Rushing round Dubai… then rushing to Kuwait

I woke early the following day to be taken around Dubai in a minibus. Breakfast was included in my “rent” and was quite passable.

I’d really wanted to go to Wild Wadi, the water park, but didn’t meet anyone at the hostel to go with – until I was waiting for the minibus to arrive for the tour. A shame, but perhaps I’ll go back another day. It was also annoying because the tour bus arrived over an hour late. This is a big waste of time when you’re only in a country for two days.

Finally, we set off with our cramped transport attempting to deal with the horrendous Dubai traffic. A major issue with Dubai is a lack of stopping or parking places for tourist vehicles. As a result, we were literally clicking like loons at the windows to get photos instead of being able to step out and take decent pictures. What I first thought was bad pollution also didn’t help when trying to take pictures of distant buildings, but I found out there had been bad sandstorms a day or so earlier, which was causing the foggy appearance.

Remember that Indian guy from the mall yesterday? Well, he’s from West London. He just got married to a lovely young lady who was with him and they were heading for Mauritius. I know this because he was on the same city tour! Small world, indeed.

We did see some impressive structures and managed 30 minutes at the Dubai Museum which was quite interesting. Set in an old fort, it looks tiny on first appearance until you see a door taking you to “new exhibits”. They are buried below the original fort and cover maybe three times the surface area. And they’re air-conditioned which was welcome.

The only other actual stops were on the Creekside and near the Burj Al Arab hotel (the big sail-like one that costs a mortgage per night to stay in). We drove closer to that hotel, but couldn’t get in – it’s £30 entrance fee to walk onto the grounds let alone stay there. We also saw the Trade Centre and Emirates Towers buildings, the Gulf Air owner’s “house” (I thought it was another town, it was so huge), construction on what it to be the world’s tallest building (Burj Dubai) and the outside of the only mosque that foreigners can enter.

One part we zoomed around at near neck-breaking speed was the under-construction “Palm – Jumeirah”, an artificial island structure being built out into the Arabian Gulf and effectively a small trial run for the much larger Palm Deira further east. In addition to these mental undertakings is another group of artificial islands somewhere between them called The World. The islands here look like a map of the earth when viewed from the air. I so wish I could afford to buy the UK island. I’d build my toilet where Sunderland would be located.

With that, we started dropping people off. I was the last one on the bus and got dropped off almost an hour later than I should have been again due to the traffic. At the hostel, it was recommended that I leave soon to ensure there would be no such traffic problems getting me to the airport. I wasn’t flying out of the nearby DBX where I’d landed, but instead around 20km away from Sharjah. Sharjah is a smaller town with its own international airport from where budget airlines Jazeera and Air Arabia fly. Much, much cheaper than anyone I could get a ticket from DBX for.

As it turns out, there was no traffic at all between Dubai and Sherjah so I got there with a ton of spare time. A shame they didn’t have wireless but I did get all my photos off my camera and burned to CD ready for mailing home at the next opportunity.

So, onto another aeroplane. Destination: Kuwait, number 15.

Surprisingly, a much better flight than the Emirates on of a couple of days ago. Air Arabia definitely get my recommendation! I wasn’t too impressed with Sherjah airport, though. Admittedly it’s somewhat under construction, but the Costa charges UK prices for their sandwiches and some bright spark seemed to think it made sense to provide a smoking room and then wedge the doors open on it so that one wing absolutely stank. Plus one of the toilets had paper in them despite having western loos and toilet roll holders. Not good.

Still, I’ve seen worse. I’ve paid money to live in worse. And it was only a couple of hours before I jumped onto that pleasant aircraft and another two before I touched down on Kuwaiti tarmac.

Now, I’ll be honest. I’m like a lot of people who hadn’t heard of Kuwait until a certain Saddam decided to march into it and try to steal all the oil back around 1990. As such, it was just another Middle East warground to me and a bit at the back of my mind was still expecting bullet-pocked walls, desert, and men with camels everywhere. What I wasn’t expecting was a swift run through immigration, a very small charge for a visa and to walk into an airport that looked more like a shopping mall with glistening tiles and chrome everywhere. And a KFC.

I was hoping to meet my uncle Bob in the airport (there are a lot of Bobs, Roberts and Robbies in my family) as I’d emailed him the day before to expect me. However, I know he’s busy and doesn’t check his email too regularly so I made a call to the number I’d been given. The nice Kuwaiti woman who answered didn’t seem too annoyed that I’d got the wrong number. Argh.

My next plan was to find somewhere I could make an international call back home to get the right number when I heard a broad Kentuckyan drawl over my shoulder. “Well, goddamn, that must be you. Nobody else in this country could get away with wearing those shorts!”

So that’s how Bob greets the first visitor he’s had in Kuwait since he moved there to work 8 months ago. No wonder people aren’t bothering to fly over! Seriously, it was great to see the guy again. I honestly can’t remember the last time we met – I’d hazard a guess at around 16 years ago at my cousin Avril’s wedding. She’s the one who’s now in Brisbane.

Bob had found me, but lost his wife Aurelie. Finally, we spotted her, we exchanged our hellos and made our way out of the airport to Bob’s nice company-provide 4×4. Sadly, Kuwait had suffered the same sandstorms as Dubai recently, so the air was really hazy. A shame as I’m told the views of the Gulf are phenomenal most of the time.

Our first stop was a Ruby Tuesday where Bob and Aurelie insisted on force-feeding me a pretty nice steak. I was a bit of a pushover when it came to being convinced, I confess. I think this was the same restaurant chain Hans and I ended up in in Mumbai before going to see Blood Diamond, and I recall them being stupidly expensive (for India) and the pizza was rubbish. No complaints here.

Night had closed in when we got to the flat. Wow. Half the third floor of a tower block and my room was about the size of the lounge in my old house. Free internet, a kitchen, a balcony with a (hazy) view of the Gulf, a gym, pool, sauna, 250-channel telly… I began to regret only having two days here.

Courtesy of Bob’s laptop, I spoke to my mother and one of my cousins in the US. You’ve got to love Skype and NetPhone.

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