We got through Melbourne Airport with relative ease. Our luggage was still over the weight limit but they let us through anyway. Once past the security gate we sat down and relaxed, waiting for our flight. It was 2am and we had been awake all day. No rest for the wicked though, we still had two flights and about 18 hours of travel in total before we reached Dubai.
Dubai was a big culture shock for us. Mainly because the City itself was a huge clash of cultures. As you fly in you get amazing views of a vast city, the tallest building in the world dominating the skyline. To the west is the Persian Gulf and to the east is sand. It looks surreal and other worldly. When you land its hard to know what to expect as you step out of the plane. As the door opens the air-conditioned cabin is filled with hot air and you quickly start to sweat. Outside its 46°C and the breeze doesn’t do much but blow the sand around. This creates a thick haze that makes it almost possible to look directly into the sun. We knew we were not on a different planet but it felt very foreign to us Europeans.
The surreal sensations quickly left us once we went into the air-conditioned airport and reality kicked in as we got to the baggage claim to collect all our stuff. The bags came out first and everything looked okay but as the bikes came out we were concerned at the state of the packaging. At this stage my bike box had several holes and tears from being rough handed that weren’t there when we had packed them in Auckland. I reassured Jasmin (and myself) by saying ‘Its fine, they only need to survive one more flight until we’re home’.
Luckily getting to our hotel was pretty easy. We loaded everything onto luggage trollies, wheeled them outside, hailed a taxi and got there with minimum stress. This time it wasnt a tent or hostel we moved into but a proper hotel. A bit fancy, but this stop was going to be our last five days of travelling and we wanted to treat ourselves and have a comfortable place to stay. We checked in, freed ourselves off all the luggage, had a quick shower and then headed out again to explore the city.
One of the first places we went to visit was the Souk district in Al Ras. This place was alive with activity and also, a little bit intimidating. This was our first encounter with genuine ‘Persian Carpet Salesmen’. You may have heard of the term before but nothing can prepare you for their sales tactics. They will try every trick in the book to lure you in and if you give them your attention for just a slight second (even to say no) then you’re already hooked! I’ve been pestered by tuk tuk drivers in Bangkok and I’ve been to the bus depot in Johor Bahru and this place is just like them…on steroids.
Still, walking through the Souks is an experience that will make you stronger in the end. We actually really enjoyed it there and went back a few times during our stay. It’s a great place to pick up some strangely unique stuff, buy or sell gold or dress yourself like an Arab. We were on the hunt for a silk scarf, and we reckon we got a good deal.
As a total contrast to the Souks that rather felt traditional and ancient, we travelled with the metro to some of the newer parts of the city that represent the glorious wealth of the land. Along the way we could see the shape of the Burj Kalifa starting to materialise through the sandy haze. Once out of the Metro we got our first proper view of the world’s tallest building. We were awestruck. At 828m its higher than most of the mountain passes we cycled over in New Zealand. It’s a building that looks like it would fit better in another world and reminded me of a white Isengard.
Most of the time we used the metro to get around. The city is too big to explore by foot and it’s too hot to walk around anyway. At one stage we decided to walk from the Metro stop at Dubai Internet City to the Monorail station that takes you to The Palm. The distance was only 2km but it was just too hot so we gave up after 700m and hailed a taxi.
The Palm is another marvel of large scale construction. It’s a massive man-made Island, in the shape of a palm tree, that is even visible from space. On its completion it added over 60kms of shoreline to mainland Dubai and is the location of some of Dubai’s best hotels. Most magnificent of all is the Atlantis the Palm. We were on a budget so our trip out to The Palm consisted of drinking iced coffee in Starbucks (which was expensive).
At night time it was a bit more comfortable to walk around, although it was still in the high twenties. One evening we took a stroll along the creek where there was a nice mixture of cafés and restaurants along the water’s edge. The night time air and the smell of shisha seemed to soothe the temperament of the people around us. It was definitely a more relaxed atmosphere than on the previous day in the Souks.
For our last day in Dubai we booked ourselves an evening tour to the desert. We normally don’t book tours like this but it seemed to be the only way to get into the desert and we didn’t want to leave Dubai without putting our feet in the sand at least once.
The tour was a trip to the desert with dinner, drinks and some activities to do there aswell. It all sounded nice but to say the least it was a disappointment. We paid an up front fee and were told that everything was included from there on in. When we got to the place we were shocked to realise that we still had to pay for everything, none of the drinks were included and none of the activities were included either. One of the things we considered doing was taking a camel ride but when we seen how badly the animals were treated (mostly by the other tourists) we decided it was better to leave them in peace. The other tourists didn’t seem to have much of a problem throwing their beer bottles and plastic cups into the sand either.
…But our main reason for taking the tour wasn’t for the dinner, the camel rides or mixing with the other rude tourists, it was to come and see the desert. At this stage we were about 100kms out of the city and 20 minutes off the road into the sand. We snook off from the camp and climbed up and over two large sand dunes to a place where we were alone and could enjoy the views. We spent a while at the top of a dune and enjoyed a wonderful sunset over the desert. The strangest thing was that we were able to look directly into the sun as it went down and it disappeared into the thick sandy haze long before it reached the horizon.
As an added surprise, Jasmin got word from home that her sister had given birth to a baby girl and that she would be returning home as an Aunty.
Thank you to everyone who has followed our trip through this blog. This last year has been a real adventure for us, full of ups and downs, sometimes literally in the form of hills. We have had our eyes opened to the world around us and now that we can see a bit more clearly, we want to see more. We have learned a lot and grown a little bit but fortunately not enough to say, we need not travel more. Thanks for sharing the good times with us and if you have enjoyed our pictures and words so far, then there’s plenty more to come.
Alan & Jasmin