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Vance rides the wild camel......no charge!

Once again, arose about 8AM and all three of us returned to Dhafeer, for a slightly extended walking tour + photo shoot in the desert.  I was astonished by the myriad of tracks.  On the same spot yesterday evening, the windswept sand appeared lifeless.  But early in the morning, witness the plethora of signs of life!  Evidence of bugs (Rhinoceros & Scarab beetle tracks…Mark explained how enormous these critters were!), lizards, snakes and a small dog or fox.  When the lights go out, the desert must come alive.

 

We trekked awhile and returned for breakfast about 10AM.  And I got to catch up a bit while reveling in the sandy oblivion presented from my back porch..…

 

The next, abbreviated adventure, was a vain attempt to witness Waheeb Hill, which at 800 feet is reported to be the world’s largest sand dune.

Vance underneath the world's largest 4WD, deep in Abu Dhabi (banner is Sheik Zayed)
  The receptionist informed us it was 45 minutes away, so we were already resigned that we wouldn’t go the distance…we had to return to be back in Dubai this evening.

 

However, the short progress we made was very cool.  There does exist a single black top road winding back through the dunes towards Waheeb Hill.  In places it almost entirely drifted shut by sand --- interestingly reminiscent of snow drifts and lending understanding to the caveat from the receptionist that the attempt cannot be made without a heavy duty 4WD vehicle!  Up & down we proceeded through monstrous canyons of sand.  Wild to simply witness all the sand pyramids extending as far as the eye can see.

 


Each “pass” we went over usually bottomed out to a salt marsh, where a few trucks and several laborers sweated away.

Anticipate Surprises!
  I was surprised by the occasional inhabited blockhouses and snapped off several obligatory pictures of camels.  There were a couple ‘camel ranches’ out here and we even passed a small caravan of camels that evoked strong visions of “Arabian Sands” and bedouins from a time just lost!

 

Mark & I took some pictures around a curious sign along the road.  It was a big exclamation point in an upside-down yield sign.  We were in the middle of nowhere and didn’t encounter a single moving vehicle, so we were intrigued what it could mean.  And we actually just passed another one along the highway as we went by Abu Dhabi on the rebound back to Dubai…and this was appended with the stultifying subtitle - “anticipate surprises” …too funny!

 

Time slipped away and we doubled back to Liwa to check out.

The dunes of the Empty Quarter are quite striking.
  Oh yeah, forgot that we decided to gas up before picking up Samia, and asked two Arabs by the roadside where we could find a gas station (this was after we got back to the oasis).  They only blinked their eyes at “gas station”, but pointed exuberantly down the road after Mark rephrased our query as “petrol”.  After successfully topping off, we passed the same two gentlemen walking along the road.  Most Arabs I encountered on this journey made eye contact without any further acknowledgement…and that leaves a ‘hostile’ impression for me with my Western inclinations.  I have compelled myself to reinforce that this action is not hostile, just a cultural nuance…and my two Arabs confirmed that there is no antipathy here.

 

When they saw us again, the one gestured with a tentative thumbs up and an intense questioning expression.

Sand dunes rising from a salt flat.
  I replied with a ‘thumbs up’ and nodded vigorously.  He broke into a broad, warm smile and triumphantly repeated his thumbs up!

 

While checking out we got to see a desert rose, a pretty rock crystal formed where water pools in the desert.  And then we were off.  Mark & I both nodded with Samia navigating our way home through giant dunes of red sand towards Hameem, where we hoped to have some lunch & see the “World’s largest 4WD”, which the concierge at Liwa told us was a local attraction.  The vehicle was owned by Sheikh Hamad of Abu Dhabi and our instructions were simply to keep a watch out for a “large metal pyramid”.

 

Hameem struck out on both counts.

Mark & Samia in the Empty Quarter.
  No lunch spots…no metal pyramids in these wee enclave about 50 miles down the pike from Liwa.  So we rolled on and after another 90 miles saw the pyramid! (so, is something 140 miles away a local attraction???)

 

We pulled off and got escorted in to witness the beast.  None of us doubted it was indeed, the world’s largest off road monster…stunning and very amusing.

 

There were several other amusements at the palace (you couldn’t see sheikh Hamad’s place…huge fence encompassed his estate).  An elderly gentleman escorting some camels told me a camel ride was 10 Dhirams before we went into the pyramid…after we viewed the 4WD I handed Mark my camera and informed him that I needed to accept this offer --- so that I would have a picture of me on a camel for my daughter!

 

When we got back to where the camels were the old dude was absent…a younger man in his place.

Samia and I trekking through the Empty Quarter at varying elevations.
  As we neared him Samia suddenly snapped some Urdu at him and after his Arabic reply she motioned me to sit on the camel --- she had just bargained for me to sit on the camel for no charge.  Well heck, I was kinda looking forward to riding a camel but this was too amusing to contest!

 

Road markers counted down the kilometers to Abu Dhabi, literally one per kilometer, so I employed the opportunity to learn the Arabic numeral system (and glad to report I’ve got ‘em down) --- was very pleased when I visualized what the next marker should look like and it was correct!

 

The only sad part was when we neared Abu Dhabi and the desert sand returned to its usual dirty white…the red sand was wonderful (the huge dunes had also vanished).  Mark has assumed the driver’s wheel and we continue to enjoy his tunes.  I have sorely missed Mark’s music selections and this trip has caught me up in spades!

 

After finally regaining Dubai, we stopped at Spinney’s, Mark & Samia’s preferred grocer, which proved another new experience.  Per my chainsaw math, fruit & veggie prices in Dubai are more than comparable with the US.  Coca Cola is extremely inexpensive…its only one Dhiram in all the vending machines, which is less than 30 cents US!  Makes you wonder what their profit margins are…

 

Had to score a bottle of tabasco with half of the language on the bottle in Arabic, plus some dates rolled around almonds that Mark suggested as an excellent gift selection.  Mark also guided me to the secreted “pork” section, where all the haram products are on display (haram is the Arabic word for taboo).   One souvenir I did not score was a can of Mecca Cola…not just a fun name, but it actually says on the label “Do not mix with alcohol”.  And of course, a friend of Mark’s purchases this beverage to intermingle with Captain Morgan’s to produce (drum roll, please) ----- a haram and coke!

 


When we entered the pork section (and it really was hidden away), we encountered two Muslim woman looking around…our arrival chased them away!  I was floored by all of the things in this section, like pork rinds and even chips flavored with pork.  What caused great consternation for Mark & I was a jar of Paul Prudhomme’s pork seasoning --- albeit it was targeted at haram products, there wasn’t a whit of piggie in the ingredients.  A friend of Mark’s later pointed out that this was probably just sage marketing, as opposed to seclusion of verboten goods.

 

Our last battle with Dubai traffic was won and we regained the apartment.  Mark & Samia whipped up an excellent dinner and we all tidied up for the 7:30PM arrivals.   First to arrive were Eric & Amanda: Eric is another architecture professor and his wife works in the college’s PR department.  They were soon followed by Matt & Heather, who are both Canadian (Heather might have dual citizenship with the US…unsure what either of their roles are with the college).  Much lively conversation ensued and we soon sat down to enjoy a yummy dinner of salad, pasta, roasted veggies and steak.  A final guest, Chris, who has her degree in library science, arrived during the meal to complete our guest list.

 

Around 10PM we broke up into a separate cars for boys + girls (Matt & Samia both declined to venture out for evening festivities at Mark’s favorite “hooker bar”…the Sea View Hotel) and headed to Dubai.  Traffic was nuttier than ever on a Thursday night (this would be like a Saturday night here) and we got viciously cut off several times.  I was beyond astonished when we parked and the girls pulled in right behind us.  How they managed to tail us through the nightmarish traffic boggles my mind!

 

We went into the hotel and alas, the “men’s room” entrance was blocked, although the girls were obvious veterans and began forging ahead until a bouncer blocked their way <Mark has regaled me with stories about this particular establishment, and one of its primary facets is that you could enter it through the men’s room from an adjacent night club in the hotel…girls included!>.  We had to navigate numerous corridors to the back of the hotel where we entered the club through its official doorway.

 

What an experience!  We pushed together a couple of tables in the smoky bar and parked stage right, right beside the female bass player who was just incredible.  The band was comprised of six Filipino’s --- guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and two women in glitter suits who sang (beyond these two and the bassist, all males).  It was 100% covers, most appearing to be requests written on napkins that were clumsily funneled to the keyboard player.  Guitarist is also exceptionally talented and everything was played very tight (right down to the synchronized dances the girls did --- different each song, but they were right in step with each other).

 

Ultimate performance was their rendering of the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The vocals were a bit clunky, but I would think any other bar band would be too intimidated by this song to consider adding it to their repertoire.   The band pulled it off wonderfully and the crowd went nuts!  Another highlight was the guitarist and bassist pulling the old switcheroo…and of course the woman was jaw-dropping on the axe, playing behind her head and laying down scorching leads.  And after that she jumped behind the drums for a song, lest we consider even briefly that she was merely human!!!  I was also impressed that one of the glitter gals picked up the bass during the drum stint (although she did look a wee bit uncomfortable).

 

So let us put the band aside and consider the crowd.  Many Filipino’s on hand here as well, though primary constituency was white males -- largely Anglo’s (American, British + Aussie) and Slavs (Russians).  This mass was in front of the stage, intermingling with hookers who nearly matched them in number.

 

I found it rather sad, the whole hooker-client courtship.  Seemed to consist mainly of dancing (only during breaks), and most of the girls struck me as terrible dancers.  Majority were Oriental, and one in particular danced with three different guys, all of whom repeatedly spun her, with dizzying results (the guys were all overweight and inebriated, but executed their part of the spin quite well…the hooker, however, didn’t quite know the right moves and several times seemed ready to hit the floor!).  Mark & I got approached by a black woman when we left our tables to stand and get a clear view of the guitarist, but it only took a simple negative expression (i.e., shaking my head in my case) to keep her moving on.

 

It was great fun, highlighted by the manager stopping by (with one of many bouncers present) to pay his respects to Eric for bringing some ‘good girls’ into his club.  After the second break the amazing bassist also stopped by to trade tattoo talk (she sported a wealth of tattoos) with Heather --- both had one of those wrap-around jobs on their biceps.

 

Then tragedy struck.  All the girls at our table went out on the dance floor during break, and when they returned, Heather couldn’t locate her purse (which she had stowed under her seat).  We immediately informed one of the bouncers.  A surreptitious search began (I had no hope for recovery however…my guess is that the thief was long gone) with no results, and eventually we exited the club to visit the front desk of the hotel.  Nobody seemed to have any idea what to do and Heather was distraught since her UAE Driver’s license, e-ticket (not certain what this is), original birth certificate and various other forms of ID were gone.  Fortunately Mark had the same ATM and credit cards, so at least we had the phone numbers to get those discontinued, which Heather accomplished from the lobby.

 

Folks from the club occasionally dropped by to inform us of their latest efforts.  I was struck both by how upset they appeared, as well as their incompetence at handling the situation (indicators to me that this was a rare occurrence).  After over an hour in the lobby we finally asked for directions to the nearest police station.  Mark, Heather & I departed for the cops and we dispatched the balance of our crew home.

 

A short drive later we entered a Dubai Police Station and explained our plight to the two officers at the front desk.  They gestured us to proceed down a hallway and wait to meet with the Duty Officer.  We parked on a plush sofa outside his door, where animated discussions in Arabic were emanating and two men in dishdasha’s stood around looking very sheepish.

 

Eventually Heather got summoned in.  After still another long wait, she eventually emerged to inform us she needed to return Saturday with her passport to begin the process of replacing her UAE documents….sounds like it will take four months to accomplish!  Worse yet, she was advised to report that the documents were “lost” and not “stolen” --- the latter route would likely add six months to the process without any benefits!  And thus, our tour of a Dubai Police Station concluded, the glum trio returned home, arriving at Mark’s apartment at 4AM (Heather lives in an apartment nearby).

vances says:
It sure is...where's your blog on Dubai???
Posted on: Feb 23, 2008
finchley says:
dubai's a crazy place eh?
Posted on: Feb 23, 2008
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Vance rides the wild camel......no…
Vance rides the wild camel......n…
Vance underneath the worlds large…
Vance underneath the world's larg…
Anticipate Surprises!
Anticipate Surprises!
The dunes of the Empty Quarter are…
The dunes of the Empty Quarter ar…
Sand dunes rising from a salt flat.
Sand dunes rising from a salt flat.
Mark & Samia in the Empty Quarter.
Mark & Samia in the Empty Quarter.
Samia and I trekking through the E…
Samia and I trekking through the …
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photo by: vances