Here we are, on a train in Italy headed from Milan to Monte Carlo and I am writing about the UAE. We are so behind with our blogging because we have been out site-doing every minute we are awake, which has been 18 or 19 hours a day! It has been an amazing trip and we have seen and experienced so much and learned so much!
The fifth leg of our 23 day circumnavigation around the world brought us to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. I have always dreamed of coming to this part of the world and it sparks my imagination with thoughts of desert oases, sheiks, camels and exotic spices!
The first day, after a wonderful night’s sleep in the Jarajaih Emirates Towers Hotel, we decided to tackle the two big bonus scavenges, which required travel to Dubai by way of express bus. We decided to partner up with one of the other teams, so off we went to Dubai and places beyond in search of camel paddocks, spices, gold, abras and mosques. We ended up traveling all day through five of the emirates that make up the seven emirates in search of our required experiences.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are the richest emirates because these are where all the oil is located. The wealth in these areas is mind bending and is evident throughout the architecture, the cars on the roads, the gold in the souks and the ornate and stunningly beautiful mosques. According to our cab driver, the UAE is home to about a million Arabs and 5 million foreigners, including Indians, Philippinos, Pakistanis and British. The majority are Muslim with minority numbers of Hindus, Christians and Jews.The other emirates are Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaiman, and Umm Al Quwain. Each emirate is ruled by a sheikh and they are considered royalty, with rulership handed down through the family. The ruler of Abu Dhabi is also the current president of the entire UAE.
One of the scavenges was to visit Umm Al Quwain and locate some falcons. This required quite a long drive and not a single local knew what we were talking about, not even a travel agency there! We finally found a natural reserve on Seneyah Island which is home to many bird species, so we snapped some photos of the specks we thought were falcons. We then located camel paddocks near Shweihan, where camel races are a big deal. After hours of viewing the desert and date farms through the car window we headed back to Dubai to complete the fun stuff.
Once back in Dubai, we took the “abra” over to the souks. That is a wooden ferry boat and it costs one durham each to ride across the Dubai Creek. The souks are filled with every variety of spices, lovely silks, gold, silver, hand made shoes and, yes we bought three pair, one for me, one for Kate and one for Mamie! They are hand stiched with camel leather and hand embroidery and have the exotic fish toe. We could not resist them and we felt like Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City! There are many wonderful things in the souks and it is fun to barter, which is expected.
Then, we had to rush over to the Burj Kahlifa to snap our photo at the fountain in front of it. This is where I really began to feel frumpy due to the fact that everyone was dressed stylishly and I had been wearing the same three outfits for two weeks! Of course, we had done laundry in between wearings, often in the hotel sink, so our bathroom frequently resembled a laundry.
It was such an interesting mix of people in U.A.E., with many women in their black, very stiffling looking, full burkas, some with full veils, some with eye slits, others with the simple head coverings, while the local men were in a variety of garb from jeans and tee shirts to long, white robes called “conduras” with their head dresses. We saw several women wearing these gold peices covering most of their faces. We found out later that these were the wives of the incredibly rich men. There were also many tourists in western styles, much of it very inappropriate for this country where you can be arrested for “going against the social standard”. The colors of the scarf on the man’s head dress, called a keffiyeh, loosely states which region the man is from as well as politial standpoint at some times.
After the Burj Khalifa, we ate a wonderful Middle Eastern meal of lamb kabobs, babaganush, a greek salad, polenta, traditional flat bread and mehalabiya, which is a rice pudding flavored with rose water. Then, we found the worlds largest flag pole housing the world’s largest flag and proceeded to the most beautiful mosque in Dubai, mosque Kahlifa. It is white on the outsde with the traditional arabic towers domes and ornate carvings. When it is lit up at night, it is stunning!
We arrived back in Abu Dhabi via a cab, very late and exhausted from our long, full, exciting day, but looking forward to day two in Abu Dhabi!