Wednesday, August 29, 2007

As you can see on the right...

(or, if you were Saudi, it would be on your left) my blog is worth more than Max's...

Not like I care's just a gimmick...

Really, I don't care that my blog is worth more than Max's...honest...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I don’t have a car at my disposal in Riyadh, and my colleague is not always available to drive me to and from my hotel from the office. On top of which, he lives on the other side of town with the office in between us and it’s a bit out of his way.

Which means I have had to take a taxi for the last three days. Now, taxi is probably too strong a word for these vehicles. They are more like smelly, rusting, dented boxes on four wheels and a good deal of them should not even be on the road (sounds strangely like SA minibus taxis). Typically, they are Toyota Corolla-size vehicles, but that’s as far as the similarity goes.

On top of it all, people here (everyone, not just taxi drivers) drive like absolute maniacs, making SA taxi drivers look like angels. There are beautifully marked lanes on most of the roads. And the markings are not paint, which might wear off through use, or burn off in the heat. They are cats-eye sort of things that stick out a couple of centimeters.

However, although these are great markings, they are probably the chief reason why people drive like they do, straddling two lanes. Absolutely no-one drives in a single lane unless there is someone in another lane pushing them over, hooting as they pass. That’s another thing…it’s annoying as all hell, but everyone hoots impatiently at each other, even at red lights, for no particular reason. Usually it’s just a single toot, but I think it’s just to make someone aware that you’re behind them and want-to-get-going-as-soon-as-the-light-turns-green-

Worst of all is my colleague, CC, also a Scotsman (as I’ve mentioned) who drives like there’s a pack of armed Sassenachs behind him wanting to look up his kilt to see if he’s wearing underwear or not. He drives all over the road, sometimes crossing three lanes at a time, and there have been times that I’ve found myself gripping the door handle in abject fear of what he’s doing, or what could happen. CC says he’s only had one small accident. Rriiiggghhhtttt……

The traffic police system here is a fuckup. If a Saudi hits a western-driven car from behind, it’s the westerner’s fault. If an Indian driver hits anyone from behind, it’s the Indian’s fault. If a westerner hits an Indian-driven car from behind, it’s STILL the Indian’s fault…..go figure.

As much as I dislike driving around Shit Towne, I’ll take that over driving here…any day…

Get me a beer someone……

It’s not often…

that I need a dump in the office, but the occasion does arise from time to time. And before you start thinking “Ah, he’s got PTSS (public toilet shit syndrome)”, I don’t really, so long as the doo-doo station in question is clean. There is nothing worse than going into an office or public toilet to find it so unusable that even a hippopotamus, which waves its shit about with its tail in the water it swims in, would say it has standards and refuse to use it.

That aside…

Moslems have this cultural habit of using what amounts to a “long drop” toilet. There is no seat in a Moslem toilet as they don’t really need one. Wearing the “Thobe” (male Arab dress) having a dump is as simple as lifting your skirts over a hole in the ground, squatting, doing your business, wiping your butt with your left hand index finger (and only that one), hosing your finger and butt off with the little hose pipe (fitted in all Moslem toilets expressly for this purpose), dropping your thobe and walking out nonchalantly like you’re on a Sunday walk in the park. Some of them might even wash their hands with soap at a basin, but not all do.

So, as I said, they shouldn’t need a toilet seat……shouldn’t being the operative word…

On the occasion that I need a loo (in somewhat of a rush following the Mexican pie I had for dinner last night), I find that one of these fuckin’ rag-heads is using the “western toilet”…bastard! Allah will not forgive you this, you camel-shagger!

I rattle the door to show him that someone superior wants in and then walk out the bathroom door to wait in the passageway. After a minute or so, I hear a flush and walk in to find the oil baron hanging his “gutra and iqal” (headdress also known as a “tea towel and fan belt”) on a hook so that he can wash his hands (at least he did that). He doesn’t even look in my direction as he probably knows I can melt steel with my infidel evil-eye glare.

Anyway, I get to do my business and head back to the office, thanking Mike on the way for the toilet roll he loaned me. The slinky bastards would even use the bog roll if it was left in the holder, another something that Allah would not take too kindly to if he saw it. Apparently, Moslem toilets are only allowed to face in three directions, away from Mecca, cos they’re not allowed to show their bare-arses in the direction of the holy place. I wonder what happens if he’s shagging one of his four wives with his butt in the air in the general direction of Mecca? Will Allah make him ejaculate prematurely in punishment?


Get me a beer someone…

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's Fuckin' hot here...

and dry...say no more...

Actually, it's so dry, the camels have started dying, I kid you not. It was in the papers the other day.

On top of which, I'm paying for wireless connectivity almost by the minute, so I basically just check my favourite blogs, leave some snide comments if I feel they're needed, check my email, check if Steph is online so that I can "chat" to her, then sign off again...

And I signed up for this? I need my fuckin' head read...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dubai Airport...or any airport, I suppose... full of tired, cranky, sweaty-arm pitted, smelly, noisy people and I despise them both (people and the airport). But before I get ahead of myself...

We left Shit Towne International more than a half hour later than scheduled (no surprise there) under notice from the skipper that the plane had arrived late and they had turned it around as soon as they could have. Great...the fuckin' tin bird has just got in and now they're going to throw it back in the air again, without much of a rest. Ah well, the China Airlines plane went up in smoke earlier so that was the burnt offering for the day, so our karma was good for the day.

I was pleasantly surprised and shocked all in the space of seconds when I boarded the Emirates EK766 Boeing 777-300. Surprised to see that I had been pre-booked into an aisle seat with some leg-room in front of it, shocked to see that my three companions were rugrats....aarrgghhh!! On top of which, their mum's arms were covered in henna tattoos and she stank like an unwashed hoor (I assumed).

Luckily for me, the plane wasn't full and, doing the Good Samaritan thing, I moved over to an empty row, without the leg space, but with a window view so that I could stretch out and gallantly let the Pong family have the extra seat. As usual, I couldn't get much sleep, but there were a couple of good movies on, including Wild Hogs, which turned out to be better than I expected. A bit of a feel-good movie, but it was quite funny at points.

We landed at Dubai International Airport at 08h35, local time, and walked out the door into an oven.

The heat was overbearing, oppressive, and dry as a good martini. A movement to the left and Clint Eastwood, along with sombrero and ceegar, gets up from his spot under a cactus and takes a pot shot at some cowboy dressed in the obligatory evil black jeans, shirt and hat. Oops...wrong movie, but this wasn't a movie. It was real heat...

Unlike any heat I'd ever felt before, it bore down on me, my scalp pleading to be taken back into the coolness of the air-conditioned plane. Quickly down a flight of stairs, we boarded a bus, expecting a short ride to the terminal. Twenty minutes later, after seeing and smelling a load of smelly armpits from the people hanging onto the overhead straps, we pulled to a stop. Another quick dash into the terminal through the heat and the famous Dubai Duty Free opened up before me.

It really is as fantastic as people say it is, with enough of just about everything you could ever want to take home from abroad. You can even take out a raffle ticket for a Harley Davidson or a BMW 735i which, regardless of where you stay in the world, if you win it they will ship it to your door at no extra charge. There is gold to buy by the ounce. There is booze to buy by the litre. There is electronic stuff to buy by the box load. One thing I did find though, is that I can buy CD's cheaper at home, which although it annoyed me, saved me a few bucks.

I wandered around the place for a good hour and a half, before I decided I needed a rest...and a beer. This is the last stop that I'll get a beer before Riyadh as they don't even have them on the plane going over Saudi air space. I found a nice little comfy chair in the "19 litre" pub and ordered my one and only Kronenburg 1664 pint. It was my one and only as, when I got the bill, noticed that it had just cost me ZAR70!! Fuck that, I'm not that desperate. Maybe in three weeks time I will be, but not yet. Anyway, it was good and I savoured every last drop in the glass. I read my book for a while, watched the people go past, and found myself dozing off as I was relaxing.

I remembered seeing a "Quiet Lounge" on the second level, so I wandered off there to see how quiet it really was. At the top of the escalator was a sign that read "Free lunch for Emirates passengers with a stopover of more than four hours". Hello...I was in that category, so I went in, showed them my boarding pass and had a reasonable lunch for buggerall. After that, I found the Quiet Lounge, found myself a lounger, lay down and within minutes had dropped off to sleep for an hour or so.

I awoke feeling a little chilly due to the air-conditioning and went for a walk to warm up a bit. By then, the gate number for my flight was on the Departures board and I went off to Gate 22 to wait the last hour or so before my connecting flight to Riyadh. Still not fully rested after my overnight flight, I found my head nodding downward, urging me to find somewhere soft to stretch out and sleep. Only once I was in the hotel in Riyadh would I be able to do that though.

The connecting flight was just over an hour and a half long, and we didn't even get to experience the heat deplaning, as we were ushered into one of those tunnels that affix themselves to the aircraft to allow ease of boarding. Customs was painless, except for the ten minute wait in line to see the disinterested soldier who was checking passports. Perhaps he didn't hassle me as my title on my visa said "Marketing Director" rather than "Consultant". The reason for that is that as soon as you're listed as a consultant, you are seen as a technical resource and there is a whole different, lengthy, visa process to be followed. I was just hoping they weren't going to ask me for a business card.

On the carousel, the luggage was already coming out the hole in the ground and making its way round and round, waiting in anticipation for its owner to snatch it off the dizzying merry-go-round. Some of the luggage had been there a while, as it had already started throwing up from motion sickness. Either that, or someone was bringing in liquids in broken bottles. Eventually my case came out of the hole and, before it too got dizzy, I snatched it off and made my way to the x-ray machines where it was scanned to see that I hadn't brought in any booze.

Through the sliding door I went in search of Mustafa, who would be my driver to the hotel. I was expecting some big, robed, Arab but Mustafa was a slightly-built Indian fella who could scarcely see above the crowd to wave my name card in my direction. He introduced himself and grabbed the handle of my suitcase, dragging it off at speed to the car in the basement parking. On entering the parkade, you could feel the heat which, at 8h30pm was still at 36degC. Thank fuck for air-conditioning.

There's a thing for you...if the green fingers crowd wants to moan and protest at anyone who drives big cars that spew loads of carbon monoxide into the air, then they need to visit Saudi Arabia. The Middle East, as I was told in Charleston a couple of weeks ago, is where the Yanks send all their old cars for resale rather than scrap them. Obviously there's more money to be made that way. Mustafa is driving a big V6 Chevy and you can feel the engine growl its way along the highway to town. Everywhere you look, there's big SUV's, Chevy’s, Beamer X5's, Mitsubishi Prado's, Landrovers and Jeeps. Now and then you even see the occasional Hummer.

We get to the hotel after about a half hour ride and Mustafa literally drops me off and disappears into the dust. I get checked in painlessly (I find out later that the Intercontinental Hotel is 5-star rated) and make my way up to the third floor, luggage-man showing me the way. He briefly shows me the lighting system and I say thanks and goodnight. I couldn't tip him as I didn't have any of the local currency yet. After a look around the room, I unpack my case, discovering that due to having had to unpack my case on Thursday when I was supposed to fly out, I'd put my jackets into the cupboard and never packed them again on Monday. After this rigmarole I feel like dropping into bed, but I have a quick, cold, shower (only cos there was no hot water). The cold water is actually lukewarm, so it doesn't really matter.

A quick phone call home to tell Steph I've arrived, but the phone goes to voice as she's out at her Tuesday cooking class. It beats me why that woman wants to do more cooking classes as she's a brilliant cook already and could probably teach the teachers a thing or two. I leave a short message and then send her a text message as we don't always check the voicemail when we get home.

That done, I climb into bed as it's already after 11pm, turn on the TV to see what's on but don't last long before I start nodding off. I decide to rather turn it off and get some sleep.

Up at 7am, I get showered (turns out the hot and cold pipes are switched around compared to back home, but the hot water takes 10mins to come out anyway) and shaved, have breakfast and head back to my room to grab my laptop and bag. Just in time, as my host (let's call him "CC") arrives to pick me up and take me into the office. CC, too, is a Scotsman and has been in and around the Middle East for many years, working for various companies. He actually reminds me of my dad as he's almost as old and has similar habits.

In the office, CC introduces me to a couple of guys, then shuts us in a small interview room where he proceeds to tell me the do's and don’ts of Saudi living. He also gives me a document, written by another British ex-pat, which gives me a run-down of Riyadh. Some of it is quite funny and is written tongue-in-cheek. Riyadh is full of people from all over the place, mainly India, the Philippines and Korea. They are immediately distinguishable from the Saudis as it is only the Saudis that are allowed to wear the national dress and rag on the head (held on with an old fan belt, as per the ex-pat document). The local women are all covered up, with only the eyes showing, and western women are expected to at least cover their arms and legs. In Dubai airport, I saw one local woman wearing her veil over her eyes, but she had her glasses perched on the outside of the veil, making her look like something out of a kiddies TV program.

CC takes me down to the client's offices and I'm appalled to see what sort of condition they house their computers in. If I had not known it was a computer room, I would have sworn it was a workshop. There is crap lying all over the place. Ah well, I'm only here to write a Disaster Recovery Plan for them, not to tell them how to run their data centres. I'd made the mistake of leaving my sunglasses in my laptop bag in the office and by the time we complete the 200m walk back to the car in the dazzling light and heat, I had a splitting headache which, mostly, went away when we turned the car aircon up full.

Back in the office, we chat a while more, swap some project documents I think will be useful and it's time to call it a day. On the road, CC asks me if I need anything to tide me over for the weekend (the Islamic calendar works on a Saturday to Wednesday work week, with Thursday and Friday being the weekend) and I decide to get some bottled water and munchies. He takes me into a store called Tamimi's, which is just like our Pick'n'Pay or Checkers back home. Everything you could need, except for pork products and booze, is on the shelves. There's also alcohol-free beer from Holstein, but I pass on that (what's the point?).

I spend a quiet evening in my hotel room, only coming out for supper, and end up watching some TV to send me off to sleep around 11pm.

On Thursday morning (Virtual Saturday), I wake up around 9am and figure out what I'm going to do for the day. I decide to do something daft...go to the gym. In the end, I spend about an hour on a spinning cycle and an orbital stroller, but at least I got some exercise and I feel better for it afterwards. The rest of the day is spent watching some TV and reading through the project documents I got from Chris, figuring out how much work needs to be done here. I don't believe I need to be here this long, but it all has to do with the strange hours the Saudis work. First prayer is at 4am, second prayer is at 7h30am, third prayer is at midday, fourth prayer is at sunset. And in between, they try and get some work done. The shops are also open at strange hours due to all the praying, sometimes even open until after midnight. The Saudis are night people, caused by the extreme heat during the day. It's still hot at night, rarely dropping below 30degC, except in winter where it might hit freezing point.

Thursday night in the hotel is Seafood Buffet night and I think it should be good. I also decide to try an alcohol-free beer and, while it's not too bad, is not the same. I think it'll be my last. While in Saudi, I get a daily allowance of 400 Saudi Riyals (about ZAR800) and I think it will be plenty. Ha...the bill for the seafood buffet comes to SR188 (almost R380) and I blow my daily allowance in one sitting. Next Thursday I'll go out to Pizza Hut or something to try and save a bit. The rest of the evening I spend in my room, reading a little and watching a movie. There's about 40 TV channels available, of which there are 8 sport (including Supersport 2, our cricket channel, and ESPN and Fox Sports), about 10 movie channels (all with Arabic subtitles), 8 news channels (including Sky News, CNN and Fox News) and about 20 purely Arabic channels (without English subtitles). I can always find something to watch, so flick through the channels without having Steph telling me to stop it. It's after midnight when I put off the light...

Awake just after 7am on Virtual Sunday (Friday), I lie around in bed for an hour or so before turning on Sky News, which I watch until just before 9am. CC has asked me to meet him and IC (Mrs CC) at the golf club for brunch. They're playing golf in this heat!!! Fuckin' loonies... I get to the nine-hole, par 27, golf club just before 10am and hang around until just before 11am, but they don't pitch up (no pun intended). I decide to go back to the hotel and get up to date on my writing, which is where I am right now, in the public lounge, having just had a club sandwich (ZAR80) for lunch. What the rest of the day holds in store for me, I', not sure, but I don't think it'll be very exciting.

Just some other information...Saudi Arabia is not a place you want to bring a western woman. Here, women are treated lower than camel shit (I kid you not) and are seen and not heard. They are all totally subservient to their men, fat bastards most of them, who strut around like they are the kings of all they see. They are not allowed to make eye contact with men and are expected to obey his commands, regardless of how daft they might be. Most royal men have multiple wives and it was told to me that the late King had 39 wives, of which he was allowed only four simultaneously so he was divorced 35 times. On top of that, by those wives, it is rumoured that he had more than 80 children, the youngest 2yrs old at the kings’ death, while the oldest was 61yrs old. Virility certainly seems to be a strongpoint of the Saudi man...

Stand by for Part time soon though, because I'm not going to be online much. The cost for one hour of wireless network time in the hotel is SR30 (ZAR60) and it eats chunks out of my allowance. CC is going to have to make a plan for me to get onto the company network...

Stay well, y'all...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Right, let's try this again...

Saudi Visa - check
Passport - check
Forex - check
Emirates Air eTicket - check
Suitcase - check
Laptop - check
Camera, batteries and charger - check

I leave tonight at 22h30, four days later than originally planned...and I'll be staying here for the next couple of weeks...

Friday, August 17, 2007

So, where am I at the moment?

Shit Towne, that's where...

Yes, I was by now supposed to be sitting in Dubai airport waiting for my connecting flight to Riyadh, but all things being typically Arabian (as my father predicted), my visa application wasn't processed in time.

What is it with these people that they want Western experience and assistance, but they're not prepared to put in the extra little bit of effort to make it happen? Do they always want to be known for being slackers, like Africa is known for its notoriety in affairs criminal? Don't they want a better and easier life for themselves?

I'm not saying that I'm going to make a world of difference to the Arabian population. On the contrary, I'm supposed to be making things a little easier for some technician in the Ministry of the Interior that, if his systems go down (which will affect his airport, borders, visa applications, and all other interior ministry stuff) then the rest of his Arabian world will not be affected (too seriously).

But do you think that would affect the way my visa application is being handled? Would it fuck. Apparently, the reason for my application taking so long, is that Hajj comes up in about three months time and there are already thousands of applications being submitted.

So, instead, I'm flying out on Monday night, same time, same flight number. My visa application agent assures me that my visa will be ready today around 10am...we'll see.

On the positive side of things, this gives me opportunity to help Steph over the weekend in sorting out her late dad's stuff which she would otherwise have been doing in conjunction with her sister.

I'll keep you posted as to what happens...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

It's been a rough week...

particularly for Steph.

On Wednesday last week, while I was in Charleston, her father passed away after suffering a heart attack in the early hours of the morning. My being here didn't help the situation as I couldn't do anything to help in her time of need, except to stay in touch telephonically to see how she was doing. While she didn't have the best of relationships with her father, his passing still affected her as he was one of her parents and I think it would affect anyone in these circumstances.

We flew my parents up from the coast as some small form of support while I was away and they all met me at the airport on Saturday afternoon when I got back, tired but glad to be home after the 16hr direct flight from Washington. I was glad to see how "chipper" Steph was but, knowing how strong she is mentally, wasn't too surprised.

We held the memorial service on Monday morning in their home town of Nigel, with only a few close friends and family in attendance. Before the service, however, there was a viewing, and it really hit Steph's sister hard to see her father lying there. I felt myself sucking back a few tears as well while I held Steph during her viewing, more for her than for her father whom I didn't know all that well.

Following the service, we had a few of the attendees come back to the folks' house for tea and snacks, a couple of us had a beer to toast the old man, and we went home following a short visit to the life assurer who is covering the cost of the funeral.

On Tuesday, Steph went back through to Nigel to see how her mum was doing (she also has some health issues) and I was surprised to see that she brought her mum back to our place that afternoon. Over the last few years the old lady has developed a dependency on some medication and, with us trying to settle her into an old age home so that she can get decent medical care, she has to go into a clinic this weekend as a form of "rehab". The old lady's mind is very clear at times, but after a few pills, she loses all lucidity.

That night, I felt Steph trembling to herself as we lay in bed and I know it's all starting to take its toll on her, so I held her until she dropped off to a restless sleep.

On Wednesday, Steph and the old lady had a long chat about what has to be done, what she's allowed to take on her medication (we're limiting her intake to prescription limits) and today they sat together and drew up a list of what has to be done about the estate and possessions in the parents' house. Some of the stuff (tools and the like) will come back to our house and I'll see if I can use them or I'll give them to someone who has use for them. From what I briefly saw, there's not much I'll be keeping. There's a whole bunch of old clock and watch parts which we will take an inventory of, then approach a watchmaker to see if he would like to buy them. At least that way, we'll get some return on the parts for the old lady.

The big issue I have is that this evening I fly off to Saudi Arabia for a three week project and again will not be here to help Steph do what she has to with the house contents. Luckily though, Steph's sister and her man will be going through as well so they'll be able to help in my absence. I'll sort out the stuff when I get back to Shit Towne.

It's at times like this that you can see just how raw a deal life can dish out to some folks, as I would rather be here helping Steph get through this than heading off on a work project into the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert. Unfortunately, this time, I don't have much choice in the matter...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I've been kinda busy the last coupla days...

so I'll post more about the Charleston trip when I get back.

Suffice it to say that I've had a couple of late nights "working" and wouldn't have been able to see a keyboard, let alone type any fuckin' thing coherent.

I'll be travelling back to Areszania on Friday, so I'll try and catch up on the plane.

As a last word, it's been fuckin' hot here today. We had a sailing trip organised and my watch, being a dive computer that measures ambient temperature, showed "ERR" at one point, meaning that the temperature rose above 40degC. It's apparently been the warmest the last couple of days that it has been in the last 40 years.

Needless to say, I'll be looking forward to the Shit Towne winter cos I can always put on a jersey...

See y'all soon, now...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I just couldn't resist it...

I had to put a photo of the new fishing reel I just bought onto the blog to get Fishman's and Scrat's juices going.

At just over $280 (R2,030 as advised by FNB seconds after the transaction went through) I think it's a steal.

I had thought about buying a new reel for a while now, but figured I might as well get a good one over here while I have the opportunity.

So, here is a photo of the new Shimano Torium 50 I just bought...

Fishman and Scrat, eat your heart out. If you want to, click here and read the specs of this beauty...

Charleston Trip - Day 1...

I had thought of another name for this posting, but after 18 hours flying, 2 hours sitting in the plane in Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, short beds in Business class (are all business travellers short that they can fit in these beds, or is it just me that's tall?), a flight change at Washington Dulles International Airport, an hour in the transfer terminal, a taxi ride ($35 one way - ZAR250) from Charleston International Airport to the hotel/lodge where we are staying, about 40degC and 85% humidity in Charleston, a walkabout taking some pictures of the USS Yorktown (WW2 aircraft carrier within spitting distance of the hotel) and the hotel buildings and marina, then two pints of the local Palmetto Ale (tastes surprisingly like Bosun's Bitter we get back home)...what was I going to fuckin' say here?

Oh yes, after all of the above, I forgot what I was going to call this posting, but it sure as hell wasn't "Charleston Trip - Day 1". How unoriginal and boring.

Let me start at the beginning...

I arrived at Shit Towne International Airport (what otherwise might be known as Orifice Rectum Tamborine International to all Monty Python fans) at just before 4pm. I had intentionally driven to the drop-off part of the terminal so that Steph didn't hang around too long, not that I wanted her to leave but that neither of us particularly like farewells, and we're going to be having a few of those in the coming months with my GT job. Straight through to the check-in, I got my luggage checked all the way through. Gone was the bright orange suitcase with the "Up Yer Kilt" sticker on the front, perhaps forever, from my sight.

Past the disinterested passport checker-inner, I dawdled around the shops for a while, bought myself a pouch to carry my US dollars in and then settled down at the News Cafe for a beer. Had I known it earlier and not found it out later while somewhere above the skies of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I would have popped in at the Business Class lounge where the beer was free...........fuck!! Anyway, MP3 playing rock music in my ear, beer at hand, fly fishing magazine open in front of me, I was surprised to see the hour or so fly past rather quickly.

About 10mins before the flight call was announced, I wandered over to the check-in gate to see that there were already a hundred or so people through the gate, so I joined the line. Then it was "hurry up and wait" as we stood for another half hour waiting to board the plane. All the while, I was waving my Business Class e-ticket like Mr Bean in a crowded sweety shop, wondering if someone would take notice and get all greenishly envious knowing that they were on their way to Cattle Class at the back.

It was a pleasant change to turn left, instead of right, at the door to the plane, in the direction of the upper crust. I was in seat 7A, window seat, in front of the engines for a change. It's scary watching those big Rolls Royce engines, I tell you. The thrust they have would put Ron Jeremy to shame and to think of the amount of air they suck in at any one point in time would make Jenna Jameson look like a virgin. Where are all these sexual connotations coming from (oops, there's another) all of a sudden? Back to the main subject...

I couldn't understand why we had to fly via Dakar (see above airport name, I'm not typing it in again) but looking at the route we were following made it clear. The distance from Dakar to Washington is probably the same as from Heathrow and in the general direction anyway, so it made sense to stop off there, drop off a few locals, refuel (take on more beer and wine) and head out over the freezing cold Atlantic. Speaking of wine, the fare in Posh Class is fantastic. We had a menu we could choose a starter and main dinner course from, and all the wine we could drink came from 750ml bottles unlike the plonk you get in Misery Class. And quaff it down we did too. I only found out standing in line in Dulles airport that the guy who was seated next to me the entire 18hr flight, was from Coca-Cola SA and knew a whole lot of the guys there that I did. He was on his way to Atlanta for a one-week strategy meeting and is out on the same flight as me on Friday.

I ended up watching Shrek 3 and Spiderman 3 in between catching some uncomfortable sleep and staring out the porthole at the cold, dark, Atlantic 33,000 feet below us, catching myself thinking that we'd last all of about a minute in that water before we froze to death (ok, maybe a little longer, but not much). Even though I was in Business Class and the motorised seat folded flat, it was still about six inches too short for my long legs and I spent an uncomfortable few hours dozing before we got to Dakar.

Dakar runway is about as long as a Sandton City parking space. As soon as we hit the concrete, the engines were thrust into reverse and we were all thrown forward in our seats...thank fuck for seatbelts. Once the doors were opened and the locals started de-planing (as it is called) the aircons were turned on and due to the difference between internal and external humidities, the cabin started fogging up. It was weird watching clouds of steam coming from the vents, like someone had turned on the Zyklon-B showers. The good thing about it though, was that drinks were available, even though it was after 2am. The bad thing was that there was no entertainment, no videos, music, fuckall.

So after just short of two hours on the ground, we roll back onto the parking space and jump the Rolls back into the air again. Dakar is right on the coast (followers of the Paris-Dakar race would know this) and within thirty seconds the city lights had disappeared behind us as we headed due west over the Atlantic. As the seat belt lights go off, the crew brings out a snack. It's a strange combination, a small quiche and a chocolate brownie on the same plate. I felt nauseous afterward due to the combination, but I managed to not use my barf bag.

The rest of the flight goes off uneventful, in between trying to snatch some sleep and the odd bit of turbulence and we land in Dulles airport on schedule. The pilot says we are lucky as there is usually a pile-up of planes trying to land, causing delays. I'm a little bit anxious as I can't remember what time my connecting flight takes off. De-planing is kewl class goes first, even before the women and children. Again, I flash a smug grin at the envious looks coming from Cattle Class and make my way down the aisle twoward Border Control.

What is it with countries that they let their visitors wait in line for seemingly ages by only opening one immigration window? There must be a hundred tired, grumpy, people behind me waiting to get through, all to be processed by one sad looking redneck policeman who looks like he'd rather be out making out with his sister, but just not wanting to be there. Eventually it's my turn and I get processed, hurrying through to get my case and get it checked in to my connecting flight. That done, I make my own way through internal customs, having to take my shoes off and chuck them in, with all my other bodily-held possessions, to a plastic tray to go through the x-ray machine. No beeps, that is a good thing and the big black dude tells me to carry on, so I do, happily.

I find a coffee shop (not Starbucks) and order a medium black coffee. With hindsight, it should have been a teeny-weeny black coffee, as the "medium" is about a litre in size. No fuckin' way am I going to finish this in the hour that I have before my flight. On top of it all, it's fuckin' hot coffee and just about scalds my tongue and throat.

When the flight is called, I toss the cup and 750ml of coffee left in it into the trash can and head off to stand in another line to wait for another plane to take me somewhere else. This time, it's a small fifty seater, hot, smelly and dirty.

United Airlines, if I can help it, will not be seeing me onboard again, except for my return flight to Washington on Friday. A skinny, hen-pecked black dude sits in the aisle seat next to me, brown paper bag in hand. At first, I think he's brought along a Soweto Take-away (750ml bottle of Tassies), but it turns out to be a burger and chips he bought at the Wendy's Burger Ranch in the departure hall. Even the hostess, when she came to check our seatbelts, remarked "that smells good" and probably everyone on the plane thought the same thing too. We didn't get a snack on this flight and even the Coke that she poured for me was from a can into a small plastic glass. Ah well, it was a short flight, so I had an opportunity to catch another hour's sleep.

Landing in charleston and getting off the plane, the first thing that strikes you is the heat. And it doesn't just say "Hey dude, it's gonna be warm today" but rather shouts at you "Hey fucker, remember Kosi Bay in February? Big fuckin' deal. I'm gonna pound your sweaty ass into the ground, so be ready for it". It is a suppressive heat, very high humidity and temperature to go along with it. You move, you sweat. Buckets at a time. Solution: stay indoors in the aircon. I was looking forward to that, only my room turned out to not be ready when I got to the hotel. The trip from the airport was quite short, maybe 15 minutes, but the Barbadian taxi driver made it feel a little shorter. It was only just after 10am and I knew check-in wasn't going to be allowed, but I took a chance anyway. No luck. I had to find something to do for five hours. Check-in would only be at 3pm. So I checked my luggage in with the concierge, grabbed my cap and camera and headed out into the heat to take some photos of my new home for the week.

Not far from the hotel is the WW2 aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. Not quite as big as today's carriers, this is still an impressive sight. It has a variety of old fighters and helicopters strewn across its deck in various poses and, but for the $15 entry fee, I would have gone for a walk around it. As it is, I take a couple of photos of the outside, some of the yachts in the marina and head back to the hotel. There's a bar in there called "The Reel Bar" that I saw on the website and I'm dying to see it and have a cold beer. Again, disappointment. The pub only opens at 11h30 and it is maybe just before 11am when I find some shade next to the pool to sit and relax. I still have my jeans on and the sweat is running down my legs. At just after 11h30, a staff member comes along and asks if she can get me anything from the bar and I reply "No thanks, I'm on my way there right now". I pull up a barstool and the bartender introduces himself as Donny and I ask him what the best of the local beers might be. Something along the lines of a Kilkenny, but not as sweet, is the Palmetto Ale. Quite refreshing, I must say, and promptly order a pint. Sitting around, I have a bite to eat and a second pint. Then I decide to try the local rum and find myself staring into a glass of Goslings and diet coke. Not bad, but the taste reminds me a little of Stroh rum.

By this time, it's about 10 seconds after 3pm and I decide to see if my room's ready. Turns out, it is, and I grab ny case and head upstairs for a cold shower. It's so hot, that there's no such thing as hot and cold water, only fuckin' hot and lukewarm. Still, it's good to get into a shower to feel clean again. I stretch myself out on one of the beds and promptly drift off into a restless snooze, woken up by the phone just after 5pm. By the time I wake up, find the phone and pick up the receiver, it stops ringing though. Without calling Reception to find out if there's a message, I already know that Arjan has arrived from the Netherlands. I call him from the lobby and he comes downstairs and together we head into the bar for another couple of pints and a small supper.

We are both very tired after our flights and decide about 9pm to call it a day. It's not quite dark yet and it's strange to be going to bed at this time, but about 9h30pm it's completely dark and, with the baseball game on TV, I end up dropping off to sleep, only to wake up after 15mins and turn the light and TV off. It's been a long trip to his point, but I'm sure it'll get better.

I'll post some of the best photos I take on the trip when I get back to Shit Towne, sometime early next week...