Christmas in Dubai

30 December 2013

Finally, we are on the road to Dubai! It is December 24, day 32 of our journey to Brazil, and after struggling for two days to get Pele out of the port of Salalah, we started our journey at the first light of the day. Our plan is to be in Dubai on Christmas day and covering the 1350 km from Southern Oman to Dubai in one day is a daunting endeavor but for now the breathtaking coastal scenery distracts me from worrying about this.

The route along the Indian Ocean coast northwards from Salalah must be one of the most spectacular coastal drives anywhere in the world – the completely deserted beaches with the backdrop of towering mountains and the striking color contrasts of black, red and orange volcanic rock, white coral sand and turquoise ocean leave us speechless. After several hours of driving, we stop at one of the endless white sandy beaches and jump into the sea. As I am enjoying the revitalizing sensation of the water, I can't believe my eyes as less than 20 meters away a school of dolphins gracefully passes by. I feel a sense of wonder at the beauty of this place which so far is completely undiscovered by tourism and conveys a sense of being at the end of the world – in the last hour we haven't met a single other vehicle on the dramatic road that at some point takes us with impossibly daring curves to the top of the mountain range and offers out-of-this-world views of the coastline below. The only potential road hazards are straying camels – we have been warned by credible sources that if we hit one of them, it will inevitably turn out to be a highly priced champion race camel!

300km into our journey to Dubai, we say good bye to the coast and from here onwards, it leads us through endless desert, barren nothingness which makes it hard not to get sleepy while driving and doze off. I realize that I underestimated what it means to drive 1350km in one day – this is the equivalent of driving from Mombasa to Nakuru and back - and we finally reach Dubai in the early hours of the next day, where we meet our colleague Poonam from India. Having driven more than 20 hours at a stretch, I immediately fall into an exhausted sleep.

Dubai Having met Florian and the team in the wee hours of the morning in Dubai, I'm glad to finally be part of the grand trip. Christmas Day dawns on us with a benevolent smile and we look forward to starting the day with renewed energies that we require to shop, shop and shop a bit more. We set out to conquer the Dubai souks, trying out the local cream and white taxis. Dubai is multicultural, multi-faceted and multi-just-about-everything, yet a group of varied nationalities travelling together is unusual. Our taxi driver looks on confused as we all scramble into the taxi saying: Yes, we are together!

The brightest feather in Dubai's cap would definitely be its tolerance for all and sundry without any preconceived notions. So languages mix and so do skin colors and burqas and hijabs vie with mini-skirts and latest fashion trends. Even the burqas here are not far behind in the style quotient! Never have I seen people turning the black all-encompassing robe into their own unique fashion statement, be it with embroidery or with a little clever play of colors! The crowd is from all corners of the world and from all walks of life: You meet Indonesians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians at every step although we didn't come across any Kenyans.

One of the highlights of Dubai is a nightly Dhow-cruise on Dubai creek. Having booked the hotel's own Dhow, we move to get lost in the maze of souqs and shops again. Emerging after what seems like 15 minutes, but has been a couple of hours, we realize that we are not going to be able to make it back to the hotel to be picked up for the cruise. Troubleshooting and a few calls ensure that we can simply go directly to the Dhow, for which we'll have to cross over Dubai creek to the other side. Evening traffic looks daunting but right in front of us is one of the water-taxi-stops. Spontaneously hopping onto one of the many water taxis, it is a pleasant surprise to find out how inexpensive it is (around 25 Ksh) to enjoy crossing the creek without being stuck in a traffic jam! A short walk through a small ancient looking bazaar at the other end and then along the creek takes us to our dhow. The magic of a cruise starts unfolding soon, the mouth-watering delicacies and the sight of brightly lit Dhows passing by are enough to enchant us and the contrasts of old and new with colorful, atmospheric souks next to ultramodern high rises is puzzling and one of the main drawing cards of Dubai. Suddenly, a whirling dervish appears out of nowhere. If you haven't seen a drum-juggling dervish with a lit-up two-layered skirt doing his magic, it is a mesmerizing sight to behold! The Dhow takes us till the creek end, where unknown dark waters create a contrast with the lights on both sides of the creek, and back. By now the water-taxi-veterans, we hop on to another one crossing Dubai creek and head back to our hotel.

The next morning takes us to the Sharjah port from where we will take an overnight ferry across the Persion Gulf to Bandar Abbas in Iran. Having completed a - compared to Oman - very efficient customs process, we head back straight to Burj Khalifa, the tallest building on earth and one of the landmarks in Dubai. Once inside the elevator, we hardly realize we are moving at a speed of 10m per second to the 124th floor and to the top of the world. The view from there is spectacular – we spend around an hour on the platform high above the ground looking down at the curvature of the earth and the magnificent buildings in the vicinity. The 7-star exclusive Burj-al-Arab hotel can be seen and also Palm Jumeirah and The World islands. Having had our fill, we come down to ground reality in the Dubai Mall again and have lunch near the huge fountains in the shadow of Burj Khalifa. It's a place, where one can spend a whole day just taking in the ambiance. The fountains come alive in the evening, the waters reflecting every single note of the accompanying music, but the ferry awaits and we have to rush back to Sharjah.

At the ferry check-in point the hall is full of burqa-clad women and mostly bearded men waiting for the gates to open. Here it is advisable not to click photos at all, even of each other! Since we don't know this and Florian clicks one of me, he is immediately greeted with a loud sound of protest from one of the women sitting next to me, only her eyes showing through the tiny slit in her burqa. How does the world, or for that matter, they themselves can figure out it's them inside the burqa is beyond our comprehension, but we try to pacify her by apologizing: First Persian word learnt and used – Motassefam (sorry). After a little while, I start feeling out of place and cover my hair with a scarf, this seems to pacify the woman next to me even further!

Dubai On the deck I am pleasantly surprised by a voice speaking to me in perfect English: Lonely Planet to Iran?  It is Jasmin, an English teacher returning to Tehran after a futile search for a job in Dubai. Surprisingly, Iranians find it difficult to get a job in Dubai; a glance through the history confirms that the tensions between Arabs and Persians have existed for centuries, manifesting themselves in this form in the present day. Jasmin and I connect immediately, talking nine-to-a-dozen, and exchanging information about ourselves and our countries. The ferry takes a long time to move, I doze off sitting in the women section (Yes, men and women sit separately on the ferry) and am woken up by Jasmin as the ferry starts to move. It is a sight to behold and the Dubai silhouette dominated by Burj Khalifa stays with us for a long time.

Wonders of Oman
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Time since Start of the Journey:
Arrived in Rio de Janeiro on Day 202 after our departure from Nairobi!