Jewel of the Middle East – Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Middle East
We arrived in Dubai late October and were immediately confronted by the searing heat. Temperatures ranging in the mid 30's Celsius were not unusual for this time of year. Trapped in a taxi for the best part of an hour, we eventually reached our destination in Sharjah, and headed straight for the healing properties of the hotel's air conditioning.
Having refreshed ourselves, we made the slow pilgrimage back along the motorway to the city centre. With two days to fill before heading on, we were keen to make the most of this modern metropolis. Unfortunately the traffic jams would be a recurring theme, robbing us of much of our time. Hot and bothered, we decided a boat ride along Dubai Creek would be a great way to cool off while getting our bearings. The natural sea inlet cutting through the centre of the city is a reminder of the city's proud trading past. Taking an abra (water taxi), we cruised along the old trade route admiring the architecture of the past and present.
As we rolled passed the rolex towers, I lowered my sunglasses to shield my eyes from the powerful reflection. It was not hard to see that Dubai had one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Golf courses and grand accommodations swept by as we looked on in awe. Trade was still alive and well, but it was obvious tourism was the industry that now steered this jewel of the Middle East.
Back on dry land we wandered aimlessly, thinking a map might be a good idea. We had heard of the Hyatt Regency's reputation; we strolled into it and saw that it was nothing short of extravagant. Shops of every description littered a glitzy mall which centred itself around an ice skating rink. We took refuge by the ice for a while – a welcome relief from the drenching temperatures.
Now armed with a tourist map, we looked for the reputed fish markets, having read this was one of the many souks (markets) Dubai had to offer. Some specialized in gold and spices; another reminder of a grand history of trade. Somehow we managed to track down the markets (perhaps the smell), and we joined the hustle and bustle of the crowd.
As we meandered around the stalls we were treated to several weird and wonderful species from the deep. The fish mongers exercised great showmanship thrusting their catch in our faces for pictures. They also displayed a high degree of cunning during the bartering process. Going back onto the streets I was amazed as we passed through a district that consisted solely of cellphone and car accessory shops. The glitz radiated from the neon signs, trapping the ever hungry consumers who passed by.
As westernized as Dubai had become, we had to remember it was still considered an Islamic state. We had heard that alcohol was readily available to tourists, except during Ramadan, a religious observance in which Muslims fast during daylight for the ninth month of the Islamic calender.
Lucky for us we arrived just prior to the event so we snuck into the back of a hotel for a refreshing beer. Here we struck up conversation with the many English and Antipodean expats who had moved to Dubai to take advantage of a booming economy.
The next morning we were again hampered by the inefficient transport network as we headed to town. Dubai was growing too big, too fast and the arteries that connected these modern wonders were constantly clogged.
With limited time before our flight, we had decided to visit one of the more recognized structures, the Burj al arab, meaning Tower of Arabs. There was something about the five-star deluxe sail shaped hotel we couldn't miss. Sweltering from the bus ride we reached our destination, pleased to see it was just as magnificent in real life as it was in the pictures. Dejected that we couldn't get too close without paying an exorbitant fee, we took to the sea out front of the hotel.
As we left the beach on route to the airport, I watched a woman in full black burka paddle out into the waters with her family. It was a vivid reminder that despite the rapid transformation of this modern wonderland, it was still very much bound by the laws of religion.