Visiting new places – Sulaimaniyah

I travelled to Sulaimaniyah, Kurdistan last week for work, to coordinate a client meeting. That being said, I didn’t get to see much of the city or surrounding areas, so I don’t have much to talk about… but I did take a few photos (other than my “Day time, Night time” Weekly Photo Challenge), so I hope you’ll enjoy them.

Next time I hope to get out and see a little bit more than the 2 hotels I moved between, even though the views were stunning from the Lale Zar (this is where the meeting took place; I stayed in the Sulaimani Palace Hotel).

     

     

     

     

     

** all photos taken on my iPhone 4S

*** Click on or roll your mouse over the photo for a description

Advertisements

A HazArd in Sri Lanka

Is Sri Lanka considered a part of the Middle East, or the Far East?

Either way, I ventured there with a girlfriend, Al – collectively we are known as HazAl – for a long weekend (Isra wa Miraj) after buying a GroupOn travel deal with a company, Mihin Lanka, for an absolute steal! 

Isra wa Miraj is a 2-night journey, and that’s exactly what we did – journeyed for 2 nights on an adventure we knew not very much about, nor exactly what it held in store for us 🙂 We knew we had the tickets, had the visas, had the passports, had the hotels booked (and were told that transfers and tours on arrival were booked too!)

We flew out of Sharjah airport, which was a first for me.  And it’s surprisingly a great airport! Small, but it has all the necessities that one would expect of an international airport, and we were even able to have a beer (it’s a dry emirate so this was extremely exciting!)

And then our flight was delayed. Bahumbug! Luckily only by an hour so we were eventually on our way, not getting very much sleep on the plane, and eventually arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka at about 6am on Thursday morning. We were greeted by a representative of Mihin Lanka and told to wait for more people to arrive to fill the bus before we headed off.

There was great excitement owing to the fact that we were in a new country, but since we’d not slept much and were reasonably grumpy, we welcomed the 2.5 hour drive on which we were able to close our eyes for a while and catch up on some sleep.

On arrival in Kandy, we were taken to an elephant orphanage where we had the option of riding an elephant if we wanted to. I opted to not since I’ve ridden elephants in Thailand and Zimbabwe. But the elephants were great to snap a few photos of. Especially the 2 tiny little babies, and the guy with the huge tusks!

     

     

     

From there we headed towards our hotel (Hotel Suisse), arriving late afternoon and heading straight to the bar/restaurant for some food… and beer. After (late) lunch we all hopped back on the bus and were taken to a cultural dance show, followed by a trip to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. Only upon leaving the Temple did we find out that the Temple holds an actual small piece of Buddha’s tooth; the temple has moved around the country following the ruling party’s location.

     

That night, I had full intentions of finding some “friends” from the tour and having a few beers (Al went straight to bed), but after following her there for a quick freshen up, I too decided that bed was a much better option! Good night Kandy!

After breakfast on Friday, we checked out the hotel and headed off on a tour around Kandy, starting off with a small drive around the lake and then heading off to a gemstone factory. They had the most beautiful jewellery but we both opted out of buying anything since we have no idea about gems and were concerned about being taken for the proverbial tourist ride.

     

Next stop – we spent some time walking around the Botanical Gardens. They were absolutely gorgeous, although not very big. There is a “Palm Avenue” lined with Palm trees, and when walking up the avenue, we thought we saw big birds flying above our heads…. until I realised that they were bats. Lots and lots and lots and lots of very big bats. We stood there for a fair amount of time watching them – I was loving it!

     

     

We then had a stop for lunch and off to a tea shop. Unfortunately no tea plantations for us, but we got to buy some decent Sri Lankan tea. And from there we got comfy on the bus again for a 4.5 hour drive to Colombo. Yes; 4.5 hours! There was a fair amount of sleeping taking place on this part of the trip again.

On arrival at our hotel in Colombo (Berjaya), it was quite late (about 9pm) and dark and windy and rainy… so we headed to the restaurant, had some dinner and made friends with some other people on the bus while sharing some laughs with them over a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

Saturday was our last day and it we enjoyed a nice slow start to the day – being fetched from the hotel at midday to head across to a local bazaar, a snack stop-off for lunch and then off to the airport for our flight home.

     

Overall an enjoyable trip, but too rushed to really get a feel for Sri Lanka. Nonetheless I absolutely recommend a trip there.

** scroll over or click on photos for details

Camp-life in Kurdistan

I finally did it – visited Kurdistan for work and got out to the field… and got my boots INCREDIBLY dirty! And I didn’t even have to try hard – the rain did it all for me 🙂

According to the locals, this time of year is not usually this rainy, but we have been experiencing intense thunder and lightning storms almost every afternoon. This does NOT help production for our job as it means that the mountains and hills the next day are incredibly muddy and therefore difficult to climb or even walk over. But, we’re a hardcore group of guys (and girls) who want to get the job done! The highest peak (Halgurd) in Kurdistan is 3,600m which is near the border with Iran. Some of the mountains we’re working on are well above 2,000 meters, so you can just imagine the kind of terrain we deal with daily!

I visited both of our current projects in Kurdistan, one taking place in Barzan area (which is the sacred area of President Barzan), and the other in the Amedi/Tawke/Gara areas. These are are not sacred areas, but they are absolutely beautiful and are known largely as family picnic spots.

My first day out in the field I went with our “Recording” crew – these are the guys who “collect” all the data that we are out there surveying. I learned a great deal on this day, with a lot of words that I’d heard in the office finally falling into place… The one guy I was with was great at drawing me pictures and getting stuck into explaining things to me (I am all for pretty pictures when trying to understand what is being explained to me).

     

     

My second day I went out with the explosives crew who, you guessed it, deal with explosives. These are the guys who go along and put dinamite (purposefully spelled incorrectly) into holes that have been drilled in the ground (by our teams) which then gets detonated by the “shooting” crew, and this gives us the shock waves that then give us the data we need. Well, that’s an extremely basic description of it. But I got to load 2 of these holes with dinamite! All by myself 🙂 (with the team leader standing right by, watching my every move ;)) I then also visited the magazine where we keep all of our explosives – they look nothing like these kinds of things do in movies – they are simple-looking red plastic tubes that say “explosive” on the side.

Camp life is almost exactly as I’d imagined it – I’ve seen many photos in the office and they were not much different actually being there. One camp I stayed in a little cabin, the other was in a tent – it just depends on the size of the camp, and the space (and money) available for accommodation. The one camp had more than 200 people staying in every night, and the other camp had less than 100; so a very big difference in the sizes! I felt very welcomed by everyone and they seem to really enjoying showing anyone who wants to learn what it is that they do.

The drive between the 2 camps (which took approximately 2.5 hours) was absolutely breathtaking, driving along the winding roads into the mountains; my ears were constantly popping from the high-low altitudes. We drove through the small town of Amedi which is practically built into the side of the mountain! I felt like a kid in a candy store for those 2.5 hours – my head not knowing which way to turn to take in all the splendour that is Kurdistan.

And the way things are looking with my job at the moment, I’ll be back here on a fairly regular basis 🙂