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Dubai: the America of the Middle East
My trip to Dubai started a bit bumpier than I anticipated. Hurricane Sandy caused my departure to be four days earlier than planned, but it was either leave right away or postpone my trip for weeks, an easy choice, I felt. I packed my suitcase, grabbed my passport and wallet, and got on a flight from Kelowna to Vancouver within hours. The next day I arrived in Washington Dulles, where luckily I was on one of the last flights out. The airport closed shortly after and I sure was thankful not to get stuck in Washington sitting out a nasty hurricane.
The flight from Washington to Dubai takes 13 hours and I arrived on Monday, Oct. 29, late afternoon just when Dubai experienced their own sandy storm (Dubai gets on average 100 sandstorms a year), but theirs was less severe than the Sandy storm on the east coast of the United States. The temperature was great though, not wintery at all, 35 degrees and humid, so quite the adjustment.
Leaving the airport, one right away gets a crazy Dubai experience: traffic. It is amazing how people drive, honking horns, leaving signals on, making turns wherever and whenever they see fit, or just driving backwards in case they’ve missed the turn. Best is to keep your distance and stay calm. Next thing you notice is the enormous amount of construction going on. All buildings are “grand,” but Dubai makes sure that the landmarks they build are bigger, higher, and better than anywhere in the world.
Dubai is one of the seven emirates. It is located along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula. It has a population of almost 1.7 million people, roughly 15 per cent ethnic emirates, 10 per cent Arab, a very large group of Indian, Pakistani and Filipino workers and a small group of Western ex-pats. There is a huge difference between the rich and the poor and that is very visible. People who own a car for instance are the wealthy ones; you don’t see old cars — it’s all big, sporty, and shiny. The poor people don’t even own an old second- hand one. They own nothing.
The most beautiful building in Dubai, at least that is my opinion, is without a doubt The Burj Al Arab. Owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the lobby is built with pillars of pure gold. Unreal! You can’t just get in this hotel to have a peek; there is a security check point. You need to either book a room or make reservations for a meal. Bring your cheque book, neither is cheap, but very much worth it. The view from the restaurant Al Muntaha is amazing, the building is amazing, and the people that stay come either in their Rolls Royce or on their camel. One wears a suit, another wears the official Arab thawb. West and east meet each other, and it is definitely worth a visit. Consider booking an afternoon tea, the cheapest item on the menu at US$75. Make sure you book in advance, as there is a two-month waitlist. Otherwise, don’t look at the price and go for the views and the lobster dinner and know this is a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience.
Another landmark is the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. Our own CN Tower in Toronto is 553 meters high, the Burj Khalifa is 828 high and has 160 floors. The elevator up from the main floor to the observation deck on the 124th takes roughly 30 seconds; this obviously is the fastest elevator in the world with a 64km per hour speed. Once on the observation deck, you’ll have spectacular views all over Dubai. Sun set is at 6 p.m., so it’s worth while to go up at 5 p.m. to see the view at daylight and at sun set. You can get to this tower through the Dubai Mall, a place with more than 1,000 stores, an indoor skating rink, an underwater zoo and aquarium, and the Sega republic theme park. Or just enjoy the fountain ballet outside. And if you wish to pin for some extra cash don’t get mixed up with the ATM gold machines. No money but a bar of gold will come out after pinning. Only in Dubai!
Although taxis are an inexpensive mode of transportation, I can definitely recommend using public transport in Dubai. I travelled mainly by myself using public transport which is well organized, on time, easy, cheap, and got me to all places on the wish list. Dubai at night is vibrant with locals going to the bazaar and Global Village, a huge bazaar where many countries in the world display their authentic foods and products. Mainly Arab and Asian countries, but nevertheless, I was able to eat original Dutch poffertjes (a small pancake/crepe, very popular in the Netherlands), and as a second generation Dutch-Canadian that was fun.
One day I did an organized tour to Oman, the country next to United Arab Emirates. Oman is again a totally different world; it is a rocky desert but has a beautiful coastline. The bus ride is about two hours and there are plenty of tour operators who offer day trips to Oman. I was on the bus with four other people, two from France and two from Quebec. And being a French immersion student at Seaton secondary, we made a connection. Oman is well-known for its diving and snorkeling opportunities. The reefs are world-renowned and I felt very lucky to snorkel there with some new friends from Canada. What a great day!
A definite must in Dubai is to do a desert Jeep tour. My cousin, who lives with his family in Dubai, got some friends together and with three cars and 15 people we drove into the desert. Always be prepared, the desert is hot, dry and of course your car will get stuck in the dunes. Although we were with three vehicles and enough manpower, we couldn’t get the car out. Good thing a local showed up out of nowhere and he got us out within a minute. We were only a little bordered by the substantial damage on the car, because it is something all people know. You travel into the desert with a nice car and no doubt, you come out with a damaged car. The desert seems a world away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai, but is only a 45-minute drive.
Although I did a lot of tourist things I was also able to go to Kite beach where on Friday (the Sunday for the Muslims) this popular beach in Dubai is filled with local families. It is a fun place where lots of activities like soap football, surfing and kayaking take place. Every couple of hours you hear the Imam calling Muslims to go the mosque for their prayers. Other things I can recommend is paying a visit to Wild Wadi Water Park, a water slide park, renting a boat for a Persian Gulf tour, going indoor skiing at the Mall of the Emirates and paying a visit to the old Dubai at the Dubai Creek.
Dubai is an emirate where you see one extreme after another; it is lively, different, a place where eastern and western cultures meet. As long as you stick to the rules, which are very clear, Dubai is a safe and pleasant destination. Although I visited my family, I also travelled lots on my own, during the day and at night, and never once felt not safe. Best travel time is between November and April when the temperature is great, not too hot, but warm and pleasant. One more important thing, Canadians need a travel visa in order to enter Dubai.
Lucas Oordt-Bosman is a Grade 11 student at W.L. Seaton secondary school. He was in Dubai from Oct. 27 to Nov. 12, 2012.