Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Isn't It Enough to Have a Cool Car?

In this day in age I probably shouldn't be surprised that you can pretty much buy and sell anything, but the question is how much are we really willing to pay for an indulgence or a status statement? One of the hottest commodities in Dubai is not only your car, your house, your's your license plate.

You see they only started issuing license plates in the past few decades. They didn't need to accommodate for alot of people at the time and as such they simply started with single digit numbers and went from there. As they systematically handed the plates out it became apparent over the years that you were able to easily identify the families and individuals who were some of the first residents of the newly formed country of the UAE and saying that you were one of the first people"officially" living (and driving) here equals status.

In the past thirty years this has developed into a full scale market where status-seeking people are willing to pay BIG bucks for a licence plate that is either a low number, or quite simply 'cool' (ie. 212121, 555555, etc.) Matt and I recently were recently paging through a magazine when we got to the classified section, it included nearly 3 pages of license plates for sale, some are selling for up to $300,000! In my neighborhood paper we used to advertise yard sales and deck staining services, so this is quite different.

However, in the event that you decide you want to make the investment, you can be sure you are in good company. This guy has the best plate out there and he doesn't have to seek any status, Sheikh Mohammed's Mercedes is quite simply "1".

Friday, October 23, 2009

Data Overload! Wedding Pictures and Videos!

The Shaver-Mueller Video Trailer

Coming soon to a theatre near you! (And there better not be a sequel...) :)

When you are confronted with 20 unique hours of videotape and 3,000 pictures you should be able to find a few good shots right?

We are are so lucky to have a lot of images that we love and we can't wait to share them with our family and friends! Matt and I have now figured out that the first test of compromise in your marriage is to agree on just 65 pictures from your wedding album out of over 3,000! It's brutal and so unfair! Be merciful don't make us choose!

Therefore, this blog post has been equally as hard to prepare because we just can't decide what to share (ok, ok and loading individual pictures on Blogger takes about 5 minutes each...we would kill each other). So you have options! I've prepared a small slide show of some of our top favorite images, but if you are a real sucker for weddings or it's a slow day at work (of course I'm talking to the ladies here) feel free to peruse the gallery online!

A Little Slideshow of Our Favorite Pictures:

And for the special few of you who are still paying attention, a little Father-Daughter Dance action:

It's Fall Ya'll

Right about this time of year, I would give my right arm for a nice, crisp fall day, a jacket, some leaves changing color, and warm fireplace. However (and this is a recurring theme on this blog), we live in the desert. No leaves, no jackets, no fireplaces, and certainly no fall days!

Our friends John and Lynze set out to change all of that. With candy corn and other trinkets literally FedExed from the States, they put together an old-fashioned fall party! No apple cider in the Arabian Gulf? No problem - apple juice, orange juice, lemon juice, cloves, cinnamon (and a little rum, of course!)

Sadly, the magic lasts just one night - when the candy corn runs out - and today it's back to 95 and sandy. Oh well, off to Jumeirah beach!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Masai Mara: Where the Wild Things Are

Our safari adventure concluded with a grand finale - the Masai Mara. The Mara is the portion of the Serengeti which extends over the border of Tanzania into Kenya. The scenery is just unbelievable, it's like stepping out of 'real life' and into a Discovery Channel dream world for 5 days. It's just like you imagine, all the things that you see on tv: millions of wildebeest on the plain, crocs taking down zebras, lions napping under trees, cheetahs hunting gazelle.

For those of you who are a fan of "Big Cat Diary" this is where it is filmed, and on most days we saw a number of the 'main characters' stalking in the tall grass. In fact, little did we know the co-owner of Rekero camp where we stayed is the local guide featured in the show - Jackson Looseyia.

I thought that we were totally prepared for safari, but the one thing that we learned quickly that we weren't warned about was how LOUD it is at night when you are in a tent. Nature doesn't sleep just because you do, and the animals come into camp at night when the lights go off and then no longer sense people. We got used to it eventually, but our first night went like this:

Once the sun goes down you are walked to your tent by a Masai warrior wielding a machete and a spear. The first time I saw it I laughed, "what is that for?" I asked, he said simply "lions" and I said "no, really, I mean you aren't going to kill a lion with a spear" and he replied "watch me". One hour later after we were safely in the tent when the immense roaring started about 50 feet away - it's bone chilling.

Two hours later, I woke up to the sound of loud croaking and when I turned on the flashlight to investigate I found a large toad sitting inside our tent next to the wash basin. Matt was able to coax his out by using our shampoo bottle as a goad.

The rest of the noise come primarily from the grazing animals - namely the water buffalo - it just eats all night the tall grass against your tent. Munch, munch, munch - it's all you hear for hours and its about 3 feet from your head board. I was able to get used to this but when I finally drifted off to sleep I was awakened by the incredibly loud sound of clanging metal and our entire tent reverberating. One of the buffalo had run head long into our tent pole and nearly took the thing down. It scared itself so bad that it then proceeded to run in circles around our tent until it was no longer disoriented.

The moral of the story is, on safari, become nocturnal. Sleep during the hot day and read your Kindle at night, it's the only way I survived the nights!

As for the pictures, I couldn't begin to decide on what to share from the Mara. So I put together of all the best pictures Matt took during the trip. I added our favorite song in Swahili "Baba Yetu" which is just the traditional "Our Father" prayer sang in the language. For the nerds out there - yes, it is the theme song for 'Civilization'...I hope you enjoy!

Watch us full screen on YouTube:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Safari Begins! Samburu and Laikipea.

Our 2 nights in Nairobi were a great pre-cursor to our safari but now it was time to disappear into the bush! We traveled from Nairobi to the Samburu National Reserve to stay at Larsen’s Camp and then to the Laikipea Plateau to stay at the Sosian Ranch.

Stories of note:

*I thought I understood the full meaning of the word turbulence. That was until I was in a 10 person plane flying over the ridges and valleys in central Kenya. My nerves were shot, but I managed to drift off to sleep during the worst of it. That was until we hit a huge thermal coming off a mountain and the plane dropped about 200 (no kidding Matt was watching the altimeter) and an alarm in the cockpit started fervently going off – one of those “something really bad has happened” alarms. All kidding aside for about 5 seconds I thought we were going to go down. Once Matt himself got over the initial panic he explained that it was an alarm to alert the pilot that the auto-pilot couldn’t cope with the situation and it had turned off. I could have used something a bit more soothing like “excuse me, this is to alert you the auto pilot is off”. Single engine plane + sensation of falling + blaring alarm = I didn’t recover for days.

*The Larsen’s camp has almost 200 resident vervet-faced monkeys who have the ability to tell the difference between the camp staff and a guest from a mile away. That is to say they aren’t afraid of us. They are so bold that they have recently figured out how to operate the zippers on your tent in the event they feel like coming in to pay you a visit. Also, they often go to great lengths to steal food from you. They are so sneaky during meal times that there is a fully employed Samburu tribesman who stands next to your table with a large cane to intimidate. That didn’t stop a sneak attack during our first lunch upon which one of them hid underneath the table cloth until the appropriate moment. He leapt square on to our table, grabbed my bread roll and proceeded to eat it in front of me in the nearest tree. This means war!

*I realized too late on safari that I should have taken a life insurance policy out on Matt. In the event that elephant charges, and giraffe head butts weren’t enough, at the next two camps he managed to get into a few tussles using a water bottle as a weapon with the local monkeys who didn’t like a new alpha male on their turf and at the next stop, the ranch, he couldn’t find much trouble so he decided to careen off a 40 foot cliff for thrills! (Do they have a policy for tempting fate?)
This is Matt's verison of flying first class: convince the pilot to let you sit in the cockpit for the flight.
This the "airport" at our first stop. You've got to love this guy's sense of humor.

Don't feel too bad for us, this was "roughing it" at the Larsen's Camp - easily the nicest tent we stayed in.
Zebra's really can change their stripes! This the the Grevy's Zebra indigeous to the area, you'll note the stripes are thinner and closer together.Only found in East Africa, the Gerenuk is so strange! They stand on their back two legs to feed on the leaves. With the right amount of backlighting they totally look like ailens.

Not for the faint of heart. It's clear that voltures will go to any length for a meal.

Every evening game drive concludes with "sun downers", it's a little slice of heaven.The Sosian Ranch keeps a little library of any skeletons they find, check out how huge this elephant skull is! Apparently Matt is moonlighting as a photographer for RayBan ads.I'm going to say it - Super Mario Brothers?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The "Out of Africa" Experience

The key to understanding a Kenyan safari (especially one that originates in Nairobi) is to watch the movie "Out of Africa". I'm not kidding. Matt and I had no idea how woefully unprepared we would have been had we not watched the movie 2 hours before landing. On a whim, Matt loaded up the movie on his laptop and thought it might be "neat" to watch it before we went to Kenya. Well, that and every woman from my parent's generation asked us if our honeymoon was going to be like "Out of Africa". Huh? We decided to investigate further - once the opening credits rolled we understood - ah yes, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, who could ask for more?

Once we landed it was as if everyone in Kenya assumed that we were here because we had seen the movie. We were coincidentally staying in the suburb of Karen, and sleeping in a tree house that used to be on Karen Blixen's coffee farm which had a view of Denys Finch Hatton's grave and was only 15 minutes from Karen's colonial home. If you have no idea what I am talking about, I don't blame you, just go see the movie...thank god we did.
And so our Out of Africa adventure began! We began by staying in a tree house in the Ngong Hills outside of Nairobi - oh yeah by the way one of the first lines in the movie is, "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills..." I'm not kidding, we couldn't get away from it.

We saw so much in our short 1 1/2 days outside a Nairobi, it was such a great way to kick start safari.
A few stories worth telling:

-Matt and animals don't always get along. We visited a local sanctuary for the endangered Rothschild giraffe, and Matt was severely headbutted by the large female giraffe Daisy. Matt decided to stop feeding her to take a picture and Daisy wasn't happy about it. Caution: Giraffes in view finders are closer than they appear.

-Just hours later, at an animal orphanage, Matt was charged by a baby elephant who turned on him flared his ears and began to run directly at him. The handlers were able to slow him down upon which he turned to rub against me and raised his trunk to "say hello". Apparently, he didn't like how close Matt was standing next to me, even elephants get jealous!

-One night we were having a lovely dinner, when we heard what sounded like a small child being strangled. It was a consistent screeching wail which we ended up learning was that of the Tree Hyrax - the closest living relative to an elephant. It looks like a ground hog that lives in a tree, I'm not buying it!

Listen to it here:

Lastly, you may think that mosquito nets create a romantic touch to the safari experience. No. They are incredibly hot and make you mildly claustrophobic, especially when you wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time figuring which way is out. You might panic, and end up on the floor rolled up like a burrito - I'm just saying.

Here are some of the highlights!Our fabulous Ngong Hills tree house, with dreaded mosquito nets.Everybody is your friend when you're having bacon for breakfast...they didn't move for an hour.
This guy is supposed to be the closest relative to the elephant - what?My friend Daisy at the sanctuary at Giraffe ManorHeadbutt, in action - I probably could have warned him...but what a great picture!When was the last time you had trouble finding a single qualified doctor to help you with your bad luck, asthma, and lost lover problems? Search no more!Even babies this big still love their bottles! (Also, the little guy who charged Matt)Nairobi National Park sits just in the shadow of the city, which makes for an amazing picture especially when you spot three rhinos!The recent drought as been tough on the wildlife, this guy wasn't so lucky - but as you can see nothing goes to waste.
A little jackal poses for Matt
The stately hartebeest

A fantastic picture of a male ostrich at sunset
Hanging out at the fire pit, a nightly ritual