Friday, October 17, 2008

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Well I've been in Dubai for about a day now, and let me tell you, THIS is something to see!  

My 8 hour flight from Beijing was long, but pretty smooth.  We flew by Mount Everest - I got some amazing pictures through my window - and I think I've decided that climbing Mt. Everest might be next on my places to go/things to do list! ;)

(leaving Beijing - FINALLY)

For about an hour before we landed, it was just desert out the window.  I couldn’t believe it...I mean I knew Dubai was kind of in the desert, but it was just sand, sand, and more sand for as far as you could see.  There would be a road, and then all of a sudden it would disappear where sand blew over it and covered it up, and then it would reappear a little later.  Even when the pilot announced we were landing and I could feel us getting lower to the was STILL just sand.  I was really wondering at that point – seriously – what in the world I was doing in the Middle East, in a Muslim populated desert that borders Saudi Arabia??  I’m kinda crazy sometimes… :)

 Anyways, we landed around 11:30am local time, and the airport was pretty dead.  Friday is a weekend over here (Friday and Saturday) so it didn't take any time at all to get my luggage and through security.  The airport was really cool (temperature wise), but as soon as the fancy doors opened to the outside, this massive heat wave hit me!  It was SO hot there!  41 degrees C - whatever that is in's freaking hot! 

So it turns out most people in Dubai, and even visitors to Dubai, are rich and all have private cars or limos picking them up (or helicoptors).  Hmmm...well, that's certainly not me, so I followed the signs to the taxi waiting area.  Turns out there isn’t a waiting area if you just want to take a taxi in Dubai, haha!  I was the ONLY one in line for about 20 taxis.  So I just walked up to the first one, he took all my luggage and loaded it for me, opened my door, and shut it for me once I got in.  They are very polite over here!  I showed him the name of my hotel, Palm Beach Hotel, and he said he knew where it was, in pretty good English (thank GOD - I don't know what I would've done if he said he didn't!) and off we went in to Dubai! 

The taxis are VERY nice over here.  BIG and clean, and almost everyone speaks pretty good English.  We chatted a little bit on the way and pulled up in front of my hotel about 20 minutes later.  It looked pretty nice (decent anyways) from the outside so that was a big relief!  They had my reservation, too - which was also a relief!   You never really know what you're getting when you do this stuff on-line the week before you leave and have no idea where anything is!  It all turned out fine though.  My room is small, but clean, and in a pretty good location, with a free breakfast buffet!  Can't beat that for $20/night in Dubai!! 

As soon as I dropped off my luggage in my room, I went straight to the concierge desk and started looking at maps and things to do.  I didn't really plan anything for this part of my trip.  I read up a little bit on a free Dubai book from my hotel room, and had a couple of things in mind.  The guy at my hotel talked me in to doing a "Desert Safari" that evening, and a city tour the following morning.  It was about 1pm and my safari left at 4:30pm, so I had some time to go shop.  I remembered a shopping mall we drove by on our way from the airport and decided to take taxi back to it. 

But first, I walked outside my hotel, and noticed a pharmacy right next door, so I went in -- still needing those malaria pills for Africa!  I told the guy I had a sore throat (which I've had for a few days now and usually get strep throat shortly after that) and he handed me some antibiotic.  Then I told him I was going to Africa and I needed some sort of malaria pills and he knew exactly what I needed.  Turns out Dubai is really big on health care.  There is an entire area called "Dubai Healthcare City" and there are hospitals and pharmacies all over - there is even a big American hospital over here.  Another big relief!  So I'm already taking these weird malaria pills -- two a day for 3 days should do the trick I guess. 

After that, I hopped in a taxi (easy to get just off the road my hotel is on) and showed him in my little book where I wanted to go.  He dropped me off about 5 minutes later, and I walked right in to the DEAD food court.  Turns out it is freaking Ramadan in Dubai - whatever that is.  Apparently you can't eat or drink in public from 6am to 6pm.  Well I didn't know that, but should have caught on when NO ONE was sitting in the food court, and the only two restaurants that were open were McDonalds and Subway (American fast-food).  So I ordered my little Subway sandwich and just sat down and started a dark empty food court, haha.  I swear, sometimes I am just clueless.  So after I take about two bites, this security guard comes up to me looking very mad and says, "Excuse me - there is NO eating in public!"  I just gave him a really weird look and said, "Uh, okay...sorry..." and picked up my sandwich.  I was starving - thinking this is ridiculous!  So...where exactly could I eat where no one would see me?  The only place I could think of was the bathroom.  Yep, I sat in a bathroom stall and ate my Subway sandwich for lunch.  I was literally laughing out loud while I was doing it...but I didn't know where else I could go to eat!! It didn't take long to finish - eating in a bathroom stall - no matter how clean it is - is just not appetizing. 

Once I finished eating, I walked out of the bathroom with my water bottle in my mouth taking a big drink of water, and the same freaking security guard saw me and said, "No!".  SHIT - no eating AND no drinking!?  I really picked a good time to come to Dubai!!  Haha...still makes me laugh.  :)  I have since learned that I'm very lucky I didn't get fined for doing that - there is a 500 Durham fee for eating, drinking, or chewing gum in public this month - awesome!  ;) So I decided it would just be safe to shop and keep things out of my mouth. 

The shopping in Dubai is FREAKING AWESOME!!  I LOVE it - blew threw plenty of money and did some damage in the little time I had at the mall – shorts, skirts, flip-flops, swimsuit, sweatshirt, jewelry. :) I took a taxi back to the hotel and was just settling down for a minute when my phone rang and the concierge guy said my tour was outside waiting on me -- at 3:45.  Okay, okay, I rush down there and sure enough, they are waiting on me.  There was a guy in the front seat of an SUV who got out and let me sit there.  Turns out that was the best thing that could've ever happened to me.  My driver RIPPED off through Dubai and we were soon in the desert.  So it was the crazy driver, me in the front seat, this nice older couple from Scotland (but they've been living in Melbourne for 15 years), and two guys from Brazil in the SUV.  We just kept driving, or I mean FLYING for a LONG time - this guy driving was seriously insane.  We finally stopped at this little rest-stop area in the middle of no-where (we were almost to the Oman border, I saw signs!) – I mean nothing in sight but sand, and there were several other big SUV's there, too.  I kind of thought they were all going to kidnap us and take us out to the desert and kill us! ;)  We walked around in the little shop for awhile, and they talked me in to buying an orange belly-dancing outfit.  A long skirt and a little top with jewels and sequins all over it - it's just hilarious - guess I know what I’m going to be for Halloween this year! :)

Then we got back in the car and drove OFF the road in to the sand.  We just took a normal SUV off-roading in the desert.  It was probably the stupidest thing I’ve done in awhile - and definitely the best adrenaline rush I've had since skydiving and cliff-diving!  The driver was even MORE crazy on the big hills in the sand than he was on the road.  I'm not stupid, and I know enough about physics to know that we came dangerously close to rolling that thing numerous times.  If I hadn't been in the front seat, I definitely would've throw up - ljust ike 3 out of the other 5 people who were in the car did.  :(  Whenever we stopped though, I got out and took pictures! The sand was really hot and it was super windy!

We did that up and down and ripping around for over an hour -- I was screaming about 45 minutes of that...CRAZY is the only way I can describe it.  I've got lots of pictures...just crazy.  Still can't believe I did that and survived...  SO - after we stopped several times for people to throw up, we arrived at this little outdoor gathering area in the middle of the desert.  We went on camel rides and got henna tattoos on our hands, and had a traditional Indian meal while sitting on these big pillows on the ground.  It was pretty cool.  We had to wait until the sun went down to eat, and then there were these big pretty lights all over - and we were out in the desert under the moon and starts - it was pretty cool. 

We got back in the SUV with the crazy driver and made it back to Dubai in no time - because he drove like a bat out of hell!  I was exhausted - that's a pretty full day - and just wanted to go to sleep, but my room was FREEZING and I couldn't for the life of me find where to change the stinkin' temperature!  So I just piled clothes on and slept with a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up and my hands covering my face (Luney: remember the good 'ole winter nights at Kappa when the heater broke - yeah, that's how I slept again.) 

I woke up at 5:15 am and was WIDE awake.  That felt like 9:15 to me (Beijing time) so I had a hard time falling back asleep, but eventually did, and woke up around 8:45.  I took a shower - a cold shower for most of it - there's this little button thing you have to push for hot water and apparently it takes a long time for it kick in.  I went down for my free breakfast buffet, and it was pretty lame.  I had a pancake that was rock-hard, and two pieces of bread with strawberry jelly.  Guess that would have to do it for breakfst...

I went up and waited for my "city tour" to show up.  Well it wasn't really a group tour, it was a private guide and me in a car for the morning.  My guide was 26, from India living in Dubai for 6 years, and spoke 8 languages.  He was great and took me all over Dubai and told me all kinds of interesting things. We went to some museums (art and history), mosques and churches, the man-made Palm-Island, local markets, the beach, worlds tallest building, the worlds businest port, the awesome mall with the world's largest indoor ski park... just all over, and he took picture of me wherever I wanted! :) 

Okay, okay - internet time is almost up (I'm at a little internet place down the street and they charge you by the minute) so this is going to get cut short!  I'll try and write more about the city tour later when I have time!   

But first, here's a little information on the city I've learned since I've been here, before I forget it:  The population is about 1.4 million people, and only 25% of those are native Dubai people.  There are over 120 nationalities, and Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world.  It also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.  They are very strict here, and if you commit any sort of crime, they deport you immediately, but not before removing ALL of your body hair - eyebrows included.  I have no idea why, but that is supposedly the punishment here. There are 4 men to every one woman here, and the men of Dubai are allowed to have four wives.  EVERYTHING is under construction, and 35% of the world's cranes are currently being used in Dubai (I believe it too from the looks of this place)Dubai has the first 7 star hotel.  It was 27 floors, but each floor is actually two floors - each hotel room has two levels.  It is about $19k a night to stay in one of the suites.  If you don't want a limo to pick you up, they will send there private helicopter to get you! 

Okay - I've got a million other things I want to tell you about this awesome city, but I've gotta get off before they kick me off!  :)  

Leaving tomorrow for AFRICA!!


1 comment: