Monday, December 12, 2016

How to celebrate Eco Friendly Christmas?

I Started this year 2016, with green resolution of going as much plastic free and attempting less waste lifestyle to ultimately reach zero waste. I am glad that I could continue to follow through my green resolution an entire year. So what can be a better way to end this year with celebration of an Eco-friendly, Plastic Free and Zero Waste Christmas! Here are my tips on Green Christmas celebration.

Eco friendly Christmas Tree, Ornaments and Decorations

Every year people around the world discuss the question of which is better, a fake or a real Christmas tree? If you are in the region where these trees are easily available then it's easier to avoid fake plastic trees. But it's very unsustainable to transport real Christmas tree to long distances. In case of Dubai, that will be half way across the globe, so the real trees are completely unsustainable here! So people prefer using plastic trees and reuse it over the years.

But I have a different opinion about tradition of Christmas tree. As for Dubai, a cultural melting pot; expats from all over the world living in UAE embrace festivity of all cultures and religions. Since years our family too is celebrating all festivities and it's so beautiful to experience! Then why not to go a step further and let's take the tradition and make it more practical, more intellectual and more Eco friendly? Why not to add a local flavor to the festivity, to make the celebrations more sustainable? If you have a garden then why not to plant saline tolerant plants like local Ghaf tree and decorate it for Christmas?

Here is my story of Christmas tree, 3 years back, after my son was born I bought a fake plastic Christmas tree and we are reusing it since then but this time I decided not to use it anymore and go completely plastic free and zero waste. I am going to donate our fake Christmas tree to some charity. But meanwhile, I found our sustainable Christmas tree during a hike!

While the thought of Eco friendly Christmas was on the back of my mind, first week of December we been to our favorite Hajar mountains in Oman. During a small family hike and nature trail, I found this trunk of native tree lying on the mountain and I couldn't resist to pick it up. This must be a largest natural collectible I had picked until now! So my husband obviously asked me do I really need to carry it all the way to Dubai? I told him, imagine this as our Christmas tree! He immediately loved the idea!

So this is our Green Christmas tree which is not literally green at all, but that's how it is supposed to be in Arabian desert isn't it?
Eco friendly Christmas Tree
We even made ornaments and decorations out of natural treasures like twigs and feathers, shells which we collect during our outdoor walks in UAE. Read how to make these easy DIY Eco friendly Christmas ornaments. The Santa next to our Christmas tree is made by my son in school out of toilet roll cardboard.
Eco Christmas tree with Eco ornamnets

If you can't find time to DIY decorations, reusing your old, memorable Christmas ornaments and decorations is sustainable too, you just need to store them safely to avoid any breakage. You can even re-purpose old ornaments to create a new out of it with little bit of DIY.

Here are some more DIY ideas from some blogger friends to make your Christmas earth-friendly.

Shea from Conversation with my sister made this beautiful natural Christmas decor out of a dried branch of tree!

Harkee from As They Grow made this very easy and convenient alternate Christmas tree on her fridge with washitape.

Or if you want your kids to get involved in Christmas craft actively you can make these kids crafts.
Laura from Life with baby kicks made with her young children these cute salt dough ornaments.

You can borrow idea from Tarana's Sand in My Toes and ask your older kids to make their own Christmas ornaments and decor.

Eco-friendly Christmas Gift Ideas

When in UAE, I know it's very difficult to resist shopping for Christmas gifts. There are so many sale everywhere but don't forget, less is more! When you have such beautiful weather outside, you can't just spend hours doing mall hopping. When there was black Friday sale last month, we preferred to avoid malls completely and spent time outdoors. On National day long weekend when there was up to 90% sale in malls of Dubai, we spent our long weekend in Mountains. Because that's what we should do with our families during weekend and holidays. Our loved ones and specially kids need gift of our time, well spent with them! They will hardly remember what gift they got when they were 6, but the memories we create together will last forever.

Plus you can not support fast fashion under the name of Christmas, can you? Every time I see millions of cloths scattered in shops, during sale; I remember those poor people working in inhuman condition, on extremely low wedges to produce this fast fashion, which you buy because it's dirt cheap. By doing so we support that vicious cycle of fast fashion. Let's think differently.

But there are some great ways of buying gifts for Christmas, I am sure you can use these ideas guilt free. Just don't forget to take your own reusable shopping bags with you.

 1. Gift of Life

Plants are my favorite gifts, I have been gifting plants to my friends since I am in school. Not just because I love plants but growing up with a plant gifted to us feels such an awesome idea! Plus gardening is great way of relaxing and rejuvenating. You can even gift potted herbs which can be used in food preparation! It's a great gift for all age groups but please make sure to inquire caring instructions in nursery from where you are buying a plant and don't forget to pass it on that information to it's new owner! I have written the plant caring instructions on a label attached to the plant in this photo. When you are gifting a plant, you are giving gift of life plus you never know you might be converting someone into a plant lover!
Gift a Plant

2. Local Handmade or Artisan Gifts

If you want to give sustainable and Eco-friendly gifts to your family and friends give first preference to local homegrown artisan community. Buying things which are made in far off countries is not very good idea, don't burden your gift receiver with ecological and carbon footprint please. Luckily we have a great variety of such handmade homegrown gifts, you can either find them at Arte market or Ripe market happening regularly in different parts of Dubai

3. Gift Vouchers

These are my new favorites. Choosing a right and useful gift for anyone is not an easy task and if you go wrong by any chance the gift goes waste. Sadly I have seen few people leaving the gifts unused in their wardrobes or cabinets. Such a loss of resources used for making those unwanted gifts! But Gift vouchers is a great solution if you are not sure about which could be a best Christmas gift and it is very convenient way of gifting too. The receiver can anytime shop according to their own choice and the gift is never wasted this way. I prefer giving gift voucher of a mall instead of a specific shop or brand. You can also find many gift vouchers for online shopping. Plus gifting an experience through voucher is better gift than gifting things. Things have end of life cycle but memories stay forever!

Eco Friendly Gift Wrapping Ideas

Also remember gift wrapping can be done in Eco friendly way. You can use news papers for gift wrapping. You can also save gift wrapping papers, bows, gift bags and boxes from the gifts you receive, like me and reuse them when you are giving someone gifts. Who said those beautiful gift wrapping items are single use? Another great idea of gift wrapping is using reusable bags instead of those glossy paper bags or boxes. You can always add a note to remind them to use the bag for shopping. You can even gift wrap your present in a nice scarf or fabric which has some use. No one will ever throw your gift wrapping rather this fabric gift wrapping can be an added gift!
It is really easy to gift wrap in fabric, for the one in picture you need a square fabric. You can find many easy tutorials on you tube about fabric gift wrapping. This is my most favorite plastic free, paper less, zero-waste gift wrapping tip!
Eco Friendly Present Wrapping
Hope these ideas will help you to celebrate your Christmas guilt-free! 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Easy DIY Eco Friendly Christmas Ornaments

While walking in garden yesterday my son started picking some fallen twigs, we even found few molted feathers! After coming home we kept our natural treasures in the dedicated basket, now we have a really good collection of natural collectibles you can find in UAE. It suddenly struck me how about creating our own Christmas decoration this year? When I asked my son, he jumped and said yes! So we decided to make a star for our Earth-friendly Christmas tree, an angel and a snowflake! My son was totally excited about snowflake, because his class in his school is snowflakes!
Eco Christmas Ornaments- Star, Snowflake and Angel

What material you need?

For this very easy Eco DIY all you need is some twigs, jute yarn, feathers, shells and your imagination! It is not as easy for younger children, but it's better to involve them and let them make their own decoration, great activity to develop their fine motor skills.
Twigs and Jute Yarn
Molted Feathers


First I sorted twigs and branches. You need to cut the twigs to make it similar length for star and cut the branches for equal size for snowflake. But don't worry if you can't make them all of same size, your Christmas decor will still look beautiful and rustic! I mostly could cut them with hand, as they were all dried twigs.

For star make two triangles by tying twigs together and then tie the two triangles in shape of a star. 
For snowflake you can tie two branches together on opposite sides and then tie these joined two branches with other set to make a cross. I just inserted feathers in the tied jute yarn of the snowflake. 
Twig  Snowflake and Star

For shell and feather angel, I made a small hole on hinge of the shell. After tying all feathers separately, close to each other on same jute yarn, insert that yarn into this hole and tied it that's it. The angel for our Christmas tree is ready.
Shell and Feather Angel
I am really happy with my plastic free, handmade with natural materials; Eco-friendly Christmas ornaments! Keep checking the new post to see our Eco-friendly Christmas tree!

My son attempted to make his own snowflake with small twigs!  

Friday, November 25, 2016

UAE Celebrated Innovation Week

To achieve goals set in UAE Vision 2021, country launched UAE Innovation week last year, largest of it's kind. This year UAE Innovation week was from Nov 20th to Nov 26th 2016. I was invited to inaugural Innovation Live Summit, an official anchor event, which took place on 21st Nov and organized by MEED in partnership with Dubai Chamber of Commerce, Masdar, Health Care Authority Abu Dhabi and few industry leaders. It was a great way to Gain insight into how the UAE is driving innovation and rigorously working towards implementing its Vision 2021 and the role of each sector industry.

Artificial Intelligent System which talked to people at event
But before I tell you all about the event I am sure you would like to know more about what is UAE's National Innovation Strategy?
In 2014 His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, launched a National Innovation Strategy with a seven year plan that aims to make the UAE among the most innovative nations in the world. This strategy includes 7 sectors listed below,

1. Renewable energy
2. Transportation
3. Education
4. Health
5. Technology
6. Water
7. Space

You can read UAE's National Innovation Strategy here. Few of the important goals of Vision 2021 and National Agenda are Non-Oil Real GDP Growth as well as Sustainable Environment and Infrastructure.
Reem Al Hashemi
At the very first Innovation Live event at Jumeirah Beach Hotel, there were many expert speakers lined up for panel discussions from around the world. Innovation Live was kicked off with speech by Majid Saif Al Ghurair, chairman of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce of Industry who emphasis on Vision 2021 and Dubai's aspiration to become one of the top innovative city in the world.

In her powerful speech, Reem Ibrahim Al Hashemi, UAE Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director-General of the Dubai Expo 2020 Bureau explained all aspects of Expo 2020 and how Innovation is one of the primary objective of Expo 2020 under the theme of connecting minds. creating the future! She also highlighted how UAE, a country as young as half of human lifespan has transformed this arid ground in short time span. Watch this video for part of her speech.
Guy Kawasaki
The next keynote speaker Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, author and former Apple chief evangelist gave a great speech about innovation, I would like to call it a crash course on successful innovation. With a great sense of humor this guy almost steal the show leaving audience feeling inspired! He presented steps of innovation and here are those steps
1. Make meaning
2. Make mantra
3. Jump to the next curve
4. Roll the DICEE
5. Don’t worry, be crappy
6. Let 100 flowers blossom
7. Polarise people
8. Churn, baby, churn
9. Niche thyself
10. Follow the Rule
11. Don’t let the clowns grind you down
Sustainability Water cooler
I am glad to attend such inspiring event, where I could learn so much about innovation!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Top 10 Sustainable Things To Do in Reykjavik

Reykjavik, the most northerly capital in the world is also known as one of the greenest or sustainable city! There are plenty of sustainable, green experiences or Eco-friendly things to do in Reykjavik. Here are my top 10 sustainable things to do in Reykjavik starting with most sustainable experience first. Most of my sustainable things to do in Reykjavik are also free or cheap, saving earth doesn't cost you bank!

1. Whale Watching from Old Harbour

Iceland waters is home to 20 types of whales which include Minke, Blue, Orca whales and endangered Fin, Humpback and Sperm whales. So Iceland is great place to watch whales in wild. But unfortunately there is whaling taking place in Iceland, mainly because of demand from tourist. Icelanders don't eat whale meat much and whaling isn't even profitable any more. So as a tourist it's our duty not to eat whale meat and promote whaling. Plus seeing whale alive in wild is far better experience than having it on your dinner plate!

I went on whale watching tour with Reykjavik Sailors. They are a smaller whale watching tour operator so if you don't like crowd you will surely like their tour. The transportation to and from your accommodation is provided by them. I am not into sailing so it was not very easy for me to avoid sea-sickness after we left land far behind and went in North Atlantic ocean. But their friendly staff helped me and all others constantly with sea-sickness pills, hot chocolate and what not. But I still managed to spot Minke Whales 3 times and but oh boy I realized whale watching is not an easy thing. Our eyes are not really trained to spot whales which surfaces above sea only for few seconds among waves. So if you are able to spot and see properly a whale then I must say you are lucky. Reykjavik Sailors at the end of tour offered us all another tour, specially if we couldn't spot any whales. From bigger boats, you can surely get advantage of height. But overall my experience with Reykjavik sailors was quiet interesting and I got to learn many things.

Whale watching in Iceland is not to be missed experience firstly because these whales are present year round off the coast of Iceland and remember there isn't much wildlife in this country as this island was never connected to any continent so Iceland's wildlife lives in ocean around it.

2. Free walking tour

Fascinating colors of Reykjavik
This is a great introductory guided tour of Reykjavik starts every day at 12pm from the small green clock tower in Lækjartorg square. Our guide Eyvindur Karlsson had a great sense of humor and fantastic story telling skills. He not only told us history and significance of structures and places but also mentioned all witty and quirky things about city as we walked. It's a free tour but it is advisable to tip according to your wish at the end of the tour. The guides can also give you some information and suggest you with few things to do. I would say this is not to be missed tour in Reykjavik check their website here.

3. Swim with locals

Thermal Pool at Laugardalslaug
Blue lagoons is one of the most popular place to visit in Iceland. But guess what, I didn't visit it. Firstly I didn't get booking as per my convenience so it's on my list for next trip to Iceland. But I didn't miss thermal pools experience in my trip. You can't do that else they don't let you leave country at Keflavik airport! Jokes apart you can not really skip this natural wonder which Iceland is blessed with abundantly. 

So instead of touristy blue lagoons I preferred swimming with locals at Laugardalslaug, which is also in city of Reykjavik. You don't have to book the tour or arrange transport to go there. I was staying not far from it so I walked to it. I could even explore the back of house of these thermal pools to see how they manage this wonder, geothermal energy. I also been to Fontana spa on golden circle route, which is less touristy, more relaxing experience with attraction of steam rooms directly on hot springs. Read here my experience of thermal pools.

If you want to swim in hot springs for free then you need to try Nautholsvik Geothermal Beach, closer to Perlan.

4. Harpa Concert Hall

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center is believed to be the most Eco-friendly conference center in the world. The building was designed to use mostly natural light through its glass facade, which covers three of the four sides of the building and results in significant reduction in power consumption. All those who were chosen to operate within Harpa have sustainability as one of their main goals. Both restaurants and catering services use mainly local produce and follow strict recycling standards. Harpa is connected to the Icelandic power grid, which has one of the highest uptime in the world. The water used in Harpa comes from water reserves located on the outskirts of Reykjavík. The water is of the highest quality and no treatment is required before it is distributed to consumers. The facade is made of glass, resulting in reduction in lighting cost. All waste in Harpa is sorted and all recyclable waste is recycled. All detergents used in Harpa have the Swan label, a well-known Eco-labeling used in the Nordic countries.

5. Hallgrímskirkja Church

Named after Iceland's most sacred and beloved poet, Hallgrimskirkja is most striking architecture in Reykjavik. Hallgrímskirkja Church was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, who also designed several other important buildings in Reykjavik, one of which I liked was National theater and University of Iceland. Guðjón was strongly influenced by Scandinavian Modernism but his designs also drew inspiration from Iceland's natural landscape and geology. I found this fact very interesting, how many architectures actually are nature inspired or depict local natural landscape? You can see those actual basalt columns now fixed in middle of road in front of National Theater.
Basalt Columns on Street in front of National Theater
The church looks like cliffs of basalt column, which are formed in Nature when a thick lava flow cools slowly into a polygonal joint pattern. Some also think that the church tower represents the natural geysers found in Iceland.

You can take the lift up to reach top of the tower at nominal charges and I must say, don't miss the chance to see Reykjavik's beautiful colorful houses from there. It offers the best view of the city!

6. Solfar, Sun voyager

This is a stainless steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. As part of Scandinavian art project, 'Experimental Environment' he made drawings of this sculpture. Sun Voyager is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. Intrinsically, it contains within itself the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom.

Every city has a famous sculpture and Reykjavik has Solfar. People love to see mid-night sun from this point. The sun rays reflect on this stainless steel structure giving it feeling of sparkle.  This is located on coast side near Harpa so it is worth taking walk on the coastal street and stop here for photos. If you are lucky like me then you can even see such beautiful rainbow on the background!

7. Geothermal steam escape

Bore hole spotted in Reykjavik
Reykjavik got it's name 'smokey bay' when the first explorer reached this place and misunderstood geothermal steam as smoke. Though you won't find the mention of this particular thing in any Iceland guidebook, I would say you should not miss spotting geothermal bore holes or vents pipes, which are constant reminders throughout the city about the natural asset this city and country is blessed with. Nearly all energy consumed in Icelandic households and businesses comes from clean renewable hydroelectric and geothermal energy sources. Read all about geothermal energy of Iceland and where to find these bore holes in Reykjavik here.

8. Perlan

Perlan is situated on top of a small hill, many tourists go there to get bird's eye view of the city for free. There is an observation deck with 360 degrees panoramic view on top of 6 metal tanks, which store warm water from geothermal source. There is cafe inside too. Read some interesting things about about Perlan here.
Green patch around Perlan
The forest around Perlan is important green patch of the city, where you can find walkways and cycle path. As Iceland is mostly covered with lava field, you can't find much of forest or even taller trees here. So when I visited Perlan and saw this forest around it, I couldn't resist exploring it and my simple walk turned into little bit of thrill (watch this video below). I lost sight of city for few minutes but was delighted to find my way out. It was my first solo trip, but I got a glimpse of what courage those regular solo travelers need, when they go out in wild on their own. Long way to go for me, I am sure!

9. Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Northern Lights
This was my most favorite thing or rather real reason of my trip. I took a northern lights tour with Time Tour and was lucky to see those dancing colors in night sky even when it was overcast. Read my experience here. But did you know you can see Northern Lights even from Reykjavik? specially from the areas where there is less light pollution like Grotta light house, only the aurora activity needs to be strong enough. Just the week after my trip, the KP index was so high that city of Reykjavik shut off all street lights and everyone could see startling aurora display!

10. Buy Local

Local free-range organic eggs bought from supermarket for my breakfast
One of the important sustainable thing to do on travel is buy local. In Iceland you can't find any international fast food franchise, which is great health wise. Some people complain that food is very costly here, but if you know what local produce they have, you can just buy it from any supermarket, cook yourself and have healthy food without breaking bank! Thanks to their green house farms, Icelanders are growing many fruits and vegetables, even bananas. You can read more about these green house farms here.

Laugavegur street is famous shopping street in Reykjavik, find out here what sustainable gifts and souvenirs you can buy here. Remember to carry your reusable bags for shopping.

From my experience Reykjavik is a walk-able city so don't rent a car if you want to do site-seeing in Reykjavik, just walk and reduce your carbon footprint! Plus you never know what interesting things you will find when you are walking.

Hope you like my top 10 sustainable things to do in Reykjavik and find it useful if you are planning your trip, would love your comments! Let me know your experience if you have been to Reykjavik...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Caracal Challenge to celebrate 15 years of EWS-WWF

I woke up really late yesterday with aching and sore muscles, but feeling absolutely happy, all thanks to Friday's heavy dose of adventure outdoors in Abu Dhabi's Al Khatim desert!

To mark 15th anniversary of Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF and their nature conservation work, Husaak adventures organised first ever Caracal Challenge, 15 km desert trek in Abu Dhabi's Al Khatim desert. 400 people across GCC countries including families, fitness enthusiast and adventurers took part in this challenge and you won't believe that such big number of people completed this tough challenge. I personally know 2 such champions and saw so many other inspiring people around me yesterday including a 77 year old super-active youngster and even a 7 year old girl who was all happy at 7 km mark!
Desert Walk
This challenge was a great outdoor activity in completely untouched desert of Al Khatim, where challengers not only tested their endurance but even navigated desert landscape at night and learned about the UAE’s natural environment. I should say Husaak Adventures done an outstanding job along with Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority by marking the path with flags, providing all required information in advance and giving freedom to such large number of people to explore desert on their own but also keeping track of them! You really need to know your job and desert well to organize such beautiful event in middle of of nowhere and with such big number of people! I now know why Husaak Adventures is GCC's favorite adventure company!

The initiative donated all net profits towards EWS-WWF’s Terrestrial Conservation Programme that is designed to protect land-based species and habitats across the UAE and Gulf region. The funds collected will go towards developing a central biodiversity database, integrating protected area networks and building awareness around the initiative. Before the official start of Caracal Challenge excursion representatives from organizers talked about the event. Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Deputy Director General of EWS-WWF told us shortly how she attended one of the adventure with Husaak Adventures and the concept of Caracal Challenge was born. Dr. Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director - Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector, Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi talked about UAE's natural landscape and wildlife. Ali Khalil Husain of Husaak Adventures told us about what efforts went in to organize the event and what precautions participants need to take on excursion. The race started at around 4.50pm and went on till midnight. There were 3 exit points on 15 km route, first was at 2.5 km, second at 7km and 3rd at 10km. Participants could exit the race or refill their water at these exit points.

I was delighted to accept the invitation by EWS-WWF and to participate in Caracal Challenge. Being an outdoorsy person I have always grabbed opportunity to explore the desert of UAE though it is one of our camping trips or any events. So I had an exact idea of difficulty level of this challenge as I have hiked these sand dunes before. Plus from my experience of wild life drive in Dubai desert Conservation reserve my eyes are a bit trained to find out treasures in desert. This was mainly a desert walk for me on my own pace while looking out for natural beauty in dunes and Al Khatim desert didn't disappoint me! 

I could spot this beautiful butterfly on one of a bush in middle of sand dunes, yes butterfly in desert!
Butterfly in Desert

There were many lush green bushes in Al Kahtim area, which indicated the presence of water table in this area. 

I could also spot sand grass and one of my favorite dead looking grass, which is actually alive at the root. 
It's not dead
Walking in desert far away from any settlement is almost like meditating, you feel such calmness in a beautiful landscape! Al Khatim desert is untouched apart from volunteered walked here before us to prepare for challenge. So it was also clean, otherwise you always find left over coal from barbecue or campfire in desert near cities in UAE.

One of the beautiful site in desert is sunset. The sunset in desert reflects those twilight colors not only the sky but in the sand too!

The sky was equally beautiful after the sunset with moon getting brighter and rising stars! I heard from many fellow participants a comment like they never seen so many stars in UAE! Of course I didn't loose an opportunity and discussed with them about light pollution and how Bedouins in olden days used stars to navigate across Sahara desert! Actually because of full moon it was not an ideal night to watch stars but desert is great place in UAE for sky watching.
It was an amazing site to see people walking with headlights or torches on the silhouette of sand dunes at night! Climbing on some of the dunes was very challenging, slopes were steep and every time you try to climb your feet go deep into sand, then you need to exert extra force. But I felt hiking sand dunes is one of the safest hike, as there is only soft sand everywhere and no rocks, even if you fall you won't get hurt badly.

By the time I reached 2.5 km mark I felt really happy that I could do this without much preparation
with an average fitness level! So to celebrate this small achievement organizers provided this photo opportunity. We could feel sand everywhere on us by this time but it was worth getting dirty! I am now definitely inspired to give more attention to increase my fitness and endurance level. The people who exited challenge at 2.5 km mark were transported to 7 km mark, where there were arrangements of relaxing around campfire and some food and beverage arrangements. After watching some champions reaching 7 km mark from desert behind and hugged by EWS-WWF Panda, I decided to just lie down next to campfire and look up in sky! It was so pleasant in desert, I was ready to stay there for next 3 months, till the weather starts getting hot again.

EWS-WWF's Panda
Later we were transported to Arabian Nights Village where we had a nice arabic dinner with live performance of arabic singing with Oud. I am definitely coming back to this hotel specially when I learnt they take pride in not providing satellite TV instead immerse their guests in culture! 

Caracal Challenge was a fabulous, one of a kind event, much needed in UAE where people sometimes think there isn't much in desert (without much exploring it). The participants attending this event were so full of positive energy that it's not surprising almost everyone made some new friends here. It supports this discussion I had just few days back through this post when you are close to Nature, you become more authentic! 

After talking to many participants, I can surely claim they learnt so much about UAE's natural heritage and natural landscape, which was the ultimate goal of this event! This event was a great success-story of spreading awareness about UAE's environment.
Refilling Water in my reusable stainless steel bottle
But can't resist mentioning a slight disappointment here out of a good intention. It was actually delightful to see that organizers took great efforts in arranging numerous water dispensers to refill water bottles at start point and every exit/refill point. But I still found many empty plastic bottles littered in pristine desert. I just kept on picking them up and stuffed in my backpack. It was saddening that message organizers were trying to pass on to the crowd was not understood by them properly. I completely understand, it's very important to be hydrated in desert while walking or racing and health was definitely bigger priority. But what were the ways to pass on the message to less receptive part of crowd without any confusion? May be providing only one or two bottles each with a sticker "Refill It" on it? The water bottle in complementary back pack was a plastic bottle (not really a sustainable product, adding to more plastic waste at end of cycle). Instead of that may be 'bring your own empty bottle' would have worked better? (Just an idea) Because it was really easy to achieve that from my experience. I packed my favorite stainless steel water bottle in my bag and refilled it a few times. As I am attempting a zero waste lifestyle in UAE, this topic is really dear to me. When I saw the water dispensers at start point, I just hoped not to see any plastic bottle litter in this untouched part of desert. But I really appreciate organizers team and partners who thought about this issue of plastic water bottle waste in UAE and took steps in right direction. Without taking these first steps, we will never come to know what works and what doesn't. The efforts are refreshing and very welcoming!

I am sure EWS-WWF along with their partners will continue with their great work of conservation in the region and we will have many such green celebrations in future! On behalf of all those who attended I would like to say, we are very much looking forward to such desert challenge again, may be The Caracal Challenge 2017?
Walk of Shadows!

P.S. If you are curious what exactly is Caracal? It's an Arabian wild cat, read article here about my first experience of this fierce cat at Al Hefaiya Mountain Conservancy in Kalba. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Saddle Up an Icelandic Horse

Iceland was never connected to any continent and is formed on it's own because of volcanic activity. So you don't find much of Iceland's own wild life. The domesticated farm animals were brought in Iceland in 9th century. After that over the years the because of harsh climatic conditions and with selective breeding Icelandic Horse breed is developed, now most pure in the world. So much that Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
Riding Icelandic Horse
Icelandic horses are short and strong, even if they look like ponies they are fully grown horses. These Icelandic horses displays total 5 gaits, two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. Apart from leisure and racing these horses are still used in traditional sheep round up in Iceland by farmers.
Beautiful Horses of Hraunhestar
Being a horse lover how can I not go for horse riding with these special breed? Hraunhestar located in lava town Hafnarfjörður invited me for a personalized horse riding tour. After filling up form and checking my level of knowledge in horse riding I was offered to wear gears. By that time a beautiful white horse named Bumblebee was ready for me! My guide Julie gave me few instructions like Icelandic horse are sensitive so in any situation talk in low voice, plus how should I hold rains in two hands, no kicking etc. I have done horse riding in India, Dubai and also on vacation in Turkey but I definitely felt different on Icelandic. I felt more comfortable on it and of course we need to treat it differently than other breeds. 
Watch slow motion video for the natural landscape.

We started our ride on route through beautiful landscape on lava filed and mountains on the backdrop. The Autumn color was adding more beauty to already picturesque scene!  The horses are short so you can really observe the shrubs, flowers and moss on ground from Icelandic horses. This part of Iceland is covered with 7,000-year-old rolling lava From the Búrfell eruption. I can even see some lava field holes. It was stormy that day. So when we were riding it was windy, chilled and even raining but I enjoyed the ride thoroughly, rather I wanted to get out of comfort zone and do something like this close to Nature! Julie was sharing with me her knowledge about Icelandic horses, these horses are not vaccinated as there aren't much diseases here in Iceland. But only when they are taken outside of Iceland for races etc they need to be vaccinated.

Riding Bumble bee
We then tolt in between and it was so much fun! Rain and wind hitting on my face while riding a horse who is enjoying her tolt, I felt like a free bird!

Special Horse Shoe for Riding on Ice in winter
During our one hour ride we passed few groups of tourist riding horses but this kind of personalized horse riding tour is much better. Bumble bee was a very independent horse she even decided to tolt on her own without any instruction from me. Julie asked me to stop her but secretly I really liked her character! Bumblebee was sharp too, when we were near the stable on the way back, she even tried to take a shorter route by turning at an intersection! Showing her character every now and then, that's my kind of horse! I was totally delighted by my Icelandic horse riding experience on lava field covered with fully bloomed vegetation with Hraunhestar! I even said to Julie that she has one the best job!

After the riding in chilly weather it's must to have hot chocolate in stable talking about horses! Their manager Guðný arranged everything so well including my two way transportation. I highly recommend this friendly, young and fresh horse riding tour operator in Iceland! This is a not to be missed experience in Iceland. Check their website here for booking and gallery of their beautiful Icelandic horses.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

My Top Me-Time Outdoors Spots in Dubai

After you become mother you actually start to understand meaning of the word "me-time". No surprise 'Mommy Me-time' is such favorite phrase among mums. But being an outdoorsy person my me-time must involve some outdoors time, somewhere close to Nature or at least man-made nature in Dubai! You can imagine how difficult it must be for me during summers, but then I still manage to escape and be with plants in my favorite nursery. 
Outdoors Me Time

I am not a big fan of spending (or rather wasting) time at grooming saloons I prefer dirty toes in mud over perfectly pedicured ones, so that girly pamper time is not really a 'pamper time' for me, sorry ladies no offense it's just the way I am! Also how ever many Dirhams I spend in malls and how many hours I watch TV or in front of screens I can't really relax or can't feel like having that me-time. Some outside time is must! After starting my Zerowaste lifestyle attempt this year I have reduced mall trips significantly and frankly I am happier! Collecting experience is lot enriching than collecting items! Yes I might be unaware of what new stores opened in Dubai and what new brands launched in UAE, but I am very much aware of what goes inside my head and what new changes are in my surrounding. These days people talk so much about being authentic, I guess this outdoor me-time helps me to reach there, being me!

Now as weather is getting better I can go out almost any time of the day! I am super happy to share my favorite outdoors spots around Dubai to spend my me-time, If you really want to go outside but don't have company I will suggest, please don't wait just get outside and see how happy you can be with yourself!

1. Kite Beach

Kite Beach
Since it's development in past few years, it's one of favorite beach of Dubai residents. On weekends it's difficult to find parking here but I like to go here on weekday mornings after school runs. There is great jogging track, where you can work out or just meditate on beach. I like to listen to the waves and do beach combing for unique shells and a quick clean up. 

There are great cafes for a coffee or breakfast and sometimes I take my laptop with me to just write after a inspiring barefoot walk on the beach!

2. Creek Park

Creek Park
Though I love this place I can't go there regularly as it's far away from my place. But in case if I am at that side of the town and can spare some time I grab the opportunity to visit this lush green park. We visit there often in winter on weekends, specially after Safa park is closed for development. But creek park on weekday morning is just heaven, all for yourself! You can have long leisurely walks or sit under the shade of a tree or just lie down on grass with your favorite book!

Read this post about one of such me-time I spent in Creek park just after my son started his nursery last October!

3. Al Barsha Pond Park

Cork Flowers
This is closest park from my son's school so now don't be surprised to find me here more often than ever! Just last Thursday I was there and was totally delighted by great weather and to find my favorite cork flowers in bloom! This is also a great place to find variety of birds. I used to spend lot of mornings here when my son was younger. It has really great play areas even for younger kids. Cycle track is great too! Many mums meet up in this park so I am sure this park is generally popular among mums!

4. The Gardens

The Gardens
The Gardens by Nakheel is closest to my home! I have a love affair with this place since I came to Dubai 10 years back! May be because it reminds me of my lush green hometown or may be because Nakheel has planted Indian species of shrubs and trees. But it's my default me-time outdoors spot. Sometimes I ride my bike or sometimes I just go for a walk. Being one of the older community the trees are mature and fully grown here. Read an old post about this fully bloomed new ecosystem of Dubai!
Fully grown trees at The Gardens

5. Community parks dotted around Jumeira 

Whenever I am going around the town for any work I try to squeeze some quick outdoors visit. So where ever I go I find out smaller, not so popular community parks and spend some time there. I can always write or work better when I am outdoors so I don't mind finishing my work there. I use Google maps to find a green patch or a small park nearby when I am out.

6. Dubai Garden Center

This is my favorite outdoor spot specially during hotter months simply because you can be close to lush greenery in a shaded area! I might not buy plants from this nursery every time I go there. I like the Roseleaf cafe located inside, specially it's sitting area facing plants. A leisurely stroll in this nursery can recharge me, when I can't go for longer walks in parks or on beach! 

Now if you found all of this complete beyond your understanding and wondering what exactly I do in those places apart from exercise? Then let me tell you I mainly like to observe! I like to observe how great I feel when I take in fresh air, how happy I feel when I walk on grass or sand with bare feet! It's really a feast for all senses, you can see many different birds or hear them chirping! You can even observe the behaviour of different birds, they have so much character! Read this post for example about how much birds can entertain you. You can look at beautiful trees and plants. You can see how the seeds falling on ground creating new lives, how and when certain trees flower! I love to gather flowers fallen on ground and smell them to evoke memories! You can look at waves at beach and hear the sound of sea! You can find different shells and sea glass!
Natural Collectibles

I love to collect natural collectibles whenever I go on such outdoor trips, which I use in my Eco-friendly DIYs or give to my son for some art and craft activities! Sometimes you can just smile at real people and start a conversation. It's much better than observing someone's life on social media platforms! I have made some nice friends on such outings and I even like to talk to staff working in parks, it's great to hear insight from them about what goes in maintenance of these year round green parks in desert! It's been years I am doing this in UAE and yes I get some strange looks from people at these outdoors spots especially when I do quick clean ups before I leave. I would like to see a day in Dubai, when someone is doing voluntary clean up, other people will join in!

I strongly feel, we need to let ourselves spare some time to see where we are living! Else we will never know what amazing things are there outdoors even in urban jungles like Dubai! Plus spending time outdoors is a big cure for many things! 

Many researchers have found these benefits of spending time outdoors

1. Boost your creativity. 
It's my favorite reason as if I need to get inspired to write a new post on blog, my sure-shot remedy is to get outside!

2. Improve Mental Health

3. Boost Vitamin D Intake
This one is very important in UAE! Many UAE doctors keep telling their patients that just because we don't go outdoors much many people suffer vitamin D deficiency, which affects our mood, big cause of depression and can affect growth of kids as our body can absorb calcium with vitamin D. You need to spend at least 30 minutes in son for effective vitamin D absorption.

4. Improve Concentration, Short term Memory and Eyesight.
So many important advantages, we definitely want our kids to get benefited with that don't we?

5. Stress Relief and Increase Immunity
We all need that and I have seen results so much that nothing else can replace my me-time but just some outdoor time!

In UAE we have so many options to go outdoor and enjoy nature check this list of places for your weekend plans! Be it beaches, mountains, parks or just landscaped community where you stay! 
So what are you waiting for? Just go outdoors!