Our UAE story started with a lot of stress because our cars were pending somewhere between Iran and the UAE. As soon as we landed we headed straight to the Mina Rashid Port because that was the port that our cars supposedly had arrived. To cut the story short, we didn’t manage to get a glimpse of the cars before three days went by.
It was Thursday night when we arrived and we were denied the entrance to the port. The next day it was Friday, a Holy Day for Islam and we were turned down one more time. On Saturday, although the port was open, the officer in charge never showed up at work. Thank God, on Sunday our stress was relieved as we saw both cars parked intact outside the customs office. As we found out, the crew on the Iranian onion boat was from Afghanistan… No comment!!!) Anyway, finally on Sunday late afternoon our carnet was stamped and we were good to go. Just outside the Customs we said goodbye to Dani, our Czech fellow overlander, as he was heading directly to Oman and wished him all the best. We would consider it an honor to share with guys like Dani and Peter adventures in the future.
A week after all that took place and definitely in a more relaxed mood, we were back in the UAE from Oman. This time we crossed at Al Ain. This city is the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi and has greatly benefited from his passion in “greening the desert”. Worth mentioning here is that by accident and always under the directions of co-pilot Rochelle, we drove into the Sheikh’s airstrip, something that I hope he didn’t take personally. Sorry for that. It just looked nice and we wanted to check it out!!! Out there and thankfully away from the airstrip and the villa of Sheikh Zayed, the desert was never far away. We simply needed to drive the winding road to Jebel Hafeet for sweeping views of the Empty Quarter. These 11.7 kilometers are a challenge for all visiting roadies. People from all over the UAE drive all the way up the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road. Unfortunately our Voukefalas was not made for such a hard core test. So we pushed up to the point that was possible for us without getting stuck in the sand. The stunning views and the open area of the vast desert that was lying ahead gave us “a Lawrence of Arabia” feel, even for a short time, just before we hit the road back to the cosmopolitan Dubai.
In the City of Dubai now, before the 1980s, the only time you could use your credit card was at the Gold Souk. Today the city is a shopping metropolis and a destination that is providing much more than a mere retail experience. While temperatures spiral outside, inside the malls someone can shop, play, eat, drink (only coffee unfortunately) and socialize. Be prepared to be spoiled with cuisine that ranges from East to West, from celebrity-chef-driven to Asian street-style. Worth mentioning here is that all of the above can and will have a heavy impact on your wallet. Somewhere between all this wealth and luxury we still managed to find a free camping spot and set our tent on the very end of the white sandy beach of the Dubai Marina, among the Sheraton and other 5-star hotel chains. We got even luckier when Andrew, a friend of Rochelle’s, let us stay for a week in his apartment while he was away on holiday. With one week in our hands we explored Dubai that does like to show off. Read here some of my notes. Tallest building in the world? Tick. Artificial island shaped like a palm? Tick times two. So-called seven-star hotel? Tick. Largest global shopping mall? Tick. Indoor snow slopes to boot? Tick. Largest aquarium in the world? Tick. Yes, it’s true that recent economic issues have led to some major projects hitting the dust or being scaled down. At the same time though, others are being gradually resumed.
Somewhere between our daily drives (Dubai is not meant to be walked) through all of the above sights, we also applied for our Indian visas. In order to gather the necessary paperwork, we visited Abu Dhabi on our way to the Greek consulate. Abu Dhabi is a fascinating and easily accessible destination. This is the emirate that continues to surprise with its progress and still manages to keep its Arabic feel. Quietly vying with Dubai with its considerable investment in culture, innovation and architecture, this emirate was definitely a pleasant surprise. Among some of the 21st century modern wonders that it has on offer, it’s the home to the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan Mosque, a magnificent must-see sight that we were lucky to visit. After a quick drive through the Ferrari arena Abu Dhabi was done, so it was time to head back to Dubai. There we grounded ourselves because we had to finalize our logistics of a detailed service on Voukefalas (that took us a week) get our Indian visas going (that took us more than two weeks and a lot of coming and going to the embassy) and arrange our cargo for India (that took us another extra week). With the opportunity of only daily trips in further out sights, whenever we had the chance, our UAE timeline was completed.
For all you people heading this way, this is the Arabia of the 21st century, built on oil and banking, sophisticated, wealthy local communities looking to the future with vision and creating empires out of sand, or rather on land reclaimed from the sea. For those looking for a dynamic urban experience, the Gulf cities are the place to find it. With high incomes per capital, elegant towers, opulent hotels and eccentric malls, these cities offer the ‘pleasure domes’ of the modern world.