Halo Men Abu Dhabi

Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
Trip End Apr 17, 2009

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Flag of United Arab Emirates  ,
Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Our flight from London to Johannesburg, South Africa came with a free stop in Abu Dhabi. We felt we should take advantage of the opportunity to see the city, so we stayed over a couple of days.

We arrived late in the evening and it was still hot and sticky. Abu Dhabi is far from a backpacker mecca. However, our hotel--The Al Jazeera-- had AC and the BBC. We slept in our first morning due to our late arrival and the 5 hour time change. It was unbelievably hot (about 43 degrees Celsius) when we went out for food and water so we quickly retreated to our room. In the evening we walked about 6 miles along the harbor towards the fish markets, garden centers, and a small mall. The park along the harbor was very impressive.  One felt like no money was spared. Lots of families head to the malls to escape the heat. One mall was exclusively devoted to gold--AKA the gold souk. As we left the gold souk to go back outside, Ray said to Candy, "You'll probably never hear this again from me, but I really don't want to leave this jewelry store."

We only had enough time in Abu Dhabi to be confused by the many odd combinations in the city. It seems like much of the city's population is made up of guest workers from places like India, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc. The people who appeared to be citizens typically wore robes and head coverings (the men white; the women black). In restaurants, there were sections where women could lower their veils to eat while screened from the rest of the patrons. However, waiters and busboys could go beyond the screens.

Abu Dhabi seems to allow non-Muslims to bring alcohol into the country. In fact, the hawkers at the duty free shops in the airport try to ensure that you do bring some in! At the same time, there was an extra layer of customs looking for banned literature, music, and movies in people's suitcases (although the searches didn't seem terribly rigorous).

It was very interesting to see the men rush to the mosques when the call to prayer was sounded over the city. The malls also have prayer areas. Before entering, Muslims perform many ablutions--particularly the washing of the feet. So, the mall bathrooms were quite wet from the men stretching their legs up on the counter to wash their feet. The women have their prayer rooms in the toilet area.

The people we dealt with were probably the most generous and honest we've met so far in our travels. At the airport, when we asked where a phone was, people gave us their cell phones to call hotels. While we talked, they would walk away on other business. So when we completed our calls, we had to look around to find the person to give him his phone back (looking for a guy with a beard in a white robe doesn't narrow down the search that much at the Abu Dhabi airport).  As another example, the number system we use is called "Arabic numerals." However, the numbers on the coins in Abu Dhabi don't look like "our" 1, 5, or 10s. We sort of figured out the denominations based on how much change we expected to get from our purchases. However, we then discovered that, say, a 1 dirham coin could be of different sizes. We often found ourselves just holding out a pile of coins and letting the vendor pick the proper amount. As a final example, the clerk at our hotel gave Ray back about $15 on our second night in the hotel because the rates were lower than what we paid the first night. Still, with all these favorable encounters, it was disconcerting to see maps with no reference to Israel.

The actions of the government are quite curious to observe. When we bought our first of many bottles of water, we asked the price and couldn't believe the answer (about $0.25). We later observed at the grocery store that the store "agreed" to limit the prices on staples like rice, pasta, etc. because the government was concerned about inflation. Other actions of the government are particularly odd. For example, the government decided to build aluminum smelters. After completion, they realized that they didn't have enough electrical capacity, so the plants don't run that often. We later met a Belgium couple who lived in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai are two of the Emirates). They told us about a huge new city that was built by the government, but with only one road going in or out!

We took a cab to see the Emirates Palace Hotel--allegedly the world's only 7-star hotel. We believe the claim. The most expensive room is about $15,000/night. The off season rate for the cheapest room was about $400. At that price, we'd stay there--but we'd not recommend the off season in Abu Dhabi. We observed some of the off season maintenance-- re-gilding the ceilings with a fresh coat of real gold! http://www.emiratespalace.com/en/home/index.htm   http://www.virtual-emiratespalace.com/

Several other buildings in Abu Dhabi are equally impressive. The world's second or third largest mosque looked as impressive as the Taj Mahal. The Belgium couple told us that when the mosque was being built, the emir would fly over in his helicopter and the builders would show him the equivalent of giant paint swatches to get his approval!

We finished our time in Abu Dhabi at a mall with many reminders of home. We ate at IKEA and looked at the indoor ski slope (closed for maintenance unfortunately). Overlooking the ski slop was a Caribou Coffee!

Tune in soon for some of our adventures in southern Africa and to see Ray's new African hairstyle!

Candy and Ray
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