THE AMAZING CONCRETE JUNGLE
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
325Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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JOURNEY: Barcelona to Dubai 5,200 kms by air
WEATHER: Warm in Barcelona;
Very hot in Dubai 40+++.
After a busy and fabulous week in the gorgeous city of Barcelona, we said goodbye to Frederique and made our way to the metro for a train to catch the Airport Bus at Plaza Catalunya, and then 20 minutes later we were at the airport. Love Barcelona Airport!
The Royal Jordanian flight to Dubai stopped at Amman and was comfortable and the meals were good; Kath had read some bad reviews of this airline online, and we were little nervous about what we would encounter. We definitely rate this airline very highly!
We landed in Dubai after midnight and the airport experience was just awful, especially when the
UAE is touting Dubai as a fabulous tourist destination. Passport clearance was so slow and disorganised and we were horrified to witness the Arab's treatment of the hundreds of foreign workers waiting to clear Immigration with us. We noticed very few fellow tourists and hoped that this was just a slow night but people told us later that this is a typical airport experience. So we stood an hour waiting to clear immigration and then into the dark humid night to get a taxi to Tricia's house at Jumeirah Beach- we were led to a "ladies only" taxi and we eventually arrived after some difficulties locating the house-Tricia eventually directed the driver by phone.
We called Tricia's house "the cool oasis in the concrete jungle"; it was spacious and comfortable-airbnb accommodation at $75 per night including a really generous breakfast. Tricia and her daughter were delightful hosts and Cena the housekeeper was a treasure! We adored their 2 desert dogs Smoky and Marley.
Visiting Dubai at the beginning of summer is not a good idea- the day temperatures were already in the 40's, the dusty humidity was stifling and it close to impossible to explore on foot which is our preferred way! The 2 km hike to the bus stop one morning left us panting, burning and sweaty; the bus stops are airconditioned cubicles and give some relief.
On another ocasion we walked to the nearby Jumeirah beach for a swim in the warmish Arabian sea but felt less than refreshed in the smoggy afternoon and found the ambience more suitable for the young Arab petrol heads who descended on the beach soon after our arrival to play with their jet-skies. We very much appreciated our air conditioned house on return.
What to say about this man made city of excesses and extravagance?
Dubai was only established in 1833, and was ruled by the Ak Maktoun family who still rule today.They came under the protection of the British in 1892 because it was an important port and trading area.
When oil was discovered in 1966 life changed in Dubai- wealth poured in, the population increased by 300% and the ruling family Ak Maktoun set about creating a modern metropolis in the desert. The shieks of this family were determined to make Dubai a business hub with huge construction projects, free trade, financial services and later tourism and huge real estate developments. They wanted to put it on the map and they did!
The British had left in 1971 and the UAE United Arabic Emirates was formed with Shiek Ak Maktoun the designated head of the Emirates.
We were amazed to learn that the population of Dubai at about 1.5 million is less than 20% Arabic, the rest is made up of foreign workers, predominantly Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Filipino with about 1% from Europe and the US.
You rarely spot an Arab at work; the Asian workers don't have legislated human rights and often live in cramped and unpleasant accomodation with no legal rights. If they lose their job they have just a month to find another or leave the country. This applies to all workers, including Tricia who has had a business in Dubai for 19 years; non Emirates cannot retire in Dubai, no matter how long they have resided in the UAE.
Some foreign workers are lucky to have good empoyers but we heard horrific stories from some Filipinos empoyed as housekeepers about the treatment received in Arabic houses.
To escape the heat we took the hop-on, hop-off Big bus and explored this town of concrete and extremes.
The weirdest projects are the Palm Islands (1 completed and 2 more to go!) and The World, artificial archipeligos of sand dredged from the sea just off the coast, in the forms of a palm tree and the world which is claimed to be the only man made structure visible from space. Some of the islands of the world have already sold- Australia is one of them, but with the global economic crisis there is some doubt about The World's future.
The Palm however is very much a realised dream and our bus wove its way past grand residences and hotels, culminating at the Atlantis on the Palm, a hotel with the ultimate water adventure parks. And by the way there is planning for 35 5star hotels to be built on this palm.
The Dubai Mall is the largest shopping mall in the world!!
Here you have access to the Burj Khalifa and pay $25 for "At the Top" adventure up into the world's tallest building in the world's fastest lift. This project was the idea of the sheik and involved new technology, architects and designers from all over the world and thousands of immigrant workers.
We admit we were impressed and spent some time learning the details of this amazing edifice.
You can also find a full size ice skating rink and a huge aquarium with the largest single piece of acrylic wall enclosing the tropical fish in the Mall.
But the shops impress with amazing window dispays and designer names, offering anything you might fancy. We don't shop except for food and wine and since alcohol can only be bought and consumed at hotels and nightclubs we explored the fascinating food shops with sweets, chocolates and delicacies from all over the world.
Only very few stores can sell pork under special licence and we found a separate section of the Carrefours supermarket with a range of ham and pork products. We could not find our new favourite- Spanish ham - so left empty handed. We did enjoy examining the supermarket aisles for Dubai style groceries.
Wafi Gourmet was a huge Lebanese deli. and restaurant and we had a superb meal there while we watched the light and music show at "The World's Most Spectacular Fountain" set in the grounds of the Mall. It is an impressive extravaganza of water, sound and lights.
On the subject of water and lights- Dubai uses more water per person than anywhere in the world and of course there is no source of water except the sea so all this water is, at huge cost to the economy and the environment, comes from de-salination!
And lights and electricity, well you would never see a place so illuminated at night and in the malls etc. All buildings and malls use air conditioning that is often cooler than needed. So this country is an ecological horror and noone seems to mind. And really without all this energy Dubai would not exist in its modern form. Car ownership is more than 2 per person.
The Mall of Emirates has a ski field where we saw skiers in full gear taking the chair lifts to the top of the fields and skiing their way down the slopes and it was 40+ degrees outside. Pay $50 for 2 hours skiing!
And you could keep on going with all this Disney like stuff. Oh, yes they have Dubailand which when completed will be the largest theme park in the...you've guess it...in the world! And in many ways you feel like you are in Disney world. It's a masculine city of tall phallic concrete towers reaching to the sky and you imagine that the influence of the men has impacted without a female aspect. The biggest, the best, the fastest, the only and so on!!
The Arab men look cool and superior in the ankle length white cotton kanduras and scuffs, while the women appear fully restricted in their extra long black abayas with their faces covered.
We took the mandatory "Desert Safari" which included dune driving in a four wheel drive through the sandy desert just 30 minutes from the concrete jungle- unfortunately the trip through the dunes was more like dune bashing as the drivers veered up and down and around the peaks and pits. Our co passenger, a Japanese man was so terrified that he screamed and covered his face for most of the 45 minute adventure. We were pleased when we stopped to allow the engine to cool and we wandered the hot sand and marvelled at the contrasts in this place.
Unfortunately the desert showed sad signs of the lack of respect this country has for the environment- plastic bottles, rubbish and our Indian driver and guide gave no commentary on the geology or history of this great sandy expanse- maybe it was preferable that he concentrated on the driving. He told us he had been doing this trip every day for 10 years.
We visited a camel farm, and enjoyed an Arabic BBQ dinner in the sandy outback just as the sun set, received a henna floral tattoo and watched some Dervish whirling and belly dancing. Very touristy but the only way for us to get to the sandy desert. Tricia told us that camping trips to the desert are wonderful in the cooler months!
A sail along the Dubai Creek in an Arabic dhow late afternoon, gave us another perspective of the city but the the heat was a negative in the still smoggy air.
Unfortunately when we left the dhow we had our usual difficulty getting a taxi driver to take us to our next destination. We learnt that the best idea was to get into the back seat, close the door and then give the destination- otherwise if the driver feels the trip is too short he pretends not to understand. Getting home was a greater challenge as we were in the residential area of Jumeirah 2 and our street address always got us lost- we finally gave a nearby corner landmark and walked from there. Taxis are cheap if you are taken directly from A to B!
In summary, Dubai is an interesting experience and we felt we needed to go there to check out all the hype. Shopping is the main attraction, as are the 5 star resorts. The ruling family had a long term plan to build Dubai into a tourist destination, which seemed an impossible dream to those observers who took note of the plans some years ago. Today millions of travellers stop over to shop and explore. There are activities to suit everyone and the light life is rated highly! Most are impressed by the experience and it is a very safe destination.