Wednesday, May 24, 2006

22 Hours in Dubai

A short jaunt out of the African Horn took us to the opulent desert city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The population of Dubai is made up of 20% citizens, (Bedouins who struck it incredibly rich when the oil started spilling) and 80% foreign laborers (Indians, Filipinos and Westerners who will never be granted citizenship even if they live and work in the UAE their entire lives.) Lately city planners have launched a massive PR campaign to try to put this modern Shangri-La on the map.

We arrived at the airport at 2AM with a 22 hour lay-over and we knew that we had to make the best of every waking minute. We booked a $90.00 hotel room, which was decent, but while Sierra showered and I shaved, the drain in the bathroom exploded with salty fecal water. Sierra reminded me that Bedouins have only been harnessing the power of water for personal use for a little while and not to get too bent out of shape. I calmly and politely called the front desk and told them that our bathroom was filling up with shit. They gave us a deluxe room. Now there’s something that you have to understand about Dubai, we’re talking about the most opulent places on the planet, home of the world’s only Seven Star Hotel, so our room went from a $90.00 room to maybe a $500.00 room, at no extra charge. Sweet.

After a quick snoring session, we got up and tried to walk downtown. Looking up from our perch on the side of a daunting multi-lane highway, it became obvious that Dubai is not so much a city at this point, as it is an idea. The vast majority of the city is under construction, and giant concrete skeletons fill the skyline. Making matters worse is the fact that there is no downtown, so we spent an hour baking in the desert sun before finally hailing a cab and asking to be taken to the mall. And that’s when we left the most steaming desert I’ve ever experienced (hotter than the Israeli, Egyptian and Mexican Baja deserts combined) and entered a gargantuan mall housing a 32 story, -2 degree, indoor ski hill.

After a two-week stay in amenity-starved Ethiopia, we spent many delightful hours shopping and gorging on food and sensory input including an amusement park with an indoor climbing wall.

Then we donned rented winter gear and headed to the slopes.

That evening, after wasting 15 minutes trying to crash our way into the Seven Star Burj Al Arab Hotel by pretending to have dinner reservations, we decided to continue our quest to find a place to take a walk and get an outdoor visual of Dubai, but again we failed. In a charitable effort to help our plight, a taxi driver ferried us to the smallest beach I’ve ever set foot on: a tiny patch of sand and waves, crammed in between 2 construction sights. With nowhere to walk and much foreign currency to burn, we decided to head back to the airport (which houses its own lavish mall) and go on a two-hour shopping spree.

With the hardships of Ethiopia now a distant memory, we took off for India with full bellies and a fleeting sense of overwhelming materialistic bliss.


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