Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What a Year!

I’m reading Chris Evans’s autobiography at the moment, and he prefaces each chapter with a Top Ten. And given that we’re nearing the end of a decade, it’s not a bad way to summarise the year.

Here’s mine for 2009...and I have to say - it wasn't easy just picking 10 highlights.  It's been an interesting year.  Started with a bit of a bump and then turned into nothing short of awesome.  I'm already very excited for 2010...

10. Bingo. No, really. For one short month we discovered, and loved, bingo. The fact that this was combined with half price wine and food was just a happy coincidence. Bingo, we miss you.
9. Ramadan. I actually got to work slightly shorter hours this year which meant much more time for socializing, and the gym. And Ramadan does of course, mean Iftars…
8. Chi. It has to be the world’s cheesiest club, but I’ve had more hilarious nights out here than I care to admit. Having the lovely Harris just a hop skip and a jump away in Oman has meant many many lost weekends in there. Thank god my mum isn’t on Facebook to see the photographic evidence.
7. Sri Lanka. One of the most gorgeous places in the world. Private villa on the beach, with chef, yoga teacher and houseboys attending to my every whim. I don’t need complete luxury like this, honestly, I’m actually very easily pleased…..
6. Saturday Sundowners. It’s a tradition as old as time itself…well if you live in a sundrenched country I guess. Before gearing up for a hard week at work there’s nothing like sinking your toes into the sand/propping up a bar watching the sun set, in a sun dress and shades.
5. Beach Club. A Friday ritual. We spend a great deal of time comparing notes on which is our favourite, but really, there’s not much in it. Luxurious sun-loungers, delicious food, wine on tap, oh, and sun, sea and blue skies. Throw in great company and a stack of celebrity magazines, and you have the perfect recipe for lazy day off. However hard the week has been, and they can be tough, it’s hard to say stressed when floating in the sea looking back at the insane and beautiful skyline of Dubai.
4. Beirut. If the Sun had written a headline to describe that trip, it would have to be: Busty Blonde Brit Babes Cause Bedlam. A hilarious riotous adventure from start to finish. If I’m having a bad day a sneaky peep at the photos cheers me right up. And normally results in loud guffawing.
3. Family – in Dubai and the UK…The Dubai Family. It’s been said before, but really, I’m blessed to have found some really wonderful friends here…you all know who you are….The UK Family. Laydeeeees! And some gents….You’re out of sight but never out of mind. Your emails, texts and phone calls make me laugh, cry and miss you even more. You’re always welcome here for visits…
2. Safari. The most amazing trip, ever. Animals, scenery, people, company. Bliss.
1. Christmas. Spending time with the people that you love, in a place that you love…what’s not to love?!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas in the Sand

"You're not going home for Christmas?" is a question I've been asked each year that I've chosen to stay here in Dubai. It's usually followed by an aghast face and horrified sharp intake of breath when I answer no.

Everyone from work colleagues to friends to taxi drivers - so all races and religions, assumes that heading home is as natural as trawling round M & S on Christmas Eve and fighting for a turkey. Err, no thanks!

I've never been one for a massively conventional Christmas. I left home when I was 18 and moved 400 miles away. And although I did make some trips home I frequently preferred to fly the family to me, or spend it with my urban family and friends, wherever that was at the time. And bless my family, they never pressured me to go back. If I did, we never had turkey. Lobster, crayfish, scallops, duck, beef wellington, but never turkey.

Since I moved to Dubai, the urge to return to the UK has been even more depleted. YOU KNOW I love the UK for all sorts of reasons, but Christmas isn't one of them. Yes, Manchester has the German markets, crisp days and snow - but none of that appeals to me when you compare it to sunshine and beach. And let's face it: crisp days are few and far between (more rain than anything else) and snow is a death-trap/plain annoying after the first day. I just don't do the cold!

So what was Christmas like this year? Well for starters I was surrounded by my gorgeous family (grandma included!) and wonderful friends. So far, so very good.

Christmas Eve started off in the nail bar (I'm so Dubai) with a good gossip with the girls who I've been seeing for almost two years. They were so excited by the chocolates I'd bought them I really wish I'd taken more. Bless them. I also dropped off chocs for my complex's security guards and concierge so it was a thoroughly festive start to the day.

Then it was off to Atlantis. I think I've blogged about Atlantis before, and it is just as loud and brash as everything that I'm sure you've already read about it, so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice to say we had a great time dodging the nine million Russian tourists, oohing and ahhing at the aquarium, and nosying round the Lost Chambers. Treated Grandma to a v swish glittery Atlantis shopping bag which I'm sure she is now rocking around a branch of Jersey's co-op even as we speak.

Then onto Barasti - I've mentioned this beach bar before. It's the place that journos go to interview 'boozed up Brits' when writing their 'Death of Dubai' pieces. Can be hideous in the evenings but lovely in the daytime. We nabbed a table on the terrace overlooking the beach and marina and enjoyed some scran. We mused over what we'd be doing if we were in UK and agreed we'd rather be in the sunshine.

The fun didn't stop there....we then headed to 360 (a circular bar in the middle of the sea)to continue a tradition of Christmas Eve sundowners. As we watched Santa Claus water ski past (only in Dubai) as the sun set behind the Burj, it really did feel very special being in Dubai.

And if you're wondering if it really does feel Christmassy here - yes it does! There were decorations and trees everywhere, and everyone we met wished us a Merry Christmas.

Christmas Day was the gorgeous Ritz. There was 15 of us in the end, the Harvardes, the Morans, and lots of other lovely friends who fancied a spot of festive luxury. Can you see how the blue the sky is in the photo! The food, the staff, the atmosphere, the sunshine, the beach, and the company all combined to make one wonderful day.

So, THAT'S why I chose to stay in Dubai for Christmas. The only thing missing was my lovely friends from home. Next year people, you are most welcome to join me in the sunshine!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Horsing Around...

What to buy the man who has everything for Christmas? And by man, I mean my dear dad. Dads so often get the thin end of the wedge at Christmas, don’t they? The inevitable socks, aftershave, and if they’re lucky, some Clinique for Men. We like to do presents well in my family (in a shock move, you can ask for what you want, and get it) plus I wanted to spoil dad as I didn’t get to see him on his birthday at the beginning of December. And, well, it is Christmas, and I only see him once a year!

So what to choose? My dad loves horses, and by happy coincidence, so do the Arabs. With a bit of investigative research I discovered that you can go ‘behind-the-scenes’ at the Dubai Polo Club, by arranging a tour of the stables. The polo club is another one of those places that I just haven’t managed to get round to visiting, so it ticked all the boxes. Boom!

And what a gorgeous place and experience it was. It’s about a twenty minute drive from my apartment, so we set off at stupid o’clock in a state of high excitement. (Note: at this stage by dad still had no idea where he was going as we had managed to keep it a surprise.) And surprised he was when we arrived!

The drill is basically this: arrive at beautiful club house, be greeted by wonderfully charming staff, order your breakfast, to be scoffed on the terrace later, and then get taken round the stables by one of the riding instructors. I apologise for forgetting her name. I’m terrible with names! Let’s call her Polo Lady…..

It’s very laid back and we spent a pleasant hour chatting away to Polo Lady about the game, the ponies, how they go abut living their lives…..I’ll also admit to sneaking in a few questions about Argentinian polo players…hmmm.

Of course we got to stroke a few noses along the way which I was delighted about. The polo ponies are, as you would imagine, stunning creatures, as were the other horses stabled there. They live a pretty good life – hot showers and shampoos, daily exercise and grooming. One was on a homeopathic diet (only in Dubai, surely?!) and many owners bring their own fragrance shower gels for them Some polo pony facts:

They don’t have manes. Well, they do, but they’re closely cropped so as not to get tangled in the polo sticks (must check the proper lingo.)
Only lady ponies are used in the game. They’re much more focused than the men. Men tend to get easily distracted, and if they get a whiff of a lady pony, they’re off. Ah, how nature is consistent across the animal and human kingdom!
They are very smart, and learn that when they hear the whoosh of the polo stick and the sound of it hitting the ball, they have to yank their head up pretty darned quick to avoid getting hit on the head. That said, they can and do sustain a lot of injuries, bless them.

They cost up to $20, 000 each.
There are 4 ponies in a team and as they are changed frequently throughout the game, you need to have up to 8 ponies if you're going to play.It costs $1, 000 to stable a pony each month

You do the math! It ain't cheap!

After a happy hour imagining life with a hot Argentinian, we adjourned to the terrace for breakfast. the sun was shining, the air was fresh, the breakfast was delicious. Dad's verdict on the morning: "The best Christmas present ever!" Job done.

How Old is Old Dubai??

It’s easy to come to Dubai and get caught up in the glitz and glamour of the place – I know I do on a daily basis. If you’ve only lived here a few years like I have it’s easy to forget that as few years ago, most of the skyscrapers weren’t here. It really was just a pile of sand. So when visitors come it’s nice to take them down to the older parts of Dubai, near the creek. (And when I say old, I mean 30 years old. Hardly ancient by our standards....!)

Bastakiya is a lovely area and one of the few places where you can see old-style houses and imagine Dubai ‘as it used to be.’ They were going to pull all the buildings down until a certain Prince Charles paid Dubai a visit and commented on how marvelous the area looked. Cue huge renovation project – and the end result, if a little too polished, is really lovely. It’s a small area and an intriguing maze of shady passages. I recommend booking a tour through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding – without a guide to take you round you really haven’t got much of a clue what you’re looking at.

Our guide was a very lovely young lady called Khulood Al Atiyat. She took us all around the area, and then we stopped for coffee and had a chance to chat and ask her questions. Fascinating. I had to stop my mum from asking her what brand of mascara she used (she was stunning) but otherwise she took our nosiness with very good grace and chatted to us for a while about her friends, family, and life in general in Dubai. A very interesting morning.

After that we had a good rummage round the textile souk. As ever with places like this you do get a bit harangued by shop-keepers, but they’re generally pretty nice and not too intimidating. I have a favourite shop (at the very end on the right-hand side, if you’re interested!), where the staff are pleasant and they don’t mither you too much. Oh, and it’s huge. My dad is now rocking out a variety of Arab scarves and I have a couple of new pashminas to fight off the air con.

Next stop: an abra ride across the creek. I'm ashamed to say I'd never done this before! Abras for those not in the know, are small wooden boats which take people across the creek for the princely sum of one dirham (about 20p...finally, a bargain in Dubai!). If you're big on health and safety, look away now. They don't really moor the boats up so you have to fling yourself onto them from (my heart was in my mouth when my 72 year old grandmother launched herself onto it!). They're open sided and I didn't spot a lifejacket/buoy......and the creek gets a bit choppy at points.
Anyway, this is all forgotten once you set off. The breeze, the sunshine and the old boats that you sail past all combine to transport you to a different time and completely different way of life, all whilst still in Dubai, of course. LOVED it.

A quick sniff around the spice souk (dried lemons a big hit with the family) and it was time to catch an abra back across the creek and head home. As far as first days go, I think it was a good start to the family's holiday. I have to admit to struggling at more than one point. That's what yo get when you go out drinking the very night that you have to meet your parents at the airport at 3 am....and only get 3 hour's sleep before heading out. Whoops!


Do you have hordes of visitors invading your house/eating all your food, and demanding to be entertained each day and night? Well worry no more, for I am a Dubai tour guide extraordinaire!

Yes, after a week of entertaining my family, I think I have a few interesting jaunts which I could recommend….I’ll post them as and when I’m awake enough to review them – took the family to the airport this morning at stupid o’clock and am still in a bit of a haze. Could also be down to the fact that I’ve averaged at least 5,000 calories each day for the last two weeks and my body is battling to digest them. Nice. January is going to be harsh....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Road Trip!

Day 2 of the family visit and I decided it was time to take them on a road trip. Granted, the road to Abu Dhabi isn't the most fascinating piece of highway, but it meant we escaped from Dubai for a day, and my parents can tell everyone that they've visited somewhere different whilst they're here.

The reason for the trip: the stunning Sheikh Zayed Mosque. I've driven past it many many times on the way to client meetings, and even spent a weekend looking at it from my sunlounger at the divine Shangri-la. It's open every day until 12, but if you want to go on a guided tour, you have to go on a weekday, and you have to be there by 10. At 7 in the morning when I was dragging myself out of bed (that's just wrong on a day off!) I did question my judgement, but once we arrived I knew it had been worth it.

Interesting point to note: it's one of the world's biggest mosques and as such attracts hundreds of visitors each day. So you'd think that it would be easy to find some directions to it, no? Or that it would be very clearly sign-posted on the main road in from Dubai? WRONG! This is the Middle East, folks. We like to let you work it out for yourselves!

In this case it meant that I had to rely on blind luck and memory to get us there. And despite the fact that we were parked right nest to the mosque, this apparently wasn't the 'acceptable' way to enter it. Cue one jobsworth security guard facing me off for ten minutes refusing to let us in. After much cajoling and feminine wiles (sorry feminist movement!) he let us in. The sight of my parents and grandma running across the lawn at high speed will stay with me for quite some time!

They kit you out with an abaya and shayla and then you're good to go. I didn't catch our guide's name but she was a very lovely Australian lady who knew everything about the mosque. I don't know what it is about places of worship - churches/mosques/whatever - but I always find them very relaxing - and this place is no different. In fact it's so awe-inspiring that you can't help but be rendered silent for much of the tour.

I'm not a historian so you can find some background to the mosque here. To sum it up - it is stunningly beautiful, all white marble and precious metals. It contains three of the world's largest chandeliers. And the world's largest carpet. One of the most moving parts is that it's the resting place of the late Shiekh Zayed. his mausoleum is just outside the mosque, and as you walk past you can hear what sounds like a call to prayer. It's actually a series of people reading the Qoran. They're done this, every single day since his death five years ago, such is how much he was, and still is, revered.
If you get the chance to visit - I really recommend it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Loving Strictly!

I know I'm not the only one watching Strictly, but it's still a bit embarrassing to admit how much I'm going to miss it when it ends this month. Quite aside from the over the top camp glamour of it all, and the wonder that is Ricky Whittle in a shirt slashed to the naval, it's a really great way to still feel connected to the UK and people back home.

My BBC iplayer stopped working last week which meant I temporarily missed my UK tv fix. I don't have much spare time to watch tv, so when I do have the odd hour, I want to watch something decent (now there's a challenge when living in Dubai!) After a few days of IT hell, I managed to fix it. After a very enjoyable romp through Strictly, I then worked my way through Gavin and Stacey, Jonathan Ross, and......Delia Smith's Christmas. Note to self: you're turning into your mother....

Ain't Misbehaving...

LOVE this post from a fellow Dubai blogger. It's about crime recorded on Dubai beaches. Dubai's Desperate Housewife sums it perfectly, so I won't repeat her points, but one of my favourites is: 8 offences for theft.....that's in ten months, folks.
Compare that to the UK, and Dubai suddely dosn't look like such a tough place to live, eh? I've been meaning to mention this in my 'defence of Dubai' posts recently - partly triggered by one of my dear friend's Facebook status updates last week:

Enjoyed a nice jaunt into town with the boys until finding out our car had been broken into. stereo, ripped out. ipod gone. personal items gone. Car door f*cked, . husband with red rage, children crying. happy christmas you selfish, lazy scroats.
Say what you want about Dubai, but the lack of crime and general feeling of safety is just one of the many reasons I love living here.

Those that know me, know I love the UK, and Manchester in particular. BUT: I don't miss having to think twice about where you park the car, remembering to remove anything remotely valuable about it, and turning the ipod volume down when walking down dark roads in case anyone tries to creep up on you.

Em, darling, hope the car is sorted. Big love to you and the boys...

Oh Snow!

I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of my family. In all the excitement and drama of the 'will they/won't they' BA strike, I hadn't even thought about the weather. As the UK got colder and colder, I laughed to friends, exclaiming: "No need to worry, it hasn't snowed in Jersey for at least 15 years." And then, of course, it did.

If you think that the UK grinds to a halt when it snows, then you haven't seen Jersey. Two flakes and the schools were closed. Three flakes and the buses and taxis stopped running. At this stage I assumed there must have been at least a foot of snowfall, but my dear mum assured me that not a flake was sticking to the roads. Pandemonium!

Anyway, this inevitably meant airport chaos yesterday. Jersey Airport is the size of a postage stamp and ill equipped for bad weather. Unfortunate really, as Jersey, despite being blessed with a lot of lovely sunny weather, also has a tendency to get fog bound. I've lost count of the amount of hours I've had to kill there whilst delayed. And even had to collect my bags and fall on the mercy of my parents for one more night when the entire place shut down.

I spent a good part of yesterday evening on the Jersey Airport website (surely the most traffic they've had all year!) and was just starting to panic when by 8 pm, not a single flight had taken off. Thankfully, my midnight, they were staring to clear.

And this morning, my family were airborne! They still have another flight to catch from Gatwick, but I'm sure the universe knows just how much they want to be here. See you soon!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another New Kid on the Block

Went to a launch party at a gorgeous new hotel last night - The Address down at the Marina. The hotel is stunning, as are the other Addresses, and they do know how to spoil their guests.

Sitting on v comfy beanbags next to the infinity pool whilst a dj played house classics brought back memories of too many launch parties in Manchester. The ones where one glass of warm wine and half a canape made it to you if you were lucky.
No danger of going hungry last night - numerous cooking stations, free flowing wine, and lovely staff really made for a very good evening. Thanks to Karim for the invite and also the updates on the Armani Hotel in the Burj Dubai. Now THAT sounds interesting. Readers, you'll be the first to hear all about it...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tinkling the Ivories....

I walked past a man tuning a piano this morning. I should just qualify this by saying that I’ve started walking to work again – the temperature is cooler and I’m embracing any opportunity to whittle my waistline. My journey takes me through Dubai Mall. There’s a variety of routes I can take, and when I feel the need to look at beautiful things, I stroll through ‘Fashion Avenue’. As it sounds, it’s populated by big name fashion brands, hence gorgeous window displays.

This morning I had a neb at Chloe, Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, Temperley and Missoni. And for some reason, which I’m sure will become clear next time I walk past, they’ve installed a grand piano outside Ralph Lauren, hence the aforementioned piano tuner.

I was instantly transported back to being 11 years old and piano lessons. The thing with the piano is that it requires a lot of practice. I could blame my poor skills on the fact that we didn’t have a piano, but if I’m honest, the lack of practice is what did for me. I did remember that the one tune which I can belt out is: Noel. And it’s Christmas! Any venue with a piano – watch out – I may not be able to control myself!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dubai Bashing

Contrary to popular belief, no Dubai isn't slipping off the face of the earth. And there categorically isn't a feeling of 'the last day's of Rome' as one journo in The Times stated.

As usual the UK press just loves to build them up, and knock 'em down...and nowhere is this more true than where Dubai is concerned.

One of the worst articles I read was this piece in The Sun. Clearly the idiot bus had pulled up alongside the journalist in question when he was looking for comments.

Quotes like this from a munter called Paul : "It's a fantastic place to be a single bloke. Tuesdays is ladies night in the bars and its wall-to-wall women. Loads of air hostesses are based here" should really alert you to the fact that this might not be your average decent person. Clearly a munter - and they're everywhere, not just here. Scroll down to check out Paul's photo and I'd be surprised if he ever gets lucky on a Tuesday....

Another article compared hotel prices in Dubai to those in Doncaster - apparently it's cheaper to stay here than in that gorgeous (!) UK city. What a load of tosh. The hotels they used as a comparison are budget and nowhere that you'd be in a hurry to stay. And I'm not being funny, and at the risk of offending the people of Doncaster - I know where I'd rather holiday....

Built to Last?

It's been raining for the last few days here in Dubai. Yes, I know. As it's gorgeous for the other 360 days a year, I really shouldn't moan. So I won't. I will say that I'd almost forgotten what an effect terrible weather has on my mood. I couldn't put my finger on why I had a niggling feeling of moroseness (is that a word?) all weekend - despite getting up to all sorts of festive fun. It can only be the weather. Grey skies, rain, eurgh.

Anyway, my observation this morning is that buildings, whilst looking pretty good in Dubai, have go to be questionable on the quality front. Yes, I appreciate that it doesn't rain often here, but still, is that an excuse for the gallons of water that were pouring through the ceiling of the car park this morning? Or the 10 (yes, 10) large buckets placed strategically in the souk near my apartment, all with water pouring into them....

Despite all this rain, I still walked to work this morning (cue gasps of horror from colleagues.) It may be raining but it's still in the 20's, so it's a more pleasant stroll than my Manchester days. Days when you wouldn't dare leave the house in the rain without gloves on as your hands would freeze to ice whilst clutching the brolly handle.

I'm hoping that this is going to stop before Christmas Day - it has two weeks to pull itself together. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Carol

If you get a chance, go and see A Christmas Carol. And preferably in 3D. I knew I’d love it – I’m a sucker for the story and when it comes to 3D – well the first ten minutes of Harry Potter earlier in the year had us all enchanted. And screaming (apologies to anyone sat near us that day in July.)

I can’t stand Jim Carrey which was almost enough to put me off but thankfully by some weird computer CGI wizardry, you can’t really tell that it’s him. Likewise with Bob Hoskins and Gary Oldman, who also star in the film.

I’m sure that everyone knows the CC story, so I won’t bore you with that – but I will bore you with how amazing the 3D effects are. There’s so many opportunities to showcase it, flying over and through the streets of Victorian London (in the snow!), horse-drawn carriage chases, and the obligatory ghost scenes.

One small thing – if you’re taking kids with you, it’s, ahem, quite scary. A little girl in front of us had to be taken out in floods of tears when the first ghost appeared, and to be honest, it did cross my mind to join her. But it’s also hilarious in equal measure. And brilliant. Go see it. We sang Christmas carols all the way to the nearest bar afterwards…..

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Can We Stay Here Forever?

We never got tired of heading out on game drives. Towards the end of the trip we’d really got into our safari groove, scanning the horizon with binoculars like true professionals. You literally see something new every time you head out – and you never know what it will be.

Anderson our guide had lived in the Mara his whole life and worked as a guide for years and years – and he was still genuinely thrilled each time we saw an animal. His exclamations of ‘oh my god’ when we saw a leopard or rhino, and his excited giggles when cheetah played in front of the car were really infectious.

It was a sad day when we had to leave, and a sombre drive to the airstrip with Anderson. I think the big man had a tear in his eye - Andrea and I definitely did, although each for different reasons - I'd seen the minuscule plane we had to get into!

There’s definitely something in the air in Kenya which makes it extremely special. It’s not just the landscape, the animals, the amazing people, there’s something about the soul of the place which is captivating, relaxing and exciting in equal measure. In case you hadn’t realized, I loved it. If you’re thinking of going – head there soon…and hit me up for all my travel details…you HAVE to stay at Olonana…

Drama, Comedy, Suspense…Safari has it All

As I mentioned earlier, in the main we were overwhelmed by how peaceful the Masai Mara is. A large proportion of the animals are herbivores, so spend their days happily munching grass, trees and bushes.

But obviously, there’s the meat-eaters. And there’s quite a lot of them. And by Day 3 it stood to reason that we were going to see something getting eaten.

The lions were the first predators we saw in action, and they make quite a team. They’re amazingly impressive up close, and it’s easy to forget that they’re basically enormous killing machines. We watched a pride chase a wart-hog into a hole and then spend the next hour digging it out. Patience and tenacity in spades.

Later we discovered that one of the resident leopards (and there was only three in the near vicinity) had been killed by a hyena. We went to see the evidence- not pleasant. Anderson was visibly moved and it was a very sobering moment.

Another occasion saw us literally stumble over a cheetah who had just eaten – evident by it’s huge stomach and bloody mouth. It was obviously slipping into a food coma and was far too sated to do anything other than collapse on its back into a heap, which allowed us the most amazing close-up view of its tummy. Crying out to be tickled. Joke.

Later we saw a group of nine lions stalk another wart-hog. Watching them emerge slowly slowly from the bushes and stalk it through the long grass was honestly a ‘heart in the mouth’ moment. The warthog escaped unscathed in the end, by which time my nerves were shot to pieces.

On our last day we got a flat tyre, right in the middle of the bush. On one side of us were elephants, the other side giraffe, and behind us a huge group of antelope. The big sort. Didn’t help my nerves that only the day before we’d seen lions in that very spot. Thankfully Anderson proved to be a dab hand at changing tyres and we were only out of the car for about ten minutes.

Thankfully all this drama and suspense we came across some elephants wallowing in a muddy hole. It was truly hilarious and a typical example of the range of emotions that you experience on safari. Amazing.

Questions To Ask Your Safari Guide

Every day brought a barrage of questions for Anderson, our affable and highly knowledgeable guide (pictured here helping us to set up breakfast). How he put up with us, I don’t know. Here's what he had to endure during our trip:

Q: What does /y/z animal eat?
A: Dependent on animal, of course.

Q: Does x/y/z animal sleep at night?
A: As above. Giraffes sleep lying down but with their necks straight up in the air. Who knew?

Q: Where does x/y/z animal sleep at night?
A: Completely depends. Leopards stay up in the trees.

Q: Why don’t leopards fall out of the trees?
A: They balance themselves cleverly.

Q: What’s your favourite animal?
A: Cheetah, because they’re very friendly.

Q: Why aren’t animals green for camouflage?
A: Anderson quite rightly ignored this question.

Q: Can you do any animal impressions?
A: Although at first Anderson was reluctant to do any impressions he did later crack out a great cheetah noise. (A high pitched squeak and not at all what we were expecting!)

Q: What lives in that hole?
A: A hyena. Or a warthog. I wasn’t going to stick my head into it to find out.

Q: If the car broke down, would the animals eat us.
A: (After much laughter) No. This was proved to be correct when the car did in fact, break down.

Q: What are your views on zoos?
A: Anderson has never visited a zoo but isn’t keen on how they sound. At all.

Q: Where does the petrol for the 4x4’s come from?
A: A tanker makes a 4 day trip from Nairobi once a month and fills a tank on-site.

Q: Why do giraffes have blue tongues?
A: The only question that stumped Anderson. I happen to know the answer after a trip to Desert Islands and their resident giraffe group. Think you know the answer? Let me know and I’ll tell you if you’re right!

The Early Bird Catches The…..

Our first full day on the Mara started early – it’s best to get up and out by 6.30 am as it’s cooler and the animals are more active. After a sleepless night (see previous post) it wasn’t easy getting out of bed, but it’s amazing how quickly you perk up with the cool breeze blowing over you, a beautiful sunrise, and the sight of hot air balloons rising slowly in the distance.

We soon realized what the blankets in the car were for (Queen Mother chic) but we didn’t need them for long. And to be honest, the excitement of seeing a leopard (Big 5: Done) meant that any thoughts about temperature went out of the window.

After rocking around the Mara for almost three hours Anderson drove us to a perfect spot on the banks of the river: breakfast time. I’m not sure what I was imagining but it wasn’t a five course gourmet feast, with hot coffee. Amazing. More animal bothering and then back to the camp for lunch. I’m sure we did more each day than just eat and drink wine!

Oh yes, we also went to the spa. Yes, on top of all the other luxurious touches, there was a spa in camp. The memory of lying in the open air next to the river being massaged, lifting up my head and realizing we were being watched by a baboon and a hippo, will stay with me for quite some time!

That evening took a magical turn. Up until that point there’d only been a few people in the camp with us, but some new arrivals meant our numbers had risen to nine. Nothing like feeling you’re in your own private hide-away. Because of this the camp decided to throw us a surprise party…..in the middle of the bush, under the moonlight. They tricked us into going with promises of moonlight animal watching, and as we did actually stop to watch hippos grazing, we all fell for it. It was pretty special to sit under the stars and the full moon with a cold glass of wine whilst (yet another) amazing meal was prepared for us.

We did have a brief altercation with the Texan contingent after a particularly stupid comment by them about the Middle East. Needless to say Auntie Andrea put them in their place, which meant that they gave us a wide berth for the rest of their stay..bothered?!

Anyway all of that was forgotten after a few hours of wine and food. And the highlight….the entire camp arrived, with guitars, singing their own Olonana Camp song. In what can only be described as a conga. It might sound cack, but it was hilarious. Obviously the English girls were straight up out of their seats and joining in (no coincidence that we were propositioned about ten times by the end of the trip. We did consider how we’d cope with the life in the local village but decided on balance, we couldn’t hack it). Some enchanted evening.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Sleeping in a tent, albeit a luxury one with a wooden ‘skin’ does take a bit of getting used to, namely because you are right in the heart of nature.

The first night I felt like I woke up every hour on the hour – at one point because A woke up and thought there was someone in the tent (not likely as we had a Masai tribesman outside it all night).

Otherwise it was the strange sounds and noises that kept waking me. At any given point you could hear (in no particular order): hippos grunting (very loud), the river running and gurgling, cow bells, crickets, birds and Egyptian geese. It was mayhem out there! My first night back in my Dubai bed actually felt very quiet by comparison.

Animal Bothering

To be honest, it would be easier to tell you what we didn’t see…but even then, I’d struggle! We started spotting animals the moment we got off the plane at the airstrip. Here’s what I can remember:

The Big 5 – lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino and elephant. Not in the Big 5 but still amazing: giraffe, zebra, serval, baboon, hippo, water buffalo, vulture, eagle, warthog (amazing!), hyena, wildebeest, mongoose, antelope, crocodile, bat, lizard, jackal. They kept us very busy!

My Top Safari Tips

Keep your mouth closed most of the time, and especially when you’re driving across the Mara in your 4x4. Insects were never really a problem but there were a fair few winged creatures bouncing off my head as we went along. At one point the girl sat behind me announced: Kelly, I’m about to hit you on the head, but it’s because there’s a giant bug on it. Hurl! I would have hated for that to go anywhere near my mouth…

It’s not THAT cold…and it’s not THAT hot. I’d heard horror stories about how utterly freezing it becomes at night – what a load of rubbish! Maybe it’s because I’m used to harsh Northern England winters, but 15 degrees at night is not cold to me. Duncan our butler very kindly popped a hot water bottle in our beds each night, but I never needed it.

Safari dust is like glue. I’m used to living in the desert with a fine covering of sand over my balcony/inside my flat etc etc, but this stuff is different. After a day animal watching I’d use a face wipe, wash my face, have a shower, and STILL the towel would be black with dust at the end. What’s in it?!

Consider taking a sports bra with you. No, I’m not joking. I can’t describe the state of the roads – well they’re not roads, just tracks through the Mara. The first day I felt like I needed spine surgery – you do get used to it by the end of your trip. Back to my original trip – if you’re, ahem, blessed in the chest department, you could find this endless bouncing around quite painful…..

Make sure you take binoculars. You spend a huge part of your time scanning the horizon for..well..anything. Without them you'll just be looking at a load of grass for days.....

Half the Adventure is Getting There….

Safari, stage one……in all the excitement of getting up at stupid o’clock to get to Sharjah airport (incidentally, it may not be the most modern of terminals, but Air Arabia are amazing) I completely forgot that I do, on occasion get extremely travel sick. As in: raging nausea, hot sweats, in short: wanting to die. It didn’t help that the flight started out quite bumpy, and it also didn’t help that a) the guy sat across the aisle to me kept burping really loudly (nice) or that b) the girl sat next to him spent half an hour throwing up noisily into a carrier bag. Anyway, after some travel sickness tablets I came around..over the counter pharmaceuticals from Dubai somehow seem so much more powerful and effective than back home!

4.5 hours later we arrived at Nairobi airport to be met by our first lovely guide, Joseph. He was at pains to take us through every item on our itinerary- we were in a frenzy of excitement and trying to crack open bottles of wine in the back of the car (you can take the girl out of Manchester..).

We’d opted to stay just outside of the city in a gorgeous place called the House of Waine. It’s a private house that has been converted into a guest house. It’s small boutique style place with themed rooms and gorgeous gardens. There wasn’t much to do apart from drink wine, chill in the gardens, and eat. Bliss.

Next morning and the moment I’d been dreading…..the Safari Link plane down to the Masai Mara. I’m not scared of flying, in fact I love travelling and never think twice about getting on a plane. Big planes, that is. Small planes, I don’t get along with. It’s something I just can’t control, they terrify me.

This plane was a 13 seater - If I’d have known at this stage how much smaller the plane on the return route would be….well, that’s a story for later. Our pilot introduced himself – Jackson – it didn’t help that he looked about 12, and was there really any need for him to keep insulting the map as we went along?? It wasn’t really instilling me with confidence. I won’t go into the torrid detail, but there were tears… I could barely get off the plane at the end, but soon perked up when we were met by our wonderful guide for the next five days, Anderson.

We’d barely been in the 4x4 for five minutes when we started making our first sightings, by the time we arrived at Olonana Camp we were in a state of near-hysteria. The head of staff, Maurice (they all have such English names!) and introduced us to Daniel, our personal waiter, Duncan, our butler, and a myriad of other people on hand to look after us. Spoilt isn’t even the word.

After an amazing lunch we headed out on our first afternoon game drive. We saw everything, apart from a leopard (which we saw the next morning). Truly amazing. What Anderson doesn’t know about animals really isn’t worth knowing. We rounded off the evening with wine, dinner, and cards by the fire. Bliss.

I'm Back! Did You Miss Me?!

Safari…where do I start? There’s just so so much to write about, and I make no apologies for my blog being completely safari orientated for the next few days! Before I get into the detail, one of my main impressions of the Masai Mara was just how peaceful it was. Not literally, although it was incredibly quiet, just birdsong and the wind moving through the trees and bushes..but more in terms of how everything lives alongside each other in harmony.

Years of watching David Attenborough programmes, with their scenes of chases and kills, all set to dramatic music, made me expect a place of high drama. There were definitely moments of tension and drama (more on that later!) but overall serenity was the name of the game. Giraffe grazed next to zebra, rhino, antelope and baboons, whilst a leopard watched from a tree above. It was a lesson in co-existing which we could all learn a lot from. More safari updates very soon….