Ok enough of you have asked the question, I thought I should be more specific. What am I doing in Abu Dhabi, other than eating salmon in bed on a Monday night?
I’ve had a problem all my life where I’m always early to things. I’ve spent hours, days, months of my life waiting because there’s nothing I fear more than being late. I took it to a whole new level this morning because I thought my pick up time was 7:20am, and I’ve only just discovered it is in fact 7:45. Add in my early factor and I’ve wasted a good half hour. This wouldn’t be such an issue except for the fact I got home from work at 1:30am this morning, and could have used the extra 30 minutes sleep! At least it’s given me a chance to write.
With crew heading to the site today there’s much to be done in the short time frame left. This morning I’m off to renew my visa so I don’t get kicked out of the country before the event. Then we’re meeting with local police onsite to discuss security around the event on the Corniche.
I got an email from Timberline Lodge in Northern Oregon yesterday to say they’ve finally located my long sleeve smart wool top that I lost there. Where could it have been all this time? After a week I decided I’d never see that piece of clothing again, and was gutted that I didn’t have it through freezing cold Washington. But after two months it’s found it’s way back to the facilities team. Bizarre but fantastic!
After my crazy windy beach excursion on Friday I headed home to continue with some work. The sun did eventually come out at Al Bateen, and I ended up swimming and sitting in the sun until midday. A few more people populated the beach while I was there, but essentially it was me, four lifeguards, and a giant yellow floating car.
There was a two hour gap in the evening where I was waiting for some documents to come through, so I decided to take a walk along the corniche. Because it was Friday it was busy on the walkway, and there was a science festival close to where we’re celebrating National Day so it was jam packed. Just as I’d used my last few dirhams to buy a frozen yogurt my phone beeped and the email with my floor plans arrived.
When I looked at the time I realised I only had 1 hour to complete my security plan and submit it to our health and safety experts. It took me an hour to get to the frozen yogurt stand, so walking wasn’t an option. As I had no money for a cab I knew I’d have to run. What surprised me most was the fact I could actually run. I haven’t jogged in about 5 years because my body doesn’t do well with the impact, but with a little urgency and my remaining trail fitness (which I thought was long gone), I was back at my hotel in 30 minutes and got my documents through just in time. I might keep up this whole jogging activity, it was the first time since the trail that my body actually had to physically work and it felt amazing!
I’m now in the middle of my very intriguing visa renewal process. You go to a line of stores, with touts outside trying to get your business. You pick one, hand over your passport, then once registered head to another building. In the second building because I am a woman, I skipped the queue, handed over my passport, got a number written on a sticky note, then took it back to the first building where I started. I then handed my number and passport over, went to a third store to get my passport photo taken, and took my photo back to the first building. Thank goodness our driver George has been through this process hundreds of times, as it’s running smoothly so far. What could take an entire day will hopefully take us less than two hours.
We then headed over to the health insurance building to get a certificate. I handed over my passport and forms and they worked their magic until I finally had a policy. Maybe I can get my teeth fixed here! From this point we got a little confused. We went back to building two which directed us to building three. Then the man at building three directed us upstairs to join yet another line to get a number. I wonder if this is the final step?
When our number was called we handed over our passport, forms and health insurance policy. Papers were shuffled, forms were stamped, and our passports were handed back with a sticker inside! Halas!
I thought about skipping breakfast upstairs this morning and just having cereal out of a glass, but because my fridge doesn’t get cold enough my milk had turned to yogurt. It’s my final day of freedom before the 5th of December, and I thought instead of sleeping in I would make an early morning trip to the beach. I was the only one at breakfast this morning and had the whole gang making me tea and packing away my plates literally the second I’d finished my food. I was also the first one at the private section of the beach. I think I picked the only cloudy day of the year. In fact, I’m almost a little cold!
Fast forward about 10 minutes and there seems to be a severe weather system coming through. The wind has picked up, the sky is grey and people are starting to leave. Since when did I need to start checking the weather of a morning? Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, cold and windy, but only on the one day I want to go to the beach! 😦
I’m determined to stick it out, and get my 50 dirhams worth of sun lounging. At this stage it may not be worth it. I’m still the only sucker here, the smart people who check the weather are still in their warm cosy beds!
I’ve spent 30 years travelling the world, experiencing new activities, cultures and people; all in pursuit of happiness, when all along the key was waiting for me down at Costa Coffee this morning.
I guess there’s some truth to their sentiment. Treating yourself regularly is important, in some form or another. My daily treat is a cup of coffee and sometimes a low fat berry muffin, but tonight my treat was walking, despite the fact I left the hotel at 9:50pm after work.
During my walk along the corniche tonight I was disappointed to discover that they specifically ban camping along the grassed area. I wonder if anyone actually ever tried to camp along the walkway amidst the stray cats. It’s a shame none the less, but it was the last point that really got me.
I joked about people falling in the fountains last time, but I have to say I got pretty close tonight as I was typing and walking at the same time. If it wasn’t for the noisy little pump pushing the water in the air, I may have gone straight in.
Most of the cats must have gone to bed already, but I found one furry friend who was actually nibbling on cat food. Maybe people do come and feed them. He’d obviously been in a few fights and was a little beaten up, but he was super friendly and insinuating that I should take him home.
It must be close to 11pm and I still haven’t had dinner. I usually scavenge around the office for boxes of digestive biscuits and other snacks strewn on people desks. All I could find tonight was a stray honey stick siting on my bosses desk. My diet has been absolutely horrendous here. A few nights ago I bought a packet of ready made popcorn from the small shop opposite the hotel for dinner and ate some of the free fruit they left in my room. I finally got rid of the old milk in my fridge and replaced it with a fresh litre, but I still don’t have a bowl to eat cereal out of, and have come to the realisation of how ridiculous it is to eat cereal with a tea spoon out of a glass. I have to say I was better equipped out on the trail!
The breakfast room is filled with a German aircrew this morning. During the F1 it was Japanese tourists, but generally it’s just a scattering of random business folk and me. Finally the staff have stopped asking for my room number, and are close to predicting my pot of tea request depending on who’s serving. Today they have pancakes, they’re rubbery, but with syrup they’re still good. They have a pretty constant buffet selection but sometimes they go all out with French toast or pancakes. There’s one particular dish I pass up every morning called ‘Foul Madamas’. It’s probably one of the most unappealing sounding foods on their menu, but I really should try it, at least to say I’ve eaten Foul Madamas during my trip.
I got up early today to do my 30 minute cardio kickboxing DVD I’ve had for about 10 years. It’s hosted by that really annoying personal trainer from The Biggest Loser and after 10 years of hearing the same jokes repeated, predicting the same stuff ups and the part where she stops to tie up her hair, I’m kind of over it. It does mean I can exercise without leaving the comfort of my room though, and it was the first time I actually stepped foot in my lounge room since I arrived. I could seriously sublet half my apartment if someone was willing to sleep on the couch. I’ve barely even used the kitchen and should probably empty the milk that was in the fridge the day I landed. That’s pretty much all that’s in there still.
The whole breakfast room has cleared out except for two other guests. I guess this gives me free rein of the pancakes and foul madamas. It’s going to be another busy day. No beach visits sadly, but I’ve moved to a desk right next to the window so at least I’m getting some natural sun light during the day. Hopefully I’ll get back on the corniche again soon, Jillian Michaels and the treadmill just ain’t doing it for me!
Instead of an afternoon tea break today, we went on a cultural excursion to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque just minutes away from our office. I almost declined the opportunity as I had my head buried in health and safely documents, staff numbers, and other ‘real world’ concerns until I realised the need to seize opportunities when they arise. I’m so incredibly glad I did. It’s the 8th largest mosque in the world with 82 domes, 1000 columns and 24 carat gold chandeliers. It was absolutely breathtaking.
I just finished eating some very strange tempura vegetables from the Japanese restaurant close to my hotel, following a 2 hour long walk along the corniche. The vegetables included a giant piece of raw onion and the end of a green pepper. I feel a little ill.
The cats were out in force tonight. I was hoping I could replace my missing pet pigeons with a couple of kittens. I’m sure if I had food I could have coaxed an entire troop of them back to my room. They’re everywhere!
I turned on the television when I got home for the first time in so long. Oh my goodness it was dismal. Despite the fact that most of the channels were in Arabic, the most interesting channel was probably the Italian one. I closed my eyes and tried imagining I was somewhere in Italy, but the smell of tempura and the noise from the nightclub made me feel like I was in an Asian/Italian fusion disco. I ended up watching the most horrendous program called ‘Married to Jonas’. At the beginning I couldn’t figure out who Jonas was, and even when I did, it was so extraordinarily awful I sat there with my mouth agape in some kind of zombie trance. I had to force myself to take control of the remote and switch it off to preserve my remaining brain cells. I’ve decided from this point forward I shall refrain from switching it on ever again.
It’s now the next day and I’ve just come back from the beach where we’re hosting part of our event. It’s not every job you get to spend the morning walking along the sand. It’s one of the few perks I planned early in the day before the sun melted me into the ground. While I waited for the driver outside the office to pick me up, I was watching a host of oddly shaped planes take off from the airport next door. An old style army helicopter, and something that looked like a mix between a blimp and a jet flew by. You never quite know what you’re going to see over here, I was just disappointed I didn’t have my camera at the ready!
The most difficult question I’m struggling to answer these days is ‘what was your favourite part of the trail?’ I’m also facing some common misconceptions from people who know nothing about the PCT; like assuming that I slept in motels the entire way, that I travelled with a group, that I must have flown parts of it; or my favourite is simply the silent, no further questions your honour type response that you receive from somebody who simply can’t comprehend what you’ve just done.
The oddities of the Middle East never fail to amuse me, and Abu Dhabi hasn’t failed to deliver. Here’s just a sample:
I had two pigeons stuck on my balcony this morning that I thought would become my new feathered friends because they couldn’t fly up and over the glass barrier. Sadly they were gone when I returned this evening. Who knows what happened to them.
I have called reception at my hotel on two occasions to try and get some cutlery for my room. The first time they brought a frying pan, the second time they brought a pot and two wooden spoons which were still wet from the kitchen. Still no cutlery.
I had to laugh yesterday after I ordered room service and they took my credit card to process downstairs. The guy later called my room and asked for my PIN number so he could enter it into the machine. I politely declined and said I’d pay cash. Luckily I kept the knife and fork that came with the sandwich so now I have something to eat with.
We have a door to our office at work which only opens 3/4 of the way, which means we all have to walk through sideways to squeeze through each time. It will encourage me to keep keep off the pounds!
I also got hit by two children on 3 wheeled bikes and had to avoid some very near clashes with cyclists speeding along the corniche during my nightly stroll yesterday on Friday (my only day off during the week). Mental note: do not walk the corniche on Fridays!
It’s taken me a few days to rid myself of jet lag and shift my brain into a completely new gear (I think that may still take a little longer). I finally have my own space again, but it’s very different to the solitude and tranquil silence I experienced on trail. You often feel more lonely in busier places where the world and the people rush around you. Instead of waking up to rustling sounds outside my tent, I’m often woken by music from the nightclub within the hotel, or the constant sound of traffic and horns beeping outside my window.
I definitely need to walk more and generally do more exercise. Although my legs and back hurt after a couple of hours, it definitely felt good to move again. There have been so many changes to my life since the end of the trail that I need some form of constant to keep myself sane; and in this place, the only answer is walking!
Here’s two more videos by Leigh Swansborough from our interview in Southern California…
Mind, body, trail mantra:
I love that the closet detectives are on the case to uncover the reason behind my whereabouts. It’s so tempting to let it stew a little, but I think it’s only fair to share a little more insight into my recent departure from LA. Did I already mention I was going to Abu Dhabi? No. Am I here to watch the F1? No. Did I fly here in my own jet? I wish! Am I heading back to Australia for Christmas? Yes. Am I coming back to the US? I hope so!