Metropolis in the Sand


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Middle East » United Arab Emirates » Dubai
April 15th 2016
Published: May 5th 2016
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My bag was almost torn apart as a giant and muscle bound Emirate border guard dug his way through. It felt like he was searching for any reason to give me problems. The American guy next to me was also selected for the search. I had made my way through Oman via bus, and everyone else was going to have to wait for them to finish and let us through. So I hoped. The only thing I figured might give me problems might be the Kamasutra deck of cards I had somewhere in there. Somehow I felt they wouldn't be appreciated so much. But him and his compadre that he called over seemed to be more interested in the plethora of pharmaceutical drugs I was carrying with me. Up until now, I never realized I had so many. My first aid kit and associated medications could pretty much cure half of the ailments known to man. Why the hell did I bring so much with me? Well I was a nurse and I had started my trip in India, so go figure. I had a variety like Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, Diamox, and about four different kinds of antibiotics. Complete overkill. They searched the names of all my medication, despite me explaining exactly what each was for and almost going into chemical detail. Yeah they didn't believe me. Then they called in a so called "expert" who still had no idea what most of them were. Finally they could no longer hold me back and the muscle bound idiot threw my passport back at me and ordered me to collect all my things strewn about. And that's the story of how I entered the United Arab Emirates.

I was heading to Dubai, one of the seven Emirates making up the country, and the most modern and advanced of them all. The city of Dubai was literally a desert village back in the 80's but thanks to the regions oil lottery, the city has been exploding ever since, and can now be considered one of the world's metropolises. Dubai is quite central to most of the world's population and about 80% of the people living here are expats, a large majority coming from India and the Philippines. It is quite a multicultural city in that respect and unlike most things you'll find in the Gulf. Dubai also has a little issue with ego. Everything has to be the best, and the Emirates don't seem to mind spending to make it so. Skyscrapers and cranes dot the ever-growing skyline and the global crash of 2008 doesn't seem to have stalled things very much. I had been interested in visiting Dubai for a very long time, if only because in my mind this seemed like a futuristic city that I could only read about in sci-fi books.

The bus dropped me off at Derai city center, one of the many "centers" of Dubai. I asked an Indian guy for some directions to my hotel and he walked along with me since he was heading the same direction. The weather was pleasant and dry. I was told it's usually impossible to walk around during this part of the day for fear of sun stroke. I looked around in wonder at all the high rises and restaurant chains surrounding me. Brand name stores were everywhere. This part of the city seemed quiet, yet it was bustling. My hotel, the Claridge hotel, was near the Union metro station on the red line. This would make it easy to get around. My hotel seemed opulent after my living arrangements the last couple of weeks. Of course Dubai is quite expensive, and I didn't have enough time to arrange any potential couchsurfing, so I decided to splurge. I would only be here for about three days anyway. I immediately went out to the mall next door and withdrew some money. This truly is the city of malls. Air conditioned malls can be found on seemingly every block, and they contain everything imaginable. I then went to find some food and settled on some cheap shawarma. It was good. I caught the metro to the Dubai Mall station. The automated train on the way gave me great views of the towering buildings on either side. This is currently considered the biggest mall in the world and houses an aquarium, skating rink, cinema, a four level food court and hundreds and hundreds of shops. Everything is connected with sky bridges and tunnels. Much like Hong Kong, you don't necessarily ever have to step outside or walk on the ground. I got lost there for a while, and was tempted with so many things, if only for the out of reach prices. I then went outside and got my first proper glimpse of the towering Burj Khalifa. At 842m, it is the tallest skyscraper in the world and an impressive feat of engineering. I found it impossible to capture the entirety of it in a single photo. It was dark at this point, and the Burj was lit up with various changing lights. Then the fountains ignited with water and accompanied by music. This was more impressive than the one at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Everyone clapped at its climax. I made my way back through the mall and caught the metro to Deira. I went into my local mall and saw one of the first movies I had seen in a while, Batman vs Superman. I was so exhausted that when I returned to my room, I was out before my head hit the pillow.

The next morning I was up early and took the metro back to the Burj, this time buying a day pass. I was going to be going up to one of the observation decks on the 124th floor. For whatever reason, I find skyscrapers fascinating, and couldn't pass this one up. The views were incredible, despite some haze. I guess we have come quite a ways as a species if we can build something like this. I spent some time checking out the history of its construction and then descended and walked around the area. It was growing pretty hot, so I retreated into a mall and then got into the metro and rode it all the way to the end of the line while getting a metro city tour. I tried to visit the Palm Jumaira, but unfortunately it wasn't well connected to the metro or tram and the monorail was extra so I said screw it. I went back to the hotel and rested for a bit. By the mid afternoon, I was picked up by an Emirate in a large SUV. It was filled with other tourists, none of which I found very interesting. We were off to see the desert. It took a bit of time to get out there but once we did, our driver put the vehicle in four wheel drive, deflated some of the tire pressure, and then began to dune bash through the sands. We did this for about a half hour and our driver proved to be pretty good at ripping up and down the dunes. Then he brought us to a touristy large desert structure where we watched belly dancing and a fire show. They served an all you can eat buffet. Many people seem to do this kind of thing when coming to Dubai. You'd probably be thinking I should be sick of the desert by now! I returned back to the hotel pretty late.

The next morning I had to take a taxi to the airport. It was Friday and the metro was closed for the first half of the day. I went to terminal two to catch my Fly Dubai flight. My next destination was going to be what many would consider of the beaten path. And it was going to be very interesting I hoped.


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9th May 2016

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