mardi 22 mai 2018


If you are traveling once in a while, you can search whether your destination is hosting National Football League Matches or the annual gathering of Berkshire Hathaway! In the USA, when an event of such a magnitude occurs, hotel rates soar and space becomes unavailable and of course cars are rented out.
In the USA, I have to fly into Omaha once a month to attend to the Omaha Indians who live 100 miles north of the airport.
This week they are hosting some form of a sports competition and I could tell from the rates for car rentals and hotels that something was going on, I was to know that only later.

I have been very loyal to AVIS rent a car during the time I have been using Omaha Airport. One special employee has been my friends over the years and has helped me procure the best rates.
This morning was no exception. She texted early in the morning to say that she would be at the office at 10 am. I got there in time and after much manipulation, she got me a Jeep at an attractive price for the next four days. Our conversation does not end there, she tells me about her family and the lifestyle changes she had made. A pleasant exchange, that sets the good mood for the day.
There is a particular agent at the Priority Check in at Miami airport, let us call him James, I will wait for him to be free so that we can spend a few minutes talking and always he takes care of any of the problems, especially the other agents seem not to wish the extra work necessary to check in for flights to Cuba.
The staff at Centurion Lounge near gate D 15 is friendly but no one can beat Yunior, the Haitian-American Food manager, who greets me with a big smile and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Or Victor from RD, who takes extra care while making Arepas for me at the Flagship Lounge near gate D 30, both in Miami.
Travel is no longer a novelty for me, even though I look forward to each and every one of my trips (like the upcoming one to Brussels, Hamburg and Haifa). I very seldom talk to fellow passengers on the ground or on the air but go out of the way to make friends with people who make our journeys pleasant. I have a PHL-DOH-CMB COK-DOH-CDG flight coming up on QR and I am always excited to board that flight and try to procure my favourite seat 1K. L look forward to my flights with QR and pleasant chats with Fas from Romania or India or Other countries.
Regardless of the countries you visit, travelling in Cuba is so different from travelling in Colombia for example, the little help an array of people offer you add to your experience and the collective story of your life.

Countries visited this year:

Looking forward to a trip to the Amazonia in July.

and of course I can never forget my friends at Al Mourjan Lounge at Doha airport

dimanche 20 mai 2018


THE WARAO OR THE PEOPLE OF THE CANOE have lived along the River Orinoco for centuries and survived with their natural skills and abilities.
The outsiders came and took some of their lands away. Now the same outsiders have run their entire country into the country.
The current situation in Venezuela is tragic.
Pray for our brothers hermanos the Warao people..

The Warao of eastern Venezuela's Orinoco first had contact with Europeans when, soon after Christopher Columbus reached the Orinoco river delta, Alonso de Ojeda decided to navigate the river upstream. There, in the delta, Ojeda saw the distinctively stilted Warao huts, balanced over the water. Similar architecture in Sinamaica far to the west had been likened to Venice, with its famous canals below and buildings above; this new encounter propagated the name of Venezuela ("little Venice") for the whole land. From Wiki

I was lucky to have visited the Warao along the Orinoco, visiting the selfless Cuban physicians working in remote outposts such as Curiapo, a hamlet on the Orinoco with no road connection but six hours by motorboat from Tucupita, which can be reached by road in two hours from Puerto Ordaz, which is two hours by plane from Caracas, the Capital.
Curiapo along the River Orinoco. There are Cuban doctors, optometrists working in this location.

One day I was invited to join an expedition to san jose de amaucuro, the last Indian village before the River empties into the sea. You wouldn't guess you are so close to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago or the landmass of Guyana .
There were two Cuban doctors there and I was so amazed by their enthusiasm for their work. I will be here two years, I will make sure every one is vaccinated and that they have a system of public health of prevention like we have in Cuba, said the young cuban doctor!

I am devastated by the exodus from Venezuela of a large chunk of its population. When I was in Barranquilla, Colombia it was a common sight to see a family with their belonging walking along the street, having just arrived from Venezuela.


samedi 12 mai 2018


Initially, the Safavids brought clerics from the Arab world, particularly Jabal Amil in what is now south Lebanon, but gradually a new breed of Iranian Shia faqihemerged. Of these, Mohammad Baqir Majlisi, appointed to the state-sponsored posts of Friday prayer leader in the Safavid capital Isfahan in 1660s and shaykh al-Islam in 1687, was particularly important.
According to Turner, “it was under Majlisi that Twelver Shi’ite externalism became truly orthodox, while all other views were rejected and often forcibly repressed”:
One of Majlisi’s first acts was to destroy the idols of a Hindu temple that had been set up by Indian merchants in the capital…the heartbroken Hindu keeper of the temple consequently committed suicide…Majlisi also obtained a decree for the expulsion of Sufis from the capital, which was rigidly enforced …Majlisi wrote several decrees on the correct way of performing the canonical prayer (salat), on the treatment of zakat [alms-giving] and on the rules of fasting. Such works of jurisprudence were the stock-in-trade of the externalists.
Majlisi wrote mainly in Persian rather than Arabic, giving his works a wider audience. In these he didn’t just clarify issues of prayer and alms giving, he strongly condemned Sufi practices like singing, dancing, vegetarianism and seclusion.

from the Guardian, UK

Removal of the heart: how Islam became a matter of state in Iran

Some academics argue the Safavid Shahs gave Iranian Shiism a rule-fixation and abandonment of spirituality it has never lost
The 5th Shah of Safavids, 17th Century, Shah Abbas 

mardi 8 mai 2018


When you are travelling, and often, you become aware of all the people responsible for your pleasure of travel.
There are people who are obvious, such as Pilots who take you there safely, tour guides or people who are involved in tourism and who make a living out of your presence.
But there are a whole group of other people who are silent behind desks or the wine bottle they pour from. They are the ones who serve your needs in planes and lounges and hotels. I always make a point of spending a little time with them, get a whiff of their story and since I am a repeat traveller, going to the same places over and over again, some of these silent yet smiling agents of your convenience become your friends. I can think of many. Here is a sample of people who truly make my journeys far more pleasurable.
 I have made several friends at Double Tree Hotel in Kuala Lumpur and I am always given a warm welcome by old friends and I make new friends on each visit.
Dat on my right is from Tawau and S who is a Malay-French mix is a new friend. It is not often that you meet someone who speaks French in Malaysia 
Maria like others above works in the Executive Lounge of the Double Tree.

I am grateful for Qatar Airways and its CEO Akbar Al Bakr for making my Qatar Airways flight experience superior each and every time. I look forward to my long distance flying on QR! and the pleasure is to meet and talk to new people, like R from Romania. On a recent flight from Doha to Miami, the cabin crew were from Romania, Philippines, Japan, Paraguay. Among the Indians who work as cabin crew, Goans are the best, among the Asians South Koreans have a good reputation. Needless to say I have talked to hundreds of Cabin Crew both male and female from QR and without fault they like this opportunity to see the world and the luxurious ambiance of Qatar Airways. Romanian cabin crew in general is a cut above.
Aksam from Matara in Sri Lanka with a fellow Sri Lankan at the Al Mourjan Lounge at Hamad International Airport. I met Aksam on my first ever flight on Qatar Airways (it was Houston to Doha, going on to Jakarta) and we have kept in touch and we have become friends. I look forward to his hospitality in Sri Lanka. He is very good at his work at al Mourjan, among the many lounges at Hamad International.
Sometimes the smile and friendship arrives from unexpected places. This lady who is from the state of Manipur in India was working at a Plaza Premium Lounge at an Indian airport and we had a nice conversation and I am sure I will see her again.
Most of the people I mention here I have seen more than once and it is nice to walk into a hotel thousands of miles away from your home and be greeted warmly and upgraded rooms and access to Executive Lounges that make your stay more pleasant.
 These people are my friends whom I met at the Hilton Hotel in Doha. P is from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe is at the front desk.
 J from Baguio in Philippines is so sweet that is beyond belief. She wanted to make sure that I ate and drank well during my visits to the Executive Lounge. 
 Another Filipina who is consistently good with her attention and service is E. I notice that I am not selected for special attention, it is just that they are good at what they do and seem to enjoy doing what they like and they might feel my gratitude towards them.
A new friend is S, a Kayin from Loikaw in Myanmar. His mannerisms are so pleasant and reflect the gentle nature of his people. He was very pleased when I told him my Burmese name.
In my travels I get to meet a full spectrum of people, mainly diplomats representing their countries, local elites and friends sharing mutual intellectual interests.

 In Malacca my preferred hotel i Hotel Equatorial. I have known both Miss LY who is the front desk manager and Mr A who is the manager of the Executive Lounge for many years. On a recent visit it was so wonderful to see them both and enjoy their hospitality.
L on the left is an intern from Sukabumi in Indonesia and on the right A from Malacca.

But it is the people that I am talking about who make my travels very comfortable and enjoyable. 

I want to thank them all.
I respect the State of Qatar (despite their anti-Israeli attitudes and the anti-jewish inclination of Al Jazeera) that they are providing nearly 2 million households in Asia and Africa with the possibility of fulfilling their dreams.


On arrival at Miami International Airport last night from Doha, Qatar, I walked past the Café Versailles coffee shop. A dollop of nostalgia hit me; I used to regularly have a cortadito at this shop before and after my visits to Cuba, if time permitted.
I had left Miami on April 24th and 13 days later I was back. Feeling my wallet in my back pocket I realized that I had eaten well at the airports I had transited through but not had spent a single penny!
Airports used in 13 days:
San Francisco
Kuala Lumpur

Miami Flagship Lounge on departure and Centurion Club on return
San Francisco Centurion Club, United International Lounge
Singapore Plaza Premium Lounge, Aerotel, Krisflyer Gold Lounge
Kuala Lumpur Malaysian Airlines Regional Lounge
Bangalore Plaza Premium Lounge
Doha Arrival Lounge, Al Mourjan Lounge
Philadelphia  American Admirals Club
 Flagship Lounge at Miami International Airport. There is champagne on offer and also a nice buffet. I have a friend there who occasionally makes an arepa with eggs for me.

How to enjoy these lounges? It is a Frequent Flier’s tale.

 It was good to have a shower and freshen up after the six hour flight from Miami before boarding the 17 hour flight to Singapore
 Centurion Club at SFO, Centurion Clubs tend to have better food selection than Airlines Lounges but they are improving as well 

 I like looking this artsy arrangements of older travel paraphanelia! I keep as a souvenir a similar suit case used by the late Hollis Stabler Sr.  
The United Club International Lounge at SFO was quite reasonable and they had good service as well. 

 When you are travelling you body clock is messed up, so it is alright to have a flute of Moet at 8 AM!
(the decor at United Club at SFO was nothing out of the ordinary)

I was quite impressed with the SilverKris Lounge in Terminal 2, which caters for regional Business Class passengers on Singapore Airlines. My flight to Kuala Lumpur was a short 40 minutes but I spent nearly 3 hours in the Lounge and had a lovely breakfast.

(I have become a fan of Congee after the visit to the KrisFlyer Lounge!)

American Airlines and Qatar Airways, as well as Sri Lankan and Malaysian Airlines belong to the One World Alliance and you are able to use the Lounges of the other, if you are flying through their hub. This comes in very handy when you fly MH Malaysian Airlines from KL or in transit at CMB Colombo.
The MH Lounge at the Satellite terminal at KLIA is a very good lounge, but on this trip I used the Regional Lounge, which is adequate. Both in Singapore and KL, the Lounge has adequate choices of regional cuisine, so Congee in Singapore and Nasi Lemak in KL were welcome.

(The Regional Lounge of MH in KLIA where the ubiquitous Nasi Lemak is presented well)
 It was good to taste some Ceylonese Curry at the Serendib Lounge of the Sri Lankan Airways
On arrival at Colombo Bandaranaike Airport you are greeted with this serene statue of Buddha and I usually take a few seconds to pay my respects.
 My favourite lounge without doubt is Al Mourjan at Doha Hamad International Airport. Over the years I have become friends with so many of the workers there, especially from Sri Lanka. This visit was no exception: new friends Weydman (a Sri Lankan Burger) and Aysman (a Sri Lankan Malay). Old friend Aksam (a Tamoul speaking Moor from Sri Lanka) dropped by the lounge (he was at al Safwa) to say Hello.

The only way to access this lounge is to fly Business Class on Qatar Airways. Once I came in from Amman on Royal Jordanian and flew out to Colombo on Sri Lankan and I was given access to this lounge. There are other lounges for people flying other airlines or other classes of services.

 My Sri Lankan friends from Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar

American Airlines Admirals Club is just ordinary as far as Airline Lounges in America go but recently they have opened Flagship Lounges. In the USA, entrance to Airlines Lounges have different rules, you are almost required to buy a membership regardless of the class you are flying. But there is a way to enter these Flagship Lounges (I like the ones in ORD DFW and MIA) is to have high tier FF status in one of the other One World Airlines. I have Platinum Status with QR Qatar Airways, so I can enter the Flagship and Admirals Cub Lounges in USA.
Lounges are always welcome in that they offer peace and tranquility in these days when the terminals are so overcrowded and more than that; they offer good quality food and drinks.
At the Philadelphia American Airlines Admirals Club, there was a station for freshly made Guacamole (an Ethiopian Christian was making it and laughed when I requested some Injera bread of Ethiopia)
 USA based lounges lag behind the Asian and Middle Eastern airlines in good food quality and diversity, but I have enjoyed Israeli cuisine at PHL Centurion Lounge and Michele Bernstein’s cooking at MIA Centurion Lounge.
To get into Centurion Lounge you have to have an appropriate American Express Card. I have enjoyed them on many an occasion and in Miami, occasionally a shoulder massage before the trip to Havana is always welcome.
Priority Pass is a system, which you can apply directly or be given as part of your high end Credit Cards. To me, this card has turned out to be a lifesaver in many of the obscure or smaller airports where there are no airline lounges: Bangalore, Cochin in India, Siem Reap in Cambodia, and there are many many Lounges that accept Priority Pass. Recently they have begun adding Airport Restaurants to this list. MIA has one airside and two landside restaurants where you can indulge and the first 28 dollars of the food and fare is free. I am yet to try this but I have enjoyed the privileges of Priority Pass at the Lounges mentioned above as well as Lotus Lounge at CMB.
 attendant at the Plaza Premium Lounge at the Bangalore International Airport.

 Not as sophisticated and not comparable to other Asian lounges but a good place to rest. Meager food and wine offerings. Friendly service 

Having Lounge access is much more than about saving money, that amounts to a good bundle as well, but about being able to relax especially if you are flying often, easy access to Wi-Fi as well as good quality food (especially in Asia)