Tinkers Alley for a drink and a snack.  The reception started at 3:30 pm and the food service started soon after…and so did the dancing.  The live band would come on between courses and played a real variety of music from traditional Serbian, rock, pop, and more.  Later in the evening, a brass band made a short appearance.  It wasn’t too late of a night as we had to be on the road at 7:30am to get back to Belgrade airport.  Luckily Bec’s head injury didn’t show for the wedding festivities – however the next morning two black eyes started to appear.  Bec thinks the cause was pure exhaustion from all the archaeological sites I made her go to!

One last ruin for Bec to enjoy

A section of Skull Tower

Dan & Bec at the Cathedral in Nis

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70th Birthday Bash

When we were back in Canada in March earlier this year I asked my mom what she wanted to do for her upcoming milestone 70th birthday in June. We tossed a few ideas around but when I mentioned having a dance she perked up and hence the planning began. We hired a band, settled on a venue, found a caterer and bartender, and were soon sending out invitations for the party on Saturday, June 22nd.

The party was a huge success with 70 guests in attendance. The celebration started at 6:00pm with a Harvey Wallbanger welcome drink cocktail. Dinner was catered by Rocky Mountain BBQ and included both beef on a bun and pulled pork along with garlic roasted potatoes and fixings, coleslaw, and BBQ baked beans. The food was delicious. After dinner, the Jana and Danny band started playing and got the crowd on the dance floor. We cut the birthday cake that my mom’s friend Bieny had made around 10:00pm with everyone singing Happy Birthday. People started slowly trickling out after that but we had a few people make it to the last song at midnight. Everyone had a great time and my mom was happy to see so many family and friends.

Waiting for the guests to arrive

Jana & Danny band getting set up

Toonie Bar is stocked

The cake arrives

The crowd gets up to dance

Catching up with old friends

The Cousins made it!

Having a good time

Finally time to cut the cake

We were home for a total of 10 days this visit.  I made it downtown to Proof for cocktails with Jen and Steven, caught a movie with my Sis and stayed at her new condo, had an afternoon barbeque at my Dad’s, and visited with a few close friends. Dan was busy as well spending time out in Strathmore, Red Deer, Sherwood Park, Viking, and Calgary. It was a great visit home and we all were so happy to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday with her!

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Team AD on a Swiss Road Trip

Our friends Amanda and Laurie kindly invited Rebecca and I, along with Jenn and Spence, to join them on their vacation in Switzerland over the Eid al Fitr holiday.  We didn’t want to miss such a great chance to spend some time with our friends in a beautiful country. Laurie injured his knee the weekend before the trip and was in a wheelchair so we all waited with bated breath to see if the trip was still a go.  Laurie said he’d prefer to heal in the Swiss Alps as opposed to being cooped up in AD so off we went.

So, on Friday, May 31st, Bec, Amanda, Laurie, and I boarded the red-eye to Geneva.  Jenn and Spence would join the following day.  We picked up our 7 seater Citroen SpaceTourer van and headed out of the city.  We traveled north around Lake Geneva and arrived in the town of Vevey around 9:30am.  We strolled/rolled down the promenade and had a nice al fresco lunch.  Bec and I checked into the nearby Le Charlot Guest House (unfortunately the Grand Hotel du Lac was fully booked) and had a little quiet time in the afternoon before meeting Laurie and Amanda for a drink on their patio followed by a delicious dinner of fresh fish from the lake.

The Fork at Vevey

Al fresco lunch

Bec and Amanda at Grand Hotel du Lac

Bec and I walked into the nearby town in the morning and did a little shopping at the weekly market.  We found the freshest strawberries, carrots, figs and radishes as well as some saucisson, cheese, and bread.  We also tried something new to us and incredibly delicious called ramequin au fromage.  Jenn and Spence soon arrived by train and got settled in the hotel.  We were then off on a Lavaux wine tour driven by yours truly.  The stops included Domaine Bovy in Chexbres, Les 11 Terres in Epesses, and Croix Duplex in Grandvaux.  We were back in Vevey around 4:00pm and again had a little quiet time before our big dinner.  Laurie had booked us into Denis Martin, a Michelin starred restaurant.  We were given a demonstration in the kitchen by Denis Martin himself followed by the multi-course chef’s menu.  I lost track of them all, but every last one was delicious and the presentation was amazing.

Wine tour begins at Domaine Bovy

Overlooking the lake at Croix Duplex

Denis Martin dinner

On Sunday morning, Bec and I took the 9:07am train out to Lutry to walk “Les Terrasses de Lavaux” wine route.  The scenery was amazing with the steep cliffs and the Cistercian monk-built terraces being the highlight.  We walked all 11 km to Saint-Saphorin and decided to walk the additional 5km back to the hotel.  We just sat down at our local sandwich shop when we saw Jenn and Spence walk by.  It turned out that they were only a half hour behind us the whole time!  We had a bite and a well-deserved beer.  That night, the four of us had a picnic on the waterfront while Amanda and Laurie dined at the Ze Fork, but we all met up later for a nightcap.

Bec on Les Terrasses de Lavaux

Jenn and Spence on the Vevey waterfront

Bec and I explored a bit of the old town on Monday morning and met the team at the van around 11:00am.  We made a pit stop at Migros supermarket for a few supplies and then headed for a small town named Aigle.  There, we visited the Aigle Castle and had one last walk through the Chasselas grape vines.  We continued our journey and arrived in the village of Tasch around 2:00pm.  As no combustion-engine vehicles are allowed in Zermatt, we parked the van and took the train up the valley.  Our hotel had an electric buggy waiting for us at the station and we were soon checking into the Romantik Hotel Julen.  Laurie had made some big strides in his recovery and was now walking with a cane.  He was eager to get on the trail and found us a nice hike up to the village of Zmutt.  It was a constant gradient through the forest and then leveled off into sheep pasture with the Matterhorn always in view.  It was quite scenic and a great start to Zermatt.

On the way up to Zmutt with the Matterhorn standing tall

Valais Blacknose sheep

Enjoying the Swiss mountains

On Tuesday, we set out for Glacier Paradise, the highest cable car station in Europe.  Three separate lifts took us to the final elevation of 3883m.  We were lucky to have great visibility – we could see Mont Blanc and well into Italy.  We also checked out Glacier Palace, a tunnel bore through the glacier full of ice sculptures.  We then came to learn that Laurie had never heard of Gluhwein and quickly fixed that problem.  Back down in Furi, Rebecca and I decided to do a hike called the Gletsch Walk that points out a few interesting bits about the receding Gorner Glacier.  After the hike, we walked down to Zermatt instead of taking the gondola.  We took advantage of the sauna facilities before meeting up with the team for happy hour and dinner.

The fellas at 3883m

Jenn and Rebecca having a post-sauna spritz

The next morning, we were on the move again.  We took the train back down to Tasch, loaded up the van, made our way to Goppenstein, and drove the van onto the railcar.  We were tugged up the 14.6km Lötschberg Tunnel to the other side of the Bernese Alps, disembarked in the town of Kandersteg, and headed to Interlaken.  We had time to grab coffee and a snack before our Swiss chocolatier workshop at the Funky Chocolate Club.  We learned about and tasted different types of chocolate and then we re-constituted the chocolate, poured, and decorated it to make our own bars.  We had a margarita across the street while we waited for the chocolate to set and, with chocolate in hand, made the final drive up to Grindelwald.

Team at the Funky Chocolate Club

On Thursday morning, we awoke to a loud clamoring of cow bells around 6:00am as a herd was being driven through town up towards their highland summer pastures.  The weather wasn’t really cooperating and it was drizzling rain.  Up to that point it had been beautiful and unexpectedly warm.  The advice we received was to stay at lower elevation and head to the next valley over, Lauterbrunnen.  We parked in the village of the same name around 11:00am and continued up the valley on foot.  We soon passed Stubbauch Falls, Europe’s highest free-falling waterfall.  We continued on to Trummelbach Falls which is a series of 10 subterranean waterfalls.  Paths and tunnels have been built to allow visitors to wind their way through and up to the top of the falls.  There was an option for us to take the gondola up to Murren and along the ridge back to Lauterbrunnen, but we could see that it would all be above the clouds and decided to head back to Grindelwald.  We had an early dinner in the hotel that night and went for a long walk through town afterwards.

View of the Eiger from our room

Cows under Stubbauch Falls

Friday was Rebecca and I’s last full day in Switzerland and the weather was looking much better.  The team walked into town and took two gondolas up to First.  We were told there was still a lot of snow at this higher elevation given the time of the year and, unfortunately, all of the hiking trails I had been researching were closed.  The guys checked out the First Cliff Walk which is a metal walkway bolted to the cliffs including a suspension bridge.  The last feature is a viewing platform jutting out over the cliff’s edge.  We headed back down to Schreckfeld on the gondola.  From there, Jenn, Spence, and I hopped on some mountain carts and raced down the 3 km track to Bort.  Meeting Bec there, the 4 of us set out on a hike traversing the mountain.  Soon into it, we met up with Laurie and Amanda who had coincidentally chosen the same path.  So the 6 of us walked 7.4 km to Bussalp.  The team chose to hop on the bus as it was due to be arriving, but Bec and I wanted to walk down into town adding another 6 km to the day.  We were definitely ready for our daily sauna by the time we got back.  Everyone met for a happy hour and then walked into town to a traditional restaurant named Barry’s.  My schnitzel cordon bleu was absolutely delicious.

Spence and Jenn on the mountain carts

View from the Bort-Bussalp trail

Team AD with the SpaceTourer

Bec and I were up early and had set the van’s course for Geneva by 6:00am.  Jenn and Spence would be staying on another day and Laurie and Amanda had another week planned in Wengen and Zurich.  It was a fabulous trip with our dear friends from Abu Dhabi.  The mountain views, the hiking, the food, the chocolate, and, of course, the wonderful company all made it such a memorable trip.

 

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Ramadan Season 2019

The 2019 Ramadan season began on May 6th and lasted for 29 days. This means fasting for some, reduced working hours, iftar dinners after sunset, and all around it is a relatively quiet time in the city. We kept our fitness up by attending the last yoga outdoor session of the season, moved indoors after that to Bodytree studio, and attended a string of classes called Sweat. Socially, we attended the annual Oilman’s golf tournament and dinner party, a few iftar dinners with friends and colleagues, a bike ride and picnic iftar on the Corniche, and drinks at BU! on their closing night. We also managed to squeeze in a couple of visits to the beach and pool as the weather was still tolerable. We celebrated Dan’s 7 year work-iversary and, as per tradition, found a new steak joint called Nusr-Et.

Iftar picnic

Work-iversary drinks

Nusr-Et steak dinner

BU! closing night

Dinner with friends

Ramadan Kareem

I also managed to sneak in a weekend getaway to visit my friend Jami in Munich. She was travelling through Europe with Mark, their 1-year old daughter, and Mark’s dad and step-mom. I couldn’t commit initially but checked the flight loads on Wednesday evening and was flying from Dubai to Munich on the afternoon of Thursday, May 16th. Good thing Jami understands the last-minute airline travel! Dan drove me up to Dubai and spent the night checking out the La Mer area and then met up with his friends the next morning for another off-roading adventure. This time on 2 wheels instead of 4.

Dan launching the Husqvarna FC 450 in the Dubai desert

Jami picked me up from the airport and we drove out to Grunwald where they had rented an Airbnb. Not knowing what to expect, I brought Dan’s single air mattress in case I had to sleep on the floor, but luckily for me there was an extra bed in the living room. I met everyone for the first time, including Jami’s fiancé Mark (he had popped the question during their travels), and we relaxed over a glass of wine before hitting the hay.

The next morning, we walked into town to grab some breaky and then all hopped on the train into Munich city centre. We arrived just in time to catch the 11:00 glockenspiel show in Marienplatz and then went to Hofbrauhaus to catch a bite of lunch. After filling up on beer, bratwurst, and sauerkraut, we wandered through Viktualienmarkt which has been selling groceries since 1807. We picked up a few things for a home-cooked dinner back at the flat. We then headed back to Grunwald and stopped at the wine shop to pick up some local German wines for dinner. It was a beautiful day so we decided to pop a bottle champagne to celebrate Jami and Mark’s recent engagement on the back deck. That night, the girls were in the kitchen cooking up a lovely meal of pasta stuffed with the in season spargel (i.e. white asparagus) and weisswurst, a Bavarian specialty. The next morning, Jami and I grabbed a coffee and then she drove me over to the train station. It was a short trip but totally worth it to see a long-time friend.

Old Town Hall and Column of St Mary

Prost!

Lunch at Hofbrauhaus

Girls hanging in Grunwald

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Jack and Zack in Oman and the UAE

Late last year, my friend Zack mentioned an interest in visiting the Middle East with his son in the Spring.  After a little planning, Zack and his oldest son, Jack, were scheduled to spend 6 nights in Oman and the UAE.  Rebecca and I drove to Sohar, Oman straight after work on Thursday, April 18th.  We arrived at the Sohar Beach Hotel and enjoyed a pizza and some suds by the pool.  Later, we walked over to Silver Jubilee Public Park and were amazed by the number of people out enjoying the beautiful evening weather.

Bec and Dan in Sohar

Late night amusement park

The next day, we lazed by the pool and strolled down the black sand beach.  Checking out of the hotel, we tried to visit Sohar Fort, but it seemed to be closed.  It was still impressive from the outside.  We had lunch at the Sohar Fish Market before heading south down the coastal highway to Muscat.  We found the Hilton Garden Inn in the Al Khuwair district and then popped over to The Chedi for drinks and dinner before heading up to the airport to pick up the boys.

Sohar Fort

Lunch at the Fish Market

Sohar Fish Market

Bec on The Chedi lawns

We greeted Zack and Jack at the arrivals area of the newly opened Terminal 1.  They had traveled from Los Angeles through Abu Dhabi.  Once back at the hotel, we realized the duty free had somehow been left in the airport parkade!  So Bec and I quickly drove back up to the airport while Zack and Jack got freshened up.  With a little persistence and to our surprise, we located the stash and were soon back at the hotel.  In search of a 1:00am meal, we found the nearby Al Lail Al Hadi Café and settled into a big Arabic mixed grill. On Saturday, the four of us headed over to the Qurum Beach for a Turkish breakfast and a swim in the Gulf of Oman.  It was pretty hot so we went back to the hotel for a little rest and an afternoon swim in the pool before I drove Bec up to the airport for her flight back to Abu Dhabi.  From there on, it was a boy’s trip.

Late night lemon and mint

Bec, Jack, and Dan in Muscat

The three of us asked a local guy to tie our ghutrahs (head scarves) in Omani style and we set out for the Mutrah Souq.  Zack found some shirts for him and Jack and his other 2 boys.  We found a restaurant and tried Oman’s national dish, shuwa.  The sheep meat is marinated in a spicy date paste and roasted in a special oven, which is a pit dug in the ground.  The meat is flavored with a variety of spices, then wrapped in sacks made of dry leaves, which are in turn placed into the oven.

Guys ready to hit Mutrah Souq

We had a big day ahead of us on Sunday.  We were on the highway heading southwest with Starbuck’s in hand by 8:00am.  We arrived at Wadi Shab around 10:00am, parked, and got ready for our adventure.  We took the short boat ride across the water and started our 45 minute hike into the canyon.  It’s moderate terrain, but the heat was starting to get to us by the time we reached the pools.  The pools are crystal clear and jumping in is the best way to cool down after the hike.  Swimming and walking further up the wadi, the final reward is the cave into which you swim and see a waterfall crashing down.  We were out of the wadi around 1:00pm and backtracked to Muscat.  We then traveled inland through the towns of Nakhl and Al Awabi.  Turning south onto an offroad track, the Hajar Mountains present themselves in full.  We drove through Wadi Bani Awf and made the final push up the Eastern Mountain of Jebel Shams.  We arrived just before sunset and set up camp.  It was pretty windy, but the air was nice and cool.  We lit a fire and made ourselves a nice steak and boerewors dinner.

Boys in Wadi Shab

Jack in Wadi Shab

Jack and Zack in Wadi Shab

Swimming out of Wadi Shab

The next morning, we drove down the paved road to Al Hoota Cave.  It hadn’t quite opened so we stopped for a coffee nearby.  It was there that we spotted some camels and a curious youngster quickly made friends with Jack.  This friendly camel may have been the biggest hit of the adventure.  We had a guided tour of the cave and saw 500m of the 5km long cave.  We also spotted some bats, spiders, and the blind fish that live inside.  From there, we popped into Al Hamra for lunch at Reem Al Yamen restaurant and afterwards we drove to the nearby traditional “falaj” village of Misfat Al Abriyyin.  The village has old stone houses and uses the falaj irrigation system to make it a true mountain oasis.  From there, we headed up Jebel Shams proper and got to our camp site around 3:00pm.  We had some wild donkeys and goats visit our camp while we were getting set up.  We played some catch and had a few games of Uno before getting the fire going.  Again, at this elevation, the weather was nice and cool.

Zack, Gus, and Jack in Al Hamra

“Hey Gus, give me back my hat!”

Best friends

Jack and Zack at entrance to Al Hoota Cave

Wild donkeys on Jebel Shams

Pre-dinner Uno match

On Tuesday, we’d be heading back to Abu Dhabi.  We had a quick look at the Grand Canyon of the Middle East, Wadi An Nakhur, before making our way back down the mountain.  We stopped at the impressive Bahla Fort and Jack led us around surely leaving no stone unturned.  We continued home and crossed into the UAE at Jebel Hafeet.  We had trouble finding a Subway in Al Ain, a request of Jack’s, so Burger King had to do the trick.  We arrived at our place around 5:00pm and the guys got settled in.  We had a quick dip before dinner and got in a few more games of Uno before Bec served us adventurers a belated Easter dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes.

Jack and Dan with the trusty Jeep

Exploring Bahla Fort

I was back to work on Wednesday.  Zack and Jack toured Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and met me for lunch near my office.  In the afternoon, Zack and Jack spent some time at the Bounce Trampoline Park.  The three of us met Rebecca at the Umm al Emarat Park where we hit the playground and visited the petting zoo.  We opted for an Italian meal and walked over to the Intercontinental hotel that evening.

Zack and Jack at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

We were up early the next morning as the guys had an early flight to catch.  We said goodbye to Rebecca and hit the road.  I sadly dropped the guys around 6:30am and said our farewells.  I’ve had more than a few worldwide adventures with my friend Zack, but it was a real honour to lead him and his already gentlemen of a son around our neck of the woods.

I’m sure Jack had a few stories to tell his classmates.

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