Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Its 11.30 at night as we touch down once again in the Emirates. The dusty, dry and warm air smacks us in the face to reminded us that we are in the Middle East and definitely no longer in Latin America. You can see the sky-rise at ground level. The steel city of modern ingenuity reaches to the skyline. A pristine environment of wealth, consumerism, religion and lots and lots of sand. Apparently the money from oil trade is slowly fading and tourism is becoming Dubai’s second largest money earner. Tourism and the money spent in the retail giants like Dubai Mall, the largest shopping center in the world and the hospitality industry where Philippine staff wait on their international guests hand and foot.
We move through customs without too much trouble although millions of commuters that pass through the airport hub to get to all quarters of the world ensure the lines to clear immigration are always to capacity. Again the Emirates immigration officials sit behind their Kiazon counters with white gowns, red and white checked head scarf and a highly complacent attitude. They wave you to the counters, take their time, don’t smile, don’t look you in the eye and don’t even bother asking for your documents…you should know the process. I get the impression that they see visitors as dollar signs fulling the economy and are probably not too concerned as to where you’re going and where you’ve been…even an Israeli stamp in your passport is suppose to be OK…something we will find out in a few weeks time. The difference between where we now are and Latin America are first and third worlds and again it takes some time to adjust. The efficiency of the taxis, the structured city, the speed of the Maserati’s on the road and the comforts of World Trade Centre 1, where we will spend the next five nights.
We check in and are greeted with the most seamless and welcoming customer service. Probably immigrants and definitely not Emirates, we are handed the key to our 11 floor apartment. Again, the cultural difference and service orientated behavior are world apart from our Caribbean friends. Its nice…real nice. We open the heavy curtains that surround our room to block that harsh morning sun rising from the east and our view is off the tallest building in the world. The Burj Khalif sparkles like a diamond at now 2am in the morning and the rest of the city is still lit up with colorful little lights reflecting of glass and steel. We are above Sheikh Khalifa main highway and traffic is still whizzing past in a place where people probably don’t spend much time sleeping. Its a fast past city pushing the boundaries where the Sheikh prophets to be the most modern city in the world. And I can so far attest to this.
So over the next five nights we only have a few tasks on the agenda. Firstly, Wadi Groumet…the delicious Lebanese restaurant situated in the Dubai Mall overlooking the fountain. We have been dreaming of shawarma, hommus, tabouli, pita for a long time and the food just melts in your mouth. This is the type of food you could eat forever…although I vaguely recall saying that the first time I tried rice and beans and the thought of anymore of that now makes my stomach turn. Secondly is some shopping, its what you do here and we are only one stop away on the stellar metro.
These guys know how to take the lessons learned from the most modern engineering feats in the world and then, do one better. The sky trains of Singapore or the Japanese Shinkansen are brilliant, but this system is perhaps the latest and greatest. Simply purchase a ticket for a few Dirhams, top it up when required and progress upstairs to the platform where something more like an alien worm made out of steel appears every 4 minutes and takes you either one way or the other to get to any area of this expanding city.
We make the mistake once to enter the first compartment, you couldn’t call it a carriage. Minding our own business a young lady with headscarf calls out “Excuse me Sir, this carriage is only for ladies and children”. Then after a quick glance around we relies that everyone is mostly Burker covered and yes, they are all female. A little embarrassed Murray replies “Oh I’m very sorry, I didn’t realise” and quickly moves to the next compartment. Some young girls in front smile shyly. On a second trip a young boy with two friends run to the train and when his friends miss it he turns around and tries to reopen the closing and beeping doors. “NO no no. You will get fined!” The once silence on the train is filled with upset commuters and suddenly the closest guard just appears out of know where. The boy is compliant and will hopefully catch up with his friends elsewhere.
Again, the cultural gap couldn’t seem wider. The controlled society with harsh penalties keeps its people respectful, organised and civil. You can get fined here for swearing…as an Aussie in the airport did and was locked up for two weeks. You could argue that there is no room for self expression or freedom but Dubai and the Emirates are one of the safest places in the world. So used to watching our bags, our money, worrying about ATMs or even being mugged violently or worse…things like this just don’t exist here.
We shop and shop and shop some more and decide to leave a bag filled with goodies at the hotel we will return to just under a month later. And then there is the giant aquarium, the largest in the world where Murray wants to dive. And like most things in Dubai, anything is possible and he is soon kitted out, briefed and in the water like a goldfish while I run around taking video and where shoppers point and little kids wave at him through the glass. Instant celebrity status.
Its time to head back to the airport to take our Gulf Air flight to Bahrain and then another on to Cario. Our Intrepid tour starts in 2 days time and we have a refreshed attitude and a little more energy to see a new part of the world. And this time we are going to be chauffeured around where we have paid someone else to do all the hard work. We’re ready, we’re set and off we go.