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Published: October 9th 2006
Burj Al Arab
The world's tallest hotel and first 7 star hotel. You have to pay just to cross the bridge to the man made island it sits on. Reservations for lunch mandatory.
At the beginning of my travels I found myself in Spain for my step-brother's wedding in Algeciras. At the reception dinner I sat next to one of his friends from his school days, John Randazzo. As it turned out, John lived in one of my planned stop-overs, working for the Prince's investment company Istithmar. And so, upon my arrival at Dubai Int'l Airport, I was escorted through customs, assisted with my visa, and driven into town to John's apartment. John greeted me, took in my things, and we went for dinner. A few hours later he left on a long business trip and left his apartment under my care. Wow! I can't tell you how nice it was to have a place that was home after so many days in hostels, pensions, and hotels. To have a front door key in your pocket, washer in the apartment, and underground parking for my rental car was Luxe! I am very grateful for his generosity as it made my experience in Dubai all the better.
Now for those who don't know, Dubai is one of seven emirates in the middle east, in the country of United Arab Emirates (UAE). The captial Abu
A camel ranch in the Arabian Desert.
Dhabi is still oil rich and enjoying it's wealth. It's neighbor, Dubai, has exhausted (more or less) it's oil supply and has taken a rather visionary approach for their region. I would venture a guess that it is one the fastest growing cities in the world, and rumor has it that Dubai is currently using around 20% of the world's cranes. Dubai's population is around 1-1.5 million but hopes to have around 10 million within 5 years. That may be a little over ambitious, but then again, they are currently building around 850,000 new housing units in that time. Such rapid and ambitious plans also mean that this city is quite expensive. The city is being built by Indian and Pakistani laborers who work very cheaply and under strenuous conditions. Another rumor is that the official tempurature rarely goes above 50 degrees celsius ( 122 degrees Farenheit) because workers are allowed to go home in that kind of heat. Construction sites are open 24 hours a day. Watching welders climbing re-bar at 2am is a common site. Interestingly, the many ambitious developments are a result of competition between 5 groups. Hired by the prince these men were competing to see
at the camel ranch
who could create the best projects, pulling in the most money and people. A by-product is that these 5 teams never consulted on proper infrastructure planning and now Dubai is playing catch up. Traffic is extremely slow (I missed my flight to Bangkok the night of the coup when it took me 2 hours to go about 5 blocks. ) The overall effect is that the city feels very much like Las Vegas in the making. (minus the gambling as it's an Islamic country.) There is drinking and partying. Bars and clubs can only exist in hotel developments. As Dubai is also famous for being a nice place to "make black money white" the scene can go from sketchy to classy depending where you go. There's a buzz in the hot dessert air that I found very exciting. There were many things to do to kill time...my favorite of course was to go snowboarding indoors in the morning, and then sand boarding in the Arabian desert that night. (in between was "dune bashing" in 4x4s and being pulled on stage to belly dance in the desert. Good tiiiimes!
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