Sunday, 29 July 2007

I hugged an Orangutan!!!

I've come to the last of my roster and the last of my undesirable flights and am happy to report that I was blown away by my trip to Jakarta.

Due to the latest Australian Government terrorist warning for Indonesia, I set about giving the flight away the minute we got our rosters. Do you think anyone wanted it? No. I can't recall having ever met an Indonesian crew member, so I couldn't even offer it to someone who might want to go home.

Our flight left at 3am and by the time we finally took off at 4am we were all feeling drowsy. After 7 hours we arrived at Kuala Lumpur, ditched a few passengers, reloaded and then flew to Jakarta. We spilled out of the aircraft and wearily set out for the hotel. It was gorgeous and even though my room was a fair stroll from the lobby, I was very close to the pool and the river and had a gorgeous courtyard right outside my door.

When we first stepped out of the aircraft, I was mentally transported back to Bali. Being in Indonesia again after 5 years, I was surprised that it smelt the same. There was the familiar dusty air, polluted looking skyline and general rubbish everywhere.

I must say and warn everyone planning to travel to Jakarta - the food sucks. I was lucky I bought some fruit, yoghurt and water from home, as the hotel food was just passable. I will give them credit for whipping up a great diet coke - something about the way the lime slices floated in amongst the ice........

My first day was spent lying by the pool in the sun, munching on some salad (yes Mum, I DO eat salad now!) and reading a book. I'd taken three with me and gleefully got stuck into one by the pool. That night we headed to the golf club for dinner and were surprised by two things:

1. the restaurant CLOSES at 8pm. How ridiculous is that?
2. the waitresses outfits were so slutty they'd have been risking jail time in Dubai if they'd stepped outside in them!

Up bright and early for our safari, we were joined by 4 girls from another crew and off we went. We hit the botanical gardens and I experienced my first squatting on the floor toilet. Words cannot explain how horrified I was and still am at having to use it. And the smell.......

The orchid garden was stunning, with its purple and white delicate flowers and the whole enclosure was full of swirling mist. There was a cactus garden, where people had actually carved their names on the leaves of the plants! We wandered around the gardens until we felt too hot and sticky to continue and then, pleading exhaustion we continued to the zoo.

I was super excited by the kind of free range zoo in Johannesburg but the one in Jakarta is AMAZING. We stopped to buy some carrots on the drive up to the zoo. Situated on 1000 acres of forestry, the zoo had both free range areas and enclosures. We were set upon by some gorgeous, very cheeky zebras who were rather excited about our carrots. There were elephants, hippos, lhamas, long haired camels, black bears, brown bears, panthers and so many more.

We drove through the grounds, stopping to feed animals through the windows and eventually came to the elephant and baby animals area.

I don't recall ever seeing a real life elephant before and man are they big! I thought I was tall, but they're just massive. They also smell like wee. We were able to sidle up to them and hold out our remaining carrots. They dart out their trunks and grab them, twisting them up towards your mouth. One of the handlers showed me a cool little trick. You put your arm up, say "up" and they lift their trunk - you can then put carrots into their mouth. Now there was no way I was going to reach my hand up towards that fleshy looking abyss and I was really nervous to be standing that close to a creature that could have knocked me a good ten feet with that trunk. But they're gentle giants and were happy to demolish our carrots and sneeze all over our legs and feet.

Next stop - the baby enclosure! For the bargain price of about US $1.20, we could buy a ticket to hold a baby. On offer that day were both orange and white tiger cubs, an orangutan, a not-so-small tiger and an even bigger leopard. I gleefully bought tickets for all four animals and got my camera ready.

I'm convinced the larger of the animals were drugged, because they were pretty docile. However, the leopard and larger tiger were both growling and could still have taken a pretty big bite out of me if they'd wanted to.

The tiger cubs were very frisky, scratching and play-biting their handler. We copped a few light scratches on our legs in our quest for a cuddle and when I got up I had fur all over my clothes. But they were so cute and cuddly and their course fur was just beautiful to touch.

The orangutan was something else - he eagerly climbed from his handler onto my hip and gave me a cuddle. We sat down, with him on my lap and he curled his arms up around my neck. His fur was course as well and so orange! What a cutie - he had big brown eyes and was just delightful.

Next stop - the leopard. This was probably the most beautiful creature in the whole zoo. He was definitely sedated but still let out a serious belly growl when I sat next to him. He had gorgeous blue eyes and shorter hair than I'd imagined. He was heavy, full of muscle and an absolute killer. A few of my photos perfectly caught my fear as he growled, but he settled down and we snapped a few good shots.

From the zoo we headed to lunch at a tea plantation and the food was awful. We were about 1500 metres above sea level according to our guide and it was quite nippy. We sat inside but could still see the lovely view overlooking the plantation. From there we hit a local produce market and I bought a whole bright orange pumpkin, some bananas, passion fruit and pineapples. Others bought avocados, sweet corn, papaya and tomatoes. It was as cheap as chips and sure beats the crappy produce we get here in Dubai.

I'd definitely do another Jakarta trip and would love another cuddle with that that little orangutan!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Laughs in London

My gorgeous best mate Felicity moved to London two months ago and I finally got a flight to see her on my roster.

I eagerly packed my bag for the warm weather in London and threw in some goodies I’d collected for Flip along the way. I had a small moment of panic when the pilots briefed us, saying that the weather was appalling in London, with serious downpour. My thoughts immediately flew to my suitcase and what kind of footwear I had. I recalled throwing in a gorgeous pair of brown suede flats and had visions of them looking all matty and tatty after my trip.

There was no cause for alarm - by the time we got there the sun was out and it was a warm 23 degrees. I arranged to meet Felicity at Chiswick station and set out on my journey toting a massive hot chocolate, complete with marshmallows.

I haven’t seen Flip in about a year, so there was heaps to catch up on. As soon as we saw each other, the chatting started. I got a tour of where she lives - this cute, skinny, 3 floor townhouse and then it was off to her favourite chocolate shop for a little treat. We wandered down the high street and she told me that Kate Beckinsale and Robbie Williams also call Chiswick home.

We then met Jill and Luke in Trafalgar Square and there was more chatting and gossiping to be done. I went to school with both Jill and Flip, and Luke was in the same year as us, but at our “brother” school. After hitting the Aussie shop (where I bought Cheds that I later discovered were STALE!) we had a delicious feast at a Chinese restaurant and then it was over to the pub for some drinks.

We’ve all done quite a bit of traveling since our school days, so were happy to swap stories for hours. It was a lovely night and even though the London flights are a bit of a nightmare, I can’t wait go get another!

Aussie Aussie Aussie!!!

Sunday, 15 July 2007

I have an African arse

That's right people, I'm endowed with an African booty.

This latest revelation/pearler/insult was leveled at me on the way to Casablanca. I arrived at briefing to see the most quirky crew ever. I won't go into too much detail, but let's say that the highlight was having two brothers on board, in the most senior roles. The boys were from Kenya and the older and cheekier of the two bumped into me as I was bending down to remove lids from the meals. He apologised profusely and even though I assured him it really was a non-event he insisted on retreating and walking past again, to prove that he didn't mean it.

I again assured him that it was fine, and in fact was my own fault as my bum was poking out. He laughed and said 'in Africa it's a great source of pride'. I was mortified. Had he just equated my bum to that of some of the quivering masses I've seen in Africa? Now don't get me wrong, but those bottoms I'm referring to belonged to some very full figured ladies. Full figured all over. While I might have a bit of a arm wobble going on if I don't hit the weights, I don't think I'm in the same bottom league.

So, for the rest of the trip another Aussie crew member called me lard arse and THEN on the way back decided that he'd call me Pumba - like that fat warthog off The Lion King. I was ok with him saying it because we're both Aussies and could have a laugh about it. I retaliated by calling him Timone, after that annoying chatterbox of a meerkat or whatever Timone is.

See, it might be a source of pride in Africa, but NOT with me and being told you've got a big bum is so not cool in Australia. I applaud full figured ladies but I'm not really a fan of my own backside. Anyhoo.....

I'd heard on the cabin crew grapevine (which has more clout than an official Whitehouse memo) that Casablanca was THE worst trip one could ever get stuck with and after it I'd want to either:

  • resign
  • blow a slide and run away
  • cry
  • sit in a corner and cry
  • eat a truck-load of comfort food
  • become a hermit and never utter another word to ANYONE

Interestingly enough I wasn't moved to do any of these things. The flight was long, at 8ish hours per sector but it was fine. Granted, I was on the preferred side of the curtain for these types of flights and when I did pop down the back to deal with Duty Free, it was pretty gross. Up the front we only had a half cabin and it was pretty cruisy.

Once we got there, Aussie boy and I embarked on a whirlwind tour of the local markets where I bargained my way into the hearts of the locals. I bought a gorgeous aqua tealight candle holder that had stars and moons carved out of it and some absolutely stunning blue and white bowls. I couldn't fit it all into my cabin bag on the way home, so entrusted the candle holder to Aussie boy who BROKE it. Anyway, it's fixable. I'll just put the smash at the back.

The markets were interesting. A lot of shady characters and also some very nice ones. I'd been warned by other crew to hold tight to my belongings and not to flash my money or wear any jewellery. So keeping this in mind, I decided to take a small clutch bag and jam it into my armpit - thinking that no-one would try to get at it there. While I was buying some of the finest bananas I've ever tasted, a man at another stall called out to me and told me to be more careful with my bag. Any more careful and I'd have to ingest it! So Aussie boy took charge and burried it in the deep dark depths of his man-bag.

There were fake dvds, cds, traditional clothes, leather shoes and coat shops, food, fresh fruit, piles of hot fry infested prawns, bags of spices, live chickens in cages, pottery stalls, children's clothes and all sorts of things. We came across an incredibly set out stall selling olives. Now normally this wouldn't excite me, and prior to moving to Dubai I could hardly stomach looking at them, let alone eating them, but these were amazing olives! They were available in a rainbow of colours and had been painstakingly arranged in neat curved rows like you might see apples at a grocery store. I cheekily wondered what would happen if I pulled out one from the bottom row. The stall holder let us try them all and we both decided on a small bag of chilli olives - that's right, formerly woosy-with-her-food Lauren decided to buy something that scorched the back of her throat. They just tasted so good! To give you an idea about how hot and tasty there were, my fingers were stained orange after just picking one up between my fingertips!

Next stop - FOOD.

Aussie boy convinced me that we NEEDED to get some KFC chips, so I dutifully followed him. The interesting thing about Morroco is that the people speak Arabic and French. And little else.

So, after painfully explaining that I wanted chips and a pepsi (lucky it wasn't a gourmet menu!), we then waited for about 15 minutes. I'm not sure what we were waiting for but Aussie boy did order half the menu, so this might have caused some confusion. We could see that all the food was already prepared and going cold behind the counter but it just wasn't making its way over to us. There were a few other people in line and it just took forever. I'd hate to see it at peak hour. I decided to change my pepsi to a fanta at the last minute and that threw a spanner into our multi-lingual works.

Finally armed with a bag so big it could have fit 5 shoe boxes and Aussie boy toting the same, we scooted across the road to tuck into our dinner. I was having deliciously salty thoughts of the KFC chips from home - lightly crunchy, piping hot and practically drowning in chicken salt. Not so. They were the lamest chips I've ever seen and the fact that I waited 15 minutes for them didn't help! They were cool, limp and totally devoid of any salt traces.

Out came the bananas and olives.

I woke with a start at 8.10pm and realised I was 10 minutes late for the traditional Morrocan scrub I'd booked myself in for. I'd heard rumours that the scrub would leave me with glowing skin and would strip so much dirt from my skin that I'd be embarrased! I'd also heard that I'd be require to get naked. Butt naked.

So filled with fear about baring all in public for the first time since I was about 4, I fronted up at the spa which was located at a seemingly secret squirrel part of the hotel that took 5 minutes on foot to get to! My booking hadn't been recorded anyway so no worries that I was late. I was taken into the change room by a very large lady who had a towel around her hair and was wrapped in a robe. She handed me an identical robe and a huge bath sheet and a locker key, instructing me to put on the robe. I asked if I had to take everything off and in a no nonsene voice but with a kind/amused by my modesty smile said 'everything off' and walked out.

She came back and lead me to a sauna and gestured that I should take the robe off and lie down on the wooden bench, complete with wooden pillow. Even though I was alone in there, I compromised and lay UNDER the robe. Well it was hotter than hell and certainly hotter than ANY day I've ever experienced in Dubai. It was so hot that after 20 minutes in there I had fantasies about bursting out the door and gasping for breath. Luckily right at that moment she returned to let me out. As I was leaving, she ushered in Katie, who was also on my crew. I was about a foot taller than both of them and as I glanced down to warn Katie how hot it was, I noticed that one of scrub lady's breasts had burst free from her bathing suit and was swinging in the breeze! I then realised that in a very short moment I'd be wearing nothing at all and that sobered me up.

Into the scrub room we went. The traditional name for the room is Hammam, and it was beautifully tiled with gorgeous mosaics and had a huge big stone bench in the middle of it. Let's call scrub lady Yasmine, that sounds nicer. Yasmine took my towel from me and told me to hang up my robe. She put the towel on the bench and told me to lie on it.

Slightly mortified, but more at ease than I expected, I complied. She sprayed me with water and then set upon me with a large black mitt. I'd envisioned that I'd be scrubbed with gorgeous granules and exfoliating products and was quite excited. What I didn't expect was the mitt. It was course and harsh but after the first few seconds it was rather soothing. When she asked me to turn over, my back was stuck to the bench and it made a massive sucking sound as I sat up, not dissimilar to a whopper of a fart. I was absolutely mortified, but then realised I didn't even have the language skills to ensure her it was my back fat that made the noise, not my Pumba-sized bum. Ha ha ha, I still laugh just thinking about it.

After the mitt I was left to lie on the bench as copious amounts of steam poured into the room and threatened to blow me out the door. I started to get a bit claustraphobic and wanted out of there. Finally it was time for some soap and I swear I thought I was going to slip and slide right off that bench onto the floor! It was all over as quickly as it started and then it was back to my room for another banana and some comatose sleep.

The flight home was uneventful. We all said our farewells and staggered onto buses and made our way home.

I'd actually be happy to get another Casablanca - the bowls from the market are exquisite and would make gorgeous presents and a scrub like that once a month would make my skin perma-glow!

Monday, 9 July 2007

The curse of the land of sand

Want to know what IRKS the hell out of me about Dubai? The list really could go on for hours, so I'll cut it back to my favourite few:

  • The shitty exchange rate
  • Taxi drivers
  • Unnecessary & completely UNDESERVED tipping
  • The heat
  • My building doesn't have opening windows
  • I miss home

Right, so the shitty exchange rate tops my list of pooey occurrences today. When I moved over, it was sitting at a solid 2.7, meaning that for every Aussie dollar one could get 2.7 dizzas. I'd estimate it sat solidly at that rate for a good year, and then we were all mortified that it rose to 3. That's right, THREE! So imagine my outrage, horror and disgust when I pranced into the magical money senders today clutching 3000 hard earned dizzas, thinking that it would score me a grand of Aussieness. Not so. The exchange rate today is teetering at about 3.1/3.2 depending on if you're buying or selling. Right, so that reduced my fabulous money to only $927 - and with great effort I used my phone calculator to work out what I'd have got a year and a half ago. I'd have got $1127!!!!!!!!!!!

That's right, the exchange rate has cost me $200 in the space of a year and a half! Who's to blame for my misery? I'm not sure yet, but you can bet your mouldy old boots that I'm going to track them down and throw fetid tomatoes at them!

Taxi drivers here are very odd people. Today a member of the Rastafarian brotherhood gave me a lift home from the magical money senders and it was a ride to remember. We were stationary on the lead up to the roundabout when the lights changed and he was rather heavy handed with his horn. The poor fellow in front of us stalled his attempt at a (very small) hill start and this caused Rasta to freak out and put all of his 120kgs or so directly onto the horn. Needless to say, we missed that light change.

Taxis in summer are not a pleasant experience. Scratch that, they're not a pleasant experience EVER but in summer they reach unbearable. Summer for many nationalities means extra deodorant and perfume to combat the 50+ temperatures each day. Taxi drivers clearly are exempt from this rule and getting into their vehicles is like climbing into a dark fetid space that has had an extremely old, off over sized emu egg explode in it. Rank. Putrid. Vulgar. REVOLTING. Those are a few words that easily spring to mind.

Rasta & his crib smelt ok, but the journey after we got clear of the roundabout was stop-start-stop-start-stop-start due to his dependence on having one foot planted squarely on the accelerator and the other on the break - and using them alternately. I was rather shaken once I'd arrived at my destination, but cheered myself up at the thought of washing my hair and getting ready for a tomato soup extravaganza at More Cafe with my good friend Ange.

Unnecessary & completely UNDESERVED tipping is next on my beef list. I did a quick calculation en route to the magical money senders and worked out (with the OLD exchange rate) that I tip approximately 3 dizzas per trip and I might use a taxi at least once each day that I'm in Dubai. The reality is that I'm probably in at least 3 taxis if I step out of the apartment, so my figures are rather modest. Bear with me. So, I've been here for abut 550 days now, and I'd say I've used taxis for about 300 of those. The rest I've been hibernating inside, on leave and actually working. So, 3 times 300 = 900. And according to the exchange rate of THREE, I've spend a whopping $300 on tipping. I hear you saying, tipping's not so bad. Well, in Dubai, I'm not tipping for service, nor a pleasant environment. I'm actually tipping for near-death-experience driving, nausea-inducing rank stench AND (my favourite) having to provide my own directions. Now remember, this is ON TOP of the fare that I have to pay. I can only thank my lucky stars that we're charged on distance travelled, not on time spent in the taxi like at home.

The heat in summer in Dubai is actually ok this year. Either I've grown accustomed to 50+ temperatures or it really isn't that hot. YET. So far so good. I've spent far too much time in the sun, but I really enjoy the heat up at the pool. I've cultivated quite a tan and yes Mum, I know it looks good now, but that I'll eventually look like Ashleigh's tan leather Jimmy Choo bag. However, the heat, combined with whatever bug it was I picked up in Accra in May caused me to almost faint at a super trendy club while wearing a little white dress. Not cool.

The fact that my building doesn't have opening windows, or doors didn't deter me from moving in a year and a half ago, but if Ash and I could secure ourselves a new apartment that did have such comodities AND didn't require us to move ANY of our stuff in order to move in, I'd jump at the chance! I'm feeling very nesty at the moment and DESPERATELY want a pet. Like a cat. Or a lapdog. Or anything with a pulse at this stage. But the reality of having a pet in a cramped three bedroom apartment with no opening orifices and combined with the fact that I was only here for about 6 days last month means I can't really have one.

Which leads me onto my next point: I miss home. So much. I have three cats and one dog and one brother at home and I miss them all. I've just come off three back to back Brissie trips, so am feeling the inevitable tug that home has when one spends 12 days out of a single month in her own bed with a warm little kitten to cuddle. I'm giving great thought to my prodigal return and am very eager to buy the pet poodle that Mum keeps telling me I can't have. Here's a tip people: she's going to be a black poodle and her name will be FIFI. We'll have Sunday afternoon walks at the beach and can meet up with Ange and her Schnauzer at New Farm Park. The two of us human girls will feast on pea & ham soup and the puppies can have water. Isn't that what dogs ingest in public?

Right, so now that I've had a rant and got it out of my system, I'm off to get ready for some serous soup. For the bargain price of about 22 dizzas, one can have a go at a MASSIVE pot of tomato with mozzarella cheese. My record is about 4 bowls. Then I need to lie very still for a few hours.

We'll see how I go tonight.

I'm off to Casablanca tomorrow (not happy but couldn't get rid of it), so who knows how long it'll be before I get my hands on the laptop again xxx

Friday, 6 July 2007

ANOTHER brissie?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

We finally touched down after a great trip and I staggered home and slept for a few hours. I woke up to find that a long forgotten swap had been approved and guess where I was off to in 3 days?

That's right, BRISSIE. The mind boggles at how little rest I've had this month - that is if you don't count the 5 days I spent in Singapore flat on my back in bed!

I didn't even pack my bag really, just threw in some pressies and a jumper and washed the essentials. Same uniform, same shoes, same jeans - just changed the knickers really and then was on my way. Same crappy baggage space!

The trip came as a blessing in disguise really, as I desperately wanted to get home for my beautiful friend Michelle's 21st this month but legality wise, I can't.

I've spent a total of 10 days in Singapore this month and was both amused and slightly embarrassed when I was welcomed back when we checked in! We all changed quick smart and with growling bellies we made our way to the local food court for a serious feed. Well, 'feed' doesn't begin to describe how great it was. We all ordered a dish and ended up with chilli prawns, sambal prawns, buttered squid, oyster omelette, pork ribs, black peppered beef, oodles of fried rice and garlic baby kailan. It was a taste explosion!!! Totally worth dragging our plane faces and hair out for.

Next stop - this really comes as no surprise - Brissie.

I had dinner with Mum, Dad and Patrick in the valley at a great restaurant called The Vietnamese. I was introduced to it by Jon (mangoes taste like sunshine) and it's incredible! Kind of like a cleaner, busier, indoor Singaporean forecourt - except it's Vietnamese and in Brisbane. Confused yet?

The next day Michelle and I bought fruit salad goodies (including marshmallows!) and popped over to Madonna's for a visit. Mad's has been in hospital and we thought she needed cheering up a bit. We had a good giggle and tried our hardest to take a cute picture of the three of us. It just wasn't a photo day.

As we were driving home the day I flew in, I was delighted to spot The Pie Man - he sells the best pies in the WORLD and his mushy peas are legendary. He supplies them to heaps of the bakeries in town and they're just deliciously ..... sweet and ..... green.

The shuttle passed uneventfully and then it was two more days for me in Brissie. I caught up with Joel, who I haven't seen since I left and then Benno cooked me dinner at his house. That's right, one of my mates has his own HOUSE. He cooked the most amazing chicken, and we watched Top Gun, rums in hand. It was a great night. Freezing cold though - I drove home with the heater blaring and jumped into bed lightning quick!

I had a quick catch up with Gran & Pop and the cousins for morning tea the next day and then it was on to a quick trip to the supermarket to stock up on some goodies to take back. Nothing too exciting - hair bands, shampoo and conditioner, green cordial and english muffins. I guess you could call that exciting.....Aussie food is the best!

Back to Singers for some more food, a coma-like sleep and then some serious Grey's Anatomy watching in the hotel. I've finally got my hands on the end of the third season and must confess I'm completely in love with McSteamy and his naughty, dirty hot eyes. Yumm....

Anyway, my next trip is Casablanca, and as Jena and I say..........'I'd rather drink and emu egg', although after doing some research and having discovered just how MASSIVE emu eggs are, I may just take that statement back!