Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Saturday, November 03, 2007

From Delhi to Dubai: a taste of the Emirates

Jason and I met Ida Dolci in Ecuador in 1999. We worked for her at Key Language Services in Quito, and have kept in touch ever since, even though we've been living at opposite ends of the globe. Her current home is Sharjah, in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), which is conveniently located between India and England. We couldn't resist a quick visit, and Ida made sure it was a worthwhile one.

In spite of not having seen each other for 8 years, Ida gave us the warmest of welcomes, and we picked up where we'd left off as she showed us the sights.

Since we were visiting during the holy month of Ramadan, eating and drinking were forbidden until after sunset. What better way to break the fast than picnicking on a cruise boat on Sharjah's lagoon? Here we are with Ida on the boat. Several of Ida's friends and colleagues joined us for the evening feast. This was no booze cruise though. Anyone found in possession of alcohol in Sharjah may find themselves imprisoned.

As we disembarked from our picnic cruise, the grassy banks of the lagoon were teeming with local families, breaking the fast together. They were still picnicking at midnight, and many looked like they were just getting started.

Sharjah mosque, sandwiched between six lanes of traffic and the lagoon.

Ida's place felt like a palace, and we found her tastefully decorated home the perfect place to relax after long days in the Emirate heat. We delighted in simple but almost forgotten luxuries like clean smelling towels and sheets, as well as a fridge stocked with fresh, nutritious food.

Ida was a fantastic host, and chauffeured us all over the UAE in search of stunning coastal, desert and urban landscapes, local culture and fun. Our first outing was along the coast, towards Oman. Although we were anxious to behave respectfully towards Emirates fasting in observation of Ramadan, we'd built up an appetite by lunchtime. The plan was to find a secluded picnic spot so we could eat lunch discreetly without offending anyone, or getting arrested, facing punishment of a hefty fine or up to a month in jail. We found a suitably private shady spot, but just as we tucked into our hummus and grilled chicken, a local family walked by. We exchanged guilty glances, but our anxiety was soon appeased when they pulled out their own picnic and tucked in unapologetically. Evidently Ramadan had ended a day earlier than we'd thought. Our stealth meal became an Eid-ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan) feast.

Ida and her 13 year old son Emilio enjoying some beach time after our picnic.

Emilio's iPod provided the soundtrack to our road trip along the coast.

We continued along the coast, through traditional fishing villages bearing no resemblance to the images of skyscrapers and development often associated with the UAE. The four of us spent a pleasant hour wandering along a mangrove lined beach, examining hermit crabs and shells, whilst observing Emirate families out for the day, enjoying the Eid holiday. Some of the locals looked rather holy as they paddled in long white robes, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun.

Emilio searching for clams, which he later steamed and presented to us at the dinner table. Eat your heart out, Jamie Oliver!

Ida took us inland the following day, driving us through the dramatic desert landscape of Fujeirah, then on to the Hatta Pools. The scenery was a stunning contrast to the coast, and we savored views of the imposing Al Hajar Mountains. It seemed half the residents of the UAE decided to visit the mini canyons and freshwater pools at Hatta on that day. In addition to checking out the pools, we had the added bonus of experiencing off-road Emirate traffic jams, as well as some quality people watching. There were young Emirate males with flashy four wheel drives, as well as scores of expats from all over the world, often with Filipino nannies in tow. We heard more English spoken than Arabic.

This bilingual sign is aimed at locals and expats alike. Expats actually outnumber locals in the UAE, though almost all of them are on temporary work visas.

We spotted these gates near the border between UAE and Oman. This is a typical Omani design. The UAE flag has been painted on the hill in the background.

Having introduced us to the wild, undeveloped beauty of the UAE, Ida showed us the ultimate contrast with a day out in Dubai. Before we even made it to the skyscraper dominated center of Dubai, we noticed bigger, faster cars, more opulent buildings and more liberal dress codes (foreign women with shoulders exposed, for example). With so many foreigners around, it almost felt like we'd found ourselves in a wealthy suburb of Miami.

Dubai's skyline as we approached from Sharjah. Although the 164 floor Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower) is still under construction, it's presence already dominates the skyline, dwarfing the rest of the city's buildings.

The Burj Al Arab hotel, shaped like a billowing sail, is reportedly the world's most expensive hotel. Content with our superior accommodations in Ida's home, we admired the Burj Al Arab, with it's protruding helipad cum tennis court, from afar.

Colorful hookahs at the Jumeirah hotel in Dubai. We passed on the shisha and wandered around some enticing shops instead, admiring the unusual and relatively inexpensive goods.

We escaped Dubai's excesses to spend our last hours with Ida at a down-at-heel back street fish house. Mingling with a local, unpretentious crowd, we dined on fresh fish, salad and chapatis around a plastic table. It was the perfect conclusion to our whirlwind experience of the UAE and its extremes.

We said goodbye to yet another pair of international friends at the airport, wondering when (and where) we'd see Ida and Emilio again.

Onwards to England, to a long awaited reunion with my parents.

We were welcomed at Manchester airport with hugs and smiles from my parents, Helen & Oz. Jason enjoyed a cold lager in the kitchen at Dewsbury without fear of arrest.
Next on Donkey Crossing: Autumn in Yorkshire, and more friends & family reunions.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt pretty priveleged as I read your blog on the Emirates...what a great time we had together and you summed it up oh so succinctly. Great shots, you made us proud.
We LOVED having you here.
Ida and Emo

12:15 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

You passed on the shisha? When in Rome (or Dubai) do as the Romans do! Although, maybe the shisha is best left in grubby Palestinian cafes (of which I have fond memories).

Anyway, sorry for being off the comments board for so long, but I've been keeping tabs.

Almost home, and wondering how you're feeling. Can't wait to hear how you two sum this journey up, if that's even possible. But as they say, all good journies, meaning all good stories, induce a change in the main characters. I wonder--what's your change?

12:29 PM  

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