Friday, 19 February 2010

Dubai - Day 3 - Jumeirmah Mosque, Dubai Souk, Safari

Taken for a Ride in the Afternoon; Riding into the Arabian Sunset in the Evening

sunny 30 °C
When I woke up this morning, bleary eyed, Atta shoved this map in my face. "These are the sights I want to see. Take us there", She walked the maps with her fingers, and pointed 3 destinations: the Jumeira Mosque, Fort Fahidi, and Bastakiya.

Rubbing my eyes for better vision, I started to get a clearer view. It was one of those theme park type map with colourful drawings of 3D buildings and structures. One of those high on visual impact, low on specific fact map. It wows rather than a Just-the-Fact-M'am map.

"These things are all out of scales of proportions" I said, with an empty stomach, I couldn't come up with something that sounds smarter. "More research..." I adjusted my pairs of boxers.
"Take a taxi. Show it to the cab driver and he'll take us there", she suggested.
Famous last words.
"Ok", I would agree to anything so that I get get to breakfast.
Hopped on a taxi after breakfast, I shoved the map to the cabbie, pointed at the mosque on the map. "For the first stop, we like to go to Jumeira Mosque."
The friendly cabbie smelled a good business, tried to break the ice, he told us that he's a Bangladeshi, and in return he probed me for my biography, which I'm too happy to comply (with embellishment whenever I can to paint a great portrait of myself that Rembrandt would be jealous of). I'm blogging to a much wider audience, ain't I? So what happens in my cab I'm too happy to broadcast it to the entire bloggiverse.

Approaching the Burj Al Arab on Jumeirah Road, and the conversation naturally drifted towards this topic, and before I knew it, his taxi drifted in the same direction, in fact, had turned left and drove towards Burj Al Arab. He said we should snap some photos of the icon. I agreed. It would be nice to be asked, first. We were the fare paying customer the last time we checked the seating arrangement.
We weren't allowed to be into this so called 7-star (no such thing. 5-star is max) hotel unless we were either hotel guests or have a booking with the restaurant. Eating the food there is a serious health hazard because I have to sell a kidney to pay for the meal. You can book for a high tea there without costing an arm and a leg (just an arm), but make sure you book it weeks before you depart for Dubai. I think the advance booking is generally 6 to 8 weeks. We were allowed to take photos at the guarded front gate. A crowd of tourists was doing just that. We made some quick snaps as a parade of blinding white Rolls Royce were rolling out the gate. The Royces belong to the hotel. I felt like a poor folk peaking into a mansion at the big iron gate and wondering how the super rich is living. Allow me to replace "I felt like" with "I sure am". And append this to the sentence "To be sure. To be sure."

Drove back along the Jumeirah Rd, we spotted quite many mosques dotted along this road big and small (usually big and impressive) for this area is populated mostly by well-heeled Emiratis. Arrived at the mosque in question, and because it was a Friday, we weren't allowed in (so we were told). Besides I was happy just took pictures outside of the mosque.

Our next stop was Fort Fahidi, but we ended up in Port Rashid, which is nowhere near each other except it may sound the same to him and that both are in Bur Dubai area. Port Rashid is a working port, and a secured installation at that. When we got to the guarded gate, the silly bugger asked if we can take some photos. The security guard gave him a stern warning and told him roughly to turn back. I found the whole situation quite hilarious, if we weren't going somewhere and paying for his silly mistakes. Yesterday when I took some photos from/at the bus terminal, I was told to stop shooting. I wasn't even taking photos of the bus terminal, but shot the gold Souk across the streets standing there. And this is a bus terminal, not even a bus depot with roof, but an open area on the street with bus stop signs. This is how overly sensitive they're when come to any kinda government facility, even something as open and public as bus stops! Imagine asking to take photos of a shipping port that is closed to public and heavily guarded by armed personnel. The cabbie seems ignorant of this over-the-top sensitivity of the security issues in this country (actually, this region), and he's a cabbie of all professions should be very aware of this. And he has been living here for 10 years, and driving for 6. Atta rolled her eyes in the backseat so many times, they almost stuck up there. He deserved that.

After this little sea port drama (titled "Refused Entry at Port Rashid", played by Bangladesh driver, and produced by us), the cheeky bugger dropped us off at The Heritage and Diving Village, mistaken it for Bastakiya Quarter that we requested. I admit that the 3D cartoonish theme park type map isn't big on accuracy, and Bastakiya is actually next to this Heritage and Diving Village. For a Dubai cabbie who doesn't know about Fort Fahidi and Bastakiya is like a Los Angeles cabbie who doesn't know where Chinese Theatre and Hollywood is. But Bur Dubai (not whole of Dubai) is much smaller than LA. So all in all, the cabbie-turned-tour-guide made 4 stops in total, and only one, the Jumeira Mosque, is the intended stop. We were taken for a wild ride.

Because it was a Friday (and before 2pm), most of the things in this Village were closed. After cooling off with a drink (the afternoon in the sun could be quite hot at this time of the year. But we were cooling off from the drama production), we took an Abra (water taxi) across the Dubai Creek to the Gold souk in Deira. This is where I becom a pretend (or honorary) tour guide to Atta and Chin-Ping with the little experience I got from yesterday's trip (you pay for what you get). You can't say you've been to Dubai without riding an Abra. It costs Dh1 for the ride. It sometimes waits until the Abra is full, usually 15 passingers before departing from the station. It has a little roof-shaped canopy, perfect for the midday sun, and the relieving breeze as you sit and admire the panorama of the creekside view is the best bang for your buck (less than a buck, it's a Durham). If you don't want to share the Abra with others, you can negotiate with the abra operator, and pay, say between Dh15 to Dh20 (he probably asks for Dh40 to Dh50), you can have the whole 'ferry' for yourself, and losing out the experience of rubbing shoulders with the working expats. I took the 2 girls for a whirlwind tour of the few souks I'd visited.

Since we have another hour or so to kill, so we took an Abra back to the Dubai old Souk in the Bastakiya district in Bur Dubai. We did some shopping in the Old Souk under the old wooden traditional roof structures, and Chin-Ping said she found out a shop that sells a Dubai shirt. I told her that if she ever spotted some Dubai souvenir shirt, let me know. What a good listener she is. Her groom-next-week/hubbie to be is going to be a lucky guy (or habibi in Arab). I bought my obligatory souvenir shirt (one shirt, not skirt, at every port. I'm not a drunken sailor). It's priced at a surprisingly affordable 10 Durhams, which we bargained down to Dh8 (less than 3 bucks. Atta's shy from haggling, but Chin-Ping did it just for the fun). The material looks ok. If it shrinks in the wash, I'll use it as as PJ. Quite a few shops were closed because it was Friday. Few shops still open because it's a tourist spot, and these shopkeepers are probably not Muslim.

So one piece of advice, if you have a short stop in ME, try not to come on a Friday.

We quickly rushed back for the Desert Safari tour that we booked. After an hour or so driving on a 4WD, we arrived at the edge of a 'desert' - a sandy stretch of land with some small rolling sand dunes and patches of grass scattered about. We got onto another 4WD, only this one has some load bearing re-inforcing steel bars inside the car like those in F1 Grandpix Racing cars. Goodie, I said to meself. Vroom, vroom. About half an hour or so of rocking and rolling across the sand dunes while the driver tried some fancy moves that tried to thrill us, but only suceeded in upset my stomach, we arrived at a desert camp. It wasn't so much scary as dizzying. In fact, it was a yawn. If you want a scary, adventurous driving experience, just hop on a Dubai taxi, if you dare. I kid you not. Do fasten your seatbelts (they won't tell you to) if you want to come home in one piece. More on that, lots more, in later diary enrties.

There are quad bikes available for hire in the camp, but with the stiff hiring charge and the fact that you can only drive in a small circles, has little appeal to us (don't want to upset my stomach more than it had already). The camel ride is free. By 'camel ride', I mean you sit on a camel while the camel handler walked it for about 10 paces and then back. Still, it's good for photo op, and the mounting and dismounting would probably provide more cheap thrills than the sand dunes drive. The only trouble is, the bee line is quite long. The Arabian sun in the desert is quite magical around 6:30pm. The sand dunes aren't quite a scene from Lawrence of Arabia, but still quite nice and different from our usual dusk (yep, seen that in Bahrain).

Looking at the large number of tourists in the camp, I realized that it doesn't matter which tour operator you joined, you would all end up here. There's only one camp.

Dinner and dance show started at around 7:30pm in the outdoor. The bill of fare includes the popular international carbo staples of fried rice, prata, and pasta to cater guests from all continents. The meat was surprisingly yummy. We all got skews of chicken and lamb, which I don't normally eat because it's gamey. Whatever 11 secret herbs and spices that they marinated these mutton with had eliminated the gaminess. I would love to get my hands on their recipes. The drumbsticks took the first price: tender, juicy & mouth-watering. We all went for seconds. I really didn't expect such standard in this environment, especially when they handed them out with their hands (wearing gloves), for efficiency.

The performances were quite entertaining with its circular centre stage surrounded by dining tables like wheel spokes on a bicycle hub. There were the usual titillating belly dancing eye-candies, sandwiched between more spiritual whirling dervishes, and Arabic folk dances. We missed the Whirling Dervishes performance in Konya, Turkey, now we're made up for it. One of the dancer happened to be the very first female Sufi Whirling Dervish from Iran. The subsequent male Whirling Dervishes made up its lack of novelty with better performance, and got some audience participation by inviting female audience to put on their whirling detachable skirts that they twirl and throw into the air during their performances. Their male semazens' skirts are decorated with lights that lit up as the stage lights were dimmed, producing a pleasing, albeit somewhat less high-brow effect.

Overall, not a time and money waster at all.

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