الشعور مهجورة يسجل
(Translation: Feeling Dubai-ously Deserted).
- Day two dawned with a pick up to go and see the city sights. Katie and I, along with a lovely elderly couple from Brazil, were taken around Dubai by an Indian expat lad. At first rather aloof, he soon warmed and became animated when I told him how much I loved India. (Telling me to “go back again and again and again”). And he drove like those in India too, overtaking other cars on the merging lanes, accelerating and breaking with great gusto and punching the wheel in frustration when another vehicle wasn’t up to speed. Honestly, the entertainment of the drive around was worth the cost of the tour alone.
- We went about the marina area, the sky-scraping building glistening like mermaid’s tails in the early morning sun (already at a good 35 degrees at this point). We then headed over to Jumeirah Beach to get the standard Burj Al Arab building shot (it looks like a sort of squatter pea shell thing, though Google says it’s meant to mimic a ship’s sail) before going to a smallish shopping store set up where we fawned over hand quilted carpets and their detailed designs (managing to convince the very able salesman that not having a home of my own nor no room in my backpack for a massive roll up of fabric fibres meant I would not be taking one off his hands and home). (Twas amazing though; one of the rugs was designed so that upon turning its lying direction it took on a lighter or darker hue, symbolising winter and summer. I admit I did flirt with the idea of perhaps trying to wrap it around my bod and wear it on the place as my attire, but decided against it; the weaving underneath would most definitely not allow me to sit in my seat) (and the steep $800usd price tag also acted as a significant dissuade so I couldn’t embrace my inner Aladdin).
- (Insertation: it makes me laugh how the lean and lissom of the eastern cultures feel it funny to comment on when a westerner is overweight. What with in India a fuller frame often being seen as only belonging to those of more funds, I guess it could be said to be complimenting your wealth or some such. When I was in Vietnam the ad leading the tour to the tunnels made remarks about how all Americans are “very very fat”, singling out a few in the crowd, while on this day the Indian chap clapped the Brazilian man’s protruding potbelly and told him if he did yoga it would not exist. The communication “rules” and what is considered flattering versus felonious just astounds me).
- We went to the “istorikal” (that’s “historical”; took me a wee while to decipher what the lad was saying, I must admit) area, and along to the gold and jewellery markets (having a geez at the largest ring in the world – proved so by the spread eagled Guinness World Book of Records spread eagled next to it as evidence) (and I found great joy in the signs spelling out the necklaces, rings and what not as “jewelrie”, exactly it sounds). We hit the museum (located in the old fort used as the location for the guards, well, guarding old Dubai from invasion), saw some spice stalls, then our lad dropped us back at the hotel where I took a decent doze and geared up for tour number two.
- I have to say, being on the busy souq-lined streets reminded me of a cleaner, less polluted and poverty-ed India. I felt so right there, so at peace, it really brought home to me that there’s where I’m meant to be headed on the next jaunt (I wish immediately after this, but coffers must be collected first). It made me laugh seeing the market men all on their phones; if you didn’t see the cellular you could kid yourself you were roaming through a rabbit warren of old times, but the ceaseless cellular clued into the current times of communication and Candy Crush.
- At 4.30pm on the speckle a four-by-four roared into the hotel swing bay and picked myself and Katie up. Driven by a lovely expat lad, there was also a sisterly duo reigning from Liverpool in the back back, as well as Brazilian boyf and goyf (sorry, “gf”) in the middle back next to me. We hit the road, stopping a fair 45 minutes later apparently on the cusp of getting into Oman.
- As we drove through the outskirts of the city (on the six-laned each side highway) I was flabbergasted at the random edifices dotting the more desert-like districts; a swimming stadium, an indoor waterpark (the third I had seen since being here), many a mall (of course) and the Universal Studios site. It really got me thinking about a short video I had seen earlier in the day that showed Dubai’s development from the 1930s until now and the plans for beyond. Do the Dubaian people of old, who have lived through the whole affair, herald the discovery of oil as a blessing in bringing in ridiculous amounts of reserves and riches, or do they see it as detrimental in destroying the dear times of the dated? I’m sure you’d be able to find many a person for the earlier, but what of those who were around back in the day of Dubai being a little village on the other side of the creek from Deira (historically the commercial centre of the area).
- Ahem. Back to being deserted.
- So we pulled up alongside a road with undulated plains of golden sand stretching out as far as the eye could see (not very, it must be said, on account of the dust haze and what not). The driver jumped out, pressed on each of the four tyres for a few minutes then returned behind the wheel. “Buckle up,” he instructed.
- Well fuck me.
- Have you ever been dune bashing? Strapped in the back of a four by four as a cackling Egyptian man hoons up and down the sanded hills, straddling the sides and then plunging down them at a good 45-degree angle as clouds of fine blonded powder rise in clouds to cover the windows like a paint ball exploding? If not, I highly recommend you pen that down in vivid on your pail index asap (I.e., “bucket list”). Mate, it is the toppest of the notch.
- I have never been so unexpectedly gleeful in all my life. (I also never realised that in states of high excitement I squealed and shrieked at such high pitch). I guess not knowing that it was actually included in the tour at first and being so wrapped up in the idea of perching upon a camel hump made it all the better because it was such an adrenaline pumping surprise. I’m not sure the others were quite so elated however; the two birds in the back had their eyes shut with one continually muttering, “Does he really need to drive so fast and so high up?” and Katie cautiously pointing out the chunks of bumper half buried in the dunes.
- There was a moment of extreme faux paw however; when tearing down a greatly gigantic gradient, my free and flailing hand on the left reached down to stable myself and accidentally plunged into the big burly Brazilian beside me’s nether region. Like, what is up with me in moments of adrenaline and speed having my palm magnate to the peeney? I immediately apologised and sited the skim (ok, grope) as fully inadvertent, but I don’t think the chap’s gf beside him was overly chuffed at my getting in on her man. After a good ten to fifteen we pulled up and had a play in the sand (seriously, you’re covered in the stuff and upon standing up it just falls off like water cascading out of a shower head) (though there was a fair collection feeling gritty between my lips) before getting back in and heading to the camp… and the camels.
- I must say I felt really awkward on the journey to the site; the lass alongside had obviously taken my accidental action as a sign I was trying to get up in her man and set about marking her territory by having a fondle of his inner thigh as she took selfies of the two together (unfortunately I’d say – even though I attempted to cower in the corner – I will have wrecked each and every of their holiday snaps as I was most definitely in the background of each and every shot). And later on as I was observing his perfectly on point eyebrows (seriously, who does this lad go to for his shaping?) I turned away to find her giving me a damn heavy duty glare and a kick of sand at my ankles with her glitzy AF1’s (interesting insertation: as we were driving along a new set of dunes the driver pointed out how the sand here was a lot lighter than that we had been bashing; this was on the account of the area once having been under the sea and what not).
- But of course the best bit – my camels.
- Oh mate they were sensational. Aside from the lad of a lama-like creature that sat on the sand and posed for selfies like a stallion, four more were loaded up and ready to ride. Katie and I clambered aboard and were led around by a, well, leader, and it was just as I had imagined it to. On point.
- Another have you ever: this time, have you ever ridden a camel and had it bend down for you to disembark? It is the most unbalanced, toppling sensation I have ever experienced (ad also rather hard on the fanny). In my haste to restabilise I took stepped off at pace as the camel was rearing its head, pushing me forward and pulling my pants way up where. I think it’s safe to say that between the two of us, there were a good nine camel ten camel toes going on for a twinkling.
- We went into the camp and got henna-ed up, smoked some apple flavoured shisha (though we all agreed there was a distinctive liquorice-like undertone), had an amazing dinner (I stuck to the salads but there were six or so curries, lamb kebabs, all types of roti bread, crispy and crunchy samosas and all types of roast meat) and watched a dancing man twirl about the stage (honestly, he spun and spun and spun for a good ten minutes straight, the best moment when his skirt – yes, he was in a skirt – lit up like an LED Christmas tree).
- Then it was back on board the four by four to head home to conk out from the full on day. Just to end the day’s detailing, three points pondered while in the desert:
- Everyone thought I must be off my head as well as a man molester; I was fiddling with the sand when I suddenly thought about how not just once or twice but a good nine times when doing the specials board at old Onyx, I’ve gotten my “desert”s and “dessert”s all befuddled and had put up the cheesecake/mudcake/apple crumble as being a barren plain rather than a dish for the evening.
- The most peculiar thing I saw in the desert? A popcorn machine. I mean… why? Who looked at the expansive space and thought, “Oooo! I know what this place needs! Some extra buttered kernels popping off on the constant!”
- And the other oddity: planes regularly flying overhead. I mean, obviously the airfield and aviation paths would have to cross over the area, but it felt so strange sitting in the sand and these massive machines jetting overtop.
And to Tuesday!
- Katie and I had flirted with the idea of going to the waterpark for the day, but our seeing of the beach the day before had changed our minds. The sand and sea was a ’calling, so we set off and had downed our towels, sprayed on the sunscreen (so conscious of our complexions) and were whirling about in the water by the time 9am rolled around. (Imagine that – at the beach before 9am!).
- I cannot even explain how warm the water was. (Ok I can actually; it was fully a good 30 degrees). It had little pockets of warmth and cool, so as you waded through you could choose your contagion. And the sand was so gentle, a blanket of soft ripples; have you ever had a foot bath and put marbles in it to rub the soles of your feet along? No? Well you should, because that’s what it felt like. And cripes twas it salty! So so salty. Like an oyster, sardine and over pickled plate of sauerkraut seasoned with a kilogram shaker of salt. And oh so relaxing! (Aside from the moment when I mistook my henna-ed hand for a flapping fish and had a wee splash about to scare it away before realising what it actually was).
- But it wasn’t all fab – there were a handful of cheerless characteristics. There was the current issue of litter (sea what I did there?) (again?) floating about in the sea. And cigarette butts strewn about the sand. However just before midday a lad with a stab stick started roving along the sandbanks picking up all the rubbish (not sure how he went about the butts though).
- After a fair few hours we headed back to the hotel to pack up our things and make moves to the metro to the next point of purpose. Katie was carrying onto the airport to fly out to Kuala Lumpar and I was adventuring to Uncle Adrian’s to hand with him and Therese.
- So I loaded up with all my luggage (the purple pod now at a solid 26.6kg) and set off with the address of Adrian in my maps. Upon my arrival I saw the two are actually living in a hotel – and how lucky was I, with Adrian putting me up in my own stupendous suite for the next four nights! Out on a note of luxury or what.
- And their living has the most on point loco. Complete with spa, gym, sauna and steam room (as well as the fabulous included daily buffet breakfast), it is attached to (yes another) mall that has everything you need!
- The pair have a really good routine going, with every night them heading to a café in the mall for a coffee and almond croissant. And this night was no different, with the trio of us taking off the one of their top picks to catch up with a big natter before heading back to bed. (With the best shower of my trip so far, complete with engulfing, plush dressing gown to recline in). (After getting out of the shower, I must clarify; I wasn’t lying down all enveloped up in the robe actually in the shower stall).
- A day of catching up on deeply deprived sleep for me, with a follow up at the gym, a dart into the gold market area with Therese to pick up some bespoke jewellery she’d had made, some writing, the now-nightly coffee stop and bed again, Bliss!
- Therese and took off with an early start. Our point of terminus? None other than Abu Dhabi.
- So Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE, and the second largest in terms of residents after Dubai. The city rests on a T-shaped island that juts out into the Persian Gulf, and houses the government, the President of the UAE (who is also a member of the Abu Dhabi Emiri Family) and accounts for a good two-thirds of the around $400billion (in usd) economy of the entire country. Abu Dhabi garnered a fair bit of interest in 2010 after it was the main location in Sex and the City 2 (although Emirati authorities refused clearance for filming, and in actuality the Abu Dhabi segment of the movie was filmed in Morocco).
- So Therese and I trained down to the southern end of Dubai, where we boarded a bus for the hour-and-a-half jaunt down to the sister city. It was really cool; what with Therese having come into my uncle’s life in ’09 when I was in my teenage tyrant times, I had never really had a chance to get to know her too well. But the time gave us a chance to get a chin wag going, and I recognised a kindred spirit in the face of exploring and intrepid travel.
- On reaching Abu Dhabi we headed straight to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, built from 1996 to 2007 and established to unite the cultural diversity of the Islamic world and historical and modern values of architecture and art. Covering an area of a good 30 acres, it is the key worshiping spot for Friday gatherings and can hold more than 41,000 people. The design and construction of the structure was said to be done in a way to “unite the world”, using artisans and materials from all over the globe such as India, Italy, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia, Germany, China, Iran, UK, NZ (yeah), Macedonia and Turkey as well as the UAE, utilising the skills of more than 3000 workers.
- To enter the mosque females must be well covered, with a scarf on the head at all times. Full body coverings – in black and called abayah for females, white and called kandora for men – are able to be borrowed for no fee other than a left behind driver’s license which Therese and I were all on board for. (Though I cursed myself for the bun-up do of the day; the unfortunate top knot placement made the Harry-Potter-like hood fall around my face in a cone like way, reminiscent of the KKK. Thus all the photos taken having me with my head well tipped back in a bid to evade the appearance).
- And the mosque was beautiful. I wish I could allocate a better word there but nothing else would do it justice. On my first view with the taxi turning a corner I did the banal response of gasping out loud – it was just so pillowly and pretty, so grand and gracious (though on driving away after I did have a giggly moment where I saw a likeness to a whole load of boobies with pierced nipples). The inside was an absolute artwork with the walls carved out with stone set flowers, the main inside laid down with the largest carpet in the world (the wool of which it was made from coming from none other than NZ (yeah) and Iran; comprised of more than 2,268,000,000 knots, the carpet took approximately two years to complete by more than 1300 carpet knotters and weighs a good 35 tonnes) and a number of bedazzling, gloriously glistening chandeliers (seven in fact, all imported from Munich and made up of millions of Swarovski crystals) (one of which reminded me of a float in the Cambridge Christmas parade). (And the vast centre praying square apparently can hold a whole 31,000 worshippers at once; I had a momentary money-spinning idea where I thought if there was any way I could somehow get my hands on such a space, I could charge each entrant a single dollar and I would be able to pay off the old student loan and have a fair few thou left over for the net adventure! Unsure where I will find a plenteous plaza nor a pulling point to reel them in, but I shall work on it).
- Plus, I have never seen such a stunning, ornate bathroom; the walls were adorned with the ever-present flowers standing on swirly stems, petals polished to show off their shiny stones. A good 20 females were taking selfies in front of the cubicles and basins as others taking a whizzle were gasping and gaping at the detailed doors. (That’s a lie – I was the only one excitedly exclaiming as I made wees. But the selfies sheilas were real, honest!). The feeling of peace and tranquillity that overcomes you when ambling about the mosque as well as the immense beauty of the place just does not translate to film, so I shall not attach (too many) photos of the place.
- From there Therese and I nabbed a cab and headed over to The Emirates Palace, a grand hotel near the Abu Dhabi city centre. And mate, you should see this place! With rooms costing a good few thousand a night, it is so plush, so opulent, golds gleaming on every set surface. Once again, photos just don’t do justice so I won’t bombard and bore.
- We went to the café upstairs and had a beverage (Sprite zero for me, camel milk coffee complete with two bite-sized chocolates and a date for Therese) (as in dried fruit, not man – she’s happily married to my uncle ok?). The staff were rightly regal with sweeping, intricately designed cape-type uniforms and extremely proper personas as they enquired as to whether our bevvys were up to standard and if we would like a freshly laundered towelette to dab our foreheads with.
- I had a moment of misfortune however; on the table top sat a blemishless bowl full of individually wrapped morsels, what I assumed to be little dates. Usually not one to go for this type of ingestible, I thought the whole “when-in-Dubai-do-as-the-Dubaians-do” and thought a date would be the way to do it. I unwrapped a “date”, popped it in my mouth, and instantly (though as discreetly as I could) spat it out into the palm of my hand.
- See, this was no date; no sir. It was a lump of sugar to stir into your coffee, and being of the raw variety its hue taken on had me wrongly identifying it as a dried fruit. I didn’t know what to do with my now sodden and sticky sugar crystal; what with no napkins nor serviettes laid out in easy reach, I couldn’t wrap it up and hide it behind Therese’s coffee cup. I sculled my Sprite Zero and plopped it into the bottom of my glass, only to find the residue left behind on my hand was still sticky and making quite the mess. Don’t ask me why, but it seemed a bright idea to rub the rest on the back of my calf. I instantly regretted such an action, as now my leg was too added to the adhesive areas.
- Growing increasingly irate, now with my black hippie pants stuck to my leg, I asked to please be pointed in the direction of the nearest bathroom facilities. “Sure mam,” responded the lad I lunged at for instructions. “Unfortunately, with our café facilities having to be relocated throughout the month of Ramadan, they are a fair while away. If you go [insert ridiculously long winded and windy directions here], it will be on your left.”
- So about half an hour later I finally found the facilities and was able to rid myself of all sticky substances from my body.
- With plans to head on over the main Abu Dhabi market hall, Therese and I decided it would be much faster to cut across the grass to the left and be right on the beachfront. However, on reaching the edge of the estate, we found we were in fact fenced in and would have to retrace our steps to exit through the large arch as we had come in from. So we did a U-turn to double back, and in our return – I’m not entirely sure how it happened – we ended up in the massively majestic private poolside area for staying – and plenteously paying – guests, and then strolling along the secluded sandy beach.
- Here we decided to drop down and take twenty, where I promptly dozed off for a good three quarters of an hour. Fabulous.
- After I awoke we found our way out again (passing the built like a brick shithouse bodyguard for the fourth time), taxied to the main market, looked around the fewly open stalls and stores (many closed on account of Ramadan), then bustled back to the bus station to head on back to Dubai. And after a short stint in the gym and indulgence in a succulently sweet mango, I Anne-Franked myself to sleep.
And finally Friday.
- Being the Dubaian equivalent to a Saturday, Uncle Adrian had the day off work so him, myself and Therese headed out to the souq markets in the old part of the city. We reached the area by abra (that s, traditional wooden boat) and proceeded to shop about to obtain four cashmere scarves (one for myself, cousin Allie, Aunty Maria and There’s oldest daughter), a coin embedded headscarf (for myself), a couple of camel keyrings (ditto) and a sequined purse for Aunty Maria again.
- Uncle Adrian was right on with the harsh haggling, only adding on a mere 11 dirhams while his bargaining bud came down by a steep 480. When the handshake was made and we were the owners of what we had optioned for, the seller lad took me outside the shop and told me he thought I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and could he please have my number. (Not sure how he thought we would ever make it work, but ups to the lad for giving it a go).
- After a spot of light shopping (literally; Adrian got a beauty of a centre piece chandelier to trip on home to Tauranga) the three of us then headed back to the home hotel (that is, Uncle Adrian, Therese and myself; the marketing man was left at his shop) where we proceeded to laze about by the pool for a few hours. I then had a run, got them to aid me in belting up my bag, then we had one last coffee together before bed and an early arise to head to the airport. TO GO HOME. (Insane right?!).
So to end the very last in-place post from this adventure, I shall do as I always do and leave you with a few pointed, well, points of observances and what not made on the last few days in Dubai.
- I am unsure whether every few hours an invisible specimen runs through the whole city emptying hundreds of cans of Glade, but everywhere you go it smells of such sweet scents. Floral field, vanilla clove, lavender loveliness… each new entry finds you engulfed in the fine fragrances with no rancid reek in sight (well, nose hole). (Sorry, nostril; I always call it a nose hole on first go then remember it’s not actually called that, don’t ask me why). (Although it is fitting, you must admit).
- What I find very fair (or is that “fare”?) here is that the taxis charge by distance, not by time. So there is a set fee for ground crossed, and a red light will not up the final fee by a good five or so as is usually the case in NZ. More so, the charges are clearly imprinted upon the passenger windows so you can work out the way and avoid any stiffing of your touristness at the end of the road.
- Another aspect I find quite attractive; at crossings, rather than have a red man signalling your instruction to stay still, a palm held up in a “stay” motion blinks a bright scarlet. Upon time to cross the street the hand dispels into a green man, before palming up again to indicate to stop and stay put. I hadn’t seen any alternative to the people before, so it was a right revelation to see some different doings.
- Because of the intense heat of the UAE, many of the homes and buildings seen (that are not the more common sky scraping stallions with air conditioning units swirling through the insides) utilise a circulating system of old times. A squarely triangular shaped opening on the roof with some sort of straight rod contraption lures the cool air in, with chutes dropping down into the inside of the rooms almost vacuuming the air in beneath. Thus, a natural air conditioning unit not reliant on a remote nor electricity. It was really cool to see such contraptions still in use today – and more so, doing the job.
So with a 10 am flight on the Saturday I loaded up in a taxi at 7.15, all set for the seven-minute journey to the Emirates terminal three (such a massive operation now it has a vast in-and-out station all to the one airline). I spent my last 15 dirham buying a glass purple bracelette for the brother Michael’s gf Rachel, then boarded my plane homebound for Auckland Airport (a 17-hour five-minute jaunt, the longest in the world I’ll have you know).
I felt weird about returning. Don’t get me wrong; I was a Berrocca at the idea I would soon be seeing the fam, the boys (as in dogs, not as in a cluster of chaps) and a fair few significant people. But going home had me in not just two, but a good six or so minds.
But I decided not to dwell, instead settling in next to my sweetheart Saudi Arabian seat besider and setting up for 17 hours of movie-watching (The Dressmaker, How to be Single, some Notebook-esque love story and a few episodes of Modern Family), writing, plan making and diary catch upping before hitting the runway ahead of the scheduled time of 10.10am to launch into the next section of my life.
(Moment on the plane: on one of my aisle roams to stretch the old legs, I looked up and saw what I thought to be holes in the ceiling. I had a massive panic at the idea that it was a shoddy job I was hurtling home in, before realising that the whole plane was done in such a way as to appear as stars in a sky).