Break a long haul flight in Dubai (do buy)? Director Malcolm likes hiking, exploring, and talking to locals. He hates shopping. Will Dubai be his cup of tea or will someone get hurt?
View from Burj Khalifa - tallest statement in the world
Like most who journey from summer to winter across our globe it's inevitable that you will transit via Dubai at some point nowadays. Previously I've squinted through the opaque glass of the Dubai international fish tank to try and see this famous city. I once had a tantalising glimpse of a mosque, but that's all. Travelling in other Islamic countries, Pakistan, Indonesia, Algeria , Tunisia has been immensely enjoyable so Dubai has long beckoned to me.
This time I decided to leap out of the tank. Although my visit through Dubai was primarily to get to the mountains of Oman to do some hiking, my 'cruise the hood' experience in Dubai exceeded expectations so i thought that I would mention it.
The shopping is big and glitzy but not necessarily cheap - unless you want to try dragon-markt where a million Chinese shops try and out compete each other on the same plumbing and electrical gear. I read that mostly goods are cheaper (or the same price) on Amazon. What I wanted was an experience beyond just a shop or the affluent splash into an expat swimming pool.
Expat partition living on the Palms
My 6 hour rather enjoyable lurch through Dubai.
From Dubai tower (Burj Khalifa - tallest statement in the world) and Dubai Mall I jumped on a metro and headed North East to the Dubai Creek area (Baniyas station works if you have time to walk the river side or Al Ras if you don't). Dubai creek is the original trading port of Dubai and is the closest thing approaching the medina of old- al be it a sanitised and a more modern incarnation. From the Station walk south to the creek (actually a big wide river estuary) and then wander slowly along towards the creek mouth. Tradional old blue wooden dhows (Ali Barba- like trading boats) loaded up with goods bump and sway before nodding towards Iran and slowly chugging away (side skipping the long standing US trade embargo which the Emirates seems happy to oblige. " The best place to do business in Iran,” an Iranian businessman quipped, “is in Dubai" (*2) and (*3)
I stopped and chatted to some of the Pakistani crew on one of the boats. Their life is so starkly different to mine. Different but showing pics of our kids to each other was pretty universal. So friendly, and obviously enjoyed chatting to a tourist kiwi from the nation of famous cricketer 'Brendon McCullum'. A nice punctuation in their monotonous day of breaching international trade sanctions.
Dhowes line Dubai Creek
Another tedious day of busted trade embargos
This was a theme of the day really. Time and time gain I talked to men who had not seen their sons and daughters for a year or even three, in their free choice of waged shackles. Their rare visits home served as much to rekindle their homesickness from not seeing their kids growing up as to provide relief. But their tough choice is based on their families benefiting more from the money sent home than having dad present.
The bustle of the souk gold shops and general traders seemed to be on the north side of the creek and is worth a wander. Interestingly many are wholesale only stores catering to proper traders who buy bling by the bucket load. The south side of the creek has more retail. Some pretty curios store names here- some don't translate too well at all! The famous gold shops are on the north but this didn't appeal so much to me, I loved talking to the Pakistani crews more
Another store name lost in translation
To Get to the south side the abra barges will ferry you the few hundred metres across the creek for just 1 dirham (30 cents), and it's here at the 'Marine Transport Station of the Old Souq' (otherwise described as the wharf) the more tidy rebuilt souks start. With a cleaner slightly more touristy feel this is where you can finially practice your skills at repealing sellers, a skill you rarely get to exercise in Dubai. In a strange way I kind of liked it, made me feel at least one part of this city was normal. I then wandered up river (east) now on the south side, following my nose through a minor labyrinth of lanes past the Rulers Court till I got to a nice little area with a number of things to look at including the museum and famous uber groovy XVA art hotel cafe. I originally intended to sit here and groove but I was dressed a little feral so headed to the nearby coffee museum. This is my proud discovery. Free museums that look like shops ring warning bells in my head. Wrong. Just a man obsessed with coffee who has been collecting stuff for years, and finally ran out of room in his house so he says. Nowadays he is helped by a govt grant as Dubai well knows it desperately needing things to attract tourists beyond overpriced shops and expat partying. A rare find in Dubai.
Dubai Coffee Museum - I loved this place
An astonishing array of heritage coffee grinders and fired roasters a few hundred years old sit on the tables and shelves. You can pay for a tasting session of the worlds coffees or buy a modern espresso off Jon Michael, an excellent barista and Ugandan secret weapon. He uses an excellent little E61 espresso machine, beans that are fresh (the owner owns a roastery), and has the skills to make Melbourne/kiwi style flat whites. I spent an hour and half here in the cool air-con, drinking coffee and reading coffee books and poking around this tiny 'museum'. There are other museums and things to do with in 100m of here but I simply ran out of time.
John-Michael and the E61, sigh.....
From the Creek's main Wharf (300m west of the Abra wharf I boarded a ferry heading west along the open coast to the swanky Dubai Marina area , and an hour and a half later arrived in the marina zone.
Crossing the Dubai Creek on an abra
From the sea you get great views of some of Dubai's astonishing architecture especially the last 10 min to the jetty. I didn't linger here, parking in a bar under glistening surreal buildings was no fun on my own and I was already pining for the sole and colour of the dhows at Dubai Creek.
Arriving at Dubai Marina
A 500 m walk took me to the driverless metro, and an experience of public transport Aucklanders can only dream of. Refrigerated platforms sealed from the summer heat dock perfectly with the train doors, fast and quiet travelng across the city almost like a suspended zip line above the urban landscape.
Anyone is allowed to drive the Dubai Metro
Look down on the Emirates macaroni factory' on the right as you zoom past - complete with a roof of macaroni-like elbow pipes protruding from the roof. Its hard not to think someone was having a joke when they did the ducting. The three kids pretending to drive the train got me back to my starting point at the Dubai mall station pretty fast. .
Times and notes
- Mall to Dubai Creek on metro - 15 min
- Abra across creek - 10 min (2 jetty's on north, 1 on south)
- Ferry to Dubai Marina - 90 min ( departs 11 am,1pm- but check)
- Metro back to the city -25 min
- Total Cost - not much.....
- Buy your water on the run -it will be colder.
- South side of creek best food options -from cheap Indian food to swanky cafes and local restaurants.
- Weather: October to March recommended. Too hot otherwise.
- Maps: You cannot currently (2015) cache Google maps for UAE for some reason (unlike most other places) so, to avoid paying $20,000 a gig roaming and loading maps I simply cashed the free 'open cycle 'map tiles on my smart phone map app (I use backcountry navigator) and they were just fine, GPS operates on top of the map -no phone connection needed, most street names appeared as I zoomed in.
- Language and folk: English is all you need but learn as-salām 'alaykum (reply is : wa 'alaykum as-salām ) if you want big wide smile. Although nationals (Arabs) are way less than 10% of the population, there are many Islamic foreign workers who also use this greeting (Pakistani, some Indian, Bangladeshi, Iranian, Jordanian....) People friendly without exception; although you less commonly bump into the Nationals. I never met anyone even a little bit disagreeable - Cordial and excruciatingly helpful - perhaps assisted by the fact if they lose their job they get kicked out of the country.
- Stay? I stayed with my mates, I recommend it. Looks expensive out there.
- Coffee: It's terrible but I found one place as you will have read.
- Getting around, Metro/ferry: It's so easy a 3 year old could do it. Not sure if they have a rush hour though.
- Food: I love Indian food so had wonderful lunches for a few dollars, otherwise from a glance it looks quite westernised but why bother when you can get samosas and curries everywhere in the Indian places. A surprise food find was proper fresh baked German pretzels in a supermarket - this made me realise just how international Dubai is.
- Book: I read Dubai: Gilded Cage by Syed Ali, social economy politics and labour history of Dubai. Not a light holiday read but what I then saw made sense, or if not, then at least it made no sense to the author as well. The best book I found to explain Dubai basics was a kids book my friends had - 'The Key To Dubai', Lilliane van der Hoeven. This gave me the wisdom of a geographer fused with an anthropologist in 24 pages including pictures. Perfect.
The zip line/flying fox adventure between skyscrapers across the lake at the Dubai Mall. Imagination (not laws) are the limit in Dubai corp.
(*1) Gilded Cage by Syed Ali
(*2) new york times http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/magazine/02IRAN-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 r