Archive for the ‘Travelling’ Category

How they make them in Africa

27/03/2015

Kenya has lots of buses plying the roads, as you might imagine.

I’ve often wondered where they were made – they all have Isuzu, Scania or Hino badges, the but the designs look a bit, well… Kenyan.

During my last trip I happened to visit the coach makers where they are made. The chassis are bought in and the bus built around it. The cabs are usually dispensed with but sometimes not. Some of the buses you see are literally large lorries with some seats welded on.

Lifetime is around four to five years of constant use. I’m sure after that they are sold on to neighbouring countries.

Kenya also has some Isuzu and Bedford lorries that must be forty plus years old. I’d love to talk to some of the drives, take some pics and find out what these things sell for even after years of use.

I knew the answer already, but asked if the buses being made met European safety standards. The answer was an emphatic ‘no’, but then again a European bus wouldn’t last a year on these roads.

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Just one more document…

15/01/2015

In December I toddled off to Lagos looking forward to a busy week with partners and customers.

On arrival, it turned out that what I had been told was a visa valid for twelve months was actually only valid for six and had just expired. I was sent straight back.

It was my fault, all things considered – I should have checked and checked again. Emirates should also have checked before I boarded. Anyway, it was a short trip – an hour and a half in Lagos and about twenty two hours door to door travel. I was exhausted and furious.

I’m planning to go again the week after next, so I’m applying for a new twelve month visa. (Twelve months, pleeeeeease!).

Fortunately I called my guy who handles visa type admin for me, rather than going to Abu Dhabi to do it myself. (This type of admin-handling job is known as a PRO, Public Relations Officer, in the Gulf. Nothing to do with PR as in Absolutely Fabulous, although the idea of Eddie and Patsy dropping paper all over the floor of a consulate is an amusing one).

Not surprisingly there are new Nigerian visa requirements – in addition to the visa form, payment receipt and acknowledgement receipt and invitation letter and no objection letter from your company, you now also need a copy of the trade licence of the organisation who wrote the invitation letter, as well as a passport and visa copy of the person who wrote the invitation letter. Got all that?

This is not mentioned anywhere on any forms or websites. Also not mentioned is the fact that a PRO can no longer handle your application on your behalf at the consulate in Abu Dhabi – that used to allow you to use someone else to drop off the papers in the morning and collect the passport with visa in the afternoon. A PRO can, however, drop off your documents at the ‘consulate lite’ in Dubai, who you then pay to, erm, drop them off in Abu Dhabi and collect your passport two days later. This is what your PRO used to do, but now these guys do it and charge you more.

The ‘consulate lite’ appears to be an outsourced company to make the process easier, which is to be welcomed. It also makes sense, considering the majority of people applying for visas won’t actually be living in Abu Dhabi, but in Dubai.

When filling in the online form, I was given the tantalising option of applying for the visa at the ‘Dubai consulate’. I looked up their website, but it doesn’t give any info whatsoever, including contact details and location. It’s also in a totally different format to the Abu Dhabi consulate’s website, which made me wonder if it was real. The Abu Dhabi Embassy website makes no mention of this Dubai based service. Presumably, the outsourced office in JLT is the Dubai consulate the site mentions.

Anyway, thank goodness for Jibran from the excellent Sands Business Management Services, who explained all of this to me. On Sunday he’ll pick up all these documents to drop them off around the corner at JLT at the new consulate/outsourced place and, hopefully, I’ll have my visa on Tuesday. (I’d drop it off myself but I have other commitments).

Countries are entitled to demand whatever they wish when it comes to visas. It’s also great that Nigeria has looked at making the process easier thanks to the Dubai option. I just wish that all the info were openly available instead of being a secret…

Forty and the Seychelles

05/11/2014

I turned forty last week.

We had our first big get together, putting the garden to good use. Shwarmaman was in attendance and the dress code for ‘gentlemen’ was checked shirt and shorts.

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Then we had a really tough week in the Seychelles.

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Driving home

26/09/2014

I think it might take longer than 72 hours these days.

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Back in Saudi

17/09/2014

For this first time since 2009 or 2008, I think.

So little seems to have changed.

A few newer cars and a few newer buildings. Riyadh airport immigration queue was just over two hours. Hotel ok but not really functioning properly, with no one seeming to care.

Dusty roads and half finished buildings.

Feet on the dashboards.

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Back on the road

21/06/2014

I’ve been back on the road, seeing Kenya again since 2007 and revisiting old haunts I hadn’t expected to back to so soon, but where there’s lots of business and I need to play a role in kickstarting things.

Two trips to Nigeria. The first involved my worst ever airport experience, with out of date yellow fever cards, crazy shuttle bus to the car park and nearly falling off the edge of the car park into a muddy field six feet below. The second was with a colleague who I’d prepared for the worse, but who is probably wondering what I’d been talking about – instead of the usual craziness we had smooth boarding in Dubai, little turbulence, AC working in the airport and even a cafe to wait in whilst waiting for another colleague from SA.

We even managed to get the driver to meet us near arrivals so we could avoid the shuttle bus and car park completely…

There was an incident where a soldier spent five minutes shouting at the Avis guy, plus, whilst we drove off, a lady policeman seemed to think we owed her some money, whacking the window of the Camry as we drove off. Sorry, no pay day for you…

Both Nigeria trips were the usual whirlwind of last minute meetings but good progress. The second even coincided with a Citrix event being held in my hotel, but as usual on these work trips, catching up with old friends and colleagues was limited to a few minutes at the top of a staircase. Shame.

Here are some pics, in slightly random order.

TVs have been erected at Lagos airport. Unknown if TVs are still in the boxes…

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I didn’t eat this but a colleague did. It’s kind of a grey spicy splodge with bits in.

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The view from my hotel room in Lagos. I can never understand why there is so much junk lying around in Lagos. Why doesn’t it get used for scrap? You’ll see all sorts of stuff just lying a around, falling to pieces.

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I walked around the ‘computer market’ in Ojota, dodging open sewers and speakers pumping ‘afrobeat’ at top volume.

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My colleague from our distributor, Peter. Peter is helping me improved my pidgin.

‘How far?’ – how are you?

‘A dey’ – I’m fine thanks.

‘A beg no vex’ – Terribly sorry old chap, please don’t be angry.

I ate a chicken pie in a roadside cafe and survived. The open drains make the whole experience a bit much at times.

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I was in Lebanon when thousands of Syrians went to vote at the consulate, causing gridlock. I saw the tail end of it – lots of people wearing Assad t-shirts. Lots of very tough looking men who’d probably been working on building sites since they’d been in their mid-teens and smoking since their ninth birthdays.

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Kenya has a great mix of Indian, English and local food. Chicken tikka, chips and naan bread!

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The usual workhorses, this time in Nairobi. I loved Nairobi (compared to Lagos at least). Much more evidence of colonial times and I could walk around outside.

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1972 Merc in perfect condition for sale in Amman.

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The coolest guy in Amman, driving to work in his Mustang, radio blaring, cigarette in one hand, arm out of the window.

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This Patrol is probably in the best condition of any breakdown vehicle you’ll see in Lagos.

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I will, one day, talk to the owners of one of these Lagos breakdown Rangies. I wonder how much they go for? There are lots of them. Probably not the end their European or American former owners expected.

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Women in the (Turkish) workplace

17/02/2014

Nice to be back in Istanbul again with my new job.

Most of the key people I met during today’s meetings were women – I would say a much higher proportion than you’d find in the UK. Not something most Brits would expect to encounter in Turkey, I would guess.

When I commented on this during one of my first visits in 2005 or so, I was told affordable childcare makes a key difference. Having a live-in ‘maid’ or nanny does not break the bank, as you can hire someone, typically from other areas of the country, to do this role.

Thinking aloud, what if we had immigration rules relaxed for home help in the UK?

Beirut bomb

27/12/2013

I have driven along this stretch of road many times with friends and colleagues.

Offices we’ve had meetings in had their windows blown in by the blast.

People usually shrug this stuff off, but I have Beirut based friends and colleagues who said they’d never leave who are now looking for jobs in Dubai and working out what they need to do to get their Australian or Canadian visas.

Tragic.

I can’t see myself going to Beirut for a while.

Defending Lebanon

12/12/2013

The UK has donated these Land Rovers to the Lebanese armed forces.

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These Defenders are the newest vehicles you’ll see on the streets of Beirut at the moment!

Last month’s Nigeria trip

09/12/2013

All the work done in Nigeria is paying off – the last two years’ of travel were worth it.

This last trip was utterly exhausting on the way home. The usual one hour or so journey from hotel to airport took just over three and a quarter hours – terrifying traffic, rain, awful roads. I was convinced we’d have an accident and I’d find myself stuck in a dangerous area. My imagination began to run a bit wild.

We made it to the airport though. Just before immigration there was a power cut, which left the terminal in semi-darkness. AC was working, barely, in the lounge, which was a relief. The walk to the gate was beginning to get frightening – pitch darkness, with water dripping from the ceiling. If I hadn’t walked the route before, I’d have been completely lost.

The only light was the glow of the PC monitor at the Emirates gate. On a positive note, due to the darkness I managed to walk past the security ‘pat down’ where G4S employees ask you if you have a ‘gift’ or ‘souvenir’ for them.

I have never been so pleased to see an Emirates employee.

There were some other interesting moments on this trip.

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My driver from airport to hotel ran a red light and armed police stopped us. They have Chinese made AK47s with a ‘wood look’ plastic stock. Odd choice for police work. After lots of shouting, driving around the corner, more shouting and then a slow drive towards, I was told, the police station, I told my driver he had to sort things out – I was not going to spend the afternoon in a police station. My hotel was around the corner.

Things were ‘sorted out’ for $18, much below the usual price ‘if there’s a white man’, which would have been around $50, I was told.

The police car was right to stop him. I couldn’t help notice that the police pick up had no rear lights and was half smashed to pieces.

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I can imagine this guy giving great customer support. A character, I am sure.

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Far from the gentler roads of Florida.

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Full page birthday wishes.

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I love these old Range Rovers, still working as tow trucks.

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Traffic was so bad on the way to one customer we got out of the car and walked. It was a bit scary when I fell behind a bit, not being used to walking through so many cars and people.

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Wherever we’re waiting at customers’ premises, there’s usually some Christian literature. Not the sort of healings I used to read about at Church as a child. I don’t quote know what ‘cancelling with the blood of Jesus’ means. To the glory of God, the nail was defecated out though. Thanks goodness for that.

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Sly shot of the Irish Embassy’s G-Wagen.

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Prime beachside property, apparently left empty for years. Lagos confuses me when it comes to property. Most partners seem to have their offices in converted residential accommodation, as do several banks I usually visit.

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A great advert for Guiness. Caption competition? ‘The morning after’?

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Traffic on the way to the airport.

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Another classic Land Rover, with no functioning lights and one too many passengers.

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Life expectancy of a man delivering leaflets in the traffic, on roller-skates? Similar to that of WW1 fighter pilots, I imagine.

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For no apparent reason, this man was attracting attention by wiggling his bottom and wearing a skirt. It made me want to buy some tiles immediately.

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Vanity licence plate?

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The Camry drove through water I’d have been nervous taking the Patrol through.

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This appears to be a cattle truck, transporting lots of men.

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Crossing the bridge. There’s always room for one more.

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The sky bridge to the plane.

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Finally! Light and Emirates staff!

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And back to this.