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Published: December 11th 2010
Something was amiss when I awoke to catch my early flight from Abu Dhabi to Amman and Tel Aviv. My sense of reality was uncomfortably altered; I could have sworn that 10 minutes had elapsed whilst lying in bed considering the day’s travel plans, but my watch revealed that only 60 seconds had passed. The situation became more curious when leaving my hotel room for a taxi to the airport, everything seemed surreal, as if in a dream. A full day of travel was ahead of me, so I bravely fought this disorientation until my condition deteriorated rapidly after depositing my bag at the airport check-in counter. The voices of airport staff sounded like a distant echo, but I clearly heard a female saying, “Are you okay, sir?” My reply meekly passed my lips, “I feel terrible...” She pointed me to some chairs whilst a supervisor for Royal Jordanian airlines was paged.
Given my distorted impression of time, it seemed an eternity before the friendly staff member arrived, but it probably was only a few minutes. He sat near me and spoke in a hushed voice, “Sir, you are not well, you shouldn’t fly today,” and I reluctantly acquiesced as
I was fast losing the strength to disagree on anything. Within thirty minutes I had rechecked into the hotel, where my diminishing strength gave me barely enough energy to stagger to my room. However, any opportunity for extended rest was impossible due my constant lunges to the bathroom. My delirious and uncoordinated state transformed the bathroom floor’s polished tiles into an impossibly slippery room, and instead of staggering around, it was easier to run in and slide across the floor on my knees to arrive at the toilet bowl with perfect timing – quite exciting – but for all the wrong reasons.
As I forlornly contemplated the empty toilet rolls piling around me I figured that though it was terrible to miss a flight, there are far worse places to be ill in the world than the UAE; I had a quiet space, clean bathroom, comfortable bed, room service, cable television and an endless supply of toilet paper from housekeeping. My last bout of travel illness was back in 2004, so I was at least thankful for a long period of healthy travel. I drifted off to a delirium filled sleep and woke in a terrible sweat, this was
In desperation, I called two people who would be saviours – Elizabeth and Greg. I had met this expatriate couple at a wedding of a mutual friend in Australia last year. Their generosity was immense, Elizabeth even offered to collect me from Abu Dhabi the next day and to drive me to Dubai. When we finally met in the foyer, she exclaimed “Gosh, you look terrible” but unfortunately, I felt far worse than I looked. The journey to Dubai was bearable as I still had a slight fever, so shortly after arriving I headed to bed for another delirium filled sleep. My health didn’t improve, so a hospital visit to obtain plenty of medication confirmed that I had contracted something nasty in Yemen, and it would be days before I could travel again.
Given my health I was restricted to observing the city within a very limited area. This included discovering a peculiarity of summer life in a Dubai apartment; to cool a shower one must turn on the hot water because it is regulated to a lower temperature than the scalding “cold water” coming from pipes subjected to prolonged periods of high temperature. The most
satisfying revelation was watching daily episodes of camel racing on television. Poets would laud the achievements of the renowned racers whilst images of these camels standing amongst sweeping landscapes and slow-motion running footage were shown. Races along the ten kilometre course were also broadcast with an excited commentator passionately describing the proceedings; essential viewing for any camel lover.
After a week of enforced respite, I finally commenced my journey towards Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. I’d lost some strength and weight due to being unable to consume much food, so the prolonged recovery time was prudent, but it still impacted on my energy levels for many days afterwards. A dozen days later, I returned to Dubai possessing a full health to enjoy the benefits of the city. I again stayed with my Australian saviours and through their excellent hosting, was able to see life in Dubai through the eyes of expatriates, which is far different from the experiences of a tourist.
Though Dubai can be uncomfortably hot during summer, the place is less crowded compared to winter as many locals leave the region for cooler climes; so the reward for bearing the heat is to enjoy a
more relaxed city. The UAE is known for excessive displays of wealth, and I beheld three impressive examples whose magnitude induced a different type of delirium to that I succumbed to on my previous visit to the country.
The 828 metre tall Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building, and its 160 floors dwarf the previous record holder, the 508 metre tall Taipei 101. Having stood beneath both of these mega-structures , the Burj Khalifa is clearly the more impressive, with its spindly form guiding the observer to the heavens. Adjacent to the building is the world’s largest shopping centre, the staggering 112 hectare Dubai Mall, with cinemas, aquarium, skating rink and 1200 shops to tempt the most jaded consumer. My preconceptions of Dubai Mall as being tacky disappeared when walking through this massive complex, it was tastefully decorated and though obviously ostentatious in terms of size, it wasn’t in terms of appearance.
On one day, Greg and Elizabeth drove me to Abu Dhabi (which seemed a brighter place with my health recovered) to witness the amazing Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (named after the founder and first president of UAE). The mosque was only opened in 2008 and
Tales of a renowned camel on TV in UAE
See the small camel marker indicating the race distance on the map.
if there is any icon in the UAE that epitomises the immense wealth in the region, then this building is it. A stunning collection of white marble and mother of pearl, this mosque contained the world’s largest carpet (all 2.268 billion knots) and the world’s largest chandelier (though this has since been superseded by a chandelier in Doha, Qatar). Compared to the modest mosque I entered in Yemen, it was almost impossible to comprehend the size and opulence of this place of worship. This would easily rank as one of the greatest building constructed in the modern age.
My final excursion prior to commencing the African portion of this holiday was spent on a day trip to the Musandam Peninsula in Oman. Our group of seven travelled past Bedouin herdsman who manage to tolerate this harsh environment in small non-air conditioned tents. The Peninsula's landscape was spectacular, as jagged and stony beige cliffs pierced the azure sky.
We arrived at a beach, which for the most part was deserted apart from our group. The day was nearing 45 degrees Celsius, and the water temperature was perfect, I cannot remember ever being in open water and enjoying it so
much. I snorkelled for the first time and after a few initial coordination issues I was soon swimming above schools of colourful tropical fish and if I allowed my hand to gently fall beneath me, the fish would either glide it or dart away from this unusual intruder.
Some clever person brought a shade cloth which was placed on poles over the water, thus allowing everyone to enjoy the cooling, undulating waves whilst avoiding the full force of the fierce sun. I spent hours in this most comfortable of places, and when the others went to eat lunch, I chose to remain. I was soon alone, with nobody within hearing and sight range, so I lay my head and shoulders on a silver air-mattress which gently bopped up and down, but allowed my body to sink beneath the refreshing water. From under the shade cloth, nearby to a looming cliff, I could gaze at the endless expanse of open water with the only discernable sound being the waves gently kissing the beach. It felt as if I was the only person left on earth, and any needs, wants and troubles of the world seemed far, far away....
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