Saturday, September 7, 2013

Emerging markets - Malaysia

If you wonder why emerging markets are so trendy, read a bit about Malaysia's economy In this site

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Man, I love flying.

Man, I love flying.

When have you seen a Spaniard on time? Well, when you are flying being on time is not enough, you have to be there 2 hours in advance, TWO. One reason is that now you spend at least 20 minutes repacking your bag if it happens to be a pound overweight, or arguing with the lady at the counter that if the plane is empty a couple pounds wont make it go down.

Then there is security, which can take for ever. On one hand you have those people who beep five times, first the keys in their pocket, then the cellphone, oups some coins etc and when you think they are done then there are liquids in their bag which they had forgotten about..... But hey dont blame the guy,  even experienced travelers can take a while. No shit, now they even get you naked. Last time I was going to fly I was so worried about security that I took the following steps: 1. Bought a new pair of socks since so many people were going to see them. 2. Waxed my legs, in case the officer wasn't happy with me removing  my shoes and belt and he asked me to take off my pants. 3. I started a diet and daily exercise, in case after streaping I was requested to get a body scanner.

Usually once you are done with the check-in and the security you still have an hour before boarding. Such a waste of time. But hey, there are ways to kill some time. Duty free shops, most of us tend to visit them, we smell perfumes and try on sunglasses and leave empty handed. There go 10 minutes. 50 more to kill. There is also that shop that sells books, but their selection tends to be awful. I mean, who reads all those biographies? Most of them are either about Obama, Clinton and Bush or nobodies whose names I have never heard before. Then there are those self help books. How to be happy, How to love yourself. Secrets to an awesome life full of friends, Love yourself and others will follow. Really? I Have been bored to death in an airport a million times and never have I considered even holding one of those books for ten seconds.
I must admit I enjoy looking at the front cover of international newspapers, I try to compare them and if I have no clue what it says then I compare the main picture. There goes another minute of my time, plus 2 more going through books. 47 more to kill. 

Going to the bathroom even when you have no need can take up to 10 minutes in line for women plus another couple minutes to pee and wash your hands. 35 left. Taking a walk usually can help killing another 10 minutes, and if you have a coffee -for which you pay 8$- there go another 15. 10 minutes left for boarding, if it was to be on time for once ever. Surprisingly people are queuing already, some of them have been standing up since before my visit to the bathroom.... I am a late boarder. I don't make the plane wait for me, that never, but I usually wait for all the freaks to stand in line  and take their seats and once the room is almost empty I finally approach the gate. I always think if my life was a movie and the love of my life -Mr A- was to chase me to the airport, ours would certainly be a happy ending because I would still be seating in the boarding room, not like in real movies where usually the person is already in the plane.

Once in the plane I do certain things that most people probably would never realise. I always empty the seat pocket in front of me and if I travel alone I put the magazines in the pocket of the seat next to mine. Bottle of water, book and iPod go in the now empty pocket in front of me. Then I place the pillow in the tiny space between the seat and the window (i always try to get a window seat). I then put on my seat-belt and earphones, even if I dont play music. I do not like when the person next to me tries to start a conversation. My flights are usually of at least 5 hours and if you give people a chance they will tell you their entire lives. I am not kidding, once this guy even showed me his holidays' pictures. It will never happen again. I find that Sky Mall magazine is much more entertaining to be honest, and you can close it and be done with it whenever you want. The magazine is very funny if you read it the right way. Here are some examples...

- The Cat Toilet Training System, in 3 steps you can teach your cat how to use a toilet! what would we do without such a thing?
- Hidden Litter Box... Loos like a real clay pot, they say, which you can place in your living room and no one will notice if you don't tell them. Well, that is if your friends cant smell.
- How could I forget the Polar Fleece Footed Pajamas for adults..... 
- Or the Italian Armor Sculpture for $975

But talkative people are not the worst. There are crying babies, fat people who take half of your seat -and you had to get rid of 2 extra pounds from your luggage-, the guy that always has the light on in overnight flights, the one sitting behind you who seems to be boxing with your seat. Either that or he really dislikes you and he is set on not letting you rest. The mean air-hostesses who think they are the queens of the plane. And my favorite,  the one time you get an aisle seat you have next to you that guy who needs to pee every 25 minutes and thus makes you get up twenty times per flight. Why he didn't take the aisle seat beats me.

But you know what? Flying is not that bad, waiting for your bags once you have landed can be even worse. You might wait there, standing up, with people all around you going crazy and fighting with their carts like being closer to the belt will make their bags come out earlier... And sometimes after 45 minutes there are no more bags and yours are no where to be found. The airline can't locate them at the moment and they send you home or to your hotel with the promise to contact you soon. And that's after they made you leave stuff at the check in on the other side of the world.  

But at least if you are lucky you will have a loved one waiting for you in the arrivals lounge.... and you will think "man, I love flying", while forgetting about all of the above. 


Monday, January 31, 2011

Adam in Cairo

Life back in Spain isn’t very exciting and thus I haven’t been updating this blog. However, Mr. A is in Cairo and unfortunately that is quite a thrilling story to follow. I just wish he was out of there already. He is safe and in the airport trying to get out, which I guess is good enough at this point.

It all started a week ago when Egypt was celebrating a national holiday: Police Day. I remember a couple days before the holiday Mr. A was telling me that he found such a holiday quite absurd and even annoying in a country with a dictatorship. A country where policemen are most often corrupted, and usually feared rather than respected. Mr. A even made a joke stating that instead of being a holiday that policemen can enjoy it always ends up being the day they work the hardest to control protests all over the country.

Protests were thus expected but no one anticipated what was about to happen. Suddenly the whole country realized that kicking out a bad leader can be easy: you “just” need thousands of people protesting in the streets, like Tunisians did a few weeks ago.

After 30 years of oppression, Egyptians have finally understood that they all have a voice. One voice might not be heard, but put together thousands, hundreds of thousands, and the message will be clear and loud. And the message is that they want Mubarak out. They do not want a change in the government; they want him out, his son out, his ministers out. They want a new country. They want to be able to choose their future, even their present.

The protests have been quite peaceful. Protesters in general do not have weapons, they are not attacking the police or the army, they are being loud, and that is all. I have received a translated copy of a booklet that is circulating all over Egypt on how to behave in the protests and one of the main ideas is to not use violence. Also they want to get the Police involved and the army, and they suggest shouting slogans such as “The Police and the People stand together!!”. They encourage citizens to invite their neighbors and coworkers to join the protests always using positive persuasion.

I must admit at first Mr. A seemed to be happy to be witnessing such a moment. He was part of History, even if he was living it all from his balcony. Him and 4 friends/coworkers had all taken refuge in their apartment, in Zamalek, a small island full of embassies, hotels, and wealthy people. A rich neighborhood just a few blocks from Tahrir Square (the square is outside the island, on the other side of the Nile).

No one saw this coming in Egypt because we all have the idea that Egypt is a stable country. And it is, Mr. A has lived there twice and he loves the country, he enjoys Cairo, but he will tell you it is a poor country. It is a country full of unhappy people, oppressed people, poor people. It is said that over 50% of the population lives with less than 2$ a day, that makes over 40 million people.

The problem with Egypt is that it has had the support of Europe and the US for a very long time. Egypt has a strategic location, between Africa and the Middle East, in the Mediterranean and next to the Gulf, thus the stability of Egypt is key in order to maintain stability all over the region. Also, the peace treaty they signed with Israel years ago has somehow maintained “peace” between other Arab countries and Israel. Egypt has without any doubt the most powerful army in the region and Israel needs to have a good relationship with them. But if Israel looses that, there will be trouble. That is also why Israel has remained quiet until today, but finally they have decided to officially support Mubarak. I don’t think Egyptians and other Arabs in the region will appreciate that support.

Anyways, going back to the streets of Cairo, Adam tells me that it is amazing to see the amount of empty cans of tear gas in the street. He says there are thousands; anywhere you look you find them. However the streets of Zamalek have been kind of calm the last few days because protests are downtown and not in their island.

They have been able to leave the house a few times without being at risk. They had to buy food and water, also some alcohol as he admits after 5 days without internet, without phone, and trapped at home, you start getting very bored. ATM machines have no money, thus there is no access to cash. Nevertheless, most shops are closed.

At night everything is different and dangerous. They have not left the apartment at all after the curfew. Lets put it this way, the protests are peaceful but there are people taking advantage of it. Since there is no police in the streets there are people robbing houses, hotels, shops etc at night. Neighbors are organizing themselves in groups to protect their private property in whatever way they can. There are gunshots at night and it is terribly scary, especially in a rich neighborhood as Zamalek.

Mr. A tells me that mosques instead of calling to prayer they are sending safety messages, asking people walking in the streets at night to be sure to identify themselves so that their neighbors don't take them for burglars. 

Mr. A also tells me that at night, well, as soon as the curfew starts (today 3pm Cairo time) he can see people in the streets with knifes, sticks and even samurai swords!! These people are the ones protecting their private properties.

It is a fact that Egyptians are being kind and not aggressive. This is not against tourists, not at all. Actually people are not at risk because of the protesters, the risk comes from those vandals that are robbing houses and shops and taking advantage of the chaos.

Please note that it asks for protesters to carry a flower to show they are protesting peacefully.

Things are out of control now and thus our office decided yesterday that Mr. A and the whole team should be evacuated. The US government, no disrespect, isn’t doing much. They might be saying on TV that they are, but as far as we are concerned they are being useless. It is true that it is a complicated situation, but I can tell you things aren’t being taken care of properly. For instance, when Mr. A called the embassy a couple days ago he was told to call Washington DC to deal with it. Keep in mind phones were working on and off, and of course an international call is a very expensive one. Other people called the embassy and got an answering machine advising them to visit the embassy’s website for more info. Keep in mind Internet has been down for almost a week now!

So our office decided they should all leave the country together and booked them tickets for today. They left their apartment as soon as the curfew was off this morning since they knew getting to the airport would be difficult. What they didn’t expect was that the toughest would actually be getting inside the airport.

Thousands of people are trying to access the terminal, many of them don’t even have a ticket but they are so desperate they are trying everything they can think of to get on a plane.

After a couple hours they made it inside the terminal, checked their bags and went to their boarding gate. This sounds easy, but it was a lengthy and tiring process. They were told there was no guarantee they would take off. And indeed their flight got canceled.

A bit later they were told they could perhaps take a different flight which was supposed to take off many hours earlier but it had been delayed. They didn’t make it to that flight either.

As of right now they seem to have tickets in a plane that could take off in 30 minutes. No one knows where their bags are, but that is just the last of their concerns.

So cross your fingers and lets all hope they will be out of Egypt tonight.

As for the Egyptian people, courage!!

* Hopefully Mr. A will be here tomorrow and we can add some of the pictures he has taken in Cairo.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Petra, the lost city

* All pictures on this post by la elfa

Last weekend Mona and I decided to take a short, and cheap, trip to discover the lost city of Petra. Little did we know that it would end up being a terribly long, and expensive, adventure. However, it was such an awesome discovery that it was worth all the pain, problems, delays and money.

To begin with our bus to Amman, the capital of Jordan, was delayed and once we finally left the driver decided to take a rest after just 30 minutes driving (the trip is supposed to take just 3 hours). At the Syrian border a very corrupted, selfish, arrogant guy confiscated my passport saying my visa was expired, when he realized that wasn’t true he argued I had overstayed in the country, another lie, and then he had an issue with my residency…. It took an hour and a bribe from the bus driver for the guy to let me leave the country!

When we finally made it to Amman, over 3 hours late, we discovered there were no buses or shared taxis (very common way of transport in this part of the world) to go to Petra that night, it was too late. We had a 5 star hotel paid in Petra and hated the idea to have to spend the night in Amman, not only because of the money, also the waste of time involved! To make the story short, hotels were expensive in Amman and someone offered to arrange a car and driver for us. After discussing the pros and cons (many more cons btw, taking into account we were two girls, foreigners, we were approaching midnight and had to drive 3 hours across the desert) we finally decide to take the risk.

I’ll tell you something funny before I keep going. The few times I am scared being home alone in Madrid I sleep with a bottle of wine next to my bed. I always tell myself a knife would be useless as I would be too scarred to use it, however I would not hesitate to hit someone in the face or head with a bottle of wine, and I am sure it would be painful for the one being hit! So I told Mona this story and since we had bought a bottle of wine in the Duty Free, we put it in the seat, between our two bodies, just in case. Needless to say we didn’t need it. The driver ended up being a very nice and sweet old man who actually has a son studying in Petra and he was happy to spend the night there with him.

I must admit the first 30 minutes of the trip I was so scarred I prayed whatever prayers I could remember from my childhood, while I kept telling Mona it would be ok. The driver seemed a bit upset to see us so scarred!! And as soon as we relaxed he started chatting a bit with us. The sky of the desert at night is absolutely gorgeous and all those stars in the sky made me and Mona feel much better. Then we saw hamsters and foxes along the road, and that was a nice excuse to chat with the driver, who ended up becoming our “guide’, telling us stories about the few towns and villages we drove through.

We arrived to the hotel at 3am, we had left our office at 3:30pm, and we were exhausted but so happy to be there! We woke up early the next day, and that was tough, we both love to sleep, but we had to since the sun goes down at around 4pm this time of the year and by five it is pitch-black outside. We had a nice breakfast and drove to the entrance of the ancient city of Petra, where a 70USD entry fee has to be paid. Yes, it is expensive, but part of that money goes to preservation of the site, which as you will now discover is breathtaking (both literally and figurately). Here begins the real story of our amazing trip to Petra, the lost city (even though it covers hundreds of square miles, Petra was completely unexplored, lost, and hidden by the Bedouins, from 1189 to the 1812.

As you enter the site you can ride a horse for 5 minutes to the beginning of the siq, which we did. Little did we know that this half mile doesn’t represent much compared to the 15 miles we were about to walk…

The siq looks like a crater but actually it was not created as the result of time and water like most people think, but by tectonic forces. The siq is almost a mile long and it is in itself a masterpiece of nature. You might remember it from the Indiana Jones movie, I didn’t. To be honest I didn’t know much about what to expect in Petra, I just knew I would love it.

The siq offers the most amazing and dramatic landscape ever. Its walls can reach over 600 feet up, and its wide varies from just 6 feet to 60 in some places. The colors of the rock go from golden to pink, from red to black, sometimes even blue.

The shapes of the rock and walls also vary in so many ways that they are sometimes difficult to understand by just looking at them. I found myself touching the rock many times, the texture kept changing as well.

I wish I could describe better what I experienced then, and even though pictures are not as impressive as reality, I hope the ones posted here convey the message.

It gets to a point when you are completely stunned and absorbed by the siq, and then the most surprising and shocking image appears: the siq suddenly narrows to around 4 feet and the two walls seem to be about to touch each other, but they don’t, and that is when you realize just in front of you lays the Treasury. You discover it almost by coincidence, what a magnificent surprise, with its golden color and grandiose size. It is like a mirage caused by the heat and the hike.

The Treasury was built by the Nabateans, like the rest of the city, and it is one of the most famous, better preserved constructions of Petra. Actually, it is not a building itself, since it is carved in the sandstone rock of the mountain!! The Nabateans soon realized that there land tended to suffer many earthquakes and thus buildings didn’t last long, thus they came up with this remarkable technique. They would carve the rock from top to bottom to do the façade first, and then they would excavate the inside of rooms.

This is another reason why in Petra there are no remains of houses. The Nabateans lived in tents, just like Bedouins still do today. So the main buildings we find today were the Treasury, the Theater and Great Temple and hundreds of tombs, including the Royal Tombs. There are so many tombs that for a very long time visitors assumed Petra used to be a Necropolis.

To be honest, the majesty of the Treasury and the uniqueness of the siq were so impressive that I couldn’t expect to be even more impressed by what was to come. As you keep walking down what used to be the main street of Petra, then a quite important city for traveling merchant caravans, you reach the Theater. It was built over 2,000 years ago by the Nabateans and it could host 3.000 people. Then the Romans rebuilt and expanded it, to host 8.500 people, one third of Petra’s total population! The Theater is also carved on the rock.

A little later are the Royal Tombs. To be honest the façade is the most impressive part of the tombs, even though once inside you do wonder how they were able to excavate those huge rooms in the rock of the mountain.

I won’t tell you everything about Petra, you probably don’t want to read all about it, and it is better if you just decide to discover it yourself. However, let me tell you just a few more things. About 15 years ago archeologists started working on the Great Temple, and so far their discoveries are fascinating. My favorite is probably the capitols of columns shaped as elephants. Elephants! I had never seen anything like it, and for all I know they might just be unique to Petra.

After the Great Temple you need to decide if you are a conformist tourist, or an adventurer. We like to believe we are adventurers and thus decided to make it to the Monastery, the most amazing place in Petra. To be honest, it takes a huge effort and loads of energy, of which we were starting to run out, and many people just decide to finish their visit here.

The path to the Monastery is steep; it has over 900 steps rock-cut and climbing them takes around 50 minutes, thus many choose to ride a donkey. We refused to use a poor old and tired donkey for obvious reasons, and also because it didn’t look too safe (Susan, if you are reading this, imagine ten times worse than that volcano in the Philippines!!).

The hike is absolutely gorgeous, the views are breathtaking most of the time, and if you can manage to bargain and walk at the same time you will find Bedouin kids and women along the way selling all kinds of souvenirs.

When you finally make it to the top you will find, magnificent, splendid and glorious, the Monastery. The place deserves every drop of sweat, every breath, every bit of energy you have used on the way.

And if you still have some leftover energy, save it, or recover having a tea or a coke in the bar that is strategically located there. Then walk an extra mile to the lookout that promises views to the end of the world. It is absolutely striking and peaceful since very few people make it all the way here. It might not be the end of the world, but it is fabulous and impressive, and from here you can see Israel and the Palestinian territories!


And now, after walking all these miles, get ready to turn around and walk back through the same path because the entrance to Petra is also the exit! It is as if you had to go back and make sure you erase your footprints from the sand of the desert.

Petra is certainly one of the most exciting, unique and magnificent places I have ever visited.