100 – Homebound

6th Mar, Singapore. Yo! =)

So here we are, day 100 of traveling. I am in KLCC Starbucks, with 2 hours to burn before the AirAsia flight from KL to SG takes off. I landed earlier at 625am in KL International Airport. From there, take a 2.50 RM transfer bus that takes 20 minutes to KLCC.

Nope, I did not intentionally plan it to be 100 days. Remember my AirAsiaX flight was cancelled, meaning i stayed another day out here. But in the end, it is a nice round number that makes sense.

To those of you who have been following my journal, thanks! I  hope you enjoyed me going on and on, as i have enjoyed reading all your comments out here. (they keep me close to home!) I’ll probably compile some sort of summary of the trip eventually. Anyway, it’s been a blast. And until the next big trip, cheerios all. God bless!

P/S And Oi! SMS me because i want to catch up with you. Yes you, the one reading this. Wait a couple days though, let me replace my lost SIM card and phone.

99 – DXB to home

5th Mar, on plane to KL

Slept in. Went up to the lounge, printed my flight tickets, and in general lazed around while waiting to go to the airport later in the afternoon. I was just talking to Fabian earlier and i realised the first Singaporeans I met on this trip was back on Day 1 were Tristan and Geordie, on the KL to Abu Dhabi flight. Then they are linked to Fabian whom they met for the first time in Yemen and subsequently traveled together for a bit over there. And now on Day 99 i’m ending my travels with Fabian at Dubai airport. Kind of like coming round a full circle for me. I’m not sure whether you know what i am ranting about, but yeah, i find it amusing.

Checked in luggage with no problems. I took out my yellow fever vaccination papers and put them in my hand luggage just in case i get stopped at KLIA. Walked around the airport’s duty free shopping area for a bit, but really i was just looking past the shops.

Malaysia Airlines, decent and actually pretty good service. I’m typing this from the plane. I imagine i would be a little jetlagged later today since its 2am in KL and im still wide awake! It’s a 7 hour flight. I’m comfortable enough, but my peeling skin is really getting to me, since it itches like heck and i feel like scratching the layers off. Try to catch some sleep now. Signing off.

98 – One round around Dubai

4th Mar, Dar Al Sondos, Dubai, UAE
Today was spent all over Dubai, courtesy of my good host =). I was chaffeured around the city. First to Dubai Mall, the largest around. I was left to wander for a bit inside the mall, to look around. And there was plenty to look at. Inside was of course every single conceivable shop you could think of. Besides window shopping,  I also people watched. Besides tourists, which i think formed the majority of the people roaming around, there were also the local Emiratis, plus all the service and retail workers, many of whom were Filipinos. Other shop tenants were arabs, and many were of Indian or pakistani origin. Pretty much a cosmopolitan city, and in striking contrasts to the places i’ve been to. Here, the eastern, western, arabic worlds all meet and coexist together.

When i had enough of getting lost inside the mall, which includes a fountain, aquarium and an ice skating rink. I made my way just outside to the promenade leading to Souk Al-Bahar. From here, you could get the best views of the Burj Khalifa, the talling building in the world.

Later in the afternoon, i made my way to the Mall of The Emirates. By then, i was pretty mall-saturated and just relaxed with a Costa Coffee. Oh, and Ski Dubai, the indoor ski park, is located here.

In the evening, we went down to Mina Al-Salam, a really upmarket hotel, with room corridors that stretched on and on and on. Next was the Madinat Jumeirah, with bars, lounges, under fantastic dim lighting, with the buildings in a consistent architecture that evokes the old arab souqs. Inside is a shopping area, made to look like a traditioanal indoor souq. It is pretty upmarket here, with the twin hotels, and i must say, a fantastic ambience.

Then i was whisked to the Palm Jumeirah, that patch of land made to resemble a palm stretching outwards into the sea. Yes, its great to travel by car and having our own guy to drive us around, instead of taking a bone jarring bus on bumpy roads. Ok, back to the Palm. It was mostly residences, but at the last frond of the palm was Atlantis. Yes, Atlantis, which happened to be the site of a really posh, (even more posh!), hotel and shopping area. The highlight was a huge see through aquarium, more than 10 meters high. Inside were all manner of pelagics. From reef sharks, spotted and black mantas, barracudas, a whale (!!) and a host of other fishes that i could not identify. It was pretty awesome, like diving without the need to get wet.

Then i’ve got to mention this one ice cream place, Cold Stone Creamery. Just because of the way the staff do their business. They toss the ice cream in the air, throw ice cream around, dance with brooms, and in general are having a load of fun while they work. It reminds me of Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. And the smoothie i had was good too!

From there we went to JBR, Jumeira Beach Residences, which is located by the beach and is a stretched of eateries and restaurants, where the yuppies hang out. It was pretty late by this time, but the place (it was thursday night, the start of the weekend here) was packed. Everyone was out in full force. Nice (and i mean nice!) cars, well dressed expats, fashionable locals, just having a drink and socialising.

Pretty much covered most of Dubai today, definitely a lot more than if i had been traveling around by metro myself.

97 – When you’re happy and you know it clap your hands

3rd Mar, Nice hotel, Dubai, UAE
In the morning, i packed and took the airport transfer that Milimani Backpackers arranged for me (1200 KSH). It’s around 12km to the airport, and i had my own car and driver dropping me there. Paid my tab (my internet tab was free since i fixed their router, haha).

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a pretty nice place. I checked in, got stopped at the security baggage check when they asked me to open up and declare my bangles. I was still wondering why they were so particular about my souvenir bangles when i heard ‘ivory’. The Chinese tourist ahead of me had his suitcase full of plastic bags of food. He had bags of biscuits which the security guy asked him to open. Inside, wrapped in foil, are chunks of ivory. Wow, what a way to smuggle through the airport customs.

Inside the waiting area after i checked in now. I was trying to prevent the need from changing any more kenyan shillings, so i was keeping to a budget over the last couple days. So now i was pretty famished after eating my spaghetti. On the plane, i ordered Beef Salami Combo (22 AED). The flight was 4 hours and UAE is one hour ahead of Kenya. AirArabia is a ‘no-frills’ airline that now flies to 30 countries. I think they are pretty impressive in being able to cover so many places since they started out in 2003. As of now, they cover the GCC, India, bits of Africa, a substantial number of European cities and even central Asia. They are based in Sharjah, and Casablanca (for their European destinations). And heading into the UAE from Singapore is pretty straightforward. There are many transport  links within the UAE for transfers between Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I reached Sharjah airport at around 8pm local time. I’m probably very lucky. There is a bus new service that just started yesterday (Route 111, 2nd March) from Sharjah Airport to Al Rashidiya Metro Station. It passes by Al Quasis Sonapur station. The fixed price for all journeys? 10 AED. And it is oh so convenient. 50m from where you exit the Arrival area. http://www.khaleejtimes.com/darticlen.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2010/March/theuae_March4.xml&section=theuae

At the Rashidiya metro, i gave a call to a friend Fabian who offered to put me up at his place. (Fabe if you’re reading this, thanks buddy!) This meant saving a bomb on Dubai hotels. He picked me up from the station, and it was basically smooth sailing from there. We went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant, beef pepper masala, yum. It was a completely different scenario from the last couple weeks. Nice hotel, airconditioning, facilities, no mosquitoes and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Here’s a shot of my towel after 3.5 months, and the hotel towel. Both are clean, and whitish.

96 – Bits of travel wisdom

2nd Mar, Milimani backpackers & Safari lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
Early morning i was up having breakfast.. I stayed in the whole of today. After three trips in Nairobi, i had no desire to walk around the city again. There were of course other activities, like a jaunt to the upmarket neighbourhood of Westlands, or even a safari that can be done in half a day in Nairobi National Park nearby. But i was frankly too bushed and in my mind i’m down one gear already. So i was content to stay here. Instead i wrote down thoughts about the last 3.5 months over the day.

1)Self-catering: Too much milk gives you the runs, even though you may not be lactose intolerant
2)6am in eastern East Africa is bright, but 6am in western East Africa is still dark. Don’t walk around town alone at this time.
3)No matter how much i deny it, everyone concludes i’m from China. So yes, i’m actually Jackie Chan, in disguise.
4)Don’t use the flash when you take pictures of a lioness sitting 2 metres away.
5)Cattle trucks are best left for transporting cattle.
6)Tuck in your shirt when you bungee jump
7)When complete strangers walk toward you, get out of their path. Or you might get a bloody nose.
8)No matter how full a bus / boat seems, there is always room for one more
9)When you tell someone ‘No’ when they ask for money, be prepared to reason why.
10)Everything changes, unless its a ‘samosa’. These triangular meat-filled triangular tasties are the only constants from country to country.
11)Bodha-bodhas, piki-pikis, dala-dalas, so good you have to name them twice.
12)Injeera, one man’s bane.
13)Ethiopian buses help you master the zen art of sleeping on your forearm while sitting at the edge of your seat.
14)Never climb mountains with no rations, and equipped with only 10 hardboiled eggs.
15)Lonely Planet’s inaccuracies make you want to cry sometimes.
16)If you want to be a millionaire, or at least look like one, go become a Somaliland money-changer.
17)A better way to get rich quick is to buy a toilet roll and stand outside a public toilet in Egypt’s tourist sites. At 1 pound per entry, and 10 busloads of 40 pee-filled tourists as your customers, you are set.
18)Don’t mess with tribespeople with sharp teeth, and sharper daggers. Politely refuse when they ask if they can beat you up.
19)Half the world calls it chai, and the other half calls it tea. Someone needs to do a poll and settle on one name. And one teacup size. Preferably a big mug. With milk and sugar.
20)The following anti-mosquito techniques should be used as a step-by-step guide in conjunction with your room stay. (a) spray the closed room with insecticide to excite mozzies. (b) burn a mozzie coil, go for dinner. (c) come back and go on a mozzie killing spree in the room. (d) put on repellent (e) hide inside a mozzie net.

Other random thoughts. I weighed myself, still 69kg =) Peeling skin badly from the beach excursion. Also, by the end of the day, i was something of a hero, having got the wireless router working again. Tomorrow it’s back home.

95 – Backpacker’s lodge

1st Mar, Milimani backpackers & Safari lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
In the morning, i decided i would stay somewhere else besides the New Kenya Lodge, where i had been staying the last 3 times i was in Nairobi. Milimani backpackers was located just outside of town (300 KSH  by cab from the city centre). It was like the Red Chilli back in Kampala, a backpackers enclave that was more well equipped and mod than New Kenya. Where New Kenya had just basic rooms, Milimani backpackers (600 KSH per night) had a bar, its own restaurant, and internet cafe and besides dorms, also had self contained rooms, safari tents and camping grounds for those overlanders.

The crowd were mainly westerners, no doubt here after reading LP’s entries. There were independent backpackers, some in between safaris as well as the regular long term occupants. It was a slightly different atmosphere than New Kenyan, with its regular clientele of Asians, Japanese and Koreans whose guidebooks direct them there. Me im comfortable in either surroundings.

Due to its relatively obscure located outside the city, its was safe. A little expensive too, since unless you walk down to the city centre to self-cater, getting food means buying off the restaurant menu, which is more pricey than eating in town. Still, it was convenient, and the food i had for dinner was pretty good (350 KSH for a chapati, chicken curry and vege). To get into town, its bus number 46 outside around 100-200m down the road, and coming back its 46 taken from the bus stop outside the Hilton.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around in the seating room, and me trying to fix the broken wireless connection without succeeding. Watched dvds (ingluorious basterds) at night. I’ve one more night here, and i’ll see if i just want to laze, or i can be bothered to go into town.

94 – From Lamu to Nairobi

28th Feb, On  a bus, Kenya
Woke up in the morning, bade farewell to the lodge staff, and made my way to the jetty. As usual, the boat was packed to the rafters before setting off. The TSS bus on the mainland, despite being the more cramped 5 seats in a row, instead of Tahmeed’s 4 seats, was actually more comfortable. Since i had a window seat, and the bus was one of those huge coaches, it was heavier and better equipped to traverse the poor Lamu-Mombasa. It was less bumpy and i could read my book throughout.

Reaching Mombasa, i had 3 hours to kill. So i went down to the Old Town, which was by the beach, and did a loop around, stopping by Fort Jesus (did not enter, but its 800 KSH here). Most of the shops were closed on this Sunday evening, but the locals were out at the park located along Fort Jesus, on a cliff by the seafront.

I made my way down to an indian restaurant for dinner. There was a large indian population here. Their features are anything but african, but these Kenyans have lived here their lives and are as local as can be. Still, walking down the streets of old town, i could mistake it as a little india from back home. The buildings in the Old Town are another sight to behold. Typical of the old buildings along the Swahili coast, they are all clustered together alongside narrow alleyways. National Museums of Kenya has done quite a bit of conservation here, and many of the buildings with their balconies have been restored.

After dinner, hanged around for a bit, before taking the bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (700 KSH).

93 – Sheila Beach

Sat 27th Feb, Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya

Today was spent on the Sheila beach, a 3.5km walk along the sea from Lamu past Sheila town. Sheila is a small town on Lamu island, with grander more expensive places to stay and some nicely designed and maintained homes with a local flavour courtesy of the expats who build big holiday houses here. But of more interest to me is the stretch of beach that stretches 12km down from Sheila town.

But first things first. Lamu town is situated on the western shore of Lamu island, and it would be a travesty if i fail to catch a single sunrise here. So at 6am, i made my way down to the beachfront, and was treated to fantastic views of the dawn. I had my twin samosas and tea for breakfast (70 KSH)

Sheila beach was as i expected and more. A barren sandy beach with fine sand. It was not crowded, only a few tourists at that moment. It was also low tide, so i could go deep across to a sand spit which overlooked Manda Island across the channel. There were also a horde of sea birds on the spit, gulls maybe. And a flying fish school. A dhow later anchored on the spit and the passengers played beach footie. The tide was rising though and there was a current, so i stopped swimming back and forth, hence did not join them.

Remember many entries earlier when i mentioned the sun along the coast beats down mercilessly. From Zanzibar to Dar, to Mombasa and Lamu, i would be drenched in sweat. Here, in the water, i somehow forgot about the sun, with disastrous consequences. Despite applying copious amount of sunblock on my face, i neglected my back and ended up very sunburnt. The next morning, i would suffer as i mounted my backpack across my bag and shoulders when leaving Lamu.

Less and less excitement, and more and more relaxation, i know. But after 3 and half months, i figured it is time i treat myself and just sit back. Tomorrow, i’ll make my way down to Mombasa (400 KSH on TSS Express Bus, 9am-4pm, why the return leg is only half price on this bus company i’ll never know). From there, i’ll take the night bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (700 KSH on TSS bus, 9pm to dawn next day).