One Night In Bangkok…or Dubai…or Santiago…or…

31 03 2009

dubai2

 

I once spent 26 hours in Santiago, Chile. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend longer or that I was deported for being drunk, simply that I had the opportunity for a free stopover. Okay, so it wasn’t quite free as I had to book a hotel and then discovered the Pisco Sour (the national cocktail), but still, it’s not every day I find myself in the Chilean capital! And in fact, in addition to the free stopover I also got an extra hour free because the clocks happened to turn back that very day!

 

After collecting my bags, I arrived at my hotel late one Saturday night. At check-in I booked a 4-hour city tour for the following morning, had a quick bite and my first Pisco Sour and enjoyed a good sleep. I had the tour, had a Pisco Sour or two with lunch, explored some more on my own, had an early dinner – avec Pisco Sour – and then headed to the airport for another Pisco Sour and my onward flight home. Curiously enough, my memory of the flight is a bit fuzzy, but I do remember that May 16th is Chile’s Pisco National Day.

 

I always keep my eyes open for free or cheap stopovers when travelling. I’m not saying that I’d fly Air Dodgy just to have a bargain stopover in Ouagadougou, but if it’s more or less on my route and I get the chance to see somewhere I’ve never seen before – and may never see again – then I’ll jump at the chance. And the more exotic, the better!

 

There are many excellent airlines that offer service via exotic cities and some of the best are based in the Middle East. One of these is Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates who fly to Asia and Australia via Abu Dhabi and Dubai. While you could just head straight for your final destination, why take the chance that you’ll miss out on your very own Pisco Sour?

 

In recent years, the UAE has become one of the ‘in’ places for celebrities, the rich and anyone simply seeking endless warm sunshine with a difference. Although hugely popular in Europe, it hasn’t really caught on yet in North America – which gives it a certain cache and the opportunity to casually boast to friends about the great weekend you spent there!

 

Some people head to Dubai and never venture away from the beaches and shopping, but there’s a great deal more to offer including markets and museums. For the more adventurous, there are desert safaris which head inland to a luxury camp for dinner and entertainment, or possibly for an overnight stay. And of course there’s the opulent Burj Al Arab hotel which is so luxurious that they charge admission to non-guests just to take a look around!

 

Pre-arranging a stopover package that includes airport transfers, accommodation and perhaps a tour are usually considerably less expensive than if bought separately. Although Dubai is a great destination in its own right, it’s even better when you get it for next to nothing as a bonus on your next trip! And if you don’t have time to enjoy a few days, you can simply connect through the UAE and use your two-hour stop to impress friends at Christmas with a cornucopia of exotic gifts like dates, hand-woven rugs and sheesha pipes!

 

 

Post by:  Simon Vaughan

Photo by: Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beautiful Game

25 07 2008

Maasai 2

Maasai United practicing free kicks near the Masai Mara, Kenya

They stood before us, line abreast: four stern-faced Maasai morani, or warriors. The razor-sharp blades of their spears glinting in the sun, wooden knobkerries and well-worn daggers thrust through their belts. They had suddenly appeared from the acacia scrub that surrounded our tents and watched us disdainfully as we scrubbed our socks in a large bowl of dirty grey water.

 

“Football?” one of them asked, pointing at the volleyball lying on the ground.

“Sure.” we responded, swiftly downing our laundry in an effort to regain our compromised masculinity. They spoke minimal English, we spoke no Maa and only the odd word of Swahili, but the common language was soccer.

The metal flight of a spear was used to draw a goal line before four spears were thrust into the hard, sun-baked ground as goalposts. Daggers and clubs were placed beside them and our opponents’ flowing red shukas were hoisted up and tucked into their belts. It was to be four against four. The Maasai were fit, lithe and sinewy and loomed over us by at least a head. By comparison we were short, unshaven, sun-burned and in trouble.

It was mighty warriors against Hobbits.

We lined up facing each other. Sandals made of shredded tyres versus fancy footwear with velcro, elaborate treads and silly brand names. Aluminium water bottles versus gourds of cow’s blood and milk. T-shirts versus togas. Tan lines versus battle scars.

We graciously allowed the side with the most weapons to kick-off. The light volleyball hopped and bounced across the rutted dusty ground and disappeared into the bush. Hands on hips, we exchanged glances before a Hobbit volunteered to retrieve it. Play resumed, the dust began to fly and the sweat fell. The Hobbits were soon breathless, the Warriors effortlessly striding about in the equatorial heat. There were shouts, tackles, crosses and shots but neither side could hit a cape buffalo with a banjo.  It was soon clear that while the Warriors were supremely fitter and stronger than we’d ever be, they’d spent their formative years engaged in far more worthwhile pursuits than kicking a ball around: things like hunting lions and staying alive.

As the match progressed, the Warriors seemed to grow younger. They shed their gladiatorial demeanour and reverted to the fun-loving teenagers that they actually were. With the transformation came more smiles and laughs and more fun…until the volleyball met an untimely end with a sharp acacia thorn, popped and slowly deflated with a whimper.

We all shook hands and patted each other on the backs. They picked up their spears, clubs and knives and with a wave, headed off back into the bush whistling and chatting.

It was a cross-cultural experience of the finest order. There was no bartering for souvenirs, no begging for pens or money, no requests for photographs and no patronising or hostility. We were simply eight guys from four different countries all engaged in fun for fun’s sake. All of us, perhaps for the first time, realised that regardless of surroundings, appearance, occupation or culture, we were basically all the same…and none of us would ever be a threat to David Beckham!

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008