Once we left India we cruised into the High Risk Area for Piracy which includes the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. Our first day at sea included a mandatory safety drill in which we were informed of all the procedures and precautions being implemented on board our ship. These included lights out on the outer decks, closing of all shades and curtains, boarding of an Israeli security team and implementing 24 hour patrols around the ship's decks. High powered water hoses were placed in position and the LRAD device, the sonic noise blaster, was set up and armed. The upside to this is with the lights out the stargazing is fabulous. Cruise ships are usually over lit, so this was a most pleasant change. Outdoor dining was not allowed while in the HRA. Since this is our favorite dining venue we missed our alfresco dinners, especially on these warm, balmy nights.
We passed into the Strait of Hormuz, over the area where Osama bin Laden was buried at sea two years ago. Our first stop in the United Arab Emirates was Dubai. From off shore we could see the Burj Khalifa towering in the
hazy sunlight. We met up with our friend Jane at the foot of this, the tallest building in the world. Jane is an American who has lived and worked here for a number of years. It is always so nice to get together with this lovely, intelligent woman and hear her take on the world. We spent the afternoon getting caught up on her life in the UAE. That evening we went out on the town with Jane's son, Tom and his Spanish wife, Esther. They took us to Old Dubai, which is our favorite part of this Emirate. We took abras, the water taxies, which crisscross Dubai Creek. Tom and Esther took us through the old souk and the narrow alleys of Little India. They showed us their favorite inn, which is styled after an ancient caravansary. We took another boat down the creek for a great Arabian dinner under an open air tent. Many of the diners were smoking the sheesha pipes, even some burka clad women.
Dubai is a city of contrasts. This jet-set oasis is like Las Vegas without the gambling or Disneyland without Mickey Mouse. It is a glitzy shopper’s paradise while at
the same time a fairly traditional Muslim society. Dubai is recovering from a big economic downturn but it appears that more fabulous buildings and malls are under construction. Tom told us that in 1967 there were 13 cars registered in the whole sheikdom of Dubai. Now the traffic is unbelievable especially during rush hour. The ambitious World Island project has come to a halt and all that can be seen of it are the empty sand islands that have been dredged to resemble all the countries of the world.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the British educated leader of this Emirate and has followed in his father's footsteps of moving his country in a different direction from Saudi Arabia, Iran and other conservative Islamic states. Rashid has several wives and 23 officially acknowledged children. Vivienne, the ship's social hostess from Ireland, worked for Sheikh Rashid for many years. During our time in port, His Highness sent a car to pick up Vivienne to join him for lunch at the palace.
We headed further up the Persian Gulf to Doha, Qatar. This is an independent sultanate and the home of Al Jazeera satellite news network. This former
Native Californian now living in Dubai
fishing and pearling village is now fashioning itself after Dubai by building resorts, malls and sports arenas. There is Formula 1 racing and World Cup Soccer There is also the tension here between the traditional Islamic Sharia law and modern mores.
The colorful Souq Waqif is a step back in time with its falcon shops and camel pens. The new island development of Pearl Qatar is a look into the future with its high-rise condos, deluxe hotels and elegant marinas.
The Sheikh of Abu Dhabi is the head of the UAE and his country is the most financially stable of the Emirates. We went to the fanciest of mosques which was quite impressive. We had to don burka style clothing in order to enter the mosque. For the women the robe is black and polyester, which soon begins to feels like a sauna in the Middle Eastern heat. We wanted to have lunch at the Grand Emirates Hotel but were turned away because Kevin didn’t have long pants on. He had brought an Indian longhi wrap to cover his legs, but even that wasn’t acceptable to the Indian guard. So we just viewed the six star hotel from
Our last stop in the Emirates was in Fujairah. This port is the gas station for all ships heading east and west. It is the only Emirate on the Indian Ocean and thus the UAE oil is piped here for transport to all of us petrol thirsty countries. After days of the heavy duty touring we decided to take a beach break for the day and swim in the Indian Ocean before heading to our favorite Arabian country of Oman.
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