The Re-opening of Zaman Awal

Al Boom Tourist Village has opened its doors with a new extension, Zaman Awal, it captures the true heritage of Dubai boasting the first commercial dhow to ever set sail down the Creek.

The venue is simply breathtaking, positioned creek-side, the views are unbelievable and so quiet compared to the creek by heritage village. The set-up is also great and I really enjoyed the calm, ambient setting. The first ever commercial Dhow to cruise down the creek, Al Aref, now sits proudly on the land and you can dine inside or explore the museum underneath it which has a collection of authentic artifacts.

The restaurant is huge and the walls are adorned with traditional relics making the place quirky yet authentic.  The chairman explained that most restaurants in Dubai cater to the tourists palette, however Zaman Awal makes dishes the way locals enjoy them. It is one of the few places I have visited in Dubai that has an air of nostalgia and reminds you of days gone by.

Mattar bin Lahej, a local artist that contributed to design elements of the venue said, “Al Boom Tourist Village spans over 6 hectares of land, with this premiere destination sitting in close proximity to the cultural landmarks, Dubai Creek, Wonderland and Garhoud Bridge whilst overlooking the modern architectural icon – The Burj Khalifa, worlds tallest building. In addition to its signature restaurant, the venue offers many other reasons for tourists and locals to visit. Each of these elements have been designed keeping in mind the true artifacts of an Emirati lifestyle and aims to take visitors back in time to the history of our land.

The Freej Village inspired by the famous cartoons has also opened which features the characters amongst heritage sites and retail spaces.

Mohammed Saeed Harib, creator of Freej cartoon. Another interesting addition to the venue is the Dara ship, also known as the Gulfs Titanic. Very few people in the region are aware about the history behind this ship, adding it to the venue will allow people to learn more about the travel history of Dubai. The Dara ship was used for travelling purposes along the Gulf countries and it carried from about 850 to 1000 people, the ship sank in the Persian Gulf in 1961 due to an explosion. Many rescued passengers were brought back to Dubai and were treated for injuries at Al Maktoum Hospital.

Dubai Women’s Association will set up a bazaar with merchandise, further enhancing the true cultural experience for all visitors. You can also take dhow cruises for dinner and touring around the Creek. Sailing in traditional boats is also offered at the venue, offering a full recreational experience for the entire family.

Zaman Awal  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Medellin, A Story of Hope

DSC_0147My first two weeks in Colombia were not very culturally rich, most days consisted of chilling in hammocks, by pools or beaches and most nights were spent checking out the night-life. In fact I think the most cultural thing I had done until Medellin was to go on a party bus which played typical Colombian music and attracted a South American crowd. So far Colombia had been a pleasant surprise because in the Western world we are only fed negative stories and are painted a picture of a very unstable, unsafe country. We tend to associate Colombia with cocaine and the infamous King Of Cocaine, Pablo Escobar. We are generally told one side of his story, the one where he is portrayed as a Robin Hood character, the best way to hear the other side of the story was to go to his home-town of Medellin where he took his first steps on his criminal career ladder as an alleged grave-stone robber. Here he climbed the ladder to a thief, kidnapper, drug cartel and mass murderer.

pablo
Pablo Escobar

My first night at the hostel, I asked some Colombians what they thought of Escobar, whether he did help his people or whether they felt he had ruined their country, one wasn’t bothered and the other completely flipped out saying not to speak about him around her as she didn’t want to hear his name. This strong reaction was the more common one, most people hated him and hated that tourists gave him such importance. They felt he had ruined them and caused years of suppression and war and hated that Colombia was associated with him.

I went on a walking tour of Medellin which I would highly recommend, you can book it HERE, this further solidified that this view was the more popular one. Our tour-guide began his introduction by saying he knew a number of us would want to ask about Pablo Escobar but to please refer to him as “the famous criminal” as it would cause problems if passers-by heard us saying his name. He explained that it was obvious that we were tourists and if he was heard telling a bunch of gringos about Escobar, they would assume he was glorifying his name and associating Colombia with him thereby giving him importance he didn’t deserve as the country had a lot more to offer.

Parque de las luces symbolising Hope

Parque de las luces symbolising Hope

We went to the Parque de las luces (Park of Lights). As we stood there, our guide explained that just 15 years ago that square was like hell on earth. He said his mother would be afraid of sending him to school as he had to walk through it and bombs would blast or people would be kidnapped or mugged. He said that Medellin was the worst city in the world, that people lived in terror and were afraid to leave their homes. As his story progressed to the present day, he beamed with pride as he described the transformation that had taken place. How the lights in this square represented hope for the people of Medellin and how a building that was previously a refuge for drug addicts had been transformed into a library as Medellin wanted to forget its tumultuous past and promote hope and education to inspire the next generation to be better. Forbes Magazine recently voted Medellin as the most innovative city in the whole world!

First Train Network in Colombia

First Train Network in Colombia

We travelled by train there, this was incredible as it was the only city to have a train network in Colombia and it was a good one. Trains were regular and simple to get and it symbolised modernisation and moving forward. I was fascinated that they had escalators in the slums, they felt people already living a hard life shouldn’t have to struggle, that after they had finished a days work, they shouldn’t have to climb up hills for hours to get to their houses and wanted to make their lives easier so they installed escalators. The poor areas were the first to be invested in as these were where people really needed to feel cared for and to realise that they mattered too. They then installed cable cars which went through the slums allowing people to get to their houses safely without having to walk for hours through dangerous areas at night. I went on these cable cars and found it so amazing that the poorest region had the slickest transport system! Our guide had told us that you will never find people eating, doing graffiti or scratching windows on public transport as it was something that they were incredibly proud of. It put London to shame as I looked around and realised despite being almost 20 years old it was immaculate.

Incredible Views

Incredible Views

The views were beautiful although we were riding over slums, the backdrop was green mountains and the cityscape. One of the routes takes you over the mountains to a beautiful national park, Parque Arvi. We did a quick walking tour and our guide showed us various species of plants as we walked through the forest.

Botero donated many sculptures to the city to add value and make Medellin even more beautiful. I was touched by the story of how one of his sculptures of a bird was blown up at a concert, killing and injuring many. The council wanted to remove the sculpture but he insisted its remains were kept on display as a reminder of lives lost and Colombia’s terrible past. He made a new sculpture of a bird standing proud with a puffed up chest which he placed next to it, this symbolised the present, a transformation that Colombians can be proud of.

Symbolising the new and old Medellin

Symbolising the new and old Medellin

Colombians are some of the friendliest people I have ever met, they want to show you around and tell you all the best places to see as tourism is something new for them. They finally have a country that isn’t hostile and they are so proud to be able to share it and will take time out of their day to ensure that you have a good experience without wanting anything in return which is something that made Colombia a rare and beautiful experience for me.

A friend of mine also blogged her experiences of Medellin, you can check that out here

Chachapoyas

This blog post also appears on the Academia Superior de Idiomas’ blog

I woke up feeling like we were about to fly of the mountain. The driver was going around 80 kmph going round really steep bends that were 7000ft high in the mountains. I pulled back my curtain to see where we were but we were in the clouds and visibility was low. That scared me even more because I knew the driver couldn’t see either and we were on a double decker bus which literally felt like it was about to fall sideways. We were on a 10 hour overnight bus ride to Chachapoyas. We had heard stories of how exhausting the treks we had planned to do were so we all knew we should try and get some sleep but my heart was pounding for the next two hours.

We reached our cute little Hostal Ñuñurco, just 4 blocks from the centre of town which was nestled in the majestic mountains. We began our 2 and a half hour drive to Kuelap, it was nerve-racking at times because of the narrow winding roads on the mountain edge and the inability to see oncoming traffic around the corners, but we made it.

Kuelap is a fortress 3000 metres above sea level which contains the ruins of more then 400 Chachapoya structures, some were homes and others were mass graves. The fortress walls also served as cemeteries where more then a 100 bodies were buried. Other pits contained animal and human bones which are thought to be sacrifices. One structure was an ancient compass…I know this because I sat on it thinking it was a pile of rocks and was immediately told to get up.

The panoramic views were beautiful and it was still a pretty quiet site not overwhelmed by tourists. It is known as the Machu Pichu of the South and is still relatively untouched. As recently as 2010 70 bodies were excavated and while we were there an investigation was going on into a new body which was discovered.

On the way back we stopped at a lady’s house who was cooking us lunch, we had the option to sample the local delicacy…guinea pig, I opted out as it looked like a rat on a plate but others in the group enjoyed it.

We went out that night to an artsy little bar called La Reina and slept for a few hours before our trek to Gocta, the 5th tallest waterfall in the world. I had never horse ridden before but as it was an option I thought it would be fun. I wasn’t really prepared for the lack of handles, the steep slopes and uphill climbs, nor the horse intrepidly walking along the cliff edge but I suppose it added to the fun. One member of our group got a crazy horse, she decided to get off and not a minute too late as he literally went buck-wild charging towards us neighing and bucking. I talked to my horse Pisco the whole way after that, telling him to be a good boy and to try not to throw me off his back and it worked because I made it back in one piece.

The waterfall was breathtaking, it really was beautiful and worth the 6km trail there.

If you’re in Peru, I would highly recommend a trip to Chachapoyas, I wish we had stayed longer to enjoy the town more. There’s a really cute restaurant called Terra Mia which had amazing waffle breakfasts and delicious freshly made sandwiches which we took for our hike. You can try the best Pollo a la Brasa (rotisserie chicken) for just 5 soles (£1) including fries, a salad and a juice located in the hostel Rumi Huasi. Their service was really fast which is unheard of in Peru and was perfect before we got our bus home.

Until the next adventure,

Ciao! xx