she said (UAE): "YOUR HAIR STYLE IS VERY...UNIQUE. IS THAT THE NEW STYLE NOW?"
June 29, 2015
Desert Safari attempt round two: Awesome! Even though it was a rough start, we are SO glad we did this as it turned into a highlight of our trip so far. The trip is touted as "dune bashing" through the desert followed by a "traditional desert camp experience"...of course, we take this with a grain of salt and interpret it more like driving casually through the desert sand and eating at some camp in the desert. We were picked up by a driver in a Toyota Land Cruiser and assumed this vehicle would transport us to the tour site. Our driver was so funny and we had tons of great chats until we stopped and picked up another 4 people--4 lovely Indian men who we smiled at and said hello to which they reciprocated but were otherwise, pretty reserved. Unfortunately they all had a serious case of extreme BO that almost choked us out when they got in. This was made worse when we put two and two together (the steel roll bars should have been the first clue--how exciting to experience safety standards at last!) and realized that this was actually the vehicle we'd be "dune bashing" in for the next several hours, ahhhhh!! Luckily over time your nose does acclimatize to BO (we're learning so much about what your nose can physically acclimatize to on this trip!) and it stopped firing, thank goodness. The vehicle drove us into the desert and our first stop was some sand dunes where you could rent an ATV and drive yourself around the sand dunes. Our amazing tour guide spoke to some people and negotiated to get us the two person ATV for the same price as the single even though I didn't even want to go. Bridger went for awhile on his own because by this point in our relationship, I know that he likes to be on and in stuff all by himself. Fine by me.
He took off and I became engaged by watching all walks of life out there driving away in the dunes. It was actually hilarious to watch. There was the guy who rolled his ATV right over, the Arab guy in a full business suit puttering very cautiously along, the African dad and his son who spend half the time spinning out in the same spot, women driving in full abayas and burqas and my favorite, an elderly middle eastern man in his full body white robe with a giant grey beard.
As I was watching the scene out of the corner of my eye I saw a blur blaze across the dunes and from where I was a far ways away, what looked like a near miss (which could very well have been 35 m apart for the record) and I cringed. And then about 10 seconds later I clued in that it was freaking Bridger, ugh!! Eventually after he'd had his real rip, he came back to get me for a quick ride...I flipping hated it. I really like the ATV when we've gone on it at home but this was a different league in pure loose sand. I was sure we were going to flip over, crash into something or roll of the side of a sand dune which Bridger drove, what I perceive to be, perilously close to the edge. After enough requests to get me off, he almost stopped before he gunned it one more time to do a last donut before releasing me to my own two glorious feet.
When we looked around we noticed that the parking lot was full of Toyota Land Cruisers just like ours and curiously, the drivers started to let some air out of their tires. I didn't think too much of it until we got back in the vehicle to do the "dune bashing" (i.e. desert sand driving and maybe some slow rolling over some piles of sand). Nope, we didn't at all expect this-- this was like professional course dune bashing, all drivers ripping towards the edge of a dune and literally dropping so fast at an angle so severe that you couldn't see the ground anymore or careening down the edge of a dune before driving off the side or zipping up the side of a dune such that our vehicle was almost completely sideways. To this day I'm not sure how the sand didn't give way and send us rolling down the side. It was actually so unexpectedly intense for both of us. Bridger couldn't stop giggling and as much as I tried hard to hold it in, I kept screaming and then furiously apologizing for being the annoying screamer as we blew off edges.
After doing this for about an hour, our driver stopped for a photo op at the top of a sand dune with a view of an incredible sunset over the desert. But the best thing about stopping was just taking our shoes off and jumping around playing in the ridiculously fine, beautifully reddish sand of the dunes.
We ran, jumped and threw sand and I log rolled down a dune. Now this is something that in hindsight I don't recommend at all! As it turns out, fine sand knows no boundaries.
It was in my hair, ears, eyes, inside my pants, inside my shirt, under my bra straps, in my mouth. And equally charming, it requires very little moisture to entirely coat and rigorously stick to something, in this case, my chest, stomach, scalp. I tried to brush it off to no avail and then resigned myself to being a sand monster for the rest of the evening. Both Bridger and I had sand stuck in our eyes for days after this desert trip. I was so enamored by this incredible sand that I started filling my pocket with it, something that seems so normal for me coming from a pathological rock/sand/shell collecting family but has obviously not occurred too much because the tour guide was incredulous that I would do this. Anyways, our guide then pulled out a snowboard and said "who wants to do sandboarding?". We said "of course!!" and I was the first to give it a go.
First attempt on the small dune started good until the board came to a halting jam in the sand and I didn't and was sent running forward. Next attempt was the bigger dune and this time I kept going and it started to be really fast so I launched myself off and continued down the hill at the same speed on my feet. It's a wonder that I didn't split my only pair of loose pants wide open. Then Bridger was up. He did so good until the last minute near the bottom where he bailed hard in what I can only describe as a back belly flop...it got a collective "ooooh" from the crowd at the top. He got up and I could tell he was in distress talking something about his butt. I assumed this meant that he fell hard on it and ripped his pants but actually he was talking about his butt hole which he described as feeling like it's been ripped open haha. So we can only imagine he fell hard and the air pressure either popped his butt hole open and punched air up there or he stretched and ripped his butt hole. We retired from the extreme sport of sandboarding and continued to frolic in the dunes. Haha maybe it's the wide open space, maybe it's the heat or maybe it's the sensory overdrive but I LOVE sand dunes. Bridger laughs because he says he wants to go to deserts every day because he has never seen me more giddy and purely happy. Haha, that doesn't fare well for our regular life in the prairies of Alberta...
We left here and went to the desert camp, basically a walled off compound in the middle of the desert. There were so many things to do in the camp that we almost didn't even have time to get to everything before dinner was served. We rode camels for the very first time in our lives...actually it may have been the first time we have seen real camels? Camels are nuts by the way. They are just the most bizarre creatures that ever lived. After watching them lay down to get on them, I'm quite convinced they must have 8 joints in each leg because I swear there were about 7 bends in different places before these beasts made it to the ground!
We filled ourselves with free drinks and appetizers. I got a henna tattoo on my arm. Bridger tried on the traditional white Arab robe and we took pics.
And we smoked shisha for the first time. For like an hour. Haha weirdly enough it was a really tranquil time hanging out, smoking shisha and chatting with people as the sun went down.
As a historical non smoker of anything, I don't know how to smoke anything so it was a challenge to see how much I could get down and also, can I blow smoke out my nostils...I can! In summary, we became tacky package tourists...and had a ball.
Finally, in the middle of the desert at a table with the Indian guys from our SUV, we had the most huge, incredible buffet we ever experienced. During dinner they had a bowl dancer and a belly dancer as entertainment. By this point, the Indian guys were hilarious. As we had been hitting up all the "centres", the Indian guys had been drinking steady and by now, they were all coming out of their shells and were so friendly and just genuinely celebratory of being on vacation. Haha they were all over chatting with us even with their limited English, fighting each other to do so, finding out about Canada and sharing info about India and insisting that if we come to India we can stay with them which we obviously reciprocated. And they were amazed by the GoPro so we passed it over while they played around with it so now we have some pretty funny pictures as they snapped away.
On the way home at like 10 pm ish, our tour guide, who by this point we'd developed quite the rappore with, dropped off the Indian guys. Assuming that we'd get dropped off next, we were surprised when he parked the vehicle and said "tea break" (ok well I thought he said "pee break" which did seem a bit strange) and he took us into "the best" shisha place because at the start of the trip we had said that we had never tried shisha and he said the camp shisha was only ok. We ordered a round of teas and two shisha pipes and chatted away while smoking like chimneys.
Haha it was definitely stronger than camp because there were a few times when I took a big puff and again, as a non smoker of anything, felt so lightheaded and had to bail out of the conversation for awhile because I just couldn't concentrate on anything! Again, I was lucky that Bridger can hold his own for both of us while I tap out! At the end of it all, our tour guide paid for the entire thing even though we tried to pay. Once we left, once again, we assumed we were going home because it was like 11:30 pm. Nope, this time we did a quick convenience store water stop which our tour guide also paid for and then continued a midnight, impromptu Dubai city tour haha. We drove by a ton of buildings with a full explanation that I can't remember, the king's house and then we went down to the Burj Al Arab (Bridger says, the most luxurious hotel in the world where you can only arrive by helicopter or Rolls-Royce) and the beach for pictures at night. It just kept going until like 1 am. Haha at one point we seriously started to consider whether we had been kidnapped! I'm not sure if this all came about because he felt bad about the initial screw around or if he really just liked us alot and wanted to hang out with and take care of us. Given the amazing hospitality of middle eastern people that blows the socks off anywhere else in the world (we would come to find out), we really think it just came down to the latter. We think he was just so happy to meet some younger, friendly, chatty people that he was more than happy to extend the offer and hang out with us with literally nothing asked in return. If you're ever in Dubai, seriously, call Manan (0556443306), he was amazing!!
Since we had only visited inside the Burj Khalifa inside and at night, the next day we headed down so Bridger could get some day time pictures in front of it. Luckily it was another gorgeous, sunny desert day so we were able to get all sorts of shots, the biggest problem being trying to get the entire bottom to top in one picture. One more score for the GoPro fish eye lens. One thing that happens when you travel for awhile is that your pictures all start to look the same and pretty boring...Stand and smile in front of different things. Haha sometimes Bridger and I even stop and think "what could we do different this time" and often come up still empty handed so we stand and smile some more. Or other times we try to do different thing and end up looking either depressed, try-hardish, or otherwise terrible. On this particular occasion Bridger decided we were gonna do the dip, a move that seems to become harder on my back each year of my life. Luckily this time he was sober so it was a far gentler attempt than most. We set up the GoPro and made a go of it. This seems easy and I'll admit, would be in Canada. However, Dubai is still very conservative, especially around "relations" between men/women, especially in public. This has been really challenging for us Canadians where we just mindlessly throw a tap or a slap at each other as we walk down the street together. Once again, as much it appears so new age and liberal, don't be mistaken that it is not still run, at least in part by Sharia Law (or so I read) so the whole time I worried that such gluttonous shows of affection, even if merely for a photo-op would be breaking some sort of a law?? Definitely on my guard the whole time and ready to run fast away from anyone who tried to talk to us around these shots!!
Actually one thing that keeps coming up over and over in Dubai completely unsolicitied is local people telling us how safe it is. We constantly hear how there is no crime in Dubai, it's safe to walk anywhere all the time, if you leave your cell phone somewhere you'll come back an hour later an it will still be there, it's so safe the king himself only has two guards and so the story goes. Ultimately I think there is just heavy law and order kept with harsh penalties for offenders. Hey if it works to keep criminals away and safer for the regulars, sounds good to me.
Between the things purchased on the road, the sand collected and clothes never used, we've been carrying around an awful lot of extra weight that we wanted to mail home. Too bad Cambodia has a terribly unreliable postal service, most things never arriving. And then it was the same story in Laos. And then Philippines has somewhat reliable post from the provinces and quite reliable post from Manila, however, the post office was so far away we were advised that it would be a super expensive taxi ride so probably cheaper to send via DHL which is super expensive. For months we dreamed in vain about mailing stuff home. After carrying our "excess baggage" for 3 months too long, we finally knew Dubai was our place, if only we could find a freaking local postal office with cheap shipping (which are nowhere) and not another DHL/Fedex or the like (which are everywhere). Imagine our excitement when we found out that the museum we were headed to in Old Dubai had a post office right next door. Oh, sorry it closed 5 minutes before we got there. I tell ya, never in a million years would we ever have thought that mailing things would be such an impossibilty. At least we could wander around the museum and the Bastakia Quarter, a restored version of Old Dubai.
One evening we took the metro (LOVE the metro, so cheap!) to the Gold Souk, an entire market dedicated to jewelry sales. Definitely not in the market for purchases as it was actually real stuff and way too expensive for poor long term backpackers like ourselves but we planned to wander and just look and experience our first gold souk. Why we didn't anticipate the hustle, we'll never know, but there were smartly dressed men in suits everywhere trying to pull you "just down the street" into their store. At one point, one smartly dressed man asked Bridger if he wanted a fake Tissot watch and Bridger blinked with interest and that was it, we're sucked into following him down a narrow lane into a store where they welcomed us in...right through the secret door in the back of the store covered by stuff. Haha you've got to be kidding me, it's one of those kind of places?!? Bridger went and I staunchly refused to step foot in the store at all, even in spite of the 42 offers to sit on the infinite numbers of stools around. Mostly I just paced back and forth outside but at least if he disappears down this dark secret door one of us will be free to attempt to coordinate a rescue mission. I let out a huge sigh of relief when he eventually surfaced again and gave me the play by play of the jittery sales people bringing out cases of fake watches clearly indicating that "we could get in big trouble for this". So somehow on that quiet side street of the Gold Souk, we experienced our first foray into the underground counterfeit jewelry market! Haha Bridger said at one point as he was standing awkwardly with one of the guys while the other went to get more stuff, the guy broke the silence by trying to make conversation. He said "your hair do is very...unique. Is that the new style now?" haha. After an adventurous night, we came home to try to upload some pictures to Dropbox while sitting up in bed. Bridger is always blown away by my sleep behaviors so at this point he wasn't even surprised that I was still sitting upright, "looking" at the iPad screen while being completely asleep. We gave up on pictures after this happened about 29 times.
Oh my gosh we finally made it to a post office and mailed about 17 pounds of stuff home! It cost about 80 USD which by this point, we were more than happy to pay. It was such a weight of our shoulders (haha). We immediately headed out on the metro to the Marina Beach. We got on the metro no prob and somehow missed the stares until, thank goodness, a lovely Filipino lady kindly informed us that "this section is for ladies only". True to her word, we looked around and it was me, Bridger and a bunch of ladies only. We immediately skittered off to the next cart. So...the Dubai metro is cheap buuuut it also has a ladies only section and a VIP section. Don't go in those sections (unless of course you are those things which we are not). Marina beach was in a super resorty part of town and flanked on all sides by towering hotels, the palm/Atlantis Resort and the Burj Al Arab. Can't really complain because it was a sandy beach but we actually much prefered the Jumeirah Beach with far less people, cleaner water and the Dubai skyline in the background.
One fabulous day in Dubai Bridger was checking his email and started jumping up and down and giggling in a way that can only be descirbed as maniacal. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or panic because, for all intensive purposes, he appeared to be having a psychotic break. Heart beating, I asked what was up and through his giggling he yelled "I just got an extension on my leave of absence until October 1!!!!". And just like that, we were given the gift of time...the best thing you could have given us (we'll sort out money later!)...actually nothing could have felt better on this trip!!! All of a sudden, quite literally a world of possibilities was open to us again so we spent the entire morning revamping our plan and once again, it took a drastic 180 degree overhaul. It was 1 pm, our flight to Rwanda was leaving the next morning at 6 am...and we cancelled it...and rebooked to Jordan instead. Instead of going from the Middle East all the way down to Africa and then back up, we'd head to Jordan where they give visa on arrival (Turkey needs to be applied for in advance and we weren't sure how long it would take to get it), then on to Turkey and then fly from there to Africa. Yes, the middle east was back on the table!!! It may have been the most exciting day of the trip so far!
We ended up having to book the Jordan flight a few more days down the road because of availability so we by default, ended up buying ourselves another few nights in Dubai. Unfortunately we had already agreed to get out of our room by 3 am the next morning because other guests were already coming, not a problem when we were going to the airport for a 6 am international flight, more of a problem now that we weren't! Long story short, it ended up that we ended up having to pay again for a room to sleep in from 2 am onwards even though we had already paid full for the last one which should technically be good until 11 am the next day. From a business perspective, I get it, from a humanity perspective, a bit of flexibilty would have been appreciated under the circumstances. We were tired and mad so the next day we ate the entire rest of the complimentary eggs for breakfast. We ate way more eggs than we needed to be full. Ha, we'll have our vengeance. And then we checked out.
We moved to a fabulous hotel in Old Dubai that was a bit more upmarket and "service oriented" than we had ever experienced before. It actually made us come to realize how uncomfortable we are with the service industry. We've now spent so long doing everything for ourselves that it is really foreign to have people open doors for you, carry your bags around, pass me towels, pick up our sweaty gym towel after us, try to be really nice to us. I'm all for paying for services that I can't do myself or am just not good at, but it just almost feels exploitative to have people serving us for things that are either so trivial (why shouldn't I have to just pick up my own towel off a neatly folded pile?!) or would take no effort on our behalf to do ourselves (drop our own sweaty gym towel in a bin)! Why is there even jobs for this stuff and value for people in being served like this, especially given that you don't see people from Canada, the U.S., the UK etc. working in these jobs?! Not to go on an idealistic rant but how did this ever start anyways?! Ultimately it's origin has white colonial roots whereby the lower class/poorer people dote over the higher class/wealthier people for things that humans should be able to do themselves should they not?!? I dunno, maybe under different circumstanees we'd feel differently but just an obsolete given our current situation in the world.
Anyways, what we did highly value was that the hotel had a complimentary breakfast buffet every morning, a pool and a gym. We hit up the gym, had a great workout and on the way out noticed the hours: 10 am to 9 pm. Unless you are a lady, then it's 10 am to 2 pm. I bit my tongue about asking the guy what it was all about and tried not to be too offended. Especially because I was in there at 3 pm. We hit up the pool mulitple times in the few days we were there and were passed complimentary hotel pool towels for our visit. This doesn't seem like a big deal but it is a stark contrast to everywhere else where we experience a towel gauntlet even just to get one for showering--you either don't get one so are resigned to use your 2 foot by 3 foot microfibre towel, have to pay to "rent" one (isn't that just stupid?!) or give a deposit until you return it. We also noticed a water cooler outside the gym so we secretly sneaked up and filled up our water bottles...for free! And then we started hoarding water bottles and sneaking up late at night with like 4 water bottles and filling them up so basically we snagged all our drinking water for free for the entire time we were staying there. Budget traveller score!! Haha the unfortunate byproduct of an extension for Bridger is that he operated his finances based on a 6 month trip. So hardcore penny pinching starts now! The nice thing is that Old Dubai is sooooo much cheaper! All of a sudden we could get a full street food meal for like $5 instead of the $20 you spend anywhere in the new part of the city. On one particular shawarma purchasing incident, Bridger got a chicken shawarma but noticed that the guy in front of him got falafel too. He was now hellbent that he was also going to get falafel in his chicken shawarma too and insistent that I order one of these for him as I ordered my own. Not knowing any different, I did as he said. The poor cook guy was so confused when I said I want a chicken schwarma with falafal and in broken English kept trying to clarify what it was that I wanted and kept saying that falafel is vegetarian. I said sure, whatever. He eventually did it and I asked him if nobody ever has chicken shawarma with falafel and how I was only following orders from the boyfriend. And then all of a sudden it became clear and I understood. The guy in front of Bridger was obviously a vegetarian and got falafel INSTEAD of chicken but Bridger didn't know any different because he sees wrap and automatically interprets chicken shawarma and tells me to get the same. So of course the poor guy is confused because essentially I'm ordering a vegetarian shawarma...with meat. Anyways, equally exciting as vegetarian and meatatarian shawarma, there was the fastest, cheapest internet cafe so close so we spent a pile of time working on the blog. It was a really nice, chilled out few bonus days in Dubai.
Everything tastes better when it's free and the hotel buffet was no exception. It was also the place where I realized that it's not just people in Asia that are fascinated by looking at Bridger...it may possibly be people all over the world. I'm not even kidding, there was a baby in a stroller that was screaming bloody murder and his parents pushed him through the restaurant. As soon as he saw Bridger he stopped abruptly mid cry and stared quietly as he rolled on by!
By the end, our Dubai trip turned into something like 10 days or something and I still felt like there was more things that we could have done to keep ourselves occupied. Even though Dubai was more expensive than your average backpacking destination and I can see how that could scare independent travelers away, there were lots of cheap things to do. And though more expensive, overall we found Dubai exceptionally good value for your money. Everything that we did was incredibly high quality and there were multiple times when we wondered how we could be getting so much for how much we paid! Dubai is built to impress. Customer service is the rule here and everything, even Tim Hortons has a touch of luxury and elegance to it. The other thing that was such a welcome reprieve was that the traveling vigilance level could come way down. We didn't have to confirm and reconfirm an agreed on rate when we got in a taxi or specifically ask them to turn the meter on, we didn't have to count change to make sure we got everything back, we didn't so much have to worry about people scaling buildings to break in and steal your stuff, we didn't have to worry about momentary inflation of prices because we were tourists (well these didn't really apply to Korea or Philippines either).
Finally, as we flew out in the day time, we saw the legendary Palm and the World that we missed on our night time flight in.