With so much to do but a whole week to get it done, we spent our first real day out and about on The Big Bus. Every big city has them. The hop on hop off tour buses which take you from one site to the next and gives you a true snapshot of what a city has to offer.
We started our tour at Emirates Mall, but with an entire city to explore, we didn’t waste any time getting on with the tour. Once we got on the main road, what I would consider a highway considering everyone was averaging 100 mph, we were greeted with a sign warning about a sand storm. But a Dubai sand storm isn’t what you see in the movies. No gusts of wind blowing grains of sand in our eyes. Actually, if it wasn’t for the sign, we probably wouldn’t have noticed there was a sand storm other than the fact that we couldn’t see the skyline in the distance. It looked more like a fog obscuring the buildings.
The irony of Dubai is it got its start when it struck oil in 1966, 8 years after Abu Dhabi. But today, Dubai has to buy energy from countries it used to export its oil to just to keep the city going. The oil, apparently, is [or has] run out. Yet it remains a juggernaut because of its tourism.
Before Dubai made a name for itself with oil and tourism, it made its money from pearls. But the stock market crash in 1929, the world wars and the Japanese figuring out how to “culture” pearls that looked nearly the same as natural ones killed that industry. Dubaians also suffered from a plague of locust; ironically, this became a blessing as many Dubaians would catch, fry and eat the bugs to stay alive. Learning from these times, when Dubai struck oil, they quickly diversified and made sure they wouldn’t be tied to just one source of income. As the oil dries up, Dubai doesn’t look like a city that’s going to go back to eating bugs.
One of Dubai’s greatest achievements has been turning Dubai creek into a major port, then literally creating one of the world’s biggest ports in Jebel Ali. Nduku and I took a cruise on the creek, witnessing firsthand how the tiny mud home village has now turned itself into a bustling city.
The ladies and I also stopped by Wafi, yet another massive mall that would put to shame the average mall in America. With its Egyptian theme, it’s quite an interesting mall. Giving it its Arabic feel is the smell of incense throughout the entire mall. It’s amazing how huge the mall is yet somehow it smells of incense everywhere.
We also hopped off The Big Bus to visit what you would call old town. Though just about everything Dubai is as modern, if not more modern, than most modern cities, there is a section of town where you feel like you’ve been time warped back to the past. In Deira there’s the souks where you can find almost anything you want for much less money than anywhere else in the world. The main appeal to me was the historical feel of the place. Replacing the glass and steel towers were stone buildings and a really, really, really old school feel.
Wanting to get away from the big city and its big city restaurants, we venture down some alleyways, looking for some local, authentic food to eat. Funny walking down some of the alleys when Nduku was the only female out and about. The place is crawling with men. You can’t help but to wonder if someone was going to say something [not so nicely] about Nduku in open-toed shoes and not being covered. I’m guilty; it’s the movies Hollywood brainwashes us with as far as what Arabs think of us.
We grabbed a bite to eat at a place called Midtown, though we were far from town. It was an Indian/Chinese/Arabic joint. No bathrooms. They didn’t take credit cards. And the menu was not in English. Luckily, some genius created a menu with pictures. And I couldn’t tell you the name of what I ordered, but it was delish.
Nduku wanted to ask someone where to find the “affordable” gold. There was a couple sitting in the corner, a man who just stepped away and a woman in the traditional abeya, the black cloak women wear. We weren’t sure at first if we should say anything. I only knew I wasn’t about to ask her anything.
We debated asking her, considering everyone else outside the restaurant were men and they didn’t look the friendliest, but Najwa made it happen. I can’t remember if Najwa was throwing another tantrum, or talking baby talk, or screaming for now reason, but the woman turned around and smiled. Nduku went ahead and said something just as the man was returning to the table.
Locals. So we thought. They were Somali, but in the morning, they were going back to, of all places, Ohio, where they go to school. And their English flawless. And they were friendlier than every single European on The Big Bus and that we came across the entire trip. Coincidentally, they lived in Nairobi, Kenya, reminding me also of how small the world really is. I wanted to take a picture of and with them, but I was warned several times not to take photos of and especially with the women in abeyas. They didn’t seem like they would’ve minded, but I wanted to respect their culture.
So we headed out in search of gold. There’s a mall [more like flea market compared to across the creek] called Gold Land where you’ll find a bunch of little retailers selling cheap gold. I’ve always had an issue with 24k and how yellow it looks. It looks fake. Nduku held out though. The prices were relatively cheaper than America, I guess, but not as cheap as the legends tell.
We didn’t spend too much time there, though. The last bus heading back to the 21st century was about to leave and we were still haggling with non-Emiratis in the souk. And once we got back to Wafi Mall, well, Dubaians don’t run on CPT because we missed the last bus. But being a major city requires having a major mass transit system. I ride the Metro system in Washington, DC, every day to work and back. And I rate our system as pretty efficient, relatively clean and a pleasant ride. Dubai, though, takes it to another level.