A short, yet a very holistic trip. For whatever reason, in all my travels, my foot never stood before in this wealthy Emirate, where miracles happen. Clearly, miracles. A modern and wealthy city created out of dust and desert without oil money (that belongs to the neighboring Emirates) but with persistence and vision of its owners and rulers.
Dubai is a strange place full of contradictions. There is no much middle class, for the middle class are the immigrant Southern Asians. There is the privileged class of the Emirati citizens, who are given everything (including palaces) by the sheikh. Just be kind enough to ask and you shall be given.
Only some 10% of inhabitants are citizens. The rest are non-citizens, immigrants from Asia, America, Africa and Europe. If a non-citizen disobeys, he or she faces to be banned. I have heard a story of a woman who posted unfavorable picture on facebook about an Emirati citizen and she was sent to prison for 6 months before banned from Dubai. So harsh can be the reality.
Yet for the most part Dubai is swimming in wealth and cares little about the less privileged. Should they try to raise their heads they’ll be accused of terrorism and send home. There are plenty of others to replace you, little man, so obey and don’t worry.
How nice can it be? A decent salary, a car, cheap fuel that the company pays for anyways, beautiful views of one of the most amazing modern skylines. I caught myself thinking that Burj Khalifa, that I nicknamed Burj K, is among the most beautiful buildings in the world, not only the tallest one. Plenty of other tall buildings in fact are nothing special, but this Needle is so graceful. I liked it instantly.
How lucky I was to meet and befriend Sidhharth and his lovely wife Kaaya. Writers, philosophers, and most of all, dreamers they are. Kaaya went to her home city Delhi for a few days using the days off as the Union of Arab Emirates was celebrating its 44th birthday on 2 & 3 Dec. Sidhharth stayed behind and took in three travelers through couchsurfing. As he put it, he refused to be alone and needed other humans around him. Most of his friends were busy, hence couchsurfers came handy. I was one of them.
Sidhharth was a great host. On my first full day he took us to the mountains of Ras al Khaimah, where he and I climbed the tallest peak, Jais Jebel. I didn’t know, it is the tallest mountain in the country. And it was some effort to scale the rocky path.
The same evening we still managed to see a glimpse of fireworks celebrating the 44th year of independence of this young country.
On the second day, I went into the city. Before, I went out for a jog. It was so hot that I only was able to stay afloat for 4 km. After that I came home. In the afternoon, I went to the Creek to explore the Old Town. Not impressed. Then I hit the downtown to go up the Burj K. The entrance to it is through a gigantic shopping mall. Shopping is the national sport here. I saw the same before in the Saudi Arabia, but here it was far more crowded, the moral police was not present, and there was no need to separate men from women (as apparently there is such a need in the Saudi land).
Honestly, I am not buying into shopping as a sport, or a cultural centre. I do not get why people take pictures of themselves in malls. I guess this must be a cultural difference. Maybe also a social difference? Anyhow, getting through the mall to the entrance of Burj K was my objective.
I was aiming to reach the 124th floor for the sunset. Yet there was such a big crowd of visitors, that me standing in line reduced my stay above (‘at the top‘) to only about 15 minutes before the sun set. Still, it was a magnificent and unique view.
For me Dubai is largely about Burj K. The tower symbolises the city and, more, the country. It is uplifting, dreaming, and proving doubters wrong: what you think is impossible, can be made possible, if you try.
My final day I started with a half marathon race organisers magnificently by the Dubai Creek Striders. The race was scheduled at 6 am. I scheduled the alarm clock at 4:30 am. Sidhharth was kind enough to offer me a lift this early in the day, because Kaaya was landing at 5 am anyways. But I woke up only at 5:45 am. Adrenaline hit my brain in no time. Three minutes later we both were in the car: me ready to run, Sidhharth ready to pick up his girl. The only question was, can we make it to the start line on time?
What I learned over the previous two days is that Dubai is jammed with traffic. Today morning, however, as if a miracle at 6 am happened, there was no traffic and no red lights our way. We reached the entry point of the Dubai Creek & Yacht Club at 5:57 am. At 6:01, I saw the elite runners starting the race. The regular guys were scheduled a few minutes later. I was on time.
The problem was I was not awaken. My mind was up with the adrenaline, but my body was asleep only 20 minutes earlier. I suffered during the race. Still, the weather did not bother me as much as I feared. First, we run before the sunrise. Then the sun was very low for a while, and was not heating up the air temperature to unsustainable levels just yet.
I managed to finish the run in 1:58:48, which is not much in my current form. But hey, I ain’t no competitive athlete, and I run for the fun of it. So I think this is my best sleepwalking half marathon result ever, so I shall take it as it is.
By the time the race was over, it was only 8 am. Sidhharth and Kaaya waited for me at the finish line. We spend the rest of the day together circulating around Dubai for nice vistas. First we ate at their friends, who gathered together for a meal. I guess I was a strange object, an object Sidhharth likes to drop on his friends every now and then, when he takes strangers into his house.
Still, I am very pleased he did take me in, for I had a great time in this a-MAZE-ing city with those funny Indians, who consider Dubai to be theirs, however temporary, home.
And then, on a road somewhere between a shoarma stop and fireworks, we created a new words-charade: Winnie-the-Pooh v. We-Need-A-Poo.
This was my trip to the 107th country on Planet Earth.