Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gourmet greedy guts

My epicurean escapades have continued. Yesterday Kayo took me out for lunch at a little sushi place, which was packed out with very old people. The sushi was sensational. I had some salmon nigiri, and I could see the wasabi under the salmon...the fish melted in my mouth and the heat of the wasabi pleasantly filled my mouth and I almost melted into the floor myself with delight. After a spot of shopping (stationary!!!) Kayo took me home and I had a few hours to recuperate.

She picked me up later and we spent a bit more time shopping, then headed for a yakiniku restaurant: Korean bbq. Wow. We had pork, seafood and beef, and once the meat is cooked you wrap it in a lettuce leaf with some sauces and onions etc, and pop the whole lot in your mouth. When Kayo gave me the first piece of beef to try, I couldn't contain my delight. She was so happy, as the expression on my face was one of pure joy with the food. Heaven!

She then insisted I try the green tea ice-cream, and I can't say I loved it. I particularly didn't love the accompanying rice balls and red bean paste. *gag*

Today, Greg, Kent and I went for lunch, and had a spectacular spread for only Y1000 - which deliciously covered off anything you could possibly want: rice, prawns, noodle soup, spring rolls, salad and desert!

Eventually it was time to do something other than eating, so we went to the Himeji Castle, which I think is the best in Japan. Unfortunately they're doing a lot of renovation work for the next few years, so the main tower is closed. But there are still parts of the castle you can go inside and just get a feel for it.

It;s really hot and humid, so after all the walking around (up and down steep staircases) it was time for a refreshing beverage. And when you're hot and sweaty, there's nothing more refreshing than:

"Pocari Sweat". It's sort of like sweet water with electrolytes, so it gave us the energy to do a bit more strolling around Himeji.

And now, the boys are in the kitchen (Kent used to be a chef) preparing Greg a birthday feast...can't wait!!

Happy Birthday Bro

My brother turned 30 about 45 minutes ago. My brother from another mother (i.e. Greg's best friend Kent) arrived this evening. This is what's going on right now....

Be afraid, be very afraid

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A happy birthday

I had a pretty great birthday yesterday. Greg had given me a present just after midnight, which is a wonderful artistic work (which he created - he got all the arty genes) of a samurai which looks fantastic backlit.

Later on in the day, he took me out for my favourite Japanese dish which goes perfectly well with a cold beer.

Since Greg had to go off to work, he had to forgo the beer

Okonomiyaki!!!

Since he was going to be at work, he kindly arranged an evening out for me. Calling his friend Tsune, he arranged for me to tag along to a dinner party, telling her to "look out for the tall white girl" at Kakogawa station. I got myself there easily and waited out the front of the ticket booth. A tiny girl approached me, and after ascertaining I was indeed Carly (the only white girl in the station) her first words to me were, "you're not as tall as I was expecting." It can't be helped that my brother is a 6'4" kaibatsu (monster of abnormal proportions) and I stand a meagre 5'7"!!

We caught a cab to Emerald's house, which was a teeny tiny apartment packed to the brim with charm. Emerald has done some amazing adventuring of her own, and has wonderful photographs, mostly portraits of interesting characters she's met. The other member of the party was Kasumi, who's a yoga teacher and a performer of a particular type of Indian dance. She also told me she studying belly dance, and I struggled to see how a tiny Japanese woman would belly dance with absolutely no body fat! :-)

On the menu was somen noodles, which look like so:

There are different flavours and they take only 90 seconds to cook, after which, they're immediately placed on ice.

We ventured upstairs to where the air conditioning was to eat, and slurped our refreshing cold noodles with a variety of toppings. Kasumi had also brought some eel, which was wrapped around some sort of root, it's a special time of year when the Japanese eat eel, and it was surprisingly tasty.

We talked the night away, sharing stories of our travels and it was wonderful to make some new friends and just enjoy a typical Tuesday night with other young women. We all walked back to the train station together, thankful that the temperature had cooled off a little. The girls hadn't known it was my birthday until late in the evening, and had lamented that we didn't have cake. Of course, I was just so happy to have been let into their lives for an evening, that cake was the last thing on my mind. Kasumi snuck away at the station, and returned to say goodbye and presented me with a piece of cheesecake and some chocolates. I was absolutely touched.

It really was an unforgettable night, and I'm sure I'll run into these wordly travelers somewhere else in the future.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A safari summed up

Right, this is going to be as brief as I can possibly make it. Brief because you probably don't want to hear me raving on and on about how fantastic my holiday was when you were stuck in your office (even if your office is somewhere equally exotic as the Massai Mara!)

Following a stressful morning of air travel, I got into Nairobi quite late, but Emma and our wonderful guide Justice were there waiting for me. Justice was 62 and had been guiding safaris for 45 years, he really knew his stuff. But he didn't quite know what to do with Emma, who not long after we stopped to get some coffee and cash, started throwing her guts up. The poor girl was so ill the whole 5 hour trip, along some very bumpy dirt roads. But she was a trooper and we got there eventually.

After a good night's sleep in what can only be described as the Taj Mahal of tents (when I booked a 'camping safari' I wasn't expecting beds and bathrooms inside the tents!) we were given the 'option' of visiting a Massai village. Of course it wasn't really optional, so we paid our $20 each and felt extremely uncomfortable as we were led around the village, being encouraged to take photos. I felt especially bad that the women were dragged out of their houses to dance for us, it was about 8am, I'm sure they had other more important things to be doing...

Since we'd arrived so late the night before, Justice had lunch boxes made up for us so that we could go out for the whole day. And what a spectacular day it was:



We stumbled upon the lioness all on our own, and were mesmerised as she prowled around. The lion may typically be referred to as "king of the jungle" but this classy lass was definitely a queen.

As we were heading back to the campsite there were a few vans lined up on the side of the road. We had one very close encounter with the king of the 'jungle'

He was about 2 metres away from us, and the sheer size of him was incredible.

and worthy of a new Facebook profile pic!

The next day we set off for Lake Nakuru, stopping on the way at Lake Navaisha. We got on a boat and cruised around for a while. Of course, I could rattle off that hippos are the most dangerous mammal in Africa, but I'd never really thought too much about that. But when you spot them in the water, and then their heads disappear under, you can't help but hear the theme from "Jaws"...they're scary buggesrs.

Nakuru brought me my favourite moment of the safari, an encounter with a baby rhino, who we dubbed Junior.

Apologies for the sound quality, it was just starting to rain so it was extremely windy.

When we got to Samburu park, we were shown to the camping site that I'd been picturing in my head the whole time. It was basic.

But as they say, it's all about location, location, location:

We saw some truly spectacular creatures in Samburu:




and on our last game drive, we were a bit disappointed that we really hadn't seen much. But then suddenly, two bull elephants were having a bit of argy bargy on one side of the van and on the other, a small pride of lionesses and cubs were watching some giraffes, but then one of the lions grabbed a baboon and made off with it. Then the barking baboons warned off the giraffes, and the elephants came charging in, trunks trumpeting and scared off the lions. *Breathes* The circle of life indeed!!

After a long drive back to Nairobi, we jumped on our Dash 8 flight to Lamu Island, and after a bit of rigmarole, were put up for a night at the Janaatan Hotel in Shela village, down the other end of the island.

The next morning, we asked Hamid, our contact who works for the hotel which has 2 other houses (one of which we'd booked into but it was being refurbished) to show us the other option. Sunset House was exactly what we'd been dreaming of, with a wonderful view:


and wonderful beds!!

We spent the next few days doing a whole lot of nothing. Sure there were a couple of visits down the island to Lamu, but mostly we just lazed on our terrace, reading books, drinking wine (acquiring said wine is a story for another time) and wandering around the village, dodging the donkeys.

After missing our flight from Lamu back to Nairobi (long story) we finally made our way to Jeremy's apartment, who just happened to fortuitously be in town for work, after having made the tough decision not to come with us originally. We had three fantastic nights with Jez, including one catching up with another old friend from Bangers who also just happened to be in town for work. So we were all shiny happy people.

And then, in a stroke of sheer bad luck and perhaps Murphy's Law, I missed my flight from Addis Ababa back to Beirut (another long story), so I had to spend 24 hours in Addis. This was the view from my hotel room...

and since it rained all day, I had no money, and the little laminated card on the desk in the room said "do NOT walk anywhere, take a REPUTABLE taxi" I decided to catch up on some sleep. In the end, I made it home to Beirut, with about 40 hours before my flight out of there!!

I honestly think that every individual needs to go on safari at least once in their life. I can't wait to go back again, perhaps to Tanzania, perhaps to Rwanda to see the gorillas. It was only 2 weeks, but I'm hard pressed to think of a better 2 weeks spent anywhere else in the world...

Monday, July 26, 2010

私は日本のような

Japan is such a great country. Everything is so clean, and efficient, and on time!! I had a lovely afternoon today, Greg's friend Kayo took me out for lunch, then to the movies (you all must go and see "Inception", it's the best movie I've seen in a long time!) and then we rounded off the evening with a Thai massage! After 24 hours of travelling in the past 2 days, I really needed that!!

And now, it's super fast internet, and the whole back catalogue of Buffy!! I'll upload stories and photos of my African adventures tomorrow, insha'allah!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Moving on...

I arrived back to Tripoli at about 4:30am this morning, 24 hours later than expected due to a missed flight in Addis Ababa, and a day of reading in bed at a hotel. Sure, I would've loved to go exploring in downtown Addis, but there were a number of factors against me. 1 - I had no money, the unexpected cost of issuing another ticket and a hotel voucher cleaned me out. 2 - It was really raining cats and dogs. 3 - The little laminated piece of paper on the desk in my room advised "do not walk anywhere. Always use a reputable taxi company." 3 - The view of the slum below my first floor window didn't inspire much confidence.

That being said, as I was peering out the window some little kids spotted me and started waving madly. I waved back and opened the window. "How are you?" they chorused in unison. In typical response in any country where English isn't the first language, I replied "I am fine, how are you?" "I am fine!" they each replied. "What is your name?" one giggling girl asked me. "My name is Carly, what are your names?" And so I was introduced to Hannah, and Galina and the little boy whose name escapes me now. They asked me where I was from, did I like Ethiopia, is Australia nice. We had a lovely little chat, and then one of their mothers called for them, so as they departed, they stopped and turned back to me, each one calling out "Bye bye Carly, I love you," and blew me a kiss. Cute.

When I got back to the airport, drenched from the knees down following a run in the rain from the carpark to the terminal, I saw the man who I'd been stranded with the night before. He'd been so upset to have missed the flight as he had to get back to Lebanon to make preparations for his upcoming wedding. I caught his eye through the departure gate and gave him a thumbs up. We knew that we wouldn't miss this flight. We gave each other a high five as we walked down the stairs to the waiting bus. Of course, while the flight had left the previous night bang on time, our flight was delayed a good hour and a half. Such is air travel. And of course, I was seated across from the tired mother and undisciplining father of two boys, who had run riot in the departure lounge and proceeded to scream most of the 4 hour flight back. Not much sleep for Carly.

I've come into the office to finalise all the things I didn't have time to do before I left, like handing back this computer, and having a final discussion with my boss (who kindly took me out for coffee which is what seems to be propelling me now). Now it seems real that I'm leaving tomorrow. Japan awaits, with super duper high speed internet, and plenty of time to upload some of the fantastic shots I got on safari.

Peace out Lebanon!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Almost adventured out

I am alive and well, and cannot yet begin to tell of the magnificent adventures Emma and I have had over the past two weeks. Once I get back to Lebanon and check out the masses of photographs I took on safari, I'll share some stories (and there are some good ones!!) of elephants and lions, and how I caught my first fish on a boat off Lamu Island.

I'm now bunkered down in Nairobbery, not because muggings or carjackings lurk just outside the barbed wire fence I'm ensconced behind, but because I'm doing job interviews, and tests. Insha'allah we'll be able to get out of Jeremy's apartment this afternoon and go exploring, there are still a few more adventures to be had!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

One Year

Well, that's been a pretty damn quick year! While individual days (particularly of late) have seemed to drag endlessly, the whole year has sped past. My Dad always says that years go faster as you get older, and I'm starting to believe him! Thinking back, there have been some major highlights to my year in Lebanon:

There will be many things I will miss about living in Lebanon: how cheap everything is; the sound of the call to prayer coming from 4 different mosques; the food (my god, the food!!); and most importantly, I'll miss all the friends I've made this year - those who've left me behind, and those I'm leaving behind.

There will also be a number of things I will not miss about living in Lebanon: boys and their noisy cars/motorbikes/soccer games/fireworks; masturbating men; judgemental and nosy neighbours; the pollution in the sea in Al Mina; taxi drivers who try to rip you off; and the fact that Shwarma Man wasn't open on Sunday nights!!

But even among the difficulties, the ups and downs, it's been having such a supportive group of friends here to keep me entertained and my spirits up when things were bad that has made all the negatives seem a little less bad. I can only hope that wherever I end up next there will be a group of people who are half as nice! And of course, I can only hope that my next job will be more professionally rewarding!

So on that note, if, after all the wonderful things I've told you about my job, you'd actually like to do something quite similar, my position will be changed to a Projects/Reporting Officer in the Donor Relations Unit in Beirut. You can check out the job description here.

So now, as I ride off into the uncertainty of unemployment, I look back at my time in Lebanon with sadness in my heart, but a smile on my face for whatever lies ahead.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Good mates, good times!

There's always a bit of a rush at the end of a job, not least actually finishing up all the work (ummmm, EC report to get finished...) but seeing the places you hadn't really gotten around to all year. I had one day of annual leave left, so I took Friday off and headed to the beach with Jenan and her little sister, to meet up with Ingebjorg and her visiting sisters. I'd been impressed with Lazy B at the beach party, but it's so much nicer in the daylight!!

There's lots of furniture strewn around the place, and lots of comfy places to take rest


We had a lovely time lazing in the shade,

but unfortunately I was a bit silly and didn't drink nearly enough water. So I was rather ill on the way home. Ah well, it was worth it, and at least I didn't get sunburnt as well!
On Saturday afternoon Nicole picked Yassmin, Ingebjorg and I up and we headed out for a lazy afternoon drive. Our first stop was a convent on a hill above Chekka. It was a bit misty so we could barely see back to Tripoli (only 14kms north) but the water looked inviting.
We then drove up the mountains, through Becharre and on to Ehden, a place I'd never been before. Nicole took us up to another church with spectacular views. On a good day, you can see all the way to Tripoli (which would have to be a good 60kms) and to Syria.

So as you can see, we were pretty high up (I think over 1600m). And while I was taking these photos, we heard a roar errupt from down below. "Ah, Germany's just scored a goal," Nicole grumbled. The amount of noise was insane!! We drove back down to the town square of Ehden, to sit and eat and take in the atmosphere of the Germany-Argentina game. We were among the few Argentina supporters, and made a quick exit after the 4th goal!
Saturday night was the long awaited, much hyped girl's night out (+ Chadi) to Taiga!! Taiga is a club in Batroun, which is about 20 mins south of Tripoli. Nicole is a regular there, and had been going on and on about it for a good 9 months. So we set the date, and off we went.
Shortly after this photo was taken, Ingebjorg had to actually use many of the Taigi-issued tissues to clean up the drink the waiter spilled on her.

Nicole and I had a fabo time!

Yesterday was a very, very quiet day for Carly!!
All in all, it was a wonderful long weekend, with great friends. It's starting to sink in that I'm actually finishing up work tomorrow (that's not such a bad thing!) and that I'll be flying out late tomorrow...
IT'S TIME FOR AFRICA!!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Found it!

I finally made it to the Tripoli Citadel, crossing off one of the last remaining things to do. It was extremely hot today, so I didn't stay too long, but then again, there are no signs/plaques/information anywhere, so there's only so much wandering one can do.


The view out to the Sea was lovely

So here's a 360 for you
video
This is the last remaining indication that this was once a defensive location...

...barring all the army dudes who were up there. It's still a functioning military outpost.

There's always beauty to be found

and what I thought was a cute sarcophagus (bet you'd never thought of a sarcophagus as cute before!)