Hello all! After a bit of debate I've decided to start another blog for this trip. Just a couple things: firstly, internet, along with electricity and water, comes and goes so I don't know how often I'll be updating this but I'll try for about once a week or so, and secondly, this blog is going to be more of a personal journal so it'll be pretty uncensored and likely randomly thrown together as I jot down my thoughts. Anyways, I hope you enjoy!
This whole trip came together really fast and a lot of people didn't even know I was leaving so here is some of the background information. A pretty last minute opportunity to volunteer in Uganda kind of fell in my lap after talking with a professor at the WCVM (Western College of Veterinary Medicine, where I go to school) and since I love to travel and was planning on volunteering somewhere this summer anyways I decided to take it. I will be in Uganda for about two months, first volunteering with a community outreach program called Leadership and Community Development where I spend half my time volunteering in a local (human) health clinic/hospital and
the other half in small rural communities. After this program finishes up, I'll be with Vets Without Boarders volunteering on their goat project. I'm going to leave the rest of the details on the projects out at this point as I didn't know many of them when I got here, and I'm still learning them as I go.
At the time of writing this first post I have already been gone from home for almost two weeks, but let's start at the beginning. My flight out of Saskatoon was at 5:45am on May 21th
, so the night before I was busy packing, and for the first time before a major trip I was actually completely packed before midnight on the night before I left. I was determined not to make the same mistake I made before going to India - I didn't sleep for over two days before my flight, then couldn't sleep on the plane and then had a near breakdown after watching Slumdog Millionaire, while in the air, a few hours from New Delhi. After packing, I said my emotional goodbyes to my parents (I cry at EVERY goodbye), Facetimed with a friend, and went
to bed at reasonable hour where I tossed and turned and stared at the clock until my alarm went off at 3:30am. Off to a great start. Shortly, a friend came to pick me up, I said another very tearful goodbye to my dog, Monty, and we made our way to the airport. There I met up with Thea, Heather and Leandra (nursing, pharmacy and nutrition students, respectively), who are from the University of Saskatchewan and volunteering in the same program, before boarding the plane.
Fast forward through a gruelling and completely uneventful 10 hour layover in Toronto and we board our next flight to Dubai. I just need to take a moment to comment on Emirates Airline – it is incredible! By far the nicest plane I've been on, lots of room, comfy seats and great food. If you have a chance to fly this airline, do it! It seriously felt like it could be first class, making a nearly 14 hour flight almost enjoyable. Despite this, I maybe only slept off and on for about an hour. Thank you, screaming children scattered all around me. Oh well, I knew we had an overnight layover in
Dubai with a hotel already booked so we could all get a good sleep before heading to Uganda.
I really had no idea what to expect from Dubai, as I know very little about the United Arab Emirates. In fact, as we were waiting in the Toronto airport we looked up where it was on a map. Just for the record, I knew it was located in the Middle East, but exactly where, not a clue. In hindsight, I probably should have looked up more than just what was illegal and could land me in jail, like some basics such as local currency or official language, but oh well, we'll figure things out as we go! Our bags were checked all the way to Entebbe, Uganda so we quickly made our way through customs and out of the incredibly lavish airport and into the hot 30 degree heat and waited for a shuttle to take us to our near-by hotel.
The four of us were pretty exhausted after a long day of flying, layovers and little sleep but since we had 17 hours in Dubai we decided we have to at least check out
one of the famous sites. After all, how often are we in Dubai? It was already 9pm so we didn't have a lot of time and decided on checking out the Dubai mall where the tallest tower in the world is located. The receptionist called us a cab and off we went.
In typical travelling-to-a-foreign-country-fashion, what you plan is rarely what you get. Almost immediately after getting into the cab, the driver starts explaining to us different tours he should take us on to see the city, rattling off places we don't really know, in a very broken English we're struggling to understand. After a lot of confusion and asking him to repeat himself far too many times we basically say “screw it” and let him take us to all these places he's been pointing to on a map for the last 10 minutes (while driving and trying to dodge traffic, I might add). Besides, $100 USD split four ways is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the total cost of this trip and maybe we'll actually get a mini night tour of this extravagant city.
I must say the choice to
do this tour was the first great decision we made on this journey! The first stop was the stunning Atlantis, The Palm which is a beautiful hotel built on a man-made island. Seeing this incredible building alone would have been enough for me to have been happy with my short amount of time in Dubai. However, we continued on to see the Burj Al Arab, the world's only 7 star hotel, where we took photos of it while standing on a small beach with our feet dipped into the warm waters of the Persian Gulf. After that we saw Dubai's twin towers which are the tallest hotels in the world, and then made our way to the Dubai mall. This is where our tour would end, and we lucked out by getting there just in time to catch the 11pm fountain show. It was really impressive with beautiful Middle Eastern style music and it definitely put the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas to shame. In a lot of ways Dubai reminds me of Vegas; everything is excessive and a lot of it is about money and show. Everything is the biggest, or the tallest, or the first
of it's kind. Everyone drives new and fancy cars; we saw several Porsche's and a Lamborghini. Even the taxi we took was a Lexus! We witnessed a police pull a car over and our driver explained that people driving vehicles older than 2000 will be stopped and then impounded. Based on the very small amount of time we spent in the city I would describe it as a mix between the excess of Vegas (but far cleaner and not at all trashy), the hospitality of an all inclusive resort, with the beach-city feel of LA. I found that while Dubai is beautiful to look at, it is a little much, especially considering the extreme poverty that surrounds it. As well, a considerable amount of gentrification had to occur as the city developed into what it is today. However, if you look past that, it does have a lot to offer to tourists and I'm sure I would still have a lot of fun if I had more time there (and could afford it). Plus there was a killer looking water park I wish I could have checked out. Anyways, end of rant and back to the mall. Here we did
Unfortunately, due to the lights of the opera house this is the best picture we have of it.
finally see the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world, then finally went inside to wander around the largest mall in the world. Am I proving my point about excess? It was a Thursday night and their weekend is Friday and Saturday so the mall was open late – till midnight so we we were able to quickly check out the skating rink, where we observed many break dancing ice skaters, the waterfall, and aquarium before close.
By this time we were all pretty famished, as none of us had eaten anything since being on the plane, so we decided to find a place to eat. After some wandering, we came across a cute outdoor Lebanese restaurant and sat down. The choice of restaurant was the second great decision we made on this trip! The food and the drinks were amazing, which included probably one of the best falafals I've ever had, and it was reasonably priced, which is quite shocking for Dubai. Not only that, but since we saw several other tables smoking from a hookah, we decided to order some delicious strawberry-mint shisha to enjoy during our meal, as well. When in Dubai!
After all this we hailed for a cab and made our way back to our hotel. Our mini night tour of this city was a complete success, so much so, that I barely even noticed I hadn't slept in over two and a half days. That being said, the moment my head hit the pillow I was out cold and got a much needed solid three and a half hours of sleep.
We woke the next day to enjoy the largest continental breakfast any of us had ever seen. Again, everything in Dubai is in excess, but we were grateful for it and ate as much as we could. We've been told that we won't have as much to eat in Uganda so may as well pack in the calories while we can!
On the flight I sat beside a very well travelled man from Uganda and we had an amazing chat that lasted the entire flight. He taught me a lot about the history of both Dubai and Uganda and he gave me some tips on what to see and do while here. After a little over 5 hours we arrived
in Entebbe, Uganda, exchanged contacts and parted ways. There, the girls and I were greeted by Gena, another nutrition student, and Frank, a local and friend of the program coordinators, who would be taking care of us and helping us all get settled into our new environment.
Well, despite that I only covered the flights and layovers here, I feel like this is a good place to end my first post. If you liked it you can subscribe to my blog and it'll email you whenever I post again. I hope all is well back home and if you see my Monty please hug and spoil him for me!
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