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Kasab, Oman

On Saturday, we needed to renew our visit visas which involves driving to a different part of northern Oman. See, even though in Dibba we are in Oman, there is pretty much nothing here except a gas station, a grocery store, a restaurant and a hospital. It isn't an "official" border because everyone has to go into Fujeirah (in the UAE) for internet, banks and various other supplies. Our UAE visas are visit visas and only good for 30 days so we had to go renew it, which involves spending a day in a different country, Oman. So we drive into Ras Al Khaimah and to the western border of the northern part of Oman. We don't have international drivers licenses which keeps us from being able to drive across the border, so we needed a driver. Luckily our landlord Ali was perfectly content to drive us there. He's absolutely hilarious and speaks very good English so we have tons of fun with him. He's even more amusing drunk. Anyway. Heading through Ras Al Khamiah there was a CAMEL IN THE ROAD!! which was unbelievable exciting for us, and I think Ali just got a kick out of how stupidly amused we were by it.

I suppose its like seeing a deer in the road in the states. Still, it was awesome.
So, we drove through RAK and to the border, which costs a good penny to cross. While we're there we head to Kasab, the northern most town in the Musandam. The road to get there is absolutely epic. Its the kind of road you drive and daydream you're really driving a ridulously expensive sports car. Or if you've made it in the world, its the kind of road you take your ridiculously expensive sports car *cough*Craig*cough* to and haul ass. The road is sandwiched between cliffs and ocean. Not only is it an exhilarating drive but the views can't be beat. I'm going to call Top Gear and suggest it for the best road to drive in the Middle East. Oh, and they should totally take something fast there to test out. And show it on TV, so I can live vicariously. Ok enough of that rant...
Here are a couple photos of the road:

so yes, its epic. The original plan was to do some swimming in the ocean, but being a bunch of rock climbers, if there's something to climb around on we're gonna do it. The beach was large and very nice with white sand and cliffs running from the mountains to the sea made up the left side of the horseshoe. We found this awesome boulder to climb.

Micah on the face:

Me heel hooking on the nose-

Mike heel hooking in the same spot-

There were also some awesome boulders sitting just at the waters edge we took advantage of.


There was also a perfect place to deep water solo (rock climb sans rope and harness, you fall into the water) where the cliff met the ocean. The rock wasn't very good quality and fell apart frequently while climbing. The sun was setting and there were jelly fish in the water, so most of us decided not to DWS. Levi stepped up to the plate and went all out. Micah followed but didn't risk falling in. Sharks and jellyfish aren't so nice.
Mike watching Levi climb-

Levi takes the plunge-

Micah takes a turn-

We didn't make it back to Dibba till after midnight, after stopping in RAK for milkshakes and fast food. The sleep deprivation was totally worth the awesome day.

The truth about snakes...

-They say, "leave it alone it'll leave you alone" that is, of course, unless it crawls into your sleeping bag.-

Tuesday night, I found a snake at the date plantation where we have our camp. It was just snuggling up to the collection of large jugs of water by the gate, still warm from the daytime sun. It was quite short and small with a defined diamond shaped head. I snapped a photo so we could identify it later. All the campers were out for a night hike, so I told them the exciting news when they returned. I wasn't sleeping in a sleeping bag, just inside a thick blanket folded like a burrito. I shook it out good and violently before I went to sleep. Snakes around here sometimes slither into sleeping bags during the day to get away from the sun. You're supposed to roll your bag up during the day. Somehow the news of the snake made it to our other, smaller camp at the beach by the following day. Their story claimed the snake was over 5 feet long and was most definitely a viper. We still haven’t figured out how the other camp found out.

I showed Ahmed, the landlord of the camp, the photo the next morning and he told me it wasn’t a problematic snake. He said, “this snake, no problem.” So we forgot about it until the end of the week when the instructors from the beach camp asked to see my photo. They confirmed my suspicion. It was a carpet viper, and yes, it was venomous. I guess no matter where you go, if its got a diamond shaped head, its venomous.
Before freaking out, here’s something to know. With the exception of very few (the black mamba, the king cobra, and most baby snakes) most venomous snakes don’t want to waste their venom defending themselves. If you step on them, kick them, poke them with sticks and they bite you, generally its going to be a “dry” bite, or in other words, a bite with no venom. This is true for copperheads and rattlesnakes in the US. Its still a good idea to go to the hospital but you’ll probably only get some antibiotics to keep the infection down and some pain killers. Your day might not be so nice, but you won’t be dead. And here in Dibba, even if it decides you might be good to eat, the hospital is a 5 minute drive down the road and they have the anti-venom.
Speaking of black mambas, I talked to Devan, the instructor from South Africa about them. I was pretty curious after watching Kill Bill. I don’t think I’ll be taking any extended trips into African wilderness after learning more than I really wish I had about black mambas. You’ve got 45 minutes to get the anti-venom or you die. And the anti-venom has to be refrigerated. If they see you, they’ll chase you and bite you. Its not a dry bite. And they can slither up to 60km/hr. So if you see one you better run. Apparently the women in Africa carry things on their heads because those snakes like to attack downward from up in trees. Every hospital in Africa has the anti-venom, the problem is getting there.

We're so awesome, we match the Tahoe!

I forgot to mention, we got new shirts! yeah... like a month ago, you probably already noticed. but this photo is awesome anyway.

and the infamous Tahoe, how we'll miss thee.

Cultural Immersion

The second week of March was what we called “hell week.” We had four school in camp during that week, and most of them overlapped. Sunday, Fujeirah men’s college arrived. These were Emerati locals between 19 and 21. As they moved into their tents, I heard sporadic doumbek being played and hoped they would bring them out and play for us. If you’ve heard traditional belly-dance or Middle Eastern music, you’ve heard doumbek.
After the locals left for their first activity, a German international school of 14-year-old coeds arrived. It would have been very inappropriate for both schools to stay in camp together, so we sent the Germans to camp out on the beach, which they were thrilled to do.
Mike stayed with the German group and the rest of us had dinner with the Emeratis. After dinner, they brought out two doumbeks and formed a drum circle. Most of the guys knew every word to every song. Randomly, guys would jump up in the middle of the circle to dance. Sometimes they shimmied and writhed like belly-dancers and other times they would dance provocatively with they pelvises moving close to the ground, no need for interpretation. Everyone was enthusiastic and loud, clapping, singing, drumming and yelling. Their Egyptian teacher stopped them momentarily to explain to us what was going on. He said that often at weddings one of the families would hire a troop of dancers and drummers. Usually the dancers are men dressed as women. I think once in a while there may be a woman dancer, who would dress up to look androgynous so no one could tell. The troop was paid to come and the dancers were tipped with money as they danced. Apparently this line of work is pretty lucrative. This tradition is quite taboo but happens more frequently than is admitted to. After the explanation, the music continued. The guys were talented dancers, with phenomenal rhythm and body control. The largest, heaviest guy could shimmy like a professional belly dancer. There were five or six other guys who would randomly jump up to dance who were also quite talented.

I was very impressed. We (the westerners) sat in the circle smiling and clapping along. They kept pulling our arms upward saying “miss miss, you dance!” We just shook our heads, not sure whether we would be inappropriate or not. Finally Micah stood up and jumped into the circle to dance. He lightheartedly booty danced in the center which made everyone erupt into laughter. Jesi didn’t want to dance, so she picked up a tabla and participated in the drumming. As the night grew later, those of us who weren’t spending the night at the plantation needed to leave. I was so hesitant to leave the music and the singing. For one last hoorah, Micah and I jumped into the center, dancing with our backs to each other. Micah booty danced and I belly danced. You could tell the locals were thrilled with our willingness to participate as the excitement and volume heightened.

When we had danced our fill we jumped back out of the circle and soon the song ended. We were constantly thanked and congratulated as we gathered our things to leave. To Micah, they expressed gratitude for embracing their culture. I think he felt a sense of brotherhood. They all made me feel like a queen. The best moment was when the heavier Emerati guy who was the best dancer came over to me to tell me what he thought of my dancing. I wish they had stayed a second night.

Micah, Jesi and I drove into town to go to the internet café. We stopped to get gas and ran into Ahmed, the landlord of the plantation. He invited us to his home for Arabic coffee. He lives right next to the border in a fairly large traditional home with his wife and four children. We sat in a sitting room, complete with large plush couches and very elaborate curtains. Ahmed brought out first sweets, a tray of very nice creme caramel and bowls of jello. We ate all of it before the coffee. Arabic coffee is brought out in a traditional vessel that looks like a very tall and thin tea pot. The coffee is served much like tea is in Japan, in tiny little ceramic cups that you sip from. The coffee is much lighter and clearer than in the west, no where near as dark, and is made with lots of cardamom. When you are invited to someone's home for coffee, it is rude to only have one cup, and selfish or indulgent to have three. So we each had two cups. We chatted with Ahmed about everything from the politics of Oman and the UAE to the meaning of various Arabic words we had heard frequently. Jesi and I scrambled to write them down when we got to the car. We've got hello, thank you, left, right, you're welcome, my love/life, lets go, go, enough, no thank you, various articles of clothing and mountain climbing well enough to use frequently. We use as much as we can as often as we can, but so many people here speak such good English we haven't really been forced to learn much.
Last week we headed to Dubai for more exploring. Dubai is huge and we haven't scratched the surface. We went back to Deira to see the souqs again. On our way to Deira, we spotted an awesome looking Chinese restaurant and decided to try it. The restaurant was very traditional and had giant lazy susans on each table. We ordered food we hadn't heard of before. Micah got jellyfish and Jesi tried lotus seed and white fungus soup. The jellyfish was cut into small pieces, fried and served over noodles. The flavor and texture was similar to calamari. The lotus seed and white fungus soup was interesting. It was a very light, sweet broth with these large pieces of what we assumed was white fungus. It was very ruffle-y and a slimier version of boiled cabbage. Very interesting. The steamed mutton dumplings were amazing.
lotus seed and white fungus:

mutton dumplings

We headed to the spice souq, which was closed, so we payed one dirham to ride in a little boat across Dubai "creek." Its an incredibly busy salt water "creek" filled with boats carrying tourists on day long tours, people going back and forth across for work or play as well as lots of really really large dhows that make trips back and forth from India and Pakistan carrying goods back and forth. I loved the way the dhows looked so I took tons of photos.

a view of the creek before our boat ride-

Mike took a photo of us on the little boat ride

We headed to a bunch of old traditional souqs that were unfortunately closed for the day. Friday is like Sunday in the UAE. Pretty much everything is closed, especially at midday. But the camel was there! They have an area set up like a traditional nomadic camp with a traditional tent and various items like coffee pots and incense burners.

Mike hoping the camel won't spit on him....The owner actually came over and let us feed the camel palm fronds.

We headed to the old Dubai souq which was insane. There were TONS of souqs selling everything from cheap t-shirts and shoes to pashmina shawls and traditional clothing. I bought the most amazing pair of pants for 20 dirhams (around $5) They are striped and poufy with ties at the calves. I'll post a photo soon. Everyone calls them my circus pants. We bought shoes and clothes and haggled our butts off. We drank from coconuts and wandered aimlessly. Our landlord Ali met up with us to take us out. As promised, he took us to the Irish village. As soon as we walked into the Irish village, I felt like I was in Savannah or maybe some part of Ireland that was warm. There was a large outdoor area filled with heavy wooden tables and chairs sitting on cobblestone. The fronts of the restaurants looked like any Irish pub should. We ordered Guinness and Irish coffee and ate the most amazing fish and chips in the world. Seriously. It was a relief to speak English freely when ordering and eating comfort food. Afterward we headed to this really nice resort on a beach. The beach turned into a nightclub at night, with bars, music and dancing. On the beach are giant bean bags people lounge in to smoke sheesha. Even awkwardly dressed we had a blast. We didn't get home till after midnight. We're all hoping to explore more before we leave.

Super busy!

So the day after climbing, we were going to go climbing again to a different spot, but needed to meet with Paul instead, which worked out well because I had a short stomach bug that seems to be going around. The next day we decided to head to Dubai and had a great time. I have tons of photos but won't be posting them tonight because we're all exhausted.
We've had a group in camp since Sunday. A group of 6th graders arrived Sunday at noon, ate lunch and then had 2 activity rotations before dinner. they climbed on our climbing tower before bed. Monday we had 4 activity rotations, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, then campfire with marshmallows after dinner. Then I decided to take them on a spider hunt. We found tons of spiders and 2 scorpions! Saw my first scorpion.
Tuesday morning we took them to the beach for two hours to let them run around and have fun "kid" time. They spend lots of time at camp doing activities they don't have much control over that are pretty structured. We all think its important for kids to have fun, free time where they can play in a safe and engaging environment. They made this amazing palace out of sand that they filled with water and then hermit crabs. They named all 20 of them and even selected a king, the biggest crab with the most awesome shell.
They left at noon on the bus that brought the next group. Sunday and Monday, the activity I was in charge of was group development- which includes trust, teamwork and leadership. We had six rotations so each of us did our activity 6 times.
needless to say, most of us were pretty tired of our activity and decided to switch. I took trekking. For trekking, we walk 30 minutes to the beach, up the side of a mountain, over the saddle, down the back side, around the mountain on the ocean side, and then back to camp. I'll try to take some photos tomorrow. So I did that twice today and am exhausted. Tomorrow will be interesting. I think I'll have to snack between treks. Morning starts with breakfast at 7am. I'll probably stay at camp tomorrow night (we rotate nights) so I can roast marshmallows in the fire and spend some time with the kids. This group is grades 7-9.
We'll have Friday and Saturday off, which we hope to spend doing something super awesome, though we don't know what yet. Sadly, it's Will's last weekend with us. He'll be leaving March 18th to go back to Wyoming to finish his semester in school. He was taking only one class- Modern Middle East, so his professor let him stay in the class because of the circumstances. He's pretty sure he'll come back in the fall.
Hope to post some photos soon of our adventure in Dubai.

Rock Climbing in RAK

The day after we went kayaking we still couldn't run any programs, so we decided to drive to Ras al Khaimah (a nearby Emirate and city, RAK for short) to go climbing. We have this great book called UAE Rock Climbing which is a guide to tons and tons of climbing areas in the UAE. Its pretty pricey (around $45 US) because it was produced locally but definitely worth the money. The rock was slab- very crimpy and sharp. (crimp = tiny hand hold) The rock was very brittle and we kept pulling off chunks as we climbed. Needless to say the belayers wore helmets. We were hesitant to lead climb due to all the loose rock so we scrambled to the top via a goat path and set up top ropes. The various routes ranged in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.9

Devan brought his fancy camera and took some fantastic photos. All of these were taken with his camera.
I had a cool cultural moment while I was climbing that really contrasted a specific climb I was on in the states. Several years ago, I headed to Richmond, Virginia with my friend Alex to learn to lead climb. Across the river from downtown there are the remnants of the old bridge, including the bridge supports, made from massive stone blocks. Someone figured out they were fun to climb and bolted them. While I was climbing on lead for the first time, a gospel convention across the water began. We spend several hours climbing to gospel blasted across the river.
While I was climbing in RAK, the call to prayer began and echoed through the valley. It lasted my entire climb up the wall and didn't stop until I was safely on the ground. Here, the call to prayer is quite beautiful as most of the men who do it are quite talented singers. We often stop to listen and comment on what we think of the singer. At the tiny mosque down the street we've become accustomed to the several different voices we hear and recognize our favorites.

Devan hanging out observing

Devan climbing

Jesi and her amazing fro

The rock is sharp! Jesi ripped her new pants. :(

Will is a badass and makes awesome faces when he climbs-


Mike at the top of the arete-

*a note about updates- the internet cafe here is extremely slow, and has recently been really bogged down by people downloading various things. It has been nearly impossible for me to upload photos in a reasonable amount of time. Now, I spend the majority of an hour uploading 13 photos which leaves no time for posting them on blogspot. We have been a few fun places since this trip and I'll be updating with all that fun stuff as soon as I can. *