Inshallah I'll get to Dubai

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Last night was one of my best experiences of the trip so far on the way back from Petra on the bus.  We stopped at some rest area for a bathroom and food break and the driver hopped out and sat down at a big table piled with steaming food.  The rest of us were loitering outside wondering how long it was going to take for the driver to eat and if this would be same day service back to Amman.  Out of the blue, he motioned for me and three other foreigners to come to the table.  The rapidly setting sun signaled that the Ramadan fast was about to be broken. 

I got to eat a typical Ramadan feast with a bunch of Jordanians I had never met before in my life and the food was delicious.  It was bowls of stewed lamb in all kinds of flavors with rice and pita.  You take a piece of pita, fold it in your hand and then scoop some meat into it right from the platters.  I am left handed so I had to make an effort to do it with the right hand.  If you haven't heard, the left hand is the one they use in the bathroom for certain things.  I won't go into detail since we are eating here. 

I couldn't believe perfect strangers included us "infidels" in their dinner celebration and the hospitality was amazing.  The man at the head of the table personally looked after us and made sure we had a constant supply of pita and rice to sop of the delicious stews.  After a quick 15 minutes of eating we were on our way back to Amman again.  This was one my most memorable evenings of traveling in a while.  I sort of wished the whole experience could have lasted longer and that maybe it would have stretched out beyond same day return service.

I said goodbye to Amman very early this morning, actually much earlier than I had planned.  I had arranged with the hotel manager for his brother to drive me to the airport at 6am which is not too bad of an hour.  At 4:45 am my phone rang and the front desk guy was shouting at me in Arabic and hung up.  It rang again and now someone told me in English to come down for my ride.  Right about then the muezzin started singing on the loudspeaker so I knew I wasn't getting back to bed anyway.  If my ride was downstairs now I figured he wouldn't wait for long and I was unable to communicate to the front desk that he was early.  It was about the fasted I've ever gotten ready in my life.

It turns out that my ride had someone else going to the airport already in the car so they just figured they would make me leave early.  It didn't make me happy at all but I did get to the airport in one piece.  Jordan handles airport security a little differently than in the States and only passengers can proceed to the check in counters and only after going through a metal detector manned by armed guards.  Because the Air Arabia counter wasn't open that early I had to wait in a tiny area outside check in and the guard wouldn't let me through a minute early.  He kept saying to come back at departure time which made no sense to me.  I finally got in eventually.  Once you get past passport control you go through security again to get into the gate but, again, you can't go through until they deem your flight is close to boarding.  I had to wait again and wonder when in the world they would let Air Arabia passengers through.

The plane was a new and very clean Airbus A320. In fact I don't remember ever being on such a clean plane but then again, flying the ATR lowers your bar when it comes to dirtiness.  During the boarding process they stopped the music and played some kind of prerecorded prayer over the PA system.  All I could make out was Allah Akbar being repeated many times and the whole plane fell silent.  What kind of airline is this I thought if it needs an extra boost from Allah to get there?  The captain then made an announcement and said "Our flying time from Amman to Sharjah is inshallah two hours and fifty minutes."  Inshallah means God willing and people in this part of the world include it a lot in their statements.  Again, I thought what kind of airline did I book on if the plane only gets there inshallah.

God was willing today because I made it safely to Sharjah and five minutes early at that.  Because it's Ramadan there was no service whatsoever enroute but it really didn't matter since I was the only non-Arab as far as I could tell.  Inflight entertainment was an Arab language movie but the catch was the sound was played over the aircraft's PA rather than through individual headsets.  I really wanted a nap since I had woken up so early but it's not easy to do when you have loud music going the whole time.  The male flight attendant said some kind of blessing before landing as part of his Arabic prelanding announcements and all I could make out was Allah Akbar again.  Us English speakers just got the standard raise your tray tables, etc.  I felt kind of gipped that the price of my ticket didn't include an English Allah blessing.  The whole experience was actually pretty neat though.

I knew I could get a visa on arrival into the UAE and I had no clue which line to go to:  eye scan, visa pickup, or immigration.  I asked at the info desk and the guy pointed me to visa pickup.  I got sucked into a throng of Pakistani migrant workers shouting and waiving papers above their heads at two ladies working behind the counter.  As this mass of Pakistanis and I edged and bobbed up the line a guard luckily told me I was in the wrong place and to go to regular immigration.  I just hoped it would be the right line this time inshallah and I made it through just fine.

I rented a car here since it's the easiest way around the UAE because there really is no public transport of any means (and what few bus stops there are have air conditioning!!).  Plus it's nice to have personal air conditioned transportation in this 100 degree humid heat.  It feels an awful lot like Atlanta during an August heatwave.  I booked an economy car and when the Asian lady at the Budget counter saw my passport she made a long, loud hissing noise.  I've heard that noise and knew it couldn't possibly be good.  So I asked her if everything was ok and her reply eventually was, "You not drive shift stick and now I upgrade you.  American make too many accident with shift stick."  My "upgrade" turned out to just be an automatic Toyota Yaris rather than a "shift stick" as she put it.  This thing drives like a Mercedes though compared to that piece of junk last week in Cape Town.

I saw all the sights of Dubai in about an hour.  The tallest skyscraper in the world is about to be finished.  It's almost twice as tall as the Empire State Building at over 160 floors and counting.  The developer won't say excatly how tall it will be until it's done.  It was impressive.  I also drove by the Al Burj Hotel which is a 7 star tower.  They keep the great unwashed like me out by charging a $40 toll to cross the bridge to it.  I am sure me and my Toyota Yaris would have fit in real good with all the sheiks.

The traffic in Dubai is actually worse than Atlanta's if you can believe it.  It took me 2.5 hours just to go about 10 miles across town.  There are skyscrapers and mega developments everywhere and a sign I saw said there are 260 more underway.  All this is being done without upgrades to the roads.  What highways and roads do exist are excellent but it's just hard to get around. 

Of all the 60+ countries I have been to I would have to unfortunately say that Dubai is the absolute most boring destination I have ever been to.  It does not live up to its hype in any way unless you like an aritificial world carved out of the desert.  Parts of it just feel like anywhere Phoenix or LA or Vegas.  Yeah, the architecture is pretty cool but once you look at a building for a minute or two, you are done.  It's just my may like it.  We all go for different stuff when we travel. 

There is no real city center with beautiful old buildings to explore here.  It's just suburban style malls and office towers without any real character.  At least I can say I have been here.  People rave about the place but I like somewhere a little more substantial and that has some real local flavor.  Case in point...the only place I could find to eat that wasn't closed during daylight for Ramadan or that wouldn't set me back a fortune was McDonalds.  It even had a drive through like back home.  If you are Donald Trump, this is the place for you with its expensive megamalls, high end restaurants, million dollar homes, etc.  If you are just an average person like the rest of us, it's just another big city with no soul or vibe.

One thing I have learned here is that this city is built on the backs of Pakistani and Indian migrant labor.  They get paid almost nothing and their employers hold their passports so they can't leave to go back home before their contracts are up.  These guys are building all these mega skyscrapers and developments that just defy physics like building islands shaped like a palm tree in the ocean where there was once no land. 

Tomorrow I am headed to Kuwait inshallah so I will see you there if I can find inshallah an internet connection.

P.S.  The two pictures in this entry are all I took in all of Dubai since there isn't really anything interesting to take a picture of.
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