Our last stop before going home was Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is made up of 7 emirates, Dubai City being the capital of the Emirate of Dubai. The UAE is a Muslim monarchy ruled by Sharia law although we were told this is only applied to Emirati citizens and not foreigners, which outnumber them 7 to 1.
We hadn’t planned on visiting Dubai but since we were flying Emirates Airlines (THE best airline we’ve ever been on), all connections go through Dubai. On our way in to South Africa we had had an 8hr nighttime layover at the Dubai airport which was a nightmare. The Dubai airport is humongous and has the feel of a never-ending shopping mall. Although some nice reclining chairs are placed all over the airport, there were none near our gate and the few which were not extremely far away, were guarded zealously by other tired passengers. You see, since ALL connections go through Dubai, the amount of passengers is such that even at 2am, it is beyond crowded. On top of that, Dubai airport is a bit quirky in its A/C usage: you might be freezing cold in some areas but step just two feet to the side and you’ll be sweating in no time. We had huddled on the floor near our gate in an attempt to sleep for a bit but truth be told, I am getting too old for that. Let’s leave it at: it wasn’t pleasant.
We had a 12hr layover on the way back! On top of which, I was beginning to develop painful pustules from the Zanzibari jellyfish stings (they would take a few weeks after getting home to clear themselves up).
We simply didn’t feel ready to deal with all that and thus decided to postpone our flight and spend the night in Dubai.
We were in Dubai in August and the temperature was nearing 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Farenheit). The streets were understandably deserted. I was raised in the desert, 40C degree (100ish F) weather doesn’t faze me but this? It was hard to breathe, and even to see since the air has a brown hazy quality to it from all the sand surrounding the city.
The unbelievable part is that hundreds of construction workers labor in this heat.
Can’t you just feel the heat waves radiating up from the concrete under them?
Most of these migrant workers come from India, Pakistan and Indonesia. When they arrive in Dubai, they sometimes have their passports taken away, effectively bonding them to their bosses as without this document they are not permitted to leave the UAE. They are housed in inhumane conditions, packed like sardines without A/C in this atrocious heat. Most of them work under unsafe conditions, deaths at construction sites are a common occurrence. Rights violations have been documented by Human Rights Watch and, as expected, denied by the government. No matter what, economics always rules and as long as there are jobs, migrants will come. Dubai is building up and out in its effort to become one of the premier touristic destinations of the world in preparation for the 2020 World Expo. The amount of construction going on blows the mind.
None of the people we met were from Dubai or even the UAE; all were foreigners, there to work, save some dirhams, and leave. We asked where the people from Dubai worked and were met with quizzical looks. According to one person we asked, Dubai citizens get a stipend from the government simply for being citizens and thus do not work. Anywhere other than in a repressive state this arrangement would spell disaster for the country as it has a majority foreign population supporting the economy which is prohibited from establishing ties to the community they live in. No wonder no one seemed to care much about the country.
We tried to escape from the overwhelming heat by taking refuge in the Dubai Mall which is dubbed a major attraction and talked about in awe. It is the largest mall in the world, it even has an “Aquarium and Underwater Zoo” inside
as well as a “ski mountain” complete with penguins.
At the end of the day though, it is but a mall
with the same stores you find in any mall
and the same delicacies in their food court.
Although these might be the fanciest sandwiches I’ve ever come across:
Don’t let my bland description put you off though, it might be simply a personal preference. See, I’ve never been much of a shopper, I don’t think I’ve even set foot inside my local mall in 5 years so you can understand why a mall, as fancy and big as it may be, could be less than impressive for me.
Still seeking A/C, we decided to see the city aboard one of those typical Red Sightseeing buses. While it did drive us around to the major attractions such as the Burj Al Arab, which is a luxury hotel in the shape of a sail located at the even more famous Palm Jumeriah Island,
and the Atlantis resort,
it turned out to have its A/C set to permanent lukewarm which lulled us into napping instead. We couldn’t wait for the bus to bring us back to the mall.
The one attraction I was dying to see was the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. It is 2,717 feet tall and has both the highest outdoor observation deck in the world as well as the elevator with the longest travel distance in the world. It houses two hotels, hundreds of residences (by Armani because of course), office space, restaurants, art gallery, wellness centers, four pools and even its own scent. Yes, that’s right, each floor of the Burj Khalifa has its own distinct proprietary scent drifting through the air; none of that plebeian air for these people. The building’s cross-section was inspired by the Spider Lily flower which grows in the desert surrounding Dubai. The Burj Khalifa took more than 22 million man-hours to build. Allowances for the extreme heat had to be made during construction such as including shards of ice in the concrete mixture and only pouring at night. It is a true marvel of engineering.
One small detail which allegedly Dubai hates is that it is named after the Abu Dhabi Khalifa who lent Dubai the money for its construction, otherwise it would be named the Burj Dubai as it was originally intended. Quick tip: buy your tickets online, with plenty of anticipation as they are timed, to get a discount.
The view from the observation deck is dizzying
The Dubai Fountains at the foot of the Burj Khalifa put on a light and sound show every half hour from 6 to 11pm which is an indisputable free must-see attraction even if one has to sweat through it.
While Dubai was alright and had the breath-taking Burj Khalifa to visit, we don’t think we would ever choose to visit again; it’s one of those been-there, done-that, moving-on, kind of places; unless you’re really into malls that is.
P.S. This ends our summer 2016 tour, it took me a bit of a while to catch up, apologies for the lateness. We’ve been busy exploring and already have 2017 posts coming right up I promise! In the meantime: Keep Exploring!