Skywatch Friday…

Sunset at Masirah island, Oman…

Linking with Skywatch Friday

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Butterfly of the day…

Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) butterfly.
Taken at Ayn Athum, Salalah, Dhofar region of Oman in November 2018.
There is a waterfall, in the Khareef (monsoon) season and a park is under construction where the river begins.
It’s a place to spot birds, butterflies, dragonflies and fish.
We were there just after Cyclone Luban, the area was lush and green with plenty of wildlife to keep me busy with my lens!
It’s a lovely place to visit…

Bird of the day…

The great egret (Ardea alba), also known as the common egret, large egret, or great white egret or great white heron is a large, widely distributed egret, with four subspecies found in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and southern Europe.

On Masirah Island, Oman these elegant birds are everywhere to be seen, indeed, all along the Omani coastline.

Al Qudra Lakes, Dubai…

In Dubai there now seems to be a huge awareness for ecological protection which is very positive, given the fact that the city is ever-growing.

Maintaining the natural wetland environments and creating new ones seem to be part of the city plan.

Al Qudra lakes are around 30 km into the desert from my flat. It’s now a popular place for city dwellers to drive out to in the cooler evenings, take the family for a walk, observe the birds, meet up with friends and eat al fresco. It’s beautifully maintained and there are cycle tracks all around the drive down area.

I took a trip out tonight, maybe a mistake on a Bank holiday weekend as it was extremely busy, and as I drove up I did wonder if my desire to photograph the wetland birds would be thwarted by the number of cars and people around.

But, not so, I think the birds must be used to being on show…

Some shots from the wetland…

 

October 2018, Travelling in Oman and surprises on the roads…

I’m back in one of my favourite places for a few weeks. There is something about Oman that draws me back time and time again, the pace of life, the people, the incredible scenery and the sheer vastness of the country never fail to excite me as I cross the border and we start the extremely long drive to the South.

Currently, I’m spending time in Dhofar.

The Dhofar Governorate is the largest of the eleven Governorates in the Sultanate of Oman in terms of area. It lies in Southern Oman, on the eastern border with Yemen. It is a rather mountainous area that covers 99,300 km (38,300 sq mi) and has a population of 249,729 as of the 2010 census.The largest city, as well as the capital of the Governorate, is Salalah. Historically the region was the chief source of frankincense in the world.

On my first trip here in 2013, the roads were poor outside of Salalah.

A major road building project has been taking place during the subsequent years to upgrade the route from Salalah towards the north of the country through the small villages and coastal communities that lie so far from major towns.

The difference this visit is quite amazing, the road is nearly finished and it is now a far smoother and faster journey, however, as with all road travel in the Middle East, the camel is a road danger.

Our drive down to Dhofar continued through the night. At god o’clock in some remote part of the central plains, we rounded a corner, luckily having just slowed down to look at a flare from a nearby oil-field (this sort of observation is a way of passing time on the 14-hour car journey) and out of the dark a pair of camels came leaping onto the road…screech, slam of brakes, disaster averted, you really don’t want to hit a camel, even in the beast of a Nissan patrol that we are driving. More caution was required for the rest of night!

No photo of the night encounter but here are some camels along the roadside near Hasik.

Down here in Dhofar, cows also roam freely…

The new road, complete with cow, looking for her herd, a bit of a traffic impediment!

Here were the rest of the herd, on the other side of the cow-proof barrier…

I was a little surprised to see a whole herd making their way down the dual-carriageway. From physical evidence left on the ground, it appeared that they had joined at the previous slip road, possibly an easier route than the surrounding terrain…

On the return journey back down the dual carriageway, we then came across a camel herd being marshalled to their destination on the wrong side of the road by the familiar Toyota pickups that every Omani farmer seems to possess…

Then entering the town of Mirbat a herd of goats on the trot through town…

Laid back and typically Omani, life goes on, even if an enormous road has just cut through the grazing grounds. I’ll just remember to look out for herds when I’m driving at night…

So what did I do during my free time in the Summer of 2018…?

Well, I wasn’t blogging!

This year, after an India and Oman trip during April, I headed back to Cyprus for the summer.

Now I’m not working in the UAE, visiting the region during the summer months isn’t appealing but my home in Cyprus is.

Sorting the years of never sorted clutter (still an ongoing and tedious project) and fixing the house ( Luckily the OH does D-I-Y extremely well) were my priorities and working on the garden is my ultimate pleasure.

I was happy to be here enjoying my home at long last, but I want to learn new skills, my background has been leaning towards the arts forever and last year I started Mosaic classes with a local Mosaic artist, Sharen Taylor ( interesting links below) who is extremely talented and has her own unique take on the ancient art and is an established face within the Arts scene in Paphos.

This year I moved onto the intermediate level and joined a course where we were to make a table.

My choice was to make one for outside, I have a lovely seating area in the shade, but, no table for the morning frappe or glass of vino that perfects a Cyprus summer’s eve.

Measurements taken, 60cm x 120cm, 50cm high, a perfect fit.

Then I drew a blank on the design, vague notions of vine leaves, grapes, olives, and pomegranates swirled around in my head but wouldn’t flow on paper. So, I left the designing, feeling inspiration would eventually arrive.

Teacher messaged to advise to have our design expanded to the actual size.

Hmm, panic, this was my project, I had to do something, I only had a head vision which wasn’t coming together.

I spent the evening cobbling together a little design ( you will note this has nothing to do with the aforementioned head plan of grapes, vines or pomegranates, but leans towards lemons, oranges and almond blossom, such are the vagaries of head art, but it’s all relevant to Cyprus life).

Scrabbling around in cupboards for pencils, crayons, old geometry sets, observant folks will note the ruler in the pictures and understand just how old that is!

I like precision and it started to take shape. Enlarged the next day with some blank parts (To be decided), working on the principle that the design would flow as it evolved.

Head thoughts, to be worked on in progress…

This was quite a big project and I was going to be living with the end result, so I needed to do what I wanted to do, break a few rules if there are any and go with my art heart!

Once it started, it became my nightly pleasure. “Darling” son who lives with me, is working in the hospitality industry, late nights are the norm, there was no one who needed my cooking skills and I can live quite happily on cheese and biscuits, bread and cheese, biscuits and cheese, cheese and… well, you get the picture!

Work in progress…

July mosaiced into August, my daughter arrived for three weeks holiday so I put my tile nippers and glue away and became social again, but there was a deadline to the final session ticking away so whilst she was out clubbing away some evenings, I was snipping, cutting and gluing, racing towards completion day.

Grouting day appeared, a messy time, plus apprehension as to whether I’d done it right, had I used the right amount  of water and grout, had I stood on the tiles hard enough to make it level ( Yes, one way of ensuring a big piece is glued down evenly, I didn’t think of that either! Thank you, Teacher!)

Finished-pre-grout…

Luckily the OH had appeared for a D-I-Y visit, he helped me and we brought it home. Horror, there were cracks appearing, panic built, but Teacher passed by on her way home and taught me the grout fixes.

The mosaic panel was inserted into the table frame.

The result for me was the pleasure of the whole project.

I’d enjoyed the creation and the finished table was something I’d completed, finally!

A very satisfying summer and a new table!

Finished, post-grout…

I did mention I’d only be doing this once, but, well, I’ve now joined into another glass and mosaic workshop and guess what, I’m doing another table! The table journey to be continued…

And I need to catch up on rather a lot blog-wise. Hmmm…

My excellent teacher:

http://www.sharentaylor.com

www.facebook.com/SharenTaylorMosaics

India,1/4/18 :Trivandrum arrival and elephants, in the first hour…

We flew on the red-eye from Dubai to Trivandrum to start the South India trip. Luckily I slept for a short while on the plane.

Indian airports, at any time, are a rapid and fairly frantic introduction to local color, noise and antiquated bureaucracy. Early in the morning, after little sleep in the air, it’s a lesson in patience.

Our travel company, Magic Tours of India, had arranged our driver to meet us.

Outside in the huge crowd, I spotted a sign with my name.

Major relief, the plan was about to work. There is always a nervous moment when you spill out into the crowd and hope the plan has worked.

Bundled into the car, we headed off into Trivandrum.

We had made up our day’s schedule from online research. We knew we would be tired out after the flight, so desisted from planning too much culture on day one and had decided to head to Trivandrum zoo, where there was also a museum and gardens.

Down the road, suddenly we pulled over.

“Elephants,” the driver told us, “there is a religious procession”.

“Can I take photographs?” I asked.

“Of course”, he said.

Completely unprepared, the wrong lens on the camera, but I hurtled out into it all.

Wonderful, it was unexpected India at it’s very best.

I knew it would be a good trip…

S.India trip planned with Magic Tours of India : http://www.magictoursofindia.com

Thursday Doors, 19/4/18. At Shannah port, Oman…

A brief post this week as I’m on the road in Oman. I suspect this post may prove that doors, any type and anywhere are a magnet for me!

Shannah port, Oman is where you pick up the ferry for Masirah Island, Oman. There is a government service (National Ferry service) on a large car ferry that runs every few hours but there are also old style car ferries that run when they are full.

These ferries are quite old and on my very first trip, 5 years ago, I saw Greek signs on one of the ferries, which made me wonder if de-commissioned Greek inter-island ferries had been sold to the local entrepreneurs in this part of the world.

On my first trip, looking at the unmissable amount of rust and finding the faded and perished life jackets, I did wonder if I would reach the other side!

However, 5 years on and having been a regular customer on these little ferries, they are seaworthy…if anyone is familiar with the poem “Cargoes” by John Masefield, the lines ran through my head on my first trip, but muddled up to move the salt-caked smokestacks to the bluer seas of the Gulf of Oman!

You can wait several hours for them to fill, which is the downside! We had missed the last National Ferry, so headed across to one of the local ferries that was loading up with lorries. We were told it may run if enough cars and lorries turned up, this was around 5.30pm.

We hovered around, not wanting to board and be trapped by a lorry in case the ferry didn’t sail, but at 6.45 pm there were no new passengers so we made the decision to camp up in the dunes next to the port.

Local fishermen build shacks from bamboo and pieces of wood and as there was a strong wind blowing we needed to be in some shelter. Bumping through the very soft sand at the back of the beach, we came across just a perfect place for me!

Behind the door was not an ideal place for camping…

 

In case you are thinking “She seriously didn’t camp there?”… here is the evidence!

 

The view from the tent at sunrise…

 

We were on the port at 6.15am and boarded the ferry that hadn’t sailed the night before. It was full and we left within 10 minutes!

Linking with Thursday Doors

Thursday Doors,12/4/18. At Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu, India…

April 2018: A trip around South India.

From Dubai, we flew to Trivarundrum, visited the South West tip of India at Kanyakumari, crossed to the East coast via Tuticorin and arrived at Rameswaram.

Rameswaram is a town on Pamban Island, in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It’s known for Ramanathaswamy Temple, a Hindu pilgrimage site with ornate corridors, huge sculpted pillars and sacred water tank.

It is also the closest large town to Sri Lanka, which lies across the channel from Danushkodi point. This channel is known as Adam’s bridge. We had previously visited Talaimannar in Sri Lanka and had got as close as we could to the point, but most of the area is fenced off as a Naval base.

Not so on the Indian side. It was fully accessible and full of visitors. As we had been to the Sri Lankan side, we just had to go to the Indian side!

But this post is about doors, not beaches and the doors were in town, so it’s back to town.

I found few worthy doors in the preceding towns but Rameswaram satisfied my door need.

India is so colorful, and this town was just such a blast of color.

Come and wander around with me…

Heading into town, towards the temple entrance…

The surrounding streets are full of little shops, brilliant color and roadside traders…

Heading down through the narrow streets for a sunset walk…

There was little lighting in these narrow streets. Although welcomed and greeted by most of the people who we passed by, it felt right to head back to our hotel before it became too dark. There was so much interesting life going on in these streets it was hard to tear myself away but a S.Indian dinner beckoned too…

Trip information:

Our visit to South India was inspired by our love of shells.

Visited: We flew Emirates from Dubai to Trivandrum, then drove onwards to Kovalam, Kanyakumari, Tuticorin, Rameswaram, Madurai and then flew to Chennai for two nights with a direct Emirates flight back to Dubai.

We used a company called Magic Tours of India  I highly recommend this company, professional, helpful, at the end of a phone at any time and the guides are excellent. ( I used them for walking tours in Pune in 2017 and was terribly impressed with the guide and the company) We booked our own flights and hotels and they provided car, driver plus guides for Temple and city tours in Madurai and Chennai.

A note here on the drivers, you need to understand that driving is their job, not guiding. Our driver for the S.India coast to Madurai was just lovely. He drove us so well, with great care and was a pleasure to be with. In Chennai, we also had a great guy, more chatty but it was possibly down to his command of English.

I felt safe and secure with both of them at their respective steering wheels.That is important for your comfort zone, traveling in India.

As it’s a similar cost to hire a car for self-drive or hire a car and driver, we went for car and driver option.

A good choice, we wouldn’t have known about cross-state taxes, certainly, some of the dual carriageway driving was interesting, I think you could call it four-way and some road junctions would have been heart stopping if we had been the drivers. Not under our own steam, there were fewer options to leap out for a photo-opportunity, but I managed to get those in the towns we did stop over in.This area is not covered by the company with guided walking tours, but they provided us with an itinerary that we could change as we wished and as we drove.

Again, I can’t recommend them enough, if you are thinking of an India trip, check them out. The prices are also extremely reasonable.

Hotels: I used Booking.com. I am entitled to genius discounts and every single hotel I chose offered this. The places I chose ranged from a “room only” at Kovalam to a 5* in Chennai. Every hotel was clean and comfortable and had air conditioning and fans (necessary). Those who offered food provided a superb range of S.Indian traditional foods.

It is mainly vegetarian in the South, but when you get seafood on the menu, it is well worth the choice. Breakfast in all the hotels, bar Chennai, had no choice, but an Indian breakfast. It is a slight step into the unknown, pondering a menu that is meaningless and the day ahead consists of a long car drive and no knowledge of whether there are any toilet facilities during the drive, but luckily in the hotels where breakfast was included, it was just brought to us, and, I have to say, it was delicious in every place.

If you are going to travel in this area, you need to embrace the local food. There are few western options.

Travel necessities for S.India :

Dress: Respectful dress and loose, cool clothing for both men and women. To visit temples and to wander around towns, bare shoulders and short attire are not recommended. I travel in hot climates with a set of shift dresses, sleeveless and on the knee. I always carry large and lightweight cotton pashmina shawls that can be adapted for head and shoulder covering. This time I carried loose leggings to slip on under my dress, but I only used them twice. Possibly my age helped avert adverse comment!

Mosquito spray: I read up that it was advised to take some, but never used it and didn’t get any bites. Maybe it was the time of year…

Loo Roll: Not everywhere provides paper, spray jets are used more. A most useful item!

Sunscreen: Yes, it’s a fierce sun, with little shade. Bring a sunscreen…

Immodium: Do not forget to pack this necessary little pill.You will not regret the purchase if you do need to take it…

PS: We found a lot of shells, both for sale and along shorelines on beaches!!

Linking with Thursday Doors, hosted by Norm Frampton. Pop on over and check out some more doors by clicking the blue frog link on his post…