Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hiking in Nepal: Day 3

I travelled to Nepal and hiked the Poon Hill loop in the Annapurna trekking circuit for five glorious days to celebrate my 36th birthday. I brought a little black journal with me and scribbled some notes in an attempt to document my solo mission. 

As soon as I returned to the UAE, I immediately misplaced the little black journal but just found it again. So here we go...






WEDNESDAY (Day 3) 6:47 am -- Pohkara

Once he confirmed I was not a Muslim and that I was, in fact, from America, the manager at the Mountain View Hotel felt comfortable enough with me to go on a racist diatribe about Pakistanis, Bahrainis, Indians and in particular, people from the Indian state of Kerala.

And at that point, I was only half done with my morning coffee.

"They are all black snakes..." he said without thinking twice.

"Mate, I'm going to stop you right there," I barked back. "I have personal friends from Kerala and I think they are pretty amazing people. You can't just go throwing around remarks like that. You just met me."

The manager's subordinates stood in awkward silence while he quickly changed the subject. I was just having my deluxe breakfast of two fried eggs and a soggy piece of toast. No one asked him to sit down next to me. The manager also knew my trekking guide was on his way so he realized this was no time for a showdown.

Later on, the manager made me pose for photos with him while I checked out near the front desk. He took the photos with his 2002 Nextel mobile phone. The ones that look like mini walkie-talkies. It was proof of the top rate operation he was running there.

He also asked me at least three different times to write a review of the hotel on TripAdvisor. I told him not to worry and that I would write a glowing report, sans the cold shower water, multiple power outages and racist banter.

I had no more time to deal with the country's tourist industry. It was time to hit the trail.







WEDNESDAY (Day 3) 5:10 pm -- Ulleri

He was a terribly nice guy but I think my trekking guide's name was 'Moron' but I couldn't be too sure. He was very reserved and quiet. I asked him to repeat his name to me several times when we met but after such a long time, I realized it would just be uncomfortable for me to ask for clarification again.

So anyway, Moron and I started our hike this morning.

They said the first would be easy but it was anything but a gingerly walk in the park. Nepal trails do not waste any time. Or maybe the guides said it would be easy just to mess with me?

While we were trudging along, Moron said to me, "Nepalese men are just stronger." I do believe he had a point. This was their land. Their terrain. And it was brutal. I even saw school children in uniform maneuvering slopes with ease. The very same slopes that left me winded and cursing the trekking Gods.

At one point during that first day, we had climbed 1,000 meters in a little less than an hour. When we finally arrived at our final resting spot, I just collapsed into the one-inch thick mattress with all my clothes still on. It was only 4:12 pm.

The first trekking lodge we stayed at was in Ulleri and a shit hole it was not. I made myself right at home and the proprietor of the lodge, and his children, could not have been more friendly hosts.



It was the kind of place that fashioned kitchen flooring on the ceiling and had a picture of a cartoon Jesus next to their Wifi advertisement.

Subsequently, their Wifi was on the fritz.

I did ingest some rather questionable chicken curry for dinner, which made for a premature bedtime. That and I was just completely exhausted from getting my ass kicked on the trail. It was only the first day in the mountains. Can I keep this up?

Welp ... I will certainly try.







Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hiking in Nepal: Day 2

I travelled to Nepal and hiked the Poon Hill loop in the Annapurna trekking circuit for five glorious days to celebrate my 36th birthday. I brought a little black journal with me and scribbled some notes in an attempt to document my solo mission. 

As soon as I returned to the UAE, I immediately misplaced the little black journal but just found it again. So here we go...









TUESDAY (Day 2) 6.45am -- Kathmandu

The sun had just appeared so the powers that be lined up the charter buses along the road ready to heard that day's tourist cattle.

My bus, which was only half full, had several locals on board who sat as close to the driver as possible. They appeared to be of value and didn't think twice when I climbed aboard. So I grabbed the very back, which was actually a full row of five seats because I had fantasies of a mid-day nap during what I was told would be a five-hour journey to Pohkara.

The trip took more than eight hours.

The terrain was pot hole city and the ride was so bumpy that I actually commended a woman nearby for even attempting something that resembled sleep.

video

Along the way, I befriended a hippie/drifter/traveler named Mickey. He was a short man, Portuguese, had to be in his late 40's. He smoked like a chimney and coughed a lot.

We had both waited in line for tea during one of the bus stops. He was ahead of me and took a quick sip. He said 'it tasted like shit' so I made a game-time decision and asked for a beer. When I initially sparked a little friendly chatter with him, I did not anticipate the flood of unrelenting dialogue he would unleash on me.

He told me things like he 'traveled for a living' and he 'didn't really have a home'. He also said he wrote for the the Portuguese Chronicles (I later googled it -- found nothing) and that he was on assignment in Nepal. When I told him that I was a journalist too, it was like pouring anecdotal gasoline on the conversation fire.

Mickey said he was documenting his entire hiking trip. He was going to start with the Annapurna circuit and then 'after a little rest' he would tackle Everest. Tackle Everest? He made it sound so easy.

That's when I really knew he was completely full of shit. But it's fun to meet these kind of whackos when you're traveling. We keep up the friendly banter for another few hours until we finally arrived in Pohkara. Everyone got off the bus, we said 'nice to meet you' and went on our separate ways.






TUESDAY (Day 2) 7:21pm -- Pohkara

My first impression of the Mountain View Hotel was that it was pretty nice. I quickly found out that it was brand new, which explained why I was the only person who was having a drink at the bar and why five staff members -- yes, five of them -- just stood uncomfortably close to me and stared, waiting for me to ask them something.

Almost by default, I decided to hit the town for some dinner. Just a leisurely walk, I thought. I'm not around the corner from my hotel before a huge gust of wind swept through the city streets, kicking up dust and dirt from the ground. It was like that scene from The Karate Kid II before the big storm came. I thought the wind was actually refreshing until I saw locals scrambling through the streets as they tried to close up their shops.

Because I was now a little scared of getting rained on, I quickly ducked into the first restaurant I saw. But the storm never came and since I was already caught in this obvious tourist trap, I dined on over-priced chicken momos and vegetable pad thai.

When I left there, I decided to indulge in this tourist trend so I walked into some store, bought some postcards and a refrigerator magnet. Just dropping dolla-dolla bills, ya'll.

As I walked back to my hotel, with a plastic tourist bag full of travel souvenirs in tow, a few dudes standing on the corner asked me very nonchalantly if I wanted to purchase 'grass' from them. Grass? What are we stuck in 1955? I think that's what my parents used to call it.

But this was Nepal, so I cut them some slack.

I guess I cut them too much slack because before I knew it, I was inside the bowels of some sketchy Nepalese restaurant surrounded by three local street toughs and they were quite determined to sell me drugs. Then their 'boss' arrived on a motor scooter. He was very friendly, too.

"I'm going to give you a great deal -- this is real quality stuff," the boss man said while his cronies nodded in agreement.

It was a good thing I had spent all my Nepalese cash on momos, Everest beer and travel postcards. I had no more money and they weren't offering any free samples. It took a lot of talking and some sly maneuvering but I slowly extracted myself from the scene, scurried around the lake and got back to my hotel just before the sun went down.

Because in Pohkara, everyone knows that's when the real weirdos came out to play.





Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hiking in Nepal: Day 1

I travelled to Nepal and hiked the Poon Hill loop in the Annapurna trekking circuit for five glorious days to celebrate my 36th birthday. I brought a little black journal with me and scribbled some notes in an attempt to document my solo mission. 

As soon as I returned to the UAE, I immediately misplaced the little black journal but just found it again. So here we go...






MONDAY (Day 1) 9.45am -- Abu Dhabi International Airport

The man behind the counter gave me a confused look when I ordered a plain green tea instead of a double mocha frappuccino or some other proverbial over-priced expat beverage. Yes, it was true: a man of my pale (sun-burned) complexion does enjoy hot tea. Especially when that man had been battling a mystery sickness that lingered for several days leading up to his adventure in the Himalayas.

Here I am. At the airport. In Abu Dhabi. Solo.

It was just me and a bunch of what I could only assume were Nepalese men. They looked tired. They were ready to go home. For me, my mission was just beginning.

In front of me was Nepal. Behind me, almost as far away as possible, was a gaggle of white people who appeared to huddle in one area of the airport gate as if quarantined away from the brown haze that would inevitably consume them.

I wore my old hiking gear from 2009. So naturally, I thought I had street credit.

But the task at hand was to grab some sleep on the plane so I could rid myself of this sickness once and for all. Sleeping on planes had never been a tall order for me.

The plan became that much easier when the check-in lady swiped my ticket stub and then said I needed a new boarding pass. As I boarded the plane, I didn't really think to look at the new one until one of the flight attendants onboard escorted me to a business class seat. Wait a second, I didn't buy a business class seat. Right about the time when champagne and orange juice arrived, I realized only one person could have pulled this off.

Once again, my amazing wife Miranda had pleasantly surprised me. We exchanged a few quick text messages before the plane filled with passengers. I told her that I loved her.

Wheels up. Champagne down. Sleep.





MONDAY (Day 1) 7.23pm -- Eco Hotel restaurant in Kathmandu 

Flying into this city was like landing in a war zone. The remnants of last year's earthquake were very present even before we touched down on the decrepit airport runway.

The arrivals terminal we were bussed to was deserted but the workers near the visa operation were helpful and everyone spoke English, which was an unexpected delight.

Something that was expected and lived up to the hype: the country smelled like shit. The smog and pollution was in your face within minutes. The street traffic? Fucking insane.

After clearing through immigration with ease -- my minted US passport granted me a license to pillage -- I walked outside where the real shit was going down. A few friendly taxi barkers took aim at the tallest white man in the room. I had been riding some kind of wave where I was confident enough to engage but it was quite obvious I was not going to bite. The barkers were polite -- they were not pushy at all -- took their loss and just moved on to the next potential pay day.

Then I emerged outside the arrivals gate. Before I embarked on this journey, I had signed up for one of those everything-included packages. Transport, accommodations, food, hiking permits... the works! But as I debuted in this country, I just assumed there would be someone holding up a sign with my name on it. On what can only be described as an ATM receipt with the word "Aaron" scribbled on the back of it, a very excited Nepalese man, the holder of such a meager sign, summoned my attention. I think he was told to keep an eye out for clueless men who squinted at the many signs with people's names on them.

Fresh meat.

A simple thumbs up were exchanged between us and before I knew it, he had rushed around a security wall and forced my loaded bag off my back. He must have asked if I was Aaron at least three times just to make sure. No last names were used.

We walked about 15 meters before he quickly opened the back passenger door to a dirty sedan with a driver already in it. He tossed my bag into the backseat like a sack of potatoes, I got in shotgun but the guy prevented me from closing the door. Then he mumbled something that ended with "tip, tip?"

I suddenly sprang to attention because this vulcher's inquiry reminded me that I had not hit a cash machine yet. The last time I landed in a foreign land and did not get local cash out, the punishments were severe. When I came back, I tried to hand him 50 rupees but he did not accept because it was such a small amount to him that he thought it was disrespectful.

He threw a little attitude at me so I just hopped in the car and closed the door on his face. I wasn't trying to make a crass first impression but the driver immediately put his foot on the gas and then we were off.

"Don't worry about him," the driver said. "They all think they deserve money because they hold a sign. Me? I'm driver. We know everything about Kathmandu. Do you want any drugs? Do you want prostitute?"

Welcome to Nepal.




Wednesday, June 1, 2016

GUEST BLOG POST: Shipping your car to the UAE




International Auto Shipping Companies Provide Shipping Solutions to Abu Dhabi

Bringing your car with you to Abu Dhabi can really enhance your experience in the country. If you are considering spending a prolonged stay in the country, consider bringing your car with you. If you do plan to bring your car with you, look into international shippers who specialize in shipping to the UAE, as shipping internationally can be a nightmare to those that have never shipped overseas before.

Unlike state-to- state and nationwide auto transport, international auto transport is much more complex. If you have plans to ship a vehicle to Abu Dhabi, find a reputable company before hiring just anyone. Taking the time to find a reliable international auto hauler will save you hundreds in duty taxes and import fees.

Prepare the Necessary Paperwork for the Customs Department

In order to get your vehicle released form customs officials, you will have to prove that you are the owner of the vehicle. The UAE Customs Department has rules and regulations that must be followed in order to prevent delays in custom clearances. Hire a company that works closely with customs agents in ports around the world.

In the event that something goes wrong with customs security, you will want to make sure the company you hire can help resolve the issue. Before your vehicle is shipped, you will be well informed of everything you will need so this kind of situation can be avoided. The process is rather easy as long as you take the time to conduct thorough research hauling company.
  • Proof of insurance
  • Export declaration from the U.S. customs department
  • Original bill of sale
  • Trade license of the company exporting the vehicle
  • Valid residence permit (for foreign vehicles)
  • The depreciation of the vehicle can be no more than five years
  • Bill of lading

Main Ports of Arrival in the UAE
  • Al Ain
  • Sharjah
  • Ajman

Methods Used to Ship an Automobile Internationally
  • Container Shipping – Shipping a vehicle in a container will provide your vehicle with the most security against weather and theft. There are many benefits to shipping a vehicle in a container including choosing when and where you want your vehicle delivered. You can also transport personal items inside of the vehicle and in the empty space of the container. Experts recommend anyone with high-end or antique vehicles to purchase this shipping solution.
  • Roll-on Roll-off Service – This is the most popular way to transport a car overseas because it safe and much more affordable than container shipping. Your vehicle must be operable in order to be rolled onto and off of the deck. Make sure to have any leaks repaired prior to the ship date or you will have to schedule a later ship date. Once your vehicle is driven on the vessel, it will be secured with the most advanced shipping technology on the market.

Benefits of Hiring a Professional International Auto Hauling Company

If you do the proper research, you will not regret your experience when it comes to auto shipping. The auto shipping industry has been around for decades and has proven to be a very lucrative business. Reputable companies in the industry can offer full coverage for your vehicle.

So if anything happens, you can feel comforted in knowing that your losses will be covered. Having your own vehicle available in Abu Dhabi will greatly improve your quality of life. Not only will you be able to navigate this beautiful country at your leisure, but you can avoid inconvenient public transport options.

ABOUT THE GUEST BLOGGER: 

Jason Mueller is an entrepreneur living in Costa Rica with family from Canada. After graduating from high school and getting his pilot’s license, he started to travel the world looking for adventure. Currently, his businesses are Jaco Ropes and Costa Rica Guy’s Trip. He can be reached via email at jasondmueller8@gmail.com


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Having a baby in UAE: Joining a Daddy Group



The new fathers of Abu Dhabi are good men and they come in all different shapes, sizes and nationalities. I can atest to this. Indeed, we are a fine breed who roam these sweaty streets with strollers in tow and Baby B'jorns tangling from our torsos.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pablo Escobar comes to Abu Dhabi


I wrote about facial hair two years ago and it's a hot topic within the UAE because to this day, it is still the most-read post on this entire blog (which doesn't say a whole lot).

For a blast down memory lane: "Barber shop or gents salon?" published Jan 2014

So I figured why ruin a good thing? Facial hair. Beards. Mustaches ... It's all good. 

But while brunching at the Belgian Beer Cafe last Friday, some friends and I came face-to-face with none other than international drug lord Pablo Escobar. The Colombian kingpin walked in wearing his sunglasses but he couldn't go incognito. We all knew it was him with that token mustache.

        credit: jnevindesigns

In reality, I was getting ready for a little date night with the wife when out of the blue, I decided to shave my face with shaving cream and a razor -- I'm talking a total clean shave here. It was the first time in about five years those white cheeks of mine had seen the light of day.

But just before I was about to finish the job, for no reason at all, I decided to keep the stache. I know what you're saying: Good call, brother. Indeed, mustaches are a sexy look. Everyone knows that, my wife included.

It wasn't until the next day at brunch when some friends said I looked like Escobar. I think they were already a few too many mimosas deep when they paid me such a generous compliment. 

Do you see the resemblance?

Or was that the real Pablo Escobar brunching in Abu Dhabi??


Friday, February 26, 2016

Mushrif Central Park: Best park in Abu Dhabi


During my visits to parks in America, each initial encounter was about the same for me:

Plenty of trees lined what was probably a dirty, unkept road to the little entrance gate where a burly park ranger waited for you, ready to hand you a map. After he gave you a jolly welcome, of course there was a friendly, but suggestive gesture toward their park donation jar. You throw in a couple bucks, nod at the ranger, drive through the park gate and prepare for inevitable recreational bliss.

But this is the UAE and things are a little different here.

When I drove up to Mushrif Central Park for the first time, what caught my eye was the red velvet rope dividers and red carpet conspicuously drenched all over the entrance. Was this a movie premiere?

It looked like the entrance to a fashionable club, only the admission was five dirhams and the go-go dancers were replaced with beautiful mothers in activewear pushing baby strollers around.



But under further investigation, I came to realize two things about Mushrif Central Park:

A) It had a very original name.

B) It is the best park in the city. Hands down.

Don't believe me? Here's an interactive map that details every park in Abu Dhabi. If you can find a better park than Mushrif Central, then you email me with your proof. If you are right -- trust me, you won't be -- then I'll buy you an ice cream cone. I promise.


Speaking of ice cream, do you know where you can get countless scoops of Movenpick Ice Cream, which is considered the best cold delicacy in the world? Yes, you guessed it.

Mushrif Park, which is located at the corner of 15th and 24th streets in the capital, also has a Burger Bureau stand, a chilled-out cafe called Park Station (which is great) and a SALT food truck parked just outside the main gates at all times.

But the best thing about the park, when it comes to grub, is the Ripe Food & Craft Market, which attracts more than 50 craft and 25 food vendors to the park every Saturday from 4-9pm. It's a must for locals and visitors alike.

Related article: Seven reasons to visit Abu Dhabi's Mushrif Central Park (The National)





Some other interesting facts about Mushrif Central Park:

- The park is one of the oldest and largest green urban areas in the UAE capital, having first opened its doors in 1982 to women and children only.

- The park is currently ranked No. 12 of 124 things to do in Abu Dhabi by TripAdvisor

- Other popular features include the memorial Wisdom Garden honoring the legacy of Sheikh Zayed, which now includes English translations of the engraved quotes from the UAE's founding president. There is also a botanical garden with native plants and animal barn operated by Emirates Park Zoo.


DISCLAIMER: This is not a sponsored blog post. I wrote about Mushrif Central Park because I genuinely enjoy it. I strongly suggest you make a visit. Cheers.