Around The World, Part Fourteen

Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Thirteen is here.

October 24 (Wednesday, Day 23, Dubai) –

We decided to take today kind of slow and just took advantage of the free shuttle that the Hyatt offered to two of the local shopping malls.  The one next to the hotel (but definitely a drive away) opened on October 10 which explained why it was empty.  It was VERY high end and didn’t have any stores in it that we would ever shop in.

The other mall (Mercato) was about a 20 minute drive from the Hyatt and had a food court in it that had McD’s and 4 other US fast food chains.  We walked around both malls and ended up buying food from a grocery store in Mercato and eating a picnic of Arabic bread (i.e. pita bread), deli turkey, cheese slices, hummus and dates for lunch in the food court!  We also bought Puffs Plus for Snookums’ bad cold.

It was very interesting to watch the people.  80% of the population is not Dubai-born but are ex-pats.  So, being a Caucasian is no big deal.  In fact, you can’t tell the tourists from the “locals” other than you know that the true locals are the ones that are wearing the white robes and red/white checked head scarves (men) and black cloaks (they are called abayas) and black scarves (women).  The women that wear the abayas and scarves are beautiful in their black simplicity.  It looks like the abayas are zippered or closed somehow but the closure stops at the knee so you can see their western dress underneath.  Their eye makeup is stunning – lots of black eyeliner and heavy eye shadow and their abayas are usually trimmed with rhinestones (who knows, maybe diamonds??!!) or beautiful lace or some other very “chic” decoration.  The women of Dubai are very elegant compared to the burka-clad women in India and it’s not just the money, either.  The cut of the abaya versus the baggy burka has a lot to do with it, too, as does how the headscarves fit totally differently.  You still really only see the women’s faces, but the Dubai outfit is much less conservative.

The Mercato

We learned that Dubai is going to run out of its oil reserves by 2010 so the government wants to turn it into the #1 tourist destination in the world.  There is construction everywhere.  We were told that 30% of the construction cranes in the world are currently in Dubai and we believe it.  Dubai’s “old” airport is very nice and it looked to us like Emirates is spending a lot of money right now remodeling its terminal, yet Dubai is currently building the biggest airport in the world in another part of the city.  It will have six runways.  The plan is for all Dubai construction – malls, airport, condos, etc. – to be completed by 2010.  The majority of construction workers are from India or the Philippines.  While we were there they had their first strike against the two major construction companies.  The Dubai currency is closely tied to the US dollar and as a result the workers are saying that inflation is rising too fast and they aren’t able to send any money home.  And, in June Dubai offered a free “amnesty” program for illegal workers and ended up flying 230,000 workers back to their home countries.  So, they are now at least 230,000 workers short and the construction workers that are still around are unhappy with their pay.  It will be interesting to see if the plan to have the city completed by 2010 will be fulfilled.  Other than shopping, there isn’t anything in Dubai of interest.  Well, they have an indoor ski slope and they’re building all sorts of theme parks (including one that is supposed to be larger than the country of Singapore) and those types of attractions.  Those types of things don’t interest us.  However, it was neat to see all the brand new projects.

October 25 (Thursday, Day 24, Dubai) –

We decided that we needed to see more of Dubai than what the free Hyatt shuttle had to offer so we did the hop on/hop off tourist bus.

The Taj Mahal . . . no, the Eiffel Tower . . . no . . .

Our first route was along the beach road and in front of the Al Barj hotel.  We were sitting in the back of the upper deck, in the open air (i.e. sun and wind!) and after 2 hours decided that we should get off.  We went into the stop at the next mall (City Centre) and decided to have lunch.  The food court was identical to a US food court and had 10 US chain fast food restaurants (including Krispy Kreme doughnuts) and 2 “local” ones.  We had “meat” (our choice was meat or chicken and we chose meat) shawarma sandwiches (like gyros) from the Lebanese chain and they were very good.  We jumped back on the tour bus and got off at the stop that allowed us to have our free dhow cruise.

A dhow is a traditional boat that is still used for cargo.  We had a one-hour cruise on one converted to a dinner dhow and it was very nice to see other parts of Dubai Creek.  We saw lots of cargo sitting on the side of Dubai Creek waiting to be loaded, by hand, onto working dhows.  The cargo (like PCs and tvs) were in their normal cardboard boxes, stacked five and ten high on the concrete banks of Dubai Creek and the dhows were lined up three and four deep waiting to be loaded.  The dhow sailors don’t have Dubai work visas so when they moor in Dubai Creek, they aren’t allowed to get off the dhows and sometimes they just have to sit on their dhows for two or three days waiting for their turn to get loaded so that they can then shove off and make their sailing to another country.

Sunset on the dhow

October 26 (Friday, Day 25, Dubai) –

Today we signed up for a desert safari.  We got picked up at the Hyatt around 4 PM and then met up with about 10 other 4x4s.  We drove about 15 minutes (and saw locals riding camels and horses in the desert just off the highway) and then got off the highway and on the desert.  The drivers deflated the tires and we went dune riding.  Snookums didn’t like it much since it was very similar to swerving all over ice. All the 4x4s stopped after 15 minutes of dune riding to let us climb out to look at the sunset and that’s when we realized that the sand was powder fine.

In the desert

We were also amazed to see vegetation here and there.  It wasn’t just miles of sand, but there were some green bushes scattered about.  Our driver got stuck on a dune and another 4×4 put the winch to our 4×4 and pulled us out, in reverse.  That was the scariest part since the car went very fast after being high centered on the dune.  But, the driver knew what he was doing and all was well.  One of the guys in the front seat of another 4×4 threw up at least three times since we kept seeing the passenger window go down and he would stick his head out and spew.  It was a lot like riding a roller coaster!

Desert sunset

Then the desert safari continued and all the vehicles (including vehicles from the other desert safari companies) drove to a central camp in the middle of the desert. There were tents, low tables and cushions on the ground for seats.

Camel riding (3 pics):

There was also a camel that we rode (for free) and a man with a falcon that we held and he then took our picture using our camera (and then demanded money and so we paid him.  We should have learned our lesson in Delhi about saying “yes” to something without asking a price but I guess we didn’t!

Snookums and the falcon guy

There was a center stage and a belly dancer performed.  She was very good and did five different types of belly dances that neither of us had seen before.  She wasn’t like the kind you see in Greek restaurants.  She was much better and her dancing much more diverse.

Belly dancing

Dinner was a barbecue buffet with various kebabs, salad, hummus and pita bread.  It was pretty good and we were hungry.  But, we didn’t pig out since we knew that the ride back would be bumpy and swervy (and therefore sicky).  There were sheesha pipes (hookah pipes, water pipes) that we could have used for free, but we opted not to.  There was a full moon which was nice since the lights at the camp weren’t very bright.  It was a nice night and we ended up getting dropped off back at the Hyatt around 11 PM.

The trip continues in Part Fifteen, here.
Part Thirteen is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.