The 5-Dive Trip

The Maldives have beckoned us ever since we completed our PADI dive course earlier this year. The lure of colorful fish and warm waters drew us to plan a spring break vacation to the coral atolls. From Abu Dhabi, it was a short 4- hour trip and we knew that from the US, it was a place we might never have visited.

 

At about 3 degrees north of the equator, the water and air were a wonderful 29 C/ 84 F.  It also meant that the sun set fast around 6:30pm followed by brilliant stars lighting up the night sky.

Map of Maldives - our hotel was on South Male Atoll

Map of Maldives – our hotel was on South Male Atoll

 

The diving was everything we hoped for. The dive boat was equipped with many people to help prep our equipment, serve us fruit snacks between dives, provide cold fragrant towels after the diving was finished and even be our personal photographer. We are forever spoiled.

getting briefed

getting briefed

my new facebook picture!

my new facebook picture!

here I go!

here I go!

Tim too

Tim too

Our PADI dive instructor, Giorgia, was knowledgable about the fish and gave us the right amount of help and information.  Since we had her to ourselves, we could swim and watch fish at our own, very slow pace.  We got NITROX certified while there, which means we can use air with a higher concentration of oxygen and less nitrogen resulting in more potential diving time.

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And then the fish and the coral! The coral looked like pillars of crayon shavings with every color in the 128-Crayola crayon box. We don’t have an underwater camera, so we downloaded images of a few of our favorite fish and experiences.

 

The clown fish swimming in the sea anemones were endlessly fascinating.  Sea anemones come in all colors – purple (no wonder I liked them!), blue, or pink bases that attach to the rock or coral and finger-like tentacles coming from the body with bulbs or bubbles at the end.

Sea-anemone with clown fish

Sea-anemone with clown fish

The clown fish and anemones have a symbiotic relationship. The clown fish is an active and defensive fish which keeps predators from coming too close to the sea anemone and its’ stinging tentacles. Because the clown fish has mucus on its body, it is protected from the stings. The clown fish is able to eat smaller fish and other organisms that are caught within the body of the sea anemone and therefore helps to keep the anemone clean.   At one point one anemone was closed and about 5 clown fish were rubbing and swimming against the opening, trying to get it to open.

 

Another great experience was seeing 11 eagle rays swim in formation over our heads at the surface.

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We were holding on to rocks at the bottom at about 45 feet keeping ourselves in place against a very strong current. Our location was a depression in the ocean floor where the currents were less strong and a good place for big fish like the rays and sharks to come rest.   We watched as these huge rays glided in the currents, and then all of a sudden, they started to dive underwater and play together. They rolled and bumped into each other and then pulsed back into their places above.  A bit later we saw several five foot white tipped sharks hover in the area and I wished I were an invisible tiny fish.

 

The resort was beautiful. Each ”villa” sat on pilings over the water. From the rear porches, you could jump immediately into the water and swim to adjacent islands and spits of land.   The clear water over white sand and coral produced every hue of blue imaginable.  The complex was really 4 islands linked by pontoon boats which made it easy to go to one of the other  islands to play tennis, meet the dive boat or eat at a different restaurant.

The boat landing and entry to the resort

The boat landing and entry to the resort

The welcome dummer

The welcome drummer

 

view from our rear porch

view from our rear porch

shower - often you could see fish swimming by as you showered!  Talk about an inside/outside shower

shower – often you could see fish swimming by as you showered! Talk about an inside/outside shower

view from our front door overlooking the boat landing

view from our front door overlooking the boat landing

outside for breakfast!

outside for breakfast!

room decorations from the "house boy"

room decorations from the “house boy”

is this paradise or what?

is this paradise or what?

We feel lucky to have experienced such a place.

 

our arrival at the speed boat taking us out to Veli

our arrival at the speed boat taking us out to Veli

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Camping on Dalma Island

Since the time we first came to Abu Dhabi for our househunting trip over a year ago, we have wanted to go camping in the desert. Carine, who helped us find our apartment, told us of the many nights she and her family had spent out in the desert enjoying star-filled skies and campfires.  With those images in our heads, we made sure to pack our tent and sleeping bags.

Once here, we realized that with the heat and vagaries of the desert landscape, we first wanted to go on an organized trip to learn the lay of the land.  The Emirates Natural History Group, of which we are members, advertised a trip that worked with our schedule.  It was to Dalma Island….not quite the desert, but an island  of historical importance.  We jumped at the chance.   Map of Dalma Island

Our camping experience has been limited to either backpacking, where every ounce counts, or having our main bags driven for us from B&B to B&B, so we were novices to “car camping”.  In planning for the trip, we realized that we could bring things like chairs and coffee pots, and would not have to sit in the sand drinking instant coffee.  We borrowed gear from friends and, in observing others on the trip, were introduced to a range of items that can make car camping an almost luxurious experience. While we slept on 20 year old hiking pads, other couples had cots or full-sized air mattresses!

our tent on the beach

our tent on the beach

 

our camp spot

our camp spot

We drove three hours to the ferry landing for Dalma Island and then discovered that the normal ferry was broken. After negotiations from the leaders of our group and several hours of waiting, our group secured spots on a private ferry.

Delma 2 - our ride

Delma 2 – our ride

Of course George was the source of many conversations and many curious stares.  He gave us the chance to talk with people working at the ferry landing and waiting to get out to island.

George, the source of endless conversations

George

While the ferry itself was an old landing craft, seemingly from WWII, the food was terrific.  Instead of chips and candy bars, chicken birani was the main menu item.

Chicken birani, ie  chicken and rice with good spices

Chicken birani, ie chicken and rice with good spices

I asked for hot tea and the guy looked quizzically at me.  So, I scoured my brain for the one sentence I knew in Arabic and asked for chai har ma halib …translation – hot tea with milk.  I had learned how to ask bedun sucar (without sugar) and forgot to say that, so of course my tea came with sugar.

cars in rows on the ferry

cars in rows on the ferry

Dalma Island was quite a surprise to us.   It is about 45 kilometers off the mainland and was once an important stop off point for ships. With its supply of fresh water and iron ore and proximity to large pearl beds, in it’s heyday, it had a population of over 15,000 people.  Now with the jobs that come from Abu Dhabi’s oil on the mainland, the depletion of the water supply, and the advent of cultured pearls, the population is down to about 6,000 residents.

 

There still are farms with goats, camels and sheep.

farms

farms

Mommy and baby

Mommy and baby

The land was rocky and dry with volcanic outcroppings.

a barren landscape

a barren landscape

 

 

 

 

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a close up of the roiling rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In dry “wadis” or creek beds, the last rains had left a river of dark minerals full of sparkling mica chips.

a mica river

a mica river

We climbed to the highest point around and got a text message from the phone service in Qatar, welcoming us there.

at the top!

at the top!

On the day of our arrival, our group visited the 100 year old Al Murayhki house, which once served as the pearl trading and negotiation center and is now a museum about the island.

the entrance to the pearl trading house

the entrance to the pearl trading house

our group

our group

We also saw the mosque which was the center of the old village. Inside the mosque were two wells with leather buckets.  We learned that Dalma Island is named for the well buckets – “Dal” means bucket and “Ma” means water.   We enjoyed the trip and appreciate the added cultural experiences that are part of a trip with the Emirates Natural History Group.

 

And in a digression, we have another chapter of the “small world Abu Dhabi” story.  Tim recently solved a dinner theater murder mystery at the Club and won the “One Heck of a Detective” award.

trophy and certificate

trophy and certificate

He feels somewhat badly that he competed against amateurs without revealing his professional experience at the Custer Detective Agency.  We were told to come dressed in funeral attire and Anne, the woman in the middle of the picture, made the women’s hats which are called Fascinators.  The base of our delights was a plastic top used to close a margarine or yoghurt container.  They were the talk of the room.

Detectives at table #5

Detectives at table #5

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One Year!

Our year anniversary here in Abu Dhabi has come and gone and we have slowly adapted to the rhythms of the Middle East.  The evening call to prayer, Isha, now sounds hauntingly beautiful to me.  Seeing men and women in traditional dress no longer shocks and prompts me to stare.  I am now seeing faces and expressions rather than something unknowable.  The green light highlighting the mosques and minarets in the evening still seems eerie, but learning that Muslims equate the color green with paradise makes me think a bit differently about the evening color.

Mosque at night

Mosque at night

Trying new things and getting better at existing activities continue to be our mantra.

Teaching at the university level is still new and challenging – now at the New York Institute of Technology.

Notice how Emirates park - if you don't want to walk, just back on the curb or sidewalk!

Notice how Emirati students park – if you don’t want to walk, just park on the curb or sidewalk!

This semester I teach two courses – the Philosophy of Design and Working Drawings.  I spend hours looking at buildings, reading architectural theory, absorbing the connections among cubist paintings, Picasso and Le Corbusier.  I love the learning that goes into teaching and then transferring those ideas to the students.  I have become better at teaching, now that I am in my 3rd semester.  I ask more questions, get the students to actually look at the buildings and plans and have them express opinions.  It is fun.

final presentations at school

final presentations at school

Tim and I took and completed a PADI diving course and now are certified to dive!  We went on our training dives in February and though it is a warm country, the water was quite cold.  Even with 2 wet suits on of 3 millimeters each, I was frozen and exhausted at the end of our training.  We have a vacation planned during my spring vacation to the Maldives to do some diving and relaxing.  I certainly hope I won’t need two wetsuits for that!  We will send lots of pictures.

recognize the two on the right??

recognize the two on the right??

It's kind of scarey!

It’s kind of scarey!

Tennis continues to be something I love to play.  I am now on a team that has matches against other local teams.  Last night I played a doubles match against the Sheika team at Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan’s palace, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.  The palace complex is on the water with  pavilions overlooking the water; rows of urns filled with fragrant petunias; and parrots chirping in the date palm trees.  You can’t take pictures inside but I took some pictures of the front gate to give a taste of what is inside.

front gate

front gate

fencing like none you have seen before!

fencing like none you have seen before!

My partner and I played against two women, one of whom is named Sheika Shaika.  Shaika can be the name for woman in addition to a title.  Sheika Shaika had an entourage of Sarah, a German/British scheduler in stilettos and very blond, full hair; a Filipina nanny dressed in white; and 3 Filipina women who served as our ball girls.  To be on their personal court in this amazing setting made it hard for us to concentrate, but we managed to win 6-2; 6-3.

Another photo I have is from earlier in the year at the horse races.

at the races

at the races

Racing is a huge deal here and there are weekly races during the season.  You don’t bet (or at least we have no idea how to bet).  This is me with some guys on the in-field figuring out the winners.

Also, Tim crewed in a Farr 30 one design race around Lulu Island, which his boat won.  The boat was surrounded by media as they came down the last leg of the race with Tim flying the spinnaker.

the winners of the Lulu Island race!

the winners of the Lulu Island race!

We continue to marvel at one is able to do here.

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Family visits

Sharing our lives with our family has been the highlight thus far of 2014.  Dad and Robin were here in early February and my sister Jenny and her husband, Al have just left after a week in mid-March.  It is such fun for us to explore Abu Dhabi and the surrounds with people we love.

Al Ain continues to be a place we enjoy sharing and exploring.  It is about an hour and a half east from Abu Dhabi, on the Oman/UAE border.  It is an oasis town where Sheik Zayad was born.  It is an older city due to its history and lush due to the abundance of water.  When Dad and Robin were here, we visited the oasis with its date palm trees and walked along the irrigation ditches to water the trees and grasses.

Dad in the palms

Dad in the palms

Robin

Robin

one of the gardeners working in the oasis

one of the gardeners working in the oasis

a view of the irrigation ditches

a view of the irrigation ditches

With Jenny and Al, we headed outside of Al Ain to the camel market.  It is an active, real place where camels, sheep, cows, hay, and grains are bargained for and sold.  Emirates would come to find the best camel and haggle for the best price.  We even saw a soft baby camel, just 2 days old.  We stood out in the crowd of herders and traders, but didn’t mind because it was such fun seeing a real market in action.

Jenny, Al, Tim and me arriving at the camel market

Jenny, Al, Tim and I arriving at the camel market

petting the baby camel

petting the baby camel

a young camel with nice eyelashes

a young camel with nice eyelashes

pulling the tail of the chosen camel for a viewing

pulling the tail of the chosen camel for a viewing

bargaining

bargaining

the chosen ones being taken away in a truck

the chosen ones being taken away in a truck

I am leading a trip of women from the AWN to Al Ain later in March and finally found a good spot to eat lunch.  Dad and Robin would have liked to go there rather than the “Modern Restaurant” I took them to.

The Modern Restaurant!

The Modern Restaurant!

While Dad and Robin were in the region, we went to Qatar for a few days to see IM Pei’s museum of Islamic Art and wander in the Doha souks.  Both were absolutely wonderful.  The museum, which was finished in about 2009, is a stacking of cubes and blocks, set at various angles to catch the sun and shadow.  Its shapes and forms are reminiscent of ancient temples, sand dunes and building blocks.  The clean, simple modern lines provide a strong counter point to the ancient boats and markets, which sit nearby.

the entry

the entry

entrance

entrance

side view

side view

volumes intersecting

volumes intersecting

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old dhows in the harbor

old dhows in the harbor

The art inside is accessible and understandable.  Tiles and mosaics; woven rugs; glass urns and flasks; inlaid wooden doors and screens – all objects from everyday life with audio descriptions from Islamic experts from around the world.

interior stairs

interior stairs

a page from a Koran

a page from a Koran

Adjacent to the museum is an old souk, which still serves as a shopping and meeting point for the city.  Seeing a young boy unhappily slouch and hunch while trying on a new dish dash for his mother and tailor made one realize that kids are kids where ever they live.  As Robin and I strolled through the souk, we saw shops selling falcons and their burkas (hoods); black egalites, which are the roping that goes on an Arab man’s head to hold on his headscarf; clothing being hand sewn;  fish netting for catching fish; gold jewelry being hammered and shaped….an amazing assortment of activities all going on while people were outside of the markets sipping coffee and teas.   Loved it!

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entering the souks

entering the souks

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falcons and burkas for sale

falcons and burkas for sale

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musical instruments, hand sewn clothing and egalites

musical instruments, hand sewn clothing and egalites

horse riders through the market

horse riders through the market

We love having company and look forward to our next visitors…who is next?!

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Charlotte and Sarah’s Christmas visit

We were thrilled to have Charlotte and Sarah visit us in Abu Dhabi for Christmas between December 22nd and 30th.   It was great to spend a week with both girls, to share with them aspects of our life here, to try some new things and to celebrate the holiday.

Santa even comes to the middle east!

Santa even comes to the middle east!

 

Sarah with her stocking made by Grams

Sarah with her stocking made by Grams

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Charlotte had come over with Meg and spent a week here a year ago when we first moved to Abu Dhabi, so for her this was a chance to expand on her previous experience.  For Sarah the visit was her first to the region.  We visited the Grand Mosque with one of Meg’s tennis friends as a guide to both the building and to Islam,

our tour of the Grand Mosque with Dina

our tour of the Grand Mosque with Dina

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attended holiday parties, spent a couple of nights at the Qasr Al Sarab hotel in the desert (where Meg and I had gone for 2013 Valentines Day),

 

View from our room

View from our room

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the entry gate

the entry gate

saw Rafa Nadal, Novac Djocovich, David Ferrer and some of their buddies up close at the Mubadala tennis tournament,

Rafa!

Rafa!

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_6245 spent a day sailing and eating at The Club,

Getting the RS400 ready for an afternoon of sailing

Getting the RS400 ready for an afternoon of sailing

visited one of  Meg’s favorite areas of town with the Indian tailors and vegetarian food,

Our very nice waiter

Our very nice waiter

 

the men's section of the restaurant

the men’s section of the restaurant

 

who knew there was a need for so much braid!

who knew there was a need for so much braid!

 

and zippers!

and zippers!

and more.   Highlights included a sunrise camel ride in the desert,

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our post ride tea

our post ride tea

 

could be from biblical times

could be from biblical times

 

our guide

our guide

 

Sarah and Tim climbing a dune to watch the sunset, tennis together, and opening presents from under our palm tree.

We are now looking forward to the arrival of Tom and Robin in a week and Jenny and Al in March.

All the best from beside the Arabia Gulf,

Meg and Tim

–as you can see we wrote this awhile ago but are really trying to bring you all up to date on our experiences here! – more to come!

and of course George

and of course George

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Christmas Preparations in Abu Dhabi

With temperatures in the high 70′s and low 80′s, it is hard to image Christmas is right around the corner.  Sarah and Charlotte arrive in less than a week and we are so excited to see them and share a slice of our lives with them.  To get the apartment ready for the celebrations, we decorated our palm tree that normally lives on the balcony.  We brought our favorite 20 ornaments, so the tree is now a beautiful tropical holiday tree.

Abu Dhabi Christmas tree

Abu Dhabi Christmas tree

Another view of our tree

Another view of our tree

and of course a photo with George in it!

photoOur love to you all!

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We’re back!

Yes, we still are in Abu Dhabi and yes we intend to keep writing our blog.  And yes we know, it’s been way too long for a posting!

 

We can’t believe we have been back in Abu Dhabi for almost 3 months.  After a wonderful, busy summer in DC, Michigan, and Cape Cod seeing family and friends, it was hard to leave the U.S.     But, with the impending visit of the GE chairman to the region and my teaching at a new university, – New York Institute of Technology – we were quickly quite engaged in our lives back here.

 

As Tim prepared for the CEO visit, I was able to join him for 4 days in Istanbul.  We stayed on the Bosphorus Strait with an endless parade of ferries, sailboats, and motorboats.  I took my coffee and newspaper out to a chair on the water each morning and pretended to read while I really just gazed at the water and all the activity.    We also visited the historic and cultural sites like an underground Roman cistern,

Cistern

Takkim Square and a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Hagia Sophia was amazing – we spent a whole morning there.  The gold, glittering mosaics alone are worth the visit.

 

A few weeks later, Tim chaired a panel at the World Energy Conference in Daegu, South Korea, so I tagged along.  The timing of the conference conveniently coincided with the Eid holiday in the UAE, so I didn’t miss any of my classes.  The holiday celebrates the sparing of the sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac.  Story sounds familiar right?  I’ve seen that one depicted on the baptistery doors in Florence.

 

There were over 7,000 delegates and hangers-on at the WEC, so they had many activities in addition to the conference.

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I went on a walking tour of the old city of Daegu, the 3rd largest city in South Korea and home to Samsung.  Samsung started as a noodle business, with a trademark of noodles in a star shape.  The star shape was included in Samsung’s logo until recently, as a reminder of it’s humble past.  I also went to a UNESCO world heritage village site from the 500’s AD.

 

DSC_5769  It was home to two clans, with the wealthier people living at the top of the hillside in highly carved, wooden structures and the poorer people living at the bottom of the hill in rice- thatched mud huts.

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One day we both headed up to Mt. Palgongsan.  We started with a tour of the Dongwhasa Temple compound, which includes the tallest Buddha statue in the world along with wooden prayer halls, complete with chanting monks.

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We among the few westerners.

 

After visting the temple, we took a cable car up half way up the 3,000 foot mountain, had a hot noodle lunch and then hiked to DongBong peak.  From the top, we looked back over the valley and the city of Daegu, and back toward the temple and the Buddha.   It was early October with the first hints of fall reds and yellows.  What a pleasant site for our color-starved eyes.

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Beyond the travel, we are re-settling in here in Abu Dhabi.  We continue to sail and race at the club, having moved to a faster, newer boat.  We haven’t flipped it yet, so we think we are doing well.  I raced in a weekend match race on the corniche with a group of 4 other sailors from our club.  Match racing is where two boats sail against each other on a fairly short course.  The tactics and fouling and protests before and during the race were more than I could understand.  I just flew the jib and spinnaker and let our helmsman figure out the rest.  We came in 2nd, behind the UAE boat skippered by an emirati who went to the Olympics.  We won about $1,300 for our club.  Pretty amazing!

This is a link to a video of my match racing.  I am in the boat with the skipper in a blue shirt.  It is super long, but gives a feel for the waterfront, the buildings, etc.  If you stay through the end, you will see me on the podium…the only woman there!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00fJBTTi3nM&list=UUzoQIKNR2dCgZCmsOq9sHow#t=172

 

We continue to be fascinated with the birds in the UAE.  From our balcony, we have seen oyster catchers, stilts (very cute), whimbrels, plovers and all sorts of herons.  A few weeks ago, we went on an Emirate Natural History group bird watching trip.  The trip started here at our Eastern Mangroves, continued over to a park in the middle of the Abu Dhabi island and finished on the Western Corniche area.  The group was the right amount of “wow!  That’s a pretty bird…what is that!” to –“look at the white cheeked bulbul there in the tree”.  It was perfect for us.  We saw over 30 new birds.

 

We do plan to write more and more frequently.

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