Monthly Archives: January 2009

UNESCO World Heritage Site #43:Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

Posted by on January 25, 2009

World Heritage Site #43: Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

World Heritage Site #43:Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca

From the World Heritage inscription:

Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straits of Malacca have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

George Town was designated a World Heritage site just a month before I arrived. There were still banners and signs all over the congratulating themselves on the accomplishment.

George Town was a former British trading city in Malaysia along with Melaka and Singapore. Many people have told me that George Town is what Singapore would look like today if it hadn’t become independent of Malaysia.

In addition to the European architecture, there is also a strong Chinese influence in the city, the remnant of Chinese traders who settled there.

Musandam Ahoy!

Posted by on January 24, 2009

The red part is Musandam

The red part is Musandam

If all goes well, tomorrow I’ll be taking the world’s fastest ferry to Musandam, Oman. That is the hunk of Oman which is separated from the rest of the country and sticks out into the Strait of Hormuz.

The ferry connects Musandam with Muscat and has been clocked at 55.9 knots. From what I’ve read it is losing money hand over fist as there wasn’t a lot of thought put into the business. The boats are more expensive than flying, take longer than a flight (6 hours vs 45 min), and were only designed for shorter, one hour trips. The tickets are out of the price of most Omanis and there are only 30,000 people who live on Musandam. Also, no facilities for the ferries were ever built and no one was trained prior to the arrival of the ships.

So, I’m taking the trip while I can.

From Musandam I’ll then be heading back to Dubai briefly, passing through the remaining Emirates I haven’t been to, before flying to Doha, Qatar. I really hope the internet in Qatar is better than Dubai or Oman because I have a ton of photos to upload.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #42: Uluru-Kata Tjuta Nationa Park

Posted by on January 24, 2009

World Heritage Site #42: Uluru-Kata Tjuta Nationa Park

World Heritage Site #42: Uluru-Kata Tjuta Nationa Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

This park, formerly called Uluru (Ayers Rock – Mount Olga) National Park, features spectacular geological formations that dominate the vast red sandy plain of central Australia. Uluru, an immense monolith, and Kata Tjuta, the rock domes located west of Uluru, form part of the traditional belief system of one of the oldest human societies in the world. The traditional owners of Uluru-Kata Tjuta are the Anangu Aboriginal people.

There isn’t much to say about Uluru that I haven’t already said.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #41: Shark Bay

Posted by on January 23, 2009

World Heritage Site #41: Shark Bay

World Heritage Site #41: Shark Bay

From the World Heritage inscription:

At the most westerly point of the Australian continent, Shark Bay, with its islands and the land surrounding it, has three exceptional natural features: its vast sea-grass beds, which are the largest (4,800 km2) and richest in the world; its dugong (‘sea cow’) population; and its stromatolites (colonies of algae which form hard, dome-shaped deposits and are among the oldest forms of life on earth). Shark Bay is also home to five species of endangered mammals.

While I was able to visit Kakadu and Purnululu during the right time of year, I probably visited Shark Bay at the wrong time of year. It would have been much better to vist during the Australian summer. Nonetheless I got to see the one thing I really wanted to see at Shark Bay…..stromatolites!

Here is the podcast episode on stromatolites I shot in Hamilne Pool:

Like Taking Roast Lamb On A Stick From Strangers

Posted by on January 22, 2009

I had an experience yesterday which was interesting to say the least. In the morning I checked out of my room and walked several kilometers to the Nizwa Fort. I could have taken a taxi, but I figured the walk would do me good. When I got back I got my bags and went out to the road to hail a taxi. Some guy pulled up to me offered to give me a ride.

Actually, I only assumed he was offering me a ride as he spoke no English and I spoke no Arabic. I was only going a short distance to the roundabout down the road where taxis would wait to take people to Muscat. Muscat is about 90 minutes from Nizwa and the cost of a taxi seemed pretty cheap from what everyone has told me.

The man who picked me up told me he was going to Muscat and would drive me there. By “told me” we sort of gestured and figured out what we were saying to each other. He had to get his car washed then we could go. His name was Fazid (I think. Again, that wasn’t totally clear).

We were supposed to be ready in 30 min, so we went to a coffee shop nearby and had something to eat. (the coffee shops here seem to be more diners or restaurants than cafes). We got some saffron rice and chicken. I offered to pay but he refused.

I must admit my American travel sense was tingling. As an American, you are raised to be suspicious of anyone offering you anything: candy, free rides, free vacations in exchange for listening to a time share pitch, or five CDs for only a penny, are all things which should be viewed cautiously. I had no idea if this guy was a serial killer or what. Then again, only a American would probably assume that someone trying to help was a serial killer….but I digress.

After two hours, the car was washed and we were ready to go. This entire ride was only going to save me about $6, so I easily could have said “thanks but no thanks” and taken a taxi, but I decided to go with it. (As an aside, all the cars in Oman are really, really clean. They give tickets for unwashed cars. Likewise, all the buildings are clean and look as if they have been recently painted.)

We took off down the very nice highway to Muscat. The Nizwa/Muscat highway is as good or better than any stretch of interstate you will find in the US. Four lanes, divided road, on ramps and off ramps, and most of the road has lighting. He put in a CD of the only music he had which was in English for me, which turned out to be some of the nastiest hard core rap I’ve ever heard. I had no idea who the artists were, but one song was from Eminem. The funny thing is he probably had no idea what they were saying.

As we were going down the road, the sun set and he eventually turned off the road. He said something in Arabic but I didn’t understand. Was he taking a short cut? Was he stopping to see relatives? Was he going to the ditch he was going to dump my dead body into? I had no clue.

We ended up going through a small town where he pulled over to buy some lamb kebobs from a vendor on the street. Again I tried to pay, but he refused any money. We pulled out again and eventually got back onto the highway.

Eventually as we got to Muscat I told him I was going to Ruwi, where I wanted to stay. I don’t know where in Muscat he was going or if Ruwi was far out of his way, but he gladly took me there, dropped me off, shook hands, and left.

Since I’ve been in the Middle East, I’ve met surprisingly few Arabs. Most of the people I met in Dubai were Indian, Pakistani or Filipino. In Oman I’ve met western tourists and here to most of the people you deal with in hotels and restaurants are Indian. Fazid was the first Arab I’ve been able to spend any time with…..and we couldn’t speak a word to each other.

In the end, he bought me lunch, a kebob, drove me to Muscat and paid for gas. He didn’t accept any money nor expected anything in return. He just picked me up off the street and drove me 160km.

When people ask me if as an American I’m scared of being in the Middle East, I’m going to tell them about Fazid. Not only is there nothing to be scared of, these are some of the nicest, most generous people you will meet on Earth.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #40: Purnululu National Park

Posted by on January 22, 2009

World Heritage Site #40: Purnululu National Park

World Heritage Site #40: Purnululu National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

The 239,723 ha Purnululu National Park is located in the State of Western Australia. It contains the deeply dissected Bungle Bungle Range composed of Devonian-age quartz sandstone eroded over a period of 20 million years into a series of beehive-shaped towers or cones, whose steeply sloping surfaces are distinctly marked by regular horizontal bands of dark-grey cyanobacterial crust (single-celled photosynthetic organisms). These outstanding examples of cone karst owe their existence and uniqueness to several interacting geological, biological, erosional and climatic phenomena.

Purnululu is hard to get to. It is in the outback of the outback. It is three hours from the Turkey Creek roadhouse (truck stop), which is three hours from the town of Kununurra….which is in the middle of nowhere.

The primary attraction of Purnululu are the erosional features of the Bungle Bungles. The beehive domes are the most famous feature, but the gorges are also stunning. The photo above is of Cathedral Gorge. Click on the photo to see the larger version of the photo get a sense of scale. The woman is the photo was our bus driver/tour guide for the day.

Purnululu is only open a few months each year during the dry season. During the wet season the creeks can get very high with very rapid currents.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #39: Kakadu National Park

Posted by on January 21, 2009

World Heritage Site #29: Kakadu National Park

World Heritage Site #39: Kakadu National Park

From the World Heritage inscription:

This unique archaeological and ethnological reserve, located in the Northern Territory, has been inhabited continuously for more than 40,000 years. The cave paintings, rock carvings and archaeological sites record the skills and way of life of the region’s inhabitants, from the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric times to the Aboriginal people still living there. It is a unique example of a complex of ecosystems, including tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands and plateau, and provides a habitat for a wide range of rare or endemic species of plants and animals.

Kakadu doesn’t get as much attention as other sites in Australia, but it is arguably the best. Kakadu is home not only to more wildlife than you will find almost anywhere else in Australia, but is also the home to some of the oldest rock paintings on the continent.

Kakadu is a 2-3 hour drive from Darwin in the Northern Territory. In addition to saltwater crocodiles and kangaroos, you can see stunning waterfalls and enormous termite mounds.

Much of what you experience will be determined by the time of year you visit. I visited at the beginning of the dry season, which was a great time to view crocs on the river, but not so great for going to the waterfalls (the roads were closed).

Many of the outback scenes from the movie Crocodile Dundee were shot in Kakadu.

Three Strikes In Nizwa

Posted by on January 21, 2009

My time in Nizwa has been frustrating to say the least. There are three World Heritage Sites I wanted to visit in this area. All three are within easy driving distance, but I’ve had some terrible luck.

I rented a car yesterday and drove about 150km from Nizwa to the village of Bat hoping to visit the archaeological Sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn. I navigated my way to Bat flawlessly, but couldn’t find what I was looking for. There were no signs. Nothing. I stopped to try and get directions, but no one knew what I was talking about or didn’t understand me. I ended up spending several hours driving around for what amounted to nothing. I never ended up finding it. Strike one.

The second site was the Bahla Fort. That was easy to find as I drove past it on my way to Bat. When I stopped there on my way back, there were no signs or anything to instruct you where to park or where to go. No entrance, no nothing. The fort is under construction so I assume it was closed, without any signs saying it was closed. I took a few photos from the outside, but that was it. Strike two.

The third site I wanted to visit was the Aflaj irrigation systems of Oman. There is no one location, but I knew that one of the irrigation channels was in Nizwa, so I figured I could easily take my rental car and go visit the next morning. I ask for directions and am told that I need a 4-wheel drive to there. Also, there is no water flowing right now. I didn’t see the point in getting a special vehicle to visit an empty irrigation channel.Strike Three

All that being said, the mountains in this part of Oman are dramatic and beautiful. The landscape is very similar to what you can find in the mountainous deserts in Nevada or Arizona. Had I not come to Oman on a whim, this would be a great country to road trip in. I’ve met many travelers who are running about the country by car. All the roads are in great condition and the signs are in Arabic and English. Fuel is dirt cheap at 0.114 Omani Rial per liter (about $1.12 per gallon).

There is a surprising amount of tourism here. I was going to stay at this hotel another day, but it is booked solid tonight, mostly it seems with large tour groups.

I’m off to the Nizwa Fort (which looks much better than the Bahla Fort to be honest) and the souk today. I’ll probably take a bus back to Muscat or get another room for the night. I’m not sure yet. I’m more frustrated than disappointed to be honest. While I didn’t get to my destinations, the drive was worth it for its own sake.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #38: Wet Tropics of Queensland

Posted by on January 20, 2009

World Heritage Site #38: Wet Tropics of Queensland

World Heritage Site #38: Wet Tropics of Queensland

From the World Heritage inscription:

This area, which stretches along the north-east coast of Australia for some 450 km, is made up largely of tropical rainforests. This biotope offers a particularly extensive and varied array of plants, as well as marsupials and singing birds, along with other rare and endangered animals and plant species.

Like the Gondwana Raniforests of Australia, the Wet Tropics of Queensland encompasses a large stretch of land along the coast of Northern Queensland. There are many places you can visit, the most popular ones being outside of Cairns. Cairns prids itself as being one of the only cities in the world which sits between two World Heritage sites: the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef.

I visited Girringun National Park which is one of the southernmost parks in the World Heritage Site. It is also the home of Wallaman Falls, the highest waterfall in Australia.

UNESCO World Heritage Site #37: Great Barrier Reef

Posted by on January 19, 2009

World Heritage Site #37: Great Barrier Reef

World Heritage Site #37: Great Barrier Reef

From the World Heritage inscription:

The Great Barrier Reef is a site of remarkable variety and beauty on the north-east coast of Australia. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusc. It also holds great scientific interest as the habitat of species such as the dugong (‘sea cow’) and the large green turtle, which are threatened with extinction.

As I noted in my World Heritage Site overview, it is hard to get a real grasp of the size Great Barrier Reef from the surface of the Earth. Unless you are in a jumbo jet flying over the reef at 30,000 feet, you can’t see how big it is, and even in a jet you can only see a fraction of it.

There are several locations in Queensland where you can access the reef. I went diving in the Whitsunday Islands off Airlie Beach and in Cairns. I also had the chance to do some real underwater photography with my camera.

If you visit Australia with the idea of standing on a hill and taking in the majesty of the Great Barrier Reef….forget it. You can’t see it from shore in most places. You’ll need to take at least an hour long boat ride to get out to the reef.