A Travellerspoint blog

United Arab Emirates

Trip to Al Ain

Yesterday, I took a trip to Al Ain-which according to Lonely Planet was roughly 90 minutes from Dubai, and was called the "Garden City", because of the it's large Oasis, (vs desert for the much of the rest of the country, from what I have heard).

I awoke at roughly 9:00 am, and took the metro roughly 40 minutes to the bus station to catch the bus. The bus was a minibus, and like most minibuses that I have taken, it didn't leave until every seat was taken. So I sat in the bus-the hot sun scorching through the windows for approximately an additional 20 minutes (it could have been longer), while nearly every seat was taken (including the fold-down seats in the aisle).

The trips squeezed in together was slow, as cars we're passing the bus. After what was closer to 2 hours-the bus station reached Al Ain. I wasn't sure what to do here-if there was a hop-on hop-off bus, or if I was going to have to walk around on my own. I found out i was going to have to walk around on my own-but fortunately, The Oasis was located right next to the bus station-as evidenced by a giant forest of palm trees. I walked around the curve to the beginning of the giant forest, and started to walk through the winding road. It was a nice walk. I passed signs explaining the parts of the Oasis, and how the Oasis was structured-Larger Palm trees we're at the top, and sheltered smaller citrus trees/bushes, and other bushes we're under those, the irrigation systems, etc. I saw little tram/combo golf carts passing by which folks on them.

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After approximately 1/2 an hour, I came to the other end of the Oasis, where I asked about a tour. I was able to hop on one of the tram/combo golf carts with the Filipino driver (just about all service workers here are from somewhere else, and many, if not most, are Filipinos). She drove me and an Indian family around the complex, and at one point, brought us to a small ditch, which was actually a UNESCO World heritage sights-I guess the Bedouin people set up a ditch to access underground water 3000 years ago.

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After we got out of the golf cart and looked around-she drove us around again to the house of Sheikh Zayed, who was governor of the region, and a force behind the formation of the UAE. He had a giant compound, with rooms for entertaining, rooms for his kids, etc. (He was born in 1918, but died in 2004-so it would have been his 100th birthday).

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I took too long to look around the site, because the golf car driver came looking for me. After a while she drove me to an archaeological museum, and she told me I had 10 minutes to look around. When I found out I had to pay to go in there, I told her I wasn't interested. I later gathered the driver was just that-not a real tour guide. I was fine walking and didn't need a driver anyway.

I came to the end of the Oasis, and went back to the bus station. I asked direction to the camel market. Apparently there is a camel market where camels are bought and sold. Lonely Planet said it was behind a shopping mall, so I took a local bus to that shopping mall, which was a modern mall with a Carrefour, H&M, and other stores. I asked directions from a guard outside, and followed the road to the camel market, which was actually inside a large market area selling flowers, spices, and other goods. The camels we're located towards the back. First I came to the goat market, and saw hundreds of goats squeezed into pens. I saw the folks working there basically carrying goats into pickup trucks, and herding goats around.

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Behind the goats, I came to the camel market. I asked if these camels we're used for food-the guy said yes I think (This was actually an authentic market, as not many seemed to speak English-except to ask "where you from"). Here there we're camels of all shapes and sizes. I sat next to a baby camel. I saw huge camels. I saw one camel foaming at the mouth. All crowded into holding pens.

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After a while, as the sun was setting, I left the old time setting of the camel market, and went to back to the mall. I bought a Frappuccino and waited for the city bus. I stood throughout the bus ride, which seemed to take much longer than getting there, as I was squeezed against others on the city bus. I then reached the central bus station and took the bus back to Dubai. After the 2 hour ride, I took the metro to the Dubai Mall and had dinner in the food court.

Posted by DavidPearlman 20:40 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Another Dubai

Yesterday I checked out of the At the Top Hostel, because the hostel was sold out for the following nights. I decided to leave my bags there and look for the new hostel, which was two metro stops away. I got out of the metro, and couldn't find the place. I tried following the directions-somewhere near a big hotel called the Rotunda, but couldn't find the Rotunda. So I wandered around aimlessly, and got back on the metro to go back to the Dubai mall. Part of buying the sightseeing ticket on the hop-on hop-off bus involved a free walking tour. I enjoy walking tours, because I can learn about a particular country.

The tour wasn't until 2:30-it was now about 11:00, so I sat in the mall and enjoyed a frozen cappuccino, at some coffee place-(my feet we're killing me-as I mentioned the walk from the metro to the mall was about 2 miles (it seemed like).

After that, I took the metro to the point for the hop-on hop-off bus, where the walking tour would begin, and I met Benjamin, the tour guide. He took me on the two hour tour (yup-only myself and the tour guide for the free walking tour).

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He told me some stuff I didn't know.
- The Emirati we're originally Bedouins, so they roamed around the desert
- Some broke off and decided to settle along the river.
- I saw artists diagrams in the old town, how the oysters we're harvested and turned into pearls.
- We saw the gold souks and spice souks, and gold and spice from the middle east was traded for the pearls.
- I also learned how Dubai wasn't selling it's oil at that point, but was waiting for the price to increase.
- There was a 24 karat gold ring on display in the golf souk. (Because it's a Bruno Mars song-I know that's huge).

It was an interesting tour. After that, I had lunch/dinner at an all you can eat buffet and went back to the Dubai mall, to view the water show at the fountain, which was spectacular. The water danced 100 feet high to songs like "I will Always Love you", and then the STUNNING light show off the Burj Khalifa (the world's tallest building, which I went on a few days ago)

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Posted by DavidPearlman 19:45 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Safari finally

Yesterday was the day to go on the safari, and i wasn't going to miss it for the second day in a row. The van to the safari wasn't due to pick me up until 1:00 pm, so I had a few hours to kill in the morning-i wasn't going to take the Metro anywhere, for fear of what happened the day before.

I stayed in the breakfast area eating for a while-I talked to a lady named Andrea who is from Argentina but is learning English. She is a travel agent, and has stayed in many five star hotels around the world, and travels often with her kids. She has just come from Bali, Singapore, Thailand and other places, and is staying at the hostel to save money, I guess. Anyway, she took me for a walk around the Dubai Marina area, which is only a 5 minute walk from the hostel but I haven't really explored yet. The marina area is a waterfront promenade with restaurants and stores along side. I learned Andrea has a daughter who is studying in Florence, and that by living in Argentina, and having parents that we're from Italy, she actually has dual citizenship-and everyone in her family will have dual citizenship (and Argentinian and Italian passports).

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I returned back to the hostel to wait for the safari. After about 50 minutes of waiting, I was told the car was downstairs. Myself and 2 others from the hostel got onto the Land Cruiser, picked up two others at another hostel 5 minutes away, and then went through the horrible Dubai traffic to pick a couple up roughly 45 minutes away. So at the end we had 7 folks and the driver pushed in to a Land Cruiser for the hour drive to the desert. After roughly an hour-hour and a half pushed against each other in the Land Cruiser, we came to the entrance to the desert-the driver took us on a course through the desert-driving like a cowboy up and down the sand dunes to show us his abilities driving. It would have been more fun if maybe 5 of us we're in the car vs 8.

After 1/2 an hour of this driving (which seemed more like hours)-we came to a "oasis/camping" spot in the desert, which was a large compound camels, horses, and a large walled-off area with plenty of low-to-the-ground tables, and booths surrounding it selling sand-in-the-glass-with-your-name written, snacks (dinner wasn't being served until 6:30-it was now 5:00), pay-for-photo booths we're you can dress in Arabian costumes, and the like. I went outside for my free camel ride. i was second in line, and took the camel ride (the promised free ride lasted maybe 2 minutes)-you can pay extra for a longer ride. For extra money, I was able to drive a dune buggy or ride a horse through the desert. I always got a picture with a Falcon (which was used for hunting in Arabia).

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After a while, there was a lot of time to kill, so I walked up and down the sand dunes and around the compound. Closer to 7:00 pm, we we're served some fried Indian foods like Samosas and other foods. Then a belly dancer got up and performed for us (there we're several hundred people at the compound, I imagine). Then the main course of all sorts of salads, breads, hummus and other mediocre food. (Chicken was available as well). The food was fine. Then other performers got up-including a couple of guys wearing dressed that lit up, and one breathing fire, and performing other tricks. In other words-typical tourist trap.

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Then we got back in the van and went home.

Posted by DavidPearlman 19:24 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

Dubai--Lost in Transit

A few days ago I found my camera broke. This is the second time this happened while travelling. (I could still take pictures but not view through the screen, or focus, or change the settings). So yesterday morning, I set out to take the tram to the metro to the large Mall of the Emirates to look at new cameras (I have a set amount of money for travelling, and i didn't want to spend more money-but I really enjoy photography, and am not the type who wants to use his phone. I had to be back at the hostel at 1:40 pm, as I had a desert safari tour planned-which involves riding a camel, seeing the desert sunset, etc.

So I l left about 9:00 am to go to the mall. It took roughly 1/2 an hour-so I had a cup off coffee from Mcdonalds, and looked in a few stores. The forth store was some large Best-buy type store in the mall, and I was tempted to buy a new camera there-but it was too expensive, and it came with a lens I didn't need-so i went back out to the metro to go back to the hostel. I rode the metro one stop closer to the hotel, and I thought-why don't i get the camera? So I crossed over the steps to the metro in the opposite direction to go back to the mall-and I thought-the other day I was at what I thought was a cheap mall about 15 stops downtown-I can check that mall out-make sure I am on the returning metro by 12:00 pm, and be able to make it back to the hostel by roughly 12:45-plenty of time for the safari tour which would pick me up at 1:40 pm. So that's what I did-only to find that mall had the same types of shops as the Mall of the Emirates-(the exact same stores). So it was 10 to 12:00-I got on the metro back to the hostel, (after waiting about 5 minutes for the train). Everything was working out to make it to the safari. The first sign of trouble was that I lost my metro ticket, and had to buy then.

After standing on the train for a minute (there was no place to sit)-folks who worked for the transit department kept telling everyone to get off the train, and wait for the next train which was behind. So after about 2 minutes, everyone was off the train-the train pulled away, and another train came along perhaps 4 minutes later. Of course-this train was already full-so it was really really crowded when we got on-but still plenty of time for the safari, so I was ok.

The really really crowded train ambled along to the next elevated station, when the announcer, and folks who worked for the transit department once again, told everyone to get off the train. But this time-there was no other train. The instructions we're to go out the exit marked #2-where special buses will be waiting for us. Now i thought sh..t, it was now closer to 12:30-the thought of making it to the safari was looking more and more remote. A whole bunch of us walked through long pathways to the door marked #2-only to hear the announcer say the buses would be waiting at entrance #1-said we all reversed pathway, walked up those long, long, corridors, to the door marked #1. Once getting there-hundreds, (maybe close to a thousand) people we;re waiting for the buses. And there we're no emergency buses-just the standard bus service. So the first bus came along-and all hundreds we're mobbing the bus, trying to get on. The bus would wait a few minutes, more would try to get on. The driver would announce the bus couldn't continue unless people stopped trying to get on-so eventually it pulled way.

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I got on the second bus-or more like-i was shoved by the crowds on to the bus. I was sandwiched at the back. After ten minutes (or what seemed like an hour), the bus driver kept trying to go, but couldn't close the doors because the bus was so full. The bus did go on, but was stuck in traffic, and went inching along when the lights finally turned green and the traffic cleared. I was pushed up against a few Indian guys,one I learned moved here to look for work as an engineer. By 1:00 pm. I sort of figured I wasn't going to make that safari-as i couldn't think of how I would make it back to the hostel-so some lady next to me lent me her phone to call the hostel. (mine only operated via wifi).

After a while of standing, the bus seemed to veer way from the metro path-past a cemetery which was filled with sand as opposed to grass, and then started to go near the path of the metro once again. After what seemed like an hour of standing and being pushed up against these people, I got off at some place called the Oasis. (The Oasis, whatever it was, sounded nice). It turns out it was yet another mall. I had lunch from a Carrefour store or some $2.00 noodles). Although it was along the path of the metro, there was no stop nearby, so I found a bus stop-and rode a double decker bus downtown. After an hour on the bus, (in which I fell asleep), I got off at a stop-went to a neighborhood near the airport, where cheap goods we're sold.I also watched the giant Emirates jets tale off every few minutes. I then found the hop-on hop-off bus, and went to an old neighborhood near the museum, and found a place to buy a camera. i also found the old souk, with places to buy spices, deserts, cheap perfumes, watches, etc. I then sat by the dock, and went to the gold souk, watching people who worked there venture back and fourth.

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Posted by DavidPearlman 19:51 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

The Mosque, Atlantis

Yesterday, I got up really early and set out to go to the Jumiera Mosque. I left the hostel at approximately 7:15 am. (i wanted to catch the hop-on hop-off bus that leaves at 10:00 am). I arrived at the Dubai Mall, where I would catch the hop-on hop-off bus at approximately 8:15-(the bus didn't leave until 9:00, but as I mentioned yesterday, the one and only tour of the Mosque was at 10:00 am and I wanted to catch it). i walked around the mall, although all of the stores in the mall we're closed. At 9:00 am, i caught the bus to the Mosque.

At the mosque, visitors we're served a breakfast of some light type of pancake with cheese, and dates. Also some very light type of coffee was served. (This is traditional). Then, we we're taken from a very plush lounge type area to the outside of the mosque, near a fountain, and we we're taught the traditional Islamic way of ablution. We then entered the mosque, which wasn't particularly fancy-and our tour leader-a white British woman who I am guessing was an Islamic convert-told us about the the five times of daily prayer, how giving to charity was important, and how being fully covered was favorable. She also mentioned how contrary to popular belief, Islam doesn't discriminate against women, but actually places them in high esteem (which I was saw was evident-there is a lot of seating for woman in metro cars and trams in Dubai).

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After about 2 hours-I was tired-so I found a public bus which took me to the metro, and went back to the hostel to take a nap-only to find they removed the sheets and we're making my bed at that point (nothing small-they don't make your bed often in hostels).-so I left. In the elevator on the way down, I met some Chinese folks staying at the hostel.
Chinese Tourist: Where you from?
Me: US
Chinese: Which pat?
Me: Florida
Chinese: What pat?
Me: Fort Lauderdale
Chinese: I know Florida. Which pat
Me: Near Miami
Chinese: They have gun shoot recently-people killed
Me. Yeah-I live near there

I then took the tram to other stops outside, and went to Atlantis, which is on the Palm-the largest man-made island in the world. Atlantis here is similar to Atlantis in the Bahamas. It looks the same, has an Aquadventure theme park-just no casino.

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After that, I got on the hop-on hop-off. One stop was for a free cruise around the Jumeirah palm area. A whole bunch of us got off the bus and went to the boat-We almost weren't let on the boat (because the boat was sold to some other group for a function). A bunch of German tourists from the bus we're angry-and they showed it, so they finally let us on.

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The boat took us all around the harbor, and we got great views of the futuristic skyline.

After an hour and a half of cruising around on the boat-i got back on the hop on hop off bus, which seems to be stuck in traffic. i then went for dinner to a mall, and tried to walk back-but got lost, and ended up taking the tram back to the hostel.

Posted by DavidPearlman 18:58 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

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