Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Happy New Year!

To all our readers on the occasion of the Holy Prophet's Hijra Anniversary and the new Hijri year 1431 A.H. we wish you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
For those of use in Oman and the middle east in general, make the most of the three day weekend and, for those of you back home I guess you'll have to wait a little longer for your holidays to arrive!
As it is Jacob's birthday on Saturday we will be celebrating the new year with a party, seven years old already, can you adam and eve it????

Friday, December 04, 2009

The Holiday's Are Coming

Well actually - technically they have just finished - but what I mean is the Christmas holidays are coming !!!

We have just had the most wonderful week off. We have been cycling, swimming, playing football and generally being outside as much as we possibly can. The weather is just beautiful. A bit cloudy, a bit sunny, cool in the morning, warm in the afternoon and just lovely in the evening. The boys have had a fabulous time and frankly I'd be happy if we had another week off. Sadly it is back to school tomorrow and I know life is going to be mad between now and Christmas. We've got lots of Christmas stuff to do as well as Jacob's Birthday, so busy, busy, busy. We are planning on going camping for New Year so that will be a lovely break.

I have an early picture of the boys Christmas present - it is a surprise so shhhhhhh don't tell them.

They are going to go mad when they find out what they are getting - Jacob has been nagging me for a dog for three years now ! We decided that the time had come to let him have one. So little Biscuit will be joining our family on Christmas morning. I can't wait to see their faces when they realise we are getting a puppy, it's going to be a kodak moment for sure !

So preparations for Christmas are afoot - we have spent the last couple of afternoons' decorating the house. We have put up two Christmas trees, lots of Christmassy ornaments and candles, baubles and parephanalia - but somehow it just doesn't seem Christmassy to me. I just think if you have grown up in the UK where Christmas is supposed to be on the chilly side - a warm Christmas just doesn't feel like Christmas no matter how hard you try. Add to that the fact that there is virtually zero Christmas decoration here and well as you can imagine it's difficult to get in the Christmas spirit. Still every year we try and we do a pretty good job I think - it just means that you have to go to virtually every Christmas event going - tiring, but worth it !

So here is a piccie of the boys getting in the Christmas mood after we had decorated the tree yesterday afternoon.

Well it's upstairs for the boys for a nice bath before bed and then school in the morning. Night night x

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Busy Day

So today was the last day of school before the lovely Eid holidays. I can tell you - we all need this holiday really badly - life has been so busy recently and it's going to get worse as we head into the run up to Christmas I know so a week to take some time to relax all together is going to be wonderful. We are planning to do very little, other than go to the beach, go cycling, play in our new and lovely garden and generally just have a bit of time for chilling - I can't wait. I told Jacob he looked knackered today and he said "I am so tired" now this is so unusual for him, usually he would say "no, I'm not tired at all, can I stay up late tonight ?" even if he had bags down to his knees so for him to admit defeat is serious ! Oscar - well he is a duracell bunny and will just keep going no matter what. James and I are certainly worn out James hasn't made it past 9 o'clock the last two nights before giving in and going to bed and I'm not much better.

Anyway, today being the last day before the holiday, school decided to make sure that it was action packed for us !! So this morning I went to the beach in the company of sixy odd six and seven year olds for plenty of sandcastle builing. I have to say they had a fabulous time, many many sandcastles were built and much fun was had - they really really enjoyed it and surprisingly, so did I !!! So here is Jacob on the beach building his sandcastles.

After this it was a quick dash from Qurum beach back to Azaiba to collect Oscar from nursery, take him home have a quick lunch and then back to school for an exhibition that Grade 1 were putting on to show the houses that they had all built for their Dream House project. They were amazing. All of them, I can't believe that children of their age produced such fabulous stuff, the thought that had gone it to it all was awesome. Jacob had made a crab house with search light antenae - the idea being that you can search out intruders with your lights and then pick them up and throw them in the bin with you very long pincers !!! do you think he's a bit security concious ?!!! It was great fun anyway and they were all so proud of themselves. Here is Jacob with his finished creation !

So happy holidays to those that have them and see you soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

National Day, YAAAY!

Congratulations to his Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said and the people of Oman on the occassion of the 39th National Day, and thank you for having us here another year!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Teething Troubles

Well what a busy time October has been, now I have a chance to say thank you to everyone that helped us out in the month!

It all began with our friend Jo’s arrival in town in order to help us celebrate our 40ths.
Jo is a regular reader of the blog (So she says), but is far too busy or important ;o) to comment. Shame on you Jo, go to the back of the class!

Jo joined Becky and me on the hunt for a new house and was there when we finally found it. She was also present when I lost it with an agent due to that company’s complete incompetency and personal attitude, in Jo’s words ‘I have never seen James so angry’ I can’t say I have either!
Putting that aside, I would like to say the first big ‘THANK YOU’ to Nicole at Cluttons for listening to us, understanding our requirements and most importantly, remembering us at the crucial moment, a job well done, brilliant.

And with all of that my Parents arrived just in time for the ‘Partay’.
We had arranged for Andy Pyzer of Hi FM repute to DJ for us and the guys at the Dolphin Village to provide the venue and the food. There were the usual moments beforehand, ‘If a tree falls down in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?’, in our case it was, ‘If you hold a party and invite lots of people, will anyone come?’.
Whilst I’m on a philosophical mind set, did anyone see that someone is actually planning on conducting the Schrödinger’s cat experiment?? COOL!!
Fortunately for us a lot of people did turn up (Or I would have been eating left-overs for a month), and we spent the night talking, eating and dancing.
Andy did a great job with the music considering the immense pressure he had been placed under, Becky had warned him of dire consequences if he were to play music of a certain era or anything else not of her liking.
The guys in the kitchen served up some absoloutly delicious food, plenty of curry, so I was happy (Should have had a doggy bag at the end of it), and the guys in the club kept the drinks flowing. So a big ‘Thank You’ goes out to Andy and the guys of the Dolphin Village for making the party such a great success!
Oh, and a last ‘thank you’ for the party has to go to the lovely lady who got up and danced with me at the end of the evening, I have no idea who you are, but I do hope you enjoyed yourself, photos anyone?

The following week my parents took off down to Salalah for a couple of days. Reports came back that they had a lovely time with a couple of trips out to see the tail end of the Khareef and walks along deserted beaches. The Crown Plaza was completely deserted!
For those of you that don’t know, the Khareef is the wet season in the South of Oman, when everything is lush and green. I must say that one of my favorite photos is on the header of Dhofari Gucci’s blog.
I suppose most people think of the Middle East as one big sand box, but Oman is nothing like that, it is just so diverse and I really love that about it (More on this in another post me thinks). It is also very small in some ways, one of these experienced whilst out shopping on my parents return from their trip. We happened to be in a certain shop frequented solely by expats when we bumped into our friend Bernie, at which my mother instantly remembered having bumped into her on the deserted beach in Salalah. Small world, and even smaller when we pointed out that they had previously sat beside each other (and subsequently both forgotten) a year ago at a friend's party in Al Azaiber! I am glad to see that I am not the only one who has trouble remembering people names and faces.

So back in Muscat my father was starting to get itchy fingers, not one to sit around idly, a job was in order. We had a new house to prepare before we moved, and the garden had a dead and very prickly hedge that had to come out.
We set to work with shovels and forks and, after much sweat and a little blood, we had removed a quarter of it.
The following day, already feeling the effects of our previous day’s exploits there was little enthusiasm for more of the same and so we struck upon the idea of employing the jeep to do the hard work. It was still hard work, but oh so much more rewarding!

The benefits of this impromptu makeover was a far larger garden and additional street parking at the front of the house. So with just a few roots left to get rid of, we are planning to grass the dirt areas and have a real garden for the first time since leaving England.
By the end of the weekend, what with all the jobs inside the house as well, my parents were exhausted. A day of rest around the pool at the Dolphin village was called for before their inevitable flight back to Blighty.
A big ‘Thank You’ to my mum and dad for all your hard work and we really loved having you over, you’ll need to come back next year to reap the rewards of your labours.

A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, (Boom Boom)when I received a call from Al Hamry Post Office……

PO – “Are you James Michelle Smith, Old Company Name, PO Box XXX, PC XXX?
Me – “Actually it’s Michael, and I changed companies and PO Box over a year ago”
PO – “??????”

Realizing I had just inadvertently confused the issue, I quickly backtracked…..

Me – “Yes”
PO – “We have package from Hong Kong. We are closed, come next week”

Now this had my brain racing, I had changed jobs and addresses quite some time back and some time prior to that a parcel from Hong Kong had indeed gone missing.
At the time I had been fortunate in being able to ask the help of the Post Master General of Oman Post and, with the help of his staff they had tracked the package back to a forwarding warehouse in Singapore.
It was in Singapore that it went astray, I was assured that it had not been stolen, simply mislaid (Probably picked up with other parcels and shipped to America or other unknown destination) and some time in the future it would show up.
I can’t say I shared this optimism and I guess I wrote off any chance of seeing my parcel delivered.
Imagine my surprise when I got to the post office in Ruwi to find it really was my long lost package, arriving in Oman a full two years and two months after it was sent!
The guys at the post office couldn’t believe it and I had to show them the post mark to back up my story. This elicited much laughter and comments that it must have tralled via donkey mail.
I would like to point out to everyone that in general, if you have lost something in the post, it is more than likely that it is NOT Oman Post’s fault, but more likely that of the people in between. As Oman is not a major postal hub parcels and letters are often dropped off at forwarding points around the globe waiting for enough post to justify a full flight to Oman.
One very sound piece of advice is to have your telephone number written below your postal address and then you too may get an unexpected telephone call from a post office somewhere in Oman.

A milestone in our family history was reached shortly before we moved house.

Jacob lost his first tooth!!! This issue had been bothering him for some time as everyone in his class at school, other than him, had already lost at least one. His other concern was whether the tooth fairy would get lost as we were just about to move.
Fortunately the lady came through and Jacob woke the next day to find ten, crisp one hundred baisa notes nestled under his pillow, Phew!!!

So the day of the move was upon us and at nine am, six men and a truck arrived to shift all our worldly possessions to six streets away. My best laid plans flew out the window as I struggled to keep up and just when it looked like it would all go horribly wrong, our friends turned up to lend a hand.
In the space of a day we had dismantled all our furniture, packaged our belongings, ran it around the corner, reassembled and mostly unpacked it all. No mean feat, but we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s help.
So a big ‘Thank You’ goes out to Gael and Andrew, Olivia and Chris and especially Martin and Andrea who kept us going ‘till the bitter end and even went and collected the ‘thank you’ dinner I had promised them!

Becky and I spent the next two days putting the house in order and discovering all the little problems associated with a ‘new’ old house. Our new landlord ‘Saif’ showed his colours early on by brining guys around to fix the problems as soon as we had identified them, even mucking in and fitting manhole covers himself!
Oscar gave us one small hiccup, when he surreptitiously turned off a hither to unknown valve, thereby cutting off our water.
Becky called the water company out, “Sorry, not our problem mate!”, so she organised a water tanker which pumped water up to the tanks on the roof, still nothing. And so I left work early to attempt to solve the problem.
After much head scratching, (deap in thought that is, not head lice) I found the valve and switched the water back on.
I also, thanks to Oscar’s shenanigans, discovered a blocked pipe that had prevented us from making use of the tankered water, Well done Oscar!

Finally, I would like to say that Jo had a lovely time with us, but as she never comments, I couldn’t really say! ;o)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bearing it all

This week I’ve gone topless.
It’s so liberating running around Muscat with no top on. The weather is beautiful, the temperature just right, the sun is shining and not a cloud is to be seen in the sky. Occasionally you get the odd look from people in the street, but it is worth it.
The only down side are the midges first thing in the morning.
Hopefully I won’t have to put my top back on until April next year (unless it rains of course)!

This is the perfect time for a soft top on your car……….Huh? what did you think I was talking about??????

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hot pursuit

Just a short one today.
Driving in the vicinity of The Wave this morning on my way to work, I spotted Muscat’s finest in a brand new blue and white Dodge Charger!

Quite a change from the boring old fords; were the police lying in wait to pounce upon some wide boy avoiding the traffice jams by using the hard shoulder as his own personal lane? or simply waiting for Dunkin’ Donuts to open up in the Al Bahja complex?? We may never know….

But if the Royal Oman Police are considering changing their fleet of vehicles, maybe they should wait for Ford’s purpose built police car (Codenamed E7) to be launched.

A little note to Sythe, sorry we didn’t manage to continue with our conversation last night, you went to answer the door and I went to bed, those are the results of incompatible time zones I guess. Still I’d be interested to hear who thinks I’ve left Oman. We will be offline for a short while soon, as we are moving house this weekend and I have yet to deal with Omantel, but don't worry, we haven't left town.

Oh, and if you happen to be looking for Dunkin Donuts in Markus Al Bahja, I'm not sure there is one yet, I was only trying to 'enforce' an old stereotype, so don't shoot me ;-)

Monday, October 19, 2009


There's a story in our family about the exploits of my Great Aunt Helen (My Grandfather's Sister in Law) and as my parents have been visiting for the last two weeks it came up in conversation one night.

The story was this: Helen and Bill were flying out of Sydney Australia by flying boat, when one of the planes floats fell off. The captain, wanting to avoid a disaster asked for volunteers to climb out inside the opposite wing in order to counter balance the aircraft. The first people out into the wing were the co-pilot, Helen and Bill at which point an argument ensued. It would appear that volunteers were expected to be men only and Helen was politely asked to return to the cabin with the other ladies, Helen refused in her own particular way and stayed put much to the consternation of the flight crew.
Well they made it back safely, went on their trip to Hobart and, upon their return to Sydney, Helen to her great embarrasement, was met with a ceremony where the Captain of the stricken flying boat presented her with the aircraft's log book.

Given that this was all we knew, which in itself may have been embellished over time and countless tellings, I decided to do a quick search on google and typed in "helen smith flying boat sydney".
You can imagine our surprise when at the top of the results was this article from the Melborne news paper "The Age" dated March 8th 1955.

The internet is a wonderous invention and hats off to the guys and girls at Google for allowing us all to make the most of it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Here Be Dragons

So it has been a pretty quiet Ramadan for the family this year. Once Becky and the boy’s had returned from Bali, the focus was on finding a new house and general day to day chores before the arrival of Eid.
Ramadan is a tricky time to get anything done, the Omani’s fast from sun up to sun down and as a result have very little energy, even though everyone works reduced hours! One unusual result of one month worth of fasting is that a lot of people put on weight.
Mostly this is attributed to eating a lot of sweets, carbohydrates etc., binge eating and completely screwed up body-clocks.
So if we have any Omani readers, who have put on a few pounds over the holy month, have a look at the following link to see how not to put on the weight next year….maybe!

After almost four (mostly happy) years in the same house, we have decided to move, predominately due to two small boys and a distinct lack of outside space. As the boys have grown it has become obvious that they need to be playing outside far more. However, with a garden table and chairs, trampoline, paddling pool and climbing frame there is not enough room to swing a cat (and I have tried on a couple of occasions).
So we, ahem! Becky mainly, have been scouring Muscat for a house with a garden (or paved area) of a not too significant size for the right price. This is no easy task, as the general rule of construction is to fill your plot of land to the brim, leaving only just enough room to park your car on it’s side!

Given the Ramadan go slow issues, it has been a somewhat frustrating experience. As we have had to give three months notice to the current landlord, we have had to place ourselves in the unenviable position of being potentially homeless….eeek!
Fingers crossed that we can find ourselves a good home and just as importantly a good landlord in the time allotted. And a big ‘Shukran’ (Thank You) to Ali and Zuanna for being such good landlords.

Speaking of troubles during Ramadan, I had to re-register Becky’s car with the Royal Oman Police (ROP) which is a bit like paying road tax in the UK only cheaper. In years gone by, this has been a trial at the best of times, let alone throwing Ramadan into the mix. Now that I work in Al Khoud, it was easier for me to go to the new ROP offices at Seeb, opposite the airport, than brave the traditional bun fight at death valley road.
Wow!!!! What a pleasant experience, the police officers were efficient, informative an good humored, and not a hint of a bundle or queue jump to be seen. I was in and out within twenty minutes, a personal best and if I am not mistaken a new world record!!! The only downside was having to pay Becky’s two speeding tickets.

Their website is quite useful for keeping track of your tickets, especially when you want to point out where and when the offence was committed.....possibly leading to questions from your spouse such as "Just what were you doing at 3am in Ruwi???"

So what is going on with the schools and swine flu? Jacob went back to the ABA at the end of August, but Oscar’s nursery only managed to open for a week before being ordered to shut by the government. They will be lucky to open in November and it is rumoured that some schools may stay shut until the new year!!!
Not trying to criticise, but what is better, send children into a learning environment where continued monitoring of their health is easily achieved, or giving them an extended holiday so that they can mix with everyone and their dog at shopping malls, cinemas, playgrounds etc. or even better, go back abroad, with absolutely no way of controlling the situation?
Whilst the ABA have reported a few cases, one of them in Jacob’s class, the situations has been contained and the school has kept all the parents informed. Unfortunately, Oscar has been bored out of his mind and cannot understand why he can’t go to school each morning like his big brother. And then you have the schools and nursery’s who are not able to operate, therefore not charge fees, and as a result not pay their staff! Not such a fun holiday after all, is it?

It has been during this time that Oscar has become fixated with planes, along with cars, motorbikes and anything else mechanical. He recently drove Becky mad, asking to see clips of airplanes on the computer, after I showed her a video of the big Russian transport planes that have been taking off out of Muscat recently. That and requests for trips out to Seeb airport to watch passenger jets taking off, he knows what he likes that boy.
On trips in the car, we will have running commentaries of “look, mummy car!” and “mummy, car!” for long periods as well as the occasional “Digger, Wow!”. Given the quantity of cars and diggers in Muscat, this can get rather old hat very quickly.

Since the weather has cooled Jacob has got out his bicycle, and Oscar has been desperately trying to pick it up and ride off into the sunset. As a result we have had to get him a bike of his own and now he only has to work out how to pedal. Being responsible parents, the use of a cycle helmet has been well and truly instilled into his subconscious and he will not go near the bike unless it is properly buckled up.

The ‘boys’ went out for our first cycling trip the other weekend in order to test the weather. Oscar was none too pleased at having to be a passenger on daddy’s bike, rather than ride his own, but we could have been out all weekend if we had let him have his way.
Jacob had a slight spill, no damage done other than his pride and was soon away again without a backwards glance. The outing showed how much he had grown, as his knees are up around his ears whilst pedaling. Note to self, must raise his saddle, I’ll have to do it on the quiet or he might have a melt down akin to the time that I adjusted his stabilizers!

Another first for Oscar was a trip to the cinema at Shatti, we kept quiet that he was below the minimum age of three and bought tickets to see ‘Slightly Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs’, which was a great laugh for children and adults alike.
Oscar was totally engrossed ensconced in his seat with a beaker of apple juice and quietly munching his way though a packet of M&M’s. I had control of the popcorn, and it was quiet amusing to watch him raise his head with mouth open and eyes firmly fixed on the movie, all the while emitting a low ‘ahhh’ indicating another mouthful of popcorn was required. Occasionally, I would delay acquiescing to his ‘requests’ purely to see the indignant look he would give me as a result of having to take his eyes off the movie….priceless!

So with the arrival of Eid the government and therefore the company, gave me four days off and some serious family time.
Normally, Muscat is mobbed by visitors from the other Gulf States, mainly Abu Dhabi and Dubai, but this year it was noticeably quiet, presumably as a result of press reports that Muscat was a hot bed of swine flu cases.
We had several trips to the pool, a trip to the cinema and a day diving for me.
I went off with our friend Andrew for a dive on the wreck just south of Bandar Koran, and for me it was special as I reached my 100th logged dive. It has taken long enough, but there you go, I finally made it, next job is to finish my dive leader training.
We descended down to the deck of the ship and switching on our torches, I led Andrew into the inky blackness of the ship’s hold. I love it, the only way you know that you are actually moving is to shine your torch on the side of the hull. A little over half way, depending on visibility and you can see the faint glow of the exit ahead. Even though he had done it before, in his own words Andrew was ‘freaked out’ by the experience, a better torch is definitely on his Christmas list.

As ever, I played around with the camera trying different setting etc and I especially enjoyed being circled by an inquisitive young turtle on the second dive.

Our last day’s holiday was spent driving up Jebel Shams to the highest point of Oman.
Given that we have lived here for four years, it is a pretty poor show to admit that this was the first time we have gone to this ‘must see’ part of Oman. I believe that the canyon is the second largest in the world (Not sure what it is second to, as the Grand Canyon in the US is not technically a canyon, whereas King’s Canyon in Australia is).
It is a three hour drive from Muscat to the top, with some suitable spectacular sights on the way.

Whilst I agree that the road was steep in places, I would question whether the incline on sign was a little exaggerated!
To keep Oscar occupied and engrossed in the journey we told him (and continually reminded him) that we were heading to Dragon Mountain (Dora the Explorer), which he really enjoyed. Looking down into the canyon he would animatedly point out the location of the dragon's cave! Far down below us we could see a group of hikers making their way up the side of the canyon on foot, rather them than me, and I offer you the chance to play ‘Where’s Wally’ in the photo below.

A short lunch near the village at the top, a chat with the locals and a small attempt at helping them with their cottage industry and then it was time to head home. A really good way to finish off the hols, must try harder to explore the rest of Oman.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Congratulations You've Won????

PO Box 702101, Dubai Media City - United Arab Emirates


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The odd thing is that the DIFC actually exists, maybe I should email them? I can't think that they'll be too happy have their name taken in vain.
You have to wonder who on earth believes these scams, I feel sorry for those people desperate enough to give it a try. I guess we all have seen these lottery scams before, normally sent to friends and family from some trustworth Nigerian politician/businessman(NOT). However, this is the first time I have seen a middle east focus, although invoking the name of Islam cannot be good for business.

I'll think we will pass on this one, how about you?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Life Apart

So returning back to the heat and humidity of Muscat was a predictable shock, roll on winter.
I had two weeks of normalcy before Ramadan arrived and just under three weeks before the family returned.
Going back to work was not a struggle as the three weeks in Bali had had a definite revitalizing effect on me and, although I had intended to sort out all the little odd jobs around the house, my jet lag was murder. It seemed ages before I stopped waking up at stupid o’clock and wanting to go to bed before it was dark. Predictably the evenings were a complete washout, so I was determined to be active at the weekend.
My first opportunity came thanks to a diving buddy at work, at trip to the Daymaniyats in the hope of seeing a whale shark that had been hanging around. Unfortunately, on the day the weather took a turn for the worse and we were forced to take a rather pedestrian alternative in the opposite direction. Oh well, at least I got to play with my new underwater camera.

A big Thank You to those family members who contributed to my 40th Birthday present, making the purchase of this camera possible. I think you’ll agree that the difference in quality is amazing.
So fired up after a day of diving, I decided to spend the second day of my weekend tidying up and doing odd jobs around the house. An early start meant beating the heat and I had all the outside jobs finished before 9am. I then retreated inside and thought it best to give my workshop a tidy up. I had put all the tools away, swept up and organised every thing on the workbench before tackling an adjustment bolt on the pillar drill. Well, the bolt was tight and when it came loose, my arm came around in a perfect arc at which point I punched the side of the drill housing. Ouch!
I had neatly split my right index finger from knuckle to knuckle down to the bone, which meant a swift trip to Muscat Private Hospital.
The medical staff, spurred from their boredom by the sight of blood, rushed into action and, shortly afterwards I had the unforgettable experience of having a syringe full of iodine injected directly into the cut (without warning). A few choice words later and the doctor arrived and promptly anesthetised the wound (before the iodine might have been better!). Fortunately, I hadn’t damaged the tendons, but I could see that for myself, so six stitches later I was heading home with the instruction that I was to keep the finger dry for at least a week. No more diving for me then, grrrrrrrr #$@*&#$!!!

I am showing the photo again in the vain hope of a little sympathy from more people than just my wife!!!!!!!!!!
Becky, on the other hand (excuse the pun), was feeling the strain of being a single parent in Bali. Being woken each morning at six am by a demanding two year old was taking its toll and, then some thoughtful neighbour decided to open up a night club (8pm – 4am) next door and play REALLY LOUD MUSIC all night.
After three consecutive nights of little or no sleep, it was decided that enough was enough. A new home for the final week had been sourced via a friend of a friend, which turned out to be a little slice of heaven.
The villas had only just been completed and were not officially ready for business, so the stay was to be a ‘shake down cruise’ for the staff.

When you are getting it for a fraction of the official cost, the odd teething trouble is nothing to write home about.
It would appear to be fortunate happenstance that the new villa came with LCD TV’s, satellite and DVD players as, ‘Shock/Horror’ our new MacBook DVD drive (for the new laptops) had mysteriously stopped working trapping a disc inside!!!
Jump forward in time a week and a half, the boys are in bed, asleep and Becky and I relaxing on the sofa at home. I picked up the ‘busted’ drive and plugged it in to my laptop, a couple of ‘whirrs’ then nothing. I scratched my head and tried a couple of ideas, still nothing, the stuck disc would not eject or play. Thinking outside the box and off the wall, I picked up a spare dvd and slid it into the players slot. Imagine my surprise when the player not only picked up the disc but began playing it too!
So the reason that Becky couldn’t play or eject the disc in Bali, was because there wasn’t one in the machine to begin with. Is there something about turning forty that makes technology become automatically incomprehensible???

So the family has now returned home, happy and as brown as berries and a really big surprise is Oscar’s swimming. Only two years and two months old and he is swimming without arm bands. He has also very definite opinions as to what is and, what is not acceptable for him and boy can he pout and scowl!!!!

And since everything (well almost everything) is closed for Ramadan, swimming is our major weekend past time, so Oscar will get in a lot of practice in the coming weeks!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bali Baby, Yeah!

So how was the holiday? Well I would have to say, pretty darn good and I certainly didn’t miss the good old Omani summer heat.

We flew out from Muscat in the evening with Etihad, first to Abu Dhabi and then on to Jakarta overnight.
There is an awful lot of good things to say about traveling business (Pearl) class with children, the first being a lounge with free G&T’s. For the short hop north it was your common garden variety big seat, plenty of space, personal service with a smile and your down before you noticed you were up.

It was when we reached Abu Dhabi that the comfort really kicked in, a plush lounge, all the food and drink you desire, spa centre and even, a supervised children’s play room! not that Jacob and Oscar stayed in it for very long.
But it was the next bit that I enjoyed the most…….BEDS!!!
Your own little cubby hole including miniature cinema screen, big soft blanket and pillow, fancy wash-bag and as many nightcaps as one may need, it’s oh so nice to be pampered.

On arrival in Jakarta, it seemed that nothing had changed since we lived there thirteen years ago, was it really that long ago?? The were nostalgic reminiscings as we looked out towards the lush green fields and forests. After a short stop over and a connecting flight, we finally arrived in Denpasar, Bali and a twenty minute taxi ride deposited us all at our little garden villa.

Villa Prana is a set of three villas dotted around a beautiful and well established garden with a communal swimming pool. Capable of housing five families, we and our friends now occupied 3/5ths for the next six weeks. Each villa is basic, with either one or two bedrooms, ensuite semi open air bathrooms (very nice), and an outside dining/lounge area and kitchen.

We began our stay will some serious chillin’ , a trip to the beach, splash in the pool eat, drink and be merry.

For my paltry three week stay, I had a pass for three days diving (courtesy of she who must be obeyed), so with the end of my first week looming, Chris and myself took ourselves off to the East coast of the island for a dive on the USS Liberty. Our other dive buddy, Andrew, proved to be a non runner due to a very icky ear infection.

The lovely Marie from Atlantis Diving sorted us out, with a pick up from the villa, kitted out and transported two and a half hours to Tulamben.
We had a short walk along the shoreline, our air cylinders carried on the heads of some local ladies whose business is carrying kit for lazy divers, before kitting up, walking into the sea and descending on the wreck.

The Liberty was hit by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine during WWII, laden with rubber and rail parts the shipped was fortunately dragged to shallow waters where the cargo was salvaged. This is one of the most popular dive sites in Bali and whilst there is an abundance of wildlife to see, there is also an awful lot of divers and as the wreck is relatively shallow, there are also a lot of newly qualified divers. If you want a quiet dive then I would suggest staying at one of the motels that back on to the wreck and then get up early before the crowds arrive on their day trips. All said, it is a really lovely dive and well worth the journey.
Now that the older boys had had their fun, it was time for the wee nippers to get theirs, unfortunately Becky was feeling ill and a little grumpy, so I took the boys off to Waterbom with the others for some serious play time. I think the success of the afternoon may be easily measured at bed time.

Suffice to say that the boys went out like a light and slept in late the next day.

But what about the ladies I hear you say, when do they get to do their things? The minute we landed, I reply (just a slight exaggeration), Becky, Gayle and Olivia have been out on numerous shopping trips, as well as the odd trip to the local Spa, so everyone has been catered for.

But Bali isn’t just about shopping and having fun, there’s culture too. We organized a couple of minivans to take us on a little tour, with the first stop being the Temple at Tanalot, supposedly a must see, I didn’t really get it (Temple on a rock in the sea that you can’t visit, hmmmm), but hey, been there done it, got the T shirt.

Next stop was the Elephant Safari Park, where I was mildly alarmed by the entrance fee (swiftly admonished by Becky, rightly so). The park has been running since 2000 as a sanctuary and has visitors from Tony Blair to Brad Pitt, can’t say I saw any celebs but the management probably forgot to mention that I was coming.

With very little prompting both Jacob and Oscar were eagerly feeding and petting the elephants, we had to keep a beady eye on Oscar as he wanted to get in amongst them.

After a spot of lunch the opportunity to ride the elephants arrived, and whilst some people may not like it ‘morally’, we wanted the boys to experience this as possibly a once in a life time event. At first Jacob made up all the excuses he could imagine not to get on, but we would not be swayed. A little odd really, he did get on, as did Oscar, they enjoyed every minute of it (I think Oscar would have stayed on all day), and the whole time we swayed back and forth (Boom Boom!). This time we really did get the T shirts!

After leaving the park, we traveled through the town of Ubud in search of the reptile and bird park. It was late in the afternoon and everyone was tired, so it was thought a quick run around to see the Komodo dragon would be enough.

How wrong we were, it proved to be just what we needed to reinvigorate ourselves, as you can see Becky became quite attached to a monitor lizard, Jacob a blue tongue skink and Oscar was particularly fond of a tortoise. The bird park was enthusiastically explored by all the boys and everyone left with a smile on their face despite the fact that the komodo dragons had all been asleep.

And the days rolled on with yet more time lazing by the pool, on the beach or having a bit of retail therapy. Ubud appears to be the cultural hub of Bali so it was inevitable that we would return. Our next big trip was to see the monkeys and temples at Desa Pekraman Padangtegal.

We bought bananas from the sellers just outside and warily followed the path into the jungle. The place had a real Indiana Jones feel to it, a great atmosphere and lots and lots of monkeys.

They can get pretty rambunctious if you tease them or look them in the eye, so best not to and just give them what they want.

The temples or shrines were small but spectacular, a real sense of a bygone era , I don’t think that the boys noticed the statues of daemons eating small children otherwise we would have had a few disturbed nights.

We stopped for lunch at a lovely restaurant with delicioso (Oscar is a confirmed Dora Fan) food that backed on to vibrant paddy fields called the Three Monkeys, before heading into Ubud to wander amoungst the arts and crafts shops. The town is well worth a look see, but very, very touristy.

So it was time to say goodbye to Chris, Olivia and family, who were off to explore Lombok and say hello to a couple of Australian families who were taking their place.

Jacob, Becky, Hamish and Gayle returned to Ubud one evening for a little more culture in the form of Ketchak dancing. The boys were entranced by it all and came back bursting to tell me about what they had seen. Jacob had been let loose with the camera which allowed him to get really expressive with his descriptions of
Given that he is only six, sorry six and a half, he took some pretty impressive photos, maybe a future career path in the offing?

As the end of my holiday was rapidly approaching another trip to the beach was in order, neither Becky or I are particularly fond of the sand, somewhat ironic given where we live, but that was no excuse to stay away.

The boys were enjoying themselves (Oscar eating sand etc.) Becky was relaxing, but I was twiddling my thumbs. I had been playing around with the idea of learning to surf, a few people had mentioned it but no one had done anything about it, so I took the plunge and Gayle agreed to join me. After fifteen minutes of tuition on the beach we headed in to the surf to learn how to body board, much to both our surprise it was no long before we managed to stand up and actually surf!!!

As the above evidence proves, I now have the right to wear the official apparel of a surfer. So there! This is definitely something I could get into, although Becky is not so happy about two sea centric hobbies.

Speaking of which, the following day Andrew, finally infection and cold free and myself went off with the Atlantis dive team for a trip to Nusa Penida.

The first dive, down to a very chilly thirty four meters was to see Mula Mula, or sun fish, which are not only enormous but also very ugly. Strangely enough they are also found in Oman, up at the Musandam peninsula.

The second dive has been on my must see list for a very long time, Mantas.

Like with a lot of eagerly awaited events, you can easily be disappointed, as was the case during the first twenty minutes. The next twenty minutes were a great improvement and really enjoyable, but still falling short of the experience I had been hoping for. It was cold and I considered heading back to the surface with the divers who had used up their allotted air, but for some reason I chose to stay and I am really glad I did.
As the last three of our party hung unmoving in the murky water, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, those two Mantas are big!’ followed shortly after with ‘No, they’re not big, THAT’S BIG!!!!!’.

So I finally had my wish and had a very memorable dive, big grins all round.

So our final day together was spent by the pool and the following morning Andrew and I bade a sad farewell to our respective broods before heading off to the airport.

The joys of business class manifested it self as soon as we stepped on board,

And with a glass of champagne and perfectly attentive Etihad cabin crew, the sun set on a perfect holiday.