Dubai day 1
We were so thankful breakfast was already organised for us with the hotel buffet as we woke up starving. Pulling back the curtains we had an incredible view of a desert... with some seriously large high rise buildings in the back and lots of mosques. Certainly a view I have never seen before. Welcome to the Middle East! After finishing off the video edit from last summer and researching what to do today we went down for breakfast. It was the kinda spread we had got used to in Lombok but had since forgotten about in Singapore as we had to fend for ourselves. We dug into the cooked breakfast, cereal and fruit hoping this would sustain us long enough to see all the sights around the Dubai mall.
We caught the free Crowne Plaza shuttle to the Dubai Mall - the largest mall in the world. With the temperature being about 35 degrees we were pretty thankful to go from one air conditioned building to another. Although we did notice it was more of a dry heat today and perhaps it just gets more humid at night.
The mall kept going for miles and you can bet any shop you desire will be somewhere amongst its wall. However, it could take you weeks to find it if you are not a frequent flyer. We checked out multiple camera stores and also G star Raw for Lewis but made no purchases. We were certainly keeping in the back of our mind that somehow we had to go from 53kg back down to 46kg for the next leg of our journey without losing anything important! Whilst we were walking floor by floor we came across a full sized ice rink where they have ice hockey practices every morning. Lew was just in awe of this and we had to view the slab of ice from all three floors.
The best thing we discovered was actually the aquarium and underwater zoo within the mall which was insane. We tossed up whether to pay the $40NZD pp for the ticket but it was well worth it. It started with the shark enclosure where they showed us the ins and outs of the laboratory and the food chain breeding ground that they had. In other words they had everything from algae, plankton all the way up to sharks. We then went down into a glass bottomed viewing platform surrounded by a thick Perspex wall up to our necks .
Most of the fish were Australian Travelly with a few different types of sharks also. We got some photos and the man fed the fish - strangely with other fish? But this got them all excited and they splashed us all whilst fighting for it. Finishing the tour we were lead back out to the aquarium with tonnes of different tanks with a wide variety of species of fish.
My favourite tank of fish were these medium yellow coloured ones called Archerfish that they were feeding at the time we walked past. They put the fish food in this disc above the tank and I was expecting lots to happen when they dropped it in. However, we started getting hit by some water droplets and it took us awhile to notice that these fish were actually spitting and that's how they got their food down! Such clever wee things, and their aim is on point too. There was everything from turtles, penguins, sea horses, owls, crocodiles, snakes, and all sorts of other animals.
After walking through this area we exited and went to check out the huge aquarium from another level. The thickness of the glass is about the same width as two people side by side and it spanned the entire two floors of the mall. Its actually the largest piece of acrylic panel in the world. You are able to enter in a tunnel that walks you through the aquarium from below and the fish and sharks swim around you. That was the end of it! of all the aquirium excitment. I don't think words can even describe how incredible the Dubai Mall aquarium and underwater zoo is, but I would highly recommend it :)
We found the Apple Store in the mall and spent a wee bit of time looking through it and it was situated right on the end of the building with high glass windows. It overlooked the water features outside. Apple certainly know how to do it right.
Since we had caught the hotel shuttle we though we would try and take it back but of course we had forgotten to ask how often they come and where to be picked up from! We sat outside in the 40 degree heat for about 10 minutes and it was around 2pm. I said to Lew I was concerned that we needed lunch still and we were being picked up from the hotel between 3-3.30pm for a tour! We decided to flag waiting and try catch an Uber. However that meant going back into the mall to get wifi and then to find where they pick you up from. The first guy cancelled and the second one was 5 minutes away and then decided to start driving in the opposite direction so we cancelled him! We decided to take an actual taxi but has no money. I changed my Singapore dollars into UAE money and we caught a regular taxi. Turned out you could pay by card anyway! But that got us to the hotel but 2.40pm as the traffic was crap. We quickly ate a teriyaki beef rice bowl from Wagamamas which took us to 3pm. Racing up to the room we got ready for the tour.
So it was a 4x4, camel riding, four wheel driving, belly dancing, BBQ dinner tour! We had organised it with House of Travel before we left. We were picked up at 3.15pm only 5 minutes after we actually made it downstairs. There was already one other girl in the truck from Ireland called Steph. We then went to another hotel and picked up 4 more men from the UK. We were in a large American truck but it was still pretty cramped. From there our driver said it would be about an hours drive out to the desert to the camp. What he failed to tell us was that being a Thursday which is the end of the week for everyone in Dubai the roads would be super crammed.
It ended up taking an hour and a half, most of which was stuck in traffic due to road works or just because Dubai's highway system clearly isn't big enough for the amount of cars they have. The funniest thing was some smart arses decided to drive in the sand on the side of the highway in order to miss some of the traffic. Most of them succeeded but we did come across a patch of very deep sand where at least 5 trucks were stranded. They didn't seem to care, still had a smile on their faces as they deflated their tyres to help get them out. They did have a few highway cops out trying to stop this happening but we didn't see them in action. We learnt a lot about Dubai on the way out, for starters they are ruled by a King so it is a monarchy. Our driver drove us past his castle and then showed us on the opposite side of the road his second castle and he had a different wife living in each one! He drives a G wagon with the number plate "1" which is the most expensive number plate to buy costing around 31 million Durham (11.6 million NZD). In Abu Dhabi they actually hold an auction for number plates with the plate numbers 1-10 being the most expensive and 11-99 the second most expensive. The auction is run by the Police and some of the money is given to charity.
Finally we drove off road into the sand and it looked like nothing was even in this area. A short way away there was a camel farm where we were allowed out of the car to take some photos and get up close and personal with them. It also meant the other 4 car that we didn't know were part of our group to show up. When we got out of the car the heat just hits you. It was almost suffocating as it was 42 degrees and still sunny. We were all pleased to get back into the air conditioned truck! From here after deflating the tyres of our truck in a convoy we started our sand dune surfing. I was in the middle seat and had nothing to hold onto so I was thrown around a bit. Luckily the truck had a roll cage because there were a few hairy moments and we went up and down steep hills you couldn't see over the top of. So steep you get that dropping feeling in your stomach. We got some good GoPro footage from it but I'm sure it won't do it any justice. The trucks went over the top of this peak and down the steep hill on the other side but one of the trucks got stuck on the ridge and it was rather amusing watching the guides get the tow rope out and pull them off it. Both trucks we full of people on the tour as well! They then let us stop to take pictures in the sand dunes in the middle of nowhere before entering into the camp.
As soon as we walked in to the camp Lew and I were disappointed as we knew what this was going to be like. It was completely set up for tourists with a stage in the middle and lots of seats around the outside. We had a quick safety briefing and an overview of our time at the camp before being shown where we could ride camels and quad bikes. Steph tagged along with us which worked well as Lew and I rode the camel first and she was able to take photos for us. There were four camels tied together and Lew and I got on the front one. It was super funny watching them get up off the ground but the guide was so fast we didn't get a picture on it before we left. It was much like riding a horse other than the fact that it had a hump! The guide just lead us around in a circle for about 10 minutes before returning to everyone waiting. The guide ordered the camel to sit down and for us to lean back. I let out a small scream as the camels legs buckles beneath it in what seems like the strangest movements and all of a sudden we were on the ground! I took some photos and a video of Steph riding the camel also and when it came to the camel lying down I pretty much snorted with laughter as it looks as awkward as it felt!
The sun was setting rather quickly at this point and they said when it was down there would be no more quad bikes. We wernt overly excited about this as yes it was on a sand dune but the track was just in a large circle. Plus the bikes were rather slow so they had clearly tampered with the accelerator to basically put a kiddy lock on them! It was my first time riding a quad bike so the first lap was fun. Lew had ridden them when he was working on the vineyard back in Christchurch so he was pretty bored. We did understand why they had to do it as we were in the middle of the desert and who knew how far away the nearest hospital was or even the ability of tourists driving these things.
In the camp there were some activities you could do. They offered traditional tea and coffee with dates, henna tattooing, souvenirs, sand art and a photos for purchase as they had photographer taking picture during the camel and quad bike riding.
Steph and I had some henna down later on in the evening and the women was very talented and fast but clearly didn't want to be there.
We collected up our free soft drinks, water and starters and sat in our seats and the dancing was about to start. This very white women who we later found out was actually Russian was the one performing the belly dancing. After coming from Indonesian we were very disappointed as this was supposed to be a traditional dance yet it really spoils it when it's clearly not someone who traditionally would dance that dance! It went on for forever with lots of different dances that the same women did. She was very clever although if she looked a little more Arabic perhaps it would have been more authentic. The starters were some falafel, pickled vegetables and some sort of chicken wrap which weren't too bad. We had some good company with us - Steph and then a family from the UK and then two brothers also from the UK. We had a good chat with the two guys on holiday with their family as we were clearly a similar age and one of them had done a big trip around NZ.
Once the dancing stopped we were invited to the dinner. Now this was a rather impressive spread with oodles of hummus, salads, rice dishes, curries and BBQ meat. Nothing was labelled so it was mostly a mystery trying to figure out what could possible have dairy in it. But everything that I tried on my plate was really lovely. They had separated the men and women as they collected there food which worked out well for us girls as we were clearly outnumbered. During dinner another dancer appeared who was clearly a lot more Arabic looking. He danced something called the Tanoura folk dance with a double layer of skirts that he moved up and down his body and it also lit up with colourful lights. Once this had finished it was the end of our time in the camp and we were required to go back to the car. It was still 39 degrees despite being 8pm and Lew and I were both feeling a tad hot and covered in sand.
The drive back to the hotel went a lot faster despite us all having to swap seats around and Steph, Lew and I were now the ones crammed into the back seats. We had a great conversation with the four English men that we were in the seats in front us. They were on a boys only weekend as all their kids went to a private school together. They had a great mix of jobs also from a pharmacist to a solicitor. Earlier in the day I heard them talking about Porsches and it turned out one of them owned one back in London. Lew and I talked about dads car with them for a bit. There was a lot less traffic heading back into Dubai but the other side of the road was still bumper to bumper. There was also a lot of trucks which according to our guide were all heading to the port but were only allowed to drive at night and in one lane. It was like a train of trucks... hey there's an idea, build a train system from the port haha!
We got dropped off to the hotel around 9.15 pm and showered and hit the sack straight away. Who knows what the plan is tomorrow? I guess we will sort it out when we wake up!