Around the UAE
Pros: interesting and
modern place, nice experience
I finally found an Internet Cafe in Dubai -- it is quite a ways
from my hotel but fortunately cabs are extremely cheap here. It
looks like I won't be able to keep up with this travelogue as much
as I did on my Peru trip since tomorrow is my last full day in Dubai
and I am having serious doubts about finding an internet place in
I have taken long flights before -- 6 1/2 hours to Lima, 9 hours
to Paris...I've taken long train trips, like the 14 hour trip from
Switzerland to Hungary...but nothing, NOTHING, is worse than a 22
hour trip from Houston to Dubai. Imagine having nothing but airline
food to eat for a full day....
Dubai (and the entire UAE) is very interesting to say the least.
All of the modern buildings were not constructed until the oil revenues
began flowing into the coffers of the shieks, and that did not happen
until the early 1970's. As a result, all of the modern buildings
are less than 30 years old since no industry prior to oil would
have been able to sustain such a building boom. It seems like everyone
here drives a Mercedez-Benz or a Land Cruiser. The oil boom has
certainly been kind to the UAE and Dubai.
I am having trouble figuring out the economics of this town -- it's
simple to figure out that the people that drive the Mercedez' around
town probably work in the oil or import/export businesses. Certainly
the discovery of oil has benefitted many people, but not everyone.
Dubai is not a cheap city, and there is a large number of people
that own small shops throughout the city that are no larger than
the shops found in the markets in Mexico that sell very specialized
items, such as kitchen pots, or pens and paper. And from what I
saw, there were very few people actually buying items from these
shops. What I cannot understand is HOW these people live in this
expensive city. Their shops are in the heart of the city, where
I imagine their rent is not cheap, yet some have been here for quite
some time, as evidenced by their aging signs hanging over their
shops. How can someone that sells only kitchen pots afford to live
in such an expensive city? Even if everyone within a few miles radius
bought their pots from him, could he really make enough money to
live on? Confusing. Frustrating.
Walking around the streets of Dubai is interesting, but it does
get old. This whole nation is nothing but a big sand-pile, and I
had to figure out a way to see more than just Dubai and other cities.
I found a tour agency that offered "Desert Safaris" and
I heard that it's great if you can take an overnight safari, so
I booked myself on the next available tour. I'm not sure safari
means the same thing here as it does in the US -- when I hear safari
I think of wild animals...and unless you consider a camel a wild
animal, it wasn't really a safari. But what was fun was riding shotgun
in a brand-new Land Cruiser as we drove all through the sand dunes
for hours....several times the other passengers thought the car
would roll over (OK, I was afraid once or twice), but naturally
the driver was more skilled than we were and we had no problems.
At the end of the dune-bashing, we stopped at a camp where we had
the opportunity to sand-board down the dunes (same concept as snowboarding,
but not near as exciting). They also had a BBQ dinner and a bellydancing
show. At the end of the evening, everyone began making their way
back to the cars and I asked my driver where everyone was going.
He told me that everyone was going home, and that I was the only
one that would be spending the night. Alone. In the middle of the
desert. Great. I have to try and remember who it was that told me
to do the overnight trip instead of just the evening trip...it was
nice sleeping out under the stars but it sure would have been more
comfortable sleeping in my air conditioned hotel room instead of
sleeping in 85 degree heat all night. All the stories I heard of
the desert getting cold at night were a farce...It may have gotton
down to 65, but only for a brief minute. It's always nice to wake
up in the morning, sweating, and having to wait for 3 hours before
you can shower....
I was excited to come to the Middle East and look through the shops
they had, especially the rug shops. I found myself in a rug shop
the other day looking at a beautiful 3'x6' rug made in Iran out
of silk. The shopkeeper told me it took the woman in Iran 8 months
to make it. It was truly a work of art, but, as with other pieces
of art, it had a hefty pricetag. The shopkeeper told me "Special
price, just for you". Too much. Then he told me the "special
special price". Still too much. I didn't feel like sitting
around waiting for the iteration of this "Special price"
game that would make it affordable, so I left. Besides, what was
I doing looking at a 3x6 rug that had a "special special price"
of $1200. So for those of you that were hoping for a Persian Rug,
don't hold your breath. Even the cheap ones were over $150. Maybe
I'll grab some from Wal-Mart when I get back and just tear the "Made
in China" tags from them before I give them to you....
Tomorrow is my last full day in the UAE. I am planning to rent a
car for the day and drive to the Buraimi Oasis (which is in Oman)
and to a few towns on the East Coast. Hopefully they will give me
the car even though I only brought an expired Texas drivers license.....we'll
Sorry for the last entry -- I had all but 5 minutes to post something
and when you are using a computer with a 28.8K modem you can't do
much in those 5 minutes...
After leaving the UAE, I flew into Karachi, Pakistan to meet a friend
from work (Shayan)who is from there and who's family still resides
there. Fortunately he was waiting for me outside of customs. I thought
that the UAE would prepare me somewhat for what I was about to see.....not
Pakistan is an interesting country, to say the least. I haven't
been to too many places yet, but in all of the countries I have
been to, I have never seen traffic like here. I think that traffic
may not be the best term to use, since most people think of cars
when they think of traffic. Well, traffic here includes camels,
donkeys, little moped/golf-cart looking things called ricshaw's,
bicycles and even pedestrians. And these aren't minor neighborhood
roads...this was on the main road leaving the AIRPORT. Families
of 5 (yes, 5) on one little motorcycle. Donkeys pulling carts full
of various items. Buses so packed that people are sitting on the
roof and hanging on the laddars on the back. Blatant disregard for
lane markers. No one stays in their lane. The road may have 3 marked
lanes but there are 5 makeshift lanes, with mopeds and motorcycles
squeezing in between cars wherever they can. I think Karachi just
gave up on enforcing traffic laws because it would mean changing
the driving habits of all 13 million residents.
Yup, they are everywhere, and they are MAD. Brandishing old AK-47's
from the former USSR and burning American Flags....just kidding...
This was one thing I was a bit concerned about -- the last thing
I wanted was to eat some meat that has been hanging in an open-air
market for 72 hours. Surprisingly, the food is not bad. The only
drawback is that it is spicy. Sure, we all think we can handle spicy
foods...guys think they can "suck it up" and get through
one or two meals with food they wouldn't eat otherwise....so even
after I was warned about the spicy food, I said it shouldn't be
a problem.....well, it was. The food is so spicy that you can't
even tell what the meat is...after two bites I couldn't eat anymore.
Fortunately Shayan's parents anticipated that and had some "american"
food prepared for me....unseasoned chicken legs and mashed potatoes...thank
God someone had some sense...
To make sure I didn't have a repeat of the "Prague Incident"
(which, for the uninformed, was a pretty nasty case of food poisoning
I had in 1997 in Prague) I primarily am sticking to breads, fried
foods, and powerbars. Bottled water is a given, wherever I go. There
have been a couple of dubious meals so far, but (knock on wood)
so far no problems.
Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in the ceremonial "goat
killing". Sorry guys, maybe next time. (for those of you who
don't know about the goat killing, you probably don't want to know...)