Becoming a local
Arabian Desert sunset
Burj al-Arab fountains
Life is still hot, dry, and dusty in Kuwait. But I think (hope) the 50°C temps are gone for the year. It’s still in the mid 40’s everyday (110’s Fahrenheit) but at least I don’t burn myself on the steering wheel driving home from work at night.
So two weekends ago, a friend of mine from Chicago, met up with me in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Some of you know Dave Ripley. He had been killing the last 6 weeks bumming around Europe and I guess he figured his trip wasn’t complete without a visit to the Middle East.
Dubai is an amazing city literally rising out of the desert. Somewhere around 20% of the world’s tower cranes are in Dubai because almost EVERY building is under construction. There was construction on either side of our hotel. You drive down the main road and you everywhere you look another high rise building is being put up. The world’s tallest building, the Burj Dubai, is being built there. It became the world’s tallest building in July and it isn’t finished yet (scheduled for completion by the end of 2008). The architect won’t disclose the height to prevent next guy from designing one taller until they’re finished. In addition, Dubai currently has 4 island projects being built in the Gulf. The Palm Jumeirah, The Palm Jebel Ali, The Palm Deira, and The World. Dubai originally had about 72km of coastline. After all of the planned development is complete, Dubai will have over 1500km of coastline.
A lot of the trip was spent exploring the local beaches and night life but we did get out to see some of the local sights. I went to Ski Dubai for the second time, which may be as many times as I’ve gone skiing at any other individual place in the US. We also went on a Desert Safari. We piled into an 8 person Land Rover and headed for the Arabian Desert. After about an hour of driving, we pulled off the main highway into sand. Just like that. All of a sudden we were on a Land Rover roller coaster ride (this video is tame compared to our ride but gives you an idea). On the way to the desert, our driver told us he had rolled the Land Roller 3 or 4 times. I didn’t believe him at first but after that ride I can’t believe it was only 3 or 4 times. He drove over sand dunes as if trying to flip the vehicle. He had the car almost straight up or straight down and virtually rolling over sideways. I swear there were magnets in the sand that kept from going over.
After a good 20 minutes of this joyride, we stopped along with the 6 other 4x4’s in our group to take pictures of the desert sunset. The desert in Kuwait is flat and not much to look at. The desert near Dubai is the type of desert you see in movies, with rolling sand dunes as far as you can see. It was difficult to walk to the top of some of the dunes and of course sand was everywhere by the time I was done walking around.
The next stop was the Arabic camp which was right next to some military compound. There they had camel rides, sand boarding (like snow boarding but on a sand slope), an Arabic BBQ, traditional Arab clothes to try on, and a belly dancer. The sand boarding didn’t go so well. The board kept getting stuck on the sand and it seemed like there should have been a steeper slope. But some kid in the tour group was really good so maybe I was just really bad at it. The belly dancer was pretty good and got a lot of crowd participation. Dave got up and did some strange belly dance putting a cane in between him and another guy. Ask him to see the video.
One of the world’s most luxurious hotels, the Burj al-Arab, is in Dubai. They claim to be the world’s best hotel (you get your own private bulter) and it is one of the landmarks of the city. It is shaped like a sail and was the first of the islands built off the Dubai coast. It’s pretty expensive to stay there (about $2500 a night) so one of the cheaper ways to get inside is to reservation for have coffee, breakfast, dinner, drinks, etc. We tried for coffee or drinks but all were booked so we settled for breakfast. For about $60, you get to pass by the security and entry into the hotel, excellent service, and the meal. The menu for breakfast was a small cup of musli and yogurt, a fruit tray, mini bagel sandwiches, a pastry tray, an egg dish I had never heard of but was really good, and unlimited hot and cold beverages. It was a good meal and the inside of the hotel provided great scenery.
After eating, we took a bunch of pictures along with the other tourists that weren’t staying there. It was the most elaborate hotel I had ever been in. There were big fountains at the ground level and the mezzanine level where we ate. On both sides of the ground level fountain there were escalators. As you rode up either escalator, you could watch the fish in the 15 foot tall aquarium built into the wall next to the escalator. I can only imagine what the rest of the hotel looks like.
On the way back to our hotel, we got the cabbie to drive us out onto the Palm Jumeirah. We could only go part way out onto the stem before getting to a security guard who wouldn’t let you pass without proving you lived there. But we did get a view of the houses out on the fronds. Only a few more millions to go and I’ll have one out there.
Ramadan starts tomorrow. This is the month long religious holiday for Muslims. Its beginning and end are dependent on seeing the new moon. Kuwait has its own moon sighting committee to determine the beginning of Ramadan. Apparently the new moon could be viewed in the southern hemisphere yesterday so Ramadan could start earlier in those countries. Anyway, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims fast, so no food or drink. And non-Muslims are asked to not eat or drink in public. Restaurants are closed during the day and most businesses and schools have new hours. My office usually works from 7am-5:30pm but the official Ramadan hours are 8:30am-3:30pm. And don’t get caught breaking the fast because there are penalties for doing so, whether you are Muslim or not.
In this today’s newspaper…”Fasting violators to be prosecuted – The Interior Ministry has warned that violators of the Islamic morals and public order during the holy month and public order during the holy month of Ramadan will be prosecuted. A fine of a maximum KD 100 or one-month imprisonment shall be imposed on violators who get caught eating or drinking during the day in Ramadan. In a statement, the ministry said that those who assist or instigate others to break their fast during the day in Ramadan will also be fined, including restaurants which may be closed for a maximum of two months as a punitive measure. The statement said the minister has jurisdiction to take action against those found violating the ministry’s rules during Ramadan.”
By the way, I was able to catch the Bear’s game last Sunday. It was one of three games on television here on Sunday, two noon (CDT) kickoffs and the 3:15pm kickoff. They also had the Sunday night game on Kuwait’s Monday night and the two Monday night games were on Kuwait’s Tuesday night. Only bad thing about the Bear’s game (besides the loss) was that it didn’t get over until 2am. Had a rough day at work on Monday.