Dubai – The Desert Destination of a Lifetime
By Marisa Martin of thetravelingstorygirl.com
Situated in a small country on the coast of the Arabian Peninsula lies Dubai. It’s a sprawling oasis amidst the heat of the desert sun. Dubai has boomed from a small town in the 1990s to one of the biggest tourist destinations of the decade. After visiting there for just a weekend, I can completely understand why.
To tell you the truth, I almost wept tears of joy when I stepped off of the plane on a Friday morning and it was already over 80 degrees. After living in Germany for the past 6 months, I had left a snowy mess for a desert oasis. My mom was flying to Dubai from California to meet me on her vacation. So here I was, a single woman flying into the heart of the Middle East and stuck waiting at an airport for two hours for my mom to arrive. And to think that some people say being in an airport isn’t exciting…
As I walked off the massive Airbus380 into the Dubai airport, my first impression was Las Vegas-meets-Donald Trump. Extravagant, lavish, and very grand. There was no need for everything to be over-the-top but it made every traveler who passed through the airport feel like a celebrity. I loved it immediately.
Out of respect to the Muslim culture, my mom and I both made the decision to wear a headscarf out in public while in Dubai. Although there are plenty of women who do not cover their shoulders and head, we felt more comfortable by showing their culture respect. It was just a personal decision on our part. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. We tried to adhere to that as well as we could and did as the Emiratis did. Which is why when my mom told me to look for her as someone in all black, it wasn’t helpful at all because lots of women were dressed in all black. I eventually found my partner in crime and we set off to cause trouble.
My mom and I quickly freshened up at our hotel and went to the Metro where we purchased our Metro cards. From there, we hopped on the meticulously clean Metro and headed toward the Burj Khalifa. On the Metro, there were two cabins of the train that were designated for only women and children to sit in. The concept was definitely foreign to Western culture but my mom and I happily sat in those cabins because they were not as crowded and we could usually get a seat. Although it was very hazy that day, the Burj Khalifa was still visible and we watched with anticipation as it crept closer and closer.
Since it was so hazy out, my mom and I decided not to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa. Besides, she had already gone a few months ago. So we took a picture from the outside and hopped back on the air-conditioned metro. This time, we stopped at Mall of the Emirates. One of its main attractions is Ski Dubai, a fully functioning ski resort in the middle of the Arabian Desert!
One of my mom’s main goals on this trip was to visit the souks since she had been unable to during her last trip here. So after we had finished gaping at the massive mall, we headed to the old city in search of the souks. While trying to find the souks, we discovered a beautiful grassy area that was a popular area among locals, as well as many beautiful mosques. The call to prayer reverberated over the landscape and reminded us that we were, in fact, a long way from home. The textile souk was a vibrant sea of shimmering fabrics At the textile souk, my mom and I found beautiful cashmere scarves that we wanted. Since bargaining is free game, we decided to try our luck at it. Initially, the salesman wanted 70 Dirham for one scarf. We thought that was way too much so we offered him 25 Dirhams for two scarves. Through a very tedious haggling session, we were able to purchase the scarves for only 15 Dirham each!
We wandered around a bit more and accidentally ended up in an area that was men-only. We turned back quickly and soon made our way to the river. There were dozens of water taxis that would take you across the river to the gold and spice souks for only one Dirham. As we stood there and watched them ride the current, the boats were spinning out of control and hitting the docks and other boats. So of course we decided it looked like a fun Disneyland ride and got on one. Our boat only ran into one other boat and we didn’t fall into the Creek so I considered it a win. Although there were more tourists on this side of the Creek there were also more women wearing burqas and headscarves so my mom and I were able to blend in.
The gold souk was chock-full of tourists and tour groups holding up obnoxious signs and yelling loudly to its members. My mom and I maneuvered around them and marveled at all of the gold. I had no idea that all of these things could be made out of gold! It was almost like King Midas had come along and touched everything. But after a while my mom and I noticed that the women were starting to disappear as the sun went down. We thought it might be wise to head back to our hotel, which we did. All in all, that day we walked for over 14 miles! No wonder we were so exhausted!
Even though we only had a long weekend in Dubai, we both wanted to get out of the city and see the countryside of the U.A.E. We couldn’t drive a car, so our next best option was to take a desert safari. Our driver was named Ahkmed and had a good sense of humor. He asked if we were Muslim and when we told him that we weren’t he was very appreciative that we were being respectful of his religion. For the rest of the tour, he treated us a bit better than the other couple and I would like to think that it was because we were dressed respectfully.
Sand dunes blurred past us as the car sped deep into the desert. I knew my time in Dubai would be ending soon and I didn’t want it to. Since there was nothing else to do but appreciate the beauty that the desert had to offer, I listened to the Arabian music coming through the speakers and thought about what I had experienced that weekend. So many people live in fear while traveling. They’re concerned if they don’t speak the language or if a foreign country is too foreign. But the only thing that anyone should be concerned about is putting his or herself into other’s shoes. When we were in Dubai, my mom and I put ourselves into other people’s shoes. We got lost, we found amazing streets of the city, we marveled at the architecture, and most importantly we found that we’re all humans and that we’re all alike.
After a while, the car rambled to a stop at an oasis. Out in the middle of the desert there were trees and a whole little pit stop for people driving along the road. My mom and I both rented quads and drove around the desert like hellions for 30 minutes. There were basically no safety regulations except for a helmet and I’m pretty sure that I saw five-year-olds out on the quads. Despite the desert heat it was an absolute blast and I’m pretty sure I’m still shaking sand out of my shoes.
The sun was setting into the desert dunes as we pulled up to the campsite where we would have dinner. We rode camels, smoked hookah, got henna tattoos, watched belly dancers, and ate delicious food. My mom and I got matching henna tattoos and I convinced her that tattoos weren’t that bad of an idea. The party lasted well into the night until we all piled back in the white Toyota and drove back to our hotel.
We had about an hour to make it to the Burj Khalifa to watch the final water show of the evening and we raced against the clock. I have a bit of an obsession with water shows and couldn’t go to Dubai without witnessing the largest water fountains. My mom and I grabbed a taxi and followed the crowds towards the Burj Khalifa that was beckoning us to watch the stunning beauty of the water show.
We squirmed through the crowds of people and in that moment, I never felt more invisible in my life. My mom and I were just two more people blending in with a current of people wearing black. But the whole current was made up of individuals just like ourselves. To others, we were nobodies. Yet to each other, we were all that mattered.
As I stood shoulder-to-shoulder with throngs of people, I realized that the magic of the water show didn’t lie in the patterns of the water or in the music. Granted they were beautiful, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the atmosphere that was buzzing all around me. The Burj Khalifa was lit up with sparkling lights and boats cruised along the water providing front-row seats to their elite passengers. People from around the world stood in peace and harmony to marvel at the beauty that Dubai has to offer.
That’s why if you ever need me, I’ll be busy daydreaming about Dubai.