lovinglife

Short Trip to Abu Dhabi

I had a little bit of time on the way back from Borneo and Singapore, and I decided to drop in and see a friend in Abu Dhabi.  I hadn't seen her in four years, since we worked at the same hotel in the US Virgin Islands.  I enjoy maintaining friendships no matter how far apart they may be, it is important for me to show that I care and that I am committed.  Also, it's a good way to see the world!  When you have friends all over the world, it's good to use that as an excuse to check out a part of the world you might otherwise not have.  In this case, I was able to go to Abu Dhabi for a couple of days, and see an amazing person at the same time.  

Upon arrival, the heat was effectual right from the start, you can feel the wall of thick hot air as soon as you walk out of the airport.  The day I landed, the high temperature for the day was about one hundred and eighteen degrees (forty eight Celsius) and humid.  As I strolled out of the airport I was surrounded by many men asking me if I needed a taxi, and what type I was looking for.  This is where I made my first mistake, and I'm still kicking myself over it, I got ripped off and knew it the whole time.  A typical taxi into the city should cost about a hundred AED at the most, but mine charged one fifty and put another person in the car with me after repeatedly saying he wouldn't.  I don't mind sharing a ride, but only if it is going to discount my cost, it didn't and I was the sucker.  Take a normal taxi if you can, just wave them down and don't get caught up with one of those swindlers.  A ride back to the airport from town will be cheaper, usually around sixty AED depending on where in the city you are staying.  The other thing to note is they don't have Grab or Uber there like they do in Dubai, cash only taxi's are all that is offered, or Careem which is an expensive limo app.  There are ATMs right as you walk out of the airport, so stop here and stock up if you have fees for each withdrawal.  The ride takes about forty minutes if you are staying downtown, and make sure to screenshot your destination just in case the driver doesn't know where your place is, or which one you are talking about.  

One big piece of advice I will give you, something that is probably common knowledge but just slipped my mind, don't go here in the summer!!  If you can, do a winter trip and knock out Dubai and Abu when the weather is a tad more pleasant, summer is brutal.  When I first posted my pictures on social media, most of my friends had the same observation, no people in the streets.  Yes, the silly white guy was the only one walking around taking pictures in this atrocious heat, everyone else was at the mall or home comfy in their AC.  I spent about forty minutes walking outside, and that was a stretch, it was almost unbearable but I had to push on through with my limited time there.  I walked through Heritage Park, and then on to the waterfront which was lined with desert dunes on one side, and fishing boats along the Persian Gulf.  It was a different site for me, I had always wanted to be in the Middle East, and see the Persian Gulf, being here for real was quite breathtaking.  I spent some time admiring the sea, watching boats go by, and taking pictures in a shady spot that I had found until I had enough. Once I was finished I walked back to the Corniche neighborhood where my hotel was, and found a supermarket called Grandiose which had the necessary snacks for my room.  One thing I noticed at night was that people really come out when the sun goes down.  The trails were full of bikers, joggers, and roller bladers, and the beaches were full of volleyball games, frisbee, anything outdoors once it cools a bit.

That night I was supposed to finally meet up with my friend who I had flown all the way there to see but we had a snafu in meeting up and we had to postpone to the next day.  Luckily I had backup plans, although the first one I wasn't so sure I would be able to carry out.  That plan was to buy a bottle of wine, and stay in my room and have a little wine and get some photo editing and writing done, but finding take home wine would prove to be tricky.  The middle east is mostly a "dry" section of the world, with many countries not offering any alcohol whatsoever, others only offer at restaurants and bars but not to take home.  I scoured the internet looking for some answers of what I could do, and I came up with a solution and decided to give it a try.  I found a store next to the bar I wanted to go to that was called "high Spirits," my kind of place!  They had a wonderful selection of beers, spirits, and a decent wine selection as well.  There are very very few stores like this, and typically they won't sell to non-locals, so there is a little trick you can use to get passed that.  If you tell them that you live there and work for the Embassy they will sell you whatever you want.  I snagged a bottle of red from Italy for around twelve US dollars, and proceeded back to my room for the night.

I returned to my room and poured a glass, and proceeded to get to work.  My other backup plan also materialized at the same time, and I had to bail on my staying in night, but I'm very glad I did.  My brother had a friend from college that had been living in Abu Dhabi for the last five years, and he was able to connect us with the wonders of modern technology (Facebook). He was free luckily, and wanted to take e out and show me the nightlife that the city had to offer.  He came to my hotel, and we walked to a "western" bar across the street called Rock Bottom (I used to work at a brewery with the same name, so it had a certain charm for me). This place had an American cover band, cheap drinks, and apparently a lot of women of "negotiable affection" if you catch my drift.  We had one drink there, and he wanted to move on and show me the real Abu Dhabi.  He took me to a bar called "Asia de Cuba" which was a very nice place right on the beach.  A reoccurring theme started here, which was them not letting me in with shorts on.  This town is extremely strict with their dress codes, even though it's unbelievably hot outside, no flip flops, no shorts, and some places even require long sleeves as well.  This happened at a few places before he decided to just take the long trip out to the well known Irish pub called McGettigan's which could care less what you are wearing.  This place was crawling with westerners, loud music, tons of space, and random sports on TV.  We had a corona and watched Korfball, ever heard of it?  I hadn't either, it's like a combination of volleyball and soccer, very strange, but entertaining at least.  After a lot of talking, and many beers, we decided to go for a nightcap a little closer to my hotel, guess where we went?  Yeah, back to Rock Bottom where there were even more women of negotiable affection at this time, and the music was better with a little help from Carlsberg, Tiger, and Coffee Tequila...

The hotel I stayed at had a brilliant breakfast buffet which was mighty helpful the next morning as I was in dire need of something close to the breakfast I have at home.  After breakfast I was finally lucky enough to be able to meet with my friend who I had flown all the way there to see. She works at the St. Regis and we were able to meet at the mall that is attached to her office (there are malls attached to everything there).  Right next to her was the Nation Galleria across from the beach which was full of shops and restaurants.  We walked around for a bit, and decided on LOL for lunch, also known as Leopold's of London, fantastic food with an amazing view.  Then she took me on a wonderful tour of the St. Regis hotel, if you have it in your budget I would highly recommend staying there, it is one beautiful place in an amazing location.  In addition to the strict dress codes across the city, any form of public affection is also banned. So after not seeing each other for four years, and saying goodbye till who knows when, we were not allowed to hug, which was quite troubling but such is Abu Dhabi.

I had a late flight, so I decided to leave a little early and hit a few spots on the way to the airport.  I went to Emirates Palace, Etihad Towers, Corniche Beach, and walked around that area a bit before heading to the airport.  Once at the airport I was told repeatedly by many that I would not be able to board the plane in shorts, so make sure you bring some long pants and long sleeves in your bag just in case.

I was there for one reason, and that was seeing my friend, and I also wasn't there for very long. If I had some more time I would have done a desert tour with camel riding, sunset, and traditional dinner in a tent.  There is also dune surfing, ATV riding, and 4x4 trucks you can rent and tear across the desert in.  When I return at the end of this year I'm looking to attend most of those, and possibly even drive up to Dubai for New Years Eve which is a big deal apparently, and only about an hour and fifteen minutes drive if you are okay with driving on the left.  All in all it was a great experience, and I'm returning because I want to see my friend again, and I would love to experience all that UAE has to offer from the beach and sea to the desert, and I will make sure to bring pants this time.

Malaysian Borneo: Mari Mari Village

I flew in to Kota Kinabalu which is the capital of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo.  Borneo is occupied by three different countries, Malaysia to the North, Indonesia to the South, and Brunei which is situated right smack in the middle of Sabah on the coast.  If you look at Borneo, KK (as it's called by the locals) is on the northwest side, right on the South China Sea. The city itself is quite modern in comparison, with many American fast food options, as well as British pubs to go along with colossal malls and local food markets.  With so many modern conveniences and city selections I decided to make my first day a step back before the sprawling city was built.  

After scouring the internet and forums I found that a tour of the historic Mari Mari Cultural Village was my best bet.  You can book a tour (which is highly recommended) and you will be picked up right at your hotel or home stay and driven to the entrance.  Once you get to the entrance you will be lead to "registration" which has fresh water, some pet lizards to meet, and a brief waiting period while they assign certain groups to guides.  I was able to secure a discount and tour through the shop I will be working with, but there are numerous tour companies in the city or you can go directly to them at Marimariculturalvillage.com and book a tour which is 180RM ($42 US) per person.  It is well worth the price.  You will be exploring an ancient village that used to house five different tribes and the tour guides are all descendants of these same villagers.  Our guide came here to visit his grandmother as a young child who was still living in their old long house and living off the land.

Once your group is put together you will be greeted by a guide and taken to the entrance of the village and given a brief run down of what you will see, and what to expect.  We were quite lucky as it was cloudy that day, so it wasn't all that hot, although it is quite humid here.  Once your guide has finished his introduction you will follow him into the village.  The guides are incredibly knowledgeable, fun, and all of them provide an English speaking experience.  Don't be afraid to ask them questions or to engage with them whenever you want to, they enjoy answering questions and sharing their heritage with all of us.

The first thing you see is a rope bridge that isn't all that high off the ground for those of you that aren't great with heights, but it is a sight.  It isn't a giant swinging bridge connecting two cliffs but you still need to proceed slowly and with caution.    Taking a picture of my mother on this bridge wasn't easy, you will need both hands to secure your crossing.  There is a rumbling creek below, and beautiful trees and sounds all around.  Once you are over this bridge you will join the rest of your party and proceed down to the first tribes area.

Once you all gather around the first tribal dwelling you will get a glimpse into the simple life that housed these people for generations.  Simple and hand built long houses that protected the entire village all in one domicile.  These villagers lived off of what was around them, so their construction, food, and way of living were unique to this one little area.  You get a nice story explaining how they lived, how they cooked, and more importantly, how they made rice wine.  A tasting is followed after being told how it is made, and you get to take a shot out of cute little bamboo shot glasses!  Rice is so incredibly important here, between the wine and the food, without rice I can't imagine how this tribe would exist, it is that important.  We were brought inside and a local girl was hard at work making the rice wine, getting prepared for all the visitors.  Another fact we were told was how to spot the single ladies, they have no sleeves, so the girl making our wine was available.

After our shots we were lead out of the house to the produce section, where handmade bowls were full of local vegetables.  The villagers go out and pick whatever they can find in the surrounding forest and make eclectic dishes with what they have around them.  Beautiful pottery made specifically for what they hold, all different sizes, and a myriad of designs.  The jungle around is lavish and makes for an easy experiment of different dishes.  Palm leaves are used as a sort of sanitation paper to line the bowls and serving dishes.  Traditionally the women are in charge of the kitchen, the picking, and the making of utensils and dishes.  The men hunt and protect the village, as well as do the heavy lifting and building.  

One of the most fascinating details for me was how the tribe lived in the long house.  The house was just that, long, and housed the entire tribe.  When you walked in there was a long hallway in the middle, bedrooms on the left, and a mildly raised platform on the right with sleeping pads.  The young single girls slept in the same room as the parents, but up high above.  They would climb a ladder to get to their bedroom, then the parents would remove the ladder once they were up there so nobody could reach them (and they couldn't sneak out).  The brothers would sleep outside of the rooms on the raised part on the front of the house to be able to fight if they were invaded.  The homes were all made from bamboo, and raised up off the ground in case of flooding and attack.  A very tricky ladder was used to enter the house which was basically a log with tiny steps carved into it that could be brought up once the whole village was inside.  There was also a kitchen in the house that was a flame grill with logs that could keep food fresh and eatable for a day or longer.  The also had "air-conditioning" which consisted of pushing the roof up and placing a stick strategically to pull in excess air from outside when it was windy and not raining.

One of the things that I was curious about was activities, what do they do for fun?  They have to do something to pass the time, much like we drink and watch Netflix or check Facebook and post cat videos right?  They actually have a bunch of entertainment to pass the time, and their interests are quite interesting.  They make beads and turn them into beautiful bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.  Henna is made for tattoos, musical instruments (especially drums and gongs), pottery, blowguns and darts, tobacco cigarettes (just the plant, no additives or chemicals), armored vests that can protect them from opposing darts, pots for cooking, and clothing.  Their hobbies and fun create functional items for the village.  

Once you have finished up with the history and making your way through the whole village you will go to lunch.  A buffet of local food prepared by the villagers will await you in the bamboo dining hall equipped with a gift shop of course.  Roasted chicken, rice, local vegetables and fruit, a delicious lunch in a tranquil setting before the show.  The main event is what follows the lunch, and it is a traditional dance that has been passed down for generations.  They have a band that consists of different types of drums, and a singer for a few numbers, but all the young ones celebrate with a number of dance routines.  Obviously they have grown a bit and have lighting, speakers, and a microphone to make the experience a bit more modern, but it is still full of tradition and incredible.  They always welcome photography and video, and at the end invite everyone up to try their dance routines with some minimal instruction.  

If you ever make your way to Borneo and find yourself in KK this is #1 on my list of things to do.  There is so much culture, and so much to learn if you are interested in learning about an ancient tribe you would have otherwise never known about.  The people are so nice and accommodating and incredibly happy to share their ancestry with you as you would be them.  I have been to many countries and experienced many cultures but this was an experience I will never forget because of how it was presented.  I know that most of the performers albeit genuine and descendants are just that, performers, and you are likely to see them in jeans and a t-shirt at the bar later, but does that make it any less genuine?  They still dress up in their parents and grandparents garb and perform the same dances, and show us exactly how their family lived not all that long ago, so it is just as palpable.  I left some things out of the experience as I think certain aspects are better experienced firsthand and didn't want to ruin the reality.  This was such an amazing event, and I'm so happy I was able to experience Sabah in this manner, and will recommend this village and tour to everyone every time I speak about KK.

Dive Equipment: What you should rent vs What you should buy

For divers, there is always the issue of what we should own, and what we should just rent once we get to the shop.  Every diver is different of course, but there are certain items you should try and purchase on your own and have with you for every dive.  Other components might not be necessary, and could be troublesome to travel with.  Here I will highlight my thoughts on five items, and whether or not you should purchase or rent them.

1) Regulator - Own

Having your own regulator is important for many reasons.  First and foremost, you are in charge of cleaning it, and only your saliva is going in and out.  One of the weirdest things was using regulators at the shops that had been breathed in by a hundred people, spitting and drooling all the way, yuck.  You also don't know the cleaning procedures of the shops, although I would say most follow proper techniques, its still strange putting your mouth on something hundreds of others have.  With your own regulator, only you are breathing out of it, and you can clean it any way you please.  They roll up nice as well, and if you have a decent case they can be incredibly easy to transport, fitting in a backpack, or taking up a small space in your suitcase.  They aren't cheap, but they are totally worth it if you dive often, or if you just don't want to share a breathing tube with a hundred people.

2) BCD - Rent

Having your own BCD for some is an accomplishment, and it proves that you are a seasoned diver and in turn know what you are doing.  Some are quite particular and want their own custom BCD with their own clips, and get comfortable knowing everything about it.  That is completely understandable, but if you are traveling to dive you might want to consider renting. Most shops carry the same one you will purchase, and it's not very expensive to rent equipment typically.  While having your own is great, it can be bulky and laborious in your luggage, taking up valuable space while flying.  If you have a preference I would just contact the shop and ask if they carry that style or maker, and if not ask what is similar.  Most of them are engineered the same way, and the companies stick to a similar design plan so you won't be terribly uncomfortable.  

3) Mask - Own

Having your own mask is imperative.  Every shop has an assortment of masks available, but you don't know which one isn't going to leak, or fog up.  With your own mask, you can work out the kinks and break it in and know exactly whats's going to happen once you are down below.  Vision is kind of important down there as you can imagine or have experienced, and there is nothing more annoying than a fogged-up and leaky mask. With your own you can burn it, rub toothpaste on it, and make sure it won't fog or leak. It's also very easy to travel with, but keep it in the case as much as possible as it can get scratched easily.

4) Fins - Rent

I actually went back and forth on this, and this one is kind of a combination of the two.  If you are able to dive locally, I would absolutely own your own pair, or even if you aren't traveling far to dive I would own my own.  Fins don't take up a ton of space, but they can be damaged in transit, and the shop might have the exact same pair available upon arrival.  Again, I would ask the shop if they have that make or a pair that is similar. Shops usually have an assortment of fins, but if they have many customers there is a chance that your pick is taken out for the day. I would own your own booties however because they are as small as socks, and then you can take out rental fins but have your own socks which solves any issue.  So for lengthier trips just rent and save the space.

5) Wetsuit - Own

This is a no-brainer, in fact I will double down and say that you should NEVER use a wetsuit from the shop.  Not everyone shares the same etiquette as you might, and as you know it is very hard to get certain "fluids" out of a wetsuit.  Even if you own your own I would highly suggest that you hold it during the dive and never relieve yourself in your suit.  Not only will it fade faster, it will smell and is just not good overall for the suit or you.  Rental suits can carry a lot of bacteria, and have strong odors, especially if they aren't cleaned properly.  So buy your own and keep it clean.

Did you know?  Hypothermia can happen in warm waters, even Caribbean seas that have water temperatures in the eighties.  If the water is cooler than your body temperature (which we all know is 98.6) then your body temperature is lowered and hypothermia can occur.  Wearing a wetsuit is beneficial for a couple of reasons, keeping your body temperature at a stable rate, and skin protection.  In warmer waters a "shorty" suit is more than sufficient. 

SUMMARY

These are just suggestions and based on my personal experiences talking with many divers and traveling for dives.  Dive equipment can be bulky and cumbersome, so that played a large role in what I suggested for rentals, but everybody is different.  The two most important pieces of equipment for me are your regulator and mask because breathing and seeing are essential. Those also happen to be the smallest and easiest to store while abroad, so it just seems automatic that you would own them, along with a wetsuit that is also easy to bring along.  So to recap, spit in your own mask, drool in your own regulator, and don't pee in any wetsuit (especially your own).

5 REASONS YOU SHOULD HAVE A ROOMMATE IN YOUR 30S

This is obviously directed more towards those that are in a single situation, but everyone can take note.  If you are in a long-term relationship than obviously you will want your own space, and not some party animal ruining date night all of the time.  But those of us that are (as I describe it) "Professionally Single" it could be a good idea to live with someone, even into our 30s.  Below I will list my personal reasons of why this is a good thing, because I believe it to be positive, even if you have the means to live alone.

#1 - EXCUSES EXCUSES EXCUSES

As we get older we typically want to go out less, and our party days get further and further behind us.  Have you ever committed to an event and then wanted to back out at the last minute?  Yeah so have I, quite a few times if I remember.  We usually make the commitment off of instinct and in the moment, and then later on we just might not be up for it.  Sending that text, or making that call to cancel on friends is never a pleasant experience, especially without a valid reason to do so.  Well having a permanent live-in excuse generator would sure be helpful!  So many easy reasons can be blamed on the roomie, but just make sure they know that in case of a run-in with that friend at a later time.  Is your roommate sick?  Are they going through a breakup?  I'm sure they need you in some capacity, and this will work everytime! Never again will you have to come up with an elaborate lie to cover your desire to stay home and do nothing, now you only need a simple lie that blames everything on your roommate.  It's one hundred percent foolproof.   

#2 IMMEDIATE SIGNIFICANT OTHER

Invited to a wedding with no date?  Going to a couples party alone?  If you are unable to get out of these events and have nobody to go with, your roomie will always be there for you. This works with any gender these days, it really doesn't matter if your roommate is a female or male, and you are either, it's 2017 so anything goes!  Now, you will have to be careful going to many of these events together because gossip is rampant, and people love to talk.  But it can be a lot of fun, and it will bring your friendship much closer.  Does it work for all events?  No it does not, sometimes there are things you just don't want to do, and don't forget you will need to return the favor one day, so don't make it too harsh of an affair.  I will say though, it's hard to say no to free food and drinks, even if the episode is less than enjoyable.  Some of us don't mind going to celebrations alone, and don't care what others think, but sometimes it's just good practice to have someone with you in certain circumstances.  Also, if you are out together and some creepy person is being too eerie on you, roomie can come over and save you from an awful situation.  Seen it, done it.

#3 A RIDE

If your roomie is like you, then they are typically home most nights and don't want to go all out all the time.  BUT, let's say you did go out and had a few too many oat sodas (Beer for those of you that haven't seen The Big Lebowski, and need to now) and now you need a ride home, and might not be able to work the Lyft app.  Does your roomie have a car?  Most likely but not definitely, in any case they can at the very least hail a ride share for you if not come pick you up.  My roommate (at the time) worked late and had to park on the street in a questionable area, and I would wake up in the middle of the night, drive down to where she parked, pick her up and park back in my original spot, every night she worked.  If they have a vehicle, they might want to just come get you themselves, and this is a big plus.  Also, if they have a car you can borrow it sometimes!  You're trustworthy right?   Don't abuse the privileges.  

#4 FREE PETS

Not in every case, so this is mildly specific, but if you love animals but travel too much or just can't own one at the moment, you can have a pet without responsibility!  Sometime certain people have a tough time getting roommates because of their pets.  I've talked to many people that had a rough time finding trustworthy and viable roommates because they had an excess of pets that some are just not comfortable around.  There are fears, allergies, and a myriad of other reasons why some people can't live with animals.  If you are someone that loves being around them, this can be such an amazing setup for both parties.  For one, you get a free pet to hang out with!  On the other side, they can potentially have a free pet sitter in house that they have already seen with their precious loved one.  Every case is different, but if they are on vacation or out of town on business, you an watch the pet and possibly negotiate a free utility bill in return, or something similar.  It's expensive to board, and hard to find someone you genuinely trust with your pet, so this can be such a perfect system for everyone involved.

#5 COMPANY

Movie night, wine night, frisbee day, travel buddy, hiking friend, so many options.  Now I like to do things alone most of the time, but sometimes it's nice to have a friend to do certain things with.  Frisbee day alone is a tough one, it's quite strenuous throwing the frisbee and running to catch it, it's so much better with another party involved.  It's also wonderful to have someone there all the time to show things to, and ask opinions of.  New outfit, blog post, youtube video, whatever you have going on you always have someone that will listen and give you a genuine response regardless.  Even if you are a loner or introverted, I can't tell you how amazing it is to always have someone to bounce things off of.  I felt like I had a sibling with me at all times, like I always had a sister to talk to when I needed her.  You also double your friends, there is a special connection between roommates and you will gain lasting friendships through their friends, and they will yours.  

SUMMARY

I know that gaining your own place is some sort of independent achievement, and that's great! But even if you buy your place, getting a roommate can help out with your mortgage, social life, and overall well-being.  I also understand that I have been incredibly lucky, and have heard horror stories of situations that didn't work out.  Communication is key, if something is bothering you in their living behavior, you are better off to let it be known instead of letting it fester.  Celebrate that you have another like-minded person in your home, make the best of it, and create amazing and lasting memories you will remember forever.  I will never forget my roommates as long as I live, and we grew closer living together instead of drifting apart.  I can't make a list of best roommates and rank them because they would all come up as #1.  Enjoy the partnership of caring for a home together, and make the best of the things you have in common.  This can be the best situation where you love coming home each day (I always did) or it can be toxic where you never want to be there.  Stay picky my friends.