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Brian's Travel log

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Welcome to my travel log! This is the place where I keep track of my wanderings. Enjoy!

Log entries 1 - 10 of 12 Page: 1 2

Sep 11, 2004 06:00 PM Beaches and Sheeshas - Last Day in Dubai

Beaches and Sheeshas - Last Day in Dubai Today is the last day of my trip. The past days have been an incredible experience...I have been able to see things that I never would have dreamed to see before, and my perspective on the Middle East has changed significantly. Much of the news we see in the United States regarding this part of the world is sensationalized, and actually coming here has helped me to realize that people--whether barbecuing in their backyards in Wisconsin, or riding camels in Dubai--have many things in common.

The day started off with an interesting “Dubai” situation. Most of the streets in residential areas do not have names. Neighborhoods are blocked off with Community numbers, and streets are given names like “30b” and “205a”. There is no home mail delivery service here, so everyone has a PO box. Add to this the fact that many of the villas/flats in the same area are very similar or identical in shape and color, and confusion abounds. It makes things especially interesting when you are trying to get somewhere in a taxi…or, when making a delivery as I discovered this morning.

I was at the Umm Suqeim bus stop on Jumeirah Beach Road, waiting for the bus to take me into the center of town. A delivery truck pulled up next to me and an Indian man came out holding out his cell phone to me and mumbling something in heavily accented English.

After a couple of minutes I finally understood what he wanted…he was delivering furniture to a villa nearby and could not find it. He wanted me to speak to the customer and get directions. After a pleasant chat with the irate French woman on the other line, I relayed the directions to the driver. It’s a damn good thing I noticed where the University of Wollongong was.

I took the bus all the way in to the Bur Dubai station in the center of town, and walked along the creek from the abhra station down to the far end. I saw several of the abhra drivers asleep under the canopies of their boats, trying their best to avoid the heat. Unlike the last time I was here, the souqs were quite busy. I stopped by the Bastakia Quarter (one of Dubai’s oldest neighborhoods) where there were several restored buildings and art galleries. The wind towers above were used as an ingenious kind of ventilation system before air conditioning arrived here.

While inside one of the art galleries I heard the adhan (call to prayer) from the mosque next door. Within a few seconds, similar singing was coming from all of the mosques in the area…the greatness of God being proclaimed in contrasting songs throughout the city.

After a couple of hours walking around, I stopped in a small Indian restaurant, the “Evergreen,” for lunch. I tried a vegetarian Gujurati dish called thali (“steel plate” in Gujurati). It was a steel plate with four small steel bowls, each filled with a different kind of sauce or curry. You also get a stack of roti bread to pick up the sauce. Silverware was available, but I followed the locals and ate with my hands. It was delicious. I had a cup of chai afterwards. The bill came to 8 Dhs. (a little over $2).

More wandering after lunch, past store after store crammed with cheap Chinese toys, duplicate watches, knockoff sunglasses, silk, saris, incense and spices. Antique markets selling Omani khanjars and brass coffee pots. Stone pots. Fruit.

I made my last stop at a café near the Bur Dubai abhra station, where I ordered a Turkish coffee and sheesha. The coffee came black as motor oil with a good thick layer of sludge at the bottom: it was fantastic. They mix the coffee with cardamom which gives it a great flavor. This much caffeine could keep me up for days.

Back on the bus, I headed toward Jumeirah and stopped at the Jumeirah Beach Park. It was beautiful…grass and palm trees, tennis courts, and a stretch of beach with perfect, clear water. Since today was a holiday, there were quite a lot of people. Some of the women went into the water fully clothed. I found a spot in the shade under a palm tree and watched the catamarans and coast guard ships sail by. After a couple of hours, the burning of the sun on my legs told me it was probably time to head back home. I put my backpack on and said goodbye to the Gulf.

Anne made a great dinner – shishkebabs with an Egyptian sauce made with fava beans. She's learned a lot of recipes from the region and is a fantastic cook.

I packed up my suitcase and reserved a taxi for a 5:30 AM pickup tomorrow. It’s going to be a very long trip back home.

Sep 10, 2004 06:00 PM Fish, Mountains and Camels

Fish, Mountains and Camels This morning we meant to have brunch at Le Meridien Al Aqqa but true to form, we woke up late. In place of brunch, we had coffee and dainty little pastries made of dates instead.

The Meridien was impressive--a luxurious, marble and metal interior with huge windows overlooking the Indian Ocean--and the service from the moment we stepped out of the car until we left was excellent.
Returning to our place, Fabrice and I decided to break out the snorkeling equipment one more time for a tour around Snoopy Island. The oil had cleared up quite a bit on the surface since yesterday, but the visibility wasn't quite as good. Even so, we saw some incredible stuff...eels, turtles, lionfish, and lots more that I couldn't name. I did have a camera with me this time though, so I hope to get some good photos when I get home.

The currents were pretty strong today, something that I have not really encountered before. It's kind of like trying to swim against the wind. I didn't see Fabrice head back for shore so I did a couple more laps around to try and find him. He was back at the hotel, safe and sound.

We packed up and headed back to Dubai, following the mountain road through Dibba and Masafi. We stopped for lunch outside of Dibba in a tiny convenience store next to a gas station. The drive was incredibly beautifu...I have never seen mountains like these. They are made of black rock and harbor almost no vegetation at all. We passed some goats jumping around the rocks on the face of the mountins, and walking through the dry riverbeds that flood during the 4 days out of the year when it rains.

Once we reached the outskirts of Dubai, we stopped at a place where they train camels to race. Getting out of the car, I saw a man dressed in a traditional white dishdasha, riding a camel, and talking on a cellular phone. In the distance there was a caravan of what must have been dozens of camels, followed by a high-end SUV with very dark tinted windows.

Someone pulled up beside us, it was an Emirati man who wanted to give his son a close-up look at the camels. "Some of these camels are mine," he said. "How many?" we asked. "Seventeen. I pay these people 14,000 Dhirams a month just to feed them."

A good racing camel here goes for around 4 million Dhirams (over $1 million). The prize for winning first place in a camel race is between 3-4 million Dhirams.

Seventeen million dollars worth of camels. Almost $4000 a month for food.

In front of us was a big red sign that said "No Photographs" in English and Arabic. I understand why. Years ago I remember seeing a documentary about some child trafficking ring that was busted...small children were sold off to work in the UAE as camel jockeys. On the proving grounds in front of us, we saw three of them playing cricket with a stick and a piece of plastic. The oldest one could not have been more than eight years old.

As we were pulling away to head home, we drove along the length of the training area. A picture defining Dubai appeared. In the distance, I could see the silhouettes of the skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road hidden in the haze. In front of me was a man herding camels as people have been doing in this part of the world for thousands of years. It is symbolic of everything I have experienced over the days I have been here...the coexistance of so many different things. Modern and ancient. Mosques and dance clubs. Dishdashas and baseball hats. Camels and Ferraris.

Sep 09, 2004 06:00 PM The East Coast

The East Coast We left on Thursday night for Al Aqqa and the Sandy Beach Motel, in the Emirate of Fujeirah. The hotel is on the shore of the Indian Ocean and has probably one of the most unpleasant-sounding URLs I have seen in a long time:

A 2 1/2 hour drive from Dubai took us once again through the desert and the eastern mountains, past the Masafi water plant, through Dibba and down the east coast. We had a small 2-bedroom cottage. We got some drinks at the hotel restaurant, outside. Even at 11:00 PM the heat and humidity were incredible. One key difference with Wisconsin, however, was the welcome absence of mosquitos.

The next morning started off with some scuba diving. Fabrice and I signed up for a 2-dive package that took us to different spots along the coast. After suiting up with our equipment, we waded from the shore to board the boat. The water was covered with gobs of oil, so much that even the waves washing up on shore were brown. The locals explained that some captains flush out their boats at sea, which causes this nasty layer of crap to float all the way to the beach.

We made our way north to our first dive site, about 12m deep. After a brief struggle once I got into the water, we were off. The visibility was about 12-15 feet. We saw a lot of rock formations, and thousands of fish. Lionfish, lobster, a manta ray, turtles, clownfish, and thousands of other brightly-colored tropical fish. The water was very warm even at depth and we were able to spend about 45 minutes checking out the scenery.

The second dive was south of the hotel and the visibility was not as good, about 10 feet. The site was centered around three column-like rock formations that had a lot of fish and some coral. We took another 45-minute tour around different places, watching fish dart in and out of holes and crevices in the rocks. I could also feel places where really warm water was coming out of the rock formations.

On the boat, we met a Swiss man from San Francisco who works for a construction company specializing in the Middle East. Apart from being a seasoned scuba diver, he gave us some really interesting insights into the construction boom around the Gulf and the week he spent in Baghdad doing work estimates for some reconstruction jobs. During his stay there, he was accompanied by an armed security detail and wore a bulletproof vest.

I was exhausted after the second dive and we got lunch at the hotel restaurant...we sat outside. The hotel was quite busy. 80% of the guests were British, some Russian, some French. After lunch, Anne and I went back with our snorkeling gear to check out the reefs around Snoopy Island, about 50 yards off the beach. Even in 5 feet of water, the number of fish I saw was amazing. And fortunately the area around the island was not affected as badly by the oil spill.

We then went back to the pool and watched Benjamin swim. For dinner, we thought it would be a good idea to go to Khor Fakkan (a 20 minute drive south of Al Aqqa) where there was supposed to be a decent Indian restaurant.

Just after arriving in Khor Fakkan, Benjamin tossed his cookies in the backseat, barfing all over himself and the carseat. We stopped at a grocery store to buy air freshener and supplies to clean up the mess. A few minutes later we were back on the road, headed back to Al Aqqa. He got sick again halfway back. We figure he may have swallowed some of the oily water from the ocean.

Anne and I went back to the hotel restaurant to have dinner (grilled prawns - yummy!) and then crashed.

Sep 08, 2004 06:00 PM Shave and a Haircut, 30 Dhirams

Shave and a Haircut, 30 Dhirams Another bum day for me. Woke up late from a long night of debauchery in a few of Dubai's most renown watering holes (for those of you that are shocked that an "Islamic country" would even dare to have a bar, let alone several bars, should try coming would be blown away!).

Today was a day for shopping and bumbling about the Jumeirah area to see what random craziness I would encounter. I was not disappointed.

After a short ride on a bus (separate sections for men and women, by the way...) I ended up being inspired by some massive commercial complex. Those of you that know me also know that I *hate* going to shopping malls, but hey, it was 110 degrees outside and the air conditioning was mighty tempting.

The place was called The Mercado, and it was mind-blowing. A huge, huge place with lots of really classy stores. As expected, they had the typical crap you would find in any mall anywhere else in the world, but a few things were pretty impressive, like an Arab perfume store (oil-based perfumes like I had never smelled before) and another place that imported incredibly beautiful antique furniture from India. I saw women wearing black veils and robes, even a British woman who had her face uncovered but was wearing a veil. My guess is she lives in Saudi and is here on vacation. There are Brits everywhere around here, it's so mixed up that I don't ever feel wierd walking around. You see every kind of race and nationality everywhere you go. Everyone speaks some version of English, most with a hefty Indian/South-Asian accent. 99% of the people I interact with on a daily basis at the stores/tourist places/etc are South Asian (Indian/Pakistani/Sri Lankan) or Iranian. I have only met 2 real Emiratis the whole time I've been here. (More on this subject to come once I get home).

Walking out of the mall it felt as if I had physically walked into a wall of water. I began to sweat instantly, in a matter of minutes my clothes were stuck to me. I kept hiking back up the road and by the time I was ready to wring out my shirt (about 20 minutes) I stopped at a coffeeshop and enjoyed an iced mocha and some blasting A/C.

The highlight of my day was stepping into a little tiny barbershop on Jumeira Beach Road called "Miami" where I got a haircut, shave, and massage for 30 Dhs. (about $8!) I have been looking a bit scruffy over the last few days...I figured this would do me some good.

My barber was a south-asian gentleman whose English was pretty limited. As I am not by any means proficient in Hindi, Tamil or Malyalam, we did our best to communicate. I pointed to various places on my head and he said "short," "shave," "short," "ok".

He used an old-school straight-edge razor around my ears, sideburns, and around this miserable excuse for a beard that I have been growing for the past couple weeks. You would have thought he was performing open heart surgery - he was soooo careful and really took his time to do it right. After the shave he put a generous amount of cologne and balm on me and rubbed it into my face. It made me smell like a spice market but it felt really good. I think they stopped doing this kind of thing a long time ago in the US (in "normal" barbershops) which is too bad. It is all those little luxuries that you can find here that make it such a nice place. I look around and see average shmoe people walking around in pressed shirts because someone is making money ironing for them. They can go to the barbershop and get a nice shave. The level of service you get anywhere, even at a gas station, is incredible. I could get spoiled pretty quickly around here.

The heat never lets up, and the sweat won't stop...but at least I smell nice.

Sep 07, 2004 06:00 PM I am a bum

I am a bum Today I did not do anything exciting and it was faaaaaaaaaantastic. Slept in, spent the morning playing with Benjamin, made cookies, and then after lunch I walked down the block to Jumeirah Beach to go swimming.

The Jumeira Beach is a public beach next to the 5-star Jumeira Beach Hotel, which is NOT public. It overlooks the Persian Gulf (or the Arabian Gulf as they call it here). They even have a huge fence built to separate the beaches. When I arrived, there were a dozen Indians/Pakistanis crowded around a hole in the fence and they were checking out the scene on the other side.

I had a great view of the Burj Al Arab and took some pictures. The water was very warm and crystal clear. I sat on the beach for 3-4 hours reading and sleeping. I did put some sunblock on, but strangely this was the first time I have done so throughout the entire trip. I was out in the sun the other day for quite a while with no sunblock at all and never got burned.

We had flammekeuche for dinner and then Fabrice gave me the Dubai nightlife tour, which was quite an experience. I think we got home around 3.

Sep 06, 2004 06:00 PM Tour of Sharjah

Tour of Sharjah Today I took a tour of the emirate just north of us called Sharjah. It is the most religiously conservative of the seven Emirates--alcohol is banned even in western-style hotels--so I made a point to dress appropriately.

The center of Sharjah is a 30-45 minute drive away from Dubai. Many people who work in Dubai live there because the rent is much cheaper, but the commute is a horror. We passed the Dubai-bound traffic on the way out and it was scary. Plans are in the works to implement some sort of public transportation, but for now people just sit in their cars and wait.

Our tour started near a beautiful mosque overlooking the Persian Gulf (here they call it the Arabian Sea) that was financed by Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi, the ruler of Sharjah. As a non-muslim, I was not allowed inside, but was able to get some really nice pictures from outside.

Along the seashore were all kinds of small boats shipping goods to/from Iran and India. I saw a lot of tires, sacks of rice, etc. on the decks. Continuing along the shore we visited the Iranian Souq where different houseware items were sold...pots and pans, groceries, and spices. The spice stores were incredible. Looking inside you see dozens of compartments filled to the top with every kind of spice you can imagine. The other half of the store had a huge selection of nuts. The smell was amazing. One of the store owners was showing us his prized product, a jar of top-quality Iranian saffron that sold for 4 dhirams/gram (about $1). I have never seen so much saffron in one place before...the spice store we go to back in the USA sells tiny bags with a few strands. This guy would sell by the kilogram.

We then walked past an interesting advertisement for a cellular telephone with a special feature, the "Qiblah Finder". Using a GPS reciever, this telephone would point out which direction Mecca was from your current location (the "qiblah").

The Modern Art museum was interesting...the first floor was a series of crazy modernist works, including one which consisted of a computer and printer set up in the middle of a room. The computer screen said "out of order" and the room was filled with printouts of garbage text and streaks of black. Upstairs, we saw some of the Sheikh's personal Arabian art collection. Some of the paintings showed views of Sharjah in the 1950s with camels wandering the streets and donkeys hauling carts filled with goods to the market. Times sure have changed.

Next stop was the Al Hisn Fort, the home of the Sharjah ruling family for 200 years and one of the few remaining examples of traditional Emirati architecture. It had been heavily restored (air conditioning was installed - thank God) and there were several exhibits on the lineage of the Al Qassimi family. One of the rooms was decorated in the traditional style (pillows on the floor and walls) and they were serving arabic coffee in little cups...they mix it with cardamom and is really good.

I read in my Lonely Planet guidebook that there was a war between Sharjah and Dubai emirates in 1940 resulting from a struggle in the ruling family. When I asked my guide for details, he said "I'm sorry Mr. Brian, I am not allowed to talk about that. Anyway it is in the past now. It is finished." Interesting...

We also learned why the Arabic daggers, called "khanjars", have a curved sheath. It was to prevent the men from poking themselves when kneeling down to sit. The dagger itself is a straight blade.

A visit to the next museum gave us some background on money in the UAE. Indian Rupees had been used previously as the currency of this region, to facilitate trade with India (which was, at the time, part of the British Empire). It wasn't until much later in the 20th century they started using the Dhiram.

At the end of our tour I got a chance to use the 10 words of Arabic I learned with one of the curators of the museum, a guy named Ibrahim. He was telling me about his plans to take his family to Germany for vacation...inshallah. At the end of every sentence he said "inshallah" (God willing).

Sep 05, 2004 06:00 PM Oman, Wadis and the Moon

Oman, Wadis and the Moon I visited the moon today.

We took a 4x4 through the desert to the northern part of the UAE, visiting 5 different Emirates. We stopped once we got into the mountains to look at the "Grand Canyon" of the UAE...basically a riverbed (now dry) that cut through the rocky hillside like a knife over thousands of years. The scenery reminds me of Arizona, except that in Arizona you still see the occasional tree or bush. Here, outside of some small bushes poking out from between the rocks and the occasional goat, you see nothing but rocks!

We continued north past the costal town of Dibba into the Sultanate of Oman, where the paved road ended and we kicked the truck into 4-wheel drive. We were on a small gravel path that wound its way through the mountains and wadi (Arabic word for "valley"), twisting and turning through switchback after switchback. Our driver Akhmed, a Yemeni off-roading guru, was very careful on the turns.

Everywhere I looked, I saw rock. Rocks on the mountains, with lines showing the direction they had been pushed through volcanic activity millions of years ago. Rocks that had tumbled down in what must have been an incredibly powerful avalanche...boulders almost the size of our 4x4. We saw fences made of rock, walls of huts with courrogated aluminum roofs where the native Bedouin people lived. They herd goats, and the goats are everywhere...climbing on the mountains, jumping in what few trees we could see.

Once we got to the top of the mountain we stopped for lunch and I looked out over the peninsula, toward Iran, and saw a vast expanse of moon-like terrain. Rocks, rocks, everywhere. Not a drop of water, no plants, nothing. And to my surprise - clouds! Apparently on the coast of the Indian Ocean these are more common than what I have seen in Dubai (clear skies every day). When the clouds finally cleared I could see for miles. There was a well dug near were we ate lunch, our guide said it was very deep - maybe 100 meters- and was the only source of water for miles. I also saw a pile of rocks stacked up, which reminded me of a Scottish "cairn" used to bury the dead. I wonder if the Bedouin used this for the same purpose.

Once we returned to the dry riverbed in the wadi, we passed by several flat places where helipads were marked using rocks painted white. Akhmed says that when it rains here (maybe 3-4 times per year) the floods come quickly and are incredibly destructive. Lots of the local people lose their homes, and the only way to rescue some of them is by helicopter...there is only a gravel path, and if it gets washed out there is no other road available to them.

On our way back to the UAE we passed through some sort of Omani military base. There were signs up everywhere telling us not to take any pictures. We were stopped at a checkpoint, where an Omani army officer came to inspect the trucks for contraband (ie, alcohol). He was accompanied by another soldier who had an impressive-looking machine gun under his arm.

After a brief stop at the border we were on our way back to Dubai. The pictures I took of this journey don't do it justice, but I must say I have never seen anything like that anywhere else in the world.

Sep 04, 2004 06:00 PM This Souqs

This Souqs Woke up late again this morning as I was up until 2:30 reading a good book. I took a taxi (probably the cleanest taxi I have ever seen) to Bur Dubai and visited the Dubai Museum.

It is an old fortress that contained a lot of details on the history of Dubai and the Emirates, how they went from an economy based on pearl diving to a multi-billion-dollar tiger economy based on tourism, oil, and international business. It's hard to think that such a modern city hardly existed 100 years ago.

The city is like landing in some wierd science-fiction move. All around you, there are HUGE skyscrapers and ultramodern hotels. And where there aren't hotels or skyscrapers, there are cranes swinging back and forth making more hotels and skyscrapers. I have never seen so much construction happening so fast. They're going to build the worlds tallest building (Burj Dubai) next to the world's biggest shopping mall, and then build the worlds biggest amusement park (Dubailand) right down the street. Bombastic and modernist though it may be, (and some have commented that Dubai is "losing it's soul") it is an impressive sight to behold. One minute you hear the call to prayer from the minarets and see people in the souqs pushing carts stacked with boxes...burlap sacks overflowing with sandalwood, saffron, frankensence, etc. just like they have been doing it for the last 1000 years...then a brand-new top-of-the-line Mercedes will blow by you at some ridiculous speed. You try to get a glimpse at the driver but you can't because the windows are tinted too dark (conflicting explanations blame this either on Islam - to prevent people from seeing women in the car - or because of the desert sun...I think it's a bit of both). You see the best of the best...the best hotels in the world. The best service in the world. I am floored that Dubai, for all the hype and crazy architecture, still remains relatively unkown in the USA.

I spent the afternoon in the markets (souqs) of Bur Dubai and Deira, buying gifts and peoplewatching. Dinner tonight was at a hotel down the street done in traditional Emirati style, a place that would put some of the best hotels in cities like Chicago or New York to shame. The architecture of the place was stunning, but so was the service. Someone to greet you when you step out of the car. Another to show you to the restaurant. One to push in your chair as you sit down, another to put the napkin on your lap.

So many contrasts it makes your head spin, but that is what I love about this place. I never know what I'm going to see next.

Tomorrow is a day-long safari by 4x4 in the desert and mountains of Oman.

Sep 03, 2004 06:00 PM Burj Dubai and Hatta

Burj Dubai and Hatta Last night after dinner we ended up going out for what was supposed to be a short tour through the souqs. What ended up happening was quite interesting...

As we were pulling out of the driveway last night, Fabrice told me one thing he loves about living here is that there is no crime. He told me about people who have lost their wallets in taxis, only to find them a day later in their hotel rooms with all of the money still there. Looking around, I would agree with him. The streets are clean, the city is very safe, and even minor crimes (petty theft, etc.) are taken very seriously here...written up in the newspapers! (of course there is a ton of government censorship too, that's a whole other topic)

I was casually glancing out of the car window when I saw inside someone's house. There was an American flag hanging upside-down on the wall, a pretty clear sign that whoever was living there seemed to have quite a grudge against the USA. This was the first anti-American sign I have seen here so far and it was quite a surprise.

We went to Deira and wound up in a largely indo-pakistani neighborhood filled with people selling imitation clothes, watches, handbags, shoes, you name it. We were approached by a guy who asked if we were interested in watches. Why not...turns out his selection wasn't in the store but in a "hiding place" about 4 blocks away. We followed the guy, who passed us off to some other Iranian guy, who took us to this random apartment somewhere. Inside, the whole place was filled from floor to ceiling with fake shoes, handbags, etc. imported from Korea and Thailand. The owner's kids (not much more than 10 years old) were stocking shelves. There was a Lebanese guy who ended up buying a ton of watches to sell elsewhere as the prices were really cheap. It was quite sketchy to say the least but it seems there is a sizeable underground market for this kind of thing.

Afterwards we went to an Indian restaurant and ordered several different kinds of curry, tandoori chicken, etc. and had a nice dinner. We ended up leaving around 1:00 AM and we were about 30 feet from the place when the owner came running out after me ... I had left my camera in there ... and he returned it. I was really thankful.

We went back home and started talking about a lot of different things, politics, business, culture, etc., it was one of those crazy intellectual conversations that you would have in college and we ended up BSing until 4:30 AM. I laid down to sleep and my jet lag kicked in, I couldn't sleep for anything. Just as I was beginning to drift off, I heard the neighborhood mosque start the call for morning prayers "allaaaaaahu akbar", then the other mosque started, and pretty soon there were a dozen of them all doing it at the same time. It was pretty cool. I read in my book for a while and finally ended up falling asleep around 6 AM.

I woke up this morning around 11 and we had lunch at home. Our first stop today was the Burj Dubai, the construction site for what is going to be the world's tallest building. We pulled up to their version of the "sales center" and I took a couple pictures of all the construction, cranes etc. A security guard told me to stop (no idea what he was worried about??) and once we went inside they confiscated my camera. We got the sales pitch, a 1,600 sq. ft. appart in this development goes for around 2.4 million dhirams, around $650k. They gave me my camera back when we left.

Next stop - Hatta, an old village/oasis on the east side of the UAE about 10 km from the border with Oman. We actually had to drive through part of Oman to get there. It was about 1 hour drive, and it was crazy. We got to the point where there was NOTHING but sand in all directions...huge sand dunes...and every once in a while you would see a business on the side of the highway giving camel rides or renting 4x4s/ATVs to ride in the dunes. I got some good pictures.

Hatta is a beautiful restored village near the mountains, and the exhibits show how the natives lived there 100 years ago. We had a nice walk through the site and I took a ton of pictures of the mountains, etc. We stopped to eat at a little roadside place near Hatta and a car pulled up with an Arab guy and his 4 daughters who were around Benjamin's age. He got excited and waved and the girls waved was so funny to see all of the folks sitting out on these little plastic tables in the parking lot sipping turkish coffee dressed in their long white robes and laughing at this little 2-year-old westerner who was really "working it" with the ladies ;-) It also floored me that a few hours before, we were in the center of Dubai looking at half-million dollar apartments in the world's tallest building, and now we're in the middle of the desert where lunch for 2 costs 5 dhirams (about $1.50).

Sep 02, 2004 06:00 PM Brunch and the pool

Brunch and the pool Woke up around 9 today with a good nights' sleep behind me. As tired as I was, I still was up talking to Anne and Fabrice until after midnight.

In the morning Fabrice and I played with Benjamin while Anne went out for some groceries. We played Eminem and Benjamin was dancing around...I read him a couple of books and we made dinosaurs out of play-doh. For a 2-year-old, he is doing very well at understanding both French and English, he knows a lot of words and understands much more than he speaks.

We then headed to the Palms Hotel near the Hard Rock where we had the traditional (an English expat tradition) brunch. Wael, a Jordanian friend, joined us. I stuck mostly to the local stuff...grape leaves stuffed with rice, chicken curry, biryani rice. We spent the rest of the lazy day poolside, where I learned they actually have to **cool** the water here as it gets too hot in the sun. I have never seen the sky this color before, a pale light blue, and sand, sand everywhere.

Going to the mountains tomorrow and many more little expeditions coming up later in the week, including a bungalow on the Gulf of Oman and an expedition into the desert on 4x4.

We're going downtown tonight to Deira to check out the spice souq and do some shamelessly touristy stuff. It's so wierd to be in the UAE with French people and see so many signs in English, it's such a crazy cross between old Arabic culture and intense, bustling capitalism. Cranes and other construction equipment are **everywhere**.

More later from the sands of Sharjah!

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