Going Beyond the Burj – Day 8 & 9

Thursday (the end of the UAE work week) was very busy for us, so I decided to combine Thursday’s and Friday’s posts. Yesterday, we spent the work day trying to compile a good working draft of a Powerpoint deck to show to our client on Monday. While we have Sunday to work on it, we wanted to do as much as possible, as early as possible. When the work day ended, the weekend had arrived and we were desperate to find somewhere to go out. As we’ve been seeing other GAP teams in other countries, we have been having a different kind of fun and as you have seen, it hasn’t involved much going out. Since we hadn’t figured out where people go out here, I asked a friend of mine that lives here half the year and he sent us to the Burj Al Arab area. As a note, the Burj Al Arab is (or at one time, was) the world’s only 7 star hotel. The area was huge and seemed like it had a bunch of options, but we saw one right away that looked fun. They had a live band and they played all the American hits. Another unique part of it was that they had bean bag chairs on the “waterfront”.

Today, we went to planned to go to the souq’s in old town Dubai (probably 15 miles away) at 9am. However, when we went to take the Metro and it’s apparently closed until 1pm. The previous week, I had been told by a cabbie that it was closed after 1pm. Well, the hike to the Metro was a waste, but we just cabbed up to old town instead. This is where the culture part of the trip really started…

Let’s start with the Fish Souq. This place was amazing. It was an old city market, half fruit and vegetable and half fish. The second we got out of the cab, there was a strong smell of fish. As we walked into the market, we quickly noticed, we were the only westerners in the place; we were with the locals. I was admiring the piles and piles of fish as we arrived into the fish section. They were selling sea base, sting ray, sharks, crabs, and every other fish that I don’t recognize just by looking.

One of the stands had very friendly workers as we walked by and they handed me a large fish to hold. However, then they thought I really wanted to buy fish. One of the guys proceeded to follow us up and down the aisles of the entire market. He originally was trying to sell me three sea base in a plastic bag for 120 dirham ($32) and I said I wasn’t interested. I legitimately didn’t want fish. After following me around for a while, he told me “You drive a hard bargain. But, you are my brother, so I will give you a good deal. 50 dirham!” I still didn’t want the fish in the plastic bag. After continuing to pester us, and more specifically me, he finally realized I wasn’t bargaining, but I didn’t want the fish. We both laughed about it.

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The other crazy part was that workers were following us with wheelbarrows, ready to pounce to carry our purchases, if we made any. However, when they would hear a yell from somewhere in the market that someone needed them, 10 of the wheelbarrow guys would dart in the direction. They would take you out if you weren’t quick enough. Unfortunately the gold and spice souqs opened later in the day, which wouldn’t work for our schedule, so we plan to go back.

Our next adventure was shopping around the old city, at the stores that were open. Again, you are noticing as we did, the city is not at full speed on Friday’s due to religious requirements. Anyway, we found a store that makes custom dress shirts and suits. You pick the fabric, and tailors will make it for you. The tailors also weren’t open today, but there is no doubt, we are going to do it. We then ran back to the condo as we were being picked up for our desert excursion at 3:30pm.

So the desert excursion… this included dune bashing, sand boarding, a camel ride, dinner and belly dancers. When our driver picked us up, we drove 45 minutes out of the city, into legit desert territory. As of 20 years ago, we probably wouldn’t have had to leave the area, because absolutely nothing was here, but I digress. When we got out there though, there were intense and rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see. But there were also, seemingly, hundreds of other white 4×4 SUV’s. Our group of about 6 SUV’s met up at a gas station and then drove out to the dunes. The pavement for the street ended and you just drive straight into the sand.

For those unfamiliar with dune bashing, the 4×4’s go in a line and accelerate through tight turns on very soft sand. You are speeding up over the dunes, tilting at what felt like 45 degree angles, and sliding everywhere. It was an incredibly wild ride and only a video will help you to fully understand how bumpy and exciting it was.

After the dune bashing, we proceeded to try to sand board (use a snowboard) to go down a large sand dune/mini mountain. Without a lift, and given how soft the sand was, it was incredibly difficult and exhausting to even get halfway up. Once I made it up there though, I was able to glide down a little bit, but really nobody in our group was able to get too far down without falling.

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Next came a brief camel ride, an Arabian dinner and belly dancing.

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This is our GAP team in native attire. From the left, Joey, Travis, Kate, Gina, Matt and me. Travis is the only one who owns his gear, which he bought today. I respect his decision, but do not plan to follow suit.

As I mentioned, experiencing even a bit of the culture today was so different than anything we had been doing. Think of Dubai as a vacation destination, trying to be the biggest, best and newest to try and draw in foreigners from all over the world. Because of that, it takes more research to find the culture, but there is no doubt, we did that today… and it was way too much fun.

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