Friday, November 19, 2010

Return to Kuwait

Photo: Whatever this iis, it's in downtown Kuwait City. I call this the "corkscrew" building! Not sure who owns it but it sure looks strange!!

Apologies for not posting sooner but I have been so swamped with work, that I could not take time out to tend to my blog. I arrived into Kuwait three weeks ago on October 29 and have been blessed with such amazing weather - no sand storms and no excessive heat. Just sunny and cool/warm weather all the time ... so far!

The first two work weeks (October 31 to November 4 and November 7 to 11) were devoted to meetings and to an SPE (Society of Petroleum Engineers)Oil Conference where yours truly presented a technical paper in front of about 140 people. Thankfully the audience was most receptive and asked many questions. The venue was the Hilton resort in Mangaf, Kuwait. A nice, seaside resort complex.

This past week was devoted to the Islamic Eid Holiday!! The Eid Holiday is actually only about three days in length but the company decided to give everyone off the entire week! I, however, was in the office most of the week. However, I did mange to take off early each day and head into town a few times to enjoy lunch at some local restaurants and take in the scenery.

Just a personal note: like on all my prior visits to Kuwait, I find the local people most friendly and the overall atmosphere quite accepting of Westerners such as myself. Despite the fact that America has a bad reputation amongst Muslims worldwide, the Kuwaitis can differentiate between America and Americans - such as myself. Although they may not like my country's political policies, Kuwaitis have generally been welcoming and hospitable to me during all my travels here in this country.

And now some pictures taken during the past three weeks:

A new unusual building in downtown Kuwait City - about an hour's drive north from where I am housed in Mina Al Zour.

Lots of new buildings springing up on the way into town. These are on Highway 40 ....

Another interesting building ....

Part of the skyline in downtown Kuwait City.

Always need to slow down when passing camels along the road to work in Wafra!!!

I could not resist taking this picture. I had lunch at the TGI Friday's restaurant in Fintas and this place was next door. Nowadays, with everyone being so health conscious, you'd think a name such as this would be avoided!! I Binged the name "Fat Burger" and sure enough there is actually a chain of burger joints in the USA under this name!! Yuk! THE last thing I need in my body is more fat! Couldn't they have thought of another name??!!

Eid Mubarak - Arabic for Happy Eid Holiday!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Dubai and The Burj Khalifa: The World's Tallest Building

Photo: The Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building.

I am pleased to report that I had a smooth flight from Houston last week. I departed Houston's IAH Airport on Tuesday, Oct. 26 aboard Emirates 212 (Business Class, thankfully!!). We landed in Dubai after exactly 14 hours of flight time. In precisely one hour I was in my room at The Address Hotel - one of the newest hotels in Dubai. Despite what you hear about the financial crisis, hotel rooms in Dubai still are extremely high-priced! Including the 10% tax and 10% service charge, my room cost me about $425 PER NIGHT! I chose this hotel because it was right next to the world's tallest building - the Burj Khalifa. There are reported to be 160 floors total in this building. Visitors can only ascend as high as the 124th floor where there is an open air and an enclosed / air conditioned observation deck. Amazing views abound. The ride up takes only 60 seconds and costs 100 Dirhams (about $27 USD). Unless you are afraid of heights, I recommend this attraction. Book early in the day as time slots fill up fast. I purchased my ticket at 10 am and waited until 12 noon for my assigned time to ride the elevator up. I used the 2 hours strolling through the Dubai Mall to which my hotel is literally attached.
Some photos of my short (two-day) visit to Dubai are presented below. Enjoy - and PLEASE take some time to comment and share your thoughts!!
The Address Hotel
(my room was on the 28th floor)

The Gold Souk (market) at the Dubai Mall, adjacent to my hotel.

My mother's favorite store. When I was growing up in the BRONX (New York City), I shopped at Bloomingdales in New Rochelle so many times.
Emirates 212: Houston to Dubai in 14 hours.

Believe it or not, this is Baggage Claim at Dubai Airport's Terminal 3. Probably the fanciest baggage claim one will ever encounter anywhere!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Autumn at Home - But Getting Ready to Travel!

Autumn in Houston! The high temperatures of the summer have vanished - mostly. The humidity is lower and the Holidays are approaching. And, after spending a month at home-sweet-home, I must soon pack up my suitcase and get ready to travel overseas yet again.

Earlier this week I attended a meeting on the 40th floor of one of our company's two downtown buildings. This building has a history behind it: about a decade ago, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling ran Enron from this same building and these two crooks had their executive offices on the same floor as where I took this picture of the Houston skyline. Naturally their offices are long gone (as is the company Enron which went bankrupt many years ago forcing the layoffs of hundreds of good employees). After my company bought up the former Enron headquarters building (reportedly for a fraction of its original cost and with some tax abatements thrown in by the city of Houston), we redesigned the entire building. Now the 40th floor is used only for meeting rooms. Still, this floor offers a vantage point which gives visitors one of the BEST views of downtown Houston anywhere! And to think that Enron conducted all its financial scams from this same floor just a few short years ago, well, its an amazing turn of events.

Fall in Houston! Yes, the above photo may appear to be a little silly but the it is the best I can come up with on short notice. I mean it to represent the changing of the seasons and the approaching end to yet another year that has simply FLOWN by so fast!
As always, thanks for following my blog and please take time to leave comments!
In a few days I expect to leave home again and hope to resume posting from that location as time permits. Until then, happy travels!

Monday, October 11, 2010

My Trip Home From Africa - Epilog

It's been almost three weeks since I returned home from Angola. Jet lag is but a distant memory and I simply wanted to share with you the details of the looooong road home. If you compare this blow-by-blow account of my trip home with last year's account of my trip home you will see it was a virtual carbon copy (apology to my younger readers who may not know what the term 'carbon copy' means!!). The main reason I do this (and risk boring some of my loyal followers) is to allow visitors a view of what it often takes to travel to and move around inside countries such as Angola. Please don't mistake my tone. I like the country of Angola - but the infrastructure is still rather rudimentary such that getting from Point A to Point B can be a challenge to the novice traveler. A reader of this blog and fellow world traveler - RON - mentioned he would like to visit Angola. Fine idea, Ron, and anyone else thinking of traveling to Angola. But .... BE PREPARED!! Every traveler needs help getting around inside Angola. Simply showing up and taking a taxi can be a risk. Security remains a concern. Still, if one can have a certain degree of patience and can arrange to have a trusted person on the ground in Angola to assist them with their travels, then Angola truly can offer opportunities for the first time visitor. Just remember, most visitors are business people and expats working in Angola. There are very FEW tourists. That may change as the country stabilizes and recovers from the civil war that began in 1975 after independence from Portugal and ended in 2001.
At any rate, for the record, here is the hour-by-hour account of this year's trip from Malongo to home-sweet-home:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010:

12:25 pm - Depart my dormitory; a friend drives me to "Hotel Malongo" where we go thru bag checks and immigration control.

1:05 pm - get on line for the bus to take us to the Cabinda Airport.

1:45 pm - depart Malongo and head to Cabinda Airport.

2:45 pm - arrive at Cabinda Airport. Smooth check in and security clearance.

3:08 pm - AMAZING! Practically no waiting - we board our brand new DASH 8 plane.

3:20 pm - wheels up, up and away!!!

4:15 pm - land in lovely Luanda, the capitol of Angola. Standing besides our plane on the tarmac, we collect our luggage (suitcase and carry on) and lug it all onto a bus that takes us to the domestic terminal. We disembark from the bus and hurriedly scramble with our stuff thru the terminal then wind our way through a parking lot, across a street where we then divide ourselves up and pack ourselves into several small vans.

4:50 pm - Arrive at the International Terminal. Get on line at Atlas Air. Check in starts at 5:30 pm so we sit around and wait and wait until the line starts moving.

6:15 pm - I am at the head of the line waiting to check in. Guess what. Computer is down (naturally!). After 20 minutes, the check in process resumes and I FINALLY receive my boarding pass! Clear immigration, security and the financial police! Head upstairs to the business class lounge.

6:50 pm - in the Business Class lounge. Hey, this is a nice place - really! Well air conditioned and plenty of snacks and drinks and the rest room is clean!

8:05 pm - we head downstairs to our Gate 1. Get on another line; go thru security (AGAIN) and then .... more waiting.

8:30 pm - still at Gate 1 waiting .... and waiting ....

8:50 pm - YIPPEE!! We board the bus that takes us to the flight.

9:00 pm - I am in my seat.

9:30 pm - the door to the plane (a new 747) closes.

9:42 pm - wheels up! We're off!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010:

5:45 am (Houston time = 11:45 am Luanda time) - we land at Bush IAH Airport in Houston, Texas.

6:45 am - we depart the Houston airport and head home.

7:42 am - HOME SWEET HOME!!! I unpack and after over 24 hours of continuous travel I crawl into my own bed for some badly needed sleep!! End of trip!!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Malongo Base; Cabinda, Angola .......Work, Work and More Work!!

Photo: The ubiquitous fruit bats. Hundreds everywhere!!

Don't misunderstand me. I like my job. However, when I work 12 hours a day each and every day (half day for Sunday), life gets a tad tiring! I am amazed at the people here. They have a tremendous work ethic. No slackers here! Some get to work at 4:30 am and knock off for the day at 8 pm!! And then do it all over again the following day .... for a total of 28 days per 'hitch'. Such is the life of a "rotator" - someone who works a rotational assignment wherein they toil for 28 days and then have off for 28 days (at their home, wherever in the world their home may be!). I, however, am just a visitor who is here for 'only' 15 days. I used to work in Kwanda Base way back in 1998. (FYI: Kwanda Base is in Soyo, in Northeastern Angola, just across the River Zaire - about 50 miles south of Malongo Base.) Now I seemed to have lost my physical stamina and the ability to stick it out for a full 28 days. Two weeks is enough for this aging person!! On my trip last year (see the post I placed in this blog from April - May, 2009), I was not as stressed out because I and my colleague then did not have to work such a robust schedule.

Ah well, enough complaining .... herewith some pictures from my trip to Malongo Base.

The residences here in Malongo are basic - nothing plush. Small beds, TVs, some rooms have refrigerators (not my room, however) and all rooms are usually well air conditioned.

Monkeys abound. Along with other critters.

Lest you think Malongo is inhabited only by American expats, guess again! Most who work here are Angolan, of course. However, there is a healthy representation of people from many other countries.

On September 15th, my colleague and I had a trip offshore to one of our company's oil platforms. Our commute was in one of these small helicopters (The "HM" logo stands for 'Helio Malongo').

Aboard the chopper, aproaching the oil production platform for a day's worth of work.

The new Cabinda Airport. We departed here on September 21 after the long, tiresome and quite convoluted trip home that began at 12:30 pm local time and ended at 7:40 am Houston time the following day (Sept. 22) - about 24 hours of travel!!! PS: You will note the striking similarity between the Angolan flag and the flag of the former USSR (with the hammer and sickle). This was a result of the time when Angola was a nominally socialist country. Nowadays, however, Angola is pro-West with a largely pro-market oriented economy. The country is blessed with natural resources: diamonds in the NE part of the country and oil production from offshore oil fields.

The start of our looooong trip home.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cabinda, ANGOLA (West Africa)

Greetings from West Africa! I departed Houston on Labor Day (some Holiday for me!!) aboard Atlas Air (flight 5Y100). It was wheels up at 11:08 am CDT and we landed in Luanda, Angola at about 6:55 am Angola time (12:55 am Houston time) - a mere 14 hours of flying time! Groan!! Then a one hour flight to Cabinda at 10:45 am followed by a one-hour bus ride into Malongo camp and then at 1:30 pm local time I staggered into my room and collapsed into bed for a short rest and then a shower.

It's been an extremely busy work week for The Traveling Chemist. We work 12 hour days here - every day - with only a half day off on Sundays (like today, Sept. 12th). I shall post more later on during my visit to Malongo camp but wanted to share a few pictures of this particular trip with my loyal followers right now. Enjoy!!

A brand new soccer stadium here in Cabinda built in time for the recent soccer games in Africa.

A local swimming hole we passed by on the way from Cabinda airport to Malongo.

My flight to Luanda. Atlas Air is a cargo / freight airline company and this is their first venture into carrying passengers. I'm happy to report that the flight departed on time and the food served aboard was perfectly fine.

My flight route from Houston, Texas to
Luanda, ANGOLA >>>>>>>>>>

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Have New Passport, Will Travel

Well, it has finally happened! The Traveling Chemist needs a NEW passport. No, my old passport hasn't expired. In fact, there are still two (2) years left in its 'life'. The problem is that I am running out of passport pages needed for visa stamps (more on this later). As I have done twice before, I simply attempted to add new pages into my passport book. No problem - - - or so I thought! I head off to my local Post Office, ask for the official form to add pages and then mail in my passport. Problem: the form was OLD and gave an incorrect address PLUS the form incorrectly stated that there was no fee for adding new pages to a passport. In fact, the fee is now $82.00. So - after ten days of waiting - my passport is returned in the mail with no pages and a form for submitting it again but this time to a different mailing address. So, after paying the $82.00 USD fee along with a $60.00 "Expedited Service" fee, I mail off the passport a second time - to the correct address! Sadly, however, my passport was returned to me yet again with NO EXTRA PAGES ADDED! A form letter stated that my passport was 'damaged' and hence no further pages could be added. Now what to do?? With time running out, I head to the local Department of State office in downtown Houston (what I should have done the first time!) and plead (beg) for additional pages. The clerk politely informed me that since there was a small tear along the spine of the passport book, they indeed were no longer able to add any more pages and my ONLY option was to request a whole new passport book! Sooooooooo, after paying $170 USD ($110.00 for the new passport and $60.00 for Expedite Service), I hand over my old passport and I am assured the new book will be mailed to me in no more than one week's time. I must admit, I went to the Department of State office with some trepidation, expecting terribly looooong lines of people along with a long wait. However, I was most pleased to report there were no lines at all and that the clerks were pleasant and helpful. And - most importantly - I did indeed receive my new passport in the US mail in exactly one week time!

Why suddenly all this fuss, you may ask? Well, the country I hope to visit next month insists on having four (4) contiguous pages in a traveler's passport book in order for the consulate to issue a visa. Since my old passport only had three blank pages available, well, what else could I do but try and add more pages. And THAT is what led to this mess! At any rate, I finally have my new passport (complete with electronic data chip embedded inside the front cover and in the larger edition format with 48 pages!!). For one week, my new passport was in the consulate of the country to which I hope to travel next month awaiting issuance of my visa (along with two 2-inch sized color pictures of yours truly with my shirt collar buttoned up to my neck, no logos on my shirt and no necklace around my neck .... all as mandated by the consulate's curious rules!). I now have my visa and so the road is clear for my next trip abroad. Until then ....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Galveston - Life Returns Two Years After Hurricane IKE




It has been almost two (2) years since Hurricane Ike blew through Galveston, Texas (about a 65-mile drive from where I live in Houston). Much of Galveston was a mess. Naturally, the worst part were the many homes and businesses that were destroyed and the effect that destruction had on people's lives. What many of us never realized, however, was the devastating effect the accompanying winds (over 120 mph or about 200 kph) had on the many oak trees on this island community. I recently learned that there is an accomplished artist who has carved (and I presume still is at work) many wonderful wood sculptures using the remains of the many oak tress that were felled by Hurricane Ike. The trees may have been destroyed, but wherever there was enough of a tree trunk remaining, that is where this amazing wood carving artist went to work. On a recent Friday (July 16 to be exact), the weather in Houston was perfect - no rain in sight - and I was reluctant to work that day so I chose instead to declare one day of vacation and drove down to Galveston Island and took in as many of these works of art as I could locate. Herewith I present some selected photos of some of the more unusual carvings. ENJOY ....

Each branch was painstakingly carved into a bird!

This remaining tree stump was transformed into a mermaid. And the house alongside this tree carving was quite beautiful!

Even small tree stumps provided just enough wood with which to carve out an angel .....

The tin man (from the movie, The Wizard of Oz) ..............

One of the few surviving oak trees in all its glory. I am fairly certain that each of these trees must be over a hundred years in age.

And after a morning of tree viewing, I walked through parts of Galveston's west-side "Historic District". I hadn't been to Galveston in several years and I was amazed at how many of the old homes (many no doubt destroyed by Hurricane Ike) have been lovingly restored to their former glory. If you are ever in the Houston metropolitan area, please take a few hours the visit Galveston!! And bring your camera!

A picture perfect row of restored homes awaits you in Galveston's Historic District.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

World's Largest Flower!

Another in a series of posts that I occasionally make when I am at home-sweet-home and NOT traveling!

Almost two weeks ago, I visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science to witness the blooming of what is described as the world's largest flower. [This particular plant species, which scientists call Amorphophallus Titanum, is a native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia.] The problem for me, however, was that when I visited the museum (Friday, July 9) the flower had not yet fully bloomed. Well, it is now - finally - starting to open up.

This flower is on display in the Butterfly exhibit ($8.00 USD admission price) which is located within the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
UPDATE (JULY 27th): Well, the flower has finally bloomed and is now, sadly, all gone. A final picture of the flower was captured. There were plenty of webcams showing the progress of the flower's growth. Now that the flower has bloomed, it is entering a dormant state and may re-bloom in several years. Maybe! While it was blooming over this past weekend, it reportedly smelled like rotting flesh!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July

To all my fellow Americans - I wish you a Happy Fourth of July!

FYI: I flew to Frankfurt from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, on June 22nd and then home to Houston on June 23rd. After the usual one week to recuperate from jet-lag, I finally am caught up on chores .... although my expense report is still pending! We had a ton of rain last Friday, but I managed to drive home without getting caught in high water - a fear we Houstonians always have to watch out for especially during thunderstorms. As always, it's great to be home - sweet - home.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Next Stop - Saudi Arabia

On Thursday (June 17), I flew Gulf Air 214 from Kuwait to Bahrain. Thankfully my flight arrived in Manama right on time at 12:15 pm. I collected my luggage, cleared customs and then met my driver and we were off to the King Fahad Causeway which connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia. At the Saudi border, I was fingerprinted and photographed and then cleared Saudi customs after which time we continued on our way into Dhahran. It took exactly one hour and twelve minutes to get to my destination where I checked into Steineke Hall - the main guest residence facility here in the Saudi Aramco camp.

One of the highlights of my 5-day visit was a trip to Udhailiyah - a work/residence camp that Saudi Aramco maintains in the southern area of Saudi Arabia.

Along the way to Udhailiyah, I spotted several interesting rock formations called jebels. Basically these are areas of soft rock worn away by continual sandblasting by the blowing sand.

Again, these are all made from soft rock and hence these shapes shift from time to time.

Meanwhile, back in Dhahran, headquarters to the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, or Saudi Aramco as it is commonly called, the above home shows how the family residences in Dhahran look. This particular home once housed one of the more famous engineers who worked with me during the many trips I took to the Kingdom between 1989 and 1995.

The Dhahran residential area is like a slice of middle-America transplanted to the desert here in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. I may have alreday said this in a prior posting but I'll say it again - Saudi Aramco can be a great place to work if you don't mind being in the Middle East and if you possess the technical skills needed.

As we left the Bahrain Airport and headed into Saudi Arabia, we made our way through traffic in downtown Manama (the capital of Bahrain) and passed the new World Trade Center building complex (right next to the old Sheraton Hotel).

Another unusual looking building (next to the World Trade Center).

A poster along the highway shows the current monarch, the King of Bahrain.
I bid a fond farewell to Kuwait last Thursday (June 17) as my driver took me along Highway 40 towards the Kuwait International Airport. I hope to return sometime later this year.