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Published: August 19th 2015
I know that as an adventurer I am not supposed to say this, but I never wanted to go to Dubai. The notion of it was repellent to me: a whole city carved out of the desert and set up to draw Westerners in the ultimate incarnation of consumerism and decadence.
When we had the option of taking a few hours in Dubai between flights from Lyon to South Africa I decided that I had to see the city. I did some research and discovered some things I wanted to see... I was even beginning to find I wanted to go. We had 20 hours to fill.
We got off the plane in Dubai feeling tired but ready to embrace our day. We were waved through passport control without a single word being spoken and then had to have our bags scanned again - they were obviously looking for things that other governments would not consider contraband. We had no problems and were free to enter the country. We followed signs to the metro system. En route we found a Costa coffee shop which met our immediate need for caffeine, though we were a little embarrassed to have immediately
capitulated to Western consumerism.
We eventually got to the metro with coffee in hand. It was only later, when we found the list of fines for infractions on the metro, that we realised we had broken the law by drinking on the train. We spent about 20 minutes trying to figure out what ticket we needed and how to purchase it. Whilst everything was presented in flawless English the whole set-up was surprisingly unfriendly for tourists. We were disappointed to not find any tourist information or even a map linking metro stations with Dubai's attractions. We got on the train and then started to figure out where we wanted to go. By comparing a low-res tourist map I had captured on my iPad with the metro map we found one point of reference which seemed to point to an attraction: the Creek was prominent on both maps and the Gold Souk was near the end of the Creek. Proud of ourselves for this feat of deduction we settled down for the ride.
We got off the train at the station we had identified and went up the escalator. I was somewhat puzzled by a succession of signs proclaiming
that it was forbidden to carry fish on the metro. The reason for this became clear as the doors for the station opened and revealed a fishy smell and the sign for a fish market. It was around 8 o'clock and the temperature was already hovering around 40°C so it's not surprising the fish was starting to smell. We looked around and everything was covered with a yellow haze, probably a mix of sand and pollution. We found signs for the Gold Souk and started walking towards it.
In less than a minute I could tell something was wrong. Looking around there were dozens of men dressed in either traditional white Arab robes or more Western business suits but there were no women. Also we were the only tourists around. Every one of the people passing us was staring at us. We quickly realised that, although conservative by our standards, Lindsey's dress which covered her shoulders and knees was arousing a lot of attention from the men who walked past us. My instant reaction was to want to draw Lindsey close to me and put my arm around her to both comfort and protect her. As Dubai is a
strict Muslim country then we couldn't show such a public display of affection. I asked Lindsey to walk in front of me so that I could make sure nothing happened to her. We kept walking along the main road past the souk but everywhere was closed. We turned down a side street to walk into the souk but it didn't feel safe so we continued on the main road. The heat was almost overwhelming, the humidity was incredibly high and the pollution made my lips sticky. It felt like we were wading through soup. We were glad to get to the next metro station which was of an interesting architectural style; very Arabic and quite brutal. We walked through the sliding doors and felt the relief of stepping into the cool fresh air-conditioned station. Lindsey went into the toilets to put some leggings on. The effect was obvious, we received much less attention, though there were still some men who gawped.
Our first attempt at exploring Dubai frustrated, we made a second attempt. I had read about tourist attractions, including traditional Dhow cruises, on the Creek. We spotted a station called 'Creek' on the metro map and thought it
seemed likely to be what we were looking for. It was a long journey and we had to change metro lines at a busy interchange. We eventually emerged and left the comforting protection of the air conditioning. It was 9 o'clock and we could feel that the temperature had already risen by a few degrees. We left Creek station and walked out to see a shipyard in the distance repairing boats, a few construction sites, the unfinished metro-line and a lot of sand. The yellow haze was particularly thick here. This was obviously not yet a place for tourists. We quickly went back inside. As we did so we drank our last drops of water.
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