Saturday, April 15, 2006

Emergency Landing

As you may (or may not) know our weekend in Kenya was planned so that we would return on Monday. Then Hubby wouldn’t lose any work time, as I would drop him off on our way home. Well the best-laid plans and all that…

We left Nairobi on Sunday evening somewhat late as our Kenya Airways flight was delayed by a couple of hours. Engrossed in City of Djinns (yeah, I know I was supposed to read this months ago), the delay didn’t bother me all that much. Two hours after our scheduled departure time, they finally initiated the scrum.

The scrum, for those of you who may not be knowing (as they say in Delhi), is what inevitably happens despite an airline’s best attempts to have an organized progression to board the plane in an orderly fashion. Instead, everybody runs and elbows their way to the gate in an attempt to be the first ones in their seats. Amateurs. Hubby and I, as you would expect, elbowed AND followed the rules and were among the first to be seated. Cheating, when accompanied with rules, really does pay!

But back to the real story…

Tired as I was, I pulled the unusual-for-me maneuver of napping after take off. About an hour or two into the flight, I heard the oddest thing just outside of my dream: The captain was calling the head steward to join him in the cockpit. That couldn’t be good.

Ten minutes later, Hubby was now snoring quietly next to me when the captain came over the speakers once again. The cockpit window had cracked in two places and we would be making an emergency landing in Salalah, Oman. But we shouldn’t worry because everything was OK and the landing was just a precaution.

Well I was certainly awake now!

Rumor later had it that when we turned around for Oman, we were actually somewhere out over the Indian Ocean. I don’t know for sure if this was true, but it did take almost an hour from announcement to touch down. It wasn’t until the plane’s wheels finally hit the tarmac that Hubby finally awoke and found out what had been happening.

Salalah has a tiny little airport that proved unsuited to housing, even temporarily, 200-plus people. It took two hours for the Captain to announce that the earliest they could get the needed part was 12:30 that afternoon. Since dawn was just breaking over the sandy dunes of the desert this wasn’t really great news to me or the other sleepy passengers.

A promise of a comfy hotel to hole up in while the plane was being fixed was easier said than done. Hubby and I were two of only a handful of people who wouldn’t require a visa to legally enter Oman. After another hour or so of negotiating, a decision was finally reached: everybody would surrender their passports before they left the airport. This would, in theory, ensure our desire to get back on the plane of doom and go back home. Hubby and I agreed to this against our better judgment because were really tired and wanted a bed to lie down in.

The hotel proved to be a big of auction. “Family of 5!” “I need a single – just 1!” “Double – me and my wife! Please double!” The calls down the length of the hotel’s check-in counter and became more and more insistent as people began to walk away with their hard won keys. Hubby’s height once again worked in our favor and we were given a room (a double for me and my husband) with surprising expediency.

Having fallen asleep only minutes after opening the door to our large if dingy room, Hubby and I totally missed breakfast. A refreshing nap and relaxing shower completed the package and were ready for lunch and then to leave.

Yeah right!

I feel that I should note here that Oman is really quite nice if you’re into desert countries. The people were extremely kind and solicitous in making sure that we were made comfortable and had whatever was needed to get us through our interminable sojourn in their country. Although it was too far from our hotel to actually eat there, we even saw a KFC. I wonder if the Omani people prefer Original Recipe or Extra Crispy?

Long story short (way too late), we didn’t leave the hotel until 11:15 that evening. As the bus dropped us off in front of the airport, we both took note of the Kenya Air jet on the tarmac and hoped that it was good to go. (Of course, if they had called Apple Auto Glass like I suggested, we would have been out of there hours ago!) As our luck for the day would have it, the plane didn’t actually take off until after 2 a.m.

Adding a new country to our list was fun but we were ready to go home. The beggars, blistering heat, and dust of Delhi were calling to us like the Sirens of legend. Well, like the Sirens but less good looking and desirable. Anyways, ahead of us, still lay four hours to Mumbai plus the negotiations to get us back to Delhi.

I may never travel again.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tall, Orange, and Snuggly

On our final day in Kenya, we headed out for some good old-fashioned sightseeing. Specifically, we arranged to see the Karen Blixen Museum and the nearby Giraffe Center. Do I really need to tell you which part of this trip will take up more blog space?

Ok, well to kick off our morning as tourists, we headed into the suburb of Nairobi called Karen. Named after Karen Blixen of “Out of Africa” fame, the area is quite picturesque and lushly green. If you have ever read Ms. Blixon’s book or seen the Meryle Streep movie then you’re ages ahead of Hubby and I on knowledge about this area and the woman for whom it has been dubbed.

Karen was in Nairobi in the early 1900’s and basically spent her family’s entire and substantial fortune on a coffee plantation. Her main reason for coming to Kenya was to marry her cousin who ended up dying in the 1930’s. She then hooked up with Robert Redford’s character who died in a plane crash (damn Karen was a serious Black Widow), watched her plantation go under, and then headed back home to Europe. I think that we all know that I’m missing lots of information here but you get the basic idea.

The one really cool thing about the museum is that it was actually her home. Some of the furniture in the house is original and the rest are set pieces from the movie. Tres cool.

After our brief history lesson (that I so obviously paid attention to), we were off to the Giraffe sanctuary. This place was infinitely beyond cool. Set up as an education center and breeding ground, the Center’s main purpose is to save and repopulate the nearly extinct Rothschild Giraffe.

Long story short, the poachers aren’t to blame this time. Go fig! The RCG (as I have dubbed it for short) was quite popular in Western Kenya. But when Man decided to move in town they nearly killed off the giraffes in their attempts at “civilizing” the area.

We were able to pet, feed, and learn about the snuggly critters firsthand with the help of a guide who made sure that I didn’t try to take any home. Meanie! One of the babies must have been a Canadian giraffe as his name was Gordon. Come on, you can’t get any more Canuckian then that! Of course, mean Hubby said that sweet little Gord wouldn’t fit in my carry-on baggage.

Hubby wanted me to note here that the giraffes had very long and scratchy tongues. He likened them to sandpaper more than once. He also thought they were very pretty even if he wasn’t going to let me bring any home.

In the pursuit of full disclosure and honesty, I should also note that Hubby did most of the feeding of the statuesque animals. I was slightly intimidated by their 14-inch long tongues and the propensity of one in particular to eat my fingers.

Overall, our final day in Nairobi was a grand success. We learned stuff about historical-type people, pet snuggle giraffes, and even bought some wine to bring home with us. The latter will last only a fraction as long as the former two, I’m sure.

Jambo!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Vroom!

Very often in the Real World, Hubby and I have made jokes at the expense of people who own and drive SUVs. These cars, we are told by their manufacturers, can survive and be used in rough terrains and be off roaded with ease. Reality, of course, is that the most arduous thing these cars will ever do is to drive over a speed bump or two in the wilds of the Big City mall.

As we prepared for our big move to India, we were mocked with these same jokes and tales of the Land Rover or Hummer we would be given as transport in Delhi. Our rather comfy and smallish Honda City is no off-road ready monster. For while the challenge of negotiating traffic in Delhi is no small matter, we simply don’t need a Qualis or other such road monster.

The same cannot be said of Nairobi. We arrived in the midst of the rainy season and 1½ foot deep puddles on the road were not so much rare as the order of the day. The elephant-sized pot holes that spotted the road at every turn were also a fun challenge to negotiate. I know that there is a rumor out there that I am one given somewhat to hyperbole but this time I swear I kid thee not. These potholes would have given Baby Jessica flashback nightmares.

The one really weird thing, when compared with Delhi, was the complete and utter lack of motorcycles and scooters. Everyone here, it seemed, traveled by car, SUV or Matatu (which is basically a shared taxi/minivan that is quite common here).

On our second night here, Hubby’s friend hosted a small dinner party for us and some Org newbies at his home in Karen. The ride there in Cowboy’s old-school Range Rover was an adventure and an education. At more than one juncture we were tipped precariously to one side as we drove around and through the potted roads. Take a wrong turn at a median? Not to worry – we literally drove over the median to get back on track.

Between the lakes of water and the sinkholes, Hubby and I quickly agreed that a four-wheel drive car would be the order of the day upon our return to Kenya. I’m not saying that we’re getting a Land Rover but I’m not saying that we’re not either.

So strap on your seatbelts and hold onto your assets because your beloved Delhi Typ0 is getting back behind the wheel. Yeehaw!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

One Word: MEAT

During our first evening in Nairobi, Hubby and I agreed on one thing: we wanted to eat meat. While chicken and mutton are omnipresent here in Delhi, beef and other exotic dead animals are remarkably hard to come by. Don’t get me wrong -- I love every one of you who have ever smuggled me into ACSA for a burger but it just isn’t quite the same.

In any case, in our desire to be omnivores, we had two choices of venue: the world famous Carnivore Restaurant or the new Pampa Grill at the Panari Sky Hotel.

(Rant Ahead: I hate it when people refer to people who eat meat as Carnivores since that would imply that they consumed only meat where as the term Omnivore refers to critters who eat meat and potatoes. End of Rant)

After debating our choices for a good while we eventually agreed upon Pampa as it was only a short drive from our hotel. The drive itself was educational as our driver felt the need to educate us about the dangers of living, driving, and simply being in Nairobi. As we drove, I noticed that a swarm of insects was ominously gathered at every location where an overhead floodlight drove out the darkness below. I was tempted to ask about these could-be locusts but was interrupted by the arrival of our taxi at our meat haven destination.

Not asking about the demon bugs was a HUGE mistake. Oh yeah, the caps there are warranted. I exited the car to find myself in the midst of this biblical swarm of what turned out to be flying termites. I could feel their tiny wings beating against my skin as I ran into the building for what I assumed would be shelter from the flying demons. Not so much – there were seemingly even more inside the doors of the hotel. We dashed up the stairs toward the restaurant, crushing the bugs beneath our feet in a mad dash for both food and freedom from evil winged beasts.

After ordering our drinks we were confronted with the salad bar that sat in the middle of the beautifully appointed restaurant. Now, this wasn’t my first trip to such a meat extravaganza but I was na├»ve and wide eyed at all the greenery and variety to be found. You see, the point of the salad bar in these Brazilian BBQ places is to trick you into being too full to eat all the meat they escort to your table. In addition to the salads, our waiter also brought an array of fries, onion rings, fried cassava (Hubby’s fave), and fried bananas (which were beyond to die for).

Onto the meat… Each variety of meat was brought out by a different waiter who offered us a choice cut of whatever was on their skewer. Seriously they carried giant skewers, I’m not just being a pervert. Go fig. Each skewer made a visit at least two or three times although I personally felt nauseous from protein overload after only a single go around.

The Meat Menu™ included five types of beef (the sirloin was seriously beyond yummy), crocodile (which tasted very yuckily of fish), camel (not bad), “fish” (which we didn’t try), pork sausage, beef sausage (the sausage guys started getting scared of Hubby as he literally salivated every time they offered him their skewers), pork ribs, hump roast (cue Black Eyed Peas), pork loin, goat, chicken and grilled pineapple for dessert.

Yes, I just said dessert. I couldn’t believe they had the audacity to have dessert on the menu. Who the hell could eat dessert, even something as simple as a slice of grilled pineapple, after all that meat?! Honestly, it was just sick to ask people to continue stuffing themselves to Monty Python-esque heights.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Typ0’s Home is her Castle

We have finally arrived back from our “weekend” in Nairobi, Kenya. The purpose of this trip was to see if I liked the place (like it wasn’t too late already to back out), check out the life style there, and see some potential apartments. Well, mission accomplished, we did all of that and then some.

We saw several different styles of homes in our quest to find ourselves a new abode: from modern apartments with huge modern kitchens to huge estates with substantial acreage. While the latter (or what we in Delhi would call Farm Houses) are not our cup of tea, they are rather lovely once you get past the need for an army of people to assist with the upkeep (gardeners, guards, cooks, maids etc.). What you’re left with is really a life style choice.

The Cowboy, Hubby’s soon to be boss (kinda), had us over one afternoon and we found ourselves feeling rather decadent and relaxed. We sat in his six-acre garden in the shade of some lovely, old trees while his housekeeper brought out our snack and we sipped on perfectly chilled South African wine. Tough life, huh?

So while we don’t need the space, the headaches, or the effort of an estate – the bliss and peace of it all are hard to beat. That said, we will likely end up in an apartment like we have today… well almost like we have today. Here for your reading pleasure is a little comparison of our current home to the apartment we really liked in Nairobi.

Delhi
1 Lak = 2200 USD (aprox)
3 Bedroom, each w/ Ensuite
Crappy Kitchen
Huge Terrace
Good Sized Living Room
Small but Adequate Dining Room
Posh-ish Area
No Spa/Exercise Area
No Fence
Sloppy Security Guys w/ Light-up Sticks

Overall Actual Worth = 800 USD
Nairobi
80,000 Shillings = 1150 USD (aprox)
4 Bedroom, each w/ Ensuite
Modern Kitchen
Small Balcony
Mammoth Living Room
Zero Dining Room
Nice-ish Area similar to Vasant Vihar
Spa/Exercise Area
Big Walls with Electric Fence
Serious Security Dudes with Guns

Overall Actual Worth = 1150 USD

Welcome home!

Monday, April 03, 2006

The New Dream Car

After realizing that I totally missed out on having an excellent April Fool’s Blog, I insisted to Hubby that he make everything better by taking me out to lunch and getting me intoxicated. Presented with this challenge, he decided upon Nikko’s where we would have all you can drink Champagne and all you can eat sushi for Rs. 1500. This alone would have made it a wonderful day- but there was an even better treat yet to come.

One of the many things I wanted to do prior to the Big Move was to have a ride in an Ambassador Car. These uniquely Indian mode of transport are produced by Hindustan Motors and were originally modeled on the old British Morris Oxford. Moreover, they are virtually omnipresent here in Delhi as they are the preferred vehicle for minor Indian officials, taxi drivers, and nostalgic expats alike.

Made from seemingly indestructible steel, these cars tool around the streets of Delhi and are second only to the even larger and even more indestructible DTC buses. The men who drive these cars are, by and large, insane lunatics with even less regard for road safety than the usual Indian driver. I assure you that this is a prospect that lives somewhere in the region of beyond scary. I actually witnessed a motorcyclist bounce rather ungracefully off the hood of an Ambassador and have his bike (and him to be honest) end up rather the worse for wear as a result of the encounter.

Hubby considers these cars throwbacks to the old colonial age and hates them accordingly. It is his opinion that India should cast off its fleet of Colonial-mobiles and develop its own car that would be uniquely Indian rather than un-uniquely Queen Mum. I can see his side but I love these old cars and I finally got to ride in one yesterday.

Since we didn’t want to drive home from Champagne-a-palooza we ordered a taxi at the hotel and up drove my green and yellow chariot. Admittedly the behemoth had no air-conditioning to speak of but the huge couch of a back seat was roomy enough that even Hubby had to admit that we had a comfy ride home.

Long live India’s ambassador of colonial vehicular grandeur: for thou art big, safe and quite comfy!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Doctor Typ0

You’ll be pleased, no doubt, to hear that I ended up going with my tour group to Humayan’s Tomb on Wednesday despite my vow to skip out on this site. Even though this was my 3rd or 4th visit, it was still fun as the weather had not yet grown terribly evil and hell-like. We ended the morning of site-seeing by checking out Sarfdajung’s tomb, which actually turned out to be super close to home. Go fig! I’m taking Big Bro S (BBS) to both places in a few weeks so I’ll save the blog-tour 'til then.

In the meantime, allow me to share with you my new views on the joys of Indian healthcare. Since we’re off to Kenya for the weekend, I needed my Yellow Fever shot ASAP as without it they won’t let me in Kenya or back into India after the fact. Stupid rules. Hubby gave me the 411 on the shot and explained to me that it had to be administered by an officially sanctioned hospital or health center and that these are usually government run. In fact, he continued, non-cool centers won’t even have the vaccine.

After debating where we should go for the vaccine Hubby shot down my vote for Max Med and called the Health People (I’m sure they had an official name but I don’t recall) and asked where we should head. The answer: an Indian-run hospital near Connaught Place. I wasn’t thrilled with the news but Hubby told me I had no choice so we climbed in the car and told our driver where we were going. He gave us a weird look and asked if we were sure. At our nod, he bobbled his head and started off toward CP.

We approached a series of rundown buildings that I thought was a stockade or at least a condemned area. Only slightly daunted, we headed into the main building where Hubby and I were the easily whitest people to have ever crossed the threshold. And, no, I’m not being a hater. We got such weird and astonished looks as we tried to read the signs and find the vaccination clinic that a kindly turbaned doctor finally took pity on us and took us into his office where our “fairness” could no longer offend or confuse the hospital’s general population.

The good doctor sent us out to another building to get our shots and even gave us his assistant to show us the way. The assistant naturally wanted a tip upon our arrival but we pretended ignorance, thanked him, and sent him away empty handed.

The assistant brought us to a tiny room filled and surrounded with people holding their passports and yellow vaccination cards – we were in the right place. We walked up to the scruffy-looking desk jockey whom, we were told, was in charge. He looked over my passport and yellow card and told us… Well, we’re not sure what he told us, so we just kinda stood there like bumps on logs and hoped for further direction.

A woman with dirty fingernails (seriously, I could see the dirt!) sat behind a table to my right and was administering the vaccine to people in no particular order. The vaccine itself came in a communal bottle we were told held 20 doses. After each shot, the woman dipped the needle in this machine that we determined, based on the smoke that appeared each time, melted the tip of the needle so as to render it un-re-usable. She then threw that out and opened a new needle. Despite viewing these precautions I felt really iffy about getting my shot in a room that looked like it hadn’t seen the happy side of disinfectant in at least a year.

I can’t say that I was deeply saddened when Scruffy Guy got all attitude on us and said that the clinic was closed and if we wanted a shot we would have to come back later in the week. Now, I’m not going to deny that I got slightly pissed at the guy. After all, we had been waiting for quite some time for this shot and the excuses he gave us held about as much water as my hot water gieser (AKA none).

Still grumbling, we left the hospital grounds via the rather smelly service road. Undaunted, yet still unwilling to admit I may have been right, Hubby directed our driver to take us to the Max Med Clinic in Pansheel Park. Max Med is a cash on service, private clinic cum hospital that caters to expats, and middle to upper class locals.

There is honestly no way to fully appreciate the modern-ness, efficiency, and organization of Max Med unless you’ve been to an Indian hospital. The people spoke decent English, were helpful, and even the waiting room appeared clean. She was even nice about the rather obvious fact that I am a 2 year old when it comes to getting shots.

The professional services we received took no more than 20 minutes. Why the heck didn’t we start with this world-class clinic rather than using as a last resort? Compared with the Real World, the medical care here is frightfully inexpensive. Hubby has even headed back to the Clinic since that day and had a full physical (including numerous lab tests) for less money than you’d pay for a night at a martini bar with me in the States. He even had all the results in less than 24 hours!

After our brief excursion into the Indian medical system, I can honestly say that while it isn’t perfect, it can be pretty darn good. So next time you need laser eye surgery, open heart surgery, or even need a broken bone set, head over to Delhi where you can get an incredibly well trained doctor to do a great job at half the price of your local Real World Quack.

Welcome to India, the doctor is in.