The Lighter Side of the UAE


My weekend to the UAE was a nice break from Kuwait. Here is the run-down of my itinerary. I went on Sri Lankan Airlines, which I recommend over Jazeera Airlines without reservation.


We only landed in Dubai from Kuwait later in the evening and by the time we got done with the rental car and hotel reservation it was around midnight. However, that evening we stopped by the Dubai Mall (of course) only to find it was closed. Nonetheless, after begging the security guard, he let us take a stroll through. No sensation is odder than being in the largest mall in the world after hours, when the lights are out (even those of the aquarium) and the people are missing. Well, except some people: the maintenance workers. They all come rushing right after closing to do construction on new shops opening, repair broken light fixtures and sweep the area. This was also true in the airport area, where a huge amount of blue-uniformed workers were busy laboring even in the eveningtime. I was alarmed to find that they work in the daytime as well, during some of the hottest hours, which in Kuwait is illegal until the end of Summer.


We left in the morning to take a road trip going from Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah along the coastal road E11. Along the way we passed through Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. In Sharjah we got out of the car just in time for Friday Prayers to see the old area of town, a collection of traditional buildings now being used as theatres, museums and cultural centres. The humidity was too intense to be out more than ten minutes at a time without feeling that all your body mass in water was seeping through your pores. It is difficult to understand how people can stand staying outside in that kind of climate.

The more you move further form Dubai, the less the other cities along the Gulf Sea seem to adhere to the Dubai model of development. All these other towns lacked any kind of chain stores whatsoever, which surprised me, and they also had streets with several small shops facing the road. I really enjoyed simply looking at some of the painted store signs (including plenty of tacky beauty salon logos) along the way, as well as the fisherman boats and modest, one-level whitewashed houses.

Later, once we reached up to the peninsula that is the province of Oman (Musandam), we went down (as the rental car had confiscated the passport of the person driving in our party) along E18, otherwise known as Digdagga Road I believe. At some point, we veered to E87 towards Dibba but decided to take a sideroad later in order to wander through the mountains in the hopes of driving up Jebel Yibbir (1,525m peak). Along the way, we stopped in a tiny, tiny, tiny town by the name of Tawian-most notable for its lack of any public toilet now that the town's only gas station bathroom lacks running water. We had some lunch in a restaurant with a token air conditioning unit, as there's nothing like letting patrons leave puddles of sweat behind on your plastic-lined foam seat chairs.

In the mountains, it was amazing. We really just let ourselves get lost in the many different dirt roads. The landscape is so barren it seems unearthly, yet there are a fair amount of scattered houses, goats, and cats every now and then on along the paths. In some of the valleys, I almost felt I might see a T Rex stumble across us-it was that, how would you say...Land of the Lost. All this was fine until it began to be sundown and we were truly lost and doing circles. Just in the right moment, two goat herders did stumble across us, and asked us where we were going. I tried to use my two words of Arabic to say Dibba Medina, but someone much smarter than me in our group just opened up their Explorer UAE Road Map (duh) to show them. They let us follow them as they zipped faster than we had even dared on a granny, oxidized pick up truck to a paved road which took us straight to the coastline.

The coastline at sunset is amazing all along from Dibba to Fujairah. We took advantage of the water to wet our feet again and welcome in the humidity once again, which we had not minded parting with earlier in the mountains. The road travelling South at dusk and in the night is peculiar, so many strip cities (completely built vertically around the major highway) which consisted of so cafes, shops and stalls with crowds of migrant worker areas that do not seem to be attractive or lucrative destinations. Areas that seem completely void of locals and completely, completely void of women. In sum, as one of my friends put it, in the UAE there seem to be a lot of people in bizarre places...walking along some lunar-like, desolate mountain, behind the bushes once near our parked car, two on a highway in the middle of nowhere squatting and chatting...

We stayed in the Fujeirah Beach Motel (kind of like those funky, tacky old Floridian tourist motels worthy of a Nabokov description) and went to eat dinner in an Iranian restaurant, where I was finally able to see both locals and women, and had conversation with a very nice and courteous Palestinian manager. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, but it is right next to Bar Fez in the Hilton, our second stop for a drink. Unfortunately, I think its the only bar in town with alcohol, but its otherwise just another pathetic expat portal, filled mostly with pale, male and stale men in the cozy company of perky Filipino girls in cute spaghetti strap tops and American soldier-types, all in the backdrop of a ridiculously generic looking bar...I could not tell if it was really that personality-less or if I was really on the movie set for some TBS drama series or something.


Leaving Fujeirah, we went down South even more (first stopping at the Fujeirah Fort) to explore the coastline of Khor Kalba near to Oman UAE border. It is really an understatement to say that the beaches there are absolutely beautiful, perfectly litterless, pristine water, and beautiful wetlands which are surprisingly lush for their location. The whole way back from this Indian Ocean/Oman Sea coast until Dubai again was an incredible journey of ecosystems, as good as any theme park could provide. Especially coming from Kuwait which is relatively ecologically homogenous, and especially coming from the fact that the UAE is only known for its unsustainability when speaking in reference to the environment, I was in dismay by the relative diversity in such a tiny area. We left a dark sand coastline, entered into Mars-like rock mountains, then proceeded onto an almost African-like grassland Savannah with trees like upside down brooms and the shorthaired camels who feed off of their leaves, to peach colored sand dunes, and lastly into the world's No. 1 dystopia-Dubai.

My penultimate postcard of Dubai was the horrible Marina area, filled with more skyscrapers in the streets than there are to people in them. It is just as much an aberration on the eyes as it looks like in photographs. Its a disgusting monument not just to ecological unsustainability, but also to financial unsustainability-which after the economic crisis is coming to light as an important but little understood item on the international development agenda. Taking all of it in gives the spectator utter dismay that Dubai didn't have more of an existential crisis years ago before all this was built. Either the emirate knows some big secret we don't, or they themselves are their biggest con victims in their smoke and mirror game. Dubai is the ultimate desert mirage.

On a whole though, I found Emiratis extremely polite, the country, including locals, much more disciplined than here in Kuwait, and actually, they are making more efforts for public awareness campaigns than in Kuwait, whether its due to increased global negative exposure one will never know but simple things like good infrastructure, facilitated visa entry, old city historical quarter restoration projects, respectfulness, varied radio programs, mixed-use urbanization (even in Dubai, most notably in Jumeirah district) and decent road behavior go a long way in winning international respect.

1 Response on "The Lighter Side of the UAE"

  1. Pu├ža says:

    Great w.end, splendid descriptions, I could see everything without being there!